Archive for June, 2019

Jun-28-2019

Freaked Out On 5th Avenue-Part 12 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

5919It was day 6 of my spiritual pilgrimage living on the streets of New York City. It turned out to be the most shocking day of my journey in which I met God in the most disarming way through messengers who he sent to me in the strangest of places…

On a whim, I had decided to walk 20 plus blocks to Trump Tower on 5th Avenue to panhandle. It felt kind of symbolic to go beg and pray at the new White House–kind of like when I begged on Wall Street at the New York Stock Exchange earlier that week. It wasn’t a political move of any kind on my part. By the time I got there my feet were killing me. Some guy was selling silly anti-Trump buttons on the sidewalk. Lots of tourists were taking photos in front of the iconic tower. As I begged, I prayed for the people dropping change in my cup, for the city leaders to have wisdom and innovation to help those experiencing homelessness and for the president and national leaders to know how to help the poor. While I prayed I made a total of $5.39.

It was while I was praying that they most amazing thing happened to me. Three college-aged girls came up to me and asked my name. They sat down on the sidewalk right there on 5th Avenue and talked to me for the next 20 minutes. Their names were Bailey, Andrea and Tiffany. The girls asked if I was hungry and gave me some granola bars. These were some of the only people from mainstream society to give me the time of day all week. I was pretty flabbergasted that they were being so nice. They asked me questions about myself and how I was doing.

One of the young women who initiated the encounter, Bailey Kriebel, later wrote on Facebook about the experience:

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“Over Spring break, I chose to go on a service trip to the Bronx, New York with other students from Messiah College (see left). By the end of the week, my heart was full and I could not contain my excitement for Jesus or for the things He is going to do in my life. I would like to talk about a conversation that I had with a homeless man that really stood out to me.

“We were walking around Manhattan that day and we were encouraged to pray for anybody that we felt called to pray for. My eyes focused on a homeless man sitting across from Trump Tower. As I walked over to him, two other girls from my group followed. Let me remind you that it was freezing. For me, I can go back inside my warm, cozy house when I cannot bear the cold anymore. But for him, he couldn’t. He had no place to go.

“I walked over to him and I asked him his name. He looked surprised, as if his name was meaningless. He told me that his name was Juan. I asked him how he was, and he told me that his feet were sore because he had just walked 20 blocks. I asked him why he was walking that far, and he said he was on a pilgrimage. All he had was a backpack and a blanket. The girls and I offered him granola bars. We actually sat on the sidewalk with him for a while and talked.

“Instead of talking about his life and experiences as a homeless man like the other homeless people I have encountered, he talked about how badly the homeless are treated and how unfair it is because they are people too. He explained that homelessness could happen to anyone, because New York contains many areas that are in complete poverty.

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“After talking some more, he revealed that we were the only people to actually sit down and talk with him. Only two people asked his name before us. I was amazed. I prayed over him and thanked God for such an amazing individual. I prayed that he would stay safe, healthy, and warm.

“Before we left, he told us to friend him on Facebook. When we looked up his profile, we realized he was not homeless. He was the president of New York City Relief, which is an outreach program we helped with earlier in the week. If you do not know what New York City Relief does, they give food, hygiene kits and socks to people in need and they also offer direction to rehab and detox facilities. We worked there earlier in the week and when I mentioned New York City Relief to Juan, he acted like he had no idea what it was. However, Juan chose to be homeless for a week to find Jesus. We happened to reach out to him and move him even closer to God. He even gave a sermon about it. Around the 40 minute mark, he mentions us and our encounter in this video.

“I would have never even considered walking up to a homeless person before this trip because of the stereotypes I had of them. After this entire trip, I want to. I want to offer them granola bars and prayer. A $2 granola bar may not seem like anything to us, but it could mean everything to someone less fortunate.

“I am going to end with a verse from Isaiah 57. God says: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.”

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I was pretty blown away by the whole experience of meeting these young ladies. I had been mostly alone, isolated and ignored by the public as they walked past me every day. The only people to sit down and talk to me all week, feed me and pray with me were kids we hosted and trained on a New York City Relief outreach for one day that week. They had served on our mobile outreach called The Relief Bus at Chelsea Park in Midtown Manhattan and now they were an unstoppable force for Jesus doing things that most grown men were afraid to try. Watching their life transformation before my eyes felt like an out-of-body experience. I was freaked out, but in a good way.

One of the other young women, Tiffany Burrows actually wrote a college paper on the experience in which she explained:

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“New York City Relief is unique in that they do not simply provide handouts; rather, they seek to commune with the homeless, hear their stories, and to demonstrate that they matter. Often, this inspires the people they serve to seek the opportunities that New York City Relief offers to better themselves. Four of the core values of New York City Relief are Compassion, Oneness, Revolution, and Excellence. Working with members in this organization truly revealed what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ.

“Personally, it inspired me during my outreach on The Relief Bus to see the homeless in a positive light and to see them in general. In the past, when I saw a homeless person, I would not acknowledge them out of fear. I did not want to give them money to support any bad habits they had and I did not know what to say to them.

“However, what I gathered from this experience was that they want the three essential human needs we all want: to be seen, heard, and valued. Towards the end of the week, I was walking through the streets of Manhattan. I saw what appeared to be a homeless man sitting and begging across from Trump Tower.

They want the three essential human needs we all want: to be seen, heard, and valued.

 

“I decided to take a chance and live out some of the values I learned from on The Relief Bus outreach. I welcomed two other girls from the trip to join me and talk with the homeless man. We sat down next to him and asked him what his name was. He was surprised to be acknowledged and told us that his name was Juan. Juan asked us why we were taking to him and we simply responded that we wanted to get to know him. Our genuineness released some of his hesitancy and he opened up. He shared that he had been on a pilgrimage and had walked several miles before resting. He was cold, tired, and hungry. We offered him granola bars we had carried with us for our travels. We later asked to pray for him and he was receptive. Juan was filled with gratitude and hope. He told us that he had a Facebook account and encouraged us to friend him.

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“Later, the next week we did and discovered that the man we sat with was Juan Galloway, the president of New York City Relief! He messaged the two girls and myself to inform us that he spent the week being homeless to understand the lives of the people he serves.

“Throughout that week, he broke barriers, stereotypes, and was humbled beyond belief. Hardly anyone outside of other homeless people had spoken to him during that journey. He shared how much it meant to him for someone to authentically demonstrate that he mattered. He said that the example we set is the kind of culture he seeks to instill in his team that works at New York City Relief. After dialoguing with Juan more over Facebook and doing further research on the organization, I saw how effective they are. It was extremely unique for the president of the organization to take the risk and be homeless for a week. It showed his humility and compassion for humanity. It also showed that even as the president of New York City Relief, no matter how “high up” you grow in your organization, you are no more important that the people you work among and serve.

“Further, despite enduring many hardships during that week, he chose to focus on the small acts of kindness he experienced from the homeless community. For instance, one night, Juan slept on the E train in Manhattan. After still being tired and exhausted, he encountered another homeless man that offered him his last Dunkin’ Donuts gift card. Repeatedly, he saw the homeless community truly living in communion and giving their last resources to support one another. These are not the stories told about the homeless in our society. Therefore, Juan and New York City Relief make it part of their mission to share these stories with others.

“One quote from Juan’s dad, Richard Galloway, who had started this organization in 1989 stands out to me. He said, “The homeless are not a problem to be solved. They are a portal to the heart of God.”

“Personally, I cannot see a better organization out there that is seeking to remain humble and authentic in their work. They realize that their mission is not a one-way process, but rather a reciprocal one. Because of these experiences, I am now willing to risk comfort to get to know the marginalized. It will be my goal to risk leaving my comfort zone to see people for all that they truly are.”

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These three young women experienced the truth and the truth set them free. They experienced the truth of the commonality and humanity of the poor. Even more importantly, they experienced the truth of the love of Christ that looks past the symptoms of sin and bondage to see and value the hearts of his beloved.

This is what it takes to experience the transformational power of God–leaving what we know to walk by faith into the unknown. Living on the streets taught me that lesson well. I met Jesus through people struggling with homelessness, but also through three college girls who would not be held back by fear of “the other.”

This encounter was a sign from God to me–we were transforming volunteer’s lives who were then going out to transform other lives in the name of Jesus. They had a passion and energy you don’t often see. They were glowing with Christ and were spreading a compassion revolution. These mighty women of God had experienced personal revival and were on a mission.

They were a living example of the scripture which had inspired my father and mother, Richard and Dixie Galloway to start New York City Relief thirty years earlier:

“If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10

In Acts 21:8,9 it mentions the four daughters of Philip who were prophetesses. God had sent me three such women who were walking in the spirit and following his guidance. They were messengers and mouthpieces sent to confirm my mission, affirm my call and encourage me to persevere. God had my attention and I was listening.

Out of the literally millions of people walking the streets of New York City and the thousands of people begging, these girls found me, a needle in the haystack. This was no coincidence. The odds that they would choose to minister to me were beyond astronomical. This was an experience that I would never forget. It was a sign to me that our team at New York City Relief was on the right track and that we should keep going, full-steam ahead. When I heard God’s voice through his young servants, the Holy Spirit breathed on me.

Is he breathing on you as you read this? Do you sense him beckoning you to follow in his footsteps and become the blazing light that you were created to be? Do you hear the echoes of scripture when Jesus beckoned, “Come and follow me” and “Feed my sheep?” Be careful of what you wish for, because God might freak you out too. Worse things can happen. 🙂

Stay tuned to read more about my spiritual pilgrimage in Part 13 titled, Any Port In A Storm.


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Jun-10-2019

Getting INSIDE The Box Is The New Getting “Outside The Box”

I awoke at 1:30am in a parking lot. The pouring rain was starting to drench my sleeping bag as I lay inside of a cardboard box. I had to find a new place to sleep and fast! This was going to be a long night. Read on to find out how I got myself into this uncomfortable predicament…

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Have you ever read one of the most bewildering stories in the Bible about a man who amazed Jesus? It’s one of those head scratching scenarios where the “bad guy” became the hero. No one could have seen this coming.

Take a look at this story through a paraphrase I wrote many years ago in a book titled, The Street Bible:

Jesus went to Capernaum and an officer in the Roman army came by. The officer said, “Chief, one of my favorite employees is in critical condition. He can’t move and he’s in a lot of pain.”

Jesus said, “Come on, I’ll go heal him right now.”

The officer retorted, “Chief, I’m not worthy for you to come to my place. Besides, you could just heal him long distance from where you stand. When I tell my soldiers to jump, they ask, ‘HOW HIGH, SIR!?’ My men respond instantly and know better than to mess with the boss. It’s the same way with you and anyone’s sickness. That sickness just doesn’t stand a chance. You the man.”

Now it was Jesus’ turn to have his mind blown. He said to everybody standing around, “This is the only person I’ve met who really believes there are no limits to My power and abilities! A lot of religious folks who should be believers like this guy just aren’t. When they die, they’ll try to get a spot with their crowd, but will be surprised by getting the boot instead.”

He told the officer, “You asked for it, you got it.” Sure enough, his employee was healed right when Jesus said that.–Matthew 8:5-13 (The Street Bible)

In this narrative, a man who should have been an enemy, an oppressor and religiously repugnant (unclean according to Jewish law) turned out to be the role model who Jesus affirms as having more faith than anyone in Israel. Say what?! This was the modern-day equivalent of pointing out the astounding spiritual walk of a member of ISIS. It was highly offensive and broke every political, religious and cultural rule there was at the time.

This was the modern-day equivalent of pointing out the astounding spiritual walk of a member of ISIS.

centurion (1)The man in question was a Roman centurion in charge of 100 men. He received high praise indeed for someone who was a foreigner hated by the Israelites and a member of the brutal occupying force dominating Jesus’ people. It’s easy to distance ourselves from the story and miss the outrageous audacity of the centurion and of Jesus in this situation. We would be wrong to imagine that Jesus is just speaking in hyperbole and maybe overstating his assessment of the Roman. On the contrary, I believe that Jesus is still pointing us to this anti-hero today so that we might follow in his footsteps.

What would cause Jesus to make such an outlandishly grandiose assessment of the centurion’s spiritual strength? I think it’s not just how he believed Jesus could heal, but the heart motivating him to ask Jesus to heal in the first place.

Courageously Crossing Boundaries
This Roman’s actions crossed every cultural, socioeconomic and racial boundary that existed at that time in order to connect with Jesus and save his servant’s life. He did this at risk of his reputation and status. Roman rule was all about retaining control through a power structure of dominant authority over their subjects.

As a Roman soldier, he had the power to simply force a Jew to do what he wanted. For example, there was a common practice of “impressment” which allowed a Roman soldier to force a Jewish native to carry his equipment for one Roman mile, about 1,611 yards. This was no small task considering a Roman soldier’s backpack could weigh upwards of 100 pounds.

This was most probably what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:41 when he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Jesus taught that even if you were unjustly forced to serve a Roman, go above and beyond to serve that person the best you can. That’s what love does. Paradoxically, the Roman went above and beyond for an underling who was powerless and vulnerable. Again, that’s what love does.

By lauding the man, Jesus was welcoming those listening to follow the Roman into a new reality where, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 28)

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Soggy Boxes
Recently, I participated in an unconventional event with Liquid Church in Parsippany, NJ. My two sons and I joined 575 other people in sleeping outside in cardboard boxes in the church parking lot. It was an effort to join in solidarity with those who have no place to call home. Each participant was handed a cardboard box and some duct tape to construct their temporary shelter. Many wrote scriptures on their ramshackle structures like, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, you shall open wide your hand to you brother, to the needy, and to the poor in your land…” Deuteronomy 15:11. Another person wrote, “Break our hearts with what breaks yours.”

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In the middle of the night, the rain poured down on the cardboard city and drenched all of us. We retreated to the church lobby where we sprawled out on the hard, concrete floors. It was difficult, smelly and beautiful as we experienced a little bit of the hardship of others while raising funds and awareness for our brothers and sisters on the streets. It was a tough, but meaningful experience for many of the participants.

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One woman commented, “After this, I won’t be looking at people challenged with homelessness in the same way. Though I had sympathy for them before, I now have empathy too. I will make an effort to look them in their eyes and let them know I see them and I will try to do what I can to help them.” Another participant noted, “”Such a great event. It’s changed my perspective on who is homeless. I thought they had a choice. Now it doesn’t matter why they are homeless – it only matters how I help. No judgement!”

It took getting into a literal box for the participants to get “out of the box” of how they viewed people living on the streets.

 

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I love my job as president of New York City Relief, a mobile outreach to people struggling with homelessness. I get to encourage people to come and treat others like gold, who many times get treated like garbage. Volunteers are stunned to meet Jesus through people who have been stigmatized and stereotyped as dangerous and to be avoided. On the contrary, when volunteers make friends with people living on the streets, the faulty social constructs crumble revealing a God who embraces everyone equally. It can be shocking to folks on both sides as common ground and genuine affection is discovered. Love melts judgment away as hearts intertwine.

Are there any cultural, socioeconomic or racial boundaries that you need to cross in order to encounter the power of God? If you want to be a part of making miracles happen like the centurion did, this might be your ticket. Are you ready to step deep into the lives of others who are different than you in almost every way? This is the way of great men and women of faith. Love compels them to get in the box with people in crisis.

Ultimate Authority
Why was Jesus so greatly impressed by the centurion’s request for help? One clue is found in James 4:3, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

The centurion rightly ascertained Jesus’ authority, because his heart’s desire was not to advance or profit himself in any way. The Roman walked in the Spirit as he embodied the greatest commandment, to love his neighbor as himself. This was a man of war trained in the ways of an empire that ruled with an iron fist, but the conqueror had been conquered by God’s love. This unbelievable love that he enjoyed gave him the unwavering confidence that Jesus could heal anyone, anytime.

Two thousand years ago, this centurion understood and embodied a truth that many of us struggle with today in the 21st century:

“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”” Romans 15:1-2 (The Message)

The Kingdom of God was being manifested in this sacred moment. Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to point out this outsider as being one of the holiest men in the country. It’s hard to emphasize just how outrageous and scandalous this would have sounded to the listeners.

Through this true story, Jesus welcomes us to embrace one of our main purposes on the earth: to serve God by serving others, especially the weak. Like the centurion, will we lay down our wealth, power and position for the sake of the broken?

It’s time to get in the box like Jesus did when he left heaven and came to earth to be with people in trouble like us. It’s uncomfortable and maybe soggy, but this is where transformation happens. Ironically, this is how we can get “out of the box” of our self-absorption and small thinking to become the people God designed us to be. Bring on the cardboard and duct tape!

To watch a video of the message titled, Making Space At The Table that I preached at Liquid Church the morning after the big sleep out click here.


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