Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do as you please. . .

"Love your neighbor" (Matt. 5:43)
"love your enemies" (Luke 6:27,35)
"love one another" (Rom. .13:8)
"love your wives" (Eph. 5:25)
"love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:17)

But above all else, we must love the Lord:

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

Martin Luther said "Love God and do what you please." I'm starting to believe that this is a "truth." Not that the law isn't important, or that we shouldn't set ourselves apart by following his commandments and following His laws, but I just don't believe that God is too interested in what we choose, to take a job or not, which school to go to, or what city to travel to. He can teach us, prune us, bless us and allow us to bless others whatever path we choose, whatever job we take, or whatever school we are going to - as long as we are loving Him and loving others. If we are loving Him, He will be sure to pull us into His story and set up appointments for us to share about Him no matter if it is in Minnesota or Illinois.

I think a lot of times we can find ourselves wasting precious time waiting for a sign, praying for discernment, when the Lord is saying loudly, "Go, make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19). Go, love the Lord and do as you please!

Friday, August 15, 2008

how do we love?

As a mother myself, my heart has been aching for one of my fellow sisters at Joshua Station.

I will go ahead and give a brief description of her life without sharing names. This is a long one, so bear with me.

She is in her late twenties, with two little girls- almost 6 and 3 years old.

After raising her girls for the first few years of their life in a state of intoxication and drug use, they were taken from her, put in foster care and she was sent to prison. The father has not been mentioned.

She explained that she had been in juvee (juvenile detention) for a few years before also, before children.

She just recently got out of prison, got her kids back and now lives at Joshua Station, trying to re-establish her life.

Up till now, there has been no discipline, no accountability, and no structure in her two little girls' lives.

How do you start being a parent when your kids are already 6 and 3? How do you start fresh when your daughters have felt the weight of your choices? How do you start a relationship with Jesus when you can't enjoy your children? How do you live in community with daughters who don't listen to you? How in the world do you find your own way of disciplining when there are 5 other people are telling you how to do it, in front of your daughters?

On top of all this, she is trying to go to school so she can eventually get a job that pays enough to support her and her girls.

I watch her with her girls and see how frustrated she is. I can tell by the way she yells, by the way she huffs around saying, "I just don't know what to do!" I can see how she plays the victim role with her whining and complaining.

But I can also see her heart breaking when others get her daughters to listen, or when those folks remind her that her daughters listen to them. I can tell she just doesn't know what to do. She has almost given up. She takes token tries when someone tells her what to do with one of her daughters but I can see the defeat in her eyes, knowing this really isn't her doing it. So many habits to break, so much work, so little time, so little energy.

Her daughters are desperate for her attention and love. They are so desperate and so confused that they instantly go into tantrum or crying/melt-down mode. They both need structure, safety and love.
So, I see all of this. I observe it every time they have been in my presence. I cringe every time she yells and screams at the girls and I wonder if I should step in. Everyone else does, why shouldn't I? And actually I did a couple times, knowing nothing would happen if I didn't do anything.

But my question is, how do we love this little family (and so many other families just like her)? It is a situation I know only Jesus can restore and heal, but in the little everyday things, what do I do as a follower of Jesus?

So far we have seen quite a bit- not nearly as much as some. And as we travel, we are seeing things from an outsiders perspective- sometimes good, sometimes not. We try to be the outsiders with open minds and hearts who wait, watch and listen before we speak.
We have seen a few of folks who are starting to understand the heart of God, concerning His children and action is taking place. But we are also seeing the overwhelming task of pointing the lost and broken to Jesus. (With God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26) And so we are anxious to see the Body of Christ stepping up and taking action, together.

These tiny little groups of people are doing a LOT of work and some feel overloaded and inadequate to dive deep enough to help facilitate REAL life change, healing, and transformation of the heart and mind. The folks who are seeing the heart of God are crying out for help from the rest of the Body. They cannot be Jesus all on their own. Without help from other parts of the Body they can only do part of a job.
Let me tell you, this is dirty, hard work. You won't always see the end result and you have to trust in God. But this is the work He has called each and every one of us to- to be the Body of Christ. Not individual parts alone but together, as a unit.
Gosh, too much to write about- this is just the beginning of my thoughts and prayers. I'm learning just like the rest of you. We are honored to see and be a small part of these little groups. We have done our best to encourage, fan the flames, and ignite the hearts of everyone we have met.
So we must do the same for all of you who read this. God's children need the hope, the faith, and the friendship you have to give. No matter how big or small you think you might be, your hope and faith in Jesus WILL increase as you step into this call.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Words Project

I started a study of the red letters of the Bible, the words of Jesus. I have started to compile each and every phrase that came from the mouth of Jesus and was then put into writing. The biggest question I have is: what if we took Him literally?

Then I found this really cool book called The Words: Jesus of Nazareth, which is a compilation of all of Jesus' words. The author reorganizes them into topical areas. I still plan to do the study, but this might help me out a bit. The only thing I wish it had was a scriptural reference so you could cross-check, etc.

Check it out: The Words Project

The entire thing is available online.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Third Way: Jesus

Obama or McCain?

There's gotta be another way. I know these two guys are running for president this year, but I could care less. If you have read my blog for a while you know that I don't vote, and over the past year I have stopped pledging allegiance to the flag. I stand, I'm quiet, but I don't recite a thing, and my allegiance is definitely not to the United States of America. My allegiance, my devotion, shouldn't be to a presidential candidate, or a political party, or even to a country like the U.S. of A., my allegiance should be to God, to Jesus.

Many of you know that much of this journey was influenced by Shane Claiborne's book Irresistible Revolution. Claiborne wrote another book with Chris Haw called Jesus for President. It's different, it's more academic, but just as powerful. The authors call us, as Christians, to do what Apostle John wrote about in Revelations 18:2-5 and 11-14:

"Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
She has become a home for demons
and a haunt for every evil spirit,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
"Come out of her, my people,
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.

What is interesting is that John uses the same words here as would be used for coitus interruptus. If you are not sure what that is, look it up. John (and this was a dream spoken from Jesus) said that we should literally "come out of her," we should not be of nations, our allegiance should not be to Babylon, to Rome, to China, or to the U.S.A. As Christians, we need to re-evaluate our role in the empire. Jesus said: "Give to Cesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21) As Claiborne points out "Jesus knew that the way out of Rome's grip lay not in appealing to Rome or in trying to overthrow Rome but in resurrecting Yahweh's alternative economy right under Caesar's nose."

The apostles of the early church understood this as well:

And they would become known as the Way. Their community was more than just a group of people who shared religious beliefs. They were a group of people that embodied a new way of living, the way out of the empire, where slavery, poverty,war, and oppression were normal. . . . The credibility of their gospel would rest on the integrity of their lives. For they were now to be the body of Christ. Jesus would live in them. (Claiborne and Haw, Jesus for President, p. 137)
Both Obama and McCain claim to know Jesus, and maybe they do, but they both look the same to me. The interesting thing is that if Jesus ran for president in this "Christian" nation of ours, he would lose the election, probably in a landslide (and he wouldn't pick up one of the red states). Why? Because his campaign slogans would be "love your enemy," "be meek!," "show mercy," "be persecuted," and the rest of the Beatitudes. Those wouldn't get him elected, they would probably get him thrown in Gitmo.

So when you ponder your ballot this November, write in Jesus, because whoever wins, McCain or Obama, Democrat or Republican, they will still be running a nation that looks strangely similar to Rome or Babylon.

I like this song, check it out: A Savior on Capital Hill by Derek Webb

Friday, August 1, 2008

When I was hungry you gave me . . . .

As I sat in front of our RV in an alley that was heavily trafficked by the homeless, my eyes came upon an older man with white whiskers, a blue bandana, jeans and a button-up shirt. I instantly knew he was homeless, but he looked unusually clean for a street person. He was carrying a large black plastic bag and had a small backpack on. He stood about 5'6" tall and even from a distance seemed shy.

I called out to him and asked him if he would like a soda and a place to sit for a while. He tentatively agreed and with a tilt of his head started to walk towards where I was sitting. I had already showed him more love than he usually gets in a day, and I could see his eyes begin to light up. His name was Dennis and we ended up talking for another hour or so, with the promise that he would come back again the next night for a BBQ. He came back and then the next night, came back again, the next day, Dennis was ready to talk and to listen, something he doesn't get to do much. We talked about Clint Eastwood movies, about some of his friends on the streets, about where he sleeps at night, about how he likes to keep really clean. I learned that Dennis loves everything about Ireland, the music, the food, the beer, but the thing that stood out to me most was a story he had. He hated the church we were parked in front of. He had been told to leave. He had been told he was unwelcome.

Now, I have listened to hundreds of stories from hundreds of homeless men and women, trust me, they all have one. Some are true, some are lies, and some are a half-truth distorted from hard nights, and long days on the streets with nobody to truly love them and listen to them. Dennis' story seemed true, but really it doesn't matter if it was his fault and he "deserved" to be thrown out, or if it was completely undeserved, the taste in his mouth was one of hatred of the church, and a desire to keep God at arms distance.

His story reminded me of a story from Mike Yankoski's book "Under the Overpass." The two travellers were in my home state of Oregon, in downtown Portland where we did ministry for the past year and a half. Here is a quote from the book:

A large gray church rose up behind a wrought iron fence in front of us. The building was old and weathered. Above the mahogany double doors hung a sign in red letters: "No Trespassing Church Business Only." A new chain and two huge padlocks secured the gate at the sidewalk.

"It would take bolt cutters and a battering ram to get into that church," I said, suddenly angry. "'Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden'? Yeah, and what, die on my front steps?"

We turned to keep walking toward the waterfront. Sure, a church needs to protect its property, but what we had just seen seemed excessive, and sent a negative, uncaring message.

Sam was having the same thoughts. "Let's say your life is falling apart and you need help. Would you want to go there?"

"Nope," I said. "Anywhere but there. But the world is the church's business - and that's exactly who they're shutting out."

On Sunday morning, Dennis wanted nothing to do with that church, he actually wanted nothing to do with any church, and kept his distance from God as well. Between services I heard some of the people in the lobby talking about a couple of homeless men outside, so I went outside to see if I could talk with them. The church asked them to leave, told them they had nothing for them and that they were disrupting the people coming into the church. One of the homeless men, later I found out his nickname was "Army," straightened up and said, "You drive in here with your Mercedes Benz', Mustangs, and Audi's, and you don't have a sandwich for a homeless guy." We told him we could make him something, and since our RV was 10ft. away, it wasn't any problem at all. We spent the next hour or so having lunch and A&W Root beer with 2 drunk homeless guys. We prayed with them, prayed for them to reunite with their families, from freedom from addiction, and contentment from God.

See, the problem I have with churches like this is that they turn the hungry, the poor, and the widows away because they are too much to deal with, they are a hard lot to hang out with, they are the margins of society. What this does is reflect a false image of who God is. If a church is not reflecting even a glimmer of the one true God, then I want nothing to do with that church, no matter how welcoming and loving it may be to me, a clean-cut, non-alcoholic. The second layer of this mess is what Jesus said in Matthew 25: "Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did it for me." What do you do with that other than love the unlovable. And don't get me wrong, it is hard, and the only place inside me that this comes from is where the Holy Spirit has filled. Period.

I spoke with some people from the church, asked them, in a loving way, why they couldn't do more for the ministry that is walking up and down the alley behind their church everyday pushing shopping carts. The response: we give to the local homeless outreach ministry. This upset me, but I kept it from showing.

The church has become a brokering service. The people sitting in the pews give their money to the church, which in turn gives a portion of that money to the local homeless shelter, with the expectation that when they walk from their Mercedes to the church doors they don't have to see or smell anybody from that level of society, they become insulated. It's easy to give our money, our 10%, to an "organization" that can then "better" use it to help the poor. Is this what God calls us to? To paraphrase Shane Claiborne, when Jesus used the sheep and the goats parable in Matthew 25 I don't believe he meant, "When I was hungry you gave to the local faith-based non-profit and they fed me." Especially when an urban church is doing that! We stay insulated from other levels of society, we stay separated from the poor, the marginalized, which we are called to serve, not give our money to, and when you are in the center of poverty, in an urban setting, you have a lot of insulation wrapped around your building, and probably more accurately your heart. Following God is never easy, that is why He asks us to pick up our own cross, not pay somebody else to carry it for us.