Can That Kind of Faith Save Anyone?

For typical small groups, 1.5 hours is an entire night of worship, bible study and prayer. Last night at Broken Hearts we spent that amount of time just sharing updates, and praying for each other as people on the street kept joining us. Normally this process is only about the first 30 minutes of our night, so that we have time to wander the street meeting people and inviting them to the Refuge bible study.

So just before  it was time to start the study, Antquan split people into groups of two to share and discuss their favorite verse before we got pizza.

“Can a few of us still go walk down the street to invite people?” I asked, concerned we’d miss out on others joining us.

“Um, no, probably not tonight…{pause, seeing the unchanging look on my face}….is that okay?”

“No.”

So he and I walked down the street while we waited for the pizza to be ready. We never made it to the end of the block to the donut shop where everyone hangs out. The first person that crossed our path was a young hispanic guy walking quickly and keeping his eyes fixed on the ground.

“Hey man, how are you doin’ tonight?…Wanted to invite you to this service we have down the street called the Refuge….” Antquan got his attention, beginning to explain what the heck we were doing there.

The look on his face said, Not gonna happen, and why are you talking to me? while his mouth said, “I’m not really religious.” I expected the common, “thanks, but no thanks” kind of response and for him to continue down the street.

But he kept talking with us, and it was only minutes before we knew that he was homeless, recently out of jail, no family around, has been totally neglected and therefore often wants to end his life, seeing no point to it and bombarded with watching evil take place all around him. Hopeless would be a nice way of describing him.

Fast forward to Bible study where the groups designated earlier shared their discussions and reaosns for favorite Bible verses. Stories about what God has stopped them from doing (everything up to and including murder), how he gave joy and beauty instead of mourning and ashes, how a Psalm can create an uplifted spirit. Antquan concluded by tying them all together and giving a clear gospel presentation. IMG_6091

Earlier in talking to our new friend “Arnold”, I had thought of our friend Raul who has a very similar past yet found God in a transitional program after years in jail, and it drastically changed him. I was hoping the two of them could talk at some point that night, because Raul has a passion to help young guys in similar situations.

 

In the midst of the study, I watched Raul notice “Arnold” and go sit by him and start talking. At the end of the study and prayer, Gemma joined them. A few minutes later I joined them as well to see how things were going, as Gemma asked, “So how are you feeling after what Antquan shared?”

“Overwhelmed,” he replied.He said he feels like something is stopping him from really accepting Jesus. We talked more about that, about his past making him feel unworthy, about God’s acceptance. “I’m open to learning, I want to know more…I don’t want to get kicked out of a church….And you guys are giving me all this attention and I’m just probably gonna go slack off…it makes me at least want to try and do better though…”

We were all able to agree that God had brought us into contact that night for a reason. It was no mistake, He was speaking to Arnold.

I just “happened” to have all kinds of resources in my car that I don’t usually – a package of treats with a message about not being alone when you have community that a lady from church had made for me to give to people, info about our laundry service the next week, and a non-cheesy tract my dad had randomly sent me a while back to use on the street. I never hand out tracts, but in this moment it seemed to fit, summarizing all Antquan had just shared and giving Arnold somewhere to start on his exploration of God. I also gave him info about church, so by the time we left there was just about no way he couldn’t find us or get help.

There are a lot of fronts on the street, people broken but acting all pulled together and never quite surrendering to Christ. It had been a while since I’d seen someone in this fresh state, out of jail, depressed, and responding to attention and hope in such a significant way.

That’s what the Church exists for. That’s why it makes complete sense to hang out in a parking lot at 1am.

Wrapped up in his feelings of being overwhelmed was one of his most profound responses:

“I’m just not used to so much positivity.”

After he explained a bit more about negativity and hard things in life, I asked, “So you’re not used to  hearing positive things like were shared earlier?”

“No, I hear a lot of that….I just never see people doing anything good.”

While I don’t know everything about Arnold or exactly what was happening in his head and heart last night, I think I could safely hypothesize this from our interaction:

Arnold has heard about Jesus, he’s attended church, he’s heard positive messages. What’s  been missing is seeing anyone actually do anything, acting in a away that demonstrates the reality of that good news. It’s quite possible that the message could have been about anything that night, but what rocked Arnold’s world was being actively pursued and loved in conjunction with the gospel message.

Broken Hearts has no superhumans or perfect Christians. I didn’t want to go out that night. I would have preferred to go to sleep at a decent hour, not at 3:45 in the morning. Antquan didn’t do much more in our initial conversation than ask thought-provoking questions and invite a guy to sit and eat some pizza, and he didn’t speak the most epic sermon ever.

We can all make that choice to go in obedience to do what God wants from us, remembering that there is a dying world that not only needs to hear about the hope and joy of Jesus, but to see Him.

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” – James 2: 14

How Harry Potter and MC Escher are Helping me Cope with Change

I’m a bit bi-polar when it comes to coping with change. Changing my hair style, trying new restaurants, taking on new projects, learning something new to break up monotony, wearing different nail polish colors, I love that kind of change. It keeps life interesting for me.

But when it comes to shifts in the foundations of my life which I’ve  worked towards and embraced, I do not adapt well. Most often because those changes are forced on me, not something I’ve painstakingly concluded are the best fit for me.

Currently that looks like changes at church, friends moving away, multiple people getting married and having babies, a roommate leaving, social life, and possbily returning to school and changing roles in ministry. Everything is in the air and the feeling is crippling.

This weekend the pastor at One Church Int’l prophesied about it being a season of shaking so that the unshakeable will remain; a time that foundations are shifting and God is setting us on new foundations that feel fluid and awkward, but it’s because God is growing us and we just have to trust him. He said that it’s not a time to feel depression due to lack of clarity. That one hit me hard because it spoke to exactly what I was feeling days before.

I mentally referred back to a few weeks ago when I was praying about some of the upcoming changes (before it even felt so intense) and a picture came to mind from the movie Harry Potter. In their massive school, the staircases will occasionally shift around – even while people are walking on them – so that their direction changes and they have to find a different route. They still do their job as staircases and get people from one point to the next, but in the shift people can end up in different places than they planned on.

I realized that’s what was happening in my church (and the more I thought about it, my whole life). The original path (the staircases) that  worked so well and made sense are now repositioning. The in-between is scary and we have no idea where we’ll land. But my sense in praying was that wherever the “staircases” land would be the best possible place for them to be in that time. It would look different, yes, but not in a bad way. Just different..maybe even better for that season.

Trust was built in that moment of prayer, choosing to believe that God knows where the “staircases” will land, and that the end result will be good.

Saturday I was at a Red Robin in San Diego and looked up on a wall covered with photos and art, and noticed an M.C. Escher drawing. Escher’s work was one of my favorite things to learn about in high school math, the way the art defies rationale and shows so many perspectives that don’t seem to make sense, yet do.

It, too, was a picture of staircases. In looking at it, it doesn’t make sense that the people can all be walking is such different directions in the same room/house and  not be falling over. But they’re all right side up and it somehow works…even though it doesn’t really make sense.

When I noticed the art in the midst of a group of people in that moment of eating fries, I felt God speak to me again. Change doesn’t always make sense, and it can be a bit scary. Yet somehow, it all ends up working just the way it’s supposed to. Even when you feel upside down, you can be right-side up.

All it requires is believing that God knows how it’s going to work, so I don’t have to.

Easter Reflections (which originally had nothing to do with Easter as I started pondering humanity)

I climbed into bed around 1:45am this morning after a full night of washing clothes for the community at Broken Hearts. As often happens, my mind took a while to calm down, as I laid there pondering the people we’d met that night and friends from years ago who’d shown up. The complex lives of the ups and downs, the odd affection between such various types of people converging at a laundromat, and the longing for hope in lives marked by loneliness had my head and heart spinning.

However, the undertone to my thoughts was joy. Deep joy, mixed with painful compassion. “I love these people,” was all I could think. Their potential so great, their hearts so childlike, and their actions for survival appalling.

I woke up later in the morning, hearing the dreaded sound of my roommate’s heater. All I can think of when I hear a heater running or see a light left on is $$$$. Then I get annoyed, and dwell on my annoyance and how frustrated I get by “thoughtless” actions. As I usually do in such circumstances is then assume that person will pay (literally or figuratively) for such an “attack”  (on me/my wallet/time/entitlement). Then I feel justified.

As I drove down Sunset Blvd a few hours later, I observed random and trouble-looking homeless men and women, and the general lack of concerns for them. There are a lot of homeless, strange, or simply lonely people in this city that get so overlooked because they don’t seem to have any great worth or potential to those passing by.

Tears formed in my eyes, thinking how drastically different this world would be if just 1 or 2 people saw potential in these people and gave them a chance. Even if that chance was just for friendship and embrace. Then the tears increased…

After weeks of racking my brain for ways to increase income for myself and Broken Hearts, I began to dive into my cozy world of pride where seemingly so few people seem to care, and yet those of us “in the trenches” can barely pay bills. I know God’s called me here and that it matters to him, but it can feel like trying to empty a swimming pool with a spoon. It can feel unfair.

I thought back to a conversation with an investor friend that week regarding fundraising via churches, who essentially said the conversation should sound like this: “Look, the church is supposed to be caring for the poor and make a difference in the community. But since you’re not doing your job, how about you give us money so that we can.” Ouch.

Ouch, yes, but today I wanted to say those words to a humanity so lacking in compassion. As a Christian, neglecting them from daily life is unacceptable. And Christian or not, watching someone sleep on the street or walk around with no shoes should never be comfortable.

Flashback to something I’d read earlier this week that we are to model:

[God] is saying to all people that he sees worth and value in us. He wants to be with us, he likes us, we are important to him. To a great extent, this is so because of him and not because of us. Because God is the kind of person he is, he is able to see things in us that lie buried beneath layers of sin and shame. He is able to see possibilities where  nothing but failure would be perceived by anyone else. But even more than that, he is able to uncover those hidden things, to let loose those possibilities, because he has taken all the failure, the sin, and the shame into himself. So he is able not only to show us what is there but to set it free. –  (John N. Oswalt, NIV Application Commentary on Isaiah)

I reflected on the people we meet on the street who are so loveable in my eyes, yet not following Christ and making horrible decisions; I thought about my roommate’s expense-creating habits and my 100% no grace response; and I thought about me. Then about Jesus’ death:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” – Romans 5:6-11

There is no difference between “humanity”, those who will save a dog before they’ll save a human, the young boy drug dealing on the corner, my roommate who leaves lights and heaters on, and me. We’re all sinners and we all wrong each other and God.

In an instant I can get angry and justify my “wrath”, yet God looks at me and each person who frustrates me the same. He died for every single one of us, not because we deserve it, but because he loves us regardless of our flaws and failures. Then goes above and beyond to call out the good in us and set us free in the potential he created.

God did not treat us as we deserve and die for only those who were righteous and acceptable. He didn’t do what was fair.

Jesus chose to suffer with us, to suffer because of us, and then to suffer the ultimate death for us. As we approach Easter, the question then becomes:

Is that not, then, how we should choose to live for each other?