Category Archives: MY MISSION

When I survived a divorce, a broken neck (with titanium rods, plates, and screws to prove it), and a bone marrow transplant for cancer all in the same year; I pretty much figured the Lord, who I knew still loved me, had no further use for me in his service. I expected either to go be with him soon or be “on the shelf” while waiting to go. It shocked me when I began to gradually feel an inkling toward returning to a life of service. That inkling increased, and incrementally morphed into a burden and passion to live that simple life of service in San Francisco. (That, by the way, is one of my mantras, “… to live a simple single life of service.”) So in May 2011 I moved to an apartment in the city on the edge of the Mission District in the midst of three primary cultures: Latino, Gay, and Hipster. I love them all and seek friends among them. Speaking of making “friends,” another of my mantras is that I’m here “making friends with God.” You get the double connotation I’m sure – I’m pursuing an intimate friendship with God, and then along with him, I proceed to make other friends for me and for him (for us)!

My collaborative friendship mission takes place in several neighborhoods in the city. Down the street from my apartment are a few places I go from time to time with my guitar to sing worship songs – Dolores Park (where hundreds of hipster types gather on sunny days), the BART station on Mission Street (a hang out for addicts and their dealers), and at a nearby church-run food distribution ministry. There are two other neighborhoods where I love doing practical service and making friends – the Tenderloin and Haight-Ashbury. I’ve been associated with a ministry in the “TL” for many years. We worship, preach, and distribute lunch and clothes in an urban “park” where lots of users and abusers hang out. We have lots of friends and acquaintances there, many of whom are getting to know Jesus in a better way. I also help in a couple of “show and tell” ministries (where we show God’s love and tell them how to access it) in the Haight-Ashbury. The “Haight” is still – after almost half a century – a gathering place for “travellers” (who hop trains, hitchhike, and camp all over the country). There are literally hundreds of users and sellers and people who just can’t live indoors, camping in Golden Gate Park. There’s a small group of us who bring pizza and coffee, and share Jesus there. There’s another group of young dreadlocked passionate Jesus people, who came to SF to serve the Lord, with whom I go to “Hippie Hill” in GG Park, make pancakes on a camp stove every Monday morning, and sit on the ground and eat with the friends we make there. I love it!

I speak in churches in the area and in recovery ministries like Teen Challenge and City Team, have opportunities for playing a mentoring role in the lives of some young Jesus followers and also a few pastors. What I do is not so much a “ministry” as it is a life of service. I played the church-planting and pastoring role (for 30 years), but now I get to simply serve people, share Jesus’ love with them, and make friends with God.

Saving Starfish

You’ve probably heard the story by Loren Eiseley about the guy who saw a young man picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. “Good morning!” he said to him, “May I ask what it is that you are doing?”starfish

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” When he asked him why, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the man commented, “But don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.” Continue reading

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Friendship at the Margins

I heartily recommend a book by Christopher Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl called, Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Resources for Reconciliation) 

Backgrounds and other pictures 017One of my least resistible inclinations these days is to befriend people on the margins. It’s something I get to spend more of my time doing than ever before in my up-until-recently white middle-class life. [Well, the white part hasn’t changed except in my mind.] But I can’t say that it’s been without its challenges. Not being the most patient person God ever made, I struggle at times with compassion fatigue over the sometimes glacially sluggish spiritual progress of some of my friends in the street. This book came at a good time for me.

Pohl is professor of social ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky and Heuertz is a contemplative activist who founded a ministry called “Word Made Flesh” that is incarnationally located among the poorest of the poor in a number of nations. Heuertz is not only a firebrand follower of Jesus and lover of the poor, but he’s a brilliant thinker and engaging author. I love his other books, Simple Church and Living Missionally. But of the three, this one on the practice of friendship-making among the weak and unnoticed people of the world
impacted me the most. Continue reading

Kenai’s next “steps”

I wrote recently about my friend KenaiKenai 2, who had a radical conversion to Jesus and shortly thereafter decided to go back to Texas to finish paying his debt to society and turn himself in to the Sheriff’s department. He made the trip, had a tragic accident with a train, and had most of his foot amputated. Many of you were praying for him and here’s what happened…

Instead of amputating up past his ankle as they had planned, the surgeon was able to save down to his heel, ostensibly requiring a less intrusive prosthetic than originally thought! Wait, it gets better. They released Kenai after only four days in the hospital. The only problem there was that he had to leave the people he was sharing Christ with in the hospital before he was finished! Even better… Continue reading

Jesus Saves!

I have told precious fewKenai 1 stories about the people in the street ministries I’m involved with or asked my readers to pray for individuals. It’s not that there haven’t been lots of needs out there – LOTS! – I just haven’t taken the time to share them. I’ll share one here, a particularly extraordinary one, with both terrific and tragic components to it.

Since he gave me permission I’m gonna use his actual street name and the picture I took of him at our last Bible Study where we sent him off to prison! I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll begin at the beginning, his new beginning I mean. Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 7 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

Those of you who have more brain cells than me might notice a discrepancy in the arithmetic above, yet I’ve got that covered in the “ish” part of the “6”. I always have more to say than I originally plan, and have therefore become quite appreciative of the “ish”

An Outer Circle Church targets the poor, and if the rich come, they teach them to serve the poor.

Someone said, “There is hope for the rich if they are willing to repent and live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, to be converted to God and to each other… Jesus didn’t neglect the rich, he evangelized them to love and give to the poor.”

New churches often target wealthier communities thinking that when they have a critical mass of bodies and bucks they’ll form a committee or a program to reach out to the poor. But it’s a curious reality that wealthy people and large congregations give proportionately less to the poor than the churches more meager in numbers and income. Wealthy churches tend to spend a higher percentage of their income internally – on staff, buildings, advertising, programs and events. They’re busy maintaining the machine that covertly hijacked them like Hal in the movie, 2001. They have no time, money, or heart left for those with the greatest needs. Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 6 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

If you were hoping I was winding down this topic, so so sorry, but some things have come to my attention since I started these rambling thoughts on how churches can and should be immeasurably more involved in the lives of the poor and the dregs of society. I believe that our churches should be much more like families for the left out and the left behind. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you’ll read on and ask the Father if what I’m trying to say is true and if it has a bearing on how you are to live your life before him.

Outer Circle Churches don’t serve the poor so much as feast with them.

I was minding my own business, making every effort to bring this essay to a conclusion, when I had the misfortune of attending a church last Sunday wherein a guest speaker gave a message called “Feasting with the Poor.” He’s a young guy who almost unintentionally planted a church in San Diego by inviting the poor into their home – first for just one dinner, then another, and which eventually turned into a weekly feast among friends. His message from Luke 14 was remarkable, and since I can’t improve on it, I offer the audio to you. I hope you’ll give it a listen and see if the Spirit doesn’t speak as powerfully to you as he did (and continues to speak) to me. I warn you that it might well ruin you for either neglecting the poor altogether and/or relegating them to your favorite soup kitchen once a month. Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 5 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

Here are three more things that distinguish an Outer Circle Church.

An Outer Circle Church runs after the poor, not away from them.

I have some urban missionary friends who recently moved their house ministry from San Francisco across the bay to Oakland, California. These amazing people have an incarnational approach to community transformation, which means they’re committed to submerging themselves in and among the marginalized. And since their neighborhood has all but gentrified (gotten whiter and richer), they’re relocating to Oakland with the poor and the gang bangers that they’ve fallen in love with. What they’re doing is the antithesis of what many churches have done for decades in America. When the neighborhoods around their church facilities become poorer and more ethnically diverse they flee further into safer, more sanitized suburbs. But these guys, instead of running away from social outcasts, they’re chasing them! “Wait, we’ll go with you!” I love it! Continue reading