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.

In the middle of the night I woke up and thought of one friend in particular that was trying to sleep in the cold.

Homelessness isn’t new to him. He’s been sleeping in his truck for over a year but it was towed a couple of months ago. It broke down in the parking lot of a small retail area and they called the Sheriff’s office.

My friend ended up going to county jail a couple of times for misdemeanor charges several times after that. His family has no place for him to stay. They’re struggling with their own issues. He’s not allowed near them. Abandoned, alone, confused, desperate, angry, and frightened my 35 year old friend shivers in the cold each night in a small pop up tent and sleeping bag next to a dumpster.

He wants to go to a rehab program but because of a specific conviction he’s not admissible. The hole he is in is very deep. Is he responsible for it? Yes. Is Christ with him? Yes. Does the Church have a responsibility to him? Yes.

But he fitfully fights alone in the cold for sleep.

He has no skills and apparel for a job. He has no income. He feels all hope is gone in his friendless world. The loneliness is very deep. Is he responsible for it? Yes. Is Christ with him? Yes. Does the Church have a responsibility to him? Yes.

But he fitfully fights alone in the darkness for a glimmer of hope.

I don’t have any answers for him. We provided the tent and sleeping bag. We’ve provided food. We’ve provided clothes. But is there more that can be done? I pray for a place he can go and be safe. I pray for a program that will take him and lead him through recovery. I know there are hundreds of thousands like him in the same situation but I know this guy and I have emotions invested in him.

So I pull the covers up to my chin, roll over and close my eyes but still can’t sleep. I pray. And when I’m done I pray some more.

I sat with a son and his father tonight as a friend, encourager, and as a fellow sojourner. The son is in his mid thirties and has been an active Meth user for years. The father is on a small disability stipend and struggles financially and because of his son’s addiction suffers emotionally.

The son was released from county jail yesterday after serving 6 weeks for criminal trespass. His latest in a string of offenses. I’ve known him for over a year. He lived in his truck until last November when it was towed for sitting several months in a storefront parking lot.

I met the father once and he called me this last Monday wanting to know what to do about his son once he was released from jail. We talked for a while and I felt the pain of his heart. He mourned for the loss of the little boy he raised. He said he could not let him live with him but he agonized daily not knowing where his son was.

I had no answers. I had no advice. I am of little help and I said so. “I understand,” I said. “You’re not alone.” I felt frustrated and powerless. The only Hope is that his son allows Jesus to change him. But that’s his choice. I am confident that Christ’s Love extends to and surrounds this young man. I am confident in the expansive Grace that embraces all of us in our darkness. 

The father and I talked for some time. It was difficult. 

The son was released on Wednesday and they called and we met on Thursday. After a month and half in jail the son was sober and so we were able to have a calm and coherent conversation. Just the three of us.

He wants to go to a program but he wants to go to one that he can get a job and work. I don’t know of any like that I told him. The programs I have a relationship with require him to be the job. He has to work on himself for about a year. During that time they’ll feed him and give him a bed to sleep on. They’ll tell him when to get up in the morning and when to go bed at night. He’ll have Bible Studies, chores, and will have to hand out food on the street and other ministries.

He’ll practice responsibilities and disciplines necessary to reenter life. He’ll develop structured living. 

“I need to make money,” he said.

“You shouldn’t care a rat’s a** about money right now,” I told him. “You are more important than any amount of money. Invest in yourself. Let Jesus do for you what you’ve never been able to do for yourself.”

I gave him several programs to call. I don’t contact the programs for guys anymore. I was counseled, wisely, to let them do it. And they will if they want it enough.

We talked a little more. He seemed to take it all in. His father looked encouraged. 

We walked outside and I pointed at his father and said,”this man loves you and is your biggest cheerleader. Remember that. You can do this and it may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do but see it through to the end. Trust in the Lord because He’s cheering you on too and will get you through this.”

The son looked at me and for the first time since I’ve known him, he reached his hand out to me and as we shook hands and with tears in his eyes, he pulled me close and said “thank you.”

The father and son got in their truck and drove away. Will he make it? I pray he will. I know he will if he allows Jesus to help him.

We in Terrell know it has been a drenching cold couple of days. Most of us are sheltered and warm inside somewhere but on the streets of our tiny community are some that shiver from the rain under any covering they can find: a store awning, a shed, a tree, a bush. Not only are they exposed to the elements but have nothing to eat. It seems odd that for the majority we are in between Christmas and The New Year and our thoughts are back on ourselves. The explosion of generosity has faded and our hopes and dreams for the promise of the New Year lighten our hearts. But for some in the shadows there is still little hope. They grasp onto a thin thread of strength and fight for each moment of life.

These ignored and downtrodden are not forgotten though. We may forget. We might ignore but God in Heaven has them in His sight. He catches their tears in jars, labels them with their names, and cherishes each of them. He says to us, “Go and Love them. Feed them. Shelter them. Clothe Them. Warm them. Visit them in their sickness.” And as we do, in them we find Jesus.

I sat in our room at Serenity yesterday with some of our Brothers who have no shelter or food. The rain was cold and was not going to let up. “Where are you staying tonight?” I asked.

“Wherever we can,” they said.

I got with our landlord and he graciously agreed to let them stay in our place. Joe Cobb, our part time care-taker agreed to stay with them for two nights. I contacted the Police Department and let them know the guys would be in the building.

We don’t have cots. Just an L shaped sectional sofa. The guys have to sleep slouched on the sofa. There is a small coffee table they can put their feet on but it’s only big enough for 3 people to share. The good thing is the sofa has cushions and it’s warm dry inside. There is also a television they can watch westerns, movies, and sports. It allows them to get out of survival mode for a little while.

Last night four homeless men found reprieve from a night of survival and found a night of rest. Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” Matthew 11:28-30 | MSG

A real rest. Isn’t that what we all want. 

Last night and tonight my Brothers are resting. They’re also safe. At rest and safe. A  small example and experience of Heaven. The door is unlocked for them. It’s revealed to them. It’s a picture of the Eternal Rest that waits for us. A place without hunger or thirst. A place where there no homelessness. A vision of what should be and will be.

In these in between days of Christmas and New Years, four ignored and downtrodden souls found a Piece of Heaven on earth and I can’t help but think Jesus smiled and maybe whispered, “Thank you to all who did this to Me.”

The other day someone brought up the discussion of being fortunate. The root of fortunate of course is fortune. I copied this explanation of fortune: fortune is wealth, good luck or what is going to happen. An example of fortune is what someone had after inheriting millions of dollars. An example of fortune is the luck of having oil discovered on an otherwise useless piece of your land. 

If anyone was to come across either of these examples of fortune they would certainly be fortunate. However, the use of the term “fortunate” is not reserved for huge fortunes. Everyday use is for much smaller things. But the size of the fortune has no bearing on the significant impact it has.

Several weeks ago Pastor Pete called and asked if we knew of anyone who could use a pair of shoes. Yes we do! Everyday. I was going out to the dry cleaners and called Pastor P and made arrangements to come by and get the shoes. They were a pair of new New Balance sneakers. Very nice. I noticed they were my see size and I began to think of how I could keep them for ME. Just so you should know I quickly dismissed that thought…reluctantly.

My next stop was at a car wash in town. I had received a call that a homeless man was seen sleeping under a covering at the car wash. I stopped at a fast food place and picked up some sausage biscuits, coffee, and orange juice to take with me. Sure enough Tony was asleep on the concrete under a thin blanket. 

I rolled my window down and said, “Good morning.” He pulled the blanket off his face and looked at me. We introduced ourselves and I handed him the grub. He was grateful and let me know what a blessing that was. I also had a hoodie left over from a batch we had bought to hand out. Our last one and coincidentally was his size. So I gave that to him as well.

At the foot of his blanket was a pair of rubber mud boots. I asked about them and they were his only shoes. I asked his shoe size he said 10 1/2. Again, coincidentally, that was the size of the New Balance sneakers I had picked up from Pastor P.

We talked for awhile. I go by to see him a couple of times a week. He earns a little money by washing, drying, and cleaning the interior of cars. It’s not much. Certainly not enough to afford shelter. 

It’s getting colder and he feels fortunate to have the hoodie and a pair of new comfortable shoes. He feels fortunate that we bring him a couple of bags of food each week. He feels fortunate that several people notice him and check on him.

In a small way, Tony considers shoes, a hoodie, some food and new friends a fortune. These are his treasures. 

A fortune is relative to each person’s situation. In coming close to brothers like Tony who cherish each blessing as a fortune shames me for taking for granted all that I have.  Scripture points out that we are responsible to share our fortunes. We are stewards of the treasures of those less fortunate. We have been given much so that we can share with the unfortunate. We’re not better than them, especially if we horde our treasures.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

I believe Jesus was clear about how to store Heavenly riches: “35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me,I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,I was homeless and you gave me a room,36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes,I was sick and you stopped to visit,I was in prison and you came to me.’”

(Matthew 25:35-36 | MSG). We store up by giving away.

This should be our investment. This is where our fortune lies. We are fortunate to be trusted with what we have been given in order that we may give. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “it is in giving that we receive.”

Thank you Pastor Pete for sharing a fortune. Thank you for all who share a fortune.

Tony thanks you for his fortune.

Almost five years. In March of 2016 Serenity Corner planted itself at our current location on the corner of Rockwall and Grove in Terrell, TX. We decided to follow Jesus’s example of “moving into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 MSG). We had a desire and a vision but it was smaller than what it has become.

We came to help and to serve and we have become the recipients of grace and deep kinship from so many. We have experienced and are experiencing the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:

“Make me an instrument of Your Peace:

Where there is hatred, let me sow Love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to Love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen”

This journey has included laughter, tears, joy, heartbreak, excitement, and disappointments. Which has been greater? I would say the scale is balanced. That’s life. Has it been easy or hard? Yes. We need balance. Balance is the even distribution of weight in order to do what needs to be done. We pray for miracles and the greatest one we’ve experienced is the realization that where ever we stand Heaven is under our feet. The Kingdom of God is in us and the Spirit of Christ moves us to reveal His Kingdom.

This journey has also been joined by some deeply loving and committed congregations: Faith Fellowship, First United Methodist Church Terrell, First Christian Church Terrell, Good Shepard Episcopal Church Terrell, West End Church of Christ, and Colquitt Road Church of Christ, and The Rock Church Terrell. They have provided food, clothing, hygiene products, and blankets. They have volunteered time and contributed funds. They have reached out with Love and Compassion.

We welcome all who come our way. Not everyone that we have met are homeless or unemployed. We are a vital mix of rich and poor, educated and uneducated, strong and weak. We are a family from different places, different experiences, and different lifestyles. We are a family that doesn’t look alike, talk alike, or dress alike. We are a family.

And that is the Call. To become a family. To become one even as The Father and Son are One. To Love one another. Not just those who are like us. The only way our joy can be complete is by letting God’s Joy be in us as we Love one another.

This is the Season we consciously pause to remember that Christ moved into our neighborhood. He came and showed what a human is supposed to be. He provokes us to give unselfishly and generously. He died so that our sinfulness payment would be paid. He arose so that we could receive His Spirit because God in us is better than just God around us. He did this and now we can receive and experience each other as Brothers and Sisters.

We are Family.

“When you do it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me”, Jesus said.

This time of year we seem to become more generous and sensitive. A lot of Thanksgiving meals were prepared today and handed out to the under-employed and housing-insecure in our communities. And we feel pretty good about ourselves because of what we did today.

Around Christmas there will be another surge of giving. Meals, clothes, and gifts will be distributed in certain neighborhoods.

But what about the rest of the year? How can we forget about them the other 10 months? For those who claim Faith in Christ, does He stop calling our attention to those in need January through October?

He also said when we don’t do these things for the least of these, we are neglecting Him. There are some that step up to the plate with contributions like clothes. But they bring them unwashed and wadded up in big garbage bags to the doorsteps of ministries and let them work at sorting, washing, and organizing their throwaways to hand out on the street. The poor, the homeless, and addicted ought to be grateful, right?

But if we really believed were were clothing Jesus Himself, is this what we would bring Him?

I sleep in a nice house, in a comfortable bed, next to my loving wife and yet I loose sleep because I have friends that are curled up outside or in an abandoned house or car tonight. I pray for their safety and health. I pray that I can keep feeding them. I pray that they will feel welcome in my life. I pray that I can help restore their dignity. I pray that I give them my best. I pray their souls will feel their worth.

I pray that my friends that are like me, secure and comfortable, will step out and allow Christ to use us to not just to contribute but to sacrifice so that others might live. I pray that Christ will give us the vision that the downtrodden and ignored are our brothers and sisters. I pray that we become aware we need them as much if not more than they need us in our Spiritual journey.

If I believed that Jesus was the recipient of the shirts, pants, shoes, socks and underwear I brought, I would bring something fresh. I would bring toothpaste and toothbrushes. I would bring soap and detergent.  I would give to ministries that are on the frontline and volunteer time with them. 

At least I would do those things if I believed Jesus meant what He said. 

We carry the Spirit of Christ with us. He has entrusted us with the Keys to the Kingdom. We sing and shout In our church services while people are dying in the shadow of our steeples.

The least of these surround us. What will you do?

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” James 1:19 | MSG

Be quick to listen is how some Bibles say this. I have a bad habit of listening up to a point and then I start forming an answer, rebuttal, comment, or opposing viewpoint. My thoughts of how I’m going to respond shut off my my attention to what’s being said. I get lost in preparing my reply so I miss out on personal connection. I miss out on learning something new because I have a selfish heart. My reply becomes more important than the other person.

One day a Pastor friend was driving us to a small seminar in Dallas on feeding the homeless. Serenity had been open for only a few months at that time but we had already met a significant number of people in the community. I asked the Pastor to stop by The Corner (Serenity) so I could get my notepad. 

He had never been in the room before so he came in to take the 60 second tour. We opened the door to leave and a man I had never seen walked up and asked if he could talk to me. I said sure and invited him in. He sat on the sofa and I sat across from him in a chair and Pastor stood beside the sofa.

“I’m King and I just got released from Bradshaw (one of the prisons),” he said. “I heard you can help me.”

“Well, you heard wrong. Only Jesus can help any of us. But I’ll be glad to listen and maybe between the two of us we can come up with something.” That’s sort of our standard beginning. We can’t fix anybody. Only Christ can if they’ll let him. We can only help them read the compass so they will no longer be disoriented. We believe this is what the Bible means by being Lost. We are disoriented people until we find the True North (Christ) and get headed in the Right Direction (His Kingdom).

King began to tell us how he was released two weeks earlier, was on parole, moved back to Terrell, but his family and friends wouldn’t have anything to do with him.

He had talked about two minutes and Pastor interrupted him and asked, “Are you drinking and doing drugs?”

King looked at him, squinted his eyes, and said,”Yes.”

“Then you need to stop all that and come to Jesus.”

King looked at him for several seconds and then at me and said his goodbyes and left.

I’m sure he had more to say and we could have entered in to a real conversation if not that day at least over time. We have found that if we reveal God’s Kingdom in tangible ways patience, trust and respect are established and The Lord will set up the proper time to talk. 

I got in the car with Pastor and prayed asking The Lord if I should say something and if so what should I say. I believe in boldness. I also believe we should be wise in our timing. I often think about the conversations that Jesus had with people and how He handled Himself: Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, and others.

Jesus seemed to be able to ride the waves of conversation in a much more comfortable stance than we do. He seemed to listen better than we do. He seemed to let the flow of the conversation take its natural course. He led with his ears and followed the heart of the the person he was with.

Sir William Osler wasn’t exactly wrong when he said, “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.” As those who have Christ living in them, this should be our practice. It’s been said we learn more by listening than by speaking. It takes many conversations to learn about someone. The more more we listen, the more we learn, and the better we can understand and respond. But this requires us to invest time with people. Another way to say that is we have to be patient. It takes a long time to dig for gold but miners understand that.

I eventually turned to Pastor as he drove and said, “Sometimes our best sermons are the ones when we never use words.”

Lead with your ears.

…I was in prison and you came to me. Matthew 25:36c | MSG

At Serenity Corner some of our friends have life styles that run contrary to the law. That’s just the way it is. We don’t endorse or participate in those behaviors and neither do we condemn our friends. It’s a narrow path we have chosen to walk. A path that doesn’t condone behavior nor condemn the person. For us it is a necessary narrowness and we understand that some may not agree with us. We’re okay with that. 

It is a narrow way so we have to shed some of our baggage in order to squeeze through the cracks and crevices to get to the souls along the way. Heavy rules and regulations have to go to make room Light and Kinship. The need for success is unloaded and replaced with the call of Faithfulness.

When we unpack our expectations of people and exchange it for the Love of Christ for others our yoke becomes easier and our burden lightens. It is no longer us carrying the load but Christ in us. We no longer have to change anyone. That becomes God’s responsibility. Our role is just to demonstrate His Love and reveal His Kingdom.

That can take different forms and tasks. Because those we love and stand with live on the edge of the law, they end up behind bars. Sometimes they are innocent and are quickly released. Most often they spend time in the county jail. 

We try to go visit them when we can and deposit a little money on their commissary accounts so they can get some necessities and treats. It’s not much but it’s our way of showing they are important to us and we’re still friends in all circumstances. Our acceptance is as close to non conditional as we demonstrate. God’s Grace is so much more expansive.

This week we deposited $120 spread into four men’s accounts. Thirty dollars each. Most guys are released within a couple of weeks or months. This time though one was already sentenced to 8 years in the state penitentiary and two others are repeat offenders and may be facing 20-25 years for assault charges. The fourth has been in the county jail since October and has possession and delivery charges that could send him away for several years.

But they know that we have not forgotten them. They know the God-of-angel-armies is with them. Their friends on the street will lose touch. We won’t. When this virus quarantine is over and the jail allows visitors, we’ll be there to see them.

This we believe reveals the Kingdom of God. 

We walk this narrow way because it leads to an expansive land bigger and better than we could ever ask or imagine. A land large enough for the outcast and downcast, despised and broken, the disoriented and forgotten.