The Reassurance Of Chaos

It’s hard to forget the way I felt the evening of May 23, 2013. Growing up in church and surrounded for the most part by a safe and secure environment, I had grown to associate the safety of a decent upbringing that every child should experience with the way I thought everyone’s church experience should be: safe and secure.

Yet here I was, about to stand in front of a cast of misfits: the neglected and forgotten of their families, the hurting and broken people of society that had become my friends. We were about to have church with a group of people who exuded anything but safety and security, and I felt right at home. It took a few weeks, but finally — above the tumult of people enjoying a hearty (and free) meal — people began to listen to the preacher’s kid standing in front of the room attempting to preach. And for the nearly three years since that Spring night in 2013, Community Dinners have been a refuge in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, a place where the city’s vulnerable come to feel safe and secure in a “church” filled with Christian love.

IMG_1882Until Community Dinner No. 151 on April 7, 2016. Almost.

For the most part during the course of 151 Community Dinners, we have only had a handful of “incidents” — animated guests, disruption via golf club, a profuse vomiting episode, a knockout punch LOL. But they were minor and by now, the rest of the group serve as our de facto security team, many of whom possess multi-page rap sheets themselves.

Whether you are drunk, high or just angry, you are welcome to come and eat at our table at Community Dinners. If you’d like, you can join us as I share the Christ Story. But everyone knows the rule: Don’t disturb the peace in the room for anyone else. Last night, the peace was disturbed. There’s nothing like talking about Jesus while someone is yelling out the MF’er adjective for all to hear! And then, since we’ve earned the trust and loyalty of those in our faith community, there’s nothing like seeing several other men stand up to “handle” the situation because they 1) respect me as their pastor (my highest honor), and 2) were truly interested in listening to the Word of God. Cuss words flying everywhere. Men squaring off with each other. Volunteers wondering what they’re doing here! It’s in moments like this where I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who I know is always in control. But I’m also thankful for Howard, a member of our team who stepped in and “escorted” this man out, much to everyone’s approval. The situation was teetering on the edge of chaos. But, as we’ve done before, we prayed for him, and I assured everyone that he is welcome back next week, after he’s had time to hopefully blow off some steam!

In that moment I followed God’s leading and deviated from what I had been sharing during the Christ Story from Matthew 9. Instead, I talked about how our battle is not against each other, but against the devil who seeks to destroy our lives. Everyone clapped. I compelled them to trust Jesus. We prayed. Overall, it didn’t look pretty. Our Thursday night church service certainly isn’t seamless from a production standpoint. But people came and heard that there is hope in Jesus. And if I had to be honest, these people are my favorites: Denver’s drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, drug addicted, homeless and hopeless.

Preaching in an environment like this is invigorating. No, I’m not an adrenaline junky, nor am I an urban missionary seeking the next ministry thrill to share with my suburban ministry friends. I simply am a curious Christian who loves Jesus and who loves seeing the gospel light of Christ utterly clash with the dark evils I see in the inner city on a daily basis. This is just what inner city ministry is like. Most Christians go a lifetime without seeing these kinds of clashes, in whatever context they are to be found, and I feel badly for them.

Here in this month of April, Jaime and I and our family are commemorating five years as urban missionaries. And over the years, I’ve come to redefine what “church” is all about and what it should look like, based on my calling. So although it wasn’t pretty from a transition or aesthetic standpoint, it was a BEAUTIFUL night.

As I looked over the connection cards we received from last night’s 151st Community Dinner, I knew why. Two people made decisions to commit their heart to Jesus, and two more decided to recommit their lives to Jesus. What more could I ask for?

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3 Responses to “The Reassurance Of Chaos”

  1. Sharon Hiner says:

    I look forward to your news letter. I know you are doing God’s work. In the church I am attending we are feeding the homeless and those down and out. I saw and prayed in a slum area in the city. A big change for a small town gal from Colorado. Our church is multi cultural. Pastor Danny Hass preaches the rafters down. Heard this week 14 men from Colonial House, a rehab center, are being baptized. I love being part of such a move of God. Thanks to your influence I was ready for this work. Blessings Sharon

  2. Ryan Wakefield says:

    Such a cool story. God always seems to work the most when things get messy. Keep up the great work!

  3. David Hill says:

    Raw and real and so cool
    go God
    go Isaac & Jamie!

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