Wise Words: A Quote For The Day

Found on page 203 of PFG vol. I by N.T. Wright:

…in the western world for the last two hundred years the categories of ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ have been carefully separated, each being defined negatively in relation to the other.  ‘Politics’, for the modern west, is about the running of countries and cities as though there were no god; ‘religion’ is about engaging the present piety and seeking future salvation as though there were no polis, no civic reality.

The statement above is deep and lifted out of context, but like the prophetic vision of a true seer, it actually frames the context of nearly all talk about ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ of our day.  Sit with it a moment and consider the implications, the ramifications, and the slave-driving plantations holding our modern imaginings of God captive being exposed therein.

If you can, I hope you will join the conversation this blog holds out for you.

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Looking for Jesus in the Poor

“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless” (I Cor. 4:11). Is Paul describing himself and his friends as a homeless community? When was the last time your Bible class considered that Paul might be homeless? Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, we want to see the Matthew-25 Jesus.
Homelessness has become a growing problem in the United States. Every day it is becoming more pervasive. People in worn down clothes, selling newspapers are a common sight in Lubbock, Texas on any given Sunday. If you look hard under overpasses, you will undoubtedly see a bed roll or a bundle of clothes. Homelessness is hard to miss in Lubbock and yet people do. This is not just a problem in Lubbock. Go to any major city and you will find a similar pattern. Somehow, it is still a topic that makes affluent Christians uncomfortable.

When the issue is brought up in church, the congregation tunes out. The youth group takes out their phones and new parents fall asleep. When a homeless person visits they catch many of the members making wide arcs around them as to not be caught in a conversation. Why? We treat homelessness like a virus we might catch. Maybe the stench of mildew and body odor will rub off on us if we hug them like we do Brother Jack and Sister Jill. Or maybe we will be convinced to get involved. If we don’t know the homeless person’s problem, then maybe there is no problem. If we don’t know the homeless person’s story, we can just assume that they are addicted to some kind of drug or alcohol or negative lifestyle that has dropped them into the situation that they deserve. Spiritually it is easy to see a homeless person and think that they deserve to be in their position. The fact is most homeless people are not bad people. Why would God let a good person be homeless?

The answer to this question is God uses these people, who have been humbled in drastic ways to open the eyes of those of us who haven’t. Many times working with these people I notice that they help me to find Jesus alive in my heart in new ways. God has used the people that I am supposed to be ministering to, to minister to me.

Intellectually, homelessness is a hard topic to digest. The issues are complex. How do people end up in their situations? Financially, what happened to get them to such a low point in their life? Why don’t homeless people work harder to get out of their situation? These questions dominate. After just a short discussion with a few people it is easy to find that while some are there due to their own incompetence as a member of society many of them are there because of a series of events that they could not control. A work injury that led to a job loss that led to a divorce and a loss of the home. Though it seems like a specific situation, many people end up homeless due to similar circumstances. After such a huge downturn it is hard for a person to feel like they can get back on their feet. Unfortunately, people don’t understand how to help. With no clear way out and no one willing or able to help them a person gets stuck in their position. It’s a vicious cycle that, without the intervention of a merciful, loving God, will never end.

Homelessness and its ministry has been a growing part of my life. I have gotten to see a whole new side in myself and people who used to seem beneath my contempt. I have been able to see that we share what is important: Jesus. I once was blind (by denial and contempt) but now I see. Paul became all things to all people to help us see Jesus, one of those things was homeless.

Agent Z

Still Digesting Eucharist

(This post won’t likely make sense unless you’ve read the previous two posts)

Agent H aka Jesus/the least of these...

Agent H aka Jesus/the least of these…

I feel like a bug on a windshield.  I hit my spiritual lunch experience the other day with a full-body splat.  Perhaps the last thing to go through my mind at impact was just my own keister.  I can’t find rhyme or reasonable reason amid the chunks splattered around.  There are so many, and they are all over the place.  I am not in a position to presume I can, or even should, organize them.  Wouldn’t that be a bit arrogant for a bug splat?  …And so… if you choose to activate the wiper blades, I am sure I will merely smear across your field of vision some raw words about Jesus and the Apocalypse.

If you have a taste for this lunch… you are invited to join me. (However, I am not writing this to be enjoyed by a reader nearly as much as a way of dealing with my own internal digestion.  It just happens to be in print and publicized.  You really might just want to skip this one; I wouldn’t blame you.)  You might swallow a bone, you might get a wing, an eyeball, or some other questionable bits, but I just have to swallow the bite that was too big to chew.  Bear with me as I choke it down.

Gatekeepers

IMG_1212 photo (5)

First a word on gatekeepers.  I followed that Walmart employee out to the edge of the Walmart parking lot as he ran off a beggar.  I wanted to see what would happen, even though I already had a pretty good idea.  I really could write a whole post on just this event – or on the typology of events it represents.  I probably could devote a whole blog to it, even.  I think there are complexities to explore here that would take a lot of print to exhaust.

That Walmart employee was just doing his job.  As I put myself in his shoes, I sense that he is a cog on a gear in a much bigger engine.  He couldn’t change the direction of the car by himself, and probably not at all.  In fact, he may be only a couple of paychecks away from joining that beggar on the far end of the lot.  And since running off bums is part of his job, he kinda needs to do it.  He is just following orders! (an excuse that did not work for those on trial at Nuremberg, but hey… it’s not without a sense of logic and sympathy.)

I recently found a blog post by a security guard in Seattle that depicted a similar scene.  The guard runs off a homeless bum from a high-end, high-rise downtown, but then reflects on it as a Christian.  I am sensitive to that.  Is there a way to serve both Mammon and Jesus?  If so, how?  I mean, as long as it is abstract and academic, the answer is a plain “NO” … but the minute it becomes a matter of your basic livelihood, it gets diffused and splintered into bug chunks on a windshield that you try to wipe off with wiper blades and windshield fluid before your vision gets obscured too bad and you go off course!  You might never reach the goals you sacrifice so much to meet.

Is there a way to serve the job and help the bum both?  Is there a kinder and gentler way of running off a bum?  Is there a respectful way of confronting the boss?  I mean, even Daniel serves the king at the king’s behest, but manages to do so without eating the pagan food or praying the pagan prayers.  It gets him thrown to lions, but God saves him and even gets him a promotion!  How do I get that gig?

Is it enough to be passively resistant, or should I mount an attack?  And how does a cog on the gear do either?

Gatekeepers have to face this stuff when it comes to beggars and bums regularly.  Whether gatekeepers openly analyze it or not, they do deal with it all the time.  I bet the Walmart employee who did that job the other day is the “go-to” guy for it, because he has done it before and has developed a proficiency at it… a distasteful job that others don’t even want.  And he was not ugly, he was tactful, professional.  But he was quite firm…and effective.  The bum moved along quickly.

And for what?  The engine driving this whole scene is American commerce.  The consumer-driven marketplace.  And I, as a consumer, was in the driver’s seat.  Walmart employs that gatekeeper to serve me.  He was running off the bum on my behalf (or actually on behalf of the money in my pocket).  When I showed up to care about how he treated that bum, and then walked around in his store wearing a bright-colored t-shirt that says JESUS WAS HOMELESS on it, I put all of this in question for him.  The fact that I followed him and he witnessed my care for the bum as part of my trip to his store to spend money there, throws a wrench into the gears that could break off that cog.  It’s a whole new vantage ground.  I only hope, against hope, that he and other employees actually talked about it.

But that is all really small, insignificant stuff.  It’s all on the edges of my concern really.  And yet, I could go on and on chasing the various dynamics inherent therein.

The Parade

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Then there is the parade aspect.  I was wearing a bright colored shirt drawing attention to Jesus and the homeless in a “Christian” town that finds subtle but powerful ways of ignoring both.  And my actions subtly do this in powerful judgment against the city that sees it.

This is ministry.  It is bearing the image of God in the place of shame, pain, and despair in this community.  In that regard, it is emblematic of Jesus at Golgotha.  Just the mere image of Jesus there depicts the great God of Israel being crowned King of his own wayward subjects.  It is humiliation turned all the way inside out.  It is grace, but with paradoxical demands.  And it is, according to the faith, the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).

By wearing that shirt, running to that scene, and speaking into that pain so publically, I became a cog in the gear in a different kind of engine.  I become a visual aid and a voice for another authority – one sorely needed and otherwise lacking!

But the message is not mine, and I am not the author.  I become a vehicle for a very important exchange, but I absolutely must keep myself humble or else I blow my own purpose away.  It is easy to think that because I speak for God in such a daring way that I am special, that you should listen to me.  And that is involved, but if reduced to that, it easily slips off into vanity at any given moment.

I read another blogger’s post recently where that blogger recounted an exchange with a homeless person.  This blogger told about how they brought some meaningful message to the bum, some helpful ministry to the needy person.  And that is exactly right.  That is so true and so needed.  And yet, I did not detect even a particle of reverence for the homeless person they served.  (Not that it wasn’t there, but it certainly was not featured.)  And I read this exciting account of love bestowed where it was not deserved, and it inspired me, and probably other readers too, but it also lent itself to arrogance – “the savior complex”… we might call it.  I sensed it was a top-down approach somehow.

And I really hate to even mention it, because I think picking apart other people’s ministry efforts will be discouraging.  I would rather see Jesus preached in arrogance than not preached at all… Right?  (Phil. 1:15-18 anyone???)  Perhaps there is a key difference between a “savior complex” and a “Jesus complex” …because even Caesar viewed himself as “savior” and there is no doubt the Jesus version is quite distinct from that.

Somehow the look-at-me aspect is necessary, but only as long as the “me” part is pointing humbly to Jesus, who is pointing humbly to God.  God’s coronation at Golgotha was Jesus’s execution.  Yes, we look at Jesus there, but it is God we see! (Mark 15:39 seems particularly instructive here.)

Anyway, with these thoughts splattered around my mind, both before and since my lunch with Jesus, I recognize that I went into that spiritual experience with my eyes focused on this kind of reality.  A very this-worldly vantage ground of other-worldly ministry.  But then…

The Apocalypse

Easter Tent City II

The unveiling of other dimensions of reality.  I have been looking intently for Jesus in both the church and in the poor – even exposing him there.  The word of God plainly speaks of such, but finding him there through the lens of daily life is not so easy.  The church has become accustomed to the marketplace world and as such has become gatekeeper.  The gatekeeper there throws a lock on the door and keeps the Jesus of the poor locked out.  But then, let’s not be too quick to romanticize the poor; it’s not like they are running around being virtuous everywhere.  No.  There is a lot of urine where urine should not be – to say the least about “the least of these…”

But when I found Agent H the other day, and when his tears and his words married up in The Joy of The Lord and the Strength therein, I saw behind the veil.  It was like being transported, almost.  That restaurant never ceased being what it appeared to be, but (to use a C.S. Lewis phrase) “the inside of it was bigger than the outside!”  I was in a possible world that usually goes unnoticed and treated as impossible!  Agent H was no longer just a bum, he was demonstrating faith and sharing it with me.  He involved me in the Holy Place with him that I was too short-sighted otherwise to see.

Suddenly I felt like Rob Reiner’s mom in that restaurant with Meg Ryan faking an orgasm and telling the waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having!”  Holy Cow!  This food tastes like chicken strips, and I thought they would embody a message for the outside public to digest, but suddenly I was at the King’s Table.  Suddenly I recognized that I am the bum here!  I am the one granted special privilege.   I am the guest.  I am not the host!  And anyway, orgasms (even of a spiritual kind) are better than Popeye’s chicken strips, but who knew???  Who knew that was on the menu???

Yes.  We were still on parade.  Yes, this was still the ministry I had taken up with.  Yes, we were still having an impact on the public that saw it.  Yes, I am still blogging on it for the world to see and read.  But I was not in charge of it.  I was not in the driver’s seat.  I was merely a cog on a gear in someone else’s engine.  And for that matter, I was not worthy!  I had ventured into a sanctuary I was not yet consecrated for!  I saw angels and Jesus!

And I have been reduced to metaphysical and cosmic speculations.  I don’t even know what wheels within wheels with eyes all about looks like, but I have seen mystery too rich to put in other kinds of words!

And I am almost paranoid about it.  I mean, I am unworthy!  I do not belong! and yet I do.  How can that be???  Was the whole place full of angels?  Was I on display before Lubbock and the eating public, or was I in some heavenly laboratory?  Where was Abraham and Isaac when the knife was raised?  What great cloud of witnesses watched this unfolding apocalypse?

I cannot say for sure.  Perhaps it was a surprise party meant for me, and everyone else there was in on it except me.  Or perhaps I was the minister of God in a dark place letting this wee little light of mine shine.  Or… heaven help me… maybe both!

Rambling

And now I am a rambling idiot on the internet daring to process this stuff.  I am a bug on a windshield.  I am splattered and smeared.  I am reduced to my guts splashed out.  I cannot imagine finding this post on someone else’s blog and thinking it had value for me.  I cannot imagine making sense of it or even wanting to try.

I am planning to die some day.  I don’t know when.  This is not a suicide note.  This is a sober observation in a culture that attempts to deny such.  And if moving from that place I was before my life began into this life here and now is any indication of the move from this life to the next, then I will be utterly dependent upon who ever will receive me there.  Naked and vulnerable – unable to feed myself, clean myself, even speak the language.  I required loving arms, nourishing breasts, and lots of patience when I got here.

I have managed to make a form of sense of this life as I have come along, but I have no way of knowing what if any of that I will take with me into the next life.

But like Jacob wrestling the angel, I asked Agent H to remember me in the Judgment.  His parting words assuring me that we will meet there are the final comfort I take from our lunch.  I miss him dearly every day since.  I think of Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus, coming into focus in the breaking of the bread, and then disappearing as quickly as he had appeared (Luke 24).  All I know to do is run back to Jerusalem and tell who it was I ate with.

If the story comes out all jumbled up, so be it.

Life After Lunch With Jesus

I can’t get my lunch experience with Jesus (see previous post) off my mind.  I keep seeing him in Agent H’s eyes.  I encountered Holiness I was unprepared for, and I am affected.

The look of him sitting so close to me across the table.  I studied his appearance, and it is burned in my mind.  His eyebrows were straggly – over grown.  Untrimmed and wiry.  Long, untamed hairs poking out above his eyes.  His beard was long, but not ZZ Top long, not Duck Dynasty long, but covered his neck in grey.  His skin looked old and weather beaten.  His nose was pointy.  He looked so frail.  He was skin and bones.  I kept sensing pity for him as I tried to hear his mumbled words.  I wanted him to feel me care what he was saying.

Then suddenly those words as the tears gushed down his face: The joy of the Lord is my strength!

I was shocked!  He did not appear joyous or strong; rather he appeared sad and weak!  But he claimed strength that I could not see.  And I was mystified.

Have you ever been mystified by Jesus?  Suddenly, I realized I was viewing the man all wrong! Could all his “mumbling” have been the tongues of angels that I did not know?

I felt myself convicted.  I did not want to leave him.  I wrestled with the notion of inviting him home.  There are sooooooo many logistics to work out!  And then when he said those words and then preached his sermons, I was just pinned to the wall.  If he had asked me to take him home, I believe I would.  How can you meet Jesus and say “no” to him?  Suddenly, I was in his hands.

I relished every second.  I kept thinking, this won’t last.  But I don’t want to leave.  I have been struggling with sin in my own life.  It’s been hard to talk to God about it.  But suddenly I felt welcome in his presence.  I studied his features more intently.  I sensed that together we slipped the veil.  We were somewhere else… Holy Ground.  I was amazed at his words, his conviction.  He knew the place I go to church.  He knew Scriptures by heart and recited them.

Then the other patron came up and gave him money.  Suddenly I remembered, we were on parade!  The world was watching us.  I had the shirt that calls attention to Jesus.

(Now think about this:  I had already been to Walmart where the employee ran off a beggar from that parking lot just an hour before.  I followed that employee out to the beggar.  I bet he thought he was doing his company, his boss, and the shopping public a favor by running off that bum.  What do you think he thought when a shopper at his store walked up wearing a shirt that says JESUS WAS HOMELESS on it?  That kind of thing throws a wrench in your expectations and in your worldview!)

My shirt was speaking like a caption under the picture, and the picture affected everyone in that restaurant – moving one man to offer $10!  I was having my own conviction too.  I was totally unprepared for a beggar I had never met before on the streets of Lubbock praising God, weeping, and giving thanks and sermons like that.

I have been so mystified by this otherwise insignificant moment, that I wonder if I might not have been the only human in that restaurant.  It is quite possible in God’s hands to fill the place with angels and me be unaware (Hebrews 13:2 anyone???)  I mean, even the guy giving $10 to Agent H disappeared from my life just as quickly as the rest.  Was that even a Popeye’s restaurant?

I’m telling you, I encountered Holy Ground!  I was unworthy!  Why did I not insist that this man come home to eat with me? (Gen. 18:1-5 anyone???)  “What’s it really worth to you to shake the holy hand of fate?” (a line from the song Rainmaker by the rock band Kansas).

I studied his features, because I knew in my bones they would be a memory to me soon.  I took my cues from him.  He did not demand anything from me, yet I was scared he would and that I would submit, but then I was scared he wouldn’t and I would miss my chance to submit.

And then I watched him walk away.

And I can’t forget him.

I keep thinking of that part in Tony Campolo’s Sermon (the original/long version of It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming) where he describes boarding a small plane in Haiti and a woman begging him, “Please take my baby!”  He describes in agonizing detail how she pleaded with him to take her baby and even pounded on the side of the plane until it took off down the runway.  He had been repulsed by her outburst and terrible demand.  He had let the pilot shut the door on that woman crying and pleading for him to take her dying baby.  But once he was in the air, well away and safe from her irrational demands, he said, “Suddenly, I knew who that baby was…”

Yeah.

It’s like that.

This Just In… Jesus Ate Lunch At Popeye’s Today

Some stories I just don’t tell, and I really struggle with telling this one.

The whole secret-agent-for-Jesus-network, started with a blog called The Agent B Files, and always was intended to honor Jesus’ directive in Matthew 6:3-4.  It is intended to be a way of sharing God’s work without taking personal credit for it.  However, there is no doubt plenty of people know my identity on the one hand, and telling the story is not keeping it secret on the other.  Despite measures taken to mute my identity, this ministry is designed to aid God’s people to imagine the world differently and to bear God’s image in it largely through portrayal of caring for the poor.

Without exhausting all of the caveats and concerns, I was soooooooo deeply blessed to eat lunch with Jesus today in the Popeye’s fast-food joint down on 82nd and University, that I feel compelled to tell you about it.  I should say that earlier this morning, my wife (Mrs. Agent X) and I made a trip to Walmart up on 82nd and Milwaukee.  As we pulled onto the lot, we saw a man holding a “hungry…homeless” sign as we drove by.  By the time we parked, I could see a Walmart employee walking out to the far part of the lot toward the beggar.  I followed after him to see how this would go.

I will not reveal my part in that exchange at this time, but I will say that it was obvious Walmart did not want that man there, and by the time I returned to Mrs. Agent X, we were both considering the option of taking this man home with us.  However, he got away and that did not happen.  But a half hour later, I was running a final errand for Mrs. Agent X when I bumped into a second homeless guy – on 82nd Street no less!

His name was *Agent H* and he looked like a cross between Rambo and Charlie Manson – (more Charlie than Rambo).  He hobbled, more than walked, and used a walking stick.  I saw him as I waited my turn to get an oil change in my wife’s vehicle, and then found him at the 7/11 across the street shortly afterward, just as he was about to dive a dumpster.

I don’t know his age, but based on things he told me during lunch, I would guess him between 55 and 65, but looking like 75.  He was a bent figure, looked very fragile and unsteady.  I pulled up by the dumpster and invited him to join me for lunch.

He got in the front seat with great difficulty and mumbled his words so that I could hardly make out a sentence he said.  I had a rough one on the line.  Very rough.  As soon as he got in, I went to plan B – “Would you like me to take you to a doctor?” I asked.  He shook off the suggestion.  I decided not to force it.

In my experience on the streets, I find that some people cannot eat the same food(s) I would.  Bad teeth, you see (not to mention every now and then someone is diabetic or so on) AND sometimes I try to take care not to upset their diet.  So I asked where he would like to go.  He didn’t care.  So we went back across the street to Popeye’s which was very handy.

I should say that I happened to be wearing my neon Fat Beggars shirt with the message “JESUS WAS HOMELESS” emblazoned across the back of it.  I showed up like a street minister on parade, and Agent H looked like the picture next to the definition of homeless in the dictionary.  I’ll just say:

WE GOT NOTICED!

Yeah.  We were on display in that restaurant.  Though neither Agent H nor I made mention of it, there was no denying it.  We paraded Lubbock’s elephant-in-the-room right into that eating establishment – and did it right during the lunch hour!  We were breaking a social taboo, and it was powerful!  We did not encounter any resistance from anyone there at all, but after my experience at Walmart less than an hour before, I sensed (and I figure Agent H did too) that my wallet was his ticket to lunch.  I mean, Agent H really looked the part!  I can easily imagine he might not be welcome in a lot of places even if he had his own money.

I directed Agent H to step up to the counter and order what ever he wanted from the menu, I would pay.  He very humbly mumbled inaudibly.  I asked him to repeat it.  He mumbled some more.  Then the lady behind the counter asked him to step closer so she could hear him.  Then she began making suggestions that he nodded to, because I don’t think she ever heard him at all.

I on the other hand finally made out the words “Dr. Pepper”!  Good Agent H!  I hear you!!!

I just have to use my imagination.  I don’t know really.  Possibly the man is just a con and owns a mansion at the edge of town!  If so, I am his chump.  And really, WHO CARES???  But I lean more the other way.  I bet he really likes Dr. Pepper, and it might have been a while since he was able to get one.

We took a seat.  I took off my hat.  Agent H took off his hat.  He spoke a little, but I really could only make out isolated words here an there.  I just could not hear him even across the table.  But I studied his features.  His unkempt hair and weathered skin.  His clothes.  His walking stick and bag.

Then they called our number.  I went to retrieve the food.

When I returned, Agent H asked if we could pray and thank God for the meal!  I agreed and bowed my head.  Agent H blessed the lunch.  Then we began eating.  I listened to him mumble and could barely make out a word here and there.

After a few minutes, I saw a drip form on the tip of his nose.  I thought he might be sick, and I feared his nose drippings might manage to get into his food – AND THEN I WORRIED IF IT MIGHT GET ACROSS THE TABLE INTO MINE!  I kept watching it closely to beware of it.  And then I saw more clearly, the man mumbling softly – so softly that I could not understand him – was weeping.  And then suddenly a clear coherent sentence presented itself to my ears and to my eyes.

He said: THE JOY OF THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH!!!

Suddenly I recognized that I was in the presence of a real prophet!  Jesus was eating lunch with me.  I could have taken my shoes off in that restaurant!  I was on Holy Ground!  This man was praising God and thanking him for his blessing all through lunch!

We spent more than half an hour there.  I really did not want lunch to end.  His speech cleared up little by little as we ate.  He preached at least two sermons for me that I could make out – and one of them was particularly good.

“We are spiritual,” he said.  “Adam and Eve in the garden were created spiritual and if they had chosen to live as spiritual creation, this world would be a different kind of place!”

Amen!  Agent H!  Preach it, brutha!!!

I was getting more and more into his sermon(s), trying hard to listen.  I leaned in close.  I concentrated, and for a few minutes, I don’t think we were really in Popeye’s restaurant.  I think we entered a whole other dimension of reality.  We slipped through the veil for a minute, and I only got back to Popeye’s when a fellow patron and his friend got up to leave.  The friend was dumping the trash when his partner approached us and laid a $10 bill on the table in front of Agent H and said, “I think you need this more than I do.”

Thank you! sir – who ever you are!!!  I praise God for your kind generosity!  If you find this blog and this post, I hope you will say hi to us – anonymously of course!  You really blessed us, and everyone in that restaurant who witnessed it!  Agent H thanks you.  So does Jesus.

I could go on and tell a hundred other observations and so forth, but this post would get too long.  So I will jump to the end of it.

When Agent H decided he was ready to leave, and after much weeping and preaching and praising, I noticed his speech was greatly improved, his posture improved, and he walked a lot stronger too.  I should note that he never complained.  He never lamented.  He did confess sin at one point, but he mostly praised God and cried a lot while he ate.  And so as we said our goodbyes on the parking lot, I hugged him, and I noticed that he did not stink at all!  And I asked him to remember me when we get to the Judgment because Jesus will ask him about me.  And he assured me that we would meet again there!

Just before he disappeared, I snapped a photo of him on the curb from a distance.

I think if you look carefully and concentrate, you see Jesus in this picture.

Agent H aka Jesus/the least of these...

Agent H aka Jesus/the least of these…

Funny.  It almost seemed like I was there feeding a bum in that restaurant.  Almost.  For just a moment… almost.  But really, he fed me.

Thank You, Jesus!

Behold! Jesus Stands at the Door and Knocks

Did you ever read about a shepherd of a flock who left the 99 on a hill in search of one lost lamb, who found that lost lamb and a bunch of others and brought them back to the fold, but then found that the fold was locked up?

That is what this blog is all about.

It does not compute.  I really cannot understand it.  How did this come to be?  What can you do with it?

Well, I, for one, knock on that locked up, sheepfold door.  And when that door is not answered and the lost sheep not admitted, I pray.  I go to “meetings” with sheepfold leadership.  And when the door remains locked up still, I turn to prophetic imagination.

I don’t hate the sheepfold.  I love the sheepfold.  I was working on behalf of the Good Shepherd’s Sheepfold when I went out searching, and there seemed to be no dispute then.

The sheepfold is the hope of the sheep!  I have never lost sight of that.

I never stopped loving the sheepfold or serving there. 

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and eat with you?”

Who wants to ignore that guest!  But woe to you, if you do not recognize the day of your visitation… if he arrives in the skin of a humble Galilean or as one of “the least of these…”  Woe to you if you lose your reason to be…

What does love for the sheepfold look like then?  How does it act in that case?

Prophetic imagination suggests that it is the sheepfold standing in need of ministry now.  But the ministry is confrontational.  But that does not make it unloving.  But it is pounding on that door.

 

Thinking Smaller, Not Bigger

Other Agent J is one of my favorite street-homeless prophets.  But there is this unique trait he has that endears him to me.  He can’t stop talking to save his life.  He rambles more than me… It’s really nonstop!  People around him grow weary of him quickly and chafe at the sound of his approach.

I hate to publish that depiction of him for fear he will read it and feel hurt by it.  But it is a risk I am willing to take.  Plus I note that in private moments I shared with him when it was just the two of us, he has confessed his shame of this to me.  He just can’t seem to help himself.  And, in fact, I personally believe it is an affliction – a manifestation of mental (and/or social) illness over which he has no control.

Other Agent J craves love and attention yet has such a self-sacrificial heart. You might be running away when he gives you the shirt off his back, but he would do that for you if you asked.  And somehow, I love the guy.  I just really love his tender heart.  And so, he is very much a role model for me.  Ironically, his humility is prophetic, and I try to be like that too.

But there is one more thing about him that dominates his personality.  Other Agent J is always dreaming and scheming up big plans.  He has two or three get-rich-quick schemes in the hopper at any given moment.  And usually, he already has one started.  He is always finding goods, foods, and services to sell and raise money for the homeless.  He is always planning to go back to school – usually Bible school – and prepare for grand ministries.  Move over Joel Osteen, Other Agent J is coming!

Despite his plans, though, he has yet to actually get rich or do anything recognizably big.

What blows my mind is that I have exactly the opposite notion of ministry.  And while I hear Other Agent J dream and scheme, I notice that most churches and 501c3 ministries are doing that too.  (And God bless ’em!)  There is always a new dream.  Always a new take on an old effort.  And definitely the fund raising to be done!  And some of these ministers are quite good at it.  Look at the websites and see the amounts they boast!  Other Agent J is actually in good company!  But I think I would probably not even know Other Agent J if that is how I approached ministry.

I once told Other Agent J that while he is always dreaming big, I am always getting small.  I look at the great God of the universe, the Creator we know from Genesis, and I see a great big God, alright, but he keeps expressing himself in smaller and smaller, humbler and humbler, more and more vulnerable ways.  His creation spins off into sin and death and so he starts over with a cosmic flood saving only Noah and his family.  But when the people get big ideas to build a tower and make a name for themselves, God scatters them and calls Abraham – a great and rich man – and turns him into a wanderer/nomad/sojourner.  And though he makes huge promises to Abe, those same promises must squeeze through Egyptian slavery, parted seas, and desert wanderings, before they arrive at a Promised Land.  And even then, the people rock along as a humble tribal confederation for generations on end only to turn to Samuel and ask for “a king like the nations.”  And this, we find out, rejects God as their king (I Sam. 8:5-7).

God gives them “greatness” briefly – just a taste of it – under David, and especially King Solomon, but they quickly become vassals for bigger empires, and that rocks along for a thousand years before Jesus!  Meanwhile, this humble nation of God’s chosen people chug along as the great Creator’s repository of HOPE for the rest of creation – AND ironically – dreams of greatness!  Yet despite them, God has other plans for his children.  And so the HOPE of God flowers in smallness, humility, and vulnerability.

And then God comes back to Israel to be crowned King of the Jews!  And you would think the people would be happy about this, but what God counts as a coronation, his own people count as an execution of a criminal!  But within this event God unleashes his most magnificent glory, power, and grace – all dressed up as just one more dead Jew!  Even those dreamers of greatness who were in and of themselves the hope of the world, miss God’s movement among them for all it’s paradoxical smallness.

But listen how St. Paul describes it as he preaches to one of his assemblies how to emulate exactly the same attitude:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

(Phil. 2:5-11)

God’s dynamite comes in small packages – like a young shepherd taking on a giant!  Any who know that story would not bet on the giant, nor on the armies of God arrayed against him.  No.  But you know in your bones that God guides that shepherd boy’s slung stone right at the target only God could aim for.  And therein we know that YHWH our God is Lord!

I can’t help but think that the church at large in today’s world is less and less relevant to the world’s problems.  I mean, with presidential candidates quoting from “Two Corinthians” as a way of getting your vote, the underlying message is that presidential candidate not only does not care enough to learn of the Jesus therein, but he doesn’t even respect your way of life as he feigns pandering to you.  By the next election cycle, what respect do you think the church will have?

No.  We are getting smaller and smaller.  We are the new outsiders.  We just don’t want to admit it.

And here at Fat Beggars School of Prophets, we dare to think that the great God of creation would use a handful of simple beggars to invite God’s people to the Lord’s Table – AND – maybe, just maybe, turn the whole economy on its head all in one fell swoop!  (II Kings 6:24 – 7:20… anyone???)

Other Agent J is out there breaking the bread and inviting you to join him at the King’s Table.

 

I’m Praying We Overcome Evil With Good

I saw a compelling post on another blog challenging the Christian church’s reliance (not to mention America’s) on military might and the gospel of military world order.  The post is so shrill, it leaves no sense of protection.  It strips away EVERY pretense.  And if heeded, puts the church (not to mention America) very fearfully into the hands of a living God!

And then there is the response of one reader which culminates in the question: What is the answer to defending ourselves [… you know…] practically?  And that is a good question!  Because without trust in horses and chariots, what have you got?  (Psalm 20:7 anyone???)

I don’t know how that blogger will answer that military question.  But I am praying that in the exchange we all find evil overcome by good.  It is a daring assertion, but it is the only one left that makes sense – even if it seems so impractical.

And I am not a military guy.  That is not my niche – even though my presence in this nation (and for that matter anywhere in this fallen world) makes it matter to me too.  But I am pretty firmly behind those lines, as of yet.  Nevertheless, I relate in the same world while camped out at another niche.

My ministry and this blog feature homelessness prominently.  And that relates heavily to economics and social concerns – no less than war and military.  And I can’t help but think that if we Christians really took the words of Jesus prayer seriously – especially “forgive us our debt as we forgive those with debts against us” – then there would be no recognizable economy because EVERYTHING would have to be FREE to all if we really did that.  How would we make sense of life without some debt?

I am quite clear about this much: We cannot, and will not, find an answer to these questions that is BOTH true to Jesus AND maintains the status quo world order.  The world must change along with us.  The church does not take aim at American economic interests, but at APOCALYPSE.  The church does not sooth the conscience of people for the advancement of American economic interests – that is called CHAPLENCY.  And the church is definitely not the chaplain of empire.

This will require a faith in a greater god than we have in our box!  This will require a hope in things unseen.  This will require a love that sacrifices our self.  (I think I have read this stuff somewhere…)  But it is the Way, the Truth, and the Life in an otherwise dark world, and it dares to trust in God to overcome evil with good.

Here at Fat Beggars School of Prophets, we think a sign we are winning that apocalyptic battle is the opening of those church-house doors!

Why All The Worry About Giving A Few Dollars?

I keep finding books, blogs, and opinions that worry whether we give a bum a few dollars if she will just use it for drugs or if he will just spend it on booze.

How did this get to be such a big deal?  Why all the worry?

We are talking about a couple of dollars here, people!  It is your disposable income.  It’s merely the crumbs off your table!  Walmart jams the checkout area with candy, magazines, and novelties just to separate you from that same money, and it works too.  Just look at all the glutted American public walking around in that store – they even have websites where you can laugh at these misshaped hordes!  But no one writes a book about that?  What’s the problem?

Oh… you are afraid the money will be misused?

Do me a favor.  Check the inside tongue of your shoes right now.  Go ahead.  I will wait…

….

No. Really.  Check…

Okay.  Did the tag say, “Made in China”?  How about “Indonesia”?

I bet you got a good deal on them.  But did you know that you are supporting slavery and sweatshops when you give your money for those shoes?  How about your coffee?  Is it free-trade or fair-trade?  When was the last time you thought about where your money was going when you bought coffee or necessary items for your daily life?

Why do you care where your money goes if you give it to a bum but not if you give it to Walmart?  You are a slave trader and you look down your nose at the homeless???  Why do you suddenly care if that beggar misuses your money?

Enabling?

Yeah… that’s a fancy word that gets a special meaning in “recovery” circles and in a few psychology books.  But it’s not in your Bible.  Do you know how much Jesus has to say about “enabling”?

ZILCH!

On the other hand, he tells us in Luke 6:30 to give to all who ask.  He tells at least one rich guy to sell all he owns and give it to the poor…  (Mark 10:21).  He makes no mention that you should be worried about this kind of giving.

What?  Did it just slip his mind?  The all-seeing/all-knowing God of the universe just forgot to tell you to be worried about where your alms wind up?

And about that booze??? Go see what the Bible says in Proverbs 31:6-7.  If you trust the word of God, why all the worry about a little booze and drugs?

And anyway, aren’t you buying booze and drugs?  Seriously, why is a beer okay in your fridge, but if you see a bum nursing one you are filled with contempt?  Isn’t that hypocritical?  How do you even see him with such a log in your own eye?

Also, that money you give is not yours; it’s God’s.  And when you minister to the “least of these” brothers and sisters, you do so for Jesus himself (Matt. 25:35-40); when you withhold your ministry from the “least of these” you withhold it from Jesus (Matt. 25:42-45).  Therefore, if you give that money to the bum, you are giving it to Jesus, and it becomes his problem, not yours.  Don’t let all this contempt steal your heart!  God loves a cheerful giver! (II Cor. 9:7) but you feel compelled to give your money only to the United Way or some other charitable organization (and we all know they always spend it wisely!!!)

So…  Where are we now?

It looks like either we struggle too much with loving the money (I Tim. 6:10 anyone?) or we really hate the poor.  Which is it?

Here is an exception – though it is not really an exception, but I am sure someone will think my post is blanketing this too…  If you are in an ongoing relationship with someone you are helping as they face addiction, AND if you feel sure that person is slipping into a poor choice, then withholding a few dollars is not about love of money and hate of neighbor.  But otherwise, when you see a beggar on the street, your worry about giving her/him a few dollars has more to do with your love of money and/or contempt for the poor.  And honestly, I am mindful that even in the case of on-going relationship, the choice of the Father to fund his Prodigal Son’s misadventures is exactly the choice God makes with his own children.

So… even there you haven’t got much to worry about.

How about we cut out all this worry over giving and trust God with it?

Milestones

April Fool’s Day

It’s not an exact anniversary, but it’s close enough.  I will claim it.  And I have become more than an April Fool for God.

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We formed the Fat Beggars School of Prophets around my family’s kitchen table following Sunday worship at Carpenter’s Church three years ago this week.    In addition to my wife and kids, four street-homeless men joined this foundational worship service.  In attendance were Agent T, Agent M, Agent J and the other Agent J.  These men answered a call from God to come to my house after church, grill steaks, sing songs, pray, and examine the text of II Kings 6 & 7.  In fact, one of the leadership members at Carpenter’s inadvertently directed one of the four men to join us that day.  (He still has no idea what role he played in placing God’s call on that man’s life!)  Therein God inaugurated the Fat Beggars School of Prophets.

We adopted the mission statement: We go to the place of shame, pain, and despair in our community and bear the image of God there.  We considered several ways we might go about it, but most pointedly we considered the beggars in that text inviting the city of Samaria to come eat the meal God had prepared for them.  Thus we decided that homeless people could invite Lubbock out to lunch at the Lord’s Table.

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Sadly, inside of a year, Carpenter’s Church tried to disband us and officially kicked me out of the church.  But not before they closed the doors on their own members on numerous cold, winter nights when I (and others) had volunteered to chaperone the homeless guests – a practice we had all done many times before.  But, true to prophetic form, we found that a prophet is not without honor except in his own house amid his own people!  Our crime?  Worship.  We dared to take our communion to that locked up church house door and break the bread under the watchful eye of the security camera.  I guess God really challenged their authority and chapped their hides.  The shepherds had no choice then but to either open the door and honor God or kick his prophets out to the curb.

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Carpenter’s leadership chose to kick out God’s prophets.

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We have tried to learn to count that as a joy and to consider ourselves worthy to suffer for the name.  It’s not all bad.  But we note that Carpenters is not the only church in town to shun the homeless; it’s pretty much universal in this “Christian” town.  Thus, our work is cut out for us!

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We have hosted dozens upon dozens of communion services in parks, empty lots, behind liquor stores, in front of locked up church house doors, at Tent City, in alleys, on street corners and at libraries.  Each time we invite Lubbock to join.  And many times Lubbock has joined.  I recall one day when we were in the park on Ave Q and a car screeched, made a dangerous U-turn, and came back to the park.  Two women got out and joined us because they said they could see that something important was happening!  We held a parade of homeless and celebrated Jesus in communion on a street corner and the Aldersgate United Methodist outreach ministers found and joined us!  One time a passing pastor blessed us and said, “Sometimes you gotta take it to the streets!”  And I have personally witnessed beggars and bums transform into worshiping pilgrims, preachers, and prophets at the Lord’s Table countless times.

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The FBSOP is not the only milestone I should mention on April Fool’s Day.  It was the First of April when I first joined Tent City back in 2011 – two years before the prophets.  I began going out to spend my weekends there in my own tent just a couple of months after it opened.  I filmed the founding of that community with my hand held camera over the course of six months.  I shot hundreds of hours of raw footage that (if I knew someone skilled and willing) could be made into a feature length documentary!  And that experience was actually the moment my homeless ministry kicked into high gear.

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I began to feel comfortable, we might say, among the homeless during that year.  I made a huge transition from feeling afraid and contemptuous to sensing I was part of the community as I crossed into that world at the gate with the “Enter At Your Own Risk” sign.  And I have never looked back.

In time I began to realize that Tent City is actually a gated community with standards (rightfully enough so) which excluded many people to the streets.  Somewhere along the way, I decided I needed to venture out beyond the confines of that fence and try sleeping in an alley.  (Isn’t that what shepherds do???  Search for lost sheep???)  That was another level for me.  Another threshold.  I slept under No Trespassing signs and in parking lots where I could have been run over if a driver had come along and not seen me… but I wanted to walk a block in their shoes… So I did.  And then we communed with Jesus.

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So… April Fool’s Day marks two milestones for me, both related to homeless ministry.  And blogging on them dictates I should make note of them.

Let me take this opportunity to ask you to pray for Carpenter’s Church.  Of course I pray for repentance.  But despite my quibbles and the shameful way both this ministry and I have been treated there, that church is still on the front line doing what most won’t even dare.  Not everything they do, say, or believe is all bad – some of it is actually pretty good.  And so I ask you to join me in thanking God for them and asking God’s blessing on them as well as challenging them to step up in faith and honor God’s will and his prophets.

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And really, I ask you to join me in that prayer for all the church of Lubbock.  We prophets of homelessness are at a milestone.  We have come a long way, which is great, but really we want to get back HOME.