Finding Hope at the Donut Man

donut man strawberry donutIf you’ve never been there, you gotta go!  The Donut Man in Glendora, CA (thedonutmanca.com) has the most amazing donuts you could ever imagine.  This is just one of their delectable delights, The Original Fresh Strawberry Stuffed Donut.  It was National Donut Day last week and I couldn’t resist making the trek to get one of these beauties.  What I didn’t expect was in addition to the rush of sugar, fat and carbs, I also received a refreshing jolt of hope, joy and encouragement from my fellow sweet-seeking humans.

The Donut Man is a small donut stand on the famous Route 66.  The modest building has two walk up windows and a convenient ATM tucked alongside it.  It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I have never been there when there wasn’t a line stretching around the corner.  Finding parking is always a challenge.  I usually end up in the dirt lot annex adjacent to the small paved lot behind the store.  The donuts are enormous.  In addition to their stuffed treats they have tiger tail donuts and chocolate bars that are about the size of my forearm.  It’s an amazing place.

As I got in line last Friday there were about 8 people ahead of me, all different ages, races and backgrounds represented.  The young ladies at the window were giddy with excitement, cackling and giggling as they waited for their order.  They were the only ones expressing what I suspect all of us were trying to contain as the sights and smells of the donuts filled our senses.  Just as I rounded the corner to the front of the stand I noticed one of the gentlemen a few people in front of me get out of line.  He explained to those around him he needed to use the ATM.  I heard one of them say, “No problem.  We got you.”  As he left the front of the stand just a few steps away to use the ATM several other hungry patrons got in line.  He completed his transaction and as he turned and noticed the line had grown he quietly stepped to the back of it.

The couple right behind me called out to him, “Hey!  You were ahead of us.  You don’t have to get back in line.”

The man shook his head, “It’s okay.”

The man who had been holding his place chimed in as well, “Dude.  You’re up here.  Come on.”

I jumped in too, “Yeah, come on,” as I waved him over.  Reluctantly he came forward and took his original place in line, thanking everyone along the way as he did.

I don’t know if it was blend of sugary goodness that was in the air, or the anticipation of gorging myself on that strawberry glaze, but my heart soared at the way these total strangers came together.  Frankly, it was kind of shocking.  He was so quiet about going to the end of the line, everyone could have easily ignored him and allowed him to stay there.  Someone who had gotten in line while he used the ATM could have objected to our urging as well, but they didn’t.   On the other hand, he could have been insistent about his place in line as well, elbowing others to get back to the place he had left.  But none of that happened.  Everyone just did what was right.  They did what was nice.  They thought of someone else before themselves.  It was refreshing to see.

If you look at what is in the news, or listen to talk radio, or infuse yourself in social media, you would think that the very fabric of our nation is about split apart.  We are in constant opposition no matter what the topic.  We are bombarded with opinion and disagreement.  We are compelled to take a side, make our opinion known, and attack those who don’t agree.  There is very little truth, only spin, and the topic changes moment by moment.  There are tornadoes of distraction trying to suck us into their vortex and all of them lead to the same conclusion:  Abandon all hope!  Pick a side! Everyone hates each other!

But then there are these Donut Man experiences:  real people interacting with each other face to face, exchanging glances and words, smiles, and “hellos,” saving places for each other in long lines; no arguments, no harsh language, no vigilantism, just people showing kindness to one another.  What a contrast.

I recently read in the book of Colossians, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.  So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.  Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.  Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshipping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.  You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.  Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”  Colossians 3:2-10 (New Living Translation)

Satan would like nothing more than to distract us with the things of this world.  Get us caught up in the latest controversy or opinion poll.  It really doesn’t matter what side we’re on.  That’s never his point.  His only goal is to divide us – to make us believe our differences are more important than what we have in common; to make us believe our opinion is more valuable than connecting as fellow human beings.  Don’t fall for it!

As believers, heaven is to be in the forefront of our minds.  We don’t belong to the world anymore.  That doesn’t mean we live in a bubble and don’t engage with the world.  In fact, it’s just the opposite!  We are to be the lights, the love of God in the flesh for others to see, feel, and experience.  But we can’t do that when we are caught up in the same things that are distracting and dividing those who don’t know Him.   The world is becoming darker.  God told us it would.  Many are abandoning all hope and believing the hype they are reading.  But we know Hope personally.  His name is Jesus and He lives inside of us.

The Donut Man experience was my reminder of the value of real connection.  It was the reminder that God’s love – His undeserving, gracious love – is available and it’s available through US!  We’re His delivery system.  And when we work together as one in delivering that love, powerful things can happen – far more powerful than the tornadoes of distraction that try to keep us from loving.

Father, I thank you for experiences like the one you gave me at Donut Man that show me that there is a reason you chose people, as flawed as we are, to be the vessels through whom You are made known to the world.  Help us, as your Body, to remember that responsibility and keep us from getting caught up in the mire, distraction, and dissension of this world.  We look forward to when we get to be with You.  In the mean time, use us to spread Your powerful love so that others may be restored to you and their hope, like ours, can be in Jesus.  It’s in His name that we ask these things, amen.  

You Want Me to Show You My What?

hemofgarmentWhat is the one thing you are most ashamed of, most embarrassed about? We’ve all got something. For many of us there are probably several things. They are things we may not like about ourselves or things from our past that we want to be free from. We may be the only one who knows about them. If only someone would just heal that part of us or set us free from whatever it is that continues to haunt us.

Now imagine that Jesus is coming to visit your church. You’ve heard He can heal the sick, free the demon-possessed and even raise the dead! Certainly, He could do the same for you. So, you, along with hundreds of others, go to see Him and you hope that maybe, just maybe, your path will cross His. You also hope deep down, that maybe that will be enough – just crossing His path might be enough to bring about the healing you seek. You stand elbow to elbow with hundreds of others at the foyer of your church to welcome Him. You’ve heard He’ll be arriving soon. You’re hoping that whatever you are seeking healing from is not visible to others.  At the same time, your heart longs to at last be free from it.  The energy in the crowd begins to shift as word travels that He has arrived. You check your appearance, straighten your clothes, and take a deep breath. Your nerves tingle as you wonder if He’ll notice you and what you will do if He does.

Then the moment arrives. You see His smiling face as He makes His way into the crowd. You soak up His presence but secretly wonder if the healing within you has already occurred. Is it gone? Am I free? Will I know when it happens?   You hope He sees you as He passes through.  Then suddenly He stops right in front of you.  Your nerves surge through you as they never have before.  The crowd urges Him on towards the sanctuary but He is not willing to move forward.  You can’t take your eyes off of Him.  He turns and faces your direction.  More nerves.  The smile on your face takes a dramatic fall as His eyes catch yours.  The crowd continues to urge Him on but He has focused in on you. Your heart is pounding out of your chest but you’re not sure you’re even breathing.  You try to look away from Him but can’t.  The people around you begin moving away until there is no one between you.  You and He are standing face to face. He smiles and calls you by name.  You try to smile back as your eyes fill with tears.  The crowd is now silent and all eyes are on you. Then He says, “Show me.” The pain, shame, and hurt come surging to the surface.  You know from His question that the one thing you have been hiding from the world for as long as you can remember is what He is asking to see.

I recently re-read a few of the healing stories we find in the Gospels. There is the man with the withered hand in Mark 3:1-6; the woman with bleeding issues from Mark 5:25-24; and the man who was an invalid for 38 years sitting at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-9.  What I saw in these stories that I had never seen before was the fact that the one thing that these three people probably spent their lives hiding from others or carrying as their greatest shame was exactly what Jesus asked to see. To the man with the withered hand He said, “Stretch out your hand.” To the woman with the bleeding issues who touched His robe in secret He said, “Who touched me?”  And to the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years He said, “Get up and walk.” In all three of those moments, Jesus was asking each of them to trust Him with their greatest vulnerability. And, when they did, He restored them. He healed them.

Jesus asks the same of you and me. We can say that we trust Him. We can even believe that we do. But have you truly given over to Him that one thing that you don’t want anyone to know about? If He said to you, “Show me,” would you?  Just knowing that Jesus knows about our issues is not the same thing as showing them to Him.  He wants that intimacy with us, where we feel safe and secure in Him enough to share our deepest hurts.  And He assures us through His Word that His desire to see our deepest need is not to condemn us or embarrass us. It is in order to heal us, to connect with us at our most vulnerable place.

St. Paul brought to the Lord three times his “thorn in the flesh” and specifically asked for God to remove it from him. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) In each case, God’s answer was not to remove it, not to heal Paul of it. But what did the Lord say? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v. 9) Paul didn’t receive healing, but He received God’s grace and a greater dependence upon God’s power. Like the three other examples, Paul had that intimate, personal moment with the Lord over his greatest weakness.

Being vulnerable with our Lord isn’t about what we get out of it. It is about Who we get out of it. I am not suggesting there is a magic formula for healing. If you just show God your most vulnerable issue, He’ll set you free – guaranteed! That’s not it. God calls all of us to an intimate and personal relationship with Him. He does heal. There are countless examples not only in the Bible but in our world today. But beyond healing, God seeks to transform His children. I propose that what Paul received was far greater than a physical healing.  He was forever changed to be more deeply connected to and dependent upon God.  He wants that for us. He is always moving us closer and closer to Him.

Will you trust Him with your deepest vulnerability?   He may grant you a miraculous healing or freedom from it.  If not healing, He will bring you to a new level of intimacy you never thought possible with the God of the universe.

Thank you, Lord, for your depth and desire to grow more intimately with us. Thank you for the examples of faith you preserved for us in your Word. Each one of those men and women were willing to risk showing You what brought them pain, shame, and disgrace. Help each of us to have the faith to trust You with our greatest weaknesses that we may grow closer to You. Thank you for loving us more deeply than we can even imagine and for always wanting to transform us into being more like Your Son. In His precious name, amen.

A Gutter Ball Performance

In my experience, there in nothing quite as vulnerable as bowling. Your skills, or in my case, lack thereof, are on display for all to see. There is no turning back from what you’ve done. Everyone has seen it. It’s out there… strike, spare, split, gutter ball… it’s all out there.

I was with one of my best friends and her family a few months back. They were going bowling and invited me to join them. At that point I had bowled a grand total of four times in my life and on one of those occasions I was two years old.  In my more recent attempts I managed to take a fair stab at the game, nothing spectacular,  but I held my own. I was looking forward to just being with this extended family of mine and bowling sounded like a lot of fun.

Not coincidentally, the Lord had been making me aware of my thoughts and behaviors with regards to “performance.” I was stuck in the mindset that somehow it was about what I did for Him that was somehow connected to being loved. I knew in my head that wasn’t right. That’s not how He operates. But my actions and my thoughts weren’t supporting what I knew to be true. I had hoped a day with close friends would take my mind off of it for a while but, as He often does, God had other ideas.

For the next two hours the Lord proceeded to show me exactly how much my “performance” was worth to Him. To say my bowling skills were pathetic would be extremely generous. I am not sure I even broke 100. Every time I stepped up to the line, it seemed my attempt was worse than the frame before. It didn’t matter what I tried, lighter ball, heavier ball, slow release, fast release, flip the wrist, don’t flip the wrist, spin the ball, don’t spin the ball… nothing I did seemed to work. It was utterly humiliating.

Although I don’t think she would ever admit it, I believe my dear, sweet friend was purposely throwing gutter balls just to make me feel better. She is not competitive and she knows I am. She’d sacrifice a good score just to make me feel better. That’s just her heart for me. But even in her gracious attempts she still outscored me by a significant margin.

But the most powerful thing that happened to me that day was not the humiliation of a horrible bowling experience or even the love of my dear friend. The most powerful experience came from her dad, David.

Although his whole family was there – his wife, his daughters, his grandkids, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephews – he was focused on me. He just wanted to talk to me, spend time with me. He wanted to hear my opinions about things. He didn’t talk to me about bowling. He didn’t try to correct my form. He just wanted to know me better. He didn’t care what the score was. He’d just be waiting for me after each attempt I made so that we could pick up our conversation where we left off. And, when the game was over he wanted to make plans for the next time we would be together.

The ride home for me that day was a tearful one. I was raw. I felt totally exposed. My “performance” was out there for the world to see and it was awful. But the tears weren’t because I bowled a terrible game – although that didn’t help. The tears were coming from the vulnerability of having my “performance defense” ripped away from me in such a tangible way. I was not only face-to-face with the truth of being a horrible bowler, I was also face-to-face with an overwhelming sense of love and acceptance. I had a choice to make. I could either continue to cling to the lie I was believing or relish in the love that was being extended to me.

Amidst the tears and confusion as I drove home, I sensed the Lord’s presence. He knew my choice. He was the One who put it in front of me. Still following my old pattern of behavior I said to the Lord, “David was so nice to me.” I heard God ask me, “Why wouldn’t he be?” I answered through my tears, “Because I’m a terrible bowler!” I’m almost sure I heard a sympathetic chuckle from the Lord as I felt His embrace. Had the feelings not been so deep I would have joined Him in that chuckle. I knew it was ridiculous as soon as I said it but it didn’t change the fact that that is exactly what I believed. The choice was an obvious one. I chose to let go of the gutter ball performance and cling to the love.

What David showed me that day was a beautiful and powerful example of God’s love. It is NEVER about our performance. It is always about His love for us. He already knows us. No one knows us better. He created us. He wants to show us how well He knows us and that comes through spending time with Him. His desire is not only to spend time with us but for us to desire to spend time with Him and grow closer and deeper in our relationship. It’s all about that relationship. We as believers get so focused on what we “do” for Him. But that is not what deepens our relationship WITH Him. That is not where our love and acceptance is found. The love and acceptance come first. It always has! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It has NEVER been about our performance. Our performance could never merit the kind of love He has for us.

It is only from the depths of our relationship with Him that the gifts He has given us flow freely into the world and what we “do” for Him becomes visible for others to see. What we “do” isn’t for Him to see and notice us. It’s for others to see and notice HIM. Our focus should always be Him and our relationship with Him. It should never be about the works. They should flow from the relationship and what He does with them in the lives of others is between Him and them.

Lord, thank you for loving and accepting terrible bowlers like me. Thank you for your love and acceptance before I ever did one thing for you. Help me to focus my time, energy and love on my relationship with You. May the gifts you have given me flow freely into the lives of others to point them to You. But, may my focus never leave You and may I always desire to spend time with you. Thank you for giving us people in our lives to show us Your great love for us. Thank you for David. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

THIS is Love!

 

With the events of this past week still fresh in our minds I want to comment and reflect on the nobel profession for which I have been privileged to be a part of for more than 20 years – law enforcement.  While I am not a sworn officer, I have spent my career surrounded by some of the finest men and women on the face of the planet who have sworn to protect the people they serve.  Men and women who train to love. Yes, you read it correctly – they train to love you.

What you witnessed last week as you watched the news footage from San Bernardino was the most unadulterated expression of love you will find in human beings.   It is love that says, “I will not just stand between good and evil, I will run after evil until it is stopped.”   It is love that says, “I will do this not just for the ones I love but I will do it for everyone.”  And it is love that says, as the Deputy from San Bernardino put so eloquently, “I will take a bullet before you do – that’s for damn sure.”

Aside from the men and women in our military I do not believe there is another profession that is more Christ-like than law enforcement.  The Bible talks a lot about love.  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:13)  It also says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  God’s love is sacrificial and it doesn’t come as response to what we have done.  In fact, it comes in spite of what we have done.  We don’t deserve it.  It is powerful.  It is unadulterated.  It cannot be stopped.

The men and women of law enforcement in your community have been chosen by God to represent Him and His love for you.  Whether they believe in God or not is inconsequential.  They have been chosen by Him to enact His love on this earth in the same way that His own Son enacted His love… through the potential of sacrificing their own lives for the sake of yours.  Very few of the rest of us will ever have the privilege of delivering God’s love in that way.

Unlike God’s Son however, these officers are not perfect.  Their lives do not bring salvation as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection does.  They, like you, make mistakes – sometimes very serious mistakes because of the power they have been given.  But I guarantee you with very, very little exception, what motivates our officers to do their job every day is love.  Some of them may be too tough to admit that, but I don’t know how else to define what they do for you every day.  Whether they are writing a ticket to hold you accountable for actions that may get you or someone else hurt, or running into a gun battle to save lives it is a heart filled with love that drives them.  Their day is spent looking for evil and trying to defeat it.  And when they are not looking for it they are training to be better at defeating it.  Every second of their work day (and much of their off-duty time)  is spent training to love you better and keep you and your family safe.

These past couple of years have been tumultuous for the law enforcement community.  Regardless of your feelings about cops or any injustices you may have personally experienced at the hands of law enforcement, I can only say that they will continue to love you.  They will defend the law that gives you the right to speak out against them.  They will even put themselves on the front line and take rocks and bottles from you.  They will continue to arrest bad guys even when voters have taken the teeth out of the laws that keep the law-breakers behind bars.  They will continue to respond to your calls whether you love them or hate them.  Because it’s all about love.  And we will keep loving you because that is what we have been called to do.

God’s love is as relentless as the long arm of the law.  It is unshaken by our temper tantrums, our misdeeds and our out-right rejection of it.  His love is relentless.  His sent His Son to die for us while we were still His enemy.  I pray that you accept His love.  If you don’t know Him personally, He knows you, He loves you and He wants a relationship with you.

I also pray that you will come to understand that the officers that work in your community love you.  They show it to you every day in ways that you are not even aware of.  They are willing to give their life in order to save yours.  They do it every day.  They do it day and night.  And they do it for you.  THIS is love.