Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Least of These

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to preach at Soul Food CafĂ©, a mission outreach in Conway, AR. It was one of those times where despite my best efforts, I had been completely unable to come up with a message to give. 
Nada. Zilch. Nothing.  
So when they handed me the microphone, I simply said “My name is Jessica,” and started to pray, knowing it would be good because it would be all on God. 

It was. It was a good message. But when I think about that day, any words that came from my mouth pale in comparison to the juggernaut that sat before me. Poverty. That oppressive thing. Big, ugly, stinking, sucking poverty.  

You know, I can’t stop thinking about it. Every Tuesday, this place opens and feeds hundreds of people. They come in because they are in a shelter, or a rehab, or because they are simply having a hard time making the budget stretch until the next paycheck. They get a hot plate of food and a box of items donated from grocery stores with expiration dates that have since passed.   

Volunteers in red t-shirts serve beans or spaghetti or garlicky bread and they pack boxes or cut hair or pray. And every week, the people come. Because they have needs that are not met and they hear of a place full of people willing to meet them.   

Most go for the spaghetti. Not Jesus. But they find Him anyway.   

They told me to be prepared for a loud audience. They told me I might have to hush them up, because they came for the spaghetti and they’d be in line to get it. I didn’t have to hush them though, and they weren’t loud. They were too captivated by the words being spoken over them. I saw it. I saw the tears in their eyes as God used me to tell them, “You are a masterpiece. You are an heir to the Kingdom. You are a child of the King. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.”  

I preached twice, prayed with half a dozen people, ate a plate of spaghetti and left in awe of what strong truth will do for lost and hurting people. Then I went home, got on Facebook and within just a few minutes, I had come across a news story with a long line of comments dogging welfare recipients and thugs and all sorts of the people that I had just preached to. Of course, the world is broken. Of course, these comments shouldn’t shock me and they wouldn’t if they had been made by the broken world. What bothered me was the fact that many of these comments came from professed Christians. 
I walked away from the computer without commenting but I’m still being haunted by the juxtaposition of that hour  

My friend Jennifer cuts hair in the back room of Soul Food. She sits addicts down in her chair and makes them feel like people again. She sits men and women 2 weeks out of the state pen down in her chair and makes them feel value again. They get haircuts they would not be able to afford otherwise. They are made presentable to obtain jobs and a chance at a new beginning. More importantly, they also get the gospel. They receive healing. They get delivered. Because they meet Jesusobviously. But they meet Him through Jennifer. They meet Him because someone took the initiative to show them what love looks like by giving them something they couldn’t afford without expecting anything in return. Do you know how many people are bewildered by that concept?  

We’re so comfortable, this nation. I wonder how many Christians click on celebrity news stories about sex changes and divorces, but walk by homeless men needing a dollar or a prayer. What are we turning our heads and reaching our hand to? Is it Jesus? 

I don’t mean to be condemning. I really don’t. Unfortunately the action of humans is condemning enough. My only hope is to bring some perspective so we can self-examine. So we can be better. 

We live in a country so consumed with want that need goes unmet right under our noses. Yeah, I’ve heard the arguments. They had choices to make. They screwed up. They made their bed. But telling them to lie in that bed is not a Christian concept.  

One of the women I prayed with at Soul Food was named Shirley. I took her in the back and we talked for a while. She’s been clean for a month but there’s no security in the shelter she’s living in so the money she’s trying to save keeps getting stolen. 

As we prayed, I opened my eyes and noticed an oozing scab on her knee dripping blood down onto on her low, white sock. She must have been wearing them for a couple of days based on the color of the blood stains. I noticed how small her feet were, so much smaller than my own feet, which I have always considered plain. I don’t pay for pedicures like so many of my friends, but when I looked down and saw my clean, plain feet in 100 dollar Birkenstocks next to hers in her bloody socks, my heart was grief-stricken. Why do I have so much? 

She was molested for the first time at age 9 when her mother used to make deals with the neighbor for her to go over to visit while his sons came to do yard work. She’s 59 now, and she didn’t want me to pray for her to get more money or to get a new car or to have a great new job or a husband or any of the things we privileged Christians might petition God for. No. Shirley asked for me to pray for her to be able to sleep at night.    

So I did.   

And then I went home and saw professed Christians making comments about welfare rats and white trash. I didn’t comment, but I am now.   

How dare you talk about Shirley like that? How dare you say such Christ-less things, you with your computer with internet and your clean socks and your childhood where you weren’t prostituted to the neighbor in exchange for someone to mow the lawn? Was it really her choices? And if it was, does it really matter?  

Didn’t Jesus say to feed His sheep? Didn’t He say to do it for the least?  Are you using your privilege to follow that command or are you staying comfortable?  The brokenness of the world is an opportunity for those who know Jesus to introduce Him to others. The brokenness of our world screams the need for revival and love and a savior. And it is up to us to be the conduit for that.   

There aren’t enough Christians willing to leave their comfort zone and love people. Even though they know that’s exactly what Jesus did for them. While we were still sinners, He left His throne and loved us. He bandaged up our scabby knees and pulled us from our poverty. And He loved us first so we could then love others in return.  

Open your eyes. Quiet your opinion. Reach out your hand.  

When you do it for the least of them, when you do it for Shirley, you do it for Him.      

To sow into what Soul Food is doing, see their website here. You can also connect with them on Facebook

A Weight of Revival

This article originally appeared on The Worship Center Blog
by Jessica Sowards
A couple of weeks ago, the Lord woke me up very early on a Sunday morning.  I hadn’t been dreaming and I had no overwhelming feeling of His presence or power resting on me. What it actually felt like was a very ordinary moment in a completely quiet house at 4 a.m.
I turned my lamp on, picked up my bible and flipped through it, stopping in Matthew at the Parable of the Talents. Immediately, I knew this was what He meant for me to read. I assumed He was giving me a word for collecting the offering at church, one of the duties of being on the pastoral team.
It wasn’t about money though. And it wasn’t the message I’ve heard preached multiple times before about people using their spiritual gifts for the kingdom.
A year ago, when God called me out of comfortable Christianity and trapped revival in my bones, everything changed. It was as if the world and the walk I knew was suddenly viewed through fire-tinted glasses. Every injustice and every darkness I saw on the news just cried out the need for revival. The lukewarm church has been comfortable in bathwater religion for too long and the water is growing colder by the minute. Soon they will all seek heat or freeze. We are a nation poised and desperate for the fire of God.
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30) tells a story of a master who left his possessions to his servants while he went away for a time.  To the first, he left five talents. This servant was faithful to work with what he had been given and double it. The second servant was left with two talents, and he was also faithful to double his portion. The third servant was left one talent which he buried in the ground and did not double or even collect interest on. So when the master returned, he had nothing to give back except what he had been given. He was scolded and cast away.
I’ve always read this and dismissed the third, slothful servant as the other Christians. You know the kind, the Christmas and Easter church goers that identify with Christianity to the extent of their Facebook status but not beyond it.  I was wrong.
The word “servant” or “slave” in this parable actually comes from the Greek word doulos. It is referring to believers who willingly live under Christ’s authority as His devoted followers. It is the very same word used in Joel 2:29 and Acts 2:18, in reference to the servants who would have the Spirit poured out on them. It is a word used with great honor throughout the New Testament to refer to followers like Peter and Paul and Timothy. The parable is, in short, a story of the burning ones.
This realization alarmed me. I immediately began to scour the Strong’s Concordance to learn what the living word of God was conveying in this hour.  And then I heard it. It’s revival.
A talent isn’t actually an amount of money. It’s a measurement of weight equivalent to about 130 pounds. And while the ESV says the master distributed the talents based on each man’s personal ability, the original text more descriptively says the distribution was based on each man’s private strength.
Being a forerunner to revival is not for the faint of heart. It’s a heavy weight of something hugely important and immeasurably precious. The cry for repentance cannot come from a mouth that hasn’t already cried out to God its own repentance. It takes a passion grown in the secret place to be able to carry this weight. It takes a deeply rooted yearning for clean hands and a pure heart. It takes a private strength only truly known by the Master.  He distributes accordingly.
This parable is a promise. Each treasured weight of outpouring placed in the hands of a faithful servant will be multiplied. Those who are willing to sacrifice their agendas and give up their plans to host His presence will see a great increase. Those who recognize that He is not doling out useless currency will get an opportunity to serve Him. Seeing the value of who He is and what He intends to do, they will go at once to make the most of what He gives them.
These servants were not competing to be the best servant or the most noticed. They did not do anything for their own personal gain. There was no confusion about who owned the riches. Even the profit they earned was presented with only one hope: to enter into His joy. Man cannot own revival because man cannot create revival. It is truly a bestowment of a wealthy master willing to trust us with His presence. No part of it belongs to us, even if we are so fortunate to see it multiply while in our possession.
What we do with it is up to us. We can act on it immediately, making His work our identity, pleasing our Father and treasuring His love and awesome power. The result of this is to share in His joy, to see a world transformed and the body revived.
Or we can bury it in the ground and sit on it.
See, this parable is also a warning. A sad ratio of the servants of God will not recognize revival when it is handed to them. Perhaps they will be embittered that their brother received a heavier measure than them. Perhaps they will think themselves above the required humility or they won’t want the mess. Perhaps they will be distracted by the demands of the world and accidentally let their good intentions expire. Maybe they just have the wrong idea of what God looks like and are too hard-hearted to see Him for who He really is.
It could be that they just believe the lie of the enemy saying they aren’t worthy. They become disabled by the idea that what they do might not please their Master. They believe Him to be hard and unfair because they have settled for a small view of a very big and great God. So they pass by the small opportunities to spread revival, the ones that come in grocery stores and the back row of sanctuaries, the opportunities that aren’t glamorous. They give up and think they will just stay comfortable and saved, lest they step out and make a mistake.
Regardless of the reason, any buried measure of His presence is a wasted opportunity to grow this desperately needed move of God.
It’s not too late. If you buried your measure, dig it up now. Don’t delay. Treat it as a right and a treasure and forsake everything to make it grow. If you are already multiplying what He’s given you, carry on.
He’s coming back soon. And I don’t know about you, but I want more than anything to hear those words: Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Today, I launched a new Facebook page so I could more easily connect with the people who follow this blog as well as my Christian writing/speaking. I appreciate your prayers and encouragement more than I could ever say. You can follow me here. Thank you!