Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Into the world

Living downtown is hands down the most diverse and colorful place we've ever lived.  In our neighborhood you can find everything from small non profits to an exotic art house. It's common to see a family of 6 squished into a one bedroom shack that's neighboring a gorgeously remodeled historic bungalow. This street is home to people of all races, backgrounds and social groups. If there were any minority at all it would be a white Christian family with small children. Which is why I get asked a lot what made us come to the decision to move our family here.

I think by default people naturally gravitate towards what we know and what we're comfortable with. Most of us tend to surround ourselves with people who believe and think the same way we do. But when I look at Jesus, I see Him going beyond barriers. He knows that to reach people he has to go into their world. He wasn't a commuter. He came down and moved in. He fully engaged the culture by serving and loving the people who least expected to be loved.  I think that's what we're supposed to be doing and that's why we decided to move our family here.

I'm not a great writer or speaker. I get incredibly anxious if I have to speak in front of large groups. I have more examples of woulda coulda shoulda moments than times I actually had the courage to do something. In fact one of the reasons why I wanted to move to the thick of it was because most of the time I felt completely insulated in church, bible study and Christendom. I'd hear about suffering on Sunday but it was easy for me to go home and become distracted and forget. When you're surrounded by it daily there's no forgetting. That may not be your story but it's definitely mine.

I'm far from perfect.  But one reason why I'm so in love with Jesus is that He doesn't look for perfect people. He looks for available people. He doesn't look for famous stars, he uses obedient servants. We just have one job- live life in a way that really demonstrates what you believe. People should know we are His followers because of our love and love looks like service. Every time I sit down and talk to someone on the street I never hear them go on about the breakfast burrito they received or the blanket. I mostly hear them talk about how no one ever really cares to sit, look them in the eye and listen to their story and hug them and love them. I always think about if Jesus was walking the earth right now I believe we'd find Him on the streets because there are plenty of lost and hurting people there and not enough workers.

I'm always so surprised at how many times I'm discouraged from doing homeless ministry even by people who love Jesus. They say they are on drugs or just need to get a job and somehow that makes them less deserving. No matter the circumstance, their soul is just as important as mine.  There's a verse by Beautiful Eulogy that says, "If God wiped out the wicked the whole earth would be vacant." It's so true, we're all deserving of judgment and the amazing thing is not that God saves some and not others, its that He saves any of us!

Stephen and I often look at each other and say, "I can't believe we get to live this life!" Not that its comfortable or where we ever dreamed of being. But because we've never been more full of joy. It's this adventure of not knowing what the heck we're doing but creating opportunities for God to display Himself to us. The everyday fresh experience of His love comes when we're serving and loving the least of these like He said to. We don't just learn more about Him from a curriculum but by doing we experience HIM in the process.

What I've learned so far is this- I don't know what God's doing or why He's doing it. But I know that the gospel was meant to be given away, and that the only way the culture is going to change is if we get involved with their world and live out what we believe.  Matt 5:13-16

[ Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. ] 1 John 4:7-12

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Have you ever been 100% certain that someone was not going to heaven? If you knew without a doubt a loved one or even a stranger was going to spend an eternity without love, hope or grace. How would your heart feel?

The setting is Verde Park, an inner-city park in the heart of Phoenix. It is Tuesday evening and that means an hour of joy loving on the neighborhood kids from Garfield Elementary. Arriving late from work I hurry past two women sitting on a park bench and proceed to the community center where the kids are waiting. Nate, a co-worker and friend of the ministry I work with is waiting in front of the center with a look that I know all to well. He does not need to say anything. I know he noticed the two women on the park bench and God was ready to do something big. We spoke, prayed briefly and then walked over to the picnic table to most certainly interrupt these ladies conversation.

Now normally in these situations I am nervous but quickly reminded of the boldness I have in Him. This boldness often leads to passion and the Spirit of God flowing through my veins. However, this day was different. Nate strikes up a conversation that ultimately leads to one of the women sharing their testimony and him praying over her body and life. It is yet another occurrence of a man of God like Nate carrying out the Great Commission. The issue is, I had zero desire to engage these women. These women had visible marks on their bodies of both physical and drug abuse, had a paper bag with a 40 of beer, and noticeable ticks that would lead me to believe they were on a current high. Normally this is where I feel the most comfortable and frankly excitement to see what God is going to do and... I... feel... nothing. After about 15 minutes sitting with these women and 30 glances at my watch, something happens. A familiar voice. You know, the still, small voice in 1st Kings when God is speaking to Elijah? That voice. "She is going to die before yielding to Me." Immediately, I rise up from the table and walk over to a table 50 yards away. Doing the only thing I know to do in that moment, I pray! You know that passage in John, "My sheep know My voice?" I knew it was Him, I had heard it several times in the past, but it didn't sound like something He would say. My heart literally ached as I again desperately pleaded with God to explain. And then again His voice, "Stephen... you will never fully understand the depths of my love." First of all, the Creator of all Mankind the Lover of my Soul said my name. That was a first. Secondly, He spoke the very thing I pray for on a daily basis. "Lord, that I would understand the depths of your love, that my heart would align with your heart." My prayer. And then The Holy Spirit says, "I have sent her a hundred people before you and I will gladly send a hundred more."

I thank Him, but quickly my heart again sinks at the very thought of knowing this woman I never met(s) fate. I get up, send a goodbye wave back to Nate and quickly leave the park. In the car ride home I replay the event and the words spoken over and over again. A hundred people, before Nate and I, proclaimed Christ to this one woman and God is planning to send a hundred more. Seriously? I think I can count the number of times I have been approached by someone wanting to share Christ with me on a single hand. And this woman, most certainly living on the streets who looks like a woman in a meth advertisement on a freeway billboard, has opportunity after opportunity and still will not choose the only One who can give her freedom. To say I was perplexed was an understatement. A fools errand, that is what Nate and I were on.

Further down the road, I apologize to God. You see, This is me in the raw. This is how I think. One moment I am blown away that I have just heard and felt the Holy Spirit and the next I am questioning a perfectly faithful and loving Father. Ugh!

Over the course of the next several minutes God's love is laid out to me like a magician's book of secrets. I instantly recall the love for His Bride, how Jesus talked about leaving the 99 sheep for the 1 lost sheep, the Prodigal son, fill in the blank with a biblical example of His love for the lost and I most likely thought it. This was not a fool's errand for Jesus. He never gives up! He knows the beginning from the end, those that will give their hearts to Him and those that won't. It doesn't deter His unconditional, relentless love. His eyes are affixed on her and He is in pursuit. He will use bent and crude objects like me daily if need be to tell her that He is in love with her. While she has been swept to the side by the world and most likely used by men drunk with lust, He has taken every opportunity to show her, her true value in His eyes.

My prayer is still that somehow, someway what I heard was wrong. That a seed was planted that day and God would send yet another that would be used by Jesus to bring her to the Father. I can tell you one thing though, the way I look at those living on the street or those that are suffering as she was, will never be the same. Now seven months later, the dirtier the better. So you smell like a garbage can? Give me a big hug. Jesus did that. He took my puffed up, I am better than others heart and transformed it. We are ALL precious in His sight. He didn't just send anyone to save us, He sent His only son. While I feel that I was able to see just a glimpse of His love for us, I know that I truly will never be able to see the depth of His love.