Radical Simplicity and a Beautiful, Messy Life

Yes, Urban Missions is Effective, And That's Not the Point.

"Do you find they are receptive to the gospel?"

I used to work at a Drop-In Center downtown in my little city. I spent my evenings there with a vastly diverse group of people who have become dear friends. Some are homeless, some struggle with addiction or health issues, many struggle to make ends meet, but each of them has something profound and beautiful to teach me if I am willing to listen. And so often people who are curious about the ministry ask me, are the folks downtown in our little drop in centre, are they receptive to the gospel?

I never quite know how to answer this question. All I have are "yes, but..." sentences.

Yes, but also they cause me to become more receptive to the gospel. The gospel isn't something you respond to once, it is something we respond to repeatedly, in our daily life. The gospel, the good news contained in scripture, is that God has another way, that He is writing a redemption story throughout history through the work of his Son on the cross, and we are not hopelessly stuck in our sin. That he reigns, not just over sin and death but over loneliness, poverty, politics, and pain.   I believe this more everyday that I walk among the poor in my city.

Yes, some respond to the gospel. But so many of them already know. My friends downtown teach me about God every day. Some of them have a faith despite their circumstances that puts mine to shame over and over again.  My friend downtown are teaching me to pray and love in ways I have not known.  Why do we assume that people living in poverty are distant from God? Friends, God is not a middle class commodity.

Yes, I find they respond to the gospel, but sometimes that response is soaked in years of rejection and judgment at the hands of the church. Or shame and a disbelief that they could be of eternal value to anyone, let alone a mighty God. Faith is a journey, and sometimes we can't see the transformation that is happening slowly inside someone.

Yes, but even if they never responded, we must still be faithful. Let's not ruin this with pragmatism. We don't care for those on the margins because it "works" to accomplish our churches agenda, but because the bible instructs us to. Because people are of deep intrinsic value and shouldn't have to choose between having food to eat or a safe place to sleep. Because the maker of the universe told us that He is present in a unique way in people at the margins. Because poverty and social justice are mentioned more than two thousand times in the bible and this is something close to our Lords heart. Does it "work"? Yes, but I feel that's the wrong question.

Do my friends downtown respond to the gospel?  Of course they do.  But that's not why we must go.  We go because the Lord has sent us. Losing sight of this can only bring discouragement.

Friends, caring for those in need is not just a means to get people to respond to the gospel, it is the church's response to the gospel. We go not because the need is great, although it is, but because our God is great and He sends us.  And in the going, we are being changed.

Friend, You're Going to Have to Teach Me How to Love You

It should have been her wedding anniversary.  I sat on the stoop with my recently widowed friend while she cried and I awkwardly circled my hand on her back.  They should have been going out for dinner or a movie, or even bickering in the kitchen about brands of cat food or some other inane topic. Instead she was drinking beer on the porch at 10am while his ashes sat in an engraved wooden box inside. 

Her sobs grew louder and without thinking I muttered these words: "It's OK".

“It's not OK.” She snapped back. “My husband is dead.” 
 She was right of course.  It's not OK.   

She shouldn't have to, but my friend taught me how to love a widow that summer.  She showed up crying on our porch at midnight.  She asked my husband to help with small household fixes.  She came over dutifully at each holiday and birthday for a plate of food and some quick pecks on the cheek.  I like to be invited she said.   But I'm not up to staying long. 

It's not that I didn't want to love her well.  I did.  But I've never walked in her shoes.  Frankly, I'd rather not imagine having to do so.  So I needed her to show me.  To ask for what she needed and tell me when to shut up. She shouldn't have to teach people how to come along side her in her most desperate moments, but she does.  Because we just don't know. 

My friend is brave and bold.   She consistently told us what she needed.  She swore and cried and didn't for a moment pretend that grief hadn’t shaken her to the core.  If we forgot for a moment that her pain is the forever type, she would remind us.  She taught me another invaluable lesson that summer; she taught me that we all need to teach those around us how to love us.  We shouldn't have to, but we do.

This past year the mental illness and addictions I had been trying to ignore for years set my life on fire.  My husband and kids suffered along side me through rehab and psych wards and countless appointments. Friends wanted to help and often didn’t know how.  Some people intuitively knew what to do, showed up to be present in our family’s pain, brought casseroles and smiles and caramel Lattes. Others avoided us for fear of saying the wrong thing.  They didn’t know how to love us through the pain.  How could they?   I hadn’t told them.  

How often do we live amongst each other with out being amidst one another?  We are surrounded without being embraced.  We are together yet alone.  What if instead we learned to be brave and bold like my friend, to tell each other precisely what we need?  What if we taught our friends how to love us?  

Because our friends want to love us well.  We want to love each other well.  But don’t we all feel a little in over our heads?  A little shaky and unsure?  Afraid of reaching out too far and falling flat on our faces?

It takes a special type of vulnerability to express to each other how to love us best, to reach out when we feel lonely or forgotten, to communicate our hurt when we feel dismissed, to ask people to listen when we feel voiceless.  But I’ve come to believe that it results in a special type of blessing: A community of people who are willing to meet us in our need, a circle of loved ones who know how to love us well.

We are designed to need one another, to speak into each other’s lives in both practical and ethereal ways. And because we are mostly made of water and fear, we aren’t always going to succeed.  We get lost in daily life, over committed and unsure.  So friends, you are going to have to teach me how to love you.  And I’ll return the favour.  We shouldn’t have to, but we do.

Do you feel alone today? Unheard? Afraid?   Reach out and tell a friend.  Teach them how to love you in this moment.  I suspect you’ll both be glad you did.