I find that many times in my travels, that I am confronted with people and circumstances that leave me with huge questions, not the least of which is, "How did I get here, and why is this happening?!" A close follow-up would be, "And what do I now do with this information?!"
Such was the case on Sunday, August 24th. On the morning, I had the privilege to share in a partner Church in one of the more beautiful towns in San Bernardino County, California. Their Missions Pastor has taken teams with me all over Hungary and northern Serbia the last six years, and because of them, I now have an awesome Son-in-Law!
One of the members of that team was an extremely talented young man named Joe, who could play the guitar, sing, and love Jesus all at the same time (!), seemingly without any ego, and with a heart the size of the state he lives in. A finer young man you'll never meet, which is why it seemed so utterly tragic and useless when we discovered he was diagnosed with a ton of brain cancer in his head. His subsequent courage, unfading devotion to Jesus, and consistent message and demeanor of grace, trust, and strength, has been an inspiration to so many of us, and I praise God for Joe, because the observance of his ordeal is causing all of us to draw closer to the Lord.
Speaking of tragedies, one doesn't have to go but less than an hour west down Interstate 105, and you will find desperation, degradation, despondency, and hope. Watts is a district of Los Angeles, famous for it's avant-guard towers build by a "mad" Italian, for its riots, gang violence, and one of the largest housing projects east of the Mississippi River.
And there, that afternoon, I got to see Jesus again. He was in the hearts and hands of a family that couldn't be "whiter than white" when it comes to blond hair and blue eyes, but redder than red when it comes to the color of grace. Running a bi-monthly service in Nickerson Gardens, the Taylors are laying it down and pouring it out, with arms and hearts open wide. Jamming it out there on that hot basketball court in the middle of what some might call the center of gang-land, was an incredible experience. Jessie even asked me to play some keyboards, share my testimony, and play an original song of mine that he really likes. It seemed to be well-recieved.
But going door to door with his three daughters in order to walk a young black girl home and visit those who couldn't make the service, well, I guess I need a new category - fearless, brimming with love, totally unintimidated, and unapologetically in the name of Jesus. Wow.
And that's when Jadin "highjacked" me. "Let me ride on your big shoulders, man" he exclaimed, coming out from under a tree he had just been trying to climb. I told him that we could do a piggy-back ride, but shoulders? Well, he had more faith than I did!!!
Carrying him around on my back was a joy I won't forget for a while - I haven't done that in way too long, as he told me to "giddy-up", "charge", and "get-'em!", every time we got near Jessie's girls. My sunglasses went flying off, and another child grabbed them - only to be rescued by Rachel, who told me later we were about 5 seconds from never seeing them again! No bother, it was just so FUN to play with the kids, and give them the blessing of "time".
I went to bed that night back in Chino Hills, thankful to God for what had been quite a stimulating, and incredibly varied Sunday - swinging from extremes. Church in a building, church on a basketball court. Meeting in one of the nicer places in Southern California, and meeting in one of the, well, you decide. But at the end of the day it's not about geography nor even wealth or lack thereof. It's about relationship. And while one boy I hugged that day was white, and the other black, both are in the fight for their lives.
What difference could I make, in the few minutes I had with each? Not sure, but I did leave a deposit for the Kingdom in each of them as best I could. And prayer affords on-going investments into the lives of those we touch and lift up.
However, something else transactional happened that day. They both made a deposit for the Kingdom into me - I got to meet Jesus twice that day, in the sick, and in the outcast, and it reminded me once again that the road to heaven many times is decorated by "the least of these", those that the world would find useless, or even excess.
But I found in them Jesus, which is why they could bless me as much or more than I was able to bless them... and it is still rocking my life...