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Archive for March, 2010

The slice of supreme pizza lay untouched on his plate as Bob* leaned across the table, speaking in a low voice of his experiences the last several months. It was the night before our 3rd Fresh Start seminar in East Asia, and our hosts had arranged a special dinner meeting with Bob at Pizza Hut to hear some background about some of the members of his fellowship group who would be participating.

His cell phone turned off and the battery removed to avoid being tracked or listened to, Bob told our team how his local fellowship group had been targeted recently by the authorities. The leaders were taken into custody suddenly one night last fall, and interrogated for many hours. The group was forced out of their building and has not been allowed to return since. Members of the group have been followed, harassed, questioned, and threatened. Now meeting in small groups in private homes, the numbers have dwindled from 1000 to about 300.

“I’m always looking around me now,” Bob confessed, “and if I’m in a public place, I wonder if there are cameras or people listening or someone following me.” The stress of his situation has even taken a toll physically. One of our hosts told us later that she didn’t recognize him at first because he’s lost so much weight in the last few months.

Yet as he recounted these events, Bob’s face radiated a peace that went beyond his circumstances. “I want to be like Job,” he smiled. “Even though I suffer a lot, I will thank the Father in everything.”

He was even able to see some good in this period of trial. The members of his fellowship group, though fewer in number, are stronger than ever before. And he’s been able to share the reason for his hope with some of the authorities who have been questioning him!

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). By giving thanks in the midst of his suffering, believing that God will work it all for good, and praying blessing on those who were mistreating him (Romans 12:14-21), Bob was on the path to forgiveness and freedom.  His heart was in a position to reflect the Father’s love. With boldness and joy, Bob was able to proclaim in the middle of persecution, “I am FREE!”

Going Vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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Tongue sticking out to the side, head bent over the desk in concentration, Billy carefully printed the English words on his phonics worksheet as I watched in amazement. It was a day I never thought would come. Billy typified the overindulged only child referred to in East Asia as the “little emperor.” The defiant four-year-old usually challenged my every instruction, but today he willingly joined with the other students to sing “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” And the same little boy who usually shouted his demands across the room today cheerfully said, “Thank you, Teacher,” when I gave him a pencil!  With a mischievous grin, Billy called out “Goodbye, Teacher!” as he bounded down the stairs at the end of class, and I couldn’t help but smile. My heart was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, Billy was turning over a new leaf.

The very next class, however, “the little emperor” was back with a vengeance. Billy scribbled with black crayon on Jenny’s notebook, laughing when she cried. He gleefully snipped my teaching assistant’s shirt hem with his scissors, and when confronted, yelled “SORRY!” in her face like a verbal attack. And when I gently reminded him to say thank you for a pencil, he angrily retorted in Chinese, “I WON’T say thank you! You haven’t given me an ERASER yet!”

The day Billy marched into my life, he challenged my ability to forgive. Over and over again I had to choose to forgive him, even though he never apologized for his actions or admitted he was wrong. When I finally came to a place of acknowledging that Billy owes me nothing, not even an apology or a change in behavior, the Father changed my heart towards Billy. I experienced a release and a peace that I hadn’t had before. I was actually able to love him. I even started to like him!

Peter must have thought he was being quite generous when he asked Jesus if he should forgive someone not once, not twice, not three times, but seven times for the same offense. I wonder if Peter thought of a “Billy” in his life when Jesus replied that we should forgive “not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Just as I had to forgive Billy repeatedly for the same offense, with no evidence of his repentance or a changed heart, God the Father continually forgives our rotten attitudes and sinful behavior, many more times than seventy times seven. I’m so glad there’s no limit to His mercy!

Ask God to give you the grace to forgive the difficult people in your life. Cancel the debt. Release them to God. Declare that they owe you nothing. As we have been forgiven, so let us forgive one another!

Going Vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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I must confess, after my first class with Billy, I prayed he would never come back.

From the moment the four-year-old “little emperor” marched into my small English classroom in northeast Asia, he and I were in an all-out battle for control. Billy was king of all he saw, and woe to the one who dared to challenge his authority.

When the rest of the class stood and sang “The Wheels on the Bus” with motions, Billy sat glued to his chair, arms crossed, scowling. When the children were practicing English dialogues with animal puppets, Billy snatched another child’s puppet, yelling that he wanted the lion, not the monkey. While the other kindergarten students obediently copied the words from the board – cat, bat, hat – Billy filled his paper with scrawling Chinese characters. I complimented him on his skill in writing Chinese, then gently asked him to please write the English words from the lesson. Billy turned on me, his eyes flashing. “I speak Chinese. Chinese is a very beautiful language. English is not a beautiful language.”

As the weeks and months went by, Billy consistently challenged every instruction, unfazed by every attempt at discipline. I had never seen so much animosity and anger in such a small package. Though I repeatedly asked our school administrators to remove Billy from my class, my requests went unheeded.  Billy’s defiance escalated to a point of physical aggression – threatening to poke me in the eye with a pencil, spitting in my face, and even slapping me so hard my glasses flew across the room!

After almost every class with Billy, I would lock the door of the classroom, turn on a worship CD, put my head down on my desk, and cry. “Please, God, please don’t let him come back. I can’t take it anymore.”

I wonder how often the Father is tempted to give up on us completely. We can be pretty unlovable sometimes. We stubbornly insist on doing things our own way. We laugh when He corrects us, we mock His words, and we’ve even been known to slap Him and spit in His face. Does He ever wonder if we’re worth it? Does He lock the door at night, put His head in His arms, and cry over our stubbornness?

I wish I could say that Billy instantly changed, and that he became a sweet, polite, well-behaved boy. But then he would have been easy to love. Sacrificial love expects nothing in return. Even if the difficult people in our lives never change, can we love them as Christ loves us?

Are we “Free To Love and To Be Loved?”…

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

Going Vertical!

MJ

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The honking of taxis and the shouts of street vendors provided a backdrop for our conversation as my friend Joy* and I sipped our cappuccinos in the far corner booth of the Asian version of Starbucks.  It was June 2009. I’d been traveling with Fresh Start in East Asia, sharing with church leaders about forgiveness and freedom. But I had a sense that I needed to visit my old hometown at the end of my trip and spend some time with Joy, a single American girl my age who had been my “coffee buddy” when we were both living in the small northeastern Asian city.

It had been almost a year since I’d left Asia, and I had a lot to catch up on. Stories of disappointment and loss emerged as Joy listed one friend after another who had left the area over the past several months. Even her teammates had been gone for extended periods of time, for family emergencies or medical issues. She felt abandoned by everyone, and it seemed as if God wasn’t hearing her.

My heart ached for Joy. I knew what it was like to feel isolated and alone. I too had struggled with teammates and leaders who didn’t seem to understand. I was amazed at how God had sovereignly ordained for me to be there for Joy in this difficult season. Through tears, I told Joy that if the only reason I had to go through that pain of some of my experiences in Asia was just so that I could understand and be a friend to her right now, then it was all worth it.

I Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances.” That means even in the difficult circumstances. In ALL circumstances, we can thank the Lord that He is at work in our lives, knowing that He works ALL things together for His good (Romans 8:28). In giving thanks we are declaring that our hope is in Him, and that we trust Him with our past, our present, and our future!

“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.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…”  Romans 8:28-29 NIV

Going Vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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