January 2024 Newsletter
Before jumping into the monthly newsletter with you today, I want to share a thought.
I am a rehabilitated legalist. And to be fair, I had good reason to be one. Having grown up in a toxic home filled with every vice imaginable, I looked for stability where it seemed most obvious– in rules. Not only did I impose immature standards on others, but I judged myself by standards that I would never be able to live up to. I thought if I didn’t accomplish X by the age of 30, I was a complete failure and loser. It took literally giving myself cancer and almost dying (God “making me lie down in green pastures” as I like to call it) before I realized how serious this problem was. Needless to say, I am much more charitable to both myself and others than I used to be.
With this background in mind, I often think about the question, “what does God actually require of us?” Our churches are full of people who want to make rules for us. Many Christians do not realize how deadly of a sin adding to God’s law is, or that they are breaking the third commandment by invoking God’s name in order to give a stamp of approval to their man-made mandates. Ethics are much more complex than we make them out to be, and require a serious questioning of each person and their individual situation as well as their heart attitudes. There’s a reason we have a whole book of the Bible devoted to case law and application of the Decalogue.
However, if we were to try and boil down the answer of “what does God require of us?” into a concise answer (which is not an easy task), we might look to Micah 6:8, which reads, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” But even that one statement has the potential to be an entire sermon. So if I could narrow it down into two simple concepts, it would be “attitude” and “action.”
God requires both a right heart attitude from us, as well as right actions. We can have the right heart attitude and yet if we live our lives in a self-centered and undisciplined way, then we are only 50% of the way there. Likewise, if we do all the right things externally, but our hearts are full of pride or selfishness or envy, we are far from living the type of victorious lives that are available to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here is what’s going on this month and some ways you can pray with us:
Saying Goodbye to Thanprapon
January, and this year consequently, started in one of the most heartbreaking ways imaginable. If you haven’t seen my update about this on Facebook or the email I sent out a few weeks ago, the shortened version is that a 6-year-old girl in our community here was electrocuted on New Year’s Eve and went to be with Jesus. This was one of Mary Ella’s friends from church and Sunday School, and she is even in Mary Ella’s birthday vlog that I posted last month. Please continue to pray for her parents, older brother, and everyone in our church community that is still grieving over the loss of this precious little girl.
Chiang Mai Trip
After the holidays and the very emotional first week of January, we decided to take a short family vacation to Chiang Mai, which is just 3 hours southwest from Chiang Rai. It was good to get out of the house, do some touristy activities, and meet with some old friends.
I am happy to report that baby and mommy are still doing great, as we enter into the third trimester. Liz is having some issues with heavy breathing and heartburn, but thankfully nothing more serious than that. The due date is in mid April.
I've started helping out with the Thai university Sunday School class at church. We've continued to have a steady turnout of college students. Pray that this “small group” experience would be good for both friendship building as well as for insightful Bible study. Liz has continued to teach the young kids every Sunday as well.
Grace Language School
There are 2 things I want to share in regards to GLS. First, I wanted to share this video that we made several months back that I never shared in our newsletter. This was a recruitment video that we put together, and by God's grace, since this time, we have had 3 teachers join our team. However, if you or someone you know is interested in coming to live and serve in Thailand, as always, let me know and we can still have a conversation about that. Our number of teachers fluctuates greatly depending on the "season."
Second, I wanted to share that we are in the process of revamping our “English Corner” outreach activities this next month. We had a meeting after church today and I was encouraged by how many people showed up to get information and potentially volunteer at one of our 2 universities here in Chiang Rai. Even though our city is relatively small (about 80k-100k in population) we have students at our universities from all over Thailand. In fact, recently we’ve had a strong representation of Southern Thai students at church, which is the part of Thailand that is the furthest from us geographically, but because there aren’t as many universities in the South, they are also the region that “exports” the highest number of students.
Speaking of our universities, one of them recently had a post-Christmas Christmas celebration, and Mary Ella was asked to come and sing just like she did at our church Christmas celebration.
And while we’re on the subject of Mary Ella, here is our most recent video.
I have to say that I am very proud of my daughter for her maturity and composure when up on stage and on video. Many people don’t know this, but I was in acting school when I was young and living in Nashville, and she reminds me a lot of myself at her age. Of course, both of her parents are “on stage” regularly, so thankfully I think she sees it as a normal part of life, and not something to be afraid of.
We have a handful of friends that are pregnant right now. Pray for health and safety for all of them. One couple in particular is dealing with a very difficult situation with their baby involving a genetic abnormality– pray especially for their hearts during this year.
I have a friend who is waiting for his Thai wife to be able to get a visa to come to America. I’ve watched others go through this process and it can be frustratingly long. Especially when they are trying to follow legal means and they are watching thousands of people pour into the country illegally every day. Pray for patient endurance through this time.
We also have some friends who are praying about the possibility of coming to live in Thailand. There is a lot involved in a move like that, especially with 3 kids, so pray for them.
I have some other friends who just transitioned to a new church and are a bit frustrated with the city they are living in. The cost of living in so many places in North America is so high right now that it’s putting extra stress on a lot of people. Pray for God to provide for all their needs and to give them the wisdom to know how to move forward in every area of their lives.
We have a friend that is struggling with some complicated issues in regards to her relationship and the possibility of marriage this year, as well as general growing pains in trying to figure out how to be a first-generation follower of Jesus in such a pre-Christian society.
THANKS FOR BEING PART OF THE TEAM!
By God's grace, we have witnessed many lives transformed, and some family legacies changed forever. But the story is not over yet, and we are anticipating and believing for even greater things moving forward. Consider becoming a financial supporter so you can play a significant role in sharing the gospel, creating Christian resources, and raising up young leaders in Asia.