Palms Sunday- Jesus Rode in Knowing All That Would Happen

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Riding in on a white colt, Jesus heard the shouts and praises of “Hosanna to the Son of David” as people were excitedly welcoming Jesus by throwing palm leaves and even their cloaks on the road before Jesus. And why not? News had spread of his miracles especially his recent one of bringing Lazarus back from the dead. The people had been waiting for their Messiah, promised one, for a long time.

But Jesus knew what was about to happen in a few short days. He knew that the crowds would turn against him and cry out give us Barabas and of Jesus, crucify him. Jesus knew what was in their hearts, what is in our hearts, but he rode in to what he knew lay ahead- His Suffering for us. He knew he would be arrested, be put through a rigged trial, be beaten and tortured, and be crucified.

Jesus comes to us throughout our lives. He stands at the door and knocks and anyone who opens the door, he will enter. He comes to us knowing what is in our hearts. Knowing we will fail him, stumble along, sin, mess up, but he comes to us anyway. Why? Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem knowing they would crucify him in a few shorts days? Why does he come to me each day and say,”It is a new day” and why does he come to all of us?

Jesus gave the answer days before his crucifixion when he taught his disciples in John 15, ‘greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.’ Jesus rode in knowing all that would happen, he comes to us in our lives knowing our weakness, because- HE LOVES US.

The question is will we receive him and his love for us?

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

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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.

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.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Unsung Heroes Who Depend on Jesus

Yesterday I substitute taught a class, so one of my colleagues could go to a U.S. citizenship ceremony in another city. Thursdays I facilitate, not teach, and introduce speakers, so I can miss if something comes up. I felt it was important for my friend to go to the ceremony for a mutual friend because she had invested so much in our mutual friend. But that is not what my post is about today.

Single moms impress me so much. The ones I know at church I consider to be unsung heroes of faith. They press on in difficult circumstances depending in Jesus along the way.

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One single mom I know is a single mom not because of divorce or death. She came here as a refugee with her children, but due to a paperwork snafu, her husband couldn’t come at the same time She left the camp in Thailand to come here with her kids not knowing the language or anything about the new culture.

She was my student last school year.She moved in with her brother and sister-in-law, so her children are at the school where I subbed yesterday. When I saw her again, the first thing I noticed was that she drove to class. She can drive now. That is a huge accomplishment for her. She is working in a Thai restaurant, goes to English class in the mornings, and takes care of her children. She goes to church on Sundays with her kids. Those are the visible aspects of her life. What only God sees are the moments she spends in prayer at home.

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In America. we get so impressed with public figures such as the ones who write books we read to encourage our faith, the singers who sing songs about God. But in our churches, we have so many real life examples of people who can inspire us with their faith if we would only pay attention.

People like my refugee friend/single mom. She is someone who most would overlook, but if anyone would take the time to talk with her, they would find her to be a hero of the faith.

One challenge I would give my readers who are Christians is to read Hebrews 11. It is referred to as the Hall of Fame of Faith. Read through it again and ask yourself if anyone at the time the person was actually living would have thought the person would be help up as an example of faith.

For example, when Rahab hid Joshua and Caleb, did they think she would be an example of faith much less mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus? Or when Ruth followed Naomi and eventually married Boaz, did anyone at the time think she, the Moabite woman, would be in the family line of Jesus?

So let’s take time to get to know those unsung heroes of faith around us. We might be pleasantly surprised and encouraged. We may even be humbled by their examples of faith.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

You Remember My Name???

Tuesday evening one of my students came into class and I greeted him by name. He was surprised that I remembered his name after one class, but it seemed to be more than that. It impacted him that I would remember his name.

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My student is a Yazidi refugee. The Yazidi people were victims of genocide and have been oppressed for centuries. In the most recent genocide, the Yazidi people were labeled as less than human by the perpetrators of the genocide. So when my student came into class and I greeted him in his language with his name, it had an impact on him. He is not used to being treated as a human being, a PERSON, except by other Yazidi people.

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There was a man in the time Jesus was on earth who was shunned by others because he was a tax collector. Jesus came along one day and spotted him in a tree.The man had never met Jesus before, but Jesus knew who he was. In Luke 19 we read about Jesus greeting him by name:

“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly:”

Zacchaeus had never met Jesus before that day, but Jesus knew who he was and knew his name. Jesus called out to him by name. To others Zacchaeus was someone to ostracize and they viewed him as being beneath them. Jesus saw him as a PERSON that he loved. Jesus reached out to Zacchaeus and visited his home.Jesus treated Zacchaeus as a PERSON even though others scorned him.

Jesus knows us. He knows our name.He knows everything about us and loves us. When Jesus comes to us, he calls out to us treating us as a person. We matter to God.Our circumstances never cloud how Jesus views us or feels about us. To Jesus, each of us individually is a PERSON that he loves and wants relationship with.

It doesn’t matter is we struggle with family problems, addiction, depression, anxiety, chronic illness, or failure, to Jesus each of us individually is a PERSON that he loves and that he died for.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

I Hear You Help People, Will You Help Me?

One evening in April many years ago, I was standing outside the building where my evening classes were at the time waiting for the door to be unlocked. A young lady from Vietnam walked up and I greeted her in Vietnamese. It was shortly after sundown, so she could not tell if I was from Vietnam or not. She asked me if I was Vietnamese and I joked her with saying yes. The door was unlocked and it was time to go in, so I didn’t think any else about it, but she did.

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She asked one of her friends from Vietnam who I was and her friend told her I am the teacher who helps people. So during the break time, she came up to me and said, “I hear you help people” and then she asked, “Will you help me?” She was 23 years old and fairly new to America. She wanted to go to college, but no one in her family had ever gone to college..

We started meeting at a library near her house to study together on Sunday afternoons, After she got her driver’s license, she joined my weekend groups. She did graduate college in Accounting and got married. Now she helps her husband with his small business.

In the numerous small things we do over the years living for Jesus, we accumulate a reputation. Other people are watching us. I am so thankful that Jesus transformed my life from being someone who didn’t care about others to become a man who cares about refugees and immigrants. Jesus changed me and, as a result, changed my reputation. This brings to mind Psalm 34:

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun

If we delight in our relationship with Jesus, with God, he will do things for us that we could not imagine. God has blessed me to be able to share his love with people from all over the world. It springs out of my relationship with Jesus. Step by step and through small ways of sharing his love, Jesus has completely revamped my reputation to the point that a shy young woman would ask me for help in preparing for college.

But here’s the thing, I did not know that was the desire of my heart until after I began living for Jesus. He changed my heart and my desires.He knows what makes us tick better than we do. He doesn’t look at who we are to call us to do something. He looks at who we will become because of him. Our desires change the closer we are with Jesus.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Forgiveness from Me Led to My Father Receiving Forgiveness from God

One year ago,  I went to see the movie I Can Only Imagine and wrote this. It is a post I felt I should share again today.

.This is not a movie review. It is me sharing about how forgiveness led to my father, who was an alcoholic, coming to know Jesus in the final year of his life partly because I told him I had forgiven him a long time ago. I guess that is the point of a movie, to make one think about life. I am still kind of in the midst of memories flooding my mind as I write, but as with other things in my life, my hope is that by sharing even one person can be touched and helped.

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My intention is not to recount my father’s sins and shortcomings. I think when I say alcoholic it says enough and you can fill in the blanks. He did get sober and live sober the last almost thirty years of his life, but he never was able to talk with me directly for the making amends step. I would see him but there was no real conversation or connection even after he got sober.

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The path I chose for my life was to follow my Savior Jesus and try to live for him. It was a choice my father never seemed to approve of but the only approval I was seeking was that of my Lord Jesus. I tried to share my faith with my father at different times but he never wanted to hear it.

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In February 2008 I received a phone call telling me my father was in the hospital and that it was dire. I got there and found out his heart was weak and that he needed a quintuple bypass if they could get some other issues under control. I was alone with him in the room and felt it was time to talk. The first thing I told him was that he knew what I was about to share with him, but there was something he needed to know first. I told him I had forgiven him a long time ago. When he heard me say that, tears came trickling out of his eyes. Because he knew and felt I had forgiven him, he was open to the rest of what I wanted to share. After sharing with him about Jesus, I asked him if he wanted Jesus to forgive him and that if he did to give a thumbs up because he couldn’t speak very well. He raised both hands high in the air to give two thumbs up.

The following 14 months, he was in and out of the hospital. He was living in a nursing home. I visited him three or four times a week in the nursing home and spent a lot of time with him in the hospitals. Each time I would visit, I would have my bible in my hand and he would point to my bible wanting me to read to him. Then he would put his hand up for me to hold his hand while I prayed with him. I was basically his pastor the last 14 months of his life.

There were small blessings along the way during those 14 months such as when nurses, nursing assistants, or housekeeping workers from other countries would come into his room, I would ask them where they were from and the greet them in their language. In those hospital rooms, my father caught a glimpse into my life.

So maybe this posting is only cathartic on my part. My hope is it helps at least one person to have hope for their loved ones that seem lost to them and to realize that with Jesus, miracles can happen and not give up praying.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Music Mondays- Break Every Chain by Tasha Cobbs

There are so many ways to get bogged down in this life. We can feel like we are chained down by family problems, depression, anxiety, chronic illness, addiction, and our mistakes.

I love this version of Break Every Chain by Tasha Cobbs. She sings it so powerfully and beautifully. When I listen to this song, I think about what Jesus said about himself in Luke 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”

What does Jesus want to do for us? He wants to see us free from what chains us down in life. Why should we trust him with our struggles? Because he loves us and in his own words in Matthew 11:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.

It helps to know that the person offering help, Jesus, not only has the power and ability to help, but he has a gentle heart.

I hope this song blesses your Monday and week. Thank you for reading.God Bless.

Doctor- ‘You are now a healthy man’ Reaction-‘What Do I Do Now?”

It was in April 1996 that I heard these words from my doctor, “Matt, you are now a healthy man. It’s a miracle you didn’t die.”

So the natural first reaction is:

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Jump for Joy, right?

Well I did celebrate at first. Who wouldn’t after going through what I went through from 1993 to that day in April 1996. The tests, the doctors appointments, the symptoms, the complete changing of my life would all be behind me.

But then another thought hit me, “Oh No!!!! What do I do now?”

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I had a similar reaction to the character Stella Abbott had in the new show Life Sentence. She had cancer for eight years and then she found out she was cured after getting married thinking it would only be for six months or so until she died. She had the “Oh No!!! Now what do I do” reaction.

I didn’t have cancer. It was autoimmune issue number 2 for me. First it was asthma. The second? Nothing serious unless it is not diagnosed until it is too late (in my case it almost was) my thyroid stopped working. By the time they found it, I was about to go into heart, liver, and kidney failure. I had lost memory. I had left the school where I was studying for the ministry in April 1994. When I came back to my home city, I thought it was to die because of the decline I was experiencing. I was working part-time delivering pizza just to scratch out almost survival living. I had left everything behind and then came those words, “Matt you are now a healthy man.”

An illness can be an intrusive interruption of life. When we are sick for a prolonged period of time, no matter what the illness is, and then hear we will be okay, yes there is a relief, but there is also the rebuilding of one’s life to start on. For me it meant transferring to a school in a city one hour away, continuing to work, and trusting God to make sense of it all for me as I started to pick up the pieces with his help.

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I was literally trusting in the truth of what is written in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

There were the one hour drives to class, four hours of being in class, and one hour drives back home. There were different tries of new jobs. It was through my first three trips to Romania that God led me to teach ESL, but that is a story for another day.

I thank God for the people he put in my life during that time. One such friend passed away a few years ago and is with the Lord now. Joel and his wife Marlys were a huge blessing. One day my car broke down as I was driving to my class. I called Joel hoping to get a ride back to my city. He came and towed my car back to my city. There were others God put in my life too, but if I list them all the post will be way too long.

Here is the ‘plot twist’ so to speak in the story of my life. I am not happy I went through those years; one year getting sick, two years being sick, one year recovering, two more years to finish my education, but I am grateful for what those years did for me. Going through suffering, the doubt, and regrouping not knowing how it would work out, has given me a lot of empathy for my refugee and immigrant friends God has called me to help. I hope to be as good of a friend to them as Joel and Marlys were to me.

If you are experiencing an “Oh no” moment, hang on because God has a hold of you.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.