Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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

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.

It was a typical day at the local community college Campus Crusade for Christ club meeting, a group that has double in size since the beginning of the year, but when doubling means adding only thirteen new students it’s still quite easy to recognize those who wonder in who are a bit out of place. A bit out of place was the perfect description of a young man who walked in just a minute late. He found a chair and sat down with his head slightly lowered, trying to not draw attention to himself.

After a slightly awkward “ice-breaking” game the conversation quickly turned to the topic we all came to discover and discuss. As words were exchanged back and forth across the room like a game of tennis between two seven year olds, my attention was turned towards the exposed arms and neck of the “slightly out of place” young man. Flowing fonts in your typical tattoo green spelled words that I couldn’t quite decipher. Maybe they were written in a different language, maybe I couldn’t read upside down.

When my eyes moved from his skin art to his eyes it dawned on me that he not only looked out of place but felt out of place. At times throughout the conversations his down cast eyes would fill with tears, but never did they run over.

Soon the hour club meeting of CRU drew to an end and I made a point of getting myself in front of the this tattooed, muscular, bald man. We chatted a bit about him being at the college to get his GED and then to get a practical job that will help him care for his wife and three children. “Three children?” Was my thought. At 25 years of age he has quite a family. Soon his conversation turned to his wife of seven years and their extremely rocky marriage, his being in and out of jail, and about his restraining order, which didn’t allow him to see his wife or children.  I remained intune and concerned for this young man, who was feeling remarkably comfortable sharing his story to a complete stranger.

Then he told me that he is very concerned for his wife, whom he really loves. “Why are you so concerned?” I asked.

“She is pregnant and going to have an abortion.” He replied.

Without thinking, without rehearsing my reply in my head I blurted out, “We will take the child, don’t let her abort. We will take the child.”

He looked at me, not knowing what to say.

Giving him my cell number and email, I asked, if not begged him to call me later that day and then encouraged him and his wife to break his restraining order and come to our home together and talk.   He had to run to a class. I put my hand on his thick frame and prayed a prayer of protection and wisdom on him.

Later that day his wife called me and as she told me her name I recognized it as the cursively fonted tattoo on the back of the young man’s neck. I was ecstatic that she took that gamble.  We made an appointment for that Saturday morning with both of them at our home.

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009, 10:30 am rolled around and they drove up, and walked across our lawn and into our living room. For the next 3-1/2 hours we listened to their story, the journey that they have found themselves fighting for life through. Patiently they both shared their side of the story. Then Kristine and I poured into them. We loved them, affirmed them, encouraged them, counseled them, and shared the love of the Holy Father with them.

Their faces showed the transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring to a person.

Tears.

Smiles.

Relief.

Hope.

Forgiveness.

Strength.

At 2 pm, after a prayer of grace, they rose from our couch a new couple. They will continue to have pain and struggle through the coming months, but they have agreed to meet with us and start on a different journey, one of healing and re-creation.

She had an appointment at 1 pm that same day at the abortion clinic, but she walked out of our home at 2 pm with hope and a new found desire to raise their new baby.   This child will change the world!

We are seriously in the business of saving lives and God allowed us to have a first hand experience that saved the life of an unborn child and the lives of a man and woman and their other three children.  This family has a long road of healing ahead of them but God is going to use them and their stories in ways they can’t even imagine as they share with others and are part of saving lives themselves.

Thanks be to the Great Life Saver!

An excerpt from last week’s message at Epic Life Church.

John 12:1-11 paints a beautiful true story of extravagant worship from a woman named Mary of Bethany. Read the account here for a deeper understanding of the following.

Jesus and his disciple came for another extravagant dinner prepared by the marvelous cook Martha. While eating with his friends Lazarus and Simon, Jesus was talking about the past few weeks of Lazarus’ new life and the events of his favorite village to visit, Bethany.  The meal was wonderful and after dinner Martha and Mary joined them at the table to listen and learn.

After listening to Jesus speak about the past couple of years of his ministry, with John, Peter and some of the others reliving some of the great times as people who were blind where given sight in many different ways, Jesus now started looking at the future and the coming week of the Passover celebration taking place in Jerusalem just two miles away.  In his continual way of teaching Jesus discussed why the Passover was so important to the Jewish people and now how the Pharisees had started to make it an event that was very commercially driven. He also started to explain that the fulfillment of the Passover was about to take place and that the spotless lamb the people would be sacrificing in just a week would no longer be needed because the final Spotless Lamb was arriving.

Mary new of whom he was talking about.

She quietly excused herself and hurried into the next room. Going straight to the small wooden box in the corner of the dimly lit room she lifted the lid. It squeaked slightly as the wooden hinges turned on each other. With shaking hands Mary reached into the box and lifted out a small object wrapped in a white clothe. Closing the box she set the precious package carefully on the lid and began to unwrap it, revealing a hand made piece of pottery with a leather top. Mary picked it up gently. She was a bit nervous and her heart pounded within her chest, but she knew what she had to do.

Mary entered the room with the others chatting about how they were going to select the Passover lamb in the morning of the next day and some were telling stories about how some families would sacrifice lambs who were slightly imperfect, just so they could have the better ones for breading. As Mary walked in, the eyes of the room began to turn to watch her and quickly the small talk drifted off to silence.

Mary approached Jesus with her eyes down, in a reverent silence she knelt down beside Jesus who was still laying on a pillow next to the table with his feet stretched out to the side. In a slow and intentional motion Mary set the pottery on the table and lifted the leather lid. Instantly the intoxicating fragrance of pure nard filled the whole room and soon the entire house smelled of the concentrated oil of the Spikenard plant from the far East.

The room was quiet. There were looks of confusion, of surprise, of question, but no one uttered a word as they looked at the pound of oil sitting on the table. Then in a shocking move Mary took the oil in her hands and lifted it above Christ’s head and poured it out.  The oil ran over his head and into his hair and flowed down through his beard dripping off onto his clothes. Mary then moved to Jesus’ feet and poured the remaining nard from the jar over his feet.  Not knowing exactly what to do as the oil dripped off his feet and not being prepared with a towel to wipe the excess off, Mary did something that would have been a move of embarrassment and shame in any other setting; she reached up and untied her long black hair, allowing it fall around her. She took her hair in her hands and proceeded to wipe his feet off.

Judas was daydreaming out the window for most of the evening, but when he saw this shameful act and in his eyes a waist of an expensive oil he felt he had to say something, after all no one else said anything and this oil was worth at least a year’s salary. So he rebuked Mary and some of the others joined in on the discouragement. But Mary continue as if she didn’t even hear the discouragement. Jesus put in a good word for her though, telling them all that what she was doing was a prophetic move; anointing the purest Passover Lamb.

These are things the disciples didn’t understand until after the coming week.

The coming week in Jesus’ life would be full of many different events, emotions and happenings that would fulfill hundreds of prophecies and would at last bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

The oil that Mary annointed Jesus with was an extremely strong smelling ointment that was potent enough to last a week. It is very likely that as Jesus went through the coming week that the fragrance of Mary’s extravagant worship continued with him. Shortly after this anointing happened Jesus would find a young colt and ride into Jerusalem as the people shouted, “Hosanna!”  Did the fragrance of Mary’s worship rise to his hose? Soon Jesus would be in an upper room breaking bread with his disciples as he knelt to wash their feet, and example of being a servant, did the fragrance of Mary’s worship rise to his nose? As Jesus knelt to pray in the garden late at night calling on his father for strength. Did a slight breeze move his hair releasing the fragrance of extravagant worship? As the guards hauled him away to a mock trial dragging him between Caiphas, the king and Pilate, was there an aroma following him?

When jesus was cruely beaten over and over did his blood mixed with the fragrance of spikenard release an aroma of pure devotion and love? The fragrance of Mary’s worship would have likely rose off Jesus’ garments as he lugged his instrument of death through the streets as men and women mocked him. Did the aroma of extravagant worship rise to Jesus’ nostrils while he hung on the cross high upon Golgotha as the ultimate act of worship?

I want to live my life in such a way that my worship rises as a sweet fragrance to my Savior and to live a life of extravagant worship, of an Epic Worship.

Boasting

Posted: July 21, 2008 in Of Spiritual Things
Tags: , ,

It has been brought to my attention that my previous blog may have seemed like I was boasting about what was going on in our lives…well the fact is, I was boasting!
Just as there is anger that is sinful like that which is full of pride and selfishness, there is also anger that is righteous like that of Christ’s anger upon finding the temple courts were turned into a “den of thieves.” There is also pride that is selfish and pride that is righteous. We should never be prideful in ways that will put us on a pedestal, trying to get people to proclaim our greatness. But it is alright and actually good to take pride in doing things well so that God is glorified or in things that extol the virtues of Christ and proclaim his Greatness.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 speaks about this. Paul writes about boasting/pride in many of his writings, the good side and the sinful side. This passage ends with Paul quoting Jeremiah 9:23-24, which goes like this, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on  earth, for in these I delight,’ Declares the Lord.”

Paul summarizes this passage by saying, “Let those who boast boast in the Lord.” In other words, boast about things that give God glory. Jesus said just about the same thing in John 9:1-3 talking about a man born blind, not because someone sinned, but so that God would be glorified. The death of Lazarus speaks to the same matters as well as Jesus’ words in John 17 when he asks God to glorify him so that He would be able to Glorify God the Father.

My point in all of this is that my previous blog post, Downsizing?, was not written so I could boast about how wonderful Kristine and I are and how we have been able live for very little and to some how get people to feel sorry for us because of our state of homelessness. The whole purpose of the post is to point everyone to the amazing God that we serve and the wonderful miraculous ways he provides for his children. It has all been God stretching us, teaching us, and leading us only so we can boast about Him and his “kindness, justice and righteousness.”

He is worthy of our boasting and when we hold back the boasting that he deserves we put ourselves into a place of selfish pride. It would be like a musical artist singing a song that someone else wrote but not giving that person the credit for the song.

Could it be that when we get offended when others boast about what God is doing in their lives, it is because we don’t see what God is doing in our lives? Maybe we believe that we don’t really need God and we are able to take care of things ourselves. Maybe we think we really don’t need Him in our lives.

So… I will boast.

I will continue to boast so that God is glorified. When he is seen for who he is and what he does others will turn to him. He is irresistible when his people boast about him.