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.

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