Saturday night my husband had a preaching gig at a downtown mission. We used to do this regularly in seminary in the mid 80's...he or some other seminary student would preach to a bunch of drunk guys and then we would hang around and talk to people and go home feeling a bit drained but good about ourselves.
This was a little different though.
It is a rescue mission, but it's not the usually sort of drop in after a long day of binge drinking sort of place. It's a live in discipleship place where men are recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, lives of crime and homelessness and they are finding Life. They come in as a mess (aren't we all?) and after detoxing, they are immediately required to be a part of the Bible study programs, Scripture memory, and community service. Every day they are kept busy doing good things. They spend so much time together and have come from the same desperate backgrounds that they bond very tightly. They go through so much healing and life learning together that they Love each other deeply.
All of this was so obvious as we went in to the worship service. The rough looking exteriors were softened by God's love pouring through the more seasoned men who have been in the program for a while. The new ones who were still in the detox phase or maybe had just arrived 'fresh' from the back alleys sat alone and held back while the regulars put an arm around them, went to sit beside them or motioned for them to come sit with them. Everyone was welcome, loved and respected.
Pastor Jack, who came to the mission as one of these men needing help years ago, told us that so many of the men go back to the streets after a while. He doesn't pressure them. He tells them that they are welcome to come back when they decide they are done with it. They will be welcomed back in.
Everything that happened was a whole blog post in itself. There was a dog roaming freely around, getting pats and hugs from the men who were themselves desperate to be loved and desperate to have someone, even a little dog, to show love to.
There was a recognition part of the service for men who had completed 4 months in the program and one for a man who had completed 8 months. They each spoke words of thanks, mostly to God, but also to the men who had walked alongside them through the process. One of them read a paper that was full of words. It was a page full of Bible verses he'd clung to during his time there. All different places in the Bible, but strung together to show what he'd learned....
...my rod and my staff will lead you and comfort you....you were called to greatness....I will give back what was taken...I will restore honor to you....
Those are just a few I jotted down, but the words of strength went on for a good 3 or 4 minutes.
Then Pastor Jack showed the congregation an award the city had given to the mission. It was in recognition of all the community service those men had done. They go out into the neighborhoods they took from and used to destroy and they clean them up and give back. They take the men back to try to help restore what they took. How cool would that be if we all practiced that?
The worship band was made up of various men, all but one had been through the program, who were professional musicians before ending up in lives of addiction. So it was some good music. My ears had that hissing sound in them for a while after it was over because it was loud, but we loved it. As the band played, sang and led the people in worship to Audio Adreneline, Switchfoot and Skillet songs of worship, the people danced, sang, smiled huge smiles, and tears ran freely. Beautiful, sincere, unencumbered and free worship.
Charles and I both said they need to come do a service for our church sometime. It would not be the same because people who don't have problems are not as free.
Think about that....I am lately...
Of course we all have problems and sin issues....we just hide them so well (even though we're full of it) and pretend it's not there so well (even though it's obvious), that we are not as free.
Contradictory... because Jesus came to make us free (indeed....remember?). But in order to be free, you've got to be real, you have to be vulnerable and humbled. There has to be Truth. And did I mention the name of the mission?
It's Set Free.
Jesus said, "I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a transient, who can't come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through. John 8:34-36 (The Message)