Thanksgiving, International Students, and Joyful Noises

Praise the Lord for bringing 20 international students from 13 different countries to our church two nights ago for our Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll share a few details of what the evening looked like, in hopes that some reading this might like to plan something similar with your own church!

We all signed up to bring a different part of the Thanksgiving dinner, and we started the meal at 5pm so we’d have time for a program afterward.

Some have wondered how we get the word to international students about the event. We had a connection with a few students and they, in turn, passed on the invite to others.

We seated the internationals at different tables so families could get to know each of them personally (and potentially follow up with them).

My dad did a time of introductions by having each of the students share a little about themselves. They all seemed to enjoy this, and there was quite a bit of laughter.

After introductions we had a casual, family-like program that consisted of special music, congregational singing, sharing words of thankfulness, a short history lesson about the Pilgrims, and a gospel message.

Glory Hallelujah from Grace on Vimeo.

We think our kids are pretty great; I can’t imagine how boring our church would be without them. 🙂 They did a great job singing Psalm 100.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:1-4).

The teens reading Scripture verses on thankfulness.

Some students are talkative and eager to discuss their culture and religion.

“We believe that Jesus was just a prophet,” one Muslim student told my dad.

“We also believe that the Messiah was a prophet, but we believe He was more than a prophet,” my dad said. “Actually, Islam is closer to Christianity than almost all of the other religions,” my dad continued. “We both believe in one Creator God, both have roots in Abraham, and we both believe that all men have sinned. One of the main differences between Islam and Christianity is that we have a different cure for sin.

“We believe that earth is a test, and we each need to pass God’s test,” the student said.

“Yes, earth is a test,” my dad said, “But the Bible says that we have all sinned, and that we have all failed God’s test. In fact, we CAN’T pass God’s test. This puts us in a huge predicament–a problem that only God can solve for us. That was the job of the Messiah. So the question is, what makes the Messiah unique and therefore able to help us? What’s so special about the Messiah? What are His credentials that qualifies Him above other prophets?

The students in the van seemed to agree that this was a good question. We hope and pray for more interaction with them!

We have seen that each year, the connections we make with international students leads to more opportunities with them. With nearly a million international students now studying in the US, we have a wonderful opportunity to touch the world from home … and incorporating them into homes, and church-family settings is one of the best ways to do that.

We praise God for a great night. And I’m a little surprised that more feathers and napkins didn’t drop onto people’s heads from the balcony this year. 😛

Stephen’s Finish Line

A few weeks ago, my brother Stephen ran in a marathon. Our family drove to Des Moines to watch and cheer. By using a tracking app, we could see how many miles Stephen had run so far and where he currently was on the route. This techy tool enabled us to drive to different spots along the 26-mile route and cheer for Stephen as he ran by.

There were many others watching and cheering. Some of the cheerers were more fun to watch than the runners.

Throughout the morning, when I had free minutes here and there, I was reading 1 Corinthians. Just before arriving at our last stop to cheer (the finish line!) I was reading these words … “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NKJV).

I was impressed with how fancy the finish line was.

Runners were finishing their race one by one and receiving their medal. The announcers shared details about the athletes as they crossed the line: “Runner 2553 is from Minnesota, and this is her 3rd race this year…”

It made me think about our heavenly finish line, where new people are arriving each day and being greeted. There must be such an awesome excitement in the air. New arrivals are doubtless eager to tell stories of God’s faithfulness to them on the journey. Cheering, warm-hearted saints in heaven (“the great cloud of witnesses” – Hebrews 12:1) are likely just as eager to hear their stories and praise God!

I have not even run a 5k race, so I can’t speak from experience about finish lines—but I can only imagine the agony that some of the athletes in Stephen’s race must have felt at about the 25-mile mark. Everything in them was focused on ONE thing: the finish line.

I thought, Imagine a finish line with JESUS there.

There is so much emotion contained in this thought! Talk about motivation! Not only is the pain over, not only is the goal reached, but you’re in the presence of Jesus—the One you’ve longed to see for so long.

Now, when Hebrews 12:1-2 discusses the race of life, the instruction it gives us is not to “run faster,” but rather to endure. We are supposed to run with endurance, looking unto Jesus. (He set the example for us by enduring the cross. No trial we encounter compares to His!)

So how do we endure? Glancing back through the previous chapter (Hebrews 11), we read stories of men and women throughout the ages who endured great trials, and the secret to their endurance is given: faith.

As you know, enduring trials is a normal part of the Christian life; in fact, it seems that the Lord often gives Christians extra trials because they are so good for us. I guess each trial is kind of like the Lord bringing us to the gym to build more faith muscles. Although trials are unpleasant, we need to view them as valuable; because if endured properly, they will ultimately enhance the joy of the finish line.

So to summarize, faith helps us to endure trials, and trials build our faith. The result is that our strengthened faith enables us to run better, be purified, and ultimately bring Jesus more glory and honor on that Day. There’s a reason James tells us to count it all joy when we face trials (James 1:2)! Peter also reminds us, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NKJV).

If trials are beneficial for the race, what are the things that are damaging? We’re told in Hebrews 12: the extra weights we accumulate, and the sin which clings so closely. It was about 40° F the day Stephen ran his marathon. The organizers of the race informed the runners in advance that if they wanted to wear a sweatshirt and throw it to the side sometime during the race, they’d collect them and donate them to a homeless shelter. A serious runner doesn’t want anything unnecessary—even a sweatshirt. It’s not worth it.

Stephen told us that at mile 25, with just one mile left to go and a hurting knee, he began to walk. But soon another runner approached him and said, “Hey, only three-quarters of a mile left. Let’s run to the end.” So the two of them ran the last section together. The kindness of this stranger provided the extra boost Stephen needed. In our heavenly race, we’re not running against each other, but with each other! Far from competition, part of “winning” is helping others win! What better way to do this than to remind them of the soon-coming finish line and to run beside them? “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8).

Here’s a practical step of action. Pick one person in your life and pray some specific requests for them in the heavenly race:

• Pray that he or she will lay off weights that are a hindrance
• Pray that he or she will lay off the sin that clings so closely
• Pray that he or she will stop building with wood, hay, and stubble but be eternally minded.
• Share an encouraging word and point him or her to the finish line
“But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 NKJV).

“The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned” (Isaiah 50:4 NKJV).

Note: This article was sent out in our family newsletter this month. Along with our newsletter we also had a special for free shipping from our online store from now until Christmas. You can view the newsletter here. To sign up for our newsletter, you can send us an email and request to be added to our list.