Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #12)

(lesson #12)

Jesus At Table

 

As we come, now, to the final pages of our discussion.  I feel a little sentimental, as if I have more to offer, but our time is done.  I hope this is really just the beginning, though.  I hope we prophesy together from here to Kingdom Come.  I hope….

 

In many ways the thoughts and experiences I share with you here have been developing for many years.  It is time that I make this offering to the church.  I began taking communion to the mean streets of Lubbock about 13 years ago.  Those of us in that Midnight Communion ministry simply wanted to lay claim to that Scripture which says, “Thou preparest me a table before my enemies….” (Ps. 23:5).

 

One of the most powerful lessons they taught me in Bible school came from Luke 24.  It is a familiar passage to many of us who have participated in “The Walk to Emmaus” – and especially to convicts involved in “Kairos” ministries.  Luke relates a brief story there about a couple of disciples leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus and walking back to Emmaus feeling utterly destroyed by the events of the weekend.  They are joined by a stranger (a drifter?… bum???) who lifts their spirits as he opens the Scriptures to them with fresh insights, and they invite him into their home to share a meal.  At the point where they break the bread, it is revealed to them that the stranger they have made friends with is actually none other than their Lord Jesus having risen from the grave!

 

I find that taking communion to the streets is no less powerful today than it was in Luke’s day.

 

Meal vs. Murder

 

If I wasn’t on my way into a life of prophecy before that street ministry, I certainly was after.  We had many grand adventures around that table.  We watched God move mightily and mysteriously – including the night we were joined by a man who was out to murder his lover who had betrayed him.

 

We were praying and singing and eating bread and drinking wine at a table in an empty lot on a troubled street at midnight.  A voice from the darkness shouted, “Are you the real Christians?”  Stunned and not knowing how to answer, suddenly the voice rang out again, “You must be!  Who else would come out here like this?”

 

The man was drunk and angry about his woman stepping out with another man, but he joined our little PROPH-O-DRAMA, and in the course of visiting with us told about his plans for revenge and murder.  As it happened on that occasion, Rev. Rodney, a street minister, was in our party, and he counseled the young man with divine wisdom and timing.

 

Rodney told the man, “I did that very thing myself and spent sixteen years in prison for it.  … It’s not worth it.  When I got out, I found my daughter who asked, ‘Daddy, where were you when I needed you’?”  Rodney’s gentle wise words dowsed the passionate rage burning in that man’s heart.  Then they sucked the poison out of his soul.

 

That man met Jesus on that street, and we played a prophetic role in saving at least three lives.  I have to say, that kind of living is powerful.  I want to share in it with you.

 

Jesus at a Wedding Feast

 

I came to [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church almost 5 and a half years ago.  At first I did not attend worship; rather I just quietly joined some of you out on the pavement and spent the night.  That was some tough going for me.  I was miserable on that cold, windy concrete.

 

I remember hearing one brother’s cough deep in the night.  I knew he was getting sick.  I lay there in desperate feelings looking up through the tree branches at the stars and praying.  I felt helpless and irritable.

 

But my bride, Mrs. Agent X, and I decided to get married and make a home out of the ashes of our failed previous marriages.  We decided to really invite Jesus into our hearts in a truly prophetic sense.  We looked at a number of Scriptures, but the one that really stirred our imagination was found in Luke 14.  As I recall, that is a Scripture that depicts Jesus going to a party and picking on the guests as they take their seats.  He chews them out for sitting in the places of honor out of turn, and then he picks on the host for inviting all his “important” friends.  Jesus says it is God’s will that when you throw a party, you invite the poor and crippled – the marginalized who CANNOT REPAY you (Luke 14:14).

 

Mrs. Agent X and I wanted Jesus to be the guest of honor at our wedding, and so we put on the best BBQ feast we could, facilitated the Lord’s Supper within the course of the meal, and held it at [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church.  We did just like Jesus said and went out into the alleys and byways and compelled the homeless to come in and join us (Luke 14:21).

 

I remember that I wanted to dramatize the part where Jesus talks about the host asking a guest to give up the seat of honor after presuming it was for him.  But how would I do such a thing?  I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings – not at my wedding!

 

At first it seemed that I would have to find a guest who would stage it with me… an actor who would pretend to be humiliated.  But I could not figure who that would be on the one hand, and on the other, the idea of faking it seemed disingenuous.  Finally, I gave up on that aspect.

 

We decided to arrange the tables in such a way that there would be no real focal point, and thus no “seats of honor”.  The bride and I made a point to not sit directly with our family, but with our street friends.  We prayed about it and gave it to God.

 

But then a powerful thing happened at that party.  As the feast/ceremony reached the point where we began incorporating the Lord’s Supper – at just at the breaking of the bread – the church house door swung open, and one last street drifter stumbled in.  He rubbed his eyes a moment and realized that he was interrupting a special ceremony as a hush fell on the crowd.  He started to excuse himself and retreat back out the door.  But suddenly the groom realized there were no more seats available in the room when Jesus – in the form of “one of the least of these…” (Matt. 25:40) – had showed up as the guest of honor!  This meant that the groom had presumed to take the seat of honor and had to give it up!

 

So I moved out of the groom’s seat and compelled the drifter to take it.  I took the shame of presuming too much honor onto myself and honored the drifter as if he personally embodied Jesus, which he did.  And that is how I experienced the world of Scripture, how God expanded my imagination, how we invited Jesus into our wedding and our home, and dramatized a staged production on the love of God in our community all in one moment.  Now that is living!

 

As I wind down this book on prophecy, I feel a little sentimental.  But I hope we move forward together into the rich, imaginative vocation of bringing God’s word to bear on creation.  I hope we go together to the place of shame, pain, and despair bearing the image of God there and finding his beautiful and mysterious redemptive power transforming our lives and this world.

 

 

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Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #11)

Section III

 

In this section of the book, I want to round out our discussion with a rich analysis of home and offer a little more personal experience as a way to enhance our prophetic imagination.

 

 

(lesson #11)

Coming Home (Discerning the Point of Your Prophecy)

 

In lesson #1, we talked about homelessness and broadened the definition significantly.  In the process of doing that, we barely touched on the concept of home as a sounding board upon which to bounce ideas regarding homelessness.  At that point, we merely said home is a place where God is celebrated and where he dwells.  Let’s now expand our image of home to a size in which the loving, Creator God of the universe might want to live.

 

Perhaps this is especially important since these pages are dedicated to an assembly of mostly homeless people.  I hope I have made a sufficient case for suggesting that American society is manifested in a homeless culture.  This, in large part, is why, or at the root of how, I sense that God is calling you in particular to bring his image to bear on our world at this place and time.

 

Re-IMAGINING HOME

 

The word “home” is actually rather tricky to define.  Go look it up in a dictionary and see all the different slants and/or directions a definition takes.  And yet we use the word prolifically, casually, and specifically all the time.  Rarely do we analyze it or split hairs over its meaning as I have done here.

 

And yet I claim our culture is homeless, including the President of the United States.  By virtue of saying that, I am also saying that those of us in this culture basically don’t know home.  We are lost – which is something you cannot be… AT HOME!

 

Look at the phrases and ways we use the term in our culture.  The “American Dream” is all about “owning a home” where a man (or woman) is master of their own domain.  We “grow up and leave home”.  We get divorced and have a “broken home”.  We call a girl that entices a married man a “home-wrecker”.  In the market place we use phrases like “new and used homes”.  Sometimes we “buy a home” or “sell a home”.

 

Surely all of these expressions (and more) marginalize the concept of home.  I mean, if you want “down home cookin’”, you aren’t suggesting some trivial sense of the meal you want to eat.  You are suggesting that there is a sense of rich blessing and care that goes into it.  That is not a home you could buy or sell.  Hey, we don’t ever get a hankerin’ for “new house cookin’!”  That doesn’t even compute, and there is a reason for that.  A new house does not yet have the history of rich blessing, care, and family upon which you CAN’T put a price tag!

 

And yet we have to dance around the concept of “home” basically because the term has been hijacked by the marketing culture.  Without that blessed sense of the word “home”, we have to explain what we mean, and still it seems elusive.

 

As we go about leading lives of prophetic witness to The House of God and to The Carpenter, whose church we are, we will do well to find deep connection between our spirits and home.  We will do well to develop words, concepts, and thinking regarding what home is all about.

 

I say this because I have personally watched people living in the shame and hardship of the streets work their way into indoor living only to fail at it.  Obtaining a bed within four walls and a roof does not mean you are no longer homeless.  And it’s not merely a state of mind – though your imagination is definitely involved.

 

If you are merely escaping the cruel elements of bad weather, hard concrete, public scorn or ridicule, and/or crime, then you are still homeless.  If you obtain an apartment with a locked door and pay rent on time, but there is little or no furniture and you sit in it drinking (whether alone or with friends), you are still homeless.  If you only “show off” to other street people that you now have a place of your own – you are still homeless.  And some of you at [The Premier Homeless Pseudo Church] know what I mean.

 

Oh, you can lock yourself inside, get on your knees, and pray and still be homeless in there!  Who are we kidding?  This is why I say our whole culture is homeless, and that there are varying expressions of it – some of which are actually quite wealthy and powerful.

 

Home is not simply where your heart is (though that could be a fair depiction of it in any given case).  Rather, home – any real home that could exist within God’s creation – is a place where God is Master and where both you and he are celebrated.  Money cannot buy this home, nor can you sell it.  It can only be broken if you (or some other key players) cease to celebrate God and each other.  And as I see it, there are at least three ways celebration is manifested in a home specifically.  Home is a place to eat, sleep, and have sex – each of these finding a proper way of being expressed.

 

Celebrating HOME

 

I want to say a word about each of these ways of celebration and demonstrate the culture’s attack on them which renders us homeless.  I believe that we need to expand this line of thinking within our community and expose the culture around us to it as well.

 

Home and Eating

 

If we could step back in time, even thirty or forty years ago, but especially 100 years or more, we would find a culture that either was specifically agrarian or at least honored agrarian ways.  Men had certain kinds of roles to play and women had others.  I will not dispute that there were elements within that which short-changed some people – usually women (as well as minorities, which I will not take time to discuss specifically).  But gender roles are almost gone and forgotten now, and we are a lost society – not better for it.

 

Typically your mother did the cooking.  Typically your father either physically built the structure in which your mother “made a home” or he worked and paid to have it done by professionals.  Typically you had a hearth in that house – a focal point from which heat and food and light emanated.  When you thought of “home”, the picture of that scene would likely fill your imagination.

 

If you were out and about town and became hungry at dinner time, you would go home to eat.  The food would be prepared – largely “from scratch” by your mother (or wife or sister – a significant woman who loves you).  She did not charge you $5 to eat some dish called by a number and mass produced like in a factory.  And never in your wildest dreams would you imagine eating her meal wrapped up in waste paper and “on the go”.  No.  The mere thought of it would be deeply insulting!

 

No.  You would return to the hearth and patiently and gratefully receive a full-blown meal that was lovingly and sacrificially prepared at no cost to you.  And yet, you would sacrifice and contribute to that experience yourself in both big and small ways.  This is your home.  You will work for it, and if need be you will fight and die for it.  This is the core of your life, and without it, you are lost.

 

Compare that to the experience nearly all of us (rich or poor) go through on a daily basis and you quickly see that by that measure we are all utterly homeless.  In fact we cannot really even imagine home at all.  The picture I paint here by going back in time is overly rosy actually.  After all, as I stated above, the women (and minorities) were frequently (if not normally) treated as second-class or worse.  But even that is idyllic contrasted against where we are as a culture now.

 

And the marketplace is only too happy to numb the pain – the loss of home.  It will manipulate you with its cornucopia of distractions and caricatures of sustenance.  For instance, Olive Garden advertises, “When you’re here, you’re family,” as if they would feed you from Mamma’s kitchen.  Never mind that she is not your Mamma – or even Italian.  Never mind whether she is an unwed, teenaged, pregnant mamma of someone else.

 

Sadly, you won’t notice when your Olive Garden waitress takes your credit card, runs it through the card reader, and gives it back to you with the receipt that has the line for the tip…. That line on the ticket says, “You are here, but you’re NOT family!”  No.  You will not notice that.  And sadly, this is the caricature of family you are stuck with: people who smile and wait on you for the money in your pocket.

 

We have ordered the world around the exchange of money.  We were supposed to bear God’s image and thereby order it for him.  His world order puts the powers of chaos on notice that the Creator God who made this world is master of this home. Thereby we usher in his utopia.  But instead, we think we can charge the Olive Garden meal to the MasterCard at 3.4% interest and get a better deal than using the Visa at 3.8%!  What does that have to do with anything?

 

And somehow the idea has infected church-going ministers across this land that our goal in “helping” homeless people is to make them learn to manage this kind of living in some form of independence.  Rather, we need to call the bluff on the pride that thinking promotes and join The Carpenter who is building The House of God in which we find our true home.

 

Home is where a celebration of God happens – a party where there is plenty of food for all.  Home is a place where you are celebrated for coming home – like the prodigal son.  A feast is in order, and the “number 6 with large fries” at the drive through is an insult to all of that.  The people of this God which that story celebrates must imagine and present an image of world-order that counters the mess we find ourselves in rather than try to equip people to accommodate it.

 

Home and Rest

 

Home is also a place to rest – to even sleep.  You can “let your hair down” at home.  You can “prop your feet up” at home.  You end and start your day at home.

 

I do not mean to suggest that there is no work to be done at home; there is.  But there is work to be done in lots of places, but rest is holy.  You don’t rest just anywhere, and you don’t rest anywhere like you do at home.  Rest is a key element of home.  It is also key to celebrating.  This is largely because rest is a major manifestation of trust – of faith.  You don’t lay your head down in a time or place of mistrust – only in trust.  And home is the premiere locale of trust.  And trust is something you celebrate, and celebrate with rest.

 

You can’t rest in McDonalds, not really.  You can’t rest in the street.  And, sadly, that “ADT” sign you have in your flower bed is an admission and witness against you before God and creation that you do not trust your neighbors.  That broken trust is like a crack in the image, and the way to fix it is not by building suspicion between neighbors (and strangers) but by building faith between God and all of God’s creatures.  (ADT, though, makes its “living” off selling suspicion and fear.  That is a cancer growing in our culture.)  It is your vocation as a prophet of home to imagine how God would address that kind of fundamental disorder in his creation.

 

I hope your image of home is expanding dramatically as you read this.  You are a homeless prophet sent by God to testify to his carpentry and to the home he makes for you and me to share.  You need to have a bigger imagination if you expect God to dwell in it.

 

Home and Sex

 

So let me say a word on sex.  Sex is designed by God to be a central feature of home.  Godly sex happens at home.  Sex is the labor in which the building of home with sons (instead of bricks) happens.  And sex between The Man and The Woman is the original bearing of God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).

 

Think about it.  Mountains bow down, valleys stand at attention, and crooked places straighten out at the sight of God’s image (Isa. 40:3-5, which also has bearing on Rom. 8:19).  And this means that truly good sex, in God’s economy, moves mountains!  You don’t want to miss out on that.  But that is sex at home, not on the streets or internet.

 

Sex was always meant to be a celebration of God, but it is not the same kind of party as a feast or sleep.  No.  This is a party for two in which your naked vulnerability is celebrated and in which you celebrate the naked vulnerability of your spouse.  When God’s image bearers celebrate each other’s naked vulnerability, it expresses a deep and rich trust and love that we all crave in our hearts.  Thus God builds a home out of sons.  Thus the creation responds by becoming the home we long for in our hearts.

 

Our culture makes more a circus, though, out of this celebration than the other two combined.  We are a culture of people engaged in homeless sex at every turn.  You can’t stand in the checkout line at Market Street without seeing sexy models on magazines calling you to feel unsatisfied at home.  No.  The manipulative marketplace would rather you find a cheap thrill than suggest you move a mountain.  And let’s face it; we are sexual creatures.  There are powerful urges within us that we do not control.  Sex is too big for that.

 

In ancient times and in other societies, the young maidens are kept separated from the young men by the village fathers and tribal elders.  This is not because they are prudish in some post-Victorian sense but because if left alone by yourself against the urges, YOU DON’T STAND A CHANCE!  And let’s face it; in this culture you are not actually left alone with the urges.  No.  The demons of the sex-industrial-complex are actively hunting you down day and night seeking to snare you at every turn!

 

It takes a village to manage the raging flow of sexual urges that runs through nearly all of us.  But our culture prides our freedom to do whatever we want.  It is amazing all the misery that unleashes on innocent, young people, but still we persist in our pride and freedom despite the folly.

 

And the homeless sex ruins many homes.  Pornography, infidelity, disease, mistrust – none of these move mountains, but they leave broken homes in their wake every day.  Generations of betrayal have now reached epic proportions where more marriages end in divorce than ever, and the rates of poverty and homelessness increase right alongside.

 

The love of God is the thing betrayed, and trust and celebration get lost.  As prophets we must come to imagine love, trust, and celebration in the richest terms possible.  I believe God wants to spread the word about good sex in The House of God.  This means you have a job to do regarding that message.

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #10)

(lesson #10)

Discerning Together

 

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, author Phillip Yancey tells of sociologist and preacher, Tony Campolo, visiting a chapel service at a Christian college as a guest speaker.  He says that Campolo addressed the worship service saying, “The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don’t give a shit!”[i]

 

I view both that moment and subsequent accounts of it as prophetic.  However, that moment is legendary for being controversial as well.  Not all Christians discern it the same.  Some view Campolo’s indulgence in foul language as a means of using evil to attempt doing good.  That actually may be a fair argument.  And yet there is still the obvious and wise observation inherent in his action.  Christians often become blind to the things that are really important and too easily make a fuss over trivial matters that affect our pride.

 

I believe Campolo spoke self-sacrificially in love to the powers and symbols that wrongly captivated the imagination(s) of American Christians.  I think he honored God in that instance.  But discernment is not universal in that case.

 

I hinted in both the introduction to this book, and in the second lesson, that discernment can be challenging.  I moved forward suggesting, though, that usually it is not.  Usually, the problems we find with a prophecy are more gut-level reactions.  Either the word from God calls us to suffer some pain or shame that we do not want, or it picks on some cherished idol that needs to be pried out of our hearts.  In those cases, lack of discernment has to do with stubbornness – not that it’s hard to understand.  But we should consider briefly, again, how to handle a prophecy that is truly difficult to discern in Scripture, in prayer, and in community.  Sooner or later it will come up and can be painful.

 

My advice is to search your own heart and that of the prophet.  I mean, when you are in that nebulous place between clear discernment and none, get an honest assessment of the love in the hearts of those involved.  Take it before God in prayer, examining your own heart and asking yourself: Am I truly loving God and honoring him with this action?  Does this action show love and honor for my neighbor as for myself?  The prophecy may appear biblical and have community support with time spent in prayer behind it, and yet it still causes alarm for some people.

 

Jesus is clear that he wants us all on the same page in unity (John 17:21).  But sometimes being “together” finds tension with being “right”.  This is the point where it really hurts.

 

Have Patience

 

My thought is that unless the action in that case is clearly wrong NOT to be taken (or conversely the inaction is clearly wrong) to any of the parties involved in discernment, then step back from that prophecy.  Give it time to find clarity one way or the other.  Hold out the hand of grace and fellowship with each other as you wait on it.

 

A willingness to endure being over-ruled (or even wronged somehow) is generally a sign of deep maturity.  Sadly, it also likely means the mature position risks yielding to the immature.  But let’s not forget that the prophecy is God’s word, not ours.  If he empowers it, it will not fail.  It is his message on the line, and he bears the ultimate responsibility for it (Ezek. 3:16-21).

 

Care for One Another

 

In the meantime, make a point to listen – really listen – and keep talking too.  But communication is not really the point either.  Actually, it is more crucial to share the meal.

 

Eat

 

That same meal we talked about in the last lesson by which the prophet seeks to reveal God and order the world is a power of reckoning.  Share the meal with fellow prophets and discerning believers, and give the issues of the moment time.  And search out your own heart and each others, and see if God does not bless it with discernment.

 

But there is no excuse for turning your back on the word of God.  You absolutely must take God’s prophet seriously as you discern his word.  The prophet may be willing to suffer deeply for the message he bears, and that is a prerequisite anyway.

 

Hopefully this kind of situation will be rare, actually.  A group of people living for Jesus, both sacrificially and prophetically, and who take seriously the command to take up a cross and follow are not likely to spend too much time or energy nit-picking each other.  Rather, they will be bold against a counterfeit culture that desperately needs to see Jesus.

 

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[i] Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), page 201

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #9)

(lesson #9)

The Dramatic Meal (Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes)

 

Even taken individually, but especially together, we instantly see that the prophetic acts of Jesus are all designed to demonstrate: God is here.  God is in charge.  God loves you.  Even at the most shrill moment when Jesus drives out money changers from the temple, it is an act of love.  Maybe not visible at first blush, but highly discernible all the same.

 

As prophets, we must always be prepared to show the love of God – even for the sinners he would have us confront – and that often is demonstrated in the suffering we prophets embrace.  Yes.  Jesus wants the idolatrous symbols confronted but in and for love.  Yes.  He wants us to challenge the world around us with a meal.

 

Order and Eating

 

Now, stop and think about this a moment.  If I had started this book with the paragraph above, it would not have made much sense.  But we have come a long way together on these pages, and now it does make sense.  But let’s keep in mind that these are strange words and concepts.  Here is an important observation to consider: Who we eat with symbolically says a lot about how we order the world.  It has always been like this.  Go look at Genesis 43:32 and the story in which it is found.  Joseph, his brothers, and the Egyptians eat at separate tables.  Centuries later, St. Paul will confront St. Peter over effectively the same issue (Gal. 2:11-14).

 

It is no mere coincidence that the civil rights movement in the United States also came to a head at the lunch counter. [i]  Though this is not a biblical example, that world-order, symbolically expressed in eating arrangements, hits our culture close to home and powerfully demonstrates the connection to us.  Just as that lunch counter imaged an ungodly world-order and thus needed to be confronted, so we find our prophetic call even today – even in our community.  Sharing the meal is the regular observance of the Church whenever assembled (Acts 2:42), and thus we will look closely into it to find our prophetic mission and marching orders from on high.

 

It is a strange idea to think that this meal would change the world.  We tend to think that we need to have a fund raiser to do that.  We tend to think we need someone to put in a lot of sweat-of-the-brow in order to really change things.  We tend to think we need some “service project” or something to help us relate with others, but that is not actually the case.  God did not equip the church with such powers on that day of Pentecost when the Body of Christ first moved against the might of Rome (see practically the whole book of Acts).

 

Some of the key things that make my house a home are: I can rest and eat there.  I am wanted and celebrated there.  I do not have to pay to be there (though of course I make sacrifices for it).  But there is a routine celebration there that usually centers on that table.

 

One of the things [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church has sought to do, that I observe, is to build up relationships between street people and people of means.  [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church wants to see us make friends and family of people from both of these backgrounds.  Wow!  That in and of itself is an attempt at prophecy.

 

And it is working… sort of….  We have a long way to go, but I have participated in that idea, and I have witnessed it among others.  Yet I have also witnessed a lot of blank stares and blinking at the suggestion too.  And I have personally suffered the failures that accompany the risks of that kind of thing.  Sadly, that generates fear and distraction.

 

But I want to suggest “The Meal” as the stage upon which this prophecy is dramatized.  I think that anyone from either side of the divide can facilitate it.  But I will begin with the more natural example of those with a “home” inviting those without one to come and share Jesus.

 

Call of the “Haves”

 

If you have a house (or apartment) and a table with a few chairs, then you have the really hard part behind you already.  All you need is to share some of the food you were already going to eat anyway with a person that you invite.  However, I suggest you do so prayerfully and without television interruptions.  Basically, incorporate the Lord’s Supper into the meal!  The Dallas Cowboys can wait!

 

The benefits of this become obvious right away.  Anyone you invite into your home is a guest.  You want to be able to trust the guests who come to visit.  But sometimes you entertain strangers that you do not know very well (Heb. 13:2 …anyone?), and that causes you to feel vulnerable.

 

But when you invite the poor into your home, you effectively invite Jesus himself (as per Matt. 25:40).  Still, if the poor who accept your invitation know that you are inviting them to a worship service, then they become accountable to you and to God.  If that poor person has bad intentions, they will most likely decline your invitation.  This is not without risk, but I think of all the street people I ever invited to church who suddenly did not want my “help” in that circumstance.  And I say, “SO BE IT!”  Their loss.  Maybe next time.  But it has an amazing way of weeding out trouble at the start – well before it even begins.

 

I would also say that since you invited Jesus into your home, you should consider asking him to host and lead the worship.  Even if you need to help the needy person with it, you need to take direction from Jesus, whom you really invited.  It is not really your home – it’s his.  And we all need to grow into that kind of culture rather than the American one.  Our imaginations need to expand.  Once the poor come to live – really live – in your heart, then God will have built the home he always intended from the beginning.

 

Call of the “Have-Nots”

 

But this can work in the other direction too.  Remember that we discussed in the early lessons how we are a culture of homelessness.  Even the rich are homeless in our society, though they may not be “shelter-less,” “roofless,” or “house-less.”  The key to having a home in God’s creation is whether God dwells there.

 

How many “Christians” in this town make a ceremonious practice of “inviting Jesus into our hearts” but won’t invite a homeless man into our house?  That is a convicting thought.  How many guest bedrooms in “Christian” homes in this “Christian” community go empty night after night while men and women (think Jesus) sleep on the concrete or in tents?  Is that house you’re in the home God built?  Is that a home at all?

 

When I was staying in tent city, I found one man who invited me into his tent.  One out of forty some-odd tents.  Only one!  Why only one?  Because our imaginations are shriveled up.  There is no reason why a homeless person living in a tent cannot invite someone into it for a meal.  For that matter, you really can invite someone to a shade tree in the park or to a busy street corner where the image can be seen by all who pass by.  In fact inviting someone who has a fine house across town to eat in your humble circumstance after church would be a truly convicting and prophetic thing to do.

 

Back to my story though, this one man invited me into his tent, and my wife and I took a communion meal with us and accepted his warm invitation.  We all three sensed in our bones that Jesus was with us (Matt. 18:20) and that we were living life at a level we had not known before.  It was thrilling us for Jesus to expand our imaginations, and for him to show himself to us.  I have seen God, and yet I live to tell of it!

 

Jesus v. City Hall

 

So far these notions prophesy “in house,” so to speak.  But there is no reason this meal cannot or should not confront the community at large.  I remember another event where a meal prophetically impacted the whole city, the news media, and the city council.  I bet most of you remember it too.

 

Back in the summer of 2011, the code enforcement department at Lubbock’s City Hall suddenly stopped a Christian family from bringing food to the park for homeless people to eat.  Though none of the church or civic leaders at the time decided to facilitate the Lord’s Supper, there was a community-activist backlash to that ruling, and a protest pot-luck was held in which the public was invited to a meal in the park.

 

Afterward, the city council took measures to allow the feeding rather than inhibit it.  I certainly see that as a prophetic moment.  The city learned that it is not really in charge; Jesus is.  That meal symbolically confronted the powers that be and put them on notice that they had over-stepped their mandate.

 

Praise God!

 

Jesus vs. The Housing Market

 

But there was another image that came to me around that time that never has left me yet.  Every year the “home builders” and realtor industries in this town host an event called “The Lubbock Parade of Homes”.  This is the marketing of houses.  Actually, it is a way of selling bigger houses to people who usually already have at least one.

 

It is a shameless exercise in “keeping up with the Jones’s”.  People who largely are already in debt are enticed to get “bigger and better” houses involving even more money.

 

The problem is that this is a “Christian” community that already has huge football stadiums, freeways, and animal shelters – not to mention thousands of guest bedrooms that go empty night after night, and this program teases the public with the shameless desire for MORE!  The word for that is “greed”, and it is a sin.  I see a symbol there that needs to be confronted.  I wonder what a band of homeless prophets may discern as God’s word on that matter.  WWDJ?

 

Now, I am just spit-ballin’ here, but I wonder what the Parade organizers would think if a band of homeless prophets put their nickels and dimes together and purchased tickets and attended the event.  I wonder how the local news media would cover the story if those prophets cracked out a communion service and humbly asked those “home” sellers and “home” buyers to come to the Table of the Lord.

 

Let’s not forget; just because these people are selling and buying houses does not mean they are not homeless.  Oh, they most certainly are!  Jesus wants to move into the neighborhood and dwell among them as the word made flesh (John 1:14).  And as street people in need of a home, this band of prophets knows how lost it is to be homeless.  The prophetic confrontation would strip all involved of the false pretense and offer them the love of Jesus.  This meal will call the bluff on the shifty impermanence the marketing of houses subtly causes when it tries to turn home into a commodity.

 

May the prophet embrace the suffering of shame that goes with the Lubbock Parade of Homeless!  In so doing, the prophets expand the imaginations of those trapped in debt and shameless pursuit of “MORE” at the expense of home and a love of Jesus.  May God express himself through the risk and shame of his suffering prophets to the whole community.  May Jesus move into the community and make a home here – for real.

 

Discernment

 

Of course the “Lubbock Parade of Homeless” idea needs to be discerned.  I offer it as a suggestion, but I expect [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church to weigh it with Scripture, consider it prayerfully, and decide on it as a community.  It may not pass this verification process, and maybe for good reasons.

 

However, it might pass the verification process after all.  That is not a decision I make for you.  I will leave it to you to decide.  And it may pass with modifications.  That is fine too.

 

All that being said, allow me to offer this caution.  From my vantage point, I see it failing a cost/benefit analysis.  The cost is too high and the benefit too low.  I stands to bring shame on all who participate and see it.  It will not advance the cause of greed.  I suspect that the prophets quickly see themselves risking (or flat out accepting) great shame.  I figure the organizers of the Lubbock Parade of Homes will be puzzled by it all and not understand it, since their imaginations are trapped in the service of greed.

 

My caution is this: Weighing it with Scripture cuts two ways.  If this is God’s word given to you to take to the community and you refuse him because it will make you suffer, then you fall under the judgment for that decision (Ezek. 3:18/Jonah 1:3-4, 12).  As for puzzling your audience, if need be – explain it to them.  Either way, a cost/benefit analysis is not a good measure of God’s word; God’s word is a good measure of God’s word.

 

This city claims to be a “Christian” community in hundreds of ways every day.  It is entirely appropriate for the prophets of God to confront the adulterated symbols of pretentious piety with their own example of suffering and shame.  Besides, offering communion with the “home” marketers of Lubbock by a band of homeless prophets holds the real potential of achieving, on a grand scale, the very ambitions [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church has already sought after prophetically.  If the “Haves” accept the invitation of the “Have-Nots”, God will be pleased!

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.

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[i] Walter Brueggemann, Peace (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001), page 78.

 

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #8)

 

(lesson #8)

Suffering & Symbols (A Closer Look at Jesus as Prophet)

 

It should be clear to you by now that I am not messing around when I talk about prophecy.  We are already touching on some very powerful ideas that will prove deeply disturbing for both us and our culture.  We will forever after boldly go where angels fear to tread!  Make no mistake, if you are not pissed off about some of the things covered here yet, you will be soon enough… or you will have the whole world pissed off at you, which is also biblical (Luke 21:17).

 

Let’s not forget, you slept out in the street last night!  You did not get there all on your own; you had help from war-related PTSD, Jack Daniels, Playboy Magazine, Visa & MasterCard and countless other entities or organizations that legally and continually generate millions and billions of dollars by selling you false hopes and dreams.  Yes!  You had help getting into the jam that “Christians” in this town will regularly drive past like a priest or a Levite would a man that Jesus would call “your neighbor!” (Luke 10:30-37).  This “Christian” culture is only too happy to indulge in and even endorse the kind of world-order that ruins lives and scars God’s creation when it affords some of us political leverage.  This is a glaring inconsistency in the image we are meant to bear.

 

And guess what?  You have a message from God about that!  You have something to say!  The word of God comes mightily against that kind of stuff, and he doesn’t care if it hurts the feelings of a few rich people when he calls them “cows of Bashan!” (Amos 4:1).  Yes!  The word of God is powerful like dynamite you handle with your hands.

 

Make no mistake.  I aim to equip you and empower you to be a prophet of the Living God who will shake the foundations of the earth.  So what if he wants to shake things up in your life or in your town?

 

Caveat

 

But let’s recall that you are merely his errand boy (or girl), and you don’t possess his authority or power.  Likewise you do not find in this vocation a license to “play the victim card.”  You must be humble, and “the victim card” knows no humility.  No.  You had help getting into the jam, but you are also complicit as well.  You made poor choices as did all who helped you get there.

 

And so, at this juncture, as we move ever deeper into our calling as prophets, I want to recall two terms we discussed earlier and work them into our mission a little more.  We need to talk about suffering and symbols.

 

Two Features of Three Foundational Proph-O-Dramas

 

It is obvious in Scripture that Jesus engages in three main PROPH-O-DRAMAs once he rides that donkey into Jerusalem that fateful Passover so long ago.  Each of these prophetic dramas involves suffering and symbols in imaginative and powerful ways that we will want to consider.  I do not mean to suggest that any or all of our prophecies must spring from these examples, but since Jesus is the cornerstone of The House of God, we may as well start here.  One of these prophetic acts is spoken of as having become routinely rehearsed in the early church whenever they come together (Acts 2:42, 46; I Cor. 11:26).

 

The three things Jesus prophetically engages in once he comes to Jerusalem are these: (1) He turns tables in the temple (both physical and proverbial); (2) He institutes the Lord’s Supper; and (3) He goes to the cross.  My thought is that we take these scenes and extract some principles, and even content, by which we produce our staged dramas.  The key features I am asking us to focus on at this moment are suffering and symbols.

 

Picking a Prophetic Fight

 

When Jesus turns tables in the temple, this is the raw thrill of confrontation at its best.  Jesus comes forcefully and unexpectedly against a corrupt establishment of people who claim to represent God but really make a mockery of all that is true and holy.  That whip (driving out the money changers) looks like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood style justice!  There is no doubt that Jesus, here, is picking a fight!

 

In the scenes that follow on the heels of that, Jesus teaches and preaches oracles in the temple that upset a lot of key establishment folk.  But they fear him because the mob of peasants thronging to him thinks he is a prophet.  They might break out in a riot if the authorities try to arrest Jesus as he preaches there.  Think of it.  The cops are afraid to arrest a preacher in church lest the pilgrims at worship turn the place into a bar-brawl!

 

The thing is… Jesus is picking on the symbols and getting away with it.  Such is the way of prophetic imagination.  That temple is meant to symbolize the presence of God, which ironically accompanies the critique of it instead.  Houses of worship typically symbolize the presence of God and are intended to be tranquil or festive by those who establish them.  But if the True and Living God of creation shows up there and finds that the symbol is not true, what do you think he will do?  He will do what the master of any house does when he returns home to find the servants goofing off.  He throws a fit!

 

However in this case Jesus, who represents God, comes in great vulnerability and throws the fit of God as if he expects everyone to realize who he really is.  Of course he gets away with it for a couple of days, but once the establishment folk devise a plan to arrest him when no crowds are around, then Jesus bears the suffering for having dramatized the return of God.

 

The analysis I offer here is brief, but it highlights the confrontation with idolatrous symbols and the suffering the prophet embraces.  At that level it reveals some principles we need to internalize.  These principles may not be universal, but they are common to prophecy in the Bible, and they are key to these foundational prophecies of Jesus.  Messing with symbols gains access to imagination; prophets will suffer the cost of that access.

 

Sharing The Messianic Banquet

 

We see these principles again in the Lord’s Supper.  Here Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples.  The meal is deeply symbolic for both the past and the future on the occasion when Jesus institutes the Christian meal which is based on that ancient one.  It symbolizes the moment when God frees his people, when he joins them, and the covenant he makes with them.

 

I can tell you from personal experience that staging this meal, at various times and places, is a profound and powerful witness to God’s word in the world.  I once was involved in staging this meal on the mean streets of Lubbock at midnight when the Spirit of God manifest himself from that table and stopped a murder.  (More on that later.)  My point here is that if all you ever do as a prophet is stage this meal, you will be a powerful witness to the world for God.

 

Then Jesus takes the bread which is his body and breaks it.  He takes the wine which is his blood, and he pours it out.  This is the prophet of God embracing his own suffering.  Next he feeds his own body and blood to us – and we eat it for all we are worth.  We feed off his suffering!  And a prophet of God learns not to shun suffering, not to avoid suffering, but to seek the mysterious work and Spirit of God in it.  Ours is a call to suffer and to call others to suffer also.

 

Turning A Death Sentence Into A Coronation

 

Finally, we come to the cross of Christ.  The cross is Rome’s symbol of shame, pain, and death.  It is devised by evil men to act as a billboard of suffering, shame, and death.  The idea is that rebels and/or run-away slaves will die slowly as they cry for mercy.  Then the bodies, normally, are left there to rot as a warning to all that this is what happens when you mess with Caesar!  “Caesar is in charge of this world,” they would tell us, “and if you don’t fall in line with his kind of order, this will happen to you too!”

 

Jesus, though, takes that symbol of shameful suffering and shows us the image of God becoming King of creation.  Jesus bears the image of God, the Creator, who established him as the image bearer – and he goes to the place of shame, pain, and despair to do it.

 

Following This Prophet

 

Yes.  If you slept out in the street last night, you have something to say to the bluffing powers that put you there.  You have a powerful word from God.  But you are a mere errand boy (or girl).  Do not confuse John Wayne or Clint Eastwood with Jesus.  Those guys come in pride, not God’s power.  It looks the same on the surface, but not underneath the bluffing and not for long.

 

You are signing on for a revolution of sorts.  You are no victim; you are a prophet.  And it is time to consider how God wants his word dramatized in this community – using you.

 

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #7)

(lesson #7)

Calling the Bluff (…The Newspaper in the Other Hand…)

 

If we take the analysis from Lesson #6 as being our Bible in one hand, then how do we go about joining it to the proverbial newspaper in the other?

 

Jesus and Misfits

 

I want to say something here about you, The Premier Homeless Pseudo Church, as a group – as an assembly.  You are exactly the kind of people who relate to Jesus most favorably.  Jesus has a clear track record: When he shows up at the place of worship, he throws tables around and drives out the money changers with a whip! (John 2:15).  He is not really welcome in most places of worship – not when the tables get turned!

 

This is not so with you.  Jesus comes among you and says, “Let’s party!”  And you say, “Okay, what do you have to eat?”  Forget for a moment all that tame crap the church normally tries to get you to believe about Jesus so that you can be managed and manipulated into “appropriate” behavior!  If you are a misfit, there is a good possibility that you are the Jesus-kind.

 

One of the main reasons why I am willing to drive past a dozen or more places of worship to join you each Sunday is because I expect Jesus is really welcome here in ways and to a degree that he is not welcome in other places of worship.  I also find it richly prophetic that this assembly calls themselves “The [nameless for publication] Church.”

 

However, I find it deeply ironic that The House of God is full of homeless people.  I suspect there is much to explore prophetically in that observation alone.  I really want to see how this group learns to discern a word from God on that exact issue.

 

I hinted before that some of our prophecy will be directed to the assembly itself, and some of it will be directed to others outside – maybe even the community at large.  There will be distinctions there for us to explore, but in the meantime, I call a place around which people sleep under blankets in the freezing cold a place of shame, pain, and despair.  That is the image of this Church in this community.

 

Basically, this is the part of the prophecy where we look at the newspaper a minute.  This is the part where we “bridge the gap” between the analysis we made of Scripture in the last lesson and find how it joins to our world.  God’s word is for us and to us, AND through us it is a word to our community.

 

Going for the Throat

 

I think Lubbock, Texas actually prides itself as a “Christian” community.  (Yes, I said pride – and yes that is a problem.)  Let me explain.

 

Before I bring a word of conviction to our community, though, let me also say that Lubbock is a blessed city.  This is a wonderful community made up mostly of wonderful people.  People of Lubbock tend to hold to strong morals, conservative values, and create an environment that favors family, personal responsibility, and hope for the future.  Saying that is a huge commendation for this community.

 

Exposing Inconsistent Image Bearing

 

But it is not all so rosy either though, and there are a number of tragic ironies and paradoxes within those very statements.  Perhaps the chief among them is the statistics on STD’s which shows the ugly erosion in the facade.  This observation has bearing on the issue of homelessness, in a round-about way, because it is indicative of broken homes which are one major manifestation of homelessness and a leading factor in putting people out on the streets.

 

Allow me to take this in a slightly different direction briefly, and recall my personal experience here for instructive purposes.  I have shared a concern for people living on the streets since I was in high school in the 1980’s.  But like a lot of Americans, if not most, my concern was passive at best.  I saw stories on TV or in magazines that made me feel bad, but I was not really moved to action.

 

After I finished Bible studies in the university, at the turn of the millennium, I became involved with prison ministry and then “after care” ministry.  Later we moved out to the streets to confront the spirits of drug abuse and prostitution.  But I did not become involved with “homeless ministry” until I saw the local news media promote an all-night prayer vigil at the library downtown about nine years ago.

 

I went to the vigil with some friends and attempted to stay through the night.  It got cold and damp, and I became miserable and angry.  I looked into the windows of the library where, under the security lights, I could see books on shelves kept warm and dry.  I wondered in amazement at the warped values of our society that allowed people to sleep out in the cold just inches away from inanimate objects being kept safe and dry.

 

That image has always stayed with me: People sleeping in blankets on concrete next to those windows reveal what is truly valued in our community.  Would this please the God who lovingly created the whole world?  Is this what he had in mind?  Is this a “Christian” community or not?

 

Lubbock is a fine city, but Lubbock is not all she claims.  Someone is lying.  Someone needs to be confronted about it.  We need some sweeping changes!

 

I note that the United States Constitution expressly calls for the “separation church and state” (as Thomas Jefferson phrased it) which amounts to the same thing as evicting God officially from our culture (or relegating him to the margins and away from the areas of power).  This is always the strategy of empire (in various forms and expressions to be sure).  And it always renders God’s chosen people either homeless or makes them slaves in the brickyards.

 

Consider this:  The U. S. Constitution separates church and state, but that does not mean that communities under that constitution have to do that.  Lubbock is a fine example of a town where a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist is extremely unlikely to be elected mayor – or any major political post.  The weight of that godless constitution is felt in countless ways, but not like that!  Not in this town!

 

No, we consider ourselves a “Christian” community, and we go to great pains to paint a picture of our town with those brush strokes.  But that kind of “Christianity” appears to avoid suffering and attempts to cover over it with pride.  There is something false about that image.  This bears an inconsistent image for the creation – one that can never bring God’s order to the world.  Bluffing cannot do that.

 

Back to the Bible (Briefly)

 

The prophets of God in the Bible set out to confront that kind of nonsense all the time.  Sometimes they prophesy against foreign rulers and often times against their own people.  They call the bluff on these kinds of claims – even going so far as to tell Israel (on God’s behalf), “You are not my children – not my people!” (Hos. 1:9).

 

Now Back to the Newspaper

 

That homeless prayer vigil and the image I saw there are part of my experience and shape the thoughts and feelings that generated.  I got involved.  As I did so, I found a number of wonderful ministries in this community that reach out in sacrificial ways to ease the suffering.  I have found that despite the ironies and flaws in this community, there is plenty to eat.  This is a huge blessing!  We might even say it is foundational to all relief efforts.

 

But then the library evicted those on its steps.  I am not without sympathy for the problems that caused that to happen.  When the TV news reports told of feces on the sidewalk, it was obvious that things were out of hand.

 

But then where were the arms of Jesus?  In a tent?  Apparently so.  But I kept thinking we were a “Christian” community – YOU KNOW – like Jesus who gave up his own life to save others.  I thought about how God designed the human heart to be The House of God, but then wound up living (supposedly) in a tent.  Later he lived (supposedly) in a temple – God kept in a box!  Lubbock seemed to prefer the tent!  Why?

 

So, I went to tent city to experience that (as a weekend warrior of sorts), and I filmed the birth of a neighborhood struggling to exist on the fringe of Lubbock, Texas.  While there I noticed that Lubbock (this “Christian” community) found the ways and means to expand two football arenas, build a major new freeway, and a multi-million-dollar, animal shelter while tent city cleaned itself up in the aftermath of a “haboob”.  I am not convinced that images Christian values.

 

So, there is Agent X’s look-see into the newspaper on the other hand.  The question is: How does a group of homeless prophets from The Premier Homeless Pseudo Church bring the imaginative word of God to the place of shame, pain, and despair in this community and bear the image of God there?

 

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #6)

Section II

 

In this section of the book, we begin exploring the Scriptures and prophetic application at the local level.  Here we put to use the shared understanding we established by exploring the terms and concepts above down where the-rubber-meets-the-road or (more appropriately) where it all hits close-to-home.

 

 

(lesson #6)

The Carpenter’s House (…The Bible in One Hand…)

 

 

We have now established enough shared understanding to begin to explore prophecy in our community particularly.  We are a church made up, in large part, of homeless people – the kind that sleep out on the pavement.  By virtue of that fact, we can find some truly rich, Bible prophecy and the mysterious power of God for our lives and newfound vocation.

 

A Side Note

 

I do not mean to limit our prophecy strictly to stories we find in the Bible.  Perhaps God will speak something else through you to his creation.  I only know that his word to you, if it truly is his word, will not contradict his word in the Bible.  As his word to you passes through you, that must be verified.  But we have a wealth of dramatic scripts to stage within the Scriptures, and that is its own best verification and will demand that we have faith in God as we go about rehearsing and staging them.

 

The Point

 

We find a rich source of meaning and power at the intersection of our homelessness and the very biblical idea that God (in Jesus) is The Carpenter who is building The House of God.  I think both we (as prophets) and the world at large stand to gain so much blessing by opening our imagination at exactly that point.

 

We are now also at precisely the point where we need to really analyze and discuss Scripture with much more depth.  There will be a lot of complex issues in this discussion, but I will do my best to breeze over them and avoid getting bogged down.  But I ask you to step up your participation as best you can, on the one hand, and keep in mind that there are more complexities here than I am dealing with on the other.

 

The image of God as The Carpenter is not one single compact story like we find in Joshua and the battle for Jericho.  In fact some texts lend themselves to this image by implication rather than explication.  Also, the image is scattered all through the Bible and intermingled with other images from time to time.

 

However, for our present discussion (and arguably for our entire purpose as a church made up largely of homeless people), I aim to keep close to a mere handful of texts that present God in this light and to limit many of the rich theological insights I might otherwise want to explore.  That is a really complicated way of saying: Let’s keep this simple – as simple as we can.

 

The Bible as The Story of The Great Carpenter

 

There is a sense in which we can look at nearly the whole Bible as though it were the story of The Great Carpenter who builds his home.  In the beginning, it is the Creator God building all of creation and thus making a home for his creatures.  The human heart was supposed to be the most central part of the whole project – The House of God.  God would live there.

 

Let us view the sin of the first man and his wife as if The House of God became a broken home in which the human evicted God.  In so doing, God likewise evicted the humans from the Garden of Eden, and thus we all became homeless.  This analysis is entirely symbolic, but later texts in the Bible help us to see the opening stories in this way (Heb. 3:4).

 

By the time we reach Genesis 11, the humans get in on the building program; they fancy themselves carpenters.  They develop the technology to form bricks and go to constructing a tower (Gen. 11:3).  This, ironically, is an act of rebellion.  God is not happy about it and judges it by confusing the languages.

 

Every world empire since that time engages in essentially that same rebellion.  And all the empires of world history rise only to fall, and eventually even the American empire will fall too.  It is God’s prerogative to judge as he will.

 

Meanwhile, it is curious that “bricks” are associated with the building of empire, but if you notice in Exodus 1, the brickyard becomes the living quarters of God’s chosen people.  It is the brickyard of empire that God frees them from as he unleashes Ten Judgments of anti-creation on the house of Egypt.

 

Bricks vs. Sons

 

Moving deeper into the Bible, we find that God quietly goes to work in the most ironic ways building The House of God all over again.  Only God does not use bricks; he uses sons/stones.  (It helps if you know that in the Hebrew language the words for “son” and “stone” rhyme with each other, and the Bible sometimes “makes a play on words” with this concept.)  Therefore God’s Son, Jesus, is the “cornerstone that the builders rejected” (Ps. 118:10/Mark 12:10).

 

Over the course of Israel’s history, there arises a king who desires to build a house for God (II Sam. 7).  He is a good king who loves God, but mistakenly fancies himself as a carpenter who could build The House of God.  God reacts strangely to this desire.  He honors the love of this king, but denies his request.  In fact, he tells the king that he (God) will build a home for him (the king) instead.  He goes on to say that the king’s son will build The House of God at some later date after the king has died.

 

Well that king eventually dies and passes his crown to one of his sons, alright, but we must recall that The House of God always was intended to be the human heart.  But meanwhile the son of that king goes on to build a grand temple for God, and Israel assumes that this is the fulfillment of that prophecy …but it is not (Acts 7:48).

 

In fact, the people continue to sin against God for all they are worth.  God eventually crushes his own chosen people because they do not really make their home with God.  It is all a horrible and sad irony.  And that temple gets leveled to the ground, the people are scattered abroad, and the whole thing looks suspiciously like God’s judgment on the tower of Genesis 11 or on Egypt in the Exodus.  It was a grand building project, but no kind of home.

 

Later, during the time that Jesus of Nazareth comes to minister and prophesy to Israel, there is another king who arises and builds that temple all over again.  He is a corrupt king (this time) who does not honor God, but he finds political advantage putting Israel to work building a new temple that would be far bigger, grander, and slathered in more gold that the first one even dreamed of being.  Of course this bluffs the appearance of being godly, but really this king (and most of his subjects too in one way or another) only want to look good (pride).

 

In reality, they do not seek to host God in their hearts; rather they seek to use God to achieve political and financial power.  It is a thin disguise and not the true image of God.

 

This is the stage upon which Jesus produces his PROPH-O-DRAMA.  He shows up and puts the authorities on notice by going around healing people, feeding people, partying with people, and loving people – and occasionally preaching to them.  And the people he ministers to – the ones who really relate to him favorably – are the poor and marginalized, (the homeless) people of his culture.  And both in deed and in word (and by virtue of the love he brings to those marginalized people), Jesus puts the king and all the powers of empire on notice that they are under the judgment of God.

 

Then he has the audacity to go into that temple and drive out the money changers!  This really upsets the king and his friends!  But it is the PROPH-O-DRAMA that God wants from Jesus – who tells stories of a Master of a house who would come home and find that the servants had let it get in disarray! (Matt. 24:42-51).

 

Jesus then suffers greatly – to the point of shameful death – because of the PROPH-O-DRAMA – because he messes with the symbols his society holds dear but holds wrongly.

 

Bearing the Image of the Carpenter

 

Ironically, the charge the court brings against Jesus – the one that almost sticks – is that Jesus was heard to say that he would “tear down this house and build another in three days!” (Mark 14:58).  Then they kill him at the place of shame, pain, and despair in their community – Golgotha.  And as they do so, this prophet bears the image of that suffering God, and takes his place as the cornerstone in The House of God which is the church.

 

As it turns out, Jesus is The Son that God had promised to that good king long, long ago (Mark 12:35).  Israel had not seen him coming.  His confrontation with their sin, and especially the suffering and humiliation Jesus endures, throws them all off.  But not us.  Not the Church of this Messiah.  No.  We are The House of God he builds with sons instead of bricks.

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #5)

 

(lesson #5)

Mission

 

 

We have now analyzed enough terms (or concepts) to form a foundation and establish some important shared understanding.  We talked about homelessness and expanded that concept.  Then we talked about prophecy and particularly explored it in terms of it being God’s word, an imaginative message, and the role of suffering within it.  The shared understanding we now have should be enough of a foundation for us to build on.  Now we must ask: What does the prophet do?

 

Prophets have a mission.  There are prophetic tasks that God wants us to perform.  While I cannot offer an exhaustive analysis of God’s mission here, I can lead you through some discussion that should equip you for beginning those tasks – and open your imagination to a wealth of godly possibilities.

 

At this point I want to reiterate a key point: We will make mistakes.  This is natural.  My advice is to have humility and make room in your heart for repentance.  God loves you.  God is gracious.  And take heart, for as you grow, you become ever more perfect and more like him (Lev. 19:2/Deut. 18:13/Matt. 5:48).  I make that point by way of caution.  It is very easy to misuse prophecy.  You do not want to be a false prophet or serve the wrong god.  But there is grace and correction for mistakes.  We need to be ready to avail that when necessary, but that is not the purpose of prophecy.  So let’s get on with it, but hold to the cautionary advice as we go.

 

Mission Statement

 

At this point I will share with you my mission statement that keeps me focused and humble.  Here it is: Our job is to go to the place of shame, pain, and despair in our community and bear the image of God there.

 

That’s it.

 

After the foundation of shared understanding we have laid this far, it should be a rather rich and meaningful, mission statement for us now.  I find it abides with Scripture and prayerful discernment, and no community of believers has ever challenged it.  I am perfectly happy to share it with you, and, in fact, I believe it should be the mission statement of the entire Body of Christ in all its many expressions world-wide.

 

Yet there are still other dimensions to the mission that we need to discuss.  I feel sure that as we move forward, you can keep this mission statement in mind and find application readily.

 

Oracles and Symbolic Acts

 

Let me make this observation: The Bible depicts two categories of godly prophecy.  We call one category “oracles” and the other “prophetic/symbolic acts.”  “Oracle” is a word we don’t use too much these days, but it basically suggests the idea that the prophet has some words to utter – a sermon.  This idea goes hand-in-glove with preaching.

 

Prophetic preaching is vital to the life of the church and to the world that the church seeks to preserve.  If you find that God puts this gift within you, then you should honor that.  It is something you probably need to develop, and there are schools dedicated to helping you do that.

 

We do well, at this point, to briefly consider biblical prophecy.  There is no doubt that many of the great prophets were known for their powerful oracles.  The Book of Isaiah, for instance, is full of them, but so many of the really memorable prophecies are more like strange little stage productions.  I do not wish to short-change oracular prophecy in this book for one moment, but we are better served letting the schools help you develop that gift, if you want that.  On the other hand, I want to explore the prophetic/symbolic acts in much more detail.  Think of Ezekiel laying siege to a brick (Ezek. 4), or Jeremiah’s underwear (Jer. 13), or (my favorite) Hosea marries a whore! (Hos.1).   There are many more we could cite.  I like to call this kind of prophecy “PROPH-O-DRAMA.”

 

I call these prophecies PROPH-O-DRAMAs because they are strange little stage productions.  That concept will prove useful from here on.  But I want to keep in mind that Bible scholars call them prophetic/symbolic acts.  That designation is important because prophets frequently go messing with symbols that idolatrous cultures hold dear.  Picking on idolatrous symbols goes to the heart of biblical prophecy.  Certainly Jesus engaged in it.  (See lesson #8.)

 

For now stay with the stage production idea.  Staging a prophecy has everything to do with imagination.  This opens the door for clever wit and charm and for gutsy and powerful confrontation.  At the same time, the prophet runs the very real risk of looking stupid as-all-get-out!

 

The fact of the matter is that Ezekiel is warning the people of God that judgment will fall on them.  That is a powerful and important message.  However, he looks like a strange – even creepy – little man beating a defenseless brick!  A weird old man hopping around, hollering, and swinging a stick at a brick in the marketplace does not help a guy pick up chicks later at the bar!

 

Worse yet, look at poor Hosea.  You can hardly be more pathetic than to fall in love with a hooker!  Your friends will talk.  Your heart will ache.  Your friends will say, “What were you thinking?”  and “How stupid!”   Yet, that drama (that symbolic act) images the suffering of God who loves his sinful people.

 

(By the way, I would like you to notice that this prophecy has nothing to do with foretelling the future.  God may give such a message on some occasions, but that is not the meaning of prophecy, nor is it always the point of it.  Quite frequently prophecy has more to do with simply opening up your imagination to the heart of God.)

 

“Bridging the Gap”

 

In preaching school, one of the concepts they teach to young preachers is to “hold your Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other”.  The idea is that there is a cultural (imagination) gap between the world of the Bible and the world of today.  The preacher should “bridge the gap”.  Those teachers want their preacher-students to learn to make the message relevant to hearers today.

 

The idea is that we live between poles of a spectrum – Then and Now.  Making sense of Then for Now is a “bridging” proposition.  I want to question that notion.  Not to destroy it, but to enhance it.  I want to suggest that there never really is a question of relevance, not at that level.  No.  The word of God is always and forever relevant to his creation.  We do not need to somehow “make it relevant”.

 

Still, this does not mean that there is no gap in understanding or interest.  But I think it is fair to view the traffic on the bridge as a two-way street.  Sometimes we bring the meaning of the text to the audience; sometimes we take the audience to the world of the text.

 

The Point

 

I offer this: If you go to the Scriptures and stage the dramas there in your life, you will (by virtue of that decision) largely be faithful to the Scriptures and bring prophecy to bear on creation at the same time.  You will both bring the meaning of the Bible to your audience and take your audience to the world of the Bible at the same time.

 

An Example

 

For instance, if I go to an apartment complex across town that is known for drugs and prostitution, I might prophetically bridge the gap by staging a siege of Jericho.  Turn to Joshua 6.  (I do not mean to say we should only read chapter 6, but for our purposes presently, and to keep this project manageable – let’s keep it simple.)  There you find the story of God conquering the mighty walls of Jericho in a mysterious way.  He marches his people around the city day after day – one time each day.  Then on the seventh day, they march around it seven times and then blow trumpets.

 

In the story of Joshua 6, the walls fall down, and the armies of God rush into the city killing the entire enemy.  It is obvious to us believers this side of Jesus (historically speaking) that we want to save the people in the apartment complex rather than kill them – but we want to kill the evil that has taken hold there.  But the questions is: What would God do if this band of homeless prophets marched prayerfully against this apartment complex?  I mean, would walls come down?  What if metaphorical walls came down?  What if real, physical walls came down?  What if no walls came down?  What if….?

 

What about the experience of the prophets?  Did they enter the world of the text?  Were they faithful to Scripture?  Would God expand their imagination?

 

I don’t know what would happen, but I feel reasonably sure that God would surprise us – as I am sure he surprised the Hebrews of old who stormed Jericho.  In staging this PROPH-O-DRAMA, the prophets themselves will endure humiliation and run all the risks associated with it.  But they will also come very close to God, and that is always a blessing.  I can only imagine the fresh sense of meaning that Scripture will forever after hold for that band of prophets!

 

This is to say nothing of the experience of the people who live in those apartments.  Can you imagine living there in whatever shame, pain, and despair that dictates and witnessing a band of prophets putting themselves to shame in such a display of God’s love?  Even if they hold those prophets in disdain on day one, where do you really think they will be with them on day seven?  Will the prophecy expand their imagination(s)?

 

God only knows, but creation needs to find out.  And you have a calling from God to go there and play your prophetic role in the drama of it.

 

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #4)

(lesson #4)

Suffering

 

Now for an unlikely term (or concept), another dimension to prophecy, we need to add to this discussion is “suffering”.  Of course you are deeply familiar with suffering; everyone is.  Some more than others, but no one goes through life never suffering.  Yet there are some mysteries to suffering that a prophet needs to consider, and suffering is the part false prophets almost universally avoid.

 

If you are one of those who sleeps on the hard, cold pavement in the alleys and streets, then you know a lot about suffering.  In fact you have a lot to teach the rest of us about suffering.  There is a deep irony here, and this may well be why you read a book like this.  It helps make sense of the hard life you are already engaged in.

 

Suffering and God’s Will

 

We need to see how suffering fits in the economy of God.  This is precisely the thing you need for empowerment and for insight into prophecy.  An examination and embrace of suffering (and humility) will illuminate our path.

 

Consider this: One of the key ways human societies try to order the world is through the elimination of suffering.  The idea is that once we establish a certain kind of world-order, then no one will have to suffer anymore; then we will finally achieve utopia.

 

In the last century, we saw two major expressions of world-order that competed against each other to achieve that very goal.  One we called “Communism” and the other “Capitalism”.  The competition itself proved to cause enormous suffering all over the world for most of the century, and ironically both expressions promised to eliminate it and usher in utopia.

 

Neither one did what they promised, quite the opposite, actually.  But Capitalism emerged victorious over Communism in its ability to establish itself as a world power.  However, winning the competition did not establish the utopia, and in fact, Capitalism has proven to be a rather shaky world-order ever since.

 

I do not wish to chase political bunnies in our present discussion, though.  At the moment, I merely point out that humanity world-wide has attempted mightily to eliminate suffering from the world by means of avoiding it by use of differing strategies.  Of course that is an overly simplistic statement because we actually use fear, death, chaos, and evil as tools for eliminating suffering in a bid to avoid it.  Every bomb ever dropped or every rocket ever launched against an enemy is sufficient to prove my point.  Therefore, the desire to avoid suffering is a paradox that the prophet must come to terms with.

 

The analysis I offer here basically indicts the whole American culture in the courts of heaven.  To come to this worldview is to come to a lonely place in this culture.  Practically no one, certainly not the rich – but not even the poor (not even those who sleep out in the cold) see these issues from this heavenly point of view.

 

This is because of appearances.  Again, this has everything to do with image – either bearing God’s image or constituting our own.  And even though all the power of Capitalism and American-might come to bear on the problem of suffering, it not only persists, but, often enough, it creates more.

 

Suffering never really goes away, but frequently we settle for the mere appearance of self-assurance, self-reliance, and /or pride on the surface of things (or conversely we play the victim card and claim a scorned moral high road).  This is an issue of image and imagination.  Underneath is suffering while pride masquerades on the surface like diversionary propaganda.

 

It turns out, though, that God suffers deeply from his rebellious creation.  And the image of this God is an image of suffering love.  The tough part, for the prophet, is that the prophetic call on your life to bear his image is a call to suffer.

 

This means that the message of God is counter-cultural.  It always has been – even from the beginning of human societies (Gen. 11:7-8).  Societies of fallen humanity have always been corrupt and always fall under the judgment of God who has a different world-order than those self-serving, passion-avoiding creatures promote.  They will not achieve utopia by those means within God’s creation.  They would have to leave this universe and establish their own to do it.  This means that the message God gives you will not be received warmly – not most of the time anyway.  The call of the prophet is a call both to suffer and to call others to suffer also.  That is precisely what “the world” does not want.

 

And so we need to dive into the depths of the mysteries of suffering.  Not that we will have clear understanding of its depths, but that we find the hope within it all the same.  And that will always be mysterious.

 

Suffering is not, innately, a form of vanity (James 1:2-4).  Quite the opposite actually.  Though it is possible to suffer in vain, and it does happen often enough.  That is a real risk one always faces no matter what anyway.  But let’s face it (rather than avoid it); faith involves risk!  But suffering is actually foundational and vital to the will of God.  God does his mysterious work in and through our suffering.  Prophets need to know this.

 

We will discuss this notion in more depth later, but I do not want to make such a strong assertion without at least citing some biblical support.  Perhaps the premier passage for this comes from Isaiah 53, but I personally find Philippians 2:5-11 quite instructive on the role of suffering in the economy of God.

 

Faith vs. “Success”

 

Here’s the thing: We will be tempted to reach for “success” by means of our own engineering, but that is exactly the temptation Jesus faces (Matt. 4:3-11/Luke 4:3-12) along with all world leaders.  Jesus, on the other hand, chose to embrace a life of loving, self-sacrifice and die – a prophetic image of God’s kingship in a crown of thorns!

 

This vocation will drive your prayer life.  And soon enough you will discover that you are not called to be “successful” but rather to be faithful.  Ultimately God wills success for his cause in the final analysis, and I do not mean to cast doubt on that for a moment.  His success, though, will not come by virtue of godless engineering or manipulation, but rather by trusting him to carry us through suffering (I Pet. 2:21-24; 4:12-14).

Fat Beggars Network Expands

Agent Z is starting a blog of his own as part of his ministry to the streets in association with the Fat Beggars School of Prophets.

I invite you to check out his blog too.  Perhaps become a follower… offer feedback… and hopefully a little encouragement from time to time.  Expect to be challenged.  Comfort zones are not respected, as a general rule.  Agent Z is a Storm Trooper of Life raiding the Gates of Hell for all he is worth.  I expect that should make for a rather interesting blog.

Find it here:

https://iamagentzblog.wordpress.com/

I hope to see you there!