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Discipling Ministry called Impact 195 has transformed my thinking about service to God, dying to self, and the implications of a life lived for God's will and not my own.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Failure and its cost

What happens when your plans don't work out the way you imagined, dreamed, or hoped?  Have you ever started something and not finished it?  Does failure at anything frighten you? 

I had a failure last week.  It wasn't anything I planned, or could foresee.  But, it was a definite failure.  

I have been having a tough time with one pre-schooler named Leo.  He is 5 years old, very smart, and bigger than the rest of the kids in my class.  He regularly answers the questions when asked and not asked.  He likes to be first in line, first to finish and first place in general.  His work is generally very good.  He likes to tattle on any child that is not to his liking of the rules.  Lately, he has started to say "no" a lot to me.  Teacher Mike, I no like.  Teacher Mike, I no want.  Teacher Mike, it was not me.  Well, after a long day of encounters like that and me touching his head with some papers (he was fine), and him screaming I hurt him, then came the finale.  At the end of the day, he runs by me, trips and stubs his foot on my shoe and starts ranting about me hurting him.  Teacher Mike, I no like you.  Teacher Mike, you are mean teacher.  Teacher Mike, I hate you.   I hate you!! Wow, I didn't teach him that word.  In one split second, I repeated his words back to him, "I hate you, too."  I said it calmly, but no points for that.  I had become a five year old.  He continued to scream as it was time for him to catch the bus.  I said calmly, but sternly "Go home".  "Tell your mother."  I didn't want to hear it.  His foot was fine.

I don't tell you all of that to justify myself.  I wasn't.  I was suppose to be his teacher, protector, and champion.  I relinquished that in an instant to gratify a longing to lash out.  

At first, it didn't bother me.  The child deserved it, I thought.  He's a brat.   Little did I know, a couple hours later, phone calls, administrators, parents, and grandparents would be in an uproar.  

The next day the parents came in to speak to the Administrator.  I was suppose to meet her also.  She didn't want an apology.  She wanted my head.  Well, she didn't get my head, but a suspension was deemed the best recourse to satisfy all parties.

At first I was mad and indignant.  I was going to pack up and go home.  Who needs this aggravation?  Slowly, it dawned on me that the main purpose of loving these children and setting an example for their parents was my main goal here in China.  It felt like a sucker punch to the gut.  I failed.  

For a few hours, nothing would solace me.  A friend (thanks Amber) shared a verse from Colossians 1:21 - 22  

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Free from accusation, now that is a nice thought.  Yes, I deserved censure and discipline.  But, in the Spiritual realm, I was blameless in the sight of God.  Thank you Jesus for your physical death, and resurrection that transforms me in your Father's sight.

Do you feel like the Psalmist:

40:11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
   may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
   my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
   and my heart fails within me. 

But, forget verse 13 -

13 Be pleased to save me, LORD;
   come quickly, LORD, to help me.

He will, He has, and He will again.

Do you feel terrible for some sort of failure: parenting, job, relationship, addiction, etc?

Do you feel like the lyrics in DCTalk's "What if I stumble?"

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall?

Yes, I made myself a fool.  But, the love will continue anyway.  

Lamentations 3:22-24
  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

So, get up, walk worthy and finish the race.  He has already finished it for you anyway.

I go back Thursday to teaching.  Only this time  I go with renewed vigor and prayer for Leo, his parents, and for me. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cultural Training 101

Life in China is not crazy different, but here are a few pointers for those of you who may visit in the near future.

1.  Carry a shopping bag with you, or your backpack.  Bags are not free.  As the cashier checks out your items shake your head twice.  I just keep shaking "no" at any question, until they show me the total.

2.  Find an English website for the bus routes before you come.

3.  Carry tissue with you at all times, or you will have to become very creative with your hygiene, because tissue is not provided either.

4.  Don't be afraid to wear your clothes multiple days.  Everyone does it.  When you do wash, the best places to dry, are near the radiators, at least in the winter time.

5.  The drain in the middle of the bathroom is an all inclusive drain for shower, washer, and spills that goes directly to sewer.

6.  I have not found anything about bus frequency on routes.  So, just wait until one shows up for you.

7.  There is no pedestrian right of way.  Very important!  If the cross walk says "green", it just means this is a better time to cross without being hit...proceed cautiously.  Cars are King.  They will not stop for you.  They may honk, but don't expect them to stop.

8.  Fireworks are more than for New Years.  They are for Wedding Days, opening businesses, and in general anything.   Get used to hearing them at anytime of day.

9.  Your favorite American brands, if you can find them are usually twice the cost, or even more.

10. Laughs, giggles and conversations are probably not about you.  But could be, just smile and relax.

11. Anything bigger than a 34 inch waist is called "Fat man's pants".  They need some marketing skills here.

12. Body language is key.  Become good at Charades.  The local ladies at the supermarket get a kick at trying to figure out what I am trying to buy or find.  Ajax, and Picnic were two recent examples that seemed lost on the locals.

13. There are employees everywhere in the stores.  It seems like one for every aisle.  They will restock an item as soon as you select it and put it in your cart.

14. Get used to strange sights:  swimmers walking out of the ocean, beet red smiling.  Small trucks carrying loads 4x as big as the vehicle.  Every animal part hanging from the posts in the meat section.

15.  Almost all denominations of money have Chairman Mao's face on it.

16. Get used to walking.

17.  Hope you like soy sauce and oil.  There are aisles of different varieties.

Well, this is usually the place I'd put a scripture.  There are many that apply.  Do not complain, Rejoice always, Be humble, Do not have haughty eyes, Accept weaker, or stronger brothers.  You may know them.  They all speak to me at one point or another.

Lastly, smile and enjoy and look for God's presence while you are there.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Becoming like a little child

Mark 10:13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

I will admit that I always thought these verses were cute, but didn't really understand them.  As a single guy, I have missed out on what you parents probably have easily grasped and understood.  I have only been here for about a month and about 8 of those days working.  However, the last two days really stand out illuminating the reference above.  

I have between 5 and 12 preschoolers on any given day.  Since it is still close to Chinese New Year, there have been only 6 the last couple of days.  This has given me a chance to really get up close and personal and really play with each child, for at least a few minutes.

Each day these 3-5 year olds come into class and trust me to help them with their coats and clothing.  They expect me to feed  them, help them in the restroom, entertain them, and keep them safe.  They sleep/nap in safety, and follow me outdoors and in the hallways wherever I go.  They ask freely, share their emotions freely, and forgive and forget readily.  They are curious, love to explore, and feel free to tug on your face, jump on your torso, pull on your cheeks, and stare into your eyes as you hold them for long moments.  They are cared for lovingly and tenderly.  

And I get to just watch, listen, participate in their world, and just love on them for being there.  I get to tuck them in for naps and watch them sleep in comfort.  I get to rub noses, comb hair, pat backs, and warm their hands.  

There are moments I direct and guide, redirect, and even physically move them to safer and better situations.  I get to teach, hold, and provide.

The small whispers, shrieks of joy, little giggles, and loud screams are all different but recognizable and distinguishable in the busy room of activity.

How many times does God call us His children, His little children, and His child?  Innumerable, at least without the help of some Biblical software.  Let me just say - a lot!

He leads me.  He guides me.  He provides for me in abundance.  He wants the best for me, and even disciplines me to help me grow.  He lets me explore.  He wants me to enjoy His presence.  He sacrifices Himself for me.  He prepares a place, a banquet and a feast for me.  He watches over me when I sleep.  He looks forward to the next time I engage Him.

Does this sound like a Father?  Yeah..it sounds like my Heavenly Father.  It sounds like my Daddy.  That phrase during prayers usually annoys me...but, today, I like it just a little bit more than I used to.

PS.  Meet 3 more of my little kiddos.

1 John 3:1a

New King James Version (NKJV)
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fireworks and Fake Money

There are a few traditions here in China at New Years time that stick out.  Meeting with friends and family for fellowship and food, and  making dumplings together, and then eating them the next day, and visiting the relatives for a short stay stand out as my favorites.  Then there are fireworks...all day and all night.  At first it was fun, tantalizing, mesmerizing, loud, and sometimes beautiful.  Now, it seems annoying, mundane, and trite.  Everyone gets together and lights their firecrackers as they meet one another.  The fireworks  echo through the canyons of skyscrapers.  Once you are done, you leave the mess behind on the sidewalks and go about your business.

Another tradition is burning money to your dead ancestors.  Well, not real money, but paper with lots of zeroes behind the numbers.  So, take your fake money and burn it, so the smoke will reach either the gods or your ancestors so they can have funds to live a happy afterlife.  We called it "fake money to fake gods".

At first I thought, "how silly, they are!"  Then the thought occurred to me that this is what most of us do everyday, maybe not to ancestors or gods, but our own homemade idols.  Don't we take the money we earn, burn it to our own habits, addictions, and obsessions - usually things that have no eternal purpose whatsoever.  If it is not used for God's economy, it is really just burning it to fake gods.  Then, with the things we have purchased we revel loudly and with abandon.  Sure, it is fun at first, but soon these bad choices lead to a mess for us, and others.

Fortunately, there is one who has the right currency and the ability to clean up messes.  The currency - a perfect and holy life - spent as a sacrifice for the messes we made.  His spent blood sacrifice washes our dirty sins white as snow.  The mess is sent far away, "as far as the East is from the West", and remembered no more.

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Isaiah 1:18  “ Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “ Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

Revelation 7:14
And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Psalm 103:12
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Lord, forgive me for burning so much of my resources to false gods.  Thank you for providing a Heavenly solution to put my sin into time, and my soul into eternity with You.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My New buddy

Happy New Year!

The Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival.  It is a very festive time leading up to the bid day, which is this coming Sunday Evening here.   Gift giving of usually food items is the normal tradition.  Also fireworks all night and all day.   Nothing super fancy about them so far, just the big fireworks that clang and bang.  They are especially loud ringing through the spaces of these big condo towers.  There is a small celebration, called the Small New Year a week before.  The entire evening from 6 pm to 10 pm rang with fireworks.  It seemed like a small war was going on outside the windows.  The bursts of light and sound were fun to watch for a while.  I'm told to expect even more fireworks than this for the actual night.

I met my class last week.  It is a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, and a Korean child.  We seemed to hit it off well.  There is one child that I remember from my April visit.  His name is Shunda.  He has big eyes, and energy that rivals the energizer bunny.  He reminds me of one of those Japanese Anime characters.  He climbed up my legs to do continual back flips.  He said "I like Mike".  I like Shunda, too.  At 4 his English is excellent, his native Japanese is superb, and he speaks Chinese.  I can only imagine what is in store for this little warrior in training.

Remember my last post about having only a smile to reach out.  Well, smiling and saying Hi at the bus stop,  I made my first Chinese friend, Kevin.  He is into World trade (Imagine that! :) )  We met and had lunch at Papa John's.  Good times.  He is going to treat me to Chinese food after the new year.  I am reminded that in God's economy there are no coincidences.

So, New Years, New Classes, and New friends reminds me of the Ultimate One who makes all things new.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

May you know every new thing that God has planned FOR YOU this new year!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The likeness of a foreigner...

After a quick start here, I got slammed to the ground with a bout of stomach flu for 24 hours.  Picture Jesus and the lukewarm Laodiceans.  The rest and sleep gave me a chance to reflect on some feelings about coming here.

I am homesick.   I want to go home now, already!  Familiarity of language, food, location, customs, and comrades, I have a longing.  Don't get me wrong, my friends are treating me well and helping me to get acclimated.  Going from a mild to cold climate,  independence to dependence, meat to vegetables, is a shock to my system.

I have a nice bed, warm dwelling, plenty of food, computer, and reliable bus transportation.  I am still considered the wealthiest of this planet.  Why am I longing for something more?

Is it okay to feel this way?  What is home?  Where is home?

A little reflection led me to wonder, "did Jesus ever get homesick?"
The King of Glory, to helpless babe, did He miss some perks?  I am not sure if He did or not, but I recalled Philippians 2 where it mentions Christ's attitude more than anything else.

Phil 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 

Wow!  I then remember the words commitment, diligence, grace, humility, and perseverance.

I found myself in the likeness of a foreigner the other day.  While having a shrimp/cabbage meal (not something I have ever had), I was instructed to rip the head and tail off and pull the shell off before eating.  As I ripped one head off, I squirted cabbage juice into the eye of the principal of the school.  She was very gracious, but I was very embarrassed.   I was surprised at how long she wiped at her face.

I generate lots of looks being a tall, bald, white guy.  In my own culture, this might make me angry, but here I take it as opportunity to smile.  This is about the only way I can share God's love right now, not knowing any Mandarin.

As Amber replies to her Mom every morning via text, "a vapor",  and her Mom, "a mist".  No matter what is going on, I think I can make it a little longer remembering this life is but a vapor and a mist, and that my real home is citizenship in Heaven.  Lord, help me complete my purpose and mission here in this foreign land.