Monthly Archives: April 2014

Stories That Have Shaped Us: Endless Mercy

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been sharing some stories that God has used to impact us over the years. Today’s post isn’t a particular story, it’s more of a theme that runs through everything we do. It’s a thought process that has been shaped by God’s endless mercy in our own sin-riddled lives and our encounters with those God has put in our path….

“Mercy, mercy as endless as the sea.” A verse from a song we sing in worship that really make me think about how good my God is to me. Jesus hung on a cross and died for all my sins. He forgives me when I come to him repentant and broken by the sins I commit against Him. And those sins are no more. He and He alone forgives. I don’t deserve any of God’s mercy. None of us do. But God loved us!

As I think about how God’s mercy is ever so present in my life, I can’t help but ask myself these questions: “How do I show God’s mercy with the people we come in contact with everyday? How does God’s mercy play out in my life?”

To me, everything starts in my mind. I don’t just go out and sin most of the time. It starts as a thought. I think about it. I think about options. I may even think about how to execute this sin. At some point the thoughts are put to action and I sin. I am now separated from my God. At this point the devil really moves in and starts to dominate my thoughts. He wants me to feel guilty. He wants me to think there is nothing I can do and there is no forgiveness. He wants me to run. I may feel embarrassed, even depressed. He wants me to think there is no Hope.

This is where we find a lot of the people we work with. They are struggling with sin. Their sin backlog is so large and hasn’t been dealt with in many years. The devil wreaks havoc in their minds, convincing them there is no way out. There is no forgiveness. The devil has set up camp and doesn’t plan on moving out. Their thought lives are completely under his control.

So…since we’ve received such endless mercy, how do we respond to people so blinded by their sin? We love. We serve. We pray. We share truth. We battle. We pray. We love. We serve. We wait on our Lord to change hearts, for He alone can change the heart of man.



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Stories That Have Shaped Us: The Crushing Weight of Pride

“You guys can’t leave me. I don’t have anywhere to go.”

“If y’all don’t _______________, I’m going to have to ______________.”

“If y’all don’t keep helping me I’m going to end up selling myself to make it.”

“Y’all are all I have.”

I took statements like these to heart. I internalized them. I carried them. And they pushed me to a dark, dark place. These are just a few examples of things people we work with have said to us over the years. And I carried the weight of those statements in an extremely unhealthy way.

You see, many of the folks we work with don’t have healthy relationships with family or friends. They’ve never learned personal responsibility. And they don’t understand the concept of boundaries. So, when you begin to help them, it’s easy for them to see you as their everything. They see you as the “be-all, end-all” of their functioning and decision-making. They love you to death when things are going well, but once they go south, you become the enemy.

And so, there was a period of time a little over a year ago when this pushed me to a bad place. I wouldn’t verbalize this or admit that it was true, but I began to believe that their functioning and success was my responsibility. I wanted to save them. I carried the weight of that. So when things were going all right, it was all good. But when it was bad, it crushed me. And this impacted everything in my life. I couldn’t disengage from it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It constantly ate at me.

I talked to my wife about it a lot. I talked to close friends. I talked to a counselor a couple of times. And everything they said made so much sense. It was so logical. And I knew it all was true in my head, but I couldn’t shake the weight of what I felt. I know that part of it stemmed from a genuine desire God has given me to help those in need. But if I’m honest, I also know that much of it had to do with pride. It was about me doing a good job. It was about me being successful. I wanted people to know that what we were doing was working.

Things have gotten better over the last 7-8 months. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment when things changed. It happened over time. I know people were praying for me. I know I prayed a lot. I know my wife was patient with me…so, so patient with me. And over time things got better, but it’s still something I struggle with. I’m learning to set better boundaries. I’m fighting my pride and trying to trust God more and more to do an amazing work in the lives of those we work with. And as simple and basic as it sounds, I’m daily reminding myself that Jesus is the only one that can save people and be their everything.


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Stories That Have Shaped Us: The Needle

It was really painful for her. It was difficult. As tears ran down her face and fell to the ground she told me she had something that was not good for her that she must give to me. She turned and walked to a chest of drawers and reached into a drawer. I couldn’t see what she pulled out as she turned toward me. The closer she got go me, her crying turned to whaling. Slowly trembling, she extended her hand and placed the item in my hand. She collapsed into a chair and continued crying loudly saying, “Why did I give it to you?”

I looked into my hand and dropped the item on the ground and as I lifted my foot to crush it her crying became uncontrollable.

It’s obvious that this item had great value to her. It gave her, in her mind, some kind of peace. It allowed her to not feel the deep-seeded problems in her life that were causing her so much pain.


Her item was an empty syringe; she used it to shoot heroin. This probably seems pretty crazy and extreme to most of us. I know it seemed that way to me, but the more I thought about it, the more it hit me. We all struggle. We all have that “thing” in our life. What’s that thing that’s not good for you that causes you concern or maybe even brings you great pain to even think about parting with? It’s really as simple as this: we hold onto the sinful things in our life thinking that we gain some kind of comfort or peace from the very thing that is actually destroying us. A lot of the times we even like it, which makes it even more difficult to release.

When we first sin it doesn’t seem that bad. It doesn’t see like that big of a deal. But the devil can take our little dabble in sinful things and grow a full-blown addiction or worse. Sin at any level destroys us. It separates us from our God. And we simply can’t afford that separation. And that separation will never lead to peace.


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Stories That Have Shaped Us: Birthdays & Relapse

I was talking to a guy we work with the other day on his birthday. He was riding home from work to his new apartment. I wished him “happy birthday” and encouraged him about how well he was doing. He told me that his son and daughter were swinging by that night to spend some time with him. I knew having his family over to his own place was a big deal to him and I told him that it was awesome.

He said, “Man, Mark, I don’t know what to do with all of it.” I asked him what he meant. He told me it was the first time in a long time that he wasn’t getting high on his birthday or wanting to kill himself and it was just a lot for him to process and think about.

When you wade through the messiness of someone’s life alongside them, it can suck for a really long time. But then there are moments like this…moments where you’re excited and proud of someone.

This guy is my friend. I’m thankful he’s my friend. And what really pissed me off is that he relapsed the next day. This is the nature of what goes on when you enter into the mess of someone’s life. There are ups and downs and joys and frustrations and times where you’re cussing mad and want to tell someone to just go away. This is what keeps you up at night and makes it hard to disengage from “work” when you get home. And through it all you have to fight for perspective and balance and wisdom. Because as mad as I get, the reality is that it isn’t about me


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Stories That Have Shaped Us: The Beginning

Sometimes it’s hard for us to explain what we do. Sure, it’s easy to say that we work with people of need and help them through the process of getting back on their feet. But it’s hard to convey all that goes into that. It’s easy to describe the practical things we do, but it can be difficult to describe the emotional investment that is involved and how that impacts us, our team of volunteers, and the people we work with.

So, we’re going to spend some time here on the blog telling you some stories…stories of things that have happened over the years that have impacted us and helped shape who we are and how we approach and think about things. We think this will be a good way for us to give you a deeper picture of what Urban Purpose is about.

For the first story, we thought it would be good to go back to the beginning…

In January of 2009, Jim and I (Mark) took a group of students from Shades to pass out blankets and coats downtown. We also took some hot chocolate, brownies, and hand warmers with us. This was the first time Jim and I had done anything together in downtown Birmingham. We had a pretty large group of homeless folks come to us that day.

One thing I distinctly remember about that day is that it was cold. I’m talking really cold. I was freezing. However, if you know Jim, you’re not surprised to hear that he was wearing shorts; shorts and a pair of hiking boots.

A few of the students needed to get back to their cars at the church, so I was going to take them back a little early. I wasn’t complaining about this because, like I said, I was freezing.

As I was wrapping up a conversation with a guy, I turned around and noticed something: Jim wasn’t wearing his boots. He was just standing there in the grass in his socks. And there was a homeless guy standing next to him holding the boots.

I knew it was on from that moment forward. Five years later, here we are and God has been so good to us. I’m thankful for Jim, his friendship, his heart, and the chance to go hard every day after what God has called us to do.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Kristen Minor, Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy

6 April 6

Name: Kristen Minor

Where are you from? Tuscaloosa, AL (currently in Homewood)

 Occupation? Student at Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy  

How did you hear about Urban Purpose? I attend Shades Mountain Baptist Church, where I’ve heard about Urban Purpose on several occasions.

Tell us about who you served with and why you came downtown today: 

I served with a group of my fellow second year pharmacy students.  We are taking an elective class called Exploring Medical Missions in pharmacy school. We were looking for a service project to do as a group in Birmingham and I brought up Urban Purpose as an option to serve. We decided this would be a wonderful way to step out of our comfort zone a little and serve others.

Tell us a little bit about what your experience was like downtown:

Our group as a whole really felt humbled and blessed to have the opportunity to serve with Urban Purpose. It was a reminder that people in our own community are in such need. We found it to be such an eye opening experience and have a renewed gratitude for all we have in our own lives. We really enjoyed serving this group of people and were so encouraged by their grateful attitudes. This organization has done an incredible job at building relationships and serving as witnesses to many of the homeless people over time. It’s amazing how people from such different backgrounds can relate to each other and communicate. We realized that no matter your place in life, (such as a group of pharmacy students or a wonderful group of Sunday School members to donate a meal), our common goal is loving others as Christ loved us, and following Jesus’ example of humbly serving others.

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B’ham Mission Trip Recap

A group of students from Shades Mountain Baptist Church invested part of their spring break to come and work with us on a mission trip right here in their own city. We were so blessed to spend time with these students, college leaders and adults and were grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside them.

We want to share some pictures and let you hear from the students and leaders themselves on what they experienced and learned…


Sat Work Project 3

Students working in the community garden at Greater Shiloh.

Prayer Walk Sat

“God showed me that it doesn’t matter where you are, there are always people who need to hear about Him. He opened me up to a more bold and fearless world that I hope to live in for the rest of my life.”

-John Orr

Sat Meal 9

“Part of what I learned came as we talked with those who have found themselves homeless, and in listening to them praise God for what He’s done in their lives.  I was reminded that God’s blessings are not material, but eternal. He says blessed is the man who is poor in spirit, and to pity the rich man-for the poor in spirit seek the Lord with a fervor and understanding that is unique to knowing your absolute need of Christ. I pray that I seek Him this way as well, knowing the Truth of Him and not trusting in fleeting things that pass as quickly as the wind. It is hard to put into words everything I’ve taken from this weekend, but as God and I talk and work through it all, He continues to remind me of the Truth found in these words; “…for the joy of The Lord is my strength..” and it’s to those I have learned to hold fast and hope to convey to others in every opportunity.”

-Rachel Steed

Sun Meal 5

“God used this trip to continue to show me how resistant to change I can be in my own life. It is really easy for me to look at a homeless guy and think how simple (though not necessarily easy) it would be for him to turn his life around by just turning away from alcohol or asking for help getting a job. God has been showing me that in my own life there are equally simple (and arguably easier) changes that I need to make that would make me closer to Him that I am equally resistant to make. Though it is easy for me to prescribe change for other people, I need it just as much as they do, even though I won’t admit it.”

-Christopher Orr 

Sat Meal

“My favorite part of the trip was the time we spent at The Foundry. I had a good experience sharing my story with the guy I was working with and I also got to hear his. It was a cool experience and it showed me how simple and harmless it is to start a conversation about Christ and my relationship with Him.”

-John Orr 

Foundry 5

We spent Monday morning working at the Foundry’s thrift store sorting items and building relationships with the residents.

Foundry 9

“It was good to see the hearts of other people that I know very well in our meetings. People opened up and shared their hearts in a more personal setting that I have not seen much of. The personal and group growth I saw and experienced on this trip was what was most meaningful and eye opening to me.”

-John Orr

Mental Health Seminar

Students discussing mental issues, drug abuse and depression in a seminar on mental health issues, led by licensed counselor and Urban Purpose partner, Gwen Crumpton.

” I simply want to remind people of how impactful a commitment to this ministry can be on your life. God is clearly at work in this city and in this ministry, and a simple two hour commitment each Sunday, or in some other capacity with the ministry, can allow God to work through you in reaching this city for the Gospel. ”

-James Orr

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