Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Mile in His Shoes

A homeless friend of mine is getting some much needed help for a few months, and before he left town, he asked me to go and get his things from the job site.

After a 45-minute wait, I was loaded up with all of my friend’s worldly possessions and walking back from UNCG to the church. The pack was bulky and probably thirty pounds, plus he had a smaller bag, a garbage bag with some dirty clothes, and his hard hat and vest.

All he had in the world fit on my back and in my arms. And pretty soon, it got heavy. The pack straps bit into my shoulders and my neck muscles knotted up. I wanted to shift the things in my arms but both hands were full. And it was a long mile back to the church (if it was even a mile).

As I carried his things (quite an interesting load for a guy in a polo and loafers to be carrying), I had a taste of what his every day was like. I imagined walking home at the end of a long day of construction, passing by hundreds of college students and campus staff, and going to a camp in the woods (or a lean-to in an alley) to “rest” for the coming day. I was struck by the resilience and courage it must take to keep your head up, keep working, to simply survive on the streets.

God has grown my respect for the men and women who come to our church on Wednesday nights. Sure, many of them have struggles and addictions, but who doesn’t? And yet despite lives that are filled with opportunities for hopelessness and self-destruction, most manage to come to our church with a smile, with thanks in their heart for the meal, and to keep moving towards the coming day.

Walking a mile in my friends shoes continued to open my heart to God’s work among the forgotten that we see everyday.

What a Difference Ten Years Makes!

My favorite GUPY Bible study, perhaps, was on Jeremiah 29:1-14, where we talk about being Owners and not Renters. Many Christians know Jeremiah 29:11 by heart (for I know the plans I have for you…), but most don’t realize it was spoken to a people in exile, in a foreign land, who were being encouraged by God to seek the good of a city that was utterly opposed to Him and His people.

As we read and study the passage during GUPY, we talk about how God was urging His people to be Owners in that city, to be there for the long haul (70 years), not having a Renter mindset of just passing through. We talk about Jeremiah 29:8, where God tells His people to have His dreams and plans, not their own, and we talk about living counter to the American dreams of prosperity and comfort. It’s always a challenging passage for the students and sets a good tone for our summer.

What has really brought me joy in recent years is to see that the things God asks of His displaced people (Israel) are things that have happened in Glenwood in the past 10 years since Diane and I displaced ourselves here. We have built houses (bought a house, and there are now 4 more intentional home-owners in our Glenwood group); we have planted gardens (in our own yards and the Glenwood Garden); we have had children and seen other families join us; and we have increased in number (there are now 9 intentional households connected to our church or spun off from GUPY’s past in Glenwood). God has brought His promises for blessing and change to life.

And I think it has been encouraging for GUPY’s through the years to know that God has good plans for His people, plans to prosper and not harm, and that prosperity can look different in a poor-er neighborhood. Prosperity in community and relationship; prosperity in learning to pray in response to need; prosperity of hope.

As we wrapped up GUPY this summer, I was excited to see that GUPY’s from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2011 now make their home here in Glenwood. I am excited to know that 56 students have spent their summer in our home and with our community, pouring into Glenwood kids and their families, and even my own kids. I love how the kids in our tutoring program watched eagerly for the GUPY’s to be walking the neighborhood on their first day here. And I can see how GUPY’s have advanced the work of Glenwood Family Ministries by being examples of Christ and of young men and women who are in college, working towards a degree.

As we think back to 10 years of living here, we’ve seen a tutoring program grow from 4 students in our living room, one day a week, to over 50 students overtaking Grace Community Church three days a week, cared for by over 100 volunteers. And that tutoring program is now a part of a non-profit and has its own full-time staff.

In the past month, three loooong time addicts from Glenwood have come to get help with rehab from drugs and alcohol.

And my family and I feel rooted, anchored, and at home at the corner of Silver and Haywood.

On 9-24-01, I wrote: I will be free. We will be a part of this neighborhood. We will love and eventually we will be loved. I will walk in the power and freedom of Christ. You are my hope, O Lord, and you are our protector.

And God has brought it to pass.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Different 9-11 Remembrance

I wanted to write this post a couple of weeks ago, but as I watched and remembered all that our nation went through on 9-11-01, I just couldn’t share my story. But 9-11-01 was a tremendously significant day for me and Diane. That was the day that we closed on our home on Silver Avenue and moved into Glenwood.

In the midst of the world falling apart, we were unloading our possessions into a home with smoke-stained walls, metal cabinets, a plexiglass window with bars on it for our front door, and an unfinished basement that would have to be gutted of studs, brick, and dirt before it could be made into something livable. And I was terrified.

I remember wedging a 2x4 between the front door and the hallway wall, and going to be that night feeling such despair that Diane and I had signed a mortgage on a house built in 1908, now settled on a street with multiple crack houses.

We’ve come so far in 10 years, and I took time the week of 9-11-11 to look back at my old journal from those first months. Below is some of what I found (and don’t worry, there’s a much happier post to come after this one).

9-8-01 – Lord, we want to have a loving ministry there in that neighborhood; give us the courage and the conviction to step out in faith and in love. Show us where you want us to go.

9-17-01 – All I want to do is run. I am here in the middle of all the things I fear. I am afraid to walk Joe (my dog) around the block. Afraid to leave the front door open. Afraid to look at somebody wrong. I feel white and vulnerable right now. My yard is nasty. My house is in disarray from the move. We are $70,000 in debt. I am not courageous. I am scared. You tell me to be strong and courageous, but I’m not.

What have I done here? It was kind of romantic when this was an idea. Reality is not. Lord, I need you to change my heart from fear to faithfulness, to want to be here. Change my heart. Give me a love and burden for this neighborhood and an ability to love the people here.

9-24-01 – It’s been interesting that we’ve been ignored more here by our neighbors than in our old neighborhood. There was no “welcome wagon” on Pamlico or Whilden Place and it didn’t bother me. The folks we met there were the ones that we initiated with. Here the indifference is the same, but I tell my self it’s because people here don’t like us.

I will be free. We will be a part of this neighborhood. We will love and eventually we will be loved. I will walk in the power and freedom of Christ. You are my hope, O Lord, and you are our protector.

10-31-01 As I walked the neighborhood today I felt a mixture of loneliness, despair, and sadness. I see these kids and the obstacles they face, how so many of them are already hardened and angry. I see their parents, some of whom are open and some who seem angry or mistrustful of us. I thank you for this fear and confusion because they lead me back to trusting in you more and more. When I fear, it reminds me of the One who is my hope.

11-20-01 Lord, I feel overwhelmed by the construction project in the basement – I can’t even build a sawhorse!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

A haze floated out of Glenwood and traveled down Tate Street to UNCG today as the first vacant home in Glenwood was burned in preparation for UNCG’s expansion. Some of the homes are being  burned rather than simply demolished so that Greensboro fire fighters can train and be better prepared for their work, and that’s a good thing. And I understand that this UNCG expansion has been coming for a long time and that in general, this is the best option for development in Glenwood.

But I’m still sad. It’s hard to see a home on fire, to smell the smoke and to realize that everything is changing. I didn’t ever know people who lived in this first home to be taken down. It used to be a place called “The Lighthouse,” a rehab center (though I can imagine that trying to rehab from drugs in Glenwood could be an exercise in futility). But it was still a home. People lived there, had memories there. The neighborhood that I have devoted 10 years of my life to is rapidly changing. And as it burned, I noticed some of the poor of our neighborhood watching and Iwas sad at how little choice or say they have in the sweeping changes that are coming.IMAG0339



One person who read some of my concerns on facebook mistook my concern and sadness to be that the poor would not have housing options, as rent in Glenwood will inevitably go up in the coming years. But that was not my sadness. The poor are part of the fabric of this community for me. They are the reason I moved here and they have been used by God to teach me so much. I don’t want them to have to move from Glenwood and all that it offers.IMAG0351

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A Blazing God Consciousness

My Psalms Monk and I have been journeying through Book II (Psalms 42-72) since February, following the psalmist on a journey from a life of barrenness to one that is defined by the King. In Psalms 60-62, the psalmist (who is also our shepherd) has been teaching about a growing awareness of God, a growing God-consciousness. And then I read this Richard Foster quote in The Contented Soul by Lisa McMinn: “We are catapulted into something infinitely larger and more real than our petty existence {when we live with God in view}. A blazing God-consciousness frees us from self-consciousness. It is freedom, it is joy, it is life.”

It seems that so many of my struggles in life are tied to a too-small view of God. I begin to believe that my struggles and battles are my own to figure out, my longings are my own to fulfill, and God is either an accessory to getting what I want or He is absent, uninvolved with my life.

Which brings us to Psalm 60 (you might want to open your Bible to follow along). The historical context is 2 Samuel 8:1-14, in which David is winning victory after victory (verse 14 says, “And the Lord gave David victory wherever he went). So one would ask, why does he complain about feeling rejected by God in this Psalm (verses 1-3)? Jim (my psalms monk) supposes that David is just weary from fighting battle after battle and so he is crying out to God.

So on the heels of that complain, verse 4 says that God has unfurled His banner against their bow. Some commentators take that to mean bow as in “the front of a ship.” Some take it to mean bow as in “bow and arrow.” Either way, God’s banner is in the thick of the battle, within bowshot of the enemy or right at the front, leading the way. A banner in battle is a sign of the King’s presence, a sign that this is His army and His battle.

What does that banner say? There are 2 places that God uses His Banner in the OT. Songs of Songs 2:4 – His banner over me is love. Exodus 17:8-16, especially verses 15 and 16, where God give victory in response to Moses’ prayer. His banner is victory.

Back to Psalm 60 – in verse 5 David prays (like Moses did in Ex 17) and God answers in verses 6-8, saying He will triumph (word used twice) over all the areas of the world. In short – God wins.

So in verse 9, David says he is going to go against a FORTIFIED city (a tough battle) because God is with him – without God he cannot do it. David has moved from a place of complaining about his battles to going and engaging the enemy! And in the end, David has victory. He wins because God wins.

Sooooooo….. what the heck does this have to do with today?

Often times our lives feel much like Psalms 42-44 (start of Book II) – weary, thirsty, sucking dust (Ps 42:2, Ps 44:25). We are tired from the fight, and still each day there is another battle.

This Psalm says that right in the front of the battle, in the thick of the fight, God unfurls His banner, the banner of the King. And when you see that banner, it tells you three things: God is, God loves, and God wins. He is present, He is loving, and in the end, He will triumph.

For you and I to remember this truth each day, in the midst of our battles, can be very reassuring. The King is with me – I am not alone. The King loves me – no matter what I do or don’t do. The King wins – victory is certain and is the Lord’s.

Look for the banner – it takes eyes of faith, but it’s there. A growing God-consciousness is freedom, it is joy, it is life.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

King and Father

As I was reading the Beatitudes in Matthew today, it struck me the interplay between God being our King and God being our Father. From Matthew 5:1 to 5:42, Jesus talks about the Kingdom 6 times, mentioning God as Father only once. But in 5:42-7:27, He speaks of God as Father 14 times and the Kingdom only twice.

Sometimes its tempting to build our theology on one aspect of God or another – we can get heavily focused on the Kingdom of God and think about how we are involved in advancing that Kingdom and living under His reign. Or we can get heavily focused on God being our Heavenly father and think about how we can develop an intimate relationship with Him, knowing His love.

But as usual, Jesus’ teaching is more balanced than one or the other, and instead brings a both/and. God is my King and commands my allegiance, calling the shots of my life. But He’s also my Father who loves me and who knows me and cares for me. God is my Father who formed and created me, who gives me rest for my soul. But He’s also my King who has authority to lead me and to author my destiny.

The King is my Father and my Father is the King. Both/and.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A Presence Empowered Imperative

Diane and I were recently spending time with two friends, and one of them was really wrestling with how his life and his theology didn’t always line up. He knows very clearly the imperatives of the Bible, the things that God tells us to do – pray without ceasing, love your neighbor, take every thought captive, etc. But so often for him the focus  or object of his faith becomes his efforts to correctly apply the truth and do the right thing.

Thankfully I know something about that struggle, living in that tension many days, and God has been teaching me recently a new way of seeing His commands.

Philippians 4:6-7  is a familiar imperative to many Christians – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition let your requests be known to God, and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The imperatives are “do not worry” and “pray about all things.” If you do those things, the passage says, you will have peace from God. And so my tendency is to take every worry and try hard to stop worrying about it and just pray it away, pray until it no longer worries me.

But what I had been missing for a long time is Philippians 4:4-5. “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

The Lord is near. My hope in worry, my hope in any of my prayers, hinges on the truth that the Lord is near. The reality of God’s presence is more true and more powerful than any of my fears, sins, or worries. Knowing that the Lord is near, rejoicing in that, enables and empowers me to not be anxious, because I know Who is with me. It enables and empowers me to pray because I know Who is hearing my cries. The presence of God frees me to embrace His imperatives, which leads me to His peace.

And so I urged my friend to let “the Lord is near” be the defining thought for him in his struggles; to not focus on what he has done poorly or could do better, but to let the presence of God in him and with him draw him to an obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5, ESV). A presence empowered imperative. Rejoice!The Lord is near.