A Humanizing Ministry III

Speaking of humanizing ministry (see the previous two posts for the opening of this line of thought), I tend to think that raising children just about matches the textbook definition.  Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, I have the pleasure of tending to baby/toddlers every day.  Meeting their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter is a humanizing start, alright, but the real action happens in the face-to-face interaction commonly called baby talk.

It’s a lot of gibberish on the one hand, but also likely the tongues of angels.  “Peek-a-boo” is one of the main words.  I watched our 1 year old boy play face games with my wife in church as they matched funny smiles, laughed at each other, and did it again and again.  His little hand reached out to grasp her nose, and the joy they both shared was heavenly.

I thought about the birth of a colt, when the mare, lying on her side gives birth and then stands up, the colt quickly follows.  A bit wobbly, maybe, but stands right up.

Making humans doesn’t work like that.  We take a LOT of time and energy – two commodities that are in short supply if the child is not LOVED sacrificially.  But that little game of “peek-a-boo” is the shining face of Moses and the unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord and transforming these two creatures from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18).  That is how HUMANS are made.  It is a signal of NEW CREATION.

And the fact that I have friends sleeping in the streets does not so much indicate addiction, lack of job training, or laziness as it does lack of LOVE.  If the folks living on the streets had more of this kind of ministry and sharing from one human to another – bearing the image of God – they would be better off.  And the fact that they are not getting it lets me know that neither are the folks living in homes.

A Humanizing Ministry II

The following post is copied from a letter I sent out to the mutual friends I shared with Dot and Ted Stewart back in 2012.  If you read the previous post (and the comments) this will make better sense.  If not, it is still a worthy tribute to pay to Dot and to Jesus who gave her strength to pour out her life as a living sacrifice for God.


Those who know me well, know that I make it my aim and life-purpose to Go to the place of shame and pain in my community and bear the image of God there. I usually treat this like a mission statement. It is something to aspire to; I shy away from suggesting that I actually accomplish it, or do it well. But today I want to turn that around and say that I have seen it done, and done well.


I need to tell you that I did not grow up knowing my cousin Dot Stewart personally. I barely met her a couple of times growing up. She was my mother’s first cousin, and close friends with my mother’s older sister as they were growing up. But when I moved to Lubbock after college ten years ago, my Pappaw told me to look up my cousin and see if she would put me to work. She did. And I quickly got to know her and her husband, Ted.


It was just about that time when Ted began suffering with dementia badly enough that he no longer worked or ran the family bookstore where I was suddenly employed. He had built a career as a missionary to Brazil and a Bible instructor at Sunset School of Preaching (as it used to be called when my dad went there), and he ran a start up bookstore that served the students and the churches all over the world where those graduates went for many, many years. These accomplishments, of course, serve to intensify the measure of the sense of loss at the time he had to step down from so many responsibilities – even more so when I say he was beloved by so many students and colleagues.


I barely knew the man or his immediate family as he began this transition. Likewise, I barely knew his wife – my cousin. I have come to know Jesus more dearly though, through knowing them these last few years, and that is because I have seen Dot go to the place of shame, pain and despair and bear God’s image there as she fulfilled her vow to love, honor and cherish her mate until death parted them last February. Dot spared no expense, whether financial, spiritual or physical, to walk by Ted’s side seeking healing and help for him and in holding his hand even as the disease ravaged his mind robbing him of any dignity he ever had without her.


Over the course of this time period, it so happens that my Mammaw also suffered dementia and she died just this month. I recall my Pappaw’s struggle to care for her, and as he neared 90 years old, the task proved insurmountable. However living in a small town, he was able to place her in a care home staffed with family and friends that tended to her intimately and allowed him to take her home frequently for visits and allowed him to come to her side daily. Though he grieves my Mammaw for having gone out of their home, he was blessed beyond measure to have her in the care of family and friends.


Dot faced that issue as well, but without the same options. She could have put Ted in a home. He might have even received quality care. But she chose, despite good arguments to the contrary, to keep Ted at home and care for him herself. That choice was grueling and heart breaking at all hours of the day and night with very precious few breaks and respite.


I recall reflecting on dementia with another cousin of mine a few years ago. We had been discussing Mammaw’s life. It seemed that she wasn’t really with us anymore. Pappaw had lost her already, but her body kept going. How can that be a human experience? She had seemed to digress to a quality of life even less than that of animal. And in fact, if she were left alone more than a few hours would likely die. The question of whether she was still human only found its answer in love. We came to a belief that as long as Pappaw and her family loved her and cared for her and kept her in her place in our home and hearts, she was still human because our love, or more specifically the love of God through us, made it possible for her to continue in her humanity.


This is what I saw Dot, my cousin, do for her mate against all odds and in a day and age when keeping marriage vows seems to have gone the way of so many endangered species. I need to tell you this because she blessed me, and I learned some things about love, life, and the age to come from this woman and her mate. They showed me the depths of God’s love, that depth at which it is hard to look. You actually want to turn away. The view there is abandoned by all sensibility and social grace. We see a man of former greatness and admiration in all the ravages of disease, and a woman who loves him, holds his hand, keeps his place at the table set for him, waits on him hand and foot, up at all hours of the night to tend to his wandering mind and footsteps, who cries out in agony every day, but won’t let go of her man! That is hard to watch. That is hard to give approval to. That makes you want to turn away, but as John’s gospel depicts, that is the point when Pilate tells the crowds, “Behold the man!” and we see Jesus ravaged by all the sin of the world bearing the image of God and healing us by his stripes. My cousin, Dot, and her mate, Ted, did this in our world. And most of us tried not to be around for too much of it.


She held his hand to the very end. She misses him even now. And I recall a conversation with my Dad a few months ago where he lamented that Pat Robertson, the TV preacher, had begun endorsing divorce for couples when one mate suffers dementia. Robertson had claimed that the afflicted mate was actually already gone, and so it was not an ungodly divorce (according to him) to put that person away and move on with life. Dad had wished that Pat Robertson knew what real godly love is. And I am telling you, I have seen it.


Dot is going on with life now without Ted at her side. He waits for her in the Bosom of Abraham, as he liked to say. She fears that she did not do enough. She says she was just a humble farm girl who got to be with such an important man. She is not sure she did her part well enough. Perhaps she could have done more and failed to do it. These are her fears, not mine. I am a witness for the defense in the trial of her conscience. I saw it differently. I saw Jesus in that couple. I saw them tell of the glory of God’s love even without using words. When “God made them male and female in His image,” Dot and Ted exemplify what that verse means.


Dot is exhausted tonight. She is suffering physical pain she acquired while helping Ted near the end. She will have back surgery tomorrow to help get relief for that. I am asking you to pray for her tonight. And if you know Dot and Ted from Sunset Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, it would be good if you send her a bit of encouragement. Following Jesus is not easy. We know she is a disciple because of the love she has for another. She needs us to gather around her now too. Her humanity will be found in us keeping her place at the table. And if you can sit at her feet to learn a bit about the love of God, your life will be enriched.

A Humanizing Ministry

I lost two grandmothers to Alzheimer’s – “the long goodbye” as they say.  The first one, my Pappaw survived and tried to nurse to the end.  Bless his heart; he struggled so hard to care for her.  The second outlived Grandpa for several years, though the lights were dimming pretty much from the day he died.

Alzheimer’s.  Such a dreaded disease.  I saw it in last night’s news, since research is showing promise for thwarting it with healthy living while we are young.  But it is only news because it affects so many people and does so in such a damaging way.  Memory loss that breaks a person down slowly into a creature only barely resembling the human that once was there.

I see a lot there in common with street homeless.

What does it mean to be human?

I remember taking a course in school that asked this question.  We looked at it from scientific and philosophic lenses.  If I lost my right arm in a car accident, would I still be human?  What if I got a robot arm in it’s place?  Would I still be human?

We all answered, YES.  Yes, you are still human even with the loss of an arm.  Yes, you are still human even if you use a robotic arm in its place.

Okay.  What if we take one neuron out of your brain and replace it with one computer chip.  Would you still be human?

Yes.  We said you would still be human.

What if we replaced exactly 50% of your neurons with circuit chips?  Would you still be human?

We said yes to this too, but it was suddenly becoming a troubling notion.

What if we built a robot out of chips and bits?  Would it be human?

We said, No.

What if we replaced 99% of the neurons in Agent X’s brain with chips?

The class then couldn’t decide if that would be BBQ or Jalapeno chips!  It was hard to give up the humanity of that last neuron, but we effectively had a robot on our hands, and that just is not truly human.

But what if we program the robot to express emotions, to calculate thoughts?  Well, this was a bit troubling too, and raised ethical questions, but the consensus was that this still was not a human.

So what makes a creature – human?  Who decides?  And in the world of tomorrow – and already even today – these questions become less and less abstract and erudite.  They become personal for many of us.

The conclusion I have come to is that creatures who bear the image of God are the truly human creatures.  Creatures made by God for that exact purpose (Gen. 1:26-27) are the truly human creatures.  It is a specific community of creature at the nucleus.  The human male and the human female together bear the image of God.  Any variance on this proves less than fully human.  Sin has tarnished the image.

Of course “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” as St. Paul tells us.(Rom. 3:23), and God provides grace for us.  This suggests there is a potential for our humanity that we presently lack (all of us lack it).  And so we “human” creatures live in a tension between being fully human or being animalistic.  And there are many, many varied forces at work pulling us into different kinds of animalist forms.  Not least being idolatry.  But this post is not intended to exhaust all the causes for this phenom.

Instead, this post is about humanizing ministry, and I started by considering my grandparents suffering with Alzheimer’s.  I will not tell of all the indignities my grandmothers suffered, but a few common to the disease are poor hygiene, paranoia, stripping and running naked, soiling one’s self, and the decimation of interpersonal relationships.  How much of that do you see in common with street homelessness?

I remember discussing my Mammaw with my cousin one evening as we lamented her condition.  She had been such a dignified lady in her youth, her middle age, even in the early years of her old age.  She was a precious grandmother to us, a wife and home-maker, a friend to many, well dressed, articulate, hospitable, and caring.  But Alzheimer’s took all of that, and we called in professional help who, in part, kept her out of sight as part of their program to keep her safe and manage her dignity, because she had become animalistic.

How might we humanize her?

It was clear that full healing and redemption were beyond our power.  If God would intervene, we would have been happy to offer the prayer and healing touch, but that is all God’s prerogative, and he had not moved in that way.

All that was left for us was to leave her to the professionals – effectively ignore her and hope the problem would go away.

But actually, there was another option.  One that was so stark it almost did not get noticed.  We could take her HOME.  We could, if we were so willing and loving, sacrifice deeply to love her ourselves, to keep her at home and bathe her, feed her, comfort her, and all the millions of little exhausting things that go with it.  If we so chose to cook her old recipes, set her table and seat her at it with the rest of her family, we could humanize her.

It would cost us everything to do it.  Our life would never be the same, nor would it be our own.  Instead, minute by minute we would have to remind her where she is, who she is, to eat the potatoes and not take her clothes off at the table.  To reassure her a million times a night that the door is locked and she is safe.  To purchase her favorite perfume and apply it to her, to read to her from the Bible and her beloved Reader’s Digest.  And to put up with her suspicion and resistance at every turn with complete patience and grace.

If we did all that, we would still have our Mammaw – or at least we would humanize the creature we were losing in a love that is only divine.

It was an option.  Like it or not.  And of course, NOT.  But it was, and for many of us still is, an option.  An option that will kill us if we take it.  But an option in which we – yes WE – begin to bear the image of God as we die.  And that too is something divine; just look at Jesus (Mark 15:39).

I am sure we would still fall short of the glory of God.  But how might we at least consider moving in that direction?

My Mammaw was a sweet lady who did NOTHING to deserve her fate.  But we agonized over the long goodbye with her all the same.  We called in the professionals, and still we suffered as did she.  But no one ever faulted us in the slightest – nor her for that matter.  And yet we could have done more.

And I see so very much in common between her experience and that of the street homeless.  The fact is: humans need a HOME.  Home is humanizing.  And humanizing is ministry.

Camping vs. Homelessness

Wow! I just thought I was passionate about this stuff. Check out this post about disparity between homeless and rich. You might feel the heat come off it.

One Human To Another

Yesterday I had an encounter with a man who was on his way to being homeless. He was sitting in the parking lot of Fry’s and I had God telling me to give him $5, so off I went. I ended up talking to him for about 30 min because he just opened up. His love for God amazed me. He told me he has been asking God why He is allowing him to go through this time. He told me that he has always wanted to be in some sort of ministry and that he just keeps loosing faith.

I told him, don’t you realize your ministering to me right now? Jesus walked everywhere He went, he chose to live that life and I felt like he needed to hear it. Maybe God has you right where he wants you! I think Jesus wanted him to be humbled and…

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Remembering James and May

A reader on a recent post recalled a night of worship with James and May, and now I want to commemorate their love too.  What follows is a reprint from the Fat Beggars Spot – a bulletin for the street homeless of Lubbock published more than three years ago.

  Year 1                                                  April 27, 2014                                                            Vol. 8

The Fat Beggar’s Spot

A Revolutionary Rag



Dreams, Visions, and Prophecy


It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;

And your sons and daughters will prophecy,

Your old men will dream dreams,

Your young men will see visions.

-Joel 2:28 (see also Acts 2:17-19)


Dreaming of Home


I recently spent the night out on an empty lot behind Carpenter’s Kitchen near a homeless couple (James and May). Late in the night I stirred briefly to eavesdrop on their conversation. The man told the woman (the love of his life) how he dreams of one day building her a log cabin. He described the kind of pine and pitch he intends to use, the view he hopes to frame in the window, and the spiral staircase he wants to add to it. I could hear his lady respond in fascination and join him in his dream for their future as she coughed and their blankets were buffeted by the winds.


I was stunned. From my vantage point, they seem so very far from that goal. You would have thought their every ambition was consumed with the pursuit of alcohol, cigarettes, and spare change. They sleep on the streets every night – even in harsh conditions. Seasoned street people, they have been doing this for years. It is remarkable that they maintain such a deep love for each other; but to dream of building a mountain cabin really blows my mind! Yet there it is, and they have the moxie to dream it.


Visions for Ministry


Recently, my family shared time with another street-couple (nameless in his publication) in prayer, a meal, and relaxation. They described their dream (or was it a vision?) to start a ministry for abused and/or pregnant women on the streets. This second couple hopes to establish a large house in which to keep women from danger and give rest, shelter, and safety as they rebuild their lives. It is their long-range goal. They have tremendous hearts for this ministry, but no assets with which to begin offering it.


Again, I am blown away by the shear ambition of such a dream yet having so little with which to start. But they live on those streets seeing the need first-hand daily. They surely have more faith than me.


But then I met a third (nameless) couple at the library recently where we shared communion. As we broke bread together, they lamented their struggles to maintain a simple patch of ground upon which to sleep. According to them, the church is instrumental in running them off the spot they share with several other homeless people, and amid all the discouragement they got a vision. They were very clear to distinguish it as a vision rather than a dream.


They dare to envision a community of homeless people coming together and pooling resources with which to purchase an empty lot. This alone would be an amazing achievement, but they dare to visualize this community setting up a fence/wall around the perimeter to keep the eyesore contained. They even visualize the construction of a shed or shelter in the middle of it and the maintenance of port-O-potties at which point they would be self-sufficient with no need for the church or outside help.


It troubles me that they seek to cut the church out of the vision (but it seems understandable given their relationship there), but yet again, this vision strikes me as far, far bigger than the resources would allow.


But then this makes me think of my dreams too, and I wonder if mine would not address all of these listed above as well – all the while proving to reach even higher and going farther with even less.


My I-Have-a-Dream Speech


I dream of the church receiving a vision of itself as the very Body of Messiah who moves, talks, and acts like that Joshua of Nazareth who traverses those dusty Galilean trails in the gospels – touching lepers, partying with the poor, healing people’s vision and stirring dreams while standing up to religious and political leaders who get in the way of the Kingdom of YHWH. I visualize a church, a body of people made up mostly of middle-class Americans (the wealthiest group of people on earth) sharing everything in common (Acts 2:44-45 anyone?) taking in strangers (Matt. 25:35, 38 anyone?) and filling those guest bedrooms that go empty night after night with Jesus who knocks on their doors (Rev. 3:20 anyone?). I dream of church buildings with all that empty space and empty pews each night being filled with “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40) and throwing banquets in honor of the poor (Luke 14:13) and YHWH finally coming home to live in the hearts (temple) of his people (Ezek. 43:1-5). Can I get an Amen …Anyone?


We don’t even have to raise a single dollar (not $40,000; not $10 million) to start fulfilling this vision and making this dream come true. And yet, I expect my dream is the most ambitious of all these I have listed here. And why? Selfishness? Politics? Fear? What other reasons stop us doing it? But none of these characterize Jesus, nor should they characterize those entities that pass themselves off as “The Body of Christ.” Surely the church can repent and find the way to mitigate its fears! (I John 4:18).


I challenge you to join us in dreaming dreams, seeing visions, and experiencing the Spirit of prophecy (Acts 2:17-19). May Messiah be formed in you (Gal. 4:19), and in all of us together.


Imagine that!


News You Can Use


I am still seeking feedback on a name for this publication. Please continue thinking on it and make new suggestions or support one already made. Also, I am approached all the time by people asking about those Fat Beggars tee shirts. At this time, I do not have funding for more of them. I have heard that the God Can II at Tent City is no longer getting donations. I have not heard about the first God Can in a month now. I figure this means donations are way down. That is understandable, but I encourage you to find one and give as you are able. I am giving as I am able too. However, like many of you, I am just too broke to offer much this month. Hopefully by mid-summer, I will have more money to work with. And I hope to get neon green, hot pink, and other eye-popping colors to go with them. Keep in touch with me on this. I know you want them!

Adding Names to the Prayer List

I posted recently about the burden of praying for all my homeless friends by name and shared the list on this blog.  In fact, I even offered a follow up post on it – largely because it drew such a rich response.




Afterward, I have given much fresh thought to prayer, though my prayers seem stale.  And meanwhile, the names just keep being added to it.  The burden only deepens and widens.  Prayer is the MAIN thing I have to offer to my street friends.  Occasionally I have a bit of spare change.  Occasionally, I have socks, blankets, food or more.  It seems fairly rare these days, but of course Fat Beggars has always majored in sharing worship.  But mostly I am reduced to prayer.

Reduced to prayer.

Interesting phrase.

There is so much more commitment that could be entertained, it would seem.  Prayer – is that everything?, anything?, or nothing???  If that is all you offer, is that effectively “faith without works”?  But what is works of any kind without prayer?

I could chase such bunnies all day.  Meanwhile, I know I used to do so much more than I do nowadays.

But there is another element going on here, and it is the real reason I write today:

I am ashamed to say this, but I failed to add a name a while back.  I tried to burn it in my memory at the time (as I was driving the car), but I failed.  I got the wife’s name, but failed to get the husband’s name.  And this happened a couple of months ago when I gave both of them a lift.  It was just two.  The only two I saw all that day.  Should’a been easy.

But, what can I say, God is good!  I bumped into the guy again yesterday.  I know this, not because I recognized his face, but because when we talked he remembered me!  But here’s the real kicker.  He remembered me from years ago, not from the car ride a few weeks back.  He remembered when I spent the night on the street out by the old St. Benedicts Chapel, back when it was still located on Broadway.  And once he got to reminiscing on it, I remembered him too!  His hair is much longer now, so his appearance is different, but as I recall our first meeting, I think we really hit it off.  But sadly, I had totally forgot him since.

He reported to me that his wife is in jail just now and asked for prayers on her behalf – which of course I am already doing!

Anyway, I write all of this to set the stage for saying this:

His name is Jim; he’s on the list now.

The World Needs More TRUST – Not Less Of It

I walked in the door at Walmart yesterday and counted six security cameras which appeared to be aimed on me between parking my car and walking in the front door.  That’s six that I could count.  Two of them were at the door.  And I did not mention the dozens of cameras that watched me as I shopped.

Then as I checked out, for the first time in my shopping experience, I was actually greeted by a representative of the company to which I was turning over my hard-earned money for the groceries I would eat to live on.  She made a couple of friendly, yet cliché, remarks which made up the bulk of our interpersonal relating.  And I used a debit card which also did not trust me to pay.  I punched in my security code, but the card reader sent a message saying my card was denied.

Finally after numerous attempts to work it out, the checker said I would need to call my bank, meanwhile I left my buggy full of groceries with her and walked out under the watchful eye of dozens of security cameras.

I never felt so untrusted.

“Friendly service”?  Sure, but it would better be termed “friend-like service”.  That way it would not actually suggest we were literally friends, which would be more honest, because we are not.

Walmart doesn’t trust me as far as I can throw it.

This is just one experience among many I have on a daily basis.  There are so many like it that I could not probably think of them all, much less write a blog post holding them all together in any sense of brevity.

I grew up in rural America where all the neighbors knew each other.  We did not lock our doors at night – or when we left town.  Most of us left the keys dangling right in the ignition in the car.  The grocery store had a mirror for security, but I never saw anyone watching it.  We knew the clerk’s name without reading the nametag.  She was the wife of a friend, the sister of two other friends, the cousin of six other friends, sang in the choir at the church.  Her aunt was our 3rd grade teacher.  We went to a cook-out party for her 9-year old’s birthday.  That was our security system.

I am not stupid.  I totally get it.  I understand the powerful urge to secure the Walmart parking lot and merchandise with security cameras and patrol officers.  But the lack of trust Walmart has for me (a guy who has never stolen so much as 1 cent worth of merchandise from them – nor even thought about it before) and all the expense in electronics and man-power and money the system goes through to watch me along with everyone else gets translated into higher cost of bread and milk.  There is more to the BIG picture than we normally consider.

“Shrinkage”.  I don’t know if that is still the term merchandisers use for it, but it was when I worked in retail.  The term covers all kinds of loss from shipping damage, to fraud.  And the main culprits in theft are actually the employees, statistically speaking.  These are the people Walmart should be TRUSTING the most.  These are the people who must submit background information just to be there.  Yet all the probing from background checks, interviews, cameras on the ceiling and every other security measure put in place does not achieve the TRUST that should be foundational.

There are forces at work pulling us apart and driving up the price of milk and bread in the process.  And sending me home empty handed, as if I were unable to pay because some security feature in the system was triggered breaking down the “trust” in the “friendly service” I otherwise would have received.  Instead, I was hit with the blunt reality that we are in fact not friends at all, and there is absolutely no trust between us.  This despite the fact that I shop there all the time.

Oh, and by the way, this is the world that produces homelessness.  That rural picture I painted above???  We did not have anyone living on the streets in our small town.  The few who passed through over the years found hospitality for the most part – or kept on moving.  By far, most of those living in that community found a place to belong.  So, yeah, this stuff matters, and we should think it through carefully.

Here’s a question to consider:  How might the church of Jesus Christ make a difference in this BIG picture?

When things just don’t go as planned…

Whenever I find a blog where the author tells of an encounter with a homeless person, I perk up. Crossing that threshold from “comfort zone” to homeless people is always a moment of drama – a moment when faith is born and/or disciplined to grow. This post belongs in that category, but it is unlike any I have ever found. I hope my readers will check it out. This one will bless you; I’m sure.

Striving No More

Have you ever had “one of those days”?  Well, I’ve had plenty…and this particular day was not one of my best.  It was the very first day of spring break.  I was thrilled to have the kiddos home for a little while.  I had plans, fun plans that I thought were going to be full of great memories and laughter!

When reality hits…sometimes it hits hard.  The very first day, I was excited…we were going to go pick up some Chick-fil-A and take it to my husband’s office to have lunch together outside.  Something we rarely get to do.  I had visions dancing in my head of how great it was going to be…until we got to the Chick-fil-A drive thru.

Evidently everyone else in town had decided they were going to be there at the exact same time I got there…so, we were in line, wrapped around the store…

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Crossing the Rubicon (or the Threshold of Poverty)

As a minister, I am really a tourist.  I don’t actually live on the streets, but I have spent a lot of time there.  I have slept where humans are not supposed to sleep (in parks, empty lots, alleys, church-house steps, business entry-ways – under “no loitering” and “no trespassing” signs, bridges, and the watchful eye of security cameras).  I have facilitated worship services in those places, stayed up late in the night praying and discussing Jesus with fellow sojourners.  I even skipped a shower for three days once as I was doing these things.  But I am not homeless, nor am I stuck in those situations.  And, for that matter, I didn’t always do these things.

Like many (if not most) American Christians, I grew up feeling a burden for the homeless in my heart, but that did not always translate into “doing something”.  Most of my life, I did not even know a single homeless person from the streets.  In fact, I rarely saw them.  I managed always to live in places where they were not prevelant on the one hand, nor was I skilled in spotting them on the other.  Having visited Seattle, Washington numerous times, I am aware they can be easy to find in the big city.  Once when I was visiting Venice Beach in L.A. and waiting in line outside the Italian restaurant, the wait staff offered us bread sticks which we in turn gave to homeless street people walking by.  But I recall making friends with a street minister many years ago who talked about all the homeless of Lubbock, and when I asked him where he finds them, I discovered that I see them frequently without realizing it.  I was living in a blind denial.

I remember the first time I “helped” a lady in distress.  She was not homeless, but it turned out she was in need.  She lived in the low-rent HUD apartments and was disabled.  Our chance meeting was a divine appointment.  I was detailing my boss’s car one Saturday at a local car wash.  My car wash method required me to take extensive time sitting on the ground working dirt and grime out of the tires and every bit of trim – out of the door jams, bumpers, and grill.  I was working there for several hours.

I must have been there a couple of hours before it dawned on me that the man and woman two stalls down were likewise taking far more time than usual at the self-serve car wash.  But once it dawned on me, I began to pay them attention out of the corner of my eye.  They were not in plain view, actually, but between my movements and theirs, I could study on them a bit over the course of the next hour or so.

It was a black couple.  They appeared to be doing auto repairs in the stall on an old jalopy.  Car repairs were one of the prohibitions listed on the wall, but it was obvious this car wash offered shade on a hot day.  Eventually, it occured to me that the woman was much older than the man.  She used a cane and rarely got out of the car, but the young man worked frantically moving back and forth from under the hood to the driver seat to the trunk.  I finally realized this was going on for hours!

Eventually the young man walked across the empty lot nearby to the Arby’s and used a pay phone near the door.  I was midway through my job, but I decided to inquire how things were going and approached the lady waiting in the car.

Her name was Alma, and her car had developed a recurring problem that her young friend claimed he could fix for her.  However, it turned out to be more extensive than he had realized.  He would need a special part from the parts store, but that was miles away.  So he had gone to call for a ride.  They would wait until another friend could run by to help.

It was just then that I wanted to help, but I did not know what to do.  I was in my boss’s car.  I did not have permission to drive this fine Southern Belle’s chariot around town helping a poor black family get parts.  But I decided to risk it.  I offered a ride to the parts store.

It took us about 20 minutes to return with the needed part.  This was fantastic because Alma and her friend were facing the prospect of waiting an hour before their other friend would even arrive (hopefully).  So, we all went back to our respective jobs.  But now I knew Alma’s name.  And when I saw her young friend head over to the phone again a half hour later, I inquired how things were going again.  Sure enough, the new part did not resolve the problem.  I offered another ride.  Once again we hoped this would do the trick.  But this time when we returned, I decided to inquire a little more of Ms. Alma.  I said, “Ms. Alma, I might be way off base here, but I just have a funny sense that you are a church-going lady who reads your Bible.  Would that be right?”

Alma afirmed it.  And I said, “I have been studying the Gospel of Mark a lot and I find one passage a bit puzzling.  I wonder if you might have any insight.”

I did not really expect Alma to have the insight I wanted, but one never knows unless one asks.  But honestly, my real aim was to get Jesus to help me segue a more holistic interpersonal exchange with these people than just utilizing me for rides to the parts store.  And sure enough, Ms. Alma wanted to talk about Jesus.

It turned out that both Alma and I are the type people who rarely leave home without a Bible in our bag or in our car.  But on that occasion neither one of us were carrying!  So, I had to quote the troubling passage as best I could (which wasn’t too hard since I had been studying on it extensively), and Alma recognized my citation of it.  And then we puzzled on it together for a bit.  Eventually Alma said, “You make me want to get my Bible out and look at that again!”  That statement gave me great satisfaction.  But in the meantime, I went back to my work as her young friend went back to his.

Finally a couple hours later, as the time for the evening meal approached, I was finishing up my job.  I stepped around to the other stall to check on my new friends.  Sadly the repair job was not going well.  It looked like we were now in need of a professional.  Problem was… we had no money AND Alma’s car was now stuck at the car wash too.

I said I would return my boss’s car to her and come back with my truck and check on them again when I was done.  And I did.  And here we were at the end of the day with Alma’s car worse off than when she arrived.  We were not going to be able to fix it, but I offered to tow her home with my truck and a tow rope.  She lived only a few blocks from the car wash, and it turned out, only a few blocks from me.  I called our outreach minister at the church I was attending to see if she had any advice or even financial help for car repairs.  I had never got involved in someone else’s troubles before, and I was feeling a little overwhelmed by this time.

My chagrin only intensified when Alma informed me that she would not go home.  She told me that her husband would be upset with her because he did not want their young friend attempting to fix their car.  Alma’s husband did not think the young man could do the job, but would probably botch it instead.  Alma had gone behind his back, and she now feared her husband’s wrath.

I asked, “Ms. Alma, will he hit you?”  She assured me that he would not, but she began weeping and said, “He will say hurtful things”.  She could not bring herself to face him.  She planned to sit in that car all night and wait.

“Wait for what, Ms. Alma?  What happens in the morning?”

She did not know.

“Ms. Alma,” I said, “I cannot let you sit here in your car all night.  That’s not right.  This is Texas.  A gentleman does not leave a lady in distress.”

I did not know what to do.  I called other minister friends.  They did not know what to do either.  We were all stuck.  I finally told Alma that if she stayed at the car wash all night, I would stay too.  She insisted that I go home.  She would be okay.  I insisted that I would not leave her there.

Eventually, I had the idea and offered to speak to her husband.  “Let me take you home and speak to your husband.  I will come back tomorrow, and we will tow your car to my mechanic who will fix your car at no expense to you.  Surely your husband can find that agreeable!”

Alma relented; I took her home; I met her husband, and before the night was done, I made a friend of him.

By this time I was INVOLVED.  And, of course, that is what those of us living in “comfort zones” dread.

But I must say, it was an adventure too.  Quite a fruitful adventure at that.

One of my minister friends came with me the next day and helped me tow the car to my mechanic, who it turned out was feeling conviction about returning to his church after years of backsliding.  He was impressed with our benevolence and gave us a cut rate on the repairs.  We took the ticket to the outreach minister who wrote a check to cover the expense, and then we took the car back to Alma, who by this time wanted to talk about the Gospel of Mark AND had invited the neighbors over to join the discussion!

Over the course of the next year or so, I made close friends with Alma.  She now calls me her son.  Her neighbor lady started going to church with me and together that neighbor lady and I began rounding up children from the projects to take to Sunday school each week.  I hold the record at my old church for bringing 14 people to church one Sunday!

But the thing is this: I had to cross the rubicon I feared crossing.  I got involved with strangers who did not look like me, talk like me, and who were needy.  It began costing me a lot of time, money, and energy.  My life began looking and feeling quite different.  I did not live by my selfish agendas and ambitions any more.  I had a flock to tend.  But the thing is that I was living the life God gave me to live.  And I could not see any of that from the otherside of that threshold.  From there, I only saw fear.  But on this side, I see the party of heaven.


Jesus For Nobodies

(In 1991 there was a little book published called DOS For Dummies aimed at helping regular folk understand their computers.  In the years since, the For Dummies series has become a major publishing franchise covering diverse topics from computers to acne.  I suppose, I was thinking of that publishing phenom when I started this post.)

Jesus for nobodies (for dummies) suggests I have a very complicated idea that I plan to break down in simple words.  But not only for simplicity sake alone, but also (and especially) for the sake of humility.

Those who regularly read here (or those familiar with N.T. Wright) should quickly realize that I deal in “image-bearing” theology rather heavily.  God designed humanity to bear his own image (Gen. 1:26-27).  This is your point, if you need one.

Sometimes people say, “I was put here for a reason…” as if that reason were simply some generic and mythical way of saying something deep about their own existence.  But more frequently, people use that kind of expression when they talk of near-death experiences.  “I was spared for a reason”, they will say.  But of course the specific reason is never actually clarified.

Let me do that for you now.

The reason you were put here, and the reason your life is spared, is so that you can bear the image of God.  That is the whole reason God made man (male and female (to avoid sexist language)) in the first place (again, look at Gen. 1:26-27).

There.  That was simple.  Easy for dummies.  Now for the nobodies…

Well, okay, there are complications.  But those complications can be summed up to a large extent with the word “sin”.  Sin in the life of the image-bearer tarnishes the image of God that otherwise is born in this creature.  It’s as if the image-bearer were a mirror held up to the face of God so that both God and his creation could see God’s image and abide accordingly, except the mirror is cracked and the image is distorted.

Seriously, think this through carefully and you quickly find implications for all aspects of human life.  Far too many implications for a single blog post.  But once you grasp the notion in these simple terms, you can begin exploring the complexities rather handily.

But back to the nobodies.

Here’s the thing: God did not make it impossible for any human creature to bear his image.  We all have the capacity.  You don’t have to be strong, good-looking, or rich.  You don’t even have to be healthy.  In fact there is a very real sense in which those things become obstacles to bearing God’s image.  And in fact, typically humanity has those things in mind and finds the image of God blocked by them, but does not understand what is happening therein.

Recall that St. Paul tells us that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15 (among other similar statements)).  He is not the only writer in the New Testament to suggest this either.  But there is that very famous passage in Philippians (2:5-11) where St. Paul demonstrates that through humility and utterly suffering humiliation, Jesus finds exaltation with God.  When you mix this bit in with the image-bearing theology, you suddenly find that in denying yourself, embracing suffering and humility (in service to God) his image comes clear in you.

Am I saying rich people cannot bear the image of God?

No.  I am not saying that.  However, I am saying the wealth presents problems on the one hand and is entirely unnecessary on the other.  You do not need to go make a lot of money in order to bear the image of God and fulfill your reason for being.

On the contrary, it turns out that God, who is love (I John 4:8), suffers greatly from the broken relationship he has with his creation and the creatures he put in charge over it.  Thus, suffering aids greatly in bearing God’s image – in fact I can’t imagine God without it.  And, it turns out, anybody (and this certainly includes NOBODIES) can suffer, and suffer greatly.  When such suffering is devoted to God’s glory, God is clearly seen in it (Mark 15:39).  And that is your reason for being!

Jesus does this supremely at Golgotha.  On the Roman cross, suffering execution as a rebel/criminal, Jesus shows us the suffering God and his coronation with his own subjects.  Jesus did not need a dime to do this.  He only needed faith.  And that is all we need, whether we be somebody or nobody.  And that is a message of Jesus for Nobodies.