But By the Grace of God

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to minister to the men sheltered at the Union Gospel Mission Dallas on the 4th Friday of every month. Every month, our team of volunteers gladly give of their time, treasure, and talents to give hope to the lost, the last, the least, and the lonely.

The Union Gospel Mission began as a street ministry in 1949 when a group of Christian businessmen took to the streets of Dallas, telling the poor about God’s love for them. Each year, hundreds of men enter UGMD’s long-term, faith-based recovery program.

Each year the Union Gospel Mission provides 127,482+ nights of shelter, cooks 410,738 meals, helps 4500 people, and  serves over 400 veterans. Through the nightly chapel services, hundreds of men come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and receive the gift of eternal salvation throughout the year.

The mission’s discipleship program is designed to help people end their personal struggles with homelessness, first by establishing and nurturing a relationship with Jesus Christ, then by learning the skills necessary to re-enter society and live an independent life. This process includes graduating from the Mission’s Learning Center, obtaining a job and, in the final phase, living in a transitional living facility. Prior to graduation from the program, each disciple must be involved with a local church, have a savings account, hold a job and be living independently. The Discipleship Program is self-paced, and usually takes between eighteen months and two years to complete (UGM, 2018).

Each time we journey down to the shelter, our team is blessed. Ministering to someone else seems to always return with even greater blessing on those sharing the love of Jesus with those in need.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV)

There is a lot of talk about how to solve homelessness. I’m not sure we will ever eradicate it from our midst. There is just as much talk about what causes homelessness, including attempts to blame the poor for being poor. At the end of the day, our mission focuses on having a conversation about the One we know who transforms lives. A change of heart and a transformation of the mind must occur, otherwise you can build all the houses you want only to find yourself back at square one. Yes, affordable housing is certainly part of the solution. But so are changes in decision-making, problem solving, and overcoming hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Even so, those living on the marginalized edge can easily fall prey to a freak event of nature or devastating medical issue that they are unable to overcome. When a tornado or hurricane wipes out your home, it’s not a matter of character, but circumstance. If an unexpected onslaught of medical bills override your ability to keep your head above water, it’s not an indictment of your decision-making, but a result of a tidal wave of overpowering events that leave you, and your family, devastated.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Trust me. No one grew up wanting to be homeless.

Sure, there can be other problems. Like our veterans unable to cope with life after war due to PTSD and not having the resources available to them to provide the help they desperately need. Think about it–someone went off to war so we could continue enjoying our freedoms only to return and be without a home. That’s not on them. That’s on us.

And yes, there are many who struggle with addiction and who struggle with issues of character. So do many of us. Yet, we aren’t homeless. Not because we are smarter or stronger, but because our support system is better. And, truthfully, simply because of God’s grace.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

When go down to the shelter, we don’t attempt to solve every problem and we certainly aren’t under any illusion that we will solve homelessness or eliminate the scourge of poverty. The poor, Scripture teaches us, have always been with us.

No, when we go we focus on providing love, hope, and faith to the 300+ men we meet every month at the shelter. We seek to suspend the noise of the world and exchange it for the sounds of worship as we sing songs exalting an almighty, all-powerful God. We strive to feed their souls through sharing the Word of God, reassuring them they are neither forgotten nor forsaken. We attempt to cover them in prayer, ending each service with intentional, one-on-one prayer. Many of the men come forward to express their needs and lay their burdens at God’s feet. Occasionally, the Spirit moves in the hearts of certain men to receive Jesus and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. O, what a glorious moment that is!

Our team of sojourners loves these men and witnessing the work the Lord is doing in their lives. Through it all, we try to be ourselves, genuine and authentic, cherishing every moment that we get to spend sharing the Good News with the men of Union Gospel Mission Dallas. What a privilege! What a joy!

God is good all the time and all the time God is good!

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Would you like to know how you can help? Here is a list current needs that UGMD has:

CONSTANT PRAYER! •  Donation truck • Forklift • Commercial washer and dryers • Twin Sheets (flat & fitted), Blankets,  and Plastic Mattress Covers • Flat Screen Computer Monitors • Engine Hoist • Portable Air Conditioner • Laptop Computers • Laser Printers • LCD Projectors/Screens • Mailing Equipment • Medical Scrubs • Bath Towels • Tool Chest/Kits • Household Furnishings •  Clothing Bailer  • Clothing & Shoes—   Men, Women, Children • LARGE PRINT Bibles (New or Used) • Christian DVD’s (Teaching, Stories) • Automobiles, Motorcycles,  Boats, RVs • Lawn Equipment: Mowers, Edgers, and Weed Eaters • Donations for Publishing Book   on UGM’s History • Commercial Generator

FOR KITCHEN:  • Canned Goods (#10 can) •  Colanders • 4” Steam Table Pans •  6” Strainer Pans • 6” Insert Steam Table Pans •  Commercial Food Processer • Commercial Slicer • Commercial Serving Utensils • Blender •  Pot Holders • Food Warmers (to store bulk  of food being cooked)

You can learn more about the work being done at Union Gospel Mission here.

Preach the Gospel

Photos by Terri W. Bantau

References:

Union Gospel Mission (2018). https://www.ugmdallas.org/

The Amazing Blessings of Living a Spiritually Rich Life

Monday morning ushers in the beginning of another work week. With a full week of activity ahead, Sweet T and I are looking forward to celebrating my Mom’s 80th birthday this coming weekend. In the decade since my Dad passed, we’ve watched my Mom grow deeper in her spiritual walk and grow closer to God. This has been a true blessing to us and all the people who know her. My Mom is a social butterfly; always kind, always generous. She’s deeply loved by her friends, many of whom she’s know for decades. She’s never met a stranger and she’s always willing to help someone.  Mom is a great example of what it means to live the Bible you read. She does that every day in the way she treats other people and goes about her daily routines. She’s got an incredibly bubbly spirit despite not always having the easiest of lives. Mom often reminds me of the popular pericope “The Widow’s Mite” found in the Synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke.

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The Widow’s Mite (Gospel of Mark)

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

My Monday Morning Cup

The Widow’s Mite (Gospel of Luke)

1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

Luke 21:1-4 (NET)

The story is a lesson in poverty and prosperity based on the weights and measures of God’s economic scale. The widow, while physically poor, was rich spiritually. In contrast, the scribes, dressed in their long robes of pride, were rich physically but stood before the widow spiritually bankrupt. They had everything and gave only that which cost them nothing. She had nothing yet gave God her all.

There is more to walking the walking then simply talking the talk. Actions have always spoken louder than words. James, the half-brother of Jesus, makes it clear that our belief is expressed through our deeds. What we do, in other words, reflects what comes to our mind when we think of God.

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14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17 (ESV)

Me and MomSweet T and MomIMG_3236

My Mom will readily tell you that she doesn’t understand all the things of God. She has often said she doesn’t know her Bible as well as she would like. Yet, her actions show how deeply God’s truth is engrained in her. Her faith is self-evident in how she greets each day and every person she meets. Sweet T and I are thankful that the Lord has blessed us with her and grateful that she continues to be a blessing to others.

One of Mom’s gifts that she readily shares with others is her art. As long as I can remember, my Mom has always done artwork, particularly molding and sculpting original pieces from clay. This has provided her with the opportunity to spend quiet time with God and to share her love of art with others through the pieces she produces. Her artists circle consists of an eclectic blend of friends, each with their own unique talents.

Original Clay Pieces made by Mom © Karin I. Bantau

Mom models living a spiritually rich life. When we put God first, good things happen.

How about you? Do you feel spiritually rich today? I pray you do.

P.S. If you see Mom this week be sure to give her a birthday hug. Be sure to tell those you love that you love them. Better yet, do something that shows them how much they mean to you. None of us are promised tomorrow. Amen.

God is good all the time. All the time God is good!

Be Blessed and be a blessing.

#Spiritual Growth #More of Him Less of Me #Blessings