When I first came to Chicago about 18 years ago, I got to know this chronically homeless couple who lived in Uptown. At that time, I was helping run a soup kitchen, so every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, this fragile couple would stumble into our cafeteria and eat. They would occasionally sleep at Cornerstone, but most of the time, you'd find them sleeping outside in various uninhabitable places; you could find them either in the park, in abandoned buildings, under a local viaduct or, if it was really cold, I'd find them sleeping in the entrance way of our building.
This couple was out there! They were out there bad! It's hard to describe what I saw every time I bumped into them. They were normally drunk and high, hunched over and looking very sickly. Barely able to move; they would shuffle along with their shopping cart, assisting each other. Due to the harsh reality of their lifestyles, addictions and homelessness, they would rotate in and out of jail, prisons and Emergency Rooms. It was sad and hard to see!
They had a reputation, and it wasn't a good one! People saw them as absolutely hopeless. Their homeless buddies grieved over them. Even the police, who dealt with them a lot, feared they'd die on the streets. They'd been "out there" for well over a decade! As you can imagine; It was hard for me to see any hope for this couple; the bottle, the pipe and so many other things gripped them and they weren't letting go. When we'd talk, I got the impression they didn't seem to have any hope for themselves either. They seemed to have resigned themselves to a life of drinking, drugging and living on the streets.
And then, surprisingly and completely out of the blue, they disappeared from Uptown. No one knew where they'd gone; they just vanished! But a memory of them had remained; where they often slept, they'd etched their names into the wet cement under a local viaduct, so I every time I'd walk to the lake, I was reminded of this quiet fragile couple. I'd pray for them and wondered what had happened to my friends. Were they still alive? Were they still homeless? Were they still drunk? Were they still hustling? Were they still alone?
To my utter surprise, as quickly as they had vanished from my sight, we were suddenly united again. This time it was through Facebook. I had a friend request, but I didn't recognize her name at first; so we "instant messaged" and quickly realized that I was speaking to the lady who's name I'd seen hundreds of times, etched deeply into the concrete. I couldn't believe it; she and her husband were alive and well in another city. They were successfully housed. They'd been clean and sober for over 5 years and now she actually has a job motivating people to overcome their addictions. I couldn't believe it: What a turnaround! What a miracle!
These 2 names that had once symbolized so much despair and hopelessness, now symbolize so much grace and hope. Their names and their stories have helped me realize that change is possible, miracles happen and hope is real. When I see their 2 names etched deeply into that concrete, I know God has the power to turn even the most tragic of tales into glorious stories of hope.
I want to encourage you all tonight! Each and every one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. God wants the best for us all and loves us all deeply! No matter what we've done, no matter what's been done to us, no matter how bad our reputations may be, God's love is there and the thought of this couple, spurs me on and reminds me of these truths. The thought of this chronically homeless couple teaches me that, God is able to take the worst of all situations and turn it into something wonderful and good! This couple encourages me, because when I encounter hopeless situations today, I know with God, "anything and everything is possible".
Jesus reminds us that in Luke 18:27: "Things that are impossible with people are possible with God." (NIRV)
We need to believe this and cling on to the forgiveness, grace, mercy and love of Jesus! When Jesus died on that cross, He made radical change possible for anyone and everyone; when Jesus died on that Cross, He made the impossible, possible! it doesn't matter if we're an arrogant crack smoking Wall Street broker, sitting on death row, sleeping under a viaduct or faithfully going to church every Sunday, we all need His salvation, forgiveness and grace. Jesus has made that change possible!
When I look back at this couple: Everyone, and I mean everyone, including themselves, had given up on them and saw no hope, but God saw potential; God had hope; God still loved them! This is the power of the Cross. He made new Hope possible for this couple, and when they were at their weakest, they accepted His hand, His loving offer, grabbed it, ran with it and haven't let go!
King David was at a point of despair; he'd done some terrible things. One day, when he was supposed to be at war, he watched this beautiful woman bathe. His life spiraled out of control, as she was married to another man, he lusted over her, used his power to sleep with her, got her pregnant and then used his immense power again to have her husband murdered to hide the pregnancy. After doing all this, he married her! People thought David was a great king, but I'm sure he was racked with terrible guilt and didn't know what to do, so he hid it. David was able to keep the terrible things he'd done hidden from other people, but he couldn't hide them from God.
God's response is beautiful and gives us hope, He didn't cast David aside, ignore him or kill him. God responded out of love. He met David and didn't forget him. David was disciplined by God, but He also made new opportunities available. Even though David had been very unfaithful, God made a loving decision and to send Nathan, his prophet, to confront him. As a result, David humbled himself, broke down in tears and prayed these powerful words; "God, create a pure heart in me. Give me a new spirit that is faithful to you. Don't send me away from you. Don't take your Holy Spirit away from me. Give me back the joy that comes from being saved by you. Give me a spirit that obeys you. That will keep me going." (Psalm 51:10-12 NIRV)
God calls us, just like He came to David! He makes the moves, calling us to Him and renewing our Hope. We need to come to Him humbly, just like David did. We need Him, as He will cleanse us and make miracles happen. He renewed David, and gave him another chance. God renewed the couple under the Wilson Viaduct and gave them another chance! If we listen to God and humbly come to Him, He will renew us and give us, yet another chance!
When I think of King David and his renewed life, when I think of my "once chronically homeless" friends living their renewed lives, hope washes over me as I think of another chronically homeless friend of mine, nicknamed "Red". After decades of sleeping outside, drinking gallons of vodka, riding trains in a drunken state, rotating in and out of Nursing Homes and stumbling half comatose around good ol' Uptown, I got Red into a detox program last Friday. Due to his past, a tainted reputation and countless failures, this may seem like a hopeless, pointless and impossible endeavor, but hope reigns, because Jesus makes the impossible possible! There is still hope for Red, and maybe, just maybe, this will be the time Red clings on and doesn't let go! Maybe, this is the time the impossible becomes possible! That is my prayer!
When Jesus rose from the grave, the impossible became possible! We must believe in the power of the cross, the power of the resurrection, because no matter what lies you're telling yourselves, no matter what rut you're in, no matter what reputations you've earned, these things do not have the power to keep you down or to keep you from changing. As believers, we are called "New Creations"; the old has gone and the new has come. Jesus died on that Cross, Jesus meets us in our afflictions and in our weakness, so we can start afresh and become new creatures!
As new Creations, we are given promises that we need to grasp onto; promises of change, promises that God won't forsake us, promises that God is with us and will fill us with His Spirit! Listen to one of these promises, found in Romans 8:37; "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (MEV)
Even though we may have been very unfaithful, even though we may get attacked on all sides, even though our reputations may be tainted, there is hope! There is hope, even beyond our wildest imaginations. This verse gives me so much hope, because it's telling me that we can not only conquer our struggles, but we can be "more than conquerors"; this verse speaks of unlimited potential. This verse tells me that God is able to take the most unfaithful person, turn them around and use them, powerfully for His Kingdom.
This promise isn't just empty words. This is the power of the Gospel. This is the power of His Kingdom. These words speak the truth of how God turns things around time and time again. He takes people in their affliction and weaknesses and makes them "more than conquerors". Look at what He did to Moses. Look at what He did to King David after his murderous acts. Look at how He changed the Apostle Paul and look at how he took this chronically homeless couple, hopelessly living under the Wilson Viaduct, and transformed them into motivational speakers, addiction counselors and agents of change.
If God made all of them "more than conquerors", He can also do the same for Red.
If God made all of them "more than conquerors", He can use us, change us and make us "more than conquerors" also.
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?
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 2/3/15, in response to this question;“Staying Faithful”
How can I stay faithful to my wife, my friends, and to God, when I've never been faithful before? I'm afraid I don't know how.