Stories From the Homeless (4)

Tonight we went once again to Love Park to hang out with the homeless. I have to admit I was really excited to go tonight. Though, at times I am really uncomfortable when I go, I know that I have to make the trip. It is important because it keeps me grounded. So I went.

When we arrived, I realized it was a lot colder than I had expected it to be. I am glad that I had my nice warm sweatshirt with me. I had lunches, water, socks, a few gloves, and my book bag to carry it all. So we walked around. As we walked I saw a man on a bench. He had found a few pizza boxes and laid them on the bench and found a Styrofoam packaging piece to perhaps a microwave and used it as a pillow. His legs were shaking and his hands were in his shirt. With tears in his eyes due to the cold wind, he looked at me. He did not say one thing to me yet I knew he saw me. We connected, if just for a few moments.

I continued walking and saw a bunch of people sitting on the side of a wall near the “Love” sign so I decided to head over there awhile and what was going on. As I walked over, I could see some who were building their beds for the night (cardboard boxes on the ground with mice running all over the ground attempting to stay warn). It was quite a sight). As I went over, there were some guys who had on a thin long sleeve shirt and nothing else. I am sure they probably had some form of warm clothes somewhere but I was unable to determine if they needed anything of value like socks, underwear or other necessities. So, I went over and asked what they might need to make it through the night. One guy said he could really use a great sweatshirt or a warm blanket. So, I went into my bag and selected a nice sweatshirt that he could wear. His name was Tony and we talked for a little bit about life, girls, and being homeless. One thing I can say about Tony is that he knew a lot about the city. He impressed me with his knowledge of where to go and where not to go. Interrupted by someone who had made a loud noise, I looked over and there were some guys whistling at a quite large woman that had taken off her shirt to change into something warmer but did not have on an under garment. She looked around and tried to quickly throw on her sweater before any of the homeless guys got any ideas. She was alone and sacred (I guess I would not doubt it). Drawn back to my conversation with Tony, we sat and continued to talk about life and why people are homeless. His responses were interesting to say the least. He said that the homeless are no different than me. I told him that I agreed. After we shook hands, I left Tony to make his bed for the night. It was going to be a cold one but he said it would be all right. As I left, I saw the same woman sitting on the bench. I thought about going over and talking to her but for some reason I didn’t. Perhaps she saw that I had seen her topless. I figured I would just pray for her and ask God to keep her warm for the night. It was probably the best option.

As I looked to my right, I saw more homeless guys attempting to build their beds over a city vent. It was warm (probably coming up from a parking garage or something, the heat would keep them decently warm through the night. I sat on a bench and looked around. I almost felt like crying tonight. I don’t know why really. Maybe it was because I had a busy week this past week and it was the first time I could really sit back and relax. Perhaps it was because of what I was seeing. As homeless people continued to build their homes, I saw other “normal” people going to the “Love” sign and taking pictures with their digital cameras, ignoring those around them. I began to think how often I have ignored the poor on my walks through the city. Now I cannot help but notice them. I wiped my tears and began to walk once more around the park.

I found a guy I had met on one of my first journeys to Love Park. His name is Mont and he is quite a guy. Seeing him brought a smile to my face. So, I went over and gave him a hug. He really smelled and looked as though he had not showered in a long while but it was so good to see him, I gave him a hug. He remembered me (though it took a few moments to gather his thoughts about who I was). We sat on his bench and talked about how things were going.

He told me about the police in the city. He said most of them were nice (nice as – they left them alone and allowed them to sleep on the benches and whatnot). There was one officer though who was quite mean to the homeless. He did not know the cop’s name but told me that the cop had actually taken clothes away from those who had so little. He would take their clothes and throw them in the dumpsters in expectancy of them being picked up by the trash men at 3 AM. They were not allowed to have bags that were see-through (that showed how little they had) because it would give out a bad vibe to tourists who came to visit Love Park. They were only allowed one bag in the park and could not leave it unattended. It was only this one cop who seemed to have a problem with the poor.
Mont had told me though that there was actually someone who had told him that he would have to write up a notice and give it to the homeless person. This cop also had no right to throw their stuff in the trash. When someone asked the cop where he was going to take his stuff, the cop cuffed him and took him to jail for disorderly conduct. True or not, I began to see tears in Mont’s eyes. He had apparently lost two valuable bags of clothes that had warm stuff in it for the winter. They were gone though and I could not help but wonder if his story was true.

Mont also showed me how the homeless stay warm for the night. It is called the “sleeping bag” effect. The basis of this effect, Mont explained, dealt with body heat. He said that a sleeping bag had no real head source but the body in the bag. Since the heat cannot escape the bag, it would actually keep the bag warm. Mont demonstrated this with a simple blanket that he was given by some generous person the other day; Mont wrapped it around his face and tucked it into his red coat. He then said that the blanket acted as a sleeping bag and helped to keep his head warm during the night. It was quite a sight to see.

After talking to Mont for a bit, I went over to two women who were cuddled together to keep warm. I asked if they needed anything and they said no. As I was about to leave the one woman asked if I wanted to have some fun tonight with she and her friend. I declined their offer. They just smiled and continued to hug each other as I walked away.

As the night came to a close, and we were getting ready to head out for the night, I looked over and saw a woman, perhaps in her forties (possibly younger but appeared to be that old due to her city life), walking around without a coat. She was dressed in a simple white tee shirt in forty-degree weather. As I walked nearer to her, I could see she also had been crying that night. She had blotches where the tears had rolled down her face. Her dark eyes looked at me and then looked down in shame. As we finally met, I asked her where her coat was. She finally looked at me and told me she did not have one. She had missed an opportunity to go to the shelter to get one for the night. I looked down and saw my maroon PBU sweatshirt. Without even thinking (perhaps it was the weather), I took it off and handed it to her. At first, she did not accept it (perhaps because she was too prideful to accept the free gift). I told her that it would fit her and that she needed it more than I did (which is true – I had a car not far from the park that had heat and many other sweatshirts in my closet). She smiled at me and said God bless. I wonder if it was the first time she had smiled in a long while. I didn’t ask her name. All I know is she was warm that night. It was a simple gift that impacted this woman who really needed to be blessed. I did not have to think about it.

God tells us to do that sometimes. If you have two coats and you see someone in need, give them your coat. If someone needs you to walk a mile with him or her, go two. Things like that separate us from the world and make us valuable to others, and ultimately to God, Himself.

Each time I go to the city, I am challenged and continually disturbed by what I have witnessed. As we gathered to pray after our evening on the streets, we simply just prayed out loud the names of those we had met that night. When we were done, a man named Elmer Landis (most likely Mennonite), stood. He had joined our circle and prayed with us. I was touched by his desire to pray with us. It was our first interaction with a “normal” person there. He thought we were going a great thing and was glad to see that we cared about the homeless. This night was a great night. As I got into my car, I could only say, “Its Personal.” And it was.

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Doing Church: Telling our Stories

This Sunday, we did not have a service.  We did not have a Sermon.  We did not even open up the Scriptures.  We allowed three people to share their stories and it was absolutely amazing.  Three people and three very distinct stories that have been affected by God where shared.

Our Stories are important.  They help shape people and encourage people in their times of need.  So the only thing I have to say about this Sunday’s service is three stories were told and it made people consider how God has worked in their lives.  So, I hope you will share your story with someone else.  It is important.  Their story is not theirs and vise versa.  Allow your story to do something with someone.  God is so good.  Won’t you share your story with someone else?  Thanks

Forgiveness: What a Crazy Topic

I guess there are a lot of things I could write on.  Last night, I was honored to teach at a college and career group in Washington’s Crossing.  It is a group between 30-50 people.  With a passionate worship team to a bunch of social misfits who want more of God and less of them, I was not really sure what I would share.  It seemed to me that they had the passion thing down.  They had the worship thing down.  Praying into my dilemma, I simply asked God to show me what He has been teaching me.  I got one word:  Forgiveness.  So I started looking up what it means to forgive.  After realizing that much of what I was understanding and learning about forgiveness I had not heard in any recent sermon, I figured I would have a go at it.  Here are some of the things I came to understand about forgiveness.

The first time forgiveness (or the word forgive) is used in the Bible is Genesis 50.  Before I even continue with that thought, I have to mention that I was really surprised about that.  For the first 49 chapters of the OT, the word forgiveness is not even mentioned.  I do not know what to do with that but I have to ask the question why?

In Genesis 50, we find this story of Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his brothers.  The brothers come to Joseph and ask for him to forgive his brothers.  Joseph weeps and takes care of his brothers.  If you want to read that part of scripture, check it out (Genesis 50-16-21).

I can relate to that story.  At the end of the passage, Joseph states, “What they intended for evil, God intended for good.”  And so it is with my testimony.  If you have never read my testimony, you can read it here.  Ultimately though, in a sentence or two, I was a result of a rape.  As I grew up, I came to realize what this man who raped my birthmother intended for evil, God intended for good.  Though, I wish there were any other way I could have come into this world, the fact that I am a result of a horrible rape does not define me.  I am a child of God and I have been given much more than just a story of being a rape baby.

Paul says, “One thing I do, forgetting all that is behind me, I press on to the goal, that being Christ Jesus our Lord.”  I guess I can say I have had to do the same thing.  I cannot allow the past to dictate who I am or who I will become in the future.  I have goals and dreams that I really desire.  I will not allow the past to play that role in my life.  So, it seems Paul and I have something in common.

As I finished up my sermon, I figured I would end on a positive note.  I wanted people to get things out of their minds and on to paper.  That being, those who they have found hard to forgive or even the off chance that they cannot forgive themselves for something they had either done or not done.  This is very important.  If we do not possess the attitude to forgive others, I truly believe it is almost impossible to worship God in Spirit and Truth.  It is that important.  So I handed out 3×5 cards to those in the group there and asked them to write down their names (their full names) and work on forgiving those they needed to forgive.  When they were able to bring themselves to forgive one of those people, they were told to scratch off their names.  When the card is totally scratched off, throw it out.  There is freedom to forgiving others.  It is the message I truly believe we need to hear.

So, I guess my challenge to you all is the same.  For give others.  If Jesus can forgive you and I for all the crap we caused Him, I guess it cant be that difficult to forgive others.  Just don’t let the sun go down on it.  In Ephesians, it says that.  Since the sun does not go down or go up, it has to mean something more than that (and it does).  It simply means, “Don’t let the situation you are dealing with become darkened.”  Basically:  Deal with it as soon as you can.  Don’t allow it be become darkened in your mind.  Cause once it is dealt with, we can move on in the freedom Christ desires for us to have.  I hope this has been a blessing, a challenge, and an encouragement to you all.  God bless

Doing Church: The Big 10

Gary taught this Sunday at The Well.  We basically finished our study on The Ten Commandments.  I realized that a lot of people really do not know The Ten Commandments by heart.  Gary gave us a few ways to remember the Ten though, which was actually somewhat entertaining.  He apparently has not forgotten them in almost thirteen years, which is good.

He gave us another way to express the importance of The Ten Commandments.  Since Gary travels a lot, he reads up on safety stuff about the countries he is going to visit.  There are definitely things you should not do while you are there.  As a visitor to another country, I have experienced the need to know what is appropriate and what is not.  There is this book called “GO!” or something like that.  It gives you all these things you can and should not do while you are in a certain country.  It is good information apparently and useful as well.  I guess we can look at The Ten Commandments that way.  When we follow the rules, we realize we are better for doing it.  When we go against the grain, we end up hurt or even worse.

No matter what diagram or analogy one uses to describe The Ten Commandments, I still feel as though we can do ourselves and others justice if we would share the importance of the blessings we receive when we follow them.  It is not a code of ethics or whatever but it is something that we can lean on.  So it is that we finish The Ten Commandments.

In other news…  We had a baptism and a dedication all in one day at The Well.  I was kind of surprised that we did both.  I mean, when it really comes down to it, it doesn’t matter which is done when I guess.  Though I am more for a baby dedication and a believer’s baptism, I felt the explanations of both were done well.  So I say congrats to both kids.  I am doing the benediction this upcoming week.  I am also teaching on Tuesday at a College and Career group.  I will be teaching on forgiveness.  I feel as though the church has failed the body of Christ in teaching on forgiveness.  So, I am going to teach on it.  Keep me in prayer.  Thanks

Stories From the Homeless (3)

As I have already written, I have struggled to sit back and not consider the poor I have met on the streets. They have names I can recite at a moment’s notice. They have a story, which I have heard. They have a face that is no longer blurred among the “street bums” I have stepped over while spending money on things I really do not need. So what do we do? I say we and not I because we all have a responsibility to do something. It is not an obligation mind you. It is what it is: A responsibility. In part, I do not know what we are to do. I feel as though I am opening Pandora’s box, expecting the world to collide with itself or something by asking such a question like this. When the box is open though, so the story goes, it cannot be closed (at least easily).

I have been challenged by a quote Seneca spoke. “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Do I consider myself poor? In general, I would say no. But according to Seneca the more I crave, the more I am poor. Is Seneca right? Am I really poorer than I am willing to admit to myself? How does one even measure such a statement as that? I am honestly not sure.

I have been challenged as well by God to consider a simple truth: There is no difference between “us” and “them.” Let that sink into our souls a little more.

There are those who have been treated like cockroaches in our cities (even our towns) by the wealthy businessman and the police. During the night, the “cockroaches” are allowed to come out and sleep on the benches and the dirt floors of the city. It is only during the night, the “cockroaches” feel as though they are understood by their own kind. It is only in the darkness the homeless come out and gathers as a community to eat, sleep, and have “fellowship” with one another. They protect one another from other homeless who seek to rob them of what little they have. It is a lonely night for some. Maybe they have not showered for several weeks. Perhaps their last conversation with a “normal” human being was a month ago. Who would want to talk to them anyway? Knowing tomorrow night will be no different, they take their warn coat and place it over their feet to keep warm.

In the morning, the light shines. And, like cockroaches, the homeless scatter in hopes to find a better place to stay for the night, a warm meal to fill their bellies, and perhaps even find a job of some kind. They are scattered by the police early. Nelson (a homeless guy I met this past Monday) told me the police come as early as five in the morning. Their authoritative clock yells at them to get up and get moving. The businessmen and such will be arriving in the next hour or so. So they get up and move on. Rubbing the sleep from their eyes, they look around and realize another day has come. Into the darkness of some alley or corner some of them go. There is no hope for a future. Some cry. Some will end up trying to pawn money from the rich who look down at them with disgust. Some will feel piety on them and give them the small change from their pockets and walk away. The day continues and ends just like it did the day before. Soon, after everyone goes home, they can go back to their “favorite” bench or dirt bed and attempt to sleep.

What the hell is wrong with this picture? How can we sit back and enjoy the “best things of life” knowing that perhaps only twenty minutes away, several hundred homeless people are making their beds on the ground? Living, breathing people resort to the city’s parks and alleys for their “homes.” Am I really the only person who has a problem with this? I am not looking for you to piety anyone. In fact, that is the worst thing we could do. They do not need people to feel bad for them. That will not fill their bellies and give them hope that tomorrow will be different for them. They have dreams, desires, hopes, and aspirations like you and I. They have names and faces that reach to the center of your heart (if we allow them to).

I struggle to believe that the only hope these homeless people have are our “finest” shelters and rescue missions. These people need real community. They need to know that they are truly loved by someone. And, they need to see actions to the words of love we are called to speak to them. I was recently reading the book of Proverbs. As I continued to read the end of Proverbs 31, I stumbled upon verse nine, which says, “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” How do we do that? What can we really do to make a difference for the poor and the needy? That again, is a difficult question to ask. Probably because we know we can at least do something (small) to make a profound effect on others (the homeless).

Here is a real option though. Gather a bunch of people together, make some PB and J’s, some apples, some water, and your hearts and go down to your city and spend some times with the poor. Do not just hand out the bags of lunch and preach at them. They do not need that. They need someone to listen to them. They need someone to ask them questions so they can feel like they actually matter (perhaps for the first time in a long while). Allow their stories to pierce your soul. Cry with those who cry and laugh with those who laugh. Allow yourself to get a little dirty and put your arms around them. Deal with their smell; they are dealing with yours. Ask their names and where they are from. Ask how long they have been on the streets. Ask if they have families and what they used to do (or do). Always allow them to share with you their stories (even if they are fabricated). Finally ask them to pray for you. Tell them that you will pray for them. And, if the opportunity opens itself, tell them that Jesus loves them. Do not preach at them though. That will get you nowhere. God will use you. He will give you a heart for those who are in need.

At the end of the night, gather with your group and share your experience of the night. Then, before everyone leaves, pray. Pray that God will protect those whom you met. Pray that God will provide for them safety and encouragement. Pray that they will come to know Jesus in a powerful way.

Other things you could do: volunteer at a local shelter, soup kitchen, or rescue mission. You could also get a permit and have a big cookout for the poor at a local spot. Go through your closets and bag the clothes you haven’t worn in a long while and give them to a local shelter or thrift store to be sold at a cheap price for those who might need them. Finally, downsize your life. Consider all the things you have in your own life and ask the question, “Do I really need this or that?” It is not wrong to own things we use. What about the many things we own we do not use? It is wasteful.

I am not sorry if I offended someone by this post. When I go down to the city and hang out with the homeless I am offended by what I see. I am offended by the hundreds of people who cannot provide for themselves and resort to whatever situation they have to resort to. I am offended that I have not done something about this sooner than now. Maybe we can all do something to help those who are poor and are needy. Homeless or not, we are all made in the image of Christ. Maybe it would be good for us to remember that. For their sake and our own, let’s do something for others. Thanks for loving others. God bless

Stories From the Homeless (2)

Why is it so easy to walk over the homeless on the streets? I believe it is because we do not place names with those we step over or on. I met another group of homeless people last night. I would love to say I was able to walk away from that night and not take the issues of the homeless personal but I cannot. I know their names. I know their faces. I know some of their stories (even if they were somewhat fabricated). I spent time talking to some of them and I cannot just walk away and not take it personal.

When we first showed up and parked our car, a guy on a bike met us. He kept calling after us and asking us a question. So I stopped. He said, “Hey brother. Room 309. I can get you a sweet massage for 35.00.” After looking at my watch and I saw the pink door with a sign that said “309,” I realized what they guy wanted me to do. As he opened the door I said, “Nah man, I am loose as a goose.” He left us alone after that. I realized that all that had just transpired. I had never been solicited for sex before. It was quite interesting. I later found out that the “massage parlor 309” was a whorehouse where the sex massage money would later be spent on crack. I am surprised that their “business” has continued for so long.

Gary and I met at Love Park and decided to go to a park near the free library. A lot of people were asleep at the park so we went a different direction. When we arrived at the other “sleeping area,” another twenty plus homeless people who were walking around or sleeping on the ground. They had their belongings tucked close to them as they slept. As we walked, I kind of just spend some time in prayer, asking God whom He wanted us to talk to. As we continued walking around, we saw some people over by a bridge. Seeing that they were alone, Gary and I went over and began to talk with them.

Nelson was a homeless guy who was going to look for a job in the morning. He said that at five o’clock, the police would come and wake everyone up before those who worked in the city arrived for work. It was an authoritative alarm clock. He was an older guy, perhaps forty or so. His hands were dirty and his clothes smelled of marijuana. We sat though and listened. I bet Nelson had not spoken to someone outside of his “homeless family” in a long while. Gary finally asked him why he did drugs. Nelson’s statement hit me hard. “I am running away from God.” After Nelson shared, one of his buddies came and told him that he had found two honeys for the night. As we looked up, there were two girls. They were prostitutes looking for a quick night of fun. Nelson ran after his friend. We never saw him again that night.

As we looked over, there were two different guys sitting around drinking vodka and smoking marijuana. We figured if anyone were going to talk to us, it would be those guys. So we looked over and began to talk. Tom and Lance were war vets. Lance served in Vietnam and the first Golf War. Tom only served in the first Golf War. They both met at the V.A. and have been friends through thick and thin. They protected one another and looked out for each other when they slept on the streets. Completely drunk and high, we started asked questions, sat, and listened to their stories. The night ended for us and we went home.

Driving home, I realized why I go and spend time with the homeless. They have a name. They have a story. And, when I take the time to work through all that happened that night, I realize I am just like those people on the streets. I am in search for the same things they are in search for. They have desires, needs, joys, sorrows and sorrows. And, perhaps some of them are just running away from God. I understand that. Though I am not one who does drugs, it does not mean that I have never rebelled and attempted to run away from God in one way or another. The only thing that separates them from me is the fact that I did not make the mistakes they did. They need someone to listen to them and talk to them. They need someone who will look at them as a human being; not just a doormat to be walked on. This is our call as called out ones. We are called to love God and love others. It is the loving others part we seem to fail at more often then not. I am going to go again soon. It has been a real wake up call to me. Loving others is apart of life. It is the life we are called to live.

Doing Church: Love God

This Sunday, Todd started off our 10 Commandments series dealing with the first four commandments.  When we consider the Jesus Creed, these would be the “Love God” commands of the ten.  I remember reading the book SEX GOD by Rob Bell, who stated that the 10 commandments were not just a bunch of laws that were made to keep the people of Israel in check.  It was rather more like a marriage vow.  I really do not believe we look at God or His commandments like that enough.  There are a lot of blessings when we devote ourselves to someone for the rest of our lives.  When we come and make a law/covenant with another person, it is a representation of how we are to give ourselves to God until we die (so help us God).  In that, The Ten Commandments are very important to us and ultimately to God.

So what can we learn about The Ten Commandments?  You shall have no other gods but me.  From a marriage perspective, it means, “do not commit adultery.”  That seems like a good start in a marriage.  If you are going to marry someone, perhaps keeping with them and looking at them, and having relations with them only (since you decided to marry them and all) is the least we could do.  I guess God is no different in that way.  We should only keep to one god anyway.  Having more than one god can be quite confusing.  What if we do not worship one god enough and another god way too much (if that is even possible)?  I think we should just stick to one.

Another important commandment is, “You shall not make any graven images.”  This is another important commandment.  In today’s language, it would be stated perhaps this way, “Don’t try and make me who you want me to be, allow me to be who I am.”  In a marriage, I think this is really important.  So often, I have heard of people in marriages who attempt to make their spouse someone that they are not.  In a marriage (so I am told), it is important to allow your spouse to be who they were created to be (an individual).  God is the same way (though not created – He is the Creator).  When we try and make God into our own image, we try and ultimately place Him into a mental box.  That is never good.  God is free to be who He is.  No image can fully comprehend Him.  It is just better off allowing Him to be God.

I found these two commandments the most interesting to consider.  I have a lot to learn about what they all really mean and how we can apply them to our own culture and lifestyle.  Until then, I will continue to live the life I believe God has called me to live.  Part of that also means I need to continually be in community with the body of believers God has placed me with.  I am doing that.  So, for now, we will resume our study of The Ten Commandments till next week.  God bless.