LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: hope

Healing Through Service

IMG_0524I recently had the honor to take a team from my church to serve at Door of Faith Orphanage (dofo.org) in the town of La Mision, B.C. Mexico.  It is located between Rosarito and Ensenada.  It is a most surprisingly charming place.  If a child has to be in an orphanage, this is the place to be!  As the Director, DJ, gave us his welcome and shared the values of the orphanage that he has led for over 20 years, one of the three values were Healing through Service.  He began to share that the children and staff of DOFO are encouraged to serve, and not just chores.  But real ministry outreach service.  The kids raise funds, go on trips and make real differences in the places they go.  This leads to a healing in their own lives as most are social orphans, having been removed from broken or abusive homes.  Teaching them to serve others brings a lasting and deep healing in their lives.

Javier is a man we met when we went to make and serve breakfast with the Baja Family Outreach located the Tijuana dump area.  A church has been built in the heart of the community of thousands who live on reclaimed dump land.  Most are uneducated and find their income by recycling garbage.  Their homes are built with items found in the dump.  We saw more than one roof made from the vinyl banners of highway billboards.  As we made the breakfast a family of 8 came in, Javier being the dad.  His children and wife sat down to eat the food we had prepared, but Javier stood at the entrance to greet people and watch over his family.  I asked him why he wasn’t eating and he shared he normally volunteers.  By our team being there, we had taken his job.  Of course he was blessed by our presence and asked we pray for his family and to please return.  But I saw something powerful in him.  He had no money to care for his family as I am sure he would like, but by volunteering he felt he was part of providing.  Serving was healing for him.  Serving was empowerment for him.  Serving made him feel like he was being a provider for his family.

IMG_0543No better example of healing through service came in the story of Martita, a lady we met serving at another organization, Life in the Canyon (lifeinthecanyon.vpweb.com).  This group is led by Dave Hessler and he found basically the poorest community of Tijuana and began serving a number of years back and was an outgrowth of his time with the Baja Family Outreach.  He landed in the former TJ dump that has created massive hills of garbage covered in soil and is now being reclaimed by squatters and the poor who have built pallet shacks and small homes.  A little over two years ago Dave came across Martita as he walked through a cemetery.  She was high on crystal meth and was digging through burn piles for scraps of metal to sell to support her habit.  He offered, through his ministry to serve the community, some help.  At first, if I understood her story, she didn’t accept, but time after time he continued to reach out to her and eventually she came to the community center.  There she saw loving people serving their community and something drew her.

She asked if she could serve and they found a place for her.  The desire to quit drugs grew and at a point she quietly decided to stop.  After a week went by being clean, she came to Dave and shared her good news.  He told her to go one day at a time and every day to come and give him a number; the number ‘1’ for one more day of sober.  He wrote that number on a white board and eventually it grew from 7, to 25, to 50.  As of our meeting her it has been over 2 years!  Her love for God, her purpose found in serving her community, and the love shown her by Dave and others gave her hope and strength to go on.  Today she is trusted with keys to everything, is one of Dave’s trusted assistants, and has a restored relationship with her daughter and grandchildren.  She is no longer homeless but has a tiny micro-home built with money from a 16 year old boy who did a fund raiser in his church!  She can’t read or write but has learned to post on Facebook in order to be connected.  She gave us a tour of her community, the dump, and you could see the love she had for it’s residents.  She found healing through serving!

One of the things that I found most exciting with DOFO is that they don’t have teams come just to stay focused on them as an orphanage.  DJ said many times to me, almost to the point of sounding a humorously insulting, “We don’t want you to stay here.  Our kids have seen every drama and are pretty saturated with Americans!”  But as he clarified you knew exactly what he was saying.  Come and use DOFO as a hub to serve the broader area of Baja.  Go to the dumps, build a house for a resident, serve at the rehab homes, do an outreach to drunk Americans at the beaches and bars, give out groceries and pray with residents of the dump.  I believe DOFO is as blessed and beautiful as it is because it too has become whole by serving others and not manipulating donors and guests to selfishly stay committed to them.  They have a mature faith, a generous faith.

satisfied

satisˌfīd

adjective, contented; pleased: satisfied customers | she was very satisfied with the results.

As I finished my 10K and Half Marathon, I felt “satisfied.”   Not proud, not elated.  Satisfied.  Throughout the run I felt many things – pain, exhaustion, thrill, “this is cool!”, joy.  But in the end it was satisfaction that won out.

 

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon

Thousands of runners surrounded me those warm mornings in August, each with their own stories and reasons for running.  Some, I am sure who just love running and the events, driven by the endorphins.  Some though had personal journeys of overcoming.  I saw a few who wore signs on their backs explaining how earlier in life they could not walk, or they were in chemo, or…  Their stories were of triumph.  Still others were running for a cause, for a sick friend or family member.  In memory of one perhaps.  But we were all running and as we crossed the finish line I hope they each felt the satisfaction I felt.  It was palpable.  I have been pleased before in a job well done, but this was an over-the-top level of “satisfaction.”

Perhaps because of the depth my journey had taken me.  Perhaps because I was so exhausted, I had no energy to muster anything else.  No, I did, and satisfied was the right and full feeling at the moment.

Throughout the run I was amazed at the power of encouragement by total strangers.  Disney had arranged for school marching bands and cheer squads to be all along the route.  The Angels Stadium was seriously full of scout troops, clubs of all kinds, friends of runners, and more.  Hundreds of people brought out their classic cars and lined the miles of the route.  They sat by their cars ringing bells and cheering us.  Occasionally some of the “strangers” would see my name on my bib and say something like, “Good job Len, keep going.”  Others would see the St. Jude singlet I was wearing and thank me for running for that cause.  In all this I found strength to keep going.  And then near the finish line I saw my wife and friends who where there for just for me – their yells and cheers drilled deep.  I became emotional as I got closer, crossing the line I raised my arms in celebration!

This gave me new context for the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews!

Throughout this entire journey I have learned so much about running – this experience in particular about the right salt intake and hydration needed, how to navigate the amount of fellow runners, pacing myself, and more.  I have learned about weight loss and exercise.  I have more importantly learned about resolving my “issues.”

But most of all I have learned and experienced deep spiritual lessons.

Disney had great medals.  It doesn't matter how fast, finishing = winning!

Disney had great medals. It doesn’t matter how fast, finishing = winning!

The imagery throughout the Bible of running the race, finishing well, is so much more real to me.  Metaphors and illustrations make so much more sense when you can relate to them.  I am discovering to greater degree that God satisfies my soul.  That His grace and trusting in Him is “enough.”  That along the run (of life), I will pull a muscle or tire out, but the cheering crowds can bolster me to find the strength to go on and finish…well.

I can with greater confidence and contentment say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  I am content, not wanting for anything else.  Satisfied.  Pride, joy, celebration, these are all great feelings when we accomplish a life well lived in God.  But I have discovered the power of being satisfied, and to me that is so much more powerful and fulfilling.

 

Dear Father, I pray for every reader who passes over my words here to know and experience the satisfaction that only you can offer.  You truly are “enough” and may we all come to experience that.  Amen.

 

BUT God…

Following is the text of my portion of the Good Friday 2014 message at Mariners Church.  Paul, our lead pastor, and I shared the speaking and it was interspersed with worship music.  I welcome you to listen to the full service and get caught up in the worship of the evening.  But I also include my text below as it will serve to encourage you as well.  Paul opened the evening by setting up our sin condition and Christ’s suffering on the cross.  It was followed by the song: Blessed Redeemer.

My message section 1…

As we’ve spent some time recognizing that our sin has created this absolute separation from God, I think of that cinematic effect where the view of something moves further and further away from our grasp as I am pulled back in some sort of tunnel. My SIN…MY sin…has left me lost and hopeless and broken and far from the God who loves me and created me to have a full life with Him.

BUT GOD…

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 (NLT)

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) Ephesians 2:4–5 (NLT)

Today is GOOD Friday. The crucifixion, the blood, the gore, the pain and suffering. We could focus on them. But WHY? When we could focus on BUT GOD! His love and pursuit of us is what drove Him to the cross.

Our sin forced this great divide from God that we have no ability to fix or repair. We try. But we fail.   I know this doesn’t sit well with us. We hate to hear this. We muster up all our efforts and self esteem to make ourselves look good to Him and others. But dead is dead.

BUT GOD never gave up on us.

Even though we don’t deserve forgiveness…He forgives.

Even though without God, we are worthless…He has chosen to love us.

The apostle Paul, after listing all the things that he and others would think made him worthy and a great man, said,

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness … rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  Philippians 3:7–9 (NLT)

This is why we devote our lives to following God. He has rescued us. This is why we worship. He is great and loving and has restored hope to us. This is why we sing and become joyful. He has brought us back from death in our sins to a full life in Him.

As we continue this evening we’re going to sing some songs that put this in the proper perspective. We bring nothing to our relationship with God. He is the one who pursued us. My goodness is not good enough. His is, and He gave it to us. My strengths are not strong enough.

BUT GOD…

This next song’s chorus says,

Our sin was strong, but Jesus is stronger.

Our shame was great, but Jesus you’re greater!

As we sing that, I invite you to get lost in a “BUT GOD” moment.

SONG: Raised to Life (Elevation Worship)

SECTION 2

So if Jesus is greater and stronger than our sin and shame, why do so many of us still struggle?

I’ve observed in others and in myself, times when I let my shame get the best of me. I see people let the victory over sin pass them by.   The victory Christ has freely and fully made available to us.

I want to go and shake that person and say, YOU’RE NOT THE EXCEPTION!

Your shame…Your guilt. They’re not a shock or too great for God!

He’s able to bring real change and freedom to all of us. To you!

We need to stop trying to gut out our plan and willpower to overcome the struggles in our lives. God can be trusted. His plan is best.

Please stop standing on the edges. Stop staring from the outside looking in wondering why you’re the “only” one not experiencing the joy that we talk about. Again, you are not the exception!

Paul writes,

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.

This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:3–8 (NLT)

This is why it is GOOD Friday. It was God’s plan all along to pour out His grace and mercy on us. To pursue us, to give us freedom! This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

I hope tonight something that has been said here has helped you to move God’s grace, His free gift of forgiveness, down into your heart to defeat this cycle of shame, to experience His great love.

He pursued you. So what does it look like to pursue Him? To respond to him?

What does it look like to show gratitude to the one who has rescued you? What does it look like to live your life in that freedom and pursuit of more of Him?

Our worship team is going to come and lead us in songs. Again, I invite you to focus on what He has done for us. FOR YOU!

Perhaps tonight you come here having been wrestling with letting go. Maybe you’ve felt it really didn’t seem to be for you. Or that somehow, you accepted forgiveness, but didn’t let go all the way. To live in that real freedom He purchased for us.

Maybe that cycle of shame – of going back over and over again to the same exhausting destructive choices, has left you feeling hopeless.

Maybe you’re here this evening and this is all new to you and something in you is saying to dive in. To give in. To let go.

Then please do.

His love is crazy and irrational and His pursuit of you is passionate. He never has or ever will give up on you. And He doesn’t ask that you that you fully understand it, just that you receive it.

As you sing these songs, pause and just say something to God like, “I want this. I want you to lead my life, to give me that freedom. To learn to trust you. Thank you for rescuing me, for loving me.”

In a few moments we’re going to take communion together – to remember His death on our behalf – by taking the bread and cup. It’ll be a bit later and Mark will let you know when you can come up and get them. When you do, please take them to your seat and wait with them until we all take together.

SONG: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Your Glory/Nothing But the Blood of Jesus (All Sons & Daughters)

Communion

SONG: I Stand Amazed

I almost missed the joy of the moment!

We are in! Our church held it’s first service in our new building last night. It has been a long journey and there is no other way to explain it other than giving God all the credit to make a way for us. It is not finished as floors and a whole lot of other things still need to be done to get our final inspections approved. But it is safe and it is ours and God is being worshipped in it. I have seen people step up and serve in such incredible ways and sadly I have seen others who I would have expected to, not. Of course they have their reasons and so this has revealed to me once again the part of me that I don’t like.

I found that I slip towards discouragement and judgement and anger far too easily. I am not trying to beat myself up or bring a cloud over this wonderful watershed moment in the life of our church. But I strive to be more like Jesus and can’t just pass over and excuse my own behaviors. Yesterday as we were digging in to get it ready, still doing major electrical installs along with serious clean up, I was “stressed out” which is just code for angry and grumpy and fearful it wouldn’t get done. Of course it did because people stepped up and some of us stayed until very late, even after our first service. But while the service was happening and worship was playing I found myself weeping both out of joy and repentance/shame at the same time. It was so wonderful to finally have praises to God going up from our congregation and at the same time I was so sad I let the pressure of the day almost steal the joy of that moment.

It is so easy to miss silver linings by focusing on the cloud. And in reality it is less of a cloud with silver lining and more of a gloriously sunny day with just a small rain cloud on the horizon. But I/we can get focused on the wrong things. I am glad I was able to step back and see it, but it came much later than I wished it had.

Thank you God for what you have done and how you have done it through incredible people who I have such a deep appreciation and respect for. Thank you for working in me to reveal areas of needed growth and to help me step back and not miss your hand at work. You are such a great God.

I Don’t Know What I Will Do, But I Know What I Won’t

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again.  The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”  Exodus 14:13-14 (NLT)

I was reminded of this passage again today listening to Mark Batterson share a story of feeling trapped in a Red Sea moment.  He went on to say that he had no idea what he was going to do at the time, but he knew what he WASN’T going to do; panic.

I am winding down on the sale of our home.  We are less than a week away from escrow closing and if you read some of my first posts you see that there were moments that I panicked and needed to be reminded that God was leading me through this entire journey of faith.  I in fact spoke a message to our church during that time when I referenced this passage from Exodus, so to be reminded of it today is so cool.  (Listen to the message, Fear of Risk, in my sermon section)

This week I was praying to God that I might not forget how I saw Him at work in this journey.  I don’t want to interpret this “win” experience in any way that gives me or any other man credit.  It was clearly God leading and I shamefully did not always exhibit the trust I would have liked to.  It’s easy to see the struggles and pains of life as learning experiences.  But often the wins are forgotten beyond the celebration.  But the win was not easy and matter of fact.  There was a lot of struggle and fear and doubt and twists and turns.  And because it was not in any way accomplished out of my wits and abilities, I have many lessons that I need to keep in my view for a long time to come.

I don’t think that Moses’ statement to the Israelites is a direct promise for us today.  It was for a specific time and deliverance.  But the principle of standing firm, not fearing, and trusting God are behaviors that we can count on and should strive to live out at all times.  And when we do see the deliverance of the Lord, we should be sure to give Him the honor that is due Him.

If you find yourself in a Red Sea moment and have no idea what you’re going to, at least be confident of what you won’t; panic!  God is trustworthy and able.  And if the deliverance doesn’t come in your preferred time or way, know that God still knows what He is doing and really does know what you need.  What you need is always better than what you want.

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