Remain

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Movement
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I just spent this past weekend in Dallas, TX at a church that was I familiar with as a child.  My parents would listen to the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, Dr. Chriswell, on the radio in our home in the mountains of Idaho. But what I knew of the church was far from what I learned about the church on this particular trip.  As I arrived in Dallas, my expectations of this large church in the heart of the city, tucked down in between the sky scrapers, was that it would be locked into a 1950s tradition that I would not be able to relate to or even understand.  I also figured they would not understand me and our mission in Seattle as a church planter called to move to a city that did not like and surely didn’t want the message of Jesus.  I thought it likely Epic Life Church and FBC Dallas would have little in common, except the name of Jesus. 

I was wrong. And what I found to be similar surprised me.

I caught a bus to the car rental complany, flashed my driver’s license and headed to my car the church had reserve for me. I headed straight to the hotel, a valet parked my ride, I checked in and caught the elevator to the 17th floor to 1722, all taken care of by the church.  As I entered the room late that night the city lights were singing the praise of man’s great achievements in building expansion and the creative process the Master Creator has allowed us to experience. I tossed my suitcase on the king-size bed, walked around the desk and pushed back the curtains across the entire Western wall to gaze out on the towers of the city. Below me came the lights of FBC Dallas, which covers 3-4 city blocks, squished between several 60 story buildings. 

My stay was wonderful.

I came to find out that just a few years ago FBC Dallas came to a crossroad.  Their buildings were old and decrepped, actually falling apart from 140 years of use. The city had changed dramatically and literally grew up around them. Should they sell it off and move to the suburbs? Should they invest millions into ancient buildings? Should they demolish it all and start from the ground up right there in the heart of the city?

One thing I have learned on this road of church planting is the state of the ‘Church’ in Seattle and other major cities in our country.  As cities grew around the original churches and business and buildings moved in around them the norrmal thing for the congregates to do was to move their families to the suburbs and commute to their church in the city. As the price tag of  ministry grew for the church and lure of the worth of their land, they would sell the property and move the church to the suburbs, where their people live.  This of course left major spiritual holes in the city.  Seattle has the same problem, either the churches have left or the buildings are still present but with only a handful of members.

When we started Epic Life Church, the planting team determined to Stay. We knew God called us to start a church in the city of Seattle and we knew we had to find a way to remain in the city of Seattle. Ministry in the city is expensive and, like is common, people tend to drift out of the city because of the cost of living, which drops dramatically the further away from the city center a person goes.  We know this is going to happen. How can we keep the vision of establishing Epic Life as a church of the city alive? We constantly cast the vision for our people to claim the city, to remain and to start more churches within the city limits. Longevity will speak volumes to the people of Seattle as well, and bring about a certain level of trust in the Church, and will result in trust in Christ Jesus.

Back to FBC Dallas. What have they done? They have done what few churches have done, or have done well.  FBC Dallas chose to remain in Dallas and remain Big!  They chose to implode several building and rebuild a building that is a beautiful center piece of the city. It is truly beautiful and I think will become a testimony to Dallas that the Church is here to stay. They didn’t do the easy thing, which I think would have been to move to the suburbs, find a large track of land and build a building that would have cost lots less and maybe would have attracted more people. They did the hard thing, they claimed the land in the center of the city for Jesus. It is a beacon of hope for the city and has become a stop on the tourism trail in the city of Dallas.

But even more FBC Dallas is surprisingly extremely missional in their perspective and giving. Now I am sure this is a constant push and possible battle, but the leadership and people that I met were very encouraging to me as a church planter and the church supports dozens of works around Texas and the world.  The ministry personnel loved on me, encouraged me and exhorted me to Pastor well. It is a surprised blessing to now minister with a church who understands the important vision of reaching the City for Jesus, which requires us and them and hopefully more churches to Remain.

ImageI just bought a new car last week, 1990 Honda Accord. It’s black, lowered a bit, fun to drive. Its going to be nice to save some money on gas.

Two days after I bought it was the last day of 2012 and since the world hadn’t come to an end yet I went to pick up the Epic Life mail one last time from my good UPS friend John Apple down at the Oaktree village. Thumbing through the stack of junk, packages and letters I crossed the sidewalk without looking up, hit the remote, and opened the door to my new ride.  As I slid into the driver’s seat my eye caught a girl walking the same sidewalk I just crossed. She landed in a iron chair outside of the UPS store I had just left. As she sat down our eyes connected and the corners of her mouth turned up and she winked at me with a, “Hey Honey…” wink. I smiled back and turned my attention to getting my key in the ignition as fast as I could and powering on my space ship and flying.

But it didn’t start.

I looked up and the young lady was still sitting there and from under her furry brimmed hoodie came another smile. I tried turning the key again but to no avail, the car wasn’t going to come to life and whisk me away, back to my busy life. After a few more tries it was time to call Tony, I know he has Mondays free so maybe he could come get the car started. I looked up again and became aware that I was still being watched.

So… I got out of the car and went and sat down next to her. She said, “Hey there.” I replied, “Hey there.”

And then I asked her how long she had been working on the streets. I was surprised at how fast she moved into conversation about prostitution with me, as she told me she had been working at a regular job but had a girl friend earn in two days on the streets what she would make in a month at a job where she paid taxes. She needed money to live and this paid the bills. She spoke between slow draws on her cigarette, raising and lowering her hand to her scarred chin and cheek.

Then I told her that she is much more valuable than surviving a life of giving her body to be used and living alone in a motel room night after night along Aurora waiting for another guy named John to call her. 

Heather crumbled into her lap and began to weep uncontrollably. 

I spoke of the great and miraculous love of Jesus and the transformational power of Grace and forgiveness and that I have these great friends all around me who would welcome her as part of their family. I then offered to take her home, to spend New Years eve with my family. I would even buy her time if she needed that.

Her sobs where audible to anyone walking past as she relayed the story of her horrendous experience as a child. A kind woman, who passed by two minutes earlier, offered us a couple of lattes as she returned. She had to be an angel. 

Heather declined my offer, said she couldn’t do that, she would only hurt us, and became very skittish of the situation she had found herself in. It seemed time to let her go, so I wrote mine and Kristine’s name and my cell number down on a napkin and told her that no matter when or where, if she needed to call I would answer. If she needed protection I would be there. She quickly folded the napkin in half and pushed it into her purse, while wiping her mascara smeared eyes with her sleeve.

Tony arrived. 

Heather left.

The car started on the first try.

Luke 14:12-14 shows Jesus sitting at a banquet prepared by a religious leader. Jesus starts a discussion about who the leader could invite to his next dinner. He tells him that maybe it would be good idea to not always invite those whom he knows will return the favor and hence keep the circle of recognition going: ie you invite me, I invite you, you invite me, I invite you.  Maybe instead it would be a great idea to invite those who can’t pay you back…you know…those people who are poor, homeless, lame and just not part of the high society.

I have read over this passage several times and actually have preached on it many times too. But this time God opened my eyes to see something that carried much more weight than I had seen in the past.

In verse 13 Jesus says (paraphrased), “Hey man, listen up…when you host an elaborate meal invite those who can’t pay you back.”  

Did you catch what he was saying. Jesus was basically saying that when you premeditate a banquet, when you think a month earlier that you will be hosting a meal and sending out invitations and then going out and buying the food and preparing the meal. When you set the table and pick out the wine. Do this in such a way that you are preparing the table for the elite crowd you usually invite, but don’t invite them. Prepare the meal, pick out the wine and set the table with creativity and thought and your finest, even when you are inviting those who cannot pay you back.

Do we do this?  When was the last time you were serving at a soup kitchen for the homeless and the table was set with the best crystal and china and silverware?  Whenever I have been involved in serving the down and out we get out our best paper plate, paper cups and plastic forks set on a clothe-less picnic table in a non decorated cement floor room where the servers are standing behind the counter slopping the meal onto the plates as the marginalized shuffle through the line and sit alone but together on the bench seats where only “they” are relegated to.

I know we don’t mean anything bad by this treatment…but I don’t think what we are doing is what Jesus had in mind.  The next time we serve our community at Epic Life Church, in the Garden or at One Cup, let’s bring out the best we have and “host an elaborate meal” in Jesus’ name.Image

Aside  —  Posted: October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Since being in Seattle God has given many of us new eyes to see those around us who are hurting and need love. We have been able to become friends with many who call the street their home. Men and women who literally live under the bushes behind the theater we meet in for our Sunday morning gathering of Epic Life Church. These men and women have their street name, but are always introduced to us by their given names. One such man, whom God gave me the privilege to come to love and call, “Friend,” is Ken Weed.

Ken is 45 and has been on the street for around five years. He has a nursing degree from the University of Washington and was working in a local hospital up until he got drunk in a bar late one night and got into a fight that consequently got him sent to jail and then fired. He has told me many times how much he regrets that night, but now looks at the cold facts of being a drunk, homeless and jobless without opportunity for something better.

Over the past three years Ken has become part of the Epic Life family. Most of the time we would see Ken he would be drunk, much too drunk to carry on a good conversation. Often at the end of a Sunday service he would find himself passing by me and reaching out for a hug telling me, “You know I need help quitting, or You know so and so needs help, or You know I’m trying.”

Early this past winter I was leaving my office later than usual and as I walked out into the dark parking lot Ken approached me out of the drizzly Seattle rain. He was cold and hungry. I was late getting home and knew dinner was already on the table, but I paused. I can still see his eyes; there was death in those eyes.

“What would it matter?” Was his question. I knew what he meant. “What would it matter if he killed himself that night? No one would miss him and the pain would be over.” “No one cares, do they Pastor Keith?”

“No one cares, do they Pastor Keith?”

The knife cut deep. I didn’t know what to do. There is so much life; good and bad choices; abused and abuser that brought us to that interaction late that night. I was confronted with so much. Pastors, mentors, counselors and well meaning people in my mind telling me my family needs me, he’ll be OK. “You can’t help everyone.” “He got himself to this place.” “You’ve have already put 60 hours in this week, go home.” “You need some ‘me’ time.” “You don’t have the money to help him.”

Really?

I knew he was heading around the back of my office to sleep on the cold concrete out of the rain without food, without a blanket. So I put my arm around him and said, “I care Ken. I would miss you.” I walked him to my van and we drove to the 125th St. Grill, just up Aurora Ave. This happens to be the same restaurant where I attend a weekly Rotary meeting. We walked into the restaurant together, me talking to him like he was clean, well kept and a paying customer; well, like he was my friend.

We sat in a booth facing each other by a window. I wondered if he was feeling all the looks from the other restaurant patrons; those questioning eyes; those raised eye-brow conversations. He ate a very large steak complete with juicy goodness running down his full scraggly beard and a cigarette break outside. I ate pasta, with a clean face and no cigarette break. He was dirty and smelled really bad. I was clean and didn’t smell as bad.

We talked and drank some coffee and had some dessert for another hour. I talked about what surrendering to Christ would be like. He wants to, but thinks he can’t. That Jesus wouldn’t accept a drunk like him. I told him Jesus comes looking for us even when we are drunk.

We left the restaurant that night with a deeper friendship. I drove him back to my office, got him a blanket and handed him my left over pasta, gave him a big hug and said, “Ken, you’ve got to hold on, for just a little longer.” He and I parted that night going in such different directions on so many levels. As I drove towards my warm home and happy family I knew that, at least that night, God had allowed me to bring Ken back from the brink of death. He would remind me of that night many times in the coming weeks.

It was soon after the events of that night that Ken enrolled himself in a six month recovery program at the Salvation Army. We were all so ecstatic and happy for him. I would get several phone calls over the next few weeks and he sounded so good. I felt that there was hope and that Ken would make it out of the enemy’s ditch and it wouldn’t be long that Ken would be recovered completely and working and living in an apartment. The future looked good.

But that isn’t how it worked out.

Ken decided the program was too hard and left after just two months only to find himself back on the streets and soon back to the bottle. This time the intoxication was worse.

Some of the street people told him not to go to Epic Life anymore because we were mad at him. But we found him on the street and made sure he knew we still loved him and would be there for him, but wanted to see him leave this life of being imprisoned by alcohol. But he went downhill pretty fast.

About three weeks ago, late at night, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was Ken from an emergency room several miles north of our home. I wrote a recent blog post about that night and if you want to know this piece of the story in depth read that here. June 22nd Post 

Long story short, Ken had stolen a $45 bottle of Jack Daniels and drank it all, as he walked north. The ambulance picked him up face down on the side of Aurora Ave. I picked him up and told him that we were going to go back to the store and pay for the bottle. I told him that in the absence of him having any money that I would pay for it, but he promised me he would come back with me in two weeks and he would pay the debt.

I dropped him off at the park that night. In my heart I knew he would not make it another month.

I saw him one more time.

This Tuesday I receive the call from Alicia, who works at a local market, which is also the local street hot line in the neighborhood. She told me she had just heard that Ken’s body had been found on Monday morning. I wasn’t shocked, but my heart sank hard. I would later learn from the Medical Examiner that he probably died on Saturday and lay there in the empty lot behind the China Dragon for two days.

I felt like the “walls” of the world were closing in on me and I couldn’t make out what my thoughts should be. Tears started to fill my eyes. Images of Ken started flashing through my mind; the times we played cribbage in front of Qdoba just before church started, his smile at the block party, his intoxicated hugs after worship, even his smell wafting through the layers of coats.

Then all I could think of was the debt that was still owed at Bartell Drugs; $48.00 for a missing bottle of Jack Daniels.

Soon I found myself sitting on a curb in Bartell’s parking lot, weeping for my friend. My head buried in my hands with tears pouring through my fingers and pooling up on oil stained asphalt. My grief was so great and uncontrolled. I felt I had lost a close friend who almost made it out of the darkness, but was taken under as I watched.

Finally I stood up and wiped my face off and walked into the store. The first isle I came to was the liquor isle where I happened to find the manager also. I looked at her after she identified herself and said, “This is going to sound a bit strange, but…” and I shared much of this story with her.

As I told her that my friend had stolen the bottle and I was there to pay for it, she was taken back. She knew the day and knew that there had been a loss of inventory, so she headed to the counter. Her movements where slow, like she was purposefully moving methodically so she could think this through. Then she said it.

“Why?”

“I don’t understand why you are doing this.” She said through her green eyes that seemed to want to cry.

Tears instantly started down my checks, right there at the checkout, 8:30 pm. I told her that I am well aware of what debt means and when there is debt there needs to be payment. I told her that I had a grand debt that I couldn’t pay and the penalty was death. But that Jesus paid that debt for me, offering be an unmerited Grace. And I got to share the Gospel with her and tell her at the end that Jesus paid that debt for her also.

So I handed her $40 and she said,

“I’ll need $8 more.”

With a smile I paid the rest and said good night and as I left the building I heard her turn to a coworker and start relaying the story.

I cried a lot last night, all the way home, in front of my oldest son, and most of the night. Kristine is gone this week with my youngest three, so the night was long and quiet. I really needed her, but maybe it was good for me to be alone. There are so many questions. Did we do enough? What could have we done? Do we know how blessed we are? Why am I not in Ken’s shoes; why weren’t our circumstances switched? What do we learn? How can we do better next time?  Will this make me calloused? What was that I told him. “Just hold on Ken, for a little long.”

We will hold a memorial serve this coming week for those who knew Ken. We will celebrate life and eternal Hope and we will continue praying and working to see Seattle transformed through an epic life in Christ Jesus. For this is what we have been called to do and it is what we will do with confidence.

Last night at 8:30 I was called to pick one of my friends up at the emergency room. He had walked north on Aurora, way north, entered a local drug store and swiped a half gallon of Jack Daniels and started drinking straight away until he passed out on the sidewalk.  A passer-bye called 911 and he got a ride in the ambulance that he won’t remember as they brought him back to this world in the emergency room.

When he came to and became a bit coherent the nurse gave him a phone to call for a ride; my number was lodged in his brain. He wasn’t sure if I would answer the call and even if I did, would I drive to the hospital and get him? 

I kissed Kristine goodbye and drove north. On the way I picked up my buddy, Brent, who is the youth pastor at Oakwood Baptist in Texas and was visiting the city with a group of high-schoolers.  He and I walked in the emergency room where my friend waited to be released.

I knew what I was about to do and it was going to be hard. I would take him from the emergency room back to his home…the park, just off Aurora Ave and 97th. He has been living in the park most of the winter and before that wondering the city for about four years.

As we drove south last night he told me he had stolen the liquor. The $40 that it would have cost to purchase the bottle was not something my friend had on him or would any time soon. I felt God’s direction. So I turned into the parking lot of the drugstore and told my friend that we were going to walk into the store, and I was going to pay for his crime. This kind of surprised me but that is what God wanted me to do.

My friend got very scared, agitated, verbally abusive and almost violent. His sin was surfacing and he could see it, taste it, touch it. He threaten to jump from my moving truck, right in the middle of a busy Aurora Avenue. Great fear confronted him as he was confronted with his sin and the payment for that sin.

Then the reason for this decision came out. I explained to him that God knew that we, too, couldn’t pay for the sin in our lives, we don’t possess the ability or the desire to pay it back. But, God knew this and so he paid the price through Jesus; the ultimate sacrifice to pay the ultimate price. 

Oh how I needed to be reminded of this. My friend lived in fear, but he could be living in the freedom that comes through Jesus.

The night didn’t get much better for him, I bought him a pack of cigs and dropped him off at the park. He thanked me, was apologetic, embarrassed, ashamed. I prayed he would not drink more tonight, but would find himself too tired and would sleep.  As we drove away, he was curled over dry heaving, sucking on a cigarette and I know wanting another drink, of which, if he indulged that soon he would be dead in the morning.

There are so many levels of struggle in this story…

What happens next?

What does his future look like? As long as he is on the streets, no job, no options, no home, he will return to the emergency room again and again.

His bad choices took him from an RN job to the streets in less than five years. Can it be reclaimed?

How do I continue to sleep in my warm house, soft pillow and bed and behind locked doors, knowing he, and many others, are living where he is?

What can we do? What has been done for him hasn’t worked. What’s next?

How does God continue to restore us even when we continue to run after the entertainment of our Self.

Can I continue to do this long term? Can my soul take this?

The truth is, the more I walk with people like my friend last night, the more I realize my own depravity and see the amazing amount of Grace my Savior has had on me, an undeserved Grace, paying a penalty that I could never pay. Jesus even paid for my return to my own vomit.

Thank you!

I often have the privilege of speaking into the lives of the young men around me who are hoping and praying that God brings a wife to them soon. This hope and desire can be confusing and often selfishly motivated but it presents a fantastic moment in our lives to learn a great deal about ourselves; things many men never learn.

If a man is in deep pursuit of God I know that God is building into this man at all times. He is creating a man of God, a warrior, a champion who will be willing to lay his life down for his princess and family. If we allow God to work on us there will be a time that you will not recognize yourself if you could stand in front of your past self.  A big part of that re-creation and re-structure is our willingness to be re-created. A willingness to stand aside in humility and offer ourselves to the process. You must lay yourself down, to the side, so that God is then free to bring the abundance on. Think about that verse in Malachi (Malachi 3:10), “Test me! Tithe…give…lay your self down…put your control aside…and give it to Me. Bring in the entire tithe. See if I won’t bless you in crazy ways; overwhelming ways.”  When you are ready to lay yourself aside, God then is ‘free’ to give to you that which is ‘fragile.’ Like leadership, or vision, or creativity, or the lost, or…a woman.  He is free to give you those things that you have the capability to ruin, to destroy, to abuse, to kill.

The ultimate in a man’s life is his sexuality. When you have given that over to God and he can count on you not to destroy the fragile flower of a Godly woman….you are then ready to receive that great gift.
So, “Are you ready?  If God brought a woman into your life do you have the strength to protect her? Protect her trust, her body, her faith, her intimacy?”  That is the question that you must answer. If you are asking yourself this I truly believe you are on the precipice of an amazing discovery in your life.
There really isn’t anything more beautiful and attractive than a woman who is completely in love with God. A woman who pursues God with abandoned worship is the most gorgeous woman on earth. (The same goes for a man.)
Sadly we decide the pain of being created in God’s likeness and being prepared to receive the fragile gift is much too hard to we take matters into our own hands. We go find for ourselves someone who we can put up with. But because we didn’t do the hard thing up front, the hard thing will be lived out with much pain in the future.

I have been off the stage for three weeks now, which means I haven’t shaved for four weeks.  But it is time to return. I think I was about 30 before I could even grow enough facial hair to pretend I had a beard. I guess I have always been jealous of those guys who can grow a monster wilderness man beard in a week.  Well here’s the transformation.

Kristine did insist I keep things trimmed.

But my boys thought I would look best as Wolverine.

My Best Wolverine

But, go figure, this was not Kristine’s favorite face. Although all the male beings in our family thought I should keep it around for at least one Sunday, but the female veto holds a lot of weight.  So I had to go all the way.

15 Years Younger

Oh my gosh! I haven’t had an absence of facial hair for about 12 years. As I went out yesterday, some people literal didn’t even recognize me. It’s crazy how shaving takes years off. I guess it is no wonder in every society on earth a beard is a sign of aged and respect. Kind of to bad this society doesn’t teach respect of elders anymore.

I look forward to the day I can grow one and braid it.

By the time Sunday rolls around I will be back to normal.