Monthly Archives: November 2012

Time Travel Jet Lag

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We are coming up on “summer vacation” here in Costa Rica.  As a family we are looking forward to returning to the States for a few weeks of R&R for Christmas and to attend a World Missions Summit.  We are totally blessed to be able to travel with relative ease between our mission field and our home state.  But in many ways, making short trips back home sort of has the same effect as traveling through time might have.  I feel like I get Time Travel Shock and the space-time continuum is interrupted.

When I am in Latin America, the third world is my “normal”.  It’s like I exist in a completely different period of time now.  There are so many aspects of life that I just take for granted at this point.  The things that used to shock me or catch my attention have become part of my background white noise and I hardly notice them any more.  But when I am dropped like a paratrooper back into my original setting, everything that used to be “normal” before I was a missionary seems stunning or note-worthy.  Not only do I change locations physically, I seem to travel into the future to a time that has not yet existed in Costa Rica.  The bouncing back and forth can be quite a shock to me both mentally and emotionally.

Let me expound on just one feature of my time travel shock.  When I return to Minnesota the first thing I notice is the SPACE around me.  There is just so much SPACE!  Even in a crowded airport, I have ample elbow room.  When we get in the car and drive from the airport to the house, the cars all keep a reasonable distance from each other. The highway is buffered on both flanks by wide hills of grass or dunes of snow depending on the season.  So much unused SPACE!  In the grocery store, I have lost all sense of what is an appropriate distance to maintain between myself and the other shoppers.  Either I fall into my Latin American patterns of driving my cart right up to the behind of the person in line in front of me, or I over compensate and leave a confusing gap between us.  My sense of space is all out of wack.

When I return again to Latin America, the first thing I notice when I step outside of the airport is the closeness of everything and everyone.  The humidity wraps around my head and presses against my face, making me feel like I am breathing through a wet blanket.  The people press in all around me asking to carry my bags or find a taxi for me.  I have to resist the urge to start pushing people out of my way.  I want to shove everyone and shout, “Back off!  I have been folded into an airplane seat for hours and I really need some space.”  The smells of wet pavement, rotting sewer, and over perfumed humanity all press in against my senses leaving me no where to turn.  Then we get in the car and start driving home.  The traffic zooms up to us and stops suddenly, no buffer, no fear of hitting us.  They are just taking up space as fast as they can lest another car come along and claim that inch of pavement.  We zoom, they zoom.  The buildings on both sides of the highway hug the road, dangerously close.  When we stop, people swarm the car trying to sell us things through the car windows.  We keep the windows rolled up.  That 3/4 of an inch of glass between us and the street vendors feels like enough space.  Personal space has become relative.

In addition to our awkward use of space and the gawking our family of 5 will do in every public space, going back for Christmas time is a surreal experience in and of itself.  My parents want my kids to make a Christmas list.  My kids don’t know what toys are “out there” now.  They ask me, “What do I need, Mom?”  I just shake my head.  I am stuck back in time from when we first left America 6 years ago.  I think about what will fit in a suitcase- again, I have space issues.  Before we leave, I will search the internet for what clothes are in fashion now.  I will try to pack things that are neutral enough so that I blend into the background and don’t make me stick out like someone who just arrived from the year 2006.  Not only to we change spaces, we change times as well.  I am already anticipating the Time Travel Jet Lag.

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The World was Not Worthy of Them

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“Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed foreign armies.  Women received their loved ones back from the dead.  There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better:  resurrection.  Others braved abuse and whips, and yes, chains and dungeons.  We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless- the world didn’t deserve them!- making their way as best they cold on the cruel edges of the world.”  Hebrews 11:32-38

Westminster Abbey martyrs

I teach the Book of Acts to the 9th graders at our school.  I really did try to get out of this assignment, but it seems that I’m the only teacher who actually went to Bible College, so I was the obvious choice for teacher.  Turns out, I’m really enjoying this class.  It kind of reminds me of teaching Sunday School to our youth group kids all those years ago.  But this class is distinctly different from our church youth group where the majority of the kids had grown up in church, hearing all the classic Bible stories over and over again until they were bored with them.

This class is made up of a wide variety of denominations, most are some flavor of Protestant, one is Catholic, one hasn’t decided if he really wants to follow Jesus or not.  There are a handful of missionary kids, and the rest are Latinos whose parents want them to learn English.  So my first question of the year was, “Who has read the book of Acts in the Bible?”  Not one of them.  As I teach, I weave back and forth between the Old and New Testaments showing parallels in other stories, discussing symbolism unique to Judaism, explaining cultural details that us Western thinkers often miss.  The thing that is interesting to me is that if I were teaching this to our kids who grew up in church, they would be bored.  They have heard this so many times.  But for this class, most of these stories are new and ALL of the conclusions I present are revelations to them.  And that’s exciting to me.

I love laying out new material.  I love seeing the lights go on in their eyes, waiting for that “Ah-ha!” moment when it all clicks for them.  I love watching the wheels start to turn in their minds as they are exposed to completely new thoughts.  I love hearing them unravel a story and wind it back up again- making it theirs.  I love that.

When we reached the point of the story where the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is stoned and then later Saul is converted.  We “camped out” on these stories.  We talked a lot about what it means to be a martyr and why the Lord allows Christians to die like that.  We read stories about modern day martyrs and watched the movie “The End of the Spear”.  Then I assigned them a paper about a martyr of their choice.  This awakening of knowledge stirs the embers of passion into a flame.  This age, kids can really seize upon a cause and wrap their hearts around it.  They want to meet with ideas that challenge them to think and feel and question their own beliefs.  This is a good age to stoke the flames of dedication.

The potential to change the world that sits latent in those desks in my class room is just staggering to me. Will the world find itself unworthy of any of my students?  I hope so.  I hope that some day these kids will look back on their 9th grade year as the year when they decided to get serious about their relationship with God- to really “go for it” and “give their all”.  If you can look death in the face and know where you will end up once the battle is over, then you have robbed death of its power of intimidation over you.  You won’t fear death.  Death comes to us all.  Will the world which is unworthy of your life, look you in the face as you die and sigh because it could not conquer you?

Refiner’s Fire

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Christians have a different perspective on suffering because we look for meaning in the process.  We feel God close to us in times of trials.  How else could Paul and Silas sing songs of praise to the Lord while chained up in a prison cell?  How else do you explain the servant of God who is arrested in a Muslim country yet begs his friends NOT to push for his release, just let God have His way?  How else do you account for the Chinese pastor who spends the rest of his life talking about the “golden days” of his captivity when Jesus was so sweet and close?  “Suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” so says Romans 5:3-4.

But I like how The Message version says it:

“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.  In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged.  Quite the contrary- we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”  (Romans 5:3-5 The Message)

There’s an old song sung by Vineyard from back when I was a kid.  It talks about the Refining Fire of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of a Jesus Follower.  It requires fire to purify silver and gold… very hot fire.  And it is the same way with us.  In our troubles, we are made more useful and beautiful and pure for our work here on this Earth.  God always has a plan where suffering is concerned.  It is not random. I hum this tune to myself quite often as I meditate on the lyrics:

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin
Deep within

Refiner’s fire

My heart’s one desire

Is to be holy

Set apart for You, Lord

I choose to be holy

Set apart for You, my Master

Ready to do Your will

Baptism by Fire

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I’ve been thinking about this phrase “Baptism by Fire” these last few months and wondering where it came from.  I asked a few Costa Rican friends if they had anything in Spanish that was similar, but they said No.  (Maybe if there’s someone out there who knows of one, you could add it to the comments here.)  So of course, I Googled it.  Basically it comes from taking some scripture verses out of context and applying them to a really hard situation.  Once upon a time it was used in France to talk about a soldier’s first real combat experience.  And the Mormons have added it to their rituals, again taking the scriptures out of context, to confer a higher authority (“priesthood”) on someone.

But the more I think about this phrase, and about the imagery of fire, the more I feel like it’s a gross exaggeration of a temporary rough spot in life.  It’s an exaggeration along the lines of “you’re killing me” or “we’re flat broke” or “that was the last straw.”  When we use such over the top words to describe a fleeting trial, we start to feel hopeless and victimized by life.  We start to imagine that we are some kind of martyr in  unusual circumstances.

But the Bible tells me that there is no trial or temptation which is new to mankind, nothing new under the sun, nothing that hasn’t been tried and conquered before.  This gives me great hope.  Rather than stripping me of my uniqueness, it bolsters me with good company.  Others have gone this way before me… and survived.  Sure some have fallen into the gorge on the side of the trail, but the survivors have left their torches along the path to illuminate my steps.  Their baptism by fire lights my way.  I can do this!

In the flames of my trial, I find the essence of my being.  I know what I am made of.  The dross, the flaws, the impure is burned away and the gold and silver bubble to the surface.  It’s the way God designed me.  As I pass through the trials, this old world burns away.  The straw and wooden crutches that have supported me go up in a flash and I have to stand on my faith- really owning it, really trusting it.  Is it strong enough to hold me up?  Or am I going down in flames too?

God does not preserve us from the flames.  They serve a purpose.  The martyrs of old met their end in the flames, being burned alive for their confession of faith and seeing this faith materialize into the face of Jesus right in the midst of their trial.  And it was in the very midst of the fiery furnace that the Son of Man met those three Hebrew teenagers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (in the Bible, Daniel chapter 3).  They were not rescued from the fire- they met God IN the fire.  I bet if you asked any one of them if they would have liked to skip over this episode in their lives, not one of them would choose to miss out on their closest encounter with God.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of epic proportions that has encouraged Jesus Followers for centuries thereafter.  The fire is not our enemy- the fire is our opportunity to meet God face to face.

Embrace your trial by fire and seek for Jesus’s face amidst the flickering flames.  Let everything else go up in flames.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O kind.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  Daniel 3:17-18

I am the Ring

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Tired

Lord, I’m so tired.

Life is feeling long and weary.

The days are feeling so… daily,

So routine.

I am growing weary of this old world

Its dramas

Its heartbreaks

Its disappointments

Its aggravating tendency to break down and wear out.

I am ready to be done with the temporal.

I’m longing for the eternal.

Does it really matter, all the things I give my time to?

Does it really matter if the grout in my shower is white?

Does it really matter if every corner of the house is dusted?

Does it matter that there are 20 pairs of shoes cluttering the front door?

Why does this stress me?

My heart and mind are longing to soar

My hands and feet are moored to this soil

This pull between here and there

Now and later

Heaven and Earth

Is causing me to ache all over.

You know I’m just made of dust.

This old, earthy case for my soul is feeling shabby and dull

And inside my soul sparkles and shimmers

With intense longing for my source,

For the Rock from which I was cut.

I am the Ring

Return me to my source.

I just want to be where you are, Lord.

I am just so tired, so very tired.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

And if you don’t come rescue me,

At least come close to me.

“All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.”  Psalm 38:9

Thanksgiving for a New Friend

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Recently I have made a new friend at the school where I teach.  She is more than 10 years younger than me, but age has never been an issue with me.  I have had friends who are much older than me and friends who are much younger than I.  The quality that really attracts me to any friend is her authenticity.  Nothing is more delightful than someone who is comfortable just being her self.

A friend like that is like your favorite pair of jeans.  Sometimes you just want to grab your “go-to” outfit without thinking too hard about how nice you look.  Sometimes you just want to wear something comfortable that you won’t have to be adjusting or fussing with all day long.  Sometimes you just want those jeans that are a bit worn and always the perfect fit.  Yeah, a real friend is like a great pair of jeans… you never want to take them off.

My new friend is “sweet”.  That is the first word that I would use to describe her- and it’s a genuine quality in her.  The other day I had a crazy thought.  I wondered if it could actually hurt to be so sweet.  I mean, it would pain me to try so hard to be sweet, but she seems to come by it naturally.  I don’t think anyone would use the word “sweet” to describe me.  I have a stubborn, ornery streak that spices up the flavors of my personality.  (I come by that naturally too.  My mom says I’m just like my dad.)  At least I don’t perceive myself as being sweet like my friend is.

But my favorite thing about my new friend is how she talks about Jesus.  Our conversations nearly always wind their way around to Jesus.  We both love God with all our hearts and have dedicated our lives to serving Him, so naturally we would talk about God a lot.  My friend’s conversations are always so uplifting and refreshing.  I’ve had some friends who talk about God in a pious, self-righteous sort of tone and that just rubs me the wrong way.  But my friend talks about Jesus in a personal way that I can identify with.  She is not ashamed to tell of times when Jesus has scolded her in her heart for a bad attitude or revealed a falsehood in her way of thinking.  She is not afraid to admit when she screwed up and to ask God to forgive her.  And this is a lesson that I am still learning for myself.  I always feel closer to Jesus after I’ve talked with my friend.

In my taxonomy of friendship, I know I have a really great friend when I feel like I never get enough of spending time with this person.  Normally people wear me out, but when I realize that a friend fills me up instead of drains me, this is a good thing.  I only get to eat lunch (18 minutes) a few times a week with my friend and to see her a few times in passing in the hallway.  So yeah, I feel like I don’t get to spend enough time with her.  She doesn’t drain me; she leaves me always wanting more.

Since she is a single girl living overseas and away from her family, I invited her to our Thanksgiving dinner with the other missionary families that we work with here.  Secretly I was hoping that we would get to spend more time talking together… and we did.  We spent the whole afternoon in the kitchen together.  (I broke a wooden spoon stirring my thick, gluey mashed potatoes and we died laughing at that!)  Then we joined the other missionaries for our big feast.

Not only did we get full of food, but we filled up our spirits as well.  We talked of Jesus and what he’s doing in our lives.  We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  We got teary-eyed telling each other touching personal stories.  I feel like our hearts were even more knitted together over our turkey and pie.  So for me, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and I have so much to be thankful for.  I am very thankful for my new friend who encourages me and builds up my faith.  I wish we all had a friend like her.

My sweet friend. Isn’t she adorable?!

Get off the Computer!

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Hey, get off the computer!

Quit reading blogs, puttering around on Facebook or surfing the internet.  It’s Thanksgiving!  Go be thankful for something.  Go hug your family.  Go pet your dog.  Go enjoy a nap on the couch while the football game is on.  Go pick at the leftovers some more.  Just for one day, be a part of real life… fully!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving in English and Spanish

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This past Monday I taught a little lesson about Thanksgiving for the Chapel at the school where I teach.  I wrote it in both English and Spanish.  My neighbor, the 4th grade teacher, is a Costa Rican and the two of us tag-teamed reading the lesson.  I thought it would be fun for some of you to see the lesson in both English and Spanish.  Now I warn you, I have not had anyone edit my Spanish this time, so if I really screwed up… don’t tell me.  So here goes nothing:

Thanksgiving

It is one of the most popular American traditions to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Next to Christmas, Thanksgiving is the most popular holiday of the year in the United States.  The traditional story says that the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with an Indian named Squanto and his tribe.  They feasted together and gave thanks to God for their friends, the Indians, who helped them and taught them to hunt, fish and farm in the New World.  But most of this story is just a myth.

The first official Thanksgiving was declared by President Abraham Lincoln, during the American Civil War.  In 1863 Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.  It was a day to thank God for his mercies even while the nation was at war.  The people were to ask God for forgiveness for their sins and to pray for the families who had lost a loved one in the war.  And finally, they were to pray for peace.

Today Thanksgiving has become a time to gather with family and give thanks to God for his blessings.  Even people who don’t believe in God celebrate Thanksgiving.  For them it might be more about the food and football, but they also focus on the blessings of family, friends, and prosperity.  As Christians, we do thank God for his many blessings and for our families, but we are most thankful for Jesus Christ who brought us peace with God himself.  As we eat turkey and celebrate God’s goodness to us, let’s talk together about all the things we have to be thankful for.

Día de Acción de Gracias

 Para celebrar ‘El Día de Acción de Gracias’ es unas de las tradiciones más popular en Los Estados Unidos.  A lado de Navidad, este día es la feria mas popular del año.  La historia traditional dice que los romeros la celebraron su primera cosecha con un idigena se llamaba Squanto y su tribo.  Ellos comieron juntos y dieron gracias a Dios por sus amigos, los indigenas, quien los ayudaban y los enseñaban a ellos para cazar, pescar, y cultivar en El Mundo Nuevo.  Pero la majoria de esta cuenta es solo un mito.

Oficialmente, el primer Día de Acción de Gracias era declarado por El Presidente Abraham Lincoln, durante la Guierra Cival de Los Estados Unidos.  En el año 1863, Lincoln proclamó un Día de Gracias Nacional para será celebrado en el ultimo Jueves de Noviembre.  Era un día para dar gracias a Dios por sus misericordias mientras la guierra nacional.  La gente tenga que pedir perdon a Dios por sus pecados y que orar por las familias quien han perdidos en la guierra miembros de su familia.  Y por ultimo, ellos debieron orar por paz.

Hoy, este día ha sido tiempo para pasar con la familia y dar gracias a Dios por todos de sus bendiciones.  Incluso las personas que no son Cristianos.  Para ellos, podria ser mas sobre la comida y el partido de football, pero tambien ellos sen enfocan en las bendiciones de familia, amigos, y prosperidad.  Como Cristianos, tambien damos gracias a Dios por sus bendiciones y nuestras familias, pero especialmente somos agradecemos a Jesu Christo quien nos compró la paz a nosotros y Dios mismo.  Mientras comemos nuestra pavo y celebremos la bondad de Dios a nosotros, vamos a recordar juntos sobre todas las cosa que tenemos que agradecir.

 

Complaining is a SIN?? You’ve got to be kidding.

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“Magnify the Lord with Thankfulness.” (Ps. 69:30)

What does it mean to Magnify something?  Think about those old machines called “overhead projectors”  (I’m sorry if you just had a flash back from high school algebra class).  An overhead makes things LOOK bigger than they really are.  I could put my hand on the overhead and the shadow would look HUGE on the wall behind me.  Is my hand really that big?  No.  But this machine makes it look bigger by magnifying it.

The Bible says we are to MAGNIFY the Lord.  Can we really make God bigger?  No, neither can we put God on the overhead and make his shadow bigger.  But what we can do is to make our VIEW of him bigger.  Sometimes we have very little ideas about God.  We think that he can’t help us or he can’t hear us or he can’t heal us.  But the Bible says that God holds the whole UNIVERSE in his hands.  That means he can do whatever he wants to do.  We need to have a bigger view of God.  We need to “zoom in” on God and let him fill our view finder.

How do we expand our view of God?  Through Thanksgiving.  Well, that sounds kind of weird.  Why would giving thanks make God look bigger?  Let’s think about the opposite of Thanksgiving.  The opposite of Thanksgiving is complaining.  Have you ever complained about anything before?  Raise your hand, be honest.  If you have a Facebook account you have probably complained about something before- it seems that half of Facebook is people complaining about something… the other half is pictures of bacon.  Just kidding.  So we all agree that we have complained before.

Did you know that complaining is a SIN?!?  Well it IS!  The Bible says that we are to do all things without complaining.  That means when we complain, we are disobeying God.  Now, can you think of any stories in the Bible where someone complained?  I can.  The Children of Israel complained for 40 years while wandering around in the desert.  “There’s sand in my shoes.  It’s hot out here.  I have to go to the bathroom.  Are we there yet?”  God did AMAZING miracles right in front of their eyes EVERY SINGLE DAY and they barely saw them.  They were too busy focusing on their complaints to notice.

God parted the Red Sea right in front of them, gave them water from a rock, lead them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, healed them from snake bites and saved them from their enemies, but all they could think about was the “comforts” of their slavery back in Egypt.  They complained that they missed the Egyptian food.  They complained that it was hot and dry and sandy in the desert.  They complained that they wanted a god that they could see like the Egyptian idols.  And this really made God angry.

They were so focused on what made them UNHAPPY that they couldn’t see their blessings.   Whatever you focus on gets magnified.  Whatever you magnify, fills you.  God cannot fill you if you are already full of yourself and your own complaints.  Focusing on the little blessings in your life and thinking of each one as a gift from God will make your life feel full of gifts.  With you hands full of gifts from God, you will feel loved by him and you won’t be able to stop praising him with your thankful heart.

Through Thanksgiving, we zoom in and focus on God and he begins to fill our vision until He is all we see.  We make our view of him bigger by giving him thanks and not focusing on our complaints.  We magnify God in our own vision by giving thanks to him for the millions of blessings he’s given to us.  In that way, God gets bigger in our sight and instead of our mouths filling with complaints, our conversations overflow with gratitude.  The people around us will notice our gratitude and will expand THEIR view of God as well.

Please pass the “Salad of Lettuce”

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When we lived in Mexico, we invited our Mexican friends over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  I included tortillas for a touch of familiarity for our friends, but I assure you that was the first time that tortillas were present on my Thanksgiving table.  I remember one of the little boys sat staring at his plate, dumbfounded.  Then he whispered loudly to his mother, “Que es esto?/ What is this?”

She quickly shushed him and explained hurriedly, “Es ensalada de lechuga./ It’s salad of lettuce.”  I stiffled a giggle at her description.  I can only imagine what turkey and mashed potato tacos tasted like to them.  But they ooh-ed and ahh-ed appropriately throughout the meal.  Then once I brought out the pumpkin pie, they thought they died and went to heaven!  From then on, I have had regular requests from my friends (in both Costa Rica and Mexico) to make pumpkin pie at all times of the year.

Last year, I made 11 pies during the month of November.  Each time my Latino friends rolled their eyes in ecstasy as they savored every bite.  Then they asked for the recipe.  I doubt that any of them will actually USE the recipe, since it’s much easier to just ask the Gringa to bring a pie.  But they loved it.

So at the end of last November, I cleared out the store shelf and bought a dozen cans to last throughout the year.  Wouldn’t you know it, this is the year that the store decided to stock pumpkin pie filling ALL YEAR LONG.  They’ve never had it year round until the year I stock up.  Well, never mind, I’ve been well prepared all year.

So I started THIS holiday season off right.  This past weekend I made 5 pies.  Some were for the school bake sale this week, and others were to treat my kids’ classmates to a bite of spicy heaven.  But my middle daughter has decided that she does not want to share her pie with her friends.  She would rather keep the pie here at home and make some less-coveted treat like pumpkin bars or chocolate chip cookies for her friends.  I assured her, I have more pie where those came from!