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Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Faith More Precious Than Gold


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 1:3-7)

How very blessed we are to be loved, protected, and guided by our God! I am so glad that God lead us to River City Ministry. Now that I am here, I have no doubt that this is where God wants us to be. I also felt that God lead me to my educational decisions, but the reason for those decisions seemed less clear. When it came time to choose which school I would go to, I placed it in God’s hands, took it to Him in prayer, and all the doors that opened seemed to point to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I was not sure why this school seemed to be the answer, unless it was because it was so close to River City Ministry, but God just paved the way for us to come to Little Rock, so we followed.

With work, school, and family, my life is pretty busy. I try to live in God’s presence and “be anxious about nothing,” but sometimes I get overwhelmed. There have been a few times when I asked myself why I was going to school in the midst of all this (besides the fact that I need the education to help me understand the urban world I am working in and the needs of the people in it). My classes and my major were chosen with my work in the inner city in mind, so that knowledge kept me going most of the time. God has always used what I learn in college to equip me for His work and provide me with new opportunities to reach people for Him, but I was having trouble seeing what God was doing in the moment.

I took some time to ask God if I was really doing what He wanted from me when it came to my education, and God was swift to answer. I am studying American Sign Language (ASL) because I have to study a language for my degree, it interested my daughter, and practicing it gives me time with her. I was serving lunch one day and asked a man how his day was going as I handed him a drink. He pointed to his ears and shook his head. I excitedly signed to him to ask if he knew ASL. He signed that he did and we chatted briefly before people started to get annoyed with us holding up the line. I was very excited about the encounter and couldn't wait to get home and tell my family. But that was not the end.

About two Sundays later, I say my new friend, Davis, as we were preparing for lunch. We sat down together and began signing to one another. I wanted to talk to him about the Lord but realized I did not know any religious signs. Seeing that I was thinking very hard about how to sign what was on my mind, Davis signed that if I would fingerspell or write what I wanted to know how to sign, he would teach me. Over the next half hour, he patiently taught me religious signs.

As we continued to talk, we asked each other basic information, like where do you live, and I found out that Davis is homeless. “I have no money for rent; I do have a car though, so I sleep in my car.” I told Davis that I was sorry and what he told me made a great impact on me. “I don’t need money, I have –“ here he signed something I did not recognize. He formed his hands in the shape below...


and drew his right hand down from his forehead to his left hand held in front of his heart. When I asked what it meant, he told me it means faith. Wow, “I don’t need money, I have faith.” As you can imagine, as we talked, I realized that Davis has a deep and intense love for and faith in his Lord.

This hand shape is used for sewing in ASL, so it's as if the mind and heart are connected by a thread. I thought this was a beautiful way to portray faith. It is with the heart that we believe and not with the mind of logic. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Often when all logic tells us to give up, faith tells us to hold on. So often the connection between what logic tells us and what faith tells us is a fine thread. So we walk by faith and not by sight. My friend told me exactly what I needed to hear and set a marvelous example for me.
I wondered what I was doing with me education; I was asking the wrong question, because it was all about what God is doing with it. God was equipping me to serve in a way that I did not know that I could.       

Davis was surprised to find that he was the first deaf person I had talked to at River City Ministry because there are several homeless people he knew of who are deaf. I have talked to Davis and the staff of RCM and let them know to tell any deaf people they meet that I sign and would be glad to talk with them. I pray that the Lord brings us together so I can have a chance to spread the Gospel in ways I never have before.

This is just one of the wonderful things that God allowed us to be a part of in the month of October. Twelve people were baptized and eighteen people were restored to the Lord at RCM this past month. We also had one of the girls who Anthony and I have been working with in the Hope Works spirituality class come to the Lord. Olivia was baptized and set a wonderful example for all the other students in the class. God is so good and I am so thankful to be a part of the work He is doing here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jesus Wept for You

Two of my friends recently lost their love ones and it brought my mind to this passage. 

Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 
When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?” 
“Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.
The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.” (John 11:32-36). 



Where do you go when you have no place to go? 
For Jesus, this place was in Bethany with three of his closest friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. In the hardest times in his life, when he needed to escape from it all, Jesus went to be with these people; the family he chose. 
 
Jesus had such a close relationship with this family, that when Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent word that "The one you love so very much is sick." Wow! Imagine having such a close relationship with someone that when someone says "the one you love so much," there is no question about whom they are speaking. 

When Jesus heard the message he waited because he said, "this will not end in death, but it will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.” But when Jesus got to Bethany and saw his dearest friends heartbroken, he was overwhelmed.

Why? Jesus told his disciples before he left for Bethany that he was going to "wake up" Lazarus. But John tells us that Jesus had a deep anger well up in him and that he wept. The term literally means to be overwhelmed with tears. Why would Jesus do this when he knew he was there to raise Lazarus from the dead?

In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. So He was there when man was placed in the garden of Eden. He placed him there. He was the life of men, and knew He created man for life, not for death.
 
God warned man to stay away from the one tree that would bring death and warned him that he would die if he ate from it. In the garden was also the Tree of Life, the tree God desired man to eat from and live forever. But sin entered the world when Adam and Eve made their fateful choice, and with it came death.
 
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. He walked the streets, he knew love, he knew pain, he knew sorrow... and here he stood confronted with the pain, sorrow, misery and hopelessness that death brings upon us; all the while knowing that we were never meant to experience any of it.

When Jesus looked at the pitiful state that the loss of a loved one puts us in he was angry and overwhelmed with tears. Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus, he knew for a time he would ease Mary and Martha's pain, but he also knew that until the last enemy is made his footstool, death still plagues us all and causes deeper pain and loss than we were ever made to experience. So, though he wept for them, he wept for you too, and he weeps still when he sees our pain. 

Jesus understands our anger and our sadness. He has felt the depths of woe that we feel, and he too longs for the day when death dies. I pray this is a comfort to anyone suffering loss, but especially to my dear sisters in Christ. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Into the Depths of Me

For God so loved the World that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that it means that God love you, individually, enough to sacrifice His Son for you?

To be honest, I still struggle with this. I believe it, but I cannot understand it. Like David, I ask "Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them?"
Do you believe that God looks at you, that He looks into the very depth of you, that He sees you for exactly who you are and loves you enough to give His Son for you?
 
We are told that Jesus did not need anyone to tell him anything about men because He saw into the hearts of men. I think it is safe to say that the way that Jesus ministered to people was show them what He saw, the person within. He showed them the person they forgot they were, the person He created them to be.
I am grateful for all God has done to help me see who He made me to be. I'm glad He sees past all my shortcomings and all the labels other put on me.
When Jesus looks out at people, He doesn't see what the world sees. They call us junkies, bums, drunks, fools, thugs, tramps, screw-ups, dope-heads, losers, hypocrites, heathens, trash, liars, cheats, criminals...  like Everlast's song "What It's Like" says, "they call her a killer, they call her a sinner, they call her a whore." But that's not what Jesus sees. Looks with compassion on us shepherdless sheep and sees Children of God who have lost sight of who they really are.
 
When Jesus had a woman dragged before Him and was asked if she should be executed, He didn't see an adulteress, He saw a woman caught in adultery. He saw past the label, past the sin, to the women that the sin was hurting. By saving her from her would-be-killers, he showed her she was more than a sinner, she was capable of getting up, leaving her past behind and "sinning no more."
 
But Jesus was not always gentle when He showed people how to discover who they were. Consider the people who came and said they wanted to follow Him.
One was an eager young man. He was a good kid; he loved God and believed Jesus. He was not only a good man, he was wealthy. In the eyes of the disciples, this was the type of follower any Rabbi would be blessed to have; he was young, rich, powerful, he knew all about God, and had a desire to follow. In their eyes, if anyone was going to make it, it was this guy. The world saw a man who was all he should be, but Jesus saw another man who was trapped and needed to be set free.
 
The young man ran up eagerly and asked what he needed to do to have the eternal life Jesus talked about. When Jesus said that he should know what to do if he read the commandments, the boy was proud to say that he had always followed them. But then Jesus hit at the heart of it all. He hit at what was keeping this young man from being who God always knew he could to be. He saw a man who was owned by his possessions and gave him the words to set him free. "You just lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasures in Heaven. Then come and follow me."
Jesus didn't beat around the bush, he didn't give the guy slow steps to become less attached to his stuff; no, Jesus said get rid of it. Anything that would keep this young man from serving God with all his heart was a poison to him that had to go.
 
This was too much for the young man, he could not let go. He had no words to express his sorrow, he just turned and left. Following Christ had too high a cost.
 
Like the rich young ruler, most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor changes in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. What Jesus wants is a complete renovation not little touch-up, an overhaul not a tune up, a makeover, not a little make up. Jesus wants to remodel, not redecorate, a commitment, not a decision.  Jesus wants to be your life, not just a part of it. Jesus is not interested in a casual relationship, He wants the real thing.
 
Jesus wanted to peel back all the layers that stood between this man and the image of God. Jesus sees it in us all, and He asks us to get rid of everything in the way. But, the rich young ruler held on to who he had become and missed out on who God always knew He could be. He didn't really know himself, and though he knew all about him, he didn't really know his God.
 
I have been there. When I was in preaching school, I memorized over 100 verses in my first quarter. By the end, I had memorized the book of James, half of I Corinthians and hundreds of other passages. But I couldn't really tell you what it meant. Sure I could tell you what my teachers told me, I could parrot it back, but I knew nothing from sitting with God and His word and getting to know Him. I knew all about God, but I didn't know Him, and my relationship with Him was very shallow.
One day, while memorizing a passage I planned to speak on, I realized that I knew very little about what it actually said. I saw preachers who memorized large portions of the Bible preach shallow sermons that really told me nothing about God or my walk with Him. Then it hit me, I was looking at a mirror of myself. I saw the effect that this had on the way I lived. Though I did not recognize it at the time, I was beginning to see that I was not who God always intended me to be. I needed to get to know my God and get to know the real me.
 
The failure of the rich young ruler was a shock to the disciples. All they saw was what the man had; they had no clue who he was. Jesus was not surprised, but he was saddened. He said it is easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.
The disciples were devastated by this, they asked "Then who can be saved?!" And Jesus reminded them that what is impossible for men is possible with God.

Little did they know, they were about to witness the impossible.
When another wealthy man heard that Jesus was passing through his town, he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he called him down and told him that he was coming over for dinner. He was overjoyed to have Jesus come and eat with him in his own house.



The people of the town had a different attitude. They were insulted! How could Jesus go into the house of a tax collector and eat with such a sinner. Once again, they were looking at the outward man. All they saw was a man who worked in a profession they hated and considered a betrayal of all they stood for. Zacchaeus was used to be rejected by everyone around him. He was used to being hated, after all, who likes the tax man. He was used to being judged and wearing the labels everyone put on him. But Jesus saw a man whose heart was given to God. He saw a giving, loving, and faithful man.
After this one encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus gave half of all he had to the poor and swore if he cheated anyone that he would repay them four times the amount.
 
Jesus did not ask Zacchaeus to do this. This was just what Zacchaeus felt God wanted of him. This was just the kind of man Zacchaeus was. This was the kind of man God always knew Zacchaeus could be. "This day salvation has come to this house," Jesus said. That day a camel did fit through the eye of a needle, because a rich man entered God's Kingdom.
 
Zacchaeus was not a collection of labels people put on him; tax collector, sinner, cheat, etc., he was not the mistakes he made; his identity was not in what he owned. No, he was a child of God on his way home.
 
His journey into the depths of himself began with his encounter with Jesus. My journey began in the same way. I asked God for about a year to help me see His will and to open up His word and show me what He wanted me to see. He showed me who He is and who He knew I could be. He made me fall in love with His Son and made me take a good hard look at the mission He gave Him.  I had always been concerned with what God wanted me to DO, but He really wanted to show me who I was made to BE. He showed me that underneath it all I had a heart like His. And you know what? You do too.
 
Seeing who God is, and understanding that all His children have the same heart and goal, helped me to see my part in His plan. I looked for some huge epiphany, and maybe that is what the rich young ruler expected, but it was no striking revelation, it was a simple truth I overlooked. I saw the heart of Christ displayed in action, the gospel summed up in four words: Go, Give, Love, Serve. Four things that God knows are key to use becoming who He intends for us to be.
 
Go where God calls you. Christ left the glory of Heaven and came to this world because it was God's will. Having a heart like Jesus means when I pray for God to guide me, I'm not afraid of the doors He opens, I have the courage to step through them. I worship with a man, a good friend, who left his home and all he had to live in the woods because God called him to leave it all, be still, and come to know Him. That is courage, that is faith, that is what the heart of Jesus looks like, and that is the man that God always knew this man could be. It may sound crazy to you, but isn't that what Jesus said about those who are born of the Spirit? Like the wind, no one understands where they come from or where they are going.
Give what you have. Jesus gave up heaven to give us access to it, He gave up life to give us life eternal, He gave up glory to sit us with him in heavenly realms, whatever He had, He gave. Having a heart like Jesus mean I stop focusing on all the things I don’t have to give and I give what I do have. My friend John never had wealth; he actually had very little materially. But John gave his time every day to come to River City Ministry and serve our poor and homeless friends. It did not matter how long a shift he just finished or how little sleep he had, time and love was what he had and that is what he gave to others for the glory of His God. God knew this was who John was, even when no one around him, not even John himself, could see it. When John came to know His God, he discovered the man he was meant to be, and that is the man he became.
Love actively. "Jesus loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them to the end," and that end was the cross. Having a heart like Jesus means love without limits. When I learn to live by His love it will change my life. Love your brothers and sisters, love your neighbor, love your fellow man, and love your enemy, for this is how you love God. How do I love? By serving.
Serve like the Savior. Jesus did not come to be served to be a servant to all and give His life as a ransom for many. Having a heart like Jesus means letting go of my pride. If I keep thinking “let someone else do that,” or I think anything that another person needs is below mine, I will never be a servant. If we wait to find someone we think deserves serving, we will miss those who need it. Or have we forgotten, Jesus washed everyone’s feet, not Just John’s, the only one who showed up at the foot of the cross.

I never knew I had it in me to be the kind of man who lived this way, but God did. Do you have the courage to stare into the depths of yourself and find the person God always knew you to be? Do you have the courage and dedication to remove anything that stands in the way of you becoming all you can be? Will you let Him recreate you in His image? Are you ready for a new life in Him? Which story will be yours? Will you sadly accept who the world says you are, turn from the master, and walk away? Or will you see what God sees in you, follow him and live a changed life? Only you can write the ending to your story. What will your story say you chose when you encountered the real Jesus?
 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saints on the Street: A New Birth Story

My wife and I recently wrote the birth story of our youngest daughter, Dani. It was a hectic and even traumatic delivery and it was difficult but healing to sit down and put it all into words.

As you know, I post every Sunday afternoon, but this last weekend I had writers block. I made an attempt or two, but I just wasn't impressed with the attempts. If I don't draw you into the world of the inner city and the work that God is doing here, then I have not reached my goal. I told Kimberly that I was having trouble with my blog and she told me to take time and pray about it and let the Spirit guide me. I appreciated her godly advice, and that is exactly what I did.

Last night, I was laying in bed and suddenly it hit me. Share the new birth stories! As I sat and thought I was amazed by the similarities.

In physical birth, out of indescribable pain and chaos, a beautiful and perfect new life begins. It is no different in the new birth.

When Steven came into my office, it soon became obvious that he was carrying a heavy weight of guilt. Broken relationships with his family and his God were crippling him. Steven was in pain and his life was total chaos. Steven found himself homeless for the first time and, worse than that, he was separated from his God. "I Just feel totally lost," Steven told me. We talked about how we could find forgiveness in Christ, and seeing how God loves and forgives us can give us the power to forgive ourselves and others. We talked about baptism, but Steven said he wanted to make sure he knew what he was doing and that he did it for the right reason. Anthony and I gave him scriptures to look up and consider prayerfully. We talked through a lot of difficulties in the light of God's love and forgiveness over the next few days.

Thursday morning, Steven told all his friends on the street that he was going to be born again. Steven was immersed in Christ and his life was renewed. Out of all the trouble of Steven's situation, a beautiful and perfect new life began. Steven has since made great strides in restoring the other relationships in his life too. Satan has made many attacks against Steven, but through the power of Christ and the help of his brothers and sisters, Steven has overcome. Steven lead some of his friends to come and talk to me and we studied the Bible together. God has made a difference in Steven's life, and he is sharing that with the world. I am proud to call Steven my brother and to work side by side with him as we try to bring others to Christ.



Midst all the suffering, pain and trauma, hope rises anew. It is such a privilege to be able to witness the miracle of a new birth. Just as it's awe inspiring to watch a newborn grow, develop, learn, and change, it's just as amazing to watch the transformation Christ brings about in the life of one who is born again. God blessed me to be a part of this seven times in August! Praise God for all He does and all He is.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Finding Fruit in the Bushes

Speaking to a supporting church, I was given Gal. 5:22-23 as a text. My topic was evangelism, and I was given this topic because of my work in urban outreach.
 
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Gal 5:22-23).

I was invited to speak in this summer series which highlighted chapters from Love More, Sin Less. In my chapter, the author focused on how these fruits should be present in the lives of the evangelist. This is true, no doubt. If you preach on the streets and do not walk your talk, you're in for a world of trouble. I found a level of Spiritualty among the poor and homeless that I never knew was present. In the inner city, you learn to depend on God because there is no one else to turn to. So, this urban culture believes in respect for God.

I was watched like a hawk when I first came to River City Ministry (RCM). I went to talk to people about God and asked if I could pray with people, and I was often met by cold stares and silence. I thought I was doing something wrong. It was not until a couple of weeks later that several of our people told me; "We were watching you to see how you live, to know if you're the kind'a man we want praying for us." Wow! I'd never considered that.
 
I had my eyes open to a lot of things. Just because someone is struggling with addiction, anger, and sin does not mean that they do not have vast spiritual knowledge. As a mater of fact, it can be quite the opposite. Struggles bring wisdom.
 
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4).
Along with having the fruit of the Spirit present in his life, the evangelist must also be able to recognize the fruit of the Spirit in others, even when it is not where he would expect to find it. Working in God's vineyard is not all about planting new seed, it is about cultivating what is already planted.

 
The branches are not always growing up nice white arbors like we would like to see them. This is what we like to convince people "at church" that our branches look like. The seed was planted in the best tilled and fertilized soil already prepared with nice structures for the branches to take hold of. But is that really the case? Have we fooled ourselves?
 
If we are honest, the fields of our hearts are probably tough rows to hoe. That soil may have some rocks in it, it may be a little dry, maybe it's flooded in places, there's probably some weedy patches, the PH level might be a little off, and some hard tilling wouldn't hurt.
 
It's easy to overlook all of that in our own field, but why is it so easy to see in others? What an amazing testimony to those living on the streets that in the midst of weeds and thorns, they grow! It show's the power of our God and the effect of His Word. In the inner city, for anything to grow it has to break through the cement and asphalt to reach the light of day, yet it happens!


 
But should it really be that surprising? If you get samples from both soils, you will find that, though the pollutants are different, they are very similar and cause the same problems. Is the woman on the street who sells her body because of her broken past that different from the man addicted to internet pornography? Is the man we call a staggering drunk because he drinks to numb his pain all that different from the man who claims he is a social drinker, while ignoring the fact that he has a drinking problem, and drinks "just to take the edge off" his day? Somehow the "user" on the street who spends his last dime to get a fix is more of a sinner than the men and women who accumulate debt to have the high of knowing that they live as well, or better, than their neighbors. Is the man who walks out on his children to pursue a selfish life all that different from the father that misses his child's life working hard to give his child "the life he never had."
 
None of these things are right, godly, or of the Spirit. All are sin. All can keep a person from his God or be an ever present temptation to the person who is trying to live for his Lord. The difference is that some of us don't have the luxury of hiding our sins under well formulated layers.
 
Get over the differences and don't see some one who is vastly different than you are. See someone, rather, that is in the same boat. A man or woman changed by the Word, yet struggling to make their life match what they read. See a child digging deep to find the image of God in himself. Be humble enough, be loving enough, be patient enough to see the fruit that is present. Thank God for the change He has brought about so far, and don't make the mistake of calling common what He has made holy!
 
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came for the sick. He called the poor, the lame, and the blind out of the highways and the bushes (sadly, that is still where you will find many of them sleeping because they have nowhere else to go), He invited them to His Father's feast. (Luke 14:23).
 
From a human standpoint, that crowd sounds like bruised fruit, like some worm-eaten branches. But not to my God. No, this was His guest list. I know that elsewhere the Lord talks about those attending the feast wearing clean wedding garments (Matt. 22:11-14), but do you think they snapped their fingers and that happened? Or don't you remember that it was the blood of Christ, and that alone, which made your garments clean?
  
It is not our job to fix anyone. But, if we look at others with compassion, as Jesus did, if we recognize the fruit God is producing, we may be able to "strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees." Or, perhaps you will find someone who can help you with you shaking hands and knocking knees.
 
Thursday, Mark spent a sleepless night in the bushes. Mark is new to homelessness. He always had a steady job, a roof over his head, and money in his pocket until his injury. He lost his job because he was physically unable to do it, he lost his home because he had no way of paying the rent, and his disability battles are going nowhere fast. With one fractured and two herniated vertebrae and brain damage from the accident, it is clear that Mark is not trying to milk the system, he needs help. So, a man who is in enough pain in a bed is sleeping in the dirt under the cover of bushes, praying the police don't run him out again.
 
Friday, a very tired and downtrodden Mark came to RCM. Despite all his troubles, Mark came in with a smile. We was very friendly and even offered to make me a cup of coffee. He had just sat down, and I saw what pain it was for him to get up and down, so I thanked him but fixed my own cup and sat down to have a drink with him. I asked him how his walk with the Lord was and he said he needed to talk to someone about it. Mark was already reading his Bible and was trying to make a change in his way of living but was often discouraged by his life situation. "My saddest realization, was that I have squandered my whole life and never spent any of it on God. I just wish I could go back and change that." When I told him that he could be born again, be a child in Christ, and live the new life that God gave him for God, having wasted nothing... there are no words for the joy I saw in Him.
 
God's word made an impression, God was already working on Mark, all he needed was someone to tell him that he could live for God and God would forgive him and make him new. After he was baptized, Mark took his turn and taught me. Mark started to make my feeble knees firmer, because I still felt a little fear each time I went to talk to someone about God, but not Mark. Mark walked up to everyone and talked to them about God and how he could make anyone new. You cannot stop this guy!
 
You see, God often intertwines His branches so that they support each other. Try to take apart a vine. Notice how the tendrils of one branch rap around another. It's not about me, it's not about you, it's about us. Do we take the time and have the heart to see what God is doing in the lives of another? If we do not, we will find that no matter how far we reach out, we find nothing but air, and when we don't have any other branches to grab onto, that is when we start drooping.  

When I think of the fruit of the Spirit, I think of my friends on the street. I think of the Love that Bernie, DJ, and James (I will share his story another time) show me when they have only known me about two months.
I think of the Joy that Mark has because God saved him and give his life meaning, and Steve, who believes that every day is a "mighty fine day," no matter what is going on with him. I think of John and B. Right who stand up in the middle of the hottest conflicts and say "We are all about Peace here, let's make sure we have peace today!" And Tiberius, who finds his peace in talking to God.
I think of the Patience that those mentioned above, and so many more, had with me and my cultural and spiritual shortcomings.
I think of the Kindness that George showed me when I was down over the loss of a friend be reminding me that we are told to rejoice when people leave this world, and the way that my friends at RCM turn up to support me when I speak locally.
I think of how many of my friends at RCM are Faithful to God when the hedges have been taken down from around them and Satan takes all that he can away from them to try to make them curse God.
I Think of how many times it has hit me that Tiberius is too Gentile for the harsh life he is faced with each day and somehow he does not let it make him hard or bitter.
I think of the Self-control of my good friend Lorry, who has been 8 months sober, and how God is his new addiction.

This is why I am an evangelist. Because I need it as much as the ones I speak to every day need it. We need each other, and we all need God. I just thank God for the part He allows me to play in His kingdom.
 
Then Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father takes care of the vineyard. He removes every one of my branches that doesn't produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit. "You are already clean because of what I have told you. Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. "I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can't produce anything without me. Whoever doesn't live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you live in me and what I say lives in you, then ask for anything you want, and it will be yours. You give glory to my Father when you produce a lot of fruit and therefore show that you are my disciples. (John 15:1-8)


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Party Up In Heaven

Friday August 9th was just another day, or so I thought as I rolled in at 7:30 that morning. I'm the apprentice to River City Ministry's Executive Director and Evangelist. I'm an urban evangelist with much needed training wheels. Every day, my God reminds me that I have no clue what I'm doing, I am here to learn and depend on Him.

I showed up droopy eyed, because we have a beautiful two week old baby girl, and somehow even the one who doesn't stay awake the whole night with the new born manages to feel like they did. God bless my wife! Anyway, I don't usually come in on Fridays, Fridays are family days, but Anthony (the Executive Director) was out of town and Paul (the Operations Director) was out of the country. I was glad to do it, a little proud of the fact that I was trusted to be the man of the house, so to speak, and a little afraid of the responsibility.

I was getting ready for a trip to Georgia to speak to one of my supporting churches, and getting ready to speak at River City Church for the first time since moving here. I thought I was ready for the latter, but Anthony has been teaching me how to speak to the urban culture. I love this form of speaking, but it is new to me because I spent the last 8ish years speaking to white churches who were, for the most part, more middle class. I tell you all this so you can understand that I was tempted to stay in the office and work on my sermon. I could always leave the door open in case anyone wanted to talk.

But that's not my job. I have left the days of the desk job behind. Now I am an evangelist. I'm glad for the change; for the last few years I have wanted to be a minister and not a preacher. I did not want to spend my time preparing lessons for those who are saved or have "enough Jesus" in their lives. God was pushing me to really get out there and serve. God bless our brothers who dedicate their lives to teaching and encouraging the saints, we need you, and I appreciate every effort made to push the comfortable church member out of their comfort zone and into the Lord's work. But it was time for me to step out of my own comfort zone and do what I knew God wanted from me.

Now my job is to try to teach those who come to River City Ministry, a day center for the poor and homeless, about Jesus. I had a bunch of Bible studies and lots of times of prayer with those who showed an interest, and was even able to help seven people renew their walk with God, but I had not been able to lead anyone to the water for baptism. I pray everyday as I get ready for work that God will open the heart of those who need to change, that He will help me see who they are or that He will bring them to me, and that He will give me His words and His heart so that I can lead them to Him. Today was the day that this all happened.

Everyone I talked to that morning was glad to take the time and talk about God. When I asked them if they would like to sit and pray with me, everyone said yes. Two people even asked to pray for me! I was grateful for the prayers, I sure need them. I saw two men who I tried to help get set up with a P.O. Box at the Day Recourse Center and was talking with them when a man came in who was an answer to my daily prayer. He was there to talk and I knew that he was someone I was supposed to talk to. I asked him if we could sit and pray together and our prayer time developed into a Bible study. Mike shared his struggles and we talked about how he could begin his walk with Jesus. He had faith in Jesus and was ready to change his life, as we studied about counting the cost of discipleship and began discussing baptism, he told me that this was what he needed and he was ready to make it count.

During our talk, Mama B poked her head in to say hello and I told her the good news of my new friend's decision to give his life to the Lord. She asked if she could come along, and as she went to gather her stuff, a friend asked her where she was going. When a man I have never seen before heard her say that she was on the way to a baptism, he asked her if anyone could be baptized! She said, "You better come talk to Steven." God was filling the nets as fast as I could draw them in!

We sat and talked and Bill told me he was ready to give his life to the Lord, he just wanted to make sure that he knew how and that he didn't fall back into sin. So we talked about what a commitment he was making and how by God's help he could keep walking the walk after he was born again.

So, off we went rejoicing, just as God was rejoicing with His angels in heaven. We waved good by to their old lives and old identities, and welcomed two of God's newborn babes with warm embraces. On the ride back, Mike shared that he wanted to be a voice for God but wasn't sure how to start. I told him to just share how good God is, to share how God was patient with him, and how He give him a new life and would do the same for them. We stopped at a church that hands out sack meals so Mike and Bill could grab a meal to save for dinner (both men are homeless). When we got there, Mike talked to everyone he saw about how good his God is! God is busy in Mike's life, because Mike learned what it is to surrender to him.



When we got back for lunch, I announced the wonderful news that two of the Shepherd's wandering sheep were carried back to His fold. In the middle of the announcement, I kid you not, a man interrupted and said; "Can you baptize me when you're done?" HA! Isn't our God awesome!

This was Marshall. We had talked three days ago about him coming to the Lord! He had never heard the parable of the prodigal son, and when he did it brought him to tears. We talked about what he needed to do and he said he wanted to be baptized, but not today. I warned him about putting it off, but I didn't want to pressure him into anything. Anthony talked to him and had him promise that he would at least come back the next day, after study and prayer, to talk more about it. He said he would. before he left that day he said, "It won't be tomorrow, it will be Thursday." I was concerned that he was putting it off and that he wouldn't show. Well, Thursday came and went and there was no sign of Marshall.

Thursday, before Anthony left, he told me, "That happens, but then again, he may show up tomorrow, ready to go. Some times the days you're not expecting anything are the days when you have more responses than you do the whole week." As you can tell, Anthony has been at this for a while, he knows how the inner city flows and how God likes to surprise us.


God filled the nets, I pulled in the fish, and God cleaned them. When you become fishers for men, you never know when God will bring the big haul or which side you will be fishing on when it happens. But when my God delivers, He really delivers. The day I don't usually come in, became the day that I'm glad I didn't miss. My God is great! He delivers souls, changes lives, and enriches the lives of all those who He uses in the process.

That day, a brother who had never been able to baptize anyone came with us and was able to baptize Marshall. He was so happy that he cried. He, Mama B, two others who came with us, and I were so happy about God letting us be there to witness three of his children come home that we could talk of nothing else the rest of the day. There was partying on earth and in Heaven that day, and the three men who gave their lives to him were the guests of honor.

Monday, August 19, 2013

YOU CAN'T PULL YOURSELF UP BY YOUR OWN BOOTSTRAPS IF YOU'RE BAREFOOT

(This was my first sermon upon coming to River City Church)
Our God is amazing and all creation stands as proof of that! His might and strength is beyond description, beyond our understanding. But what does it look like when God shows off a little bit? What does it look like when God flexes?
 
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country." (Exo.6:1)
So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. (Exo. 3:20)

"Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. (Exo. 6:6).



If I may be so bold, it sounds like God is flexing. And when God flexes, the world trembles. When God's people cry out, God delivers. God showed His might by what He did in the nation of Egypt, but He also displayed His might in the life of one man. Just as God didn't allow Pharaoh to release His people until He was done showing His power (flexing, if you will), He did not stop until He showed Moses just how powerful He is. 

In a time of great trouble, God brought His people to the most fertile area of all Egypt. By God's grace, the Israelites were given the delta area of the Nile, called Goshen. But as the years passed, everything changed. God's people became man's slaves. The land of blessing became the poor shambles of an oppressed people. The king commanded mass racial genocide to ensure his grip on his kingdom of disposable people. Does any of this sound like our nation's history?
 
Anyway, out of this conflict a child was born. By God's wisdom and power this slave child became the beloved child of the king's daughter. It was in this way that Moses was making his way from wicker basket to marble throne. There was just one problem. Moses knew his heritage. What kind of man could sit back and do nothing, seeing what Moses saw.

In the desert heat, as the sand blew by, a people who once belonged to the almighty sweated and bled to make another man's dream of wealth and might a reality. Here were a people beaten down so far that they lost all hope and were losing all sight of their God. They toiled in the mud and lay the bricks that built up their oppressors. Amidst it all, some held enough faith the cry out to God for deliverance. not knowing that these prayers were being heard by his God, Moses took it upon himself to answer the cries of his people.
 
So the "prince of Egypt" raised his hand against the man (the Egyptians in this case) and tried, by his own power, to deliver his people. But instead of a liberator, he became a murderer, and the very people he tried to save rejected him. Moses was now a wanted man. Pharaoh put the word out for him to be killed and soon his face was chiseled onto the walls of every Egyptian post office.
 
Now a fugitive, Moses left everything and ran. He didn't run to his mother (either of them for that matter) or just down the road, no, He just kept on running. He ran right across the border and kept running 'til he saw desert women being oppressed. Once again he saw the opportunity to play the liberator. Welcomed in by the desert folk, Moses found what seemed like the perfect hiding place and alibi. After all, who would suspect a sheepherder? For 40 years Moses hid from his people, his God, and his problems. But God wasn't done with him!
 
This 80 year old fugitive, while tending his father-in-laws sheep (not everyone will hire an illegal alien and fugitive, after all), saw a sight like nothing ever seen before. I have to go check this out, he said, and off he went. Little did Moses know, that he was about to face someone He had been running from.

 
God called Moses out by name, from the fire, and said; "Do not come any closer...Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." (Exo. 3:5-6).

So what do you do when confronted by God?!

Let me tell you about a man I know whose story starts out a lot like Moses'. This guy was raised knowing about God and His people, like Moses. He saw things going on around him that he believed were wrong and tried, by his own power to do something about it. He tried to follow Christ by his own power, and held himself to an impossible standard. He became frustrated because he saw that he was unable to become who God wanted him to be. He held others to the same impossible standard, and became angry when they couldn't live up to it either. He misused God's Word, and though he never took anyone's life physically, he may have brought spiritual death by turning people form God by the way he misrepresented Him.

But when he saw his brothers and sisters being mistreated by others because they couldn't live up to the impossible expectations of others, he became so confused, guilty, and depressed, that he began to run from God. Thanks be to God that my Lord did not allow him to run for long. He nearly lost his faith, but instead decided to pick up his Bible. He read 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John and came face to face with a God he had never seen before. Instead of a God who held men to impossible standards and waited for him to fail, he found a God who was loving, patient and kind. This man found himself confronted with God. This man was me. I knew I had to change, I knew I needed God to change me, I knew my own power was not enough.
 
Depending on human power is where Moses and I failed. But self-reliance is a huge part of our culture. We say thing like: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, if you want something done right do it yourself, he built himself up from nothing, he's a self-made man, he took his future in his own hands, he scraped out a living from the dirt, he climbed his way to the top, he made a name for himself, etc. We are a people who believe in doing things by their own power.
 
This is where Moses and I messed up; this is where both of us failed. So, I ask you again. What do you do when confronted by God?
First you listen! Look at what the Lord told Moses:
1. He told him to take off his sandals. Moses was in the desert country of Midian, without his sandals, Moses was completely vulnerable. You can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps if you're barefoot! God wanted to begin by showing Moses that he was helpless.
 
2. He told him to take them off because he was on holy Ground. Not only did God want Moses to see his own helplessness, he wanted Moses to acknowledge that he was in the presence of the Almighty, the one who can do all things. God said, Moses you are on my turf, so show some respect and take your shoes off.
 
3. God says I am the God of your ancestors. This should bring to Moses' mind all the mighty things God did for his family. This also calls Moses' mind back to the people and the God he ran away from. It also showed that the God of his ancestors was not just in the presence of His people; God was even here in the desert. Moses could run from the God's of Egypt and they were powerless to follow him, but not the God of Israel.
 
4. God assures him that He has not forgotten His people, but He too has heard their cries and will answer them in His might. Now God says that He will be the one to deliver the people. Moses was unable to do this, but God is able.
 
Now, look how Moses reacts. He falls on his face before the Lord and hides in fear. This is good!
 
In our American culture, we don't usually see anyone fall on their face unless they have a gun to their head. The stance of falling on your face is one of complete surrender, showing you are no threat whatsoever. Moses completely submits because he recognizes that he is in the presence of one who is infinitely greater than he is.
 
The only way Moses could ever move forward was to accept his need for God and surrender to Him.
 
It was not until hardships in the faith came my way that I realized my great need for God. I realized I couldn't take one step without Him. This realization began to change everything, but even when I turned around and really started to see my God for who He is, I acted based on what I thought was right and invited God to join me. God was not done teaching me to depend on Him.
 
God was not done with Moses either. You see, God brought Moses to his knees so that he could make some hard realizations. God gave Moses the challenge that would make clear to him just how much he needed his God.
 
Then the LORD said, "I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave drivers. I know all about their sufferings, and so I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious land, one which is rich and fertile... I have indeed heard the cry of my people, and I see how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country." (Exo. 3:7-10)
 
Poor Moses, he runs from his past and God brings it all back to him. Fear overwhelms Moses.
But Moses said to God, "I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exo. 3:11).
God answered, "I will be with you..." (Exo. 3:12).
We know how this story goes. Moses has reason after reason why he cannot do what God asks of him. What if they ask me who you are? What if they don't believe me? I'm not a good speaker. Over and over God reassures Moses that He, the Lord, will be the one to make it all happen.
 
But the Lord's patience only goes so far. Send someone else Moses said, even after God showed him that he would equip him with all he needed. God's anger burned hot against Moses. The time for Moses to realize his own weakness had passed. It was time to put his faith in his God.
 
How often are we just like Moses? I can't speak to people. I can't love those people. I can't quit drinking. I can't walk away from him/her. I can't stop using. I can't help who I am. I can't pay my rent. I don't have the money. I don't have the time. I've done too much. I've gone too far. I've hurt too many people.
 
Why can't we see it? Why couldn't Moses see it? It's not who I am, it's not who I'm not, It's not what I have or what I don't have. It's about who God is and what he has the power to work in me.
 
All Moses had in his hands was a stick, but with God, it was a serpent, a sign to all of God's power. His other hand was empty, but with God it was a sign of God's power to destroy or heal.

God gave me the challenge I needed to really learn what it means to depend on Him too. River City Ministry was my challenge. I preached about how we needed to be busy doing the very things done here, and coming here was part of what inspired the sermons. Our visits here were a part of God working on me. The director talked to me about this kind of work and I said my heart was with my youth group and I wanted to see them through high school. But then, the next year, my best friend and I had so many things point us towards urban ministry that we told the director and evangelist that this was what we wanted to do when we were older and more educated and we asked him how to get started. Kimberly and I talked about it and began to make all kinds of reasons as to why we needed to wait. Then one day, we realized we had no reasons, only excuses. We prayed and prayed about it and I told the church what I was thinking about, I talked to the evangelist and he told me they would take me as an apprentice. That scared me and we prayed harder.

One day the decision weighed on my mind to heavily and I said, "Lord I don't know what to do. I wish you would just show me, but I can't think about it any more." I decided to get my mind off of it and focus on our teen devotional. It was the beginning of a new quarter so I was trying to decide where to start. I made four suggestions for what we could study and had the youth vote, via text. All but one said they wanted to use the video series of The Forgotten God by Francis Chan. I had not watched them yet, though I had read and loved the book. I turned it on and Francis talked about how he struggled to see what God wanted for him. He said, "Then it hit me, what if God's will is right in front of me. What if God wants me to go serve the poor. What if the answer is that simple." I turned it off and said, "Okay Lord, I hear you. I remembered His patience only goes so far, and I decided to listen before His anger burned hot against me!
 
We came out here and every day God challenges me and causes me to rely on Him more. It is a beautiful and terrifying thing to grow in Him this way. But each day God shows me a little more of His glory, and helps me let go a little more. It's not about who I am. It's about who He is and what He can do with me.
 
Now here's the question. Will you submit to your God and rely on His power? Will you forfeit your will and your puny power? Will you hand your life over to him? Or will you let God's anger burn against you? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
 
So, stop running and start following. Stop cutting your own path and allow God to direct your steps. Stop sinning and start living for Him. Stop living by your own power and start relying on your God. Stop seeing your limitations and start seeing God's limitless power. Stop inviting God to join you on your journey and let God take the lead. Take off your sandals; you're on God's turf. Get on your knees before Him and accept what you can't do and see what God can do. Then step out in faith and see what God will work in you. It was not until God's people cried out that He showed up to save them. But when they turned to Him for the answer, God went to flexing, and showed them just how much He is willing to do through and for His people.