Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are you ready for a party?

Luke 14:16-24 (New International Version)
Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "

I have always loved this parable! And even more after the Lord used it to lead me into the lives of kids with disabilities. I always loved it in the first place because it identified with those not getting the initial invitation. Growing up was an uphill battle for me, especially after all my friends passed up my permanent 5’4” status after the 8th grade. But it was uphill for serious reasons. My dad’s sudden death at 11 and a mother so needy that she could not parent me. I often felt like an orphan and second rate. So I turned towards sports and achievement in general. I pressed and pressed to succeed. It seemed 100% of the time I was the second or third option, constant rejection.

My big goal was to go on the Young Life staff. This was something I heard from God at the age of 17. When I met my new friends with disabilities at Blackford High School, I was on my third rejection from staff while others were eagerly courted; and this is why I LOVE this parable. Jesus was saying that there was a place for me at His party. I am invited.

Then I met my new friends and they translated this parable for me in greater ways. I realized that this world is full of people whose lives are too full for God and the things of God. They have it all: talents, money, possessions, status and incredible business. What they do not have is time for a party. But when I met my friends, they had very little, but what they did have was time and a heart open wide and ready to be filled. So when we invited them to the party, which was club, they came like stampeding buffalo. They were being invited to the party with all their friends and they did not come up with lame excuses, like I just bought a cow. They came and they wanted in on everything. The first time I threatened to pie a kid, instead of shying away, they all raised their hands asking to be pied. So we obliged and I didn’t want to be rude.

What does this tell us? God’s kingdom is for those who are empty, for those rejected, for those not believed in and for those at least a little bit desperate. The kingdom is for those who struggle, who doubt, who are misunderstood, for those who have lost a lot, for those not picked or an after-thought if they are. The kingdom is for those who are hoping and waiting so long that when they get an invitation they cannot wheel, walk or crawl fast enough to get there. In short, YL Capernaum is the place for kids, leaders, staff, committee and donors like this. I have learned over the years that this is the place for the most “disabled” of all, typical kids who are shattered on the inside, but look good on the outside.

I thank God everyday for leading me to the place of realizing that in all my many disabilities, that I am loved and accepted with my friends. YL Capernaum is truly a ministry WITH kids with disabilities and not a ministry TO them. Let us go to the party together.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happy Birthday YL Capernaum

“Do not despise small beginnings.” Haggai

Happy Birthday YL Capernaum!

Today is the 24th anniversary of the very first YL Capernaum Club here in San Jose, CA. It was March 10, 1986. After 3 failed attempts, the YL Capernaum Project as we first named it, burst from a dream into a reality. Twenty-four years ago, I turned the YL Capernaum Van into the school parking lot to see 5 screaming kids in wheelchairs, trying to leap out of their chairs. Their names are: Jim, Bret, Alison, John and Lori. Lori, by the way, has been a volunteer with us for nearly 20 years. As I watched this spectacle, I thought to myself, “What are they so excited about? They haven’t even attended club.” (That is because there hadn’t been one yet) I understood so little then. I was about to buckle up for a roller coaster ride for the next 24 years.

The ride to club made me wonder if they had been drinking because they were so excited. We gathered together, 5 kids in wheelchairs, 5 Campaigner kids (Ted, Susan, Sheri, Cynthia, Teresa) & 4 adult leaders (Kelly, Valerie, Mary Ann and Me). There was more joy, laughter and anticipation in that small gathering than in any other club I had ever attended. Nothing went smoothly, everything I normally did in club had to be adjusted, including the club talk. When I began my club talk they interrupted me and wanted to talk about death, because their bus driver had just passed away. So my first club talk was about death and Jesus. Over the next 24 years, there would be 22 other times to talk about death, as various friends from club passed away.

I didn’t have any experience then, but what I did know was that these were the poor in spirit that Jesus told us would inherit the kingdom. They ate up everything that was put before them: music, skits, laughter, friendship, food, drinks and Jesus! Wow! What a day! Later I found out from their teachers that they talked about club all week long until the next club.

Lori Semas, one of the first 5 kids, came for the whole next year and then graduated. Her mom asked me, “So is she just thrown out now?” That was the beginning of Club Beyond, our post high school club. Lori went on to volunteer in that same high school club. Today on this 24th anniversary, Lori and I will do the club talk together in the same club that began 24 years ago. Now we have 30 kids instead of 5, plus staff, college and high school leaders.

What a joy to look into our friends’ eyes with Lori and let them know this all began because God did not forget them. To let them know that there is a God so madly in love with them that He sent His son Jesus who said of people with special needs “they were born this way to show the glory of God.” (John 9:3) What a joy to look back 24 years ago and see the mother club that has birthed YL Capernaum Ministries around the world. As I look back, I am in a state of worship that with God nothing is impossible. And believe me, there have been many times when YL Capernaum seemed impossible.

You are a link in a chain that is growing larger and stronger every day. I want to encourage you to press on in the power of the Holy Spirit for the long haul. There were plenty of opportunities to quit and many times I wanted to. There was a span of time where my friends wanted me to quit and even my wife wanted me to do so.
But every time God met me in a kid’s face, and my call was renewed. As Paul said,

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in trouble, hardships and disappointments; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine yet regarded impostors, known yet regarded as unknown, dying and yet making many rich, having nothing, yet possessing everything. We have always spoken freely to you Corinthians (Capernaum kids) and opened our hearts wide to you.
2 Corinthians 6:3-11

I thank God that He gave me the grace to stay. I would never have seen all the miracles, wonders, signs and healings that He was going to perform. So my friends, by the grace of God endure hardships as a good solider of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3) because God has great things ahead for you and your ministry. I am so excited for the next 24 years!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why do we do, what we do?

Twenty-four years of YL Capernaum! Why do we do what we do? For me it still comes every moment of every day in the face of my club kid Antwon when I turned him in his bed at camp 24 years ago. I hear Jesus voice everyday, “It is me you turned. It’s me you stood by.” To this day that gives me chills and sustains me. It is only knowing that our kids are Jesus in disguise that can sustain us through deficits, disappointments, and struggles with leaders or committee, our own failures and weariness. Yes, we are sustained when we are able to look a kid in the eye and see the face of Jesus.

There is so much we have to do: GPS Stats, strategic plans, goals, meetings, training, conferences and T.D.S., to name a few. So much we are called to and charged with, but if we ever lose sight of the face of Jesus in a kid, we are irrelevant. Our mission is to pursue the Jesus who is rejected, alone and miserable. The Jesus in a wheelchair, sentenced to suffering and an early death. The Jesus that lies in a hospital bed and whose parents have abandoned Him.

It’s this Jesus we have been granted the privilege to serve, feed and care for. As we do, we enter into sharing His suffering as Paul says in Colossians. Is there a greater honor? It’s the honor that can sustain us when along with our kids we feel ignored, misunderstood or rejected. At that point we rejoice because we have this ministry by God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 4:1) to draw close to Jesus.

May you be blessed with joy this week as you see Jesus in a kids’ face.

Sharing in His sufferings,