Give Me Understanding

Psalm 119:34 sits above my classroom behavior chart.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
    and observe it with my whole heart.

This morning’s devotional conversation was based on this verse and Proverbs 3:5-6. When we disobey, sometimes it’s on accident, and sometimes it’s because we like our way better. We just outright do whatever we want to do.

“When I tell you there’s 3 different papers for homework tonight, you’re all upset, and you don’t want to do it.” They all groaned at the news. “But then when I explain that it’s because there’s NO homework on Thursday, you’re happy and excited.” And they cheered.

Suddenly, they were ok with my instructions, with the assignments I’d given them. I pointed out to them that the situation didn’t change. However they had a new perspective based on information. New understanding changed the way they responded.

The situation didn’t change. Their attitude did.

As we learn in Proverbs 3:5-6, we shouldn’t lean on our own understanding of things. We so often think we know what’s best, or at least, we like our way best. Sometimes my way is God’s way, but often times it is not. And rather than obeying, I do what I want to do. Often sin because I don’t really have a deep understanding (wisdom!).  I just hear the situation and think, NOPE.  I know His way is best. I truly believe He wants what is good for me. So if that’s true, why do I still choose to go against His plan, his laws, his good guidance?

a lack of understanding.

On the surface I know these things to be true, but on a daily level, I don’t always meditate on who God is, how great He is, what his sacrifice on the cross really cost, how tiny I am, and how holy He is. If I’m standing before an almighty God, there’s pretty much zero chance I’m going to tell Him “No” to his face. Right? Because the utter awe and presence of God would put me in a respectful fear that would lead to obedience.

Understanding leads us to obedience because understanding of who God is changes our hearts and minds.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
    and observe it with my whole heart.

 

Lord, give my students understanding because it is YOU who changes them.

Lord, give ME understanding because it is YOU who changes me.

Only you.

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Undeserved Love

When the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman in adultery to Jesus, she was guilty without a doubt. The men knew this, and they wanted to see how Jesus would respond. This woman was literally in the act of sin when the men caught her, and brought her to the Lord for condemnation.

But Jesus didn’t condemn her.

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”     John 8:10-11 (NASB)

Grace. He gave her grace. Undeserved. He gave her grace because he loved her. His love, too, is undeserved. She was guilty and worthy of condemnation, but He showed her love and grace.

Last week, Yeffry and I were at the park with a friend. There were several young kids there playing in the park, but also climbing in and all over a bus that sat behind the Lions’ Club building. They were rough housing and messing around, and most certainly shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing.

Several police officers showed up on their bikes and went after the boys. One officer swung his helmet at one of the kids; I don’t know if he was intending to hit him or just scare him, but he definitely took a swing with the helmet. Meanwhile, Yeffry had pulled out his phone to video t2017-12-27-PHOTO-00000467.jpghe incident. The police officers saw this, and addressed him.

In their all-powerful manner, they questioned Yeffry. My friend and I watched from afar. At the time, we didn’t know what was happening. All I heard was Yeffry saying, “Son niños!” They’re kids! After what seemed to be a very confrontational beginning, the mood calmed, and the officers ended up leaving, no harm done between them and Yeffry.

When we got home, I asked Yeffry what happened. He said, he saw what they were doing and that it wasn’t right so he grabbed his phone to video the incident. He told the officers that they were just kids. He told the officers they could’ve solved the problem with words rather than physical force. He asked them, “Would you want someone hitting your kids out on the street?”

One of the things I love about Yeffry (and there are many) is how he sees people, how he loves them. Those kids were doing wrong. They deserved a punishment, but Yeffry looked at them as if they were his kids. He wouldn’t want someone hitting them. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” That verse came to my head. The kids were guilty. But Yeffry’s response was love. grace. He wasn’t saying the kids were innocent; he was saying, “These kids are loved by someone.”

His perspective, the way he treats people, and the way he lives his life are all a reminder to me of Jesus’ love. Jesus’ undeserved love.

 

Relentless Love

Fighting against your own culture is hard. This could be your national culture, your family culture, even your Christian culture. I find myself fighting against all three, and probably more that I don’t even know I’m holding on to!

So much, I want to be Jesus to the people, but my Christian culture and my own perception of Christianity has led me down a road of knowledge. And even though I know the words of love and forgiveness and grace, my actions rarely match the Christian knowledge I have.

When I married Yeffry, I wondered how long it would be until he could lead me spiritually, considering I have been a believer so much longer than he has. Oh, I love how God puts us in our place. It hasn’t taken long at all. He’s been leading me spiritually in so many ways, but mostly in how to love people.

From the beginning of our relationship, Yeffry has repeatedly encouraged me to reach out to my dad, to be there for him, to call him, to be in his life. When my dad almost died in August, it was a moment of truth, where I was able to go and be there for him, just for him, with no selfish motivation, no reason to prove anything to anyone. That was Yeffry being Jesus to me. I’ve grown in how to truly love someone who is (often, but not always) difficult to love… unlovable, even. The world says, “He made his own choices. Now he has to face his own consequences.” Sure, this is true. But this isn’t Jesus. Jesus says, “You made your own choices, but I love you anyway. In fact, I’m going to relentlessly pursue you because I love you, no matter what choices you’re making.”

Man, that’s so hard for me to do with people, especially with my father, who, you know, I feel like made a lot of bad choices that really messed up a lot of things in my life. I’ve held on to all these feelings of bitterness and “rights” and blamed him for so much. As an adult, I looked back and thought of all these expectations I had for my father. And how often I was let down, even destroyed, at times.

So my dad almost died, due to his own choices, and Yeffry told me to go. To go and love him. He’s my dad. Love him. So I went.

And now that my dad has been well, it’s been wonderful. But then, he makes more bad choices. And now I have a choice to make. Part of me wants to walk away. But part of me hears Jesus in Yeffry saying, “Go, love him.” He’s made his choices, but I can still pursue my daddy relentlessly with love.

And I cannot do this in my own strength, or with the wrong motivation. It has to be Jesus in me. Lord, fill me with your grace and love so that I can turn around and pour it into my dad’s life.

The Power of Prayer is Jesus

I have no problem with people saying prayer is power, but let’s set the record straight: Our prayer is NOT the power. We pray to the One who HAS the power. Let your focus always be Jesus.

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My study today…

Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul says the people of Ephesus had these traits:

  1. faith in the Lord Jesus
  2. Love for all the saints

Paul thanked God that the people had these traits, and he prayed for them. Here is how he prayed for them:

He asked God to give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation… so they could KNOW GOD BETTER.

He asked God to open the eyes of their hearts…

  1. so they could know the HOPE to which they were called.
  2. so they could know the riches of his glorious inheritance.
  3. so they could know his incomparably great power for us who believe.

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  • Do I have faith in the Lord Jesus
  • Do I have love for all the saints?
  • These things Paul prayed for the people, these things already existed, but even with faith and love, there was still room for them to KNOW JESUS MORE! We need to open our hearts, be enlightened daily to our HOPE, HIS RICHES, and HIS GREAT POWER.
  • This list above is a GREAT way to pray for your fellow Christians, and for your missionaries! A lot of people pray for safety and wisdom and finances, but if we’re enlightened daily to see our hope, his riches, and his great power, imagine how different our lives would be!

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Paul’s final petition (above #3) was for the people to know God’s incomparably great power. Then Paul continues to explain that incomparably great power.

It’s the working of his mighty strength, that same strength that raised Jesus from the dead.

This power is in Jesus! Jesus, who is seated in heaven next to the Throne of God… He is so high above any authority, dominion, any power or title we could ever think of! Everything we face, everyday, is under the feet of the One with the power.

God put it all under his feet. And then He put Jesus as the head, the head of the church. And guess what, we are the body! We are the fullness of him WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY. 

From the head, the power flows down into the body. We receive power from the source: Jesus! His power is in us, but daily we need to be enlightened, we need to open the eyes of our hearts and be reminded of our HOPE, HIS RICHES, and HIS POWER that is already in us.

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  • Do I ask God for enlightenment daily?
  • Do I remember that power is already in me through Jesus, the head?
  • Do I meditate on my hope, his riches, and his power daily?
  • How would my daily life be different if these were the focus of my day? Would I worship differently? Would I obey differently? Would I attack daily tasks in a different way? Would I fear less? Would I worry less?

 

Prayer brings us to Jesus.

Jesus is the power.

Jesus is our power.

Jesus is the power of prayer.

Consistency, Conversation, and Care

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You see, it’s that time of the year, where I’m tired, and I don’t want to continue repeating the same rules over and over. “We’re 27 weeks into the school year! Why don’t you have a pencil? Why are you talking without permission? Don’t run!” Aaaah. Teacher life.

But, I’m also at the point, where I know it’s more important for them to obey the rules than it is for them to like me. (Side note: I have a student who brings me a treat every time I punish him. I’m not sure if he understand it’s love, or if he’s trying to bribe me, but today I ate some deliciously stale vanilla Oreos) And so, when I should be able to watch them walk down the stairs and head to recess, I am standing at the bottom, reminding every child, “Walk. Don’t run. Walk. Don’t run. Walk.”

Oh, and then 6 kids thought I wasn’t serious, so they ran anyway. Welp, “Get your snack and come upstairs.”

100 sentences. “I will obey even when the teacher isn’t watching.”

“Can I write 25?”

“100.”

No one finished in time. Bring the 100 sentences tomorrow or you’ll be back in here until they’re done.

….the next day

“I no can do my …”

“I can’t do,” I correct him. “Come back to see me at recess then.

“Can’t I just write I WILL OBEY.” nope.

And so, after much complaining, and moaning, I got my 600 sentences. And hopefully, the students will have learned their lesson. They did ALL walk today. So that’s progress. aaah, the struggle of consistency, but oh how it pays off.

(Do you know what I hate about consistency? IT ALWAYS MEANS more work for ME! SO unfair! Like this is my job or something?!)

So, once recess ended, I had a chat with the whole class. We talked about how rules are for their good and for their safety, and how their responsibility is to follow the rules. We make rules to help them, just like we give them work to help them. Sometimes the things that help us are hard things (Yeah, like when I have to be consistent with punishments!). I said, “Do you trust me? Do you believe me when I say that it’s for your good and for your safety? Or do you think I’m just being mean?” They all agreed that they believe me. They trust me. First of all, I’m thankful that in that moment I didn’t have any sarcastic kids who said no. I might’ve lost myself if one had. Anyway, the truth is, I really work hard to build a relationship with my students, to love them, and to earn their trust. So then, when there is a punishment, even if they don’t want it, they know I’m being reasonable. They know that’s how it is. So, the conversation went on, and I could see in some of their faces, that yes, they understood. And yes, they know I care about them.

I love when God hands me analogies that I KNOW will impact the kids. I handed back the English tests shortly after recess, and I told one of the boys, “You scored a 94, but can I just give you a 25?” NO WAY. “Pleeeease?” I begged. I slowly moved up to 30 and 40, bu he wouldn’t budge. This led me to say, why not? Well, because he earned that grade. And I used this to say, “When you earn something good, you want to own it, but when you earn a punishment, you act like you don’t deserve it. We all need to take responsibility for our actions, good or bad. If you earn a reward, excellent. If you earn a punishment, own it. Learn from it. Grow. Life isn’t about what makes me happy. What is going to make me grow? What is going to honor God?”

It’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things. A lot of things I have to do to be the teacher I want to be. To be an example. To show them love. To show them Jesus. Consistency is one of those things. Conversation is another. I can’t just throw a bunch of rules at them and never have a conversation about WHY. Because it’s through the consistency and conversations that they will see … I care.

Hate and Love and Jesus

Today I shared some verses with my class, and I gave a little talk about hate and love and Jesus, and what it all has to do with being a Christian.

First, I read a few verses in Romans 2, and I described the importance of God’s righteous judgment. We’re all broken, messed up sinners, seemingly without hope. And worse than that, God’s wrath will be kindled against all that evil and sin. That’s a little bit scary.

But why is God so angry? Why does He hate so much? That was my next point: He hates evil and wickedness and sin so much because it hurts the things He loves. His love for us is so great, that He abhors the evil that hurts us, that separates us from Himself. He loves his creation, and He hates the wickedness that destroys it.

So then what?

God loves his creation so much, He loves you and me with such deep commitment, that He took all that wrath and punishment, and He put it all on his own Son, so that his perfect Son would take it and be the propitiation for your sin. for my sin. For all the sin and wickedness that God hates. Imagine how potent God’s wrath must be. And He put it all on his Son, on the cross, for you. for me. Because He loves is that immense.

When we see this, when we see our sinful state, when we see that our current situation is that we are awaiting God’s wrath, we know we have a problem. But as we see God’s love, and how his compassion for us is so great, so merciful, that He put that wrath on Jesus, for us, we can come to him for grace, mercy, forgiveness… we can be put back together! We can be made whole. This is what it means to be a Christian. It means we know and understand God’s love, and we receive it because of who He is. Because of what He did, we are SAVED.

The more we understand God’s love (like, hey, He put his hatred an anger on his Son for us!), the more we want to love the things God loves, and hate the things God hates.

And as I was teaching this today to my students, I thought, man I needed to hear it this way, too. As a believer, a follower of Jesus, my duty is to love the things God loves. Hate the things God hates. We often get caught up in some kind of man-made Christianity that puts us in a box, that we are to be a certain way. Often with good intentions, we build extra standards to separate ourselves from what seems to be evil. Unfortunately, we end up separating ourselves by raising ourselves higher than others. And then, not only do we look down on people, we cannot love them from above. We are not loving people… and we should, because God loves people.

Romans 2 talks about how those who seek honor will find peace. And those who seek evil or are self-seeking will find tribulation. When we live our self-made world we will find problems because no one else is living in that world. We will have fights and contention because we want to do it our way, and who else would want to live only to please us? But when we live with our eyes focused on Jesus, that peace surrounds us, no matter what the situation. We live to serve God and others, and that breeds peace. This is the love/hate idea… if we love the things Jesus loves, we fill find peace. If we hate the things Jesus hates, we will find peace. We cannot hate the things He loves. And we cannot love the things He hates.

Look at God’s love. Respond to it. Know Him. Then love the things He loves. Hate the things he hates.

A Sly Tricky Word Play by Satan: LOVE YOURSELF!

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There’s a push in the world today to LOVE YOURSELF. I don’t see in the Bible where it says to love yourself. I see Love God. Love others. Love yourself? We love ourselves TOO MUCH.
 
Now, give me time to explain. I completely understand what people MEAN when they say love yourself. They mean, be content with the person you are, no matter what someone else says. And that, that is biblical.
 
So, what I’d love to see from believers is this: Love the person God made you to be.
 
Does that seem like a small difference?
 
When you love yourself, you put yourself first above everything else. NOT biblical. When you love the person God made you to be, you’re going to serve and love others, as God planned.
 
When you love yourself, you’re going to look down on others and feel superior. When you love the person God made you to be, you’re going to pour his love into others so they can feel and experience the same thing!
 
When you love yourself, you’ll serve yourself. When you love the person God has made you to be, your focus is on God, who says Love Me and Love Others.
 
Maybe you think I’m using petty word play, but isn’t that how Satan fooled Adam and Eve in the garden? Just twisting the truth enough to create the greatest disaster the world has ever known?
What are some other differences YOU can think of … Please share your thoughts!

Answering Some Questions about Las Palmas

While I was home, I had the opportunity to share our ministry of Las Palmas with my home church family. After having conversations with several people, I decided I should write a post to answer some of the questions people had. Many of us build our own assumptions based on what we see or think, but we don’t really know or ask questions. I’m glad my church family asked me questions, because now I can help them (and you!) have a better understanding of our ministry here at Colegio Las Palmas.

  1. Does the school receive a lot of American financial support?

Almost all of our American teachers receive some financial support from friends and churches in the states. The school itself, however, receives almost nothing. The school functions based on the revenue and budget from tuition, tutoring, and a couple other small on-site activities.

2. Is the school just for rich kids?

After seeing pictures of the kids in class, all proper in their uniforms, some of my American friends assumed their families have money. Let me tell you something spectacular about my Dominican people… they are the cleanest people you will EVER meet! They amaze me. It doesn’t matter if they live in a mansion or a wooden house with a tin roof and dirt floor—when you meet them, you would never know it. Everyone is clean and smells good and looks good, and makes sure their white pants look brand new. I don’t know how they do it! So you might see someone who is beautiful, pristine, and sharply dressed, and that’s because they are very proud of who they are and want to look good! Don’t we all?! Seriously, I need to learn from them. I’m a slob!

So who does go to Las Palmas? Well, it’s pretty cool really. We have children of lawyers and judges and doctors. But we also have children of everyday, hard working moms and dads, who sacrifice to put their kids in our school. We have many students who are in our school through partial and complete scholarships because the families simply cannot afford the education. We also have boys and girls who live in children’s homes who attend our school. Then we have some American missionary kids, too! It’s a mixture of all kinds of families, and I love it!

So, no, we aren’t just a school for rich kids. If they look rich, it’s that beautiful Dominican pride that is showing through.

3. Do the kids go to school for free?

Based on what I’ve already written, you probably understand now that the families do pay to attend the school. It would be wonderful if we could offer free education, but reality says things cost money. Our financial director is an intelligent, Christ-loving business woman who does all she can to cut costs where possible so that our school tuition can remain affordable for the families here. We have had to raise tuition as the school grows, but we’ve also partnered with the families to help find scholarships so those who couldn’t afford the increase would be able to continue at our school.

4. Do the American teachers get paid or do they just have support?

The American teachers do receive pay from the school. However, the cost of traveling, living, visas, school supplies, etc., wouldn’t allow for most of us to live here solely on what the school pays us. Therefore, we do raise money from the states. Personally, I am able to pay my basic bills here from what the school pays me (Rent, local travel, internet, electricity), and then I use support for savings, food, U.S. travel, school supplies, personal  needs, and more.