[A] Mile Wide And An Inch Deep. I am fond of the term “Ragamuffin”. It reminds me of my mother. The context of the word when used by her was one of endearment. She used it often when referring to me. Sure, she implied a degree of unkempt appearance and a touch of misdirection. Seeing the light in her eyes when she used the word, she also conveyed to a young man that while independent and a bit of a rascal, she thought I had what it took, that she was proud of me and I would be ok.

Fast forward to the age of 53 and it is no surprise that one of my favorite books is Brennan Manning’s huge seller, The Ragamuffin Gospel. A beautiful outline of God’s love and grace. The very idea that God has a heart for Ragamuffins, that indeed Jesus came not for the healthy but for the sick.

Sometimes I prefer to consider only the life defined by a mother who let me know that I was worthy and a Savior who has offered me grace. In the interest of honesty to myself and others I am compelled to fill in the time frame. I as a very young man took the concept of being a Ragamuffin to an extreme and self centered level. I employed the idea of independence and selfishly it was manifested in addictive behavior. While I was designed with a heart for others I could not during this time make choices or act in any way other than what reflected my own self interest. I drank alcoholically from the age of 17 to early into my my 34th year. I lived in an addictive manner in most every area of my life during this period. In an effort to keep my family intact I found myself in a room of Alcoholics Anonymous. In all honesty I sat there with the idea of taking the heat off at home. What I heard at that speaker meeting was a man telling my story. He told my story, the actions, the feelings, the regret. I entered the room in a selfish attempt to placate my wife and I left the room with a program to live by. My life became different and it slowly started to get better. I was able to witness my own heart begin to melt. In essence I was re-introduced to the heart, which God designed for me. I began to hear a whisper that there was more to be done, that living a sober life was not the end game. Jesus was calling. I accepted the call and quickly realized that it had been Jesus and not my own best thinking that had set me down in that first room of A.A. I found a church and became involved in men’s Bible studies and men’s lives. The investment that these many men made in my life allowed my heart to further soften and grow. I read God’s Word cover to cover with these men enough times to gain a foundation and start to understand that God indeed had a plan for me. It was at this time I started to experience a growing discontent. I was doing an awful lot of reading God’s word. I was studying and learning but feeling an undefined emptiness. The whisper became almost audible for me, that The Gospel of Jesus was more than a story to be dissected and studied. The Gospel was in fact a call to action. I was a Christian who was “a mile wide and an inch deep”.

I sat in my own inaction for some period of time until Jesus put a man in my life who would become a dear friend and who would teach me that action for the Kingdom is not only possible but joyful. Dan Stoner had been going to Skid Row with the Frontline Foundation for a number of years to feed homeless and hurting people. He would tell me stories as we sat on the sideline and watched our daughters play soccer. Many weeks passed as I considered his weekly trip from Orange County to Northridge on to downtown Los Angeles, returning through Northridge and back to Orange County. Thankfully Dan’s invitation eventually broke through my objections like a 2 x 4 to the head. From the moment I first stepped out of the van onto the streets of skid row I felt at home. I finally understood the joy of allowing the Gospel of Christ to come to life through action. We continued to go to skid row on nearly a weekly basis for two more years. I was blessed by the joy of putting others before myself. I was also blessed by a relationship, which illustrated for me the Proverb; “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”.

An odd thing, when you really give your heart to Jesus he will speak directly into it. I heard the familiar whisper. It came in the form of an uneasiness that I needed to bring this joy closer to home. I seemed to have direction that what logistically prevented others from sharing the joy needed to be somehow duplicated within their consistent reach. My son Stuart and I began going to the Santa Ana River trail, discovering new friends among the homeless who call that area their home. We brought them items we thought they might need or may just brighten their day. Through these new friends we discovered a day coming open to serve lunch at Mary’s Kitchen. Mary’s being a place where six of seven days a week hurting folks can get a hot meal, shower and do their laundry. Our weekly blessing of being at Mary’s on Saturdays began and has now continued for nearly three years.

It is at Mary’s that I truly learned that to be effective and to make a real difference in someone’s life that I needed to extend myself into relationship. Through these relationships and friendships we have earned the right to really be a part of their lives. Mix in a bit of discernment and the formula for being a blessing in another’s life is established. Blessings for others and blessings for us…..Joy Squared! No longer a mile wide and an inch deep. I invite you to join us as we desire to go deeper and live the Gospel of Grace. We are the church!