Go and Do Likewise

image1On my recent trip to New York I made a new friend.  Her name is Dorothée.  She is the co-owner of the bed & breakfast I stayed at and was my hostess for the week.  I’ll admit I had an agenda going into the trip.  I really wanted to make a connection with some of the people in the town where I hope to retire.  So little did Dorothée know when she took my reservation that I was looking for more than just a room and some delicious breakfasts… I was hoping to make a friend.  And she didn’t disappoint.

I was only there a few short days but I felt like I left with a friend for life.  We had some wonderful opportunities to share and visit and although I know we barely scratched the surface in getting to know each other, I’m confident this is only the beginning.

We were open to each other.  She shared her Inn, which is delightfully decorated with the antiques that her and her business partner have collected.  She shared her phenomenal, gourmet breakfasts with me, her only guest for the week.  She shared her love for connecting with people and creating spaces for others to connect with each other.  And she shared her two dogs and cat with me.  I shared my desire to move to that area.  I shared my passion for writing and my faith.  I talked about what I believe God is showing me about what it means to live with His Spirit within me.  The conversations were deep and meaningful.  It was wonderful!

Although I don’t know very many details about Dorothée, I am sure there are many things we do not have in common.  I know that we were not born in the same country.  (She’s from France.)  I suspect we  don’t share the same political views.  We may not share the same faith.  And there are probably countless other things that we differ on.  But during that short week we had together, none of that mattered.  We openly shared what we were comfortable sharing with each other.  There was no judgment, no prejudice.  We were both just open to each other and looked for the things we had in common rather than our differences.

It was while I was at the airport on my way home that I began reflecting on how the week could have been different.  I was convicted by the fact that too often I put people into categories before even getting to know them.  I have my implicit biases that quickly sift people into one category or another.  Will they agree with me or disagree with me?  If I had done that with Dorothée there may never have been a connection, or certainly not one that would have lasted.

It’s a bad habit.  Personally, I chalk it up to social media.  I don’t scroll through my feed thinking about the people behind those posts.  I scroll through my feed looking for those I agree with, those whose posts I can “like.”  I swipe past those I disagree with, those that trigger that stress reaction in the pit of my stomach.  Or worse, I engage and start crafting my outrage to post in reply.  The power of opinion is like a drug, and it’s a dangerous one.  I believe our society is punch drunk with the importance of our almighty opinions and we are forgetting not only how to connect with one another but the importance of it. The truth is, we’ve always had differing opinions.  The difference was, our opinions were never more important than our connection to one another.

We’re not alone in this.  Jesus actually addressed this problem in His day too.  Although the cause wasn’t social media at the time, He did address the problem with people not recognizing who their neighbor was.  The story is commonly known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

As in all of His parables, Jesus chose His characters carefully.  First off, He gave His audience the setting.  It was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Historically it was known as “the bloody way.”  Picture the most violent and crime-ridden street or alley in your community.  That was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and everybody knew how dangerous it was.  Still, in the parable, a man takes his chances on that road and gets beat up by thugs.  All of his money and clothes are stolen and he’s left there to die.

There are three people who encounter the beaten man.  The first two are a priest and a Levite.  The priest was someone who served in the Temple.  He was a religious man, someone you would expect to have a lot of compassion and care for another human being.  The second was a Levite.  All priests came from the tribe of Levi but not all Levites became priests.  But again, for Jesus’ audience and even for us today, one would assume that these would be some of the most compassionate people around.  The expectation of them would be that they would stop for someone who needed help.

The third person was a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals.  The Jews would never consider a Samaritan to be their “neighbor.”  In fact, they only reserved that designation for other Jews.  So it is purposeful that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the hero of this story especially when posed with the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Samaritan didn’t look upon the man and base his response on the man’s nationality, race, religion, or political preference.  He looked upon him with compassion and saw him as a fellow human being in need of help.  He thought of the man first and himself second.

Jesus turned the question asked by the expert of the law back to him as He ended this parable.  “Which of the three do you think was his neighbor?”  Notice that the expert of the law couldn’t even bring himself to say the word, “Samaritan,” but instead said, “the one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus’ words to him are the same that they are to us, “Go and do likewise.”

We could easily say, “Okay, Lord, next time I come across a guy whose beat up in a dark alley I’ll help him out,” knowing full well we have no intention of ever going down that dark alley in our community if we can help it.  But if that is our only response I think we are missing the point of this parable.  Jesus’ audience then was no different than His audience today.  We have to stop categorizing people and sifting them in terms of whether they agree or disagree with us.  We have to stop looking at people’s opinions as their defining traits, as though that is all that there is to them.  There is more.  There is a soul in need in every human being.

In researching this parable I came upon the following quote:

“It is a convenience, and perhaps a necessity, of human life, that the great mass of humanity should be broken up in to fragments, sections, with differing customs, languages, and names. It gives to the world the stimulus of competition and helpful rivalries. But these distinctions are superficial, temporary, and beneath this diversity of speech and thought there is the deeper unity of soul. We emphasize our differences; we pride ourselves upon them; but how little does Heaven make of them! Heaven does not even see them.”

Revrend H. Burton wrote that sometime in 1889-1890 and it is exactly what the Lord convicted me of in that airport.  God does not see us in terms of our political views, our race, or whether we lean left or right.  He’s sees us as humanity in need of a Savior.  “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may never perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  If He doesn’t see us through the superficial categories of the world, why do we insist on seeing others through them?

My life verse is 1 John 4:12 but let me give you that verse in context.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”  (1 John 4:11-13 – NIV)

God doesn’t love us because we vote for a particular candidate, go to a particular church, or follow a particular rule.  God loved us before we ever knew who He was and long before we ever chose to love Him back.  We know this brand of love.  We’ve experienced this brand of love and we’ve been saved by it.  John is reminding us of our responsibility now that we have God’s love and His Spirit within us.

We as believers have the opportunity to show God to others who don’t know Him and who have never encountered Him.  “No one has ever seen God; BUT if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  (verse 12).  They will see Him through us!  God becomes visible because He lives in us.  His love becomes complete through us!  If that does not excite you, I don’t know what will.  People who don’t know God’s love can encounter that same great love that saved you and me through the Spirit that lives inside us.  That is not religion.  That is a calling.  That is our life’s purpose!

When we fall into the system of the world, categorizing and sifting others based on our almighty opinion we are not only misrepresenting what it means to be a follower of Jesus, we are missing the opportunity for God to be visible to someone who doesn’t know Him.  He is asking for our openness so that His Spirit and His love can do for others what it did for you and I.  We are not only to see others as souls in need. We are to see ourselves as carriers of the only One who can meet their need.

Our job as believers is not to manufacture our own love for others hoping that will point them in the direction of Jesus.  It is rather for us to be open to allowing the power of God’s love to flow through us, to allow the Spirit of God who lives in us to touch others through our skin, our smile, our kind words, our eyes.  When our love coinsides with the Lord’s the experience is even greater and frankly, I believe, God’s gift to us.  But our love is not a requirement.  It’s His love that will change a person’s life.  It is His Spirit that will draw them to their Savior.

Revrend H. Burton said it well:

“It was because the Samaritan forgot himself that all the world has remembered and applauded him. …Discipline your heart that you may see in man everywhere a brother, whose keeper you are. Let fraternity be, not a theory only, by a realized fact, and then a factor of your life. Train your eye to watch for others’ needs, to read another’s woe. Train your soul to sympathy, and your hand to helpfulness; for in our world there is room enough for both.”

 Now join me and let us, go and do likewise.

Thank you, Father, for loving us first!  Thank you for the power of your love and the gift of your Spirit living inside of us.  Forgive me, Lord, for the countless times I have sifted people and categorized them by my opinions and bias.  Make me open to others, so that they may encounter You and come to know Your Son as their Savior.  Thank you for the example of the Good Samaritan.  Use me as you see fit to love and care for those souls in need.  In Your Son’s precious name, amen.

Burton, H. (n.d.). St. Luke. In Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Third Series). Rev. W. Robertson Nicoll, (Series Ed). Retrieved from: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/expositors/luke/10.htm.

 

 

 

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.  

SUGAR!

c-h-granulated-sugar-lrgEvery Sunday morning about 25 members of a small Spanish-speaking church gather in their meager church kitchen to make burritos.  Using a combination of food taken from their own refrigerators as well as donations they’ve received, they cook whatever they have and form an assembly line to make as many burritos as they can.  They pack up whatever they’ve made and travel to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area.  There they meet those who are homeless and give them everything they’ve made.  They set up tables and chairs and shade covering so that everyone has a place to sit and eat and fellowship with one another.

When I asked if I could come with them one Sunday I asked the leader of this small group, Gloria, if there was anything I could bring.  She said simply, “We need sugar.”

“Sugar?” I asked.

“Yes, for the coffee.”

It seemed so simple and so small.  I knew that this church was poor.  Gloria told me that herself.  She told me they would come together on Sundays never sure how much they would have to give.  I felt guilty.  I persisted in asking her, was there something more I could bring?  Was sugar enough?  She assured me it was.

I have to admit I struggled a bit with this task.  In the days leading up to that Sunday it just didn’t seem like I was bringing enough.  I reluctantly went to the store but the whole time I wondered if I should be doing something else, something more.  Even that morning I was a little embarrassed to only be carrying a 5 lb. bag of sugar as I walked through the back alley to the church.

As I walked up to the kitchen one of the ladies spotted me and the bag I was carrying from several yards away.  She yelled out, “SUGAR!” as she came running out of the kitchen.  She joyfully grabbed the sugar from my hands, graciously patted me on the back, then called out to Gloria in Spanish, “We’ve got SUGAR!”  before running back inside.

It was the warmest and most unusual greeting from a stranger I have ever gotten.  It also put me completely at ease.  So much joy from a simple bag of sugar.  It was what they needed and I was so glad I didn’t let my doubts sway me from following through with that simple request.

That morning was an unforgettable experience.  The amount of food this small group was able to provide was amazing.  Although Gloria had told me they were never sure how much they would have each week she also told me they always had enough.  God provided enough each week, sometimes from the most unusual sources.  She said she would often get calls the day before from bakeries or markets asking her to come by to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste.  Every Sunday was a surprise as to where the food would come from, but there was always enough.  God made sure of that.  That week I was a small part of God’s miracle.  They had no sugar until I arrived.

I recently read the story in John 6 where Jesus fed the five thousand.  What stood out to me most in this story was the faith of Jesus’ disciple Andrew.  After seeing the large crowd gather Jesus challenged his disciple Philip with this question, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  He was only testing Philip with his question.)

Philip responded, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

But then, here comes Andrew.  Andrew said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far with they go among so many?”

5-loaves-2-fishEven though Andrew wasn’t sure how far it would go, he at least had faith enough to see the potential in this boy’s lunch.  How easy it would have been for him to ignore those measly scraps,  chalking it up to impossible and joining Philip in the “we don’t have enough” rant.  But Andrew didn’t do that.  He brought to Jesus what he had.  As we know from the story it was more than enough.  With that small offering, Jesus was able to feed the 5,000 (which was most likely 15,000 if you include women and children) and have 12 baskets of leftovers to boot!

How many opportunities have I missed because I think what I have to give is too small?  Whether I am coming from a place of wealth or a place of poverty nothing is too small for God to use in miraculous ways.  After all it’s not about me!  It’s all about Him and bringing Him glory.  It’s about offering what we have no matter how big or how small and giving it to the Lord to do with as He wishes.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I have missed being a part of your miraculous touch in someone else’s life. Forgive me for making it about me.  All I have is yours.  Help me to live that way, not just say it.  Lord, put me in tuned with your Spirit so intimately that I know His nudge, His voice, His urging to reach out with little or with much to show others your great love for them.  Continue to bless Gloria and the ministry you started in that little church to make an eternal difference in the lives of so many.  Thank you for their faithfulness and their example.  Use me and what you have given me everyday for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

Better Together

I1411588361000-USAW-FLEETWOODMAC01-092814 had the thrill of seeing Fleetwood Mac in concert last weekend.  It was incredible!  I have been a fan of theirs for as long as I can remember.  They were the first band I ever saw in concert and after more than 30 years, they sounded just as good as they did the first time I heard them live.

As my friends and I waited for the concert to start we decided to Google the band members to figure out how old they were. We knew the band had been in existence since the 60’s but we were shocked at what we discovered.  These five, incredibly talented people range in age from 65-71.

I want you to imagine the 65-71 year olds you know.  Do you picture them on stage for 2+ hours, performing non-stop, rock and roll music?  Do you picture them traveling all over the country and the world on tour?  Do you picture adoring fans of all ages reaching up to touch them on stage?  Those aren’t the pictures that come to mind for the 60-somethings in my life.  I will even admit when the concert was a little late in starting I jokingly said, “Perhaps they’re napping.”  But boy was I wrong!  These five people showed amazing, incredible energy… timeless, flawless performances!  I was the one who needed a nap!

06ab23c36e1ec927610f6a7067004569_r620x349Those of you who are fans know that this was the first time in 16 years that the entire band was together.  Christine McVie had not performed with the rest of the group since the late 90’s.  Throughout the performance each band member remarked how happy they were to have “their musical family” back together again.  And the fans of course went wild each time they did.

My friends and I talked about how talented each band member was on their own.  Most of them over the years have ventured out at some point and enjoyed success as solo artists.  They are each so uniquely talented and gifted.  BUT, TOGETHER THEY ARE SPECTACULAR!!!  There is nothing like the five of them using their individual talents together.  The sound they create together is like no other. And age has not changed that sound.

I couldn’t help but think of the church as I watched this incredible group.  First of all, each of us has been uniquely gifted by God.  He has given us our own set of talents, skills, and abilities.

Second, these talents have no expiration date!  The gifts He has given us don’t diminish over time.  Even though we may physically decline over time, His gifts are still there.  They are in us.  They are a part of us.

Third, we can venture out and use these talents and skills on our own, following our own plans and dreams, using them as we see fit.  But, that is not what those talents were designed for.  God designed us to be united as one body… His body here on earth.  Each of us has a role to play in that Body.  We are a complex living organism just like a human body.  Every molecule is important.  Each plays a unique and significant role.  It is when all of those pieces are working together that we are most spectacular.  That is when our “musical family” comes together and the sound we make is like no other.

Do you know you’re part?  I believe the biggest victory of Satan is when Christians believe they don’t have a role to play in the body of Christ.  It is a lie!  It is not true.  Every person has been uniquely gifted by God Himself and you have a part to play in carrying out His mission on earth. No matter what your age or stage in life… you have been given a gift to use in His kingdom.  If you don’t know what that role is, ask Him.  He will be happy to reveal it to you.

We must be united in purpose.  My heart has been heavy lately over the division among the body of Christ.  It’s sad to see churches competing against each other for membership or grumbling against one another over differences in religious practices that are insignificant in the scheme of things.  We are one Body.  We are His Bride.  And yet, too often it’s hard to tell that that is true.

I believe it is our responsibility as individual believers to know our purpose, our role in the body, and then to look for every opportunity to unite with other believers in carrying out that purpose and mission.  It goes beyond what church we attend.  We are apart of something much bigger than the biggest mega-church.  We are The Body.  And together we can be SPECTACULAR servants of the Lord, advancing His kingdom, and delivering His love to a world who does not know Him.  It is when we as believers recognize that we are One with Jesus as our Head, regardless of what church or denomination we belong to, that we can begin to fulfill that purpose.

Lord, show each of us the talents and skills you have given to us.  Unite us in your Spirit that we may embrace the calling you have on us as your Body, your Bride.  Lord, make us ONE!  Thank you, Father, for making us better together.  In your Son’s most precious name, amen.