Friday, June 23, 2017

Shalom

Translating words from other languages can be a tricky business. The challenge is that language is not just about matching words, it is about interpreting expressions of culture. Like many other words, the word shalom can have multiple meanings depending on the context. Traditionally the word can be a way to say both hello and goodbye, but it can also to refer to a desire for peace.

If we want to get into broad-based theoretical discussions about meaning, we can ask a lot of complicated questions. Is shalom a place? A destination? A state of being? Will we know when we arrive at shalom? Or is it like the Holy Spirit? Is shalom an elusive wind, restless and always moving? Are we called to pursue shalom, though we may never reach a point of personal satisfaction or world peace? Perhaps shalom is about making peace with our own holy discontentedness, an ever-present quest to lay our burdens at the feet of Christ and seek his kingdom each and every day.

Let’s get practical for a moment. Life can be busy and stressful. It can be hard to escape the realities of the moment and dream of nebulous, seemingly impossible goals of societal harmony. World peace seems to somehow work out at the end a feel-good movie, but it doesn’t always translate to the daily grind of angry people and broken families. In addition, scripture tells us that our sinful nature is always going to be a huge barrier to reconciliation and true progress on any level.

Seeking shalom, it would seem, has a major set of challenges.

And yet, thanks to the grace of God, there is always hope. Incredible, inspiring hope. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” That verse provides amazing reassurance, and a reason to keep working towards the restoration of God’s kingdom here on earth. We experience a lot of failure here at Kingdom Causes Bellflower for the simple reason that life happens. Despite the difficulties and the daily heartaches, we keeping working towards a goal of community transformation. It takes diligence, patience, and the willingness to sometimes work tirelessly with one person at a time.

As you go about your day, don’t be afraid to dream big. There are a lot of needs out there, and that can be discouraging. There are also countless opportunities to pursue relationships and thriving neighborhoods. Ask God where you can be used, and how your gifts can be utilized to show love to your neighbors.

Shalom.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Blind, Deaf, Hungry

A few weeks ago, we received the preliminary result on the LA County Homeless Count--and it was devastating.  Our corner of the county increased by 50% over the last year.  While some of that increase can be attributed to more thorough counting, we can't deny that we are seeing more and more homeless people in our cities.  

The heartbreaking thing is that it's not just statistics--it's real people who have names and stories.  Some of them have families who are worried sick over them, but their untreated mental illness keeps them roaming the street.  Others never really had family: either their parents had their own addictions and illnesses that prevented them from caring, or they were abandoned to a broken foster system years ago.

Yesterday it seemed like everyone who walked in our door was in crisis.  It made the results of our homeless count feel unbearable.

Lenny*, a homeless neighbor I've known since I first starting working with KCB 10+ years ago, stumbled in.  "Chrissy, I can't see!  I'm going blind.  I haven't been able to see for months.  I can't do this anymore."  He was desperate, covered in urine, and scared.  I'd never seen him this frail before.  We connected him with an appointment with a doctor the next day, but it felt like we put a small bandaid on a gaping wound.  

An hour later, Yolanda* walked in.  She's humiliated by her homelessness and hides it from her family because she feels their own health and financial issues are too great to also handle her crisis.  She's working as much as she can, but does not make enough to afford even the cheapest trailer or studio in this area.  She confesses that she's had a fever for a few days and hasn't eaten.  "I'm so embarrassed to ask this--but do you have any food?  I am so hungry."  Just minutes before she walked in, a local Pastor had dropped off hot lunches that were left over from a local school.  We typically do not accept food donations at our office, but I think God knew that Yolanda would be walking in needing exactly that.

An hour after Yolanda left, Tom* walked in.  Tom is mostly deaf but his only hearing aid was damaged by sleeping out in the elements.  "I missed my appointment!!!  The judge said I'd go to jail if I missed my appointment!  And I broke my hearing aid.  I can't do this anymore!" He was frantic and shouting.  The volume of his voice was high both from his lack of hearing and his anxiety.  We tried to calm him down and get to the bottom of what appointment he was referring to, but he couldn't calm down.  "I hate having to depend on other people," he said as tears rolled down his face.

My heart broke yesterday.  

The Bible records Jesus healing the blind and the deaf--and I've never wanted so badly to see God do just that.  But often we do not see healing as quickly as we would like, and we're left feeling the heaviness of our broken world.

In the meantime, we grapple with Jesus' words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. 

*Names changed

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

God Doesn’t Make Junk

It can be blessing to get away from the fast-paced busyness of the city. When I think about our neighbors, I can’t help but be grateful for opportunities that not everyone has the chance to sample on a regular basis.

Recently I had the privilege of attending a men’s retreat, hosted by my home church. The event was labeled as a “Mens Adventure Weekend, “ and the setting was the picturesque town of Bishop, California, about five hours north of Los Angeles. The snow-capped mountains provided a stunning backdrop for a fun and inspiring weekend of outdoor activities, great food, interesting conversation, powerful stories, and amazing worship.

Each night we had a different speaker bring us a message to close out our day. One speaker shared a compelling story of his upbringing, and it was an incredible narrative of how God can take his children from a dark path to an breathtaking story of redemption and hope. He reminded us that God doesn’t make junk, which fit perfectly with the natural wonder that surrounded our campground.

When you step back and think about that kind of gathering, it is not hard to smile and realize that it is a little slice of heaven. The weekend brought together men from all walks of life, but when we sat down together for a meal or gathered for worship, it didn’t matter where we came from or what life we had led up to this point. We were just a bunch of God’s children, enjoying a bit of his creation and seeking harmony through the bonds of true family.

Coming home from these types of events can require an adjustment. Life is filled with work, responsibilities, and plenty of hassles. We can’t always wake up to a beautiful sunrise and spend the day playing in the mountains. What we can do is remember that message, and keep in mind that everything God created has a purpose. The streets and neighborhoods that surround you may not be as picturesque as a mountain landscape, but they have their own version of spiritual beauty.

As you go about your day, remember that God doesn’t make junk. The stories of redemption continue, both here in the city and faraway in the mountains. Wherever you are, embrace the opportunity to pursue the wonder of God’s creation and your role in it.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Together

Recently, Kingdom Causes Bellflower held an annual dinner. Admittedly, the event is a fundraiser, but it is also a time to celebrate the stories of transformation from the previous year, along with highlighting the challenges that remain in our path.

Some of the work that we do can be captured with numbers. We can highlight the number of people who have made a successful transition from homelessness, to Margaret’s House, to a more stable living situation. We can talk about the number of men who have overcome employment barriers through our Good Soil Industries program, and are now on a better path of personal and vocational growth. There are plenty of numbers that we can share, and those numbers play a key role.

Numbers are important, as they can provide practical and measurable indicators of success. However, numbers only paint part of the picture. In many cases, the more powerful aspects of what we do are conveyed through stories. From the early days of KCB, we have maintained a practice of sharing stories. While a story may only highlight one individual or family, they are a constant reminder of why we do what we do.

Life is about people. Real people, with real stories.

The annual dinner is an opportunity to share a few stories from the past year. If you have been to one of our dinners, you know that the stories can be incredibly compelling. It would be wonderful if every story was filled with joy, success and happy outcomes. Those stories do happen, and when they do, they are amazing to share.

What we all know is that not every story has a simple, satisfying conclusion. The stories that we share at our dinner can be raw, tragic and heartbreaking. We don’t share those stories to shock our community or just tug on people’s heartstrings. We tell those stories because they are an accurate reflection of what goes on in our neighborhoods. Here is a link to a couple of those stories.

At this last dinner, we had a couple get up a speak about their experience with helping one of their neighbors. As they spoke, one of them reflected on the fact that through this experience she realized that she needed to know more about the type of hardship that people go through every day.

Her testimony was a reminder that people are not in the habit of seeking out sorrow. We don’t get up in the morning and ask every person we meet to tell us something sad that is going on in their lives.

I am not going to advocate that you seek out tragedy in your life and live your daily existence under a dark cloud of sad thoughts. There is nothing wrong with waking up and looking for reasons to be happy about the new day. That said, the testimony that we heard at the dinner was an opportunity for accountability as we walk the path of faithful service. The brothers and sisters in our community have needs, and today is as good a day as any to reach out. We just need to take notice.

Our dinner did include some time of sorrow and more than a few tears, but there were also some amazing moments of joy, hope and optimism about the future. We call this event our Together Dinner because that is how we are going to live in the moment and then continue to move forward. Through the moments of sadness and the celebrations of success, we are going to live this life together.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Sense of Urgency

Are you doing everything that you can to help others?  Do you look for opportunities? Do you pray that God will put people in front of you who need some sort of aid, love or attention? In other words, is there a sense of deep urgency in your life for addressing the needs of others? When I talk about urgency, I mean a profound sense of longing, almost to the point of frantic desperation.

One evening not too long ago I was sitting at home minding my own business when the phone rang. It was one of my closest friends, and I knew immediately something was wrong.  One of our mutual friends was missing. His wife had no idea where he was and had assumed the worst. The lost friend was an avid biker, and rode his bicycle anyplace that was a reasonable distance to travel. He had been on his bike that day but had not been heard from in hours.

By the time I received the phone call, action was already being taken. The lost friend’s son was out scouring the usual travel routes, another friend was calling area hospitals, and still others were calling possible stopping points. Being that we were macho guys, we were ready to metaphorically saddle up our horses and ride like the wind (even though we had no idea where to go). After several tense hours of prayer and ongoing phone calls, our friend thankfully appeared. He been at a meeting that went long and had forgotten to notify his wife. It turned out to be a simple miscommunication and all turned out well. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, enjoyed a nervous chuckle and went on with life.

Upon hearing of our temporary lost sheep, our church pastor observed, “wouldn’t it be great if we approached evangelism in the same way that we approached our lost friend?” What true words he spoke, and we can apply the same thought process to loving our neighbors as we go about our day.

Obviously, our lives are busy, but are they really? What if we spent every waking moment thinking of ways to love our neighbors? Do I pace the floor fretting about the possibility of hurting souls in the same way that I paced the floor that night when my friend was lost?  I admit that seems a daunting task, and it cramps my personal desire for comfort, leisure and physical rest. But think about all the time we can spend entertaining ourselves, doing mindless activities and generally wasting time.

I’m not suggesting that we seek misery, or refuse to enjoy the joys of living life on this beautiful world that God has created. The point is that we can often have a sense that someone else is going to address the problems of this world. Transforming a community is accomplished one relationship at a time, and those connections include our daily interactions.

There is no time like the present. Do you have a sense of urgency?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Big Ideas

My son has always had an ambitious mind. Years ago, he was playing at a friend’s house, and that friend had an electric train. During this same phase of his life, my son was reading some popular books about a broom-riding boy who attends a special school for magical children. You might be familiar with that series.

One day he came to me with a big idea. He wanted to suspend a train track from the ceiling of his bedroom. After that, he wanted to loop some thick rope around the train that would go on that track. Finally, he wanted to attach a broom to the rope, hop on the broom, start up the train, and ride the broom around his small bedroom. Easy, right?


Unfortunately, I was unable to make that father-son project happen. The spirit was willing, but my limited knowledge of construction and my minuscule budget were not going to suffice. Even though we were unable to complete this vision, my son has maintained his willingness to try out new ideas. I hope he always maintains that ability to dream.

There is much to be said about the imagination of a child. As we transition into adulthood and are faced with the inevitable challenges of practical decision-making, it would be nice if we could maintain more of that childlike wonder. At Kingdom Causes Bellflower, we encourage people to dream, to ponder, to ask a lot of “what if” questions. This can obviously be frustrating at times because barriers can quickly arise. However, it can also be exhilarating when we think about the awesome power of God and how He can move mountains.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the concept of being a catalyst, and how KCB strives to bring ideas together for the betterment of our community. This is a theme that I want to stress again, because transformation is about huge concepts, and a willingness to step out in faith.

Do we need to be pragmatic at times? Absolutely. Do we need to think about budgets, resources and timelines? Yes. That said, sometimes we need to get a hammer and just start pounding nails. We need to believe that amazing things can happen when God ignites his people and spreads their love throughout the community.

I don’t regret that my son and I failed to create his vision. Well, maybe a little. That project was too ambitious, but not because it didn’t have merit. It wasn’t possible because it would have fallen on my shoulders, and I am just a sinner, saved by God.

With God, ALL THINGS are possible! Do you believe that? Do you truly believe that? If you do, fire up those dreams. Let us know what God has put on your heart, and maybe we can find others who have experienced the same spiritual excitement.

The people of this community are out there, waiting. What is your big idea?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Imperfect Solutions

I talk to people about Kingdom Causes Bellflower all the time. The reasons for these conversations are rather simple. One, it is part of my job. Two, I believe in this organization.

There are times when these conversations result in excitement, and new opportunities for people to get involved in the work of loving our brothers and sisters. Other times, I get a less-than-enthusiastic response. Sometimes I get pushback because people know that I am a fundraiser, and folks tend to get a little guarded with their wallets. I get that, because I can be guarded with mine.

Other times I have people question the effectiveness of what we do. This skepticism stems from a variety of sources. For one, plenty of individuals have prejudices toward certain social groups, particularly those that struggle economically. Combine that will political baggage, and you have a recipe for leery thinking. There can be a fear even among churches that organizations like KCB are engaging in handouts rather than implementing constructive solutions that promote personal responsibility.

Skepticism is not necessarily a bad thing. There are programs and organizations in this world that are not as effective as they could be, either because they are not designed well or because they are built for purposes other than helping the community grow. Humans like to feel good about what they do. Unfortunately, ministries or outreach opportunities have been accused of actually hurting their intended community, simply because they are (sometimes unintentionally) primarily focused on a goal of helping participants to experience a sense of generosity. Books by Christian authors have been written on this subject, which is part of the reason we are sometimes careful about how we support various projects.

There is value in this type of scrutiny. In Luke 14:28, the Bible says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”

Here is the challenge with this type of thinking. Like many Biblical interpretations, the problem is not the scripture. The problem is how we (sinful people) apply it. A calculating and planning mentality is good, but will only get you so far. If we expect all plans to have a measurable and guaranteed outcome, we have no need for faith. The reality of working directly with people is that the results are never guaranteed. In other words, we cannot use a single verse as our guide. We must put it into context with everything else that Jesus taught us. Otherwise, we would never step out and take any risks at all.

The bottom line is that analysis can sometimes lead to paralysis. Sometimes in our quest for the perfect solution, we end up doing nothing.

I would rather try and fail than never try at all. Understand that we don’t pursue reckless strategies. At KCB we work very hard to think things through, understand the consequences of our strategies, and maintain principles of stewardship. We solicit feedback from pastors, community leaders, business owners, and everyday citizens. We think through time constraints, financial implications and measurement tools.

At the end of these discussions we are faced with hard decisions because all those conversations do not remove the possibility of risk or failure. This is when we pray, ask for God’s wisdom, and go forward with boldness.

Think through your decisions today, but remember that God does not call for you to be cautious. The Parable of the Talents illustrates that God wants us to act and trust that He will be walking with us each step of the way. It isn’t about what the first two men earned in the parable, it is about their willingness to take chances.

There is work to be done. Do not be afraid of failure. The real failure is not doing anything at all.