Conforming to Jesus Culture (not the music)

Who doesn’t want to fit in? To be included? To feel a part of something bigger? It’s a part of our human nature because God designed and made us to live in community. Just as our Creator God eternally experiences and enjoys close fellowship and community with Himself in the Trinity, He made us so that we can know and taste a bit of that divine community here on earth. After God finishes breathing His perfect creation into existence, He acknowledges that there is something missing: community. “It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a companion for him, a perfectly suited partner.” (Gen. 2:18) And this is the point where God creates Eve. God instilled in us a social need, a need for community – not just with other people, but ultimately with Himself.

Even Aristotle acknowledges this, saying,

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

In thinking about this in relation to God, I came to realize something amazing about the nature of Yahweh, the great I AM. Naturally, being completely satisfied in the community found with Himself (the Father eternally loving the Son through the Spirit), God doesn’t NEED us. He didn’t NEED to create anything. He is not dependent on any of His creation for His worth. So then, why at all would He create anything to begin with? To make Himself feel better by having people worship Him? To have satisfaction in controlling and maintaining the world? That’s not the kind of God I would want to know, let alone worship.

Which begs the question, “Why DID He create us? He had to have a reason…it wasn’t “just because”. He isn’t an illogical God, despite what some might claim. Even if God can’t be “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt (it wouldn’t be faith then), that doesn’t mean faith is completely illogical.

Let me use an illustration by one of my favorite speakers, Ben Stuart.

“Freedom, for any thing, living or non-living, is NOT the absence of limitation, it’s the ability to pursue unhindered our created intent. It’s the liberty to fulfill created intent. A fish is most free when it swims, cause that’s what it’s made to do. A bird is most free when it flies, cause that’s what it’s made to do…That we were created and that Creator has an intent and that as we fulfill that, we reach our highest potential and our deepest satisfaction…We are here to discover and embrace why God made us.”

I don’t know why you think you’re here on this earth. If you believe there’s a greater purpose for your life. If you believe God really cares about you – loves you even. But let me tell you just how attractive my God is. He is an outgoing God. He loves to spread His love. He overflows with it.

God SO enjoyed the community He had with Himself that He wanted others to experience the delight of that relationship with Him…so He created.

He made man and woman in His image. He created them with the innate desire for relationship with God – walking alongside Him in beautiful relationship in the garden.

Unfortunately we decided to go our own way (Genesis 3). That’s our “tragic flaw”, the root of so much evil, so much sin. If anything keeps us from God, it is our human pride. Just like you can’t really help someone until they want it, God can’t help us until we acknowledge our need for Him. But He is oh so willing and always waiting – ready for us when we come to that realization.

We weren’t just made to commune with God, but to pursue and know Him together – with others. That’s why we have church. But as churches, it can be hard to balance the inner focus and outer focus – coming together to build one another up, but also reaching out to others who may not know Jesus. I realized this when talking to a friend the other week. She asked me, “How do you balance your church life with your ministry life?” As followers of Jesus, we are called to love God and to love others (in that order). Sometimes however, people get too focused on loving people INSIDE the church, and other times, people are too focused on loving people OUTSIDE the church, when BOTH should be happening simultaneously. When they DO happen together, it’s such a beautiful and messy thing. We shouldn’t feel like we have to choose one or the other.

Growing up in a Mennonite tradition, we have a really strong sense of community and shared culture. I’ve come to realize that in many ways, the community and values of the Conservative Mennonite Conference together ARE in fact my culture (a subculture within American culture). It’s odd to me though, as I’ve reflected, how often I felt like I didn’t quite fit in. This is not to criticize anything or anyone, but simply to state my own perceptions and feelings, something on which I have never quite connected the dots. Our community is a strength, but also a weakness in that it can be a difficult community for others to come into and feel like they belong. This was acknowledged in a recent identity survey that was done in my conference. Because of this, I think I have an overdeveloped sense of exclusion. So I’ve swung to the opposite side of the spectrum: wanting to include everyone in everything. Over time, I think I’ve come to balance this a bit better as I’ve seen that it’s just not realistic to include everyone in everything. 🙂 And it’s not biblical either. Jesus poured into his select twelve. There were times he engaged with bigger crowds and taught the masses, but he had his twelve disciples he engaged with more in depth. Even within those twelve he had his closer three – Peter, James, and John. But growing up with this sense of “not quite fitting in” has given me a better eye for the loner and sympathy for others on the outside.
Along with this, I think the Lord has given me a gift for “fitting in” and adapting to other cultures. To the point where I’ve had Indian friends call me “Indian on the inside” and Latino friends also call me “Latina de corazón”. Usually it just has to do with surface-level things of the culture though – like speaking their language without an accent, adapting outward mannerisms, eating their food, learning their dances, etc. Nonetheless, for me, that’s a treasured compliment to know that I’ve been able to be accepted in their culture. But I’ve come to realize the danger in that desire to fit in is to seek the praise of people instead of the pleasure and praise of my Lord Jesus.

Just as I seek to adopt the language and habits of other cultures to fit in, how much more should I desire to “fit in” to Kingdom culture, to adopt the culture of Jesus and put on the practices of humility, love, gentleness, joy, patience, forgiveness, peace, grace, and holiness?

More than I want others to accept me, I want to be acceptable in God’s eyes. And the more I know Him, the more I realize how short I fall. And yet, there is grace. Grace for failures, mess-ups, and mistakes. Grace for blunders. Grace upon grace.

But as you may or may not know, learning another culture with its language, values, practices, and way of thinking takes a long time, a lifetime even. It’s something that takes a LOT of humility and consistent observation, evaluation, and realignment as we learn from people in that culture. And Kingdom culture is counter-intuitive. It’s in not our intuitive human nature to put others first, to love our enemies, to be joyful during hardship & suffering, to not defend ourselves, to always be building others up with our words, to give generously to all who ask and even those who don’t. So it’s a good thing we have the most loving Father, who never ceases to love and forgive, as well as Jesus, our patient teacher and perfect mediator, and the ever-present, life-giving Spirit to help us conform to the image of Christ. 

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Look On Up – the power of intentionality & observation

Relient K has been one of my long time favorite bands from middle school onward and they released a song this year that has been running through my mind a lot lately. Look on Up is a song for my generation, that talks about putting away your devices in order to actually live in the moments of your real life instead of your virtual one. This cultural critique takes on a different perspective with the introduction of PokémonGo this month.

“I remember when a photograph was worth a thousand words, a thousand words
Now a thousand pictures come my way, every day.
And I like them all the same, but they can’t take my breath away.” – Relient K

With Instagram, Snapchat, & Facebook (and I’m sure many more social media sites), pictures have become the empty currency of our day. Now granted, I use my phone a lot, (probably just as much as the next millennial) but I’m not really a “gamer”. I’ve been hearing a lot about this PokémonGo thing, but vaguely. Last night I experienced this fascinating phenomenon for the first time when I went to Riverscape Metropark. So many people were out walking! But the funny thing was they were all looking down at their phones…to the point where I began to assume that almost anyone with a phone out was playing PokémonGo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people outside at the park (except for the 4th of July)! Much of last evening then, was spent mulling over how this social gaming fad was in sharp contrast to the workout community I was experiencing for the first time (in the midst of the Pokémon players).

**For some PokémonG humor check out the  PokémonGo Flamingos GIF  and the article on how it’s now “officially cool to hate PokémonGo.”**

My roommate has been bugging me for a while to come and work out at this free downtown Dayton workout community called The Unit. So I figured it was about time to give it a try (exercising for the sake of it is not really my favorite thing in the world). I really was impressed by this beautiful, diverse, group of 30-40 people that show up for this bi-weekly workout session.

Every time my roommate has told me about The Unit, she has always talked about the people that come as one of the main reasons she keeps going back. And I discovered why: they have formed a welcoming, encouraging, vibrant community around this intense workout. 

I’ve been a part of a lot of groups – big and small – and I would have to say that the hospitality of this group put most of them to shame, even many of churches I have attended. Regulars went out of their way to greet and get to know the newcomers (in between the huffing and puffing of course) and to make them feel welcome.

Newcomers to the group were encouraged to go at their own pace and take breaks when needed, but there were constantly people running and working alongside them (whether they knew them or not) and encouraging them to push just a little bit harder.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when you’re working out and pushing yourself to your limits, it’s pretty hard to concentrate on much else, let alone catch Pokémon. And yes, I know that PokémonGo gets you out and about and connects you with other people. But what kind of interaction is it? Is it deep and meaningful interaction? As we worked out, none of us were on our phones and so we were able to focus intentionally on not just our workout, but on forming relationships and building up our “teammates”. Too often, we forget the power of our words, both to build up and tear down. Today I saw and experienced the power of edifying and encouraging words as I was pushed to my physical limit.

At the end of the workout, the group leaders state that the sessions are provided free of charge, but they encourage the members to be giving back to the community. Different members are invited to give any announcements they might have and they support each other in their own personal causes and passions, from theater, to 5K fundraisers, to serving opportunities in the Dayton community. When we finished our concluding huddle for announcements, we were delighted to look up to find a beautiFULL rainbow arching over our beloved city. I wondered how many of the PokémonGo players were looking up enough to notice it.

As followers of Jesus living in a broken and material world, we all struggle with that same temptation to become absorbed in the attractions of this world and let other, secondary things take the place of Jesus. However, the more we are actually looking up and observing, the more we will see Him and His faithfulness and handiwork in our lives.

I recently heard Larry Crabb speak at Xenos Summer Institute last week and he had some hard truths to say about being a “second thing” Christian. It’s easy to let other things -even good things like church, exercise, music, jobs, etc – take precedence over Jesus. Larry asked us to consider the question, “What does it mean to leave a second-thing life to be a first-thing Christian in order to release the divine nature?” Consider a few of his statements below:

“When the anticipation of heaven is rendered insignificant in comparison with our life now, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to love others well. Replace the hope of heaven with a stronger hope for a better life now and you feed your already alive spirit of entitlement.”

“If we’re not in touch with our deepest thirst, the promise of a better hope won’t stir us much.”

Two different communities:

One pure exertion, one pure entertainment.

One intentional, one accidental.

One running, one walking.

One diverse, one cliquish.

One observant, one oblivious (except to pokémon).

One meaningful, one superficial.

Which one should the Church be modeling? What kind of life does Jesus call us to?

“12 Brothers and sisters, pay close attention so you won’t develop an evil and unbelieving heart that causes you to abandon the living God.13 Encourage each other every day—for as long as we can still say “today”—so none of you let the deceitfulness of sin harden your hearts.14 For we have become partners with the Anointed One—if we can just hold on to our confidence until the end.”

Hebrews 3:12-14

*Please note that this is not meant to criticize PokémonGo, but simply to share my own reflections and their spiritual applications as I experienced two new communities for the first time side-by-side.

 

 

 

My Story – a thread in God’s tapestry

2016. Here we go again! Since the year is ending and a new one is beginning, thoughts must be thought, actions evaluated and reflected upon, new goals set, and words written about all of it, at least in my case.

I read my blog post from a year ago when I was in a state of disorientation and indecision about what God was directing me to pursue in life as I ended my undergraduate career. It’s fascinating to look back at the possibilities I was considering then and see the journey God has brought me on this last year. Obviously, I’m still in Dayton and not everything I had planned to pursue panned out. God had a couple of curve balls up his sleeve for this past year.

From delegate to continental representative. One opportunity I had this past year was to attend the Global Youth Summit (GYS) and Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA during the month of July. It was there that I represented my conference (Conservative Mennonite Conference) as a youth (18-30yrs) delegate. What I didn’t foresee was being elected to the new Young Anabaptists (YABs) committee as the North American representative. I honestly didn’t even know it was a possibility until I found out about the election by the previous YABs committee. Initially I was scared and intimidated to receive such a position, but God confirmed the appointment to me through different conversations with people and reflections on my own personal faith journey. It’s a 6-8 year volunteer commitment that would include some travel and skyping and communication. Other than that, I’m still not quite sure what all this position will entail, but I’m honored and humbled to have been chosen and look forward to growing as a leader, in my interpersonal skills and cross-cultural communication, as well as in my Anabaptist identity as I work to promote and foster connections, communication, and fellowship among Anabaptist youth around the world.

From Fulbright to Spanish substitute teacher – Originally I had planned to pursue Fulbright as an option for teaching abroad. However in September God placed a local teaching job right in my lap, which replaced the whole Fulbright application plan. Not teaching English as I had intended, but teaching Spanish as a long-term substitute at an urban STEM school for the arts in Dayton. All in all, I ended up teaching there full-time for about two months from September-October and then November-December. It was an unforeseen experience that stretched and challenged me in many ways. I received a crash-course on what it’s like to be a full-time teacher in a high school setting. This makes for a lot of stories, let me tell you. Reflecting back, I’m definitely glad for the experience. I learned a lot about teaching – the good and the bad – and just how much of an impact a teacher can have during that sensitive stage of life for students. I learned about the nitty gritty details that teaching entails. I learned to know 160 sweet, dorky, brilliant, annoying, quirky, talented, lazy, kids – kids searching for identity, love, and purpose, just like all of us. There were definitely some moments where I enjoyed teaching and felt fulfillment in it, but through the experience, I realized my passion was not teaching. It’s a skill set I could utilize and improve in, but it’s not something that gives me energy. Rather, I found it drained me and wore me down – more than I care to admit. Learning how to give tough love to obstinate adolescents with attitudes was tricky. However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t where I was longing to invest my time.

From student leader to staff. Another unanticipated foil in my plan to leave Dayton was the interminable status of our other IFI staff whose visas took much longer than anticipated to process. As such, I came to carry more of the responsibilities of our organization than I had before and got “trial run” of what full-time staff work looked like. The more time I invested in this organization, the more I wanted to pour into it as I watched how God was moving and working during this time of transition and uncertainty.

From single to dating. Finally, towards the end of this year a relationship blossomed out of a solid friendship that had developed throughout the year. In many ways it’s not your typical relationship and not one I would have predicted for myself, but it’s one that has felt natural in other ways. It’s both a scary and exciting thing as I consider the long-term implications and navigate the unknowns of a serious and intentional dating relationship. It brings with it a whole new set of challenges in communication, boundaries, and learning how to balance a new aspect of life appropriately in relation to other responsibilities and relationships. At the end of the day, however, it’s one that I’ve decided is worth the risk and am trusting God to guide and give us discernment as we seek His will together.

From average birthday to Urbana birthday. Usually my birthday (3 days after Christmas) is pleasant but pretty chill due to the fact that most of my friends are traveling or home with their families. Last year’s early surprise birthday party was the exception. 🙂 This year however, my combined Christmas/Birthday present was to attend the 5-day Urbana conference in St. Louis, Missouri from Dec. 17-Jan. 1. At this conference with 16,000 other students from around the world, God further confirmed my life direction, challenged me to grow in some new areas, and re-energized me for the year to come. Here are a couple highlights:

Obedience demands immediacy, not hesitancy.

“Following Jesus is demanding. Following Jesus is risky. Following Jesus is costly.” Patrick Fung

“Being under Jesus’ authority IS good news! The American Dream pales in comparison to following Jesus!” Francis Chan

“Indifference is the absence of activism. Indifference isn’t hate, but it’s not LOVE, and thus it’s our enemy.” Michelle Higgins

“We need to give control of our stories back to to the God who wrote them. We have to put ourselves in a situation of discomfort to see change.” Michelle Higgins

“Awkward is the step before awesome.”

“No one can rely on someone else’s spirituality.” Patrick Fung

“Readiness is not achieved by last minute spiritual scrambles, but by a well-paced, willing, joyful service.” Patrick Fung

“God isn’t looking for spiritual giants, but for people who carry spiritual lamps burning bright for Him.” Patrick Fung

“Selfless love for others springs from supreme love for God.” David Platt

“Persecution will never kill the Church, but a diluted Gospel as well as a loss of passion to share the Gospel will kill the Church.” Patrick Fung

“The world is a holistic mess that is in desperate need of a holistic Gospel.”

“We don’t want to just consume stories, we want to be transformed by them.”

Urbana was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I decided to go, last minute though it was. I hope and pray that the lessons I learned there continue to soak in over the next while that that I’m able to carry them with me into 2016. To sum up in one sentence though what I felt God telling me through Urbana:

“Larissa Lu, you need to be present in your own story instead of trying to live in everyone else’s stories.”

Right now God has me in Dayton. There are a lot of cool and exciting things that I could probably do elsewhere. Other jobs I could pursue. A career (bleh). But my story has been IFI. I truly believe that is where God has called me for the present, however long that may be. It’s where my passion and my gifts and my love for God and international students all collide. Instead of being distracted by all the other alluring options and adventures out there, I need to be fully present and faithful to where God has called me for the time being.

All of the above were unexpected surprises that God brought my way this year – each with its own joys and challenges. My God is truly a God of surprises and I look forward to the adventures and challenges in the year to come because whatever may come, I have Jesus with me to weather the storms of this life.

My Jesus, who has the authority to silence the wind and the waves with a word.

My Jesus, who has the power to cast out demons.

My Jesus, who heals the sick and binds up the wounds of the broken and downtrodden.

My Jesus, who overcame death and holds the key to LIFE.

Respirando y adelantando – Straining towards what is ahead

The supposed interruption to my semi-planned-out Sunday evening all started with my roommate Caty asking me with her characteristic bounce and enthusiasm:

“Larissa!!! Would you like to go running with me?!?!”

For those of you who personally know Caty, this isn’t hard to picture. 🙂 This situation has become, at the very least, a bi-weekly occurrence as she has started to run on a regular basis. I personally dislike running (that’s putting it mildly) and so my answer for her, more often than not, is a no.

“Besides,” I often rationalize to myself, “I have more ‘important’ things to do.”

Last night though, I gave running a second thought. “Why not?” I said to myself. Even though I always feel like I have a hundred other things I could be doing, the evening was drop-dead gorgeous and I figured it’s something that was about time for me to do (me tocaba correr) as my lifestyle has become more sedentary as of late. Since I do not run regularly myself, I don’t have a lot of “running gear” so-to-speak and as a lover of music, when I do actually run, I always run with music. However this time–not having a pocket or carrier for my phone or adequate headphones (They always fall out of my ears!!)–I decided to run without my music, which to me usually seems like the worst case scenario for running.

Now, without having been exercising regularly, a straight-up 3 mile run is rough (and I’m feeling it today!), but I was optimistic and told myself I could do it. And although I strongly dislike running and went without my music, the Lord used the time to reveal to me some valuable lessons that running metaphor helps understand in a different way. Now, by all means, I am probably the least qualified runner in my family to be writing this (considering my brother and his wife run on the WSU XC team and that the rest of my family competes pretty competitively with Fitbits) but the beauty of the running metaphor struck me in a new way last night and it continued to expand my understanding of the Christian life as I pondered it while I ran. Maybe it’s because I love reading and am a visual learner, but extended metaphors and allegories always leave a big impression on me. Let me share with you some of the principles that struck me:

It all starts with an invitation. I wasn’t planning on going running and probably would not have gone if not for my roommate, Caty. Relationships play such a vital role in our world. They are one of the few eternal things in this universe, which helps put other things we may spend our time and resources on into perspective. The deeper the relationship, the more ability you usually have to mutually speak into each other’s lives, especially in difficult times. But usually relationships need to be initiated by someone, and that’s what God did with us. He initiated a relationship with us and issued the invitation into this intimate relationship with Him through His son Jesus. But of course that invitation needs to be accepted for the relationship to proceed anywhere, for us to even begin to run the race marked out for us. Just as Jesus invites, so we as His followers are called to invite others on this journey, this race. Romans 10:14 rhetorically says precisely that:

“14 How can people invoke His name when they do not believe? How can they believe in Him when they have not heard? How can they hear if there is no one proclaiming Him?”

Running may not be easy. It will bring some pain and growth. But is immensely rewarding and fulfilling – even more so when accompanied by people you love and care about.

Breathing. It’s such a simple exercise, taken for granted, but it keeps us alive. Likewise, it is essential and life-giving to abide in the presence of our Lord. We cannot live the Christian life without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to bear fruit (John 15:4-8). Often many things distract us and capture our attention so that we don’t focus on our breathing and we take it for granted. But regulated breathing is important, not just for runners, but for also for musicians (those who ever played a wind instrument know this) and for calming or sleeping techniques. As I ran last night, I was grateful I didn’t have my music for once. I was able to concentrate on my breathing which allowed me to keep a better pace and more fully enjoy the quiet and beauty of the world around me. In the same way, it’s necessary for us as Christians to focus on our breathing in order to live each day fully and in step with the Spirit. Inhale, Jesus. Take in His truth, His Word, His guidance. Exhale, Jesus. Shine His love and light into the dark corners of the world. Breathing is not a one-sided process. It involves both inhaling and exhaling. Inhale. Love God. Exhale. Love others. Jesus explains this process to His disciples in John 15:9-11 when he says,

I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in My love.10 Follow My example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. 11 I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this.”

This is breathing, this abiding, is captured in one of my current favorite songs by up-and-coming Christian R&B artist Liz Vice, who says, “You in us the Hope of glory, in You we will abide.”

Discipline is part of being a disciple. Self-discipline is an area I’ve always struggled with, and while it may be part of my spontaneous and carefree personality that makes discipline difficult, I can’t deny that discipline, specifically spiritual discipline, is an essential part of our spiritual growth. It’s kind of related to the breathing thing. Most people can’t just up-and-run a marathon. Maybe someone has?! If so, props to them! However it usually takes a lot of training and consistent training to run a long race. And this race we are running is not a short or easy one by any means – especially if you are blessed to live a long life here on this earth. The Christian life is not a sprinting event like in track & field. It’s the longest marathon you’ll ever run. Not to make that sound daunting, but we only get one chance to run it. For the longest time I always equated discipline and self-control. But then I read an article by Henri Nouwen that changed my perspective.

“But in the spiritual life, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”

Nouwen goes on to expound on the spiritual disciplines of solitude (inhaling!), community, and ministry (exhaling!) that are dependent on each other. Before, my concept of discipline was mostly negative. Now that I understand the value of discipline, it’s something that I’m working at putting into practice.

Rhythm is a part of life. Contrary to discipline, rhythm has always been something that has bubbled up inside of me, bursting to get out, whether through music or dance. On this run though, my concept of rhythm changed as I measured my breathing and matched my pace to the rhythm of my breathing. In relation to discipline, rhythm keeps us going, keeps us moving. Since I didn’t have my music with me, I wasn’t constantly trying to change my pace to match the beat of the music (an old marching band habit, I know). Instead I was better able to focus on keeping a steady pace by matching my breathing. What I noticed when I did this was how much better I was able to run. Also, when I started running up a hill, I was able to run up it without as much difficulty because instead of concentrating on my exhaustion and exertion, I was concentrating on my breathing and rhythm. When we are abiding in Jesus, we are able to overcome challenges that we never thought we could because we are not focused on our outward circumstances, but on Him. Like Peter trying to walk on water, if we look around us and see the hill we’re climbing, or look behind us and see the horrible and haunting things in our past, or look ahead and see how much further we have to go, we fall and become swept away by the winds and waves of life that overwhelm any mortal. But Jesus is no mere mortal. He is God. Able to walk on water and demand that the winds and waves be still.  Like rhythm, He is constant, steady, never-changing (allow for a little stretching of the metaphor here). He is the metronome for our life. Our rhythm of breathing, discipline, and love is what keeps us in time and in tune with Him.

We are all running our own race. We each have our own decisions to make in life. That’s part of the beauty and pain of free will. Although we can help carry each other’s burdens, no one can run our race for us. We must be the one to cross that finish line. We are all at different points in our races too and it’s easy to get discouraged and bitter when we start looking at others and comparing their race to ours. Our God is a personal God that meets each of us where we are at in our race. Some are slow, others are fast. Some may be in shape and others reeaaaaallly out of shape (Exhibit A would be me, physically that is). And in our marathon, there may be different stages we go through. Maybe we try too hard on our own and don’t have enough training that we burn out fast and have to walk for a while. Maybe some of us get distracted by enticing things in the world and stray from the straight course. Maybe some have taken a temporary respite to refuel and drink from the well of Living Water. Maybe some of us have completely stopped. Wherever we are though, it’s important that we are always moving forward, straining towards what is ahead and not allowing the progress of others to keep us from running our own race well. It reminds me of the passage in John 21:20-22 where Peter asks Jesus about what will happen to John, the beloved disciple of Jesus and Jesus replies,

“If I choose for him to remain till I return, what difference will this make to you? You follow Me!”

Our own walk with the Lord is what we’re responsible for and the only actions we will account for before God Almighty are our own.

But we are not competing individually. And I’m so glad for this because when we get tired, when we feel like quitting, when we get discouraged or distracted, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), both past and present that are there cheering us onward and upward. Because I can’t help the song is constantly stuck in my head, I have to think of the pop song “Cheerleader”, which I know, isn’t talking about spiritual cheerleaders at all, but we could change the lyrics right? If you think of a parody version…let me know! 😉 The body of Christ, working in unity and in love is a beautiful thing that allows the Gospel to penetrate the world. Even though we are running individually, we are competing as a team. We shouldn’t look at our brothers and sisters in Christ as competitors, but rather as teammates. These past two weeks have been hard for me as I’ve adjusted to full-time teaching without much preparation or experience, but many people have been such an encouragement to me during this time that my confidence and motivation has been boosted by their kind and life-giving words. And if any of you have ever competed in any kind of race before, you know there’s no better place that the finish line, where all your beloved friends, family, and teammates are waiting for you and cheering you on with all gusto on your home stretch.

And at all times, we must keep our eyes fixed ahead of us, on the Son – no turning back. As we were running, it just so happened we were running west, into the beautiful, bright, setting sun. It was so bright I could barely see – overwhelmingly bright really. I had to close my eyes it was shining so brightly and directly into my face. I felt like it captured the concept of the glory of God. A glory that’s too great and too bright to be beheld by our own human eyes. But it’s His glory that we keep following, straining to see more and more of it as we soak as much of it in as we can. And that’s the focus we need to keep in “Pressing On” in our race. We should always be running towards the Son, keeping Him in our vision, just like the finish line. Hebrews 12:2 builds on Hebrews 12:1 saying,

“2 Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.”

Now, I don’t know if you like animated movies or not, but they tend to be more on the light and funny side and not delve into any very profound topics. But one of Caty’s and my favorite animated movies is the Croods, which we tend to think has more depth and messages to it than most. Essentially, this cave family is trying to escape from their dying world and this one boy tells them how to escape and leads them out of danger by following advice given to him by his deceased parents. And their advice was??

“Don’t hide. Live. Follow the sun. You’ll make it to Tomorrow.”

I don’t often feel so inspired to write so much, but as I ran Sunday evening, these thoughts kept washing over me as I breathed in the fresh air and kept trucking on my irregular run. I so much enjoyed the run last evening that I’m considering making it a regular thing, despite my dislike of the sport, even if it’s just a good time to allow my mind to empty of things and rest in the Lord. That may even be the best reason of all to start running on a consistent basis.

As the famous hymn declares, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” I think when we really catch marvelous glimpses of His glory, goodness, and love, there truly is no way we can do anything else but pursue Him and claim the glorious eternal riches waiting for us in Christ Jesus. And finally, as my thoughts peter out and I prepare for a new day, a new week of life, I leave you with a passage from 2 Corinthians 4 that sums all of this up quite nicely:

16 So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. 17 You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18 So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.”

Oh for the love of…somebody…

It was recently that time of year that single people hate. Ok…most single people. It would probably be an over-generalization to say that everyone hates Valentine’s Day. The idea behind it is nice. Really, I mean, who doesn’t want some sweet gesture from that special person in their life? But there are so many ways this can be painful for many people in different stages of life whether they’re young and single, divorced, widowed or maybe in a loveless relationship. Our society has definitely capitalized on the commercialization of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good excuse to show your “special someone” that you care about them – although I’m not really speaking from experience here. girl-and-chalk-figure-2The point is, I’m not trying to bash Valentine’s Day (or at least the inspiration behind it). Believe it or not, I actually meant to write about this over Valentine’s Day…but it’s already passed me by in a blur of emotions and chocolate. 😀 I feel kind of weird writing about a holiday for couples as a single person, but I feel like I should after recently talking with different people from different cultures about relationships and marriage (all of them also being single). Last year was a year of firsts for me with regards to relationships. I received my first Valentine’s day rose and note (I will explain later) and I also experienced the beginning and end of my first serious (long distance) relationship. In my church, we also held our first Single’s Conference (which I regrettably could not attend due to being in Spain). But from that conference, I learned of a book on [Christian] singleness which I read during my time in Spain. After the Bible, this book, called Getting Naked Later – A Guide for the Fully Clothed (Retitled as Cupid is a Procrastinator: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life), is one I think every single Christian should read, if not all of you dating/engaged/married people as well. It has value for everyone no matter what stage of a relationship or life you’re in. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a taste of it in this post that will maybe whet your appetite. 🙂

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“The hard truth is that there are people out there who long to be married but never will be.”

Kate Hurley

Ouch. This is such a hard truth. And it was voiced in the question of a good friend of mine: “Would I believe that God is still good even if I never marry?” Such a hard question because knowing the truth that God delights in us (Zeph. 3:17) and wants to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11, Psalm 37:4, John 10:10) makes us question if He really is good when it seems like He’s withholding something good from us that we really desire, even though we know God doesn’t necessarily promise us an easy life (John 16:33). Of course, if we can’t question God’s goodness, we do one of two things: blame others:

“There aren’t any good Christian guys out there that make ‘my list’.” “Why are guys so immature?” “Why don’t any guys ever ask me out?”

Or blame ourselves:

“What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?” “Does my personality intimidate guys too much?” “Why don’t any good Christian guys like me?”

Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye did a number on how dating is viewed in the Christian community and post-90s Christian dating has been recovering from the legalistic ripple effect for some time (and probably still is). This is not only mentioned in Hurley’s book, but also in a recent article from Relevant Magazine on why guys in church don’t ask women on dates. On a side note, it’s always good to understand your own concept of dating and be aware that not everyone has the same understanding of dating – it’s something good to clarify with someone you’re considering a relationship with right off the bat.

Although I had a wonderful time celebrating Valentine’s Day early with my sister (How can you get more romantic than spaghetti and chocolate covered strawberries? Well, you probably can, but I wouldn’t know. :)) on the actual day, I was at a conference, so of course the topic of singleness and Valentine’s Day came up. The speaker, Julie Longacre, spoke of her long season of singleness when she called Valentine’s Day “Singles Awareness Day”…which made me realize I’m maybe not as original as I thought, although my idea was “Singles Appreciation Day”. But she said some things that made me stop and contemplate my selfish single attitude in the midst of all my supposed justified single bitterness (I’m really not that bitter, but it’s hard to not have bouts when you’re surrounded by people in relationships, friends getting married and posting pics of their adorable babies on Facebook and a culture that pushes the ideals of romantic love down your throat.) Nonwithstanding, this realization made me recal a quote from John Stott that Kate Hurley mentions in Getting Naked Later that said,

“The greatest danger [singles] face is self-centeredness.” I could maybe add bitterness to that, but I think it’s really only a side effect of self-centeredness.

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Now, while singles may be wrongly justified in their self-centeredness, I don’t think that gives people, specifically the Church, a right to discredit their needs and abilities. Kate labels singleness as a type of grief saying,

“It’s a strange kind of grief, because people don’t often understand it as a loss. It is not socially accepted as a loss. There is not a lot of empathy for it.”

This kind of grief is called a “disenfranchised grief” because it’s not accepted and so one doesn’t feel allowed to mourn because the loss isn’t clear or understood.

“There are funny ways that church culture reflects mos people’s unawareness of our disenfranchised loss–not in what they do give us, but in what they don’t give us. The sermons that aren’t given, the prayers that aren’t offered, the books that aren’t written. As if what we are going through is not that important.” 

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I deeply appreciate my home church in this area. I’ve loved seeing many singles get involved in our church and exercising their gifts and abilities. They’re affirmed and supported and valued (I’m including myself in this as well) and I’m glad it’s an issue that my church is aware of and is doing its best to support and validate singles in their singleness (the Single’s Conference) and not stigmatize them. Not only my church, but another church in my local area also addressed the issue of singleness in a sermon that really spoke to my heart (“The Kingdom and Singleness” by Rob Turner on 2/24/13). This leads me to my Valentine’s Day rose last year – which was not from a secret admirer or someone special as you might expect – but from brothers in Christ with whom I work in international student ministry. It was actually a secret plot of theirs, making sure all of us ladies (most of us single) who volunteer in the ministry we’re a part of received a rose and an encouraging note which read as follows:

“Dear Larissa, On this day that everyone celebrates love. we want to thank you for the love and fellowship we share. It’s such a joy watching you show the love of Christ to those God has put in your path. God wants you to know that His love for you never runs out…We pray that we will continue to help each other grow and mature into the image of Christ. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. We just simply love you for who you are!! Happy Valentine’s Day!!”

Of course they were devastated when we pieced together the clues to figure out who secretly sent us all roses. 🙂 Reflecting on this event from last year actually brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how special and affirmed I felt, even though the rose wasn’t from “someone special”. I don’t know if those guys really know what an impact their display of affirmation and brotherly affection made. But I guess that’s something not everyone realizes considering how couple-oriented the culture, and especially the church culture can be.

However, when talking to some of my good friends from other cultural backgrounds, I realize that even though we have our own issues with singleness, dating, and marriage in the American Christian culture, we have it much easier in some ways. The majority of my international friends, whether from India, Saudi Arabia or China, feel so much pressure from their families to get married, especially as they get older – so much so that some of them dread returning home after they finish their studies. Depending on their parents, some of them are more free to have a say in who they marry than others, but regardless, they are all expected to get married. For them, being single is not really an option. I’m always amazed at the cultural differences with regards to marriage when I talk to my friends. You see the whole world differently when you know that your parents will choose a mate for you – preferably one of the same religion, background, caste, status, etc. One of my friends commented to me that he hates going to Indian weddings back at home because they are just a hive of busybody aunties (married Indian women) trying to make matches for their daughters, cousins, sons, nephews…you get the picture. While I’m not saying arranged marriages are right or wrong, having these conversations with my friends makes me immensely grateful that the decision of who I marry, (while made with the considerations of family, mentors, and good friends) rests on my shoulders and that I don’t face the amount of pressure to marry and have kids by a certain age.

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All that to say, I’m hopefully not a bitter single person (and if I am, please call me out on it!) I’m truly content with where God has me in life right now and excited about where He’ll lead me next. He has surrounded me with some pretty amazing friends and family who love and support me in all my weirdness, craziness and singleness and has provided me with some amazing opportunities and experiences that I might have never had if I had been in a serious relationship. So to close, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes from Kate Hurley’s book that perfectly capture life, not just as a single adult, but as one whose heart is set on following Jesus:

“There are a lot of things I don’t understand in my life, especially being single. But I do know that I can lean on Jesus. I know that He is trustworthy. And I know that I will never walk alone, no matter what wilderness or mountaintops await me.”

“Your life won’t have a perfectly hemmed-in ending. It will be ripped and tattered and re-sewn like a patchwork quilt. Marriage, singleness, divorce, loneliness, joy – these are the pieces of fabric that might make up that quilt. Whether God is the one who created the hard patches is not a question that I can answer. But I do believe this: God is the thread. Your life is stitched with the color of his mercy, his grace, his love.”

2015 : Portal al Desconocido (2015 : Portal to the Unknown)

It’s that time of year. The time where you contemplate the past year: the joys, the trials, the adventures, the failures, the people, the major events and accomplishments, and (hopefully) the lessons learned. Or, in other words, you simply have Facebook compose a collage of moments from your year to put your life in a cute little nutshell. We all love it though don’t we? Remembering and looking back on memories with fondness – that’s probably why Timehop was invented. Then come all the resolutions. “Where can I improve myself?” “Where can I do better?” I know that’s how I tend to go into the New Year. It’s hard not to. But that’s not how the Spirit-filled life works. I think instead, the questions should be, “How can I give God more space to work in my life?” “In what areas of my life am I not relinquishing control?” or “How can I allow Him to change me?”  I know for myself, I can think of many areas in which I need to grow – but that’s not what this post is about.

While I want to reflect on the past year, I’m having a hard time with that as 2015 is looming in front of me as a large dark abyss of a portal through which I must step, not knowing where I will end up. Maybe Narnia?? Or Middle Earth?! Even Tatooine possibly? Only God knows, and that fact alone gives me confidence as I step into this “portal” year. These are just a taste of the questions that have been plaguing my mind for, well, a while:

“What am I going to do with my life?”

“Can I make a difference?”

“What does God want for my life?”

“What do I even want?”

“Where do I want to be in 10 years?”

Kind of trivial questions, I know. Ones I’m not sure I will find the answers to anytime soon – I think that’s more of a lifelong journey. And I think I’m ok with that. I really am. And even though it may be a tad cliché, that doesn’t diminish the truth in the saying, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future,” because that someone is YHWH, Jehovah Jireh, my provider, whose grace is sufficient for me. My God will supply all my needs, of that I am certain. This next year will test me in many ways and the future holds many uncertainties, but I step into 2015 knowing that greater things have yet to come and even though I may not have everything planned out, my God leads me and will not let my foot slip.

This post is an response to the many people that are curious about my future plans and are asking the question that people always ask soon-to-be-graduates. You know the one. Yes, THAT one.

“So……what are your plans after you graduate?”

Most people that pose that question are aware that the students in my position still have no idea what they want to do. However, I’ve actually appreciated the people that have asked me since it’s helped me to process my thoughts and ideas at different times. People are always willing to share their thoughts and opinions, and when you have wise people around you that genuinely care, their insight is always helpful in processing ideas about the future.

Then there’s the other question that some people ask when I say I don’t really know what I want to do:

“What do you picture yourself doing in 5-10 years?” 

I think I dislike this question more than the first because it seems like such an impossible thing to answer since I can be so indecisive sometimes. I could picture myself doing any number of things. And while the idea of “settling down” and staying in one place does appeal to me, I want to take full advantage of the freedom and opportunity I have while I’m young and unattached (financially and emotionally). For some reason this question implies permanence and all it brings to my mind is an image of the average American worker dedicated to their career, slaving away at their job for the rest of their life. I know that’s not an accurate portrayal of the American work life, but for some reason it’s the one that intimidates me and makes me never want to grow up.

So while may I may not have any concrete plans for after graduation at this point, here are some of the ideas (crazy or sane) that have crossed my mind:

– Dayton: find a job using my Spanish and working with the immigrant and refugee populations in the Dayton area, continue working with IFI, or even open a coffee shop and start a band with mi querida amiga Caty!

– Become an officially travel blogger and photographer

– Find an ESL job abroad, whether as an “auxiliar de conversación” in Spain or in another country where I have connections like Nicaragua, Ecuador, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. Teaching English can literally take you anywhere!

– Boston: I could establish residency in order to achieve in-state tuition to complete my masters  in linguistics at the University of Massachusetts in Boston while plugging into a church plant and looking into ism (international student ministries) in the area. Another option for grad school for linguistics would be OSU, but at this point I’m still not sure about grad school.

– Train and work as a skydiving instructor in Perú

Obviously I’ve really narrowed it down. 🙂 And you’ll have to talk to me to figure out which ones are dreams vs. realities.

As I ponder the upcoming year, I can only see so far ahead. For the first time I can imagine a future for myself that doesn’t include classes and studying – a routine already planned out for me. The doors are wide open to whatever possibilities I can dream to pursue, which is both scary and exciting. It’s part of the two-fold curse and blessing of being a liberal arts major (make that Spanish): there’s a lot of flexibility in how you use your degree. By that I mean it’s not career-specific like nursing or engineering or business. Some may question why get a degree in Spanish, or any language for that matter. I know I did (And still do sometimes). But to me, it was the only thing that made sense. I didn’t go into college having a career goal or vision for what I wanted to obtain through my degree. Nope. And it sounds horrible to say that. Maybe part of it is just that I’m bad at planning ahead. Maybe it’s that I have idealistic and romanticized ideas of what it means to have a full-time job in the real world that you love. I think another part of it is that I’m trying to make it harder than it is. I was thinking of it the wrong way – trying to think of a job I would want to do and working backwards to find the educational path that would get me there. However that’s not what I ended up doing. I did it the other way around by starting to study what I know I love and worrying about finding a job later, which is much easier to do with faith that God will meet my needs in whatever way He chooses. Now this isn’t to say that one way is better than the other. I think it just depends on how different people approach similar decisions.

So what does 2015 have in store? Only God knows for sure, but here are some of the things on my radar for this next year:

  • A difficult and disciplined semester of TESOL classes and Honors Project work
  • Many weddings of close friends and family (including two cousins and my own brother – at this point, the final count is up to 9!)
  • Mennonite World Conference and Global Youth Summit in Harrisburg, PA
  • A backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail with my dear sister
  • Jobs? Writing Center tutor & serving
  • Future options: Dayton, Spain, Vietnam, Boston, ANYWHERE in the world!
  • And of course, there’s IFI and time with the many people I love in Ohio 🙂

One thing is for sure – I’m definitely looking forward to where God will lead me this next year! As a result, I thought it would be fitting to conclude with some wisdom from King Solomon:

Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.” (the Voice)

Proverbs 15:22 – “Plans fall apart without proper advice; but with the right guidance, they come together nicely.” (the Voice)

Proverbs 16:9 – “People do their best making plans for their lives, but the Eternal guides each step.” (the Voice)

On Internationals Friendships <3

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I first became intrigued with other cultures, but I can clearly remember the first friend I had from another country. Her name was Chisa Fukui and she was one of my good friends from 4th-8th grade. Some of you may know I have studied and have spoken Spanish for a while now, but actually the first language I was interested in learning was Japanese at the age of 10. Chisa was not only my friend, but my Japanese tutor and, unknowingly, cultural trainer. I know I was too young then to really be aware of and understand the differences in our cultures, but I do remember that the times I visited her home were distinct from visits to other friends’ houses. I was always delighted when she gave me gifts from Japan; at that point my youth kept me ignorant of the significance of gift-giving in her culture. I remember being absolutely fascinated by everything that was different about her: her language, her food, her hobbies…basically anything that had to do with Japan. I literally kept a box in my closet where I collected the Japanese things Chisa gave me: origami, chopsticks, pictures of Japanese superstars, and Japanese lessons and notes we wrote to each other (I think it’s still in my closet at home). Based on all this, it was no surprise that my dream at that point in time was to someday visit and/or live in Japan. Who knows? Maybe I still will.

Sadly, Chisa returned to Japan our 8th grade year and my friends and I threw her a big goodbye party. We traded contact information and promised to keep in touch over the years and the miles, but unfortunately we never did. I still hope that someday our paths will cross again or that I’ll be able to find her on Facebook. You really never know these days. She could be studying in an Ohio university right now even! The fact remains that our friendship probably shaped me more than I’m even aware of. Little did I know it would be only the first of many wonderful international friends that God would bring into my life to teach me about Himself, about this beautiful world He made, about my own shortcomings and failures, about His people and how to love them, and about the beauty and difficulty in differences.

The community with which we surround ourselves is the context  through which we are changed (for good or bad) and it’s only one of many ways God grows and shapes us. My community, and I would even go so far as to call them family, these past few years has been comprised of dear friends from Malaysia, China, India, Spain, Iran, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, France, and others, along with American friends who share my passion for other cultures. Inevitably, this multicultural influence has changed how I think, the way I see the world, and how I interact with people. What follows is a list of some of the joys and lessons I’ve learned and some of the areas in which I’ve changed from living life with internationals.

  • I’ve learned how to explain things better. When most of your friends speak English as their second, third, fourth or fifth language, one has to learn different ways to explain things in order facilitate better communication and avoid misunderstanding.
  • There are ways to eat that DON’T a knife, spoon, or fork. For example, there’s chopsticks or bread. It’s always amazing to see how many different things one of our Chinese friends can eat with chopsticks from a sandwich to cake. Then there’s that brilliant idea to eat with the utensils God already gave us: our hands. 🙂
  • My taste buds have become much more adventurous. There are sooooo many different kinds of food (both amazing and disgusting) in the world. Delectability of different dishes is definitely debatable. Just come to a durian party sometime. And yes, I made up ‘delectability’.
  • My personal English lexicon, grammar and vernacular changes & simplifies by cutting “unnecessary” English words and articles. For example: “I will pick you at 7.” or “Would you please knock the door?”
  • I’ve learned that, for a man in China, wearing a green hat is a very taboo thing to do. (It means his wife/girlfriend is cheating on him)
  • Reading subtitles when watching a movie is the norm, as is singing and dancing along to Bollywood songs. There are also such things as intermissions in (Bollywood) movies. Then there’s that Lagaan-like affinity for cricket that develops…
  • Meals can take place at any time of the day depending on who I’m with. My meal times are always fluctuating, with a second supper sometimes occurring between midnight and 2 am. A 10:30 pm supper invitation the other night was actually considered to be too early by Indian (or Spanish) standards.
  • I’ve picked up bits and pieces of different languages and can now effectively communicate, “Hello” in Hindi, “I’m hungry” in Farsi, “Where?” in Telugu, “Thank you” in Chinese, and “Goodbye” in Arabic.
  • It’s not unusual to be the only “white person” in a group, which in turn makes the lack of ethnic diversity more evident when it occurs in any other given setting.
  • No matter how much I feel like I know about different cultures, there are always, ALWAYS, new things to learn. As such there’s always the risk of cultural faux pas and misunderstanding. As my roommate always says, “You live and learn.”
  • I love experiencing life in America vicariously for the first time with internationals. Everything is new and exciting again whether it’s a corn maze, snow, hiking in the woods, having a home-cooked American meal with an American family, carving a pumpkin, sledding, understanding American idioms, reading the Bible or going to church. You see everything with new eyes.
  • My appreciation for my car (and those who taught me to drive it) has grown and it’s consequently (over)filled on a regular basis. I didn’t actually realize how unnecessary it can be to own a car in other countries until I visited Spain for a month this past summer.
  • I’m continually amazed at the beauty and diversity in this world, especially in the different peoples God has created.
  • Hospitality encompasses way more than I originally thought (more than inviting people over to your house) and is an environment/lifestyle that is nurtured by the desire to invite people into your life. Hospitality, along with food, are an integral part of all cultures and as such are cultural building blocks that, when assembled correctly, build bridges that cross cultural barriers.
  • Familiar Bible stories are made new again through insightful questions and different cultural perspectives.
  • Food carries more significance than just being the nourishment I need to give me energy or something that I find delicious. It’s like a campfire that draws people together in community and opens the door to authentic conversations.
  • To keep it short and sweet, there are big differences between eastern (honor/shame) cultures and western (justice/guilt) cultures that affects how we interpret different aspects of the other culture. For more information, see honorshame.com

Honestly, there’s no end to the cultural, spiritual, just plain practical life lessons that one learns through the joy of living, working, playing, dancing, eating, and praying with internationals. I would love to hear some of your experiences and your own cross-cultural lessons as well. 🙂

One of my friends made a statement on his blog and it struck me as truth, especially in our global context. He said,

“The fact is that God seems more interested in human distinction and difference than in human similarity. God is more interested with what we do with the distinctive body, talents, looks, intelligence, and roles that we have been given than making sure that everyone has equal outcomes or even equal opportunity.”

God has created each of us uniquely and for different purposes (Romans 9). We all have different talents, abilities, backgrounds, and languages, but God made us different in order to use our diversity to create beauty through our unity (as the body of Christ). The same way the different parts of the body work together, so do we complement each other as we allow God to use us to paint the bigger picture, displaying His glory for all to see (1 Corinthians 12). Not only does He use our various abilities and personalities, but He uses our cultures as well on the easel of His glory. God doesn’t want us to all live the same lives, worship the same way (culturally), think the same way, or in effect, be little human robots. Yes, God wants us all to know Him through His son Jesus (2 Peter 3:9). Yes, we are all called to holiness and obedience (1 Peter 1:15-17, Romans 12:1-2). However, I don’t think our faith is meant to look the same in every culture. The principles and truths of God’s Word are the same, yes, but the expression of our faith could look different depending on our cultural context. That’s the beautiful thing about our faith in Jesus Christ. We can all worship God with our lives in spirit and in truth no matter who we are, where we come from, what language we speak, or what social status we have. This is even what Jesus himself addresses in his talk with the women at the well in John 4:1-42, that some day His followers won’t have to journey to Jerusalem to worship but people everywhere will be able to worship in spirit and in truth. With regards to inviting people to know Jesus the Anointed, I’m reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 about “becoming all things to all men” so that they might know Christ in their culture, for Jesus came so that we all might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). What a privilege it is to take that message to the nations!

Ice skating at Riverscape

Ice skating at Riverscape

Dayton <3

Dayton ❤

Hiking at Clifton Gorge

Hiking at Clifton Gorge

Bollywood movie night

Bollywood movie night

Celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights

Celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights

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Live On Purpose

foolish things to shame the wise

Variations on selected ponderings and wanderings

Learning to Love

Thoughts about writing, following Jesus, learning, and other passions