If you have stumbled here by accident let me first insist that there really are no accidents in life. If however, you came on your own free will then please by all means open your hearts and your minds to the "New Wine" that God has prepared for you!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The meadow

So the other day I drove nine hours to Beryl. I didn’t know exactly what I might find in Beryl but I love adventures so into the back of the truck went my hiking boots, staff and miscellaneous camping gear. During my nine hour drive I passed through four states stopping only to fuel up. Gas was only $ 2.59 cents a gallon which almost encouraged me to keep driving beyond my destination.

Just before reaching Enterprise, Utah I stopped at a roadside monument to read up on some local history. The monument marked a spot along the Old Spanish Trail where wagon trains would take families to California in search of a better life. The monument marked a place known as Mountain Meadows. The grass filled meadow was a beautifully breathtaking vista, complete with a river winding its way back and forth as it made its way south. 

The sun was shining on the meadow’s tall green grass as the wind swirled through it, making it shimmer like retreating surf after the crash of an ocean wave onto the shore. As the wind blew through my hair, I squinted through it at the memorial plaque that had been carved out of a single solid granite marker. There were hundreds of names listed on the wall and for a moment I thought I was looking at the Vietnam Memorial with its endless columns of names of our fallen heroes.

The only problem was the names chiseled into the stone were not only of men fallen in battle, but included hundreds of women and children. This was not a Civil War battle ground but a beautiful tranquil meadow, a resting spot to water and feed the settlers’ livestock before they traveled through the intensely hot Mojave Desert on route to California. 

The story I’m about to tell illustrates the depravity that is in every human heart; our natural tendency is to do evil. Although the root cause that inspired these men to do the unthinkable is not without controversy, the facts still are recorded in history that a very large massacre of men, women and children occurred in Mountain Meadows just miles away from Enterprise, Utah.

Wagons filled with settlers originating from the state of Missouri were on their way to California. Running low on provisions, they had sought to purchase supplies from local Mormons who were living in the area. Because of reasons that are not clear, the Mormons denied the travelers any food or provisions. Desperate for help, the men of the party angrily provoked the Mormons and a battle ensued.

Local Indians had also been tracking the settlers who had supposedly poisoned a spring their livestock used to get water, resulting in the deaths of several people of their tribe. Now the Indians as well as the Mormons were united in their efforts to punish this group from Missouri. At some point in the skirmish a truce was proposed, as Mormon leaders promised to lead the settlers away from danger and sort things out with the Indians.

The men of the party, deceived, put down their weapons and were led a short distance away from the rest of the group where they were brutally lined up and fired upon, execution style. Likewise, the women and some of the older children were led away to another spot by armed Mormon and Indian fighters where they met the same fate as their husbands, sons and brothers.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is now only a very distant memory in the minds of the relatives of the slain. In fact, it’s hard to imagine such horror as you look out onto this beautiful, peaceful meadow graced with tall grass impregnated with spring flowers. 

The fact is that we are all capable of this kind of evil if we don’t guard our hearts and minds with the love that only comes from God. Unfortunately, if we don’t remember these atrocities, then history is bound to repeat itself. The anger, hate and blood lust that led good people to do such evil in Mountain Meadows is not dissimilar to what motivated an angry crowd  to demand the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Fighting over religious dogma has caused death, pain and suffering throughout our world history. Jesus Christ, our Savior, came into the world to teach us how to love one another. Religious facts, figures and beliefs are not reasons to maim or kill others who don’t believe the exact way that you do.

Maybe, if we remember the ugly things that happen on peaceful meadows all over the world then maybe we can learn to love and respect others.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to build up and not tear down, and to walk an extra mile with someone in need.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The empty stairwell

I know of this church in the city where there is an enclosed stairwell in which the homeless go in search of safety and shelter. A couple of weeks ago I discovered a couple pairs of feet sticking out of the stairwell. I didn't want to wake the individuals who were attached to the feet so I went to the church’s copy room which doubles as my office and sitting down began to read my bible.

No sooner had I read through the first sentence God spoke to my heart as clear as can be and said "Make them breakfast".  I thought about it for awhile then quickly went to work in the kitchen fixing up a couple plates of food. Nothing too fancy just some scrambled eggs, cut up hot dogs and a bun wrapped in tin foil and carried with love out to the stairwell.

When I appeared back out at the stairwell I must have startled the young man and woman who were fast asleep. They did not want any trouble and were very eager to leave without incident.
"We don't want any trouble; we will leave" said the young man.
"Wait" I said with a smile "I made you breakfast".

Their eyes widened and both of their jaws dropped. They were hungry and also needed to use the church’s restrooms. When they returned I was able to share my faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Actions speak louder than words.

Eddie and Joanna were Native American Indians from the Rincon tribe. Eddie was 20 years old while Joanna, I later found out later, was 24 years old. Eddie had just been released from jail on a petty theft charge, caught shoplifting food from a mini mart. He was trying to feed his family.

The stairwell has been used by many street travelers over the years as a safe haven for the night. These kids were no exception. They had nowhere to go. I have been homeless myself before so I can totally relate to their situation. I had no problem with the couple seeking refuge in the stairwell but as it turned out the rest of the church did.
"It’s against the law" said one church staffer.
"We were told by the police not to let people sleep on our property." said another associate pastor.
"Please don't encourage them to sleep here" said someone else.
"I had to paint the stairwell 2 times last week because they really messed it up" said one of the maintenance workers. So the decision was made and signs went up in the stairwell “No sleeping allowed in the stairwell".

This is where my heart broke. These could be my own children. Jesus taught us to help others. Why do people hold material things higher than real people? Why was it so hard just to help these kids the best we can? Wouldn’t it be simpler just continuing to clean up the stairwell?

Dawn came early today as I arrived to do my usual cleaning of the church before everyone began arriving. As I passed the empty stairwell, all bright and clean with a brand new coat of paint, I remembered Eddie and Joanna and the expression on their faces as they ate their breakfast. I wondered if the right decision was made.  I know an opportunity to love two souls, in Jesus name, was missed. So the last few nights passed without the restlessness of Eddie and Joanna constant turning in an attempt to find a comfortable spot on the cold concrete of the landing.

Well I know where there is a cold, empty stairwell on the boulevard tonight. It’s a lonely stairwell that once kept two young souls safe from the dangers of a night on the street. It is now however a very clean, bright and shiny place complete with a fresh coat of gray paint, you might even call its appearance pristine. But I liked it better dirty, urine soaked with cigarette ashes caught in the corners of the landing where it stood as a standing reminder that there are people in need of our help. I liked the stairwell better when it had two pairs of warm human feet sticking out.

I wonder which stairwell Jesus Christ would have preferred. I ponder the thought as to whether the people in our church would have allowed Him to sleep there? Material things will be left behind but the relationships we make will last for eternity.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hard hearts

As I walked downtown to my doctor’s appointment, I came upon a man sprawled out on the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue. The man’s body was lying face up in a weird contorted position. At first glance it appeared to be a dead body and so I stopped and checked for breathing.

Several people walked right by as if the body was not there. A couple even stepped over the man’s outstretched arm and curled hand not giving a second thought to his condition. I watched in unbelief as a partially blind man felt his way around the obstacle tapping the legs, torso and head as he made his way on to wherever life was calling. 

The young man’s face was sun bleached, red and had several days of beard growth on his face. He was relatively clean-cut and well dressed not your average sidewalk catastrophe. As I walked past I observed that the man’s breathing was labored as if he was taking in his last breaths of life.

John Doe’s lifeless body was positioned in the middle of the sidewalk as if it had just dropped from a high rise balcony. I gazed down the sidewalk and was relieved to see two health care workers dressed in scrubs walking towards us knowing that, surely, they would stop to give assistance. These people are trained to help and take an Hippocratic oath to do just that but the man and the woman passed right by the man on their way to their work, not giving this man a second thought.

Time seemed to slow down to a crawl as I was wondered what has happened to us as a society that we have become so callous and hard of heart that we just don’t even care anymore what happens to people? Another man who had previously passed the man came back with a cell phone in his hands and asked me if the man was breathing. I replied “yes but his breathing was labored”. The man sort of yelled at the man “Dude, are you ok? Can we call someone for you?"  

The man did not rouse. After awhile, he sort of lifted his head and said something indistinguishable. I asked if he needed water to which he said "yes please, I need water!" I could see his lips were parched and he was visibly dehydrated.

As he started to get up, leaning on one elbow, I told him to wait there while I ran to the corner mini mart. I bought a gal of water and a bag of beef jerky and ran back. When I got back, the man was sitting up. I gave him the food and water and asked if I could pray with him.

His eyes lit up as he said “Yes, my name is Tim and I’m a Christian”. Tim grabbed my right hand with both of his and for a moment I wondered what had happened to him to bring him to this point in life? We talked and prayed for awhile until I realized I was late for my doctor’s appointment. I thought I would stop on my way back and take the man out for breakfast as I had some extra time in my schedule. When I returned to the sidewalk, Tim was gone and so was the gallon of water and bag of beef jerky.

We all have a choice to make. We can either choose to harden our hearts or allow God’s Holy Spirit to soften us up with the oil of His love. Our hearts can become like dried out leather gloves but soon the oil begins to seep into the tough, stiff dry leather slowly bring it back to life. The late Keith Green once wrote “Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine, to soften it up, with the oil and wine. The oil is You, Your Spirit of love, come wash me anew in the wine of Your blood.”

It takes only a moment of time to talk to someone and just a little longer to give a cup of cold water, or a piece of bread in Jesus’ name. Why are we so busy rushing around that we don’t have time for other human beings? Why has our society become so callous that men, women and children can be just brushed off out of sight and babies can be abandoned in the trash?

 Every human being is precious in the sight of God. We are His workmanship created for His pleasure and good works. We all race after the mighty dollar, saving and storing our treasure for what? I’m encouraging you to invest in God’s everlasting kingdom, pour into the lives of people all around you. These relationships are eternal!