“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” – JESUS

I think about Jesus a lot.  Every day, in fact.  Honestly, I figure I think about Jesus pretty much every hour of every day.  

This doesn’t make me right, smart, or special …or particularly noteworthy.  There are greater minds who think more deeply about Jesus than I do.  But I have little opportunity to talk about my thoughts with them.  So, most of my thoughts are just mine and not shared.  And my thoughts run the gamut, I think.  Wild thoughts, mundane, and everything in between.  I try a lot of different thoughts on for size just to see what fits and what doesn’t.

Since turning my ministry to the streets many years ago, I tend to think a lot about the poor vis-à-vis Jesus.  When I was in school, I became particularly enthralled with Mark’s Gospel, and so I tend to think a lot about Mark vis-à-vis Jesus.  This means I tend to think a lot about Mark vis-à-vis the poor too, by the way (and that is a little strange since Luke’s writings emphasize the poor vis-à-vis Jesus far more blatantly).  So, I am always aware that this area of my thoughts potentially contorts Mark’s writings in possibly unfair ways – asking questions Mark has little or no interest in answering, and then squeezing my own imagination out of them while crediting that to Mark.  (That is called eisegesis, and it’s a risk Bible thinkers run and must take care to avoid.)

Well, without bogging down further in disclaimers, let me come clean and say that I think there is wiggle room in the realm of observations and theories for Mark to join the discussion(s).  I am maximizing on that; I am sure.  Also, the other two synoptic gospels particularly, and John in some instances as well, frequently cover the same elements of Jesus’s story as Mark, even if they make some significant changes.  They probably got at least some of their information from Mark to begin with!

Certainly “the needy” are featured in Mark, even if more often than not they go unspecified as particularly poor.  I don’t expect that Jairus is a poor person, at least not a destitute beggar, but I figure the woman who interrupts his need with her issue of blood likely is. In fact, I expect that if there is ANY cause for Jairus to face his contempt for her as he feels the clock ticking on his daughter’s life, Mark wants us to imagine it – and poverty her fits that picture quite nicely.

Therefore, I will refer to the mobs crowding Jesus as “needy” and just let the scent of poverty stick to that description in general.  The needy mobs in Mark break with conventional living at nearly every turn to get access to Jesus.  In chapter 2, the mobs all show up at (presumably) Peter’s fishing hut (What does that smell like?) to hear Jesus speak, and the four friends of the lame man tear a hole in the roof to get to him!  This is not the first time the needy crowds mob Peter’s house looking for Jesus either.  After worship a few days before, “the whole city gathered at the door” (1:33) looking for his healing touch.

But one of the passages that really stands out to me, one that just echoes through so many of the thoughts I have about Jesus every day, is found in Mark 3:7-12.  It is said, there, that “Jesus withdrew…” yet a “great multitude followed.”  Then Mark lists off all the towns they come pouring in from.  This too echoes that first scene at Peter’s (“Simon” if you are being picky about it) house in chapter 1.  For there it is said that early in the morning, before daylight, Jesus left there to pray and the disciples frantically go looking for him. 

Thus, we have something of a pattern starting to form.  Mobs of needy people pursue Jesus; he heals and casts out demons; he withdraws (to pray in some instances), and the crowds go searching.

Mobs of people hunting Jesus – and for what?

Well, back to our passage in 3:7-12, they “heard of all he was doing… for he had healed many, with the result that those who had afflictions pressed in around him in order to touch him….” 

They are needy!  They press in on him from all sides.  He gets a boat to teach from to create a little space.  He needs to withdraw to pray.  They will rip open the roof of the house where he is staying just to get in for some healing touch!  (How would you feel as the homeowner of that place?)

We already mentioned Jairus and the bleeding woman, but they are worth mentioning again since their story fits this pattern too.

IN FACT…!

I maintain that this pattern helps explain the troubling ending of Mark’s Gospel at 16:8 because once we appreciate this backdrop to everything else, that story in chapter 1 where Jesus gets up early before dawn and disappears, supplies the reader of this troubled ending with a momentum, with a pattern, with a template to guide his next steps.  You, like the disciples in chapter 1 who finally find him can (after going to Galilee and fleeing the temple’s destruction in Jerusalem?) likewise find him, and his message to you will be the same as it was to them – “Let us go out and proclaim this gospel, for THAT I WHAT I CAME TO DO!”

Perhaps that is just a free-be… and aside… a little extra to think about.

But it in no way distracts my point here.  The mobs are crowding Jesus everywhere he goes. They are needy and pressing in on all sides and coming from everywhere all the time.  In fact, as we find in Mark 6:32-33, he is withdrawing across the sea with his disciples, yet the mobs see where he is heading and race the long way around to arrive there ahead of him!  That is quite remarkable, I think!

NOW…

I have made the point many times on this blog (the two or three regular readers here can attest, I think) that if this is Jesus’s relationship with the needy, why is it not the relationship of today’s church with the poor?

My God!  I am looking into Mark for this, and Luke is the go-to guy for talking about the poor! Yet even in Mark, this is coloring EVERYTHING!!!

Just imagine with me a moment that the church where I meet each week for worship (the group of Christians I assemble among) actually is the Body of Christ of which he is the head.  If the needy of Galilee does all this pressing in on him everywhere he goes, why are the needy not pressing in on us? If the needy of Capernaum are ripping the roof off the house to get their lame friend in to Jesus, why are the needy of Lubbock not ripping the roof off our church house to get in?  (And don’t say because of the place is empty!  If Jesus was in there, REALLY in there, I think word would spread and the needy would come pouring in from EVERYWHERE!)

But we have withdrawn to pray.  And the needy are mobbing the 501c3 organization we set up for them across town! Just go over and look for yourself.  They are mobbing the place day and night, and the executive minister we pay to handle all of the needy multitudes while we are withdrawn over on this side of town has to deploy security cameras, law enforcement, and all manner of locks on the doors to keep the needy out (at least during off hours).  

So, there.  Just like Jesus!

But I am suddenly thinking about Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.  This man is a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road when Jesus comes passing by on his way to Jerusalem for one last fateful visit.  Jesus knows full well what awaits him there and has been predicting it both in covert parables and plain speech, though his own disciples haven’t discerned it yet.  But he knows.  And still, he stops the procession for this blind man who just won’t shut up despite the insistent urging of his companions on the side of the road. 

And when the procession is stopped, and when the beggar is brought forth, what does Jesus say?

He says, “What do you want?” or “What can I do for you?” 

Wow!

That’s almost like writing a blank check! and giving it to a needy beggar!!!

What does this beggar want?

I can’t help but think how Jesus touched a leper (1:41), a sure way of contracting the leprosy himself!  Here, all these chapters and verses later, he is asking another needy person what they want!

AS IF THAT IS RELEVANT somehow!

No.  Seriously.  The church I belong to, the one that so carefully withdraws to the other side of town to have a million dollar sanctuary… a-hem… I mean to pray… and employs the 501c3 to keep the mobs of needy people away while we do our important praying, also knows better than to ask a beggar what they want.  I know this because they offered me a class (for a $25 fee) teaching me about all the evils and damage done by giving a beggar what he asks for!

This beggar apparently has heard the reputation of Jesus.  I am betting that someone like Jesus gets a reputation with the needy real fast!  This beggar isn’t asking for a few dollars.  In fact, he was doing that from everyone else before Jesus came along.  But when he heard it was Jesus, he couldn’t shut up.  He exclaimed, in praise to God, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

That’s what a beggar says when he hears about Jesus walking by.  He begs mercy.  And when Jesus (not my church) responds to him, he asks, “What do you want?”

The beggar has a wise request.  He wants to see.  And Jesus grants his request.

I know this is another “aside” here, but I can’t help thinking of Jairus again… tapping his toe waiting for Jesus to wrap up this bleeding-woman business and the crowds pressing in on him and all that, and meanwhile worrying urgently about his daughter who is at the cusp of death.  It’s almost like calling an ambulance, but the EMT’s stop to heal a broken fingernail of a bum on the side of the road before they get to your house!  If Jesus doesn’t hurry, there will be a death in the family.  My thought is that Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem where he is about to die, has a minute to stop and linger and have this conversation with Bartimaeus.  Just an “aside,” again, but one worth pondering, I think.

There are needy people in Lubbock.  Desperately needy.  Many who literally lay their heads down at night on sidewalks, under bridges, behind liquor stores.  I can’t help but think that IF JESUS were really walking through Lubbock today, word would spread among the needy, and they would mob him, and he would ask them what they want!  

Does Jesus live in your church?  REALLY???

The sanctuary where you do your assembling with his “Body”… is there a lock on that door?  Is there a hole in the roof?  What if some needy people showed up?  What would they find?  Would a deacon ask what they want?  Would they even mob your church?  If they did, and there was no room for anyone else to get inside, would they rip a hole in the roof?  Would your church touch their need?    

The church I assemble with doesn’t, wouldn’t, and won’t. 

We are withdrawn.  We don’t ask needy people what they want, we teach rich people who are largely already withdrawn not to give what they ask for, but to think for them and give them what we think they need instead.  And there are no mobs, at the center of which to find Jesus.  There is no risk or humility in any of this.

Have you ever gone down to the church building before sun up and looked for Jesus there?  

Sometime try it.  Look at the place through the eyes of a bum walking by looking for a place to sleep.  

Drive down after dark, before sun up, and get out of the car.  Walk around the place.  Check the doors to see if they are locked.  Is the place all nice and secure?  No needy mobs here?  No mobs running here ahead of Jesus and getting here while taking the long way round before he shows up?  

Hmmm…

I have a question for you: What do you want???

(I don’t think it’s either sight or Jesus, but maybe you will convince me otherwise.)

 

 

NICOTINE STAINS ON MY FINGERS

I was homeless briefly, when I was young. In my early twenties, I moved to Denver about three months, I sofa surfed and lived out of my car – mostly. It was a ragtag arrangement of staying with friends or friends of friends. I could have packed it in at any time and just headed back home to Mom -n- Dad’s, and I always felt like that was a viable option, but I didn’t want to just cave in and go home in defeat. I tried, really tried, to make it.

I got a job too. Not a great job, but a job.

But first I planned to stay with a former boss, an assistant manager from Pizza Hut in my home town who was from Englewood, and had recently gone back to the city. He gave me directions to his place and assured me I would get a job with him again upon arrival.

However, as I recall, I took the wrong exit and found myself lost in Morrison as I descended from the mountain. By the time I got my bearings and found his apartment in Englewood, I was dying, and I mean DYING, to use the bathroom. I found the right complex, then I found the right building, then I found the right door and knocked excitedly hoping he would answer and let me make a beeline to his can.

But the door was ajar.

And no one was home.

I stepped back to examine the address on the building and the number at the door feeling so desperate, you just can’t imagine.

This was it.

I hollered his name a few times. No answer.

I decided to enter.

The place was a mess. Clothes and those Chinese takeout cartons like you see in the movies… video games strewn all over the sofa (my promised bed). I slipped into the bathroom. I did my business. I slipped out. I looked around a bit. This had to be the place. But I was feeling very unsure of myself. I had, after all, gotten lost once already!

I slipped out, and left.

I never returned or called the guy again.

Why am I telling that?

I dunno, really.

It was the start of my city life on the streets of Denver. Thank God it was Spring time!

I was driving a very high mileage classic Mustang. Cool car, but almost limping with problems. Most cowboys just shoot their horse when it gets that bad. I decided to “find myself” or something (I never actually used that phrase before) in Denver.

Mom had a friend of a friend living there in Littleton. Some lovely grandparent types. Christian folk. She had stuffed their phone number in my pocket when I left home, and so I found a pay phone and called.

They were very nice and accepted me into their guest room. I was welcome to stay for one week. The room was nice. The home was nice. Very white, middle-class. I felt like I was almost at my own grandparents home. I noticed the nice doilies on the night stand.

In the morning, first thing when I came down from my shower, the nice grandparent types had breakfast ready for me. They also had the want ads out and had begun circling numbers of jobs to which I might be interested in applying. I remember the coffee was wonderful. An hour later, I had called a half dozen numbers, had my nice shirt on, and was sent with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out into the big world of Denver to seek interviews. I was expected home in time for supper!

As I recall, I stayed the whole week. I also looked into a local church (one from the heritage of my youth) which was several miles away. I tried to connect to others there too, but felt a severe sense of stodgy religiosity and crusty spirituality there that I never found overly genuine or welcoming. Nevertheless, I spoke up about my need for work and a place to live.

I remember that there were some young people about my age that had formed something of a group (a Bible class?), and I recall this one very attractive young lady getting the big idea that we all drive up to Red Rocks to watch the sunset and “ponder life.”

Man, I wanted to ponder life that night!

As I recall it, we wound up at the Look Out Mountain road over Golden, and the Colorado School of Mines was putting on a fireworks show down below us. I never watched a fireworks show either before or since FROM ABOVE. It was pretty cool. And I recall someone with a parked car had U2 on the tape deck giving us the “ponder life” soundtrack.

Makes for a fun memory. I warm spot in my adventures.

I only had one week with the grandparents. Despite the first rate amenities and service with a smile, AND despite the free price tag for all their kindness, it was not home, and they made sure I knew it.

I went back to the church again for midweek services. My time with the grandparents was short, but I had landed a job! Sadly, it was a job that required me to drive to different locations all across the metro area a couple times a day. The old girl let me know that was asking a lot! (The Mustang, I mean.)

I guess my plight came to the attention of someone important at church. I was told to talk to Jesse Martinez, a church regular who might have a room to rent me. I eagerly called the brother, and he kindly gave me directions, which I followed with ease, actually, right into Hell’s Kitchen a block off Colfax. When we got there, I told my car, “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

The family was nice, but the cockroaches were really putting out the welcome mat for me.

This was what church had to offer.

I decided to take my chances in my car.

What can I say? I was picky! I shouldn’t have been, but I was. I wish I hadn’t been, but I was. I thanked Jesse, and never called again.

To be fair, I did turn them down. I must admit that.

But, I really don’t think for a minute that this church intended to treat me anything better than second class. Just the vibe as I read it. So, it’s entirely possible that I read them wrong. And I really must confess, with hindsight I see that I felt I was too good for Jesse’s place too. I was not exactly humble, despite my humble condition.

My job, though, was working out pretty good. Not a high paying gig, by any stretch, but I seemed to be a hit with the office and some of our clients. But I needed place to crash, and I needed it fast.

Well, it so happens that Denver is one of two or three main metropolitan areas that proved to be a draw on my old classmates from high school, and though this was long before Facebook, I eventually tracked down an old girlfriend from high school who had relocated to Denver after dropping out of UNLV. I called, and she said, YES, absolutely I could crash at her place. She and her roommate had a futon I could use as long as I needed.

I will never forget meeting her again after three or four years. We met at a gas station near her apartment complex. I recognized the car she described when it pulled up, but I kid you not, that was Cher driving it! I mean Cher with the new tattoos after Sonny and Cher were ancient history!

Wow! [Agent D]! I exclaimed. You changed! You look just like Cher!

“Thanx!” she said.

I followed her back to her place where I met her roommate, her blonde roommate looking like Lita Ford, just as she had got off work waiting tables and the two of them were heading out to the headbangers’ club. Hair teased up and foo juice on, I got the best sleep of the night on that futon before they returned with boyfriends.

I must say, my old high school girlfriend (as I recall, we were not in a prolonged romantic relationship in high school, but I was perhaps a little smitten with her) had been a tall, lanky, nerdy girl when I knew her before, but she was taking a walk on the wild side now. But she shared everything she had with me, no strings attached, no demands. I don’t think I stayed there more than three nights.

I answered an ad from a woman renting a room in her home. She was recently divorced and could not afford the mortgage after her husband left without renting out a room. She had three sons, the oldest my age, the middle one a couple years younger, and one in junior high. The oldest son lived with his girlfriend, but he was in the house a lot. All three boys were metal heads of the first order, and they teased up their hair with Aqua Net and fought over who used it all up. They were my kind of guys!

I remember standing in the freezing cold of a last gasp of Winter out back of the house one night with the boys passing a joint around. I could have smoked it with them, and it would have felt so right. But I had kicked the Marijuana “habit” just a year before, and I really didn’t want to get back into it. It had led me into some dark feelings about myself after a while, which I did not want to risk. Somehow, I found the gumption to pass on the smoke.

Suddenly, I had car trouble. I got my car in the shop. I handed over my whole paycheck to get it running. I had rent to pay. I didn’t eat. But I did smoke – cigarettes. When it came down to cigarettes or food, cigarettes won out.

I had rent to pay and car repairs.

I remember the Denver boys I was living with were all into Mountain Dew. I hate the stuff, but they treated it like cocaine. I was renting the room of the boy who had moved out. I would go into the communal bathroom to shower and step over empty cans of Aqua Net. I would open the refrigerator door sometimes when no one was looking and just eyeball all the food in it, but I never touched any of it. I hadn’t bought it. It was not mine. But I let three or four days go by without a single morsel of food passing through my lips. I saw a ham left over sitting on a plate in that fridge, and it looked sooooo good. But I went out back and lit up a smoke instead of eating.

I started feeling lonely.

Hungry and lonely.

My best friend from high school didn’t live in Denver, but he did live up at Vail. I cashed out my next paycheck and drove up to see him. Seems like it might have been Easter Sunday, but this far removed, I cannot say for sure. I had a long distance girlfriend at the time who had moved to Utah. She was an Xray tech. Her daddy lived in Grand Junction. I only tell this part because, as my old Mustang climbed the mountain pass leaving Denver toward Vail, I began to worry about it. The sun was shining and it was a glorious day as I entered the Eisenhower Tunnel at the top. The tunnel is well lit inside, and the apex of the climb is at the East end near the entrance as I was heading West. Soon, though, I noticed the car seemed not to have power and the instrument panel was dark and hard to read, even in the well-lit tunnel. I was coasting. Due to the mountain slope, though, I was maintaining highway speed. But when I popped out the other end of the tunnel, I was in a blizzard! I coasted all the way down to Silverthorne, Colorado where I had to stop at a red light, and then was unable, in the snow and ice, to push my car the fifty yards to the repair shop just off the interstate, and so I paid a $50 hookup fee to get towed in! The next day, my girlfriend’s dad showed up with a flatbed trailer and towed me all the way to Grand Junction where he put a new alternator on a half hour after arriving (after having diagnosed the problem sight unseen over the phone the day before).

I don’t know why I tell all of that, exactly, but in the middle of all of that drama, my best friend from Vail had retrieved me from Silverthorne and kept me over night with him only to return me the next morning to meet my girlfriend’s dad so I could just go ahead and see half the state of Colorado for my trouble! And the point of my telling THAT is so that I can then say that my twenty-something best friend, when he saw me after several weeks of living in Denver, exclaimed, “You lost weight, man!”

Let me just state the obvious here: When one twenty-something guy friend tells you, you have lost weight, it means you have really lost weight! My friend wouldn’t care less if I had lost ten pounds. Probably not if I had lost fifteen. But twenty or more, and I was looking sick.

I hadn’t really thought about that at the time, and I was in enough denial at the time that it was several days later before his observation really sank in.

I remember the next time I bought cigarettes, I also bought a jar of peanut butter. I knew that it had some good protein, and it was cheap. I ate the whole jar in one sitting. It might have been my only meal all week.

I remember one weekend that my landlady, the mom of my friends, the lady with the bedroom across the hall, invited me to go to church with her and her new boyfriend. I went. Afterward, the boyfriend and his kids took us out to fly a kite in the park and eat a bucket of chicken. I remember it was a nice day, and I almost felt like family. (I also recall stopping at a supermarket for something, and seeing a man standing in line at the check out talking on a cell phone! The first I had ever seen.)

Later that night, I was talking with the landlady and she revealed to me that her ex-husband was very jealous and causing her concern. I don’t know if she was really fearful or manipulating me or both. But I determined soon enough that he wasn’t just upset about the new boyfriend; he didn’t like her renting to a young man either. I asked her if he owned a gun. She said, “I think it’s a .357 magnum.”

I was scared then.

But the funny thing is, I was also ashamed.

I think this was weird, but I began thinking that my dad would never get into a mix like this. Now I have, and I think I am ashamed to tell anyone that I am afraid of my living situation.

About that time, my grandparents came to Denver to visit a friend of theirs. (I never had heard of this friend before, and honestly I think that visit was an excuse to come check on me, really.) And so I told my grandpa that I needed to get an apartment of my own, but I couldn’t afford the first and last and deposit to get started. I had found a place I thought I could afford, but it was unfurnished. It was kinda big for my needs too, but I was new at this kind of thing, and it was what I had found. Would he help me get the finances going?

At first he said yes. However, he did not have the cash to just hand over. He told me that my grandma’s brother, Uncle James, would be in town in like two days visiting his in-laws. He would bring some money from my grandpa then.

I remember meeting Uncle James at the appointed hour. He had me meet him at the office of one of his relatives. So it all felt a little like a bank transaction when we sat at the table in the long conference room and he began a long winded interrogation of my plans and ambitions. I look back on that now and wonder what all was said about me by my grandparents just based on my appearance. I had lost so much weight by then that my best friend had been shocked. What do you think my Mammaw thought??? All I know is I felt so utterly betrayed when Uncle James finally got around to denying me the money my grandpa had promised.

To this day, I don’t really know whose decision to renege that was. I always assumed it was Uncle James interfering, and that might well have been. But I don’t really know.

I had to go to plan … plan… was this plan C or D?

I knew my old car wasn’t going to keep the Denver pace, and I was scared to sleep in my rented room. I was smoking cigarettes instead of eating. But otherwise, I was doing pretty good.

I found a job as a nursing aid at a nursing home in Castle Rock. It was out of Denver, AND the nursing home complex actually had small apartments on the campus where some staff chose to live. I didn’t want to leave Denver. That felt like such a defeat to me. But it looked like the only worthwhile option.

I had the nagging feeling that I should be reaching out to my church. Obviously not my home congregation from my hometown, but a congregation there. I found one in Castle Rock. I didn’t even know what I wanted from them. What would I ask for?

I was lonely and hungry and feeling defeated by life. I was homeless, but had managed to cobbled a roof over my head for all but one or two nights in about three months of toughing it out in Denver.

I had not gone to Bible school yet at that time. There is sooooooo much theological type thinking I do now as I look back on myself at that moment. I prayed, of course, but it SEEMED like my church shoulda/oughta fit into this life of mine somewhere somehow. So, I looked up the number and called.

I do not remember the man’s name now who met me. I don’t think he knew me or my family at all, though in church circles if you really talk with people, you can, more often than not, determine fewer than six degrees of separation with strangers in house. I would be shocked if he knew my grandpa, my dad, or me at all. I think we were complete strangers to one another in that circumstance. I don’t think he was the main preaching pastor. I think he was a deacon, but this far removed, I really can’t recall for sure. But I think, my guts tell me, he was the guy on staff there who had a knack for dealing with beggars. He was ever smoother with me than Uncle James had been.

He invited me to meet him at the local McDonald’s where he bought me a burger and fries and visited with me while I ate.

I was so grateful for the meal. I don’t really like McDonald’s, but I wasn’t being too picky by that time. That burger sure felt like a nice start.

But as it was settling in my stomach, this nice Christian man come from the church to represent Jesus to me, a needy beggar looking for love in all the wrong places, began to explain to me that my life was a train wreck, that I needed to get a real life plan and a job. He didn’t want to be ugly about it, but he could plainly see the nicotine stains on my fingers, and so it was clear to him that my values were misplaced. He ultimately decided the best thing he could do for me would be to walk away and let me fend for myself.

That’s where Jesus left me. In a McDonald’s parking lot strategically NOT this man’s home or even the church building where I might make a repeat appearance. AND somehow he had me thinking my humiliated circumstance and existence was my own fault AND something even Jesus would turn his back on.

A week later, I was living in an apartment at the nursing home in Castle Rock with no furniture at all. Actually, I think there was a stool and a small table in the kitchen. I had a bedroll on the bedroom floor, and though the apartment was not overrun with roaches, it was morbidly humble. The bedroom walls were pink. The living room was yellow. The bathtub had an outdoor spigot with a bit of hose attached. And I started working grueling 16 hour days caring for elderly people – or more like herding them like cattle through their meal and bath routines.

I would come back to the apartment utterly exhausted. Then I would have three or four days off.

I met the neighbor couple within a day or two of moving in. They were weird hippie types. They appeared to be in their forties. The woman was a nurse aid, like me, and the husband was a groundskeeper/repair man. They were practically as friendly as Texans to me, but I noticed that periodically, they would withdraw to their apartment and draw the blinds for about twenty minutes before opening back up again and being all friendly.

I knew what they were doing. I mean, I was “guessing” – okay – but I am not stupid. But I had passed on the dope with the boys in Denver just a couple of weeks prior. So, I just withdrew too, and didn’t say anything.

But after a week or so, the friendly husband finally outed himself. He said, “Hey, man, do you smoke?”

I knew what he was asking. I mean, I was standing there sucking on a Camel when he asked. I told him, I used to, but had quit.

He wasn’t even phased. In fact, my guess is he was probably relieved to hear it, since it meant I wasn’t a mooch!

He asked, “Well, do you mind if I do?”

“Oh, no. Not at all…” I replied.

And suddenly I wasn’t lonely anymore. I had friends! I got invited in for supper. While we were eating, they got high, but they got nosey too. They began asking if I had any kind of furniture. I told them what I had, and the man sad, “I will get you a couch and a bed tomorrow. In fact, you need to come pick out what you like.”

I was blown away. This man had the keys to a storage barn where residents in the nursing home had surrendered all manner of goods. Furniture, appliances, clothes… tons and tons of STUFF. And this man had access to it all! He had a company truck to move it all with, and hauled it to my place in an hour. When we moved it in, he said, “There’s one more thing I need to check…” and he walked into my kitchen and opened the refrigerator door and discovered half a pack of cold cuts, and half a jug of milk, and said, “We need to make a grocery run too.”

These people became my friends.

I reached out to the church, but these people showed me LOVE.

They were NOT Christians. New Age pagans – MAYBE. Probably not that either. Just pot heads, really. Good hearted pot heads.

I remember they took me to a party in Colorado Springs one night. I should not have gone with them. There were people there doing some hard drugs and offering some to me. I really stood out like a narc, being both the stranger AND the only guy NOT indulging.

So, maybe there LOVE was lacking something. In fact, I know it was.

Yet, sadly, it outshined the love I found at church by a country mile.

Look. I know I am a weird guy. I don’t like it any more than you do. But I think, and maybe I am just deluded and being generous with myself here, but I think God called me to be a prophet… to see things, experience things, and to call it like it is. I don’t know anyone telling THIS story from this angle. Maybe a couple kinda LIKE it, but also kinda not too.

I tell a long rambling story here. You would be amazed at how much I left out.

It’s a sob story too.

A lot of classic, hard luck elements to it too.

My car broke down; I need a job. I was staying with this girl… There was a man with a gun… Some people were smoking dope… Colfax… Some Christian people really were nice to me once… I broke in just to use the bathroom… Even my friends say I lost weight…

How many bums have you ever met and their story doesn’t quite add up? It gets just a little too sob storyish… and wearisome. This guy’s just a loser and not worth your time… not gonna amount to much… needs to be left at McDonald’s… you did your poart. You gave him a meal, now cut the sucker loose.

Where do you think that guys goes next?

What do you think he calls “LOVE”?

What “LOVE” do you think sustains him?

I LOST A JOB OVER “THE N-WORD”

(Disclaimer #1: I want to reiterate and link to some of my preface remarks I made in a post a few months ago before launching directly into racial issues (in random posts from time to time). Rather than fill up this post with all that attempt at humility and caution, just follow the link and know I appeal to that attitude as I write posts on race matters.)

https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2020/10/24/race-running-with-perserverance/

(Disclaimer #2: There are OTHER dimensions to my story in this post which I will not go into at this point.  Suffice it to say, there are a number of other reasons which might be the REAL reasons I was fired from my job, and I will be happy to explore those with anyone who inquires about them in the comments.  The story AS TOLD here is all true, but only one thin slice.  I tell it this way to highlight the racial component.  Telling the full story, I think, will distract this part.  … again, ask questions, if you feel I need to clarify further.)

In this post, I am telling a true story, yet making some assumptions about it too.  It is the truth, but not the whole truth.  As I always do on this blog, I refrain from divulging the identities of the people and organization(s) – a change-the-names-to-protect-the-guilty thingy.  But I will say this much, the setting is Lubbock, Texas sometime in the last two decades.

As a student, I found a job here in Lubbock that was known for hiring student workers.  This business was owned and founded by a Christian entrepreneur who graduated from a local Christian college and employed students mostly from that college.  To be fair, there were students from at least three colleges working in this facility, one of them being Texas Tech.  But, for our purposes, it is important to note the connection to one of the Christian colleges (I have attended both of them, and so, yes, some were classmates of mine.)  As you can imagine, I knew some of these student/fellow workers from church too!

So… it was a shock to my ears the first time I heard “the N-word” get tossed around the work room.  

Students.  

Normally, they are young people.  I was one of the oldest people on the crew.  In fact, I was among the oldest in the company, I think.  Probably not the oldest, but likely a peer.  I was back in school for a second degree at that point.  But I figure the average age of the crew (the flunkies at the low end of the corporate ladder) to be about 22.  And while I was able to tell that a significant number of the crew were not from one of the Christian colleges, I believe at least half were.

If there was an opportunity for all the “Christian” education and character to provide a bit of peer pressure on our tongues and actions, I would think this job should have provided that.  However, it did not.

I was looking into the dark underbelly of our white, middle-class, “Christian” culture and (being young people) “the future of America” too, and I was surprised.

At first, I too just let it go.  I felt offended for people who were not even there.  No black people worked at this company.  We had a few brown people, a very few, but we were by far mostly white and “Christian” college educated.  Mostly from the same church (and most of them in the same congregation!).  

Look.  I am not such a prude that I got all in a wrinkle over it.  Every now and again someone would utter a “sh*t” or a “d*mn” too, and I just don’t get too excited about that.  Catch me on the wrong Thursday with my finger mashed in the car door, and you might hear me go off like that.  (Not claiming that is okay, but pointing out that I don’t get too prudish too easily.)

But “the N-word” has a special horror about it.  For white people to use that word in almost any circumstance is to insult a whole race of people with the worst of insults.  To throw that word around carelessly is deeply damaging in any forum.  Some worse than others.  But to see it let loose so carelessly among MY PEOPLE, and I mean my church people particularly, was even more troubling.  And it didn’t take long to prove that it wasn’t just one isolated instance.

I didn’t hear it every day.  Not every week, even.  But it would come out occasionally, and when it did, it usually seemed to invite imitators.  It magically became a hot potato everyone wanted to pass around.

Here were all these Christians – mostly white, middle-class Christians – behind closed doors having no integrity while no one was watching.

Except I was watching.

Now…

A day came when I had a conflict with my immediate supervisor.  The conflict was unrelated to this issue, but the supervisor seemed to take it very personally.  This supervisor did not have the authority to fire me himself, but work in Texas is an AT-WILL basis.  I can be fired for literally any reason at any time at any job here.  But when I was hauled into the over-supervisor’s office to “discuss” matters with both supervisors, I took the opportunity to explain a few gripes I had with the company.

One gripe, and there were others, was the use (abuse) of “the N-word” which I had witnessed numerous times by then.

Both of these supervisors were younger than me.  The older one by almost a decade. So, no doubt THAT played a part in the decision(s) made about me too, but upon the conclusion of our “discussion,” I was directed to wait in the breakroom while they discussed matters further.

About ten minutes later, I was informed that I was being terminated and escorted off the property immediately.

I cannot say with full confidence that my complaint about co-workers using “the N-word” was the thing that got me fired, but I sense strongly that it played a part.  I believe it carried weight.  I think that such a complaint as that, especially if I were deemed credible, would have the potential to be very problematic for a company such as the one that fired me. I also think that the young people in charge of me felt intimidated by me for pointing that (and other things) out to them, and sought the quickest remedy of cutting me loose rather than fixing the problems.

(If I had wanted, and if I had acted carefully, I could have exposed this company to several major lawsuits, actually, and some on other matters too.  So, actually, there is quite a menu of potential reasons I was terminated.)

However, I went quietly.

Was that wrong of me?

Maybe so.

I have never felt comfortable with that outcome or my part in it either.  I have, though, chosen to fight with principalities and powers rather than flesh-n-blood (or corporate America). I am more disturbed by the fact that so many church people, “Christians,” and youth (for that matter) in my community could be so casual with such hateful speech (even behind closed doors.)  But I am a witness to our utterly horrible failure – and with no measures or even desire (that I can discern) to address it.

WE are not what we seem or what we present to the world.  I am a first-hand witness to this.  I probably should have done more.

Of course, I too am sanctioned in this.  I lost a job over this (at least in part).

THE CIGARETTE TAX

“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

The Pharisees and Herodians (strange political bedfellows) ask this question of Jesus in the temple (Mark 12:13-14) in an effort to “trap” him.  It’s a trick question.  Jesus leaves them with a trick answer.  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

I have read whole books on this.  I have all kinds of deep thoughts about it.  Yet, still, I am mystified.  The question is a trap, and the answer is deep and mystifying.  The answer has a way of sorting out your life either for God or for Caesar.

And just when I was getting used to the idea that my heart belongs to God, but my ass belongs to Caesar (or the bank, or the army, or the party…).

I don’t normally highlight the ugly side of giving to the poor.  There are true things about giving that could be said and surely have a place in the discussion, but which are apt to be wielded against the poor rather than for them.  Thus, I don’t spend too much time talking those points.

But I found myself in a discussion recently with a brother who is a giver of money and things to the poor, and I found myself saying that we have to pay the cigarette tax.

Hmmm… neither this brother nor I smoke, though.

Well, I wasn’t talking about paying a tax on cigarettes, though that is actually part of the equation.  I was discussing with him how my own father grew up in a home where his parents were smokers.  Dad frequently points out that smokers will find a way to get a smoke by cutting nearly any corner.  If the money is low and you can only do one thing OR the other, the cigarettes will be the thing that gets the money.  You can water down the baby formula for a week, but Mama gotta smoke.

When we give to the poor, that baby (proverbial or otherwise) is the heart of our giving.  I have given to many homes over the years, and seeing the children there becomes the anchor for my heart.  Does that child have what she needs?  Of course, that is a question you ask the parents.  The parents are the gatekeepers of the child’s welfare.  You don’t just deal directly with the baby.

I might help with gas in the car, or I might pay the mechanic to fix it.  But at root, I am thinking the parents need this car to get the kid where the kid needs to be, to get food for the kid, and to go to work so that the kid can have all the other needs.  So, if all that is hinging on a tank of gas, this is a no-brainer.

For me, it all comes down to that baby.

But I have been AROUND some, and I know, even though it will never be spoken of openly, that there is a cigarette tax to pay here too.  That car can get to work and home for two days on $10 of gas, and that family will be caught up for the next month.  That baby will be cared for by the parents.  But I also know that unless I meet the parents at the pump and pay the cashier myself, that only $5 of my gas donation is going in that tank.  The other five is going up in smoke.  Thus, I need to give $15, not ten.

My alms are being taxed by addiction.

This doesn’t have to be strictly cigarettes either.  It doesn’t have to be a baby scenario, for that matter.  It’s not always a government tax of any kind.  But the situation is always taxed by some principality or power.  Always.

Is it right to pay the tax or not?

Well, in America we are “free.”

That is a bit of an illusive idea, but not untrue.

I don’t have the freedom to just take the baby and raise it the way I want.  But I do have the freedom to give all I want to that family in hopes that there is a trickle down economic principle at work here which will benefit that baby in the end.

Alternatively, I could just go to the store and purchase the baby formula myself and give that to the parents. But it doesn’t really bypass the cigarette tax.  By doing this, I have taken time and energy out of my life to go to the store, to purchase the needed formula, then to drive back to the family and deliver it.  There may not be any smoke involved, but it sure would have been cheaper and easier on all of us if I had just factored in the extra $5.  Call it an avoidance, tax; it’s still a cigarette tax of sorts.

One way or another, Caesar is gonna get his cut.  One way or another cigarettes are gonna get their cut.  The question really is: Do I want that baby to get formula.  Do I want the baby to be loved?

And, actually, LOVE opens OTHER dimensions for this discussion.

There is a scenario where this dance gets sidestepped.  But it’s one where I no longer care about the baby.

WHAT IF…? (CAN I JUST DREAM A LITTLE? MAYBE YOU DREAM WITH ME FOR ONCE???)

WHAT IF all you “church” people, you “Christians” and so forth (particularly those of you who are so beholding to Corbett, Fikkert, Lupton and friends and afraid to GIVE a few dollars to a bum)  YEAH YOU!  I am talking to YOU here… WHAT IF I worked with a woman I met from the streets, spent several years praying with her, serving her needs (food, shelter, clothing and other such things) and after being impacted by the LOVE OF CHRIST for some time, she began to see herself as a minster of Jesus taking the Gospel to others – especially among the poor and needy?

…. but wait… there’s more…

And WHAT IF this woman came to me one evening late and told me that she feels led by God to go to school and actually earn a bachelor’s degree in Bible?  And WHAT IF when I asked her if she has looked into it and found a school she would like to attend, she tells me that in fact, YES, she has done that.  She has found one, and she is currently learning that if she can get scholarships and grants she doesn’t have to go into debt for that part of the bill?  (Sounds smart, right?  I mean unless you are getting micro-finance loan from Corbett and Fikkert, the whole idea of staying out of debt AND ESPECIALLY of learning about Christ sounds like pretty much an ULTIMATE goal you hardly ever dream of when you reach out to the poor and homeless… RIGHT?)

So… WHAT IF … all that?

Would YOU, you “Christian” type beholding to the teachings of When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity be willing to put some nickels and dimes and a few dollars together to fund the part of her education that isn’t covered by scholarships and grants?

WHAT IF we do so on a semester-to-semester basis and insist she get passing grades to continue it?

WHAT IF I tell you she is already doing the work of a shepherd on the streets?  I mean, sure, she lacks a Bible education.  In fact, her understanding of the Bible is minimal, as far as that goes, and is not academic in the slightest.  But she is already reaching out to, praying with, and serving other poor and needy people with uncanny sense of love and charisma that draws street people to her like moths to a flame.  WHAT IF all that?

Wanna part with a little money for THAT cause?

This ain’t a bottle of booze, y’all.  This is the Kingdom Cause out at the outer edge of your wildest dreams!

Right?

Who wants in on some of this?

Please let me know!!!

THE GUIDED TOUR (PART B)

I didn’t finish writing my post a few days ago when I reflexively published it (absent minded professor style).  (Sorry about that.)  To be forthright, I wasn’t sure I would publish it at all.  I write several posts that don’t ever get published.  Most of them linger in nuts and bolts for a long time, and sometimes I return to clean it up a bit and then share.  This one was firmly in that camp when I clicked it into play.

Not that you noticed.  It got a like, but hardly any traffic. 

If you want the first half/three quarters or whatever, then jump down and find the first post, then come back for this.  But considering the interest both on my part as writer and your part as reader, I wouldn’t recommend it.

On second thought, here is the link: https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2021/02/19/the-guided-tour-and-the-truth/

So, where were we?

I was just getting around to talking about the guided tour I took with the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church’s (not its real name) 101 class.  They were going to teach me how to reach out to the homeless on behalf of Jesus.  That sounds great.  In fact, if I were in charge at that “church” I would likely offer the class too (with important changes, of course).  Even though I would change it, dramatically, I see value in it.  As I demonstrated before, you can visit the capitol and take the tour, but that doesn’t mean you are there just to oooh and aaahhh.  You might listen to the park ranger at the cliff dwellings, might even get some ideas from them, but you are perfectly free to think and theorize for yourself.

However, not at Premier Homeless Pseudo Church.

No.  They claim that if you don’t follow the curriculum, you are “going rogue” – and whereas that sounds appealing to a lot of people in a more political setting, I assure you that Premier intends to sanction you for “going rogue.”

But you are reading here.  You have come this far into this post.  (Wanna keep following this line of thought a bit further?)

I happen to know that the “executives” at Premier are already beholding to Corbett and Fikkert’s work When Helping Hurts.  The philosophy of ministry to the homeless they promote adheres to that kind of thing.  They should have used their Bible, but the Bible doesn’t lend itself too much to discipleship in Mammon.  No “small business classes” for the destitute in Nairobi there.  No turning the poor out into the cold winter night in the Gospel of Jesus.  So, they go with Corbett and Fikkert instead.

And hey!  It makes sense if you want to smooth it out with conservative Republican types more interested in NOT giving a hand out to the poor or say forgiving debt and that kind of thing.

I took the unguided tour as well.  I found men and women ready, willing, and able to lead prayer, preach the Gospel, sing praise songs, and share a communion meal and talk about Jesus deep into the night while the executive minister was either watching Matlock or porn.  (No, really, this the executive minister has confessed publicly.  I am not making it up.  And I wouldn’t want to kick a brother while he is struggling with that, so I do not use either his name or that of his organization, but since he does confess this, you wonder what he finds more important than tending the flock God gives him.)

To be fair, maybe he is counting all that money you send him to take care of the poor with.  Yeah.  He makes a big deal about NOT giving money to the poor, but of course he is happy to take it off your hands on their behalf!  He boasts a million dollar budget (or at least did just a few years ago).

I have street ministry friends who tell me that if they had just $50,000, they could get everyone off Lubbock’s streets in one or two nights.

I tell them that if I could get the church of Lubbock to listen to Jesus, we could do it tonight with no money at all.

If you are interested in limiting yourself to the guided tour, then don’t read here.  Tell all your friends NOT to read here too.

But if you want to take that unguided tour and see things without Mammon as your guide, let me know.  I would really like to get out there and show you what is real.

JESUS, ARE YOU REALLY THE ONE?

(Primary text for your consideration: Luke 7:18-23 (Matt. 11:2-6))

Do you ever have doubts?  About Jesus?  Are there days when it is NOT really well with your soul?

Did you know that John the Baptist second guessed Jesus and asked (just prior to his own execution) if Jesus was really “the coming [expected] One?”

It was just a few years ago when it dawned on me that John, even John the Baptist, struggled with doubt about Jesus.  If you ever had a moment of weakness and doubt, a moment when your faith and assurance in Jesus seemed misplaced, then you are in good company!  Yes.  Even John the Baptist, the forerunner – Elijah, when facing the end of his mission and life had to ask, to verify, whether he had in fact backed the wrong messiah.

Did you know that in the “times of Christ” (as we sometimes refer to it), that “messiahs” were a dime a dozen?

Oh… in the ultimate reality, of course, there would only be One true messiah.  But for about 150 years before Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and for about 150 years afterward too, there were hundreds of men claiming to be the Christ.  We know about a lot of them from history books.  Yet it is certain that there were many more who were lost to history that we don’t know.

But with “messiahs” popping up in every other village about every other year, most of them raising at least a small following, all of which were put down as rebels, (even Jesus was put to death for that!) it became important to verify which one was the REAL thing!  That could prove to be a daunting task!  In fact, this goes a long way to explaining why the Pharisees scrutinize Jesus so much.  It’s not that they are sheer legalists who just love to lord it over everyone else, as much as it is that here is yet another “messiah” making claims for God.  Does he live like God commands?  If infractions, phoniness, and incongruity can be sniffed out, then the “messianic pretender” can be discredited and save a lot of lives!

Have you ever wondered?  Have you ever asked Jesus if he is really The One?  What exactly makes Jesus so unique that you can tell the difference in Him from all the others???

Well, Jesus is gracious with John on the occasion when as he is about to die, John sends messengers to inquire.  Jesus gives John reassurance by quoting a couple of passages from that ancient prophet Isaiah saying, “Go tell John, what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life… oh! and the poor have the GOSPEL (GOOD NEWS) proclaimed to them!  Blessed is he who is not offended by Me!”

How’s that for comfort?

John is about to lose his head for sticking his neck out for God as a forerunner for Jesus, and when he gets a little worried about whether it was all worth it, Jesus offers these words of reassurance.  Jesus knows that John will connect with those powerful words of Isaiah’s prophecy and find his faith stirred up.  Jesus is connecting his own mission and life to the trusted word of old given to that trusted prophet.  Out of all the “messianic pretenders” running around making claims to be God’s special anointed, Jesus fits this prophetic expectation of Isaiah, whereas the others do not.

There.

Now, doesn’t that settle it?  Doesn’t that quicken your faith too?

Oh?  That sounds good, but it doesn’t quite connect with you down here where you live???

Let’s be honest about this.  There is no use faking it.  Those words about the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and the dead getting healed sound really good alright, but according to Jesus, John’s messengers are supposed to go tell him what they have seen and heard!

(I don’t know about you, but when I slip into John’s sandals and listen to these words, I think, “Hey!  I am about to get killed here, Jesus!  Can you help me?  What good news do you have for me?  All that stuff is great for the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and even the dead; it’s really amazing, actually.  BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?  I need your help too!  GET ME OUTA HERE!!!”)

But Jesus sends the messengers back as witnesses to these amazing healings, and that is the comfort Jesus sends.  John isn’t going to be liberated from Herod’s clutches (or from those of his wife and daughter), but he can go lose his head now in the comfort that these other people are getting all this relief specific to their needs.

So, how is that comfort?

Well, the Jews of that day are looking for a REVOLUTION of sorts.  (I must qualify it with the words “of sorts” since in the ultimate reality, even though it looks, feels, and sounds like a revolt against Rome (which at some levels it most certainly is), it actually is a return to God from whom the world revolted at The Beginning.  Perhaps we should call this a revolutionary revolution!)  At any rate, as long as Jesus and John are considering ancient prophets of old who came long before their time, we might consider the prophetic picture Ezekiel also painted of a valley of dry bones.

Go there with me a moment.

Israel is dead.  Exceedingly dead. The valley is full of bones.  Dry bones.  The bones are all that’s left of Israel.  They are exceedingly dry and dead.  Israel is dead.  God’s hope for the world, which he called out of Egypt is dead.  Exceedingly dead.

Right?

Hmmm…  How is a Jew supposed to read that?

But then, according to Ezekiel, God asks the prophet, “Can these bones live?”

Well, if – and I mean IF – these bones are to live, it will be an ACT of God!  Only God could answer that.  And sure enough, the wind of the Holy Spirit comes blowing on those bones, and they start coming to life little by little until, as Ezekiel puts it, there stood “an exceedingly GREAT army!”

Hmmm…  An army assembled from the dead.

Out of all the “messiahs” John could have backed, he backed the one who is giving sight to the blind, ambulation to the lame, cleansing to the lepers, hearing to the deaf, and life to the dead! Jesus is building an exceedingly great army out of the dead bones of Israel!  John’s messengers are witnesses to this!

Do you think maybe Jesus expects John to place his reply in a frame work between biblical terms such as these and the trust he puts in the witnesses who have seen and heard Jesus do these things?

Hmmm… That’s just about the only way I know to makes sense of it all.

But that leaves open one more road block to my assurance. Maybe it does yours too.

Have YOU ever seen or heard this stuff?  Have you ever witnessed the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and the dead get raised up into an army?  Have you ever seen or heard the GOOD NEWS preached to the poor?  Someone needs to witness this stuff!  Either you or someone you trust who reports it to you.

But when did that ever happen?

You’ve spent all your life believing Jesus is really The One, and this is how he demonstrates that, but you haven’t seen or heard any of the assurances he points John to, and no one you trust ever reported it to you?

Why not?

Because no one else today was there to witness it?

Hmmm…

Do you know that Jesus is alive and well today?

Where?  Where is he?

If Jesus is to be believed at all, he is alive and well in the church which is his body.  As Luke later describes it, that wind of the Holy Spirit comes rushing in on the dead bones gathered in the upper room, and they become the exceedingly great body of Christ!  Thus, just by process of simple logic, you should be able to go to any assembly of his followers (his body) a church, and see and hear these things for yourself.

You do go to church… right?

Good!

So, seeing and hearing the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead raised to life is just old hat for you!

Right?

No???

Well, at least you witness the poor having the GOOD NEWS proclaimed to them!

Right?

Wait!

What???

I live in Lubbock, Texas “where there is a church on every corner.” There may well be a handful of cities and towns around America that are as “Christian” as this town, but none are more.  We have big ones, little ones, white ones, black ones, and even cowboy and bikers ones.  (My God!  I feel like I am advertising a porno!)  We have rich ones and poor ones.

If you want to run for mayor of Lubbock, you need not bother if you are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or pagan of any variety.  (Now, you don’t have to be particularly devout, but if you are Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Presbyterian or some similar kind, then yes, you can run and expect to get votes!)

But you know what never makes the six o’clock headlines in this town?

THE GOOD NEWS of Jesus preached to the poor!

Now…

I gotta say, if the congregation you meet with finds it hard to compete with the doctors down at Covenant Hospital or UMC, in providing a healing touch to the blind, the lame, the lepers (we don’t have too many of those in Lubbock) the deaf, or the dead, it shouldn’t be too hard to proclaim the GOOD NEWS to the poor.

Right?

What is so hard about that part?

(Hint: YOUR heart.)

Even if we find it too hard to miraculously heal the sick and raise an exceedingly great army out of them, the REAL ONE will be proclaiming the GOOD NEWS to the poor.  And in a town like Lubbock, Texas where we have “messianic pretenders” on every corner, the way you can tell which one is really The One is the same today as when Jesus comforted John.

And what is the GOOD NEWS Jesus proclaims to the poor?

Is it small business courses in the slums of Nairobi (or even “the East Side of Lubbock)?

Well, according to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, the GOOD NEWS Jesus proclaims to the poor is JUBILEE!  And THAT is, at its core, FORGIVENESS of debt!

Now… How can the church of Lubbock forgive a debt for a poor person who has lost their shirt to the bank, to the pandemic, to the ice storm of the century?  Or even just addiction?

Well, Dr. Luke goes on to demonstrate how the church in Jerusalem (even though they are a poor church themselves) sells off their property and gives the money to Jesus so that no one suffers lack on any need!  That is how a church proclaims GOOD NEWS to the poor.  That is how Jesus does it.  That is how the REAL ONE does it.

That is how the GOOD NEWS – the REAL Gospel – makes the six o’clock headlines!

The rest are just pretending.

Messianic pretenders.

Peddling fake good news.

Getting people killed in the name of God.

Leaving you to languish in your doubts while you sing, “It is well with my soul” when it is not.

We have a chance to repent.

Let us at least, AT LEAST, aim in the right direction, ask forgiveness, and pray for God’s strength.  Who knows?  If Jesus is to be trusted, he might just start giving sight to the blind while we are at it, and we might just get to witness that!

GHOSTED BY “JESUS”?

I wrote a post some while back about how my church “ghosted” me.  Since the church is the very Body of Christ, I questioned whether Jesus had “ghosted” me.

Let’s face it.  Part (and I mean only a part, but still a PART) of how I come to view my ministry as prophetic is due to the fact that I am a “troubler of Israel.”  I know that.  But I never expected to be “ghosted” and didn’t have familiarity with that term even until recent years.

Ghosted by my church.

Actually, I got kicked out of one church, shunned at another, and ghosted most recently at my present church.  Yeah.  The small group that met at my home for weekly devotional all up and vanished like a fart in the wind with no explanation whatsoever.

I really think they hoped I would just get the hint and leave.  (Jesus does that in Second Opinions chapter 6, I think.)

Well, I don’t know what to write about all that really.  I have FEELINGS, of course, but that’s not a blog thing…. Is it?

Also, I have some individual friends in previous churches who effectively ghosted me over the years too.  Then just today, I hear that one of them has died.  That’s all I know.  I don’t know anything of his circumstance.  I haven’t had any contact (THOUGH I HAVE REACHED OUT NUMEROUS TIMES THROUGH THE YEARS) in a long time.  Over a decade.

This man was very helpful and influential with me at one point.  Actually two.  He was a rich inspiration to me.  Even now, when I think of some of my greatest moments of faith as a Christian, this man readily comes to mind.  However, he was a complex man too, and some of his influence I think was sinful and led me to sin.

Perhaps, in that sense, he was sorta like David of old.  A really good man with a heart for God, but with a truly indulgent sin life too.

I admired him.  And though I had a few stubborn disagreements (none that ever became heated debates that I recall), I held him in the highest regard, and I have some of the warmest memories of him.

But then out of the blue, he was gone.  No returned phone calls or emails.  A year later, still not returned calls.  Two years later… still… three, four … hmmm… more even.  And nothing.

If I had offended him, I never was confronted about it.  I never knew it.  I never was given a chance to repair it.

I really just don’t know.

And then today, I hear this good brother has passed.

Passed with this rift between us.

And I FEEL it.

THE GUIDED TOUR (AND THE TRUTH)

“All truth is somebody’s truth.”  I don’t know who first published that sentence, but I have heard it making the rounds.  I get it.  It makes sense to me.  Truth is, after all, relative.  (I know that comes as a shock to some of you, but your idea of “absolute truth” is mistaken and damaging.  Truth is found by LOVE, by a love for truth, and God’s truth is relative to HIM.  Think about it.)

Thus, there are no guided tours that are value-free.

I have a stepson discharged from the USMC a couple of years ago who is now attending college roughly 6 years older than the bulk of his classmates.  He sees very clearly what most of his peers do not – that during the course of lectures in various classes under various professors political persuasion is at work in the unwritten curriculum. He is both shocked and dismayed.  He rails against this practice, all to no avail of course.

This goes for Bible teachers too.  I went to Bible school for the bulk of my education, and it quickly became clear to me that some aspects of the Bible were emphasized, others neglected – all as a matter of regular practice.  Everything from politics and psychology to tradition and personal experience came to bear on the teachings of my professors.  Hopefully, they taught me (or encouraged me) to “think for myself” along the way, but you are truly naïve to believe their own values didn’t impact the things they taught.

I remember growing up near Mesa Verde National Park and my dad, with a season pass, would take me several times a year to visit the ancient Anasazi “Indian” ruins – cliff dwellings.  We always took the guided tours and respectfully listened to the ranger guides explain the theories developed by experts regarding the artifacts.  We heard it all a thousand times.  But of course we joined the throngs of visitors from all over the nation and the world to do it. So, it was both humorous and remarkable when my dad would ask intelligent questions and then offer counter-theories cooked up at home.  We could see that many others in the crowds would gravitate toward him and ask more questions.

And Dad and I developed a couple of fascinating theories about those ruins.  Our theories might not have the same value as those of the experts, but the expert theories are no more proven fact than ours. Eventually, we backed of the guided tours a bit, and discovered our own theories.  I will never forget how Dad pieced together the idea that the watch tower (no longer standing) on the mesa top in modern day Colorado might well be visible to an “Indian” perched on the top of the butte at the southern end of Chaco Canyon in modern day New Mexico, and with fire beacons these communities might communicate with one another at the speed of light!  That little theory certainly made a lot of sense out of other data and theories.

It taught me the value of the guided tour – its strengths and limitations.

I can’t help but think about the “insurrectionists” at the capitol last month and how it was said of them that they took the guided tour of the place the day before.  A simple guided tour in the hands of the welcome committee doubled as a recon mission for the “rioters.”

That has me recalling the 9/11 hijackers playing video games as a means of training for their terrorist activities.

Hmmm… This post seemed so innocuous when I started it.  Huh?

Well, I don’t mean to be threatening at all, and the drama only has so much value to me really.  But with those kind of parameters marked out, hopefully my point is allowed a bit more gravity.  The guided tour has value, but it is not necessarily true to God’s values, on the one hand, and it has limitations on the other.  It is neither offered nor accepted in a value-free vacuum.

So, I go volunteer with the “homeless ministry” in Lubbock, and they have a “101 class” they want me to take.  There is a curriculum that has been developed.  They have a physical tour too!  They load the class up in a van and drive around areas of town where homeless activity is known to happen frequently (both official and sanctioned and criminal).

Texas mayor Tim Boyd resigns after telling residents desperate for power and heat “only the strong will survive” – CBS News

I saw this story elsewhere, but only took the time to check it out when I found this post. I think I am gonna have to start talking about Christian Darwinism soon. Please see this story, and let’s talk…

Sand waiting to sparkle

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