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. 

 

Four Simple Words

Dr. MouwI anxiously waited for my name to be called.  I stood in line behind the other graduates hoping I wouldn’t trip as I crossed the stage.  I saw several of my fellow seminarians stop to shake his hand.  I wondered if they knew him well; if he knew them by name.  If they could do it, why couldn’t I?  At last it was my turn.  He called my name and I stuck my hand out well in advance of reaching him.  He turned, returned my handshake and I continued across the stage to receive my diploma.

“He” was Dr. Richard Mouw, the president of my seminary.  He didn’t know me but I had been one of the 100+ students in his Philosophy class a year earlier.  He had made such an impression on me in that class I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shake his hand on my graduation day.

Our philosophy class had been interrupted one day by a member of the office staff approaching him in the large lecture hall.  He read the piece of paper she handed him aloud to the class.  It was notification for one of our fellow students to call his son’s school.  It was an emergency.  (Yes, this was before the days of everyone carrying a cell phone.)  The student got up from his chair, left his belongings and followed the staff member out of the hall.  Dr. Mouw continued with his lecture.

Several moments went by before the gentleman returned.  He tried to return to his seat inconspicuously, quietly but quickly gathering all of his belongings. Several of us noticed him, including Dr. Mouw.  He stopped his lecture, called the student by name and said, “Is everything okay?”  The student reported his son had been in science class and during one of the experiments something had broken and struck his son in the eye.  He was on his way to the hospital.  Dr. Mouw asked the man his son’s name and said, “We’re going to pray right now for Johnny.  You go ahead.  We’re not going to keep you, but just know we’re praying.”  The student finished gathering his things and Dr. Mouw led all of us in a prayer for Johnny.

That same week I was in another class in that same lecture hall.  One of my fellow students who had Cerebral Palsy was walking too quickly down the ramp toward the front of the class and lost his balance.  Everyone gasped and although the professor saw it he kept on with his lecture.  Once he realized he had lost the class’ attention he stopped and said, “He’s okay.”  (Without asking the student if he was.)  It was such a sharp contrast from the experience with Dr. Mouw just a day or two earlier.

Not only was Dr. Mouw and amazing professor and leader of our seminary, he was an amazing man of God – walking the walk of a true believer.  On the day of graduation he made himself available for graduates to have their picture taken with him.  It was a hectic day.  My family was there and the church campus was packed with people.  (It had been the largest graduating class to date for the seminary.)  I knew my family members were eager to get home but I just had to see if I could get a picture with this man.  My mom was brave enough to navigate the crowd with me searching for him.  Finally we found him.

I knew he didn’t know my name.  Perhaps he remembered I was one of the many who shook his hand as I crossed the stage.  I sheepishly asked for a picture which he granted.  I thanked him, shook his hand again and turned to walk away.  But he pulled me back.  With my hand still in his, he gently pulled me so I was facing him again.  He paused until my eyes were squarely on his.  He smiled at me and slowly said four simple words… “Enjoy your day, today.”

There was something about that moment.  All the noise around me was shut out.  The worries of the day were gone.  I was stopped dead in my tracks and the love of God washed over me like a rogue wave.  I smiled back at him and swallowed hard before finally turning to leave.

That was fourteen years ago and the emotion is still there.  I remember telling someone about it right after it happened and crying as I did.  She said to me, “He blessed you!”  She was right.  That’s what it was.  It wasn’t the words he said it was how he delivered them… the same way he lived his life – with meaning, and passion, and with God’s amazing love.  I was blessed by him.  In the flutter and flurry of an exciting but nerve-wracking day he quieted me for just a few seconds, zeroed in on my heart, and blessed me with four simple words.

In this graduation season, my prayer is that the graduates in your life get to experience what I did that day – the powerful love of God blessing them.  You can be the glove that delivers that message.  It comes from walking with Him every day and exemplifying Him in that walk.  And it comes when we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit to speak love and life into someone when they least expect it, when they need it most, or when they just need to be stopped in their tracks and reminded that they are loved by God.  God will show you.  He will give you the words and the opportunity.  Just make yourself available to Him.  He may change someone’s life through the touch of your hand or four simple words that you speak.

Lord, thank you for Dr. Mouw and the blessing he was in my life.  Thank you for his example.  Thank you that you want to use us to touch others on your behalf.  Make us ready.  Open our hearts to hear your promptings and to respond to them obediently.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

The Power of Godly Men

I would guess she was about 9 years old.  A sweet young girl… adorable… determined.  She was sitting with her Aunt it appeared – a close female relative but not her Mama.  It was a point in our church service where several people moved to their designated places throughout the sanctuary to pray with those who requested it.  I saw a young man and woman in their early 20’s move to the aisle nearest me holding their “Can we pray for you?” paper sign.  Then I saw the little girl get up from her chair.  She made her way to the aisle barely waiting for her Aunt to join her.  She headed straight for the couple – more specifically, the male half of that couple.  I’m not sure she even noticed his beautiful wife next to him who bent down slightly to greet her.  Her eyes were on the handsome young man and instantly she began to pour out her heart.  Within seconds she was in tears as she spoke to him.  He awkwardly glanced at his wife then quickly returned the gaze of this hurting young girl.  His posture went from bending down slightly, to crouching, to kneeling, and at last to taking this young girl into his arms to hold her and pray over her.  His wife and the Aunt were now both in tears, their hands on each others’ shoulders joining him in his prayer for this sweet, tender-hearted girl.

I did not know any of the four people I have described. I don’t know what was troubling the little girl or what her prayer request was.  I don’t know where her parents were or what brought her to church that day.  What I do know was this young man became Jesus for that little girl in those few brief moments.  To be honest, he became Jesus to me to as I witnessed what was happening.

What incredible power this young man had in that moment.  Not power that he possessed, power that was delivered through his body and his words.  It was clear from wauching him that he for a moment felt ill equipped.  The look shot at his wife was a priceless, “What do I do here?” look of panic.  But God used him.  God filled him with instant assurance and allowed him to respond just as He would of… by getting on her level, looking into her eyes, holding her gently in his strong arms, and speaking words of love, care, and peace over her.  It was beautiful.

Witnessing this permanently changed my view of men.  Don’t get me wrong, I have never been anti-man by any means! 🙂  But I don’t think I ever realized the unique power that men have to show the true love of Jesus to the people in this world.  Whether that be to their spouse, their children, their co-workers, their neighbors… or like this young man, a little girl he never met before, they have the power to reflect the true love of Christ like no one else can!  What a tremendous privilege, blessing and mantle to bear.

That privilege is not just for Godly men, of course, it is the responsibility of all of us.  But for my readers who happen to be male, please don’t forget what a powerful gift you have to share.  Be the example in your family and to all of us of showing the love of Jesus to all those around you.  You do make a difference – not only to those you touch, but to those who watch you touch the lives of those around you.  We need you to lead the way.  We’re watching.  Your influence is powerful.

Lord, help all of us to realize that you want to show the world your love through us.  Help us never to take that for granted.  Help us to never assume someone else will do it.  Help us never to disqualify ourselves because we feel ill equipped.  You will provide.  And it is your desire for us to be your “glove” in the world.  Thank you, God, for wanting to use us as you touch the lives of those around us.  What a blessing and a gift that mantle is!  In Jesus’ precious name, amen.