Putting Things Off

A brief Introduction: 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 early November, in response to this question....
"I know I could better myself, if I’d just get out there and make it happen, but I never seem to get things done. Sometimes I feel tired and depressed, sometimes I think it’s because nobody else around me is getting anything done. I know I need to change, and I know I need God’s help, I just don’t know where to start"

I'll be honest with you all; throughout my life, I've struggled with getting things done, I constantly put things off. My dad used to call me the "king of procrastination". So from my own experience, I know it can be extremely hard to get things started, but it can also be just as hard, or even harder, to keep things going. So, as I speak, I'm doing so from my own experiences, but also from my efforts to overcome this struggle....

We live in a world full of obstacles, and by obstacles, I'm referring to the countless things that continually get in the way of us moving forward or starting something new. Often, these obstacles seem endless; too big, too powerful and too seductive to conquer. Each and every person faces different obstacles, it can be something as simple as watching TV to that felony that keeps getting in the way of our progress. 

I work at a homeless shelter that assists hundreds of homeless and poverty stricken folk on the North-side of Chicago. Every day, I see the devastating effects of homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, addiction and poverty. I see how these men and women want to move forward, but I also see how big, how powerful and how seductive these obstacles are! 

I love these folk and I feel and see their heartbreak and pain! 
I see them put in the effort, I see their dedication, I see them try time and time again, only to feel they've been slapped in face. 
I see how all the rejection and ostracizing has caused so much pain. 
I see how a person's history is not forgiven nor forgotten in our modern day society. 
I see how felonies, evictions, misdemeanors and even arrests keep a person from moving forward.
I see how society has made it difficult for people to move forward when they're experiencing poverty, homelessness, mental illness or struggling with addiction! 

I see it! It's rough! Part of my responsibility as a case manager and outreach worker is to motivate these men and women, so they won't become discouraged, disillusioned and fearful. But the reality is, it happens, because people who are constantly rejected, will start to believe that society has no place for them!

Last week I spoke to Peter, someone I helped find housing. He's bored and desperately wants to work; he's trying to move forward, but he has an enormous obstacle standing in his way. That obstacle is a class X felony. Door after door has been shut!  With tears in his eyes, he shared the pain of being able to work in a local hospital, only to be told to leave when they found out he had been convicted of murder over 30 years ago. Peter's story speaks of how hard, how difficult, it can be for someone who's been both in prison and homeless, it also speaks of how easy it can be to become tired and depressed.

I have had to face obstacles, but never like the ones I see daily at Cornerstone. From my experience, I put things off for a number of reasons! I could sum them up with words like fear, anxiety, worry, the feeling that I'm not worthy and the feeling that I'm unable to climb the mountain that stands before me. I find myself asking questions like; "what will others think?" "will I fail? "what if I can't do it?"......

When these sort of questions and negative thoughts dominate my mind, I often end up procrastinating, so I try to renew my mind with 3 biblical themes...

Firstly, We must know who we are in Christ....

Here is where we need to flip the world's message of promoting the powerful, strong and wealthy upside down and get a dose the Gospel's reality. When Jesus spoke, he told his listeners, his followers, that in His Kingdom "those who are first, shall be last, and last shall be first". He made it clear in the beatitudes, that His Kingdom blesses those who are poor, mourning, merciful and so forth. His words and lifestyle challenged the elite, and showed the poor and suffering that they are vital in the loving eyes of God.

Why do I mention this? Because when we look at the priorities of the world, we often view ourselves as unworthy, and therefore believe we're unable to move forward. But that's nothing but a vicious lie of the devil. It's what the world wants us to believe! We need to be looking to the truth of God, which reveals how important and loved the weak, vulnerable and poor truly are to him! This truth, encourages us to move forward with confidence. 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul, who paints a wonderful picture of how the crucified Christ gives us strength of move forward. I love how the Message phrases it....

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 MSG)

Secondly, Knowing who we are in Christ, gives us the courage to move forward....

The message of Jesus and these verses from 1 Corinthians should give us strength to defy the world's logic. Though our obstacles may seem daunting, and we can be consumed with fear, God's love should give us courage to move forward. When Joshua could have surrendered to his fears, been overwhelmed by the obstacles that confronted him, he took the promise of God and moved his people into the promised land. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NASB)

The world may tell you to give in and give up because of that felony, the world may reject you because you're homeless, and the world may despise you because you struggle with a mental illness, but God accepts and loves you! He's telling you that you're fearfully and wonderfully made and you must keep on moving! Courage is the key! Courage is having the strength to say, "despite the obstacles, despite how they keep rejecting me and despising me, God adores me, so I'm going to keep moving onward and upward." 

Jesus left this message to his disciples as they were about to crucify him: he wanted them to have the strength and courage to keep promoting His Gospel and His Kingdom to this world: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27 NASB)

Thirdly, Knowing who we are in Christ, encourages us to find like-minded people who'll lift us up...

I want to encourage you to surround yourselves with people who're going to lift you up and help you move forward. Surround yourself around people who're not going to allow you to become stagnant. Surround yourself around people who'll push you into taking those leaps of faith. 

The writer of Hebrews knew the danger of being without fellowship, so he stated; "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24, 25 NASB)

I know how weak I can be, how fearful I can be, when I'm not surrounded by the right people; this is essential. Before I came to JPUSA and started working at CCO, I was a Lone Ranger that drove a taxi! I was working the graveyard shift. Every night, I saw pain and despair, but I was alone, I wanted to help, but it was hard to muster up enough courage to move forward, so I procrastinated, I put things off, and lived in the immense frustration of wanting to move, but feeling unable to. 

Now, I'm surrounded by people (my wife, friends and co-workers) who share the same vision and purpose. We all give each other the strength to move forward and not become stagnant. That's why places like the Bridge are so important, because it's a place where you all can strengthen and encourage one another on toward love and good deeds.

I want to close by returning to Peter's story. His obstacles are enormous, a class X felony is nothing to joke about, but his hope has not died! He knows who he is Christ, so he keeps dreaming, he keeps moving forward, he keeps surrounding himself with people who are not going to let him go stagnant and he's got the courage to keep on fighting. Peter's story hasn't ended, and I can't wait to see where his journey will take him.

At the start, I mentioned all the obstacles I see at CCO, but also see people climbing over those obstacles and moving forward because they know who they are in Christ. I'm able to witness many miracles of courage, people like Ildevert who had to escape from his homeland, the Congo, and his beautiful family, and flee to Chicago. He arrived here homeless and his obstacles are plentiful and enormous, but he hasn't given in. Ildevert got political asylum, and then he got employed a couple days ago. He is an amazing picture of courage and strength, it isn't easy for him, but he keeps running toward the prize.

Do what Ildevert and Peter are doing; 
Know who you are in Christ
Grab courage from the knowledge that Jesus loves you
And surround yourself with people who're going to lift you up! 
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