Thank you so much for allowing me to be here. I’m so privileged to be at this amazing church with your amazing pastor. I just love Sheila. She came to the Dream Center in LA and walked around the place and she just has such a passion for people, it’s contagious, it’s amazing. How many appreciate that heart to serve others and make a difference? Because influence is never truly influence until it’s been given away to the weakest person in our society. And I’m just privileged to. Well we’re all pastor’s kids and we just want to love people and make a difference. And she just came by and just blessed our socks off with just getting in the trenches, loving people, making a difference and thank you for allowing me to be here with you here today.
Turn your bibles to Proverbs chapter 3 and verse 5. Proverbs chapter three and verse 5. This morning I’m going to speak to you on the subject of finding the cause within you. Finding the cause within you. Proverbs chapter 3 and verse 5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” I’m going to tell you how those twelve words, ‘in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path’ have literally transformed my life.
Father, I pray that You will bless this word. I thank You, God, for a cause and a compelling mission that is upon this place and other places around the world. I pray that we will walk out of this building, Lord, and we will just start using whatever You’ve given us to change the world, in Jesus’ name, amen.
At the age of twenty, my dad wanted to pastor a church in the inner city of Los Angeles. He asked ten different leaders to come and look at the building in the middle of the Rampart police division area of Los Angeles, and every single one of them were excited about planting a church with pastor Tommy Barnett in Los Angeles California until they saw a bunch of gang members trying to break in the back door and every single one of them said I don’t feel led of the spirit to come and pastor this church.
So my dad couldn’t find a real pastor so he found me, a twenty-year-old kid, and he said will you help come for a year to plant a church next to a liquor store in downtown Los Angeles. I was twenty years of age, I was taking over a church that had about twenty plus members in the congregation, and there I was taking over from an eighty-two year old pastor. So in one week they went from the oldest pastor to the youngest pastor. And get this: my dad’s church in Phoenix went from like two hundred to ten thousand in like five years. My church went from eighteen down to two in the first six months. I can tell you how to reduce your church in the first six months.
And I was so discouraged. I’m twenty years of age. I’m the only white kid in within five miles of any direction in my neighborhood. I was so skinny that when I stuck out my tongue I looked like a zipper. I mean and there I was in the middle of the neighborhood trying to pastor. And I’ll never forget when I was twenty years of age, I pastor’d one night and I looked out and nobody showed up in my building. Not even for the free buffet that we had after the service.
I was so discouraged. I went in my apartment in downtown Los Angeles, I got down on my knees, I begin to cry for three hours. I said, ‘God, I’m the biggest failure in all the world. Maybe the anointing was on my grandfather and my father and maybe I’m trying to do something I’m not really called to do.’ When right in the middle of my prayer, God spoke a word to me so profound. He said, ‘I want you to stop your crying right now. I want you to get up and I want you to go to Echo Park.’ Now for God to tell you to go to Echo Park in the middle of the night is a pretty a bold word. I mean they found dead bodies in the bottom of the lake and guns. I thought God was mad at me for being a big old baby and was just going to finish me off in a drive by shooting and get somebody there who really could do the job.
And I’ll never forget that park that night as I was walking through the park I saw helicopters looking for criminals, I saw young boys up against police cars being arrested, I saw homeless people everywhere in the park. And that night, God spoke a word to me that forever changed my life. He said, ‘tonight in this park I want you to die to your dream of being a success and I want you to live the rest of your life building the dreams of others. Tonight I want you to die to all the things that you think you should accomplish in ministry and I want you to spend the rest of your life serving your generation by the will of God. I want you to lay down your plans and I want you to pick up My cause.’
I said, ‘God, what is my cause?’
He said, ‘every person that you see up against police cars being arrested tonight. I want you to live to a cause of serving your generation by the will of God.’
That night everything changed. I went back to my church and back then I was the only pastor. I was the children’s pastor, I was the senior pastor, I was the worship pastor and so I decided in order to start my ministry I’d move the desk outside of the church onto the sidewalk. So every day all the moms walk by in the neighborhood and they’d be like, hola padre como estas, padre? And I’d be out there studying for my sermon. I had my phone and I had three bags of food I started giving away from the money that I had. That’s where the vision started right there in the neighborhood. People would call the church and I would answer the phone and I would say, ‘hello L.A. Dream Center, may I help you?’
They would say, ‘yes, do you have a women’s ministry?’
I said, ‘sure we do’ and I’d push the button and transfer it and I would change my voice and make it sound like we had a women’s ministry. How many here know when God gives you a dream sometimes you’ve got to act like you’re there even before you even get there. Amen?
And there I was in the middle of the neighborhood outside on the sidewalk every single day where the ministry began. I’ll never forget we got our first house in the neighborhood. We started taking in gang members and drug addicts that were getting saved. Then two and then three; before long we had sixteen homes in the neighborhood that were being filled with hurting people that were being transformed in the middle of that block and the church that went from eighteen to two trying to be a success, went from two to six hundred in the next six months, not even thinking about the word success because the cause had gripped our hearts that was bigger than anything we could ever put on paper. And the moment you surrender your life and what’s in your hand to serving your generation by the will of God, one day you wake up and God gives you dreams that you never knew that you had. I never tried drugs in my life and yet all of a sudden my whole staff was becoming ex-gang members or drug addicts that were getting saved.
And one day I’m driving down the Hollywood freeway. I said, ‘God, I need a building, please. We need something.’ I look to my right, I saw the Queen of Angels Hospital on the 101 freeway. I’ll never forget when I saw.. I pulled off to the side and there was a sign that said for sale and so I pulled over. I’m twenty-two years of age. I walk on to the campus where they’re filming the movie. Brad Pitt and George Clooney were filming a movie right there on set. So I walked right up to Brad Pitt and I said, ‘Brad Pitt, man how are you doing?’ And he kind of looked at me kind of funny because I was so bold in talking to him. He never experienced something like that in his life, this actor, you know. He looked at me and that time we were on TBN every single Friday night and he stopped and he said, ‘wait a second.’ He said, ‘I know who you are.’ He said, ‘you’re Matthew Barnett. You’re that Dream Center guy on television every single Friday night.’ No he didn’t say that, I’m just messing with you. My bad, no he didn’t do that. So I just continued in the building. I said, ‘I want to buy the building. How much is it?’ I’m twenty-two years of age. They laughed. They kicked me out of the building and wouldn’t even allow me to get a tour of the building. You’ll say what did you do? Well I found myself a back door when nobody was looking. I looked to my left, I looked to my right and I snuck in the building and I gave myself a tour of the building anyways.
But I remember when I walking through the building and the fifteen story hospital, God began to speak to me. He said, ‘I want to give you this floor right here for people that are addicted in the middle of the night who have nowhere to go. I want to give you this floor right here for runaway street kids. I want to give you this floor for people that are prostitutes. Instead of sending them to jail, they can come into the house of God and their lives will be transformed.’
I went to the top of the hospital. I saw downtown over here and Hollywood over here. And God spoke something so profound. He said, ‘look twenty-four hours a day the pimps are working, twenty four hours a day the dealers are working, twenty-four hours a day the adult film industry is preying on young girls that are runaways, they are working. If they can work twenty-four hours a day as well as a liquor stores, I want you to build a church that will be open twenty-four/seven that will never sleep.’
I said, ‘what do You mean, God?’
He said, ‘the kind of church that if somebody needed a place to stay at two o’clock in the morning, somebody would be there to take them in and help them get their life back together.’ And all of a sudden, I began to realize that the revelation that I received in the park was not the revelation to be a success, it was to be a blessing and I began to wake up and have a cause that I never even knew was in my heart. I never knew that that Sunday morning. I thought Sunday morning was going to be destination spot for the church. But I didn’t realize it would be a launching pad to what God can do Monday through Saturday in our neighborhood and community, just like Pastor Sheila has a heart to make this church a launching pad of compassion of service in the neighborhood.
And I’ll never forget I was so excited. And we went back and the Catholic church, to make a long story short, gave us the hospital for $3.9 million dollars. It was a stunning miracle and now today there are seven hundred people living in a four hundred thousand square foot building whose lives are being impacted who are coming off drugs, trafficking victims are being rescued and they’re being helped and given a place to stay and get their life back together again and can I tell you it was never even a cause that I knew that I had. When you lose yourself and the need of others by going out on Monday night and serving with the church and getting your life on track with what’s going on, you’re one inconvenient act of possibly finding the cause of a lifetime. And God began to bless and now there’s hundreds of people living there today, seven hundred plus whose lives.. now we have teenagers there living in our building and during the homeless epidemic of America, police started dropping off homeless families and now homeless families; I guess I have a cause for homeless families because the need was right before me.
And I began to realize that the need is God’s cause. The need is God’s call and suddenly things begin to happen and one day the judges begin to send teenagers into the Dream Center so now we have a home for minors eleven to seventeen. Instead of them going to jail, the judge is pounding the gavel and telling teenagers you’re not going to jail and they’re sentencing them into the house of God where they’re being raised up where they have a chance of making it instead of the juvenile hall system.
There was a day in my life where I thought ministry was everything that was built for me and now I realize that the quicker God gives me a blessing, the quicker I want to give it away to make room for more of His cause for my life. There used to be a day in my life I used to dream of preaching to thousands. I’d go to my dad’s church in Phoenix in a six thousand-seat building and I would practice preaching to thousands. But now whenever I preach I’m thinking about the one.
Whenever I preach I think about a man by the name of Barry. He was homeless at the age of forty-five because he lost his job as an engineer. He lost his wife. Something in his mind checked out. He decided he was going to retire and literally live under a bridge and for fifteen years, Barry lived under a bridge. And as Barry was living under this bridge homeless, people had given up. They had pointed at him and said basically this is a man who gave up on society and he became a symbol of the Los Angeles broken dream. And one day somebody came by and had a cause for Barry. They said Barry you know there are two thousand hot meals a day being served at the Dream Center? Go on over there, get yourself a meal and we’ll take care of you. So Barry would leave the bridge, he would come up, he would get his food and he would walk right back under the bridge again.
And after a while, you know I got real spiritual, and I said to myself, you know what, this guy’s using us. All he’s doing is getting food and going back under the bridge. And God checked my spirit. When God spoke to me, He said, ‘look if you want to be a bridge of hope to the world, you’ve got to allow yourself to be walked on sometimes.’ Amen? And Barry was walking right over us. He would get his food and one day he said I want to go into your rehab program. I couldn’t believe it. And my dad always taught me that when you can’t believe something; never discourage a persons dream even if you can’t believe it. You just kind of smile at them when you don’t believe something and you just say well praise the Lord. And Barry said, ‘I want to go into your rehab program’ and I said ‘well praise the Lord.’ And to my shock and dismay, this man went through our program, he graduated the program after fifteen years of living under a bridge, went back to college and now he is a licensed minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Barry, right there, preaching eighteen services a week to the homeless people in Los Angeles, California. He was under a bridge but his brokenness became his cause; his homelessness became his cause.
You can find your cause in any circumstance. Even if you’re at rock bottom, rock bottom can be your cause. Even if all you have is three food bags to start an outreach, that is the beginning of a great cause. You see because God doesn’t give up on people when they hit rock bottom. He recreates people when they hit rock bottom. He recreates all of us when we hit a place in our life where we feel that life is over. God can push the reset button in one second and change the dynamics of anything and give us a cause that we never knew that we had.
As we walked around and saw teenage girls and runaway street kids with Pastor Sheila, she began to break at the plight as she began to share a similar passion in her heart for Orange County who is now starting to look more and more like Los Angeles every single day. And hearing the cause in her heart of reaching broken people allows me to understand that often times we don’t even have to look for our cause. People ask the question, pastor, how do I find my one great cause? I tell them the answer is very simple - you don’t have to look for it. You spend your life giving away whatever you have and you’ll never have to look for your cause ever again because your cause will find you. The hurting people will find you. The homeless will find you. The broken will find you. I never realized that forty-five percent of our staff would be ex-convicts and gang members. Forty-five percent of my staff are all people that used to be in the streets and now they’re my staff. I mean our church, we got ex-drug addicts, murderers, pimps in our staff and I mean that’s just a pastoral staff right there. That’s not including all the other people we got going on in the church, you know? And it’s a twenty-four seven ministry built towards reaching people for the glory of God.
The first day I came to L.A. there was a young boy that was shot and killed in a drive by shooting. His body laid on the steps of the church. I’m twenty years of age. I’m scared to death. I go into my mid week service to take over the church on a midweek. I explain to the church members I was the new pastor and I wanted to preach a sermon but I told them look I can’t preach tonight because I can’t preach when there’s a boy that’s been killed on the steps of our church. They said well pastor you don’t understand something. We stick to our selves and the gang members stick to themselves. I said okay but let’s just go over there and minister and let’s just see what God might do. I couldn’t get a volunteer and so they gave me an offering and so I took thirty-eight dollars across the street. I went to an apartment next to a liquor store. I knocked on the door and all of a sudden the door flung open and I was staring in the face of the biggest gang member I’d ever seen in my life. I looked up at him and he looked down at me and I looked up at God and said, ‘God, I’ve always heard there’s a place called heaven. Save me a place because I’m coming home real soon.’ I mean he had so many tattoos on his left bicep that if he flexed it the Old Testament could come out and the New Testament over here.
And he looked at me and he said, ‘what do you want, padre?’ You’ll say did you correct him, because you’re not a padre? No! When you’re that big, you can call me padre, bishop, rabbi, whatever you want to call me, just don’t kill me.
He said, ‘what do you want?’
I said, ‘I’m here to pray for the mother.’
He said, ‘make it quick’ and I said, ‘no problem.’ I walked on in there and the mother was weeping hysterically. I gave her the thirty-eight dollars and I said, ‘I want you to know I’m the new pastor and I love you. I’m going to be here for you every single day and we’re not going to give up on you.’
She said, ‘oh thank you pastor.’ She was so sweet and I gave her the money and I’m heading towards the door. You know I’m not like David Wilkerson, the pastor of New York City, the cross and the switch blade? He used to talk to gang members like this. He used to say to street gang members “if you chop me up every piece of me will tell you that Jesus loves you.” Not me; I’m giving her the money and I’m out the door, you know?
I’m getting closer to the door, a hand grabbed me in the arm and spun me around and again I’m staring in the face of this gang member. He said, ‘padre, I want you to do something for me.’ I said, ‘brother, I’ll do anything you want me to do; I’ll rub your back, I’ll rub your feet, I’ll order you a beer next door, I’ll drink it with you just don’t kill me, you know?’ Oh don’t look at me so spiritual. If you were in my situation you would have done whatever you had to do to stay alive at that point, you know? And we got together in the circle and he said, ‘I want you to pray for the family.’ I didn’t know what to do. I’d just got out of Bible College, but Bible College doesn’t prepare you for gang ministry 101 and drive by 102. I mean that’s not in the bible college curriculum.
So we got together in the circle and we started to pray and join hands. And I began to pray my memorized prayer of bible college, a prayer of need in time of comfort, and I begin to pray, ‘oh Lord I pray that You’ll bless this habitation with Your glorification and may Your manifestation be here during this presentation, oh God, of great sensation. I pray that You’ll bless the birds and the trees and the flowers and the leaves and my knees that are shaking for You.’ I’m liking rhyming my prayer, you know like a rapper or something, and right there in the middle of my prayer, the Lord spoke a word to me. He said, ‘you’ll never get this many gang members in one place. I want you to pray like you really mean it.’
I said, okay. I said, ‘God I pray that peace will prevail in this neighborhood.’ Nothing happened so I prayed a little bolder. I said, ‘God I pray these young men would realize that they’re not as strong as they think they are and they need You’ and right when I said those words, ‘as strong as they think they are,’ my right hand got squeezed next to me and my left hand got squeezed next to me. I said, ‘oh God, he hates my prayer, I’m going down.’ But if I’m going down I might as well get my name with the fox’s book of martyrs. I’m just going in, you know, and I begin to pray.
And in the middle of my prayer, I asked them if you want to accept Christ to raise your hand and I looked and my right hand was being lifted in the air and then my left hand was lifted in the air and I looked around and I said, ‘if you want to accept Jesus Christ, pray this prayer after me.’ And a bunch of gang members in that room said the prayer and accepted Jesus Christ as they’re Lord and Savior on that day in Los Angeles. And from that day on, I had the best bodyguards. My car never got broken into. I’d go across the street to the liquor store to get me a forty ounce coke, that kind of forty ounce, and I’d walk in there and the guy would say, ‘hola padre como’ and I’d say ‘I’m not the padre, I’m the pastor.’ He said, ‘you’re the padre and the padre gets all the free food and drinks that he wants.’ I said did you say, ‘free food and drinks?’ He said, ‘yes I did.’ I said, ‘bless you my father in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Let’s don’t let titles get in the way of free food and drinks. Amen.
And I walked outside and all my buddies had come by from Arizona, hey, what are you doing here, man? Oh I get it; you’re a two year evangelist. You’re coming in there to do missionary work to prove that you can live without, you know, the big church you were from. I said no, no, no this is my real church. They said no it’s not. They said you can’t build a great church with graffiti on the wall. I said that’s not graffiti, that’s beautiful art. They say things like no, no you can’t build a great church. You got no lobbies in your church and nobody will come to church without lobbies and coffee shops. I said I know we don’t have lobbies but we got a liquor store across the street. You can get anything you want over there; you know what I’m talking about. And I began to walk outside and begin to see crime drop 73% over a three-year period of time; hundreds of people earning the right to be heard by changing the atmosphere of the community.
Ladies and gentleman, we are living in a season of America that it’s time that the church shows the world what we are for more than what we are against. We are for solving the big problems of our society. We are for making a difference and we are for changing the world.
You see every great cause begins with one act of inconvenience. One act of using whatever you have in your hand and using it to serve. In the process, one day you’ll wake up and have a cause and a dream that is bigger than you, and a bunch of plans and ideas about reaching your community that you never knew that you had.
The greatest day of my life is when I go to my office. It takes me a long time to get there because I have to walk through eight floors of residential living. I see the young ladies that were there and they say, ‘hi pastor, how you doing?’ I say, ‘how you doing?’
And they say, ‘good! Our arms are starting to heal, pastor, where we used to put the heroin needle in our arm. I’ve never been clean for thirty-eight days in my life.’
And then I see the human trafficking victims and the runaway street kids and I go up to the eighth floor and I open up the window and hear the sound of two hundred ex-convicts singing “give thanks with a grateful heart” in our one year rehab program as they wake up the neighborhood like chapel bells in the community. And it brings me back to a day where a young man who thought that all I wanted to be was a success in the ministry, that man died in the park. And God said, ‘I don’t want you to be a great pastor, I want you to be a city janitor and walk through the streets of your city and picking up broken pieces and telling people that they can dream again.’
Father, today we pray a blessing upon this church, blessing upon this congregation as they set out, Lord, to make the difference and impact as they are, as they continue the fight for people, Lord that frankly most people have given up on. I thank You for the cause of this church. I thank You that You have promised to protect any ministry that will defend the cause of the poor. And I pray that from this day forward, Lord, as they continue to march into the most forgotten areas of Orange County and serve, and people all over the world that are watching make that decision that the church will be the most powerful force of change, we will not draw back in recession and time of need, but we will take on the biggest cause and change the world one life at a time in Jesus’ name, Amen.