Breaking the Cycle!
When I first read tonight's question; I immediately thought of an elderly friend of mine who passed away a couple years ago. His name is Troy. This man's story showed me how change, even good change, can be scary and can intimidate us.
I'm going to head back to 2007; Troy was homeless, so we took him in and gave him a bed with us at Cornerstone. Troy had a reputation of being a hardcore alcoholic; he was known for sleeping in dirty alley ways or under viaducts, coddling a bottle of gin. He was doing well with us and staying sober. He hadn't touched a lick for months. I'd go to his area, his bed was perfectly made and his King James bible was always open. It was a good sign! We'd play chess together, have deep theological discussions and he'd attend a bible study Darrell and I were running at the time.
I was proud of him, he'd come a long way. Our shelter was good for him. Troy had found freedom from the bottle and was doing great! Our goal at Cornerstone, is to help people move from homelessness and move into permanent housing. With Troy, it was no different, he'd been with us for quite a while (over a year) and had actually saved a few thousand dollars with us. It was time he moved into his own crib.
We discussed his need to use that money, he'd express interest in moving, but nothing was really happening, so I set up a housing appointment for him. This place was in the same neighborhood, it was subsidized and he'd still have our support. It seemed like the perfect answer to meet his ongoing needs. It seemed like the perfect place for him to settle down and relax for his remaining years!
The day of the appointment came and Troy wasn't around; he was nowhere to be found. After a couple of hours, he stumbled back to the shelter, slurring his words. He'd gone out early that morning and bought a bottle of gin. He was very intoxicated and a little aggressive; I couldn't believe it!
It took only a couple minutes and a few sips of alcohol, but Troy's life started spiraling out of control again. We tried to set up new appointments, we tried to set up new goals, but that bottle had gripped him. I couldn't believe it, all that hard work was quickly washing down the drain. His area got messier, his bible lay closed and then it vanished, he was getting hostile and all that "saved money" was rapidly disappearing.
I'll be honest with you all, Troy's downfall was incredibly hard to watch and live through. I felt helpless; I tried everything I could to get this man back on track, but at that moment, that liquor bottle was far more powerful than I. All I could do was pray for God's love and mercy on this poor wretched man that I loved and deeply respected!
The reason I'm telling you about my friend Troy is this: even though we could have got him into good supportive permanent and subsidized housing, change terrified him! Even though this place would have been perfect for him, he obviously felt he needed to calm his nerves with a couple sips of gin. I believe he "freaked out", because he was overwhelmed by the fact that he was leaving his comfort zone, his security and his support network. This was a place where he'd found long term sobriety and supporting friends, and he felt intimidated, because he would be entering into something new; a place that was new and unknown to him!
Troy's downfall taught me something, it reminded me, that...
Change can be very scary.
At times, let's face it, change is downright scary.
Change isn't easy; in fact, breaking our cycles, disrupting our routines, moving out of our comfort zones and making the needed change can be very hard and overwhelming!
Troy's story reminded me that we are often intimidated and overwhelmed by change!
I know I can feel this way too; change often scares, intimidates and overwhelms me! I can be scared and often want to stay just where I am! I don't want to change! I want to stay comfortable, I want to feel secure, even if it's not the best for me. Just like Troy, something needs to change, but I often don't want to take that risk! Just like Troy, I want to stay where I am! For health reasons, for my high blood pressue, I know I should eat better, but I don't! I know I should exercise for the same reason, but I don't! I know I should go to bed earlier, but I don't!
I also see it all the time at Cornerstone. Someone has an appointment, and just like Troy, somehow and in some way, they sabotage it! They don't do it on purpose. I don't think people want to stay homeless. I don't think Troy wanted to stay homeless. I don't think Troy wanted to be an alcoholic, controlled by the bottle and unable to move forward! I think people want to get housed, but change triggers fear and overwhelms us. It could be they're scared of being alone. It could be the fear of failing. The fear of drinking again. The fear of losing friends. The fear of entering an unknown territory. The fear of feeling uncomfortable!
Our fears of change are nothing new. We see it happening time and time again throughout history. Let's briefly travel back to the time of Moses.
God, through Moses, had just freed the Israelites from centuries of slavery and oppressive power, yet these people wanted to return to their old life. Even though they'd just seen the amazing miraculous power of God, they looked back. Even though God had promised them a new start, a new life and a new land, they looked back to their days of slavery and oppression. Change scared them. The unknown scared them. They were afraid. They wanted to return to their old life because they saw various obstacles or hurdles surrounding them! God was taking them into a better life, He had promised them freedom, they saw His miracles and power every day, but they kept looking back! They were scared to move forward. They wanted to return to what they know, or "stay put", in the security of their old life.
Imagine witnessing the 10 plagues that God fired down on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Imagine seeing a pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night. Imagine knowing that God was doing all this for you. Imagine knowing that God was performing these miracles to set you free! These people knew God was in charge and had their back, yet listen to what the people said to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12 NIV)
They had the promises! They had God on their side! They had God directing them. They had God promising them and their children a better future, yet they still questioned him. They were still afraid, they were afraid of change, they were afraid of the unknown. Yet if I'm honest with myself, I stand here guilty of the same things. I see obstacles, I see difficulties, I don't like the look of the path God's telling me to go down, so what do I do? I often choose to stay put; I often choose to play it safe; I often choose fear over faith!
Moses heard their complaints and now listen to what Moses told them; “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14 NIV)
We know the story, God delivered them mightily that day; He performed another miracle! God parted the Red Sea and they walked through on dry land. The chasing Egyptians, the army that had oppressed them for centuries, drowned before their eyes. They were saved. They were delivered. They were set free!
Yet, even through all that, these people kept doubting God and fearing change. He kept performing mighty miracles before their eyes. Because of their lingering doubt, rebellion and fear, they ended up wandering the desert for 40 years, but God kept all His promises and He kept delivering them. They eventually made it to the promised land, and God was faithful; He met all their needs and they saw His glory time and time again.
God's word to the Israelites, is also for us. It's for anyone who's scared of making the needed change. It's for anyone who doesn't know how to make the next step. God is telling us "do not be afraid, take a risk, stand firm, I've got you, I'm with you, I'll fight for you!" He's asking us to have faith and be courageous, so we can take the next step.
There's a reason He can tell us to take that "leap of faith", He loves us so deeply and He has the power and ability to always keep His promises. He can tell us that, because He will fight for us! He's asking us to stand firm and obey Him, and when we do, we will see the deliverance of the Lord, we will see His miracles, we will know His love and we will see His promises come to fruition!
My friend Troy hit rock bottom, he went back to passing out in dirty alleyways and under viaducts, but thankfully, his story didn't end in tragedy. He eventually took the risk and took a leap of faith, he tackled his fear, embraced change and found a place. Thankfully, Troy was able to live his final few years in peace and sobriety.
The abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, said, "if there is no struggle, there is no progress!" We make a major mistake if we think change is supposed to be easy; there will always be struggles and obstacles along the way. Moving down new paths takes a lot of courage; it takes faith; it means stepping out into the unknown. We can't move forward, if fear is controlling us. We need to move forward in faith, knowing and believing that God will keep His promises, knowing and believing that He is walking with us and knowing and believing that He loves us.
As we go about our lives this week, think about the changes God is calling you to make, I want to encourage you all with one more verse. In Isaiah 41:10, God says; "do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (NIV)
As you look into the unknown; take that "leap of faith" you know you need to take. Don't fear or be dismayed, because God is with you and He is your God. He loves you and promises to strengthen and help you along your path. Go in peace, knowing God is with you and He's got your back!
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 12/09/14, in response to this question;“Breaking the Cycle”
I keep telling myself that I’ll make changes, and another day goes by, and nothing gets done. In a way I know I’m making excuses, but at the same time I just don’t know where to start. All I know is, I’m tired of being this way.