Sunday, February 19, 2017

Insignificant Mustard Seeds and Tainted Yeast!

Before I came to Chicago, I drove a taxi in my home city of Auckland, New Zealand. And man, did it affect my outlook on life! Forever.

If you ever want your naivety and innocence challenged, if you ever want to see and experience new things, if you ever want to be shocked and crushed, if you ever want to go on a long emotional roller-coaster, drive a taxi and choose the graveyard shift! You go into the job one way and come out another, your view of humanity will change forever. People love to reveal their deepest darkest secrets to the lonely taxi driver, and on top of that, what's done in secret, in the dark, in the shadows, is so different than what's done in the open and in the light! 

One of the major lessons I learnt during that time was, it didn't matter who sat in my cab, and I drove people from all spheres of life, from very rich to very poor, from celebrities to street kids, from gangsters to church folk, life seemed to be about getting more power, money and control. Everybody wanted more! People wanted to control their worlds. They wanted to be king or queen of their little kingdoms or empires! 

Every night I watched all this; but the truth is, it was my story too, I had the same goals.

This is nothing new; it's happened throughout history. Same story, same game, just different faces, clothing, ethics and methods. The same thing was happening in first century Palestine; Caesar and his army dominated with power and might, Herod and his police ruled with his iron fist, and then you had a bunch of wealthy religious leaders, called Scribes and Pharisees, strutting around controlling who they could; seeking to make the masses convert to their ways and punishing those who didn't. 

On top of all that, Jewish people were seeking the Messiah! They were seeking someone who would rise up and overthrow the Roman empire through power, wealth and might. They weren't looking for a peaceful servant, they were looking for a military leader, a wise powerful king who would slaughter their enemies and cause them, as a nation, to dominate the world. They were looking for someone who'd come from the top, was anointed by God and would dominate those they thought were not worthy of His grace.

Our worlds aren't that much different, are they? Sadly, many in the Church have embraced this logic too! The desire for power! The desire for money! We see it in elections. The thought is; the only way to influence others is to rule from the top! Gain political power. Use military might. Use whatever power and wealth we have to dominate and force our values and morals on others. 

Jesus came into this power hungry world, but He was the Messiah no one expected, He was a huge letdown. Jesus was born in awful circumstances, had to flee from a ruthless dictator, returned to His country of birth, became a carpenter and was executed as a criminal! When Jesus spoke, He revealed the truth, He challenged the empires or kingdoms of His day by speaking of the Kingdom of heaven through stories, through parables.

Today, I'm looking at 2 of these parables; found in Matthew 13....
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES." 
Matthew 13: 31-32 NASB

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Matthew 13:33 NIV

Jesus, had ample power and wealth at His disposal, He could have joined forces with Caesar or Herod, He could have executed a lethal bloody revolution, He could have ruled the world, but He chose another way. He chose the right way! These 2 parables reveal what the Kingdom of heaven is like, and how people of His Kingdom should live in it. Like most parables, theseem passive and short, but would have shocked those listening and turned their world's upside down. These 2 parables reveal how foolish the world's logic is, and how we need to embrace the kingdom of heaven the way Jesus did and calls us too.

Jesus reveals in these parables that His Kingdom is not a "top-on-down" violent power-hungry money-wasting revolution, but a revolution that takes on a very different character. I want to share with you 3 ways how Jesus chooses to impact the world and bring God's love to us.

Firstly; Jesus uses what is small, hidden and tainted to move. The Kingdom of heaven starts off insignificant, invisible and even corrupted! In complete contrast from the world, Jesus doesn't use something big and strong like an eagle, a lion or a tall strong tree to describe His Kingdom, instead, He speaks of a tiny seed and yeast or leaven. He picks 2 things that are small, hidden and insignificant. Not only that, leaven wasn't viewed positively in Jewish culture, in fact it symbolized something evil, or something that taints or corrupts things. With what would have shocked His listeners, Jesus reveals that His Kingdom begins with what is weak, small, hidden and even tainted.

Doesn't this give us hope? It doesn't matter how small we feel, how weak we think we are, how invisible we feel, how worthless we feel or even how evil we know we are, Jesus wants and chooses to use us! In fact, He chooses to use us over those who proud and tough. His movement starts, not with self-righteous giants, but with those who know they're not worthy. Those of us who think we have nothing to give, be encouraged and know that God loves you and sees you as valuable and an essential part of His Kingdom.

Secondly; When Jesus moves, what seems impossible becomes possible! The Kingdom of heaven takes what's small and goes beyond all expectations. Jesus reveals that this seed and the yeast do not remain stagnant, they are placed in the ground and in the dough, where they can grow and move. The Kingdom of heaven is active, it is a force and is constantly moving. It's mysterious, we don't know how it does what it does, but it does it! The Spirit of God works His magic, moving at His pace and in His own way. It infiltrates the world, which in these parables are represented by the field and the dough. 

Not only that; God doesn't just move, He goes beyond what's possible, making the impossible, possible through His Kingdom. When Jesus spoke about the mustard seed growing into a tree, He indicates a large powerful tree. Mustard seeds generally only grow to about 6 feet tall, but I believe Jesus purposefully exaggerated it's growth, giving us a vision of something well beyond what's normal. The same goes with the yeast, 60 pounds of dough was an awfully large amount in those days, well beyond what's normal. For a woman to accomplish such a task by hand, by herself, was virtually impossible.

Jesus knew this and so did the crowds. He was telling his listeners, the Kingdom of heaven not only loves to move with the small, hidden and tainted, the Kingdom of heaven loves to move to make what seems impossible, possible. He takes something weak and transforms it into something well beyond all possibility. Jesus takes what's insignificant, moves in it and goes beyond all hopes and dreams. Jesus doesn't want us to remain as a seed in a package or yeast in a jar, He wants his people in the soil and in the bread so He can move in them and powerfully impact the world we live in.  

Jesus is telling us...
It doesn't matter how small you may feel; God can and wants to move in and through you.
It doesn't matter how invisible you think you are; God can and wants to move in and through you.
It doesn't matter how evil and disgusting you are; God can and wants to move in and through you. 
Jesus delights in taking what the world sees as puny, pathetic and nasty, and using it for His glory. It's the way He chooses to move. He loves to take what's humble to shame the proud. 

Thirdly: Jesus uses weak people like us to transform a broken and hostile world! The Kingdom of heaven brings change and impacts the world! When God moves, His secret hidden movement results in worthwhile and eternal change. The Kingdom of heaven transforms and attracts things! The dough and the field in these parables aren't just pointless words, they represent the world we live in. 

The seed becomes this enormous tree, which attracts the birds of the air and they nest in the branches. The tree may be big now, but it's not dominating; it's attracts others and they find rest in it. The Kingdom of heaven is so different from all other kingdoms or empires, because it's not slaying or rejecting outsiders, it's saying come, find rest, find acceptance, find comfort in my branches, because we want you here and you are welcome! It welcomes those who think they don't belong. It welcomes the suffering, strangers, refugees and the oppressed. Jesus calls us to be the light the world needs, the place where people know they're loved and accepted. The Kingdom of heaven isn't a place of judgement, revenge and rejection; it's a movement of acceptance, forgiveness and peace, it's a revolution of love, mercy and grace.

The yeast or leaven serves a different purpose from the seed. Whereas, the tree reminds me of when Jesus called us the "light of the world", the yeast is like being "the salt of the earth." It is kneaded into every millimeter of the dough, impacting it and changing the consistency and texture. The bread is now changed, forever! It becomes new! The yeast, though quiet and invisible, affects all the dough and makes a lasting and eternal impact. Jesus calls us to quietly go around being Jesus in our communities. He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love our enemies and welcome the stranger. He calls us to visit those in hospitals and prisons and to clothe the naked. He calls us to imitate Him, by bringing His love and compassion to those in need.

This is the work of yeast and mustard seeds, spreading the good news of the gospel and touching all the lives around us with the love and compassion of Jesus. The Kingdom of heaven has been actively moving since Jesus spoke these 2 parables. Weak, fragile and tainted people have come together and God has mysteriously moved through us, bringing change and hope in an unjust world. 

A few years ago, I met a truly wonderful man. He is almost 90 now. He lived just around the corner and served Uptown for around 60 years. Most people don't know him because he is so quiet, humble and never promotes himself. This man has a deep love and compassion for Native Americans, our homeless brothers and sisters and anyone who has been rejected by society. Nearly every morning, for around 60 years, a large number of our poor neighbors would stumble into his humble little place for breakfast, hear the gospel and receive mass. He never cared how someone looked, what they'd done in their past or how rejected they felt, everyone who entered his door was accepted and they left knowing the love, compassion and forgiveness of Jesus.

Despite being small and hidden, God has used this man and his impact has been undeniable. Ask any homeless person who's been in Uptown for a while about Father Powell and they'll tell you. People who felt no love, felt loved. People who were hungry, were fed. People who were distressed, found peace. People who were lonely, found acceptance. People who didn't know Jesus, found Jesus. They found rest and peace in the branches of God's Kingdom. 

Just as the Kingdom of heaven moved powerfully through this humble servant, it's moved through countless other nameless faces throughout the centuries. Because of these little seeds and yeast, hospitals have been built for the sick, hideaways were provided for runaway slaves and victims of oppressors, blankets and tents are given to those experiencing homelessness, people have risked and lost their lives by siding with and embracing the oppressed, families have accepted in orphans and widows, prisoners are written to and visited, the hungry receive food and peacemakers risk their lives and enter war zones, bringing help and hope to those suffering.

We got to stop thinking we have to yell louder, get more money and have more power to impact our world. Jesus showed us something vastly different. He was born in horrible circumstances, was a refugee, lived without a home, was constantly harassed and died as a criminal. He wandered around the countryside preaching the gospel, helping and healing those in need, bringing hope to the poor, lost and prisoners. His humble life changed the world forever and He tells us to "do likewise". He tells us that when God moves through and in His people, the Kingdom of heaven moves to make what's impossible possible.

Jesus People has impacted Uptown and the world; it impacted me and that's why I'm here today. This impact happened not because a group of hippies drove into Chicago in a bus that said Jesus written on the side or because the phone was answered with the words "Jesus loves you". Rather, God chose to use and move in a bunch of small, hidden and tainted people to bring change; people who've been willing to spread the gospel, put others first, fight against inequality and go into the trenches; people who've been willing to love the Lord their God and love their neighbors as themselves. 

Lives have been touched and the Kingdom has grown because of seemingly small insignificant acts of love. The kingdom has grown because we follow in the footsteps of our Lord. It grows because someone is willing to change another person's tire. The Kingdom grows as we comfort someone having a psychotic episode. It grows when we take the time to talk to someone troubled and distressed. It grows when we buy someone a sandwich. It grows when we visit a prisoner or a lonely soul in a Nursing Home. It grows when we mourn with someone grieving. It grows when we tutor a struggling student. It grows whenever we make a choice to humble ourselves, preach the good news in words and deed and do things to help others in need.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of heaven isn't about rising to the top and using our power, it's about being a worthless seed and yeast and letting God move in and through us. It's not about choosing the right political or religious leader, it's about the people of God letting Jesus move in and through us. It's about Jesus using our weaknesses for His glory. This is how Jesus impacted the world 2000 years ago, and that's how He still impacts the world today. 

Many of us feel worthless, we feel we're too small to impact our world or that Jesus won't use us because we're too tainted or invisible. These parables tell us a very different story, they tell us that God loves to move through His weak and corrupted children, and when He does, change happens; change that is greater and more eternal than anything a political leader, dictator or military giant can bring. Those kingdoms, those empires will fade, they will be no more, but the Kingdom of heaven lasts forever. 

My encouragement this morning is that we grasp the fact that God plants a small insignificant seed, and then He moves in it in order to create an enormous tree and have an everlasting impact. However small, insignificant or rotten we may feel this morning, my encouragement is that we don't allow our power hungry and money making society to tell us we'll amount to nothing, God has greater plans and makes the impossible, possible. We are important to Him. We are loved by Him. My encouragement is, God wants to use us, individually and together, so that our world can be impacted for good, that we'll be His salt and His light in this corrupted world. 

Let's be seeds; let's be yeast and go out and spread the good news of the gospel, by feeding the hungry, taking in refugees, visiting prisoners, clothing the naked, standing with the oppressed, counseling the lonely, grieving with those who mourn and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Slave To Sin

Last week, Ricky came running up to me; he was very upset and stressed out! In fact, he looked downright scared. 

He told me how he'd made a promise to God and broken that promise. He was scared of what would happen to him, so he asked me a bunch of questions; Would God forgive him? Does God still care for him? Does this broken promise mean that God would now reject him and cast him aside? Would God listen to him?

His fear was real. His grief was real. He wanted to do right, he wanted to change, but he'd slipped up! It wasn't his first time and he was tired of losing battles, so he was beating himself up and felt God was in the business of beating him down too. 

Ricky has actually come a long way. He's in recovery, he's been sober and clean for some time, but his struggle now is with those dreaded cigarettes. He felt it was his time to overcome this struggle too, so he promised God that he would never smoke again. But, you know how it goes, it was just a matter of time before the urge was too strong, the stress was too much and the temptation was there, so in a moment of weakness, he bought a "square" and took a drag.

The guilt and pain Ricky was feeling was very real. Despite all the positive steps he'd made, all he could see was condemnation! He was on the verge of tears. He was very repentant.

I asked Ricky a simple question; I asked him if he'd prayed for God's mercy and asked for forgiveness; his response was funny, because he looked at me as if I'd asked the stupidest question in the world. Of course he had repented, I knew he had, I just wanted to hear his response so I could reassure him with the promise of 1 John 1:9; "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Don't we all go through this? I know I do! I see it all the time at CCO. We want to change, but we screw up, we make mistakes and then we beat ourselves up. Even though God reassures us that He is faithful and just and will forgive us and make us clean, we put our negative view of ourselves on God. Even with God's promises, we struggle to believe them, because we think God views us as we view ourselves. God says to us "come to Me and find rest!", yet we still condemn ourselves!

Thankfully, God is very different from us; His ways are not our ways! Despite our missteps, God is still compassionate, He still loves us, He still forgives us, He still cleanses us and will never leave us, nor forsake us. Our slip-ups are not too big for God to handle. Our sin is not too nasty that God will reject us. He goes through our deepest and darkest moments with us. His grace and mercy will not disappear, our sin and screw-ups are not too big and ugly for Him. He is a God who loves to forgive and will extend His mercy to sinners like you and me.

Remember this; God has a lot better view of us than we have of ourselves. He knows we're all slaves to sin. He knows we all mess up. When we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up. He forgives us. He cleanses us. He purifies us from all unrighteousness. We are precious in His sight! Do you believe that?

Jesus told this parable, this story:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector.

"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people,' he said 'I am not like robbers or those who do other evil things. I am not like those who commit adultery. I am not even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. And I give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood not very far away. He would not even look up to heaven. He beat his chest and said, 'God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.'

"I tell you, the tax collector went home accepted by God. But not the Pharisee. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up."

I told Ricky this parable. I'm telling you guys this parable as well because despite what we do, it's important to remember how much God loves us. We cannot go too low for God. This is the love of Jesus. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness doesn't disappear because we screw up. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness doesn't disappear when we mess up time and time again. 

Jesus contrasts two fellas; one was a self-righteous "do-gooder" churchy type who walked around with his nose in the air; he thought he was too righteous to need forgiveness. The other guy had a reputation of being a notorious ripoff artist who messed up time and time again. People hated tax-collectors! Tax collectors were viewed as despicable human beings who had no hope. This parable would have shocked those listening, because Jesus condemns the "do-gooder", while elevating the despised one. He announced that the one who everyone thought was evil was the one who went home "accepted by God".

The reason is simple to Jesus; the Pharisee couldn't see his mess, in fact, he thought he was too good to fail. He thought he was too big, too powerful and too righteous, so he judged all those around him. Meanwhile, the tax-collector saw his own mess and repented. He knew he was too small, too weak and too unrighteousness to stand before God without His loving mercy and forgiveness. Jesus calls us to acknowledge our mess and to come to Him humbly, knowing we can't free ourselves and only God can truly set us free!

I love coming here (the Bridge), because what I see is people who are more like tax-collectors than Pharisees, and that's a good thing. What I see when I come here is people who are trying hard, hate the sin in their lives, despise the fact they keep making the same mistakes and wonder why they keep doing it. I see a bunch of folks who love Jesus, who are willing to say sorry and know He is the only answer. Like my friend Ricky, I love seeing men and women who, like this tax collector, who put their face in their hands and cry out, "God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner!" This is where God wants us; in humble submission to Him.

Life is hard, isn't it? I hate to say this, but temptations will keep happening, we will keep being pushed toward things we shouldn't do and we will slip up again. We don't have the strength to do it on our own, we will all mess up and fail. We need others who will encourage us to move in the right direction, but more importantly, we need Jesus to give us the strength to keep on pressing forward. He doesn't want us to wallow in grief, He wants us to come to Him humbly like the tax-collector. He wants us to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and you know what, when we do, He showers mercy on us, forgives us and gives us a fresh clean slate.

Remember this parable. Remember who this tax collector was. He didn't have everything together, in fact, he was a mess. Keep trying and don't let your screw-ups cripple you. Be honest about who you are. Remember it wasn't the sparkling clean dude who went home accepted by God, it was the despised and sinful one. It doesn't matter how big or small we are, or how sinful we are, He calls all of us to come to Him, humbly.

As we live our lives, as we continue to slip up, remember God's promises; He will not leave us, nor forsake us, He will not turn His back on us, and His forgiveness and mercy will never fail. 




A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  

This was a sermon preached on 1/31/2017, in response to this question; "A Slave to Sin"

I hate the sin in my life, so why do I keep doing it? I’ve said so many times that I won’t go back to my old ways, and yet, time and time again, I slip backwards. I’m always being tempted, and my flesh always pushes me towards something sinful, usually anger or lust. I’m tired of losing these battles.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

How to traumatize an already traumatized people.

How do you traumatize an already traumatized people? 

It's simple really, just post a sign telling folks you'll be sweeping the street 2 days before Christmas, make them move all their belongings and tents from the damp concrete to the snowy hillside, and then send an army of workers to execute the plan. Keep them on their toes with how these sweeps will go, making them fear being arrested and their stuff being tossed. Not only that, use your power and privilege by trying to convince everyone you're doing it all for their own good and well being.

It's a known fact that most people experiencing homelessness have been through various forms of trauma throughout their lives and the act of becoming homeless is traumatic! War, rape, prison, and domestic violence are just some of the traumatic events people have been through and then add to that the trauma of becoming and being homeless. Homelessness itself deprives people of their basic needs and puts them in constant unpredictable and risky situations; homelessness dehumanizes people and makes their lives stressful and uncertain. Living on the streets, sleeping rough or in homeless shelters is undoubtedly stress-filled and traumatic!

I, along with many others, have been at quite a few of these cleanings and sweeps. I know they cause unbelievable stress and trauma. I have spoken to a large number of Tent City residents and they believe sanitation and cleanliness aren't the primary motives, but rather, they believe it's intimidation tactics by the "powers-that-be" to get them to move. They know only these Uptown viaducts are being cleaned, they know it's politically motivated by leaders who pretend they're doing it for them while lining their pockets with money from gentrifying developers. They know they are being bullied by the very people who are supposed to be protecting and lifting them up. 

While the leaders play their games, homeless people are being used as collateral damage. I have watched people miss work or appointments because they had to ensure their belongings wouldn't get tossed. I have helped people move their tents and seen them rip in the process, making what little protection they have even more unsafe. I have seen an elderly man shiver and shake uncontrollably in frigid weather because he couldn't crawl into his tent and find a little warmth. I have seen the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite escalate during these sweeps!

2 days before Christmas, it hit me (again) how traumatic these sweeps truly are! The Christmas season is already stress-filled and traumatic for those remembering "what once was" or dreaming of "what could be". No one wants to live in a cold tent under a Highway on a day dedicated to family, togetherness and good food, so a sweep at this time feels like the dagger is getting dug deeper into their backs. On that day, 2 days before Christmas, I saw tempers flare on and off all day, because these sweeps are torturous, painful, stressful and cause immense trauma for an already traumatized people! 

Anyone who works or lives with those experiencing homelessness, knows we need to be incredibly sensitive to what they may have gone through and are going through. Trauma affects someone's whole being, and we need to do our best not to escalate the tension and stress; these sweeps do just that! Traumatized people need others who'll be patient, persevering and forgiving; traumatized people need others who'll love them, be compassionate with them and show mercy; traumatized people need others who'll go the extra mile for them. Every day, I have the privilege of witnessing many kind-hearted folk doing just this in Uptown; not forgetting to love their neighbors. The homeless themselves, activists, outreach workers, clergy and countless others have united together to reduce the trauma. What I love to see is God's Kingdom and His love flowing freely amongst those who are willing to lift up and fight for those who are bullied and have been stomped on, helping our brothers and sisters feel loved and reducing the extent of these traumatic events! 

As I write this, another sweep is scheduled for tomorrow morning in morbidly cold temperatures, with windchills that could hit -20F. Tomorrow morning, this cruelty will again traumatize an already traumatized people. Lives will be put at risk and tensions will be high. Yet, as those in power execute an unjust war on the poor, ordinary people will continually live out God's Kingdom here on earth, loving the weak, lifting up the poor, setting prisoners free, and being compassionate and merciful to one another and those who don't need any more trauma in their lives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!

What a year! 

I live in an extremely diverse neighborhood; where rich and poor come together, where different religions, ethnicities and races live in close proximity and have to face one another. This is a beautiful thing, but to some, this diversity sadly causes rage, harassment of the poor and bullying of the weak. Uptown is never a dull place, full of lovers and haters, full of her vast contrasts, striking contradictions and beautiful community!

With this mind; 2016 has been a year plagued with many negative ramifications and cruel tactics, yet despite it all, hope continues to rise out of the ashes of despair. Despite all the complexity of this year, I want to sum 2016 up with 4 words; Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!

Stings:
The leadership in our neighborhood oversaw 2 major drug busts this year in Uptown, where combined, over 50 people were arrested. Our alderman and other leaders used their tools of propaganda to highlight how they'd captured drug lords and the community was safer because of their efforts. Yet, through a little research and knowing many of the victims of these stings, none of these captured men and women were gang kingpins like Jeff Fort and Al Capone, but rather they could be considered as the poorest and weakest members of our community.

These 2 stings successfully incarcerated those who are elderly, homeless, from Nursing Homes and have disabilities. Knowing they craved money, undercover cops successfully tricked these weak, mentally ill or addicted citizens into purchasing illegal substances for them, helping them earn stints in jail. Because they couldn't afford bail or were on parole, some are sadly spending Christmas behind bars, while others have been released and have shared their story with me, affecting them beyond their "time served".

Despite our leadership's progressive rhetoric, these stings do not gel with the "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" models they love to verbalize, in fact, these incarcerations increase harm and make housing harder for these individuals. I know of a few of these guys lost housing and ended up homeless again because of these stings, while others lost opportunities to get housed. The original problem has been exaggerated through these meaningless and costly stings!

I'm not speaking hot air, I know, because we've had to help them start again! What they really need is not someone crying "harm-reduction", because it's the latest word, but leaders who will actually live out it's implications and view addiction as a health issue and not criminalize them, and that's how we can help these individuals and make our community safer.

Sweeps:
Anyone who comes to Uptown is struck by the extent of her homelessness. The fact there's people living under Lake Shore Drive is obvious to all, and the sight of many tents on the concrete has caused some of the community to foam at the mouth with rage, while others have displayed remarkable acts of generosity and compassion. Some call for increased criminalization of these poor folk, while others fight for their legal rights. Some call for their disappearance, while others (like myself) have dedicated many hours in trying to help people get into safe suitable housing.

As a result of this pressure, the Mayor and his people initiated a Pilot Project, to help get a certain number of these individuals out of Uptown's Tent Cities and into permanent housing. Though slow, and well behind schedule, the project was successful for these certain folks and them alone, while ignoring those hidden or came later! This success happened mainly because of a group of wonderful dedicated Uptown workers networking together and because temporary "bridge" housing was made available, saving people from the life-threatening elements this winter.

Yet, despite all this, the viaducts are still jam-packed full and the remaining residents feel harassed by Rahm, Cappleman and those under their commands. Frequent street sweeps and cleanings were ordered by those in power, making those living in tents feel discriminated against by the very people that should be fighting for them. Because these sweeps are even happening through the bitter cold of the winter months, City Tent residents feel these sweeps are torturous and a passive-aggressive way of getting them to move. 

Imagine having to move all your belongings every week. Imagine ripping your tent while moving it, knowing that gaping hole can cause hypothermia. Imagine having to miss work to ensure that your tent and important documents don't get tossed. Imagine being a sickly 72 year old man and having to stand in freezing temperatures and wait until a large number of highly paid police and city workers come and do their job. Imagine being homeless and watching thousands upon thousands of dollars being spent weekly on these sweeps which could go toward housing and achievable goals. Now imagine feeling stomped on already for being homeless and having to go through this indignity as well.

Spinsters:
These stings, sweeps and the closing of a local shelter a couple days before Christmas have highlighted how much spinsters love to justify their twisted schemes. I've watched as the machines of propaganda tell different stories to different audiences, letting them hear what they want to hear. Their words and actions are traveling on vastly different paths and we're all witnessing the lies and deception!

How can it be out of love and compassion, how can you build trust, when you torture people with these sweeps?
How do these stings benefit those struggling with mental illnesses and homelessness? 
How can you justify using the words "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" while locking up the "poorest of the poor", while wasting thousands on sweeps, while spending millions of tax dollars on luxury high rises, while not providing a little extra cash to stop a men's shelter from closing just days before Christmas? 

Successes:
Despite all the negativity, 2016 was not lost! Success happened. Movement happened. Good things happened! Many people, with love and compassion in their hearts, rallied together and refused to let the powers-that-be bully and terrorize those at the bottom! Just as Jesus brought His Love and Grace into a world with a corrupt empire, just as Jesus brought His ground-on-up Kingdom into an environment where religious and political thugs controlled their surroundings, I witnessed people at the bottom rise up together with love and compassion for the "least of these" and challenge the bullies that seek to control Uptown and Chicago.

Despite the ugliness of this year's stings, there have been people who haven't ignored them, letting them know they're still human, are worthy and part of society. Incarcerations squelch hope, arrests are dehumanizing and things are sabotaged through the process, but I've witnessed those who help people start again, assisting them not stay in a rut, by getting important documents and press toward housing and self sufficiency. 

Despite the cruelty of this year's sweeps, compassion and advocacy for those at the bottom has risen enormously. It's been such a beautiful sight, as someone who's done outreach for well over a decade, I remember years when it seemed no one cared for folks sleeping rough, but now tons of compassionate people bring tents, blankets, mats, socks, hand warmers, food and so forth every day. I remember times when we'd find someone frozen under a viaduct without a tent and barely a blanket, and we'd pick them up and take them somewhere warm. Those days are now over; people are rallying together, networking together, protesting together and giving together so those being stomped on can rise up together and move upward and onward.

Despite the spinning of all the spinsters, people are bringing the truth, not allowing these bullies to speak unchallenged and relentless lies! Fearless protests and actions have happened all year, advocating for those without a voice, giving the voiceless a voice. By watching what the "powers-that-be" do, they can no longer just arrest people without cause or toss someone's personal belongings away. The beautiful thing is, the spinsters are being held accountable and their hypocrisy is being brought to light, as the poor are being lifted up and loved by a wonderful network of people who truthfully care! 

Despite mourning, I am comforted and have hope! Despair will never leave us, but we are called to follow the example of Jesus and live out the Kingdom of God in a world of evil empires and oppressive regimes. We are called to bring hope, peace and love into our communities. We are called to bring light into the darkness, and I've had the privilege of seeing that this year. 

Successful movement happened. Miracles happened. People who had no keys, now have keys. People who slept on the cold hard concrete, now have a warm comfy bed. People who slept on the crowded floor of our shelter, now have a place to call their own. Homeless families who had to cram in a tiny room, now have a three bedroom apartment to spread out in. People who had to sign up for showers and line up for food, can now move freely at their own schedule. People who were once trapped in homelessness, now live with new freedom and hopeful expectations. 

With all odds against them, I was able to witness tons of people go from the struggles of homelessness into permanent housing. This has been a record year of successful movement for us at CCO and for those sleeping rough in Uptown. I have never witnessed so much movement! This happened because dedicated caring people rallied and networked together for the sake of those who've been marginalized and ostracized. This happened because people experiencing homelessness lifted each other up and encouraged one another! This happened, because as Dr Seuss said, "a person's a person, no matter how small."

Be encouraged; rally together, fight together, network together, be compassionate together, be truthful together and do right together, for in doing so, God is glorified and successful movement does happen despite all odds!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

People Pleasers

I don't like to disappoint people.
I don't like to make people upset. 
I want to give people what they want when they want it and how they want it! 

To be honest with you, I want to please those around me, so when I can't do that, it troubles me! It worries me! I've gone to bed too many times with a heavy heart, knowing I've disappointed someone. I've lost sleep too many times, with someone "living rent-free in my head!"

To those who have this struggle, I'm with you! I understand. As long as I can remember, I've battled with being a "people pleaser". It's not easy. I hate to say "no", even when the answer is blatantly obvious.

Because I feel so weak in this area, it's something I've often had to pray about and seek God's grace about. As my life has become busier and I've been given more responsibilities, I've had to face this. I can't just push it under the rug anymore. As much as I've wanted too, I find myself unable to dodge it. Working at a shelter, with all the decisions I have to make, I often feel uneasy, because I cause some people to celebrate, others to despise me, others to get angry and others just give me that stare of disappointment.

The truth is, for me, it's not an easy burden to carry. I've discovered being a "people pleaser" can be very unhealthy. I've discovered, even when we try and please everyone, we still hurt people and put ourselves through unneeded stress. 

About a year ago, this one guy did something that justifiably got him put out of the shelter. He came to me and begged for mercy. I faced a dilemma, I couldn't please everyone, half of my staff and some clients thought he should stay away, while the other half of my staff and some clients wanted me to let him back. Both sides thought they were right and both had good reasons.

I had to make a choice! Ignoring it was still a choice. I ended up choosing mercy and let him come back, and as a result, some people were angry, others were disappointed, some didn't care and others were overjoyed.

Even when we think and pray over our decisions, we affect others! Even when we choose mercy, we can cause anger! Even when the outcome produces success and healing, some folks will be disappointed and will hold a grudge. It's important to remember, we cannot please everyone and we never will.

So, time and time again, I've had to ask myself, "What does the scripture say about being a people pleaser and how do we live in a way not to live in constant condemnation?"

Tonight, I want to look at 2 verses that have helped me. These verses may seem contradictory, but they have both encouraged me not to give up when I know I'm making people angry and disappointing others. They help me know I can't please everyone and that God doesn't expect me too either. 

The first verse comes from the Apostle Paul, he says in his letter to the Romans, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (12:17-18)

His words, "if it is possible, as far as it depends on you", shows us that our burden isn't to make everyone happy. Our responsibility is to do what we can, the best way we can, with what we have. Our burden is to do right. Our responsibility is to make every effort to seek peace with everyone, but the results won't always go the way we want them too.

Some people won't be on the same page with us. Others will tamper with our efforts. This verse also indicates that when we are at peace with some, those actions may disappoint others at the same time. The truth is, even when we do our best, we cannot make some people happy, so instead of fretting over this, Jesus calls us to lay this burden at His feet.

When we seek to do right and do our best to live at peace with everyone, God does not condemn us if we're holding up our side of the bargain. We can find peace in God knowing that we cannot change others, we don't have that power, we can only do what we can. 

Now I'm going to the second verse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10)

When Jesus used the word "righteousness", He was telling us to do right in His eyes, not the eyes of other people! Righteousness means making things that aren't right, right! Righteousness also means making things that aren't just, just! In Matthew 5:6 Jesus called His followers to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Jesus was calling His followers to have an intense craving and desire to make everything right and just in all our relationships and surroundings. His ways are not naturally our ways, so Jesus calls us to follow His example, by bringing Heaven to earth, by doing what God wants us to, by seeking first His Kingdom, wherever we may roam.

There's a catch to this, some people like this, but many won't. When we operate under the authority of Jesus, we cannot be "people pleasers". When we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, our first and foremost goal should be to please God, not others. Doing right brings persecution. It brings opposition. It brings hatred. I know this isn't easy, Jesus knew more than all of us that this isn't easy, He suffered and died as a result of bringing His Kingdom to earth. He wants us to follow His example, and when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we become Jesus pleasers, not "people pleasers"! 

Look at the Gospels, when Jesus went around the countryside preaching the good news and healing the poor, mobs of people loved Him and flocked to Him. The people were pleased, they wanted what He had. Yet, even though He was bringing hope and compassion, opposite rose because He hungered and thirsted after righteousness. He brought a Kingdom that challenged their kingdoms of money and power. These haters wanted Jesus to conform to their ways, but Jesus made it clear He submitted only to God. Even though He was bringing Good News to all, certain people started hating Him and despising Him. This opposition and persecution took Jesus to the Cross. 

When we follow the example of Jesus, when we live the way He wants us to live, when we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, there should be no doubt in our minds that we won't and can't make everyone happy. It may be hard to deal with like it continues to be for me, but God calls us to have this intense craving after His righteousness, and therefore, we'll struggle, suffer and even be persecuted for it.

I live and work on the Northside of Chicago, in a homeless shelter. I do a lot of outreach. My neighborhood is a gentrifying neighborhood, which means a lot of rich folks are coming in and want to develop it, trying to push out those who don't look the way they want them to look. They don't want to see homelessness, or low-income housing, or people struggling with addiction or mental illness out their front doors. These folks aren't trying to help solve the issues, they just don't want them in their backyards. 

I tell you this because a few of us often go out and pass out mats, blankets, clothing and food to those living under viaducts. We also try and help them move from homelessness to housed. These small acts of compassion obviously help prevent people from getting frostbite and other life-threatening dangers, yet these "nimby" (not-in-my-backyard) folk complain and make life hard on us and, more sadly, those living outside. Mean and horrible things are said and done.

By pleasing some people, by seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness, we are causing others to rage! People pleasing traps us, not allowing us to freely move in the direction God's calls us too. If I sought to please these neighbors, I would be disobeying the call of Jesus to "love our neighbors as ourselves" and to show compassion to those He called "the least of these!" (Matthew 25)

This hostility and lack of compassion for those suffering is something that doesn't make sense, but it's a sad reality in Uptown. People foam at the mouth and lose sleep because others show compassion, buy tents, purchase food and give socks to folks living on the streets, and they feel completely justified in their anger. 

I tell you all this not to make you mad, (though it does that to me), but to encourage you. We will always have people around us who we can never please, but we all have to make a choice; to please God, or please those around us! To seek first His Kingdom or to seek the praise of people. We can't be swayed by the opinions and emotions of others because they will take us all over the map and they'll take us away from the heart of God. We need to follow the way of righteousness, of Jesus, and let Him be our guide, because when we do, He'll take us on an unbelievable journey.

I encourage you all, make every effort to please Jesus before everything else, because He is our Hope and Salvation!



A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  
This was a sermon preached on 11/29/16, in response to this question; People Pleasers
I have a lot to make up for in my past, so I’m always trying to please everybody. The problem is, I try and make one person happy, and then everyone else complains that I’m not doing enough for them. So I end up shining people on, telling them what they want to hear. Does God have a way out of all this? If I can’t please everyone, who should I try to please? I feel like I’m trapped, and I don’t know how to keep people from being disappointed in me.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Respect!

Today, with love and respect, I want to remember two veterans who passed away in 2016. 
Two veterans I was privileged enough to walk and talk with along some rugged terrain.

Both men experienced homelessness in Chicago and stayed with us at Cornerstone.
Both men were hardworking and loved to help those in need.
Both men overcame much adversity...
 but are now resting in the Lord's Loving hands!

It was an honor to know them both and to call them friends...

Rest in Peace Ed... 
You are truly missed! 
It was an honor and pleasure to see your creativity and to work with you!
Thank you.

Rest in Peace Frank...
 You always challenged me! 
Your passion, energy for doing right and your faith was contagious and inspiring! 
Thank you.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Difficult Choices

I have never encountered this problem personally within my family, but it's something I've had to deal with many times over the years. I work at a homeless shelter, and there are times when people come, we develop a strong bond with them, but things get out of control, which causes us to have to make some difficult choices. 

Making these hard decisions is never easy or simple. In fact, there are times, when making these decisions feels so heavy, that I've been left feeling drained and unable to sleep. Dealing with this drama will impact the people we love! It will affect us, affect them and affect those around us. 

A few years ago I knew this guy named Troy. He was homeless and lived on the streets for years. We got on really well. He was an older guy who loved Jesus and the Bible. But when he would get drunk, he became very loud, aggressive and opinionated. There were times I'd find him sleeping in alleyways and other dangerous places, making me very concerned for his health, safety, and well-being.

At our shelter, at that time, we opened these rooms that we put some older guys in. So I took Troy in. At first, he did really well. In fact, he sobered up. He saved money, his area was immaculate and his big KJV bible sat opened next to his bed all the time. He did not sip a lick of alcohol for quite a few months. People around him loved him too. 

Then sadly, things slowly changed. His bible closed, his savings were being used and he started drinking again. I'd talk to him, we'd work out healthy solutions, we'd set goals and he'd slow down, but within weeks, the chaos would rise up again, often worse than the time before.

Finally, the time came when everything got out of control. He went on a binge, was extremely intoxicated, was yelling profanities, cussing people out and he even dropped his gin bottle out of the 4th-floor window, just missing a mother with her baby in a stroller below. 

Obviously, a hard decision had to be made. I had tried and tried again, offered some solutions, but he blatantly pushed them away. He had gone beyond the point of listening. It had come to a point when he needed to move on. We weren't doing him any good! He'd put a child at risk and I couldn't stop the downward spiral he was on. He was hurting himself, putting others in danger and had become increasingly hostile. It hurt me, because I loved this guy, had prayed for him, I wanted to see him do right, I wanted to see him successfully move on, but I couldn't prevent it, he was going to do what he was going to do! 

Hebrews 12:11 says; “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

When we love someone, it can be extremely hard and painful to discipline them. But there are times when we have to make these hard decisions. We often don't want to do what needs to be done, but if we love someone, we need to do it!

When God disciplines us, He does it for our good. He does it to bring about change. He does it to bring about repentance. He does it to bring us back to Him. He does it to bring about the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 

If we find ourselves in a similar boat, we need to do likewise. If we need to make a hard decision like this, we need to follow God's example of how He disciplines us. 

I know in my life when God has disciplined me, or when my parents disciplined me, it was a painful experience at first, I didn't understand it, it made me angry, but as time moved on, it brought about positive change. When I look back now, I'm actually thankful for those times. 

If we're in a situation, where we need to make these sorts of difficult decisions, I want to encourage you all with 3 things tonight. 

Firstly, Jesus calls us to love, no matter the circumstances. To love as He called us to love. To love through the good and the bad, to love with an enduring love, to keep on loving no matter what. Troy said some ugly things about me and my family during this time, but as children of the Kingdom of God, we need to keep on loving and not give up on someone when they let us down or hurt us. Through all our decisions, however painful they may have been, we need to keep on loving our neighbors as ourselves.

It's not an easy thing to do. I live in the same area as the place I work, so I frequently encounter people I've had to make some hard decisions about. To keep on loving them isn't always easy, especially since some of them were put out because of violence and threats. But that's what we've been called to do! That's what Kingdom Love is.

Despite all the wrong I've done, Jesus never turned His back on me, He still loves me, and I need to follow his example by loving others with His enduring love!

Secondly, as followers of Jesus, we are called to show Mercy. Our mercy can't stop because of these decisions we make. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." With Troy, I tried things again and again. Sometimes it would work, other times it wouldn't. Just as God shows mercy to us when we don't deserve it, we also need to show mercy to those who don't deserve it. 

We may set boundaries, but that doesn't stop us from being merciful. It's important not to shut the door completely, it's important for them to know they're still loved. It's important to give when we can! 

Thirdly, as followers of Jesus, we are called to forgive people. When asked how often; Jesus replied "70 x 7". In other words, we should never stop forgiving people. Sometimes it seems, there are certain people in our lives who never learn, but each time they hurt us, Jesus says "I have forgiven you for your heinous acts, you need to do likewise!"  

Even when we have to make hard painful decisions, we shouldn't hold a grudge, we need to forgive. That doesn't mean we need to put the rest of our family in danger or keep on getting ripped off. It means we put ourselves in the vulnerable position of letting them know, by both our words and deeds, that they are still loved. 

Troy's story didn't end in tragedy. He endured a brief period where he hit rock bottom. Things were awful during that time. Eventually, he gave up the bottle again and moved into a Nursing Home, where he found peace and lived the remainder of his days. Through it all, he kept on loving Jesus, and Jesus never gave up on him. 

Remember: God doesn't give up on us. He will never leave us, nor forsake us. Even when He disciplines us, He keeps on loving us, He keeps on showing us mercy and He keeps on forgiving us. 

We, as followers of Jesus, need to follow God's example and do likewise. 




A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  
This was a sermon preached on 10/11/16, in response to this question; “Family living situation drama”
"There’s a family member staying in the house with us that isn't paying rent, and is causing a lot of chaos. I’ve been trying to be Christian about this, but the situation hasn't gotten any better. What do I do?"