Joy Not Sorrow At Christmas

Christmas season is upon us, so many people are rushing about with holiday preparations shopping, planning, and decorating. Thoughts of seeing family fill the minds of many people and for many those are happy ones of anticipation of seeing loved ones again.

For some the holidays represent a stark contrast to the holiday joy. Family problems can make holiday gatherings something to dread or avoid. Loneliness can set in and be magnified at this time.

Monday evening on the show The Voice, one of the contestants Kimberli Joye shared her struggle with depression and what helped her get out of the deep valley of depression. She sang a song that helped lift her out of the pit of depression, Oceans by Hillsong.

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As she shared her story, I thought about the passage from Isaiah 61 about the promised Messiah who would come:

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.”

The reason for Christmas is to celebrate to birth of Jesus the promised one Isaiah 61 speaks of. He came to set us free from depression, despair. He came to give us a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. He came to bring healing to the brokenhearted. He came to make us strong like oak trees.

Kimberli shared how praise music helped her out of the valley of depression. I know it has helped me with depression. Some other things that have helped in the past when Christmas comes are things that help me focus on Jesus and not on the holiday trappings such as:

Watch movies about the birth of Jesus not the sappy romanticized movies about the miracle of Christmas season.

Serve others to show the love of Jesus in practical ways. For me it is helping my refugee and immigrant friends.

If family is too problematic, serve someone else on Christmas Day such as at a local mission.

Listen to music that focuses on Christmas being the birth of our Savior.

Spend time with Jesus in prayer and tell him what you are experiencing. He already knows anyway.

AND- remember Jesus came to set us free. He has promised to always be with us even in the deep valleys.

Here is Kimberli singing Oceans on The Voice. Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving Day

Last night I visited some Mandean friends from Iran for a Friendsgiving dinner. The food was delicious as it always is when I visit my friends.

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As much as I love the good food

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the friendships are what make my visits so worth my time with them. There is laughter, friendship, shared stories, and more.

Which leads me to share about what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

First and most important, I am thankful for Jesus. I am thankful for his love that made him want to die for us and defeat death for us. He is the reason I am still alive in this world. He has blessed me with so many things.

I am thankful for my friends from many countries and the opportunities I have to share the love of Jesus with them. My life is enriched because of experiencing so many cultures.

I am thankful for my friends who helped me make it through a difficult summer in many ways.

I am thankful for my home church and their support in prayer, encouragement, and more.

I am thankful for my students and the classes I teach. They give me purpose. I hope to teach until the day the Lord takes me home to heaven.

I am thankful for the teachers and staff at the elementary school where I teach my morning class. Their dedication to make a difference in the lives of children living in adverse circumstances inspires me every day.

I also wish to thank my readers especially those who follow my blog, comment on and like my posts. I am thankful for the bloggers I follow who give me interesting posts to read.

I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. May your day be filled with family, friendship, and love. May you experience the love of Jesus in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thank you for Reading

God Bless

Changed by God to Be Used by God

It happened again yesterday. It is the response I get every time. She laughed. But it was a good response of laughter. Her laughter is proof of God’s work in my life. Why did she laugh?

Yesterday morning I shared with my conversation group at church that when I was in high school everyone was afraid of me. I shared with them that the look on my face scared people because I was an angry teenager. She couldn’t believe it. She is a young gentle-hearted woman from Japan who comes to my Saturday morning group. She has only known the Matt I am now.

My  young friend’s disbelief about the kind of person I used to be, is one I have seen many times when I share about my past.

That is a testimony to the wonderful life changing power of God working in my life. God can take a person and transform them into something no one would have thought possible.

When we come to Jesus, trust in him, it is the beginning of being transformed into a new person. 2nd Corinthians 5 says:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

But the new life is not just for us to go about our lives selfishly enjoying a better life. 2 Corinthians 5 also shows a purpose for the new life:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

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God reconciles us to him and then gives us the opportunity to share the love of Jesus. When we come to Jesus, trust in him, God gives us a purpose in this life.

I am thankful that my young friend and other have laughed when I share with them about who I used to be. I hope to experience that many more times.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

 

Thankful for?

This may sound crazy, but I will never forget the time I was thankful for a tube of toothpaste. I was in the valley of depression and things weren’t going well at the time. Then one day I was cleaning, which is not easy when dealing with depression, and came upon a tube of toothpaste I had forgotten about. I had bought it a month before when it was on sale. The thought hit me that I would not need to go anywhere that day to buy toothpaste and I thanked God I would not need to go shopping. That moment began my path out of the valley of depression.

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Isaiah wrote about what the promised Messiah, Jesus, would do for us. Among those things Jesus would do for us we find in Isaiah 61:

 “and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.”

Jesus will give us a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Despair is not from God. Despair is loss of hope. If we feel there is no hope, that feeling is not from God. Jesus is our solid eternal hope.

When I thanked God for that tube of toothpaste that day, it clicked in my mind to try to thank God for things in my life no matter how small or silly they may seem to others. Step by step Jesus helped me climb out of that valley of depression.

This month we have one of our biggest holidays in America, Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 22nd. That is only two short weeks from today. So Thursdays in November I want to share things I am thankful for.

For me it starts with saying that I am thankful for Jesus. I don’t want to think about what my life would look like without Jesus. On the rare occasions that I see someone from my teen years and tell them that I teach ESL and am in part-time ministry, their response is to ask what happened to you.

Jesus is my Savior not only for eternal life, but also in this life. He literally saved my life from dying when I was sick in the 1990s. He gave my life meaning and purpose.He brought me out of the pit of depression. He brought people from all over the world into my life. I am so thankful for Jesus.

In these days of post election in the U.S., days of turmoil everywhere, being thankful can help thwart the spirit of despair. Please join me in expressing thankfulness to God. What are you thankful for?

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

Jesus Is Always There for Us

It seems that the years have gone by so quickly yet it was in the distant past that I looked like this:

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I am the guy in the red tank top not the rhino sleeping. 🙂

Fast forward to today and I am an old guy with a beard.

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Sometimes I wonder what I would tell my 20 year old self if I could go back and talk to myself. Perhaps I would tell myself that I found out I have an aptitude for languages, so dive in earlier. Maybe I would tell myself not to worry about situations that will be in my future. One message I know I would want to share is that Jesus certainly will be with me all along the way such as:

Jesus giving me the opportunity to share him with my stoic alcoholic father and that my father would come to Jesus one year before he would die.

Jesus would sustain me through a four year health crisis.

Jesus would lead me to a ministry of reaching out to people from all over the world.

Jesus would take me from being the perennial screw up to be someone others look to for help.

Jesus would meet me in my valley of depression and lead me out.

So many other ways that Jesus has been there for me, helped me, changed my life, so the list could go on and on.

As I look back over my life, I can see how true it is that Jesus has all power, is gentle and humble of heart, cares for us more deeply than any other person, and has come to give us life abundantly.

Dear reader whatever situation you are in, Jesus is there. Look to him and ask. The turn around may be over time or happen quickly. Either way trust him. He is more than able.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Thankful for What Jesus Has Done

It is Sunday morning here where I live, so I am preparing to go to worship at my my church. God has blessed me with the opportunity to worship in churches in Brazil, France, Mexico and Romania- both a Romanian church and a Turkish church, He has blessed me to experience worship in Karen, Spanish, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Zomi, and Arabic here in my home city. So on Sunday mornings it is very real to me that as I worship at my home church, I am joining people all over the world to enter the presence of the Lord. 

As I go to worship this morning, I will be mindful of Psalm 30:

“I will exalt you, Lord,
    for you lifted me out of the depths
    and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
 Lord my God, I called to you for help,
    and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.”

Yes, Jesus has lifted me out of the depths of abuse as a child, sickness as an adult, and depression. No, my life is not perfect. The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to turn on the heating pad I have on the back of my neck, I have bills to pay, but my life is full of meaning as I help refugees and immigrants. He has blessed me with another day in this life to show his love.

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When I go to worship, I will thank Jesus for lifting me out of the depths of depression. It did not happen overnight, but he did lift me out in his perfect timing over some weeks this past summer.

When I go to worship, I will thank Jesus for sparing me from going down to the pit of despair due to abuse. Jesus came into my life and brought healing and freedom to be able to show his love to those who suffer.

The list could go on and on as it could for you my dear reader. Whatever circumstance we are in, we have hope because of Jesus. Our hope is eternal. Let’s seek the Lord for him to clothe us as Isaiah 61 says:

“and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair”

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

When God Hears Us

There are things I hear that I do not respond to. If my students ask to go home early, I simply smile and say nice try. If I  hear loud music in a car close to me, I turn up my worship music in my car to drown it out.

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There are things I hear that I do respond to. When I hear a siren go by, I pray for the Lord to be with the responder and the person/people they are going to help. When my students ask a question because they do not understand something about English, I explain it for them.

Good parents seem to know when to respond. If a young child falls and cries for help, the parent picks them up and comforts the child. If a child is sick, the parent will do whatever they can to help the child. If a child is in danger, the parent will do anything to protect the child.

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Have you experienced those moments when God hears you? When God responds to you?

This summer in my life has been one long moment of God responding to me. When I was sick in June and could barely do anything, which is part of living with autoimmune, he did not answer my prayer of please just take me home to heaven Lord I am done with this life. God heard what was really behind that prayer. He saw what was behind it and responded to the real need. Living with autoimmune means living with lifelong chronic problems and it can bring a person down mentally and emotionally.

God responded through one of my pastors in late June when he met with me. I had offered to resign my ministry because of the pit I was in. My pastor responded with, “No, this is medical. You will not resign.”

God responded by bringing people into my life who need help. He knows how I am wired. When I meet refugees who need help, it gets my attention.

God responded through acts of kindness by others such as people bringing me food, taking me out for coffee, and a big surprise earlier this month of my former group of young people from Vietnam that I had mentored and taught contributing to give me enough money to cover my bills for August.

As I think about how God responded, I think about Psalm 116:

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.”

God turns his ear to us. He hears us. He responds to the real need. He knows us and our situation better than we do.

Dear reader whatever you are going through, ask God for help. Don’t worry about having the right words, Don’t worry about making a mistake in prayer. God understands what is behind the prayer. God knows the real need. Romans 8 we see:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

While we pray, the Holy Spirit translates. God searches our hearts. He knows what we really need even if we cannot express it.

God knew what I really needed this summer. He brought me through it. I give him all of the credit, glory, thanks etc.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

 

 

Engagement Party for Others Blessed Me

Last night I had the privilege of going to an engagement party for a young couple from Iran. They are Mandean which is a minority religion in Iran, so they face oppression which is why they come here as refugees. It was such a blessing to see my friends joyfully celebrate the engagement of the young couple.

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One of the many blessings last night was the opportunity to see people I had not seen for years. When the first Mandean people came to my city 10 to 11 years ago, many of them were in an English Second Language class I taught. It was great to see them again especially to hear about their lives. One of them has become a Certified Nurse Assistant. Two have completed beauty school. There were smiles and hugs as we reconnected.

What really caught my attention was the dancing. When the engaged couple entered, they first came to the dance floor and were surrounded by the bride to be’s mother, sisters, nieces dancing in a circle around them. Then there was a father daughter dance for the bride to be and her father. There were other special dances such as two women dancing toward the couple, who were seated at the time, to bring rings on trays to them. Another dance one of the sisters of the bride to be danced holding a knife to cut the cake. She danced in front of the groom to be while he danced in front of her asking for the knife to cut the cake. She would gesture for money and the groom to be would keep taking more money out to hold up while they danced. Then the sisters gave the knife to the bride to be and the couple danced for a while and then danced to the cake to cut the cake.

The dancing was so much fun. The dances were mostly friends and family celebrating together. Sisters danced together. Mothers and daughters danced together. Men danced with men and women danced with women and groups danced together. The party was one big joy filled event. I even got out on the dance floor a few times.

Would Jesus have gone to the celebration last night? All we need to answer that is to reflect on where he performed his first miracle. Whenever I go to an engagement party or wedding for my international friends, I think about the first miracle Jesus performed when he was on earth. He was at a wedding feast in Cana and they ran out of wine. He turned water into wine and it was better than the best wine at the feast. The result was people coming to faith in Jesus. Jesus joined in the celebration of the newly married couple.

Rejoicing with those who rejoice in life’s special moments is part of my life’s work and ministry that I enjoy the most. Experiencing those moments with friends from other cultures has enriched my life and given me a completely new perspective on life. God has given me the opportunity to show his love to people from all the world in many different moments whether moments of rejoicing, moments of mourning, moments of learning, or moments of helping.

Last night was a joyful fun filled evening with people who were oppressed in their home country. Seeing them celebrate and being able to join them was an evening I won’t forget. Seeing former students and hearing about their lives was something that blessed me. It was as if God was giving me many reminders that with him my life has had a purpose and the purpose isn’t over yet. The realization that God was getting my attention last night hit me when one of my Mandean friends smiled and hugged me thanking me for helping her and her children by arranging for my church to help them with deposit on an apartment. So though I went to the party hoping to bless others, I was the one who left blessed and encouraged.

The night was so wonderful that even though I originally planned to go home at 10, I stayed until midnight. I left at midnight only because I needed to be up for church and to teach a class here at church. I am a little tired, but it is an oh so good kind of tired of having had a great night.

 

 

Friends Make a Difference

Going through difficult times a person realizes the blessing of friends. This past few weeks I have truly been blessed by my friends. I shared the other day about my young Vietnamese friends blessing me and how much it meant to me. There have been other blessings too.

I haven’t been driving lately, but getting home after my evening class hasn’t been a problem because two friends, Kolade and Roxanne,  have been giving me a ride home. They were both my assistants in my morning class in previous years. I am so proud of both of them for moving up to Lead Instructor. They have been so kind to give me rides home.

One of my Yazidi friends has given me many rides to be able to teach my Saturday morning class that he comes to. He even drove me one evening to pick up my prescriptions. My friend from church Kevan has given me rides on Sunday mornings, so I can go to church.

Another former assistant, Kelly who is doing great things in her own classes and in the commuity, knows I have Celiacs. She has a family member with Celiacs, so she understands about my need for living gluten free. She was so kind to make some gluten free food for me that I would never be able to. It is no secret that I am perhaps the world’s worst cook. 🙂

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I may have been passing through a tunnel, but not alone. Jesus has been with me every step of the way and he has blessed me with some wonderful friends and thanks to my friends, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Going through the tunnel has taught me so much, but I don’t want to go through it again. If I do, I will remember the old Beatles song I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.

 

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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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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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.