Acts of Love

On Motivation and Encouragement

In-Laws, Illness, and Insight April 14, 2012

Filed under: faith,Family,Serving,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 3:18 pm
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Hoping that you all had a wonderful and blessed Easter!

My in-laws joined us for the week of Easter. Their presence in our home is always a blessing. They live about 14 hours away, so my children eagerly look forward to their visits. Both my mother and father in-law have been blessed with the gift of generosity–and not just a regular generosity: but a this-can-only-come-from-faith kind of generosity.

My mother-in-law in particular is an inspirational woman of faith. She spent the first half of her life in a small village in South Korea. She met and married my father-in-law while he was stationed there during his time in the military. The whole family moved back to the States when my husband was about five.

The Korean culture is very much a part of our family because of the influences of my mother in-law. She jokes that my father in-law is in fact a asian man in a white man’s body. We had a wonderful dinner together at the Wu-Jung, the best Korean restaurant in our area. As is common with most fantastic restaurants; it is an unassuming  little place that would never catch your attention from the outside. People wait for hours during the dinner rush, and there is always a constant stream of people picking up takeout We decided to go there for lunch. Once inside we removed our shoes and took out seats on the floor. My mother in-law proceeded to order an array of savory dishes which we enjoyed at a leisurely pace. I love this style of dinning for my kids because when sitting on the floor kids can engage in their normal fidgeting and moving about without being disruptive. Makayla also got several lessons in cooking from her Halmoni  (grandmother). Theirs is a special relationship. She is extremely patient when teaching the kids.

Unfortunately, my husband was abed for most of his parents visit. Henry woke up one morning with partial facial paralysis and extreme vertigo. The doctor diagnosed him with Bell’s Palsy and a virus. All the information we got from doctors over the week was conflicting and rather ambiguous. My husband has been speaking out a full healing for himself. He refuses to believe the lie that he is sick. It has blessed me so much to see his faith during this time. Rather than beg God for a healing, we are trusting that it was already accomplished on the cross, and that Henry’s healing is forthcoming. I know that this is going to help Henry, and those around him, to have a powerful revelation of God’s healing power.

If you are sick, or someone in your life is dealing with illness, here are some scriptures you can speak out:

* Psalm 107:20 “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” (Jesus is the Word!)

* Mark 11:22-24 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.  “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Use your words carefully! Do not speak discouragement, speak healing and healthy. Do not cut one another down, but speak love and encouragement)

* Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,  And by His stripes we are healed.” (Write this verse on your heart! Christ died for our sins and our healing)

* Mark 11:24 “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” (Believe!)

While sitting in church this past Easter morning I kept thinking of the following line from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; “Marley was dead to begin with…The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

The same is true of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We must pray for a full revelation of the Easter story, because unless it is distinctly understood, nothing else matters–not the tithing, not the bible study, not the fellowship, not the service, nothing. Nothing wonderful can come of the story unless we understand that Jesus was dead, and that He rose, because the same power resides in us through the Holy Spirit. All healing and salvation was accomplished on the cross–this is the God’s wonderous story, and it is the foundation of the insight and revelation He longs to give us.

Be blessed,

 

Stephanie

 

The Fickle Season Of Lions and Lambs April 1, 2012

Filed under: faith,Family,Serving,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 6:40 pm
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Here in New Hampshire we have ended the fickle month of March, which as the old adage goes; comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The uncertain nature of this season can leave us all wary, because we are not sure if the lion has in fact left and if the lamb is here to stay. The beastly winter storms give way to the gentle lamb of green sprouts and warm rains, but any old fashion New Englander knows that the lion can return, unexpected and with a vengeance.Many of us refuse to put away our winter clothes, knowing we made need them at any  moment. While at the local garden center this week I joked with an older woman over the pansies that we may be acting on an overly optimistic impulse  with our flower purchases. The mothers pushing babies at the park declared that

“We should enjoy this warm weather now–because it could very well be snowing next week.’

We all nodded in agreement, because this warm weather could be snatched away at any minute.

Observing all this has made me think how this fickle season is so unlike the kingdom of God. Unlike March in all its unpredictability, the Kingdom of God unshakable and unchanging. His character is eternal, His promises are not fleeting, and once we abide in that kingdom, nothing can snatch it away. There is a sharp contrast between God’s kingdom and the world we live in: and the weather is not the only thing that is given to unpredictability. This past week the lottery jackpot was upwards of a half a billion dollars. People bought tickets with the fantasy that they could become a millionaire overnight (myself included). How like the American dream; our national ethos that by simply being born here we are guaranteed entry into the middle and upper class. We believe that we have the right to prosperity and success; without necessarily having to work for it. We have all been sold this bill of goods; this idea that riches will bring us happiness, this idea that our self-worth is inherent on college degrees, car titles, and paychecks. This American dream was a roaring lion in the 1990’s with the technology boom. But, what do we see happening now? People are realizing that this dream is not consistent, it is not stable, and it is given to erratic changeableness. Our riches can be gone in a second; snatched away by bad investments and failed businesses. What was once a roaring lion is now a meek and humble lamb.

Please do not misunderstand me here: I love my country. I thank God that I live in a place where I am not subject to abuse and oppression, where I am free to share my faith with others and to worship openly. I also know that simply because I am an American, and because I have a home and a car and food in my kitchen, I am in fact among the world’s wealthy elite. I am rich, and not just in a spiritual sense, and if you are reading this so are you. However, I know that many  have fallen victim to this American dream. They invested in the world’s economy and were left disappointed. We are called to be good stewards of what we have, and I would be lying if I said I never prayed to God about my husbands work life. I pray about Henry’s work life all the time, I pray that God would bless him with sales and opportunity. I do however know that our true investments are in God’s kingdom.

Because we are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12: 1-3)

We sometimes confuse our ‘blessings’ with the materials things that are given to us. Blessings are way more than money and belongings. Blessings are the capacity to know God. There is so much in my life that allows me to have a relationship with the Lord. I am blessed that I have time to spend in fellowship with other believers. I am blessed that I am educated enough to read God’s word and study it. I am blessed that my husband earns enough money so that I might stay home with our children and be actively involved with ministry.

I will say it again: we are blessed to be a blessing.

All that God gives us we can use to bless others, that is helping them to know God better. If you invest your time and energy in God’s kingdom, you will not be left bankrupt. If you plug into the Jesus dream, rather than the American dream, you will certainly not be left disappointed. If we get too caught up in the American dream we are in danger of becoming  that camel trying in vain  to squeeze its enormous hump through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24).We can become bogged down with the never-ending desire for ‘things’. Once we get the shiny new ‘thing’ we desire, we cross it off the list and move onto the next ‘thing’. This desire can become insatiable and distracting. We will never be satisfied if we desire materials things. However, if we seek after the kingdom dream, we find ourselves thirsting and longing for Jesus. This is a healthy desire!

There does not have to be any fear or hesitation when investing your time and blessings in God’s economy. You don’t have to feel like the gardener who is worried that by planting her garden, the frost may come and destroy her work. No, God promises us that we will bear fruit.

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

 to loose the chains of injustice  

  and untie the cords of the yoke,

 to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

 and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter

 when you see the naked, to clothe them,   

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,  

 and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,  

  and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

 9Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;   

you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,   

 with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry   

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,   

 and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;   

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land   

 and will strengthen your frame.

 You will be like a well-watered garden,

   like a spring whose waters never fail.

 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins   

and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called repairer of Broken Walls,   

 Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58

This is perhaps one of my favorite verses. When I feel tired and worn out I remember that God promises strength to those living their lives according to His will. He promises that we will be a beautiful thriving garden watered by His very spirit.

There are lions and lambs in our world. There are roaring beasts that can consume us. There are also quiet lambs that can secretly creep into our lives and cause us to misstep. In the kingdom of God however, the lion and the lamb are one in the same.

“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.” Revelation 5:5

“Worthy us the Lamb who was slaughtered–

To receive power and riches

and wisdom and strength

and honor and glory and blessings.” Revelations  5:12

We live in an ever-changing world. The seasons here in New England are unpredictable and erratic. Everything seems subject to change and even disposable. What is hot and trendy today is forgotten tomorrow. We change our hair, our homes, our friends, our spouses, and our politics. amidst this whirlwind of erratic change however, there is one place we have a guarantee of return on our investment, a promise of thriving spring,  and that place is God’s kingdom, because there is no difference between the lion and the lamb and there are no fickle seasons. His promises are eternal and His character is steadfast. His love for us is unending and His dreams for us will not leave us disappointed.

“For I am the Lord; I do not change.” Malachi 3: 6

 

A Grace Filled Day March 9, 2012

Filed under: Family,Hospitality,Serving,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 12:35 am
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Everyday with kids is busy, but we really outdid ourselves this Wednesday. After our homeschool time, the girls and I made the 45 minute trip to a nearby city for outreach and ministry in the refugee community. There is one family that we work with closely; Ismael and Juma and their three children, Siti, Soliman, and Nor. Each Wednesday we visit them in their apartment and help them with whatever it is they need. Somedays this means taking them to do laundry, to doctors appointment, sorting through bills, and other days we just spend time visiting and getting to know about each others culture. Juma will often cook us delicious (and very spicy) food from her homeland. Our older children play well together, and they especially love little Harper.

Because the drive is rather long, I try to make another stop while I am in the area. There are lots of places to shop and eat, but this week we decided to go to an indoor playground. So, we headed out to this playground we had heard good things about. Ironically it was about 50 degrees out, and we could have played outdoors for free, but it was rather wet and I would not want to show up on Juma’s door with two children caked in mud.  The indoor playground was empty, we were literally the only ones there. There were lots of big slides and tall structures to climb, but my cautious child Makayla kept booth feet planted firmly on the ground. The girls enjoyed themselves and we were able to get much pent-up-end-of-winter-energy out of our systems.

After we had played, we headed to Ismael and Juma’s house. This week they asked if I could take Juma to do some shopping. She directed me to this amazing ethnic market, were we shopped for a while. I ended up with a shopping basket full of treats from all over the world. While I was waiting for Juma to check-out I gave the kids ice cream, in the car, which in retrospect was not great idea. We brought the groceries back home and shared a lot of different snacks and drinks while the kids played. They kept showing me a pile of snow outside their door, grabbing handfuls and talking excitedly in their own language. I keep telling them that we have had a very mild winter, and that next year they will likely experience a real New England winter, but I am not sure they understood. We often can’t communicate exactly what we want to say, but we laugh a lot, and the children make all other boundaries seem unimportant.

It was back in the car after our snacks so we could be home before dinner. I had plans to go out with some girlfriends, and had dinner in the crockpot for Henry and the girls. After tubbing and feeding the kids, I freshened up a bit and headed out to the restaurant. It is amazing to think that I am old enough to have had friends for 20 years, but that is how long I have had these amazing ladies in my life. Even when long periods of time pass between our get together, we can always pick right back up where we left off. How blessed I am to have these kinds of friendships! Dinner was leisurely and relaxed, and then I headed back home, where I found two wide awake children (at 11pm) and a snoring husband. Those of us who were awake eventually got tucked in and to sleep.

What a grace filled day.

It struck me on the ride home from dinner how effortless it all was. I am blessed to be able to teach my kids at home, to be able to travel and reach out to others who are less fortunate, to be able to feed and cloth and care for my family with relative ease, to be able to enjoy a relaxing dinner with friends, and to come home to a loving family. It is easy to feel God’s grace on days like this, the challenge is to see God’s grace when the car breaks down, the children and ill, the dinner is burnt, the checkbook is overdrawn…His grace is still there, eternal and unchanging, it is just up to us to recognize it and soak in it.

I pray that God would give me the spiritual maturity and wisdom to always be aware of His constant and unfailing Grace.

 

Grace Defined March 6, 2012

Filed under: Serving,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 12:15 am
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Lent Day 13

Grace, a noun

* beauty of form or movement

* a sense of what is right

* a short prayer of thanksgiving before a meal

* a delayed allowance as a favor

* mercy

Grace, in the Christian context is defined as the unmerited mercy that God gave to mankind by sending His Son to die on a cross and give us eternal salvation.

Synonyms: elegance, poise, ease, pardon, charity, forgiveness, benevolence, prayer, generosity, respect, esteem, enrich, glorify, and elevate.

Antonyms: disfavor, ugliness, tactless, ill-will, spoil, insult.

one can fall from grace, have grace, extend grace, and be in good or bad graces with another person.

Grace is related to three greek words:

1) Charis: the state of kindness and favor, often with the focus on benefiting another.

2) Charisma: gracious gift

3) Chairo: to rejoice, be glad, and delight

The Hebrew word for grace is Chen, which is defined as favor, charm, and the moral quality of kindness.

Grace and Mercy are two parallel aspects of God’s character: Grace is getting the good that we do not deserve, and Mercy is not getting the bad we do deserve. Grace is God’s favor, that which God does for the benefit of His people. It is something we can never earn through works; it is totally free.

Grace conquers sin

It is a way of life

It is sufficient

It lightens our burden

It is beyond our understanding

Grace heals

Grace forgives

It is the opposite of ego

It helps us to accept

It fills our hearts

It sustains us

It allows God to see us for our best, and not for our worst

It allows us to love and be loved

It fills our churches, our homes, and our lives

It is glory with no beginning and no end

It is eternal

It is assurance and peace

It is hope and light

It is all around us

Grace is Amazing.

 

“Amazing Grace 

how sweet the sound 

that sav’d a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found

was blind but now I see”

~ John Newton

 

 

 

Cultivating a Heart of Mercy: Book Review February 25, 2012

Filed under: Books,Serving,Teaching and Learning — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 2:43 pm
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Lent Day 4

Today I am sharing a book review on, Hope Lives: a Journey of Restoration by Amber Van Schooneveld. I have picked this book to share as part of my lent reflections because it takes the reader on a reflective journey through their own heart, with an aim at encouraging the reader to live-out more compassion and giving in their own life.

The book consists of 25 days of reading, reflection, and journaling. It asks the reader to look at the enormity of world poverty in a new light–not as an enormous problem too big to tackle from our  comfortable American homes, but as an issue we can engage with when we seek God’s heart of mercy and grace.

The book is broken into five sections. During week one the reader will search their own heart and try to determine what prevents us from helping those in need. Is it our materialism and ego that are blocking our compassion? For me, it was the idea that I did not have any actual money to give. I do a lot of things with my life, none of which actually produce an income for my family–so my hands are tied when it comes to charitable giving–right?? No, God showed me helping the poor is not really about money at all. I have time, and talents, with which I can help to alleviate suffering. God showed me that even though I don’t earn a paycheck, I am still rich, wealthy beyond the wildest imagination of the vast majority of the words population. I have shoes on my feet, a car in the driveway,  clean clothes, a kitchen full of food, I am literate, I am wealthy–and I can help. But, this is not some gold star on my christian report card. We are commanded over and over again to help the poor in the Bible–it is not about charity, it is about obedience and justice. Also, writing checks is easy. We can send our donation and move on with our lives. This section left me wanting to do more.

Week two is about exploring what the bible has to say about helping the poor, the widows, the orphans, and how God commands us to love those in need. When God says something once it is important–when He says it over and over again it must be really important. Just look at the sheer number of verses about helping the poor, it does not seem like an option. Looking through the gospels and using Jesus’ model for helping the poor is so encouraging. Jesus’ ministry was not this enormous organization that reached millions during His lifetime, or generated millions of dollars. He took the time to stop for one–one woman at a well, one group of children, one blind man, one crippled man, one prostitute. We can do that too! It is about stopping for the one person God puts in your path today. Some of us are probably called to start large ministries aimed at ending poverty on a global level, but I think most of us are just called to stop and help the one person that God puts in our path today. Imagine what would happen if every Christian helped just one person everyday!

The third week helped the reader to understand poverty. It looked at all of the factors that contribute to large-scale poverty–the politics, gender issues, environmental issues. But really, when it comes down to it, the author believes that poverty is a spiritual issue. We now that ‘our battles are not against flesh and blood’ so poverty has to be the work of the enemy. Why else would poverty target children and babies so tenaciously? The devil wants these people to think they don’t matter, that they are unloved and ultimately unlovable. So, we can battle poverty on a spiritual level. I write to my Compassion International sponsor child, as well as an orphan in South Africa, and I always emphasis that they are good and important and that I love them–but Jesus loves them way more.

Week four looks at prayer. If we believe that poverty, at its roots, is a spiritual problem–then prayer becomes the essential weapon in this battle.  When we commit to continually praying for the poor, the Holy Spirit will then change our hearts. I ask God for His heart, to be able to love like He loves. The author also gives specific suggestions on prayer techniques to help the reader have breakthroughs in their own prayer life. I choose to hang pictures of the children and countries I pray for around my house–it is  my visual reminder to be praying in the spirit on all occasions. I am also excited to be part of a prayer group that will target specific countries with strategic prayers.

Week five is about exploring our individual spiritual gifts. Over the course of reading this week God presented me with many opportunities to put these words into practice. I took on supporting a Compassion International child, writing and encouraging a South African orphan, and volunteering as a welcomer and advocate in the refugee community. It was amazing that God gave me specific opportunities to use my gifts. I think that I do have a gift of mercy, of teaching, and for serving. All of these things bring me great joy, and hopefully glorify God.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this book. It is truley a journey. Looking back, it is amazing all the opportunites God put in my life at the excat time I was reading this book–or prehaps they had always been there and reading this book opened my eyes. However you want to look at it, reading this book and engaging in the reflection and prayer exersizes will certanily impact your life.  It helps you to transform a heart that may have become apathetic and hardened, and replace it with a heart of God’s love and mercy.

For tomorrow:

Offer Mercy Today

 

Deliberate Acts of Jesus February 18, 2012

Filed under: Serving,Teaching and Learning — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 3:24 pm
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Likely you are familiar with ‘Random Acts of Kindness’, that is extending acts of kindness to the strangers you encounter during the day. Recently, with the youth group I lead, I challenged the students to instead perform ‘Deliberate Acts of Jesus’ in their daily lives. Some of the acts are the same; a kind word, generous giving, love, but when we use Jesus as our model we also find ourselves challenged to be humble and forgiving. furthermore, these acts are not random, but intentional. We can set out each day with an awareness that we are ambassadors, and a reflection of Christ in a fallen world.

 

I shared with the students a passage from the book, Words that Hurt Words that Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well  by Joseph Teluskin. The author recounts an afternoon spent with a friend who what trying to bring love back to New York (his words, not mine) by intentionally being kind to the people he encountered throughout the day. This meant paying compliments to construction workers, engaging taxi drivers in pleasant conversations, and leaving large tips for waitresses. We looked at the passage and asked ourselves if the acts are sincere, or phony? After some debate, we decided the acts are honest to Jesus, but may feel contradictory to our sinful nature. If we see each person we encounter throughout the day as a wonderful and amazing creation in His image, how can we not love them? We can pray for God to allow us to see people as He seems them, and to love as He loves. Then the Deliberate Acts of Jesus come from an honest and humble heart, that longs to please God and see His name glorified.

 

Words are essential when performing Deliberate Acts of Jesus. God used words to create the very universe we live in. Words can be used to praise God or curse those made in his image, words can heal or hurt, life up or break down, and Jesus tells us that words can actually move mountains! We all know how words can affect us. We likely remember a harsh word spoken to us as a child, or a kind and loving word spoken to us by a friend. Words are powerful. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul cautions believers to, ” Let no evil talk come out of your mouth, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). So, consider using these powerful word-tools to perform Deliberate Acts of Jesus. Compliment someone on a job well done, especially someone doing a job that would likely go unnoticed like washing windows or sweeping a floor. Tell a mother who is out with her children how well-behaved they are (gasp!). Call someone and let them know you are thinking of them. Thank your spouse for what they do. Tell someone they are a blessing. Some members of the youth group made a poster offering words like love, joy, and kindness to passers-by. We also made hearts and wrote positive affirmations on them, like ‘you are beautiful’, and left them in public places. Much like the man in New York, we are planing love seeds for God to grow.

 

Some Deliberate Acts of Jesus are not as easy. It might mean extending grace to someone who has hurt you, giving away some of your money or possessions, spending a day serving someone else when you would rather be somewhere different. The good news is, God promises us that we will reap what we sow. “Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing whatever good we do we will receive the same from the Lord” Ephesians 6:7-8. If we do these things in order to please and glorify the Lord, then surely the same blessings will manifest in our own lives, maybe even on this side of heaven. In Malachi we are told, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (3:10). You can’t out give God and you can’t out love God. Invest in these Deliberate Acts of Jesus and blessings will rain down on you from Heaven. This is not our selfish motivation, it is a promise from God.

 

So, consider this and pray that God would allow you to see the world as He sees it. Pray that He would open your eyes to the endless opportunities to be Jesus to someone in need. Heal a hurt, encourage a stranger, uplift a family member, move a mountain–plant some love seeds and watch them grow.