by Pastor Dan Miller
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections. It appears here verbatim.
While I attended seminary, my wife and I rented a tiny apartment in the inner city. In three short years, we witnessed more crime and violence than one might see in a month of cop shows. Within a block of our home, we saw street fights, guns, prostitution, drug activity, car thefts, stalking and more.
One night, our elderly next door neighbors were dragged out onto their front lawn, beaten and robbed. A man was shot to death on the street a half block from our home. In the parking lot below our living room window, I saw one man hold a gun to another man’s head in broad daylight. Drunks sometimes slept on the front steps of our apartment building. Men repeatedly harassed my wife on the street.
There are some things about living in that neighborhood I will never miss. There are other things, however, that I miss very much. What I may miss most is the consistent opportunity to speak with people—often complete strangers—who were willing to talk freely about the miseries of life and the emptiness of their souls. I loved that environment.
It was in this context that I met Darryl. Darryl talked about the inequities and miseries of life as comfortably as suburbanites talk about the weather. With considerable ease, he relayed memories of a haunted childhood—divorced parents, a dad who lived down the street but never spoke to him, desperate poverty, cowering in fear under the kitchen table as his gun wielding brothers came home with another take of stolen property, and on and on it went.
Darryl was a troubled soul. He was nearly destitute, psychologically unstable, and enslaved to a number of destructive habits. The refreshing thing was that Darryl was not the least bit afraid to discuss his misery. In fact, he was almost desperate to talk to anyone who could help him cope with life. I’m quite sure that is the only reason he ever talked to me—a complete stranger—in the first place.
Over time I explained to Darryl that the root of his problems was ultimately moral in nature. He had offended a holy God who took his sin seriously (Romans 3:10). I went on to explain that Jesus Christ paid the debt of our sin by bearing the divine sentence against human guilt, in his own body, on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). I explained that Christ defeated death by rising from the grave and that, in light of these biblical truths, God could wash Darryl’s sins away and set his soul free. Darryl listened. Slowly, he began to understand. Eventually, he believed.
Darryl was not transformed into a “normal guy” overnight, but he had found hope. And, true to form, he wasn’t afraid to let others know about it.
As part of my seminary training, I stood on a busy street corner from time to time, handing out Christian literature and seeking to offer hope on the streets. I am definitely not a natural at such bold approaches, but I was dutifully seeking to make a difference in my neighborhood.
On one such outing, I spotted Darryl walking toward me down the sidewalk. He wore a new, black T-shirt. Emblazoned across the chest in bold white letters was the message: “HOPE IS HERE.”
He asked me what I was doing. I offered a brief, drab explanation which he apparently found inspiring. Before I knew what was happening, he had half my stack of literature in his hand, walked right into the busy street, and began speaking to the drivers of cars stopped at a traffic light. In stunned disbelief, I watched as he moved from car to car, addressing each bewildered driver courteously but boldly. “Here, want some hope?” he would ask, as he extended literature to them through their open car windows.
Part of me wanted to crawl in a hole and pretend I did not know Darryl. On the other hand, I was proud of him—and not a little rebuked by his enthusiasm for the hope that now possessed him.
I miss that neighborhood, and as life circumstances would have it, I miss Darryl. People in suburbia seem far less willing to talk about spiritual needs. But I remind myself that despite physical location and economic advantages, the human heart is naturally restless and in need of hope. And to borrow Darryl’s line, “hope is here.” That is good news indeed, no matter where you live, and no matter what advantages you do or do not enjoy.
Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Unless we humbly reach out to God and realize our joy in him, we really don’t have anything, no matter what our bank accounts and personal possessions may seem to tell us.
|Dan Miller has served as senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church (Savage, MN) since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (Owatonna, MN) with a B.S. degree in 1984. His graduate degrees include an M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Dan is married to Beth, and the Lord has blessed them with four children.