3 Simple Ideas for Prophetic Ministry

I wrote a book (unpublished, so don’t look for it in the market) called Proph-O-Drama*.  In that book, I address two forms of biblical prophecy: Oracles and Symbolic Acts.  My emphasis is on the symbolic acts, which I have termed Proph-O-Drama.  A few handy examples are: Ezekiel’s siege of the brick, Jeremiah’s underwear, and Hosea marries a whore.  In each of these vignettes, the prophet of God symbolically dramatizes God’s message to God’s people, often in self-humiliation, for the people to ponder at least as much with their hearts as with their heads.

In this brief post, I want to highlight (and simplify) this idea for easy access to prophecy for my readers.  While I strongly urge you to look deeper into the phenomena of prophecy, my remarks here should adequately promote the activity at an introductory level, which hopefully leads to more thoughtful reflection and practice.

Simple Idea #1

I was particularly moved by a rather simple dramatization I recently found on-line that utilized contemporary Christian pop-music and interpretive dance to symbolically engage, confront, witness, and prophesy for the watching world.  It was a production put on by high school students for homeless people in Mexico and set to the Casting Crowns song Set Me FreeCheck out their video and see the powerful response this simple prophetic dramatization invited.

Simple Idea #2

Using contemporary Christian music in such a way is definitely simple.  It is introductory – like a gateway drug is to addiction, so this kind of prophetic symbolic act is to Proph-O-Drama.  However, I would hope that we could quickly move to the very Word of God itself for prophetic inspiration rather than pop-artist interpretation.  This can be as simple as taking Ezekiel’s example and laying siege to a brick, donning Jeremiah’s underwear, or marrying a whore like Hosea.

This kind of idea is very biblical.  Though I know of no New Testament examples of Christian’s re-enacting those particular stories (and actually marring whores leads to severe complications, broken hearts, and I strongly doubt God wants his sons to do this as a general practice; it is nevertheless simple to do, biblical, and prophetic in that it depicts the broken heart of God and the waywardness of his people even to this day).  We see Jesus embrace exactly this kind of prophetic dramatization when he wanders in the desert for 40 days without food.  He tells any who would ponder this act that he is the true son that the Israel of old merely previewed, the true son of God.  Likewisde he re-enacts Moses on Sinai when he preaches his Sermon on the Mount.  And ultimately he dramatizes Israel’s God coming to his people to be crowned King of the Jews amid the rejection of those same people at his own execution.

These Proph-O-Dramas are actually quite simple.  We can take those scenes the original prophets depict and re-enact them before the world as a means of prophetic ministry.  In doing so, we are being biblical in the strictest sense, creative and prophetic AT THE SAME TIME, and using the Word of God as our script for the dramas.  Still, with the afore mentioned caveats, I suggest this is preferable to pop music without being overly complex.

Simple Idea #3

My third simple idea ventures into the deep end of the pool.  This is the gateway to complexity, but still conceptually it is quite simple.  It is an extension of what I have discussed so far.  And basically the idea is to take narratives from the Bible and dramatize them – especially in ways that invite God to participate in ways only he can.

In my book, I explore an idea of re-enacting the siege of Jericho around a drug-infested apartment complex.  A group of disciples showing up each day to march, prayerfully, around the complex for 7 days, and then 7 times on the 7th day, blowing trumpets, and charging into the apartment complex with the Gospel message of Jesus!  This level of Proph-O-Drama does increase the complexity in that more interpretation of Scripture is required, organizing groups, and other logistics crop up quickly.

Questions arise.  Should we expect physical or metaphorical walls to fall down?  Will falling masonry really be a danger to anyone?  Will God do his part?  Will we look like fools?  What about the part in the story where God’s children kill the inhabitants of the city … and how are we to accommodate that part of the Scripture without killing people ourselves?

Yes.  These questions arise and introduce complexity, but still the concept is quite simple.  And puts us, the prophet/dramatists in the position where we must rely on God to fulfill the outcome(s) he desires.  And that too is a matter of faith and of prophecy!

AND…

That is my simple intro to Proph-O-Drama.  It is 3 Simple Ideas for Prophetic Ministry.

 

*Anyone interested in obtaining a free copy send a request to:

Vandelia Church

ATTN: Fat Beggars School of Prophets

2002  60th St

Lubbock, TX 79412

The Day I Won a Fight Against A Gang Of Thugs With Just My Right Index Finger

Yup.  It really happened.  I took on a gang of thugs with my index finger, and now I will show you how.

I can only imagine the year must have been 1982 or 83.  I think I was either 12 or 13, right at the age where my feet were bigger than the rest of me. I was discovering girls and social life as a teenager.  And I was developing quite the fashion sense!  It was the year parachute pants made their surge.  I bet I was wearing my Kangaroo shoes too, and definitely I had the hat.  I think today we might call it a Panama Jack hat, but in those days, we called it a “low rider”.  I was soooooo naïve, but I thought was hot stuff.

I was hanging out with my older cousin Barry, whom I idolized, which for me was a rare treat; in fact after reaching adolescence, it was the only time I recall doing that.  Barry and I met at my grandparents house for a visit that summer in Amarillo, Texas.  Barry had a hotrod 1969 Chevell!  Barry could drive!  And he took me to the Wonderland Amusement Park for a couple of hours mid afternoon.

It was a new experience for me, though I would not have let on.  I was suave, and so was Barry.  For years, our grandparents had taken us to that park as children, but now we were old enough to go on our own, and I walked right past the kiddie rides as if they did not exist, as if there never had been a time when they were the feature that made me fall in love with the place to begin with!  No.  Barry and I had business to attend to at the win-a-prize booth – particularly throwing darts at balloons.

Did I say I was soooooo innocent?

I did, huh?  Yeah.  That is key to my story actually.  Let me fill in a bit of background.

Nearly half of my growing up years took place in Texas.  And Texas is a FRIENDLY place.  I have been a lot of places actually.  I was born in California, lived in Arizona, Colorado, and Texas mostly, and visited many other regions of the country, and none are as friendly as Texas.  In Texas you drive down the highway and wave at strangers passing by along the open country… and they wave back!  Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet!  And that certainly was the atmosphere when I was growing up.

And so when I was throwing darts at the balloons as some stranger slipped up behind me and plucked my hat off my head, placed it on his own head, and then asked how he looked when I turned around in surprise, I just thought the guy was a bit strange, but friendly.  I could not read the cynicism in his gesture.  I did not realize he was picking a fight.  Nor did I see his really big friend backing up his flank and squaring off with Barry.

Barry saw the whole thing and read it properly.  He saw that we were either outmatched or else we had our work cut out for us.  But not me.  I was oblivious.  I had no idea.  And it all happened so fast that without some prior reference to such encounters, I was not likely to add it up in my mind fast enough to respond in kind.  So, Barry stood there stunned, but waiting to make a defensive move while I did all the talking.

The problem was, I did not get scared.  I was clueless; and ignorance is bliss.  The only scenario I could fathom was that the guy meant what he said.  He apparently admired my cool hat and wanted to know if it made him look cool too.

It was at that point that I noticed the guy had some mirrored sunshades dangling on his chest from the collar of his shirt.  In those days we called them glacier glasses, and I couldn’t help but think that if the strange friend I was making really wanted to know what he looked like, he could just use his shades as a mirror and examine for himself.  So, I very purposefully raised my right pointed finger right into the guy’s chest and pointed at his glasses not two inches from my hand and said, “Have a look in those mirrors you got there.”

The guy jumped back startled with fear in his eyes and shouted, “Woe, man!”

I just smiled as innocently and pleasant as you please and said, “Dude, calm down.”

He responded, “I thought you were going to hit me…”

“No, you silly boy, I was pointing at your glasses.  If you want to see how cool you look in my cool hat, check yourself out with those glacier glasses.”

The guy was really perplexed then.  I stood there chomping my gum smiling without a care in the world, and his offense could not strike fear in me to save his life.  He had all the anxiety then and very nervously took a glance at himself in his mirrors, gave the hat back and left in a hurry.

As soon as he was gone, I turned to Barry and said, “Wow.  That guy was strange.”

Barry said, “Dude he was trying to pick a fight with you.”

I said, “No he was not!  He was a bit strange, but he just wanted to check out my hat.”

“No, Dude, he wanted to kick your ass.  He probably wanted to take your hat.  And the big guy with him looked like he was gonna eat me for lunch.”

Barry and I argued over this for a couple of minutes as my denial gave way and reality began to set in.  Pretty quick we moved to the cotton candy stand and then took a bit of shade under a tree to eat it.  Then we noticed the two young men we had thwarted were now accompanied by several other friends.  It was a gang, roaming the amusement park.  We had stumbled onto their turf.  And now with six or seven of them, they were making passes and mumbling threats our direction.  It quickly became apparent that they were building up the nerve to have another go at us.  It also quickly became apparent that my fearlessness had run out.

I have pondered that moment in my life thousands of times since.  I have analyzed it every way under the sun.  For years I was ashamed of the tale because I was sooooo naïve in the engagement.  But I could not shake the fact that my naiveté facilitated my fearlessness which so baffled a whole gang of thugs that they feared me!  In my middle adult years, I came to embrace the coming-of-age moment and to own it.  I only wish I could be that fearless in every encounter.  I won a vicious fight!  And I did it with grace.

As I look back on it, I find it to be one of the moments that opens prophetic imagination for me. And I think it dramatizes an important ideal, that innocence and fearlessness are POWER, and limited imaginations can’t cope when they come in conflict with it.

 

Expanding the Prophetic Imagination

I recently posted on dangerous missions that prophets sometimes get sent on.  When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, he was doing that very thing.  Amos, Jeremiah and Elijah all quickly come to mind as prophets sent on dangerous missions.  But I offered a contemporary story of my own personal experience(s), largely in response to posts by other street ministers that faced dangerous, even violent, situations.

As violence is such a deep and rich part of our society, I want very much to face it head on with the Gospel of Jesus.  And in a day-n-age when soooooooo many of my brothers and sisters argue tooth-n-nail for arming ourselves to respond to violence with guns, I want to expand the imagination a bit.  I live in the state of Texas, a state historically rich with Christian heritage.  But I was stunned to see the First Baptist Church of Dumas, Texas offering concealed handgun licensing courses last year.  And I have witnessed numerous citizens taking advantage of our recent open-carry laws.  And with the pop-slogan which dictates, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, I want to challenge such narrow-mindedness.

I offered a post last year remembering Nurse Joan Black, who disarmed an active shooter at her hospital in L.A. with a hug!  Did you read that???  Let’s put it out there in bold type:

NURSE JOAN BLACK PROVED YOU CAN STOP A BAD GUY WITH A GUN WITH JUST A NURSE AND A HUG!

Does that mean hugs always work?  No.  I did not say that.  But it is proof-positive that the slogan is a lie.  Good guys with guns are NOT the only way to stop bad guys with guns.  There are alternatives, risky to be sure, but even using a gun is quite risky.  So, let’s not pretend it is the only answer.  And as a Christian, I am called to face great risks with great faith – AND WITH GRACE!

If I could influence the First Baptist Church of Dumas, Texas, I would urge them to stop the concealed carry courses and start a course in cross-carrying.  How do you carry a loaded love into a violent conflict and not only stop bad guys, but turn them into good guys?

You need a big God to do that.  And you need a really big imagination if you expect him to live in it.  And the pop slogan championed by the NRA has got no room big enough for this God in it.

My story today is not really about a mission.  Nor was it even prophetic – though I think it is fair to say it definitely lent itself to prophetic imagination.

Way back in the 1980’s, when I was a Junior in high school, one morning I was getting ready for school and as I came out of the shower, I encountered a stranger in the hallway by my parents bedroom door.  He appeared to be Native American, and he appeared a bit dazed-n-confused.  It was not at all normal to see such a stranger in my home, nor at that hour, nor in that condition.  But… I was a naïve teenager.  And I quickly formulated what I thought was a plausible explanation: My dad was a counselor who kept an office in the back of our home.  This stranger could have been one of his clients.  The fact that he was in our house, especially at that hour was extremely odd, but I was used to a bit of oddity.  And I figured if he was a client, then it was important that I not engage the stranger.

So, I went back to my bedroom to blow dry my shaggy Van Halen inspired hair.  I closed the door and did not emerge for about 15 minutes.  When I entered the kitchen, my mother and father were brewing coffee, something my family only did for guests, and the young stranger was sitting at the kitchen table.  He looked petrified, but he greeted me saying, “Bro!”

I think it was my hair.  It signaled a kindred spirit.  The stranger had hair almost as long as mine.  He appeared no more than 2 or 3 years older than me.  But he quickly became agitated and jumped up and ran out the door.  My parents and I watched as he sprinted out to the highway (we lived out at the edge of town) and kept running until he disappeared over the hill and around the bend in the road.

Then Mom began recounting the strange experience.  She had come out of the master bath and found a stranger standing at the food of her bed hovering over my dad who was asleep.  She said that at first she thought, “They have come to kill us”.  But the stranger made no moves or demands and he seemed a bit “out of it”.  So, she too formed a possible explanation in her mind.  She thought the stranger had been in an accident on the highway and had wondered up into our home.  She asked, and he affirmed it… at first.  So, she woke up Dad and told him.  But Dad’s questioning began shooting holes in that theory, so he said, let’s put on some coffee and get to the bottom of this.  It was shortly after that when I entered the kitchen.

As we pieced this story together, suddenly the stranger came running back up into the yard.  He met us at the door with a $20 bill.  He begged my dad saying, “Please mister, don’t call the sheriff.  I broke your window, but I can pay for it.”  Dad asked him his name, and he said, “Tommy Dennison”.

But just then the stranger added, “I think my brother is still in there….”

At that, Mom dropped her cup of coffee on the floor and raced to the back of the house.  I had a little sister, and no one had accounted for her yet.  She was an 8th grader, and she was primping in her mirror in her bedroom as she got ready for school.  She too had gone to the shower and returned to her room.  Somehow in the comedy of events, she had not seen or heard a thing, nor had she noticed that her bedroom window was broken and glass was scattered on the floor.

The bright side was that she was fine.  But by the time we returned to the stranger at the door, he was gone again.  Dad did not call the sheriff, we went “back to normal”, but now I had a strange story to tell.  I went to school that day asking all my friends if they had ever heard of a guy named Tommy Dennison.  No one had.  And though my mother felt a bit more vulnerable about living at the edge of town, after a few weeks, we moved on and pretty much forgot about Tommy Dennison.

Now.  I tell that story noting that if we had been a gun-toting family (actually we did possess a pellet gun and a small shotgun), especially the kind that sleeps with fire arms in the night stand, we would have been fully justified in court for shooting that young man dead and asking questions later.  The laws protect homeowners in that way.  This young stranger had actually broken the window and entered in the classic scenario fashion.

And if we had done that, the young stranger would have died in our home.  We would all have been deeply traumatized by it – even to this day.  And that is pretty much the agenda the First Baptist Church of Dumas, Texas has set out for their congregation and the surrounding culture.  But it is a very limited imagination and has no room for the GRACE of Jesus in it.

So… As Paul Harvey used to say, here is the REST OF THE STORY.

It was a solid year later.  The summer after my high school graduation.  And I landed a job at the local Pizza Hut with some of my buddies.  I was a delivery driver.  My buddy Scott was a waiter.  We both made tips each night.  And often we had to stay to close the store down – to clean it up after hours, which often worked us until midnight.

That summer, I did not have a car.  I drove the company van for deliveries, but when work was done, I relied on friends, family, or coworkers for a ride home.  And usually, I would offer to buy a plate of French fries at the M&M Truck Stop so we could eat and unwind after work, if someone gave me a ride.  It was practically a ritual.  (In those days, the M&M offered a heaping plate of French fries for only a dollar!  And teenagers out past curfew, barflies (after the bars closed), and truck drivers all had a 24-hour hangout there.)  We were rocking along like this until about mid summer.

Then one day we got a new cook in the kitchen.  His name was Tommy Dennison – a young Native American guy who we all quickly learned was a devout member of the Potter’s House Church!  He had a clean hair cut, a strong work ethic, and constantly praised Jesus singing hymns while he worked.  He also preached at us coworkers, evangelizing us nearly every time we spoke to him.

“You need to get into Jesus….” he would say.

I was a bit repulsed.  In those days I was a “nominal Christian” on my best day.  This new guy, Tommy Dennison, was a kook as far as I was concerned, and only cramped my style.  And, no… I did not recognize him or even his name.

Soon, Tommy was talking about faith with my buddy Scott.  I joined them at the break table one evening and listened.  I chafed at the discussion of Jesus in my workplace.  I had an attitude that my faith was a matter of private, personal piety, and really should not be discussed in public – certainly not at work!  (Boy, have I ever changed since then!)  Nevertheless, the engagement helped me to break the ice with Tommy.  And soon I found myself closing down the store with Tommy one night and asking him for a ride home.

As usual, I offered to buy fries and unwind at the M&M if he would drive me home.  Tommy seemed grateful for the opportunity.  His pastor had lent him the church van for transportation, but Tommy did not get tips as a cook.  So, it worked out well that we could accommodate each other this way.

I had not foreseen it, but when the fries were delivered to our table in the middle of that truck stop full of truckers and barflies that night, Tommy Dennison bowed his head to pray.  I wanted to crawl under the table.  I looked all around to see if we had drawn attention to ourselves.  No one seemed to notice.  I was relieved.

But as I sat there looking at the top of Tommy’s bowed head, patiently waiting for him to say “Amen” so we could eat, it began to dawn on me that I might know this guy.  His hair was cut, but so was mine.  We both had changed appearance.  More than a year had passed.  But by the time he raised his head and smiled at me and said, “You need to get into Jesus…”, I was sure I knew him!!!

I was shocked!

Could my mind be playing tricks on me?  I was relying on this guy for a ride back home; I did not want to offend him now!  But I was eaten up inside.  I had to know.  But I dared not ask.  I don’t think I even ate a bite.  I just was shocked the whole time.

Then as we were leaving the restaurant and walking back to Tommy’s van, I was overcome with curiosity.  I had to ask, “Tommy, Did you ever break into my house one time?”

It stopped him dead in his tracks.  He doubled over in shame.  It took him almost a minute to respond.  Then he stood up, looked me in the eye, and said, “Man!  I thought it was you!!!  I didn’t know for sure, I was afraid to ask, but I kept thinking it surely was you….”

Tommy Dennison then proceeded to tell me how he had gone out drinking with some friends in Farmington, New Mexico the night before.  When, in the wee hours of the night, they returned home, they were all drunk and stoned so much they could not find Tommy’s place, which, he said was only a half-mile from my place.  Finally, his friends were so exasperated that they just dumped him out on the side of the road.  In desperation, he wandered up to our house and found a leanto at the back.  He went in and curled up to sleep.  The next morning, he heard noises in the house, and still being disoriented, he broke the window leading to my sister’s room, trying to get out.

By this time, as his story unfolded, we had a good laugh.  Tommy apologized again and again.  He said he had been saved since that night, and wanted to make things right.  I said, the damage had been minimal, and he had already paid his restitution with $20.  I think it put his mind at ease.

Tommy Dennison and I remained friends for the next two years.  He kept trying to get me saved; I kept resisting, but we had a very unusual bond.  I even attended his wedding!  (He actually married a girl who had a crush on me years before in high school!)  And the last I knew, Tommy Dennison was a productive member of society and a devout member of his church.  And I have since adopted a much deeper faith in Jesus which is modeled in part by what Tommy Dennison shared with me.

NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE IF EITHER MY DAD OR I HAD SHOT TOMMY DENNISON DEAD WHEN HE BROKE INTO OUR HOUSE!

Thank God we served him coffee instead!

Prophets and Dangerous Missions

I did not grow up Pentecostal.  My heritage tended to belittle those who speak in tongues and took a reductionist view of tongues in the Bible.  So, my exposure to this form of worship has been both minimal and biased.

What does speaking in tongues have to do with Prophets and Dangerous Missions?

(Glad you asked.)

Well, normally… not so much.  But in my case, it does.  Because I spoke in tongues one time, and it might have saved my life.

Just this week, I read blog posts by two (street) ministers describing violence and the threat of violence erupting amid Christian ministry.  With the exceptions (hopefully rare) of those mass shootings that occur in churches and make headlines (such as the shooting in South Carolina last year), most worship services (at least those I have ever experienced) tended to be thankful that in this country we have “no fear of molestation”.  But in my experience with street/homeless ministry, I have faced violence and/or the threat of violence on at least three occasions myself.

I have attended worship at the premier homeless church of Lubbock when the cops were called, and they led a member of our church out of the assembly in handcuffs!  That is a disturbing sight!  But when you reach out to brutish people, and/or people in brutish circumstances, violence can erupt sometimes.  In fact, though I was not personally a witness to it, I heard that the pastor at the premier homeless church took a beating from a congregant on at least one occasion, and I have heard and seen the effects of others getting beat up amid the flock.

I cannot simply wish it away.  These are the desperate people God loves.  They are the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, the mothers and fathers who have drifted to the margins of society, but whom God wants back.  This requires extraordinary patience as we address, sometimes with harsh discipline, the demons that ravage such precious children of God.

Personally, I have always felt conflicted about calling the cops to save us.  We belong to God.  He is the Authority over demons, angels, children and cops.  I chafe at the idea that we ask cops to do God’s job.

Of course I recognize that is a simplification of a complex issue.  If we were discussing medicine, I would not hesitate to call an ambulance when my wife is injured.  I have no doubt that my first call would be a prayer to God, my second call to 9-11, and then back to my faith community for their prayer support.  In fact, I cannot help but note that last year when I called an ambulance for my dad, the 9-11 operator who took the call was a sister from church!  That was a sign from God that he was involved!

And yet, I find there is a tendency, at least in my experience, to let the cops handle the problem.  Where is the prayer coverage after the violent one is taken away?  Where is the reconciliation?  And, for that matter, where is the effort to take the demon on ourselves before we even call the cops?

Acts 4:29 (anybody???)

Where is that prayer of the church in Acts?  The church is the tip of the spear, not the cops!  We are waging war with evil, but when the going gets tough we call in the mercenaries?

Look, I don’t want to argue against calling the cops, necessarily.  But I do want to open the imagination of God’s people to his divine providence.  Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world! (1st John 4:4).  Let us not forget the word of God at such moments.

So, I want to tell a few stories about facing violence and the threat of violence that hopefully will expand your imagination.  In this post, I will tell the first one about speaking in tongues.  And this brings me, to my question above:  What does speaking in tongues have to do with Prophets and Dangerous Missions?

I will now tell you about the day I met Jessica and her friends from Denver behind a liquor store near downtown Lubbock.

I was riding my bike around town searching alleys for beggars, bums, and prophets who might share communion with Jesus and me.  I had already shared this exercise with a couple other gatherings when I found Jessica and 3 guys I had never met before.  They appeared to be mostly inebriated by the time I found them, but Jessica in particular seemed receptive to the Jesus message.  She wanted to join me in worship.

I can only imagine, perhaps I read the situation wrong, but I sense probably not.  My guess is that three men and one woman created a sexual tension in the air which was exacerbated by alcohol.  My attention for Jessica was reciprocated by her attention toward Jesus, whose shoes I was standing in at that moment.  Kinda like the woman and the well.  This woman had a lot of men.  You might guess that one or two of them might be a bit jealous!

The one cat they called Alabama seemed to be a belligerent drunk.  But he also wanted to stress to me that he is Native American, and thus has no interest in Christ.  This did not slow me down one bit.  I dismounted my bike and began setting out sacraments in a dignified manner (as dignified as one can be in an alley behind a liquor store with beggars, bums, and prophets).

Picture it:  I set out a small blanket, like for a picnic.  I carefully placed my Bible on the edge.  I pulled out my box of wafers and set them next to the Bible, then I found some disposable cups in my bag and began pouring grape juice into them and setting them out around the blanket.  All the while, I am introducing myself, praising Jesus for leading me to these souls who want to worship, and meanwhile I got Alabama getting belligerent.

The further I got with this, the more strongly he came on.  He was American Indian, he said, and he did not need no white man’s religion.  As this attitude escalated, Jessica in particular, began to shun him and suggested that he did not have to participate; he could just go drink behind the dumpster.  I began to realize that he was ramping up, and I was already committed to the worship spread.  This was Jesus vs. Alabama!  And it did not look like there was gonna be any grace!  If I doubled up a fist to defend myself, I would destroy my witness of Christ who died for Alabama – the Christ whose shoes I deigned to fill!  But if I acquiesced, then Christ would be going home in defeat!  I only saw one way forward: PRAY!

Now, it just so happens that I grew up near Indian Reservations in Colorado.  I picked up a few words from some of my Indian friends.  This did not mean I knew their real meaning.  It did not mean I even knew how to pronounce them correctly.  And even in this post, I do not know how to spell the terms I used.  But I began spouting off random terms from Navajo, Choctaw, and Montezuma Cree!

“Itzchai Chafignai, Juban!  Thoza Chinda!  Notah a Dinah!  Yata he!”

At just that moment, both Alabama and I knew that Alabama did not understand my words, but we also knew that he did not know that I didn’t!  I was speaking in tongues I did not know.  He was hearing them, and not even understanding them, but they were speaking to a deep place in his soul.  Suddenly the fire in his spirit was doused.  Alabama became obedient to the call of Jesus!  He quietly sat down and began to pray and worship with Jesus, Jessica, and her friends from Denver!

Will that work next time too?

I doubt it very much.  But It did that time!  I spoke in tongues in a worship service, Jesus cast out a demon, and we did not have beatings or cops to ruin it all.  Praise God!  And I want very much for my Christian brothers and sisters to imagine alternatives for such scenarios, because our God IS an AWESOME GOD!  He certainly expanded mine.  I come from a heritage that cannot cope with speaking in tongues, but I have done it.

Prophets are, usually, called to face dangerous missions.  It is not your prerogative to survive them, but it is God’s prerogative to take charge of his world, and expanding the imaginations of his people will definitely play a role in that every time!

“Day Care” (The Childhood Equivalent to “Day Shelter”)

Day Care is a modern invention.  And considering where our society is… Thank God for it.  BUT shouldn’t we have thought this through before we got to this point?

Okay… I will say something positive:  Those ladies I met there this morning were competent, caring, professionals.  They have all the bases covered.  I have every reason to trust these children to them and no reason not to.  I was invited to drop in and check on the kids again “anytime”, which I am grateful for.

But when God designed creation, he did NOT stock it with “competent, caring, professionals” to look after the children.  No.  He did not invent such a bureaucracy of paper work, insurance policies, checks-n-balances – or professionalism.  Instead, God entrusted vulnerable children to LOVING parents.

The fact that I am providing foster care already suggests that something is wrong with God’s plan!  (However, I am quick to point out that it’s not God’s plan that is at fault, but our unwillingness to comply!)  I would offer this observation: Not only have we strayed from the design of creation, but our “fix” – our “improvements” – move us further away all the time.  I mean, despite the wonderful people down there at the Day Care, they are only “necessary” in a world that insists children should be gone from home all day, which is the order of a world that insists parents should be gone from home all day.

And the thing that blows my mind – I mean just stuns me at the core – is how many readers I have here (Christians readers too) who have not ever before, and cannot even now, imagine a world where our lives actually revolve around and are centered at HOME!  We have done a fine job of imagining our need to “go to work” (which amounts to leaving home each day), our need to go to school (which mostly means leaving home each day), our desire of growing up and “leaving home” (which is a cultural phenomena) for college or work.  And with all this routine abandonment of a “functional” home and family, we wonder why there is so much divorce and “broken homes”!

In reality, our whole culture is homeless.  Even those of us paying rent and mortgages!  And by far, most of us homeless people are NOT free-loading bums!  Most of us are living paycheck-to-paycheck with a lot of stress that keeps taking us further away from home!  Those free-loading bums who drop off the edge or fall through the cracks are perhaps a lot closer to the reality, even amid gross addictions, than those of us “sober” working people living in denial!

Anyway, I got in the car to drive back “home” without the kids so that I can clean and prepare myself for work this evening.  And as I turned my head to look out the back window as I backed out of my parking spot, I saw two empty car seats where just moments ago sat two precious angels talking to me the whole way there.  The silence was deafening.  It broke my heart.  I wanted to go back in and grab the children, take them HOME and teach them what a HOME really is!

And no matter how good that Day Care center is, it can NEVER do that!  (Same goes for Day Shelters.)

I Washed Dishes With Just One Hand

I grew up thinking my mom’s house was the model for clean.  I recall her doing house chores when I was a rug-rat.  I remember my parents telling me to go clean my room and make my bed.  I recollect my dad’s concern that the inside of the dish be as clean as the outside.

Yeah.  We were clean-livin’ people.

I am the clean-freak in my family now.  Not that we live all that clean, really, but I am sure all those living in this house would agree that I am the main driving force for cleanliness and neatness.  And I think of my mom as my role model.  She kept a clean home, and now I strive for that too.

Yeah.  We are clean-livin’ people.

But I did dishes with a 4-month-old in one arm the other night.  Now, that’s a trick!  But our house is bombed out in child-care since we took in foster kids.  And… well… it needed done, and this was the only way to do it.

I think I wasn’t as thorough as usual.

And seeing how I am as old now as my grandparents were when I was born, I look back to my mom in my heart and my mind for comfort and guidance, and I see a kid with a baby washing dishes with one hand and I think: She wasn’t nearly as clean as I thought she was!

I miss my mom tonight, may she rest in peace.  But I just put that little angel down to sleep for the second time tonight, and I find myself giving to her what my mom gave to me.

LOVE

… in a home cleaned with one hand.

Remembering Special Agent Alcoholica

It is with caution in regard to “rumors of my demise” (think Mark Twain, Abe Vigoda, and not least Johnny Schizo), I want very much to remember my friend and colleague, Special Agent Alcoholica.  I have heard the rumors of his demise more than once, but a couple of months ago, I heard them from some reasonably reliable sources.  And in that time, he has not resurfaced alive to counteract them.

I don’t like associating him too closely with alcohol, but I cannot imagine remembering him without reference to it.  In some regards, SA Alcoholica was the worst-case-scenario.  He was an unrepentant, alcoholic, homeless man living in alleys around the downtown area of Lubbock for years.  I only knew of one time that he was not drunk or searching for a drink over the years, but he was my friend and a fellow missionary.  I miss him.

He is still on my routine prayer list.  I reach the point in my prayer where his name comes up, and I continue to pray for him as if he were still alive.  I ache in my soul to change that.  And I hope that God will still express himself through this prophet, even postmortem.  In fact,  especially postmortem.  But I find it hard to accept that he is “gone”.

I really cannot talk about SA Alcoholica without mention of his companion.  And in fact, they were inseperable.  My prayer is always for them both.  They have been on this prayer list for years!  A constant fixture in my mind and in my heart.

I sense that my rambling here is not doing justice to the remembrance.  I want to share my heart, mourn the loss, and make a point with this post.  In fact, I want to make a couple of points.  And to do that, I can only tell a rambling story:

The first time I met SA Alcoholica and his lady, he introduced himself as “Cancer”.  His face was so weather beaten, I thought he was probably 50 or 60 years old.  His physical frame seemed strong, but his skin looked old and his hair was a matted mess.  Same for both, actually.  I was shocked to learn they were in their 30’s!

They both had tender hearts.  They neither one were bashful about consuming any and all charity you might afford them, nor bashful about turning that charity into a bottle of booze!  They were hardcore alcoholics of the first order, and paid the price for it by living on the very bottom rung among homeless people.  More often than not, they slept in the open elements, frequently squatting on a nasty mattress next to dumpsters.  And where ever they squatted, it did not take long for empty bottles to accumulate.  They may have been sweet people, but they were also the poster children for the When Helping Hurts cause!

Over the years, I spent probably a half dozen nights with them.  I joined the stink of their “spot” on a few occasions and hosted them in the Carpenter’s Church on a few cold winter nights (before I got kicked out).  In fact, one of the more eventful episodes I recall was the night SA Alcoholica went into an alcoholic coma in the men’s room at the Carpenter’s Church when Mrs. Agent X and I were hosting homeless people there.

You see, the rule was that you were welcome to come in if you were not drunk.  The word was put out on the streets earlier that day, and the weather reports warned of a nasty, winter storm coming.  SA Alcoholica and his lady got the message, alright, and so they complied.  They sobered up all day long so as to be eligible to enter for shelter that night!  And that took a real measure of discipline!  But, as those who work in the field of sobriety/recovery know, some alcoholics are soooooooo dependent on the booze that to quit cold-turkey can actually kill them.  And when I followed SA Alcoholica into the men’s room to check on him in the middle of the night, I found him in a seizure on the floor and called Mrs. Agent X (a Registered Nurse btw) to assist.  We called EMS then, and the Alcoholica’s spent the next two weeks in the hospital.

That was perhaps the first time I heard rumors of SA Alcoholica’s demise.

Calling EMS, and thus sparing his life, seemed to have endeared the Alcoholica’s to Mr. & Mrs. Agent X, and us to them – especially me.  And since they were the poster children for homeless abuse of charity (If you give a bum $5, they just use it on booze or drugs), as you can imagine, they became the topic of many discussions between my family and friends.  They were the premier test case – if such a thing really exists.  And yes, pretty much every dime ever given them was used on booze.

SA Alcoholica and his lady were sweet people, but they had no qualms holding the hand out for alms!

If I thought I was going to turn these people into sober, responsible, independent, tax-paying contributors to society, then I was deluded.  Any attempt at such would make me as manipulative as a con man, while almost certainly dooming me to failure.  And yet, the Alcoholica’s were beloved by God!  And I sensed that I was left with merely loving them “where they were at”.

Let me hasten to add: This did not mean I was in favor of their alcoholism!  I wanted nothing less than for these sweet people to find their way out of this addiction, but I recognized that I was powerless against it.

Despite all the despair of alcoholism, or somehow maybe through it, I shared precious moments with this couple.  I think back to the worship we shared late into the night in alleys and empty lots engaged in singing, prayer, preaching, and counting our blessings!  These people were eager to share this love of God with anyone who would stop by.

I remember one night sleeping on a bed roll about 5 feet away.  Somewhere in the night, SA Alcoholica’s lady woke up to a coughing fit.  He tried to comfort her with soothing words and encouragement.  I awoke and quietly eavesdropped as these two lovers took comfort in each other.  Eventually, the cough subsided as SA Alcoholica told his lady of his dreams about one day building her a cabin in the woods.  He would put a picture window overlooking the lake with the mountains in the sunset.  He would construct a spiral staircase to the loft above.

I lay there visualizing it with them as they entered this imaginary heaven.  And I realized, they took shelter in each other’s love.  How many of us have homes and sobriety, but can’t manage even a fraction of that???

I decided to love them in that dreadful condition and share God’s love with them too.  My prayer for them, even now, is that God will express himself through them so that they bear his image.  In their weakness, God is strong – no?  And so I joined them in the alleys and streets, I walked a mile in their shoes with them, AND offered worship with them to God!

Here is where I could literally tell a dozen stories.  But I will save them for another time.

Independence vs In-TER-dependence

Independence is one of the key American ideals.  It is the very name of one of our founding documents, a document that functions as a death warrant to the authority who sent us to this continent – at least to any forces the king sent to stop us from thwarting his authority!  That document may as well be written in blood!  And so, to say anything which marginalizes independence in this culture is to preach to those who don’t have ears to hear or eyes to see.  For if they did, they would respond in violence.  Therefore, I don’t expect you to understand this post or even read it really.  But if you do, I expect it will chafe.

A few days ago I posted saying: Feed a man a fish, and you will get him to stay; Teach a man to fish, and he will go away.  The ideal behind the traditional wording of this statement is independence.  When we talk this way, we actually want the man to go away.  My rewording has merely called it out for what it is.

Wouldn’t it be more churchly, more biblical, in fact BETTER to want the man to stay?  Open his place at the table of the Lord, let him take his place there and eat of the bounty the Lord has prepared and blessed us with!

Independence does not honor that.

Someone will argue: But you are merely rewarding bad behavior.  Or: You short-change discipline and the chance for that man to grow.

This goes to my point.  It is why I promote in-TER-dependence.  It does not actually deny discipline and growth at all.  The man who stays needs to learn to contribute to the group.  I am not saying he should be allowed to free-load in all things forever.  I am merely calling in to question the value of independence.  Discipline with an eye towards getting rid of the guy can never really be LOVE and never invites reciprocation.  It offers TOLERANCE, a cheap parody of LOVE, as it points the man to a more disciplined selfishness on his own part.

Tolerance is not God’s plan for creation.

Independence falls short of the glory of God.  But, on the other hand, in-TER-dependence disciplines the whole group together and not just that hungry man.  We all change together as we compliment the man’s strengths and compensate his weaknesses.  Likewise he finds his fit and shores up weaknesses in the group – perhaps in creative ways none had realized before.

New Creation!

The wisdom we find in the whole Teach-a-Man-to-Fish proverb is worldly wisdom.  It is not the LOVE of God.  And, for that matter, neither is independence.

The Agent X household has recently taken in foster kids.  This is homeless ministry for children!  I am amazed at how undisciplined, how unthoughtful, how selfish and self-centered small children can be when welcomed into your home.  And so, the paradox that no one seems to hold it against us that we LOVE these kids with extraordinary patience and endurance while welcoming them at the table of the Lord stands out.  We are not preparing them to leave; we are teaching them to be with us!  If we were loving adults with such charity, it would draw scorn – even among God’s people.  They see that kind of care as foolishness.  (See When Helping Hurts if you don’t believe me.)

The only difference I see between homeless children and homeless adults at that level is that the children have a lot of learning to do, whereas the adults have a lot of UN-learning to do BEFORE the learning begins.  And since in both cases adults make up the group(s) of caregivers, it seems the UN-learning is key to both.

Therefore, let us unlearn independence as we begin to learn in-TER-dependence!