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Sticks and Stones

This is the first of a three part series on the state of humanity from a communication perspective.

Words. Individually or in groups, they are potentially one of the most destructive forces known to man.  At the same time, they can be the most beautiful, uplifting, even life-saving forms of communication.  Growing up, we lived by the mantra “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names (words) will never hurt me.”  Somehow, this magical saying shielded us from the negative effects of names and words designed to insult or degrade us.  On the outside, we built our stone walls, defiantly ignoring these comments while sometimes firing a salvo of verbal missiles in return.  The more creative the retort, the more powerful its negating effect.

But, can we count on this magical force field?  Does the belief that words can’t hurt actually keep us from harm?  From a scientific perspective, the answer is no.  When it happens, the brain begins a series of reactions, physical and chemical, to prepare us.  The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain, receives the initial stimulus and alerts the rest of the body that trouble may be coming.  The hippocampus then encodes the threat to a memory to help us process it faster in the future.  This triggers a release of norepinephrine and cortisol, which increases heart rate, dilates eyes and blood vessels, triggers the production of sugar in the liver, and increases the oxygen capacity in the blood – what we have been taught to be the “fight or flight” response. When we encounter a negative situation that brings us stress or anxiety, our body reacts in many ways to prepare to deal with it.  Once it passes, we return to a normal state.  If we don’t allow it to pass, or it continues to be frequently present, the free radicals produced by this process remain in the blood and actually attack our body itself, increasing our risk of heart disease, anxiety disorder, high blood pressure, and a host of other medical conditions, most of which are preventable1.  Long after the chemical and physical changes have passed, however, the memory remains.

Why do we resort to such responses?  Follow any online discussion board, no matter how benign the topic, and when one person says something that someone else finds “stupid”, “uneducated”, or just “different from mine”, they resort to insults, often tempered with vulgarity.  As a teacher, I have often told my students that “the level of vulgarity used in conversation is inversely proportional to one’s intellect.”  Once they figure out what that means, they realize truly educated people are those that can share an opinion, hear a differing response, and come to an agreement, if necessary, to simply agree to disagree.  They see it is OK to share what you think and let others do the same, and to respect their thought or opinion if it is contrary to their own.  In the classroom, this creates a safe place for all students to feel comfortable enough to participate in a discussion in a positive way.

In the “real world”, though, this mindset leads to a completely different conclusion.  We have created an environment that seems to place value on one-upmanship, having a more creative insult, or devaluing another human being in the name of “just being truthful”.  We cling to the statement “Hey, sometimes the truth hurts.”  .  Is it possible, however, to share the truth in such a way that it focuses on the truth, rather than the hurt?  We see those willing to resist an aggressive, offensive response as weak, soft, or wishy-washy, and then resort to the standard barrage of name calling and insults. We see it all the time in politics.  Regardless of your political bend, each side seems to focus millions of donated dollars on smearing the name of their opponent and dragging them through the mud.  What a refreshing change it would be to see them all focus on what good THEY will do if elected and how they will make the government, the country, and the world a better place.  If I am going to hire you (through my vote) to lead my country and shape its future, I would really be more interested in what you are going to do when you get there.

Truly, stick and stone may indeed break our bones, but names will likely destroy us.  In part 2, we will look at how our positive or negative talk impacts our actions.


If My People…

I remember hearing a Bible verse as lyrics to a song on a Promise Keepers album back in the mid 1990s.  It became a call to men as hundreds of thousands of men, hungry for God, desiring to be more than a good husband or father, descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  A decade later, my oldest son joined me on a second trip to the same place.  It was a smaller crowd, but the heart’s cry was still the same.  Recent events in the news have brought this simple statement back to my mind, and as I sit alone in the quiet of an early Saturday morning, rain finally falling outside after months of hot, dry, smoke-filled days, I see this scripture again as a call to a nation, a people, to me.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2Chr. 7-14

We want healing; we love to hear the stories of the miraculous – no more cancer, an accident victim on death’s door full recovers and walks again, a dad turns away from chasing sin to pursuing reconciliation with his wife and kids.  The list goes on.  Now, with society on the brink of self-destruction and calamity, I hear those lyrics again.  What is God saying?

If my people, who are called by my name – It begins with a choice of God’s people – professing, Evangelical, born-again believers.  Not Christians by name on a piece of paper, not some flip, loose affiliation with a group because you can spell G-O-D.  No, these are those who have accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts as Lord and Savior and choose to allow Him to lead their lives.  God’s people.  God’s people who make a choice.  But, what choice?

Will humble themselves.  The greatest stumbling block to communication and reconciliation is humility, or actually, a lack of it.  What does it mean to be humble?  It is taking a modest view of one’s own importance.  To be willing to place the needs of others over our own.  To be less focused on speaking what is on our mind, but rather speak what is on God’s mind.  It is taking ourselves out of the center of our universe, and placing God there, where he belongs.

And pray and seek My face.  When we are humble, we begin to see needs beyond our own.  We then bring them to God, not in a haphazard nonchalant manner, but truly praying – speaking to God and seeking Him.  When I hear the phrase “seeking God’s face”, I envision a dimly lit room, where I strain forward to identify the faint silhouette before me.  As my eyes adjust to the dim light, I focus on the features that make up the face, and slowly it comes clear to me.  Seeking God’s face is focused, intent, and purposeful.

And turn from their wicked ways.  It is talking about repentance.  It is bringing our mistakes, our hurts, our hurtful actions and words, to the foot of the cross, leave them there, and walk away.  If we continue to wrong ourselves and those around us, it hinders our ability to seek the face of God.  But, repentance is not a “one and done”.  It is a daily, humbling, willingness to admit we are wrong, but are mature enough to bring it to Jesus.

Then what?  The verse then gives an account of what God will do.  Notice, there are number of steps we must take before God moves.  We need to show Him we are serious about making the necessary changes, and even though they are hard, we must do them before He moves.  But, once we do start moving in this direction, then it says:

Then I will hear.  Have you ever been in a room full of people, huddled in small groups of two or three, each having their own completely different conversation?  To the unfocused ear, all you hear is murmuring, unrecognizable babble.  When we have not yet taken these steps to move closer to God, that is what our conversations and words are…just babble.  Once we have intently focused on Him and drawn closer to Him, THEN he will hear, then He will

Forgive their sin.  Forgiveness cannot come without repentance.  We must recognize our sin for what it is – blatant disobedience to God.  Once we humbly come to God, confess our wrongdoings and mistakes and turn from them, the process of healing can begin, through forgiveness.

And will heal their land.   Healing may not mean Salvation for every member of every ethnic, political, and special interest group.  Healing means they can come together, in spite of their differences, and work toward a common good.  As Christians, we too often feel if every member of our little bubble group is not saved, they can’t be a part of the group or contribute.  But I ask you…if they are never exposed to God in a real, loving way through a relationship with us, how will they ever get the chance to “join the group”?  The problem is that we see it as too risky, or potentially too messy, to have them join in.  See my comments on humility above.

As Christians, it is not our job to verbally attack and abuse the President, the government, the special interest groups.  They are people, and they aren’t the enemy.  Ephesians 6:12 says “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Satan is very real, and working very hard in the hearts of men.  HE is our true enemy; he is the one we should be focusing our prayers against.  Nobody will listen to the love of God and accept Jesus while we are beating them over the head with our Bible.  They will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and for them.  Lets not callous our hands with bull horns and picket signs, lets callous our knees in prayer.  Lets us not shout displeasure in the face of others, lets cry out to God so that He will hear, He will forgive, and He will heal our land.  Lord, let repentance and revival begin in MY heart.

God Knows What You Need

Call it naivety; a first timer’s lack of understanding.  Colleagues laughed when we told them we would be scheduling down-time for our family during our mini-furlough, so we could recharge and rest for the next chapter God has for our family atGraceInternationalSchool.  “You won’t have a moment’s rest”, we were told.  We would need a vacation to recover from our trip.  Or would we?  God knows the desires of our hearts.  He knows what we need, even better than we do.  The challenges of this past year brought us to new levels of stress and stretched us as we have never experienced before.  So, as we chat with friends on Day 6, only slightly jet lagged still, we have, indeed, spent a week of rest, prayer, devotions, and quiet time, taking in the beauty of God’s amazing creation.  No insane schedule, no running from event to event.  Although we look forward to connecting with friends this month, God has indeed blessed us with an amazing Week 1.

Exodus 33:14 says “And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’”   It is so easy to allow our circumstances in life to consume us.  Even the best of intentions can, if unchecked, lead to busy-ness and bring us to that point of exhaustion.  We need to be acutely aware of our boundaries and know when we are reaching our limit.  More importantly, we need to be willing to step back, regroup, even take time to rest.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, strung out by life, take a moment, pull away for a bit, and rest in the arms of your Heavenly Father.  There you will find His presence, and there He will give you rest.

Who Do You Serve?

At a recent chapel service, Bill shared from 1 Corinthians, where Paul calls the church to task over who they really serve. Bill challenged the students with this question: Who do you serve? It’s easy to think the things we buy are there to serve us, but if we aren’t careful, we can end up serving them. Example?? A businessman buys the latest Blackberry to keep current with business and those he works with. Yet, he is so caught up with catching up, he slowly slips further and further from his wife, who ultimately leaves him. Who ends up serving who?

As believers, we run the same risk with our ministries and those we minister to. We need to be aware of those in need, but remember that ultimately we serve only One: The King of Kings and Lord of Lords; yes, Jesus Christ himself. Even as churches and denominations, we forget that the churches we plant are not ours, but God’s. The ministries that are built are not ours, but God’s. He really doesn’t care whose name is on the outside, He cares who is on the inside. I can’t find anywhere in scripture where it talks about the denominations in the eternal kingdom. Some get so wrapped up in what makes us different, we forget our purpose is the same.

How do we avoid the trap? One way is to always make God the hero in every circumstance, situation, and condition we find ourselves in. When He gets all the credit, none of it is left for us, so we have nothing but Him to boast about. Even when you look at the great men and women of the Bible, the movers and shakers of their time, God was the hero in their story. Without Him, there is no provision, no victory, no salvation, and ultimately no future.

Who do you serve? If the answer includes any words beyond Jesus Christ, it might be worth it to take a second look.

Empty Lanterns

At first glance, it appears to be a medium sized gray trash bag, held open on one end by a wire ring.  However, mounted in the center of the wire ring is a smaller, thicker ring of combustible material.  From a science perspective, the khom loi, or sky lantern, is a cool concept.  You open the “bag”, light the ring, and as the flame gets bigger, the warm air fills the inside of the lantern, and like a hot air balloon, it begins to rise.

In mid-November, the whole nation of Thailand engages in one of their most sacred holidays – Loi Kratong and Yi Peng.  Loi Kratong involves the construction of a small float from banana leaves or even bread, in which food, flowers, a candle, and even coins are placed.  The participant releases the float in the stream to symbolize the release of any anger, resentment, or grudges they may have.  The second half of the festival involves the lighting and release of sky lanterns (khom loi) usually made of rice paper.  The release is a way to make merit for past deeds.

Although both ceremonies are beautiful with thousands of lanterns released into the night sky, the next morning is often greeted around the neighborhood by hundreds of empty, burned out, lantern shells that are scattered in trees, yards, and fields all over Chiang Mai.  As I biked around the neighborhood that next day, my heart was grieved by so many empty hopes represented by these lanterns.  Mind you, the participant released their khom loi believing that in some way their sin would be carried away and they could atone for mistakes of the past year.  But, in truth, we cannot, on our own, make merit for past mistakes and failures, and have no way of atoning for our sin.

The hope we do have, however, is the realization that Jesus Christ, the one true Son of the living God, came willingly to be crucified, to die, and carry the weight of our sins and failures to the grave.  The hope we have though is in His resurrection from the dead, triumphing over hell and the grave.  When we put our trust in Jesus as our personal Savior, we need not float our hopes down stream or into the sky – we HAVE the hope living inside of us.

Your Talents

It was a classic moment – two pastors, one Australian speaking English, one Thai, translating into Thai – delivering the sermon to a combined congregation of English, Thai, and Burmese.  As Pastor Jonathan talks about talents and abilities, he confesses his difficulty in even drawing “stick people”.  As the Thai pastor comes to that phrase he pauses, realizing he has no word to translate “stick people”.  After a brief awkward silence, Pastor Jonathan says “mai pen rai”, which in Thai basically means “don’t worry about it”, to which his Thai counterpart immediately says, in English, “no probrem”.  I guess it was probably funnier in person…

Worship, however, was a different story.  While we all joined voices during the same song, it was sung simultaneously in English and Thai.  Yet, even though many in the church would not understand the words sung by the others, the melody came together in beautiful, harmonious praise to our Heavenly Father.  This day, there was no language barrier, nothing lost in translation.  It was praise, plain and simple, for a loving Creator that loved us so much He sent his only Son to the earth.  Even more amazing is that Jesus came willingly, knowing He would die a humiliating, criminal’s death.

The message was plain and simple…we are all given abilities in various areas.  Many of them lie dormant, some sprout and show signs of life, but even fewer actually blossom to produce a talent that exhibits fruit.  Don’t let your abilities, gifts to you from an awesome Creator, be wasted through neglect or lack of effort.  Sing praise to Him through all He has created you to do.

A Servant’s Legacy

In Ephesians 2:10 we read “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  What does it take to serve?  Really, what is the big deal about serving others?  For many people, this is a job description.  Nothing fancy, just a job.  But in terms of God’s kingdom, service has a whole different, and eternal, meaning.  Recently, Bill had the opportunity to share a bit of his mom’s testimony at our school’s chapel service.  She passed away on June 1, 2010 of liver cancer after a mere 3 months of illness.  The focus was not on her passing, but rather her impact before and after.  After accepting the Lord later in life, she still battled a whole host of illnesses, including diabetes.  Yet, during that time, she did her best to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [she] had been called.” Eph. 4:1  Her daily prayer and assistance she gave to one of my siblings who struggled with life issues helped turn my sister from a person who had “issues with God” to one who actively serves and loves the Lord.

The fact is, we don’t always know the why’s about our circumstances, or about those who are a part of our lives, but in reality, everything happens for a reason.  Often mom would say “I have no idea why God hasn’t taken me home yet; I suppose He still has something for me to do.”  One of those tasks, I am convinced, was to love my sister all the way to Jesus.  Mom’s selfless attitude and willingness to help and pray for those around her left a legacy in both her children and her grandchildren.  It was evident, and now will continue to live on in her children, grandchildren, and beyond.

So, the message to our Grace students, and perhaps you, the reader, was simply this:  Look at those around you.  What would it take to serve them?  A smile, a kind word, a helping hand to open a door?  None of those will cost you a thing.  Maybe even a “Hello, what’s your name?  Nice to meet you!”  Perhaps the very person sitting next to you in class next period is one reason God called you here to Grace.  Maybe that difficult person at your workplace is placed in your life for your benefit, and theirs.  If God took the time to create YOU, created to do good works, honor Him this year by serving others in those situations He prepared in advance for you.

Jeff Smith in Thailand!!

The week of Sept. 13th was a privileged one, as our family had the blessed opportunity to host our friend and church brother, Jeff Smith, as he came to minister in Chiang Mai and in Cambodia.  During his week with us, Jeff engaged a number of Grace classrooms on many levels in demonstrating the variety of creative ways to use our God-given talents for His kingdom work.  The evenings were spent providing additional workshops in the area of creative arts in worship.  We had the chance to share some of the cultural cuisine of northern Thailand, and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to fellowship and minister with this amazing man of God.   It was exciting to hear students talking about how the workshops impacted how they view ministry and doing Kingdom work!

Jeff also worked with another local missionary and her ministry, Powerpack Thailand.  Powerpack is geared toward using creative arts to minister to Thai children and help Thai nationals to develop witnessing tools through culturally appropriate song, dance, and performance.  Much of what Jenny uses is adapted from Jeff and his ministry, Salt and Light Ministries.  It was a true blessing to be a part of this time of outreach, ministry, and worship of our Lord and Savior.  Thank you Jeff and Jenny for allowing our family to be a part of something so special!!


The evening started out like most others during the rainy season – the sky drew darker, thunder rolled in the distance, and we said with a smirk on our faces, “Guess it is going to rain”.  This was no ordinary rain, however.  Within minutes, the street was flooded a full 7 inches deep, and water was inching its way up the driveway to our front door.  For two hours, we battled water finding its way through the tiniest of openings in the roof, running down various sections of walls and leaving us with towel after towel full of water being wrung out in the shower.

At the end of it all, we had received 8 inches of rain in just under two hours.  Every street in the mubaan was flooded, including the lower level of the school.  We stood in the doorway amazed at the river of water rushing down the street, waiting for the water to subside.  Then, by morning, the skies were clear and the street was dry.

Too often we see the storm coming, and like trials in our lives, have no idea how much rain it is going to bring.  Had we known we were about to receive that much precipitation, we would have had buckets and pans in place, mop in hand, and been ready to take on the storm.  But, we just don’t always know that, do we?  Yet, God, in his amazing grace, has given us a promise, that in the midst of the storm, he will “never leave us nor forsake us.” (Joshua 1:5)  We had no idea of the magnitude of the storm, but in the end, the house held up, the rain dried, and the street was clear again.

When you face storms in your life, remember that they do not last forever, and even though we will not know how intense the storm is, God always does.  When we trust in him as our Lord and Savior, he will always see us through the storm to the rainbow at the end.  That is his promise to us, and God NEVER forgets his promises.



Well, it has been way too long since I have penned my thoughts; not that I have not had that many, but rather that there have been more things happening then time available. So, as we wind down through the end of our first year here at Grace, some thoughts to share from a rollercoaster year.

1. Humans, by nature, make mistakes. We sin. We fall short of the glory of God. But, we also have an amazing capacity for love and forgiveness. Do both, often. And, when necessary, ask for forgiveness. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.

2. Kids are kids. Regardless of what they do, choices they make, or words they say, in the end, love on them and accept them for the amazing creation they are in God.

3. See everyone as a blessing. One of the hardest things we heard when we arrived is the mentality some have for a lack of willingness to engage others and get to know them if they are only “short timers”. Some of the most impactful people in my life have been those I knew for a few months or couple of years. Yes, saying good-bye is tough, but weighed against the thought of never having known them?? I am a better person because of everyone I have met and come to know, regardless of the time frame.

4. At the end of the day, the job is only that. It is so easy to equate our identity with our occupation, but that is a lie, plain and simple. Our job is what we do, a means to use the God-given abilities we have to perform a task assigned to us by our Creator. Who we are, though, is based on our character, and is made manifest in the interactions we have with those around us. Whether it is spiritual, physical, emotional, or mental, these interactions will, in the end, define us.

5. Re-commit yourself daily to the Lord and His purposes in our lives. Here in Thailand, we have a heightened awareness of how different we are, and the challenges we face in the day to day operations within our new environment. We cannot expect to survive long in any circumstance without the love, direction, and strength God has offered and promised – all we have to do is ask.

6. Be a blessing. Everything that happens does so for a reason. Even those things that seem horrible and negative have a purpose. Our time here in this life is short; allow it to be an opportunity to pour into those we know, to seek every opportunity to be a blessing to others. Even if it is for a short time, only God knows the eternal harvest that can be reaped.

As we push through the last month of school, may these words be those that lead, guide, and direct our family, and yours. Jesus loves you so much, he died just for you. Make the most of it, my friend.

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