Which One Will You Be?

As I was starting my morning with God today, and reading his Words to find out what he might have to say today, it felt like I was reading directly about our time and culture. Yet it was the book Ezekiel, written around 571 B.C. that spoke about God’s heart for his people.

“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice” – Ezekiel 22:23-29

I can read this and picture horrendous church corruption that gives Jesus a bad name when you hear about things like priests and child molestation, greedy pastors guilting congregations for tithes and then owning personal jets, and prophecies about the end of the world that don’t come true. Yet none of those extremeties really hits home for most of us.

What may actually be worse, is the subtle ways we as the church live this way and don’t even notice. The subtle weakening of the church that destroys our witness. I thought about a conversation with my sister and brother-in-law this weekend about church discipline (or lack thereof) and the tendency of the Church in general (and that means all of us) to just let sin go with a heaping measure of grace that never requires change. How we handle unbiblical behavior with so much “love” and “grace” that we’re actually hurting our own friends and church families by letting them live in sin that’s destroying their lives. Then when we receive truly loving correction, we rebuke it and become defensive, as if the person trying to help us is trying to hurt us.

How often in our churches – and in our personal walks with God – do we make no distinction between holy and common, clean and unclean, and just let it all go? At least in Hollywood, where many people have been burned by the church, I can say that quite often we just let it all blend together and allow people to live less-than-quality lives in the name of acceptance, grace, and fear of offending anyone.

Even Sabbath – I know I often ignore the idea of sabbath and being set apart, and look just like the rest of the hurried, production-obsessed people in this city. I act like I have no God to give me rest and provide, just like those who don’t know him. Yet how often do we pause to think about these ways of life that are so normal in our culture that we have accepted, thereby making our witness say that life with God is no different than life without Him?

Then God tells Ezekiel:

“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”

Wow. God is looking for just one person, that one who will stand in the gap, pray and intercede, and build up the wall of holiness and Christ-likeness to save our lands. If there’d been one, destruction never would have come. But God could’t even find one.

And what a simple role to play, in some ways at least. To hold up standards that reflect the Word of God, and to simply pray for our city, is something that could save the places we live and the lives within them. What we do affects others….it’s not just all “going to hell in a handbasket”. Just one. That’s all God needs. Just one.

We can be those who let sin reside and slowly but surely wear down the integrity of the church and the laws God has created to actually give us the best, safest, most fulfiling ways to live. We can be part of the corruption, extortion, lies, and average lives, or we can be the one who stands. The one who God sees and says, “Because of your heart and courage, I should not destroy, but build up.”

Which will you be?

Continual Surrender

The best nights on the street are the “dynamic” ones, where so many levels of significance layer upon one another that I leave unsure of how to even process or thank God or pray when I arrive home.

Last night was one of those. I’ll skip large chunks to keep this from becoming an essay, but when we finally all gathered to share prayer requests, the night took on a life of its own. One of our regulars shared about his hope to move and be closer to family, followed by oddly humorous stories of being caught up in his nephews drug deals. His dream is to move back with family, get a large home in a far more affordable location, and create a way to help people like his nephew coming in and out of jail to keep them out.

Another regular then shared about her family worries, not knowing where one of her sons is, being misled and confused by family about how her father died, and inevitably pouring tears out over the hurt, fear and loss.

Antquan questioned how we deal with these things, and conversation blew up from there amongst our friends while the rest of us sat and listened. Our friend from above advised that she needed to let those pains go and trust them with God, or else the stress would eat her up and harm her health. Another guy chimed in who follows Islam and agreed how much we have to give things to God and then move on from things we can’t change. How important it is to “let go and let God”, gazing off while mentioning his brother who died. He doesn’t typically engage much in our Refuge service, but he was playing a significant role in this conversation. IMGP0892

Talk bounced around this way for a while, how to deal and how we must trust God with these fears and losses of family. Then a woman, “Tracy” we’d met just a few weeks ago after being released from prison without a place to go showed up and shared how significant it had been to meet us, even in her hardships. She thanked the previously mentioned woman and her spouse for their support, as well as others who had shown her love and given her support.

“I still have their numbers with me and I’m so grateful for meeting them and their help”. I forget the rest of her words exactly, but essentially it was that, though she’s still not in a program, she felt the impact of people who prayed with her and sought to help her in her worst moments. People who simply cared and how that impacted her.

“I’m doing better, but I need to put down the bottle. I drink because I hurt” and proceeded to share her own family losses, those who stole from her, the father she didn’t get to say goodbye to, and the son she hasn’t seen in years and doesn’t know.

Conversation looped back around to how we deal with the hurt, and finally we all came back to scripture and the continual surrender to God of all our struggles. We then broke up into more intimate groups for prayer, and then more people joined us, ready for pizza and Bible study.

“Tracy” offered to pray for the food, and it went on record for the longest BH prayer thus far. “I was intoxicated when I came here, but now I’m sober, God you did that” and while it seemed a bit repetitive and a slight ramble, it actually brought me to tears. She cried out to God like I wish I did more often. Her hurts over seeing kids on the street selling themselves and pleading with God for their parents to accept them and for them to go home, from a mother’s heart, reflected my own repetitive cries to God on their behalf.

Her desperation for something different, for personal healing, and the healing of the streets was so pure and true, I felt like I had a sister who prays for the brokenness of the city, and a daughter of God I couldn’t imagine that He’d turn down  in her tears. There is something powerful about someone who’s been in prison, lost people, done “bad stuff” and should be tough and numb to it, weep over the world of which she’s a part. The kids sitting next to her, involved in drugs and prostitution definitely noticed, and her passion in that moment were far more influential than I think some of ours could ever be.

We then dove into the Bible study and had more lively discussion, and didn’t end until around 2am, about 45 minutes later than usual.

The things I heard, and the dynamics last night, were beautiful and rare. It was not just going through the motions, it was personal and intense and meaningful. I could barely remember how exhausted I’d been that night before coming out, wishing I could just go to bed. As usual, I left revived, excited about what God is doing, and reminded that people want his presence, and to know that someone cares.

It’s the Little Things that Make a Big Difference

After a discussion in the Broken Hearts office today, I thought the underlying topic would be helpful to share. Because we (BH, ministries, community development organizations) highlight the importance of relationship incessantly. Yet I’m sure many people see homelessness or drug addiction and think, “Really? Relationship is gonna fix that? How?”

It’s really hard to convince people that relationship (particularly when based from relationship with Jesus) has more impact than handing out food or giving someone money or housing alone.

Probably because transformational relationships take time and persistence for which most people don’t have the patience. Or because the breakdown of relationship at all levels as the foundation for these lifestyle problems hasn’t been understood.

So there’s a man we’ll call “Sean” who comes to the drop-in center a few times a week for classes and to meet with his case manager (who has been working with “Sean” for quite some time to convince  him to get into transitional housing).

Sean has taken to visiting me weekly to chit chat and watch music videos of old R&B and soul artists. Sean has mental illness and therefore isn’t the easiest to hold conversations with, as he operates at a much younger age than his actual.

Today his case manager shared with me his refusal to get assistance with something he needs to do and said, “Who knows, maybe you can convince him.” Then we talked about his difficult with performing normal things necessary for taking care of ourselves. Doing laundry, taking public transportation.

Someone walking or driving past Sean, without knowing anything about him, might just see homelessness and think “lazy”, “strange”, or “get a job”. But Sean can’t get a job. Sean isn’t lazy, he’s like a 7 year old trying to navigate a grown-up world alone, with mental illness that keeps him from remembering exactly how to do laundry.

So what does this have to do with relationship? His case manager went on to tell me about the times he gave him a food gift certificate, but Sean wouldn’t brave ordering food unless someone was with him. He’s never done laundry unless his case manager was helping him. He can’t get on a bus without someone by his side. 019

I’m passionate about getting the Church connected with people in these situations to simply be their friends. Why?  A friend can make the difference between Sean staying healthy, accomplishing errands, and having a home. All he needs is someone to be there and help him. Without that, he would have remained on the street. Without ongoing relationship, he could go back. And from a Christian perspective, friends who can help fill in gaps of broken relationships and lead him to the ultimate relationship (with God) can transform his life.

Sean has found friends at the drop-in center, people who dance, watch music videos, order Subway, and decorate t-shirts together. Add a few resources and that’s all it takes.

Not that hard, right??