Giving Jars

I just read about this great illustration Corrie ten Boom used to teach “how God would repay the generous.”

She stood in front of the class of young missionaries-in-training and placed two bottles before them, each filled with sand. One had a narrow mouth and the other had a wide mouth. She picked up and poured from the wide-mouthed jar. The sand quickly poured out onto the table, leaving the jar empty. The then started pouring sand from the narrow-mouthed bottle. The sand trickled out, taking a long time to empty.

“You see students,” she said, waiting for the thin line of sand, “this bottle is like some Christians. They give to God, but not so quickly and freely. But look what happens.” She finished and began to reverse the process, pouring sand back into each bottle. The wide-mouthed jar was quickly filled, spilling excess over the top. However, it took her a long time to painstakingly refill the narrow-mouthed jar with sand. It had given slowly and now it received just as slowly.

Which bottle are you like?

Cunningham, L. (1991). Daring to Live on the Edge: The Adventure of Faith and Finances. Seattle: YWAM. (p. 81)

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Movie Discussion

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Valerian is an action movie, a love story, a political commentary, a creative, science-fiction wonder… It’s a lot of things, and it’s a lot of fun with some good messages underneath it all.

  1. The action movie / political statement:
    Laureline and Valerian discover a few survivors of a race that was nearly wiped off the planet. When a war between two other races broke out near their planet, a leader decided that his people were worth protecting no matter who was killed in the process, even if it meant wiping out a planet and all its inhabitants. To cover their decisions, they erased any trace of information about the race. It was as if they had never existed. But they had. And a few survived. As they pointed out, “We are survivors, but we are also witnesses.” Therefore, they were liabilities and those responsible for their annihilation were trying to wipe out the last traces of their existence.

    Laureline and Valerian run into some conflict over what to do about this. He’s a soldier and he follows orders. She’s more bound by her internal compass of right and wrong than by politics and orders. She wants to do right by these people and not only rescue them, but also return some of their artifacts—artifacts her government wanted to keep as they were quite valuable. Both of them have a high moral compass and want to do the right thing, but how they decide what is right varies. He’s bound his honor to follow orders to his superiors; she’s bound to the people.

    It’s an illustration of what Jesus went through in his dealings with the Pharisees. He followed what was right according to God, not necessarily according to law. He followed the heart of the law, while they were caught up by the letter of it. He healed people on the Sabbath because it was right for those suffering, even though the religious were horrified that he should not strictly observe the day of rest. Jesus teaches us to obey the laws of the land, but He also cautions that the laws of the land are subject to the laws of God, who is a God of love. We are to honor authority always, and obey authority until such obedience comes into conflict God’s laws. In which case, obeying God trumps all. As Laureline points out, Love is “more powerful than anything else. It’s bigger than laws.”

  2. The love story:
    Laureline is a really strong, positive character in this movie. Not only do we see her leading the moral compass politically, she also leads it relationally. Valerian wants to marry her. Clearly they have a connection, but, while she follows her heart in regards to right and wrong with obeying her orders, when it comes to romance she’s surprisingly logical. She doesn’t just follow her emotions—in a great way. She clearly communicates with him what she wants. She doesn’t play games. She explains why she won’t marry him. He has a “playlist” of the women he’s been with in the past. She wants “a man who will erase his playlist for me.” She values herself enough to not be one of the list of girls in his life. She won’t settle for less than being the only. She also doesn’t kid herself that she’ll be different for him. She challenges him on this. “Why do you lose interest as soon as you have a girl?” She doesn’t want that to be her story—that he loses interest in her the moment she’s his.

    This may sound harsh, but while she’s extremely honest, she’s not unkind and she doesn’t shame. She doesn’t get angry, doesn’t retaliate or distance herself from him. They stay partners. She supports him, and even loves him well as a friend. She is everything a woman should be, and maintains her emotional boundaries while doing so. This is important, because it allows him to grow and mature. Had she just melted at his proposal, had she thought that that meant he’d be different with her, he wouldn’t have had to grow up in the ways he needed to to enter into marriage. If she’d shamed him, he’d never have found the courage to grow into the man he needed to become. She was the right kind of challenge and inspiration. And anyone who has ever loved someone who isn’t “ready” yet, and therefore walked away knows just how hard this is. It’s hard to respect yourself that much and wait. It’s hard to have faith it will be worth saying no. It’s hard not to get angry when the person you love is failing you, to wait on them to grow up in areas. It’s all very hard.

    She’s willing to say no, willing to wait, and then, perhaps equally difficult, she’s willing to say yes. When she sees that he has grown, sees that he’s willing not only to “die for [her],” but also to “trust [her],” when she sees that he’s becoming humble and vulnerable, when she sees that he’s not only trying to impress her but also learning to yield to her…then she knows he is growing and becoming the kind of man she could marry. Then she gladly changes her mind and says yes. I love her for this! In so many respects she is a woman of dignity and strength and grace. She’s vulnerable, but not needy. Strong, but not calloused or harsh. Tender but not weak. Willing to follow the rules, but free thinking. Willing to break the rules without being rebellious. She sees the diamond in the rough, but is willing to wait for him to become the diamond, knowing that just because he has potential is no guarantee he’ll change. And yet, it’s her very resistance that provides the pressure and incentive he needs to become.

I’ve written about two very difficult topics in the movie, but really, it’s all about Laureline. The movie may be named “Valerian”, but she’s very much the center of the movie. She’s the reason he becomes great. She’s the reason the people are saved. It’s her great heart and her strong sense of worth that drive the story. And yet, that’s also part of what you have to love about her, she doesn’t mind if Valerian gets the press. She’s so confident in her worth she doesn’t have to assert it or have others validate it. She doesn’t need to have top billing; she happily lets him. It reminds me of that line in My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, where the mother says that, “A man may be the head, but a woman is the neck that turns the head.” (Not a direct quote, but close.)

A wife of noble character who can find?     
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her     
and lacks nothing of value. 1
She brings him good, not harm
,
all the days of her life….
She considers a field and buys it;     
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;     
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, …
20 She opens her arms to the poor     
and extends her hands to the needy….
She is clothed with strength and dignity;     
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,     
and faithful instruction is on her tongue. – From Psalm 31

Questions for Discussion:

  • How did Laureline follow in Jesus’ footsteps in her dealings with the people who had been wronged?
  • What makes Laureline admirable?
  • Why did Laureline turn down Valerian’s proposal? Why did she later accept? What changed?
  • How did Laureline’s actions impact Valerian’s growth to maturity?
  • How is Laureline like the ideal woman in Proverbs 31?
  • Have you ever cared for someone that wasn’t “ready” yet? What did you do?
  • Do you feel you have enough worth as a person to say no when love is offered to you (if it’s not right)?

 

 

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Dunkirk – Movie Discussion

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Dunkirk is one of those movies which, if I was to comment on all of the rich spiritual parallels I saw, I could write a small novel. It’s tempting, but I’ll spare you. I’ll get you started with a few thoughts and leave you to draw more parallels of your own.

Regarding the 400,00 soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk, the movie starts with these words: “Trapped at Dunkirk. They await their fate. Hoping for deliverance. For a miracle.” It was awful to watch—they were just fish in a barrel. The men were taking fire from land, air and sea. They were completely exposed. Vulnerable. And for the few who found what seemed like shelter, it was no better—they were simply trapped and unable to escape when attack came. Men who were “rescued” by naval ship were trapped when it sunk. Men on the beach were open targets. There was no refuge, no escape, no hiding… And every hope they had seemed to fail them.

I was losing it from the first words of the movie: “They were hoping for deliverance. For a miracle.” I had just heard from a friend who was in a similar situation, metaphorically at least. Mentally, emotionally, financially spiritually… he’d been under enemy fire in every area of his life. He felt trapped and lost. He didn’t know where to go, who to turn to. He’s spent his life trying all the rescues the world has to offer: women, substances, work, family, good works, religion, you name it. Everything the world says would save him, would take him to a place of safety and love, to the home he’s really longing for… every one of those “rescues” had sunk. And like the young soldier in the movie, he’d jumped off a sinking ship, swam to shore, found a safe place to hide, been attacked, escaped again, and so on. Now he’s out of options and desperate, depressed and emotionally shell-shocked.

Our world is FULL of people who are stuck on the beaches of Dunkirk, taking enemy fire, desperate for rescue. The enemy comes to “steal, kill and destroy”[1] and he’s doing his best to come at us from every angle so that there is no escape, or at least, so that we believe there is no escape. And judging by my friend, he’s done a pretty good job convincing most people that there is no hope, no miracle, no rescue.

There was a rescue for them, but it came from an unexpected source: civilians. Men from England who had yachts, fishing vessels, boats of any sort, took the day’s journey to Dunkirk and risked their lives to rescue as many soldiers as they could put on their boats. One man, Mr. Dawson, picked up a lone soldier in the water on the way. The soldier was shocked to discover they weren’t going to England but to Dunkirk first. “I’m not going back. If we go there, we’ll die.” He knew. He’d been there. But, Mr. Dawson was no fool. He was not naïve about the risks. He also wasn’t calculating the risks, but the need. (I literally just wrote this article about how God doesn’t call us to safety, but to obedience. Mr. Dawson and Dunkirk give such a beautiful picture/example of this truth.) He and his young son (and countless others) didn’t go to their aid because it was safe, they went because they were needed.

The young soldier questioned what good this old man with a yacht could do against such a powerful military enemy. I love Mr. Dawson’s wisdom and resolve.

Shell-shocked soldier: You’re an old man!
Mr. Dawson: Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children into it?
Shell-shocked soldier: You belong at home!
Mr. Dawson: If we don’t help, there won’t be any home. …There’s no hiding from this, son.
Shell-shocked soldier: You don’t even have guns!
Mr. Dawson: Did you have a gun? … Did it help you against the U-boats or the torpedoes or…?

The obvious answer was yes, he had a gun, and no, it didn’t help. We are so tempted to put our confidence in men, in might, in weapons, in knowledge and strategy. Those things have their place, but the Bible says that God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.[2] It also says, “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.”[3] If you look through the Bible, God has some crazy battle strategies, like walking around a wall for days. Like going in with only 300 men to fight 300,000. God’s ways are not our ways[4].

In Dunkirk, He used civilians and pleasure yachts to rescue nearly 400,000 men from certain death. In the spiritual realm, He used the death of His son, Jesus to rescue the world, all who would believe, from certain death. And He uses Christians, those of us who follow Jesus, to bring that rescue to those who are still trapped. We are those little civilian boats, and we are supposed to set sail, risk dangerous seas, enemy fire, long voyages, and even shell-shocked soldiers who aren’t in their right minds, to bring as many as we can back to safety, to a place of home…to the truth of Jesus.

The tag-line of the movie says, “When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them.” This is the thing—spiritually, we can’t get “home” without help. Our sin has us trapped. Jesus had to come rescue us. Home had to come for us. And now that He has made a way, He’s sending us to bring home to the world, because they can’t get their on their own. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one gets “home”, to the Father, without Him[5].

I am reading the book Loveable, by Kelly Flanagan and I came across this quote yesterday: “The people we belong to are filled with grace and spill it wherever they go. And one place they’ve committed to go is toward us. Even when it means driving into the storm to get us.”[6] He might have said into the battle. It’s true. Those civilians went into the battle because those boys were their boys. Their people. Their sons. Their soldiers. When your people are in danger, you go into the danger to rescue them. That’s what love does.

At Dunkirk, however, it wasn’t just English men, but French men, too, on that beach. And they were all rescued. The English didn’t only rescue the English people, but everyone on that beach—because they saw their fellow man as their brother, as their own.  When we realize that our people aren’t just the ones in church next to us, but they’re the ones who are still on the beach, taking enemy fire, lost, scared, alone, desperate for help… When we realize that our fellow man is our people, we start caring that all of them get to safety. We start to care about God’s plan that every nation, every tongue, every tribe comes to know who He is. And then we go into the battle, into the jungle, into the inner city, into the jails, and the homeless shelters and suburbia… We start to go wherever there are people and we pray for them and we tell them about Jesus.

It’s risky. We may get hurt or even killed in the process. But men are desperate and dying all around us. Who are we to save our own lives when thousands are dying all around us? And here’s the thing, at the end of the day, we may be risking our lives for an evacuation and that may seem a small win when there’s a battle to be won. It may even feel like retreating or failure.

There was an old man greeting the boys as they came off the ship, telling them “Well done, lads. Well done.” A rescued soldier replied, “[But] all we did was survive.” “That’s enough,” the old man replied. He understood. A rescue is a victory in itself, even when it’s simply a retreat from the enemy fire. As the newspaper said, “Wars are not won by evacuations, but there is a victory inside this evacuation which should be noted.”

In regards to the Battle of Dunkirk’s importance, Christopher Nolan stated: “This is an essential moment in the history of the Second World War. If this evacuation had not been a success, Great Britain would have been obliged to capitulate. And the whole world would have been lost, or would have known a different fate: the Germans would undoubtedly have conquered Europe, the US would not have returned to war. It is a true point of rupture in war and in history of the world. A decisive moment. And the success of the evacuation allowed Churchill to impose the idea of a moral victory, which allowed him to galvanize his troops like civilians and to impose a spirit of resistance while the logic of this sequence should have been that of surrender. Militarily it is a defeat; on the human plane it is a colossal victory.” [7]

The same is true in the spiritual. Let us not be discouraged when our work to rescue souls seems to us nothing more than a temporary reprieve. Sometimes that’s a victory in itself. Sometimes we are called to simply rescue someone from their immediate circumstances so that the hope of more permanent victory can sink into their souls. Sometimes it is that present relief which allows them to gather strength to fight the enemy again from a better position, from one in which they might win. Sometimes we fight off the immediate danger of starvation so that someone might hear later of the love of Jesus. But the truth is, in that first rescue that we dared, they also heard of the love of Jesus, the love which compelled us to go into the bloody battle toward them in their time of need.

Oh that our eyes might be opened to the desperate hopelessness of our fellow man in his need. And that the love of Christ might so compel us to risk all for his rescue. That is what Jesus did, and if we say we follow Him, how can we do any less?

Questions for Discussion:

  • What types of things do we look to for salvation?
  • Why do you think civilians were willing to go to Dunkirk? Would you have done the same?
  • Who do you know that is in a metaphorical Dunkirk, feeling trapped and desperate and taking enemy fire?
  • What have you risked to help rescue your fellow man?   What can you do?

For a list of quotes from Dunkirk, click here.

[1] John 10:10

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:27

[3] Zechariah 4:6

[4] Isaiah 55

[5] John 14:6

[6] Flanagan, K. (2017). Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5013056/trivia?item=tr3308878

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Despicable Me 3 – Movie Discussion

 

 

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Rather than discuss the whole movie, I want to focus on a particular scene this time.

Sweet little Agnes, the youngest of Gru’s girls, loves unicorns. And she wants to see a real one. A man tells her that in the woods nearby “a maiden may find one if she is pure in heart.” With this beautiful, simple, child-like faith, Agnes sets out into the woods to find her unicorn, because, “The man said a maiden might find one if she’s pure in heart, and I’m pure in heart!” She trusts the man. She believes in unicorns. And she knows herself to be pure of heart. No self-doubt. No bitterness of disappointed dreams and past experience. Just a pure heart full of faith.

You kind of have to wonder at this point what’s going to happen. Her siblings are trying to prepare her for reality. I mean, everyone knows there are no unicorns, not even in Agnes’s animated world full of minions. There are no unicorns, but how are the writers going to handle this? I mean, surely they aren’t going to just crush Agnes’ faith and hope, right?! We would all feel cheated if they did. They can’t deliver some unicorn just because she wants it to be so—that seems like false promises. Yes, sometimes God works miracles, but other times it feels less like a miracle and more like a cheesy plot manipulation—because we all realize just wanting something doesn’t make it so. And yet, we want her beautiful, child-like faith honored in some way by the writers. We don’t want to see her crushed, because somehow that would be crushing something in us, too. That small spark of childlike faith in us that still hopes somehow Agnes can get her unicorn.

Their solution was pretty brilliant, actually. They managed to satisfy both her faith and our thirst for honesty.

“Gru! I found a unicorn! My life is complete!!!!” Agnes came home with the “unicorn” she’d found in the woods. A cute little white goat that only had one horn. She fully knew that her prayers had been answered and she’d gotten her very own unicorn to love. It may not have technically been a unicorn, but it was an answer to her faith and her prayers. It was white. It did have one horn. It was something to love that was uniquely hers. Agnes had her unicorn.

Gru however, typical of us adults, so steeped in reality we can’t see the magical in the mundane, corrected her. “Honey, that’s not actually a unicorn. It’s a goat with one horn. Sometimes life is like that—you’re hoping for a unicorn and you get a goat instead.” Nothing daunted, Agnes joyfully and contentedly replies, “But he’s the cutest goat in the world!”

Oh to have a heart like Agnes! When our prayers are answered, we can be like Agnes or we can be like Gru. We can see how God HAS answered our prayers, or we can see how He HASN’T. Agnes saw how He had. She saw that God had given her heart’s desire. Gru saw that God hadn’t technically answered her prayers with a uni-corn. He saw disappointment; she saw delight. He saw the mundane and ordinary; she saw the miraculous. It may not have been a unicorn, but is it any less miraculous that a one-horned, pure-white goat bounded out of the forest towards her at the precise moment that she set out to meet one?! She expected to be loved. She expected an answer to her prayers. She expected her pure heart to be honored. He just knew she’d be disappointed…as would he.

When she saw her goat, even after she found out it wasn’t a unicorn, she didn’t see disappointment. She saw the cutest goat in the world, and that was plenty good enough for her—because Agnes truly was pure in heart.

 

Matthew 5:8 ESV Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God

Psalm 24:4-5 ESV He who has clean hands and a pure heart,… He will receive blessing from the Lord     and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

Titus 1:15 ESV To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.

Questions for Discussion:

  • When a one-horned goat comes in answer to your prayers for a unicorn- what do you see? A unicorn or a goat? An answer to prayer or disappointment? Why?
  • How hard is it for you to believe that God loves you? To believe that He can / will answer your prayers?
  • What is the “unicorn” you are praying for, hoping for?

 

 

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Brian – Another Starbucks Story

He’d been sitting in the Starbucks for ages. A man with grey hair and a gentle, intelligent face. He had dirty, ratty clothes, but despite that, he seemed very clean and well-groomed. At least, he was very well-groomed for a homeless man, which I gathered he was by his clothes. (How hard it must be to keep your clothes clean when you’re homeless.) He was just sitting. Doing nothing. He wasn’t talking to himself. He didn’t have any odd ticks, any of the signs of mental illness I see so often in homeless people. It struck me, how many of us can be truly still like that? I kind of admired him, truth be told. I’ve lost that ability a bit with all the distractions ever at my fingers. Stillness is a discipline, a muscle in my life that has atrophied. There was something about him I was drawn to, and I wanted to talk to him, but I was sitting across the store, working, focused, trying to get through my to-do list, so I didn’t try to talk to him. I just noticed his stillness, and felt that he was very alone, and eventually he left.

I got to a stopping point and had just enough time to grab some lunch before I had to be at the next thing, so I packed up my laptop and headed out. Then I saw him again. Sitting. Alone. Outside Starbucks—he hadn’t gone far. I honestly can’t remember who started the conversation. Maybe I said something about his beautiful stillness, or maybe he made a comment about the weather… probably both, but either way, we quickly ended up in a talk. A deep talk (I don’t think he knows any other kind).

He was struggling. He’d gotten depressed sitting so alone and so quiet in Starbucks. (So much for my thoughts about his beautiful quiet—it wasn’t peaceful, it was sad and depressed.) He’s actually quite the extrovert and so much time alone without any human connection was getting to him. He had gone to Starbucks hoping to talk to someone in the crowd, but everyone was like me—focused on their work, or they were there connecting with someone else, deep in a two-person conversation already. It’s true, the loneliest place to be is usually in the middle of a crowd. So he moved away from the crowd, at least his loneliness wasn’t so much in his face when he wasn’t surrounded by other people. Frankly, I know the feeling.

He started sharing his hurt and his disappointments with people which quickly led to his thoughts on Christians. I don’t think he knew I was one. Maybe he didn’t care. I wasn’t offended, but appreciated seeing life through his eyes. Sometimes we just don’t think about how we come across to someone on the “outside”—not necessarily outside our faith, but outside our world in any respect, our faith, our suburban life, our education, etc.

He said that Christians say they care, but won’t let him into their homes to just shower or share a meal. “They say it isn’t safe,” he said. He said he didn’t want them to necessarily provide the dinner, but to simply have him over, let him in. He’s offered to buy the groceries, bring the steaks…if they would just let him join them for some time around the grill (and maybe a shower). But the answer is always, “No. I’m sorry. It isn’t safe.”

What Brian longed for, more than anything, was to feel loved and accepted. He wanted to feel trusted. To feel human, to be part of a family and a community for a moment. More than money, more than charity and help, a meal or a shower, he simply wanted to be at the table with a family, to be included, to be loved. To feel that he’s enough just as he is, worthy enough to be in someone’s home and in their life. Having a shower wasn’t just about being clean. Having a meal wasn’t just about being fed. Those things are about someone telling you your heart is clean, and about feeding the needs of your soul. Just like when Jesus talked with the woman at the well—he saw her real need, the need for His living water. The outside was a symbol of what was needed on the inside.

Brian’s frustration with Christians was that they keep wanting to address the outside without seeing that what he really needs is on the inside. To him, that’s hypocritical. They say they care, but he’s not seeing it. They care only to the point where it’s still comfortable for them, not necessarily to the point where it’s actually comfortable for him. Ouch.

He’s difficult, granted. In about .5 seconds he had gone from friendly chatter to victim speech with me. He launched into his “here’s what’s wrong the world and everyone’s hypocrisy…especially the Christians” spiel in no time and clearly planned to stay there as long as I could listen. But he’s difficult because he’s wounded. I get a spiel going when I’m feeling wounded too…and just like Brian, it’s a speech I can’t seem to quit giving to everyone I’m around either. The answer is not to avoid him, but to love him more and help him heal. (And maybe set some boundaries for conversation to stop the track from playing on repeat.)

Why “especially Christians”? I mean, he touched on other religions too, but his focus was definitely Christians. I think it’s because we set ourselves up to a higher standard to begin with. Because we say we care and we love…and we say we trust the Lord. The thing is, what he has seen is that we only love to our comfort, not beyond it. We love to our safety, not beyond it. God doesn’t call us to comfort and safety; He calls us to obedience. Christ was obedient to death, which was neither comfortable nor safe. That’s who we say we follow. And then we refuse Brian a meal in our home.

We say we serve an all-powerful God who can deliver us, but we are afraid it’s too risky to let him use our shower. Maybe he’s right to call us out on our hypocrisy.

I’m not saying everyone should invite him into their home. Maybe not, for any number of reasons. But the issue is obedience, not assessment of risk. I wouldn’t advise foolishness. Truly, everything in me would tell you that Brian was safe…but that’s not the point. That’s not why I would have let him in, or not. Again, the issue is not an assessment of the risk, but of God’s will in that situation.

Let’s be honest, though. A lot of times we use safety as an excuse to avoid being inconvenienced. We don’t want to open Pandora’s Box. We don’t want to start something we can’t easily stop. He’s a lonely man. A talker. (And this from me, a talker myself.) A wounded, broken person with a victim mentality. We let him in and we might not get him to leave. He may, almost certainly, want to come back. He will likely be exhausting to be around. So, it’s easier to say it’s neither wise nor safe and just not go there.

The added bonus of which, is that we won’t have to see our lifestyle and selfishness and abundance through the eyes of a needy, homeless man. Because who wants that kind of conviction, right?

I think perhaps Brian was the most hurt by Christians because we espouse so much, promise so much, and yet deliver so little of what he truly needed—a sense of love, belonging and dignity. If we give from a distance, if we truly to keep ourselves sterile, our hands clean, our noses unoffended, etc., we aren’t being Christ to anyone. He came in utero, to show from the start that he was willing to get dirty to love us.

I keep thinking, you can’t clean up a baby with a dirty diaper without being close enough to smell and touch and get a bit messy yourself. If you try to clean a baby’s bottom without risking any smell or mess getting on you…then you just end up with a baby with a dirty bottom. Anytime we want to help clean up the mess in someone’s life, this is the process and the risk—we have to get close enough to get our hands dirty, too. We just know we can wash them off after we’re done.

And, while the issue isn’t safety but obedience, can I also just point out that bringing a youth pastor into your home, for example, or a priest, or any other church friend, isn’t necessarily any safer than bringing a homeless man into your home? It may be easier, it may feel safer, it may be less taxing on you, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also risky and potentially dangerous. It may even be more dangerous because you let your guard down and aren’t aware of the danger. Because even priests and youth pastors and well-educated, suburban friends with clean clothes and nice houses can have hidden sins and messy lives—the kind of messy that messes up others. There are no guarantees or promises of safety…only the promise that “in this life we will have trouble” and that God can “work all things for good”. So when we categorically say that one kind of person is safe and another isn’t, well, that’s just hogwash.

I’m not here to point fingers at Christians, remember, I’m one, too. I’m here to share the perspective I got from Brian. I’m here to share the ways he challenged me to love better. I’m here to challenge us all to consider obedience as the highest virtue, not risk assessment.

You may wonder what happened—well, I had to go. I had to cut him off and leave because I had somewhere I had to be. Did I invite him over? No. Not because I wouldn’t have… but because I wasn’t in my normal stomping grounds and home was nowhere near. Maybe that was God’s protection over me, that I wasn’t in a place where I could invite him over and offer him a shower or a home-cooked meal. I probably would have if I could have… it wouldn’t have been the first time, but that wasn’t what God asked of me that day.

What I realized is that I probably should have set aside my work for a bit when I first noticed him and talked with him. Maybe I should have recognized God’s nudging earlier, telling me that he was lonely, that he needed to feel connected and valued. I’m grateful I got a second chance. I couldn’t invite him over, but I did set aside lunch so that we could talk. And I did pray that God would bring someone along who could and would invite him over and let him be part of a family in a home sitting at a table together. I did pray that God would show him how much HE loves him and accepts him and values him, just as he is. Sometimes we are called to meet the need. Sometimes we are simply called to pray and trust God to send the right person to meet the need. Obedience, remember? It’s not always our job to say yes, just as it’s not always our job to protect ourselves. If we have the heart of Christ, full of compassion and willing to obey, He’ll show us what to do.

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Sharing the Shade

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I was sitting outside this morning, grabbing a bagel and reading my Bible. There were two outside tables. One had an umbrella for shade, the other did not. The one with the umbrella was taken, so I took the other. The thing is, because the sun was still in the East, and my table was West of the umbrella, I had plenty of shade. It wasn’t my umbrella, but the sun shone in such a way that of us received its blessing.

It’s a little thing, but as I left, it dawned on me, that’s pretty much the story of my life. Most of the blessings I enjoy haven’t been ones I possessed, personally. They were like that shade this morning—someone else’s blessing that, because of the way God shines on it, and the way He has positioned me, I get to share in the benefit.

In fact, it’s the way He intends for all his blessings to work – little umbrellas whose shades benefit not only the one sitting at the table, but everyone around it, too.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:11

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Spider-Man: Homecoming – Movie Discussion

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The Spider Man franchise faithfully delivers, once again, a movie that is both fun and full of good, inspirational messages. This new Peter Parker is a bit more fun and less burdened than some of his predecessors (notably the Tobey Maguire version). He’s light-hearted and confident and eager to save the world, all the more so after having gotten a chance to do so already with the Avengers. Herein lies the problem: How do you go from saving the world to high school algebra again? How do you settle for daily life when you know you are made for more, capable of more?

Warriors need battles. Heroes need opportunities to be heroic. Superstars need opportunities to shine. Actors need a stage. Kings need kingdoms. You get the picture. But what happens when you know you’re the star player, but are then told to sit the bench? What happens when you’re Spider-Man, capable of saving the world, but you’re told to go be a normal kid again? Hear Peter’s frustration with the situation:

Tony Stark: Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man now? Peter: But I’m ready for more!

Peter: Come on man, I don’t need training wheels.

Peter: Mr. Stark treats me like a kid! Ned: You are a kid. Peter: Yeah, a kid who can stop a bus with his bare hands! … I could do so much more!

Ned: You want to be a high school drop out? Peter: Dude, I am so far beyond high school now.

Can you hear his frustration? Have you been in his shoes? Most of us have at some point or another, feeling that we had a skill to offer but we were told to sit the bench and hide our talents for a while. It’s so hard. It feels you are being wasted. It feels you have no worth. It’s even harder when you have to watch things unravel knowing you could keep it from happening. It’s hard to let someone else fail where you know you could succeed.

Peter had a lot of skills to offer, but that didn’t mean he didn’t also still have a lot to learn. Tony Stark saw his potential but also had the wisdom to put some “training wheels” on Peter while he learned. He told Peter to get experience on the ground, in the neighborhood, locally. He basically encouraged him not to despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). Very wise, Biblical advice. Peter didn’t listen well. (If it was hard to listen to Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, imagine how hard it was for him to listen to mere mortals who didn’t know/understand all that he was gifted with.)

Tony actually does a decent job of mentoring/parenting Peter. He got harsh with him when needed: “This is where you zip it. The adult is talking.” He took away Peter’s suit when Peter continued to disregard his caution (and cause problems by trying to go it alone). He told him that “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” He understood that there is something gained with perspective that Peter’s talents couldn’t make up for and didn’t apologize for it. He believed in Peter, but also didn’t have to have Peter’s approval. He had a long-term perspective on Peter’s growth. …But I’m digressing from the point of this article.

Where the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie was all about a humble Peter who had no confidence learning to embrace his power and worth, learning that he had something to offer to the world, this Spider-Man is pretty much the opposite. It’s an eager, confident Peter learning to humble himself and be patient. He had to learn the value in school and normalcy, to set aside greatness for meekness.

There are so many things I could say about this topic and its value for all times, but especially this generation. But let me simply point to a few scriptures. As we’ve already discussed, the Bible says not to despise small beginnings. It also says that we should do anything we do with all our heart, for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23). It doesn’t say we should only do great things with all our heart, and the rest is inconsequential. Character is built in how we handle the small things. It’s who we are when no one is looking. The boring things in life, like high school algebra, like submitting to authority, like chores and even scrubbing toilets (Brother Lawrence, anyone?)…those are actually the places where heroes are developed. They aren’t a waste of time, they are critical.

Let me just mention a few key things you learn in the trenches of the mundane. Compassion. You learn what real life is like for the average person. This is critical for someone who wants to help others. Someone who wants to “help” others without compassion is a condescending narcissist with a hero complex. (This is what 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, is saying to us – even if you have all the power of men and of angels but have not love, you have nothing.) You learn humility and patience, which kind of work together. It takes humility to be patient. You learn to listen to other people’s perspectives and wisdom. And you are forced to see that the world can get along without you (aka humility) when you patiently wait and take a back seat while others are saving the day. You also learn wisdom – a key trait for a hero. Someone with strength and talent without wisdom is a wrecking ball. They are like a well-intentioned puppy—they may mean well, but they make a mess in their eagerness. (Peter demonstrates this several times.)

I want to point you to a Biblical character who kind of lived Peter’s life—David. He was young and powerful. He had a great “Avengers” moment when he killed Goliath and saved the entire army. He was confident. Not only did he know his own abilities, but he also was chosen to be King, by God. Can you imagine what it was like for him to humble himself and go back to every-day life? Playing the harp, tending sheep, working for the jerk King who was destroying the nation (and who wanted to kill you) knowing you could do a better job, and even had God’s blessing to do it?! David’s humility and patience are astounding. Not only does he willingly return to the mundane and wait to become King, he protects King Saul in the meanwhile (1 Samuel 24-26). He trusted in God’s plan for his life and didn’t try to rush things. He was willing to go back to school for a while and learn a few more things in the mundane trenches, so to speak.   And when the time was right, God did fulfill His promises. David did become King, and was a much better king for being willing to wait on the processes of maturity to work their magic in his life.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is 1 Peter 5:6-11

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

This is pretty much the story arch of every great story in the Bible. It’s definitely the summary of David’s story. He humbled himself under God’s hand, choosing not to exalt himself but instead to wait for God to do so in His perfect timing. While he waited, he suffered, but took all those struggles to God (just read the Psalms!). He was watchful that his enemies (spiritual and physical enemies) didn’t take him out. And in the end, God Himself (I love how personal and intimate and tender that phrase is, “God Himself”) who had called David to the glory of being King, restored him, confirmed the promises over his life, and then took him beyond restoration as he strengthened and established David as King. Amazing.

Peter’s time as an Avenger was sure to come. David’s time as King was sure to come. Your time and mine are also sure to come…but the road to get there isn’t one of self-promotion, confidence and pride. It isn’t one of rebellion and being “way beyond” school, hard work, and mundane life. We don’t get to go around those things, we go through them. They are the means to our end. We get to our time, our glory, our purpose through humility. Through patience. Through waiting on GOD to restore us, confirm the things He’s promised us, strengthen and establish us. If we get ahead of the Lord’s timing, if we try to do those things for ourselves, we will find (as Peter did with Tony Stark when he took away Peter’s suit) that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34). A pastor friend of mine, Tommy Nelson, used to say, “It’s better to be a noun than a verb: It’s better to be humble than humbled.” Peter Parker and the young King-to-be David, they are great examples of this truth. Let them inspire us to be patient and humble as we wait on God to bring us to our time.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How hard would it be for you to be in Peter’s shoes, having just fought with the Avengers to save the world and then having to go back to being a normal teenager?
  • What kinds of things did Peter still need to learn?
  • Tony said if Peter was nothing with his suit, then he shouldn’t have it. What is your “suit”, the thing you feel makes you something? How might it help you to lose your “suit” for a while, too?
  • What do Peter and David (in the Bible) have in common?
  • How do you respond when someone in your life speaks out like Tony did and tells you that you aren’t ready and puts you in Training Wheels Protocol mode?
  • In what areas of your life do you maybe need to apply I Peter 5:6-11? What areas are you waiting on God to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish?

Click here to read quotes from Spider-Man: Homecoming.

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Julia and the Orphans

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In Tijuana, MX, after we were done building Sandy’s House, we went to help out at an orphanage-to-be. Let me explain the story, as best I understand it.

Meet Julia. She’s 24, athletic, and blonde. She’s beautiful, but doesn’t seem to know it or really even care. She’s one of those that just oozes coolness without even trying; it’s just who she is. She’s got her hair in a messy bun, not one that she worked hours at to look messy, but one that comes naturally when you throw you hair out of the way so you can work hard…which she’s been doing all day. She has no makeup on and her t-shirt and shorts hang easily on her trim frame. I, of course, love her instantly and am dying to get to know her, and if I’m honest, I secretly want to be her a little bit. In part because of her naturalness and confidence, but mostly because of her life and what she’s doing.

Julia did some volunteer work with orphanages in a couple parts of the world through some agency she found online. As she said, however, if you can volunteer online with an organization, they are probably well-funded. Not that they don’t need help, but, at least this organization, had a big enough platform that they had lots of volunteers and funds to help meet the needs. So it was a great experience, but she wanted to do more and do it where it was more needed.

So, she somehow ended up connected with YWAM in Tijuana and helping with an orphanage they knew of. She first lived near the orphanage so that she could get really involved. I don’t know what those living conditions were like, but I can’t imagine they were what she was used to in the States. Not to mention, she’s a beautiful, young blonde in Tijuana—there are some risks associated with that, to say the least. So just let it sink in a minute…she left America, left her home and her family and the possibility of a corporate job which would pay her, a college grad with an economics background, a handsome salary. She left all of that, to go and live in Tijuana, which isn’t exactly the garden spot of Mexico, nor is it the safest. She volunteered to work for an organization that couldn’t pay her and instead raised enough money to live on from friends and family. And she worked, not in a clean, corporate environment, but in a rough, impoverished orphanage…until she decided it wasn’t enough, and moved in. She actually moved into the orphanage with the kids so that she could better help and better love.

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It was then that she knew for sure the corruption that was going on. The orphanage “director” was actually, basically running a scam. While she told people there were 100 orphans, there were actually only 27. The money she raised for the orphans they rarely, if ever, saw a peso of it. Julia started noticing that people were donating money, but the kids still never had food, or clothes, or any help from the orphanage. In fact, the kids mostly didn’t even stay there, they only came in when there donors to impress. Otherwise, they were largely living on the street.

I don’t know how it all worked, we didn’t have long to visit or for me to get all the details. I just got the big picture as I’m sharing it with you. What I know, however, is that the orphans were being exploited and misused and not taken care of…and it was only discovered because one girl was willing to give up her American riches to live among the rags of the orphan kids she’d fallen in love with.

At first, she tried to help correct things. She tried to right the wrongs and work with the current director of the orphanage, but it soon became clear there was no fixing that. So Julia went to work creating a new orphanage for those 27 kids.

Imagine the monumental task, even in America, of finding a home large enough for 27 kids! Then, imagine finding someone who would be willing to rent a house to those 27 kids. Add to that the fact that they are orphan kids, not some family of Dugger kids raised in a loving family environment. Then imagine doing so in Mexico, where this has to be done on foot, without the help of the internet—real estate hunting there isn’t like it is in America, all digitized; it’s old-school. Also, what you find there are generally tiny little houses or mansions. There aren’t a lot of in-between. The houses big enough for the kids were palaces that were both out of budget and in ritzy neighborhoods that wouldn’t have been a good fit for the kids, but normal neighborhood homes were far too small. Eventually, Julia found a large home in a normal neighborhood. The owners had had 9 children and built a home to fit their large family. (Frankly, it was about the size of an average home in Dallas, if that, but for Mexico it was large.) And the owners were willing to rent. This gives them a chance to try things out and make sure it’s all a good fit, and if so, they may be able to purchase it down the road.

The house has a room full of bunkbeds and a bathroom for the older boys downstairs. Upstairs, it has a room of bunkbeds for all the little boys and another room of bunkbeds for the girls. I know there’s a bathroom in the girls’ room, and maybe in the little boys’ room, too—I don’t remember. It has a small room for house parents upstairs, and an external living quarters/basement to house a few other staff members. There are desks set up for the kids to work with tutors in front of large windows upstairs overlooking the countryside. There’s a playroom area upstairs and a living room and kitchen downstairs. In truth, I have no idea how they will cook for all those people in that kitchen—it’s big, but it’s not that big.  They don’t have two ovens and multiple sinks and an extra fridge in the garage (maybe they will?)… Most of the people I house-sit for have bigger and better equipped kitchens than this one. Not to mention, I have no idea where they will all sit to eat?! Probably on the floor because there certainly isn’t room for a kitchen table for even half of them in there, much less for all of them! But it’s Mexico and they are resourceful people—they’ll make it work. It’s a palace compared to where they come from.

So, Julia, wonder-woman that she is, sourced the house, and found funding for it. She’s got it staffed and is working on the nightmare that is paperwork for the kids. Many of them don’t have the documents the state requires and she’s having to track down living relatives, if they can be found, to get things in order. She’s created an orphanage from scratch, pretty much, for these 27 orphans and a way out from the woman who had used them for her own gain. Those kids have been their own kind of family for some time now, so her vision (as I understand it) is to keep them together as a family, and not necessarily to bring more kids into the mix. She will continue to live there to assist as needed, but she humbly recognizes that the main caregiver who has been with them for some time now is a good and capable man who she wants to empower, not overshadow. She’s there to handle the business of things and assist in the home as needed, and to love, love, love, those kids.

We helped with cleaning up the place and getting it ready for the kids in our brief stay. We weren’t there long, but 25-ish people can get a lot done in a few hours if they all pitch in. We also spent some time simply praying for the house, for the kids, for the leadership…over every bed… Personally, I spent a lot of time crying—actually, I cry every time I talk about this place and the orphans I haven’t even met who will live there. Even now, sitting under a tree outside a café in Colorado, as the cars whiz by, the tears are streaming down my face and I’m holding back the ugly cry. I think about those kids and what their lives have been. I think about what God might have in store for their futures. I think about Julia and the difference she is making with her life, and what it’s cost her to do so. I think about how Julia is just like Jesus.

I’ve said it before, we all love the rags to riches story. It’s our story—the orphan story. We were born into poverty, but God adopts us as His sons and daughters and we live in His riches. The riches to rags story, however, it’s a hard one. No one wants to live that one. No one wants to be raised in the palace and give it up. No one volunteers to trade their riches in for rags. Except, Julia did. Jesus did.

Jesus gave up Heaven to come to earth. He didn’t just come to earth though. That’s probably what I would have done—just shown up on earth. Jesus, however, left Heaven for a womb. It’s so gross to me. Who volunteers to spend 9 months cramped in a tiny space filled with someone else’s bodily fluids and then come out of their bottom into the world as a total dependent? I’ll be honest – that is SO gross to me. There is no way I would be willing to do that voluntarily. There is a reason we are born as babies—our adult minds wouldn’t make that choice.   Jesus did. So gross. So amazingly humble.

Because He was willing to move in, He saw, He felt, He experienced and fully knew every offense, every abuse, every wrong we suffered from sin. He was then able to do something about it. Just like Julia, He really couldn’t have done anything about it if he hadn’t moved in first. He certainly couldn’t have told us He knew what we’d been through. But He does know what we’ve been through, because He moved in and He experienced it, too, with us.  He suffered with us, and then He made a way for us to get out of the poverty we’ve been living in, to get out from under the hands of our enemy who would use and abuse us. He, too, is building a house for us and preparing it that we might move in with Him.

It’s my hope and prayer that, because of Julia, those kids will know the love of God. That they will know just what Jesus did for them, because Julia did it for them, too. And maybe, in telling her story, you, too, will see afresh the love God has for you.

If you would like to help and send support to Julia and her orphanage, you do so through YWAM San Diego Baja – here’s the link to give! No “giving category” needs to be selected; simply put “Agape/Hope for Orphans” in the notes section and it will go to “Julia’s” orphanage.  You may contact her at: jsauve1255@gmail.com.

Here are some pics of the orphanage and the kids!

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Sandy’s House

She was just radiant on the day that I met her. Of course, you might expect that, seeing as we had just shown up, a group of about 25 of us from America, to help build her a house. But it was more than just the excitement over the house—it was deeper than that. You know how, sometimes you just know that someone loves Jesus? Without even saying a word, you just know?! That was how it was with Sandy. I knew. The love and the radiance of Jesus were undeniably written into her countenance.

Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed. – Psalm 34:5

Our leader asked me if I thought she was a Christian. “Of course she is! Can’t you see it in her face?!… I’ll find out!” So I went to ask. In part to confirm what I already knew and to get her story, and in part because I was itching to knock the dust off of my high school Spanish, and in part because I just felt an immediate kinship with her and wanted to get to know her … this was as good an excuse as any to introduce myself. Not to mention, there weren’t many in our group who could speak much Spanish.

So, I introduced myself and basically just asked if she went to church around here. (I don’t remember why that seemed like the right question to ask—because right now without context, it seems super awkward; I know.) She immediately explained that yes, they went to church and they were Christians, not Catholics. Those are her words, not mine. I fully understand that you can be both a Christian and a Catholic. However, especially in her culture, she wanted to make it clear that she wasn’t following a Catholic tradition but Jesus… and she happens to do that via an evangelical church.

As we got to know each other over those two days, (Can you believe we built her a house in TWO days?! Crazy!), she shared some of her story and actually begged me to share it because she wants everyone to know about what Jesus has done for her and her family.

She is only 29 years old. A single mom raising her 3 kids and a step-daughter who is 16, not that much younger than she is. First off, can I just point out that not everyone is willing to take on a child that isn’t even theirs, especially when that child is a reminder of the man who left you for another woman?

Her youngest, Angelito, is now 8. When he was just one month old, he got sick. He basically went catatonic and would neither eat nor respond at all. He was in the hospital for a month and a half while they ran tests and finally determined that he had a heart problem and would require open heart surgery. She couldn’t afford the surgery and out of desperation went to the local church and asked them to pray. Angel was miraculously healed and immediately began to respond and eat again. The doctors later confirmed it; he was fine! Not surprisingly, Sandy gave her life to the Lord.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears…
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles. 7
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them. – Psalm 34:4-7

Now, she tells everyone she can about how Jesus, in His great love and mercy, saved her son. She has essentially become a missionary in her community. She has four women from the neighborhood who she invited to church. All have become Christians; two she personally led to Jesus. These four women (and their children) come to a Bible study in her house every week. She’ll disciple them for the year and then start with a new group as they, hopefully, go on and form their own discipleship groups.

At the end of our time, we took her and her children shopping. We bought them groceries and some clothes and whatever else they needed. You know what she bought???? Extra place settings so she could feed people in her home. Coffee and tea specifically to serve the women in her Bible study, because that’s what they like to have when they come over. She thought nothing of herself, but everything for her family and her community and for how she might share Jesus with them through her home.

When we first got there, before we even started, before I met Sandy and her family, we prayed. We prayed for the house we were building, for safety (of course) and for the family who would live there. I remember specifically that I was surprised to hear myself praying for the ways that house would be a testimony to the Lord in the community and for the ministry that would happen in that house. I was praying for fruitful ministry in that house and on that land…without knowing a thing about Sandy. Now that I know her, my prayer makes even more sense—there is nothing she wants more than to glorify the Lord with her home, and she has such a gift of hospitality that her primary place for ministry will be her home.

She and I talked about how it is that she, who has so little, would be willing to give like she does to others. I wish I could have recorded her little sermon—I think it would do us all some good to hear it. She passionately began to explain that God wants us to give. We cannot out-give God. When we give, He blesses us back! And, if we have no money to give, we always have something—our hands, our time, our service, our love…something!

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. – Psalm 34:8-10

I had just that morning been contemplating 2 Corinthians 9:6-12, how God gives us what we need, NOT so that it ends with us, but so that we can be a blessing to others. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (v 10 – emphasis mine). God’s blessings to us are like water—when that water flows in, it’s only good if it also flows back out. Water that gets stopped up becomes a breeding ground for all sorts of gross. It stinks. It becomes unhealthy, full of algae and muck. Water that flows out is clear and life-giving and healthy. So it is with the blessings of God. They aren’t meant to flow into us and get stuck there. They’re meant to flow…in and out.

That’s what Sandy was telling me, and it’s what she’s been living. I’m sure some of the people who have received houses from Homes for Hope weren’t Christians. I’m sure some don’t have the missionary heart that Sandy has. I’m sure some don’t plan to use their home to bless the community like Sandy does. God will bless whom He blesses for the glory of His name, and surely those houses are a testimony of His love to all who receive them, just as Sandy’s is. But, as Sandy and I talked, I couldn’t help but wonder if God wasn’t wanting to enrich her with a house because He knows she’ll “be generous in every way” with it. If that house is God’s way of saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful with little, so let me give you more!”

Honestly, I’m sitting here thinking about Sandy, thinking, “Great job, Sandy!” Thinking how awesome it is that she does what she does, and how awesome that God is blessing her with more. But perhaps that’s not all I should be thinking. Perhaps I should do a little deeper examination of my own life and giving. Perhaps we all should. We live in a culture that tells us that we have “rights” to “our stuff.” It’s great if we share it, but it’s ours so we don’t have to. What we miss is that it’s not ours; it’s God’s. We are simply stewards. Did you catch what it says in 2 Corinthians 9? HE blesses us. HE enriches us. It’s HIS. It’s all His, given to us for a purpose—not just for our personal use, but so that we can share and bless others with it. And, in that way, it’s most truly for our joy—because God knows the most joy we can get out of “our” stuff is when we share it with others.

Can I be honest? We raised money for the trip, asked others to donate. This wasn’t just to make it more affordable for each of us, but also so that we might have more come in than our personal need for the trip so that we could afford the supplies for the home, and take Sandy and her kids shopping, etc. We raised enough for another group to come in later and build them a bathroom. (Can you believe that’s not a standard part of the homes? We are so spoiled here in America!) We were asked to raise money not only to help ourselves get there, but also to be a bigger blessing to Sandy. Conceptually, I understand, but let me be honest, here—I didn’t raise enough to cover my expenses. Not only that, but I’d promised to help cover someone else’s expenses if she didn’t raise enough because I thought it was important she go. I ended up covering much of those expenses out of my own pocket, and I bellyached about it.

God says he loves a cheerful giver, but I confess, while I was cheerful about giving my time and strength and Spanish knowledge…I wasn’t too cheerful about giving “my” money. I need it; I thought. Finances are tight. I, myself, work in ministry full time and have to raise support to do so. Surely, if God’s calling me to go, He’ll provide the funds, right? He did. He just didn’t do it through others. He did it through my savings. Not the response I expected to my step of faith. I kind of expected God to enrich me so that being a blessing to others didn’t actually cost me anything. It’s such an ugly thought I’m truly horrified to write it. That’s not how Sandy gave. She didn’t wait to have a house and some groceries before she gave to others. She practiced hospitality when it hurt. She was like the widow who gave to the prophet the last of her food, and then found that there was more.

THIS is what God asks of us. Give first. Trust Him to supply what we need after. It’s no step of faith (and very little of obedience) if we only give when we see the supply for it. Give first. Even when it hurts. It’s easier to do when you realize you are a steward whose job it is to be obedient. You are not an owner whose job it is to hoard or protect.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully[d] will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency[e] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-12

A few last comments:

Sandy has been paying for the land her house is on for the last two years—approximately $40 month, about half her monthly salary. She has about another 9 years to go until it’s fully paid for (as of summer 2017). Economically, just having a house on the land sets a family ahead about 10-15 years.

Sandy’s two older girls go to school in the mornings 7-1. Sandy herself works from 6-1. That leaves her two young boys, Angelito and Jesus (8 and 9), home alone every morning as their school doesn’t start until 1pm. This is her biggest fear as a mother, leaving them alone. Jesus takes care of his brother, and fixes his food and cleans up the house every day. He’s the man of the house and takes it seriously. I assure you, no one worked harder to build that house than Jesus! He worked relentlessly alongside the men to hammer together the frame. He has had practice—he works construction every weekend with his uncle. (I believe he primarily helps to clean up the construction site.) It’s his dream to become a builder and build homes for others. The first time I saw him truly smile and act like a kid was when we took them shopping—he was transformed.

Their home is a tiny little two bed-room affair with a kitchen area. We were able to give them a small refrigerator unit, something between what I had in the dorms and in my apartment—nothing even suitable by American standards for a family of 5. It’s insulated—a blessing in the Mexico heat! And, it has windows, which the last place they lived did not. I saw it—it was so dark and dingy. It had one pathetic little lightbulb in the corner which didn’t even provide light to the door. What a difference light makes!

We gave them a bunk bed to sleep on. One of those where the bottom bunk is extra wide. It has mattresses and sheets…all complete. But it’s only one. For a family of 5—a mother, two teenage girls and two young boys. All on one bunk bed. I asked her about it. She wants to put the older girls in the other room so they have a little privacy. They have something they can sort of use as a bed, but it’s broken. Our hope and plan is to raise another $600—that’s all it takes for another bunk bed complete with mattresses, sheets, blankets and pillows.

If you would like to contribute for another bunk bed for Sandy and her family, please contact me: stacey@shepherdproject.com! We can take the funds through Shepherd Project Ministries and when we have the full $600, I will work with Homes of Hope to ensure she gets the bed.

If you would like to support other people like Sandy and her family in need of a home, Homes of Hope does an amazing job of vetting the families and making sure they will truly benefit from a house. You can either donate money, OR, I highly recommend going yourself to help. They can take individuals or groups—Christian or secular. The YWAM campus in Tijuana is an amazing (and safe) place to stay and it’s an incredible way to serve together as a family and/or group. (There are also other locations.) The homes take two to three days to build, so it’s a very do-able short-term mission trip. Check out their website for more information. Also, you can read The Homes of Hope Story: It Matters to This One, by Sean Lambert.

Pics of Sandy’s house in progress.  You can see behind her house the hill they climb almost daily to catch the bus.

 

Me, Sandy (on my left, blue sweater), and her family

Pics of the YWAM base in Tijuana.

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Cars 3 – Movie Discussion

cars 3 long

**Spoiler Alert **

I always wonder who the Cars movies are really written for…adults or kids. They’re cute and animated and entertaining for kids, to be sure, but the themes…they always hit me between the eyes—and this one made me cry. It’s a great story about changing times, passing the baton, the value different generations each have and the beauty when they work together.

McQueen was at the top of his game, the top of the racers, until a new, next generation car passed him up. Suddenly, the tracks were filled with next gen models and McQueen’s contemporaries were retiring, voluntarily or not. Lightning wasn’t ready to retire. He still wanted to race and still felt like he had some gas left to do it. The world, however, was telling him he was done, and his sponsor wanted him to go on out on top so that his brand name/product line would be at top dollar value.

One of McQueen’s biggest fears was that if he stopped racing he’d end up like Doc, his mentor, bitter and reclusive. He was afraid his life would be over and there would be nothing left to look forward to once he was done racing.

Lightning’s fears are so very real. It’s something I dare say everyone will face as they grow older, in one way or another, the competitive ones among us probably more so than most.

While Lightning was worrying about becoming obsolete, his young trainer was full of regret. Her story was different from McQueen’s. While he had faced his life with gusto and bravery and done anything he set out to do, she had felt defeated and not good enough before she even began. She had walked away from opportunities she couldn’t get back. She regretted never having lived her life and he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to live his anymore. Both of them were searching for answers, trying to figure out how to get McQueen good enough to compete with the next generation, but neither of them had the answers. She had next generation training technology to offer. He had his own personal experience. And they each had a perspective that the other needed—together they both taught each other a lot. Both But what they lacked was wisdom and insight that come with age. They needed the elder generation.

It was this third generation that had the answers the two younger generations needed. McQueen and Cruz (his trainer) visited Doc’s contemporaries, former racing legends. Those racing legends added their own training tips and insights, but more importantly, they addressed McQueen’s bigger fears—he wasn’t afraid of losing races, or of not being the best, he was afraid of losing his purpose. One of his main reasons for that is that Doc had lost his purpose when he stopped racing, and he didn’t want to be empty like Doc was when they first met. What he never realized, however, and what Smokey showed him, is that Doc found his purpose when he met Lightning. In fact, the best part of his life was teaching McQueen, passing down his wisdom and knowledge, inspiring the next generation of racers.

This changed everything for McQueen. Suddenly, he didn’t have to win to keep his worth. His value as a being wasn’t tied up in winning or losing, in being a racing car. His value was in who he was and how he could use who he was to influence others. He had done that as a racing icon, inspiring others, setting a good example, being a role model, etc. But he could also do that as a mentor, passing down all that he had learned to the future generations. He didn’t have to be the star of the show to have a purpose. In fact, there was a huge sense of joy and satisfaction that came in seeing his young protégé experience success (largely due to his influence)—perhaps even greater than what he had known previously. This freed him up to race for the love and the joy of it, without the pressure of his identity or his worth being on the line. It allowed him to accept that his body was getting older and slower with grace and dignity (as opposed to quitting in shame and no longer trying, or living in denial, anger and belligerence).

Growing old is hard enough to begin with, but our culture places such a premium on youth that the messages in this movie are all the more pertinent for us in America (as compared with a culture that honors age). The reality is, as long as we are still living, God still has a purpose for us. It may look different than it used to, but as long as God grants us another day on earth, it’s because there is still something for us to do. This is important for us to realize for ourselves, especially us older ones, or those of us who have been incapacitated in some way. It’s also important for the younger ones to realize. Ahhh the arrogance of youth, to think that they have all the strength and power, and all the answers! Have you noticed that the Bible often talks about how God is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”? Three generations are listed, intentionally. (Thank you, Fred Markert, for this insight!) We need all three generations working together: One all brawn and eagerness, another all wisdom and maturity, and the middle to bridge the gap between the two.

For those of us who are seeing the writing on the wall, who are having to face the difficult reality that our bodies aren’t what they used to be and our time “on top” is growing short, this movie isn’t just for your kids, it’s for you, too. Don’t resent the younger generation for upstaging you. Don’t fear the future and its changes. And don’t forget to value those who have gone before you. You need them and you need the young… in fact, part of your purpose may lie in bringing them together, bridging the gap. God is a God of all three generations, which means He has a purpose for each of them, not just the rising stars. As you are enjoying your time at the races, don’t get so focused on proving your worth as the winner that you neglect to take in a young disciple or two and train them up. It may even require passing up an opportunity or two take home another trophy for yourself, but you’ll never regret seeing your young disciple take their own trophy home, for their joy will be yours; their win yours.

You know, in a relay race, the race is largely won or lost by the hand off. Passing the baton may seem a little thing, but it’s a deal breaker; learning to do it well makes all the difference in the world. We need to learn to pass the baton with grace. This race we are in for the Kingdom of God, it’s a team thing, a thing of generations working together to the glory of God and the growth of His Kingdom. If we let go too soon and don’t finish our stretch, the baton falls and there’s no one to catch it, the next generation isn’t ready. If we hold it too long, we lose time and hold back the next leg…we may even disqualify ourselves. Each generation has a part to play—if you’re still here, you still have a purpose in this race.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What was Lightning McQueen afraid of?
  • What was Cruz’s regret?
  • Three generations of racers were represented in this movie, what were the strengths of each generation?
  • What lesson can you learn from Cruz’s regrets?
  • What lesson(s) can you learn from McQueen’s journey in this movie?
  • Why do you think God says he’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3 generations)?
  • What do you think about the statement that as long as you are here on earth, you still have a purpose?
  • What do you think your purpose is? Lightning felt he wouldn’t have a purpose anymore if he couldn’t race anymore. What might threaten your sense of purpose? Do you think you could find another purpose? Can you think of a purpose that might be big enough that it wouldn’t be threatened by any life changes? (Suggestion: If your purpose is to “know God and make Him known”, is that something that you could still do from any situation in life?)

Click here to read quotes from Cars 3.

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