“I am a fan of your future.”

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with some teachers and coaches from my high school years.  These reunions were so special.  These five men and women played a huge role in shaping me and making me the woman I am today.  Each of them not only shared their talents and abilities with their students, they shared themselves.  They cared about us and invested themselves in us.  Although more than 30 years had passed since I had seen most of them, the connection that we shared hadn’t changed.   I was again inspired just by being with them.

Throughout my lifetime, God has blessed me with some of His best people to guide, mentor and coach me.  I am so grateful for each and every one of them.  While I just had the opportunity to spend time with five of them, there have been many, many others.  (You all know who you are.)  And I am so thankful that God continues to put mentors in my life.  Each one of them is a precious gift to me.

If any of you are a Pixar fan like I am, perhaps you saw “Cars 3,” which came out last year.  I went to see it simply because I was a fan of the first two installments of the series, but I was pleasantly surprised, as the movie unfolded, that it’s theme was about the power of mentoring.

God always finds interesting ways of speaking to me and one of His ways is through movies.  Cars 3 was no exception.  He showed me things through that movie that reminded me of the powerful gift that mentoring is.  Here are just a few highlights of what He showed me.

Good mentors believe in you.lightning drives into racing center

When Lightning McQueen is faced with the reality that his racing abilities can’t compete with younger, faster race cars he has a choice to make.  He can either give up racing or change the way he trains.  He decides to stay in the game and seek out a new way to become a better racer.  His sponsors recognize that they do not have the ability to take him to the next level, so they sell their company, Rust-eze, to someone who has greater resources and can make Lightning a faster race car.  When Lightning arrives at his new training center, the foyer of this state-of-the-art facility is essentially a museum dedicated to his career.  His number, 95, stands two stories high at the entrance.  He is awestruck.

As I watched this scene unfold the words that ran through my mind were, “They believe in him!”  Imagine feeling like you were washed up, a loser, barely hanging on to the only thing you know how to do and arriving at a place of last resort – a place where you would either make it or break it.  The last thing you would expect would be a foyer set up as a shrine in your honor.

Lightning McQueen, after seeing this vast display of memorabilia from his career says, “Wow.  You really are a fan.”  To which his new sponsor replies, “I am a fan of your future.”

That is what mentors are.  They don’t see our failures, they see our future.  They believe in us in spite of what our “stats” look like and in spite of our “win/lose” column.  They see us.  They see us for who we are and who we can become.  They see our potential.  They see in us what we cannot see in ourselves.  That has definitely been my experience.    And no gift can be greater than someone believing in you.

SIDE NOTE AND SPOILER ALERT:  Lightning’s new sponsor turns out to be somewhat of a villain in the story and not a mentor to him at all.  But more on true mentorship in a moment.  Read on.

Good mentors have good mentors. smokey's garage cars 3

Lightning McQueen’s mentor, Doc Hudson (The Fabulous Hudson Hornet) passed away years earlier.  But, we learn in Cars 3, that Doc Hudson himself had a mentor named, Smokey.  As Lightning longs for direction and guidance he turns to the only one who might be able to guide him like his mentor would.  He ventures out and ultimately finds his mentor’s mentor, Smokey.

I can only assume that the mentors in my life had significant people in their lives who mentored them along the way.  Their willingness to give of themselves is evidence to me that they have received from the generous love and outpouring of others.

As God gives me the opportunity to mentor others I do so with passion.  I want to give to others what I have been given.  I want to do my mentors proud by giving others what I have received.

The mentoring relationship is unique in that it’s not designed to be reciprocal.  It’s designed to be perpetual.  My mentors don’t want to receive from me what they have given me, just as I don’t want to receive from those I mentor.  But what I do hope for my mentees, is that they get the opportunity to pour into another’s life.  Because as great as it is to receive, it is even greater to give back.

Which brings me to my favorite scene in Cars 3.

There is great value for both mentor and mentee in a mentoring relationship.

In my favorite scene, Lightning talks to Smokey about how bitter his mentor, Doc Hudson, seemed to be after his racing days were over.  Lightning’s impression of Doc was that because Doc was no longer able to race he was never really happy again.  Then Smokey takes Lightning to his garage.  On the way, he too admits that Doc was bitter after being forced to give up racing.  He shares that the two of them hadn’t been in touch for many years.  But then, something changed in Doc’s life.  Smokey started getting letters from Doc and the two reconnected.  As Smokey opens the door to his garage, Lightning sees the letters that Doc shared with Smokey posted on the wall.  Every one of them was a newspaper clipping or a photo of Lightning.  Then Smokey says to Lightning,

“Racing wasn’t the best part of Doc’s life, you were.”

Feel the power in that statement.  A mentee struggling to compete, doing everything he can to stay in the game, hoping beyond hope that he can still somehow make his mentor proud, and then he hears those words.  He was the best part of his mentor’s life.

There is great value in the mentoring relationship for both mentor and mentee.  Mentoring may not be reciprocal in the sense that we receive exactly what we give out. But, mentors do receive!  This is a perfect example of that.

When we’re young it seems that life is all about winning and losing.  It’s about our “stats” and what we accomplish. But what we get from our mentors, from those who believe in us and who we are as people, is the understanding that life is not about our performance or our abilities, our successes or our failures. It’s about our connection to others.  It’s about the value we have and can give to others, about how we can invest in them, believe in them, and remind them of their own value and worth.  Doc’s ability to give of himself to Lightning changed his bitter feelings about his own career and focused his life and his heart on what was important, his relationship with Lightning.

This is what we pass along to those we mentor:   That our true value is in who we are and our goal is to use that value to help others find theirs.

clippings doc hudson

One of the things I love about this scene, is it’s contrast to the moment when Lightning enters his sponsor’s training facility. Both moments are awe inspiring for Lightning. Both of them show Lightning his value and importance. But only one is truly genuine, deep, and based on a personal investment rather than a monetary one. Doc was so proud of being connected to Lightning that he couldn’t help but share it with the one who had poured so much into him. And Smokey was so proud of being connected to Doc, he couldn’t help but honor the relationship he got to see between Doc and Lightning by posting those clippings and articles in a place he would see them every day. The glitzy, jaw-droppingly beautiful museum in the foyer of the training facility was no comparison to sacrificial, uncompromising, unconditional love that was displayed in newspaper clippings and faded photographs in that old garage.

The best part of my life is not about what I have accomplished or not accomplished. The best part of my life are the people God has connected me to. He has connected me to others through my successes and through my failures. Those are the means through which He has made some of the most important connections in my life possible. And as I get older, I see more and more of the value I possess – not for myself, but to invest in the lives of others. I want others to know their value so they too may pass it on to others.

I am eternally grateful for the mentors in my life, the five people in the pictures above and the countless others who have poured into me.  Thank you.  You believed in me.  You saw and still see in me what I cannot see in myself.  You have given of yourselves and invested in me time, love, and attention so that I will be a better me.  Your gifts to me are priceless and I in turn am investing what I have into others so that your legacy lives on.  Thank you.  May God bless you as He has blessed me through you.

Lord, thank you for wiring all of us for connection.  Thank you for showing us the value of mentoring through the life and ministry of Your Son and through the gift of Your Spirit that lives in us and connects us as followers of You.  Father, you specifically chose people to serve as mentors to me.  Thank you for knowing who would be the perfect fit.  Bless them as you have blessed me through them.  And thank you for the opportunities you give me to mentor others.  May I be as faithful as those who have poured into me and may You be glorified through every relationship.  In Jesus’ most precious name, amen.

The Stumbling Block

 

abstract architecture background brick

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

I recently heard a talk radio personality talking about his love for the word “earn.”  It is one of his favorite words in the English language.  He didn’t go into great detail about it, but the strength of his conviction was evident by his impassioned tone.  I believe many people in America share his love for that word.  We are a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of nation.  We root for the underdog, wanting them to succeed through hard work and perseverance.  And while we value our children’s self-esteem, we are not really an “everyone gets a trophy” kind of country.  We want rewards and accomplishments to have value, to really mean something because we worked hard for them.

I share a lot of the same opinions and convictions with this radio personality but I don’t share his affinity for the word “earn.”  In fact, when he made that comment I was reminded of how much I dislike the word, “deserve.”  The words are similar.  According to Miriam Webster, the first definition for the word earn is: “to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.”  And the second definition is nearly identical to the definition for the word deserve: “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward.”  So, although this radio personality and myself both seem to have visceral reactions to these very similar words our reactions are in opposite directions.  Why is that?

I can only speak for myself but my dislike for the word “deserve” comes from my faith.  At the very core of Christianity is the concept of grace.  It is the exact opposite of earn or deserve.  My faith teaches me that I can do nothing to be saved.  All of my good works add up to, as one prophet puts it, “filthy rags.”  (Isaiah 64:6)  I cannot earn God’s favor.  I do not deserve heaven.  But, I have both because of the grace given to me as a gift by Jesus Christ.  He is the reason God sees me as one of His children.  He is the reason I will spend eternity in heaven.  It was what He did as God’s Son that makes me worthy to receive.  So, even when I hear the word attributed to things like a vacation, retirement, or splurging on an unusual purchase, I cringe.  Nothing I have is “deserved.”  God has and continues to be gracious to me.

This concept of grace does not fit with the flag-waving, red-white-and-blue, American pride I described above.  In fact, the two are quite a contrast.  As far as sin is concerned, we do not have the ability to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and save ourselves.  We are completely unable to cleanse ourselves of our own sin thereby bridging the gap between ourselves and our perfect Creator.  If that were possible there would be no need for a Savior.

In this context, even our love for the proverbial David vs. Goliath underdog is often misplaced.  David only defeated Goliath because the Lord delivered him into his hands.  He said so himself.  “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.’ ”  1 Samuel 17:45-46  The “David’s” of the world are not to be the object of our worship and admiration, only God who was the true source of David’s victory.

And, as Christians, we believe that Christ died for all.  His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, is for all who believe in Him.  That means that everyone IS eligible for that trophy regardless of, and often in spite of, their performance in this world.  Unlike us however, God does not award us this “trophy” of salvation to build up our self esteem.  HE is our esteem.  He is the very reason we came into being.  We reflect Him in our uniqueness.  It is in His image that we are created… not the other way around.  It is not about us.  Our “trophy” is a renewed and repaired relationship with the One who created us and it is absolutely undeserved.

These truths of our faith go against what has been ingrained in us as Americans.  This post is not meant to be a criticism of our great American pride or our nation as a whole.  Not at all!  It is instead a reminder that we as believers cannot trip over this common stumbling block.

Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “What then will we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not? Because their pursuit was not by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written:  ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ ” (Romans 9:30-33, emphasis mine)  Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16).

God knew that what He chose to do for us to reconcile man back to Himself, would be a stumbling block for us.  He knew our pride.  He knew it long before America existed.  He knew it long before Christianity existed.  He spoke about it through His prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C.  What He asks of us, is to lay aside our desire to earn our way to heaven.  It can’t be done anyway!  He’s asking us to stop working as if it’s even possible.

He is also asking us to recognize and acknowledge that our salvation comes from only one source, His Son, Jesus.  This too is a stumbling block for many.  Not only can we not earn our salvation, we must acknowledge that salvation can only come through Jesus.  Grace does not come through all religions.  All religions do not lead to salvation.  Jesus alone sacrificed His life, paying the price for our sin so that we could have eternal life.  He is the stumbling block in our politically correct world.  But this is not new.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter to them he said:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’  Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

As believers it’s important that we stay alert and don’t trip over Jesus as so many in this world do.  Our faith requires us to lay down our pride and acknowledge that only by God’s grace through His Son are we saved.  This is utter foolishness to the world.  It always has been.  But to us who know God personally, it is the power and wisdom (and grace) of God.  We have to be willing to “look foolish” to the world.  We have to be willing to lay aside our desire to “earn” our way.  And we have to acknowledge that nothing we have done “deserves” the salvation we receive by faith in God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus.

Lord, make your church willing to look foolish to the world.  Thank you for the precious gift of your Son to save us from the sin that keeps us from your perfect presence.  Thank you for the fact that we cannot earn it.  Give us the humility to simply receive your grace.  May we be a witness to those who are stumbling over You.  May they see Your light in us.  Use us so that they may know with assurance that they too can have the free gift You are offering.  We love you, Lord.  In your Son’s most precious name, amen.

 

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.  

Rocks in the Sprinkler Head

sprinkerThese past several months it seems most of my spare time has been spent staring at my back yard.  You’ve heard the expression “it’s like watching grass grow?”  That’s what I’ve been doing.  For the record, it’s just about as exciting as watching paint dry.  My brother and I tore up the yard and put down seed over Memorial Day weekend.  There’s been a lot of progress but it’s not there just yet.  I am always wondering if it’s getting enough water, or too much; if I put down enough seed or need to buy more fertilizer.  I’ve become somewhat adept in adjusting sprinkler heads… well, more accurately, let’s just say I’ve taken several unexpected showers… in the yard… with all my clothes on.

It was during one of the many sprinkler checks recently that I discovered a problem.  One of the sprinklers in the corner of the lawn was popping up just fine but no water was coming out.  I tried opening the head to increase the amount of spray… nothing.  I removed the sprinkler head and examined it.  As far as I could tell it looked fine.  I ran the system without the head in place just to make sure there wasn’t a problem with the line.  DRENCHED!  Nope, the line was okay.  It was definitely the sprinkler head.  After several tries I finally recognized the problem.  There were two tiny stones that had gotten lodged inside the sprinkler head at some point and were blocking the water from escaping.  The pressure was there to make the head pop up in the yard like it should, but the stones prevented the water from escaping.

What on earth could this have to do with being “God’s glove” in the world you ask?  Well, stay with me.

I visited another church today.  It was a small church but it was crowded.  Worship was great and the congregation was friendly.  They were involved in their community and certainly had an evident love for the Lord.  As the pastor began to speak I was engaged.  He was in the Word and showing us its truths.  His presentation of the Word made me thirsty for more.  Then suddenly… a rock in the sprinkler head.

We went from hearing the Word of God and discovering its application to our life to listening to jokes and stories.  It was such a sudden shift.  As one story turned into another and the pastor’s gestures grew more animated and his voice got louder I actually felt my spirit grieve.  We had it.  We were there.  It was the exciting conclusion of the last chapter of Acts but suddenly… nothing.  The Word was blocked.  There was a rock in the sprinkler!

Now, I want to stop here before I go further.  Being a shepherd of a church is a calling from God and this man has been chosen as such.  He is doing the will of the Lord and I want to be careful that my words do not criticize him as one of God’s anointed shepherds.  I am also certainly not opposed to clever stories or illustrations that help us understand the Word better.  (Please note every blog entry I’ve ever written!)  But the shift I witnessed this morning was distinct.  It was different than just an illustration or a funny story.  It shut the Word of God off.  Our focus was taken from God and turned towards one man… one man that stood out in front of a thirsty crowd.  Our focus was taken from the life-giving water to the sprinkler head that delivers it.

Perhaps it was just easier for me to see because I was an outsider.  The congregation seemed to love it. It was no doubt how they got to connect with their pastor.  I don’t blame him for wanting to engage them personally. I don’t blame them for wanting to see his personal side.  They enjoyed the detour and it certainly appeared that he did too.

But, I challenge all of us as members of “the royal priesthood,” there IS no story greater than God’s!  If we have the opportunity to share the precious truths of God’s Word let’s commit to each other that we will get out of the way and let His Spirit flow.  Let the living water of God reach the people He is aiming at and let’s not allow rocks to get in the way so that all they see is us.  It’s not about us.  It’s only about Him.

To this pastor’s credit he did return to the Word after several detours and he did present a gospel message.  Praise God!

I recently heard a presentation by Bible teacher, Priscilla Shirer on the “Stewardship of God’s Presence.”  She quoted from John 1:36-37 where John the Baptist says to his disciples as Jesus walks by, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  As soon as John’s disciples heard what John said, the Bible says, “They followed Jesus.”  John pointed to Jesus and said, There He is, boys. And he got out of their way so they could follow Him.  What Priscilla said in her presentation very simply but very boldly… “THAT’S ministry!”  Pointing people to Jesus and then staying out of their way (and His) so that they can follow Him!

Lord, I thank you for the church I was at this morning.  I thank you for that servant of yours and I lift up him and his congregation.  May your Word always be taught there and may more and more come to know you through the preaching and speaking of your Word in that place.  May all of us Father, be conduits of your Word, that your Spirit would flow through us freely.  Help us to always be open to you and to not let the focus turn to us.  Thank you for the power of your love and of your truth.  In Jesus’ name, amen.