Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Homeless and the Church

Have you ever wondered how Christian churches treat homeless individuals when they attend church on Sunday?  Do they show authentic Christ-like compassion to those who struggle and live on the streets.  How does the Christian church greet, communicate and show Christian love to them.  Generally they are not dressed in Sunday attire and hygiene and grooming may be lacking.   For well over 40 years it has appeared to me that the church is changing and is more and more inclusive and less evangelical driven toward the "less fortunate".

Remember Matthew 25:40  the Lord says,  "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’   Reading further in Matthew 25:44-45 He again addresses the turning away from the needs of the less fortunate,  "Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?  Then He answered them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."  Turning our back on the less fortunate, the sick, homeless etc. is turning your back on Christ.  WOW

I have spent years getting to know some of the homeless. I've done photo shoots and written their stories.  I remember Jeanne a homeless lady who had lived on the street for years, when I ask her about her life she said, "you are the first person who ask me about myself".   How sad it is that the homeless are often invisible in our society.  Their stories have ripped at my heart over the years. I just simply can't imagine how it would feel if no one cared about my existence.  For the most part, the street homeless feel they are invisible.  But surely they are not invisible to our churches, who's doors are open and welcome all, or are they?  Recently while listening at a Bible Study, a member said, "I wonder how church members react to having the homeless show up in their churches?"    After that, I didn't hear anything else said that day in Bible Study.  My mind was going a hundred miles a hour, I was lost to that one question.  By the time the Bible Study was over, I knew what I would do in an attempt to know the answer to it.

On Sunday, September 3, 2017, with a full disguise, pulling a cart with a pillow, blanket and a bag of bottles to be recycled, I went to church appearing much like the street homeless of today.  I wanted to see how the church would react and more importantly, see how the homeless might feel should they attended the service.  First, a little about the church I chose.  I believe it is comparable to most of today's churches.  The name of the church is not important.  Please understand, I have no desire to fault find, shame or blame the church.  However, it's imperative that Christians understand how the homeless might feel when and if they visit the Christian churches of today.  The experience of the day proved to be invaluable in my understanding of how truly uncomfortable and even hurtful it may be for them.

To begin with, the pulling or pushing of a carts is important to the homeless as it holds all their possessions.  The clothes they wear to church does not come from the cleaners nor a closet that morning.   Their grooming may be compromised by the conditions they lived in the night before, so please excuse them if their appearance offends you in any way.  The rough look on their faces, the circles under their eyes are often the result of not sleeping well in a field the night before, and that may make them look a little less cheerful than the other members of your congregation.  Be aware that they may be coming to church with a hidden agenda, like hoping to find a cup of coffee or even a doughnut.  But the good news is that you are happy they are at your church, or are you?

I arrived at church ten minutes early, pulling a cart and fully disguised as homeless.  There were a lots of people arriving at the same time.  As I enter, a greeter says "welcome" and handed me a program as she made no eye contact.  As a matter of fact, she was looking beyond me and appeared all excited as she yells at someone she knew.  It felt uncomfortable, like she did her duty and she was hoping I'd move along.  Let me pause here and share my thoughts. . . a greeting at the door needs to be personal, like "hello, welcome, I'm Sara and what's your name?"  Then immediately say their name back to them, because that reflects that they are important enough that you want to know them by their name.  "Joan, so glad you're here, now you know I'm Sara,  just feel free to flag me down if you have any questions."  The homeless need to feel like they have an identity and that they are significant enough to be called by their name.

There are many greeters in the foyer talking with people.  l stand there for a few moments eavesdropping, and long enough to become aware that all these other church goers are significant enough that the greeters are engaged in getting to know them.  No one approached me.  Finally I moved into the sanctuary and took a seat in the back, but in a place where everyone would have to pass by me.  My little cart was right beside me.  Maybe the church could prepare a place where the homeless could safely store their possessions while attending service.  Just a thought...

The pastor at the front of the church starts moving row to row up the aisle shaking hands, laughing, talking, greeting the people.  He keeps moving closer and closer to my row and I anticipate he will soon be shaking my hand too.   After stopping at every row, he is finally welcoming the gentleman in front of me. Then he turns and doesn't even look at me, walks quickly around behind me.  I really couldn't believe it, but then I feel a light touch on my shoulder with one finger, and in a hushed tone he said "mornin" as he quickly moved on.  No eye contact, no interaction, it felt more dutiful than anything.  You can just imagine how a homeless person might have felt.

When the sermon was over, the collecting of the offering was next. The ushers, very organized, went row by row passing the collection vessel. . . Each person would pass it to the next, well, that was until it was my turn.  Oddly enough, the usher reached over me and took it so I was unable to touch or pass it on.  I certainly don't know his intention as to why he felt the need to do that, but I was left feeling awkward and different.

Then a closing song and prayer.  As I stood and organized my cart, the volume of noise rose as the people were hugging, shaking hands and talking with each other.  No one said anything to me as I stood waiting for the crowd to move so I could leave.   As I finally got to the foyer, I could hear members of the church thanking people for coming, expressing their hope that they would return next week.   However, I remained invisible, as no one said any thing to me.  No one expressed they were glad I came, nor did anyone invite me back.   again simply felt invisible.

 As I walked away from the church, I was numb.  My typical inclination after experiencing anything significant is to immediately write to capture the experience... But not this time, I jump in the shower as tears welled up in my eyes.  How sad for the homeless that they could be left feeling so rejected in the very place one would think they'd feel so loved.  It’s really not that complicated. When people who are obviously homeless show up at your church, you welcome them with love. You ask them their name, and you try to remember it and call them by it when you see them again. You invite them to Bible Study, you invite them to Sunday School, you invite them to coffee hour. You remember that a church is called a “sanctuary” for a reason. You get used to the idea that your relationship with them might be something other than “you give them something and then they go away.” If their smell and their noise and their looks frighten off a middle-class family who are visiting, so be it. You consider the idea that maybe that homeless, disruptive person isn’t there so that *you* can help *them*; maybe God has chosen that person to help heal you of your fear. You look for Jesus in them, because that’s where Jesus is.

A Postscript:  
For years my husband and I would reach out to the local street homeless.  I say "street homeless" because they are the one's that live on the streets, in fields, on sidewalks, in between buildings, etc.  not in shelters or in facilities.   We know them well and they taught us much about a lot of things including their faith in God.  We would handout food, gift cards for restaurants and assistance, it's not much.  One day I ordered bags of wooden crosses, they were 3" in size.  As we handed out food and assistance, I would ask if they needed prayer, I'd write down their individualized requests and then hand them a cross to represent Christ's love for them and our commitment to pray for them.  Here what we learnt, the crosses were far more important to them than monetary assistance, gift cards or food.  They loved them and were extremely verbal about it.  Many of them expressed the same sentiment,  'that God is all they have; that they pray and depend upon Him in their daily struggles; that they trust Him because they have no one else.'   They crave opportunities to talk about the Lord.   One individual said with much clarity, that he wanted to be homeless because he didn't want the clutter of having stuff in his life, it would weaken his desperation for God.  The homeless have been a total enrichment in our lives.  It is my belief that some of them would enrich the lives of those who attend church.

Sent from my iPad

Friday, February 3, 2012

Where's Our Reverence For God?

It's difficult to understand our casualness and often, irreverence toward God. What happened? In the last thirty years I've watched our culture change. Today's youth rebel against their parents, there's growing disrespect for authority, and respect for each other is at a all time low . . . What I see that's most distrubing is the lack of reverence shown toward God.

There is such a great difference between the holiness of God and the un-holiness of men. Yet it seems like today we relate to God as something a little higher than ourselves, someone we share our smallness with . . . He's no longer revered as the infinite, Almighty, Holy God that created us. He is no longer to be feared; no longer given reverence. When we acknowledge the majesty of God, the Holy Spirit does a work in us so we are more able to serve and worship Him with a greater reverence. . . it completely changes our relationship with Him.

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory. Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King the Lord Almighty."Isaiah 6:3,5

TheScriptures are powerful and revealing about the magnitude of all that He is. In Hebrews 5: 7 it say: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”Pastor Francis Chan recently commented on this scripture in his blog, "It struck me as odd that Jesus was 'heard because of his reverence.' It has caused me to raise the level of reverence in my prayers."

John Calvin wrote, "Reverence is that dread and amazement with which holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence ofGod...Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God."Wow, think of that . . . today we see man's ego exploding! Some times I think man rarely contrast himself with anything because our vision is obstructed by our obsession with ourselves and this world.

Last year I reviewed church web sites, church newsletters,bulletins, and Christian papers to see if they proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior on their home page / front page. Many had links to their profession of faith . . . and Jesus was tucked away in the articles, but that's just not good enough. The name of Jesus shouldn't be buried in links or in theprint, I don't want readers to bump into it. I want Christians to proclaim it! A lot of home pages are pictures of nice buildings, people, social gatherings, creative images and lavish web designs, etc. Nothing wrong with that except, HE SHOULD BE THE PRIORITY. . . And often in the absence of His name and recognition on the front page (or home page) they had pictures of thepastor. Even the pastor gets more recognition than our Lord! I find myself concerned with the glorification of preachers and the minimization of our Lord. In one particular Christian Newspaper that was 32 pages long, it wasn't until page 30 that I found His name buried in a brief statement. The priority was all about the 'social activities' of the local churches, parties, gatherings, even sports.

I wrote the sites and ask them to consider proclaiming the name of Jesus as the priority of their home page. We must stand up, stand out and always stand for Him. Reverence comes when we begin to see God as He truly is and with boldness proclaim it. . . In doing so, we show reverence to God!

‘Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godlyfear: for our God is a consuming fire.’Hebrews 12: 28-29

It's interesting what people will stand up for today.They show reverence for the military, historical days, and the dead. Everyone should search the scriptures on how to show reverence to Him. Plan on spending times in the Word, because it is in a lot of scriptures! Personally I can't think of anything that I kneel for but Him. That makes kneeling so special to me. I'm not saying it's right for everyone, but I find when I kneel it's all about Him. The clutter and distractions of life are gone. There are different ways to show reverence and different means. . . But the important thing is when we show reverence, we acknowledges in our hearts the glory of God as presented in the Scriptures, and by doing so, we then yield to God His rightful place in our lives

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pondering Holidays . . .

There is such excitement that surrounds Thanksgiving.  So many people wrapped up in preparing the big Thanksgiving meal, others looking forward to being with family, the football games, while others are counting the moments till 'black Friday' shopping sales!  Thanksgiving seems to be about different things to different people.  But in all truth, it should be impossible for us to focus on anything other than God . . . our Father, the Provider of all.  

Thanksgiving is always a time of reflection for me.  I remember my childhood holidays, the huge meal, fun, and most of all knowing it kicks off the holiday seasons.  But as an adult my thoughts are overwhelmed with Jesus.  What is the evidence that God is number one in my life? It's a question that I ponder a lot! If He is truly the priority, how should I be acting? What should I be doing? What should my life look like? Is there any evidence to support my claim that He is everything? Ever ask yourself these questions? They're serious questions!

Being a child of God radically changed things . . . The work of the Holy Spirit has changed how I live, act and relate to this world. The questions are endless, what is it like to really love your neighbor as yourself? Lately I have entertained these thoughts during my many sleepless nights.  But in all truth, they have existed every since I gave my heart to the Lord many years ago as a child. 

This question of loving the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind really became overwhelming in 2006 after my beloved step-son passed away from esophageal cancer. In a matter of 5 1/2 months I watched our family care about nothing else but him. Everyday was filled with desperation to keep him alive. Then after his passing, nothing seemed to be the same. There are no possessions, or places to go, or things to do that could replace the loss of him. Nor could I look at the world and all its glitter in the same way. Although we learn to go on, nothing could take his place. In time we'd return to our lives again. But make no mistake, we are never the same, because such a loss changes who we are.

Overwhelmed after loss, the magnitude of how much we love becomes so much clearer. Not only the loss of the person is beyond words, but everything changes. There's an emptiness from no longer being in their presence and sharing life with them.  We come to understand how much of a priority they truly were. So in those late hours of restlessness, a more important question arose, what would be the loss if Jesus Christ was not my Lord and Savior? What would be the loss from not having a personal relationship with the Lord of Lord, King of Kings?    This was impossible to really grasp, yet it was the most important question of my life!

As the death of my step-son changed everything, then surely the greatest, the most divine love and sacrifice (ever) of Christ dying on the cross for our sins should overwhelmingly alter everything about us.  There's nothing that compares to such a love!   Jesus is what Christian's should be thinking about on Thanksgiving, JESUS!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

FORGIVENESS: A Changed Heart

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

What is forgiveness? It's a decision that we make, a conscious choice involving the will. Are our actions by our choice or forced upon us  . . . God wants us to be sincere.  I have so many thoughts about forgiving, but clearly, forgiveness is a choice, a decision out of our obedience to God and His command to forgive.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Colossians 3:13

Often we have a strong sense of justice and we don't feel like forgiving.  In order to translate the decision to forgive into a changed heart, first, we must trust God to do the work in us that needs to be done. We must surrender to God's command whether we 'feel' like it or not. In surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit, we posture ourselves 'open' and 'sincere' as we seek refinement. We must continue to forgive by faith, until the work of forgiveness is done in our hearts.  Our faith, prayers and reverence to God are necessary to bring about authentic change.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

We know the work of forgiveness is complete when freedom comes as a result.  Our heart is set free from the past. The anger subsides, bitterness and resentment no longer permeate our thoughts and most of all, there's healing from the pain.  We feel honest and sincere as we move in the relationship. Although the memories of the past are never erased, they become manageable and somewhat diminished in their effect. Forgiveness takes time and is often a slow process . . .  but the peace that God gives is such a blessing! 
Yes, God does a work in us!  To God be the glory!

(Art by G. Hisayasu)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Divine Boldness In Early 70's . . .

(by Linda Craft-Hisayasu)
In the early 70's, revival broke out at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky and swept across the country, especially at Christian colleges.  I was a freshman at Spring Arbor College (now Spring Arbor University).  The divine work of the Holy Spirit was amazing and beyond anything I'd ever imagined!  We were captured by God's miracles and took to the streets with our testimonies.  It's impossible to describe it! 
". . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,
and they spoke the word of God with boldness."
Acts 4:31

Anointed and full of desire to serve, we started a street ministry (coffee house) in downtown Jackson Michigan.  I can't remember how the location came about, but it was under a building, not in the building.  No utilities, just a space where the foundation connected to the earth.  The floor was dirt and we had to either stoop or sit.  It looked like an underground passage of some kind, but to us it was a piece of heaven.  We named it the 'Catacombs'  (in reference of the underground place where the bodies of the Apostle Paul and Peter were said to have been laid). We ministered with such boldness in an atmosphere of candles. guitar music, soft singing . . . His Word was the central focus of everything! We were overwhelmed and  excited that God had given us a place.   In spite of the Catacombs being somewhat open to the cold weather, the love of Lord brought warmth and comfort.  Many people came off the streets and into the Catacombs to hear the message.  It was beyond special, it was amazing! 
 "When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place. 
And suddenly a sound came from heaven
like a rush of a mighty wind, and it filled
all the house where they were sitting."
Acts 2:1-2
Now 40 years later, I wonder what happened to my Christian brothers and sisters who were on fire for the Lord?  It's as if we were experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit described in the 'upper room' on the day of Pentecost.  Surely such an out- pouring was unforgettable. Or was it?   Are we still consumed by the love of Jesus and desperate to reach others? Much of today's Christianity seems so structured, planned, organized, man made religion so to speak. I wonder if my brothers and sisters are still flooded with memories from those days?  More importantly, are they still on fire?  Do they long for the simplicity of our faith back then, which was fully surrendered and open to whatever the Lord had in store?  Are our lives today too distracted and consumed with our possessions, hobbies, schedules, careers, commitments and social interactions?  Are we available for the work of the Holy Spirit.  If ever there was evidence of the work of Holy Spirit transforming lives, it was during that period in the 70's.  

He is still the same Lord and Savior, but are we still surrendered and open   Are we as desperate to share the good news about Him as we were back then?   Or have we rationalized our way of thinking, proclaiming it's a new world, new times?  The scripture is clear, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). . . are we the same?  Hopefully we have not chalked it up to 'youthful folly' or framed it as just an event in our history.  To diminish it in any capacity may mean that we are no longer a candidate for the Holy Spirit to use.   Are we as desperate to reach out to others today as we were back then?  Remember?
". . . you shall receive power,
when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you shall be my witnesses . . ."

Acts 1:8

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dying To See You!

(Short Story)
Your earthly life has ended. You arrive at Heaven and Saint Peter meets you at the gate.

"Nice to see you, we were expecting you. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of people up here waiting to see you. However, on the first day, you are only allowed to see one person because it's quite overwhelming up here. Eventually you are free to be with everyone. After you choose who it will be, the two of you can dine together and enjoy the beauty of Heaven. So think about it for a second, who is the one you’d like to spend your very first day with in Heaven?"

You’re trembling at the thought of holding your baby girl who passed away at childbirth. Then your mind races with the neediness of seeing your mother, as you recall the endless nights of wishing she could comfort you. Cascading memories of others, like your dad and how special he made you feel. Your smile widens at the thought of seeing your best friend, who you always confided in. You are excited and overwhelmed at the thought of so many. Surely Heaven is a great place to spend eternity with all these marvelous people you so dearly love...

Finally St. Peter says, "it is time for you to make your choice, who do you want to spend your first day with?"

Tears streaming down your face, you say, "I choose  my mother, she’s the one I missed the very most."

"Ok, have a seat, I will send for her, she’s definitely waiting to see you. I will also notify Jesus that you didn’t choose Him, so He can take you off His schedule today. He had hoped that you would want to spend your very the first day with Him."              

Interesting isn’t it, that your Heavenly Father, The Son of God, Jesus Christ, The Lord of Your Life, The Creator of All, The Supreme Being, The Savior of the World, The Omnipotent One, The Lord of Lords, The King of Kings, The Holy Spirit, The Maker of Heaven and Earth, The Divine One, The Great Comforter, THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY was NOT chosen first!

Although we do not know what that day will be like, our longing to be with our Lord should overwhelm us with excitement. We say we have a personal relationship with Christ. But what kind of a relationship do we have, if we aren’t desperate to meet Him first? You may say, "oh yeah, I forgot Him, but of course I want to see Him first." If you are forgetting Christ and have to be reminded of His existence, then there’s something serious lacking in your personal relationship with Him. If you truly have a committed relationship with Jesus Christ, then there’s no relationship on this earth that can compare with that one! It’s authenticity could never allow you to ever think of HIM as a second choice.

Our number one goal, motivation, aspiration, desire, journey, plan, and hope should be to finally be with HIM. So think about how much you truly love your family and others, then ask yourself, how much do I really LOVE HIM? 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus . . .

     As Christians we say that our devotional time with the Lord is special.    Lately I've been  thinking about it.  What are the reasons behind devotions and worship time?  So pondering such questions, I decided to spend an entire day alone with the Lord.  I chose to only focus on Him.  Fasting, praying, reading the Scriptures, writing about Him, attending a hour Soaking Room and pondering only thoughts about His glory and grace.  Twenty-four hours of focus, love and worship alone with Him.
     Before I get into how I was so overwhelmed by this day (and still am), I must admit there were challenges.  I quickly identified distractions and surrendered them to the Lord. I could be poetic here and write something inspiring, but the world and it's realities are deeply ingraned and I had to keep re-focusing.  No phone, no computer, no iPad, no TV, no interactions with anyone, no news, no music except Christian music with no focus on the musicians. no travel (other than to and from the Soaking Room), no food or planning meals . . . IN ALL TRUTH, it was an amazing day! 
     The morning began with complete focus and dedication.   Prayer with periods of silence and openness.  Then time spent in the Word.  Victory Christian Center provided a wonderful environment for soaking in His presence.  As the day grew, my heart was overflowing with such gratitude.  The afternoon spent in silence, pondering, writing and listening.  Overwhelmed with His presence . . .  I could go on, but there are no words to explain it.   I found myself drenched in all of it and singing the song written by Helen H. Lemmel in 1922:
        "Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
        Look full in His wonderful face,
        And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
        In the light of His glory and grace."
     Yes, that was the truth.  It was heavenly to be in "the light of His glory and grace.". No fast pace world, no earthly pull on me . . .   My mind was no longer saturated with thoughts about news, crime, disasters....  No TV, concerts, football games or entertainment distractions drawing me into mundane silliness.  No bills or financial statements, no need to figure out my net worth.  No fighting with health care or insurance companies.  No discouragement from politics or what's happening in Washington, D.C.   MY ONLY FOCUS was on my Lord and Savior.  I felt victorious, complete, secure, overwhelmed, renewed.... The vulnerability I normally felt from life's chaotic realities now gone.  Truly the 'things of this earth' had 'grown strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.'
     There's no therapy more healing than spending time with the Lord. I was flooded with His wisdom and truth. There's no earthly activities or attractions that compare to the intimacy of being in His presence.  His Word provides such hope and direction....    Clarity from prayer came with time, silence, and vulnerability before Him.  Sadly, our consumed lives have reduced our time with the Lord as nothing more than something on our 'to do list.'  Shouldn't we be desperate to spend time with Him??? In the end will we be reaching out to Him or fighting to hold on to this world?  My testimony from that day can be summed up in the words of Helen H. Lemmel's song :  

         "the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
        In the light of His glory and grace."