When the lost and broken are redeemed by love

Tonight I will share one story from my past, but it’s a very important one that I think speaks so clearly to everything that is important to me, everything I believe to be true.  I offer up a prayer for those who feel trapped in the negative things this world will try to convince you are truth.  We live in a world full of hurt and pain and I pray that you will find a way to look past that pain to see your true purpose on this Earth.  You are loved, so I pray you will find value in that and start pursuing a deeper meaning for why you are here.

Several years ago I was sent on my first mission trip, and boy was I ready to show those less fortunate than myself how awesome I could be.  I had no idea what a mission trip was even about, but I had my ideas. I was ready to sacrifice my broken body to show love to others, but I was not prepared to be broken apart in so many ways so that Jesus could show me exactly who I was created to be, who I needed to be.

This is Abigail today!

This first trip to Guatemala has so many wonderful memories I could share with you, and in time I will.  For now I want to focus on one particular story that took place, took root in my heart and one I will never forget.  We traveled to a small village just outside of Guatemala City to stay in an orphanage called Nuevo Reto (New Challenge), and looking back it’s easy to see now I went to put another notch in my tool belt, to show people I was a real Christian.  I could build walls, I could dig ditches, I could do the work they were not able to do.  What I didn’t expect to happen was to fall in love with two people, two people who both showed me what love is really about.  The first was a tiny baby girl named Abigail.  She was lying in her crib just outside the kitchen when our eyes first met, and there was something I can’t really explain to anyone else who wasn’t there that drew me close to her.  I do know that everyone who was there saw and felt the same thing.  We all spent time fighting with one another to be the next one to hold her, we needed to hold her, to love her.  What we didn’t realize is she needed us to see the love she had brought into this world.  Her mother was a selfless woman, she spent her days cleaning up after all of us, helping in the kitchen, and I am convinced that if Jesus were to come back today and show me humility, her face would be the one he would show me.  Looking back now I am not sure we ever spoke two words to one another, you see I do not speak Spanish, and she did not speak English, so our communication was based on eye contact and smiles.  We spent the week trying to help her the way we knew how to help.  We watched her mop the floors of the orphanage with a towel wrapped around an old dust broom, so some of the group bought her a brand new mop and bucket from Walmart (yes they’re even in Guatemala).  She showed gratitude and washed the floors with it, once, the next day we found her back in her groove with the old dust broom and towel.  She had a wrap she used to hold Abigail close to her, but many of us didn’t think that was safe and weren’t sure it really held the baby in a securely.  So we did what any good gringo would do, we bought her a baby carrier and then showed her how it worked and strapped her baby into it.  She used it when we had her little angel locked in it, once, but again the next day we found her back to her old comfortable ways with the baby in the makeshift sling.  Why do we spend so much time trying to change people to our way of life, rather than letting go of what we know and diving into the life of another?  We really gave no attention to the fact that this was working for her, because I think all of us can now admit we were there to teach them how to be an American, to show them how it worked for us, rather than learn how it worked for them.  But all of us still fought for the love and affection of a tiny baby, none of us knowing what was in store for us at week’s end.

This is the part of the story that’s hard for me to share without tears in my eyes, okay it’s impossible.  Pastor Jacobo (pictured above holding Abigail) sat us all down on the last night we were there, to go over the week, to speak of progress we made, but he never warned us our hearts were about to be torn from our chests.  After praising our efforts and thanking us for our work, he shared a story with us about the one we all loved so much…Abigail.  He told us more about the woman we had all tried to change all week by what we thought was help.  He told us of the night she was walking home from her tireless hours she spent caring for everyone but herself.  She left the orphanage and walked home, and on the way passed by some drunken men, a scene I am sure played out more times than not in her world, but tonight would be different, life altering different.  That night this lovely small Guatemalan woman was ripped from her secure pattern of life and was raped.  I am sorry if that is hard to hear, believe me it wrecked me when I heard it.  Then it happened, the moment when true love was opened in a new light in front of our very eyes.  You see the reason he shared this story is because Abigail, the little baby we had all battled to love throughout the week, was the evidence of that fateful night.  I sat there numb to emotion for quite a while, this beautiful little girl that all of us could see was so worthy of our love, came from one of the darkest moments in her sweet mother’s life!  I am not here to justify what happened or even explain why the mother made the choices she did, the heart wrenching decisions she needed to make, in order for Abigail to breathe her first breath.  What I am here to say is that God can do amazing things through amazing pain, and I cannot possibly fathom what that was like for her, all I can do is try to explain what it did for me.  All I had seen in this child was beauty, and in an instant she became the face of one of my favorite songs…Amazing Grace.  Her mother was abused, she was probably often told she held no value or worth in this world, but nothing could be further from the truth.  She was beautiful, and from her came innocence and new life.  I don’t know if I would have the courage to follow the same path if I had to face such a thing, but I do know that Abigail is here for great things.  I know she has already shown me great things.

We can’t ever understand all the things that came to be to bring us into this world.  How a split second decision, if done differently, would have changed our very existence in this world.  I do not know why this happened to this mother, but I do know the redemption that came from it.  So why now, why this story, why today?  Because I read another story of similar circumstances, and it brought me straight back to those tearful moments when I first learned how Abigail entered the world.  I will leave  you with that tonight, you can chose to read it or not.

The one thing I do know is that God can show his unfailing love to you regardless of whatever this world has done to you.  Did that mother love her child, 100% yes!  Did we all love her before even before we knew anything about her, 100% yes!  Did any of us stop loving her after we heard her painful story, 100% no.  I hope and pray you who are reading this can see the glory that came from a very painful moment in the mother’s life.  I am sure some will want to know, do I believe God allowed this to happen?  No.  God doesn’t create the tragedies that happen in this world, but he does heal the pain that comes from it.  Why did it happen, that I do not know, but one day I will, and I am okay waiting for that day, when all the mysteries of this life are laid before me and I can see how they all worked towards the good of me, of all men and women.  Until then, I will simply trust that God will show me amazing love, even in the darkest of times.

New Hope for Amina

Rules, Religion or Relationship?

Tonight I pray for you, I pray for all of us, who get lost in the noise of this world that wants to pull us in so many directions at once.  There is only one direction we need to follow, and that is The Way, and from that we find all the truth and light we will ever need.  Please pray with me, draw me closer into a relationship with you Jesus, and let me leave everything else behind.

What governs your life?  What is most important to you, the rules, your religion, or a relationship with your savior?  This was on my mind today and I think most of the world prefers to live by a set of rules, or their religion, or worse yet the rules in their religion.  After 45 years struggling with these very issues, I can honestly say that the past 2 years I have spent focusing solely on my personal relationship with Jesus, which is the most important thing in my life.

Rules are rules, not much to explain on that one.  They are needed to establish order, and there are plenty of “rules” in the Bible, only they are referred to as commandments.  There are also rules in society which help (or at least try) to bring order to the world.  The problem some people face is that they have no foundation for their lives, no faith in anything but what they can see, and sadly all they have to fall back on are rules.  When that happens there is no room for compassion.  I think all of us can agree that while rules can be helpful, not everything is black and white and we need to find a little gray to live in some days so that compassion and love can take hold of someone’s life.

What about religion?  I will admit up front this one bothers me most, when people refer to me as a “religious” person it drives me nuts!

re·li·gion – a particular system of faith and worship

The problem I have with the word or description is that our world has perverted the term and it can mean just about anything.  I can worship my dog and call that a religion, so for me personally this one is out.  I love the way Jon Foreman put it in Switchfoot’s song “Your Religion”

What you say is your religion
How you say it’s your religion
Who you love is your religion
How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion
All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion
Every breath is your religion

Your religion could be hate, lust, pride, anger, jealousy, science, but once again, similar to the rules, simply saying you live by your religion doesn’t really explain the foundation, or the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 15-16).

That leaves us with relationship, which actually has a few definitions for the word but the one I love most, and the one most fitting to this post and my life is this:

re·la·tion·ship – the state of being connected by blood or marriage

The reason for the hope I have in this world is Jesus, and it all begins and ends with him!  When I gave my life to Christ, actually let’s back up, when HE gave his life FOR me, he shed his blood and died on the cross to show me Amazing Grace, and oh how sweet that sounds!  The Bible refers to the Church as the bride of Jesus as well, so yes that definition is very fitting for what I am talking about today.  When I look at my life through the eyes of a personal relationship, everything else falls in its place.  The things of this world are not my concern, Jesus himself said this is not his Kingdom (John 18:36).  There is so much beauty in this, so much that changes a person’s life.  Jesus was not concerned about the rules as much as he was about a relationship.  Jesus came to Earth to spend time with his children, to show them the kind of love the world has never seen before, and to bear witness as a teacher to provide us with an example to follow.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself, these are the two most important things he said, and he followed up that all the other commandments (rules) are based on those two things.  But love is not a rule, love is an action, it’s a verb, it’s a LIFESTYLE!!!  Jesus was not concerned about the rules, he was interested in YOU!

I will leave you with this:

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” – John 15:15

That’s pretty awesome ain’t it?  The living God who came to Earth to save the world from sin, the same God who knew you by name before He formed the Earth, calls you his friend!  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather live my life as a friend to the King of Kings than by any religion or rule book.  The love He has for me is more important than anything else, and everything else flows from it.

The Prodigal Son

Yesterday I mentioned that I was going to start every post with a prayer, but today that comes with a twist.  Today I ask you, at least one of you who may end up reading this, to pray with me and for me for who I am and what I let consume me in life…namely pride.  Jesus I come before you as your humble servant, and I apologize for the actions of my heart today.  I am confess that I let pride rule my emotions and anger control my heart.  I am grateful for the grace you have given me, even when I am foolishly focusing on everything but you.

I wanted to write about one of my favorite stories in the Bible tonight, in fact lately I have referred to it as THE story about Jesus and redemption.  I have heard that story ever since I was too small to even say the word Prodigal let alone understand the full depth of the truth this story holds.  Just like I wrote yesterday, so much is written “between the lines” than I ever paid attention to before.  I read it again recently as part of a devotional, and this time I decided to read some commentaries on it.  I found one that was very good, and got me thinking a lot about this story.  In fact do yourself a favor and read all of Luke 15, there are three great stories there that truly define how much God loves you.  After reading this commentary I went over all three stories again, leading up to the final one of the lost or Prodigal Son.  For a Middle Eastern father back then, it would be very odd to see a man so “filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

“In the first century, however, a Middle Eastern man never — never — ran. If he were to run, he would have to hitch up his tunic so he would not trip. If he did this, it would show his bare legs. In that culture, it was humiliating and shameful for a man to show his bare legs. So, here’s the question: If it was shameful for a man to run in that culture, why did the father run when his son returned to him? What motivated him to shame himself?” – The Prodigal Son’s Father Shouldn’t Have Run! Putting Luke 15:11-32 in context (see link at the end)

The funny part about this story is I always considered the Prodigal son to be one who was deeply loved, simply by the story itself.  However I never looked up what that word actually meant.  So tonight I was going to call my post “The Degenerate Son” and take a look at the first part of the story where the son took all he could from his father and then walked away to squander all of it on “wild living”.  I was a little surprised (even though it makes perfect sense) that one definition for Prodigal means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant”.  WOW!  That one sat with me for a moment, I wanted to use this story to talk about my pride and the anger that stemmed from it and I read that definition.  Once again God always does it better than I do, I took the grace Jesus offered me on the cross and wastefully and recklessly abandoned it all because my feelings were hurt.  It’s not easy for me to admit when I am wrong, and for some reason it’s even harder to admit it to God.  I have been dealing with some issues here locally that have upset me and have hurt me and my wife both, but honestly what does it really matter.  Jesus made it quite clear that people would do this very thing.  In fact He said “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.”  I have to believe that this would also extend to someone who slapped me with pride, instead of fighting back I should humble myself, in love, and offer him my pride as well.  After all that’s what humility is right, giving up your pride?  But that’s not what I did, I let the actions of another start to darken my day, and turn what had been a beautiful day filled with many blessings into an ugly mess of hostility and anger.  I lashed out, I swore, I wanted to strike back, and I did.  And as my anger grew I heard a familiar voice tell me “try again” (He’s been doing that a lot lately FYI).  My pride and anger had not only affected me, it affected my wife as well.  She was right there with me ready to support my fight.  The issue that this is regarding isn’t important for this post, but it’s been going on for a while.  In fact it started near the beginning of my recent fast.  And I heard God speak to me quite clearly “this is not your fight, trust in me.”  I was going to write around that time something relating to “my pain is in my pride” and one day soon I will do that (I think I’m doing that now actually).  If you know me, then you will understand that backing down from a fight is very hard for me, especially one I feel I can win.  But going back to the words of Jesus and what I felt God was trying to teach me I can clearly see that this is not what I am called to do, not here, not now.

I was listening to the chaplain in a local prison last week give a sermon on John and he went over John 18:36.  “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”  I’ve actually been dwelling on this since that night.  The chaplain talked about this world, and how fighting and war is not necessary, at least not in the eyes of Jesus.  There Jesus goes again, one upping me with truth, He can be sneaky that way.  Right there in front of of me He is saying “don’t fight, this is not my Kingdom”.  I’ve been carrying that message around for me for a few weeks now and not sure what to do with it, until tonight.

We are going to face a lot of grief and sorrow in this world, Jesus also made that pretty clear.  We will be mocked and called fools for following Him, but that’s okay because this is not His Kingdom, which means it’s not mine either!  I have been telling some of my friends lately that we need to be able to say “so what” more often.  Not to be flippant, but more along the lines of so…what does it matter to God?  What does it matter to my salvation?  If you can’t answer it, the answer is that it doesn’t.  Once I came to this understanding I wrote back to the ones who I was angry with, and I apologized and asked for forgiveness.  It wasn’t easy, but it was important.  As soon as I let that go, the pain from my pride vanished.

Another definition of Prodigal is “lavishly abundant; profuse”, and that is why I love the story of the Prodigal Son so much.  I also love John a GREAT deal, I carry his words around my neck resting on my heart every where I go…the one whom Jesus loves.  1 John 3:1 reads “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Not only are we called children of God, we are also referred to as friends of Jesus.  And like any great friend he’s always there to comfort us when we need it most…as long as we are willing to surrender to that love.  As I read the parable of the Prodigal Son I can close my eyes and picture Jesus hiking up his tunic and sprinting across the field to embrace me and kiss me.  And you better bet I’m running just as fast towards that Middle Eastern man to spring into His arms!!!

Click to read commentary mentioned above

Tell your story…

For the past 21 days I spent my time alone with Jesus, eating only clean foods, no meat, no alcohol, no caffeine, no sugar, and probably most importantly no Facebook or news.  I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t sure I was telling my story, or at least the right version of it.  I decided I needed some time to alone with my thoughts so that I could become more focused in my faith, and that meant no garbage in, only Jesus.

Today was the first day I’ve had meat in 3 weeks, and I enjoyed it, but I will also admit I miss the the fast in a way.  When I was tempted to have certain foods or treats, I would use that time to pray and spend time with Jesus, and it has been an AMAZING journey.  But that story is for another day, another time.

Today as I start focusing on Ragamuffin Ministries, I will begin each post with a prayer.  I pray that the words that come from my mind through my fingers to the page you are seeing before you will reach at least one person who will be moved enough to consider a different way of life, THE WAY, which is all about truth and love, hope and grace, restoration and redemption.  I ask this for you, the reader, in Jesus name.

I just got home from spending the past couple hours inside a medium security prison.  We are reading through a book called “People of the Second Chance” (which I have also highlighted with a link on the cover of this website, it’s VERY good!)  I will say this, I do hope I get the chance to sit down and chat with Mike Foster someday, some of the words he pens to the pages of his books are thoughts I feel are words I could have easily spoken, perhaps he’s my spiritual twin?  After meeting with the men in my Ragamuffin group at EOCI (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) and talking about Chapter 4 titled “Be Brave with Your Story” I left feeling very close to God, but I always do after leaving prison.  What happened on the way home is what I wanted to share with you tonight.

The older I get, the more I am starting to believe there is no such thing as chance, that everything truly does happen for a reason, and I am overwhelmed quite often when I hear the thoughts in my head coming from the voice of another man or woman.  People may think I’m crazy, or trying to hard to find a connection to things I see and hear, or perhaps they will tell me I am reading between the lines too often.  But what if that is where the real stories live, between the lines of the story being told to enlighten us to the mysteries that are so often not revealed.  The unspoken brokenness, the hidden pain, the unknown stories of shame and guilt, or the stories we are simply too afraid to share.  The author put it so perfectly “I’m also trying to be a part of a world where you and I have a community of friends who will listen to our real stories.”  That line right there sums up why I go to prison to meet with men to talk about grace and forgiveness, or as Mr. Foster calls it “Second Chances”.  One of the sections of this chapter is titled “YOU ARE NOT YOUR PAST”.  Do you believe that?  One of my favorite lines I’ve read in a long time came in this chapter as well, “You are never a never.  You are a not yet in process.  You are a story that has yet to be finished.”  Those three short sentences say A LOT!  For the one I prayed for at the beginning of this post, let that soak in for a minute.  God loves you SO much he is not concerned about what you’ve done, he’s waiting patiently for what you can become.

Now let’s get back to the ride home, I was listening to someone on the radio, an unfamiliar voice, who came to me with a mic drop moment along I-84 heading West.  This eloquent speaker was sharing about a time when he was in college I believe, or about a younger version of himself, and he was referring to a memory when he was in a restaurant ready to eat the food he had ordered as he noticed a couple of disgusting monsters sitting across the diner, he was honest and said it bothered him, so much so it “turned him off” to the meal waiting patiently to be enjoyed by him.  He said he assumed they had gotten out of a “home” near by, the kind of people not fit to be in public.  The woman was hideous with a cauliflower ear to match, he just couldn’t stomach the site of her!  He then noticed a sweet young girl walk through the door holding her mother’s hand, and he felt sorry for her that such a beautiful creature had to experience the horror of this woman sitting in the booth across the restaurant.  And then the unthinkable happened, the beast spoke!  “Oooooh would you look at that beautiful young face, come over here sweetheart!”  The nerve of that woman, how could she even consider herself worth of such beauty?  As the girl got closer the woman asked for a kiss, and the sweet young angel looked back at her mother and simply smiled (as if to say “I got this”) and then did the something nobody expected, she cupped the woman’s face, kissed her forehead, and simply said “Jesus loves you”.  When people wonder why Jesus was so fond of children and often spoke of a childlike faith, I have to believe he was referring to moments like THIS!  The speaker went on to say he went back to his dorm room where his roommate had a poster hung on the wall of a dirty old bum sitting next to an empty bottle of booze, with this written on it:

“You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

If that sounds familiar, it actually came straight from Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46 if you want to read it for yourself).  The speaker turned out to be Guy Doud, apparently he’s a motivation speaker and one I hope to learn more from as I go.  As I continued on my drive home I was reminded of another line from Mike Foster’s Second Chance book, “But shame is like mold. It grows best in the dark.”  How many of us often feel like the hideous woman that Guy had trouble even looking at, afraid to speak a word because someone might tell us we are too ugly to love.  As I sit here I wish I knew more about this woman, where did her childlike faith come from, where did she find the strength to ask a sweet young lady for a kiss?  This woman knew she needed love, and she wasn’t afraid to ask for it.  And how about the brave little girl, walking in front of all the people too repulsed to even offer the woman a smile let alone a loving touch, all put to shame by a selfless act of love.

No matter what you have been told, you are truly and deeply loved, more so than you will ever fully understand here on Earth. But you also have a story to tell, a real story with hidden messages buried deep beneath the surface headlines that we are willing to share with others.  THAT IS THE STORY I WANT TO HEAR, FROM EVERY ONE OF YOU!!!  Tonight I pray for those people who haven’t accepted that love, or who feel they are unworthy of acceptance and remain quiet, sitting alone in the dark, waiting for the mold of life to consume them.  Be brave, share your story with someone, most importantly open the pages of your heart and let God read to you what he sees in you, a beautiful creature who was fearfully and wonderfully made.  The same God that put the stars in place knows YOU by name, and he is waiting patiently with open arms to lavish the most fulfilling love on you one could ever know.  Let Him kiss your forehead and whisper “Jesus loves you”.

Welcome to Ragamuffin Ministries

This is a safe place to come if you are tired, broken, weary, or just need prayer.  God has been doing some wonderful things in my life lately that I can’t wait to share with all of you.  Stay tuned, more to come starting March 6, 2017!

In the words of the late Brennan Manning, a Ragamuffin is simply someone who is bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. Ragamuffins are the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other…they are the wobbly and weak-kneed people who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of Amazing Grace…they are inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker…they are the poor, the weak, and the sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents…they are the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God…and they are the smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.

In others words Ragamuffins are…all of us!