…But God!

Since I’m short on time, I will just focus on one thing that God showed me while in Nicaragua.

” My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26

I’ve read this verse many times but it struck me differently. The part that stood out first was “but God.” I feel like those two words have been my entire life.

– I used to be dead in my sin BUT GOD raised me up to new life!
– I used to feel unloved BUT GOD demonstrated His love for me in sending His son to die for my sins!
– I used to be a slave to sin BUT GOD made me a slave to righteousness!
– I was going down a certain path BUT GOD saved me!

My flesh and my heart have failed. I have felt weak in heart and mind, forgotten, tired, unmotivated, discouraged, BUT GOD strengthened me while in Nicaragua. He used people to speak Truth to me. His Word is “perfect and reviving to the soul.” ( Psalm 19:7) I know this because I’ve experienced it. My heart and mind are strengthened so that I can continue to follow after Him, glorify Him and serve others.

Strength will come. Remain faithful. He is worth it!

I know this blog isn’t mentioning what we actually did in Nicaragua but I will share more about that later. Just know that:
– God is doing amazing things in Nicaragua
– Nicaragua was life giving to me
– I definitely want to go back!

Prayer Requests:
– debrief would go well
– positive attitudes, openness and wisdom at debrief
– safe travels back home ( July 30th)
– transition back into everyday life – I go back to work on August 1st
– Matt’s family, church family and friends
– My parents

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Sovereign.

If I can be transparent, France was difficult and I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be. On the first night that we arrived, I found out that a friend died. I couldn’t and still can’t believe that Matt is gone. My heart breaks not only for his passing but for his family, church family and friends who will miss him dearly. Matt was a Christian young man who is now in Heaven! Since I know he is there, it gives me peace of mind that he is better off and I will see him again. There is hope in my heart about Matt but there is also anger. I’m angry at God for allowing Matt to die. I want answers and I don’t understand.

As you might already know, we were protected by God from the terror attack in Nice. My team had plans all week to go to the promenade in Nice to watch the fireworks for Bastille Day. Fortunately, Adam and Caylin were sick so we did not go to the promenade that night. Instead of going to the promenade, we went back to our campsite and rested. God protected us from experiencing evil firsthand, but didn’t protect 284 people. It makes me angry that evil happens. It boggles my mind that He allows it.

What do I know about both of these situations?

  1. God allowed both to happen.
  2. These situations do not diminish His goodness.
  3. God uses evil and suffering to accomplish His good purposes.

While in France last week, I came across a book by John Piper called “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”. In the book, I came across the following quote: God never does evil…For Scripture is clear that nothing arises, exists, or endures independently of God’s will. Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)” It is true that He is not evil! Deuteronomy 32:4 states, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” He is blameless, sinless, and perfect.

Evil and suffering are two things I would like to disassociate with God but I can’t. He has control in all things. This might not be comforting at all times to me, but it is the Truth. I will cling to Truth; I will preach it to myself. I will pray for my faith to deepen instead of fade during evil and suffering. I will pray for his power and greatness to be shown throughout the world in mighty ways through evil and suffering.

I form light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.  –  Isaiah 45:7

The following link is a sermon from The Austin Stone. This sermon helped me process through what God’s role is in regards to evil and suffering.

http://files.austinstone.org/audio/mp3/2015_11_08_td.mp3

I know that this post might stir within some readers different emotions. My prayer is that you seek God and His Word as you process through God’s sovereignty in all things, including evil and suffering. I pray that this post would create interest in believers and non – believers on who God is.

Please pray for the following:

  • Teaching at Nicaraguan Christian Academy to go smoothly
  • Energy to finish well
  • Unity among the team
  • Matt’s family, church family and friends

 

 

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Surrender.

For the past few weeks or so, we have been in Mbale, Uganda working at Lulwanda Children’s Home. They house and care for over 100 children. This ministry has been running for over 10 years and has impacted many children, families and the community. While at LCH, we met the Thrasher team who has been coming for the past 9 or so years. For the last few summers, they have been training teachers at LCH. My team was there to help in anyway that the Thrasher team needed since they were training while some of us went into classrooms and taught, read books to children in the library, or played. Each afternoon we had a Bible study for all ages including staff and teachers.

My assignment was the nursery for Bible study and to play with children during the day prior to Bible Study. Our Bible study group was organized, fun chaos! It stretched me to be in an environment that I felt like I wasn’t gifted in. (Side note: Being in environments where you’re uncomfortable gives you an opportunity to fully depend on Him for all you need.) For me, being with the nursery children pushed me, in the best way, to lean on Jesus. I’m so glad that He put me with those children. They truly encouraged me and moved me at their genuine love and appreciation for our teams.

Their neediness, in a good way, and the desire they had to be near us brought conviction. Everyday two girls in particular would seek me out. One day I was walking towards the nursery and one girl, Precious, came running across the open yard, dodging roaming cows and chickens, towards me with so much joy. In that moment, the Lord spoke so tenderly and said, ” I want you to come to me like that.” He wants me to run towards Him with arms wide open, surrendered, and a heart full of joy. Once I heard Him say that, I asked myself a question: why am I scared to surrender like that to You? My next question I asked the Lord was, ” What do you want me to surrender?”

For a few days, I struggled to spend quality time with him because of the questions I asked. It was as if I didn’t really want to find out the answer or actually admit the answers aloud to Him. After a few days of avoiding those questions, I prayed for the courage to answer honestly and for the courage to surrender to Him. By God’s faithfulness, He gave me clarity and courage. So why was I scared to surrender? I was scared because I thought that I might get cheated by Him and that God wouldn’t give me the best. I was scared I would miss out on something. Why do I think I’ll miss out on something He has for me? Praise Jesus I didn’t get what I wanted but what He wants! Many times I felt like I missed an opportunity but when I actually remember what He saved me from I realized the lie from the enemy. He has come that I might have life but not just any life. ABUNDANT LIFE. It’s pretty simple how the enemy works. His tactics are old and unoriginal. The enemy takes truth and twists it. Not surrendering to Jesus won’t make me miss out on anything other than what God wants for me. Surrender is where abundant life begins.

In Luke 10:38-42, two sisters have Jesus over. One sister, Martha, is someone I can relate to more. Martha is driven by tasks and is distracted by her list of things to do. I understand Martha. I relate to her busyness and in her not choosing the best option. The other sister, Mary, sees value at sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mary sees the value is surrendering her to – do list. Spurgeon said, “For us all, beloved, saints and sinners, one thing is needful: that we always sit, like Mary, at the Master’s feet…sitting at Jesus’ feet implies, also, that having submitted and believed, we now desire to be his disciples.” I desire to be his disciple whole – heatedly. May I never forget how there’s freedom and abundant life in surrender. By God’s goodness, He has given me the courage needed to surrender the things He placed on my heart. I have to surrender my to – do list daily, my plans for my life, my wants, my comforts, etc. Surrender starts at the feet of Jesus.

Prayer requests:
– Sponsors for children at LCH
– Natalie’s transition back to TX after serving at LCH for the past 9 years
– Daily courage and obedience to surrender
– Good health for the team – praise – my cough is gone!
– Unity for the team
– Hearts & minds focused on things above – not earthly things
– Smooth transition to France

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Faith.

Second Stop: Thailand.

While in Thailand, we have been working with an organization called Shoulder 2 Shoulder ,which helps Thai tribe students who can’t afford and/or don’t have the emotional, physical, or spiritual help at home to help them become successful adults.

One of the things we did that impacted me the most was visiting families who have HIV. While visiting them, we gave them food, sang worship songs, and prayed for them. Some of the students from Shoulder 2 Shoulder came with us. In those minutes of singing and praying, I could actually feel the presence of God with us. While we sang, I prayed over and over for the salvation of each family. I prayed that they would come to know the powerful one true God, Jesus Christ, since they believe in many Gods!

Being with those families was emotional for me. My heart broke not only for their sickness but for their souls because they desperately needed Jesus. When I walked into the room of a man on his death bed, I saw that his bones were sticking out through his skin. He had no extra weight. It was a shocking view to see a person so frail and so in need of Jesus since time was running out. He had no voice and no hearing so he could not communicate with us but I know the Lord is sovereign enough to speak to Him. The man did reach out his hand to each of us though as we prayed and sang over him. Before we left, I prayed that the Lord would give him clarity long enough to accept the gift of salvation and spend eternity in paradise.

About an hour ago, we found out that the old man died. Bill, the missionary, told us that the man cried, had peace and died. According to the man’s daughter, she had never seen him cry before. I’m not sure what he was crying about, but I hope he made the decision to believe & trust in God! I hope to see the old man when I get to heaven!

If you’re reading this and not a believer, it’s not too late! Jesus LOVES you with an overwhelming, steadfast love that is incomprehensible. It is a love you have never experienced. I promise you it’s worth it!

It says in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one is perfect. Everyone has missed the mark. Just like with anything, a mistake has a consequence. The consequence of sin is death. In Romans 6:23 Paul writes, ” For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Good news is that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. While we were stuck in our sin, Jesus still died as payment on our behalf. Once we choose him, we no longer have “condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So how do you choose him? Cry out! ” If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9-10. Once we choose him, we are new! ” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

If you’re reading this and a Christian, share the Gospel with someone you know who desperately needs a message of hope! It is not too late. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to share Jesus with someone. You just have to be obedient.

As I’m typing this, people are packing up, cleaning and we leave for Uganda in about 3 hours. Please pray for the following as we leave:

– Shoulder 2 Shoulder – $$ to build boy’s home, sponsors for 4 students, $$ for the HIV ministry
– continued healing for the sickness going on in the team
– team unity
– keeping our eyes focused on Him
– safe travels to Uganda

Thank you for reading this! I’m praying for all of you. 😀

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Comfort Zones.

The first stop: Hong Kong.

Being in Hong Kong is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. First, the crowds and how people travel throughout a city is new. It’s full of pushing and someone or something being in your personal space. Secondly, the smells. Oh, the smells! 🙂 Thirdly, living in close quarters and getting to know my team. I’ve never travelled like this before. Fourth, I’m usually in some type of leadership role but on this trip I’m not. It’s been a growing experience for me to have this role. Lastly, the work we have been doing here is nothing like I’ve ever done. It has been so amazing to play a part in the ministry. To sum it all up, I’ve been out of my comfort zone in more ways than I had anticipated. As a result, He has shown me a lot about how to fully depend on Him with anything I face. To depend on Him for patience and kindness when I’m tired of getting pushed and tired of heavy suitcases running over my toes, to depend on Him to give me enough breathe to hold when I smell something unusual, to depend on Him to give me the love and grace needed to serve my team members well and encourage them, to depend on Him by humbling myself like He did so I can submit to others, and to depend on Him for the strength to start and finish each day well.

God gets His people out of their comfort zones so that they can depend on Him which leads to Him getting the glory.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m so thankful that He chooses the weak to have a part in His plan. It’s humbling. As I was reading “The Heavenly Man”, I came across the following quote: “The fact that He chooses to use us is only due to his grace. It has nothing to do with us. If God should choose to raise up others for his purpose and never to use us again we would have nothing to complain about.” God using me overseas this summer is not because of anything in me. It’s only because He chose it. He chooses to send me so that I can rely on Him more for His glory and for my good

As our time in Hong Kong ends, please pray for the following:

– good health for all of us physically, emotionally and spiritually
– strength to do the work
– short and long term missionaries for the organization we are serving this week
– financial support for the organization and the long term missionaries they have
– safety while traveling to Thailand

Lastly, thank you SO much for your prayers! I am in awe of the support I’ve received from friends, family and from people I have never met. You all are the best!

Love you all,

Joanna

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P. S. The meme is a joke. I meant what I said about being thankful for being out of my comfort zone. 😉

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Rest.

 

Yesterday I completed my last day of school. It was also the end of 5 years of teaching experience. As some of you may know, this year of teaching had many challenges. I almost quit my job too many times to count.

But God intervened! He used people in my life to speak Truth, counsel and encouragement. He also changed my heart towards my job which helped me finish the year. This school year went by so quickly! (Thank you, Jesus!) This year rest was something I craved more than I had in previous years of teaching. My rest consisted of watching Parks and Rec, scrolling through Facebook, and hanging  out with family and friends. I did feel relaxed. I was able to not think about work (most of the time) and I enjoyed myself.

It finally hit me that TRUE rest can be found in the Lord. I was once again going to something, Netflix, to satisfy something in my heart that needed to be filled by the Lord. It wasn’t just a physical rest that I needed. It was a mental and spiritual one. One day I was listening to the song “Gracious Tempest” and in one of the recordings Taya, the lead singer, recites Psalm 116.

Here’s the video:

Return to rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7

Rest in Hebrew is mânôwach meaning quiet, i.e. (concretely) a settled spot, or (figuratively) a home:—(place of) rest.

When I sit at the feet of Netflix, it is not truly filling me up. When I sit at the feet of Jesus…when I am quiet in His presence…when I go to Him instead of go to Netflix, I find TRUE rest.

Please pray for me during this summer that I continue to find true rest in the Lord so that I can be filled and ready to do whatever He calls me to do while overseas this summer.

 

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 I kissed dating goodbye…just kidding. 

Dating.

What emotions, thoughts, people come to mind when this topic is brought up? Lately for me, it’s been this: EW!  (Jimmy Fallon’s “Sara” voice)

Recently, I asked some friends to describe dating in one to two words. Majority of them said that dating is difficult, confusing, and ambiguous. Where in the Bible does it talk about dating? No where.  So how should people date well?  I’m not an expert on this topic but I do know the Lord brings guidance in His Word. I also know that He gives us experiences to teach us. Like with most things, learning how to do something comes best with experience.

Here’s my story: I was encouraged  by a wise woman years ago to make a list of non – negotiables and negotiables on a type of man I would date. I thought it was a good idea so I made my lists. My lists weren’t long and were grounded in the Word. I was hopeful that I would find a man who embodied those few things I listed. My non – negotiables were mainly about a man’s character and relationship with God. I told every single girl friend I had about my lists with enthusiasm. I was proud of what I wrote down and excited to see how God would provide me with a man like the one I wrote about. Flash forward to a few years later.  I met a guy who met every non – negotiable. I thought the Lord had fulfilled each requirement for my future spouse in this person. I forgot the purpose of my list which was  to help me find a Boaz to date then marry and stay away from his relatives. 👇🏽

(Picture found on Pinterest)

As a result of me being so excited I found a Boaz, I assumed that he was THE ONE! (Side note:I really don’t believe that there is 1 person only for me. I think that a person is the one when I marry him.)

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by Ben Stuart, a pastor for Breakaway Ministries at A&M, who stated this about dating: “Dating is process of evaluation.” His statement brought so much freedom to my heart because I felt like my list took the evaluation out of dating which it should not have. Evaluation is there until there’s a mutual decision to move past dating to engagement then marriage.

A list like the one I made can protect against making poor choices in choosing who to date. However, it is not the end all. The end all is what the Lord says. The clarity He gives you by the Holy Spirit, and Godly wisdom from friends and family. The Lord has given us tools like lists, a spiritual gut aka discernment, Christ-like friendships and His Word to help us navigate the world of dating. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…” 1 Corinthians 14:33

Obviously, the guy I am telling you about is no longer in my life. He is a man of good character, he loves the Lord and has a passion to make disciples who make disciples. While dating, he encouraged me to seek after the Lord harder each day. He met my non – negotiables. However, a relationship is more than a list. Dating is a process of evaluating. Unfortunately, I forgot that while dating him and was hurt in the process because I couldn’t let go. I knew he met my list but I also lacked peace about the future with him. God provided clarity in His word, by His Spirit and my family and friends who spoke gently and truthfully about what they noticed.

Essentially, I trusted my own preferences and logic over trusting the Lord.

So here are 3 main take aways from my experience:

  1. Dating is a process of evaluation. The evaluation process will be easier if you choose wisely to start off and, if God leads, to end a relationship as soon as possible. Do not put too much pressure on yourself or the other person. Relax and enjoy the process.
  2. Prayerfully consider what type of person you want to date. Pray about how and pursue that person with the Lord being the focus of YOUR life. Ben Stuart said, “Prayer releases anxiety and takes desperation out of dating.” I whole-heartedly agree. A person who is prayerful is dependent upon the Lord.
  3. Trust in Him with whatever happens. Dating is definitely challenging at times, but it is less challenging when there is trust.”Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 Another verse that encourages me often is Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,who have been called according to his purpose.” Matthew Henry commentary says this about verse 28: “That is good for the saints which does their souls good. Every providence tends to the spiritual good of those that love God; in breaking them off from sin, bringing them nearer to God, weaning them from the world, and fitting them for heaven. When the saints act out of character, corrections will be employed to bring them back again.” If my dating life leads myself and the man I’m dating to spiritual good, sign me up for that. If I never get married but I get more of Jesus, sign me up for that. I trust the Lord in that ALL things work together for my good.

I’m not sure what you’re facing now. It could be anxiety about a relationship or something else. Regardless of what you’re currently going through, the Lord provides what is needed.  Freedom and clarity are found at the feet of Jesus.

 

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