Saturday, March 28, 2009

God's timing and the Holy Spirit are amazing things...

2 years ago I had a broken heart, which grieved me for close to a year. It felt unbearable at times. And yet when I look back over the past 2 years, I see what has come of it. I realize that if all of that pain was meant for only how it has shaped me and where it has lead me, it was all worth it... because that pain brought me to the streets of Hollywood. Somewhat indirectly, starting with the decision to go on a missions trip to New Orleans, where my experience with the homeless there gave me a heart for the hopeless and abandoned. Which lead me to joining Broken Hearts ministry. It was not a calling I felt that God placed on my heart that I responded to. Instead, which I believe he so often does (and believe we don't have to wait for a call to go, but can go in faith and then hear the call), he brought me there in an unexpected and roundabout way. Then gave me a taste of what it was to share my faith, bring hope to the hopeless, and in doing so come to know and love Him more. That taste has grown into a hunger that I doubt (and hope) will never be satisfied on this earth.

I've been listening to some very convicting sermons focused on living a life that matters, a life that addresses sin, and that is focused on eternity where our true home is. They have given me an even bigger desire to spend my time here doing what matters so that when I get to heaven, I will be proud of how I used my life, and my Father will be proud of his daughter. As they speak of pure religion that reaches out to the orphans and widows, poor and lost, it resonates with me and challenges me at the same time. I know I have very far to go in living out this pure religion.

They also address those people in their pews who hear these messages, resonate with them, agree, want to respond, and then walk away and forget. A few years ago (and still today with slight improvements), that would have been me. Or maybe responding with the bare minimum and reasoning away why simply sending a check to the poor is good enough. Justifying why buying certain things for only myself is perfectly fine, while ignoring needs around me. Now at least when I hear them address those issues, it stings to see where I'm failing, and I immediately look at how I can change, and desperately cry to God to take that ugliness out of me.

Without these past 2 years in Hollywood serving the poor and needy, I don't think I would have that same response. I would be living for myself way more than I am now, and in doing so, be living a life of self-deception. A life that says it's fine to live the way you want, as long as you love God, do some good for those around you, go to church, love your neighbors and family, and spend lots of time at church and in your bible and praying. A religion that is mostly about me and my relationship with God. But what I wouldn't have been able to see is what a lie that is and how much more God wants and expects from me as his child. An ambassador who embraces and expects suffering for his sake, who counts all things as lost compared to the infinite worth of knowing and sharing Him. I am so much more in tune now what Christianity really means because I've gotten a taste of it in sharing this joy with those who don't have it and reaching out to those who God so desperately wants in his kingdom.

And in these experiences, I'm learning what it means to ask God for things and truly expect him to answer. What faith looks like and how it lives. I often feel like I'm relearning the same lesson week in and week out. But it's on my mind, and I'm slowly making steps forward.

Thursday night in Hollywood I prayed much longer than I usually do before I went up. I have little faith and I pray for big things, and then doubt that God will actually do any of it. Then I watch my friends in Hollywood have amazing conversations and experience amazing things after expecting amazing things, who have crazy prayers answered. And it's so humbling thinking, "I want that to be me, but I doubt SO much". So I prayed against that this week. I did the usual of praying for big things and for God to work through me, then recognized my tinge of doubt. So then prayed against that again and prayed with more sincerity and humility than the first time around, recognizing the work that God would need to do in me.

When we got there I saw "Manny", a guy I met awhile ago and see periodically. I usually have pretty good conversations with him and we can be real with each other. He's a little bit private and doesn't say a whole lot, and many times he hasn't wanted to join in our bible studies. But Jeremiah and I chatted with him near our bible study as he waited for pizza, and caught up on what had been happening lately. He stayed for The Refuge, and afterward we got into small groups to discuss the message Jeremiah had given. I don't remember how (although it started by me asking him to remind me of his beliefs about God) but we got on the topic of how he doesn't really think God totally accepts him because of the sins he commits and things he's done in the past. He believes in God, but has a lot of doubts, partially because of this and things that have happened in his life.

Then, I got to experience the Holy Spirit working through me. I don't often get that feeling out there that it's not me speaking, but when it happens, it's amazing. I'm generally pretty gentle and quiet and mellow with people, especially those who already know about and believe in God. I now think partially that attitude can be a result of Satan telling me they already know it all so they don't need to hear any more 'good news' and I don't need to 'preach' at all. But at that moment, I felt so compelled to dispose of that idea he had in his mind and expose the lie. I can usually tell it's so much more God than me, because words come pouring out of me in a surprisingly eloquent and understandable way. I tend to stink at getting my thoughts out and verbal communication, so when I don't skip a beat and everything comes out of me like I just got done with a study on the subject, I know God's at work. I can't do that on my own. And the look in his eyes and small twinge of a smile told me the words meant something. I'm not exactly sure what, but he was clinging to them.

After we prayed in a small group with our friend Bryan, he assured us he'd be back the following night for our bible study at Exposure Night, and took off with more pizza. I hoped he'd come, but as usual, I had my doubts. Then I was left with Bryan, and we got into a great discussion about what he'd been learning. Bryan has been coming every week, with a clear hunger to know Jesus more. I asked him if he'd been reading his bible, and he told me about reading the beatitudes in Matthew. Then he said he had some questions about it, but was very hesitant to share them. When I encouraged him to go ahead - and what I thought was really awesome - was that he asked about the issue of prayer that is mentioned. About not standing on street corners and praying, but going in secret to pray. He asked because he was concerned maybe something that The Refuge and BH was doing, praying and doing everything so obviously for people to see, could go against what was written in the bible. I took some time to explain to him what that passage meant and why it was okay. But I loved that he was reading the bible in that way, thinking and trying to apply it, and then examining our ministry up against the word of God! We got to talk a while longer about other questions he had, which just revealed more to me how much he is growing and hungering for more knowledge. It is so exciting to see someone becoming a disciple of Christ!

And again, as I explained some of these things to Bryan, I felt like the words were flowing so easily, and it just felt like God gave me all that i needed to say in a way that he could understand.

So, to make a long post way longer...
the following day I kept thinking about Manny, and how I wanted to have some verses ready to share with him the following night. And the more I thought about and prayed for him and envisioned our conversation in our head, the harder I prayed and felt like my faith grew. That it wasn't just throwing prayers out there hoping God might come through, but passionate prayers that I was nearly certain God wanted me to pray and would fulfill. Again, I felt like the Holy Spirit was showing me how to pray and interceding on my behalf. Asking that if He wanted me to have this conversation that he would open that up. And I rarely envision conversations in my head, but I kept thinking about what i wanted to say to Manny and felt the need and drive to do so incredibly strongly. Thoughts from an evanglism book I've been reading began creeping in, as I had the thought that although I knew he was a 'Christian', that didn't necessarily mean he was saved. That I needed to probe to find out and make sure. I knew if I saw him, I would not wait or look for an opportunity to bring it up, but would dive right into the conversation...which again, I don't always do, I tend to take things more slowly and let the situation unfold naturally.

As I sat at lunch during the day, I asked God to show me the right verses. I headed to the references at the back of the bible, both glossary and topical. I'm currently reading through Philippians in my own quiet time, and as I started to glance to verse references, a thought came to mind: just keep reading through Philippians, you'll find them there. 'huh' I thought. 'that was kind of weird, a pretty clear thought. well, I'll keep that in mind, it's probably just me'. And I proceeded onto Matthew and found a good verse there. But I still had a very clear, nagging thought to just read through as usual for my quiet time. 'alright, fine,' I thought, and headed there. About 2 verses in, the next verses were about not being saved by righteousness or because of it, but because of faith and through the power of Jesus Christ. About how no matter what we have done or haven't done, it's all about faith given to us by God. I just had to laugh. Once again, I doubted that God was actually doing something big like speaking to me, when I just saw it as a possibility that it was from God. But he proved right then he'd been listening to my prayers and answered right then. It seemed so easy, and maybe that's why it was so humorous to me.

When we got to Hollywood for Exposure Night, Manny was one of the first people I saw. He was headed of somewhere quickly, but said he'd be at the service. So after walking around for a while I saw him again as he was headed to our service. But because we'd all arrived to Hollywood late because of traffic, we put The Refuge on hold until later than usual. So there was plenty of time to talk beforehand.

He still had his bible we'd given him the night before, so I asked if I could use it and we walked through some passages in Matthew and Philippians about not having to make ourselves good enough for God because he saves us by faith in his Son, exactly what we'd been talking about the day before. And once again, the words flowed like some crazy river that I was just on for a ride. I could see in his eyes once again that the words were having some impact on him; and a smile that said it was resonating in an important way. And the Holy Spirit didn't let the conversation end there. I went on to ask about his belief in Jesus, to make sure he was assured of salvation. His very hesitant reply of ' yeah.....but I don't think he's going to accept me when I get to heaven, because of the stuff I've done." So I began explaining forgiveness, the crucifixion and imputation of Christ's perfection onto us, etc. And stories about great sinners in the bible like David and Noah and others. We also hit on sins that he was concerned about, like his drinking and drug use and why he does those things and how temporary and unfulfilling they arein compared to Christ. When bible study began, we had to end the conversation, but he seemed to dig in and pay close attention to what was being said.

As I read through this, I see that it can sound like it's all about me and what I did. That is not my intention at all. The opposite, actually, because I know how I normally converse with people, and I know what happened these two nights as result of prayer and the Holy Spirit doing what I couldn't. This was none of me, and all of God. I just had the extreme privilege of getting to participate in something he was already doing. Really, I think this story was really more about how God was moving and working through me when I surrendered, and how that can impact someone else's life and assurance of salvation.

And though I won't go into another story, something similar and even bigger was happening with Krista and an intense conversation she was in on Thursday that the person was still being affected by on Friday, according to her. A drug dealer, pimp and gang member who reflected on the idea she'd presented of changing and not going to hell, and how he couldn't stop thinking about it. She'd gotten in his face in a way that she said was not even normal for her, a very bold and outspoken Christian. But it was exactly what he needed to hear. She was experiencing the same thing at the same time - God speaking through her in a way that she normally wouldn't.

Please pray for more of these experiences for all of our time, that we'd all be used in these powerful ways on a regular basis and trust God for the results. Because if we think we can do it in our power, Hollywood will never change. Not without the power of Christ.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Loving with Time

Last week we welcomed a new member of the Broken Hearts family - Jorge Chavez, Big Mama's new baby boy.

Big Mama currently has two boys, who do not live with her nor speak to her. None of her family answers her calls when she tries to reach them, and so essentially, she has no family right now. 9 months ago, Helen got into an argument with a drug dealer at the house she was staying at, and he hit her, used a chair to hit her, and around that time (I don't remember if it was before or after) raped her. Though they'd been physically intimate before, according to Big Mama, in this instance it was not consensual. The result of that terrible instance was a new life.

A few months before, Mama had a miscarraige which she still struggles to deal with. She had planned to name that baby Jorge as well.

So a few days after he was born, some of us girls from ministry took her out to lunch with gifts as a form of a baby shower, and then went to hang out with her where she lives and got to spend some time with our new 'nephew' as she says. It didn't strike me until after, but this is an awesome and large responsibility for Broken Hearts, if we choose to take on the responsibility. Granted, Jorge is just a week old, and it will take awhile for any of us to truly be able to influence his life. But he will be growing up without a dad, without strong male figures, and really without any family or strong moral figures at all, aside from his mom.

So many issues - especially in this environment - seem to stem from childhood, from lack of fatherhood, lack of love and people to respect. I'm excited as I see the prospect of being able to love Jorge, to speak into his life, and to participate in his growth and learning and development. We may be some of the only God-following, loving providers and group with respectable males that he will be around while he's young. This will be new for us, but such a great opportunity!

During this time, as well as days leading up to it and since, it's been on my mind how important it is for us to spend time with our friends in Hollywood. Not just those Thursdays and Fridays that we're there. Because once a week just isn't enough...not when the rest of the week they're surrounded by the world, fake friends, and bad influences. And not just because of that, but because if we commit other days in our week, take time to just hang out as friends, this shows even more that we really do care. That it's not just a once-a-week requirement we're trying to fill to feel good about ourselves, but that their lives and well-being and salvation matter to us - and to God.

Then last night, our friend 'Ravi' was beaming as we all gathered to catch up and share praises and prayer requests. He told us that he'd spent the day hanging out with Michelle (from BH), and that it was one of the best days he'd had since he moved to Hollywood. She'd called him while she was in the area and they just hung out, went to visit Big Mama and Jorge, and then came to BH together. All she did was spend some time hanging out with him, and those few hours had clearly had a huge impact on him.

It was a tangible reminder to me how crucial our time is in this effort of not only bringing people to Christ, but helping them to become his disciples. Even in my own life, I think of how huge of a difference it makes to me when someone just wants to spend time with me. When I can spend an evening chatting with my sister and brother-in-law; or when I can go to dinner with a good friend and spend hours talking and catching up on life; when a group of friends invites me along to something they're doing. Those moments remind me that I'm loved, that I have worth, that people care, and that God shows his love to me through these people. And even simpler, it just makes life easier and more fun, especially when I'm going through a hard time.

And I have no doubt that if you're living on the streets, or spending a lot of time there, surrounded by people who are only watching out for themselves, often feel defensive or protective of yourself and unloved by anyone, that when someone just gives you time and an ear, it must make a world of difference.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in our schedules, our to-dos, our own friends and family and find excuses to stay home or relax or do what it is we want to do. And yes, there is a time to focus on our own situations and make sure we're taking care of responsibilities, being filled by God, getting restored. But what if we took some time away from ourselves and our 'needs' every now and then and simply gave our time and love to someone who really needs it?

I have a feeling this has a more profound impact at times than even just sharing the gospel message. It often makes that message feel real and come to life.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Last week as I was talking to our friend 'Ravi' about shelters and programs that people can go into for help, he was telling me about his frustrations with how they're treated at these types of places. Something he said struck a chord with me, "That's why we keep coming down here, even though we know no one gives a shit about us, at least they're willing to pretend like they care. At these places they don't care about us and they treat us like shit."

How tragic. People keep hanging out with"friends" who feign concern, rather than choose a safe place where they can sleep, eat and get help, because they feel uncared for there. It helps explain, at least to some extent, why so many people continue to live homeless, or as squatters or move from shelter to shelter, when it seems illogical. If they feel more love from the streets - even if it's fake - they'd rather be around that and be able to pretend they're loved.

He also told me that it took a while for him to trust us, to believe we actually cared about him. He thought we were full of it, too. But it showed me how crucial our genuine love, consistency and care is for the people we interact with. We have to show that we care in order to show Jesus cares, and impact their lives. Further, we have to genuinely care, not just act like it, because they can read straight through that.

The people who care about them and earn their trust are the people they will look to for council, wisdom, friendship, help, etc. Our words about God can be taken seriously when we back them up with our genuine care for their well-being.