June 30, 2009

"Saint" James

For my blog today I thought I would tell you about a homeless man I met on our Venice Beach outreach named "Saint" James. He always makes sure to add the "saint" part when talking to me.

It's actually a miracle I even know his name. The first time I ever saw him he was sitting in the area where we were holding a mini-service for anyone interested. Basically, two of the short-term participants get up and tell part of their testimony and we offer to pray for anybody who wants it. Afterwards we hand out about 80 sack lunches. While we were handing out the lunches I saw him sitting by himself, dressed nicely in a t-shirt that said "Addicted" with a giant marijuana leaf under it. I thought it might be interesting to talk to this man. He has been wearing this shirt everytime I see him.

I extended my hand to him and said, "Hi I'm David," which led him to wave his hand at me, indicating he wanted me to leave. "We don't need to be introduced," he replied.
"Oh no, why not?" I asked.
In a very angry and confrontational tone, he said, "Because you Christians are so arrogant coming out here claiming that Jesus died on the cross and that he's the only way you can have eternal life. You can't say that anymore than any Jew or Muslim could say that."

Based off of his tone and attitude towards Christianity, I instantly knew this would be an interesting conversation. Before I even got to Venice Beach, I had prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me to conversations and within those conversations as well. As soon as the conversation began, I felt the Holy Spirit saying to me, "You're not going to win him with your arguments or reason. If anything you will win him with your love and respect." It seems as if he hadn't met any loving Christians from the things he was saying.

He continued on with his tirade on Christians, insisting that we cannot claim to be heading in the direction of heaven because we haven't done anything to help the AIDS crisis in Africa. (He also claimed that George Bush Sr. is the antichrist and that he was the one who created and sent the AIDS virus to the African continent. He was full of many conspiracy theories, to say the least.) I told him that I agreed that Christians could be doing much, much more to make an impact on the earth in the name of Jesus, and that the AIDS crisis is one of those areas where Christians have the opportunity to spread the love of Christ. I also told him about my good friend Matt Taylor (and several others) who is a committed Christians that is studying for the express purpose of helping AIDS victims. This seemed to surprise him.

I hear this argument from unbelievers all the time:
There are desperate situations in the world,
Some Christians don't seem to care about these situations,
Therefore Christianity is not a valid belief system.

While it breaks my heart that people get the impression that Christians don't care about the world, sometimes it is a reality. I must say, it is not the majority by any means. But there are some people who profess to be Christians and have no desire to care for the world. However, it is faulty logic to believe that because Jesus' followers have sometimes fallen short and been hypocritical that Jesus is not truly the Son of God and the only way to salvation. His Word still stands, whether mere humans follow it or not.

I continued to explain to him that I understood his problems with Christians, but I also took the chance to explain to him why all 85 of us out there that day were there because we cared for our homeless brothers and sisters and we wanted to make a difference in the world. I urged him not to lose faith in Jesus Christ because some of his followers have lost their way. It is the same reason my parents explained to people as to why we chose to remain at New Life Church in Colorado after our pastor, Ted Haggard, fell into sexual immorality.

The conversation continued, and he told me how he based his life on the book of Revelation and how he himself was fulfilling one of the prophecies. He also told me how he doesn't believe the rest of the Bible. Obviously, that didn't sit right logically in my head, so I asked him, lovingly and respectfully, "How can you base your life on the book of Revelation and the writings of the apostle John and still say you don't believe Jesus died on the cross when that same apostle John said in his gospel that He did in fact die on the cross?" To this question he had no answer except for a theory that John was forced to lie in his gospel. We talked about this a little further, and I saw his confidence in that theory begin to wave. But he still did not change his mind at this point.

It was here that God taught me a very valuable lesson. Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith, is designed to plant seeds. You will never argue someone into the Kingdom of God. That's not what God's love created us to do. His love will win someone to the Kingdom of God. Intellectual assent, while it is an important aspect of faith, is not a pre-requisite for belief. Apologetics will merely break down faulty logic and weak arguments in order to create space for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart. The mind will either serve as a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart. For James, it was a roadblock.

At the end of the conversation, and after some friendly discussion during which I encouraged him and thanked him for his passion to see the end of the AIDS crisis, I extended my hand once more and said, "Now what's your name?" He took my hand and smiled, "James... Saint James."

I continue to pray for James and for the Holy Spirit to work in his life. I hope that I helped to remove some roadblocks to faith in Jesus for him, but I know that the rest is up to God. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." That last part is true wisdom... it's exactly what I needed to remember that day because, as I felt God telling me, I will not win someone over with my reason or logic, but with my love and respect.

I saw "Saint" James again today, and we had a nice conversation about his week and his dreams of being a writer. Please join with me in prayer for James as you finish reading this.

Living in faith...

June 26, 2009

A Little Overwhelmed

Reports have been released that approximately 90,000 people are homeless and sleeping on the streets on any given day in Los Angeles.

Skid Row, a section of about 10 blocks by 10 blocks near downtown LA, consitutes the most concentrated location of homelessness in America.

Those are just stats. But living here has been an eye-opener in itself. It is nearly impossible to go anywhere... whether I'm going to a movie, to the beach, or somewhere to eat (probably Taco Bell!) without seeing multiple people living on the street. Because there is so much need and poverty here, the ones caught in homelessness are forced to be more bold with their panhandling. Multiple times in the last week I have been sitting in a restaurant and a homeless man has walked straight to our table asking for change. Instead of giving out money, potentially contributing to alcohol or drug problems, I (or someone with me) bought them a meal and talked with them. It's amazing the stories I have heard while being on the streets here.

Those times I was at the different restaurants were not "ministry" times. I wasn't on an outreach. We weren't with short-term teams from churches. We were using our time off to enjoy fellowship and good food (Chipotle!). And yet still I met multiple homeless men and felt the need to care for and serve them.

To be completely honest, I feel a little overwhelmed. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, but I've never experienced something like this. It is difficult to have a "day off" from the outreaches and Dream Center ministry and be faced with the same issues and the same things that break my heart during the rest of the week. Sometimes all I can do is stop and pray, because I feel powerless to do anything else. (And of course God is powerful in our weakness).

I really don't have a positive twist to this blog or some great nugget of wisdom to share. I guess I'm just learning what it is to be broken for others. Sometimes it feels like we're barely putting a dent in the problem of homelessness, and my heart continues to break. I think God is teaching me to rely on Him and take every problem I see and give it to Him. I can't hold on to these burdens myself... I'm nowhere near strong enough. God cares for these people even more than I do. I need to be reminding myself of that. His love is deeper and thicker than my love ever could be. HE is the one who sustains, provides, heals, and saves them, not me. It is my duty to be faithful and serve in whatever way I can. God will do the rest.

Please pray that I don't get discouraged or burnt out, but that my love for God is freshly anewed everyday. Pray that I am reminded of His incredible love for these people so that I am not overwhelmed with burdens that I can't carry.

Isaiah 1:17
"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

June 19, 2009

The Plentiful Harvest in the City

Being in Los Angeles has already taught me so much in just 3 weeks of ministry. I was encouraged (one might even say "threatened") by my good friend Jordan Bolte (jbolte.blogspot.com) earlier today to share and blog some of my thoughts that I was talking to him about. I'm learning so much and God is speaking to me about my future that I will try to slowly talk about on here.

Los Angeles is a big city. I know this may be news to nobody, but it is huge. It takes a navigating genius to get around here. There are also millions of people that live here. With that amount of people there comes a huge opportunity for the Gospel. I am reading a book called Cities: Missions' New Frontier. The authors attest to this very idea; that is, some big cities have more people than the rest of the state it rests in and there is a huge need for the light of Jesus Christ. Naturally we'd expect that there'd be a good ratio of ministries/churches to the number of people, but this is not the case at all. There is a huge need for good Bible-centered, Jesus-centered churches in the city.

In Luke 10:2, Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." This one sentence could not better describe the situation here. There is a giant harvest field, but we simply do not have enough people to reach them all. Los Angeles defines so much of our culture through Hollywood. Can you imagine the potential to influence the nation for Jesus Christ in a city like this? We just need committed disciples of Christ who have a desire to reach the cities for God.

I had this same feeling when I was in Chicago during the school year working for Emmaus Ministries. There was so much need on the street, but there was hardly a Christlike influence. I'll never forget one of the questions the Emmaus staff asked us as we debriefed our experience: "While you were out on the streets, where was the church?" I have not been able to shake that question since I saw what I saw that night... hurting, broken people... some starving because they can't afford a single meal or because all of their money goes to their alcohol and drug addictions. It's the same here every single day I go out. We see new people every single outreach we do who have never heard the gospel or heard the news that Jesus loves them just as they are. It breaks my heart.

Yesterday I met a 17-year-old homeless girl who had nothing to her name and is sleeping on the streets at night. Oh, and did I mention that she's pregnant, 5 months along? She is about to have a baby and she doesn't even have a bed for herself. She looked exhausted, beaten down from the stress of the streets. My heart especially broke for her as I saw her walk across the street with the little energy she still has. How can this be happening?? Where is the church?

That's exactly why I love working here at the Dream Center. This is a church that's not waiting for people to come to us; we're going out to them and finding them. With the huge missions field of Los Angeles, we'll continue to minister to the homeless, the broken, those in need. But the workers are still few.

Jesus called us the "light of the world." We are inherently different from the darkness in the world. When a lightbulb is turned on in a room, the darkness is completely changed to light. Everything is affected. Usually one lightbulb can light an entire room. A second might help uncover some of the darkness. But at some point you stop putting light bulbs in the room because the light has reached every crevice and corner. Instead you'll put those lightbulbs in other dark rooms that need them.

I think in Christianity today we are surrounding ourselves too much with other lightbulbs - Christians, if you will. Please don't misunderstand me. We need each other. We are designed for fellowship and to be together with other Christians. I am not condoning lone-ranger-ministry. However, there is a point where we need to branch out and find where there is darkness, and plant our lighted-selves in that area to bring the light of Christ to that area. If we surround ourselves entirely with other light, how will we make a difference?

I love being in Los Angeles because of the potential for the greatness of God to be revealed. There is a lot of darkness here that needs the light of Jesus. There are other places like this all over the world. We need to be stepping out and going head on into the darkness with the full strength we have in Christ. I am excited about what God is teaching me in this area. I am excited to work in a city where the harvest is plentiful.

After Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few," he continued on to say, "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." What an encouragement; it is HIS harvest field! And we get the chance to be a part of it! But this is also my prayer. Please continue to pray for more workers and churches in this harvest field.

Living in faith...

June 15, 2009

Do You Love Me?

There is one lesson I've learned after being involved in ministry for the last several years. It's a lesson that transfers across every kind of ministry, whether you're involved with youth, kids, the homeless, or whoever. It's one that I try to remind myself every single day, especially while I'm here in L.A.

It is simply this: We cannot minister to people without falling in love with Jesus Christ first.

Sounds simple, right? But then why do we find ourselves going through the motions of daily ministry? Have you ever found yourself "doing" ministry because it's what is expected of you or out of obligation? I only ask these questions because I have had to grapple with them myself.

The other day I was driving somewhere in the city and my mind wandered to some scripture that I've actually preached on before. But for some reason the Holy Spirit illumined a part of it that I hadn't focused on before.

It's in John 21, one of my favorite passages in the Bible. At this point, Jesus has been resurrected and shown himself to the disciples. In this setting, Peter and some of the other disciples are out fishing. The sheer irony of the setting is enough to raise some eyebrows. Think about it... Peter and the other disciples have just spent 3 years with Jesus, seen the miracles he performed, heard his incredible teachings, watched him die on the cross, and met him after he raised from the dead. And what do they do? They go fishing. They go back to what was ordinary or safe in their lives. I realize that Jesus told them to wait for the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, before they went out, but at the same time it just seems like an interesting activity of choice by these disciples, especially Peter, upon whom Jesus said he would build his church. But that's another blog, another sermon, for another day. That isn't the part of the passage that stuck out to me.

It's when Jesus starts talking to Peter that I realize the importance of Jesus' implications. We pick up in verse 15:

"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.""

The key thing to notice here is the order of Jesus' words. He first asks Peter if he loves Jesus. Only after Peter says that he loves him does Jesus commission him to "feed my lambs," "take care of my sheep," and "feed my sheep." Jesus does not tell him to begin his ministry until he knows for sure that he loves him with everything. The action words of feeding and taking care are synonymous with doing ministry.

In other words we are not to even presume that we can take care of God's flock, or the church, before we fall completely in love with Jesus Christ. How can we do ministry in the name of the one we do not love with heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Every morning now I wake up and pray that I will fall freshly in love with Jesus Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit before I start any ministry. The second part of being filled with the Holy Spirit comes from Jesus telling the disciples the same thing; that is, they should not go out and minister until the Advocate, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit falls upon them. I've come to the realization that without these two things I can never be effective in ministry.

Again, I say these things because I am learning this in my own life. When the Holy Spirit opens my mind to something fresh in Scripture, I can't help but talk about it! Hopefully I will keep the aforementioned prayer alive in my walk and ministry everyday. I also hope that this encouraged you and that you fall in love with Jesus more every single day!

And, as promised, some verses that keep me going in ministry to the poor and broken:
1 John 3:17-18
"If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

June 10, 2009

Week 1 Reflections

The schedule of an inner city missionary has turned out to be very busy. My hands are full everyday, but it is in such a good way. The only problem is that I don't have as much time to blog as I was hoping. My goal is to blog at least twice a week, though, so I can keep my family and friends informed about what I'm experiencing and learning. I don't have a lot of time right now, but here are a couple thoughts.

First of all, I've never felt as spiritually strong as I do right now. The people here are on fire. I don't say that lightly either. I thought I had seen what it looked like to be consumed with a passion for the gospel, but I've only now been able to see the real thing. I've been convicted about where I fall short in my personal faith, and I'm so glad too. I wanted to grow this summer, and working with the people here is pushing me incredibly. Praise God. One of the other interns/staff members here will break into prayer at any given moment if he sees something that needs it or feels the Holy Spirit convicting him to pray. It took me off-guard at first, but I've grown to love the constant conversation he has with God during the day.

Secondly, my heart is breaking for the men and women on the street that I am meeting. Take Joe for example. Joe has been living on the streets by Santa Monica for about 3 weeks now after moving from Florida. Joe developed a form of cancer last year and had to go through a lot of treatment. The treatment and chemotherapy have dried up his bank account, and he has no family to turn to. There was a mess-up when his papers went in for social security money he could receive because of his situation and now he won't receive any money for weeks, maybe even months. He refuses to go downtown where drug and alcohol usage is rampant on Skid Row, so he's staying close to the beach where it's safer. He still has faith left over from his childhood when he went to church with his mom. He knows God is taking care of Him, but it's hard not knowing whether he'll live much longer with the cancer on the streets. After talking with him I could see how tightly he was gripping onto the hope that comes only through Jesus Christ, but I fear for how long he can pull on the hem of Jesus' garment before his strength gives way. I had such a good conversation with him, and I even got the chance to pray for healing in his body. With that said, it is so hard to walk away from someone like that without wanting to do everything possible to get him off the street and help him find a home. Even more than that, I want him to be in the fellowship of other believers who will encourage him and point him to Christ when it gets difficult. I haven't figured this all out completely, but I know this is just one way I have to trust in the power of Christ for his life. I am still praying for him, as well as all the other homeless men and women I've been meeting on the street.

On that note, prayer has been one of the greatest parts of this internship. We pray all the time, and I'm not talking about the kind where we go around the circle and pray for 5 minutes. I'm talking about the kind of prayer that storms the gates of Heaven looking for the presence of God! It's very Spirit-filled prayer. I'm learning so much about prayer still, and being around this ministry is teaching me even more. A big thing I wanted to do this summer is pray about the direction God wants me to go after I graduate college in May. There are so many options but I think He is slowly showing me more specific things.

Finally, I wanted to add something for any of my Christian Ed classmates that might be reading this and make fun of my loud voice. Last night we had a service for the homeless by the Santa Monica pier outside. We share a couple testimonies, someone preaches, and then we break out the food and eat and fellowship. Well, last night I was asked to preach. Normally we have a PA system with a mini-microphone to blast the sound, but it wasn't working when we got there.... which of course meant that I had to preach in an outdoor park to a group of about 100 total people with only my loud voice. I was definitely shouting the gospel out there, haha. I was laughing and wondering the whole time how my CE 2010 classmates would react to that scene. Turns out God gave me a loud voice intentionally so I'd be able to preach with no microphone outdoors.... haha. Some people mentioned to me afterward that they had trouble hearing the two people who shared their testimonies before me, but that they didn't struggle at all to hear my sermon. I know my classmates will get a good laugh out of that.

But anyway, I'd like to leave my blogs with verses that are pushing me to do this kind of ministry and what motivates me to continue.

James 2:14-17
"14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

June 3, 2009

First Impressions and a little C.S. Lewis

I don’t think it’s truly sunk in that I’m in Los Angeles right now. But I have been here for a full 24 hours, incident-free! I am really enjoying meeting so many new people (and trying to remember a thousand names). There is a genuine sincerity about the people here that you can feel. I love to hear about their love and passion for God. They are truly consumed with a fire for Him in every conversation. I think much of this is due to the fact that many of the people who volunteer here have been saved off the streets themselves and know what it’s like to be in desperation and without hope. Now that they have that hope that comes only through Jesus Christ, they won’t ever let it go and they want to talk about it all the time! It’s been a huge encouragement to me.

On another un-related note, I’m reading through several books right now, one of which is the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I wanted to re-read them now that I can catch the analogy and metaphor behind the story. There is an interesting correlation I noticed in Peter and Susan’s conversation with the professor at the mansion they’re staying at. They are asking the professor’s advice about how to deal with Lucy, their sister who keeps talking about a “magical” wardrobe she found that leads to another world of fauns and evil witches. Her brother Edmund keeps calling her a liar and makes fun of her even though he saw exactly what she saw.

The professor, Peter, and Susan determine that Lucy is not known for lying. The professor’s response: “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume she is telling the truth” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 45).

When I read this, I thought, “Hmmm… this sounds so familiar…” In C.S. Lewis’ well-known book Mere Christianity, he proposes this same logic for determining the validity of Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. This is commonly known as the lord, liar, or lunatic logic:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, 52).

June 1, 2009

And So It Begins

It’s finally here. I am officially in Los Angeles, California, for my summer internship with Hope for Homeless Youth at the Dream Center. I had a road-trip experience that could have come straight out of a movie, but that'll have to come a different time.

I am really excited for this opportunity. It’s kind of surreal right now, but within a matter of hours I’ll be doing ministry on the streets in L.A. It was fun to connect with some people in Colorado in the past couple days with whom I went to L.A. in high school on a short-term missions trip to work with the Dream Center. I had a great team with that team, and now I’m off to do it by myself. Sure, it’s a little intimidating, but I want to be stretched this summer.

When I started to think about why I am going to Los Angeles (besides the academic requirements for Taylor), I simply want to love God and love people. It’s so easy to over-complicate things, but I am intentionally simplifying things this summer. I want to learn simplicity, and so all I want to do this summer is love God completely and love people genuinely.

I’d like to ask you to pray for the ministry this summer. Many people have expressed concern for my safety in Los Angeles. Prayers for safety are very appreciated, but to be completely honest, I have faith that God will protect me. I’d rather you pray that people’s hearts would be opened and that they would come to know the incredible love and salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ.

I have been re-reading the book of Acts this month and I have been inspired by his courage. At one point Paul is dragged out of Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). And what does he do? He gets up and walks right back into the city. The first time I remember thinking, are you serious?! It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that one can go out and have this kind of drive and passion for ministry that puts one’s own life in danger for the sake of Jesus Christ. I want to have the kind of passion that Paul had! “For God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

I really just want to serve this summer. I want God to break me of my pride and break my heart for these people. I have a lot of growing to do, so I’m looking forward to being a little uncomfortable to push me.

So, with this attitude and many prayers, I go to L.A. In the words of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.”