What’s worse? To live a life that is filled with substance abuse, stealing, anger, violence, depression, poverty, and ignorance or one that has little or no sympathy and offers no assistance to people in those life styles. 

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Proverbs 14:31

In the last six years we have lost at least 9 of of our brothers to direct drug overdose, the effects of substance abuse, or violence. While we debate what should be done, how it should be done, even if anything should be done, who do we assist, who should we not assist, and who we walk away from, people are dying in the shadows of our steeples.

Also in the last six years we have seen the Lord heal the sick and addicted, bring the poor out of poverty, bring joy to the joyless, hope to the hopeless, and shelter to the homeless. We have experienced a joy beyond our wildest imaginations and have added friends beyond compare. We have embraced and laughed with refreshed emotions with those who in the past we avoided in places we never dreamed we would go.

It is written in Isaiah 58:10:

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

We have mourned the loss of our brothers.

But we also celebrate others.

We celebrate the mother who called us about her son right out of jail and who wanted to start a new life. We celebrate the father and daughter that have started a sober living house in town. We celebrate that we were able to introduce this mother and her son to the father and daughter and the young man now has a job and a safe place to live.

We celebrate that we met a mother and her 10 year old daughter who evacuated out of Louisiana from the hurricane. We celebrate that we had the funds to put them in a motel for a couple of days. We celebrate that we were able to introduce them to a contact at the school district and they used their resources to supply clothes for the daughter and get her in an afternoon school program.

We celebrate the mother found a job and we were able to fill the tank of her truck so she can get back and forth from work.

We celebrate every time someone is thirsty and we can provide water. We celebrate every time someone is hungry and we can provide food. We celebrate every time we can bring a little bit of peace to life in a storm. We celebrate that God has provided the people and the means so Heaven can touch earth.

1 John 3:17-18: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

We don’t qualify whoever comes into our Circle. If Jesus died for all then we should sacrifice for all as well. He included everyone in His death so we should include everyone in our lives.

Christ has entrusted us with the Keys to His Kingdom. Our responsibility is to open the Door to this Kingdom. We do this through actions to the least of these around us. When we do we discover that “the least these” are really “the greatest among us.”

No more exclusion. Only inclusion. Bring them in from the shadows of our buildings into the Light of His Kingdom. Be involved. 

We celebrate those on the margins and that our Lord that cares so much for them.

It seems like there is always more bad news than good. It would be nice if we could string together a couple of good news weeks. 

A body was found in the park the other day. The News story said he was an “unidentified man”. Unknown. The City Park employees found the young man near the tennis courts dead. No sign of struggle or foul play. Turns out we knew him. Several of our Street Family knew him as well. He didn’t come often but he came for awhile. 

I remember his face but I don’t remember our conversations. I knew him by his looks but not his background, his likes, or dislikes. I am ashamed of myself for that. My memory is shallow when it comes to this young man. Why didn’t I take time to know more about him? I feel like I ignored him.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

Popular thinking seems to be that those in addiction chose to go down a path of sickness, poverty, abuse, and death because they are bad people. Because they made that choice they deserve to be outcast. They become harassed and helpless. They are lost disoriented sheep and they have no Shepherd. 

Just to be clear, I am not that shepherd. You are not that shepherd. There is only one Shepherd and His Name is Jesus. This young man was a sheep lost in his addiction. I believe his Shepherd was with him even as he took his last breath. What was this young man’s last thought? As his last breath passed his lips did he whisper, “Jesus”?

I want to think he felt the Lord’s touch and closed his eyes only to open them to see the smiling Face of the Shepherd. 

There are so many around us in our little town that are helpless, harassed and ignored. We attend our churches on Sunday and think we have paid our dues of faith at the alter. And then the other six days we step over the downtrodden along the street curbs. 

Where is our God if not with those whose lives are in chaos and in shambles? Where is our Faith better shown? Kneeling at the alter on Sunday or kneeling on the street next to the hungry, the thirsty, the dirty, and neglected addict? What harm can come from learning a name and taking time to visit with them? To eat with them? To laugh with them? To cry with them? What harm?

I am ashamed I don’t remember even one conversation with this young man who died.

I pray for his family. I pray for his friends. He deserves to be remembered. I pray for myself. I have a responsibility to remember.

There are no days off when you’re street involved. Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe if you’re serious about revealing Heaven on earth you’re always on call. Some days it’s trivial. A couple of guys arguing about who gets to sit on the bench outside. Some days it’s more intense. A couple of guys throwing punches. We have to respond quickly and appropriately to all situations.

Eight times we’ve had to answer the death of a Street Brother. That’s the worst. A friendship made and then gone. Gunshots and the results of substance abuse are usually involved. Eight times in 5 years and the clock is ticking for a number of others.

We receive criticism from some in The Church that we are wasting our time with these guys. “They’ve always been like this and they will never change,” we’re told. Nevertheless we move along through this world of darkness shining a little of the Light of Heaven as best as we can. 

I received a call this morning that another brother was gone. Found dead on the street. Looks like a heart attack. My guess is his lifestyle choices brought it on. Too young. Too early. 

He was with us last Wednesday evening as we spoke about the battle of our mind. The strongholds that keep us in bondage. How Jesus will break those strongholds for us if we let Him. So many want to be free but it’s hard to let go of what they know. 

Does God hold them in judgement if they believe He can but they lack the strength to let Him? Is it really enough to believe? Is it really enough to know that He is Lord and lack the time and energy to move out of a lifestyle that includes substance abuse? I believe it is enough. 

Our friend has left us but has entered the Fullness of The Kingdom we all long for. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more hunger. No more thirst. No more anger. No more homelessness. No more sickness.

Held in the Arms of our Father. Sleeping in a room prepared for him. Enjoying a banquet of dishes that fill a table. Seeing for the first time the Promise of the New Life and knowing that He’s finally Home.

Give up on him? Give up on anyone? Has God ever given up on us? Does mustard seed size Faith still count?

My soul mourns for my friend because I wish he could have experienced a better life here.

My soul rejoices though because he is now experiencing not just a better life but the best life. The one where he is finally, completely, and forever unshackled from bondage. I look forward to seeing him again someday and embracing him as I finally cross my finish line.

We met three brothers in 2016 that we immediately were drawn to. They were very street involved but held down jobs occasionally. They looked tough but looks can be deceiving. 

It’s strangely serendipitous the friendship discoveries we make. Those that are not of our circle of comfort. They live outside our enclosure of safety. Their attitudes and behaviors are rough. They see the world differently from us because their life experiences are different than ours. 

One of my friends once nonchalantly told me he knows he has over 40 brothers and sisters because his father slept around. How do I put aside my life experiences and step along side him? Where should I lay down my judgement and condemnation? Where is the box that I can store my preconceived ideas about how people should be? I have to die to myself and put the formulas aside on curing someone and rest in that I can’t fix anyone. I’m broken too and I can’t even fix myself.

“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” (Romans 7:24-25a | MSG)

So we don’t fix people. We shine the Light that God has put in us to show how the world should be. We let God do the fixing. We listen. We listen to their stories. We don’t listen to try to snare them with our life lessons. We listen with the ears of our Savior and respond as He would.

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 | MSG)

So we listen and we Love like we’ve been Loved.

Since 2016 we have Loved the three brothers I started writing about. It’s been a roller coaster ride with them. It’s hard. It hurts sometimes and it takes a lot out of us. But we continue to listen and to Love. We continue dying to ourselves. We sacrifice our hearts our minds and our strength. But it is in dying that we find ourselves and that allows others see a light in their darkness.

Right now all three are in jail. Two in prison and one in the county jail. Our hearts break for them. We pray for them. And when we see them again we will embrace them and tell them we Love them. Some may not believe this but they know the Lord. Life’s experiences makes it hard for them. It makes it hard for us. We continue to let a little bit of Light shine in their darkness. They will never forget us and we will always remember them.

It’s not easy. That’s why it’s called sacrifice. Sacrifice is hard. Anyone can do easy but the truly committed can do hard.

In the early 1990’s my friend DB was with me as I got our mail from our box. In it was a check from someone as a gift for $200. I shouted “Thank You, Lord!” Money was tight for our family of four. Our income was around $1000 a month. If we ate out at all we all had to split a Happy Meal.

I forgot exactly what I said after that but it was concerning something we could spend it on.

DB burst my bubble though and said, “Why do you think this is for you?”

“Because it has my name on it and the Lord knows we could use the money.”

“But what if God sent it to you because you know someone that might need it more? Why don’t you hang on to it for awhile and see?”

We always had a need but I told him I would give God two weeks for someone to cross our path that was more desperate than us. Well, sure enough we ended up just being a conduit and the money was passed on to someone else.

We were just a conduit.

At Serenity we provide meals and devotions on Wednesdays and Fridays. This past Wednesday Cathy came with four boxes of groceries someone gave her for us. We do provide groceries but it is street friendly food: Pasta and meat in pop top cans, Ramen noodles, tuna fish packets, fruit cups and the like. There are other food pantry’s in town where people that have stoves can go and get groceries. Usually we refer these types of donations to those pantries.

However, I had just got off the phone with one of our friends that had run out of food and they had not eaten for a couple of days. Their car was not available to bring them to town plus they had no money. “Is there anything you can do to help?” The woman sobbed.

As a small ministry with a small budget I said,”We will do something. I’ll call you back.”

I was making plans on going to the store and buying groceries. I’m not much of a shopper so it would be a challenge for me.

Then Cathy shows up loaded down with food that God had prepared ahead time for the couple that contacted us. Someone gave to us so we could give someone.

Again, just a conduit.

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church provided The Friday night meal two days later. Several of us were sitting around visiting and Father David asked if we could use another refrigerator. I said maybe one day but we already had one in our cramped 450 square foot room. I thanked him for the offer.

Less than ten minutes later one of our dear sisters from the street came in to get a plate and a hug. As she hugged me she said “We finally got a place to live but we need a refrigerator.”

Father David was sitting to my left and I turned and looked at him. I didn’t know what to say but I know he heard her and he looked at me and gave a slight nod.

I invited our sister outside and told her someone had just offered us a refrigerator and they would like for her to have it. She embraced with a hug like she was my daughter, burying her face into my chest and with tears started thanking me. I told her it was all God using Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.

Again, just a conduit.

But isn’t this the way The Kingdom should work. Our Father sees ahead of time. The end of the Book of Ezekiel says: “From now on the name of the city will be Yahweh–Shammah:  “God–Is–There.” (Ezekiel 48:35 | MSG)

I have heard that a better expression might be God-Is-Here and at the same time He-Is-Already-There. He’s both places at once. Seeing and Providing at the same time. We become nothing more than the pipe line of Blessing. We do nothing but become a part of His Purpose. What the thirsty need is water. Our Father supplies the water. We are just conduits and don’t even know it most times.

When He provides for each of us, maybe we should hold these things loosely in anticipation they were never meant for us. They are meant to be passed on.

We are just conduits.

I’m thinking this morning of those we miss. At least some of those that I remember. Two have died of drug and alcohol related illnesses, another died of a drug overdose with the needle still in his arm, one died of a heart attack, one was shot in his sleep, and one was shot in the head during a drug deal.

I thought of them and prayed for their loved ones, our Serenity Team, and for me. I even prayed for this list of those who have passed on. I prayed that in our efforts to reveal Heaven on earth that those attempts will lessen the tragedies like those above. I prayed that The Church will find a soft heart that allows us to move in kindness and compassion. I prayed that We become aquatinted with the grief of The Streets. I prayed that We see those on the sidelines through the Eyes of Christ.

I thought of those listed above and prayed for them and I prayed for The Church, our team, and me. Then I prayed for our friends who are still with us. They hang out, pass through our doors, make demands, and ruffle our feathers. They make us laugh and make us cry. They show signs of strength and reveal the evidences of our weaknesses. They are pushed downed but always have a glimmer of Hope. I pray that through Christ we can fan the embers of Hope into Flames.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8).

I look at what we do and I ask in prayer: “Is it making a difference?”

I hear the voices of The Church that watch us doing what we do: “Is it making a difference?”

Then the Lord brings to mind a young man we met in 2016 who was doing drugs (any and all he could) who is now holding a steady job, is married, attending College to go into a ministry, and is active in a ministry internship.

I think of the felon fresh from Prison I met 3 years ago who needed IDs in order to get slotted into the real World. We were able to help with that. We sponsored him to go to a men’s retreat and walked with him as he struggled through past habits and fits of anger to where he is now: back with his wife, holding down a good job, and attending a Church.

I think of another felon in his mid 30’s who spent 9 years in Prison who is out on parole. His family rejected him as they have their own issues. When we met him he was Living in his truck. He was using Meth. He was alone and angry. He is still homeless but he works side jobs and has a desire to stay clean and get on his feet. He attends church regularly and has a intense heart to help others who are homeless. He has a focus to allow God to Work in him.

I think and pray for those who have died. I think and pray for us. I think and pray for The Church. Is it making a difference?

I think and pray for our Street friends and ask “Is it making a difference?”

And the answer: “Yep!”

Serenity Corner has the privilege of participating in the North Texas Giving Day. This will allow Serenity to be seen by many potential donors. We have a goal of raising enough money to keep the ministry running and move into a bigger building. This new building will have showers and laundry, which will be a real help to the home insecure community.

Will you be a part of that? You can give now – a gift of any amount is appreciated. And you can especially give on September 23rd during the official NTXGD campaign. God Bless You!

“Do not be conformed to the image of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

I don’t have a word in my vocabulary that works for me to label what we do. Ministry doesn’t quite apply. That carries the connotation that it’s a job, work, or obligation. What we do goes beyond that. It brings a joy and a pleasure. It brings aggravation and heart ache. It brings belly laughs and many tears and sobs. We do what we do without compensation. I think if I was paid I would quit. It’s too hard sometimes. But one single little moment in the storms around us makes it all worthwhile.

Every Friday evening a church provides a meal for the street. Last night it was fried chicken, sausage ravioli, a Mexican casserole, and four desserts. Launny and his wife Debbie from First United Methodist Church here in town brought the dinner. Usually I have to ask some of the guys sitting around to help unload and help set up but this time James took charge and led a team out to get it done. I was free to continue to pray for one of our street friends and so I relinquished my obligation to James.

Just so you should know, James has been with us for some time now. We met him last year. He lived in his truck piled high in the back with his treasures that he found along the road, in dumpsters and put out with the trash. He is in his mid 30s and spent 9 years in prison and is out on parole. Estranged from his family who had their own problems and without friends, he was a soap bubble floating here and there and alone. He was angry when we first met him and would he would go into raging tirades over some common place inconveniences. He yelled and clenched his fists and tensed his body in a threatening manner. I’m sure the meth aided in those tantrums.

He kept coming by though and has been clean for a while now.  His emotions have leveled off and he has exhibited a welcome dry sense of humor. He attends church services on Sunday and has offered some thoughts (good ones) about the scriptures he’s reading and the insights he has. He is being transformed.

After the dinner and our Circle last night I gave him a ride to his current night location. He is still homeless. (He still needs some help in getting his IDs. This is common for many of our homeless Brothers and Sisters. We do what we can but sometimes it feels like the System is set up to keep them from moving forward.)

On the way to where he is bedding down he asked if I could take him to a service station south of town to get some cigarettes. I said sure and asked if he had the money because I don’t buy them for the guys. He said yes he did. The last couple of days he has gone to Home Depot and started helping people load their stuff into their vehicles. He just wanted to help them since he has received so much help. Of course some of them gave him tips. He had made $30 yesterday but he emphasized he wasn’t doing it for the money. I believe him. I believe he just wanted to help because he’s been helped. He’s being transformed.

He bought his cigarettes and got back in the car and we hit the road to take him to his temporary shelter. We had gone about a half a mile and he asked if I could do a u-turn and go back to a different convenience store. He said he met another homeless guy that hung out there and he wanted to give him one of the dinners he had. Again I said yes and we headed back.

Randy (the guy) lives under the I-20 Interstate bridge and during the day opens the door at the convenience store for customers going in and coming out. He’s well known there and people hand him tips for the service. This is the guy James wanted to give one of his meals to. They had met last year and had struck up a Street Guy friendship.

James brought Randy over and introduced us. We talked for a while and got to know each other a little. I asked if he could use some groceries every now and then. We provide sacks to the homeless that have street friendly food. Food that doesn’t need preparation. He said sure that would be helpful. What he really needed though was some foam to sleep on. “We’ve got that,” I said. “Someone had just brought some by our place several days ago.”

We talked a little more and James got back in the van and I took him to where he’s sleeping. He took his stuff out and then I asked him to get back the van for a moment.

“I want to tell you how impressed I am with you. It has not gone unnoticed how much you consider others and step in to help and to aid our Brothers and Sisters in need. I am honored to know you.”

I stuck my fist out for a fist bump as that is the acceptable method of expressing “good job.” He just stared at my fist for several seconds and then held out his open hand. I opened mine and we shock hands. He didn’t let go. He said, “Thank you, Mr. Don.” And I nodded. He’s being transformed.

The weather in North Central Texas is brutally cold this week. Not to Canada standards but certainly to ours. Highs in the 20s and lows under 10 degrees is no where near the norm. It’s brought us to a near standstill. The grocery stores were packed yesterday like it was the day after Thanksgiving at Walmart. Most of us grabbed bread, milk, eggs and such so we could stay comfortably warm in our homes.

We opened Serenity several days ago when the temperature dropped below freezing with the threat of freezing rain, sleet, and snow in the forecast. We opened for our homeless brothers to have shelter and food. How can we say Christ in us would only pray for these friends and not provide shelter? Which is greater: to talk about Love or to practice Real Love (1 John 3:18-19), Love that has no agenda (1 Corinthians 13:4), Love that has no qualifications (1 Corinthians 13:5-7), Love that has no boundaries (Ephesians 3:14-20).

One of brothers that is sheltered at Serenity walks and drinks his beers on our streets. To make a little bit of money he collects beer and soda cans and sells them at the scrap yard to buy his beer. That’s his “job”. He makes enough to buy 6-8 beers and “sinks them”. We’ve fallen in love with him. 

We see him not just with our fleshly eyes but with our spiritual eyes. We see his worth. We see his value. The same Death that brought our Redemption brought it for him as well. How much Faith does God require? Mustard seed size. Our friend has that. We embrace him. If my blood brother was homeless and alone on the street living just to drink, would I give him shelter if I could? Of course I would. This man is my brother. Shelter is available. So we open our door for him.

Another of those staying in our place normally sleeps at an open car wash. He makes money by offering to wash and clean (detail) people’s cars that come there. I saw him one morning sleeping under the shelter next to the large vacuum cleaners at the wash. Someone had just donated a pair of New Balance sneakers and I just happened to have them with me and they just happened to be his size. I gave them to him. That was the start of his and my discovery of kinship with each other. This man is my brother. Shelter is available. So we open the door for him.

The weather will get back to normal maybe by Friday and our brothers will be back on the street. We’ll still see them. They’ll still come by. Life will get back to normal. I’ll pull the cover up over me in my comfortable bed in my warm house. My brothers will sleep at the car wash, in abandoned cars or houses, in the bushes or next to a sheltering dumpster. But for a week and a half the blows of poverty and neglect are softened by the Good News that is Preached to the poor (Matthew 11:5).

I saw Jesus today. 

He was lying under some cardboard and torn dirty blankets early this morning. I could see a little bit of a wool cap and the dirty fingers of his left hand sticking out. He slept behind a dumpster last night that sheltered him from the wind.  Homeless.

Later I saw Jesus pushing her shopping cart filled with her empty soda and beer cans on the way to the scrap yard. She shivered as she walked in the freezing temperatures wearing only a thin sweater. Worn out shoes and frayed socks protected her feet. Almost naked.

Around Noon I saw Jesus sitting outside a restaurant on the sidewalk next to his backpack. Head down and worn out from years on the road. People stepped around him avoiding eye contact. Hungry.

I see Jesus everyday. He doesn’t look like the pictures hanging on Sunday School walls. He doesn’t match the tall strong clean appearance that is often presented in Churches. He doesn’t look all that victorious. He looks neglected. He looks needy. He looks desperate and alone.

I see Jesus everyday. Didn’t He say he shows up as “the least of these”? Didn’t He say that when we provide for “the least of these” we are providing for Him? Did He really mean that? Do we really believe what He said?

How can we hope to find Him in our worship services if we ignore Him on our streets? Maybe we have a hard time believing that the King of kings and Lord of lords would be “the least of these”.

I see Jesus everyday. I expect to see Him today. I will look for Him today. I will reach out and serve Him today with maybe some coffee and a donut. Maybe a new coat. I’ll see what He needs and do my best to meet it.

Oh! I see Him now.