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!

Title Slide Devo Guy

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/

Being Okay Being Me

I am who I am.

Talking about addiction is not easy. While I am comfortable discussing it, it’s not really something I relish. But part of my recovery is sharing what I have learned about what ails me so that maybe it helps you. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re either grappling to understand a loved one who is an addict or you yourself are trying to overcome your addiction.  Is addiction really a disease or am I just a selfish degenerate? The recovery process involves worrying less about what others think of us. I do not control other people’s thoughts. I must be okay with me. I am who I am.

Disease?

While progress has occurred, as it has in many areas of life that challenge society, the world still struggles to grasp that addiction is a disease. Is it?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes Alcohol Use Disorder as a chronic relapsing brain disease marked by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a state of negative emotional state during non-use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease resulting in compulsive drug hunting and use, despite harmful consequences to the addict and to all those around them.

However, a current wave of psychologists are now arguing that addiction is not a disease. In his article, “Is Addiction Really a Disease?” former Harvard professor of psychiatry, Lance Dodes, points out that addiction is not like tuberculosis (not an infectious agent), or like diabetes (not a pathological biological process), or like Alzheimer’s (not a biologically degenerative condition).

Former addict and author Steven Slate, curator of the website Clean Slate, argues that substance use is a choice, not a compulsion. Substance abuse is not a disease or illness but a habit. He points out a disease involves physiological malfunction and changes in the brain. Slate contends that this is not shown in addict’s brains. You can read more about his thoughts on addiction on his website, Clean Slate.

So, is addiction a disease or not?

Shocker. I don’t know that it matters. Or does it?

“I have found that the process of discovering who I really am begins with knowing who I really don’t want to be.” Alcoholics Anonymous

Immoral Degenerate?

Most practicing addicts do not want to get help. Under the influence, we are sick, irrational, and incapable of giving up our addictions. Short of a life-transforming event, we do not want to stop. Truth be told, we cannot. Not on our own. Most of us are forced to get help against our will. We must hit rock bottom and get sick and tired of being sick and tired before we can straighten out the train wreck we call our life. We do not begin to understand something is haywire in our programming until we string together a number clean and sober days.

I certainly did things under the influence that I do not believe I would have done had I not been drunk or high. Was I an immoral degenerate before I took a drink or did drugs, or after? Is my behavior a problem if it does not affect you? Is a heavy substance user bad or immoral if they stay in control of their situation and are freely choosing to use, rather than acting under compulsion? Who am I to say what’s right for you? I can only tell you that for me, living a life free from alcohol and substance use is much better than it was when my world was spinning out of control.

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

For me, addiction is symptomatic of a bigger, deeper issue. Staying clean and sober is not a matter of being mentally, physically, or spiritually strong enough. It is not simply a matter of will power and being determined enough to not get drunk or high. At the end of the day, I am accountable for my life, my actions, my words, my deeds. I am responsible for me. For me, the first step in accepting that accountability and living up to that responsibility calls for living an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle.

Recovery begins with me being okay with being me.

1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.