Direction, Unity and Purpose

As an introduction I'd like to explain what this blog-post is about; 

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". 

I have been invited to preach there twice; this blog-post is the sermon I preached in September, in response to this question....
"My family needs to have a sense of direction, and unity and some kind of purpose. How can I help them find all that? They sometimes just seem lost in problems and conflicts. It’s like none of us can see past our daily drama to find a larger solution. How can we find our purpose in God?" 

When I first read the question, I asked myself, "how am I going to answer this question?" As I thought and prayed about it, I realized how applicable it is to my own life. Problems, conflict, drama and chaos constantly surround me and my family, putting strain on all the “Direction, Unity, and Purpose” we're aiming for! 

We've all experienced it; we set our goals, we've planned, we've dreamed, we expected everything to fall into place and go a certain way, only to find ourselves bombarded with a bunch of different emergencies, problems, conflicts and drama. And suddenly, our focus is shattered and we have to change everything! 

Let me give you a little background about who I am; my name is Jeremy, I'm married with 2 children, we live in an intentional Christian community called Jesus People USA and Beth and I both work at JPUSA's homeless shelter called Cornerstone Community Outreach. We're also very involved in peacemaking and outreach within the Uptown community. All this, along with our extended families, means we're constantly bombarded by "unexpected surprises". 

Over this past month, the drama that has flooded our lives has included a couple fatal shootings on our corner, clients getting arrested, clients also needing immediate assistance so they can move into their own cribs, vicious conflicts that desperately needed a resolution, a long-term homeless friend suffering on life-support (RIP Archie), people relapsing back into their addictions, friends at JPUSA needing assistance and counseling with their own drama, my wife's debilitating migraines that keep on clobbering her, my daughter snapping a tendon in her leg and an exhausting run to an Emergency Room in the middle of the night, my wife's step-brother is on the brink of death (RIP Gary) and then we heard about my brother's pet lambs getting their throats slit by some crazy drunken neighbor. You get the drift; the chaos never ends, interrupting the flow in our lives....

That may be my story, but I'm no different, because all our lives are very complex, intertwined with other people. We're all going to have those "unexpected surprises". We're also going to have people who keep making the same mistakes, doing the same things, bringing the same drama and continually "messing up". We mustn't forget, we can also be "the ones" causing the drama too! 

The shelter I work at is full of people who have been ostracized by their families, leaving them homeless! It may be because of their mental illness, their anger, their infidelity, or maybe they can't or won't surrender the bottle, the pipe or another addiction. Maybe it's because they keep rotating in and out of jail, so their families and friends say "enough, we've had it, get lost!" Yet, the shelter is also full of people who tell me things like, "I'm homeless because I couldn't stay there no more, the rest of my family was smoking crack, drinking, and partying! I'm trying to stay clean, I'm trying to do right, so I had to leave!" 

All this chaos, along with so much more, means that it's our struggle to not allow all that chaos and our very busy lives to overwhelm us as a family, because if it does overwhelm us, it's hard to cry out, "as for me and my house, we will serve The Lord."

At this point, I've only proclaimed how difficult life can be sometimes, how we can easily become lost in all the problems and conflicts; so back to the original questions; how can I help my family find “Direction, Unity, and Purpose”? How can we find our purpose in God? 

I believe it's vital that we know what we believe! Yes! We have know what we believe! Be steadfast! We gotta ask ourselves the big questions: 
What are we here for? 
What's our mission? 
What do we care about? 
What is Jesus wanting us to do with your lives? 
What is Jesus calling us to do? 
Where is God guiding us?

I'm talking about discovering our overarching mission; our overarching purpose, our overarching direction. I'm talking about our long term focus, not the day-to-day stuff that can quickly change. Whereas I'm talking about following Jesus, being His disciple, I'm also talking about how Jesus wants us to specifically follow him.

So in the light of this; I got to ask; what does this mean for Beth and I? How does this practically work out? 
Our overarching mission comes down to a couple things we both know and we agree on....
We know we're called to community life; that's why we live in Jesus People USA
We know we're called to work with the poor, homeless, disenfranchised and imprisoned; that's why we work at CCO.  

We also cling on to some verses; verses that have shaped us, verses God has spoken into our minds with His still small voice, verses that constantly remind us what our overarching direction and purpose is! Along with Jesus' command to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies, here's a couple of verses that keep us unified, moving in the same direction and focused on the same purpose.....

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19 NIV)

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40 NIV)

When the day-to-day gets rough, when we are bombarded by those "unexpected surprises" and we want to cry "forget all this, it's just too hard!", when we want to get up and run away, when we feel wary and exhausted, these verses and our calling keep us grounded. When we know what we believe; the daily surprises, drama, turmoil, changes in plans may temporarily divert us, but they won't permanently change us! When we know what we believe, the smaller stuff will be placed under the scope of our "greater purpose".  

We may know what we believe and we may be clinging onto these "life-verses", but we still gotta pray, because those waves will try and drown us! We need to pray for the wisdom and courage to be steadfast; we need to be like the tree described in Psalm 1, which is "planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither". Without prayer, and without clinging to God's Word we'll be like the waves of the sea, described in James 1, which are blown and tossed by the wind. 

All this leads me to my final point; it's on us to lead by example! We need to be an example to our families! As much as we can preach at, shout at, plead with our family members to change, our words may fall on deaf ears; ears that refuse to listen. Or they may hear, but it may not be their time yet! But they will constantly see us and observe the things we do! Because of this, we need to be an example. 

We have to realize that we're unable to make others change! At CCO, I've had to learn that. I have tried to help many alcoholics and drug addicts, we've agreed on some great plans, only to find them drunk or high that very same week. Even though it may bum us out, a seed was planted and I can also tell stories of that seed coming to fruition many years later. 

We must set examples, by loving them, being patient, being there for them and acting wisely. There is a time for silence, there is a time for words. There is a time to listen and a time to rebuke! 

I learnt this lesson years ago, someone very dear to me was going out nearly every night; getting drunk, getting high, causing trouble and putting herself into some very dangerous situations! Her guy friends would try and impress me by telling me things I never wanted to hear, "she's a party-animal, she drinks and parties like a dude! She out drinks us". I was scared and worried, so I tried to convert her, I tried to change her by force, I'd preach at her, I'd rebuke her; but as I did this, she became more and more distant and hostile until the day she told me that if I didn't shut up, we'd be done. She was going to keep on doing what she was doing, and I couldn't change that. She knew where I stood, she knew about Jesus. So after that day, my approach changed, my approach was to keep the relationship going, my approach was Love and patience, my approach was prayer! Love meant I listened and helped her out of some very difficult and dangerous situations, I was there for her and our relationship was never severed! We became closer, and we are tight to this very day!

We may be unable to force others to change, they'll often keep doing what they're doing. But Love them anyway. They'll see your example. They'll see your conviction! They'll see your passion! They'll see your compassion! 

I want to close with a verse I constantly use at the shelter when I start feeling the chaos and turmoil is getting too much; 

The psalmist knew everything was totally out of his control, so he reflected on God's words; "be still, and I know that I am God!" In realizing that God is in control, in realizing that he didn't have to fix everything, he was able to "be still", he was able to find peace. We must do likewise; God knows the chaos and He also loves the people in our families far more than we ever will or could. Lay it in God's hands, because there's peace in knowing that.

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