Wednesday, February 22, 2006

[subversive underground] BRINGING JESUS

[sent on 2/13/06 to the faithful subscribers of the underground newsletter, now approximately 56 people strong]


As I've been learning more about how to love and serve the poor that God
puts in my path, I've discovered a new struggle and challenge.

Earlier on, I had to learn that serving the poor isn't about curing them as
much as it is about getting to know them, learning to love them, and then
being changed profoudly in the process.

At the same time, I learned that it's more about sharing than about giving.
Anyone can write a check or drop a bill in an open hand, but it takes more
than that to fulfill what God's after from us- the sharing of what we have
with those who are in need. Sharing is not the same as giving. Sharing
requires a more intimate relationship with those who are in poverty. It
involves risk, it costs more, and it produces an inner fruit that giving
never touches.

Now I'm struggling with something new.

I became aware of it when I began to notice the young, twenty-year old guys,
begging for money at the off-ramp where I catch the 5 fwy on my way to work
each morning.

My first thought was, "These guys should just hang a sign around their necks
that says, 'Need Money For Heroin', or something." Unlike the older men who
I'd seen around town, these younger guys were more obviously homeless
because of a substance abuse issue. The more traditionally "homeless" are
those who suffer from mental illness, or perhaps have an addiction to
something more socially acceptable like alcohol. These guys, quite
obviously, could easily get a job somewhere and earn a living, or at least
function within society where someone with mental illness, or another sort
of handicap, could not.

I was finding it hard to have compassion on these guys.

That was until a good friend of mine shared a testimony with me of a young,
Christian man who was now homeless, on the streets, and addicted to heroin.

This guy's story was heart-breaking. He had come from a Christian home, had
attended a Christian University, lead small groups, played in the worship
team, and lead others to Jesus in his early walk. Now he was sleeping on the
park bench and hustling money from people at gas stations for cash to score
more heroin.

As my friend shared with me this guy's story, I was softened. My heart began
to ache for this young man. How could we reach him? How could we love him
back into the family of God again?

Then, a week later, I was sitting in line to get gas at a local station and
there they were...two young men pan-handling for cash. I knew what they
were doing. I knew they were just like that young man trapped by addiction
and separated from their families, friends, and hope.

My heart began to beat faster. Do I give them money if they come over to my
window? Do I confront them? Do I engage them in dialog?

More importantly, I wondered, how do I bring Jesus to them?

That's what I really, deep down, wanted to know. How do I bring Jesus to

Because what they need, really, is Jesus. Not money. Not a place to sleep.
Not a hug. Not even just freedom from Heroin or Meth. They need Jesus.

And that's when I realized, we all need Jesus.

I need Him. You need Him. Those young men, addicted to heroin and begging
for cash to score a high need Him.

Now the distance between myself and these young men seems so much less
significant. Or important.

A few weeks later, having breakfast with my friend David Ruis, I asked him
about this. I asked how I can bring Jesus to these people.

David is much further down the road than I am on this journey of faith,
especially when it comes to loving and serving the poor in light of the
Gospel of Jesus.

David's answer was simply, "I think it still comes through relationship".

Of course, I kind of knew this already. I know that a relationship with the
poor, with the broken, with the lost and the forgotten, is really what Jesus
is trying to get us to embrace. Maybe I was expecting something more
metaphysical? I don't know.

Part of me does want to ask these young men if they're willing to ask Jesus
for help. I'm fascinated by how often Jesus would ask those blind, lame, and
leperous what they wanted him to do for them. The answer seemed so obvious,
and yet Jesus almost always asked them first what it was they wanted.

I think it's because sometimes the blind don't want to see. Sometimes those
who are lame and crippled don't want to have their condition taken away.
They take comfort from their handicap. They make a living on their
infirmity, even if it's not "Life", it's a living, and it allows them to
keep their addiction.

I keep reading the passage in Acts where Peter says to the beggar at the
Gate called Beautiful, "Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have I
give to you. In the name of Jesus, take your mat, rise up, and walk."

Inside me I yearn to have that sort of faith. I yearn to bring Jesus to
those so helpless and broken in this way. I want to see some of these come
to Jesus in such a dynamic and miraculous display of God's power.

Maybe that is part of what God is calling me to explore? I don't want to
talk myself out of the possibility that God is after that in the lives of
these people.

But even so, the question is whether or not I'm willing to love these people
should the miracle take more than a moment.

A miraculous solution, with the power of God breaking through at the sound
of the name of Jesus, is much more exciting and glamorous. It also involves
less commitment and it costs me nothing other than the temporary risk of
looking stupid should my prayer fail to produce.

David shared with me how he has started to develop a friendship with a young
man who begs at a stoplight near his house. How their conversations have
turned to more than a few folded dollar bills or a shared smile, and how he
now goes out of his way to park his car and walk over to talk with this
young man.

I marvel at this sort of miracle. How someone can share so much, and yet so
little, and bring the Kingdom of God, even Jesus Himself, to a lonely,
forgotten, and addicted person on the side of the freeway.

You know what I just realized?

Wherever we go we bring Jesus. The only question is whether we will go into
those places where He is needed and allow Him to love others through us.

If we never step out, we'll never know.


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