Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Declaring The Deliverer in the Darkness

A photo taken in the Bywater area while leading missions teams
in New Orleans with Kaleo Missions in 2016
I have lost count now of how many times I have been asked why I do ministry where I do. "Why do you do ministry in the Phillips neighborhood?" "Why do you evangelize in Dinkytown?" "Why do you go to church in the Powderhorn neighborhood?" "Why would you spend a summer leading missions teams out of the French Quarter?"

These questions generally aren't asked out of basic curiosity or interest. They are generally asked in confusion because doing ministry in those kinds of places does not line up with the American dream. This is because doing ministry like that is not always the safest and you are not in complete control when you're there and you are not separated from those society often deems as less. So doing ministry in the Philips neighborhood, the Powderhorn neighborhood, college towns, or the French Quarter is not what most would call the American dream but who really cares about that? When it comes down to it, I care much more about following Jesus than I do about following the American dream and I really think you should too.

I think we have watered down Christianity to the point where we think of Jesus as this "safe", quiet man who sat with "good" Godly folks and we try to imitate that Jesus. However, when I read the New Testament I encounter a Jesus who sat with tax collectors and prostitutes and everyone else that society set aside. (If you want some examples, just google it. You will find there are plenty to go around.) But we don't encourage folks to imitate that kind of Jesus much these days. We call them foolish and reckless instead. But isn't sitting with the modern day tax collectors and prostitutes and everyone else exactly what we are also called to do? Before departing the world Jesus said "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). Jesus calls us to do exactly as He did. While Jesus did ministry in many expected places, He didn't stop there. He ministered to people everywhere and so should we. We are called to speak the Gospel to our co-workers and in our neighborhoods and in our schools and also in the slums and the streets downtown.

A photo taken of Puerto Maldonado, Peru while on a mission trip
here in 2016
Many Christians (although still not nearly enough) seem to be okay with being around and even sharing the hope of Christ with their neighbors and co-workers and classmates but few seem to even consider sharing the Gospel with those "very different" than them. Perhaps that is where the tragedy lies - in the belief that the homeless, the prostitutes, the alcoholics, and the addicts are so very different than the rest of us. From my experience, we all have many similarities and people aren't always that different than we think. In fact, I think some of the best conversations I have had were when I was out doing ministry of some kind with people who are homeless or otherwise very different than myself. One of my good friends is a man who is in his mid 50s and essentially homeless. His name is Tom. We are so different yet we can carry on for hours about reading, movies, and even Audrey Hepburn. Most people I encounter, no matter how different our lives may seem, are really not all that different from me. We all have hopes, desires, families, friends, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and a deep need for a loving Savior. So just because people seem so different from us should not stop us from sharing the hope and love of Jesus with them.

And yes, doing ministry in the Philips neighborhood, in Dinkytown, and in the French Quarter is not the easiest. And yes, sometimes it can feel very dark in those places. But those places are where Christ's light can shine even brighter and even when the darkness seems to overcome us we can know that Christ goes before us and that He is with us always until the end of the age. As I sit in the French Quarter, I look around every Saturday night and I see brokenness. I see broken people trying to fill the cracks in their lives with drugs and alcohol. The problem is this: that stuff never fills you up. Not even close. Brokenness and darkness seems to flood these streets just like the hurricane once did, but that doesn't mean there is no light. In fact, the light of Christ seems to shine even brighter here. This place, Vieux Carre Baptist Church, is one of those bright beacons of hope. It is because of people like the ones here that I still have hope. People come here when they are in the middle of their deepest despair and they see hope. They see how Christ can completely change their lives. And it is in this darkness they can clearly see the light.

Now, don't get me wrong. When you start trying to mess with the enemy's plans, he will try to stop you and discourage you. But never forget who you are in Christ. You are a soldier commissioned to fight a battle truly worth fighting in. You have been commissioned by the King to go out and save souls. How could you possibly reject that calling?

A phoro of the Dallas skyline taken on a mission trip here in 2014
It takes a lot of faith to step into the unknown but you are stepping into the unknown every day of your life so in my opinion you might as well step out for the most worthy cause there is. Like I said before, I have been asked a lot why I do what I do and like I have been trying to tell you these past few minutes, I do what I do because I believe the God who loves me has commissioned me to do it. But the beautiful thing is God hasn't just left me in the dust there. He has carried me through all the nights of ministry as well as all the unexpected moments of ministry. And He has revealed more of Himself to me because of it. He has shown me who He is and what He is doing in the lives of others. Here in New Orleans I have met people who have turned over their lives to God and overcome insane addictions. A few weeks ago back in Minnesota, I met a man named Daniel who found Christ when he was homeless. He still is to this day, but rather than being caught up in despair like many homeless folks you meet, he takes comfort in the fact that even the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. God has given us such amazing opportunities to see Him work and He has also given us the ability to be used by Him. We don't always get to see the result of what we do but I believe that what we do makes a difference. Just the other day a man here in New Orleans named Gary surrendered his life to Christ. He said the day before some kids came under the bridge and blessed him. That truly seemed to impact him and I believe that whenever we minister to people, God uses it in some way. I think that what we do plants seeds of hope and God waters those seeds. Who knows what ways God has used us to impact people! A few months back we sat with a man named Joshua for an hour and tried to talk him out of killing himself that night. What if God used us to keep that man from going through with it. I don't want it to appear that we save people ourselves. That is ridiculous. But when it comes down to it, for some reason God likes to work through people. So we try to let Him work through us. As for me, I never regret the days I decide to give God control of my life and let Him work.

So we must declare the Deliverer in the darkness, bring the Bread of Life bravely down Bourbon Street, and continue carrying the cross of Christ into the chaos because when we do that we do as Jesus did and share hope with people different yet so similar to us. And when we do this, we can know that Jesus goes before us. And as always, we are to go as a family because we are stronger when we are united.