Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trauma In A Taxi-Cab!

In my early twenties, while still living in Aotearoa (aka New Zealand), I drove a taxi-cab. During that brief epoch of my life, I experienced and saw some fairly intense trauma and drama! In fact, if you're planning on driving taxis, (especially the graveyard shift), expect your stomach to churn and your faith in God and humanity to be challenged in new ways. Being a cab driver means you're going to submerse yourself in an ocean of traumatic and dramatic events. For the purpose of this blog-post, I'm going to highlight 3 episodes I experienced in my cab and how they affected me.
It was late. It was Monday. Everything was closed. Everything was peaceful. I was just sitting there, waiting to be called up, waiting for that elusive fare. Two men appeared out of the dark and got into my car; the smaller fella sat in the front, while the bigger guy sat in the back. They gave me an exact address and off we drove, peacefully chatting about our day.

As we approached our destination, the bigger fella shuffled across the back seat to sit directly behind me. He grabbed my ponytail with one hand and rested a knife against my throat with his other. He positioned my head so I would never get a good look at their faces again. They calmly told me to do what they say, and despite this precarious situation, all of us remained extremely calm. I was praying. I was praying hard! I obeyed them and with his knife resting against my jugular, I gave them all my money and drove my "stick-shift" another mile to a "dead-end" street, where they told me to pull over. While still gripping my long hair and keeping the knife in place, they forced me out and walked me to the back of the taxi! They opened the boot (trunk) and made me climb in.

It didn't end there; they got back into the cab and drove off, with me lying in the boot. This was actually the most frightening part! In the darkness and silence of the trunk, I asked myself many questions and was internally screaming out to God for His mercy. I didn't have a clue what they were going to do or where they were going. My imagination was running wild! I was scared!

After what seemed like an eternity, they stopped the vehicle and opened the boot. Standing in the shadows, I was still unable to see their faces, they hovered over the trunk and waited to see if I was going to try anything. Ironically, they asked me, "are you alright mate?", "yep" I replied. They gently lobbed the keys into the trunk, slammed it shut and disappeared into the darkness of the night.

I yelled out loud for a few minutes. I didn't have a clue where I was. To my surprise, I found a lever in that trunk and opened it up. I climbed out and discovered they'd parked half way down a long driveway that led to 2 houses. This traumatic experience ended by driving to my parents house. They only lived about a mile away from this whole incident. When I told my family what just happened, they thought I was kidding. Their demeanor changed when the police came.

The 2nd incident happened a couple years later (1998). 5 local youngsters decided to rob a taxi driver. There I was, once again, peacefully sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time! This was a planned robbery; I picked up 4 young men, while a 5th was waiting at the destination with a getaway car and a steering wheel lock as a weapon. As I pulled up, the dude behind me grabbed my ponytail and throat and all the others started pounding my face with their fists. Thankfully, they never used their weapon, but my face received about 50 punches and I needed a few butterfly stitches in my chin.

These 5 young fellas were very different from the first 2! They panicked and failed to get all the cash I had in my car. In fact, I grew suspicious on our drive because of their very pointed questions and how fidgety they seemed. They'd also quiet down to a whisper, and with very serious and intense tones, they'd occasionally speak to one another in a Polynesian language; it seemed like they were planning something. Because of this, I started praying and taking note of "distinctive features" about them. My hunches were correct, but unfortunately, my observations and prayers didn't stop the robbery and battery. They sped off into the night with less than $16.00, all they bought was a pack of cigarettes and they were later apprehended by the police.

A few months after that incident, came another episode which shook me up more than the others. I picked up 4 young men who came out of a house in intervals. The final man was visibly aggravated and intoxicated, and he happened to sit directly behind me with a large glass bottle of whiskey. As I took off, he immediately started running his mouth, asking "pointed questions" and trying to provoke me. He wanted me to react or say something that would justify an attack.

I didn't bite, I refused to bite, in fact, I remained cautious and very polite. This guy enjoyed making threats of how he and his buddies would take pleasure in beating me senseless with that bottle and leave me in a vegetative state. He'd switch between laughter and crazy outbursts of anger! He'd also switch languages, knowing I didn't speak Samoan. He'd also spontaneously touch my head or shoulders. All these other guys thought this dude was hilarious and weren't trying to slow him down. No, they'd laugh and add their own little violent snippets from time to time.

Externally I looked calm, but internally, I was petrified! I didn't want this to be my final night on earth. I didn't want to be hooked up to a machine for the rest of my days. There was no way I was going to drive these fellas down a dark deserted road, I was looking for an escape route! I was praying. I was praying hard! After about 25 minutes of this torturous driving, they finally told me to pull over in front of a house. As they started getting out, I sat there riding the clutch and accelerator, ready to release the left and plant the right. At this point, I didn't care about the money, I just wanted them out of the car. I just wanted to survive!

To my utter surprise, they paid their fare and thanked me for the ride. The crazy dude behind me shook my hand and told me what a cool taxi-driver he thought I was.

As I drove up the street, the car was spluttering and bounced a little, as my heart was racing, my legs were visibly shaking and my knees were actually knocking. That's how scared I was. Have you ever tried to drive a "stick-shift" and go through the gears when you have no control of your legs? Let me tell you, it ain't easy!

All 3 of these incidents had a profound impact on my life. They affected me well beyond the few minutes I sat in my cab and was robbed, attacked, bullied and threatened by these guys. Traumatic experiences do that! Traumatic experiences permanently change us. Traumatic experiences can either take us down long depressing roads of despair and fear, or, if we take a courageous leap of faith, we can be transformed by God and His Kingdom, who takes what's intended for harm and uses it for good! 

Immediately after each episode, my faith in humanity and my ability to trust people was radically affected. I'd relive it in my dreams and I was nervous about heading out at night. I'd steer clear of certain areas, I'd get cold sweats if someone was "talking trash" in my cab and sometimes people would flag me down and I'd drive right past them because I had a "vibe" or they looked similar to my attackers. I'd feel guilty as I did this, because I felt there was gap between my actions and my beliefs of accepting and loving all. 

About a month after these episodes, this fear and distrust dissipated and I started picking up almost anyone and everyone again. Yet, these traumatic events, (along with a few I didn't mention), left me with one major lingering aftereffect that has remained until this very day; it doesn't matter if I'm driving, sitting in church, standing in a crowded elevator, walking down a hallway or riding in Chicago's packed el trains, I do not like having people behind me, especially when the area is enclosed or I have to keep still. I feel vulnerable. Age doesn't matter, race doesn't matter, gender doesn't matter, the situation doesn't matter, if they're someone I don't know or they are fidgeting behind me, I tend to get a little anxious. It makes me want to move to a location where there's a wall or a wide open space directly behind me and I can observe my surroundings. This is one of the main reasons why I tend to gravitate to the back or the side of many settings! 

Even though these 3 events were extremely traumatic, I believe the good that arose from them, has far outweighed the harm and negatives. It has helped me understand and comprehend the words Joseph said to his brothers: "you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

Years ago, just after I had been tossed into the trunk of my own car, I would have never dreamed that I'd end up working with so many people who have experienced far more trauma than me and who struggle daily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I would have never dreamed that God would turn this into something that would help me and benefit the hundreds of homeless people I deal with daily. These 3 taxi-driving episodes have given me empathy, compassion and a sensitivity for those who've been harmed by the lasting affects of being traumatized.

Homelessness, in and of itself, is a traumatic experience! All men, women and children experiencing homelessness are living with many losses. They have lost the very things we cherish as our protection and safety. Not only have they lost their homes and assets, they've often lost their families and communities. They also suffer trauma through the isolation, stigmatization and marginalization that society places on people, simply because they're experiencing homelessness.  

The stories I see and hear daily go far beyond the reality of just simply "being homeless". I mourn over the horrific stories and wounds of homeless veterans and the debilitating PTSD that has followed them. I anguish over the tales of rape and molestation that terrorizes so many women (and some men also) who are homeless. I weep over the bitter reality that people experiencing homelessness are often victims of mass incarceration, callous gentrifiers, unjust power-mongers and police brutality. How about all the scars people have shown me? They could be through bullets, knives, baseball bats, gang fights and prison riots. How about the hundreds of poor victims who are mocked or bullied, simply because they have a mental illness, a learning disability or a physical difference? How about those who are ostracized and assaulted, simply because they are transgender, push around a large shopping cart full of their belongings or sleep under a viaduct? 

I barely touch the surface here; the examples are too numerous to mention. The offenders are countless. The trauma is real and the homeless population is overwhelmingly flooded with her victims.  

When I came to Chicago, I entered this world! When I came to Uptown, I brought my own trauma, but I walked into a traumatized community. When I came to this neighborhood, I discovered a place where trauma wasn't being hidden or suppressed, it had risen to the surface and was screaming out for answers, it was screaming out for real genuine love. It still screams. It still seeks love!

When Jesus entered this world, He brought forth a Kingdom that sets captives free, elevates the afflicted and where sinners find forgiveness. He died on the cross and rose from the grave, so those traumatized may find compassion, hope and love through Him and His people. His loving Gospel turns what is meant for evil and harm into good. His Revolutionary Love, which should also be displayed by His people, turns our systems of oppression and violence into actions of humility and peace. Jesus, through his radical discipleship, said "NO" to the evil empires and turned this traumatized world upside down through His mercy and grace.

So here I am; many years later, living amongst a traumatized people! 
So here I am, trying to bring this radical and revolutionary Kingdom of God and Kingdom Love into our communities. 
So here I am; asking God to use me, asking God to use what several fellas intended for harm and transform it into something that He uses for good and maybe save a few lives.
And God has used me, my friends and colleagues, right here in good old Uptown. 

When we're living out the Kingdom of God, Jesus doesn't call us to tackle all the trauma on our own; it's too much! He wants Kingdom people to come together and lift up those who've been pushed down by all the trauma they've faced. 

He wants us to come together as a community, loving and supporting the "least of these". We need to come together for people like Kevin, George and Feliciano (not their real names); 3 men who've been victims of violence, familial death, continual rejection, bullying and homelessness. One is a Vietnam veteran who experienced horrific things, one was sexually assaulted in prison and the other tragically lost his twin brother. All 3 of these fellas found hope, compassion and love at Cornerstone and Jesus People. They came to us broken and rejected, but we took them in and they found something they'd never known before they entered our doors. They found people who truly loved them, accepted them and didn't cast them aside. They all eventually left us and successfully moved into their own cribs. 

These 3 guys are truly some of Chicago's "least of these", but they've been embraced by people who were willing to sacrifice for them, empathize with them and show compassion to them. Though they're still riddled with PTSD, their trauma has softened a little, because people chose to follow the example of Jesus and wrap their loving arms around these very broken men. 

Their stories aren't ending in hopelessness. 
What was intended for harm, has been turned into good. 
What was supposed to destroy these men, has been transformed into stories of Hope! 
God's Kingdom does that; it turns our world upside down and reveals Jesus, who relates to, embraces and deeply loves those who who've been traumatized and victimized! 
God truly gives the broken-hearted new found hope, because "a bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish." (Isaiah 42:3)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Midnight Taxi and the Christian Life" (A BridgeBox Devotional)

For a while now I've been involved with a ministry on Chicago's West Side; it's called The Bridge. They work primarily with men and women who have "come home" from prison and often struggle with the ongoing plights of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness. 

The catchphrase on their website is: 
from the streets 
to the Bridge
to the church

The wonderful people who run it have asked me to come to their Tuesday night services and preach about once a month about a specific topic or question; we also collaborate together to help meet some of their needs. I go into more detail about their ministry on this page: The Bridge: Messages (you'll also find the sermons I wrote and delivered)

Recently they asked me to be involved with another aspect of their ministry; it's called BridgeBox; an online Church service. Every month, they pick a specific topic and use multimedia to bring sermons, music, bible studies and devotionals to those wanting to be challenged in their Christian walk. They asked me to write September's devotional.

This month's topic is: What Do I Need For A Healthy Christian Life? and here is the devotional I wrote....

The Midnight Taxi and the Christian Life (scribd version).

The Midnight Taxi and the Christian Life (evernote version).

Finally: if you're interested in receiving their monthly BridgeBox services about a variety of topics, the cost is only $8.00 a month. That donation helps support a wonderful group of people who are bringing the gospel and a "whole lot of Kingdom Love" to the "Least of These" in Chicago and around the world. 
If you are interested in checking out and supporting their ministry, please click the following link: bridgebox  (this website also explains in greater detail what they do at The Bridge and has past editions of BridgeBox that you can check out)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Living Rent-Free in My Head!

Every day, this certain guy used to sit on a crate out on Wilson Avenue. He loved to preach. I used to sit down and chat with him from time to time and soak in some of his wisdom. He went to a local church and loved to share his pastor's "catch phrase" with me. 

One day, he said something that has stuck with me until this very day. It's fairly simple, it goes like this: "Don't let nobody live rent-free in your head!" 

I have used this "saying" countless times. I've said it to people in conflict, I've said it to people at the shelter, I've said it to people who are brewing over some issue and when someone and something is making me mad, I'll say it to myself.

Let me repeat it: 
"Don't let nobody live rent-free in your head!" 

I use it because I've seen guys let small things mushroom into massive things. I'm talking about people wanting to fight or kill one another over small things like $5.00, a plate of food, an accidental bump while standing in line or simply because someone's "mean-mugging" them. Each and every time they're letting other people live rent-free in their heads. They're letting small things or solvable conflicts escalate into something big. They're allowing other people or certain things to take up residence in their heads! 

This isn't something that just happens with homeless people at the shelter. It also happens with me; someone upsets me, something angers me and before I know it, I've let this small thing escalate into something huge. I've let someone take residence in my head! I suffer and so do the people around me. This is when I start repeating this phrase to myself; "don't let nobody live rent-free in your head!"

This isn't just a modern day problem. This is an on-going issue, it's been happening since the creation of the world. We saw this happen with Cain, Adam and Eve's first born son, he thought he was done wrong by God and Abel; and he just couldn't and wouldn't let it go! 

Listen to what happened to these 2 brothers....

Cain brought an offering to GOD from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. GOD liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.
GOD spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.”
Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:3-8 MSG)

So what can we learn from this story? 
What can we bring into our world today? 
What does Cain teach us about anger, especially when it starts to consume us?

1: When people or things are living rent-free in our heads; we need to listen to God. 

God came to Cain and questioned him, He gave him a chance to "do well". This warning was an act of love and compassion on God's part. He knew that Cain was brewing inside. He knew jealousy and anger were occupying Cain's head and God knew how deadly the outcome would be. God told him and gave him a choice, "if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; it's desire is for you, but you must master it!"

God's word to Cain is a message to each and every one of us; sin crouches at the door, lying in wait to take us down. He's calling us to make the change, we have to master it. When we fall into these tantrums and sulking, when we feel wronged, when we feel slighted and overlooked, we have to listen to God and make the right choice. We have to make the decision to master it! Cain didn't listen to God, but we must! 

God may not come down and talk to us face to face, but He'll speak to us through other people who care about us; He'll use our friends, the Bible, pastors, counsellors and other means. He's going to use people to step into our lives and to tell us about the sin crouching at our doors. We may not want to listen, we may feel wronged and our anger may be justified, but if we're allowing someone to live rent-free in our heads, we have to listen to that sound advice! 

2: When people or things are living rent-free in our heads; we need a change of heart. 

Cain never mastered his anger. Even though God warned him, he let it lay crouching at the door and it devoured him. He felt wronged. He felt justified in doing his terrible deed. He felt Abel deserved death! So he killed him! 

When we allow someone or something to live rent-free in our heads, we get devoured by it. We are captured by it. Hatred and retribution consume us. Cain was punished and suffered the rest of his life because of it. 

There will be times when the people who take up residence in our heads, don't even know we're mad at them. We're the ones losing sleep, making our blood pressure rise and punching things, meanwhile, the poor person we're mad at, doesn't have a clue! 

We need a change of heart for 2 reasons; for our freedom and for the sake of the person we're mad at. We need to let it go. We need to make peace with them in our hearts. Jesus calls us to forgive. He calls us to forgive not only our friends, but also our enemies. 

Abel didn't do Cain wrong, but think of how things would have been different if Cain had humbled himself and had a change of heart. Think of how things would have been different if Cain had sought internal peace, rather than retribution.

The other day I was walking home and Keith walked up to me. He was angry. Steaming mad! He'd been stewing over some dude he felt was "mean mugging" him. He told me how this guy better stay off Wilson or he was going to hurt him. The problem was; this dude didn't even know he'd done anything wrong. 

Keith and I talked for a while, he calmed down and listened. He agreed that he had let a sideways look escalate into something enormous; he had a "change of heart" about this dude and made peace with him. Internally!

The funny thing is; this guy never knew he occupied a space, rent-free in Keith's head. 
The good thing is; this "change of heart" made Keith feel safe and ensured that no one was hurt. 

3: When people or things are living rent-free in our heads; we need to strive for peace. 

Finally, even when we've been picked on, wronged, unfairly and unjustly treated, we need to strive for peace. When someone's living rent-free in our heads, strive for peace with them. This is hard; we can forgive, have a change of heart and the other person might not even know it, but this is taking it one step further. This is making a concerted effort to get on with the person we're mad at. This is peacemaking in action. 

We need to stop seeing them as an object. We need to see each other as fellow human beings, with beauty and faults, just like us. We need to see them as our brothers and sisters! 

The Apostle Paul emphasized this in Romans 12: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. 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. (Romans 12:17-18 NIV)

I'm going to tell you one more story. These 2 guys I know didn't like each other, in fact, they started hating on each other. It was over something small, minute, but now it was a power struggle and it was getting bad. They both wanted to hurt each other, they both had plans on how they were going to do it and they were both willing to go back to prison for it. They both had each other living rent-free in their heads.

It took hours, it consumed our whole day, but they finally listened. They finally agreed to forgive the other person and call off their plans of revenge and strive for peace instead. These 2 men finally started seeing each other as human beings, created in the image of God. 

Unlike Cain, these 2 guys listened and didn't allow their anger to master them. Sin lay at their doors, waiting to pounce, but they both chose humility instead! They chose to listen. They chose to forgive. They chose peace. They chose the better path.

I am amazed at how often peace happens when we strive for peace; when we strive to live at peace with others, our enemies often follow suit. Instead of labeling our enemies as thugs, bums and haters, instead of letting them live rent-free in our heads, we need to start seeing them as fellow human beings and find ways to do good to them. When we do this; peace happens and our anger won't master us. 

God calls us to make that choice, and let me tell you, that choice isn't easy. Where Cain failed, we have to overcome. But we're not alone, God is there helping us make that happen. Trust in Him. Cling to Him! He will empower us.

As we move forward, let us remember, when we get angry, when we have folks or things living rent-free in our heads, we need to "do well" and make the right moves; it starts with us! 

Listen to God. 
And strive for peace! 

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 9/2/14, in response to this question;Anger Taking Over
"Sometimes I get angry about things, and it’s like I just can’t seem to let it go. I keep thinking about things over and over, and I get more and more mad, and I end up taking it out on everyone around me. I don’t want to be that way, but I can’t just pretend that I don’t care. What should I do?"

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hard Conversations!

I believe tonight's question or topic spans well beyond just our children. I believe this topic challenges us all in different ways. If we love anybody, if we care about anybody, tonight's question is very relevant to us. It is relevant if we are surrounded by families, friends and co-workers! This topic is relevant because we're all surrounded by people who love us and we love them.

Because of this Love, we'll be faced, time and time again, with the daunting task of having to have "hard conversations" with people we love dearly. These conversations are never easy, in fact, they're often downright stressful and difficult, but they need to be spoken.
On a personal note, I don't like to initiate these "hard conversations" and I certainly don't like being on the receiving end of them either. Yet, because I help run a homeless shelter and I love the folks we work with, I find myself constantly having to have these "hard conversations"! I have quickly come to realize that if I don't, other people could get hurt or they could end up hurting themselves.

I want to start by telling you about one of these "hard conversations" I had about 6 years ago
, it was a big learning curve for me! Pierre is an older Puerto Rican friend of mine. At the time, he was homeless and used to stay with us at CCO. Pierre is a great guy. He was motivated, he volunteered, he was keeping his goals, he attended our bible studies and church services. People considered him the ideal client or resident. He'd always help us out in the most difficult situations. He'd always greet us with a smile. He seemed to be doing everything right and we noticed his dedication and hard work, so we ended up hiring him. We gave him a big chance!

Pierre did have a major health concern; he had sciatica, there were some days when he was in a lot of pain, and while he was staying with us, it was getting worse and more frequent. His doctor put him on some heavier medication. Pierre would occasionally go out to drink a pitcher of beer at a local steakhouse, but this new medication didn't gel too well with alcohol, so we started seeing some small side-affects. Unfortunately, instead of stopping or slowing down, Pierre went the other direction, he started drinking heavier stuff more often. He'd black out, he'd panic, he'd freak out, he'd have hallucinations, he'd have nightmares and he'd start things with other clients. This combination of gin and his medication filled him with some very intense paranoia. One day it got so bad, he ran around the shelter yelling "fire" and he actually pulled the fire alarm and tried to get everybody out. Another day he was convinced that gang-bangers were coming in to shoot up the whole place, terrifying the other residents. It was bad!

Pierre was hurting himself and his health was getting worse. His actions actually meant he was also putting others in harm's way. I had tried little conversations with Pierre, encouraging him to slow down, suggesting options, but his addictions were getting worse and he certainly wasn't stopping. The severity of his actions meant change needed to happen, he was quickly going down a destructive path. It was affecting his stay with us. It was affecting the work he was doing. It was time for a bigger conversation. It was time for a "hard conversation!"

When we see the damage and know we need to have an intense conversation with someone, it is not easy. I'd be foolish to say otherwise. The first thing I want to emphasize tonight is, We need to have courage, we need to pray before these hard conversations. It takes a lot of courage to confront someone you love, and who loves you. It takes a lot of courage to tell someone that change needs to happen. That is why it's also important to pray. It takes courage, because your relationship with that person will be affected forever; either for the better or for the worse!

It was time to confront Pierre. I prayed, I was nervous, I was sad, I took the courageous step I didn't want to take, so I took Pierre off to the side and told him that things weren't working out and that we needed a change of direction. I told him his addictions were destroying him, his paranoia was endangering others and that he needed to move on. It was a very hard conversation. It was intense! Pierre shed a lot of tears. He couldn't stay with us or work for us any more.

The second point I want to emphasize tonight is; we need to have the courage not only to confront our loved ones, but we also need to have the courage to tell our loved ones the truth! It is truth that will set us free. Truth from a loved one is a powerful thing. It can truly bring about change.

On that particular day, as a result of this very "hard conversation", things did change for the better. I got Pierre into "long-term treatment", where he overcame his addictions and got the help he needed. Today, he remains successfully housed and works part-time, he lives a healthier, alcohol free and more pain-free life.

This leads me to my third point. Confronting our loved ones, should always be done in Love and with compassion. When I confronted Pierre, I didn't run into his room and yell, "Pierre, you screwed up, you're fired, pack your bags and get lost!" No; I tried to do it with gentleness and compassion! I told him the truth, I told him that his time was up, but I also helped him get into a place that could truly help him. I told him we still loved him and we'd still be there for him. As a result, whenever I see him today, he thanks God and he thankful that I "put my foot down" and "made change happen".

These "hard conversations" are often needed. But I'll be honest with you, not everybody's story ends with success like Pierre's. Not everyone listens like Pierre did! Some people ignore the advice and do what they want to do. They keep traveling down the wrong road, making the wrong choices. Jesus also knew that very well. He had "hard conversations" with many people on many occasions, some listened intently and changed their ways, while others just walked away.

When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, and repeatedly told them they were traveling down the wrong path, what did most of them do? They continued walking down that same path; ignoring the words of Jesus and bringing destruction into their own lives and to the lives of others.

Jesus also had "hard conversations" with his closest companions, his disciples. He had to redirect them back onto the right path. Jesus knew their ways were destructive and not godly at times, so He had to make sure they stayed focused on God, His Kingdom and His ways. These "words of confrontation" were a vital part in discipling and instructing these men.

Listen to these words from Matthew 16:22-23. Listen to the seriousness of this encounter Jesus had with Peter; He had just told his disciples that it was God's purpose for Him and the world, that He was about to suffer and die....

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." (Matthew 16:22-23 NASB)

These words are rough, they're harsh, I'm sure Peter was utterly embarrassed by this encounter. I'm sure he wanted to run away. Peter was trying to do right in rebuking Jesus, he was trying to have his own "hard conversation" with Jesus, but Peter had it very wrong. His words were destructive, so Jesus told him that his interests had nothing to do with God's, that he was being deceptive and a stumbling block to Him.

Jesus then went on to tell His disciples what it truly means to truly follow Him; how it means to pick up your cross and to follow Him! Jesus had the courage to confront Peter and tell him the truth, but He also did it with love and compassion. He wanted Peter to learn, He wanted Peter to grow and mature, He wanted him to be the faithful godly man and leader we see in the Book of Acts.

Throughout the Gospels, we know Jesus had plenty of "hard conversations" with Peter and the other disciples! Jesus wouldn't allow them to deviate too far from the path. He knew that He had to challenge their thinking and their ways. Peter and the other disciples constantly had to be redirected, refashioned and reworked! The hard words Jesus spoke, transformed Peter into a new man; the hard words Jesus spoke, also transformed James and John into godly men. These 3 guys didn't fade away, but because they listened, they became stronger and more courageous. Because these 3 men listened, we were able to witness them becoming the loving and compassionate leaders we witnessed in the new movement that the death and resurrection of Jesus sparked.

As I've repeated throughout this message, these "hard conversations" are not easy, they can be nerve-racking and extremely difficult, but we have to remember, when we embrace courage, embrace the truth and embrace love, these "hard conversations" have eternal value and can bring about eternal change in people's lives! They are eternally vital, they are eternally important.
Think of Pierre! Think of Peter!

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 8/12/14, in response to this question;Hard conversations with my kids

My son wants to stay with me, but it’s not possible, as I’m already staying with someone else, and he needs to find his own place. But how can I break it to him? How can I tell him without making things worse?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hiding From The World.

How does a "chronically homeless person", someone who is hiding from the world, too ashamed to be seen in public and too scared to ask for help, eventually achieve their goal and obtain a place to live?

We need to throw away all the myths that exclaim that most homeless people are flamboyant extroverts, who bounce up to any random stranger, tell extravagant fibs, while begging mercilessly for a "little something" to overcome their mysterious hurdles. We also need to toss away the misconceptions that all homeless people will confidently and frequently flood social services agencies, homeless shelters and their local governmental authorities crying "HELP".

Some will, BUT let me tell you, and trust me when I tell you, most WON'T and DON'T! 

The majority of homeless people hide in the cracks, wanting to rise, wanting help and assistance, but they're unable or unsure of how to navigate through our very complicated system that has divided this nation into "haves" and "have-nots". Don't believe the myths, because the truth is, nearly 100% of people I've met who are experiencing homelessness would rather be housed, would rather be accepted by their families and friends and endlessly dream of overcoming the heart-wrenching obstacles and addictions that keep them displaced.

Their silence screams! Their invisible tears flood our nation! They shield their faces as they silently beg, but their noiseless and embarrassing pleas fall on deaf ears. Yet, they continue to silently scream....

....and, as I've said time and time again; "a homeless person can't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps if they don't even own boots"

So back to my original question; How does a chronically homeless person, someone who is hiding from the world, too ashamed to be seen in public and too scared to ask for help, eventually achieve their goal and obtain a place to live?

This is where we, as caring and loving individuals, need to step up! The government, with all their programs and finances, will continue to place priorities on people and corporations that ultimately benefit them! Socially anxious homeless folk are completely null and void to the "powers-that-be!", and that is why we need to rise up in absolute solidarity and support for society's weakest and most vulnerable members! People experiencing homelessness may be ignored by most, but they have to be embraced by a few; and that is why we need to raise our revolutionary fists, to ensure their humanity, dignity and person-hood receives an abundance of love; a love that was lived out and demonstrated by Jesus!  

As a follower of Jesus, I believe we're called to follow His example and bring the Kingdom of God into this world; a world where hatred, rejection and oppression is the dominating power! When we live out the ethics of His Kingdom, we bring a unique revolutionary Love into our communities. 
Kingdom Love helps us not be overcome and overwhelmed by these empires of hatred, rejection and oppression, but gives us the freedom and power to bypass our own interests and also the interests of all power-hungry thugs, so we can look out for the interests of others! 
Kingdom Love especially looks out for those who are the weakest and most vulnerable, those who are struggling at the bottom. 
Kingdom Love looks out for those who are unable to give back in return! 

This world is full of lonely and forgotten people in desperate need of Kingdom Love. When Jesus wandered around 1st century Palestine, He grieved over how lost and marginalized people were! As He looked at the horizon, He wept and viewed them as "sheep without a shepherd." Despite all the glares and frowns of the elitist bullies, Jesus ensured the lonely were noticed and saturated by the Love of His Kingdom. He didn't ignore them or walk on by, He fixed His gaze on them and gave them His undivided attention and showered them with compassion. 

....Not only that; He also challenged and expected His disciples and followers to follow suit and "do likewise"! 

Kingdom Love is the Revolutionary Love Jesus spoke about in His parables and teachings about the Kingdom of God! His stories often included a rejected or despised person that Jesus wanted His followers to show unconditional and crazy love too. He wants these lonely souls to be offered seats of honor at banquets. He wants us to visit, assist, clothe and feed those who have been locked up, rejected and ignored; claiming that if we "do this", (those He considers the "least of these"), we are "doing this" to Jesus Himself. He also boldly announced that the "poor are blessed and honored members of His Kingdom" and that "the first are last and the last are first" in the Kingdom of God. By telling these stories and making these proclamations, Jesus elevated those who'd been rejected and marginalized, while challenging and angering the self righteous snobs at the same time.

Kingdom Love isn't just challenging stories, it is also the Revolutionary Actions of Love that Jesus did as He lived out the Kingdom of God, right here on earth! Jesus didn't ignore the suffering silent individuals who were hiding from the world. He made his listeners notice the poor widow who put a mere mite into the offering jar, elevating her beyond all realms! Jesus wouldn't let the bleeding woman simply disappear into the crowd when she touched the fringe of His cloak! She wanted to just fade away, but instead He decided to stop and ask "who touched me?". She found physical healing that day, but she also received Kingdom Love when He stopped the masses and focused His undivided attention on her, making the crowd know how special and honored she is in the Kingdom of God. Jesus lived out what He taught, by often stopping everybody and bringing healing to the silent and rejected folks who were suffering! 

The Kingdom of God is calling us to reach out and find those who are hiding from the world! 
The Kingdom of God is calling us to never ignore or "walk-on-by" those who are suffering! 
The Kingdom of God is calling us to make sacrifices, by stepping up and visiting the "least-of-these"! 

Chicago is a crowded city, but even in all it's congestion and chaos, thousands upon thousands of people still wander as ghosts; "visibly invisible" or "invisibly visible!" Uptown, with it's Nursing Homes, street people and Homeless Shelters, is home to an ignorable and forgotten population! Wilson Avenue is occupied by pockets of homeless people sleeping outside in secret locations, lonely nursing home residents seeking a little love with some "loose change" and various cliques of youngsters trying to find meaning and purpose in a neighborhood that wishes to lock them up!

My opening question leads me to a story I often heard in Sunday School as a youngster. It is found in Mark 2:3-12....

Four men bring a paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. There's no wheelchairs or public transportation, so they carry him on a stretcher. The place was jam-packed full and they couldn't get into the house to see Jesus, so they carried this man onto the roof. In an act of sheer determination and grit, these 4 guys dug through the ceiling and lowered him right in front of Jesus! Try and think of how difficult it would have been for these 4 fellas to carry this paralyzed man across town in the hot Palestinian sun; think about all the obstacles and roadblocks they faced, and yet they continued to press on forward and get him to Jesus! 

What faith! What hope! What love! Jesus saw what they did, and scripture tells us that their faith resulted in this man having his sins forgiven and being healed. As a result, the paralyzed man walked away carrying his stretcher, the rulers fussed over and judged the words Jesus used and the watching public ended up praising and glorifying God! 

These 4 guys are examples to us and help us answer my original question. Scripture doesn't reveal if they were friends of this man, or if they just knew of him "silently suffering" in their neighborhood and decided to take a leap of faith and step out their comfort zones. Scripture does tell us and imply that these 4 men were outrageously courageous and compassionate enough to ignore their own comfort and look out for the interests of this suffering and lonely individual! Scripture does reveal that this crazy act of faith resulted in changed lives! 

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to find and embrace those "hiding from the world" in our neighborhoods and give them a heavy dose of Kingdom Love. 

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to take a risk, to take a leap of faith, and reach out of our comfort zones to offer assistance to those in need. 

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us overcome the obstacles in our way, so we can take suffering individuals to the right people; those who are able to provide the help they need. 

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to be patient and persevere, knowing that we may have to change our route on multiple occasions.

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to be courageous and full of determination, always putting other people's interests before our own. 

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to embrace Kingdom Love and ignore all the religious gangsters and callous haters who are going to spread doubt and create opposition. 

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to live a life full of faith, hope and love, because as people see and experience Kingdom Love flowing through us, it will be contagious and have a ripple effect. (We must remember; the faith of these 4 courageous, determined and compassionate men caused a paralyzed man to get up and walk and the crowd to praise and glorify God!)

I believe that these 4 nameless men challenge us to embrace those "hiding from the world" and saturate them with The Kingdom of God and the Love that flows freely from it!