The New Evangelization
One day God gave me an extremely difficult assignment. He sent me to help a homeless man named Steven who had set up camp in the bushes alongside the Platte River. When I first met Steven, he suffered from malnutrition, had festering cuts on his hands, and hadn’t bathed or changed clothes in weeks. Every night he would pass out drunk in a pile of carpet scraps that were rolled up in the bushes.
At first Steven didn’t trust me. I would stop by and visit him two or three times a week. Some days I would bring a box of fried chicken or sandwiches for dinner; other days I would sit on broken pieces of concrete near the river and listen to his stories. It took a while, but eventually we developed a friendship.
It turns out Steven had been a lieutenant commander with the Navy Seals. He had fought in Vietnam and volunteered to stay three more years to go on a killing spree to get even for all the men he had lost in his platoon. He had suffered an extremely abusive childhood. His father would beat him bloody, and afterwards he would pick himself up off the floor and dare his father to hit him again.
My assignment was to rescue Steven from the clutches of evil and deliver him back to his heavenly Father who loved him. Steven was a lost sheep wandering in the wastelands of eternal destruction. He was immersed in sin, ensnared in a fornication relationship with a neighboring camp’s prostitute, and was full of hate toward all humanity. Yet God loved him and wanted him back in the flock; clean, sober, singing praises, and worshiping him in spirit and truth.
I went into the battle wearing the full armor of God. I proceeded with the power of faith knowing God had a purpose and plan or else he wouldn’t have called me into action. I continued to use the power of prayer, even though I felt God’s hands were tied, because no one could force Steven to change his behavior and stop drinking. He had to make that choice himself.
I used my sword to fight the lies and speak God’s truth into his life every chance I got, but Steven had a sword too. He knew the Bible, or as least his version of the Bible. He was a graduate from theological seminary and was the most argumentative and contentious man I had ever met. We would get in major “sword fights” over religion. When I confronted him with scriptures on drinking, he would defend his behavior with statements like, “Jesus drank wine. He got everyone drunk at the wedding feast at Cana.”
I was using the power of the Spiritual Warfare Prayers, but there wasn’t any way for me to take authority over the demons that were driving his drinking problem. They had a right to be there because every time Steven would take a drink, he was saying yes to the devil and no to God. They had direct access to his mind and emotions. I could lay hands on him and command all demons to flee, but they would come right back again the next time he wanted to drink.
The only way I could help Steven was through the power of love. Love has the ability to cut through darkness like the light of day. Love softens the hardest of hearts. When a warrior taps into God’s love and channels it into the lives of others, miracles start to happen.
When I looked at Steven through the eyes of God’s love, I began to see his pain. He suffered tremendously. The voices and faces of the men he killed in Vietnam haunted him night and day. Memories of his father beating him and locking him in the cellar continued to wound him deeply. Steven’s spirit-man was tormented by demons, and his inner sanctuary was filled with rage.
God wanted to rush into Steven’s heart and comfort his pain, but Steven didn’t allow anyone near his heart. It was severely wounded and heavily guarded. There was no way to break through unless Steven lowered some of his defense mechanisms.
I started using the power of love every time I stopped by the river and brought him something to eat. I fed his physical body with food and his hungry soul with love. When he accepted my gifts of love, he was also accepting God, because God is love. Every time we ate a chicken dinner together, a small amount of God’s light would enter his world of darkness.
As soon as it did, the demons would throw fits. They fought back by filling his mind with all kinds of perverted thoughts regarding my intentions. Demons hate love because they are defenseless against love’s power to transform lives. As soon as Steven allowed a small amount of God’s love into his soul, it cut both ways. For a short time it made him feel better, but it also reminded him of the amount of misery that surrounded his life.
The more I tapped into God’s love, the more I could feel God trying to get inside of Steven’s heart. When I looked at the wounds on his hands, I knew God could feel his pain too. When I connected with God’s love, it prompted me to say, “Let’s go to the store and get some bandages for your hands.”
“I don’t need any bandages,” Steven said.
“It hurts me just looking at your hands. What happened? How did they get so infected?”
After looking at his hands for a long time, Steven began to connect with his pain. I could also feel God’s love flowing through me as it started to awaken a hurt deep within his heart.
“I don’t need bandages. On the front lines we glued our wounds together. Pain is for sissies.”
“I’m heading to the store. We could stop by the deli for lunch and pick up a few medical supplies,” I said.
Eventually, Steven broke down. We went to the store and he allowed me to minister to his wounds. When he did, he accepted even more of God’s love into his heart.
As the months continued, the amount of God’s love that entered Steven’s heart had grown to the point where he was starting to despise his living conditions. He began to see himself differently. When Steven was consumed in self-hate, he didn’t mind sleeping in the bushes. The more love he accepted, the less he wanted to subject himself to inhumane conditions.
Eventually one day he broke down and said, “I don’t want to die out here. Will you help me get off the ground?”
“Sure, I already called detox. After you get sober, I will help you find a job and a place to stay.”
Later that afternoon we packed up his belongings and I drove him to the detox facility. On his second day he experienced a massive seizure and almost died. The head nurse called the paramedics and he was transported to a hospital where he remained for three more days. After they released him, his contentious personality was gone, and the only thing that remained was the broken, empty shell of a man.
I let him stay at my house for a few days until he was feeling better. Afterwards we found a studio apartment and I paid his first month’s rent and the security deposit. He started looking for work by walking around the neighborhood. Within a few days, he found a job painting a house.
Everything appeared to be going fine until payday. After cashing his check, he spent $200 on beer and threw a party for all his neighbors. Later that week he was evicted and living back in the bushes alongside the Platte River.
I wanted to cuss him out for trashing the apartment, but after looking into his eyes, God’s love flooded my soul. Relentlessly, God pursued Steven. Not only had God forgiven him, but God was pushing me to continue my efforts in helping him.
It took several more months, but eventually Steven grew tired of sleeping on the ground. He missed the comforts of his own apartment. Once again I agreed to help, except this time, I refused to pay more than $35 to rent a bunk at a Working Man’s Shelter.
After he was released from detox, he spent one night in the shelter before moving back to the river. He camped there for almost a week and still maintained his sobriety. After finding a job at an aluminum-can recycling plant, his employer let him sleep on the floor at night until he had saved enough money to rent another apartment.
Every time I stopped by his new place to visit, he had acquired more furniture. On the weekends he would collect aluminum cans and search through dumpsters for things that he used to decorate his new home. We started praying together, and even though we would get into theological arguments, they were more on a respectful basis. He even began telling me stories from his past when he first became a Christian.
Everything was going great until the Fourth-of-July weekend arrived and he asked himself, “What’s wrong with having just one drink?” Well, one drink turned into a three-week binge and he lost his job, his apartment and all his new belongings. He repeated the same cycle and ended up back on the Platte River. However, this time it didn’t take him as long to get back on his feet. After spending several weeks on the ground, he was ready to give it another try.
Over the next twelve months, Steven lost his sobriety on several more occasions, and every time God relentlessly pursued his beloved child. Steven made so much progress that the last time he took a drink, he explained the situation to his employer and asked to have a few days to check himself into detox. His employer agreed and he was able to keep his job and pay the rent, without losing anything.
One of the most loving moments we shared together occurred right before Christmas. We were talking on the phone and I was trying to get inside his heart. The compelling force of God still wanted to get deeper inside of Steven’s emotional wounds, and as I entered that sacred space, I could feel his loneliness.
“What do your holiday plans look like?” I asked.
“My boss gave all the pack-builders a $200 bonus and a twenty-pound turkey. I didn’t have any way to cook mine, so I gave it to one of the guys.”
“Would you like to spend Christmas with my family? We could go to church in the morning and have turkey dinner afterwards.”
There was a long period of silence on the phone before he said, “You would do that for me?”
“Sure, it will be great! I’ll pick you up around eleven a.m.”
A few minutes later Steven tried to start a fight with me over what church we would attend. I told him it didn’t matter and that we could go to any church he wanted, but he kept making remarks like, “The Bible says, call no man your father.”
“Please come to dinner with my family. I don’t want to get into another argument over religion.”
The love I had extended Steven stabbed deep within his heart and uprooted more emotional wounds. The demons who had access to those wounds were throwing a fit. He desperately wanted to be loved, yet as a defense mechanism, he tried to start another argument.
Eventually, Steven started cussing at me and calling me names. It got so bad I had to hang up. He called back five minutes later even angrier. This time he started attacking my character, “You’re just a rich yuppie. You have no idea what it’s like living on the streets. You couldn’t survive a second out here.”
When he started using profanities, I unplugged the phone and took the matter to the Lord: “I don’t need this abuse. I have been nothing but good to him and now he’s cursing at me.”
Relentlessly, God continued to pursue Steven. In my prayer time God gave me the strength to love even in the face of his abuse. I went to the store and bought Steven a set of barbells for Christmas. I knew he wanted a set because as a Navy Seal, he used to be in excellent shape. After the years of alcohol abuse had taken their toll on his body, he wanted to start working out again.
Early the next morning I knocked on his door to deliver the present. Once again the power of love flooded his heart. He was overjoyed. The present almost made him cry. He said, “I don’t say this to anyone but, I, I love you, man.”
“I love you too, Steven.”
Over the years I watched the power of love deliver Steven from the jaws of death. Love transformed an angry, raging alcoholic into a godly man who now spends his time helping other homeless men and women rise above the streets.
What a tremendous privilege it is to take the power of God’s love into the hearts of those who have been hurt. Love will break through the most difficult of strongholds and deliver those who are lost in darkness.