Two months ago, I wrote a review of John Hambrick’s book, Move Toward the Mess. The book is filled with great stories about people who took a chance on getting messy in order to reach others for Christ. I’m blessed to have John Hambrick now write a guest post for my blog about how with God’s grace, we must move away from our own mess and then go out to help others in the middle of their mess.
by John Hambrick
David Lee Windecher was a gangster.
He grew up in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Miami, Florida. He saw his first murder when he was in 8th grade. So he eventually joined a gang in order to get some respect and protection. It turns out you can also make some good money as a gangster – if you don’t mind selling drugs. David didn’t mind. So the cash started rolling in. Sadly, the chances are you’ve heard this kind of story before. It plays out the same way 1000’s of times every day. But what follows is much less common . . . and much more wonderful.
Fast-forward several years. David’s life as a gangster has resulted in multiple arrests. At the same time, he is making plenty of money selling drugs. But it’s a dangerous, stressful life. You can’t relax. You can’t rest. You can’t stop looking over your shoulder. There’s always someone trying to take what you’ve got, whether it’s cash, drugs, customers, or territory. Sometimes they’re even after your life. As a result, David was growing weary. Plus, he saw his younger brother and sister start to walk down the same path he’d chosen. Deep down inside he knew he was leading them into a lifestyle filled with pain and misery.
As he grew more despondent, his thoughts wandered toward the little Catholic Church in his neighborhood. He’d walked by its front door hundreds of times. One day he chose to walk in rather than walk by. It was the middle of a weekday. There was no service going on. It was just David. But as it turns out, it wasn’t just David. God met him there that day. David dropped to his knees and asked for help. He made God a promise. If God would get him out of the pit he’d dug, he would serve God. And David had a specific idea about what that service would look like. David wanted to be a lawyer.
Today, against all odds, David is indeed a lawyer. He owns his own legal firm in Atlanta, Georgia. David attributes this legal miracle to God’s intervention in his life. But David has taken things one step further. In addition to his law practice, he has started a non-profit called RED, Inc. “Red” was David’s street name. However, in the context of his non-profit it’s an acronym that stands for “Rehabilitation Enables Dreams.”
RED, Inc. is dedicated to fighting recidivism. Recidivism is that social pattern where once an individual is arrested, the likelihood that they will be arrested again and again starts to skyrocket. David thinks this is the result of a flawed legal system and the absence of personal, familial, and educational resources among those who grow up in poverty. He is building a program that has the potential to make a difference in the lives of 1000’s of young first-time offenders who are otherwise likely to go to jail over and over again, just like David did. All this is pretty amazing for a man who used to make his living selling drugs.
David’s life illustrates a pattern that God wants to hardwire into all of our lives. Granted, David’s circumstances are a bit more dramatic than most. But the pattern is the same for all of us. It consists of an on-going, two part cycle.
First, God wants to begin to lift us out of our own mess. The word “mess” here refers to the things we think and do that cause our lives to be less than what God hopes for us. Sometimes these things are obvious, sensational, and illegal, as was the case in David’s story. But for most of us, these things are much more subtle. It turns out that jealousy is just as spiritually deadly as cocaine. And gossip is just as evil as robbery. Either way, God calls us out of our mess. We Christians call this a variety of things. Some of us say this is about getting saved. Others talk about the start of a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Still others talk about beginning their faith journey. Whatever it’s called, it’s all about starting to rely on God’s grace to help us leave behind a messy life.
The second part of the cycle has to do with being sent back out to help others who are still deeply ensnared in their own mess. God doesn’t wait to send us until we have completely exited our own mess. This is because that process typically takes a lifetime. The point here is simple – God uses messy people to help messy people. Otherwise there would be nobody for God to use. So at some point we find that God is at work on our mess while, simultaneously, God is starting to use us to help other messy people. This is what a life dedicated to following Jesus looks like.
There are a lot of stories in the New Testament that make this point. One of my favorites is found in the Gospel of Mathew. In this particular incident we find Jesus is having dinner with some very messy people. The Pharisees (the very religious people of the time) think this is inappropriate. They think that godly people shouldn’t associate with messy people. Jesus hears of their criticism and says:
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 RSV
The point is this – if our Lord, who was perfect, hung out with messy people, shouldn’t we do the same? If Jesus forms relationships with messy people in order to redeem their lives, isn’t that something we should be a part of?
The answer to these questions is “Yes.” If we’re going to follow Jesus, He will eventually lead us out into a very messy world. That’s where He is at work. This will require us to step outside of our comfort zones. We will be off balance. We won’t always know what to say. We’ll wonder if we’re being too religious or not Christ-like enough. There are no formulas out there. We’ll be forced to depend on the promptings of the Spirit. But we will be on the front lines of what God is doing in the world. And the opportunity to be a part of that is worth more than words can say. Just ask David Windecher.
John Hambrick is part of the leadership team at Buckhead Church (the urban campus of North Point Community Church). His experience in Pakistan, London, South Africa, and inner-city Los Angeles has given him a unique perspective on what God is doing in the world. Move Toward the Mess is his first book. John and his wife, Patty, have two children and reside in Atlanta, Georgia. Find him at www.johnhambrick.net.
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