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/

Exploring How My Writing Passions Transformed with Age

Life is full of changes. These transformations happen in every area of our life, including those of us who call ourselves writers. Aging ain’t for sissies.

How has your writing changed over the course of your life?

Personally, from recent experiences, I realize that my writing and what I am interested in writing about is far different from what it was as a kid in my twenties.

As a young writer in my twenties, I was primarily interested in reading and writing fiction. Made up stories featuring heroes and villains battling it out for the greater good. These past two years have changed what I care to write about.

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What’s caused this?

For starters, graduate school has sharpened my writing and research skills. As a graduate research student working on my Masters’ degree in Managerial Science, I spend a significant amount of time writing. Nearly every week in the last 18-20 months, I have pounded out a minimum of one 8-10 page (usually two), academic paper. Each semester, I have had to write a major research paper or create a semester ending graduate project. Often, the papers due each week are longer. Research papers run 30+ pages and require a lot of reading and demand a ton of research to boot. The projects involve learning new technologies and employing new tools.

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In the process of my studies, I have read more non-fiction books than I probably did in my entire life previously. I have fallen in love with the genre. The books I have read span a variety of topics including managing generations, ethics, leadership, organizational development, operations, teams and technology, work in the 21st century, management, and company cultures.

I have grown to love the non-fiction genre and find myself reading creative non-fiction, personal essays, and watching documentaries. Having turned the corner of age 50,  I find that what I am interested in writing has been influenced by all of these new, stimulating inputs.

Naturally, this is influenced by my pursuit and interest in theological subjects and all-things Jesus. Spiritual growth is important to me and my beloved Sweet T. So, I read a lot about faith, God, and redemption.

Having spent over 20 years in active recovery, I also have a great interest in stories demonstrating life change is not only possible, but happens every day. I find God stories are all around me, just waiting to be told.

A student of people, I love writing stories about my interaction with folks that I meet in the most ordinary places and of people who have transformed my life by their presence in it.

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Writing non-fiction is different than writing fiction, just as academic writing differs from creative non-fiction. However, like in good fiction, the creative non-fiction writer must begin with a good story. Otherwise, nobody is going to read it. As is the case in a fiction story, a creative non-fiction writer relies on compelling, vibrant characters to weave their tale. Non-fiction giants such as Ron Chernow, Walter Isaacson, and David McCullough tell good stories through the eyes of intriguing characters. Their talents rival that of any major fiction author.

In addition to these more renowned authors, I have discovered great essayists N.T. Wright, Seth Godin, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and Lee Gutkind. My journey has led me to the brilliant Haydn Shaw and in-depth, detailed writing of Peter G. Northouse.

What about you? Do you find your writing interests have changed as you have grown as a human and spent time on the road of life?

Keep writing!

Blessings.

Remaining Vigilant on the Road of Recovery

Recovery is a total overhaul of our mind, body, and spirit. It is a constant, ongoing process. You can graduate from a program, but you never graduate from your recovery. Even after you overcome your habits and hang-ups and find healing from your hurts, the work of recovery continues. Like the process of sanctification, the journey of recovery transforms us daily, correcting our skewed inner navigation system. We are all flawed. We are all a little damaged. No one drives life’s highway without getting dinged up. At the end of the road, none of us even get off the highway alive.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (ESV)

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Recovery is about living. Addiction is about dying. As addicts, regardless of habit or hang-up, we die to self a bit every single day. The longer we remain embroiled in the turmoil brought on by our darkest demons, the more of our self we lose. We find ourselves wandering aimlessly off-course, struggling to find our way home.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

But, the good new is that recovery works if you work it. We avoid getting too far ahead of ourselves and certainly we must not get ahead of God. His desire is for us to walk with Him, just as Adam and Eve walked with Him in the Garden (Genesis 3:8). When we walk with God, it fosters closeness, intimacy and fellowship. Spiritual growth occurs. Our spiritual growth and transformation help us remain in a state of recovery. Recovery is not a stagnant but ever-developing, altering states just like water forms into ice and ice evaporates into a gas.

Vigilant

Our recovery requires our active participation, monitoring our thoughts and behaviors, continuing to learn and practice new skills, developing and growing our support system, and being alert and watchful to triggers and temptations to use or return to our addictions of choice. We must stay vigilant, guarding against relapse.

Step 1: Honesty

“Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.”

The work of recovery is hard but it is also rewarding. The work we do in the rooms and through our programs helps us rebuild broken relationships. Recovery brings new people into our life as well, providing us with friends who walk with us, mentoring us, and most of all, holding us accountable. We can experience happiness because we learn to quickly forgive wrongs and readily admit when we messed up and need to apologize and make amends. This keeps the list short and our burdens light, replacing pain with joy. Through recovery we can live the abundant life our Creator intended for us to experience this side of Heaven.

Open Door

 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10 (ESV)

My friend, continue to press on, one day at a time, and even sometimes one moment at a time.

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