Haight/Ashbury, San Francisco

Learning how to forgive

Once I was punched in the face while preaching. At the time I was an evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.

Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.

Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.

That message seemed appropriate for this place, especially on this street. God loves these people very much.

A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.

His punch however came unexpectedly.

His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.

The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.

One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.

About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.

The Father was reaching him while teaching me!

God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16

I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.

At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

     John Stott

More Like a Hospital!

“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in.”

“It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.”

James H. Aughey

We live in challenging times. As people of faith, we’re slowly learning what Jesus really wants the Church to understand. Sometimes it seems we are taking two steps forward, and once step back. The Church must reacquaint itself with the total love of God for people once again.

The Father hasn’t given up on us. Repeatedly, over and over, (and then over again) we learn about His unreal faithfulness to the Church and His love for all people. But sometimes we have a hard time believing these things. Honestly, we’re not what we should be, but thank God we’re not like we were. We’re learning this as well.

On an individual levei we find it’s the “poor in spirit” and those who “mourn” (Matthew 5:3-5) who are the fortunate ones–these are those who are “blessed.” We are needy people, but the Father has and is seeking us. Always. He’s more faithful than the ‘faithfulist’ person who has ever lived!

And we also must understand this. He is always seeking those who are on the margins: the lame, blind, sick and crippled. (I for one have managed to combine all of these!) But thank God He’s still in the business of ‘collecting’ people who are desperate. And if you can’t see this, perhaps you should.

The Church, and the churches we attend, are meant for those who are sick–the outcasts. It’s primarily a hospital, and the “sentinels” (pastors and elders, and others) must understand this. We must know and believe this. And we must know for ourselves the love “the passes all understanding.”

Jesus loves all, but He’s looking for the outcasts.

A really good study are those persons in scripture, who in their neediness, scream out “Son of God, have mercy on me.” There are 4-5 in the Gospels who said this (outloud) and although they modify this plea/prayer in slightly different ways, all of them are very desperate.

(I’m seriously thinking about changing my middle name to “desperate.”) 

I encourage you to study this out, and get a deep handle on it. 

Our churches mustn’t lose sight of this kind of love, and if your fellowship isn’t doing this, just maybe you’re the one called to implement it. (And if this isn’t possible, you might consider moving on.)

Please reject the country club version of the Church. It isn’t right and it’s not the heart of God. It’s religion that comes to us in its gradient forms of foolishness. It doesn’t really reflect the intense seeking love of God. Somehow, along the way, these churches got lost. 

I suppose that the challenge/temptation is not just to turn away from the pigs like the prodigal did. But on the other hand, we also must not go to the opposite end–we dare NOT become the older brother– (Luke 15:1-2 and vv. 30-32). We usually will be one or the other. Unfortunately.

The question facing the Church is this:

Do we want a face-lift or a heart transplant?

One is for looking better, the other describes an entire overhaul. One is cosmetic, the other is a matter of life and death. One is minor, the other is not. What kind does the Church have?

————

I don’t know who the artist is who created this artwork that opens this. It resonates within my heart, and I love the ‘feel’ it brings. Notice the figures, they all have soiled garments, even the one doing the ministry!

Your Love Will Define You

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“You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”

1 Peter 1:22, NLT

Love defines us as believers. I’ve recently been sharing God’s love to Steve, a backslidden Christian who sleeps in the woods behind our local Safeway. I’m aware that Jesus loves him so much, and that love just seems to burst out of me. I can hardly contain it. The Father loves Steve, and I hope to share that same love the next time I talk with him. He introduces me to other homeless people, “Here’s my pastor,” and that is an encouragement, but it often embarrasses me.

Love takes on many different forms. But it always is giving. It simply can’t be thinking of itself; it exists for others and takes no thought of itself. That magnificence that is God’s love gets funneled through us, and we are compelled to share it. Perhaps we are simply called to be ‘the transfer point.’

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.”

1 Thess. 3:12

God initiates the love to be shared. Some of us are weaker than others; perhaps we are physically or mentally handicapped. But as believers, we are to turn to God to fill our hearts. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how flawed you are, what matters is the vast ocean of God’s love. Weakness only makes it easier, because we’ve quit relying on ourselves to love others.

 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:35

Our calling is to be ‘naturally supernatural.’ And that will take the dealings of God.

But please remember the joy that is present when you get to communicate His love. The book of Philippians is saturated with Paul’s joy at sharing God’s love. He sees it as his privilege to share it with the Church. And oh how God loves His Church! The Holy Spirit can teach you, how to do this if you’re teachable. IF…is a big word.

Faith makes all things possible… love makes all things easy.

–D.L. Moody
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Drink Offerings, [Service]

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“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Philippians 2:17

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul is the ultimate and conclusive example of self sacrifice for the Church. He is an example to us of loving until it hurts. The children of men are a needy lot and the burden of the apostle. He cares intensely (and it shows) as Paul describes his mission to the churches. He wants to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul understood that he was being poured like “a drink offering” to the Lord for the saints.

The Lord Jesus was the pattern Paul focused on. In Jesus we see a man dying on a terrible cross to bring a very real salvation to those without any hope at all. You and I stand “accepted in the beloved” because of that sacrifice.

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may we then pour ourselves out for others.”  

–Elisabeth Elliot

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

John 12:24

I honestly believe that fruitfulness hinges on the decision to “die”, and perhaps that is precisely why we are barren. Jesus must give himself up in order to save us. Are things so different now? Over the many centuries, the chosen Church practiced a “dying to self” as the primary way of growth.

Being poured out for others usually isn’t too dramatic; it offers very little in the way of earthly reward or recognition. Sometime ago I sat in the Annex of our local mental health clinic. I spent a whole afternoon with clients who were struggling hard to make it, I sat and listened, and had no agenda but theirs. I was being “poured out” and it was wonderful!

My heart swelled with the presence of Jesus for these dear ones. It had nothing to do with ambition, or a hunger for applause. I wasn’t out to prove that I was a Christian. Rather I was wholly there for others, I sort of think that is what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples about ministry, and servanthood. I believe that is what Paul was doing in the churches he served.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

                                                                                                             Philippians 2:4   

This is how it all works. Our Father’s heart is broken over so much pain. About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. There are over 163 million orphans in the world, and more than 27 million human slaves. Furthermore, 1.2 million lives are snuffed out by abortion each year in the U.S. alone. And over 150,000 people die each day without knowing Christ. I suspect there is enough “work” to go around.

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.  

Anonymous

 “When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world, Jesus, in us. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.”
Mother Teresa

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