“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.

“Hi-Jacked” Part 1

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past few weeks about how we, as Americans, have taken things that were never meant to be about US…and made them about…US. Interesting, right? The first two that come to mind are things you have most likely been thinking about lately as well: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and many other holidays. I suppose it is our human nature, our flesh screaming out, and perverting beautiful things at every opportunity. We fight to choke out our flesh, and feed the Holy Spirit of God that lives inside of us. It’s the classic wrestle that Paul talks about in Romans 7. I plan on diving into some other examples of the things we have hi-jacked in the near future. For now we will start with Thanksgiving…

I find it funny/interesting that I cannot tell you the historical background behind Thanksgiving, where it came from, and why we celebrate it. I could probably piece bits of things together from elementary school, along with some “B.S.ing” skills, and come up with a pretty good explanation. There are enough “good” things that come to mind when we think about Thanksgiving to dismiss the thought of ever needing to ask tough questions like “why?” & “what’s the reason?” This is the same reason we do not question much of ANYTHING that we do anymore. It’s all we have ever known. Our family has always done it. It’s “good”. No need to question it…but what if our human nature over time has taken something and slowly twisted it into something far from what it was intended to be…something that tragically has become more about US than it was ever intended to be…in fact, something that was NEVER supposed to be about US at all, but now has been hi-jacked, and made completely about…US? On the surface it’s still good…but if we dig deep could it be beneficial for us to strip some of these things down, and get back to the roots? There is a scary parallel that crosses my mind when thinking about some of the things we do just because that’s how we’ve always known them to be done…never even stopping to ask ourselves why, but continuing in the same old ritualistic traditions…  : )

Anyhow, I think Thanksgiving has to do with the pilgrims and Indians…and Columbus, or something, right? All I know is that every year family members get together to eat ALL DAY LONG. Some people use this day as one out of the two opportunities they will take to serve someone else throughout the year. (Soup kitchen, etc., and there is sometimes a hidden motive, or agenda behind this “act of service” to begin with-an entirely separate post) Of course, there is nothing wrong with getting together with family to enjoy quality time, and great food. However, may I propose that we start breaking the mold by re-thinking the purpose for why we do what we do instead of just going along with everything because it is the only thing we have ever known? Maybe we can start taking the opportunity to get back to the heart of things…Maybe we can do more on Thanksgiving than go around the circle at the table and share one thing we’re thankful for without allowing it to cause us to actually DO anything outside of ourselves…

Will Morgan and I eat all day long tomorrow, and spend time with people we care about? Of course. I am not suggesting that anyone should stop doing that, or that it is wrong. In fact, we’ll probably go around the table and say what we’re thankful for as well. No problem with that either. I suppose I am simply suggesting we take it to the next level, and continue taking it to the next level until it becomes more about others than us lest we look back and be accused of hi-jacking some of the most beautiful things on earth…

The purpose of this post has little to do with holidays, but holidays are a good example of how we hi-jack things that were never meant to be about US in the first place, and make them about US. There are millions of examples of how we do this all throughout the day in our lives. We serve ourselves, bless ourselves, and do very little that has anything to do with anyone other than ourselves.

“Each of you should look not only at our own interests, but the interests of others. You should have an attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Phil 2:4

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

Last night our simple church had the amazing opportunity of blessing a single mom who lives in our neighborhood. Our I.G. Community came together and prepared a Thanksgiving feast for her and her two kids. Ava, Kayla, and Coren do not have any family in the city. Last night they came over; we all had a great time cooking, and pillow-fighting with the kids. We sent them home with everything they will need to enjoy a great Thanksgiving meal. Tomorrow we will swing by to drop off a HOT Turkey, a card with some personal messages, and a gift card for her to buy presents for the kids for Christmas. It’s amazing how God can use a group of broke twenty-somethings to live out the Gospel in their own neighborhood.

img_0098Kayla, Morgan, and Candace in the kitchen…

img_0099Joseph, Ava, and Chaz chattin’ it up…

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Coren crashed out after pillow-fighting!

Ya Ya and it don’t stop…

“Ten Commandments for Church Planting Movements” (pg. 257)

1. Immerse Your Community in Prayer

2. Saturate Your Community with the Gospel

3. Cling to God’s Word

4. Fight Against Foreign Dependency

5. Eliminate All Non-Reproducible Elements

6. Live the Vision that You Wish to Fulfill

7. Build Reproduction into Every Believer & Church

8. Train All Believers to Evangelize, Disciple & Plant Churches

9. Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave

10. Discover What God is Doing and Join Him

These are ten things that Garrison and his team came up with after looking back over the CPM’s they have studied. While these ten don’t include everything they’ve learned, they do encompass the most important parts.

Frequently Asked Questions: (pg. 261-262)

“What is the role of volunteers in CPM’s?”

The very name volunteer connotes someone who is not a professional, and in our highly professional society, this sometimes carries a negative image. But in the economy of Church Planting Movements amateurism is anything but negative. We must remember that the word “amateur” literally means “one who does it out of love,” as opposed to one who does it for pay. Let’s look at some of the reasons volunteers are so valuable to CPM’s:

1. Volunteers are so important because they model self-sacrificing love for, and obedience to, the Great Commission. They are not only UNPAID, they actually pay for the privelege of serving God…

2. Volunteers come from the real world. They are secretaries, farmers, teachers, builders, doctors, lawyers, and numerous other professions-secular professions that exist in the societies of lost people groups all over the world.

3. Volunteers are God’s people, and as God’s people they possess the same vibrant Holy Spirit that enlivened the apostle Paul. When they connect with new believers they transfer an awareness that it is the Holy Spirit who makes one a useful servant of Christ, not one’s profession or educational training.

Aaron here now:

While many have read this book since it has come out, they have dismissed it as being helpful to overseas missionaries, but not relevant to the church in America. I STRONGLY disagree, and believe all of the principles I have read about in this book to be completely universal. They can be transferred to our particular culture and context. I truly believe that the day we start to take books like this one seriously in America that we just might have the privilege of experiencing a CPM on American soil…God willing.

“Gospel Authority in the Upside Down Kingdom…”

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 through prayer, community, and one of my mentors about the authority of the Gospel in the upside down kingdom of Jesus. I will pick back up with the “All Mixed Up” series very shortly…

In the I.G. community here in our neighborhood we have committed to walking the streets every Friday morning at 7am to cover our neighbors in prayer. God has given us a desperate heart for this hood, and it’s sanctification. This is where we live, and we feel influenced to seek it’s welfare through deep relationships with those who live here as well. As we were walking the streets, and praying this past Friday the Lord gifted us with a beautiful realization about His authority, His Gospel, His Spirit that lives in us, and what that implies for those of us who call Jesus our Savior.

In man’s kingdom the word authority has a particular meaning. Many of us, myself included, are a bit rebellious by nature, and have had “issues with authority” throughout most of our lives. (The words of my amazing Dad!) Some of us relate the word to a husband & wife in the context of marriage, though often times not Biblical. We think of teachers, police officers, judges, managers, and bosses as having authority. Many of us are under the authority of someone, but also have authority over others. Regardless of which of the above examples we subscribe to the underlying theme is that of a power, or influence over others through control. The dictionary definition of authority is, “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.” Whether accurate, or inaccurate this is the view many of us have in regard to the word authority. The thoughts we have on words like authority are the result of our upbringing, culture, technology, country, education, and so much more. Sadly, this default meaning for the word authority we have acquired has tainted our ability to understand the authority that Jesus speaks of in His upside down kingdom. This is something that we will forever be handicapped by as we seek to pursue ushering in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.
When Jesus walked the earth He challenged all the norms, thus we have the phrase “upside down kingdom”. There are many examples of how Jesus did this throughout scripture, but we will focus on His view of authority. As we saw earlier, man’s idea of authority stems from influence by control. We can all agree that our bosses have some degree of authority over us. They control, or influence the way we do things in many ways. A police officer has the authority to pull us over, ticket us, or arrest us. Jesus submits a different idea of authority in His upside down kingdom.

What if authority was not through control, or causing someone to submit to us, but rather something that was naturally awarded us as a result of love and service? For example, I submit to Christ, and His authority in my life as a result of His love for me. Jesus extended grace to me, and served me on the cross. My response to His actions are a willing submission to Him, and His authority in my life. He does not have to twist my arm, control, persuade, bribe, or compensate me to gain my submission to Him, which is not the case for most relationships we are in where someone has authority over us. We submit to our boss’s authority because he will fire us if we do not. We submit to our teachers because they have the ability to fail us. We submit to the police officer because he has a gun, and to the judge because he can put us in prison. Jesus’ authority is not a result of control of, or power over our individual lives. His authority in our lives is a result of us responding to Him, who He is, and what He did for us.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 10:45

This is how the triune God chose to gain authority “over” His children; by being under them. (Kneeling to wash the feel of His disciples & accepting a punishment for people who didn’t deserve it to gain them access to the creator of the universe.) He did not put His thumb on our heads, and push down. He came to serve us, and die for us to complete a task that we ourselves could not; He raised the bar, and set the standard for how we are to live. That is the authority He has in my life. My deep appreciation for His grace causes me to submit to his authority. He did not force authority, or control.

This is the authority that we are invited to have in the lives of our neighborhood if we emulate the actions of Jesus. The Jesus inside of us kneels down to serve, and “wash the feet of our neighbors”. We serve, love, and build a relationship with those who live around us. We, through humble service, earn a voice in the lives of those we have grown to love; those who have also grown to love us. We have now not only sought to share the Gospel in words, but with the actions of our lives. Hidden agendas are non-existent, and ulterior motives nowhere to be found. Through modeling the life of Jesus we have now, by accident, gained authority in the lives of our new friends. Actually, the Spirit of Jesus living in us has now gained authority by our obedience, and submission to Him.

These realizations are what led to our prayer for the neighborhood this past Friday morning. As we walked down Lorilyn Ave. I prayed that the Gospel, and love of Jesus would have authority in the lives of those who live in this neighborhood. I prayed that we, by the power of the Spirit of God living in us, would be made able to love and serve the people in this neighborhood in such a way that would cause them to respond appropriately. I prayed that the authority of Jesus, His Spirit, and His Gospel would reflect the upside down kingdom. We do not desire to have an oppressive, controlling, consequence fueled, and forced authority in this neighborhood. We begged the Lord to show us ways that we can come not to be served, but to serve our neighbors. We truly believe that as we move forward and reflect the upside down kingdom of Jesus that it would place a bent towards Jesus in the hearts of those who do not know Him as Savior.

Jesus, may Your Gospel have authority & power in this neighborhood not through control, but through your followers humbly living out that Gospel. As we live a Spirit led life, may it gain a supernatural authority, presence, and voice in the lives of those who do not know You as Savior. Amen.”

Unity…Whut?

Previous Blog written on April 11th, 2008…

I believe that people all over the world are beginning to realize the need for Unity. For years we thought we could do it on our own. We thought ministry and the growth of the kingdom was some sort of a competition. We thought that the Lord gave US a vision, and that we were to move forward like a fright train pummeling anything in front of us in order to accomplish that vision.

Of course, we rarely see that in scripture. Instead, I see Jesus stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples. I see Him commanding us to put the interests of others before our own, and humbly serve everyone around…yes everyone…(Philippians 2) “you mean even the church planter down the road!? But what if our members go to HIS church and not mine!?” (How a thought like that can even enter any of our minds blows me away)

I have come to the conclusion that a main reason we haven’t seen Biblical unity among the body here in the states is because if it happened God would get the Glory. We don’t like that. We want the glory, and we rob God of the glory He deserves because our flesh wants recognition, and approval. We SAY we want God to get glory, but our actions prove otherwise. We say we want to grow the kingdom no matter what, but it usually translates into growing OUR kingdom. When true unity begins to happen is when pastors, leaders, planters, missionaries, etc. begin to humbly serve those around them EVEN if it does not directly benefit THEIR thing, but the others.

Unity happens when we count the interests of others as equally important as our own. Once again, this will be difficult because for this to happen ONLY God can take credit, and receive glory for it. I beg, and pray that we would desire His glory more than our own. “Father, set us free from our fleshly desires…our desires that rob you of the glory you deserve.”