A Breath in their Lungs

But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

– Luke 5:30-32

I was recently blessed to sit down over coffee with a dear pastor to enjoy a time of fellowship, getting to know one another, and hearing each other’s stories of life and ministry. This was such a sweet time for me as I have, from a distance, long admired and appreciated this pastor/leader but had not yet had the opportunity to just sit down with him and visit. As we began, I was asked to share a bit of my testimony and initial ministry calling, specifically ministry among those experiencing homelessness, and then I was asked a simple question, “Why do you think the Lord burdened you for homelessness?” In that moment I responded somewhat generically as I recall because, honestly, it had been a long time since I had considered “the why.”  

My role at the KBC requires a lot of “windshield time.” For me, a natural introvert, this time on the road, beyond making phone calls, usually allows for opportunity to think, meditate, pray, etc… and, if I’m being honest, have conversations with … myself. “The why” has been somewhat of a joyfully haunting thought for me over the past few weeks. The question of me from this pastor, while being asked in the context of my larger ministry calling/life story and by no means from a spirit of surprise or question, has caused me to recall countless stories of the many years I spent working among those experiencing homelessness. I wish I could say most of those stories were filled with great successes and triumphs in the Lord but unfortunately many of them are not. So that question of “Why?” is not one I take lightly because truthfully there have been many times over the years, in moments of discouragement, when I have had to be reminded of why. In fact, as I write this, I recall one instance during an especially challenging situation early on in my career in working among those experiencing homelessness when I, in my pride, flippantly stated to our Executive Director, Associate Executive Director and Director of Communications as we were processing this situation, “I do not have to do this, I could do anything else I wanted to do.” How dare I! Now, I immediately fell under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and apologized to my co-workers for such a posture of my heart. They were certainly gracious to understand and created a space where I could speak openly, but my sentiment in that moment was real. I share that simply to demonstrate why reflecting on my initial calling and launch into vocational ministry/service nearly 16 years ago has caused such introspection as of late.

A couple of weeks after meeting with this pastor, by God’s grace, I was reminded and encouraged by a conversation I had with KBC KY-MSC Missionary Perry Cooke, Pastor of Family Ministry at Mercy Hill Baptist Church (Mercy Hill Church (mercyhillshep.org)) and founder/director of Mark 12 Ministries (Home Page – Mark 12 Ministries) in Shepherdsville. Perry has done an incredible job pastoring as well as building Mark 12 Ministries serving those experiencing homelessness within the Shepherdsville/Bullitt County community. Perry and I were visiting recently and discussing several topics related to life and ministry and we settled on some of the challenges of ministering to those experiencing homelessness. Amidst that conversation Perry made a comment that speaks volumes as to the why, he said, “As long as there is a breath in their lungs, there is hope for salvation.” What a glorious truth it is that God’s grace is sufficient even for those who are oftentimes considered to be on the fringes of our society! This truth is the why!

You may find yourself in a season of questioning whether your labors in ministry are worth the effort. You may be experiencing times of discouragement and asking yourself, as I have done at times, why keep going. You may be someone who struggles to see all humans as created in the image of God and therefore worthy of the investment for the sake of Christ. You may wonder, at times, why it seems to be much easier to go across a state line or across the seas for the sake of Christ yet much more difficult to go across the street or across the town in which you live day in and day out. And, dare I say, you may find yourself struggling with a spirit of anger or even hatred toward those who you deem to be a “burden to society” or those with seemingly no hope. I suggest these possible dispositions with all humility because I too have wrestled with some, if not all, of these at various points of my life. But let us remember, as we see in the text from Luke, that the healthy are not those in need of a doctor, but the sick. My plea to all of us is that we recount our conversion regularly, especially in times where we are tempted to curse those created in the image of God (James 3:9). May we always remember that Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous. When we remember our own state as separated from God prior to conversion, we might just find ourselves relating to the Apostle Paul when he self-categorizes as the worst of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). My hope would be that, considering our own conversion experience, we would be compelled to respond empathetically to those who are wandering through life in spiritual darkness, no matter how that darkness manifests itself publicly.

As I said previously, the question of why has been somewhat joyfully haunting as of late. The joy in the question is that as I trek from place to place throughout the state and meditate on the why, I am constantly reminded of the grace and mercy of God in my own life and that makes me trust all the more that His grace is sufficient, even for those on the margins. The haunting nature of the why is that the reality of the grace and mercy of God pierces my soul because of those moments where I vividly remember doubting whether God could truly change a person’s heart and the reality that those doubts will unquestionably return from time to time. In that, I resonate with the father of the boy with an unclean spirit who cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). If you are finding yourself on the brink of giving up hope, walking away from ministering whether vocationally or ministry engagement in day-to-day life because you see no fruit or question the worth of your investment, I implore you to press on for indeed those you are ministering to are worth the labors.

How true it is that as long as one has breath in their lungs a great hope remains that they may be saved, renewed, and restored in Christ. To the glory of God!

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