Wow. Can you believe that it was just 322 days ago that I stood up here for the first time to tell you what Maggy and I were up to!? 46 short weeks ago! We did not expect God to move this fast. Our family is flying out for Thailand in two weeks on March 26. We will be in Bangkok for 9 months to learn the Thai language. Then we will head to Sangkhlaburi to teach English. It is impossible to convey how excited and anxious we are to board the plane. We will have to say some very difficult goodbyes. It has been very hard already, as we have started that goodbye process. I had to say goodbye to the township, Maggy has had to say goodbye to our farm, and Fern, well she has yet to say goodbye to her princess dresses. Thankfully I think we can sneak those into the suitcase!
It has been so hard to figure out what I wanted to say up here today. I have so many things that I would like to share, but then I also feel like you all have been such an inspiration and support to us, that we don’t have anything to share. You should be sharing with us. This is a paradox. Thankfully, we learned all about paradoxes when we were in Colorado. At the most basic level, according to Webster’s, a paradox is a statement that is self-contradictory because it often contains two statements that are both true, but in general, cannot both be true at the same time. So how can I have so much to say and nothing to say? How can we be excited to start our journey, but sad to leave our family, friends, and Central Lake? This is the essence of a paradox. We have so many seemingly conflicting emotions, and even as an adult it is hard to understand and communicate these feelings. Imagine how much harder it has been for a 5-year-old! It was nearly impossible for Fern to communicate how she felt. But she learned about paradox as well, through a “Pair of Ducks”, yeah duck and yuck duck. So, when we spent an evening at the symphony, she could now express that she really loved the music, yeah duck, but she did not like how long it was, yuck duck. It was amazing to us that she could now express this, instead of the usual I didn’t like it. Fern has also told us how much she will miss her cousins and friends, yet she is so excited that we will be living close to a 7/11 for a Slurpee! So, remember paradoxes, if we say that we are excited to go, it doesn’t mean that we will miss you any less. Or if we say that we are scared to go, it doesn’t mean that we are second guessing our decision to leave.
This Lenten season, Pastor Gary has been talking about promises God has giving us. He asked me to tell him a verse or promise that our family has been hanging onto for strength. It was difficult at first to respond, because there are so many!! Yet, I think this promise does a great job of summing it up, I am with you always. We read about this in Matthew 28:16-20, Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Isn’t that amazing, God is always with us.
In preparation for speaking today, I read through what I have said up here before. The first time that I was up here, I talked about my anxiety and lack of trust in doing what God has told us to do. I constantly was asking Pastor Gary what he thought we should do. He very gently encouraged us to just take the next step that we feel God is telling us to take. And I can honestly say that God has been here with us through this entire journey. Without God, we wouldn’t be here. If He wasn’t always with us, there is no way we could have the strength to accomplish this incredible task. Even if we do not feel close to God, He is still right there with us. We just have to take the time to stop and let His presence be known.
Not only is God always with us, He actively guides us. We see this several places in the Bible. One instance is in Psalm 32:8 “The Lord says, “I will guide you along the BEST pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” The neat thing about this is that we all have a customized pathway. There is no one size fits all pathway. God is our personal advisor. Some people pay big bucks for a personal advisor, yet we all have one in God!! God has carved out a perfect path for us to take. In this passage, the word “path” was specifically chosen. That stands out to me. It is not a highway not even a road. Paths are not necessarily straight or smooth or wide. There are usually curvy and almost always have bumps and holes. Just because we are on the pathway that God has given us, does not mean that we will not experience hardships. 2 Timothy 3:12 points this out, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” We will have those struggles, we will have persecution, but do not let that stop you from living a godly life in Jesus.
I can admit that I am not that strong when it comes to struggles or bumps in the road. I mailed in for our Thai Visas about four weeks ago, and last week I started wondering where are passports were. I looked up the tracking number and noticed it said undeliverable as addressed. I thought that was weird. Well, I checked into it further and it turns out that while I was writing the down the city and zip code, I wasn’t paying close enough attention because I was talking to someone in the Post Office and writing down addresses. I accidently wrote the city and zip code I was sending it to in the place of our return address. I was not making any progress with the post office and was becoming more and more agitated. Thankfully I have the most amazing wife, and she was constantly reminding me to pray and to give it up to God. She reminded me of how wonderful God has been on our journey thus far, and God was not going to let a human mistake hold Him up from using us in Thailand. Maggy was able to smooth things out with the post office in Chicago, not an easy task I might add, and we now have our three passports in hand. To top it off, the Thai Consulate in Chicago didn’t even charge us for the Visas! Isn’t God amazing!? This is just one example of many that I really need prayer as I struggle through the struggles. Thankfully God has provided a rock for me, in Maggy, and He gives me plenty of opportunities to learn through struggles.
As well as a promise, I want to remind everyone of how Jesus replied when he was asked what was the most important commandment. We find this account and His answer in three of the four Gospels, I will read from Matthew 22:36-40. “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
I don’t want to give the impression that Maggy and I follow this perfectly. That is far from the truth. Yet, we try to model our decisions based on these commandments. I think that these commandments are important for us all to remember, ourselves included. When someone cuts you off when driving, how would Jesus respond? When someone mocks you, how would Jesus respond? So, when we are about to do something, we need to stop and think, is this loving someone? If not, we need to rethink our actions. Maggy was just talking with one of her very close friends that is not a believer about why Maggy loves Jesus and why we are going to Thailand. Maggy told her that this is what we are commanded to do, love others. It isn’t a whole bunch of rules and regulations to follow. Maggy followed up by saying that it is simple to follow Jesus, all you have to do is love Him and love others! We just have to love Jesus with all our heart, soul, and mind. If we do this, we will be able to love everyone else as well.
This week, while you are trying to love everyone, remember the promise of Jesus that He will always be with you. Jesus will be there to help you love the unlovable.
So…. this is our last week here at First Congregational Church. We will be at the Ellsworth Christian Reformed Church next week. Then we will be on a plane the following week. We cannot thank you enough as our church congregation for all of your support. You guys have lived the love of Jesus to us. Just remember, this is a temporary goodbye, because sooner or later we will all see each other again. Thanks!