Apr-29-2016

WHEN PETS ATTACK!

pet peeve dog loveMany people challenged with homelessness live on the streets with their pets. They love these animals so much that they will often feed their pets before themselves. Some cities actually provide not only housing for their homeless citizens, but a cat or dog to keep them company in their new dwelling. They understand that good pets are therapeutic and healthy.

I want to talk about another kind of pet that isn’t so healthy: pet peeves. A pet peeve is an action that a particular person finds especially annoying. Everyone has pet peeves and many of them are quite common:

1. Leaving the toilet lid up
2. WRITING IN ALL CAPS
3. Smoking
4. Chewing with your mouth open
5. Perpetual lateness
6. Someone eating off of your plate
7. Dawdling in the airport security line
8. Not picking up your dog’s poop
9. Letting your baby cry or your phone ring in the middle of a church service
10. Not wiping down equipment at the gym

Pet peeves are a lot of little petty irritations that can multiply over time into a lifestyle of perpetual disgruntlement or even petulance. They are the clutter of the mind and the mud on the lenses through which we view the world around us. Some see beauty all around us, while others see nothing but idiots getting in our way.pet peeve

Recently a man in New York was arrested for having a 6 foot pet alligator. Another man raised a tiger cub in his Harlem apartment that grew into a 400 pound beast that eventually attacked him.

The “pet” in pet peeve is descriptive of how we coddle and nurture our offenses. They are cute little things that we feed until they become big vicious monsters. Are we willing to clean house and get rid of our pet peeves before they bite us?

Pet peeves can cause perfectly normal people go from worshipping along to a song in their car one minute, to cursing and giving the finger to someone who cuts them off the next. It is an area of our life that we give completely over to the flesh.

I have been in the car when my father, Richard Galloway, is driving and someone cuts him off. It can be a scary thing that brings a visceral reaction in me like, “Whoah! That guy almost killed us!” My father, however, is never shaken. Most of us would be justifiably angry, but instead of losing his cool, he immediately forgives them in the moment. It is a mark of great character, especially when you consider what it is like to drive in New Jersey. It teaches me and amazes me to this day.

Pet peeves are not commonly well thought through. They are gut reactions that happen in the moment. Those reactions are usually of immediate disgust. One of my mentors as a teenager was my youth pastor, Spencer Nordyke. He described our hearts as barrels. When the challenges of life tip us over, whatever is inside the barrel spills out. If it is full of poop, we yell “Oh bleep!”. If we are full of honey, then that is what spills out.  “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45. In other words, pet peeves are an indicator of what is hidden in our heart.

Let’s call pet peeves what they really are-areas of offense. An offense is an annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standards or principles. In other words, “How dare you sir!” Pet peeves are our hot buttons.

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When we take offense, we don’t think of all the similar offensive acts that we ourselves have committed (or are committing). We place all of the blame for our anger upon the offender and take no responsibility for our reaction. In fact, our reaction could be much worse than the actual act of offense.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22

 

The word “Raca”, is derived from a root meaning “to spit.” Ever been so mad at someone that it made you want to spit? It’s easy for us to excuse our contempt for others, because it’s mostly happening out of public sight in our minds, but Jesus calls it mental murder.

When offense is given, no one has to take it.

There is a line in the song, “Baptize My Heart” by Misty Edwards that says, “I don’t want to be offended when it’s all coming down.” I love this song because it reminds me that petty offenses are a waste of my time and energy. They suck away at my soul and I just don’t have time for that nonsense.

The interesting thing about offense is that when offense is given, no one has to take it. When friends offer to give me their real pets, I kindly turn them down because I explain that I have four children and can’t manage any more wild animals. 😉

When a pet peeve tries to set up camp in my mind, I can reject it. I can put that pet down instead of letting it take up residence. I can be free to pardon others and hold nothing against them. This is the very gift that Jesus gives to me-mercy.

mercy_triumphs_over_judgementWho is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 6:18

Mercy is the lifestyle that I want to nurture, develop and feed. Mercy isn’t based upon others performance, but upon the forgiveness I myself have received. It is light and not burdensome, because it lets go of the right to punish and judge. Mercy embraces the opportunity to love-not as a chore, but rather a delight. Mercy fills your barrel up with honey. How sweet it is.


Posted under Uncategorized
Mar-8-2016

Weakness Leaving My Body

I am a 45-year-old man who does not like exercise, but I do it anyway. It’s supposed to make you feel better, but many times it just makes me sore and tired. Sometimes I tell people, “This healthy lifestyle is killing me!” The only way I endure it is do something I enjoy while walking on a treadmill. This helps me to forget that I am sweating and walking in place like a hamster on a wheel. Usually that means watching video podcasts of my favorite preachers: Erwin Rafael McManus, Tim Lucas and Greg Boyd.

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I once read a sign in a gym that said, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” I love that. It inspires me when I feel really sore from working out. It gives my pain meaning. It makes me think of the pain we feel when embracing other people’s brokenness. Some can’t handle it and turn away. Some dive into that pain and grow in compassion and love (spiritual strength.) Maybe embracing other’s pain is the feeling of apathy or indifference (spiritual weakness) leaving our bodies.

 

 

I have a special needs child. She is the greatest…and sometimes her behavior drives me crazy. Her emotions are up and down like a roller coaster. When things are good, she is delightful, sweet and silly. When she is on tilt, she isn’t fun to be around because she is frustrated at herself or the world around her. Sometimes this anger gets unleashed towards me. My natural inclination is to push away from pain. My other inclination is to press in close because of love.Juan and Hailey

My daughter is a gift to me in many ways and one of my greatest sources of joy. The gift I didn’t anticipate is the gift of brokenness. I can’t control her and it reminds me of all the other things I can’t control in myself and the world around me. God is allowing me to grow more intimate with Jesus through entering the pain of my daughter’s brokenness and experiencing my own brokenness. Richard Rohr describes it this way:

“Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing: we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all must “die before they die.” Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to both destabilize and reveal our arrogance, our separateness, and our lack of compassion. I define suffering very simply as “whenever you are not in control.” Suffering is the most effective way whereby humans learn to trust, allow, and give up control to Another Source. I wish there were a different answer, but Jesus reveals on the cross both the path and the price of full transformation into the divine.”

 My full time job at New York City Relief is helping people challenged with homelessness. You would think that would be enough pain to grapple with. The streets are teeming with an ocean of brokenness in the form of men, women and children with no safe place to turn.

Maybe embracing other’s pain is the feeling of apathy or indifference (spiritual weakness) leaving our bodies.

 

Through them, he invites me deeper into a life of meaning:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:” 1 John 3:16-18

The Amplified Bible version replaces “but has no pity on them” with “shows no heart of compassion.”

Jesus is drawing me to himself by giving me the opportunity to lay down my life. Loving people through their difficult behavior is testing the depth of my love and the substance of my faith. If I want to “belong to the truth and set my heart at rest in his presence”, I have to show a heart of compassion.

God speaks even more specifically to my situation:

“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:7

God knows that it is easier for me to show compassion to someone on the street then to my own family. He gives me no wiggle room. I must dive wholeheartedly into my daughter’s heart at the expense of my time, energy, peace, comfort etc. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for me?

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus asks everyone on judgement day if they took care of the broken: the hungry, the sick, the naked, the stranger and the prisoner.

Maybe Jesus isn’t trying to get us to go to the broken so much for their sakes as for ours. We need to meet him face to face in order to escape the false concept of Jesus in our minds- the god we have created in our own image.

You see, I am attracted to a god of power that will help me be powerful. I am perplexed by a humble God who chose to become poor, weak and broken. I am hesitant to walk in these kinds of footsteps, but it was his humility that brought my healing. Now he calls me to share my poverty in spirit, my weakness and my brokenness with others to bring them to a place of healing as well.

As I decide to bear the pain of my daughter and the many others suffering around me in life, I can know that this pain is not in vain. It is actually the feeling of apathy and indifference (spiritual weakness) leaving my body. No pain, no gain.

 


Posted under Uncategorized
Feb-20-2016

To The Ends Of The Earth…

I am sharing a blog by my wife Tracy about our recent mission trip to The Philippines. Thank you to everyone who gave to make this amazing trip a reality. Read on! -Juan

Just got home a few hours ago… from the other side of the earth. That scripture in Acts 1:8 to preach the gospel in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth has now taken on a whole new meaning for me. Check. Done that. I have done lots of missions before, but never this far away. I left the iron protective gate in Dagupan, Philippines Youth With A Mission Base on Sunday morning Feb. 14th, Valentine’s day, 8am. After taking a group photo with our new missionary friends and our “New York Team” – we set off home. Just got home, 11:30pm almost Tuesday the 16th… to my snow covered kitchen porch with an Amazon box from my always perfect gift at the perfect time sister. The ice crusted box that must have been sitting in the snow for days was filled with “Bath Bombs” to relax after returning home from our long journey.

Door to door, this “to the ends of the earth” return trip was approximately 40 hours of travel by van, a short sleep in a hotel in dark and crowded Manila, taxi, plane to Hong Kong, China, plane to USA with 10 hours of mostly turbulence over the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean to a Shuttle driven by my always cheerful father-in-law and to home. A place of comfort and familiar smells. It is good to be under my soft fuzzy blanket in bed, finally. Yet I am tormented.

Tormented by the girls faces. H___l, P____a, R______e, R______a, and the others, the girls who live in the slums where raw sewage runs past their shanty homes and into the river. The place where dark hovels are the only homes they have ever known. Trying to be cool, whiting out their faces to look more pale, grasping for acceptance and a future that I pray is not in the arms of a tormenter one day. Will they follow JESUS into HIS AWESOME PLAN for their lives or repeat the generational demonic stronghold that trips up even the most hopeful of children… We taught them a drama about keeping safe in the arms of a loving God, away from drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and human trafficking, do they realize that the drama was for them?

There is a light in these slums though, the light in the eyes of the smiling children, filling the tiny maze alleys, grabbing my hands and hanging on my arms with enormous smiles like I was a long lost mama who finally came home to visit them.

No white people. None to be seen except a glance of an older white woman in the mall who looked as surprised to see us as she her on day two during a passing glance. All 10 days we were the only non Asian people I saw in Dagupan, Philippines. People don’t usually travel this deep in. 7 hour drive from the city into the Northern Philippines. We were far away, very far away from home. To the ends of the earth. Thanks Missionary Gina for taking good care of us.

We stayed at the “Youth With A Mission Beach Base” 1 block from the “red light” prostitution district that was dangerous at night. This beach was not what you would imagine. Beautiful, but a prison just down the street with shanty’s on the beach. A prison built to hold 250 but currently holds 850 men in mostly open air minus the thick cement walls, all wearing yellow t-shirts. We ministered there with testimonies and music in what could be called a courtyard but was more like an abandoned factory with 1/2 a tin roof, and tarps rigged up to keep the hot sun off the necks of the prisoners. It was an uncomfortable feeling at first being locked in with hundreds of criminals sitting right in front of me.

After they started to praise and worship, my soul was put at ease. They enjoyed my husband’s band with our 2 sons and great friends playing alongside. The prisoners sang the na na naaas with gusto. Seemingly truly touched by the messages from our team. Genuinely thankful that we would visit them. Prison. That was on my bucket list. I could not believe that after being a Christian for 29 years I had never visited Jesus in Prison as He had asked me to do. I was so thankful to finally get this opportunity. Scared a bit at first, but truly thankful. Thanks Missionary Coy & friends for taking us there.

You see, God never said He would keep us safe. I was in multiple dangerous situations throughout our time in East Asia. Danger of sickness, danger of being robbed, danger of motorcycle side car wreck or an open air Jeepney fall (not really). Danger of being taken advantage of in multiple ways. Danger. It is dangerous to follow Jesus sometimes. And therefore many people decide not to go. Not to put themselves or their children in danger. It is in the danger though where new levels of faith, miracles and trust come into our hearts.

 You see, our light does shine brightest in the darkness. But if we do not go where it is dark, we may never notice any light in us at all. Thanks Missionaries GiGi, Queenie, Analiza, Aldelfa, Dreb, Fronie, Coy, Joel, Novie, Gina & Manny and all wonderful missionaries for shining your light daily.

So back to the girls. I used to lay awake at night for years thinking of what it must be like to be human trafficked, to have to prostitute oneself to survive, to be forced to do internet porn to satisfy the nasty desires of sinful men and women and in return get paid a pittance while the evil men and women fill their pockets with cash to exploit me.  Now I have names, faces, of girls my sons age, pre-teens and teenagers, women, men, even young children to this horrific practice. I was able to spend time with them. Minister to them. Speak to them one on one and try to help them to find a way out. Their faces are flashing in my mind as I attempt to adjust, to sleep after this 12 hour time change adjustment.

 What will I do now? In the coming weeks I will be recovering, praying, seeking God as to what could I possibly do from 1/2 way around the world – it really is 1/2 way around the world. There are many things that are possible, but what is Jesus calling ME to do? I will seek His face and take action. As usual.

Above is me preaching with missionary GiGi translating.
Thanks for listening, now Go. Go into all the world and preach the gospel. What are YOU waiting for?

Serving Jesus to the ends of the earth and here with you,
Pastor Tracy Galloway

A Shout Out to our AMAZING sons Corban and Connor with whom we are so proud of for sharing their stories so eloquently, loving on the people, and experiencing a new culture with gusto and a great attitude. You rock. Literally! Thanks to my adoring husband for “making me go” it was fun; far away, but fun!

Where are you going to go? Pray about it.

www.ywam.org
www.garwoodchurch.org
www.newyorkcityrelief.org


Posted under Uncategorized
Jan-18-2016

Cardboard Signs Of The Times

I live a peculiar life in which I engage regularly with the very wealthy and the poorest of the poor in New York City. I get to visit opulent corporate boardrooms with stunning views of Manhattan and I get to sit on the concrete with people who sleep on cardboard at night- sometimes all in the same day. Today was one of those days…

I had just come from an investment firm that is one of the world’s largest asset managers. I was meeting with a team of young corporate professionals who organize to do volunteer work. We talked about how their company could help the homeless through partnering with New York City Relief. This small team was fascinated by stories of what people are going through on the streets and to learn how they could make a difference.

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I walked out of the door of this luxury skyscraper and headed to Penn Station on this brisk winter day. On the way I met two homeless men. The first man I met was named Mike. He held a cardboard sign that read, “HOMELESS. ALONE. DRUG-FREE. Looking-work. NEED HELP!!!”

I crouched down to talk to Mike. His head hung low and his whole body seemed to be weighed down with the worries of the world. I asked him his name and then asked him if he was hungry. He said that he was okay. Mike is about 35-years-old and suffers from mental illness. His speech was quiet and broken- hard to discern. I asked him if I could pray for him and he immediately said yes.

After praying, I asked Mike if I could buy his sign. His head came up quickly and he looked me in the eye for the first time as he said, “Yeah!” I asked how much and he replied, “Five dollars?” I thought it was a fair price and handed over the cash. I invited him to come visit The Relief Bus the next morning, but communication was pretty difficult and I’m not sure if he understood.

I got the idea for buying Mike’s sign from a video I had seen about an artist and Southern Methodist University advertising professor named Willie Baronet who had traveled across America buying the cardboard signs used by homeless people to ask for money. He’s bought hundreds of them, and he uses them in art exhibits and performances about homelessness and the concept of home.

In New York City, I see people challenged with homelessness holding cardboard signs all the time. The messages are stark and heartbreaking. These signs remind me of the stories of lepers in the Middle East 2,000 years ago. Because they were contagious, these lepers were required to publicly warn people that they were coming by yelling out, “Unclean!”. Not only were they a potential spreader of a flesh-rotting disease, they carried the stigma of contaminating other’s spiritual condition. The Old Testament law prevented God-fearing Jews from going near lepers for fear of tainting their spiritual purity. Lepers were the epitome of the term social pariah.

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A few blocks after I talked to Mike, I saw another man sitting on the sidewalk with a sign. This one read, “HAPPY NEW YEAR. DOWN & OUT. LOST EVERYTHING I LOVED BUT MY FAITH IN GOD AND THROUGH FAITH ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. THANK YOU. GOD BLESS. ANYTHING YOU CAN SPARE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”

I crouched down again and asked James his name. He was friendly and talkative. I told him about The Relief Bus and he was very interested in paying a visit to receive help. I asked James if he would sell me his sign. He also responded positively and gave me a higher price- $20. With a smile I said, “Twenty dollars huh? That’s quite a bit.” James replied that he came to that price because that would give him enough to get a bed that night, instead of sleeping on the street. He was very articulate and descriptive about the place he would stay. All of a sudden, that sign looked like a great deal. We also prayed together and even took a selfie (above). That’s what friends do together.

“Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

After agreeing to buy the sign, James shared something amazing. Every morning, a woman would come and write something on the back of his sign to encourage him. On this sign she wrote, “James, you are beautiful just as you are. You are seen. You are worthy. You are so very Loved. We see you and we hold you with the warmth of Loving Grace.”

It felt better buying the signs from these men, rather than just giving some cash. It felt like there was more dignity in exchanging money for the items rather than giving a handout. I now have these signs hanging in my office to remind me of Mike and James, so that I don’t forget to pray for them and the many other people experiencing homeless who God loves just as much as he loves me.

Meeting with the rich and poor in the same day is a bit of a shock to the system and very thought provoking. I find that both the rich and the poor are demonized. The rich are stereotyped as uncaring and arrogant while the poor are stereotyped as lazy and irresponsible. Although sometimes true, I find that neither stereotype fits the majority of the people that I know.

I find that both types of people are very much like myself – needy of love, intimate friendship and God’s grace. Both the rich and poor have challenges and sometimes face crushing pressure. One of my favorite parts of working at New York City Relief is bringing the rich and poor together to see this scripture come to life:

The rich and the poor shake hands as equals— God made them both!

                                                           Proverbs 22:2 (The Message)

Jesus broke the Old Testament Jewish law by touching lepers. He showed us how to risk it all in the name of love. Jesus showed us that people take priority over rules and social mores. He established a new law of love that superseded the old law:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

                                                            James 2:12,13

Let me give you a little challenge and some solid investment advice for 2016. Instead of ignoring or even judging the beggar you see sitting on the sidewalk, why not purchase yourself a cardboard sign? You just might find a new friend to help carry your load.


Posted under Uncategorized
Dec-14-2015

Help Corban and Connor bring HOPE to The Philippines

Please help send Corban and Connor on their first mission trip to serve the people of The Philippines! Click here to donate or send check to Juan & Tracy Galloway, 43 Lacey Ave, Gillette, NJ 07933. THANK YOU!

 

 

 


Posted under Articles
Nov-18-2015

Help Send Us To The Slums of The Philippines

Philippines 2016-1 copy Philippines 2016-2

 

 

 


Posted under Uncategorized
Oct-29-2015

Tenacious CommUNITY

Tenacious community

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite quotes is taken from a book entitled, The Three Battlegrounds by Francis Frangipane. Do you want to know if your Christianity is the real deal or just empty religion? There is a litmus test:

“Is your love growing softer, brighter and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love. A measurable decrease in your ability to love is evidence that a stronghold of cold love is developing within you.”

In four sentences, Francis strips everything about our faith down to the core essential issue: Is God’s love alive in us? Is it tangible, available and active? If it is just a philosophy or system of thought, than Christianity could just as well be another moral code.

We have all allowed a stronghold of “cold love” to take root in us at one time or another. Fortunately, if we are really pursuing Jesus, he doesn’t allow us to stay there. His love for us transforms us and compels us to love others out of sheer gratitude and joy.

If love is so important, where, when and how do we turn up the heat on our love for others? Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. The general concept of love is too broad and vague. What does Jesus love look like?

Jesus communed with people. The definition of the word commune is: “to share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with someone, especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.”

The organization I work with is called New York City Relief. NYCR takes almost 7,000 volunteers a year on outreach to the homeless in our mobile soup kitchens/resource centers known as The Relief Buses.

Josiah Community

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Relief Bus outreach, Josiah Haken, Vice President of Outreach Operations (above) teaches volunteers not to think of what we are doing as charity, but instead as communion. We are endeavoring to connect on a deep relational level with those challenged with homelessness. In other words, we are pursuing intimacy. This is what Jesus love looks like.

CommUNION can only be done in CommUNITY. Community is where those who are separated become unified into one heart and one spirit. Creating community is nurturing a richness of relationship with those who might be literally starving for love. Mother Teresa said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Our friends experiencing homelessness are isolated. In a city environment where they are surrounded by millions of people, they are many times completely alone, because they do not have relationships that truly bring life and healing.

Brett in bus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man named Darnell who was struggling with addiction and despair came to The Relief Bus for help. When talking to Outreach Leader Brett Hartford (above), he said, “When you are going through stuff in life and bad stuff happens, you need people. You need others to share those sufferings with. Someone that will come beside you to say, “It’s okay, you can do it. Just keep on going. It will be okay.”

Darnell’s words echo God’s mandate in Romans 12:9, 15,16

Love must be sincere…Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

The Jesus kind of love embraces those who are different than us. It pulls in the outsider who has been rejected by society. It befriends those who are on the fringe and pulls them into the inner circle of intimacy. The outcasts are transformed into brothers and sisters, family that we will lay our lives down for.

At New York City Relief, our staff community motto is “Fighting for each other’s hearts.” This phrase expresses the intense intentionality it takes to connect at a heart level. If it is not pursued intently, the opposite of community naturally happens: cliques, disjointedness, and offense.

Hebrews 10:24,25 is one verse that provokes us into pursuing a deep community life where Jesus love can thrive and spread.

And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities,

Not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.

If you want love to come alive in you, you must dive deeper into the place where the Jesus kind of love happens: commUNITY.


Posted under Uncategorized
Aug-17-2015

The Prison Part 2- PRISON BREAK FROM SHAME

Prison-Break-Title.001

How would you respond to someone spitting on you as you tried to sleep on the sidewalk? With violence, despair or patience? Meet a man in this article who, like Jesus, responds the third way. But first…

I wrote the allegorical story titled, The Prison many years ago and have just published it here on my blog.

The prisoners in this story were guilty of committing the most heinous crimes against humanity. Their deliverance by the hero in the story could seem unjust to some. It is normal to view such vile offenders as deserving of their punishment, but rarely do we see ourselves as worthy of that same treatment.

Maybe we can see ourselves in this story, or maybe we cannot relate to these outlaws because we consider our crimes against God just “misdemeanors.”

It could be that the prison we find ourselves in is one of self-justification. “I’m not as bad as so-and-so. Sure I sin, but not big sins like some people.” We create a pecking order not only of sins, but of people who commit those sins. For some reason, many like to say, “I’m not as bad as Hitler.” Talk about lowering the bar!

Some of us find solace in comparing ourselves to others, while others are tormented by the same practice. I once saw a humorous book titled, Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am. Whether we think better of ourselves as better or as worse, our self-perception is skewed when comparing ourselves with others.

We puff ourselves up, or tear ourselves down out of the common human experience known as insecurity.

The insecurities that exist in all of us come from the knowledge, experience and consequences of our shortcomings. Our personal faults and character flaws are painful to face. They cause us to feel shame. The definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”

So many of our friends challenged with homelessness are trapped in shame and other people’s lowly view of them.

Richard Maraj

One of my buddies named Richard (left), who is experiencing homelessness, told me that he loves The Relief Bus. He said that when he goes to other places for food, he is often treated roughly, like a prisoner. But, he says our staff and volunteers at The Relief Bus always have smiles for him and treat him like a person.

Richard is from Trinidad and is one of sweetest men you will ever meet. He always has a kind word to say and has a deep love for Christ. Richard takes care of himself and dresses sharp. Our team has gotten to know him well and appreciate this man who is such a joy to be around. He encourages us in the work we do and let’s us know how much we are impacting the community. He ministers to us.

 

He told me that sometimes people literally spit on him while he tries to sleep.

jesus statue

Richard sleeps on the sidewalk each night next to a statue of Jesus, in front of a Catholic Church. He told me that sometimes people literally spit on him while he tries to sleep. That has got to be a hard feeling to shake, a hard prison to break out of. It reminds me of how Jesus was treated:

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists.

Matthew 26:67

My shame isn’t physically evident to people around me, but when I look in the mirror I see someonShamee who is prone to lust, judging others, cowardly avoiding conflict, fearful of looking bad publicly, pretentiousness and laziness. I don’t like these things about myself. These are things that I don’t want to admit, but know are truth.

Becoming spiritually mature is not thinking of ourselves too highly-as better than others, but also not too lowly-as inferior to others. Whichever way we are skewed, we need Jesus to remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see ourselves clearly.

How do we escape this kind of crushing shame? We have a hero who can not only relate to us, but who can also break us out of this prison of shame:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3-5

Although he didn’t deserve it, Jesus was covered with shame. He was crushed for us. Because he took our place, we can find peace and be healed.

I need not despise myself, when someone who knows that I am even worse than I think, loves me dearly. He watches me adoringly as I sleep at night whether I am sleeping on the sidewalk or a warm bed. He sees the good and the potential in me. He believes in me despite myself.

Although I am as guilty as the convicts in The Prison, my hero has broken me out of prison. Now it is my job to let others know they can be free too. Pass the word.

 


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Aug-6-2015

The Prison- Part 1

prison

There was a maximum security prison located far from any town or city, which had a reputation for being the very worst. It was like a cage for the animals. Only the most depraved criminals were confined there. Deep within the bowels of the prison, the sick and twisted men who lived there were held captive by iron bars, concrete bricks and barbed wire. Molesters, rapists, dealers, pimps, pushers and murderers were among their ranks. They were no longer fit for common society and so were isolated to the point where they could no longer harm anyone but themselves.

The conditions of the prison fit their nature perfectly. It was disgusting. Roaches roamed the walls of their cells. Rats fought them for the few scraps of food they received. Lice and mites infested their mattresses. There was a deep and nauseating stench in the air of human feces, blood and sweat. This was a literal hell on earth prepared for those who had inflicted fear and fury on their victims.

Violence was the norm instead of the exception. Life here was brutal and assault was common. Gangs fought for control and constantly battled for dominance. The guards were cruel and merciless. Any punishment handed out was swift and severe. Constantly, the guards would taunt and harass the inmates, hoping to provoke a fight in which they were sure to have the upper hand, armed with steel batons and double-barreled shotguns.

This confinement was the end of the line. There was no escape and no possibility of parole. It was reserved for the worst of the worst. The atmosphere was thick with misery and hopelessness. Many wished death rather than spending the rest of their lives in this dark pit. The days were filled with emptiness and the nights were filled with terror as the screams of new victims echoed in the dungeon-like caverns of the cellblocks.

Each inmate was simply a number waiting to be called on death row. There were no more appeals to be made, no hope of reprieve. All were assured a painful execution in front of their victims or the families of their deceased victims. All were destined to die a death that they knew they deserved. Each feared the day that they would make that final walk down the hallway to meet with eternity.

guard tower

One day, news of a visitor spread throughout the prison. This was strange because no visitors were ever allowed. They were curious yet cautious, thinking this might be another trick by the guards to lift up their hopes, than crush them. Word got out instantly that this was not just any visitor, but a man famous throughout the country. People revered him for his love for the hurting and the down and out. He was deeply respected by the poor and even the criminals in the barrios and ghettos. Being such a man of honor, the prisoners could only wonder why he would visit this armpit of a prison. They were even more amazed to find out that he would be speaking to them collectively out in the prison yard, surrounded by guard towers. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

The mob of prisoners stirred uneasily as the man stepped up to a microphone on a wooden platform. He said “Men, I’ve come here today because I have found a way for each of you to be pardoned and set free. The warden of this prison and the government have agreed to allow all of you to leave if one person will take your place on death row, and receive execution in your stead. I have decided to do just that.”

Immediately, when he finished the statement, guards grabbed him from both sides and dragged him away to the place of execution. The prisoners were wide-eyed with shock as they were led to the observation room. They stared on as this man known to all as good, was strapped down to “the chair” and wires were affixed to his chest and arms. A metal cap was strapped onto his head. The inmates were bewildered and could not fathom why this man who had it all, would do such a thing.

The warden nodded to the switchman who brought down the lever quickly. The body of the man tried to rise up as the electricity pulsed through him, but the thick leather straps held his limbs down. For several seconds, that seemed like days, a shrill and piercing scream came out of the man’s mouth and then he fell silent.

Just as the man had said, the prison gates were opened and each of the men walked out into the open. They began to cry and shout and laugh. They embraced each other and jumped up and down. Some of them just ran and ran with big smiles spread across their faces. Somehow, they weren’t the same savages they had been only minutes before. Something had changed.

In one moment of death, every one of them had been given new life. Not one of them returned to their illegal activities and crimes. They traveled throughout every country, telling anyone who would listen the amazing story of how one good man had taken the place of all of them- the refuse and scum of society. They went out and found their old comrades in crime, and with love in their eyes, led them away from their destructive habits and ways. Nothing could stop them from feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans and raising up the powerless. They went to every run-down neighborhood and lifted the hearts of all who were troubled, from people living on the streets, to those battling drug addiction. Their story was one of new hope. This message went around the world and changed everyone who heard it.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
                                             JESUS
Luke 4:18


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Jun-26-2015

The Sticker Man Part 2- “Prophetic Stickers”

Think of the “stickers” placed on you throughout your life. Think of how people either purposefully or inadvertently put you into a box. What labels were put on you? What negative words stuck to you? Imagine those experiencing homelessness, addiction or poverty and how trapped they must feel by the labels pasted on them.

The more labels we put on people, the more invisible they become. Once our mind categorizes someone, it refocuses on something of “more importance” and the person fades into the background. The person becomes a thing.

There are people experiencing homelessness, addiction, poverty and many other afflictions, but like everyone else, they are just people. The problem with labels like “the homeless”, “the addicted” or even “the needy”, is that they lack dignity and respect. People are lumped into a big negative category that robs them of their true selves. They are treated as less than, or worse ignored. The impact on their psyche is enormous.

stickerman 4 stickerman 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When someone is called “the poor”, instead of just “Michael” or “Rachel”, they are removed from our world. Labels dehumanize people and cause us to forget that each person has feelings, hopes and dreams just like we do. Michael and Rachel are actually the real names of my brother and sister. They aren’t trapped by poverty, but even if they were, of course I wouldn’t lump them into an impersonal categorization. We don’t do that to loved ones.

 

Imagine if you and I were judged solely on who we were on our worst day.

stickerman 6

I’m so glad that when most people see me on the street they don’t say, “There’s another jerk. The jerk population is really growing in this area. Can’t the authorities do something about all the jerks around here?” This might be completely accurate, because I really am a jerk sometimes, but I don’t live with this stigma hanging around my neck.

People’s current circumstances shouldn’t define them. Imagine if you and I were judged solely on who we were on our worst day. Not a pretty picture. I think that I would go around crushed by shame if people thought of me that way.

Fortunately, I have a lot of people who treat me as if I am always the person I am on my best day. I know it’s not completely accurate, but it shapes me and helps me to become that person. They see the “me” I want to be. Grace does that.

 

 

Christopher Barbosa 2

One day during outreach on The Relief Bus, I met man named Christopher (left) who was struggling with addiction. His dream was to kick his habit and become a better father to his children. He showed me photos of his two beautiful 4 and 5-year-old boys and was so proud. I affirmed him as a father for the things he had done to spend time with them and show them they are loved. I ended up sharing about the love of Jesus with Christopher and he gave his life to Christ. After we prayed, he said that he felt something when we were praying and hugged me in gratitude. It was a real God moment. Afterwards, I was able to give him some employment info and a Bible.

I asked Christopher what kind of career he was interested in and after he told me I said, “I think you would be really good at that.” That’s how my parents always talked to me.

Christopher BarbosaI hope that I helped Christopher peel off the “failure”, and “addict” stickers plaguing him and put a new “Loving father” sticker in it’s place. I was most excited that he let Jesus put a sticker on his head that read, “Forgiven”.

It was one step, but what a step! I am trusting God to peel off the rest of the old stickers of guilt, shame and condemnation, as I trust Him to plaster Christopher with some “new creation” ones.

What if we were to “prophesy” into others lives, speaking the reality that could be? What if the stickers we put on them were packed with possibilities and potential? Could our words shape someone into the person they were really meant to be all along?

 

1 Corinthians 14:3
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Maybe prophecy isn’t as mystical as we think. Maybe it’s as simple as letting love spill out of our mouths. In our culture, we usually wait quite a while in a relationship before speaking so personally to someone. As a result, many people go starved for love, while we politely stay at surface level.

Fearing presumptiveness, we wait for spiritual gifts to somehow manifest out of thin air. If by faith, we start to speak the heart of God, maybe the Holy Spirit will complete the process. I don’t want to miss my chance to pass on the stickers that people stuck on me. I have backpack full of good ones and I want to give them all away. Love does that.


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