Opportunity to Give

Ever wish you could make a down-home difference?  I mean, do something real.  Not just send money to a consortium but see your donation actually clothe the one in need?

I do.

Which is why I was so excited to learn that one of my friends is doing just that.  Here’s an opportunity to get involved:

My friend Stephanie and her friend Ann saw a critical need during a missionary trip to a Peru orphanage: babies in desperate need of clean diapers.  Something so simple… surely there was something they could do?

Jake’s Diapers was born.

Jake’s Diapers is a cloth diaper bank founded earlier this year that has already impacted the lives of more than 100 babies in need in Congo, Haiti, as well as here in the U.S. Future shipments are planned back to the orphanage that first inspired Ann and Stephanie in Peru.  Through their efforts, babies have gotten out of re-used disposables, plastic bags, or no diapers at all and into washable, re-usable, cloth diapers. The impact on these babies’ lives and those that care for them is great; Jake’s Diapers is providing a basic necessity to uplift their lives and share God’s love with them.

Babies with Cloth Diapers from Jake's Diapers

Modeling their newly donated cloth diapers from Jake’s Diapers!

As they continue to expand their outreach, my friends at Jake’s Diapers are calling for others to join them.  Sunday Nov 3rd is Orphan Sunday, a day dedicated to the plight of the orphan, and this is a great time to become involved!

Prayerfully consider donating urgently needed items or – better yet – doing an Orphan Sunday Collection Challenge to help the babies in need. Urgently needed items include (new or used):

  • modern cloth diapers
  • cloth wipes
  • blankets
  • pillowcases (to be made into pillowcase dresses and shorts)
  • powdered formula and baby bottles
  • baby powder, coconut oil, and other rash creams
  • used suitcases and duffle bags (which are loaded with diapers for one-way trips with missionaries and other travelers)

Jake’s Diapers will send these donations to babies in need, wherever they may be. Monetary donations are also welcome, and will be put toward shipping and urgent-needs purchases. Jake’s Diapers has agreements with at least one cloth diaper producer that allows them to buy diapers for about half the price of retail.

Jake’s Diapers is a grass-roots outreach organization, which is one of the reasons I am excited about their work.  They work with other organizations and ship their supplies with missionaries and others who are traveling to areas of need. They continue to hear of needs through the grapevine and reach out in whatever way they can.  They do not yet have non-profit organization status so any donations will NOT be tax deductible.  They are in the process of completing that paperwork now.

Learn more about Jake’s Diapers and see the results of their outreach:

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/jakesdiapersforperu

On TV: www.fox11online.com/news/making-a-diff/area-women-collect-cloth-diapers-for-babies-in-need

Or email Stephanie and Ann at jakesdiapers@gmail.com to learn how to send donations.  If you know of a baby or orphanage in need, also contact Stephanie and Ann to let them know of the need.

heart made of Jake's diapers

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Free Hugs!

Yesterday as I was walking across campus I passed a small group of students dressed in red t-shirts with permanent black marker emblazoned across the front: FREE HUGS  =)

Photo of students with Free Hug Tshirts

Perhaps they were taking a page out of the book of the Purdue University Compliment Guys, or perhaps they were just trying to spread some cheer in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.  As I walked past them, one young man came bounding across the sidewalk with his arms opened wide.

“Hi, there.  How are you?” He asked.

“Fine,” I said.  And then, as he continued to stand in front of me, “Are you going to give me a hug?”

“May I?”

“Sure.”

So he gave me a quick hug and then skipped back to his compatriots.

“Have a good day,” I called.

Student giving free hug Students giving free hugs  Student giving free hug

I love college students.  You never know what crazy, whimsical, or insightful thing they will come up with next.  Like giving away free hugs.

Have you hugged a stranger today?

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted… (Ephesians 4:32)

Southern Hospitality

Not too long ago, a visitor came to town.  I met with her briefly in my office and arranged a couple of meetings for her.  I gave her my phone number and told her if she had any trouble over the weekend to give me a call.  I thought I was being hospitable.

I am ashamed that in reality I was more concerned about my own weekend plans than in helping this visitor.  I failed to see through the business transaction to the person underneath.  I failed to see the opportunity God was giving me.  Even as I offered her my number, I was hoping my phone wouldn’t ring.  Would it have killed me to ask what she was doing for the weekend?  To meet her for lunch?  To take her to dinner?  To take an hour and walk her around town?

It took an extraordinary encounter to show me just how inhospitable I was.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)

I recently boarded a plane to Brazil clutching a Portuguese phrasebook and an iPod of language lessons.  I figured I had 8 hours to learn how to say, “Where’s the bathroom?”  I was hoping my seatmate would be bilingual and willing to teach me a few essentials.  God had another lesson in mind.

My seatmate was not only bilingual, she was eager to practice her English.  Between her English, my phrasebook, and a pen and paper for when words failed us, we talked into the wee hours of the morning.  Before the plane touched down, she gave me her phone number and told me to call her.  She wanted to make me pau de queijo and show me some sites in Brasilia.  When I asked about taking a taxi downtown to meet her, she waved that away.  She would meet me at my hotel and drive me.

She arrived the next afternoon with a basket of freshly baked cheese bread and my own personal tour of the cathedral and all the capital buildings – both inside and out.  Downtown we ran into two people who I had met at my business meetings, and she invited them to join us.  We thought she was going to show us one more thing and return us to the hotel, but several hours later we were still circling the city, eventually stopping for acai ice cream along the river and then dinner at a local establishment.  The leftovers she asked them to box, and at a stoplight when she saw a man begging she held it out the window to him.  He took it with a softly spoken “obrigado.” 

She would have taken us all home with her if we had let her.  It was midnight before she finally dropped us back at the hotel with invitations to her family barbecue the next afternoon or an offer to take us to a concert at night.  My schedule did not allow me to connect with her again, but as I was packing the following night, my phone rang.  It was my new friend, wishing me safe travels on the rest of my trip and inviting me to come visit her anytime.  “Minha casa é a sua casa,” she said.  “My house is your house.”  And she meant it. 

I have never felt the story of the Good Samaritan as powerfully as when I witnessed this woman’s hospitality towards me.  Nor have I felt so convicted.  Not too long ago I considered the sharing of an emergency phone number to be hospitable.  Now, I have a new definition.

 “You go,” Jesus said, “and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). I have a long ways to go.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you… And the King will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-38, 40).

Good Samaritan

There is a philanthropic sales strategy that goes like this: Ask for a very large donation, and when they say no, ask for a smaller donation.  They will be so relieved at the opportunity to clear their conscience of saying no the first time that far more people will say yes to this smaller donation than if you had asked for this smaller amount in the first place.  Sneaky, but effective.

I have found that on occasion, God uses a similar strategy with me.  This shouldn’t surprise me.  After all, God created the human psyche.  He, more than anyone, should know how to put it to good use.  Take, for example, this evening as I am going for my walk.  My route takes me past a parking lot, and I happen to notice in passing that someone is sitting slouched down in the front seat of a car with the door ajar.  As I walk on by, my imagination takes over.  He or she is probably just waiting for someone who has run into the store, but I can’t help but wonder – what if it is someone who needs help?  What if they are ill, or passed out?  Maybe I should have looked closer.  Maybe I should have asked if they were okay.

I keep walking, but I am listening now.  Tell me what to do, God.

Around the corner, I spy my second opportunity.  There, in the middle of the road, is a turtle.  His legs are tucked into his shell, but his head is out and looking around.  I walk over and look at it.  This isn’t a terribly busy road, but busy enough.  If he hangs out here much longer he is going to be crushed.  He also appears to be heading in the wrong direction – away from the wetlands.  But then, what do I know about turtles?  I look at his shell.  It is jagged along the back.  Doesn’t that mean it’s a snapping turtle?  I can’t just pick him up, then, can I?  What if he bites my finger off??

As I am standing there pondering the turtle, I am reminded of a time not too long ago when a bird got trapped in the stairwell at work.  I was coming down the stairs when I saw him, and without a second thought I snatched him from where he was beating himself against the window and tossed him outside.  My colleague was standing with his mouth agape.  “I can’t believe you just did that,” he said.  “He could have bit you!” 

I just laughed at him.  “It’s a sparrow, not a velociraptor!” I said.  And I laughed the whole rest of the afternoon.

Now, as I stand in the middle of the road looking at the turtle, I hear my own taunting voice.  “It’s a turtle, not a velociraptor!”  But the fact remains, I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how to pick him up.  I don’t know if I should pick him up.  “I don’t know, Lord,” I say.  And when I do not hear an answer, I turn and walk away.

I keep looking back, though.  At one point I think he has moved a little.  A few cars go by, but thankfully swerve around him.  And then, an amazing thing happens.  A car pulls over and a man gets out, picks up the turtle, and returns him to the grass near the water.  Relief washes over me.  I am too far away to call out to him, but I just keep thinking: There.  A good Samaritan.  Thank you.  And secondly: I guess I could have just picked him up.  Now I know.

I continue my walk with a much lighter heart, but I am fully expecting it when I see the third noteworthy item on my walk.  A piece of trash.  “Okay, God, okay,” I say as I bend down to pick it up.  “This is a donation I can give.  Probably your plan all along.”

As I pass back by the parking lot (toting an accumulating fistful of trash), I look to see if the car is gone.  It is.  So it had indeed been someone just waiting.  All three dilemmas are solved.  I bend down and pick up another piece of trash.  My contribution, for today, towards a better world.

 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (Collossians 3:23).

Give it to God

Do you know what I love most about the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand?  I love the boy with the fish. 

We know this story so well.  We know how crowds of men, women, and children followed Jesus until he stopped to speak with them.  We know how the day grew late, the crowd grew weary with hunger, and the disciples asked Jesus to send them away so that they may find something to eat.  But Jesus tells them to feed the crowds.  “How many loaves do you have?”  He asked.  “Go and see.” (Mark 6:38).

The boy is almost a footnote in the story.  He is not even mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  In those, the disciples merely reply to Jesus that they have only five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:17; Mark 6:38; Luke 9:13).  But in John, from the pen of the apostle of love, we read where the loaves and fish originated: “Here is a boy,” John writes, “with five small barley loaves and two small fish…” (John 6:9).

Imagine what it must have been like to be that boy!  How terrifying and exhilarating to be pulled from the crowd and placed before Jesus.  The account gives us no perspective for what the boy was feeling.  Was he honored to offer up his meal to the service of these men?  Or was he afraid, knowing that he, as nothing but a boy, was about to lose his meager meal and return home hungry? 

And then, how amazed he must have been – amazed and bewildered – to see his small meal pouring back out of the basket, feeding one group of hungry men after another.  What did he think when that basket passed back to him with an offering far bigger than what he put in?  An offering so big, in fact, that he ate until he could eat no more, leaving pieces of bread on the ground.  How amazing it must have been to watch the crowds around him also eat until they could eat no more, leaving more pieces of bread on the ground which the disciples picked up, filling twelve baskets.  Twelve baskets!  “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14).

And yet, the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is not merely the story of this miraculous sign which marveled the crowd.  It is also about the boy, who teaches us the second of our three principles: Give it to God. 

We see this same lesson modeled by the widow whom Elijah visits (1 Kings 17).  At Elijah’s instruction, she uses the last of her flour and oil to make a small cake of bread for him, leaving nothing for her or her son to eat.  And yet, her offering too was returned to her with such abundance that “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (1Kings 17:16). 

In the natural world, there are finite resources.  We have limited time, limited energy, limited money, and limited possessions (although when housecleaning I sometimes feel as though possessions multiply behind closet doors!)  It is only when we give it all to God, as humbling and terrifying as that is, that He is able to use it for His good purposes – both for others and for us.  I read once that in opening our hands to give, we are also opening our hands to receive.  Truly, when we open our hands to God, we receive far more in exchange.  God is our infinite resource, but first we must start with what we have, and give it to God.  He can do far more amazing things with it than we can.

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).

Joy of Giving

One night as I was reading my Bible – I don’t recall exactly what passage, but it was one that referenced our future in heaven when we would spend our time singing praises at the throne of God – I had one of those all-American, in-the-flesh, I-can’t-believe-I just-thought-that thoughts.  I thought: what’s in it for me? 

Now I know the answer to that.  Surely the alternative to heaven is an option I don’t care to ponder.  But, truth be told, the image of sitting around all day singing praises sounded… boring.

I didn’t say the thought was right or good.  Just that I had this thought – and once it was out there, God surely heard it.  It was too late to take it back.  I turned out the light and went to sleep and didn’t think about it again.  But our God sees and hears and does not forget.

Fortunately, we have a God who can take our doubts, our fears, our angers, and all of our other I-can’t-believe-I-just-thought-that thoughts.  The Bible says God knows our hearts and minds; He knows our words before they are even on our lips (Psalm 139:4).  And I have sometimes found that when I ask a sincere question, even one I feel like I shouldn’t be asking in the first place, God has some pretty remarkable ways of answering.

I heard a sermon once where the minister said he ran from anyone who claimed to have been directly spoken to by God.  “God spoke directly to his people in the days of the prophets,” he said, “but if you want to know what God is saying to you today, read your Bible.  That is God’s Word.  That is God speaking directly to you.”  I think his point is well-taken: we need to be wary of divine claims and to test them against the words of the Bible.  But I also believe the Holy Spirit sometimes uses the circumstances of our lives to goad us towards a deeper understanding of God’s Word.  Sometimes the events around us suddenly click in a new way with what God has been telling us all along.  This, I believe, was one of those times.

A couple weeks later I was driving home after a dinner out with friends.  My mind was wandering its own tangential course when it stumbled upon a gift idea for one particular friend.  It was one of those perfectly personal, practical, inside-joke kind of gifts that made me giddy just thinking about it.  Have you ever had one of those gifts?  Something you couldn’t wait to give because it was just so perfect? 

Driving alone in my car I actually laughed out loud.  She would love it.  I could picture her face… and out of nowhere I suddenly thought: this is a little bit what it must be like to give the gift of praise to the throne of God.  This joy is what’s in it for me.  Not that I feel joy because I give, but because of the joy, I cannot wait to give.  How much more will this be true when I am surrounded by the joy of being in God’s presence!

I was thunderstruck.  I drove home in stunned silence.  I had completely forgotten my earlier thoughts.  God had not.

As we approach the Christmas season and the celebration of the day when God gave us the greatest gift by delivering his Son into this world, I am reminded again of that night.  Too often gift giving bears only a token semblance to something deeper.  But there are still special moments, when we stumble upon that perfect gift, when we are reminded of the true joy of giving.  And there are moments when we receive a foretaste of the joy that will surely beset us when we eternally sing praises to our amazing God.  During this holy season, may we experience the joy of God’s gift to us, but also the joy of giving back to Him.

 Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:8).