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As I was going through old emails today, I discovered an email that had a video link to the work site where we build a house earlier this summer. The video shows the dusty location where our team would build a house for Lydia and her family. Check out the video below.
Now look at these pictures of Lydia, her family, and the house.
I don’t know what your situation is right now. I don’t know what uphill battle you are facing. I don’t know the dusty, barren period you have found yourself in recently.
But I do know there is HOPE for you!
My typical weekend writing was interrupted by a variety of circumstances.
First, our house is for sale, and we had a showing at our house on Sunday night after church. We had two piles of mulch and garden soil on the driveway that needed to be moved to our flower beds and garden. Plus, we had to make our final trips around the house making sure everything was clean before we left for church. I missed my normal Sunday morning writing time to move mulch and dirt and to clean up the house.
Second, our weekend was altered by the tragic news that a young teenage girl from our church group had taken her life.
This news has brought about a lot of questions, pondering, and conversation. It also brought sadness.
There are many details surrounding her suicide, and I’m grappling with what I need to know as an adult volunteer in our youth program and as a parent of fellow students and what I simply don’t need to know about the situation.
Last night during our normal youth group programming, we had over 300 students (my estimation) pour into our auditorium to be together, to grieve, and to celebrate the life of their friend and classmate. The time together was a mix of sadness and amazing beauty.
There was singing, stories, and plenty of tears.
My heart aches for the young students who are faced with the loss of a peer and the struggle to sort out their own thoughts and feelings.
I’m reminded of the importance of listening to those in pain. I’m reminded of how essential it is to be a presence in the lives of others. And I’m reminded to be aware of the silent cries of those who simply don’t know how to process the struggles of life.
The weekend also served as a reminder of the amazing volunteers in our youth program. Many of the volunteers took off from work on Friday to be with students on Friday when the news spread of her passing. Don’t underestimate the value of your role in the lives of those who are younger than you.
The weekend also reminded me that there are times when we won’t fully understand parts of this life we find ourselves in on this side of heaven. Sometimes life simply doesn’t make sense.
Finally, the weekend reminded me that beauty can rise from the ashes that follows such tragedy. Relationships can be repaired. People can take steps toward reconciliation. And ultimately, people can find God when events like this happen.
Pray for the family and friends of this young woman.
Be on the look out for those who are hurting around you.
If you are desperate, hurting, and lonely, find someone to lean on.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
This morning, I spilled my coffee (decaf of course) all over my left shoe and the parking lot as I was heading into the place where I was going to be writing.
Friday afternoon, I started feeling the onset of a cold. By this weekend, the cold was in full swing.
My wife and I have had our house on the market for nearly 3 months, and it hasn’t sold yet.
Work has been extremely busy lately, and it seems like we don’t have the resources to execute on what our sales department sold.
I have been exchanging messages with a friend in Guatemala about a widow who is facing a challenging situation regarding her housing situation.
I don’t mean to sound depressing, but sometimes life can be challenging. In fact, there are things happening around us everyday that can lead to discouragement.
As I was spending time this morning in God’s Word, I came across this passage from Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen it eternal.
This is what it means to have HOPE!
We will face junk in our lives. This is part of the earthly experience ever since sin entered the world. But despair and hopelessness is not the final answer.
As we approach Easter, it’s a great time to remember the HOPE we have – a HOPE that lasts – a HOPE that breaks through the spilled coffee, the common cold, the unsold houses, the challenging work situations, and even the immediate needs of a widow and her family in Guatemala.
In the midst of your challenges and despair, I pray you’ll know this HOPE.
The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him. Nahum 1:7
This week, I had the privilege of being a guest on Carol Graham’s podcast, Never… Ever… Give Up Hope.
(You can also access the interview on iTunes, by clicking here.)
I think the interview will STRETCH you, encourage you, and give you HOPE.
Are you on a mission?
What’s your mission?
I’m on a mission to help others STRETCH. I’m on a mission to glorify God. And I’m on a mission to point others to Christ. I have a lot of missions in my life.
A mission is a job or task that we have to do.
If you call yourself a Christ-follower, you are on a mission whether you realize it or not. We are tasked by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20:
“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.”
How do we make missions part of our lives?
The missionary journey that I am on will most likely look a little different from your missionary journey. We have different gifts and passions which will cause us to serve others from a unique perspective. If you are struggling to make missions part of your life, today’s post will get you started.
I received a phone call from my friend, David Sgro, Monday afternoon. Dave is the missionary I have been working with the past three years in the village of Santo Domingo Xenacoj in Guatemala. He broke down in tears as read this post to me written by Joshua Hunt. Joshua is in Xenacoj with a team from AIM World Racers for a month serving in and around the village. Joshua’s story below is a story of hope rising from the ashes.
Here’s what Joshua Hunt had to say on his blog:
“Hola Justin! Tienes tiempo para ir conmigo a Ayapan?” (“Hey Justin! Do you have time to come with me to Ayapan?”)
German, our local contact, poked his head through our open front window as we wound down the afternoon listening to some quiet indie music.
“Sure?” I responded, somewhat honored to be asked but bewildered as to what needed to be done in Ayapan.
I convinced Karissa to go along with us. Being as AIM technically requires us to travel in at least pairs, I was able to cover my lack of enthusiasm for this new, unknown, late-afternoon task.
As we wound up the ragged mountain roads, our 15-passenger van with only 3 seats in use bounced lightly and rebelliously over the potholes and loose stones. On two different occasions, we squeaked by colorful chicken busses, staring perilously down the mountainside as only fractions of inches separated us from either becoming a new paint job on a public bus or chicken feed at the bottom of the slope.
When we made it to Ayapan, the main schoolyard in the center of the village was empty, save for a handful of boys playing with a plastic ball and shielding themselves from frequent swirls of rising dust. Only a week ago we played fútbol for hours with the schoolchildren during recess. But now, during the approaching dusk, the field felt lonely and void. Walking around the side of what I thought was another educational building, we found a man sweeping a layer of fresh, green pine needles out of a chapel meeting room in to a pile on the portico.
German approached the small-statured man with purpose and intent. After introducing himself to the man and his companions still inside the dim meeting hall, it was clear we were to be introduced as well. I fail to recall the names of each of the six men, but German quickly explained these were the mayor and leaders, city council if you will, of the local community. I strained to maintain my composure; not one of these men stood taller than 5’4’’, and they appeared a perplexing mix of age and youth. Among the weathered and deep-ridges faces, the wisps of grey hair and the various silver-capped teeth, these representatives appeared no older than thirty, not much older than me.
In the minutes that followed, I struggled to keep up with a rapidly interchanging conversation in both Spanish (“Castellano” in the words of older Guatemalans) and Kaqchikel, the Mayan and native language of much of the population in the mountains here. The conversation continued as we took seats inside the hall.
After a short while, German suddenly turned to me and said, “voy a comprar algo para tomar, venga,” (“I’m going to buy something to drink, come with!”) as he headed to the door.
Karissa and I followed German out to the tienda across the street where we purchased glass bottles of 7UP and Mirinda for each of our group back at the chapel. German paid at the barred counter and popped the lids off one by one. We returned to the seated group, a solemn, yet polite gathering.
After Dave read Joshua’s post, he thanked me and said I was part of what is happening in this village near Xenacoj.
Many people think short-term missions don’t can make a difference.
Maybe it’s time to rethink this.
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When I was a young kid, my expectations ran high this time of the year – especially on Christmas Eve. I was so excited to find out what presents waited for me under the Christmas tree. I can remember laying down in front of the Christmas tree next to my brother as we looked at the tree together. We would both wonder out loud what was under the wrapping paper. Perhaps, we were making sure we didn’t peak. Part of me really wanted to know, and part of me wanted to wait as long as possible to unwrap my gifts, because I didn’t want the feeling of hope and expectation to end.
When I was a teenager, I went to all four Christmas Eve services with my Dad. I wanted to be at the Christmas Eve services to soak in the euphoria of the Christmas songs and the Christmas candle light. I appreciated the opportunity to ride back from the eleven o’clock service together. The ten minute drive from the church to our house was just enough time to reflect and quietly soak in the Christmas lights as we headed home together. I liked going to the late service as it meant I was pretty tired when we arrived home. I would fall asleep quickly after I slipped into bed.
The next morning, my expectation level rose to a crescendo as my brothers and I impatiently hurried my parents out of bed so we could open presents. Sometimes we would eat our rice pudding first before opening gifts, but I seem to remember the rice pudding coming later more often than not. We took turns opening our presents one at a time. First, my youngest brother, Erik, opened a present. Then, my brother, David, opened a present. My turn was next followed by my parents. We would take turns in this rotation until all the presents were unwrapped. We took our time going through this routine. It wasn’t rushed. It was relished. We expressed our appreciation for each gift. We took pictures. And we dreamed out loud about how we would use this new gift. “I will enjoy reading this book by the fire at night.” “I needed a new pair of pajamas, and these are perfect.” “I always wanted a skillet with this kind of handle.” “This gift will always remind me of so and so.”
Things have changed over the years. I’m not sure if I have become callous to the season. The build up towards Christmas used to be filled with stories of wise men, shepherds, a virgin, a carpenter, and a baby king. And now, it seems like these stories and this build up gets too easily crowded out by a rush to finish Christmas shopping, to send out the Christmas cards, and to continue with the other things that normally occupy our schedules. My level of expectation during this time is not always the same. I certainly expect the time off to rest and recharge. I like the opportunity to give gifts to my kids and to others. And I still like driving around to look at Christmas lights after Christmas Eve services. Yet it can be challenging to disengage from the busyness of every day life long enough to appreciate the season in the same way I once did.
Yesterday, I was eating breakfast with a good friend of mine. He mentioned that his five-year old daughter was having trouble waiting to open the presents under the tree. I laughed. And we talked about how refreshing it must be to have a little one in the house during Christmas time as it provides us the opportunity to see Christmas again through the eyes of a child.
Perhaps, we need to reexamine our expectations. And maybe, we need to look at Christmas through difference eyes – through child-like eyes. Christmas is a time for great expectations. It is a time to celebrate the coming of our Savior and to look ahead to His return.
We live in a world where many of us our weary from the pushes and pulls of our busy lives. We need to the hope of our Savior. And knowing this hope should bring us a thrill like nothing else. It should renew our expectation for what is to come. It should alter our perspective on Christmas.
As I think again about Christmas, I wonder what expectations Mary had as she journeyed with Joseph to Bethlehem. I wonder about the expectations of the wise men as they traveled from afar in hopes of finding a great king. I wonder what the shepherds were thinking as they left their fields and headed into Bethlehem to follow the instructions of the angels. Were they scared? Maybe. Were they anxious? I wonder. Were they excited? I bet.
May we all healthy expectations as we head celebrate Christmas and look to the year ahead!
I don’t know what you are facing these days, but we can all use this simple reminder.
Where does our hope come from?
Our hope comes from Him!
Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.
(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas. If you have an idea, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)
This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. Many churches around the world celebrated Advent by lighting this first candle. The first candle represents HOPE. This provides the inspiration for today’s Ice Breaker. Be sure to read a few more comments after my answer to today’s question. Then leave your answer in the comment.
My Answer: I’m hoping for a Red Rider BB Gun. Just kidding. I’m hoping for some time off from work when I can rest, relax, recharge, and spend time with my family. This is actually on my agenda for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I value this time as it is often the time that I recalibrate myself before heading into the new year.
Many think of Advent as being a time to get ready for Christmas. I guess it is to some degree. We set up our nativity, our tree, and other decorations during this time. But Advent was not really meant to focus on Christmas. It is a tradition created to help us think about Christ coming again. This is the reason for our HOPE.
Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep Stretching!