Signing up for Jesus’ love

What would Jesus do?  This question, although tragically watered down from the tons of WWJD gear that was passed around a few years back, should be very present on our hearts at all times.

We worked with a church in Las Vegas that reaches out to the poor and homeless throughout the week.  We joined them for a children’s outreach to a neighborhood housing project.  The youth group does an open-air evangelism program once a week with their super cool Transformer truck that turns into a stage.  They have targeted 5 different neighborhoods to love on and minister to.  At the end of their program they hand out large gift bags filled with lots of necessary items to the adults who have gathered and, this is key, to those who had signed up.  This church is very missional, living in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Las Vegas forces a church to do one of two things, 1) shut their doors and start the slow decline into inward servitude (except from 9-11am on Sunday mornings), or 2) do the best you can to love your neighbors in tangible ways all week long.  This place is trying to do the second option.

We spent most of our time on this particular evening just talking and playing with some of the kids who showed up to participate in the Sidewalk Sunday School.  There were close to 100 mothers, fathers and children milling about.  After handing out gift bags we started packing up and getting ready to leave.  Two men who had not participated in the program, and didn’t have children who participated either, walked up to the end of the truck and asked if they could receive one.  More than a dozen plastic bags were piled up behind the cab, but the truck was locked up, the doors were shut.

I’m going to pause the story for a moment to ask the cliche question. . . . “What would Jesus do?”

The standard procedure that this ministry always sticks with is that anyone who signs up while the program is going on can receive a gift bag.  In human terms, this makes sense; pay your dues, stand in line, get the reward.  But is that how our Father works?  From past experience, He rarely works like this.  He is a backwards God, always thwarting our plans or rules and our laws.

The two men who were inquiring about the gift bags were denied.   They were confused, a little angry, and hurt.  Honestly, they handled the denial very well, much better than I had anticipated.  We finished packing up and returned to the church campus.

Andy and I were both confused.  Why?  Why would you deny help to someone who is living in the very neighborhood you are trying to help.  Why would you stick to the letter of the law (truck was locked and the men weren’t on time) instead of the spirit of the law (you are trying to love these people and a simple key turn would demonstrate the love of Christ to these men).  If the truck was empty, then of course, tell these men you can’t help them, but with a pile of bags on the truck you are choosing to withhold something that Christ commands us to give away.

As we pulled back up to the church, the two men pulled up in their truck.  Andy and I greeted them at the door, they were very cordial and asked if they could speak to the head pastor.

There have been a few times where I wonder if we have talked with or entertained angels.  This was one of those times.  The two men were very large men, built well, tattoos across the chest and arms, and if you saw them walking down the road together you might think of crossing to the other side.  But as they talked with us and with the pastor, they were gentle, kind and just wanted to clear up the misunderstanding that they had with the other staff member back at the neighborhood.  Andy and I were impressed and totally enamored at the way Jesus was shining through these two men.  Honestly, I don’t know if they are believers, but at that moment they were being more like Christ than anyone we had seen that day.  I hope that these two men challenged the leadership at this church to think more like Christ.

They did end up walking away with bags, but I don’t think that was the point.  I think the point of all of that was to present the question; What would Jesus do?  I think we all need a dose of humility and remembering our purpose as Christians.  How often do we do this to others – deny them something that Christ calls us to give away, whether that be material possessions, our time, or our love, but we withhold it because they aren’t following our rules and procedures?

What would Jesus do?

He would share.

He would give.

He would love.

And He would do it without asking for anthing back, without asking for us to fit in some box, or to stand in line, or to sign up.

Advertisements

Hospitality worthy of God

Being on the road full time can be tough.  Parenting is difficult, it feels like we are parenting in a fishbowl, everybody watching how we discipline, how we interact with one another.  The stress of driving a vehicle that can at any time break down.  Discerning what the Lord is calling us to do day in and day out, where He wants us to go and not go.  Finding random churches and ministries and then calling them and trying to convince them that we have something to offer and they should let us spend a few nights in their parking lot.  We have been asked to leave one church because the elders didn’t know who we were, and people from the congregation were wondering why we were parked out back.  10+ months of this allows you to understand what Christ was saying in Matthew 8:20:

Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

Even though we have a place to lay our heads, we have never felt like we were at “home”, completely comfortable about our surroundings, about whether we are forcing unwilling people to show us a gruding hospitality.

We have met some wonderful people on the road, instant life-long friends, believers who understand our vision and want to help us love people by pouring into us, complete strangers, with love and hospitality, allowing us to pour out onto others.  The Lord has led us to connect with these people because God knows what we need, and many times He presents it to us through others hospitality and companionship.

We are in a place like that right now.  We are in Strathmore, California right now with some dear friends of ours, Heath and Emie Locke.  We have known the Locke’s for about 6 years now, we originally knew them through the Grace Chapel youth ministry where they were pastors and we volunteered, but our relationship has grown to much more.  A few years back they were called to go love on the people of Africa in the country of Mozambique.  People thought they were crazy (sounds familiar) when they began selling all of their possessions and talking about heading to a foreign country, but they knew that was what God was calling them to.  They came back to the states a couple years ago and have now made their way to Strathmore.

I believe one reason God has placed them here in central California was to be here for us.  This last leg of our journey has been tough emotionally, we have been praying that we “finish strong”, not focusing on being in Portland, but on loving those He is putting in front of us.  Being home, where we have friends and family, seems to be within our reach and we could easily just drive home in a day or two, but we know He wants us to head to San Francisco.  We need to get filled up though, and spending a couple weeks with the Locke’s has already begun to replenish our weary souls.

It’s good work you’re doing, helping these travelers on their way, hospitality worthy of God himself! They set out under the banner of the Name, and get no help from unbelievers. So they deserve any support we can give them. In providing meals and a bed, we become their companions in spreading the Truth. 3 John 1:6-8 (The Message)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (just kidding)

There have been a few cities where we have done A LOT of walking.  We will never take the privilege of a vehicle of transportation at our fingertips for granted again! Las Vegas has been one of those cities.  We are all well exercised and sleeping well.  Walking not only has given us strong legs, it has given us a new perspective.

p41400011

Have you ever tried walking everywhere you needed to go and/or relied on public transportation?  Now add 3 kids to the mix.  It really is a whole new world.  You find the closest grocery store, the closest pharmacy, etc.  You always bring snacks.  You are constantly grabbing the children and holding their hands way above their heads as you walk briskly through crowds of people.  You make sure NOT to forget anything on the list of “to dos”.  Your life suddenly becomes a little more organized and purposeful.

There is a lot you see when you walk everywhere, at least a lot more than if you happen to have the lovely vehicle privilege.  Las Vegas is quite a site for sore eyes, possibly making them a little more sore.  Garbage is thrown everywhere, advertisements for strip clubs and “available women” are literally everywhere with virtually no discretion, drug deals take place on the corners and there is a large growing homeless population.  It seems there are few rules or guidelines to this place even though police are seen everywhere we go.  We have tried to find the positive points to this city, but man, we are seeing how much this place needs Jesus.

pa3000261

Riding the bus and walking is a tiring way of life but it has given us a glimpse into a less priviledged culture.  We often get weird looks when we pile into a bus as a young white family with 3 young kids.  We are usually the minority but quickly accepted.  In fact, yesterday as we sat on the bus, a lady came up to me and asked us where we were from and that she remembered riding the same bus with us the other day.  We are seen and noticed.  Now, our prayer is that we would be seen and noticed because we shine the Light of Jesus.

As I write I am watching a crack deal go down at this very moment.  Please pray with us, not only for the city of Las Vegas, but for the many, many pockets of America who need Hope, Forgiveness, a fresh new perspective, and a loving Savior.

The Duty of Delight

There is a part of me that feels like only writing about the interesting things in this ministry.  The food sharing times, the creative ministries we connect with, our encounters with God in all of this.  The truth is, most of our days are filled with usual things of life.  Washing clothes, washing dishes, cleaning, caring for the kids, giving Eva a nap, school for Avery and Ally, traveling, finding vegetable oil, or fixing the RV.  Our life can be consumed by mundane activities, so much that does not show, that does not give someone a feeling of accomplishment.  Many times we look back on the past week of ministry and ask ourselves what good we really did.  Dorthy Day called this “the Duty of Delight.”  We have a duty to delight in the smallness of things, the phrase is a reminder to be mindful of seeking God in all things and circumstances.  Serenity and I have wanted transparency to be one of the center pieces behind what we do.  Although many of you want to read about the extraordinary, most of our life on the road is pretty ordinary.  Serenity has mentioned that love is an action, you have to practice it.  The same can be said about joy, it is an action.  To delight in the mundane, to find joy in the smallness of things, is something that needs to be practiced.  On this trip we have had plenty of time to practice the mundane.

The story of the wise crack dealer

The past year the Lord has gradually revealed to us “truths” about His kingdom and how He wants us to advance it.  One of those “truths” is the concept of incarnational living.  Jesus was the Word made Flesh, He was God who was incarnated as a human and lived among us.  That is what incarnational means, to live among.  Sometimes I’m not sure if we fully realize the craziness of that statement, God lived amongst us.  Think about that.  How cool is that?  We have seen many ministries who reach out to the poor, the standard model is one of services offered, the gospel being shared by either a guest pastor, or a pastor on staff at the ministry facility.  Usually, those staff members, and others at the facility work their 8 hours and then go back to their homes somewhere else.  Sharing their time, and then retreating.  This model can have it’s up side, but I don’t believe it is how Jesus did ministry, and I don’t believe it is how the Lord is calling Serenity and I into ministry.  We don’t want our ministry to be “to the poor” we want our ministry to be “amongst the poor.”  One key word can change the entire core meaning of the phrase.  Now, if you go back into the archives of our website, you are going to come across a lot of “outreaches” that we have done that contradict this philosophy, that is why I started this post with “the past year the Lord has gradually revealed ‘truths’.”  Take for example one of our favorite ministry opportunities, the Jubilee Diner.  We aren’t living amongst the people we serve cheeseburgers to.  We serve them, we pray for them, we listen to their struggles and then we leave, possibly never seeing them again, and they definitely don’t know where to find us again.  I believe seeds have been planted through this outreach, but it is not how Jesus operated.

All that being said, this story explains the simple truth about incarnational ministry.  The story is retold by me after it was told to me from a guy we met last week.  He read it somewhere and then passed it on to me over pizza.  It’s a little bit like the telephone game, and the original author will probably tell me that I was way off on the facts, but the core message is still in the story.

A ministry in a major U.S. city decided that they wanted to make a deep impact on the youth of their city.  They began to plan and strategize how to best bring Jesus to urban kids.  Fundraising was started and tens of thousands of dollars was raised.  Popular professional athletes were contacted and agreed to come and speak at events.  Inflatables were blown up, staff was hired, production was assembled.  For months and months this ministry had outreach after outreach and eventually realized that very little was actually being done to impact this hurting community.  Gang violence was still a huge problem, drug use was actually higher among youth than the year before, and very little lasting impact had occurred.  Finally, the leader of the ministry, while on his way home from the downtown facility, saw the local crack dealer standing outside of the corner market.  He decided he was going to go confront the drug dealer.  He walk straight up to him and said, “We have spent thousands of dollars in this community, have well known NBA players tell their testimonies, have had major outreaches that have games and carnivals, we have even provided practical needs like non-perishable food and clothing for the families and we have not made an impact.  You and your drugs still have more clout on the streets than we do.”  The crack dealer said, “Do you want to know my secret?”  The pastor nodded.  “It’s really quite simple, when Johnny’s mom needs a loaf of bread she sends Johnny to the store.  When Johnny gets here, I’m here, I’m at the store and you are nowhere to be found.”

The poor must be able to find us.

He is Risen!!

And you all say…. “He is risen indeed!”

We are so happy to celebrate Easter with some friends, the Leonis, we met back in August as we traveled through the Grand Tetons.  We arrived here yesterday afternoon and have had a blast reconnecting and sharing many stories.  As I type Andy is putting the kids down after a long day of playing hard with their little friend Wyatt.  We ended the day by making Resurrection cookies (if you are wondering what that is, just ask- way cool).  Tomorrow we will be going to church with them and then joining their family for festivities, Easter egg hunts and lots of food.

I feel the need to update you all with something.  But honestly, it has been pretty slow with “ministry”.  We have taken a lot of time to process and pray through our return home.  God has been good to give us this as we prepare to do our last blasts through Las Vegas and San Francisco, with a stop at our friends in Fresno for a couple weeks in between.  Those cities should be packed with interesting events, so please be praying that our hearts would be focused on the present, even as we draw closer to home.

I have had quite a few times to meditate on what Easter is to me as a follower of Christ.  It is intense, personal, and intimate.  For some reason, this Easter I have seen Jesus looking at me, like he did with Peter after the cock crowed and as Peter denied Him for the third time.  It is not a look of disgust, contempt, condemnation, but of just knowing me.  He knows me, knows the horrible things I am capable of and still chose to give me His Life.  He looks at me in love, forgiveness, and understanding.  For me that brings conviction, passion and an undying love for Him.  When He looks at me, I feel small but fully known and somehow triumphant.  Christ crucified has finished it for us and we have won!  Now that is something to celebrate!

I pray that you all are blessed with an awesome moment with Jesus as we celebrate the Passion of the Christ!

What do we do?

I met the sweetest homeless man the other day.  Balentine spoke broken English, had a kind face, and looked like he was in his early to mid 50’s.  Out of the group of homeless we were with, he stood out among the crowd.  He smiled at Andy and I a few times and I caught him watching our family, like he wanted to come over and talk to us but didn’t know what to say.

We were cleaning up our food trays when he came up to me and started talking to me.  He asked me if I needed any landscaping done or if I knew of anyone who was looking for a good worker.  I briefly explained that we weren’t from around here and his faced dropped.  He explained to me that he was looking for work because the people that he works for are out of town on vacation.  Like I said, it was broken English so I couldn’t catch the whole story, but got the gist.  Then he looked at me and said something that made me cry right on the spot.  “You are pretty…and nice.  Not very many pretty girls are nice, but you are both.”  He said it with so much sincerity that I knew he was seeing Jesus and NOT me.  I could barely speak at that moment and I think he felt uncomfortable that I was crying so he started to turn to leave.  But somehow I composed myself enough to ask him if I could pray for him.  After we prayed he asked me why we were traveling.  I got to share with him what we were doing and when I was all done talking, his eyes were all lit up and he started sharing his heart.  He shared that he would LOVE to do something like what we are doing and that he has had some opportunities to go down to Mexico to deliver some things.  Whenever he went down to Mexico he would spend his time playing soccer and other games with the kids in the streets, knowing that many of their parents were up here in the States, just like he was.  He started crying at this point and expressed how much he wished he could just do that all the time.  He went on to say how he just felt complete when he was with those kids down in Mexico.  Again, I was speechless.  At first I almost just said, “well, then do it!”.  But then God held me back and whispered to me, “There is more.”

Balentine continued to share with me that him and his wife had been separated for 6 years, his kids were slightly estranged from him and he didn’t have many reasons to live up here anymore.  His tears got bigger as he explained that he was homeless, he was in AA, and that it had been hard for him to keep going.  The story had been unfolded right before my eyes.

I can’t tell you how many stories of broken families we have heard over the course of 3 years, working with the poor and homeless.  Broken homes, addiction, and mental illness.  These 3 things are a common thread in every story we hear.  It makes me overwhelmed at times, thinking of the millions of Balentines who could be on fire for Jesus, but have been caught in the crossfire of the enemy’s arrows.  It makes it hard for people to love Jesus and do Kingdom work when their lives are so messed up with hurt and confusion, isn’t it?

So how is this epidemic going to be stopped?  Is it Goodwill handing out clothing, soup kitchens feeding people, home makeovers that give people all new stuff?  No,  it is individuals, who love Jesus, that decide to take a step of faith and go to these people and decide to learn how to love.  It is an up close and personal, relationship thing. (I am not saying that Goodwill, United Way or other agencies are insignificant, but they are not the solution.)  These people who have been caught in the crossfire of the enemy’s arrow, whether it had to do with their decisions, need to know they have Hope and that they are loved.  And it starts with tangible, touchy, helpful love from people who know they are loved by the One who can handle this darkness that lingers all over our world.

After we left Balentine I was so angry at the devil, I was saddened that I had to leave my new friend, I was happy to have met him and shared a moment with him, and I left wondering what would happen to him.  So, I’m praying that the Lord would keep him, strengthen him and put believers in his path that would really love him.

Please pray with me.

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.  1 John 2:3-6