“On Becoming Homeless…”

A couple friends of mine, who’s names I will not mention until a later date, are writing a book together. One of them asked me to do a short write-up about our (Intentional Gatherings) time with the homeless on the streets of Ft. Worth for them to publish in the book. It was so reminiscent to think back two years ago and write out our story. Hope you enjoy…

On Becoming Homeless…

For a group of white, middle-class, suburban kids the journey we were about to embark on would prove to be quite shaping. We had been exploring what life as a follower of Christ should look like based upon what we found in scripture. It was not long after that we “broke it off” with our beloved pew, and said “goodbye” to the church as a building. While we stayed closely connected to the Body of Christ as a people we refused to allow that to hinder us from intentionally spending more time with non-Jesus followers than we did followers. From Starbucks and other “third spaces” to our neighborhoods, schools, and jobs we began exploring a life on mission outside the context of the bubble we had so unknowingly been seduced into previously.

As we devoured the scriptures communally it was not long before we noticed a theme throughout Jesus’ ministry of service to the poor and needy; not to mention His commands to us, as His Body, to take care of them. At this time in our lives ministry to the homeless was not the “hip-&-cool fad” it has become today. As we began seeking ways to live out these Gospel principles found in scripture we learned about what we would soon label the “modern-day leper colony”. About 20 minutes from our comfortable suburban homes, tucked quietly under the intersection of several major highways near the downtown area, we found what would soon become a place our souls longed to be. The majority of Ft. Worth’s homeless population called this area just off East Lancaster Boulevard “home”. For the most part they went unnoticed, and were ignored by society. Those who knew they existed steered clear of the area, or pointed down from the overpass as they attempted to teach their kids a lesson about “responsibility”.

We began taking regular trips to the streets in pursuit of being obedient to what we felt God was instructing us to do. We became students of those who had “worked” there for many years, as well as the homeless individuals we sought to “serve”. We learned very quickly how ignorant we were to the real needs of these people based upon the real reasons they were there in the first place. It did not take long to realize the abundance of tangible resources available to the homeless on East Lancaster. From churches to various non-profit, and government organizations the basic needs of the people on the street were met with excess. They did not need our Wendy’s dollar menu burgers, or our hand-me-down fashion from the closet.

A man named Michael Hatcher became our close friend and mentor. Michael had been “ministering” among these people for years, and taught us everything we know about working among the homeless in Ft. Worth. He and his family had moved into the “hood” several years before, and were dedicated to seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus. Michael was known on the streets as “The Rev”. He was someone the people trusted, respected, and would give their lives for. Michael walked the streets during the week ministering to these people. He helped them get their ID’s, jobs, bus passes, but most importantly he gave them himself as a friend. We naturally followed in the footsteps of our mentor. We made a commitment early on: while countless others brought material goods to hand out to the people of the streets we vowed only to bring ourselves; a “hand-up” not a “hand-out” if you will. While others handed out food and clothes we sat on the curb to listen. Conversations led to prayer, topped with hugs, and a side of comfort knowing they had made a new friend. You must understand that many of these people had not engaged in conversation with another human being in years.

Things were going well, and we were seeing fruit from our labor. However, there was still something missing. While we had close relationships with our new friends on the street they knew we came from our comfy suburban homes, and would return there after our short time with them on the streets. We could not truly relate to them. Around that time several twenty-something’s from our newly formed “organic” church community felt a strange pull to move in, and “set up shop” among our new friends from the streets. We all began praying that God would provide a house for communal living among the poor…

By the grace of God our little crew of 15 broke college-aged kids began to make quite the impact on East Lancaster. We had organized the annual “Art-n-the Park” celebration, birthed the “Unity in the Community Network” of organizations who served among the homeless in Ft. Worth, and had the attention of many in the city. We still felt we had so much to learn. After all, we were in this for our new friends on the streets, and God’s ultimate glorification, not our own narcissism. Michael Hatcher decided that we needed to know what “life on the streets” was really like. He and his wife put together “Ghetto 101”, and about 10 of us agreed to a weekend we would never forget; a weekend our parents would not be happy to hear about…

We knew that we had to “be in their shoes” to really know how to best serve them. We had no idea what it meant to sleep on cold cement without a wallet full of plastic, or a cell phone to call mommy and daddy when things got rough. Our weekend began with turning in everything we had come with, a cold shower in the Day Resource Center, and a hopeless search through a box of clothes that would be our only possessions for the next two days. For those two days we were on our own in this place we had deemed the “leper colony”. Luckily, we had made many friends who “showed us the ropes” and “had our backs” if things got weird. We ate what they ate, walked where they walked, begged where they begged, slept where they slept, collected cans for money, and endured life disconnected from the rest of the world. The weekend was incredible. We learned a lot, gained the respect of our homeless friends (Who now saw that we were “for real”), and scared the mess out of our parents.

After eight months of praying God decided it was time. We found two duplex’s on the same property. Two of the four units were for rent, and they were cheap. By this point our organization, Intentional Gatherings, had gained its non-profit status, and donations were coming in from people who believed in the vision of the “I.G. House”. We moved two guys into one unit and four girls into the other. It was then that we truly began to learn the in’s and out’s of homelessness, and how to attack the problem at the root. We were in a neighborhood about a mile from the “leper colony”, which was full of the “working poor”. (Those who are not-yet-homeless, but hanging on by a thread) The primary focus shifted from the already homeless to the almost homeless; the work among the already homeless continued, and the relationships that had been made were fostered. The “I.G. House” crew grew close as they lived in tight-knit Gospel centered community, and sought to make a difference in the neighborhood in which they resided. As the crew grew they eventually took over three of the four units on the property. From weekend kickball tournaments to front porch after-school tutoring & Saturday morning breakfast in the yard this group of immigrants was serving Jesus in a way previously foreign to us all.

We had finally learned that in order to make a true impact among a people we had to “incarnate” ourselves among them. We had to put ourselves in their shoes, eat what they ate, sleep where they slept, and live life in their context. It was then that we truly gained a door into their lives. We refused to simply come from the outside bringing in the “answer” to life. We brought our lives to the inside of their lives, shared life, and discovered what the “answer” was with them. Thank you Jesus for “incarnating” yourself among us, sharing in our lives, and teaching us of yourself, the answer.

Lonely Old Men, & Poetry…

The thoughts in this post pose some interesting questions, which are the reasons behind why I wrote it in the first place. The questions are at the end…if the story becomes boring feel free to skip down and read them. I’d love your thoughts on them as well…

“Lonely Old Men, & Poetry”
Last night our simple church decided to go to what we thought was an “open mic night” at the Coffee Bean. The Bean is right down the street, and we’re always sure to meet people who live in our neighborhood when we go there. Our purpose was to build some relationships, and a couple of us were possibly going to contribute to the “open mic”…

Much to our dismay, we had received a bit of inaccurate information about “open mic night”. Turns out it was really “Poetry Reading Night”. We thought, “What’s difference does it make? We came to build relationships. Why would that change because it’s open poetry reading, and not open mic, right?” We had also spent some time covering the evening in prayer at the house before heading up to the Coffee Bean. So, we, a bit reluctantly, joined the group of poets in the back room. It was closed off from the rest of the coffee shop, probably due to the language/content of the poetry. Not to mention they had the mic CRANKED up.

It did not take us long to realize that this was going to be a long night. What we thought was open mic night was actually poetry night. What was SUPPOSED to be poetry night should have actually been called, “Erotic, Sexual Poetry Reading by Creepy, Old, Lonely Men and Women Night.” Haha! I won’t go into detail here, but you can imagine what we were hearing. Each person had crafted their wildest sexual fantasies into a poem to share with the entire group; all included MUCH use of the “F” word. Enough said.

I am really proud of our community for being such “troopers”, not judgmental, and having true compassion in their hearts for those we spent the evening with last night. For the most part we’ve all been far removed from our previous “Christian Bubbles”, which completely sheltered us from the world, sin, and the potential to be temped. Being around “sin” doesn’t make us want to leave so we don’t get “tainted”, or hinder us from remembering our purpose. We go confidently into dark situations having faith that the LIGHT is US in far more powerful than the DARKNESS we’ve entered into; we’re also “prayed up”, and on mission together as believers. (The Bible talks a bit about this believe it or not = )

There is one very important thing that came to my mind last night as we were sitting in the back room of the Coffee Bean while creepy old men were talking about their dream girl being tied to the bed…

I could not help but think that the way we felt sitting in this room (A bit uncomfortable, uneasy, not used to the atmosphere, confused, unsure of how to act, curious, maybe a bit offended, etc.) must be what it feels like to be an UNbeliever walking into a “church” for the first time…(Please do not hear me picking on the “institution” here. This “happening” can easily take place in a simple, or house church setting as well)

Think about it: We walked into the poetry reading as “outsiders”, not knowing much about it, the people, etc. We were greeted, and found our seats quietly. The next hour was spent in the context of a completely different, and new atmosphere. The language was different, the way people spoke, the things they spoke about, the attitudes they had, the activities they participated in, the way they expressed emotion, the music they listened to, etc. Of course, not all of these things were bad, or negative by any means. However, that is all we know of poetry night at the Bean, and probably all we’ll ever know unless we intentionally pursue relationships with those people outside of poetry night. Being there that night did not make us better-equipped poets or poem readers. We will most likely not “join” the poetry-reading group based upon our experience last night.

So, could our experience last night (Believers in a dark setting with unbelievers-on THEIR turf) be very similar to the experience an UN-churched person might have when they walk into a “church”? (Unbelievers in a “bright” setting-on OUR turf). It makes me think about the times Jesus encountered sinners in the scripture, and who’s turf they were usually on. Did Christ expect the darkness to be attracted to the light, come to Him, and be changed? Or, did he take the light out into the darkness and see lives transformed?

Hopefully this will help us to all think more about our unbelieving friends, and where they’re at. We, for a brief moment last night, were “in their shoes”. We learned what it must feel like to walk into a brand new place with new people who dress differently, talk differently, sing different songs, use different language, go on different vacations, enroll their kids in special schools, listen to special radio stations, shop for music & books at special stores, etc. etc. etc.

Should our weekly services be for unbelievers, or for believers?

Should we be trying to accomplish effective discipleship & evangelism SIMULTANEOUSLY using the same weekly service? Are both not going to suffer greatly in the process?

Could two serious issues in the American church today (Weak discipleship & being “seeker sensitive”) come to an end if we stopped putting all of our eggs in the “weekly church service” basket, ceasing to attempt to be both “seeker sensitive” & solid disciple makers with this ONE tool?
(I don’t know of many churches who would admit that this is their ONLY “tool”, but there’s no denying that it is the primary tool used to attempt to achieve both of the above outcomes. If you’ve EVER spent any time on staff at a church then you know that most of the time, energy, resources, etc. are poured into the weekly worship gathering)

I.G. Vegas = Eight Months Old…

It has been eight months since Intentional Gathering’s first permanent presence in Las Vegas. It has been quite the ride. We have seen the Lord do some amazing things. He has taught us much. He has begun forming some beautiful Gospel Centered Biblical Communities here in the city, and used I.G. Vegas to influence to birth of new “missional communities” in other parts of the country. Over the past eight months we have been continuously reminded of some of the core principles we learned at the birth of our journey of that began two years ago in Texas…

1) If we EVER think we have “it” figured out then we have fallen victim to pride, & self-righteousness. We will soon lose all ability to hear from the Holy Spirit, and the ability make proper changes in order to stay effective in our pursuit of seeing the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth.

2) Every “missional community” IS, and MUST BE different. There is NO formula. Gospel Centered Community centered around mission MUST happen naturally, and cannot be forced.

3) We must not spend precious time, energy, and efforts trying to rally believers around our “cause”, “model”, or “way of doing things”. We MUST pursue making disciples, and adding NEW believers to the Body of Christ in order to grow the Kingdom of God. As we pursue making NEW disciples Christ will grow His Church. Amen.

Here’s a quick video of some things that have happened over the past eight months in Vegas, and some upcoming opportunities we have as an organization…

“Tension Wood”

Tension Wood“, replied my friend when I asked him what the technical term was for what had happened to the below pine tree…

Let’s talk “missional” – Morgan and I became close friends with our neighbors across the street a few months ago. They are not a project. They are not a charity case. We are not their saviors, and have no desire in our own power, or by our own efforts to try & “save them”. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, working through His followers, will gain standing in the lives of those we are in relationship with. We do not do the saving, but allow the Holy Spirit of Christ in us to work through us to capture the hearts of those who do not know Jesus intimately. We also don’t have a “covert operation” going on to convert them. We have grown to love them, and they have grown to love us. They have become some of our best friends in the city. Do we long for them to be captured by the Grace of Jesus more and more each day? Of course. Just like we long to be captured more by the Grace of Christ more and more each day.

As Christians we have fallen trap to an US vs. THEM mentality. This can hinder us from modeling the life of Christ to those we come in contact with. We are not in a competition with the lost. Jesus was not competing with those He served, healed, forgave, and saved. He desired for them to know Him, and He loved them into a relationship with Him. As Christians, in our insecurity, we feel the need to “one-up” the lost, or think we are better than them. We sometimes even let them know how right we are, and how wrong they are. This becomes dangerous when we communicate these things as if we have done anything in our own power, or by our own efforts to be right. It would be contrary to the Gospel, and we’d be boasting as if WE did something to achieve our status on the “winning team”. (Sounds like those guys in the Bible that Jesus spoke very strongly to about their self-righteous attitudes…the Scribes and Pharisees)

Again, this is not a competition we are in against other children of God, whom He does not wish to perish. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) I believe that darkness manifests itself in the form of self-righteous pride like a disease among people who claim to follow Christ sometimes more than poor, broken, adulterous women drawing water from a well.

Over the past few months we have spent five of the seven nights in a week on the front porch with our new friends. We’ve had amazing opportunities to serve them, and BE SERVED by them. We’ve been there for them, & loved on them. They’ve been there for us, & loved on us. The Gospel has been LIVED out, as well as SHARED. Scripture has been read. Prayers have been prayed. (Initiated by our new friends at times) Nothing has been forced. Our hope is that our neighbors have truly encountered Christ in us. They might not know it, but we have seen glimpses of Christ in them. Real life has been lived. The activity of the Spirit in the lives of friends right in front of our eyes is an absolutely incredible sight to see. Now, on a lighter note…

People in Vegas tend to head about 45 minutes north to Mt. Charleston to escape the heat. We went out there with them this past Sunday for a picnic lunch. This is what happens when a few guys find a limp pine tree in the woods….

“The Godless: A Desperate Generation”

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts titled, “All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do”. However, the Lord has been teaching, and speaking to me lately about my desperation for Him, or lack thereof. I will be writing a few entries on desperation, and pick back up with the series shortly after…

Inashmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips , but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.

Isaiah 29:13-14 (NKJV)

Notice the title to this post is The Godless, and not the godless. We are certainly not “little ‘g’ godless”. We serve many “little ‘g’ god’s”. It is as if “Big ‘G’ God” has been pushed from our society, culture, church, and country right out from under our noses. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” This letter was written to the lukewarm church. Alan Hirsch, the author of “The Forgotten Ways”, has responded to this verse by saying, “How in the world did Jesus get outside of the church in the first place?”

We live in a day, time, and country unlike any other in the history of the world. In America we have “freedoms”, and opportunities that surpass that of any other place in the world. People die trying to get into our country to experience “a better life”. The foundation of our country was built upon God, and the Ten Commandments. We’ve got it all together, right? We are a Christian nation, right? Wrong. (When I refer to “Christian Nation” I do not mean that many people sit in a church building on Sunday morning. We’ve got that part down. I am referring to radical followers of Christ who take the Gospel seriously, and die to themselves daily in pursuit of the growth of the kingdom of God; this is something I struggle with daily). But what other country has a cluster of states referred to as “The Bible Belt”? What other country has a church on every corner? We are desperate for God, right? Wrong. We DO NOT need God, right? Right?

This idea of desperation and need go hand in hand. If you do not need someone, or something, then you are not desperate for them. If you are not desperate for them, then you certainly do not need them. This word desperation has intrigued me lately. The root of the word is desperate. Are we desperate for anything other than “The American Dream” that we cling to so…desperately? The definition of the word is: a state of despair, typically one that results in extreme or rash behavior. So, are we desperate? Yes, for many things, but not for God. Does our desperation result in extreme or rash behavior? Yes, our pursuit of comfort and security has led to greed and complete self-dependence. We have successfully removed the need of God from our lives. After all, we have everything we could ever need, and most of what we want. If we are hungry we instantly fill our stomachs. If we are hot we crank on the A/C. If we run out of something we simply go to the store and buy it. If we want something we cannot afford we finance it. If we need to contact someone we pick up our cell phones, which are now in the hands of six year-olds! If we get a flat tire we call roadside assistance. If we’re sick we immediately go to the doctor and get drugs prescribed. (No need to pray to the God we’re supposed to be desperate for to heal us). I could go on and on. Are these things bad? Not necessarily, but where does God fit into our daily lives? Is it even possible for us to be desperate for God? I, in my own power, have the ability to provide for my every need, and the needs of my family. Where can my need for God be found? (I have recently become desperate for God in the area of my marriage, and being a husband. I am desperate for God to be in me, what I cannot be on my own. This is a good start, I suppose, to learning what a daily dependence on my Savior looks like. However, I believe it is far from a Biblical view of “denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus”.) How often do we, in all reality, deny ourselves of anything that we want or need?

I once heard someone say, “Many of the churches in America are so ‘man operated’ that they could grow without God.” What he was saying is this: Find a fascinating speaker who is good at communicating moral behavior, a great “worship leader” who can generate butterflies in your tummy, a staff of motivated (not to mention very well paid) and driven professionals, a cool, modern, and “hip” building/location, furniture from Ikea, a coffee shop, etc., and you can easily get a few thousand people into your building each week for a “service”. For some reason I do not believe the New Testament Church we read about in Acts was led by rare professionals. The early church grew and spread like a virus because it was easily reproducible. It didn’t take a superstar pastor, a rock star worship leader, and a huge building, etc. to multiply. In fact, I would say the above “model” we are accustomed to is nearly impossible to multiply. (Please do not misunderstand me by thinking I promote a particular “model” of church; anyone who thinks that any ONE model will offer “effectiveness”, or “success” proves their ignorance.) We may see addition with our current form of church, but not multiplication. The early Church spread and multiplied because ordinary, everyday people encountered Christ, and it messed them up for good, and for their good. They were transformed. Can our current form of church lead to transformed Christ followers? Of course! I am a product of a great one. Are many of these churches very effective in doing great things all over the world? Yes! Can we always be striving to be more effective? Of course. Might this require drastic and radical change for some churches and individuals, including myself? Yes. I am reminded of a business term I learned in college: Kaizen. It originated in Japan, and is the term used for continuous improvement. It simply means for us to constantly be looking for better ways of doing things. We must never come to the conclusion that we have it all figured out. This births pride and leads to ineffectiveness. As you know, we in America have this mindset. There is no attack here, but a simple submission that the Church (People of God, not a location or building) may be entering a new chapter, or era in what it looks like to be a Christ follower…maybe it doesn’t come with such ease anymore…maybe it requires much sacrifice…maybe it challenges us to be uncomfortable…maybe it BECOMES our everyday lives, and not just a part of our lives.

I was speaking with a student pastor friend of mine the other day. We were thinking hard about this absence of desperation for God in our country. We were chatting about what could be done differently in the area of student ministry. It would seem as if the days of great Wednesday night services, unbeatable camps/events, funny speakers, rockin’ bands, and the most thought provoking messages are quickly coming to an end. Are these things bad? Of course not. Can all of these things be present, along with hundreds of students who attend these weekly events, and still lack a true understanding of what it means to follow Christ? Sadly, the answer is yes. Erwin McManus, in his book, “Chasing Daylight”, writes on the idea of Christians being moved but not mobilized. He was referring to a group of men who came to a weekend retreat and got excited. They were certainly moved, but not mobilized to action. What will it take for us to be more than simply moved, but radically mobilized to live out the Gospel. Can we proceed in the same fashion we have for years? I think not. Do we, as adults, model a need for God to teenagers? I think this would be a good start for us. We must portray a selfless/desperate attitude to the next generation of Christ followers, or they will not be Christ followers at all.

There is a movement taking place all over the world. The truth is that the Huge God that we speak of, and sing songs about here in the states is performing miracles in other countries regularly. He is healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead. Wait, did I just say, “raising the dead”? We are instant skeptics. Once again, we talk about our God being Big. Do we truly believe it, and do our actions prove our belief? I wonder if our lack of faith has prohibited the Lord from doing things He desires to do in our lives. I am reminded of a story in Mark 6 where Jesus returns to His own country to teach and do miracles. Verses 5 and 6 say, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief…” I pray that my unbelief will cease to hinder the Lord’s work. I beg the Lord everyday to give me faith that believes He still raises the dead to life.

Is the Lord doing miracles in the states? Yes. Are we aware of the miracles, and in turn, directing the glory to Him because of them? Not usually. (We must first become aware of the miracles taking place all around us if we are to give Him glory for them) I’ve been to Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, and seen a movement taking place. I have heard about it in China, and have friends who are a part of it in India. To describe this movement we can think about the early Church in Acts where thousands were transformed by Christ in a day. Notice, I did not say that thousands prayed a prayer of conversion in one day. We have seen that in the states regularly for many years. I am speaking of people who witness a Christ follower heal the sick, or raise the dead to life through the power of the Spirit of God that dwells in them. Upon this encounter of a miracle they can do nothing but desperately beg to know this powerful God. They are forever changed, forever transformed. That is a movement. Christ is equipping His Church. He is taking His Church back into His hands, and out of the hands of man. He is doing what He is doing, and graciously welcoming us to be a part of it. Thousands of Christ followers in America are waking up to this call of what it truly means to radically follow Christ. A restored desperation for God is flooding into the hearts and lives of Christians all over the United States, and world. This of course, is contrary to everything in our flesh. The question is whether or not we will truly die to our flesh in order to live in this movement.

“Father, continue to wake us up. Challenge us. Move us to action and mobilize your Church. Instill in us a holy discontent for the status quo. May we begin to take the teachings of your Son, Jesus, seriously. We submit to You, and beg for your guidance.”