Who do you think you are? (Sermon)

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to preach at my friend’s church up in Prince George.  I preached at a nighttime Saturday service, as well as a Sunday morning service.  The sermon went well, and I was well received.

It felt so good to serve at church again.  I’ve been away from church service for about six months, and I am growing weary of being so minimally involved in my church.  It was so refreshing to serve again.

This sermon is about Jesus healing the paralytic.  I hope you enjoy!

 

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Self-Frustration

Something that frustrates me about myself is how much my mouth gets me in trouble.  Things that I intend to be jokes aren’t taken that way by others.  I speak without thinking, and people get offended, sometimes feeling like they have to explain me to others who don’t know me well.  I think I’m a pretty pleasant guy, but this seems to bite me in the butt over and over.  From all of this, I have learned how to apologize well, and own up to my mistakes.  I’ve stopped trying to justify myself, and instead accept that I’ve sinned, and try to move forward into reconciliation.  These have proven to be good lessons, but it seems that whenever I learn my lesson to bridle my tongue, the effects only last a few months, appearing again when I get in trouble for it.  It’s come up a few times in the last couple days, and I just would like to learn my lesson once and move on changed rather than falling into the same patterns of sin that I’m used to.

Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.  And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.  In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

James 3:2-5

This bit of scripture is what I always go back to when my tongue gets me in trouble.  It seems like such a small and innocuous thing, but we can see in James the truth that no matter how small the effect of our tongue feels, it guides our lives and the way people see us.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

Luke 6:45

This one I don’t like as much, but it’s from Jesus so I need to hear it.  When I get in trouble for my tongue, it’s a reminder of what is in my heart.  I don’t want snarky ignorance to be in my heart.  I want truth and love.

These things are hard to blow past, and I have to acknowledge that I don’t really know how to do it.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.  But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20

I find comfort in knowing that even the “heroes” of scripture struggled with sin, and were still counted as righteous before God by virtue of their faith.  But I want to be righteous now, and Holiness is a difficult pursuit.  This seems like such a simple lesson, but it’s just so hard to learn…

Preaching Again.

It’s been a little while since I last preached.  For the last five months, I’ve had a church that I call my home church, but with my job at the shelter I only make it there every other week at the most.  On weeks that I can’t make it, I go to another church in the evening.  It’s been nice to just be a congregant rather than a leader at church again, but I’m really missing being an active part of church life, apart from sitting in a sermon on Sunday morning and going to a home group sometimes.  Unfortunately, I have not been serving at a church, and my job doesn’t really allow me to serve consistently anywhere.  I promise you that this is not an excuse.

A couple months ago, I was asked to go and preach up in Prince George at my friend Spencer’s church.  They’re starting a church plant and they wanted me to see what was going on, see how I could speak into it, and ask for insight.  I don’t know who he thinks I am or what kind of insight I could give, but I appreciate the opportunity and am excited to preach again.

It’s a really nice excitement.  After being away from church ministry for several months, and serving in a para-church context where I get to do the grunt work of service to the poor, I get to take what I’ve been learning at the shelter and teach it to people somewhere else, and trust that the Lord will use my sermon to spark a change, realization, or a deeper love for Jesus for someone.

I’m preaching on Matthew 9:1-8, which is Jesus healing a paralytic.  It’s a challenging, confusing, exciting, and joyful passage all at once.  I’ll record it and post it here, unless it’s remarkably bad, which my last two sermons have been.

I miss church ministry.  I really do.  I’m so excited to preach again.

 

Pastors Don’t Matter

If there is one thing that I know, it’s that I’m called into ministry.  I’ve been told that if you can imagine yourself doing literally anything other than vocational Christian ministry for your life and livelihood, you should do that instead of ministry.  I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, which has led me to a lot of confusion over the last two and a half years.

Once I graduated Bible College, I came home to Victoria with a lot of arrogance.  I had just completed my degree, I was a good orator, an effective teacher, a careful studier, and felt I was a good minister.  I got to lead the congregation I grew up my whole life in, I got to preach, and lead music at church, I got to teach high school students the Bible every week, and I got to work with children in a faith based context.  Eventually, I started looking for jobs, and I had such a hard time finding one.

Interview after interview went by, and no dice.  I candidated at a big church, as wasn’t selected.  I had two job offers on the table with churches at one point, and the Lord said no to both of them, so I turned them down.  I worked for eight months as a missionary/intern/youth minister hybrid in partnership with a couple churches, but the timing wasn’t right, and that eventually ended.  Through this time, I have been faced with my own arrogance time and time again, and have come to discover how vain, proud, and entitled I am, and I began to hate that in me more and more.  The last two years have not only given me wonderful experience in ministry, but have also made me face my own demon of pride much more than I wanted.

So I’ve had to learn to blow past my arrogance.  And what I’ve been doing at the homeless Shelter has helped me put that to the test.  Have I actually learned my lesson?

The big lesson that I’ve learned is that when you work in ministry, you are, by definition, a nobody.  Pastor’s, by definition, don’t matter.  Now, I’m not saying that pastors are not needed – I think they are – but that is to say when you sign up for vocational ministry, you are signing yourself up to be the lowest of the low.  Serving from below who the rest of the culture thinks are the lowest.

This reality came face to face with me last week at the shelter when a man knocks on my door.  I tell the him to go to reception where we can better help him by getting him connected with what they need for the night.  I tell him over and over again, through a closed glass door, to go out to the East Hastings Street entrance where reception is, and he just isn’t hearing me.  Frustrated, I open the door and tell him again.  He’s looking down at his feet, shivering, and says in a quiet, shaking, and worn out voice, “Can I just sleep on the floor?”  At that moment, I felt I had committed the biggest sin I ever had in my life: I did not have compassion on a homeless person, when all he was asking for was help, and I had the resources to help him.  My frustration with him was unneeded, because he was just looking for a warm place to sleep.

He did go to reception and we got him a bed, but for days after, the words that I said most often in my prayers were “Jesus, forgive me.”  I keep thinking that I’m a minister, but if I’m not willing to serve the lowest in society from below, then I’m not worthy to be called one.  If everyday in the shelter I serve kings, then who am I to think that I am greater than a King?

I hope and pray that I am successfully blowing past my arrogance.  Because I realize now that my arrogance isn’t a problem that effects myself and my attitudes, but it effects those that I serve even more.  My arrogance has no place in the Kingdom of God.

I want God to make me someone who doesn’t matter.  I want to be a nobody.  I want to be a minister.

The Downtown East Side is Beautiful

A man in the shelter wakes up and comes to me, not saying anything.  I ask him how he’s doing.  “I’m having trouble getting comfortable” he says.  “Have you been here before?”  I ask.  “No, I just came from surrey.  This is my first night on the streets.  I just got out of detox.”

He came to the Downtown East Side because there are more resources here for someone who just found themselves homeless, and who are entering recovery from addiction.

I keep talking to him.  Asking about his life, what he needs right now, and telling him about the resources we can offer him.  Eventually he leaves, but not before I tell him that I’m praying for him, and make sure he knows he’s welcome back.  We have meals and programs that can help him get back up on his feet.

What do you think when you think of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side?  Abject poverty?  Drug addiction?  Sex Trafficking?  Needles littering the sidewalks with the unmistakable aroma of pot and urine in the air?  If those are your thoughts, You’ll be forgiven, because that’s what I thought until a couple months ago.

I decided to walk to UGM for my interview in the middle of October, and I walked from west to east along East Hastings Street.  It was a three-kilometre walk, but I wanted to see the population with which I would be working.  I saw what you expect to see.  Groups of people sleeping on the sidewalks, a mini market of people selling things they found, bought, or stole, and at one point I saw an ambulance supervisor watching a group of people, presumably waiting for one of them to overdose.  Then I walked into UGM, and I saw more than just the surface.  Staff members coming in and out, carrying naloxone kits, having sessions with clients, chatting with people who were sleeping on benches, and handing out meal tickets.  That was my first taste of the beauty of the downtown east side.

Yes, the DTES is among the poorest communities in Canada.  There is lots of drug use, lots of corruption, and plenty of pain and hurt.  But the people I work with are the bravest people I have ever met.  They come to the Downtown East Side not because it’s where their friends are, but because it’s where the people that are willing to help them are.  We have First United Community Ministry Society, Salvation Army Grace Mansion, Belkin House, and Harbour light, Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel, Mission Possible, the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, DTES Women’s Centre, Carnegie Community Centre, my very own Union Gospel Mission, and so many other organizations committed to reducing poverty and homelessness, and helping people get back on their feet.  They do everything from things as simple as providing a meal and a bed to providing work, housing, and addiction recovery.  People don’t come to the DTES because they’re hopeless.  They come here because there is hope.

People don’t come to the DTES because they are hopeless.  They come here because there is hope.

Last week, a man came into my shelter very drunk.  He had come in before in this state, and I had to call an ambulance because he fell and hit his head on the ground very hard.  As soon as I saw him get up this time, I rushed to him and acted as a human crutch so that he doesn’t fall again.  I told my supervisor this story later that night, and his first reaction was one of Joy.  “That’s a beautiful thing man.  They came here for help, and you’re giving them help.  What you just did will help him on the path to recovery.”  He then told me stories of the countless staff members that began their journey in our shelter, and have moved on to serve the people in the positions that they were once in.

Before I start every shift, I tell myself a few things:  “This place is beautiful, this is good work, and tonight, I am serving kings.”  I’m helping people with more courage in their baby toe than I have in my whole body, and I am serving people who Jesus tells me are the greatest of the great.  Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them.

As I prepare to go to work tonight, I do so with tears streaming down my face, because I’m going to the most beautiful place I know, and tonight, I am serving Kings.

A Ministry of Presence.

A calm night is a good night.  It means that the men in the shelter are sleeping well.  I watch them, perhaps even a little bit bored, reminding myself that what I’m doing is good.  They need a place to sleep that is not on the streets.  I then see a client motion me towards him. “I can’t sleep, my arm hurts to much” he says.  He has a cast on his arm, and he’s in obvious pain.  After trying unsuccessfully to open his bottle of Ibuprofin, he hands it to me “Can you help me?”  I open the bottle for him and hand him a couple, then going to get water for him to wash it down with.  He goes back to sleep, and I help him go through the same process in the morning.

Another night, things are quiet and sleepy.  An elderly man gets up from his bed to use the bathroom, and he can’t make it back to his bed afterwards.  He stops to sit down and catch his breath.  I sit with him and ask if he’s okay, having already made the decision to call the ambulance, because he’s been in pain and respiratory discomfort since he got here.  I pray with him and make the call.  As the paramedics take him to the ambulance, he refuses to leave without having his hat, jackets, and backpack.  I help him put on his jacket and carry his backpack to the ambulance with him.  After the paramedics get there, there’s really not much for me to do except answer questions, and be present for comfort.

Were they spending their night on the street, the man in the cast would have been in pain with no relief, and the man with trouble breathing would have found no help.  Because of my presence, they are taken care of.

As I do this work, I need to remind myself of the importance of it.  It’s so quiet and calm most of the time, and as I said in my last post, sometimes I wonder what I can do as an evangelist while staffing a shelter where people are sleeping while I’m awake.  It’s experiences like this that tell me why I’m here.  Not only do these men on the Downtown East Side of Vancouver now have a warm place to sleep, but they have a place where they are safe, and they can get help with even the simplest things, like taking a Tylenol, or putting on a jacket.

Every night is spent waiting for opportunities like these.  An opportunity to give a pair of socks or a shirt, to chat with someone and direct them to UGM’s services and programs when they need help, or even just remembering their name.  Things are quiet for most of the night, as it should be.  They’re sleeping.  But I’m discovering that when things pick up, I am able to offer more than simply a warm place to sleep, but the kind words, caring hands, and simple help of Jesus, who is protecting and sustaining them through the night.  So while I trust that Jesus is caring for them, I wait to see where Jesus uses me in these men’s lives, even if I only see them for one night.

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A Ministry of Sleep.

I sit in my office, listening to the snores, talking and squirming of sleeping men, who have found their shelter in the quiet space of an outreach centre. This centre is usually used for the services at Union Gospel Mission, and until March, used additionally as overflow from the main shelter, always ready for extreme weather to keep people off the streets. I intermittently check the bathrooms, chat with men who can’t find sleep, am a resource for protection and care, and help these men feel as comfortable as possible. None of these guys want to cause any trouble. They all just want to sleep.

That’s what I do. I am involved in the ministry of sleep. And though I have not been with UGM for long, I have already felt the importance of what they do. Every night, I have a guy tell me “Thank you for letting me sleep here. It’s so cold out there.” Instead of wandering the streets all night after an exhausting day of temporary labour, eating at our outreach centre, or finding something to do, here they have a safe place to lay their head and sleep.

As I do this work, sometimes I wonder the value of it as an evangelist. I don’t get to talk to these guys for most of my shift – they’re asleep. I don’t often get to give counsel and pastoral care – they’re just so tired. Bu in the night, I am reminded of the importance of sleep, rest, and rejuvenation. Not only am I supervising them when they are sleeping, but I am providing a God ordained ministry made to care for their souls. Scripture resonates in my mind as I walk between the beds, praying for these men.

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety

Psalm 4:8

The Psalmist knows sleep. As David was caring for sheep as a young boy, he slept well. As he was fleeing Saul in the wilderness, he was always thankful to have a place to sleep as he was escaping death. He falls asleep, knowing that God will sustain him and keep him safe. He falls asleep in peace, knowing that his life is in the hands of a faithful saviour.

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 3:5

The men at this shelter know what it’s like to wander in the wilderness, to flee from danger, and find the relief of a safe place. They fall asleep so quickly, so weary from their individual lives, and are thankful that even though they don’t have a home, we provide them refuge.

Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

Ecclesiastes 5:12

I have never seen people sleep as well as they do in the shelter. Of course, not everybody who enters UGM sleep well. Some stay awake due to addictions or physical pain. Each one comes with different stories and struggles from their day. But you wouldn’t believe how quickly and how deeply some of these men sleep, relieved to just be laying down.

How many of us go to bed with full stomachs, not worried about our next meal, and who will care for us, but we still can’t sleep? How many of us avoid sleep by playing on our phones into the wee hours of the night? The rich don’t sleep well, but these poor men welcome it as an old friend.

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Romans 13:11-12

They come in to the message of salvation, they sleep with the promise of peace, and they wake up refreshed, greeted by people who care, encouraged to continue choosing the right path. Though the struggle is hard, we are helping them day by day to leave behind their past, enter recovery, and find their way back on their feet. The work is hard, but it leads people not only to homefulness, but to Christ.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness

Lamentations 3:22-23

I take part in the ministry of sleep, providing a safe place for these men to rest their heads. I care for them as they sleep off intoxication, weariness from their labour, and relief from their pain. They awake to be served breakfast, and the reminder that this is a another day that the Lord is showing new mercies, the same love, another chance, and sustaining them constantly, even if they suffer.

If you want to know more about what I do, click here.