“[…] we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? You see, He has already made us something very different from what we were.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
My church has launched into a study on the beginning of the ministry of Jesus through the lens of the gospel of Luke; it is the third of the synoptic gospels, which basically give the best means to trace the story of Jesus’ ministry – John, of course, being written much later with an emphasis on instruction rather than story. The study on Sunday morning worked into Luke 5 when Jesus asks Peter to cast his net out once more after an uneventful night of fishing and the result becomes a catch that almost sinks two boats. The statement was made: “Obedience to His authority equals blessing”. Which sorta brought me back to ask what is blessing?
It’s common to hear people say ‘I am blessed’ when the discussion falls back to family, or success in some venture. It’s almost like falling into bed to rest after a hard day of work. If ends are met, the bills are paid, balance is restored, we feel that we are blessed and everything is right in the world. This makes many declarations of blessing emotional rather than empirical; that it is something we are able to enter into through feeling, which may be a good staple, but not the entire story. Modern theology underwent several shocks in the early 2000s when The Prayer of Jabez hit the shelves of bookstores in almost every way imaginable.
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. – 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
When Jesus stood on the mount to speak the beatitudes He repeated “blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matt 5) and these are all hallmarks of people who are searching for more than this world. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness it means we have found the goodness of this world, with all its piety, to be insufficient.
It can be quickly pointed out that Matthew 5 seems to refer to people who are already mourning, or already pure, but to ease the conversation verse 11 speaks in the present “blessed are you when people insult you… because of Me”, which is repeated in Luke 6:20: “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” Not to mistaken that Jesus is speaking in a metaphor of spiritual blessing and humility, He restates His intent from the opposite side: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your reward in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now… Woe to you who laugh now… Woe to you when men speak well of you…” (Luke 6:24-26).
The values of the Kingdom of God are inverted to those of this world – which focus on gaining wealth, power, and resources – instead to explain that the Jesus did not come to gain power, but to lose it… and so must we. I think we miss a blessing when we fail to catch His meaning. Jesus comes down on the happy, but favors the poor, but never seems to transition between the two: the focus is not on material things. The Old Testament speaks of the tithe: the first 10% of everything given to the Lord, but this is not repeated in the New Testament principle; perhaps because we are so drawn to judge our performance on how we feel about ourselves. The answer is not what we give or how we give it, but the reason the blessing is distinguished in the first place.
“What we do now echoes in eternity” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The poor are not simply those who have no money; Jesus is speaking to His disciples who left everything to follow Him, even to be shunned by the religious authority in Judea. When He contrasts this with “but woe to you…” He is still speaking to His disciples, not the Pharisees. The danger is to see happiness, wealth, and reputation as blessing because these are all trademarks of contentment and rest in status, not the heart of an alien longing for their home. The cliché that you don’t take your wealth with you when you die is not only true, but a warning that you come to the end of your life and realize there is no echo in eternity, but your existence is more of a soft thud against the door of heaven.
If we understand wealth, happiness, and reputation as a mindset, then these words shift our blessing from how we feel right now back to what it means to follow Jesus – to serve, to give, and to love. It is impossible to follow Christ without becoming generous or feeling conviction over selfishness; this does not merely apply to those who have a lot of wealth, although it does much more apply to those who have abundance. We are not called to possess anything in this world, but only to be stewards of what we have been given for His Kingdom.
We understand we are only stewards of everything we have and everything we are belongs to the service of God. When everything belongs to God, we become less: we become servants. Humility and grace are the currency of the Kingdom of God, and we are poor, only possessing the authority of stewards to what we have been entrusted. The servant does not seek his rest until the will of his Master if completed – as long as we live, we are on the clock. Faithfulness to this calling becomes the blessing. Nothing is ours, everything is His.
The church experience has become fairly universal in America. Chatter fills the room as the lights dim and the worship team steps forward, songs are played and the congregation is welcome to sing along — many will raise their hands, some will tap the backs of the chairs in front of them, others will look around at everyone else to see if they are doing it right. This will be followed by the lights coming back up, focusing to the center, and the pastor coming out and giving a message, part 2 of a 4 week study on some clever name that may hint at the topic of discussion, but not really give it away.
The purpose of the series is not only to be current and interesting with those who attend, but provide a context for the message. Some are really specific like The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas finishing the series Prayer, while some are more vague like Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina with 52 Days, which was a series on thanksgiving. They brand the churches and market them with a vibe, a theme, a new logo, with the same essential goal purposed in various ways, to connect people with God… better, provide a context to connect them with God.
I’m an observer on this stage, and at times I wonder if we sacrifice teaching for relatability. We live in a world where religious values feel threatened and instead of buttoning down and becoming serious to understand what we believe, we water down the message and diversify it. The church becomes a desert for spiritual doctrine as is seeps across North America. I cannot even remember the last time I heard a message on sanctification, the priesthood of the believer, or what it means when Jesus told the Pharisees that everything in the Old Testament points to Him. Growing up I listened to an old man talk for five separate days on the symbolism built into the tabernacle in Exodus on how God designed it to reflect His Kingship. Words like priest, saint, and the body of Christ, become unmentioned and unused.
Yet changes in the tone are not new. Charles Spurgeon took Luke 15 and tied it in his sermon, Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son: the love of God that recklessly accepts sinners. It fit 1891 England as it came from the Industrial Revolution and the church catalyzed itself against the economically growing world; however, the past decade has seen a bitter taste to rigid Christianity which has brought a verity of sermons that shift back in the other direction to make it popular to ridicule the older brother, who stayed home to obey the word of the father. Both are movements in the church to brand itself from how it has been perceived.
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. – Colossians 4:5-6
The line drawn by Paul in this statement indicates that the distinction between the church and the world does not take place in the church, but in the world. People feel so unhappy in their churches because they are asking the assembly to fulfill a role it was never meant to fulfill, or to perform a function it was never meant to perform, but this request by Paul was given specifically to the individual believer to take the peace, kindness, and unity of Christ (col. 3) with them in their daily lives, to meet those outside of the fellowship of Jesus: the Lord’s Supper – grace, and point them to Him, not to His church, with their faithfulness to His calling and discipleship. he is the way, the truth, and the life.
I have found the need to make this message relevant in my own life – rather, to become more intentional about it. I have gathered a persuadable passion for the structure and development of the church to the point that I am going to pursue this as a staple in my personal ministry, but I have to be humble to remind myself what the goal ultimately is. The call of the Samaritan did not bring the people to a synagogue, or the temple, or this mountain or that, but to come to the well. Ultimately, it is Jesus who meets us where we are.
That is how baby elephants drink before they learn to use their trunks, so you know. It’s kind of the best thing!
The fire crackled against the night sky: a lazy moon that hung low in the east like the eye of heaven peering across the endless Californian plains. The soft whisper of the wind was only punctuated by an occasional pop, or the bubbling water in the tin bucket over the fire.
A faint howl broke the night. I strained into the dark over the rolling grassy hills. I tipped my ten gallon hat to the side and took off my rawhide gloves. The cattle grew nervous.
Buck, a 42 year old cowboy who had been running Sal’s cattle for nearly twenty years, spit on the ground near his feet; his weathered face turned in a half smile: “t’ain’t nothing to worry about, son. There are blogs in these hills.”
“Blogs?” I asked, a little nervous.
“Yessir. Blogs. Little critters that run all over the place. In the day time nobody pays them no never mind, but in the night they seem all too much. See, there’s several types. There’s an old type called Xanga: critters only come out in the blue moon and toothless, they are. Then there’s one they call Blogger, but that’s just a bunch of little uns all huddled together to tell stories ’bout stuff nobody cares about. Then there’s your WordPress, beast he is and opinionated. He’ll get you into an argument you’ll never win and can’t stop. Like trying to tell my old lady I’ma go’ng fishin’. If ya ever find yerself staring in the eye of a WordPress, you best like it: no tellin’ what could happen if you don’t. It probably wants you too follow it also.”
“I think I’ve heard of them.” I added, wanting to feel part of the conversation and less like a child. “I think there is one called Myspace.”
His face almost contorted. “Son, myspace is extinct. Killed off by the Facebook, it’were. Nobody pays it no never mind anyway. Long gone like the caveman and his cave paintings.”
His voice grew quiet and he looked around nervous.
“But then there’s a type called tumblr. Son, watch out. Tumblrs come from little holes ya can’t see til you get caught in ’em. Nobody ever sees a tumblr, but they howl the loudest: bite too, dag gum critters. Many of them ain’t got no faces either. They wear masks and will tell you all ’bout there problems and ’bout’in their hopes too. Half the time you can feel yerself getting all moppy as well. But still feel a mite better somehows.”
“Do tumblrs want to be followed as well?”
“Not on your life!” It was as if I had just told a little child about the monster at the end of the book. “Tumblrs like to be followed by other tumblrs they don’t know. But they just like to be watched from a distance. All quiet like.”
The grass seemed to agree with him as its long golden heads bobbed up and down. I didn’t understand why nobody had told me of them before. A blog howled from a near-by hill. I jumped. “Why do they call like that?”
His eyes followed the noise as it rushed down the hill into some thickets. “Sometimes they like to share stories with one another, like to keep up. Other times they sing thoughts for any to listen. But sometimes they are just looking for attention – you know – a place to belong. See that ‘en out there? He’s just runnin’ to see if any fellow cares enough to keep up. Funny critters they are. Hearts of gold, just confused.”
I stared where he was pointing, but I couldn’t see anything beyond the camp fire. I took the brim of my hat to shield my eyes and walked nervously to the edge of the camp. I could hear a cooing, but deep from the back of a throat as though it were a growl: a welcoming growl. “I can’t see it, but I can hear it?”
Buck’s eyes shot open, the stone face of disinterest looked surprised. “That’s right – that’s right. They are hard to see unless you have a Pinterest. It allows you to look into the heart of the blogs and see what they want. It’s tricky. They’re tricky. That one out there, he’s a Livejournal, ain’t nobody never knows what they want. You could touch him, but’ll probably bite yer head off if ya try.
He paused. “One more though, a twitter. Don’t let the name fool ya. Big, slow creature it is. Generally just sits around does nothing but will tell you real, real short stories of who great its life is. Opinionated, but it ain’t got no teeth.”
His eyes never wavered. The flash of fire lost somewhere in time. I shot a glance over my shoulder to follow a rustle in the grass.
I didn’t come up with any resolutions for last year, and so nobody can blame me for not keeping them. I spent late December in Florida. I would wake up early and walk to beach and shoot the sunrise – it’s so nice to listen to the ocean: not just the waves that wash on the shore, but the sounds of it churning in the deep. The morning would bring the dolphins near the shore and the sound of the seagulls squabbling over their finds. When I would walk the pier great pelicans would follow with me.
It was beautiful; the grace to endure and the adventure, I felt prompted to attempt something different than just flat resolutions and so I wrote areas of want: for myself, my career, and romance, and sat over coffee on the even of the new year and wrote a purpose statement for guidance. But to kick off the new year right, I got home, became bored, and went to sleep… enter 2013.
… for I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus – Philippians 1:6
The sum of 2013 came in two words: sufficiency and reclamation. I complained to a friend in late May that the year had been boring: no adventures, no leaving the state, no real excitement – I felt like I was in a season of waiting, not to some uncertain end in the season, but like a race horse standing in the box at the line of the Preakness Stakes waiting for the shot and the gate to signal the start of the race. Everything felt like training and lessons, but I was ready to move forward. I had my plans, I had my vision, but very little played out by those intentions. It became a year of change that happened almost overnight.
I ended up traveling to 14 states; driving around 7000 road trip miles, across wide open grasslands, through mountain passes and canyons – I climbed mountains and jumped off of them, fished on a mountain lake in Idaho, canoed in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, and went white water rafting in Tennessee. I built a wardrobe. I began working with youth ministries at church: baptizing 6 and leading 1 to the Lord, and now I lead a small group and mentor students. I spent a majority of November in Texas working with a ministry that disciples Dallas’ homeless.
… the LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. – Psalm 84:11
I want 2014 to be defined by a few different things. One being discipleship. Student and homeless ministries have brought into focus my interest in church development and growth, but specifically discipleship. I was browsing through the Young Adult section at Barnes & Noble the other day; which plays into some of the worst literature in the history of the planet, but I like to see what voices my students are hearing, and I couldn’t help but notice that most of the authors are women – even the books intended for guys are written by women. Even sitting in church on Sunday evening I can’t help but notice I’m one of only a few guys: excluding couples and families.
Where are the men?
I’m not trying to invalidate women. Some of the greatest truths I have ever heard have been taught by the women in my life; however, the words that grew my heart as a boy, or tore it apart, have been the words of men: my father, my brothers, my mentors. Boys need women, but boys really need real men these days. I think it convicts me in my on heart in areas I need to grow and spaces I need to step up. I spent time at the start of the year in prayer and have developed resolutions with more of a long term focus. I mean, I still have practical goals. I want to get through about 50 classics this year (don’t pressure me, that’s a lot!), I want to be more deliberate with my writing, and I want to build more furniture. I may even enroll in grad school. I’m planning adventures through New England, Iowa, Florida, and Texas, so we’ll see. I am passionate about photography and so I want to weave some of my goals and trips to enhance that. But mostly, all to point the focus back to a Biblical model for a Believer.
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4
The story of the cross is the story of redemption – not erasing what has been broken, but healing it and restoring it. Almost every interaction in the book of John focus on Jesus meeting people where they were and reclaiming their story. We cannot come to God unless we come to the cross. We cannot come to the cross until we acknowledge our own need, brokenness, and His beauty. As we behold His beauty, we are changed to be like Him. We take on this love, this passion, and this life.
This year was not free from disappointments; things that felt like failures along the road – my expectations had to be exhausted. There are things that have happened in my life, things about myself, that I have been ashamed about, or some I was worried about. In those moments, I start to feel I am not good enough, or not trying hard enough; almost to say that I had a better idea for how things should be, or who I should be. We crave change because we are always looking to something else for salvation, for a sense of control, a statement of purpose. Yet we come into the world with nothing and nothing belongs to us. In the best of my intentions I control nothing. Accepting this leaves me not seeking change for control, but seeking solace for release. The passing seasons, the warm and the cold, only cement in my mind that life is a process of letting go.
We cannot come to God but by the cross, and we cannot come by the cross without accepting Jesus’ truth. He is always faithful and I only need to be still and know, to let it be. He is sufficient.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now – African Proverb
Hope is often understood as the meeting of expectations and reality. It is, to look to the completion of something: some event, or goal, and finding fulfillment in its fulfillment – I have waited for this, and it came about, and now I am hopeful, like it’s that twinge in the stomach a child may get on Christmas morning, or laying down a nap after the Christmas meal has been mopped up. When I think things are coming together it’s easy for me to get excited. It’s finally happening. That would make disappointment the opposite; that is, when reality and expectations do not align. But what if the greatest hope comes in the wake of disappointment? The greatest value we see is not from where we stand looking forward, but from where we will stand looking back.
Shortly upon its inception, sin entered the world and broke its reality. Even today these waves crash over our society and soak through our lives. Look at the war, the hate, the sickness – the genocide of an entire race will fall today on the back of social and health issues – but our world, often as taxing as it can be, stands improved from what it has been. Israel stood in the heart of conflict of the Roman Empire: it played house to a number of power exchanges over the years, many pushing to a more civilized point, but all on the same principle – blood in, blood out. The plan of heaven to correct a savage world was a baby. It seems a tad goofy, honestly.
Jerusalem rested in the heart of the interest of ancient civilizations. Rome, Greece, Medio-Persia: these kingdoms all held stock in Israel as their eastern and western boarders, and approached the city of Jerusalem largely from the north. The roads ran through Northern Israel and passed through the city of Nazareth that once rested on the brow of a hill as the “guardian” or “watchtower”. These armies would often become locked in combat in the hill country before the walls of Jerusalem, or else would pass through this city when they were retreating – the Assyrians destroyed this city completely in the late-700 BC. Nazareth was not a safe place. It was not a wealthy place. It was not a good place to be.
Yet from the heart of war came the child of peace. He was born into the province of animals as the sky over the city of David erupted with the exultation of God’s promise – the King had come, the Son of God and son of man, Emmanuel: God with Us – first announced to shepherds, and to gentile kings from the east, yet the people of Israel were not strangers to the prophecy of the Messiah, and so it is easy to criticize them for not recognizing His authority. They waited for generations for His coming, but doubted Him constantly – almost like they had been waiting on a bus that came and went while they were sitting at the bus stop. They followed Him for bread and begged for miracles, and then they forsook Him where worse came to worse. Bad Israel!
I think the beauty of grace is that it tears away the perfect faces and exploits the truth. We live with our eyes only half open to eternity and so are drawn to the light of the temporal by default. We see our needs through the reflective lens of money, romance, and power. The currency of God’s Kingdom is that His values and the worlds do not align. Jesus did not come to gain power in this world, but to lose it: the meek inherit the earth, the pure of heart see God, those who mourn rejoice. King Ahaz wanted salvation from Assyria, and Israel from Rome, but real salvation is not a temporal thing, nor is it physical. We do not need freedom from oversight, but we need freedom from our sins. We do not need more riches, but we need to be restored. We needed to be reclaimed.
The shepherds were dirty and poor, yet they were the ones to whom God first showed His Son. They were an unreputable bunch, often equated as thieves, but it was the dishonest to whom God first revealed His glory. Yet this is how He comes to us; though we believe ourselves to be rich, the truth reveals we are destitute and filthy. This encounter changes us. Our expectations are exhausted and rebuilt, otherwise we would never receive the faith for the hope at all. Just as the shepherds, we come before a King form Whom we wait to return – but do we live that way? I think the secret is in the telling in what we value, how we react, what consumes us. If I walk on the belief that Jesus may break open the sky at any minute to claim His bride; the heart for whom He has fought and won, that He has removed my sin and filthiness and has covered me with His righteousness, then I wonder if my big life plans start to seem a little goofy.
“I know now, Lord, why You utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before Your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” – C.S. Lewis
“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” – Isaiah 61:10
“We are, by human nature, men and women who anticipate and have great expectations of what is to come – that’s in our nature, we have done it our entire lives. We have habitually pursued the next thing, we have perpetually desired whatever is next, even on our good days we are haunted by the thought that there are better days ahead. ” – Matt Chandler
If nature is red in tooth and in claw.
it seems to me that she’s an outlaw
because every death is a question mark
at the end of the book of a beating heart
the answer scrolled in the silent dark
and the dome of the sky and a billion stars
but we cannot read these angel tongues
we cannot stare at the burning sun
and we cannot breathe with these broken lungs
so we kick in the womb and we beg to be born
Andrew Peterson, ‘Come Back Soon’
I closed out the first week of my Dallas trip yesterday. This has been a week of intense and graphic change in my heart – I have peace about things that once bothered me, and greater clarity to the human condition and how to help those who are displaced in society: or specifically, those who are homeless. Maybe this is a true change, or just the fact that I have been thrown into a city where I have little physical support and only knew one person when I came to it.
Yesterday I sat in the office at Our Calling and was talking to Tammy, formerly an addict on the streets. The Search and Rescue team came and talked to her for years, persuading her to turn to God, to come from this life of addiction – to leave the streets. She sat before me a changed woman – not perfect, and the passing of time left its marks, but in her eyes there was still an innocence, a heart that was growing: damaged, but not destroyed. She told me: ‘It’s because of people like you who come to people like us and persuade us not to go back to those lifestyles.’
“That’s not true, Tammy. Not at all. You’re ministry is just as important as ours – as important to me. You have a ministry too. See, it’s easy for people to come and get help and go back to the streets, but it’s equally easy for people like me to come in contact with that humanity and then go back to my comfortable life. We’re all broken, but we just go different ways. We need you to be who you are a remind us why we are here – I need that.”
Genesis was not written for Adam and Eve, nor Abraham, nor Jacob – in fact, it was written first for the Hebrew people after they left Egypt. This means “Let Us make man in our image” was first read by those slaves who lived under the Egyptians: those also who believed their ruler to be divine in nature, and now this concept is broken by a simple truth – all men are created in God’s image; there is no god-man, as the Pharaoh.
Even today there are really only two ways to understand this: A) I am made in God’s image and therefore am valuable, or B) If I am made in God’s image, what is He like? and perhaps the two are not dissimilar and we cannot make it to the latter with out beginning with the former, yet one makes me the object o affection, and the other puts the importance back to God as God and calls me to action.
All calling in our life is to draw us back to God. Every truth brings us back to life by beginning where we are. My biggest blunder in approaching homelessness is that I approach them as though they were simply homeless – a dollar, a little something, would fix it. The truth is way darker and much deeper. Stuff will fix them the same as it fixes me, it doesn’t. Food goes way further than dollars because it does not feed their addiction, but meets a need. They don’t need my stuff, or me, but my Jesus. If I take on their burdens, it will not heal them. They need to give their burdens to God. It’s that simple.
I see the story of the Lost Son in Luke played out – both were lost. I get lost in my apathy and they are lost in theirs. My purpose is not to save them, but to reflect the One who does. My things don’t make me superior or inferior, or should make me feel guilty. I should feel guilty when I am unusable because I don’t care to actually understand people, any people, and sink into the waters of apathetic living that skip from day to day.
This truth – the cornerstone.
What is hope really?
Is it the belief that though it is dark, it will be light again?
or though the weather is sour, that one day the ice will thaw
spring to usher in the warm weather, the life, the meaning?
This isn’t always true. This doesn’t always happen.
Hunger is satisfied with food. Cold stayed by warmth.
The numbness can wear them both away, but not forever.
I think when my hope is that my happiness will come I miss the point.
For some time I have been asking that things will come together, that this road would make sense.
But the only hope we know in this life is that we will need to be satisfied again.
The seasons will change though the tree may die, it is not in this change that the world turns.
It can only be short sighted. No more than desire, just yet a temporal longing.
Hope is to life, and life is to live, but we cannot live to life because everything passes.
He is not the life we live, but the life He gives us through His death – we are put to death with Him
brought to life with Him.
I cannot long escape this fact before it breaks through my world.
The jealous Lover, this Holy God, to pursue His church to the end of the world
only to be spent, only to give life – and this is the hope.
Love not that we loved Him. Hope, not that we can give.
For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ,
who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. – Colossians 3: 3-4
When I was 15 my family took a vacation out West; a two week excursion to start in Portland and make our way south through Oregon into Redding, California – where I am from. After two days in Redding we were driving I-5 north in the rain and I was sitting in the back of mini van looking out the window at the world disappearing behind. Cars dodged back and forth to leave the interstate, or get on, but there was one man walking along the shoulder against traffic. He had a hat pulled low over his face, his shoulders slouched, and a card board sign that simply read San Jose. I started to wonder about this man – who he was, where did he come from, and if he had a family. I wrote songs back then… if you could call them that. I penned out one to recount that story and it’s the only one I really hold onto: “a place in my heart”.
Fast forward to 2009 at university, and I’m sitting in a professor’s office discussing an ethnography project with him. The outline of the project was simple – observe a group of people and put together a paper. I decided to put together observations of homelessness around the country. He frowned. “One thing I appreciate about you Lyle is your ambition and heart. You’re always ready to go and always go full speed, but this project is too big. I want it to be a current study you can do over the next few days.” We put together an idea to go through four different places in Charlotte and I brought something better to the table.
The idea settled in my mind, but I pushed it away in light of other things – but as our calling has a way of doing, it found me anyway. I volunteered at the Charlotte Rescue Mission, but I wanted something more hands on – more boots on the ground. Charlotte lends itself well to in-house programs and recovery, but little in the way of reaching out to these. A friend pointed me in the direction of Our Calling in Dallas, Texas and after a little investigation I asked if I could come out for two weeks and work alongside them – this would give me experience to bring to Charlotte, as well as help me in my long term academic goals by giving me a piece of the puzzle to displacement across the country.
I connected with a small street ministry that goes out on Friday evenings in Charlotte to hand out sandwiches and pray with anyone we found along Tryon. Charlotte is a pretty tame city. It’s spread out, but the center city is relatively small with a cluster of 30 or so buildings over 20 stories, and only about 7 over 50 stories. When it flurries, people go into lockdown mode, and every evening traffic is backed up to the north and east. It’s calm, pretty kind, filled with trees and greenery, rolling hills that weave throughout outlying neighborhoods that offer glimpses to a beautiful skyline. Yet, in Charlotte is the 211-06 project, which registered once as one of the most dangerous zip codes in the nation. The further you get from the lights of uptown, the darker the city gets – physically and metaphorically.
The homeless are friendly. You’ll be hard pressed to find a homeless man in Charlotte who isn’t a believer and a majority seek church on Sundays. I laughed and talked with a big fellow, Malachi, who told me about the fragrance shop he used to own… used to. Darrel spoke with me and Jacob and said over and over: “can’t be nothing but what you are… be proud, boys. head up and nobody but you can be you and that’s the best you can do. be proud.” I think I’m still a little surprised how quickly people are to tell you their life story. I live in a world of rigid facade. Nod, smile, talk about the weather – people know very little of my life, and I am generally bad at sharing. I keep my burdens, my struggles, my hurts a secret. I talk about what is ahead, or what could be. I laugh and joke and smile. There is no feeling of contempt and it rarely registers as conversation, but these men on the streets are eager for lots of reasons – shame, hurt, they want you to think of them as something more than broken… But more, they’re are alone.
I left home Thursday and drove 1000 miles to Dallas, Texas. I was welcomed with open arms and they were both excited and equally intrigued that I would come so far to work with them. Paul, a leader, said: “you’re really interesting… which is good because we always send the boring ones home.” But today I spent the morning going through the city and reaching out to the homeless. I found the same faces I found in Charlotte, and some of the same stories, but much worse. We were in a group of 12. Paul and I would go out and scout areas that looked uncertain or dangerous. We met many people. It was such a contrast to those who had hope and those who did not, how they looked after one another, but one stands out.
Paul and I went under a bridge in a rough side of town. We met a girl they had met before – 24, a prostitute and heroine addict, sleeping on a mattress under a busy bridge… Also, she was eight months pregnant. We talked to her for a while and finally persuaded her to let us take her to a clinic, to detox and have the baby in a safe place. She came with us and after a procedure they admitted her into the hospital. Just a bit of the story that will hopefully a better ending.
“The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many” – Mark 10:45
Probably one of my favorite verses. There is so much more to say, but I want to curb with just this aspect of the story. Dallas has been fun and I have only been here a day. I have been given so much to think about, but this is just a snapshot. I go to the mountains to find solace and listen to God, but I think when i look into the lostness of humanity I see the face of Christ – not from a position of strength to weakness, but the reflection of his love through my heart into a dark world.
Grace and Peace.
I was walking down my driveway in the night a few weeks ago with my iPhone. It was the first time in a year (since I got it) that I had the case off – it was broken and I pet a dog that had been rolling in something dead and didn’t think I would ever get the smell out – well, also for the first time, i dropped it; straight up, to the ground, dropped it. Recovered, I found the iPhone unbroken except for the tiny lens over the camera in the back. This sucks because taken pictures is the only thing I really use it for.
Needless to say, these past weeks I haven’t been taking pictures of anything.
I’m not a photographer, but I like taking pictures. I have not studied the development light, angles, or anything, but I take decent pictures. When I see something beautiful, I want to capture it as I see it. But recently, I see something beautiful and I just have to admire it and then move on – take a memory. I share the experience with no one, yet somehow I find what I’ve seen to be far more moving and simple – like returning back to something I’d lost.
Maybe our love of social media – more image mediums – is just a sign that we are actually lonely in our lives. We see things and want to share them with people, but instead of finding people to adventure with, we are content to snap the photo. In a way, that would make me carrying an iPhone no different than a child carrying a teddy bear or a favorite toy. They may sit and talk to the teddy bear, reason with it, and explain life. Isn’t that what people do with social media. The irony of social communication is that, though it is with real people, non of it’s actually real. simply because it is so widely used. Also, we are never fully anywhere we really are because our experience is filtered through these… well… filters.
I think I’ve also found a need to separate things in my life – everything. Everything has a place and only a few things belong everywhere and that’s okay. If that makes sense.
*insert Halloween comment and joke*
When Jesus came to Jerusalem for the final Passover before His death, He found the outer court of the temple, the place for the gentiles, filled with commerce and business; foreigners changing currency for Jewish money, animals being sold for sacrifice. The scene was probably not uncommon to other Passover’s, but the King has returned to Jerusalem: the Lord of the Sabbath and of the house, and He began to drive them out. He didn’t allow anything else to be brought in for that purpose. He declared: ‘It is not written, My house is to be called a house of prayer for all nations? yet you make it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).
Jesus didn’t merely empty the court of the money changers: “…and He drove them out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen, and poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:15), but He drove away the animals that were intended to be sold for sacrifice. Much like when Saul saved the sheep for sacrifice against the wishes of God and Samuel rebukes him saying: “…to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). The temple appeared very religious, but their means were dishonest and their worship was perverted.
As a child, one night I walked into the living room when my parents were watching a rendition of the gospels on TV and the scene was Jesus yelling, and pushing people away, and throwing tables over – I was shocked… or better, mortified, and a little mad. They had Jesus all wrong! but time has taught me – I had Jesus all wrong.
Worship is not the songs we sing, and it’s not how quiet or loud we are – it is spirit and truth. Not only did this commerce block the way of the temple, but it distorted the purpose for the feast – granted I am no Old Testament scholar, but the lamb was to be taken from the father’s household and killed – shared if needed for a smaller family that did not have one. It was a lamb that was raised by the family, killed by the family, and eaten by the family: a sign of atonement against the death of the first born. This scene of the temple are those coming to buy a lamb the day of to sacrifice it there – I can imagine it was much how people feel about Christmas or Thanksgiving becoming so commercialized. The feat was not about the performance, but about the purpose. It had become noise.
As I re-evaluate my spiritual life: my prayer, my worship, my heart, I can’t help but feel that I have missed the point so many times – I hear people say “I am waiting” for a relationship, for a career, for an opportunity – the Old Testament is filled with statements to wait, but New Testament is full of a call to action: performance and purpose. I’ve been caught in this loop too – the idea that things aren’t how I want them to be and some things are beyond my control. I cannot control some choices of others; I cannot choose for them. It’s the bitter edge of acceptance; somethings are just this way. It’s easy for me to miss the purpose of events in my life because I’m trying to understand their performance, or how they fit. My worship, my prayers, and my heart become noise.
When a child and an adult walk together, who sets the pace? I have spent so much time waiting on God that I start to wonder how much time He has spent waiting on me… Perhaps my fear should not be that I will walk without His blessing, but that I will not walk in what I already have. That in the end I will find Him waiting on me to accept His view, His way, and His design. I cannot enter into His rest if I cannot take up this cross. Or maybe this is something entirely different in my heart.
I think it’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t merely drive away the money changers and falsehood from the temple – He reclaimed it; He opened it. The outer court was the place for the gentile nations to worship. He didn’t make a bold stand of condemnation, but made an even stronger declaration of acceptance – He is still here waiting.
So I will pray to you right now to take away my sin
Heal away my brokenness and change this heart again
Without you I am nothing but a weak and dying man
So I will pray to you right now and change this heart again
– ‘Change this Heart‘, Sidewalk Prophets.
I feel like my blog posts are about to get all out of order.
I can’t really sleep right now: partially because I just have a lot of stuff on my mind, and also because I’m hungry – so I’m eating PB&J and writing. Problem solved? Not quite.
I needed to get away to take some time to pray about so many things in my life – just refocus myself. I felt I just needed to seek out some very specific answers and I felt that there was something I needed to learn in the Smokey Mountains – I planned on hiking in along the Appalachian Trail to see a certain vista point, but big daddy government knee-capped that by restricting all overnight parking due to this government shutdown deal.
The trail connects with a wide parking lot on the TN/NC boarder. Cell reception had been spotty the entire way up, but I found a few bars and double checked the map – it was not the map I looked at back at home: probably my first mistake, but it showed the trail only left in one direction. I loaded up my pack with my lights and supplies and water. The path way broad, easy to hike with trees that hung over it like in all the movies – this is where the wild things lived – but something felt off. The path felt like it was slopping and the canopy of trees felt too dark and there was a lot of watery sounds below. I followed it for about ten minutes before it narrowed sharply to a small grove of yellow and purple wild flowers with high banked walls. The plants pushed against the path, almost covering it, which isn’t uncommon for the trail (which was obviously there), but it didn’t feel right for a place where people commonly came to visit. I followed my gut and turned around – much to the shock of my pride, because I HATE giving up on things I start – especially adventures.
I dropped off my pack at the car and decided to explore the other side of the parking lot. I found another entrance to a trail that lend into the woods, mark narrower and rougher, and steadily upward. The quote by Tolkien came true, mixed with my ability to chronically put myself in both awkward and dangerous situations: “little by little, one travels far”. I found myself far enough in the woods that it wasn’t worth going back for stuff like light, or tents, or you know – water. The sun began to set behind the heavy clouds on the other side of the mountain and everything started to get dark. I was excited, pressing on – I passed a few people who looked like they were about to die. I think I was frustrated too. Also, the further I walked the more I realized I would be really pinched for time getting back. I walked along the spine of the mountain as the wind roared up both slopes and tossed the trees.
Now, I’m not saying I heard God speak to me, or what I was told was anything other than my own heart – but I’d like to think. Maybe just a little internal monologue.
I took a second look at my watch and looked back the way I came. The message at church that morning had been about taking risks, and I know there is a difference between testing God and taking a risk. I had seen so many amazing things and vistas and old tunnels, but nothing jumped out of me as entirely remarkable: “Why are you afraid?”
“I don’t want to get caught in the mountains after dark.”
“You’re not afraid of the dark.” I started to think about life: choices coming up – hesitations. “Walk a little further.”
I followed the path. It turned sharply upward to a place I felt I should stop. I found a small path leading away from the main trail and walked along it to a place that overlooked range after range of the Smokey Mountains. The path around my feet was covered with wild flowers: purple and yellow, the trees were gold and red with their changing leaves – Matthew 6:27-29 came to mind, about the flowers not worrying about anything.
I need more than rain. I need more than sun. But really, do I lack anything I need? As I walked by I passed under autumn trees that seemed to capture the fading light and the path glowed all the way back. “Come, Thou Fount of every Blessing” as been in my mind over and over. The path I wander from is not a physical path, but the journey of my own expectations – God is opening my dreams, but not how I planned and my expectations had to be exhausted before these doors could open. Why?
Matthew 5-7 has a lot to say about the kingdom of God, and basically it is the opposite of this world. Jesus said “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed” to reference Daniel when the kingdom of Babylon was a tree that filled the earth, but was cut down. God isn’t about dominating the world, but restoring it; the garden – the mustard tree is the garden tree. It should not surprise us that the values are joy and peace and hope. Hope is not a supplement, but hope is the end. The confidant expectation in His goodness. But do I trust Him? The currency of His love – Sufficiency of His grace?