Today I felt safe.

Jerry called and asked if I could help him get some groceries, so I headed over to pick him up.  I always get nervous going to his house.  I don’t mean to, but it just creeps up in me.

The drug dealers on the street clearly hate me.  I have taken two of their biggest customers and they know that I know way too much. They are always standing outside when I get there, and I think about it on the way over. So I get nervous.  I wish I didn’t.  I wish I had faith like David.  But I don’t.

But something happens when I turn on their road.  The first thing I see is the street sign – “Edith”.  As soon as I see it, I feel a peace come over my whole body.  I am filled with courage.

Edith was my grandmother’s name.  She passed away a several years ago from cancer.  She was amazing.  She was a woman of unshakable faith.  My dad says she was a “behind the scenes” christian.  She did whatever needed to be done.  And she prayed constantly.  She was a warrior of our faith.

She had faith like David.

So when I pull onto Edith street I know I am safe.  I smile every time.  I know it is coming and I long for the peace it brings.

Thank you grandma for your faith.

Today was a day of traveling.  I thought that it would be difficult to give today because of being on the road.

Turns out it was not.

As I pulled up to a light I saw an older man holding the classic sign, “Will work for food”.  That sign has so many ideas and presumptions attached to it.  My first thought is always, “yeah right, he wouldn’t work for it or he already would have”.  Then I run down the list of things that he will probably buy with the money if I did give him some – drugs, alcohol, smokes, and maybe even some porn.

Because that’s all homeless people buy.

But then I prayed and asked if I should give him a dollar.  God urged me to give him 20.  I walked up and handed him a twenty dollar bill.  He smiled and turned away.

No life-change.  No repenting.   No falling at my feet thanking me for being so giving.

I started to think of how he would probably spend the money on an addiction and I wondered if I did the right thing.  Then God taught me something.

I realized that he gives to me every day.  He entrusts me with things every day.  And most of the time I waste them on my addictions.  Sometimes it is an addiction to looking good, impressing people, or eating out.  But most of the time it is an addiction to comfort.  And yet he still gives to me.

If I want to be consumed by God in every way, then I must be willing to give like he gives.

Today I was traveling for work.

We were staying in a casino hotel built for kings and sons of kings.  It’s like everything was lined in gold.  The first thing I saw in the lobby was a Mercedes CL series with a price tag of $113,000.

Later in the evening we went to a dinner in one of the reception halls.  I realized that it was getting late and that I hadn’t given yet.  I wish I didn’t let so much of the day pass me by before I remember to give.  I get so busy working and planning that I forget the reality of the kingdom around me.

I looked around and all I saw was suites and ties.  But then I spotted this beautiful older woman.  She looked to be in her seventies and she was filling the coffee pots.  She was slightly hunched over and was wearing a red server’s suit coat.  She finished with the coffee and walked back over to stand in the corner.  She leaned against the wall.  I could tell she was tired.

No one saw her.

I walked over and struck up a conversation.  Within minutes she was talking about her kids and grandkids.  She told me that she worked here only 3 days a week and that she didn’t mind it that much.  She said she loves to play the slots once in a while but she really can’t afford it.  I pulled a chip out of my pocket and gave it to her.  I told her to play a little on me tonight.

That was all it took.  She talked with us for a while after that.  When we were sitting and eating, our glasses never got empty.  She was constantly at our table.  It was fantastic.

I realized that a month ago I would have missed her.  I would have been sipping my drink and trying to impress people.  I would have been worrying about me instead of looking for other people.  I wonder how many more I have missed.

How many do I miss everyday? How many people to I dismiss, walk by, or not even notice?

God – please open my eyes to see them.

Today I went in to pay for Charl’s next week at the rehab center.

When I walked in, I was greeted with hugs and smiles.  Not just from Charl, but from the house mom and several other girls.  I am amazed at how they have grown to know Brit and I.  It seems that they are genuinely happy to see me.  I guess you could say that Charl’s new community has embraced us because we are important to her.

No matter where you go – whether the ghetto or the suburbs, the crack house or the church, rehab or small groups, one thing remains – people strive for community.

What we have as followers of christ is the ability to enter into the community of the lost or hurting and introduce them to a community that heals.  If there is anything that I have learned in this it is that I cannot do it alone.  We have to build a community around us that will push us to the living Christ.

I am so grateful for my community of friends.  Thank you for challenging me always.

I had originally planned that I would only give tangible things, but not any more.  Today I decided to give my time. One of the churches in Nashville that helps the homeless when it is cold outside couldn’t get the volunteers it usually has because of the weather.  A group of people from my church had helped to divide them up between four churches that offered their buildings.

When I talked with them they told me that they really needed guys to help at one of the churches where there was 35 men staying.  When I got to the church, there was only 1 college age male worker and 2 college girls – and about 40 men.

I walked around and met all the men that were awake.  It was amazing.  They are amazing.

We stayed up till 1 a.m. playing spades and talking.  One of the guys was only 18 years old.  How does an 18 year old kid end up on the streets?  He said that he and his mom had been staying at the women’s shelter for a while, but when he turned 18 he had to leave.  Now he hangs out with some of the guys who were there and they just try to find places to stay.

He told me of how he dreams to get his own place someday and letting his mom live with him, “but just until he finds a girl, then mom will have to move.”

He has dreams.  But you won’t find him at college or at church. You will find him with the homeless.

I started to think of the people I have met while doing this.  People that I never would have met otherwise.  My life will never be the same.

When I first made the decision that I wanted to pursue seminary my pastor gave me one piece of advice.  He told me to “go to the hurting, the outcast, the people on the margins of society, there you will find Jesus.”

I am starting to understand this story that Jesus told:

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22” ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.

Wow.  Nothing else to say beyonod that.

In Genesis 32 there is a story about a man named Jacob who is wrestling.  Many people believe that he is wrestling with an angel or even God.  In this story he wrestles all night long with this person until in the morning the man says to Jacob, “Let me go..”, but Jacob says that he will not release him until he gives him a blessing.

Then the man asks him, “What is your name”?

What is your name?  What does that have to do with anything?  For Jacob it is everything.

The first time we see Jacob he is lying about who he is.  His father is about to give the blessing of the family to Jacob’s older brother Esau.  His father asked him who he was and he said, “Esau”.  He lies about his name to get what he wants.

At the point that Jacob is wrestling he is scared.  His life has caught up to him.  Esau is after him and he is afraid he is going to kill him.  He done all he can do and now he has one last chance.  He is going to hold on to this man until he gives him a blessing.  The man asked him his name.

And finally Jacob answers.

“Jacob.”

Finally after years of pretending, conniving and manipulating, he faces who he really is.

Hosea gives us a little more insight to this, “He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor.” -v. 12:4

He was weeping.  With tears running down his face he begs, “Please don’t leave me here alone.  Please.  My life has been a lie.  Please do not go without blessing me.”

He has surrendered.  The angel changes his name.  His life will no longer be about what he can get on his own or how clever he can be.  His life now is about what God had planned for him from the beginning.

Today is a day of celebration.  Xena has been sober for 1 week.  We took her out to the Olive Garden to celebrate.  When we picked her up she looked amazing.  She was laughing and excited about life.  She looked, smelled, and sounded like a completely different person.

I was standing up taking pictures of her and Brit and I mentioned something about Xena.  She said, “Honey, Xena is dead.”

“Xena was my name in my old life.  I don’t need her anymore.  Xena was a drug addict and a prostitute.  Charl is my name.  Charl is a daughter of the living God.”

Xena is gone.

She needed a name to separate her life then from who she was inside.  Xena was her “pretend” name.  Xena the Princess Warrior was a fictional character  on TV and in her life.

Charl is her real name.  Charl – Daughter of the Living God.

After all this time I still think it belongs to me.

I went with Jerry to see his probation officer.  While we were there she explained his situation more clearly.  Jerry is on the sex offender list from a crime he committed in 1989.   Almost every thing that he has gotten in trouble for over the past 20 years has been related to that.  I learned yesterday from his probation officer that he has spent almost 3 years in prison since then for violating laws associated with the Sex Offender Registry (SOR).

In 2006 he went to jail for getting behind on his fees.  When he went to jail, his status with the SOR changed to “inactive”.  When he was let out 3 weeks later, no one told him that he needed to re-regisiter to change the status back to “active.”  So..48 hours later, another warrant was issued for his arrest.  He was sentenced to 2 years in prison for not re-registering and changing his status.

Every year he has to pay $150 registration fee.  Last year he was paying his fees every month to his probation officer.  She told him that his $150 fee will come out of those payments first.

We made is PO check the computer to see if it needed to still be paid.  She clearly did not want to bother with it.  “I’m sure it’s paid”, she said.

She came back to tell us that the SOR did not have it marked as paid.  What no one told him (I don’t even think they knew) is that unless he pays $150 in one lump payment, it does not get sent over to the SOR.  So there is $150 sitting in an account earmarked for his fee, but the SOR till showed that he did not pay it.

Here is the kicker…since this is his third SOR offense he would get a minimum of 6 years.  That’s right 6 years.

We told her that we would get it paid as soon as possible.

I told Jerry on the way home that I couldn’t afford to give him the money right now, but I could possibly find some work for him.  I talked to a friend who graciously gave him a few hours work.  He came back but had only earned about $40.  He asked me if he could borrow the rest.  I told him that I would try to get him more work.

Today I was reading Ed Dobson’s book The Year of Living Like Jesus.  He talked about how he had come across a man who was homeless and had asked him for money.  He remembered how Jesus says to give to the one who asks.  He turned around and gave the man money simply because he asked for it.

He says, “It’s as simple as that – give to the one who asks.  He asked.  I had an obligation to give…I knew he’d probably use it to buy more alcohol and that I probably hadn’t made the wisest choice.  And I also know that a dollar wasn’t really going to help him.  But I had no other choice.  He asked and I was obligated.”

I gave Jerry the money and he paid his fee.  I did not want to give to Jerry.  I was thinking of moving and jobs and houses.  But that is because I think my money belongs to me.  How is $150 worth 6 years of a man’s life?  What is wrong with me?  I gave because he asked, although clearly my heart was not in a giving spirit.

I want God to change this crippling idea in me that I somehow own what God has entrusted to me.  I have been given to give, changed to bring change, blessed to be a blessing.

I love the lyrics by Aaron Niequist:

We have been saved – We’re gonna shout about the savior

We have been found – We’re gonna turn over every stone

We’ve been empowered – To love the world to Heaven

We have been changed – To bring change, to bring change