Friday, December 12, 2014

A Christmas Dinner In A Chinese Restaurant

I'll start by explaining what we were doing in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day. Twenty-four years ago, I was pregnant with my fourth child, Kyle. My three oldest were gone for the first time ever on a holiday, spending the day with their Dad. Chuck and I were alone. All of our holiday celebrating had taken place on Christmas Eve. We decided to go out for dinner, quickly finding out that this was not going to be as easy as it sounded. Who knew that there wasn't one restaurant open on Christmas Day? Don't people have to eat on Christmas too?

After driving all over the proverbial half-acre, lo and behold we found a place to eat. Much to our delight we learned that there ARE establishments open on Christmas Day...Chinese restaurants! I remember feeling a little like a loser. As I looked around the room at the other patrons, I remember wondering what their stories were. How does one find them self in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day? No family? Family doesn't want anything to do with you? Or, like Chuck and I, maybe they had celebrated the day before. Whatever the story, there were a lot of folk in that restaurant, on that Christmas day, twenty-four years ago. And every Christmas Day since then.

We decided to make this a Christmas tradition. We haven't missed a Christmas Day dinner at Wong's Garden .. not once. I remember the first year we took Kyle. He was only nine months old and I'm putting it nicely when I say that his behavior was abominable. Most years it was just the three of us. There was one year when my daughter Kelly joined us because she and I had spent the afternoon in the ER with strep throat, and she didn't go to her dad's house. My brother joined us one year, our son Brian another. But Chuck and Kyle and I have faithfully taken our egg drop soup together at Wong's for twenty-four years. That night was no exception.

The scene was the same. In the far corner was a large family, adults and little ones. Many tables were full with couples and foursomes. There was a line for carry-outs. The Christmas tree was up. It's been the same tree every year. A large statue of Buddha sat in the same corner as always. Kyle remarked that he couldn't understand how anyone would worship Buddha. Good question. Christmas music was playing overhead. WNIC...100.3. Waiters and waitresses bustled about and seemed particularly busy and disorganized this year. The owner was helping out and took our order.

A couple of tables away sat an elderly women with gray hair, at a table for four, all alone. She caught Chuck's eye first, and he said that he would really like to pay for her dinner. I asked him if he was sure that she was alone. He was sure. He had checked it out. She was actually done eating and getting her traditional carry-out containers to take home. Our hearts were touched by the sight of her, alone for dinner on Christmas Day. Now I can vividly recall years when we were counting our last dimes to make sure we had some money to carry on our tradition. In those days we would be cut short until the next pay day for sure, but we weren't going to miss this dinner. And there were years we barely had enough. This day, to God be the glory, He is so faithful...we had enough to buy this women's dinner and ours. So it wasn't about sacrificial giving. But it was definitely about something.

When the owner took our order Chuck explained to her that we would like to pay for the elderly women's dinner. No problem. We watched from a couple of tables away when she explained to her that her bill was taken care of, but we couldn't see her face. Here's where it gets good. She bundled up her coat,taking her carryout containers in hand, and proceeded to go out the door. One of the waitresses started screaming for her to come back! She thought the lady was skipping out on her bill! The table next to her started yelling, "No, No, the boss lady said that someone paid her bill!" Whew! Out the door she went.

Once she was gone, "boss lady" came to our table to ask if we were a relative of the woman. Now if we were, don't you think we would've been sitting with her? Anyway, she told us that the lady had begun to cry when she found out that someone had paid her bill. It turns out that her husband passed away two weeks ago, and her son was a no-show for this very Christmas dinner. Sweet Lord Jesus! I mean that! Sweet Lord Jesus!!

Over two thousand years ago, God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, Jesus. Jesus ... Immanuel...God with us. Over two thousand years later, on a cold Christmas night in Michigan, He is still God with us. He was God with that elderly woman. And He showed her, up close and personal, how much He cares for her. What I didn't tell you is that we almost didn't go to dinner last night. We almost got carryout. But something inside of me was saying that we should go and not break the tradition. Oh, thank you for the promptings of your Holy Spirit!

Do you see how our God cares so deeply and personally for each and every one of us? He knows how many hairs are on that grieving woman's head. Her name is engraved on the palms of His hands. His voice spoke from Heaven. He chose to come to her intimately, in the middle of a Chinese restaurant filled with strangers, and tell her... "I love you daughter. You are not alone. I am with you." And I'm humbled and so intensely grateful that He chose to use our little family to bring His message.

When all was said and done, "boss lady" told us that she had told the woman that God was looking down on her. I don't know if "boss lady" is a believer, if she just said the word "God", if she's a Buddhist, or what. But she gave "God" the glory and so do I. She also told us this, "I have never before seen people like you."

Oh, boss lady, I have never before seen anyone like my Jesus!

 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Leave The Scars

I met her one day when she came to help out at a rotating homeless shelter I was coordinating at my church. She had volunteered to spend the night with our guests, even though she attended another church.

It wasn't five minutes before she showed me her arms.  Arms wrecked and ravaged, indented and disfigured. From injecting heroin. For years.

She told me a brief tale of her journey through her own homelessness, drug abuse and prostitution, for forty something years, all the while holding out those arms and smiling.


She wanted me to know just what Jesus did for her. She said that.

"Look what Jesus did for me!!"

I grew to know and love this woman over the next few years. We laughed together, cried together, did church and Bible study together. I have NEVER EVER met another human being who loves Jesus more, who trusts Jesus more, or who fleshes out Jesus' command to be like little children in our faith, more than this precious daughter of God.  

She will never, ever, be able to hide those scars. And you know what? She never wants to. They are a minute by minute, heck! Second by second, reminder of what Jesus did for her.

She's not ashamed of those scars or what they represent. Because, you see, they don't ever allow her to forget where she came from. They don't ever allow her to forget what Jesus brought her through. They don't ever allow her to think more highly of herself than she ought. But oh! Think highly of her Jesus! You betcha!

You and I may not have visible scars. But you and I have been somewhere. We've been through some things. We have a past. So why do we act like we never did? Why do we act like our only life is the life we've lived after Jesus. Why, oh why, do we not ever let anyone see our scars; the visible manifestations of where the Lord has delivered us from? We never tell our story. We never testify, saying, "Look what Jesus did for me?"

Yes, the past is behind us, but it doesn't mean it never happened. It's a part of who we are. It's a place we've been. Our wounds can be healed, but that doesn't mean we were never wounded in the first place. Our sins can be forgiven, but that doesn't mean we never sinned.

I've grown intolerant of the bright and shiny people lately. Those who forget they ever had a past. Those who want everyone to believe they've always been this holy. I can't even teach them anymore, if I'm being honest. They have ears but don't hear. Eyes but don't see, and hearts that receive nothing.  Hiding in their circles with those who are just like them. There's no power in that. There's only judgement.

The very minute you forget where you came from, and what Jesus has delivered you from, is the very moment that you cross over into judgement of anyone who isn't living the way you think they should. And judgement, friend, has never contributed to helping a lost sinner find their way to Jesus. 

It only pushes them away.

No wonder Jesus was the most comfortable hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. He had no tolerance for judgmental Pharisees. And the sinners flocked to Him. The self righteous made Him sick.

I want to hang out again with the broken, the smelly, the dirty, the lost sheep who desperately need a Savior. I've always been so comfortable there. Comfortable among the ones the bright and shiny run away from. I won't have one iota of effect, if I carry my bucket of judgement to them. But if I come with love and a testimony of where my Jesus has brought me from, I believe they'll listen. I believe they will get a taste and see the goodness of the Lord and be encouraged that what He did for me, He'll do for them. I'll show them my scars. I'll tell them how much I love Him because,

"She who has been forgiven much, loves much!" 

Loves Him. Loves others. Overcomes by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.

Oh, Jesus! Heal my wounds, but leave the scars. Let them be a testimony to your amazing grace and forgiveness and deliverance. Use every last bit of who I used to be, to bring you glory for where you've brought me from. May I never forget. Ever. Send me to the lost, the broken, the ones this world has discarded like trash, and make me bold and unashamed to share my testimony, show my scars, and lead someone straight to You.  

In Jesus mighty Name, I pray.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Why Lie? I Need A Beer.

He was sitting on a milk crate on the corner yesterday, just at the edge of downtown Detroit proper. I was in the lane closest to him and the light turned red. It was a semi-decent spring day, so my window was down. I turned to him and smiled as he showed me this.

I know. I know. You don't need to warn me about the dangers of chatting with strange men on milk crates holding signs in the middle of Detroit. I won't listen to you. Never have. Never will. 

He said, "Want to contribute to my beer fund?" "Absolutely not!", I said.

He pointed out his honesty to me and I commended him for it. I told him that he might want to turn his life over to Jesus and then he wouldn't need that beer. He told me he believed in God. He told me that when he looked into my eyes he didn't see black or white. He said we all bleed red.

We chatted about my Mustang. He told me I must have a need for speed! For a second I thought about the measly $1.10 I had in my change purse and almost added to his fund. Almost...

As the light turned green, again, I lifted my hand to him, at the same time noticing another man approach with a toothless smile, and I said, "Jesus loves you!", and drove away. As I started to move, I heard them both yell back, "Jesus loves you!"

Jesus loves you?!?!?!

What kind of thing was that to say? Really, Donna? "Jesus loves you?" How trite. How cliche. You couldn't do better than that?

Somewhere deep I remembered another man; one sitting at the gate called Beautiful. He sat there begging every single day. He asked Peter and John to contribute to his fund, but Peter said,

"Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk". (Acts 3: 6)  

Peter gave him the name of Jesus. The power in that Name caused this man, lame from birth, to walk.

Isn't that all we really have to give that's of any worth or value or POWER?

The Name. The Name of Jesus? Not a lecture. Not an admonition to go find a job. Not disdain or disgust at his sad estate. 

The One who is called Jesus Christ is the best thing any of us can give.

We all bleed red. He was right.

But the One whose Name I gave bled the reddest of all.

For me.

And for my friend on a milk crate on the edge of the city on a spring afternoon in Detroit. 



Friday, April 18, 2014

It's All A Set Up

"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Galatians 4: 4-5)

Because Holy Week and Easter often fall in April, one of the daily devotionals that I study each morning has dedicated this month to the last few hours of the earthly life of Christ. Taking thirty days to go over the events of a few hours time has lent itself to going slowly and deliciously in-depth in regard to the details. I'm one of those line by line, precept by precept bible studiers anyway. The more I can squeeze out of a word or single phrase of Scripture, the more excited I get.

Studying the final hours that Jesus spent on planet Earth as the Son of Man has led me to draw one conclusion. God is in the business of setting things up. Being all powerful, He could accomplish His purposes with just a word going forth from His lips. Really, He doesn't have to get up from His throne, and He doesn't even need to speak. All He has to do is think it, will it, and it will be done exactly as He wants it to be. More than now and again that's not how He works. If you don't just look at the familiar verses that we focus on every year at this time, but look deeper into the environment in which those events took place, you'll see something so remarkable, and I'm praying that "something" will bring you new hope today.

Before the foundation of the world, God knew what would take place in the Garden of Eden. He knew that the man and woman He created would be deceived by the serpent and that sin would spoil the perfection which was His original intent for mankind. He also knew that He would have to do something to bring fallen man back into right fellowship with Him. He had to do something because of His love. From that moment on, His plan of redemption could realistically have taken place at any time, but He skipped generation after generation of His people, waiting for the perfect conditions, to send His son, made of a woman to redeem mankind. When the fullness of the time was come, He would send Jesus.    

There would be a particular virgin girl named Mary. There would be a kind-hearted, righteous Joseph. There would be a designated time for a census. There would be a loving home for the boy to grow up in. When His time for ministry came, there would be men in position to become His close band of followers. The political and religious climate of the day would have to be perfect. Roman law would mix with Jewish religious law and form a unique set of circumstances that would be just what was needed to bring Jesus to a death sentence of crucifixion. Caiaphas would have to be high priest. Pilate would be governor of Judea throughout the entire length of Jesus' ministry. Herod Antipas would be tetrarch of Galilee, and both he and Pilate would find themselves in the city of Jerusalem during that particular Passover feast. I wish that I could do a more in depth study with you right here so that you could see some of the most minute details that had to be in place for God's plan to come to fruition in just the right way and at just the right time. The right stew of political, social and religious environs all mixed together, and the fullness of the time was come. God had set up the details perfectly and then, not one moment too soon or too late, He told His Son, "Now is Your time."

Why, in our present situations and circumstances, do we think we're exempt from the process? God is a God of order and plans and purposes. Jeremiah 29: 11 says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Where there's an end, there was first a beginning. To get from the start to the finish, there must be a process in between. Details must be worked out perfectly to achieve that expected end, and that's the part where God sets it all up just the way He chooses.  He pays close attention to the details. It is then, and only then, that He says to you, "Now is YOUR time."

We would be patient if it weren't for all the waiting.

It is right in the middle of the waiting dear one, where God is paying perfect attention to each and every detail that needs to be in place for your own expected end. At a wedding in Cana, Jesus told His mother, "My time has not yet come." (John 2: 4) Later, when His disciples urged Him to go to Judea for the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews were there, waiting to take His life. Jesus told His friends, "The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right." (John 7: 1-6) That's you and me, isn't it? We think that any time is right. We want it to happen and we want it now. "Any time now, Lord! Any time would be right!" Jesus shows us otherwise. He could have gone to Judea and let them take Him at that very moment and the whole thing would have been over. But He trusted His Father enough to know that the perfect plan would be carried out in the perfect way and at the perfect time. Can we trust Him that much?

When God knows that the time is right, it will happen; even more so, if He has promised it to you in His Word. I read somewhere that the time preceding the event is like a glass of water slowly filling up as the time rolls on until when the glass is full it has reached the time for the designated event to occur.

Matthew Henry said, "Cast not away your confidence because God defers his performances. That which does not come in your time, will be hastened in his time, which is always the more convenient season. God will work when he pleases, how he pleases, and by what means he pleases. He is not bound to keep our time, but he will perform his word, honour our faith, and reward them that diligently seek him."
Your Heavenly Father knows what you're going through today. He has a plan to bring you to your expected end. A plan that is good and perfect because He has taken the time to pay attention to the details. Don't fight the process. Embrace it. Let not one moment of it be wasted. Let it draw you nearer to Him in trust and expectancy. When the fullness of your time has come, you will see that you wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Jesus knew that. Learn from Him for He is gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your weary soul.