The sun is setting on another sunny day in the Pacific North West. The dry grass crunching painfully under my flip-flops attests to what an anomaly this weather really is. The ground is parched and longing to be satiated. I smile at the helpless wilted lawn and shake my head, “Three days of sunshine is hardly going to kill you,” I say, mostly to myself.
I’m doing the unending job of picking up litter in the back yard. If it isn’t the water balloon fights that the neighbor kids have it’s the burnt pieces of foil getting blown from the community grill, and everything has to get picked up. I don’t mind, though; it gives me time to pray for the hundreds of people who live here at Golden Givens. I notice a water bottle hiding in the tall grass against the far fence (the only area where the grass has managed to stay out of the heat).
Some of the neighbor children are playing in the cul-de-sac and I stand on my toes to watch them for a brief moment. Most of them are happily sucking on some frozen Red-40 sugar-treat, blissfully swinging their legs off of the cement divider that permanently rests there. I’m just about to turn for the water bottle when something catches my eye.
A smaller kid runs into view and turns wildly around. I don’t have to wait long to see what he is running from. A tall heavy-set boy stalks from behind the apartment that is blocking my view and marches straight up to the smaller boy. He yells something that I can’t quite make out and then suddenly pushes the little boy down.
The bigger boy yells a few more things at the small boy who is resting on his hands and knees and defiantly glaring up at the bully. The smaller boy jumps to his feet, but before he can say anything he is met with a punch to the face.
He is stunned.
I am stunned.
I could hear the hollow “clap” sound as the bigger boy’s fist landed squarely on the cheek of the other boy.
The little boy’s face melts from indignation to a bright red mess of tears. I hear a wail just before he disappears behind the apartment.
I don’t know what to do. I have half a mind to walk over there and… what?
Tell the boy’s mother? Beat up a 9-year-old? Lecture the kids about violence and bullying?
This is Givens. This isn’t the suburbs. We walk the neighbor kids home almost every night past the gang that sells drugs outside of their apartment.
“I don’t like those bad men,” one of the eight-year-olds told me and my wife one night.
“And why don’t you like them?” my wife said, trying hard not to beat our little neighbor at Slap-Jack.
“Because they stole my bike,” she says woefully.
Before living at Givens I would have started yelling at the chunky kid for punching his friend. I would have wanted to impose on him that same strong sense of morals that I grew up with. I’d insist that he apologize and then talk to his parents.
Now, I know better. I know that morality won’t save anyone. I know that not cursing because you are at church is more detrimental than you actually saying what is in your heart. I know that the covering up of sins is worse than letting them come into the light where all can see them, just as getting a blood test and determining the actual sickness is better than constantly taking pain pills.
I see that here at Givens. I don’t pray for the gangs and the dealers to stop dealing and using. I pray that the Spirit of God falls upon them and that they are overwhelmed by Him. I pray that they prophesy and that they are so radically changed by the Almighty that they begin the next great revival in the American church. They are the weak and foolish things that the world despises and counts as loss. Maybe that’s why I love them so much – because I can see so much of myself in them.
I too was an addict: a slave to pornography and pride.
I too was living for worthless things: I valued success and to be respected by my family.
I too was self-obsessed: I was the center of my own universe and I did exactly what made me happy.
But then came Christ.
This is the confidence I have as I fall on my knees beside the water bottle and cry out to God for deliverance for my neighbors. I know that only the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit can save them. No stipend from the powers that be, or free meal and imposed morality from a church. Only. The. Gospel. Only.
Until next time: go lose your life!
“Please, God, rescue me! Come quickly, LORD, and help me. May those who try to kill me be humiliated and put to shame. May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace. Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, ‘Aha! We’ve got him now!’ But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, ‘God is great!’ But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God. You are my helper and my savior; O LORD, do not delay.” Psalm 70