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.  

For Such a Time As This

playSeveral years ago while I was a member of a service club I had the opportunity to be in their annual play which we did as a fundraiser for the local theater.  It was a first for me.  I had always wanted to be on stage but never had the courage.  I can’t say I had much more courage as an adult but I managed to show up at try outs and if you showed up you got a part.

It was a small part and I was grateful for that.  I knew the other actors fairly well and it was nice to be a part of a team. After four months of preparation our performance weekend finally came.  We did five shows in 4 days.  It was good.  For the most part we remembered our lines and the audience seemed to laugh in all the right places.  All the preparation had paid off.  It was fun and exhausting.

I share that with you only because the Lord brought it to my mind this past week.  I’ve been given some new responsibilities recently and the list seems to be growing.  Most of it is at work, but there are new responsibilities in other areas of my life as well.  With each new thing I felt the weight of the burden I was carrying increase.  Like the proverbial frog in a slow boiling pot I seemed to get used to the burden, not noticing it much until I found getting out of bed in the morning was becoming a real chore.  I know that sounds a little like depression but having been through that I can honestly say that wasn’t the case.   I just felt paralyzed by my circumstances.  I felt like the burden around me was just too heavy.

Then I remembered the play.  The Lord reminded me, I had one role.  My words had been scripted.  The scenes had been written.  My marks had been placed on the stage for me to hit.  I had rehearsals to be at and performances to give.  I was a part of a team that was telling a story and I had a unique purpose in the story we were telling.

I want to be clear that I believe in free choice.  I don’t believe God hands us a script on the day we’re born, taps us on the behind and says, “Break a leg, kid!” as He plunges us onto the world’s stage.  We have choices to make every day and we are free to make those choices, good or bad.  And yet, there is some kind of beautiful and delicate dance we do with the Lord throughout our lifetime, discovering His will for our lives and seeking ways in which we can walk in that will.  It may not be as cut and dried as a scripted play in our experience, but somehow it is in His.  He knows every choice we make before we make it.  He knows every word out of our mouths before we speak it.  He knows our struggles, our pains; what is difficult for us to do and what comes easy.  He knows every scene, every plot twist, every ad-lib, and the final act.  He knows it all!  And He’s placed us specifically on a “stage” with other “actors” where we can use our gifts to glorify Him and bring His love to others.  He doesn’t hand us script, but He promises us a role in His Greatest Story ever told.

It’s like the book of Esther.  The story is too much to write in a blog post but GO READ IT!  It is an amazing story and it reads just like a play.  But did you know that it is the only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned?  God is not one of the vivid characters IN the story, but He is very clearly behind every scene directing every action.

SPOILER ALERT: Ultimately Queen Esther is the one given the responsibility to save the entire Jewish race from annihilation but she must risk her life in order to do it.  Her wise uncle Mordecai says to her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)  What Mordecai is saying is, “Esther, here is your role.  If you don’t take it God will provide someone else to save His people.  But, THIS, this may be why you have been given this role – for such a time as this – to save your people.”

With each new responsibility I’ve been given lately I lost sight of the bigger picture.  I have known with each added responsibility that God was behind it.  If I doubted that perhaps I would need to reevaluate my workload but that is not the case.  I know God has orchestrated what He has in my life.  What I forgot, was that He was in charge, directing every scene.  I had just one role to play.

In addition to remembering my experience with the play, the words of Mordecai echoed in my mind this week.  I could chose to walk away from it all and God will raise up someone else to accomplish what He wants to accomplish.  Or, I can believe that for such a time as this I’ve been called to have a few more responsibilities for a purpose I may not know yet, but one that will bring Him glory and show others His love.

This reminder really changed my outlook and I am so grateful.  The responsibilities that felt like a burden too heavy to bear have suddenly turned into a lightweight covering floating over me shielding me from the elements of my circumstances.  I am making a conscious choice to walk under that covering knowing that my role has a purpose in the story He is telling.  I may not know with clarity yet what that is, but someday I will.  For now I am content to accept the one role He has given me.

Lord, thank you for having a plan and a purpose for each of our lives.  Thank you for placing us on the “stage” that you have for such a time as this.  Help us to walk in that role you have designed, looking to you, our Director, for grace, wisdom, and assurance.  May we always bring you glory and show others your great love for them.  In Jesus’ name, amen

“Go Back” or “Follow Me” – Which Do You Choose?

CHILD-BEAUTY_141615245694I don’t watch the show but it happened to come on after another program I do watch.  I’ll be honest, it was sort of like watching a train wreck.  As horrified as I was I just couldn’t seem to make myself turn the channel.  It was the reality show about young children who compete in beauty pageants.  Not usually my kind of TV show, but on this day I sat and watched the whole hour.  Here’s what had me hooked…  In this particular episode (not pictured), they introduced a young woman, I believe she was in her early 20’s.  She was initially introduced as one of the coaches or advisers for one of the young contestants.  They showed her giving instructions to the little girl on how to walk and how to perform.  However it wasn’t long into the episode that they revealed that this coach was also a competitor.  This particular contest was very unusual in that it had no upper age limit.  So, having grown up in the child pageant world, this young woman entered as a contestant as well as a coach.

At one point they interviewed this young woman’s mother.  She said something to the effect of, “I had hoped by this point in her life we would be looking at entering her children into these contests, not her.  But, oh well… this is where we’re at.”  (The young woman was not married and did not have any children.)

The show ends with the suspenseful crowning of the winners in multiple categories. And who is crowned “Best Overall?”  …of course it was this young woman.  She was the only competitor over the age of 12 and yet she proudly stood up on the stage to receive her crown.  Next to her stood all the runners up.  She towered over all of them by more than a foot.  It was so sad, such a pathetic sight.  This woman’s potential was far beyond a children’s beauty pageant but she didn’t see it.  She went back to what she knew, what was comfortable to her.  I can only assume she was afraid to step out into the life and purpose that God had for her to live.  I was embarrassed for her to be so proud to receive that crown.  It was worthless and meaningless compared to what she had to gain by stepping out into her life.

I recently read John 21.  In that chapter we see someone else who went back to what he knew, to the life that was comfortable, not seeing his full potential.  That someone is Peter.  Yes, the same Peter who walked on water.  The same Peter who confessed that Jesus was Lord and Savior before any of his fellow disciples had the courage to do so.  The same Peter that said he would never leave Jesus’ side – he would always defend him.  Enter, Peter’s failure.  It was right after that bold statement of Peter that he was put to the test and he failed.  He denied ever knowing Jesus!  And he was heartbroken.  He had blown it – big time.

It’s in John 21 where we see the impact that Peter’s failure had on him.  He’s back in the fishing boat.  He’s not spreading the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  He’s not telling about all the miracles he witnessed.  He went back to what he knew.  He went back to his old life as a fisherman.  I can only imagine the heartbreak and turmoil swirling in his soul that caused him to go back to that life.  Surely he must have thought there would be no use for him in God’s kingdom.

While he’s in that boat, no doubt drowning in his sea of self-deprecation, failure, and woe Someone calls to him from the shore, “Have you caught any fish?”  Peter has to admit that even at fishing he’s a failure!  “No,” he replies.  Then the One on the shore says, “Put your nets on the other side of the boat.”  As Peter and his fellow fisherman do so, their nets become full of fish.  John then turns to Peter and says, “That’s the Lord!”  Peter wastes no time with the fish.  He jumps in the water and swims to shore to be with his Savior.

Once on the shore, Jesus has an amazing interchange with Peter.  Three times He asks him, “Do you love me?”  Three times… the same amount of times that Peter had denied Him.  He graciously gave Peter the opportunity to be restored.  He knew Peter’s sin, but He also knew Peter’s heart.  And with each answer that Peter gave, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Jesus commissioned him to be the rock upon which His church would be built.  He did not have to go back to fishing.  He had a purpose.  He had a role in the kingdom of God.  All he had to do was follow Jesus.

It’s the end of this chapter that I love the most.  After Jesus’ declaration of Peter’s purpose, Peter turns and sees John walking behind them.  He asks Jesus, “What about him?”  Jesus basically tells Peter, it’s none of your business what I do with John, we’re talking about you right now.  I used to think that this was an indication of Peter’s competitiveness.  That he was wanting to know what Jesus was going to call John to do in comparison with what He had called Peter to do.  But recently I had another take.  John was known as “the disciple Jesus loved most.”  Granted, John gave himself that title throughout his book, but scholars agree he was very close to Jesus.  He was the one reclining with him, leaning up against his chest on the night of the last supper.  They were close.  I now wonder if Peter was asking about John because he know how much the Lord loved John.  In other words, was Peter asking, “Are you sure you want me to do this?  I know how much you love him and he didn’t screw up?”  Either way Jesus’ response to Peter was – “Follow Me.”

I guess I’ll have to ask Peter in heaven what he meant with his question to Jesus.  But in the meantime I identify so much with his failure and with his turmoil.  I understand his desire to want to go back to fishing.  I get what that must have felt like to think, “I’m out.  He’s going to use someone else.”  BUT…once we know that we are called by God for a definite purpose – even if we don’t know exactly what it is yet – we cannot go back.  We cannot stand on a stage amongst children proudly accepting our worthless crown when our Savior is beckoning us to “Follow HIM!”  We can’t go back to our former lives as fisherman barely eking out an existence when the God of the universe is calling us to join with Him in the furtherance of His kingdom.

Lord, forgive me for the times I have gotten caught up in my own failures.  Give me the courage to take the steps I need to take to follow you rather than going back to what is comfortable for me or what may feel safe to me.  You are my comfort.  You are my safety.  I want what you want for me, Lord.  Give me the courage of your Holy Spirit to follow you.  Thank you Jesus, for the example of Peter and for loving us always even when we fail.  I love you, Lord!  In your most precious name, amen.

How Simple It Can Be

It was two weeks ago, when I first noticed her.  She is a young gal in her late teens, early twenties, pretty girl with long blonde hair.  She was sitting in the same section I sit in at church.   Just before the service began I saw her go over to a gal about her same age who had just sat down by herself a few rows in front of me.  The young blonde made her way down the stairs from where she was sitting, greeted the other gal with a hug and invited her to sit with her and her friends.  They both made there way back up the stairs and sat together with a group of about 4 others.  I thought nothing of it at the time until this past Sunday.  A similar scenario… a young gal, rather heavyset came in a sat down by herself.  Not more than 30 seconds had passed before the young blonde came to the gal’s row.  This time though instead of inviting her to where she had been sitting, she asked if she could sit next to her.  The gal agreed and I saw the blonde introduce herself and shake hands.  It’s so simple – but so powerful.

This gal has a ministry!  It may not be to preach in front of a congregation.  It may not be to teach a Sunday School class, or to visit the sick in the hospital and pray for them.  But you can be sure, this young woman has a ministry.  As I thought of her it dawned on me that about a year ago she sat with me too!  I usually sit alone on Sunday mornings and this same gal came and asked to sit with me.  (I’m embarrassed I don’t remember her name and it didn’t dawn on me until just a couple days ago that I too was a recipient of her kindness.)  She was delightful!  She asked me how long I had been coming to the church and if I was involved in any of the ministries.  She was kind and loving and just didn’t want me to sit alone that day.

What an incredible gift this gal gives every Sunday.  How many of us are thinking on a Sunday morning… “Gosh I hope the sermon doesn’t run too long,” or “Could the music be any louder?” or “What am I going to have for lunch?”  But not this gal.  She is looking for opportunities where she can bless someone else.  She is secure in knowing that she has something to offer… herself.  She’s not preaching the gospel to the people she’s sitting next to.  She’s merely offering her presence as a gift – a smile, a handshake, a simple conversation.  And the Lord is using that offering to touch others with His love.

I haven’t talked a lot of “being the glove” in recent posts.  But when I saw this example, how could I not be reminded of how the Lord wants us to be the glove on His hand!  What an amazing example of how simple it can be.  She is open.  She knows God has equipped her.  She is looking for opportunities and not focused on herself, or her comfort, or her needs, or what she wants from everyone else.  And she gives what she has to give… herself.  God does the rest. 

We have the same opportunity each an every day!  Every person that crosses our path is a person we can touch with the love of Christ.  It doesn’t have to be reciting scripture to them or preaching to them.  It is being available to let His love touch them through us.  What an amazing privilege we have every second we’re alive IF we’re willing, we’re open, we believe that He can use us, and we’re actively seeking the opportunities He gives us.

Lord, bless this young gal!  Thank you for letting me be blessed by her and for allowing me to be a witness of her incredible example.  May we all keep our focus on you, not ourselves, and may we be actively seeking ways in which you can use us to touch the lives of others.  Thank you for wanting to love others through us.  Help us to never take that for granted.  We love you.  Thank you for loving us so much that you fill us to overflowing.  In Jesus’ name, amen.