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/

Boldly Sharing the Amazing Love of Christ

In addition to our monthly ministry outreach to the homeless at the men and women’s shelters downtown, I occasionally have the privilege of speaking at the Thursday morning devotional time at the Union Gospel Mission Dallas. The audience is a mix of staff, disciples, prospects, and clients. The time is always rewarding and a time of great blessing to me. It is always good to see God at work in and through the lives of the last, least, lost and lonely homeless population here in Dallas. 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. The Mission has continued to grow and prosper in the years since, reaching countless men and women for Christ, transforming thousands upon thousands of lives, and continuously shining the light of the Gospel downtown.

After lifting our voices in song and hearing a number of testimonies about how God is impacting the lives of all those present this morning, we opened God’s Word, examining and exploring the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5.

2 Corinthians 5:1-21 (ESV)

5 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are born with a longing, a God-sized hole in our soul that only the Lord himself can satisfy. Paul assures us that the Lord is faithful, and that He has prepared for us an eternal home, free of the burdens of this world. Even though life is difficult, Paul exhorts us not to be dismayed, but to remain steadfast in our courage. Yes, we long to be with God. But until then, He has given us His Spirit to make the journey with us. We are not alone. He has not forgotten us. God has not forsaken us. To the contrary, He supplies us with everything we need to overcome the trials and tribulations we face. Through Jesus Christ, God has already won the victory for us. God gave His son, Jesus Christ, so that we might live in Christ, and Christ alone.

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Because of what God has done, we have a mission and a purpose. We proclaim the Gospel–the Good News—-and demonstrate the love of Christ, through our words and our deeds. Love, after all, is a verb. Love is an action. Often times, the only Good Book people will read is in how they see us live out the grace God has bestowed upon us. We are Christ’s, no doubt. He has bought us with His blood. He controls us. We cannot keep quiet about the grace and mercy he has showered down on us. We have to shout it from the tallest building. We must proclaim it from the highest mountain. The Good News of what Christ has done for us must travel as far as the East is from the West.

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We live for the one who died for us. We are new creations. Behold the old has passed away and the new has come. We are ambassadors for Christ Jesus and the Good News His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection secured. In this generation, you and I may be the only Gospel anyone sees and hears. Shine brightly, speak boldly.

Continue to walk by faith, not by sight.

Amen.

 

Photos courtesy of the fine artists at Pixabay.com

Whatever You Do For the Least of These

Chances are you’ve seen them as you’ve been driving around Dallas. Maybe you’ve been at an intersection, about to get on a nearby freeway, and you spot some cardboard or a backpack and a sleeping bag roll strategically placed under a bridge or perhaps you’ve even spotted signs of a village consisting of tent roofs nestled out of notice, in the blind spots we generally don’t notice while scurrying about the city.

About 6,000 disenfranchised homeless people live on the streets of Dallas. Roughly 10% of these souls are chronically homeless. DSC07603

For over 65 years, Union Gospel Mission Dallas has faithfully ministered to the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the last, least, lost and lonely in the Dallas area. Since 1949, the UGMD has helped the “tore up, busted and disgusted” (as one of their clients describes it) restore their lives. Every day destitute men and women are encouraged in their Christian faith and taught the necessary life and job skills needed to lead productive lives. Daily, children, of all ages, are given shelter from the hard life found on Dallas streets.

Our daily endeavor at UGM is to get to the heart of the matter with those we serve. First, we introduce our clients to Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.Bill Thompson, UGMD Executive Director

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Operating from three main facilities, UGMD provides shelter, meals, chapel services, showers, on-site clinics, and clothing. At Calvert Place, volunteers and staff serve over 25,000 meals every month.

Discover more at: https://ugmdallas.org/learn/about/our-mission/#sthash.4rSZWnjD.dpuf

Their Discipleship Program, which takes a minimum of a year to complete, combines the basic services UGM provides with Bible study, counseling, life-skill classes, preparation for employment and job training. Upon completing the Discipleship Program, UGMD helps their clients find transitional housing. UGMD provides ongoing access to their trained counselors throughout the entire process from the time the client first enters the shelter to the time they take their first steps out on their own.

 “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…to clothe them, and not to turn away…? ISAIAH 58:7 (NIV)

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Beginning in 1963, Trinity Bible Church has ministered to the men of Union Gospel Mission. Every 4th Friday of the month, a group of us from church go down to the Men’s Shelter at Calvert Place and host a chapel service featuring music, speakers, a message from God’s Word, and prayer before the men gather together to share in a meal. The Shelter hosts a nightly chapel service along with each evening meal. It has been a sheer joy for our band of brothers and sisters in Christ to spend time with these precious souls trying to find their way and get their lives back on the right track.

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There are a myriad of various reasons people find themselves homeless, unsure of their next meal, uncertain of finding safe shelter, and exposed to the harshest elements of nature and man. For the greater majority, being homeless wasn’t a conscious decision they chose to make. There are people who lost it all and never got it back when Hurricane Sandy hit. They have kindred spirits in those left devastated and unable to recover after Katrina and Rita. Learn more at: https://ugmdallas.org/learn/about/#sthash.gJr1Ss0e.dpuf

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Sadly, some of the people in our shelter are military veterans. In the catacombs of the different shelters serving these forgotten members of our society, you’ll meet guys who fought in ‘Nam and men and women who served in the First Gulf War as well as those who served in Gulf War #2. For whatever reason, when they came back home, they fell through the cracks, unable to get back to the “norm” of life.

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Some of the men I’ve come to know through our church’s 4th Friday outreach served time for almost every crime you can imagine and because of their criminal past find themselves cast out from society. Other men I’ve met, like me, battle addiction. The veil that separates us from them is thinner then we like to believe it is. But the truth is that a great majority of us live paycheck to paycheck and are only one impending disaster away from finding ourselves on the outskirts of society.

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Each time our group goes down to minister to these men, we strive to bring a message of hope and redemption. We offer encouragement to these men by letting them know they are loved and that they are valued. We sing with them. We share God’s Word with them. We pray with them, asking God to heal their hearts, their hurts and free them from their habits. At the end of our time together, they gather and share a meal cooked by the Mission’s staff and other volunteers.

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“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ” James 1:2-4 (ESV)

All of us that go there to minister to the people there feel immeasurably blessed and extremely challenged by our experience. It is incredibly rewarding to see the spirit and joy these men have in the midst of finding themselves in the most dire of circumstances. They choose to live life victoriously, in spite of their situation. It’s challenging for a multitude of reasons–for example, no military veteran who served our nation should have to live this way…there is just something extremely wrong with that picture. It’s challenging to see people who are hurting, regardless of what brought them there. Maybe it was something out of their control–like an unexpected disaster. Maybe it was something that got control of them–like addiction. At the end of the day, we do our best to encourage them to continue, as the Apostle Paul did, pressing on.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” Herews 12:1 (ESV)

Life deals us unexpected hands. It’s not a matter of if, but when. When it does, you can’t quit. You have to keep moving forward.

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