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Shut Up and Listen [*]

7-11 SidewalkFor those that don’t already know, I had to experience another one of those really rough patches of life these past two weeks. It was one of those “If it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger” kinds of experiences. So, during that time, I took a two-week break from serving with the Broken Hearts Ministry team to focus on my “rough patch”, focus on God, and rest.

My “rough patch” came to a formal close, at least for now, last Wednesday. Since then, I have been processing my feelings and considering my options for life moving forward. My feelings have mostly been a mix of sadness, frustration, anger, and joy. My options have focused around my kids and ministry. Even as I write this, I have many things pending a resolution. It was a little bit of a surprise then that I received an email yesterday morning from Antquan Washington, the leader of Broken Hearts, encouraging me to deliver the sermon that night on the streets of Hollywood. He specifically suggested that I share something about what I have been experiencing these past few weeks. It wasn’t long before God and I had worked out a rough outline including scriptural references for the sermon I would give.

The title for the sermon we came up with was “The Voice of God: Shut Up and Listen”. One key verse came from the book of Psalms:

“Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 46:10a NIV)

I was the first member of our team to arrive at the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland last night and was joined a few minutes later by Antquan. Apparently, the remaining members of the team were either not coming or were running late so Antquan and I prayed briefly and then headed across the street to the Donut Shop to mingle. I didn’t recognize many people and most people we met were stoned and/or drunk. I wasn’t sure how to initiate a conversation or with whom (yup! even after all these years, I still lose my tongue sometimes), so I prayed, repeatedly, “God help me. What should I say? Who should I talk to?”

While praying, I observed the comings and goings around me. Among other things, I watched one man sell $5 worth of “medicinal” marijuana to another fellow who immediately stepped outside to smoke it. At one point, I took a break from praying to ask no one in particular how the Lakers game had went. I got several replies but that also instigated a minor scuffle between two Celtics fans and everyone else. Right in the middle of it all, one man pulled out his pocket knife, waived it around, and said something like “We’ll see who’s really boss around here.” At that, I went back to praying.

In time, I found myself deeply engaged in conversation with a man I will call “Fletch”. My conversation with Fletch began with sports, basketball specifically, but soon turned to politics. We differed on certain key points like Republican versus Democrat, but we agreed on a remarkable number of issues. At around 12:15, roughly 25 minutes into our conversation, we got interrupted because I was late getting to the makeshift church service where I was due to give the sermon. Fletch was startled, to say the least, when I casually told him where I was going and that he was more than welcome to join us. He said he would join us shortly but never did. What I loved about that final exchange of words, though, was the expression on his face. His face seemed to say, “You mean I have been having this great open-minded conversation with one of you Christians this whole time AND you are welcoming me to your meeting to eat pizza and read the Bible?!” His face was not unlike those I have seen in a number of movies where a human is personally invited onto an alien spaceship. Although Fletch did not follow through and join us, his face glowed with gratitude for the invite.

Despite the late start and having only four team members present, we managed to gather a group of eight people total for the service.

I always tell stories in my sermons, so as per usual, after introductions and prayer I began to tell a story. I was no more than a minute into it when a young drunken man stumbled over to our group and began asking questions about what we were doing. One thing led to another and soon he and one of our friends from the street were going toe to toe over being respectful to God at our makeshift church service. The two men stood between me and everyone else. I started to do something to break it up, but at Antquan’s prompting I backed off. Then I stared at the ground and prayed, as did several other members of our team. Eventually, the drunken man’s friends appeared and literally pulled him away. They apologized for his behavior, shook some of our hands, and left. Everyone else settled back down.

My sermon was about being quiet and hearing the voice of God. I had intended to tell a personal story involving chaos in which I had various options as to how to process it or not. As the scuffle defused, I chose to use that as my example instead. Frankly, I think it made my point about the chaotic-ness of life far better than any story could have told. I then went on to read a passage from Luke that concludes with “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV) I did later tell some of the story I had originally planned and concluded it by telling how I, at one point, turned off my car radio and said to God, in essence, “OK, what is it that you want to tell me?” to which God replied by showing me the unresolved anger and frustration that was still in my heart.

I already mentioned that even after two-plus years of doing this, I can still get tongue tied when initiating conversations. Not only is that still an issue for me, but also I have a really hard time concluding sermons well sometimes. I often just call up Antquan or Jorge to wrap things up. Last night, however, was different! Last night, I painted a picture about what it looks like to be still and listen for God’s voice, and then I asked everyone to do it! Right there in a parking lot on Santa Monica Blvd! As I was giving instructions and asking people to bow their heads and close their eyes, a crowd of drunken people walked by and caused a lot of commotion. This caused some heads to dart back up. However, the crowd passed and heads bowed again. Then I went silent …and so did the street. No cars. No people. No buses. No helicopters. There was virtual silence on the Boulevard for about 30 seconds! I was hesitant to speak again but I knew the silence wouldn’t last anyway so I interrupted everyone’s quiet time and invited Antquan up to close the group time. Immediately after Antquan had finished, one of our friends from the street who I will call “Matt” looked Antquan dead in the eye and said, “I need to talk to you. … I feel like God has been trying to tell me something lately…”

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