Climb the Stairwell

Stairwell Pic

Back in the 90’s we would take our new staff into East New York, Brooklyn, for their first brush with evangelism. It never failed that the beat cops would stop our group, point to the subway and say, “leave! It’s too dangerous for you here.” We didn’t.

We had an affiliate, Willie Branch, who ran a mentoring program at a school called Thomas Jefferson. ‘Jeff’ was a tough place, even by NYC standards. Willie gave us lists of incoming freshmen, and we would go to their homes, explain the program, and then if they were interested, take time to share the Gospel.

One morning a contingent went to an area called Bushwick, armed with gospel booklets. In this neighborhood they had to climb five-story tenements in poorly lit stairwells. At some point the group witnessed a stabbing. When we regrouped around noon at Kentucky Fried Chicken, they were shaking. The leader pulled me aside, and told me, “we can’t go back into that neighborhood.”

Grab some chicken wings,” I said.

Later the team recounted the incident. “What do you want to do?” I asked. They looked around the circle, and all agreed, “go somewhere else!”

We could have sent fresh legs back without the jitters. Yet, God seemed to say, ‘the Satan wants to exploit this, hold court on that block, and stop Christ’s advance. I can use this kind of fresh memory.’

“We’re going back, I said. “There are students on these lists waiting for us.”

Several hours later the group circled up near the stabbing that morning, and gushed of open doors, and student after student indicating they had trusted Christ!

These kind of Christ-on-the-cross-at-noon moments test us in ways that can fall on one side, or the other. The first is redemptive, and the other is not. The first deepens our love, and the later afflicts it. Redemption has us sinking into a deeper and deeper darkness, but feeling the hand of God holding ours, and in that descent, learning to trust Him far greater than we had before. The other sends us into hiding, resentful and annoyed. With plans shattered, we find ourselves wanting to tip toe around God’s will.

Our new recruit’s mission was clear, BUT something harrowing brought it crashing down. It’s always BUT that tests the mettle of our faith. It’s the BUT that removes the smug and comfortable, and causes us to once again visit the origin of our faith, the place where God showed up.

This time God used the BUT, for the purpose of redemption.

The young recruits stood in a semi-circle, beaming. It wasn’t pride that had them floating off the ground, it was love. It wasn’t remembering how they had walked up a dark stairwell in fear, and conquered in the name of Jesus. It was love pure and simple, because love can be best seen when our hearts obey. In the aftermath, the test wasn’t whether or not faith would conquer fear, but whether love would win the day. Love did, and the hearts of every smiling saint testified that the harder it is to obey, the greater will be the afterglow of affection.

So, here’s the invitation:

Climb the stairwell!

When the lights are dim, and the air is foul, and the fighting screams are real. When the creaking sounds of a tired stairwell moan along with your trembling faith…

…Climb the stairwell.

When you see a knife plunge into someone, and you are glued to the floor by a force never felt before…

…Climb the stairwell.

When the door opens and a pensive face greets you from a different culture, from a different race, from a different economic stratosphere, beaten down by a system of generational injustice, under served, under attack by the ravages of a forgotten neighborhood…

…Climb the stairwell.

When your first words falter, and fear chokes you, and you don’t have a single word that seems to connect…

…Climb the stairwell.

You are out of your element, out on waves threatening every moment to capsize your pea-sized faith. Your words tumble out in obedience, but they are stale like too long opened crackers, nonsense to you. Ashamed in your weakness, you cower a little, and excuse your canned speech. But something happens that moves you out of yourself. The person who has opened the door, smiles and welcomes you in, and you take just one step into another world…

You have climbed the stairwell!

The next half hour feels surreal. A brother and sister sit down and listen to the greatest news ever told another human being. Their eyes are clear, their heads nod, and in the end both receive Christ.

In that moment love and obedience are inseparable.

In that moment you realize, that unless you climb the stairwell at every turn, climb up and over the BUT, you may never understand the depth of love’s redemptive power released when you simply obey.

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