Archive for September, 2009

September 23, 2009

Sacrifical Service

I was blown away by the love and kindness shown by a volunteer recently. Let me tell the story of a day in ministry with the help of “Mary”. I met Mary at one of my speaking engagements. Afterwards, she approached me and said, “I am so impressed by the activity of Street Youth Ministry. I wish I could help, but I’ve recently lost my job.” Mary is in her early to mid-twenties so I don’t imagine that she has much to fall back on. When she said, “I don’t even had room in my budget to buy sandwiches for your kids,” I believed her.

However, some time later, Mary contacted me again. “I want to do something for Street Youth Ministry.” I asked her about what she liked to do and among the list was working in Photoshop. I had a project of redoing my ministry brochure that I was looking for help with. She took the task. Somehow in the process of reading the materials and the blogs, something must have happenned. Because the next thing I knew, I had an email that said, “I’m bringing over sandwiches tomorrow.” I was ecstatic I didn’t have a volunteer for that day and hadn’t for a little while. I was not looking forward to making sandwiches myself yet again. And the kids were a little tired of my hurried and sad attempts at making yummy sandwiches.
When Mary arrived, I was struck nearly speechless. Mary had baked three loaves of bread that day to make sandwiches with. And because the first ones didn’t sliced well, she had baked three more. And to cut down on cost and increase quality, she had baked and sliced by hand a ham instead of using lunch meat. So I was looking into a bag of delicious baked ham and cheese sandwiches with homemade bread. Wow! And naturally, things had not gone easy for Mary. I believe she had spent the better part of the day doings this. (I remember my granny teaching me that baking in high humidity conditions is tough.)
The next day at Bible study, there were ten street youth there. I lost no time in telling them the story of how the sandwiches had come to be, “These are a true gift of love from a young Christian woman, just a little older than you. She didn’t know at first how to find enough money to help you out because she lost her only job a little while back. But she had found a way!” One young man was so taken with the homemade bread and fat slides of ham that even the cheese seemed estraordinary. He said, “Wow! This cheese isn’t like anything you can buy at the store! This is amazing!” I didn’t dissuade him of the notion that the loving volunteer might have had cows in her backyard and made the cheese with her own hands, too! They were loving the message that they mattered so much to this young Christian woman who also had no job and not many extra resources.
We went on to cover the first half of Mark 14. This is for me the most pivotal moment in the Bible and in my faith life. It’s the moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus chose to submit to God’s will to be the sacrificial atonement for my sins, the sins of Mary, YOUR sins, and the sins of the street youth. It was a disturbing moment for Jesus. But he submitted: “Not my will, but yours,” He said to God.
I explained to the kids that I live my life in response to that moment so long ago. I know that I will be in heaven one day and I know that if I turned my back on God I would spend eternity somewhere else. But this outcome of heaven or hell isn’t what drives me. When I get to heaven I may find myself saying, “Wow! This is amazing and beyond my wildest dreams! What was I talking about in that blog back in 2009?” But for me today, it amazes me that Christ did this awe inspiring thing for me in the garden the night before he was killed, taking on all my sins, risking knowing all my darkest moments intimately. That’s right, Jesus knows exactly how black my heart has been when I was doing that worst, unspeakable, terrible things. There’s no hiding it, no sugar coating it, and no avoiding it. And he took that on with no protection from harm and no guilt of his own, even to the point of dying a shameful, cruel, and demeaning death on a cross that He had done nothing to deserve. And then he made my sins all go away on Easter morning. I try to live my life in response to that love. I try to show that love to the street youth.
Thank you Mary for showing that same love to me and to the street kids with your sacrificial service. It was noticed, and it really mattered!
September 19, 2009

Venting to God

I met one of my dear friends on the street this week. “Joe” has remarkably changed his life the last three week. Joe has become sober from multiple substances that he was abusing. He has gotten a job. He has moved into a stable housing situation. He has begun attending sober meetings and working the 12 steps. Everything Joe told me was great, but it suddenly, but as I listened to him I realized that his words were saying one thing and his voice was saying another.

I interrupted Joe, “Can I stop you and just ask you a question?” He said, “Sure. Anything.” I continued, “You are telling me all these wonderful things, but your voice sounds frustrated and stressed. What is up?”
Joe looked at me for a while and then began venting. He was frustrated because the stable living situation that he could find was a boarding house that is also a sober house. “They expect me to do 20 hours of community service every week. They expect me to give them 48 hours notice if I’m going to be out after 9. I can’t do that stuff. If I’m not working, I’m at a meeting or with my sponsor working the steps. They just don’t understand!” His voice got more and more angry. I let him vent.
Joe suddenly stopped, looked conflicted, and said, “I know I need to be grateful. I should be grateful. Really I am grateful, but I didn’t sign up for this sober house. I thought I was just getting into a boarding house. I feel like just taking my next check and running away and saying ‘Screw this!’
“I’m sorry. I need to be grateful. I’m sorry.”
I thought about what to say and what to do next. I asked, “Do you have a Bible? Are you reading scripture through all of this?” He said, “Yes and no. I’m reading the Bible but I don’t have one of my own. I’m using my sponsor’s.” I knew this was something that I could fix, but I continued with more questions.
“What are you reading” I asked. Joe opened his diary and showed me passages that he had written down. Psalm 25. (To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me….) Matthew 4:1-11 (…Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.). Joe told me why he loved these passages and then added, “And I love reading Job.”
I responded and asked him, “I love reading Psalms. Did you know that a lot of the Psalms start out with intense anger and frustration being directed at God! Some of the psalmists really let God have it: ‘Why have you forsaken me? Where the heck are you? Why are you letting the bad guys beat me up like this? I hate this! And I’m pissed at you!’ And then they end with things like: ‘But… you are my God. I will trust in you even now. I will put myself into your care. I have no other hope, so I will count on you.’
“I am noticing that you are angry but that you feel like you have to be ‘sweet’ with God. I suggest that you approach God on your knees but with all your emotions intact. Let him know how hard it is. Let him know how betrayed you feel. Let him know how scared you are. Don’t just share the grateful side of you with him–although it’s wonderful that you can be humble and grateful. Dare to share your whole self with God.
“My favorite character from all the Bible is in Job. Elihu is his name. He’s a young man your age. He sits and listens to Job. He sits and listens to the old men who are supposed to be wise. Job cries out from the pity pot of life. The three men offer him sharp rebuke in the disguise of friendship. When Elihu has heard them out, he tells them, ‘I have waited because you are old. I have listened because you are supposed to be wise. But you have totally missed the point!’ And then he tells them the truth. I love that! And I can’t imagine how God must have smiled during his speech to Job and his three ‘friends.’
“And while we’re talking about Job. Remember that Job totally loses his temper and self control in the last chapters. He cries out, ‘You have forsaken me… I want to see my God and my accuser and my judge right here… right now… right before me.’ These are angry and frustrated words. And God listens… and God shows up. It’s horrifying and humbling. Job immediately falls to his knees and says, ‘I am nothing. You are everything. I’m sorry, and I was wrong. Forgive me.’ God does. And God restores him fully… better than ever, in fact. But notice that Job didn’t get there by being sweet or even by being grateful. He got there by being real with God. And I think it’s OK… I think it’s necessary… for you to be real with God, too.”
We prayed together. Joe also needed to tell someone here on earth (a case worker) that he is frustrated with the current living solution. We practiced doing that until he could do it authentically but not hurtfully. When he was ready, Joe used my cell phone to call the human he was angry with to be real with him as well. It was frightening to Joe, but he did it.
We walked together back to my truck, and I gave him a Bible. I wrote these words in it and presented it to him in the parking lot:
“I believe in you. You are a beloved child of God. In you, He is well pleased. Be blessed by this Word and become a blessing to others. In love… Terry.”
He read the words, looked at me, and said, “Thank you. This really means a lot.” We hugged. And he went to his job and to his meetings and to the next hour of his new life.
May God bless Joe today and every day. May Joe grow in his authentic relationship with God. May we all grow in authentic relationship with God, so that we can fulfill God’s purpose for us: enjoying God today and tomorrow and forever and becoming a blessing to all nations.
September 11, 2009

When life falls apart

I met a young man a few weeks ago, we’ll call him “Billy”. He was travelling with a friend. They were having a great time. They experimented with drugs, partied, and just kicked back on a daily basis. When asked if everything was good, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”

About two weeks later, I found Billy totally broken down. “My life has fallen apart,” he told me. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He held back tears of despair to tell me even this much. I just sat with him a while, and then I explored with Billy what had caused this startling change in demeanor.
“I ran into a friend yesterday who I knew from high school. It was awesome. I totally wasn’t expecting to see him, but there he was. It was so good to see him.”
Billy’s life was so taken apart by what happened next that he was spun into a deep depression and had to examine his life for several days to decide what to do next.
“My friend has a girlfriend now. He has gotten clean and sober. They both have. He has become a Christian. He has a house and a job. I don’t want any of those things, but I do. I had no idea that I wanted those things so badly, but I do.”
Billy couldn’t keep talking after confessing these truths that he had discovered about himself. His world had simply imploded upon him. He was so confused and felt so alone. I sat with him while he pondered. I offered to pray for him, an he accepted that offer. We prayed for thanks that he was safe for the moment. We prayed for guidance on what do to next. We prayed for the love of the Father to wash over him and show him how to go on. Finally, I asked if I could give Billy a hug. He accepted. What an unusual sight that must have been in the dirty, smelly alleyway in downtown Austin… a dirty young kid squeezing the living daylights out of an middle aged man in shorts and T-shirt!
Billy’s friend couldn’t meet him that night, but his wife could. So Billy made a trip down to see his friend’s wife on the bus. She was encouraging, and Billy left with a lightened heart… just a bit. On the return trip, as I imagine that Billy began to sink back into despair, visibly disappearing into his seat, God arranged a meeting. Billy got off the bus and ran right into his friend! Right there in the middle of the street, they connected for a second time. His friend took Billy to a sobriety meeting with him that very night!
God so loves Billy that he arranged these two accidental meetings to totally wreck Billy’s life. But God also gave Billy keys and support to put it back together again. Billy is going to worship with his friend and his wife. Billy is going to sobriety meetings. Billy has gotten a job. With God’s help, Billy is putting his life back together on a firmer foundation.
What a privilege to know people like Billy. What courage he has to recognize that he was chasing things that didn’t matter and that he had turned away from things that he desperately wanted. And what a privilege to see how God expresses his love… how God goes out to seek the one lost sheep, leaving behind the 99.
What part of your life needs to fall apart in order to be built on a firmer foundation? How is God seeking you, all alone and apart from the rest of the flock? Know this: He loves YOU. He will not abandon YOU. He will give YOU the strength and the keys to rebuild your life if you will turn around… turn around and face your loving God.