Having An Eternal Big Brother-Jesus

I will never forget the day as a 12 year old boy when a dog attacked me while I was distributing flyers for my dad’s company with my older brother Mark. The dog was BIG and I wasn’t the biggest 12 year old- my growth spurt hit age 15- and the dog had clawed me on my side and I was bleeding. I was freaked out and started running with the dog chasing me, so I did the one thing I knew to do- SCREAM for my big brother. Mark came and chased the dog away and got me calmed down. He also taught me what to do if that ever happened again. He drove me home. I was taken to the ER but didn’t need stitches.

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Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

Growing up in my dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother there was one person I could always count on. He was the one who taught me how to play sports, helped me with stuff for cub scouts/boy scouts, and the person I always felt safe around. My older brother Mark was a wonderful big brother growing up. I don’t remember us ever having a fight even when I would have deserved his wrath at times in my teen years.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Having had a good big brother growing up made it so easy for me to appreciate having Jesus as my eternal big brother.  Yes, the bible refers to Jesus as our brother for those who believe in him in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Did you notice it says among brothers and sisters? Yes, Jesus wants little sisters not only little brothers. For my women readers, remember Jesus values you as his little sisters he wants to protect.

As I think about what Jesus did and does for us; he died for us to save us from hell and to restore us to God and he defeated the ‘big dog’ chasing us-Satan, it is so easy for me to grasp the concept of Christ my eternal big brother. For that I am so thankful for my big brother I grew up with. Other concepts were a bit difficult such as viewing God as my heavenly father because, well, my father was a withdrawn alcoholic who drank his vodka and orange juice as we watched TV.

But the concept of Jesus as my eternal big brother anchored me in my faith early on and gave me the grace and time I needed to embrace other aspects of God mostly God being my heavenly father.

When I meet people, I try to meet them where they are at in life and not force an issue. If I meet someone who has had an abusive father, it seems best to me to wait a bit and be patient with them and not dive in and say something like, “Don’t worry, God is your father.” From my own experience it seems best to get to know the person before shoving something on them they may not be ready to process. But when the time is right, how joyous it is to share with them that God is their father. For some the concept of Christ as our eternal big brother might be difficult due to issues with a brother.

The church is the family of God and he is patient with us to heal us step by step. For some of us those steps come quicker than others. I try to allow people the grace they need to take things as slow or fast that is appropriate for them. The Holy Spirit is much more capable than I am to discern such things, so for me it is more of an issue of listening to the person while letting the Lord guide.

So I hope this writing helps you in your little sister or little brother relationship with our eternal big brother Jesus. As you grow in your relationship with God, please remember that he understands you, he knows if you have past things that hurt you, and he is infinitely patient to bring healing at the pace that is best for you.

 

 

 

 

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Memorial Day-Remembering My Father and Those Who Served

It is Memorial Day here in America. A day originally set aside after the Civil War to honor those who died fighting for our freedom and has also become a day to remember loved ones we have lost. When I was a child, Memorial Day was always on May 31st regardless of what day of the week it was on. It seems the further away we got from World War II, Memorial Day began to lose some of its meaning here, which I think is sad. Memorial Day was changed to be on the 4th Monday in May to allow for a three day weekend and it seems that now it is more about the start of summer. However, it is important to me to remember those who served fighting for our freedom. Our freedom did not come freely. Thank you to all who served and fought for our freedom.

My father served during the Korean War. I have previously written about my dad and how he came to Christ after I expressed forgiveness to him when he was in the hospital. You can click on this link if you want to read it- Forgiveness from me led to my father receiving forgiveness from God.

One surprise for me and something I would have never thought possible until it happened was that my father’s funeral was a Christian funeral with my pastor doing the service. He was buried with military honors.

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When I visit his grave I see the graves of so many who served our country. It is a somber moment that also causes me to feel gratitude for their service and appreciate the freedom I have. Think about what the world would be like if the Allies had lost World War II to the Nazis and Japan. Think about how our former enemies in World War II are now our friends. Think about how much better life is in South Korea than in North Korea.

I appreciate our freedom in this life and the fact that in America I am free to worship God as I choose. I do not worry about government troops coming in to arrest people simply for worshiping Jesus. But the ultimate freedom is the freedom there is in Jesus, freedom from sin, freedom from eternal judgement, free to be who God created me to be. This makes me think of the praise song, I Am Free.

This Memorial Day let’s remember the reason we have the holiday and remember those who served as well as enjoy a three day weekend with picnics, barbecues etc. Let’s also remember the one who gave his life for all of us on the cross-Jesus.

3 Day Quote Challenge- A Quote That Shows Life Is An Adventure

Quoting a hobbit for the 3 Day Quote challenge? Yes, I am going to quote Bilbo Baggins and his advice to Frodo because in a light hearted way it communicates how I view my life. Biblo advised Frodo, “It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

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Why am I quoting Bilbo Baggins in the 3rd day of a  3 Day Quote Challenge?

Because for me life is an adventure. I never know who the Lord will bring across my path and into my life. Some days I don’t know where I will go if need arises.

Bilbo had adventures, which according to the Tolkien books were quite unnatural for a hobbit. Yet as I read the book the Hobbit, it seems to me that despite his protests, Bilbo enjoys adventure even with the troubles, detours etc.

When I think back on my life following Jesus, I realize that after I stepped out the door, I was swept away into an adventure I will never regret. Yes there have been struggles, troubles, detours etc. There have been times I wondered if I would have been better off staying at the position I had before I left for school in Minneapolis to study for the ministry.

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But God causes all things to work together for those who are called according to his purposes. The adventure God has led me into has been one of meeting people from all over the world who have come to my city as refugees and immigrants. I have experienced their cultures, foods, celebrations and best of all their friendships.

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Another aspect of my adventure has been international travel with 7 trips to Romania, 1 trip to France, 1 trip to Mexico, and 2 trips to Brazil. It has been a huge blessing to serve Jesus in those places in different ways and of course to have side trips to places like Austria, Switzerland, Germany and England.

God knows how each of us is wired because he weaved us in our mother’s wombs. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so when he calls us onto the road of adventure, the adventure of following him, he knows what that adventure should be to match how we were created. For me it is international travel and ministry. That is how I am wired and is what fulfills me the most in serving Jesus.

There are other kinds of adventures serving Jesus. What kind gives you fulfillment?

Thank you to Amy of A New Life blog for nominating me for the 3 Day Quote Challenge,

To the challenge…The rules are as follows:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Post a quote on 3 consecutive days.
  • Share why this quote appeals so much to you.
  • Nominate 3 different bloggers for each day.

I would like to nominate a blogger I have come to really admire recently, thevoiceofpeace

Please check out The Voice of Peace and be inspired by how she overcomes with the help of God 🙂

 

Moms Are Heroes of the Common Everyday That Make Up Life

Growing up in a family with a mentally ill mother, Mother’s Day was always a day that I dreaded each year as I would see happy families celebrating their mothers. They always seemed so lucky and I would wonder why I had the one I had. Her moods were unpredictable and she was highly manipulative.

After coming to Christ, I began observing people in church and in life. I have always taken note of moms with their kids not because I was looking for a mom, but because I wanted to understand. What have I taken away from observations? Moms are heroes of the common everyday stuff where life happens.

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Every weekday morning during the school year, I watch the moms in my class have the courage to study a difficult language to learn, English,  because they want to help their children. I am an eye witness of their daily effort to help their kids. They are low income, but they do the best they can to have a safe and nurturing home for their children.

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I have a friend at church whose husband died of cancer and watched from afar her courage as she kept her kids going through extremely hard times. One of her sons just sang with his high school choir at Carnegie Hall. She has one son in college, one about to begin college, and one in high school the one who is in the school choir. My friend faced the day to day struggles of being a single mom and trusting Jesus in the struggles. She had to be the only ‘taxi’ driver in the family, the only one to take them to doctors’ appointments, the only one to discipline when needed and encourage when needed.

The list could go on to become several books if I listed each mother that has impressed me with the way she has faced the common everyday things in life, hardships, sickness, school problems etc that her children have had. Moms are heroes of the common everyday stuff where life happens and also heroes of the big things.

Moms know pain, not just the physical pain of childbirth, but also the spiritual, emotional, and mental pain of raising children in the down times. This makes me think of Mary the Mother of Jesus when Jesus was only 8 days old in his earthly life and a man told her, “a sword will pierce your soul too” to indicate that she would suffer grief and sorrow because of Jesus. She was there watching him die on the cross. She experienced great pain.

Moms know the joy of seeing their children grow and develop and the joy of seeing their kids succeed at something for the first time. Moms know the joy of adult kids coming to visit them after being gone for a long time. Can you imagine the joy Mary had when she first saw Jesus after his resurrection?

So if you are a mom and reading this, Happy Mother’s Day to you.

 

Music Mondays- This Is The Air I Breathe by Marie Barnett, Eres Mi Respirar by Ingrid Rosario, and Meu Respirar by Nivea Soares

The Lord has blessed me to worship in churches in many different languages whether in another country or here in my home city of Lincoln. Worshiping in another language helps me feel connected to the day Revelation 7 talks about:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 

One of my all time favorite worship songs is This Is The Air I Breathe written by Marie Barnett. It has been recorded by several music artists in English, but I like her original version.

I love this song because it reminds me that Jesus is my everything. He provides everything even the air I breathe not only physically, but spiritually as well. Being in his presence gives me strength to go about my day and serve others. On Mondays it helps me to remember that he is my source for everything as I start my week.

I studied Spanish for one year 2010 to 2011. I am not fluent but perhaps at an intermediate level. During that year, I searched for Spanish versions of worship songs  I found a Spanish version of This Is The Air I Breathe- Eres Mi Respirar by Ingrid Rosario. I love being able to come into the presence of Jesus while listening in Spanish. 🙂

I was blessed with the opportunity to study a 3rd language for one year 2013 to 2014, Portuguese. During my second trip to Brazil I found videos by Nivea Soares and loved them. Meu Respirar, a Portuguese version of This Is The Air I Breathe is one of my favorites by Nivea Soares. 🙂

Whatever language we worship in, Jesus knows that language. Whatever language we worship in, we come into his presence and are his children. 🙂

God Laughs with us Matt The Wedding Coordinator?

I think sometimes we get so ‘pious’ that we see God as some ethereal it with no emotion as we strive to be ‘perfect’ in our reactions to life. When I read through the bible, it seems obvious to me that God is a passionate person who loves us passionately. Other emotions are displayed by God too. God laughs showing he has a sense of humor. Psalm 2 says he laughs regarding those who say he doesn’t exist. Psalm 126 talks about his people that their mouths were filled with laughter indicating the laughter came from God as a result of the joy of serving him.

Sometimes I think God has a sense of humor when it comes to things I try doing in ministry. The ultimate example is that I was a wedding coordinator twice. People who know me personally would never associate wedding coordinator with me. But I found myself in a situation several years ago that if I didn’t try to coordinate a wedding, some refugee friends would not have had a wedding.

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A refugee family from Ukraine was fairly new to America. The mother and one daughter were my students. I saw the father often too. One of the daughters wanted to get married, but the family had little money and the bigger obstacle was they could not use the church building their church rented on Friday evenings or Saturdays. They asked me if I could help them. I got in touch with Pastor Scott at my church and explained the situation and he agreed to let them have the wedding no charge for the building. But the women who did wedding coordinating did not feel confident about helping people who speak broken English, so I stepped up.

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Fortunately for the bride, she had friends who had lived here longer and knew where to get stuff for a wedding, so my job was really only for them to ask if they could do something, I would ask the building manager my friend Kevin, he would tell me yes or no, and I would then tell them yes or no. So I thought, ‘this wedding coordinating is easy.’

I found out how wrong I was about a year later. A graduate student from China wanted to have her wedding at my church. I got it okayed and we planned to meet on a Thursday to plan it. Thursday came and we met for lunch to discuss the wedding. I quickly realized that my friend from China did not have friends who had lived here very long and my friend did not know where to get stuff for a wedding like decorations etc. So what does a guy do? I envision God laughing a little or at least smiling while he watched me try to deal with the situation.

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Thankfully I had an inspirational idea. I called my friend Kathy from church. She had helped me with other things for my weekend groups, so I thought maybe she could help. I called, she answered, and I asked her, “What are you doing tomorrow afternoon about 2:30?” She laughed and asked, “Why, what have you got yourself into this time?” I explained and she said, “I will be there.” Kathy took over and did the work. I think I might have still had the title Wedding Coordinator, but I am not sure about that.

The wedding was wonderful and we even used skype so her parents could watch it from China and the bride could see her parents on the large screen.

There have been many examples from my life where God leads me into doing something and I  start but then realize I need help. Like the time I started to cook a Thanksgiving meal for my weekend groups and ended up searching for help, but that is a story for November.

Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely times to be serious and we should always respect and honor God. I am just saying let’s not have the image in our minds like Jesus being portrayed as some emotionless zen master that I have seen in some movies. There are times that laughter, humor, and having fun while serving are also appropriate.

Oh and one more  thought- There are some young bloggers I follow such as beautybeyondbones  1 Timothy 4:12 Girl  The Godly Chic Diaries  . If you need a wedding coordinator in the future, maybe I can help 🙂 🙂 🙂

Empowered to Empower Others Blessed to be a Blessing

A repeated theme in the bible is that when God blesses us, it is so we can be a blessing to others. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians Chapter 1 about how he received comfort from God, so he could comfort others. John wrote 1st John Chapter 4 that we love others with agape love, God’s love, because Jesus first loved us. So whatever we receive is not for our own selfish enjoyment. We are not meant to sit around and only self actualize and focus on our own personal growth. God blesses us so we can serve others. One aspect of that has meant a lot to me is empowering others having experienced Jesus empowering me and to see them go on to be a blessing to others is so rewarding.

I think this has been on my mind a lot lately because of how I have seen one of my former assistants excel at helping immigrants and refugees. I am so proud of Kelly and will never forget the day she came walking into my Family Literacy classroom to volunteer and we realized we knew each other from when she was a child. Kelly was a great volunteer while she was a university student, so good in fact, that I recruited her to be my assistant the following school year. She now has her own Family Literacy class, and teaches a citizenship class. I keep telling her she will surpass me because I admire how she connects with people from other cultures, loves them and takes the initiative to get things done.

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me with Kelly

Another former assistant that makes me think about empowerment is Fabi. We connected right away because I love Brazil having traveled there twice. She had taught English in Brazil, so my focus was more on helping her understand the diverse cultures in my classroom and various aspects of teaching them. I enjoyed sharing ideas and insights with her about our students while at the same time investing in her. She is working on her Master’s Degree now and will go on to be of great help for families with autistic children. I anticipate she will write books about it someday.

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me with Fabi

Last November, I had a minor surgery and both Kelly and Fabi came to see me. Kelly brought me some chocolate one day and Fabi gave me a ride home the next day  showing our friendships are reciprocal. In fact, I think I get more out of our friendships than they do. I don’t think of them as my former assistants. I think of them as my friends that I am SO proud of. The only way I know how to empower others is through relating with them in friendship.

Out of my former assistants, seven have gone on to become lead instructors with each of them having different strengths and personalities. For me it was more recognizing their strengths and personalities and encouraging them.

Where did I learn about empowering others? One word- JESUS.

Jesus took men with little training and prepared them to go out and start the church. Each of them had different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses such as Peter who was headstrong and tended to put his foot in his mouth and Philip who was seriously conscientious.

Christianity is not a men’s only club. Jesus also mentored women to rise up new heights. Mary Magdalene the outcast was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well at a time a Jewish man would never have spoken with a Samaritan woman.

Seeking to empower others requires involvement and investing in others, but that is the exciting part of the process for me. I learn as much or more from my assistants as they learn from me. Mentoring others means connection with them and hoping they rise higher than I have. I am grateful to have been a small part in the lives of others on their way up in life.

By the way, if they read this post, Kelly I need some chocolate and Fabi I need some brigadeiro. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Fell Asleep and Missed The Opportunity

It is a bit humorous for me to remember it. It was late August of 1991 and late in the afternoon that day. I had spent the night before driving from Lincoln to Minneapolis a 430 mile drive . It was also the night before registration day at school. Early in the morning, I went to register for my classes and buy my textbooks for the semester. Other students invited me to a Minnesota Twins versus Seattle Mariner baseball game. I had never been to a professional baseball game before, so I jumped on the chance and went with them.

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To say I was tired is an understatement. I was exhausted. I had driven six hours the night before and had little sleep. Registration was crazy and hectic. There was no online back registration back then. But it was my first ever professional baseball game, so it didn’t matter whether I was a Twins fan or not. It was just exciting for me to be there.

We sat in the hard plastic shell seats which were about as comfortable as sitting in a classroom chair all day. Even though I drank a large coke for the caffeine to stay awake, I fell asleep in the hard plastic chair about halfway through the game partly because it was a scoreless boring game up to that point and mostly because I was EXHAUSTED.

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Suddenly the crowd broke out in a roaring cheer so loud that it woke me up. Kirby Puckett had just hit the game winning home run to break the 0 to 0 tie at the end of the game to give Minnesota the win. I missed it. I missed the only score of the game and the game winning score no less because I had fallen asleep.

The disciples, Jesus’s closest followers, fell asleep shortly after Jesus asked them to watch and pray while he prayed the night he was arrested.

Sadly sometimes I have fallen asleep while praying.

I don’t want to miss opportunities to share the love of Jesus because I am not awake spiritually. My time in this life is growing shorter by the day. We only have a certain allotted number of days in this life.

I love the bible verse Galatians 6:10- “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

My desire is to show the love of Jesus through my actions and to take each opportunity God gives me. I don’t want to ‘fall asleep’ spiritually. What may seem small to us, can seem HUGE to others. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to show the love of Jesus. There is so much suffering in this world and so many people who are searching for someone to show them they care.

That is why I embrace opportunities for even small opportunities such as joining a circle dance with Yazidi refugees.

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Or trying to get an 85 year old grandmother from Mexico to smile

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Because God has called me to SHOW the love of Jesus to people.

Well it is Wednesday almost the weekend. Hope your day is blessed and this blog posting is a small part of you feeling God is with you today. Thanks for reading 🙂

10 Different Homes in 10 Different Cities?

No, I am not wealthy and do not own 10 different homes in 10 different cities, I wish 🙂 But then where to have them? I love so many places I have visited and so many cultures I have interacted with. But this is not about where to have homes. It is about a comment someone made to me, an observation shared with me.

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Many years ago a chaplain at a treatment center told me, “Matt you are the kind of person who could have ten different homes in ten different cities and you would thrive not just be okay.” When he said that to me, I had the blank look of ‘I don’t get it’ on my face because at the time I was numb to life and only knew I was confused, but that comment from him stuck in my head.

Fast forward to now and I understand what he was getting at. God wires each of us uniquely for what he is calling us to do. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his craftsmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works….” It seems from birth, relating with diverse people has been an interest of mine.  People different from me have always been a fascination of learning for me. When the chaplain observed me at that treatment center, he observed me interacting with the various groups and being at ease with them all.

That has benefited me in my ministry and work with other cultures. My home city of Lincoln is now VERY diverse. Our public school system has children from over 100 different languages. A big reason for that is refugee resettlement. Lincoln is a designated refugee resettlement city. We also have international students and immigrants. Yes Lincoln, the city in the middle of nowhere, is very diverse. On any given day, I might interact with several different cultures.

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from my birthday 10 years ago with friends from Belgium, Brazil, Congo, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, and Vietnam

For example, one Friday last fall, I taught my morning class for moms from Mexico, Guatemala, Burma, Iraq, and Syria. Then I went to have coffee with friends from South Korea. Then I had a ministry appointment with someone from Vietnam. In the evening I had dinner with friends from Brazil.

That is how God wired me. Each of us is given talents and abilities and is wired differently to express God’s love. For me when I reach out to refugees, I feel what Mother Teresa said about working with the poor when she said in them she sees the face of Jesus in distressing disguise. I feel a connection to what Jesus said when he said, For God so loved the world….”

So I guess what I am getting at is that for those of us who call ourselves Christian, let’s try to remember that we have been given abilities from God to reach out and show his love to those around us. God is the craftsman and we are his craftsmanship. God has gifted us to feel at home in what he has called us to do.

How has God gifted you?

 

Home? Where is it?

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So many songs heard about home, so many friends talked about home, where is home? Searching for home, tried different places, different groups, different people, searching for home.

Home as a child was a house with no comfort, no real sense of belonging, no feeling of fitting in. A house that was full of uncertainty, anxiety, dread.

Ran away from there as a teen, but did not think it was running away from home because there was a house not a home.

Bounced around from apartment to apartment but did not feel they were home even though had them to myself.

Home? Where is it?

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Learned about the one who loves us enough to die for us. Learned we can call God father. Then learned Jesus taught that if we follow him that he and the father will make their home with us. What? Why do they want to make a home with me? Don’t they know me? Of course they do and they want to be with me. Don’t completely understand but have peace for the first time.

Free at last to explore and find home wherever I went because Jesus and the Father are with me wherever I go. Home is in Brazil. Home is in Romania. Home is at church. Home is when I visit diverse people. Home is everywhere I go because everywhere I go Jesus and the Father are with me, but home is not a place. Home is belonging. Home is love, laughter, shared life, memories.

Homes are in many places and with many people for me until my journey here ends and then I will finally and forever be home. Home in heaven with Jesus and the Father. We journey in this life as pilgrims searching for what ultimately can only be found in heaven with Jesus and the Father- Our Eternal Home.

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