A rare Saturday with nothing on my schedule means I can relax. My only plan today is to chill out on a cold winter day- pun intended 🙂
It has been quite cold this week waking up to below zero temperatures, but the week was busy. So today is a day to relax.
My coffee pot is full, I have food in the refrigerator. It is warm in my place. So I do not need to go anywhere.
I have books to keep me company. I think I will start with reading some Spanish and then some Portuguese. I also feel like going down memory lane a bit and reread the book that sparked my journey on the road to my ministry. That book is Tortured for Christ by Rev. Wurmbrand.
Rev. Wurmbrand also started a ministry called Voice of the Martyrs. You can sign up to receive information about persecuted Christians throughout the world. You can find the website at persecution.com
So not much going on for me today. Just some reading in Spanish, Portuguese and English. It is good to have a little time to relax, withdraw, refresh, and renew.
I am a little cynical about New Year’s Day because nothing really changes. I will have the same problems, responsibilities, and obligations that I did yesterday. But it seems like a good artificial time to reflect.
Speaking of reflecting on last year, the question would be do I forget it, remember it, or both forget and remember?
The thing about memories from the past is that we can tend to beat ourselves up with them. We can dwell on mistakes and failures and let them get us down and forget the good things.
We can also dwell on successes to think about how wonderful we are, or how much we achieved to puff ourselves up forgetting our mistakes.
There is a balance in the bible when it comes to forgetting and remembering. In Isaiah 43 we read:
“This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
God starts of by reminding them what he did for them, making a way through the Red Sea for their ancestors, while in the same breath telling them to forget the former things and not dwell on the past.
In other words- Don’t let the past hold us down, focus on God and the new things he is doing for us.
Paul wrote about this issue in Philippians 3:
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
This is right after he listed his past accomplishments before he met Jesus and became a Christian. There is balance in the chapter. Paul lists his past as a way of sharing how much better it is to live for Jesus. That is why he says forgetting what is behind.
God doesn’t want us living in the past. He doesn’t want us to dwell on it and beat ourselves up with it. Learn from it, yes. Share how he helped us to encourage others and ourselves? Yes!!
But he wants us focused on the now with him and our future with him. He wants our focus on HIM. Why? Because it is the best thing for us.
Dwelling on past mistakes can lead to feeling defeated, depressed, and discouraged. Focusing on Jesus can lead to hope for our lives.
There are times that we need counseling or help to recover from things in the past such as abuse. That is different than what I am talking about and if you have suffered abuse of any kind, please seek help.
Also there are times we need help with issues like clinical depression and anxiety disorders. I am not talking about those and if you need help with those, please seek it out.
I am talking about our own mistakes and failures and not dwelling on them. Focus on God, he has the answers. 🙂
How do we respond to God guiding us in life? Do we doubt him and his ability to come through only looking at our circumstances or do we respond with faith even though we are unsure how it will happen?
2 times the Angel Gabriel appeared to announce miracle births, one time to Zechariah to announce the John the Baptist would be born even though he and his wife were old and had never had children, and one time to Mary to announce she had been chosen to have the baby Jesus even though she was a virgin. Both Zechariah and Mary had questions. The difference was in their attitude and faith behind the questions.
Zechariah answered, “How can I be sure of this?” expressing doubt in what he was being told by a messenger obviously sent from God. Zechariah had ignored the lesson from Abraham and Sarah when they had Isaac when Abraham was over 100 and Sarah was over 90. Zechariah was a priest so more was expected from him. As a result, Zechariah could not speak until John was born for doubting God’s revelation.
When the angel Gabriel told Mary she had been chosen to have the Son of God, Jesus, she asked a question that makes a lot of sense to me considering her life situation at the time. Mary was a virgin at the time, so she asked “how will this be since I am a virgin?” She was seeking clarification and once Gabriel explained it for her, she said, “I am the Lord servant. May your word be fulfilled.”
When I think about Mary’s question, I realize how many times I have had the same question when God shows me He wants me to do something.
When I think about Zechariah’s response, sadly I must confess at times I have also had doubts.
When God showed me that he wanted me to teach English while I was on a trip in Bucharest Romania in October 1999, I had limited experience at that point having only taught in a few English camps in Romania in 1997 and 1998. It was a complete change of direction for me in my life. I wondered how it would work out. I asked him to show me the way. I asked for clarification of the call. I took the first steps to begin teaching English in Lincoln and each step along the way He has guided me. I have been teaching English for seventeen years in my home city and since that trip to Bucharest have also taught in English camps in Romania and France and also in a university in Brazil.
We all have questions when God guides us. It is normal to have questions. The difference is in our attitude behind the questions. If we do not understand and want clarification from a humble heart like Mary, that is okay. If we doubt and question the message even when it is obvious it is from God, there can be consequences.
The question is do we want to follow Mary’s example of faith while asking for clarification or Zechariah’s example of doubt even in the face of something obviously from God.
How comforting it is to have a guide when we travel to a new place we do not know. The Lord has blessed me to be able to travel to ten different countries for ministry trips. I always appreciate the translators I have when I travel. They help me to know where to go, to understand the culture etc.
I have been thinking about a proverb I have heard from my friends from Asia. When I say it, my Chinese friends say it is from China, my Korean friends say it is from Korea, my Japnaese friends say it is from Japan. The proverb or saying goes like this:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Sometimes we lose our way in life because we are broken imperfect people. We might lose our way because of addiction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or family issues, but Jesus is always there to guide us back onto the path of our journey.
Life with God is an eternal journey because it is a relationship with God who is eternal. We can spend all eternity in relationship with God and still not know Him completely. We can know what He shows us, but we who are finite cannot fully understand God who is eternal. That is why God in His love has given us a guide for the journey that will stay with us forever. Jesus is the guide. If we will receive Him, He will guide us and stay with us forever. He said that himself when He said, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.”
Jesus promised another helper when he spoke to his followers about his impending death and resurrection. He promised the Holy Spirit would come in John 14:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Jesus wants to be our guide in our eternal journey with God. He will help us to know the way. The question is will we let Him guide us?
My home church has been studying through the book of James and on Sunday morning the pastor that was teaching asked us what word comes to mind when we think what God would say about us. I have to admit my mood has been down a little lately as I deal with asthma, bronchitis etc. I tend to be my own worst critic because I know my failures past and present. So when the pastor asked us to think of a word, what came to my mind was- disappointment, as in a disappointment to God.
Believe me, I could build a case for such a thought, but is that really how God sees any of his children?
We need to remember that when God looks at us, he sees Jesus because Jesus died for us. Jesus is also advocating for us with God the Father. When God looks at us, he sees his children. But reading it and having a concrete tangible reminder are different blessings.
So when I received a comment on my facebook post of my blog post yesterday, it subtly worked its way into my spirit. The comment came from a friend of mine who was my assistant in my morning class a few years ago. Her comment was, “by the way every time I listen to the song below, I think about you talking about Jesus.” What song is it? I Can Only Imagine.
The thought that my friend connects such a beautiful song about Jesus and heaven with me is such a nice compliment. After I read the comment, it was like a gentle nudge from Jesus to snap me out of my bronchitis induced funk.
God knows how to get through to us. He is always speaking to us in various ways. He is always with us. We just need to listen and pay attention. When we aren’t, God knows how to get our attention. For me it was through a comment from a friend on Facebook.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
I love this quote from Mother Teresa. Her ministry was built on doing countless small things for those who suffer and led to her being known around the world, but being known around the world was not her motivation. Her love for Jesus and others was her motivation.
Last night before my class, one of my students, a young woman from Mexico, was talking on her phone with her grandmother in Mexico. I motioned for her to hand me her phone, she gave it to me, and I spoke with her grandmother in Spanish telling her that her granddaughter is a good student, a good woman who loves Jesus, and that she can be proud of her granddaughter. The grandmother lives in a small town in Mexico. I wanted to encourage my student and her grandmother. I also knew that a simple thing of her granddaughter’s teacher speaking with would give her something to talk with her friends about.
When I was younger and a new Christian, I dreamed of doing great things serving Jesus. I read books about people who had done wonderful things and felt inspired by them. But as I grew in my faith and in my relationship with Jesus, I realized Jesus had the heart to serve in love. Yes, he performed great miracles, but he also connected with people by interacting with them in normal every day moments.
Doing the “small things” give me the opportunity to show the love of Jesus in normal every day life.
Doing the small things can lead to “doing bigger things”, but God does not seem to differentiate like we do. He rewards faithfulness. In Hebrews 6 we see:
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.“
Jesus spoke of doing small things for others being rewarded as being done to him in Matthew 25:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I am thankful God has helped me to be more aware of the “small things” in life and to look for those moments such as taking a few minutes to talk with a grandmother in Mexico.
Dear reader let’s pray for opportunities to share God’s love in doing the small things. It can lead to wonderful things.
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”
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.
One question anyone would have about God or Jesus while deciding to follow him would be can I trust this person. One thing that Jesus said that I often reflect on is what Jesus said when He first talked with his disciples. He came to them and said “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.
The follow me part is one thing- to follow Jesus where He leads us, but the “I will make you” part is another thing altogether.
Jesus invites us to come to Him. He invites us to follow Him. He loves us immensely and said He will always be with us. Those truths make me feel that yes it is safe to follow Jesus.
The “I will make you” part makes can make us stop to think what does He want. Jesus loves us so much He accepts us the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.
The moment we come to Him and begin to follow Him, He begins the life long process of making us a new person with a new purpose. He will transform us and we will never be the same.
I have experienced this in my own life. When I first began to follow Him, I was a business man and only cared about me and making money. That was in July 1989 when I first rededicated my life to HIM. Now I teach part time and have a ministry part time. My life is so much fuller now. I make less money and have less things, but my life is full of people from all over the world and I have been able to help people from numerous countries. The old Matt is gone, but the new Matt has a more meaningful life. It reminds me of 2nd Corinthians 5:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
It also reminds me of a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia when the children asked a question about Aswan the Lion King. They asked “Is he safe?” and the person they were talking to answered “No but he is good”.
Jesus does not harm us, but the old ways are not safe. He will work in our lives to change us and bring out the best in us. Deciding to follow Him is not a decision to take lightly because there is a cost. We need to realize that we are no longer in control and that Jesus will make us into something we may have never dreamed of. In other words- He is not safe to our old ways, but He is always good.
Sunday morning I was sitting in the coffee area in my church that we call Solid Grounds. I was sitting near the coffee counter when a woman walked up.
We started talking and she opened up about her life. She shared about her health struggles, struggles with depression, financial difficulties and family struggles with a child with autism. We talked for about 20 minutes with me mostly listening. I encouraged her to go to the women’s group on Tuesday morning and encouraged her to continue meeting with the woman in the church she has received counseling from.
After she left, I thought about the time Jesus sat down by a well in Samaria in John 4. A woman came to get water and Jesus asked her for a drink. She was surprised he would talk with her because he was a Jew and Jews thought of Samaritans as being unclean spiritually. Jesus spoke with the woman who had been married five times and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. He shared with her about eternal life and God.
God meets us in everyday moments in life such as going to a well for water or connecting us with someone close to the coffee bar at a church. God is always at work everywhere we go.
Divine appointments can happen when we follow God and his leading in our lives. When we spend time with God in prayer and grow in our relationship with him, those divine appointments can be frequent occurrences and a great blessing.
When God arranges those moments for me to help, share Christ’s love, or be there for someone at a key moment, I feel close to God. Jesus talked how we can know what God is doing because of our friendship with him in John 15:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
I have an old picture of me with my siblings from when I was 20 years old. Every time I look at it what stands out to me is the fact that I do not look like my siblings. If one were to look at them, one could tell their are related, but not me. I kind of stand out like a sore thumb. I had theories over the years that I was adopted and never told about it.
This morning I read from 1 Peter 2 about who those who follow Jesus are:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
It caused me to wonder if I stand out in the way I live. Does my life show Jesus to others? Does it show that I am a member of a royal priesthood? Do I show the love of Jesus to others?
Jesus does not come into our lives just for us to selfishly enjoy our relationship with him. He wants us to share him and his love with others. He wants our lives to exemplify him.
My desire today is to reflect Jesus to those I come in contact with.