Calling God “Bro”

The other morning, I was driving to work, observing the HUGE harvest moon in the sky and thanking God for my life.  My truck has always been my sanctuary…a safe place to vent, sing, laugh and pray to God out loud.  Yep, I’m that guy driving down the road looking all schizophrenic and goofy.  Gotta love it.

As I was chatting with God, something funny happened…I suddenly said something like, “I love you Bro!”  I caught myself and said out loud, “sorry God, I didn’t mean to call you Bro!”  Then I said, “wait, you ARE my bro AND my dad AND my friend AND my God!”  The truth is, He’s everything to me, so how I addressed Him was super fitting and I’m pretty sure He was cool with that.

Sometimes, it almost seems irreverent to address or approach God in a casual way, doesn’t it?!  Almost like He won’t converse with us if we don’t start the conversation with “Dear Lord of the universe” or “Dear God” or “Thou Father who art in heaven.”  I think that’s where we’ve got it wrong.

Please don’t misunderstand me…approaching God in a “formal” way is totally ok and I’m sure He respects that too.  I just think people make communication with our Savior too intimidating and too planned.

Here’s the thing, God ALREADY knows our hearts and intentions before we approach Him.  Because of this, I really believe that He wants us to chat with Him like a buddy, like somebody we can trust, like a dad.  He wants relationship and hates those stupid hoops that we so enjoy jumping through.  Seriously.

As a dad, I would hate it if my sons approached me formally all the time…talking to me like, “Dear father, I would like to discuss an issue pertaining to our relationship.”  I would so much rather they approach me like, “Hey dad, we need to talk because I’m super frustrated and mad right now!”  Now that’s genuine, truthful conversation and I think God wants us to approach him with the same honesty and candidness.  It’s a beautiful thing really.

So next time you’re praying, or soaking in His presence, I challenge you to just relax.  I challenge you to not worry about the “appropriate” way, time and place to talk to God.  I challenge you to unload your frustrations and fears on Him with abandon and truthfulness.  I’m pretty confident that he can handle anything that we toss His way!  He loves you, truly!

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

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What I’m Praying For

Hey friends, I just wanted to share a prayer with you that’s been on my heart lately.

It’s apparent, more than ever that there are a lot of problems going on in the world….in our own country.  The divisiveness is deep and love seems conditional at best.  Human nature is running it’s course, rearing it’s ugly head in the form of racism, hate, hostility, selfishness, pride…the list goes on and on.

In light of all of this, my prayer is for a revival to happen….revival in our communities, revival in our families, revival in our country and revival around the world.

That the hearts of those who trust Jesus would be emboldened to share the truth IN LOVE, NOT JUDGEMENT OR CONDEMNATION! 

That good, solid, life-changing conviction would guide us, stir us and awaken our souls to our own conditions and to the folks around us.

That BECAUSE of our hope in Jesus, our hearts would sloppily and unceasingly overflow with love, generosity and grace onto all those around us.

That our eyes and actions would be so beaming with love, bringing up Jesus isn’t even necessary….just His radiation of love through our actions would be enough to touch lives.

That folks who have condemned Jesus as false, would yearn to know Him as truth.

That stomachs would churn, restlessness would occur and the uneasy prodding of “maybe there’s something more” would infiltrate souls, minds and hearts…..leading to the discovery of truth, freedom, hope and peace that is only found in Jesus and His grace.

That those who wish evil on others would be brought to their knees, seek forgiveness and find the God who loves them.

The truth is that when things are dark, light shines even brighter.  May God light our lamps, strengthen our bones and embolden our spirits as we slog through the stinky, murky, slimy reality of evilness so prevalent in this world.

May our bland lives pop with flavor and may the God who created us all direct our steps.  Most of all, may we have the courage to follow His steps, which always lead to life and jaw-dropping change.  May we be the change that this world needs friends!

God Bless,

Paul

 

Life Without Love = Meaningless

As I’ve grown older and reached the ripe age of 37, I’ve come to realize something:  LIFE ISN’T ABOUT WHAT WE DO, IT’S ABOUT HOW WELL WE LOVE.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)

This verse is huge for me.  It’s a great reminder of how much God values love and how he could give a rip about what we do if love isn’t the motivator or result.

You could be the most devout church goer in town, but if you treat others like crap Mon.-Sat., you’re pretty much wasting your time.  You could be the CEO of a huge corporation and rake in the cash, but if you’re a cheat and unfair, you’re pretty much wasting your time.  You could be super generous, devoting your time to volunteer, but if you’re not loving to others, you’re pretty much wasting your time.  You see, God isn’t interested in the same stuff that we’re interested in.  The trophies and status symbols that our culture values are garbage to him.  He’s interested in eternity.  He’s interested in life change.  He’s interested in our character.  He’s interested in us being light when all else is dark around us.  He’s interested in stuff that will last, not stuff that is temporary.

God has given us relationships such as family, neighbors, enemies and difficult people for a reason…..to learn what love is….what HIS love is.  I’ve come to grips with the fact that I will never fully understand the extent of God’s love or Jesus’s sacrifice.  I will never fully understand the grace given to me daily, when I totally don’t deserve it.  I DO understand one thing though….I’m grateful for it and BECAUSE I’m grateful for it, my natural desire is to SHARE it with others.  I want others to experience the same love that I’ve received.  I want folks to feel the rush of loving others because amidst that sharing of love, God is there, waiting with a glowing smile and a big ‘ol bag of life change with our name on it.  That’s the good stuff right there.

You know what though?  We don’t HAVE to love at all.  We are given the choice to be selfish or to be selfless because that’s what love is all about….choice.  Friends, I sure hope you CHOOSE love, you CHOOSE Jesus, you CHOOSE that solid peace that goes beyond all understanding.

At my funeral, I don’t want people to talk about how nice my yard was or what kind of car I drove or how many hours at the office I put in per week…..I want them to talk about how I loved.  I want them to talk about how I cared.  I want them to talk about my role as a husband and as a father and how I took that honor seriously.  I want them to talk about Jesus and how He reflected Himself through me, even it was just a little bit.

Here’s the thing, love can be intoxicating to receive and terrifying to give at times, I get it.  There’s risk involved, it’s true.  God wants us to love anyways because maybe, just maybe, your smile or handshake or good gesture could alter the path of someone’s life.  I think that’s definitely worth the risk, don’t you?  Go get ’em!

God Bless,

Paul

God’s Provision and a Pendleton Blanket

pendleton-blanketIt was a cool, fall-like day and I had the nagging itch to go for a run.  It was a weekend, so I decided to jog the trail on the opposite side of the river….a typical weekend thing that I like to do.  It’s pretty scenic and quiet…a good time to reflect on life and hang out with God.  So I laced up and hit the road.

As I was jogging down the path, breathing in the crisp air, my eyes and heart were drawn to a gal walking towards me.  She was pushing a grocery cart full of cans, clothes, food….basically her whole life stuffed in a basket being pushed with feeble, weather-worn hands.  As I passed her, I smiled and said hello, but I don’t think she noticed me….she was probably used to folks turning the other way or becoming conveniently preoccupied with their phones or whatever.

I continued down the path towards the end, where I usually turn around and head back the way I came.  My steps had a nice rhythm going and my body was warm, my blood pumping pretty good.  Through the rush of exercise came a gentle whisper in my soul….this whisper basically told me that if I happen to see the gal on my route back, that I need to stop and talk to her.  It was like one of those butterflies in the stomach feelings.  Almost like my whole being was on alert with the anticipation of seeing her, wondering what God had planned.

Guess what?!  As I followed the bend of the path, there she was, patiently pushing her cart, heading to who knows where.  So I listened to the whisper, or the Holy Spirit as I like to call Him and I stopped to talk.  I said something like “for some reason, I feel like I need to talk to you.  You mind if I tag along for a bit?”  She didn’t seem to mind at all, so I just walked with her for a bit.  I found out that her name was Karen and we talked about her life, faith and what it was like to be homeless, surviving off of the land and trash cans and shelters and hand outs and whatever she could get her hands on.  She gave me some tips on what trees were best to sleep under and other interesting stuff.  She was pretty street smart and really nice.

I didn’t have much to give her since I was out running and all.  The only thing that I had was the sweatshirt that I was wearing, so I gave it to her.  She seemed happy with it, but I wasn’t….I wanted to give her more.  So, after we parted ways, I sprinted back to my house (about 1 mile away) hoping that I could grab some food and clothes really fast and meet her at the end of the path in time.  So when I got home, I made an announcement to my wife and 2 boys that we were to quickly grab a bunch of food, some clothes, blankets, toiletries and whatever else was available so we could complete the mission of finding Karen.  After everything was gathered, we hopped in the truck and drove back to the river, where the path ended….guess what?!  We found her!

We basically just pulled up next to her and I reminded her of who I was and that my family wanted to give her a few more things.  We all participated in loading up her grocery cart with items that seemed pretty basic to us, but probably were necessities for her.  Along with the stuff that we brought from our house, I also noticed a couple of blankets in the back of our truck, so I gave those to her as well.  She seemed pleased, we said our goodbyes and that was it.  It was great.

Well, later I found out that one of the blankets that I gave her on impulse was a nice Pendleton blanket given to us as a wedding gift.  OOPS!!!  My wife wasn’t mad or anything, just bummed that I chose that blanket to give away and I can understand that.  My bad.

Here’s the cool part of this whole story….a couple of weeks ago, a family friend dropped by the house to deliver some Christmas gifts.  Really nice of her.  Guess what one of the gifts was?!  A BRAND NEW PENDLETON BLANKET!  My wife had told her this story in passing a while ago and our friend felt led to replace the blanket that we gave away.  Isn’t that awesome?!

I was so blessed not only by our friend’s generosity, but that God used her to remind me of His provision.  That blanket meant a lot to my wife and He replaced it.  What a practical, yet powerful thing.

God’s pretty creative and He never ceases to amaze me.  I had no idea that this story would blossom from a simple run on a fall day.  I hope Karen got some good use out of the stuff we gave her.  One thing’s for sure; we both scored some new blankets out of the deal!  Wink wink.

 

God Bless,

Paul

 

My #1 Goal For Next Year

img_5988Lately, I’ve been reflecting on this last year.  It’s been full of awesomeness, it really has!  I’ve met some great people, I’ve grown closer to others, I’ve been stretched, I’ve traveled, I’ve overcome obstacles, I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded, I’ve grown, I’ve battled dark clouds and rejoiced when those clouds have retreated.  Overall, it’s been a pretty darn good year.

In a couple of days, the slate will be wiped clean and another year will be upon us.  More opportunities lie ahead around every corner….ordained opportunities that are waiting to welcome us like an anxious puppy patiently anticipating their owner’s arrival home.  Exciting!

As I’ve grown older and wiser (hehe!), I’ll typically set a goal to pursue for the upcoming year.  Not a new years resolution or anything, just a vision to follow.  So here’s mine….drum roll please….MY #1 GOAL FOR THIS NEXT YEAR IS TO LOVE BETTER.  There you go.

So what in the world does this “love better” stuff mean?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  For me, it means being open to God’s invitations.  To love people, even though I may not receive anything in return.  So often, I hesitate when I feel God’s nudging to love on somebody or offer kind words.  Ok, I admit it…most of it stems from fear and lack of trust.  For some reason, I forget that God is bigger than me.  I forget that I’m just a limited human, influenced by culture and sin.  I forget that it’s not about me, it’s about Him.  God wants HIS love in MY heart to spew or spray (ok, weird words) or add flavor to those around me.  Not that I’m exceptional or worthy or anything, it’s that He’s exceptional!

So, when I feel led to give the shirt off my back to someone in need, I want to do it.  When I feel led to talk to that lonely looking guy on the bench, I want to do it.  When I feel led to feed that homeless person, I want to do it.  When I feel led to pray for somebody, I want to do it.  When I feel led to send that text, email or make that phone call, I want to do it.  When I see God working in ways that don’t necessarily make sense to me, I want to follow Him…NO MATTER WHAT!  There’s something powerful and beautiful that happens when we are walking in-step with our Creator.  Life is full and complete and purposeful…almost normal feeling…like we were meant to love with boldness, following God’s lead, serving others, not ourselves…hmmmm.

So that’s it.  Pretty simple goal, but so hard to follow through with sometimes!  I’m gonna try though, so watch out world!

WARNING:  You may be hugged next time I see you.  Don’t be afraid, God probably told me to do it.  😉

Happy New Year friends and family.  I believe that God has some amazing powerful things in store for all of us, I really do!

What goals do you have for next year?  What is God challenging you to pursue or change?

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador – Day 6

ecuador-570In my mind, this day was the most powerful in regards to sensing God’s love and power.

As a team, we had the opportunity of doing something incredibly humbling: washing the feet of the staff.  Our leaders were all on the same page regarding the vision for this idea.  The staff at the projects are always pouring into others….very rarely do they have the opportunity to be served.  In order for them to be effective leaders and in order for us to be humbled, washing their feet seemed like a powerful idea and boy was it powerful!  It’s amazing to think that Jesus, the Savior of the world did the same thing for others….it was an honor to follow in His footsteps in this way.

It was pretty simple.  The church staff sat in chairs with the basins of water at their feet.  We kneeled in front of them, removed their shoes and quietly washed each of their feet.  Once we were done, we dried each foot off, placed their shoe back on and gathered more water for the next person to serve.  What an experience!

On a personal note, as the washing concluded, I felt God leading me to go around and just hug people.  Not like half-hearted pats on the back, but big, real, tight hugs.  I then felt led to place their cheeks in my hands, connect our tear-soaked eyes and kiss them on the forehead.  During every hug given and forehead kissed, tears just flowed like a faucet…..good, hard crying took place and it felt like God was breaking chains, tearing down walls and opening up heaven.  Authentic, real interaction was taking place…..most of the time, not a word was spoken, there were only God-fueled actions.  Powerful.

Now, as somebody reading this bog, I can completely understand how all of this would sound strange, uncomfortably intimate and even weird, I get it.  It’s pretty much hard to explain the presence of God in that room….one of those “you had to be there” kind of things.  You’ll just have to take my word for it I guess.  Picture a nice warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold day…that’s all I got.

As a team, we left this time changed forever.  Our tanks were full and we were ready for whatever God was preparing us for.

ecuador-328Next, to keep with the theme of supporting and getting to know the staff, we had the opportunity of visiting each of their homes.  It was a blessing to see where they live, to meet their families and to pray with them.  It was just amazing to see such beautiful people opening up their homes, pouring out their resources and dedicating their lives to serving others.  We were so fortunate to have had this experience.

After the staff home visits were done for the day, it was time to head back to project 534 for another day of VBS….only this time, there was a twist.

ecuador-171Instead of playing the games, bible stories and crafts with the kids, we had a VBS for the parents!  The kiddos went into classrooms and did their own stories and crafts while the parents had the chance to have their own fun and just be kids.  They participated in the stories and made their own crafts.  It was really something!  They had a blast!

They also played some of the same games that the kids played and truthfully, I was worried that they might get bored.  As I discussed this with some of our team members, I was told that many of these parents didn’t have much of a childhood…..the opportunity to play and to just be innocent kids wasn’t there, which is a sad reality.

To my surprise, these parents who were lovingly observing their kids playing from the sidelines the day before were laughing, smiling and really getting into the games!  They had a child-like innocence about the way that they played and participated.  It was as if they were enjoying the childhood that they never had.  It was awesome to see.  I’m grateful to have been a part of that.

During this time, one game was a particular hit.  We called it “sponge pass.”  There were 2 lines of about 6 people each side by side. At the front of each line was a large sponge and a bucket of water.  At the end of each line was a person with an empty water bottle, which was held on top of the head.  The point of the game was to soak the sponge with water and pass it overhead to the person behind until it reached the back of the line.  The last person in line squeezed the soaking wet sponge into the empty bottle.  This was repeated until the water bottle at the end of the line was full.  It was a race, so whoever filled up their water bottle first won.  Understandably, the person holding the water bottle overhead got the short end of the stick and was soaked by the end of the game!  What a hoot!

015The parents loved this game.  They especially loved watching us folks from the US get soaked.  Almost our entire team participated and what started as a simple game ended in a huge water fight!  We were a wet, dirty mess by the end of the festivities…absolutely perfect!

017After another great day, it was time to head back to the hotel.  We had the opportunity of Pastor Alejandro (the pastor responsible for all of the church plants and the guy who facilitated the ground breaking ceremony on day 5) and his wife joining us for dinner.  We had a great conversation regarding his vision for his church and also his vision for Ecuador as a country.  He currently pastors a very large church (a mega church by Ecuador’s standards) and he’s using his many resources and contacts to make a huge impact on the surrounding community.  It was an inspiring conversation full of passion and conviction.  I was grateful to have been a part of it.

This was one of those days where, when my head finally hit the pillow for the night, I just marveled at God’s power.  I couldn’t believe that He allowed me to experience such an amazing day.  Wow.

I am left with one major thought when reflecting about this day in Ecuador:  Many times, when we serve others, it’s not just about the person or people whom we are serving….it’s about our hearts as well.  God speaks to us through interaction and genuine service….that’s just how he designed things.  I know that my cup was filled to overflowing and there’s a part of me that was stamped forever by the love and kindness shared by just actions alone….no words were needed.  Amidst every hug, every smile, every laugh and every tear was a common knowledge that we were loved by a God who is way bigger than we are.  As we served one another, it was as though we were truly living out God’s will for our lives.

Here’s a few words from my favorite book:  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”  The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:35-40

SERVING OTHERS = SERVING JESUS.  Boom.

Stay tuned for day 7!

God Bless,

Paul