Ecuador – Day 8 (Final Day)

ecuador-344Well, the amazing week was coming to a close.  This was the final day of an incredible journey.  My emotions were so mixed….I was super excited to see my family back at home, yet I felt like my heart had planted roots in Ecuador.  I had new family there and saying goodbye to them bummed me out.  Another full day was ahead of us though and I couldn’t wait to get moving.

We had the opportunity of checking out project 542, ALC’s 2nd funded project.  Construction had not begun yet, but the plot of land was acquired (after some drama – see day 5 for details).  We had a small church service and hugged a lot of great folks….notice the hugging theme?  🙂  It was cool to envision what the new project would look like and what memories would be shared there.

ecuador-514These projects are placed in great locations, right in the middle of impoverished communities, which is ideal.  They serve as great hubs and resources for those in need.  I love the way God works and I love the way He uses His people!

Speaking of God using His people, I have a cool story for you.  After we said our goodbyes at 542, we broke up into groups and visited a few more homes.  My group had a special mission.  There was a little boy named Freddie who just had a birthday about 1 week before.  A little before Freddie’s birthday, his dad started a new job working in the mines.  The job wasn’t close to home, so he had to travel.  Although it’s great that his dad found a job, the family hadn’t heard from him in about 2 weeks.  They didn’t know if he was just unable to make a phone call, in trouble or dead.  Freddie’s birthday came around and he was really hoping to see his dad…..well, the day came and went and the family still had not heard from him.  Understandably, Freddie was very bummed about this and he missed his dad very much.  This story laid heavy on the hearts of the staff of 542, so they decided to do something so special…..they threw him a surprise belated birthday party and we got to be a part of it!!!!  They went to a bakery and purchased a cake made just for him.  They also brought some drinks and decorated the walls of the house with cool kid stuff.  To top it off, they had this awesome sparkler candle to place on the cake and those pull-string little firework confetti things.  Although the folks from 542 had limited resources and funds, they still gave what they could in order to pour out God’s love on this little boy.  Inspiring.

ecuador-549I’ll never forget walking down the dirt streets to his house, cake and supplies in-hand.  Then entering his house and seeing his smiling face light up.  He was surrounded by people who loved him, family and strangers alike.  I couldn’t believe that we were standing in a house in Ecuador, eating cake with beautiful people, witnessing God’s love in action….I was standing on holy ground…truly.

After our little party came to a close, we took the last bites of cake and it was time to head out.  We visited a couple more staff houses to meet their families and pray with them.  I was reminded once again of how dedicated these folks were to serving and pouring out every resource that they had.  They hold on loosely to their lives, knowing that God will provide.  I want to be like that.

After some great visits, the trip was officially coming to a close.  We were saying goodbye to our friends and driving to the city.  The plan was to head to the market to buy some souvenirs for our friends and family.  It was a great time and fun to negotiate prices with the vendors!  I wish we could wheel and deal like that more in the states!

The next stop was back to the hotel…the same one that we stayed in at the very beginning of the trip.  We organized our luggage there and ate some dinner.  For me, this was a sad time.  We were heading directly to the airport from the hotel and I couldn’t believe that the journey was over.  After months of preparation and prayer, God’s agenda had been accomplished and we had the divine opportunity of being a part of it.

ecuador-564Well, it was about time for our team to pack up and head to the airport.  The anticipation of going through customs and security became our new focus.  Eventually, we all made our way through the ticket line and it was time to say goodbye to our leader, Liz and the translators.  They became family to us and saying goodbye was harder than expected.  They were amazing people and we couldn’t have made it through each day without them.  They wished us well and we made our way through customs, through security, to Miami, to Dallas and finally, to Portland.  The trip was smooth coming home (thank goodness!!!) and we were ready to see our families.  When the plane landed in Portland, we all knew that it was time to apply all that we had learned in Ecuador to our daily lives.  There was so much to share with our loved ones!

After tons of hugs from our families, we gathered one last time with our group to pray.  We thanked God for an unbelievable experience and our strong team.  We thanked God for His protection and for the opportunity to be loved and to love in a whole new, powerful way.  I’m grateful for my amazing team and the memories that we shared together.

ecuador-572Looking back to about a year ago, I never would have pictured myself traveling to Ecuador.  I’m just a normal guy who goes through the daily grind like everyone else.  Being interested and responding to God’s call to go abroad never seemed like an option or a possibility.  Boy did that change!  It just goes to prove that God can use any of us to make an impact around the world.  There are folks struggling out there, doing their best to make it through another day.  They need hope and joy and comfort and food and care and love just like we do.  Getting to that point of thinking outside of our little boxes is hard, but it’s necessary if we want God to make an impact through us.  It takes intention and it often takes God slapping us across the head to get there.

So how do I conclude such an awesome trip?  How do I sufficiently portray what’s on my heart?  I guess I’ll just leave you with some great words behind why I went: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20

As a Christian, the Great Commission lays heavy on my heart and truthfully, it scares the crap out of me sometimes.  God calls all of us to “go.”  It’s not always pretty or organized or perfectly planned, but neither is life.  God uses normal people to accomplish miraculous things, He just needs folks who are willing to take steps in faith and trust Him.  So I ask you this: Are you brave enough to go?  Are you willing to stretch yourself and risk being uncomfortable?  I encourage you to let these questions sink in.  God’s inviting you to join Him in transforming lives…in transforming your life.  Take the invitation.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks so much for following me along this incredible journey!  It’s been fun!

ecuador-585God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why It’s Good To Be Uncomfortable

comfortableMany times, ok most times in my life, I have chosen to take the comfortable path…..it’s predictable, safe and failure isn’t really a threat…..it’s comfortable.

As I’m getting older, I’m discovering that sometimes too much comfort can lead to complacency, even boredom.  It can stunt growth as we settle for “mediocre” when “great” is right around the bend.

It’s not that being comfortable is a bad thing, because it’s not.  The rub comes when we give up our potential as difference-makers, for the sake of sticking with what we know. 

So what is it?  What stops us from stretching?  I think it’s 2 main things: LAZINESS and FEAR.  We’re gluttons for the easy life….looking for short cuts and bean bag chairs to rest our easy lives on.  But we’re also afraid of risking too much, of failing, of life going in an unplanned direction.

I’m guilty of both of these things and I’ll admit it, fear plays a big factor in my decision-making.  It always has, but I’m trying to kick fear’s booty….you know, show it who’s boss.

Slowly but surely, I’m directing my decisions toward not-so-comfortable commitments and situations.  I’m leaning in to the stomach butterflies, I’m leaning into the “what if” thoughts, I’m leaning into the possibility that God can use even ME for great things…..and it’s kind of scary, and freeing at the same time.

In your life, doesn’t it seem like the coolest things have happened when things are on the line?  When failure is a very real possibility?  I’ve totally noticed that!

Life really is too short to be comfortable ALL the time!  Let’s throw a little Tabasco or Sriracha on our lives, on our decision-making, on our faith.  We need some spice and flare, some courage to take a step forward into the beautiful life that God has planned for us.

Don’t worry, He’s patient and He knows how we’re wired.  I’m sure He’s engineering that miraculous not-so-comfortable situation right now, just for you :).  Will you be ready?

God Bless,

Paul

 

Why Being A Christian Isn’t Cool

Not CoolI’m a Christian, believe in Jesus, trust the bible and the whole bit.  I pray, often out loud, while driving down the road, for all to see.  I listen to a lot of Christian music with sometimes cheesy, weird beats and no cuss words.  I go to church and worship a Man named Jesus who I believe has saved the world by dying and coming back to life.  Yeah, to some people, I guess I’m pretty weird….at least in comparison to our culture.

I’m especially weird because I’m a dude and I’m trying to follow the ultimate Dude, Jesus who is more dudical than any other dude.  He teaches us men to be loving, to be humble, to be leaders in our homes, to fight against lust, to respect our wives, to discipline our children, to be generous, to be full of character, integrity and grace…..I guess it can sound pretty lame when you consider the alternative that our culture offers:  sex, lust, pride, status, greed, promiscuity, divorce, pro-choice, pro-marijuana, pro-equality, pro-everything.  Man.

So here we are, as Christians in this spot of tension.  Do we keep our mouths shut, comply with culture and try to remain neutral, hoping to keep our Facebook friends, Twitter followers and social circles intact?  Or, do we lovingly make known our Christian views, sharing the Good News about Jesus’s saving grace, while risking the title of “bible thumper” or “holy roller” or “hypocrite?”  Pretty dang tough.

I think we need an uncool revolution in this country, in this world.  Seriously.  We, who label ourselves as “Christians” need to re-focus.  We need to speak the truth, even when it hurts.  We need to replace the luke warm water in our mouths with hot sauce baby, confidently sharing God’s peace, grace and power.  Remember that moment when Jesus spoke to you?  Where He changed your life?  Dwell on that, draw your fuel from that, share that, invite others to experience that!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, this is a wake up call to myself as I write this.  I’m as messed up as the next guy.  I’m broken, but loved.  I’m a sinner, but forgiven.  I was lost but now I’m found.  I need to share this more.

Let’s be uncool together friends.  Let’s be different.  Let’s allow God to guide our conversations and interactions.  Let’s be light in the darkness, knowing that in the end, our “uncool” God wins.

God Bless,

Paul

 

I Have a Confession and an Invitation

imageMy whole life, I’ve struggled so much with a certain weakness.  It’s something that not all folks struggle with, but we’re all affected by at some point in our lives.  It’s called fear.  It can take many forms and can stop us from being who we are designed to be.  It can be crippling.

My particular fear has been regarding other people, what they think of me.  It stems from when I was bullied as a kid.  I took every insult to heart.  It stained my insides pretty bad.  As an adult, I have learned to work against this fear, with God’s help of course, but it’s still there…every single day.

For the last year or so, I have let this fear affect my spiritual life, my “witness” so to speak.  I’ve avoided conversations with others about Jesus, I’ve slowed down on writing, I’ve been afraid of being too bold about my faith for fear of rejection.  It’s sad, but it’s the truth.

It’s not that I stopped believing or anything, it’s that I lost focus on WHY I believed in Jesus.  I don’t think this is an abnormal thing, but it’s a place that I never want to get too comfortable in.  In all reality, it’s been pretty selfish on my part.

The good news is that I’m coming out of this fog.  I’ve just kept praying, reading, surrendering and remaining open to God’s leading.  I guess perseverance would be the word to describe it…….such imperfect perseverance.  God is faithful though.  I believe that He sometimes allows these times of disconnect, because He wants us to seek Him.  He wants us to reach out to Him.  He wants to remind us of what life feels like apart from Him.  Sometimes folks push away during these times and I can understand that.  I’ve had my own moments of pushing away.  I encourage you to dig in though.  Be stubborn and refuse to let those dark clouds hold residence over your life.

To those of you who are scared or nervous to share their faith, I urge you to be bold, be courageous, be confident and most of all, be full of love.  We’re not expected to have all the answers to life’s mysteries.  Our role is to have open arms and loving hearts to ALL people, despite their differences, creeds, interests, beliefs, etc.

Today, more than ever, we need lights to shine and salt to flavor.  That light and salt is you, it’s me, it’s all of us who believe in Christ.

Please join me in seeking more.  In giving more.  In serving more.  In sharing more.  In loving more.  Jesus will take care of the rest, I promise.

God Bless,

Paul

 

Living Out What We Believe

HelpingHave you ever read a great story, watched an inspiring movie or heard an amazing testimony that compelled you to take action in some way?  Maybe your perspective was changed.  Maybe you felt encouraged to take a leap of faith.  Maybe you felt empathy for someone or something because of your experience.

What you witnessed left you with the desire to act.  I would even venture to say that inwardly, you had no choice but to act, to change, to rest in the revelation.

For those of us who fall under the label of “Christians”, what does our faith look like?  Are we walking witnesses, trusting Jesus to guide our steps or are we tired and timid, wearing the name of Christ as clothing, easily removable at will.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  I was raised in the church and surrounded by “all things Christian” my whole life.  Becoming complacent is definitely something to watch when you’ve been around a belief structure so long.

It’s so easy to fall into the comfortable trap of doing Christian things, checking off the list for Christ.  Going through the motions without allowing the heart-change.

Unfortunately, I think there are many Christians who fall under this category.  Wandering around like a bunch of zombies, following tradition, rules and procedures, all the while, forgetting about their 1st love, Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there.  Looking back, I was a judgemental jerk at times.  Using my bible as a weapon, not for love.  I’ve grown up since then, but I’m certainly not perfect either.

Here’s the thing, when we’ve been gripped by God’s love, it SHOULD transform us.  It SHOULD mold us.  It SHOULD flip our freaking worlds upside down!

I’m not saying that we suddenly become theologians or scholars or saints.  What happens is actually quite simple.  Our perspective is altered, our heart is more sensitive and our love for others increases.  Most importantly, our view of eternity and God Himself becomes more intimate and real.  It’s a supernatural thing, not a common sense thing.

What we need these days from Christians, more than ever, is conviction of the spirit and the courage to love boldly.  I speak for myself here.  It’s something that I pray for constantly.

By conviction, I mean the yearning or urging to live out what God has worked in.  To be a witness in our words AND deeds.  That’s the key.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:18 (NLT)

To clarify, it’s not just a do-good thing.  It’s a have-faith-in-Jesus-and-the-rest-will-follow kind of thing.  It comes naturally over time.

The world is dark.  Would YOU be bold enough to be the light that brings hope?  Would YOU be bold enough to be the love amidst the hate?  Would YOU be bold enough to share the story about a man named Jesus and why you have chosen to follow Him?

Faith without action is dead.  Action without faith is dead.  Let’s let others see Jesus’s imprint on our deeds, our words, in our lives and sparkling in our eyes.  It’s what we were created to do after all.

Let’s live up to the label we place on ourselves, by God’s grace.  Go get ’em.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When’s Risk Worth It?

boy and girlIt was a normal day, well kind of.  I was downstairs in my basement, heart beating, pulse thumping, sweat beading…..I was going to ask a girl out over the phone.

I met her at church camp and a crush developed.  To be honest, I thought she was way out of my league, but I had to give it a shot.

The conversation paused, my senses were keen and the musty smell of the concrete room faded away.  I took a quick glance over my shoulder to make sure nobody was around.  I had to spit it out….so I did.  “Will you go out with me?”  The pause was long, torturous and agonizing.  All I could do was play with the phone cord and wait for the response…and so it came: “I’ll call you back, I have to think about it.”  Well, it wasn’t a definite “no”, but it surely wasn’t even close to a “yes.”  Crap!

A while later, she called back and declined the invitation to be my girlfriend.  I was pretty darn bummed and a little embarrassed.  It’s part of life though.  Even our worst times can contribute to our best times.

My attempt at high school romance was a risk.  It didn’t quite end as I hoped it would and that’s ok.  Isn’t that the nature of risk?

I could have never asked at all.  It would have been the safer option.  In my eyes, the possible reward was greater than the risk, so I gave it a go.

Here’s the thing, I believe risk always comes with a reward.  Even if the result is completely different from what was anticipated, there’s always a lesson to be learned.  That’s priceless.

I’m a safe guy by nature and I prefer comfort and predictability.  It’s taken many years to break myself of the temptation to just sit on the sidelines.  Sure, I’m more conservative than most folks, but I’m learning to loosen the chains a bit.

Just to be clear, there is a big difference between taking a risk and being reckless.  God’s given us all a brain for a reason……finding the balance between playing it safe and “getting our feet wet” is the key.

We’re all faced with opportunities to step outside the box.  Whether it be involving our faith, careers, relationships or whatever.  Those who have made the greatest impact in our world have taken risks….some have been more calculated than others.

We can all feel the nudge to take a step forward.  The question is this: will you have the courage to take that step?

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

GO USE YOUR GIFTS, DUDE!

TalentI’ve been thinking a lot about who God created me to be.  To what extent should I be using the gifts that He has given me?  Better yet, what in the world ARE the gifts that He has given me?

I have a heart for children.  I love to encourage.  I have a new-found passion for writing.  These are the first 3 things that come to mind.  So what do I do with them?

Well, I guess I need to love on kids, encourage others and write a lot.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  I guess it is, but we complicate things.  Ok, I speak for myself….I am really good at complicating things.

Each and every person has a gift, or talent, or skill, or passion, or conviction to share with the world.  God designed it that way.  We are created to be in relationship and to help each other grow.

Sometimes, it takes a while to discover our “calling.”  Sometimes, the “calling” comes on us suddenly….like mine did about writing, as I was driving down the freeway.

Other times, our talent can be right in front of us, hiding amidst the craziness of life.  It could be something small like making a craft for someone, or offering a smile.  Maybe fixing a car or helping the elderly with yard work….everyday stuff that can make an eternal difference.

So often, we find ourselves waiting for the defining moments, don’t we?  The big opportunities.  The major breakthroughs.  The chance to shine.

God’s not interested in the big stuff only.  He’s interested in our response to His calling, no matter how “menial” it may be.  May we have enough courage to follow the whisper that is in our hearts to go, to be of use, to make an impact…..for Jesus, not ourselves.

There’s a quote on my fridge that says; “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope I would not have any talent left and I could say, “I used everything you gave me.”  I hope to be able to say this someday.

What gifts and talents do you have?  How can God use you as His hands and feet?

God Bless,

Paul