Is there a middle ground? Why would you want it if there was?
Which one bears the marks of HEAVEN?
It feels like I am the lone prophet.
This blog, one aspect of the overall prophetic ministry, is characterized strongly by the challenge(s) it poses for “Christians” and the “Church” of Lubbock, Texas. I am not exactly the only voice making such challenge, but I am exceptionally rare. I can think of a handful of other voices raising similar challenges (some of which I am in full agreement with, others I criticize), and with one exception among them, they seem very minor and isolated from me and from one another.
The one notable voice of one critic became shrill on a number of occasions both directly confronting church leadership and managing to get into the print and TV news briefly – but brevity is the key there. That person does not appear to be in the challenging business anymore. He raised some hard questions alright… questions that have not received an answer, which still linger to this day, but the guy seems to have become frustrated and left the “conversation” now.
On other occasions, such as the “101” class offered by the Premier Homeless Church, which I was obliged to attend as I tried to be a team player, I witnessed a couple of questions being raised which were glossed over by the presenters rather than dealt with honestly or properly. The mere fact that the presenters cast themselves as experts seems to have gotten this gloss a pass somehow. It seems that maintaining politeness (being politically correct?) turned out to be more important than actually tending to the flock.
Then there are the complaints of the homeless themselves. From my very first night on the streets, I heard complaints where the pastor at the Premier Homeless Church was named and blamed by various homeless people that I met. I remember taking those complaints with a grain of salt at the time, actually defending the pastor’s name and reputation while considering the source(s) of these complaints to be the irrational rantings of beleaguered souls and addicts with chips on their shoulders. I defended him also on the grounds that engaging in needless gossip was rather divisive, and did not promote unity. It was months later that I began to see that some of these complaints appeared legit on the one hand and ignored by leadership on the other.
Anyway, with these exceptions, it seems that I am the lone voice of reason challenging the status quo. I am careful to note that it SEEMS this way. I am not omniscient, so it is possible that others are raising challenges I am unaware of. But this lonely voice, which also feels impotent (btw), seems to have isolated me in a lonely place, and I do not hear the other voices (assuming they are really out there). This lonely position factors strongly into my reason for posting.
It is important to note, I speak for others – not myself. My cause is not my own; it’s more altruistic than that. First and foremost, I speak for God! I seek his word and hold others to account accordingly. This feature alone seems to set me apart. But it overlaps with the cause of the poor (Matt. 25:40), and so I speak for them in the same breath. I am not complaining about my own hurt feelings, though I cannot ignore them nor deny them. They play a part, but my own hurt feelings are not the cause I champion, not for a minute! No. I speak as one who has joined the homeless sleeping outside locked church-house doors in the cold and wet. And while warming those cold bodies is a close second in importance to me, the fact that Jesus claims they ARE HIM causes me primarily to wonder why the church locks HIM out!
Okay, if you are a regular – or even quasi-regular – reader here, you probably know this conflict already. But I entitled this post RECONCILIATION, and that is the real point here. I want reconciliation. I do not want to be a crank; I do not want to punish anyone. I want God’s world reconciled. I merely set the desire for reconciliation in the context of conflict in which I find myself isolated for careful consideration.
I believe I referenced on this blog before that when my grandfather died, almost 2 years ago, he reconciled his relationship with my dad (and me). This… after decades of deep and damaging conflict – entrenched opposition that played a key role in dividing my family. My parents were divorced, largely because of this. I have relatives that speak to one another very little or not at all, largely because of this. And even now, so much damage lingers from that conflict. Pappa’s reconciliation was not a cure that fixed everything. He merely repented on his deathbed, and healed what he could before facing eternity. And I thank God daily for what he did. It is his legacy for me.
Thus I reflect on it a lot … critically.
My grandfather was a principled man of God – a preacher and minister to the church most of his life. He spent his life serving Jesus, and that was his spiritual/moral compass! His opposition against his son-in-law, my dad – who also was a minister to the church, was not some willy-nilly fight. He believed in his position with a passion! He was not alone in it either. My Mamma also maintained this opposition to my dad. But there is no doubt that the wise, old grandfather was the familial shepherd of our flock. He bore responsibility for his attitude, words, and actions. And by the time he died, he faced them in a new light and decided he needed to seek forgiveness.
At that point, my Pappa humbled himself to the point of death (of course at the point of death). He had no more strength to fight and no more power of persuasion. He was broken down and busted. Facing his mortality alone in that bed and taking inventory of his life, this was one area that had not achieved the desired results or honored God, but instead wounded generations of his own family – of the flock he was charged with tending.
And not only did he humble himself to seek forgiveness, but he risked great vulnerability in asking forgiveness. He summoned my dad, via yours truly, and both my dad and I did not trust his intentions. We kept the summons a secret from the rest of our family until we could determine with certainty that goodwill was going to come of it. But Dad took the request seriously and showed up.
I was there. I watched my Pappa, with tears in his eyes, tell my dad, “I need to ask your forgiveness…” And in that brief, pregnant pause, everything was on the line. But then my dad said, “It is I who need your forgiveness.” And the two embraced each other for the first time in decades! Thank YOU! Jesus!!!
Yes, I have kept this moment in my heart and in my prayers ever since. I reflect on it often. I ask God to help me cultivate reconciliation in my own heart, in my life, and in the world around me. I want desperately to be reconciled.
After Pappa’s reconciliation, and after several months of prayer, I made it my practice to pray blessings on the Premier Homeless Church that kicked me out. They did not kick me out for cussing, lying, stealing, fornicating, or any other standard moral issue. They kicked me out for my unrelenting challenge to their practice of closing the poor out of the church – especially in the winter cold. They kicked me out after many repeated efforts, including emails, text messages, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings to find a compromise. But absolutely NO compromise was offered. I hold forth that my case was not taken seriously and that my ministry was belittled. Then I was kicked out, and I moved my protest outside that congregation and continued the challenge in any available public avenue I could find. But as reconciliation became a major feature of my experience with my grandfather, and subsequently my prayers, I began purposefully praying FOR the Premier Homeless Church and thanking God for the many good things they do (for they actually do many good things). If nothing else, this would soften my own heart toward them.
And then recently I encountered a blog which is part of a ministry of reconciliation. A whole ministry organization geared toward this exact kind of healing for the world. I am confronted and challenged by it. This ministry has drawn into my focus the centrality of reconciliation in the future God holds for his creation. There is no way around it, if I want to be a part of God’s future, I had better be on board with reconciliation!
Think of this: Peter betrayed Jesus ever bit as bad as Judas when he denied him three times outside his sham trial. The same Peter who swore he would stand with Jesus through thick-n-thin and to the point of death, suddenly buckled at the confrontation of a servant girl! In so doing, he put himself in company with Judas, except that Judas refused reconciliation, and chose death instead. Peter, humbled himself and risked it all with Jesus afterward, and Peter found his reward!
Stuck in Conflict
My Pappa was a principled man of God who did not engage his conflict with my dad willy-nilly. Personally, I think he was blind-sided by a handful of pressures which lent themselves to the appearance of Christian principles. He needed to ask forgiveness. AT THE SAME TIME, it was appropriate for my dad to ask the same IN RETURN. Neither party was entirely pure. But it was Pappa who set the scene, and it was on his watch as familial shepherd under which the conflict occurred and was allowed to fester. I think it was appropriate for Pappa to be the one to initiate the reconciliation and to do so by asking forgiveness. If it had gone the other way (if it had been Dad asking forgiveness), it would have legitimated the error in Pappa’s agendas for our family – agendas that played a huge part in getting my parents divorced! These “principles” which characterized my Pappa’s position, needed to face their own challenge(s)!
In making that observation, I am neither saying that my Pappa was entirely wrong nor that my dad was even mostly right. My point is that the way these proverbial cards were stacked almost guaranteed entrenchment of the conflict. And ohhhhhh how I could have wished these matter(s) would have been resolved decades ago! For we still live with the aftermath of this fight despite the reconciliation that has been accomplished! My mom died years before her father, and the effect Pappa had on her relationship with my dad cannot be mended. Mamma, too, died years before this reconciliation. If this could have been nipped in the bud, how much other damage would not have been allowed?
And then it is quite easy for me to make the rather obvious connection to the conflict I face with the church of Lubbock (especially the Premier Homeless Church). Not that it is the same, but the similarities are noteworthy in that I am a principled man of God – as is every member of leadership there! How is it that we can all be the people of God and yet not get our act together? However, should I be giving their bad behavior and broken ideas a pass simply as part of getting along? (If I am in the wrong – assuming I am the blind-sided party here – should they give in to the challenge(s) I present just as a gesture of trying to “get along”?) The question(s) apply in both directions.
But then there is the matter of isolation. I used to be a part of the Premier Homeless Church. I was not part of the staff, nor did I want to be, but I was a minister there. I gave of myself to the ministry of that church at sacrificial levels. I did not do that hating the place! On the contrary, I loved it. I wanted to be a part of what they were doing! But when I ran afoul with leadership over the matter of kicking people out in the cold of winter, I got kicked out! I became isolated. My voice is all but muted. The desired outcome still is not achieved. God is not honored – especially where I hear street homeless people reference (and lament) the conflict and say ugly things designed to warrant my sympathy and criticize leadership. They promote discord doing that. Yet, somehow it is me that is shunned?
Just exactly what would reconciliation look like? Assuming we really want it, what specifically do we aim at? How do we reach for it? If we settle for the status quo unchallenged, or even for the status quo as challenged, we end up where we already are:
…and that is no prize.
It is important to me that any conclusions I draw for such questions be informed by biblical analysis. I want to honor God with my life and ministry. If it means I conclude that I have been mistaken, that I have sinned, and need to return to leadership with apologies, repenting and seeking their forgiveness, then I must face that. I really cannot allow my own pride to stop me.
But, again if you have followed this blog hardly at all, you surely know that I repeatedly lean on Scripture as I pose my challenge(s). I have honed the essence of my whole ministry down to a single point: the church-house door closed to Jesus; Jesus locked outside – thus alienating God’s apocalyptic (Luke 14) party. While I frequently address peripheral issues and uncover biblical support in related areas, I almost always simplify the hub of my challenge(s) to the joining up of Matthew 25:40, where Jesus claims the poor, sojourning, stranger (among others) embodies his very self, with Revelation 3:20, where Jesus proclaims that he is knocking at the door, and if we will open up to him, he will come in and dine with us! With these passages bouncing sparks off each other and joined up with the issue of locking the church-house door while homeless people sleep outside, I have a very simple challenge for leadership to consider.
On the one hand, leadership could take me serious and then make a case for how wrong I am to join these passages to each other and to this issue as I have done – and thus rebut me. Or leadership could take me serious and say: Agent X, you have opened our eyes to Jesus outside our doors that we have locked. Thank you! We repent.
I really cannot imagine much compromise. It’s pretty much one or the other, as I see it. And I strongly suspect that the only other option (sadly the one the church seems to have taken), is to marginalize me and ignore me as far as possible. (Yeah, if leadership there actually LOVES me yet thinks I am misguided, how did this get to be their modus operandi? And with no “third way” available, I find my prophetic ministry isolates me further and further from the “church” – but I refuse to go away.
I do not believe in “Lone Ranger” Christianity. I cannot just pick up my marbles and go home. I am stuck with these people of God whether I am an insider or an outsider. I am here to stay. But I, like the prophets before me, must insist that the church get right with God. It does me (nor any of them) any good to have unity based anywhere else.
So, I seek reconciliation. But it often does not look that way or even feel that way. I run a risk, first of appearing (but also of actually becoming) just a crank – a kook that no one can get along with. But I post this message declaring and reaffirming that I am not, nor is that my agenda. No. I seek reconciliation with you – Church of Lubbock – but I wait here standing firm on the word of God for you to come around.
“Come,” says the prophet who speaks for God to God’s people, “Let us reason together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow…”
This is biblical prophecy. The prophet must not cave to the wayward people, though they be the people of God. Rather he must stand firm and speak for God who is left out in the cold. And if need be, he must stand in the cold with him until the people take him seriously and repent. THEN we will find reconciliation!