Ditch Dwellers

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There is a secret – the best place to be is the worst place.

The place we as humans spend all our lives trying to avoid is the place where truth is found  and dreams are realised.

For down in the ditch is the place where we are drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ. When we lose it all – we gain everything. But who in their right mind would choose to lose it all! and so it’s by grace that we’re saved so no man can boast. It’s by grace that our lives are torn apart limb from limb. It’s by grace that we’re taken down low and deprived of all the things we long for and believe we need. No one can choose this journey – because no-one would. It goes against every fibre of our very being…. we would fight and scream and kill to resist the agonies of the ditch. But its’ here that God marks us as his own. It feels like  he’s branding us at the time… the pain and suffering is so intense and drags on and on relentlessly, but for those who carry his mark there is no alternative. Surrender becomes the only choice – surrender and die.  God is God and we are mere mortals – we must carry on, we must walk and not faint. In the dark, in the ditch, alone and desperate, misunderstood and battered, afraid and empty of all hope…. when we finally truly and eternally ‘surrender all’.. in his timing and not ours – He speaks.

He speaks –  and he opens our eyes.

And then we ‘see’.

And then one day a few months or years on it hits home. If it wasn’t for the ditch we wouldn’t be who we have become. Ditch dwellers confound those around them. They are viewed as foolish and reckless by the majority of church goers. For what we have become and are becoming more and more is a person who now  actively seeks the ditch and doesn’t run from it. For the ditch has now become a chosen home. For a while after God opened our eyes we thought we were finally free and able to soar high above the pit of despair and build a new life in the suburbs, full of comfort, respect and acceptability, where our talents are recognised and our egos are bolstered…..

But, this is not the way of the cross though and those who truly belong to Christ will always find themselves drawn to the sick, the poor and the broken and needy…. particularly those whom society ostracizes and ridicules. Even Jesus indicates this is where Christians should be when he announces the coming of the kingdom at the very beginning of his ministry  Luke 4:18: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.’

As we return  to the ditch a strange thing happens. Where there used to be only darkness,  we see light, the light shines  and the darkness cannot extinguish it. And because of the darkness where the light shines it is brilliant and all consuming like looking directly into the face of Christ. Beauty unimaginable exists there and with our new way of ‘seeing’ the ditch becomes a chosen resting place, our home. Sadly though many who Christ calls take their chance to escape the ditch, they run and never look back, and the further they run the less they ‘see’ until in  the end they believe they are building the kingdom for Christ when really  they are building the kingdom of Man. Many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14)

Only by Grace.The way of the cross is not easy and the road is narrow and few find it. I’ve known those who felt the call of the ditch in their lives who wrestled with this call and understood what was needed, but instead of heeding the call they walked in the opposite direction. The pull of acceptability and popularity within their church was too great for them to surrender.  It’s broken my heart to see this happen but it happens all the time.

Why do some stay and some run – only by grace. Those who stay in my experience have the following in common: they have been broken, battered and have known rejection and unbearable loss. They have experienced poverty or disgrace, they know their frailty  and desperation only too well. They are humble and meek souls always ready to offer themselves for a fellow human being in distress. Ultimately they are willing to lay down their lives for their brother – whatever the cost to themselves. (John 15:13)

One more thing – ditch dwellers recognise each other without a need to ever speak about what they know….

For all my fellow ditch dwellers you know who you are, but especially for Meg, whose light shines so brightly in the darkness. 

Compassion v Religion

Jesus was great. He cared about the ‘little people’ the weak, the uneducated, the outcast, the poor, the lonely and broken. He really couldn’t stand the ‘religious’ folk – the Pharisees, who appeared to have it altogether and walked all over the little people. The way they talked down to them and devalued them because they seemed so unimportant. He hated the way they behaved then and He still does hate the way ‘religious folk’ in church create their own man made rules today. The way they insist things are done their way at the expense of the weak the poor and those on the margins of society. People like this have no way of reaching their mark of acceptability. He hates the way the religious folk have their own little friendship circles which are closely guarded to stop undesirables getting in. He hates the way the religious folk lord it over, step over, step on and ignore the plight of the little people – today.

Not a lot has changes since Jesus walked the earth. Yes it’s more subtle today but still rife - the rich, educated, middle-classes have the power and the wealth and the say so at the expense of the poor, uneducated and outcast. It’s all made to look completely acceptable but when you’ve been on the side of the poor for 20 years in the church I can tell you it does not feel subtle, it kills and destroys those who have a special place in the heart of our Saviour.  Imagine if Jesus returned today and sat at rhe back of an average church. He would be dressed in rags and probably smell unpleasant.Do you think for one minute that anyone would   take any notice of him – welcome him or give him a voice? no – he would be ignored, ridiculed and abused by the very people who are supposed to represent him here  on earth.

Go Jesus.

So where is it at

So where is it at then?

This was my question to God yesterday as I drove to visit a client of mine. I reasoned with God about the fact that church from my experience is where it is not. I asked God to take my hand because I didn’t know how to get to that place in my spirit where he really ‘is at’. I am at peace in my heart but I want more! I remember times in the past when God has moved in power to set the oppressed free when his power and glory were so evident in his workings with me and those I knew that it took our breath away. Somewhere along the line I lost that – mainly because of the abuse I received at the hands of church leaders of various sorts. It did something deep inside me. I withdrew. I lost trust. I have no fellowship at the moment. I don’t have a husband. As I’m human I know I have a need for community and fellowship. Without that being available to me I have become very God reliant. Everything is one way traffic me and him or him and me there is no-one else in our equation.

But I know I need to be part of his Kingdom and I know for me to be healthy spiritually I need relationships etc. Also I want to see the power of God again move through my life and bring healing and help in life changing ways to those who need it.

For all these reasons I asked God to take my hand and lead me because I have no idea how to get to where I need to be. I imagined going to Hillsong on Sunday and being zapped by God onto this amazing spiritual plane or listening to worship music and having a vision a word or a prophecy…. or something similar.

I arrived at Suzy’s house but couldn’t get through the gate as it was jammed. Part of me was pleased, I wanted to keep going with God, get back into my car and follow this prayer through…. After alot of barking (of her dog!) and rattling with locks Suzy appeared on the porch and came to the gate to let me in. I was trying to use the catch to unlock the gate. She gave it a hefty kick and the thing swung open…. I pondered on that for some reason.

Inside her house it was freezing and dilapidated. The walls looked like they could fall down at any time! She had no food and no milk even tomake me a coffee. I work with the homeless and those threatened with homelessness. Suzy was close to being evicted. She hadn’t paid her rent or council tax for months! She was about my age but looked and dressed 10 years younger, about 35. She was pretty and blonde and could have had the world at her feet!? -whatever that means!

She was so bouncy and happy and easy going. She had no money and is in 1,000s of pounds worth of debt. She is in danger of losing her rented house. She has 2 teenage kids who have no mobile phones, nocomputers, no ipods or tv’s or anything like that. Her house was full of old mainly broken furniture from the 1960′s. She looked me straight in the eye as we chatted, with a big smile like she hadn’t a care in the world. She got to me.

I had a form to fill in to apply for benefits for her. This was a form she didn’t return in July because it was too complicated for her to understand. She had had £50 to live on for 6 weeks., She was very thin. In the UK the government provide for those with children who are on a low wage or unemployed through a benefit system. They make the system so complicated many don’t get what they are entitled to. I asked her why she hadn’t filled the form in – I couldn’t understand it she said… She was so calm. I would have been in a state with no money for 6 weeks and kids to feed. She works part time. Her boss pays her £3 per hour – that’s illegal for a start. She owes him money as it’s his house she lives in. He takes it off at source £150 per month.

To claim benefits she had to produce so many documents none ofwhich she could find. She went off running around the house like a child pulling open drawers and cupboards searching for the documents I asked her for. She was endlessley courteous and polite with me. There were piles of papers everywhere. She emptied her bag out it was also full of papers. She was so patient with everything I asked her for. After about 15 minutes she found the 1st document and proceeded to jump up and down with glee! I had no faith in her finding the next one – the end of year tax return… off she went again upstairs and down in and out of cupboards and drawers strewn with paperwork….she found this too! We filled in the form together it took an hour in the end to find everything.

Suzy gets short shrift from my colleagues and other professionals who know what shes like. She’s a walking nightmare to them and they blame her totally for the disorder and difficulties that surround her….
In her little chaotic home with no food, no milk, no heat and no electric Suzy shone anyway. She is maybe a little ditzy and eccentric. She had a troubled childhood and has been abused and taken advantage of by many who should have known better. She’s made some errors in her life choices and she does need to take some responsibility for her actions – or so they say… but she shines anyway.

I left Suzy’s house and stepped out into the bright but chilly Autumn sunshine. I immediately felt a nudge in my spirit and felt Gods prompting in my heart…..he said to me that’s where it’s at
I got back into my car and burst into tears. I knew exactly what God meant and I had felt his touch as I spent time with Suzy.

I went bact to the office but got no sympathy from any of my colleagues for Suzy. She’s made her bed and apparently we should leave her to lie in it. No can do. I rang a local charity and managed to get her a food parcel ordered to be delivered next week. I went home still concerned about how she was going to manage the weekend. I prayed frantically for God to show me how I could get food and money to Suzy – I am not allowed to ‘give’ her any money or goods it’s against company policy. 3 am in the morning. Wide awake praying for Suzy. I felt God drawing me to think of starting some sort of charity which gives food vouchers and household items, without condition, to the poor and those in need………. crazy God, crazy me!

He’s taking me by the hand….

Who are the “little ones”?

Who Are the “Little Ones”?

“Be careful not to look down on these little ones,” Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 18:10.

Who are the “little ones” of whom Jesus speaks? They are, as His behaviour illustrates, the weak, unlearned and untrained, wounded and vulnerable.

Why are these “little ones” so important? Because, as Jesus explains, “. . . Their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father.” (Matthew 18:10)

Because the angels of these “little ones” see the face of God, we should not look down on them. Instead, we should cherish these “little ones” with tenderness only the Holy Spirit can motivate. Jesus says the “little ones” are the weak and unlearned, wounded and vulnerable: the broken-hearted, the sick, the lonely, the marginalised, the misunderstood, the mentally-ill, the divorced, the alcoholic, the homeless, the drug addict…. They are all around us. The church needs to take the words of Jesus seriuosly and not look down on the ‘little ones’ as one day we will have to give an account to God for our behaviour towards them.

May we be moved by Jesus’ Spirit of truth to cherish the “little ones” of all generations. Why? Because their angels in heaven see the face of the Father.

Update on Brandt

Here is a copy of an email I received from Brandt yesterday….. God is true to his word and really shows up when we reach out to those who hold a special place is his heart – the poor, the homeless, the vulnerable, the weak, the rejected, the lost and the un-acceptable. Brandt was recently arrested out side the church at Lakeland as he ministered to the homeless and poor who weren’t allowed inside…….

 From Brandt:

‘Something has happened here in Lakeland Florida that is a little difficult to explain. After my arrest and trying to continue not just to minister to, but befriend and meet the needs of the beautiful folk we have met here, our little potluck community parties started to get a little too big to hold in my bus in the walmart parking lot (which is conveniently located across the street from Ignited Church). The night I got arrested, some kids from Tampa drove down and worshiped with Max and James in the bus, and slowly every night it got bigger.

Pastor Adam Mayfield of Journey Church, and Rev. Fr. Wade Fahnestock of First Christian Church joined our little shindig on the friday night after my release, along with some of our homeless brothers and sisters and a few kids we met at the “outpouring”. It was amazing to see all of these different personalities come together in union. It truly started to look like the Kingdom of God. Pastor Adam then told us that we could park the bus at his church office. Journey Church rents the office from a local baptist so he told me that he wasnt sure if they would take issue with us being here, but we could park and meet until they did lol. We eventually met the youth pastor and pastor of the local baptist church and they loved what we were doing and reassured us that our being there was ok. Then it just started to get chaotic.

People would just show up. The homeless in the camps near Ignited came alive. God started to truly work on their hearts and they began to come around every day. Its started with three smelly kids on a bus, and now I just cant even explain what its beginning to become. After the we made the front page of The Ledger explaining where we were meeting every night, people started to show up. Tons of people, driving hours and even flying in to be a part of this, whatever “this” is. 

Just yesterday I was being interviewed by a fellow and he was asking how we get funded for what we do. It just so happens some guy drove up to the church office, told me that God was on our side and he told him to give me this (this being a wad of cash). James told the guy asking us about our finances, “It just shows up, thats how”. And its been like that every since. About twenty minutes after that happened, an elderly couple walked up asking everyone for me. They told me that they were from Lexington Kentucky and have been walking around from church to church asking for help with a hotel room and the churches told them to ask me. These big churches sending them to ole homeless brandt; luckily God knows our needs and continues to supply them. Needless to say, there has been small but beautiful miracles everyday.

Stories of great injustice, stories of wonderful acts of God, stories from the rich and the poor and everyone in between are to be found in this little office. Firemen and college students, middle age and middle class folks, families with five kids; they all are just showing up due to the urge of the spirit and a newspaper article. We are family. In Matthew 12 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then He pointed at His disciples and said, “These are my mothers and brothers. Anyone who does the will of My father in Heaven is My brother and sister and brother.” We truly are family. People are bring all they have to be shared among everyone. When the spirit moves, there is no rich, poor, homeless, etc. God see no class lines, nationality, race, economic status. He sees right into the heart of the broken and recognizes a child; a reflection of Himself, made in His image and likeness, fearfully and wonderfully made.

Everyone is welcomed to come and everyone is welcomed to share, whether that be a tuna casserole (homemade or “rescued” from the trash), or a story, whether beautiful or heartbreaking. We have been having wonderful community potlucks at six, and then amazing spontaneous worship after (because we have no music that we don’t make up from the songs of our hearts), and then candlelight bible studies. Its lead by no man, and everyone’s input is just as valuable and encouraged. We just talk and discuss and laugh and sing and love for hours. The Spirit of God is our only leader. The “homeless” call me pastor and I chuckle at such ridiculous claims ;)

This morning the City of Lakeland showed up knocking on the door of the office and told of a complaint that they received about the bus being parked. They insisted that it was a commercial vehicle (which in reality its a registered and insured mobile home), and that I was breaking zoning laws. What we found out is that a nearby church has a daycare and the homeless that spend their time became a concern, which we completely understand. Hate, but understand. That last few hours we have been telling our wood dwelling brothers and sisters not to come to the office, and that we were seeking God and looking into a place to move the bus and our amazing community shindigs that God has continually attended faithfully. To be quite honest, I cant expect this sort of thing not to happen, and its pretty amusing because we truly are starting to see a resemblance to the “early church”. We have no place to rest our heads. God is moving, yet we are continually on the run. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6 – “We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. Our hearts ache, but we ALWAYS have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. Welcome to the ridiculously offbeat family of God.

 

I continue to thank you for your prayers and support. There are a million things that we could use to continue to minister to the needs of this community and the broken people in it, but mainly and most importantly, your prayers are most valuable. God has been leading us from the beginning, and this is just a part of the plan. If you feel God calling you to come and be a part of “this”, we would love nothing more.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a beautiful family with five adorable kids that showed up two nights ago with beans and rice and more smiles then we thought we would be able to contain. It seemed like what we were missing, after all Jesus had a thing for children. As they ate in the hallway, the kids continued to spill rice onto the carpet and then on top of it all, step on the rice accidentally and smush it into the carpet. Being the ridiculous clean freak I am, I spazzed. It was then that God showed me that this “revival of sorts” was a “dirty carpet revival”. That He is not only spilling rice on the carpets of the comfortable, but smushing it in. Carpets aren’t for good looks, their for foot traffic. Forget the hot burning coal, we want smushed ricey carpets. Thank you Lord for all of your love. Become a part of what God is doing, in spirit and in truth.’

Wrecked for the Ordinary – Brandt Russo

Brandt Russo decided to take Jesus literally. He was tired, bored and frustrated with tradtional church and it’s rules and apathy towards really living out the call of Jesus. So he decided to do something about it. He lives on the streets in Texas. He felt God calling him to sell everything just like the rich young ruler and give to the poor and then to follow Jesus without looking back. Below is a quote from him about his life:

“As I walked into Barnes and Noble last summer, I knew what book I was looking for. In and out was my plan. I knew what book.

At least, I thought I knew. It was a Christian book that had something to do with revolution. How many Christian-themed books could possibly have the word “revolution” in their title? About every other one, in case you were curious!

I still don’t remember which book I was supposed to buy, but The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne was the one I stuck with. As I sat at work for the next couple of weeks, my spirit was more alive then I felt it had ever been.

The nice-paying jobs “God had given me” no longer made any sense. After the book, I started to research Jesus myself. No pastors, no podcasts, no wikipedia. Just me and the Bible.

I opened up to Matthew, which made all the sense in the world, and that’s when I felt all my senses being toyed with. Countless references to Jesus spending time with the poor, the outcasts, the “least of these.”

He said that if you do anything to the least of these, that you do it unto Him.

If you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, minister to the needs of the sick–heck, minister to the needs of anyone in need, true need, that it’s really him you are ministering to.

Could this be possible? Could we have missed it? I have heard countless sermons before but nothing this ridiculous”. – Brandt Russo

Read more here Brandt Russo and here Where’e Brandt?

Pearls of Great Price

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