Can You Spare a Little Change?

I am so excited to find this post and the blogger expressing humility. Again, this is one of those posts I hope convicts and inspires.

The Roofless Church

spare_changeTypically I wouldn’t call myself an elitist. As far as I can tell, on the surface I don’t have any reason to be. But the other day I had an experience where I felt the sense that I was infected by the mentality despite my sincere efforts to discipline my thoughts and acts in the direction toward universal equality. It was a private experience–one of those moments where I get to see whether I am full of crap or not. Once you read the experience, you might think that I am being a little over dramatic about it, but to me, it was an experience worth contemplating.

What happened was that I was about to go into Dunkin’ Donuts to use a coupon that was on my Dunkin’s app. In order to use the coupon, I had to use the app. But, my app was low on funds. That meant…

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Closing Your Eyes on the Poor

Wow! A rare confession… I am so impressed! May God bless you for this… by this. I pray this blog post bring conviction and inspiration to those who read here. What an awesome example for others to follow? And then to challenge and change the world!

expressyourself4him

Poverty is something you can be born into, forced into by extreme conditions or reached by a series of bad decisions.  Upon graduating from college, I went into social work.  I spent two days a week as a youth director at a church in Rising Sun, Maryland and the rest of my time as a Program Coordinator for the Methodist Action Plan in the inner city of Wilmington, Delaware.  I made just enough to eat and put gas in my car.  To save money I slept on a couch in my sister’s basement for 6 months.  Essentially, I was poor, unable to fulfill my goals in life on my own.  When my church home Cornerstone heard of my plight, a love offering was taken prior to my departure for a youth ministry trade school.  Without any previous conversation, this gift was exactly what I needed to attend this school.

Those…

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Refugees, (Il)legal Immigrants, and the Christian

My sister, BrookeM, reminds us today that our Christian responsibility to love others is an on-going part of God’s plan for our world, despite our fears or how distasteful it can seem. Please give her your time and attention today, and then talk to God about his plan for your life – your church, your home, your budget, your car, your computer, your bit of influence in God’s creation for his Kingdom cause.

Worship: Valuing & Ordering

In my last post, I pointed out a dilemma that frequently comes up for discussion especially in street ministry.  Do we preach first and then feed or do we feed first?  It is my opinion that the prevailing mood of street ministers is that we feed first, then preach.  There are a host of issues related to that question – a lot of them come up only after we pit the “spiritual” against the “practical” service.  I could write more posts along that line, but that line is pretty much barking up the wrong tree.  So, why bother?

In this post, I want to talk about the substance of worship and how it is a (often discounted) world-ordering force (or power/potential).  I think it is discounted so easily because the very idea of it has been largely reduced to a cultural decoration – nice (or fun) to experience, but nothing more than a pretty novelty.  Hopefully, when we establish worship as a world-ordering force/power, questions, such as the one addressed in the previous post, become either less important or completely irrelevant, freeing us to share the Gospel uninhibited.

1. Worship reduced to novelty

Allow me to demonstrate:

When I say the word “WORSHIP”, what comes to mind?  A church service?  People singing, praying, and otherwise mostly just passively sitting through a sermon?

I have friends and family who attend various churches around Lubbock with whom I am apt to share lunch afterwards on a Sunday afternoon.  Almost invariably, when I ask these friends and family, “How was worship?“, they answer describing the sermon they just heard – usually with a remark of some evaluation.  “It was good,” they are apt to say, “The preacher talked about loving our enemies today.  He did a good job….”

Does that sound familiar?  But go back and look at my question carefully.  Did I ask about the sermon?  The sermon gets the reaction about 99 times out of 100.  The sermon.  The most passive part of the whole worship assembly; the part we consume.  The part we pay the professionals to do for us, and we get our money’s worth when her word convicts, inspires, or entertains!

But that is not really what the question asks.  And the appropriate answer could be/should be something like: We praised the Creator of the universe with all our hearts, with all our strength, with all our minds!  We honored his name and gave him all due glory and praise!  We bowed low and showed the world who is boss!  But honestly, I NEVER get that answer or anything like it.

Hmmm…  Worship has become a commodity we consume, it seems – something like going to a movie or a concert instead of something we do or supply.

2. The Substance of Worship

Okay, so now that I have demonstrated reductionist worship, what is the substance of the real thing?

In the Greek and Hebrew translations we find the definition painting the picture(s) of a kiss, of a dog licking the master’s hand, of bowing low – in fact face down to the ground – in reverence to the king.  And I am willing to let those definitions/pictures speak for themselves.  You can plug that in to your sentence where you would normally use the word “WORSHIP”, and suddenly your sentence stands to be stretched as your imagination is expanded.

But I want to stick a bit closer to the Old English definition that I find in the writings of N.T. Wright.  Our modern word “worship” is actually a contracted version of a much older term: WORTH’SHIP.  Worship, as a verb, is all about ascribing value.  What do you value, and how do you express value appropriately to/for that object of your worship?

With that foundation stone in place, let me talk about two kinds of worth’ship: Mundane and Exuberant.

Don’t discount mundane worship.  (I bet most of you, my dear readers, instantly think of stuffy/traditional worship styles vs. contemporary worship with guitars and drums.  But no.  I am not talking about worship styles.  I will let you figure that stuff out for yourself.)  No.

Mundane worth’ship is a very important (though subtle and often unenthusiastic) world-ordering process.  An example that comes quickly to my mind is the bagboy down at my local market with a price gun in his hand sticking price tags on loaves of bread at about $1.99 each.  He is ascribing value to bread!  That is quite mundane, but it also brings order to the world.  I need to know the price of bread, and he just told me.  His mundane worth’ship facilitates a lot of commerce that feeds the community.

The underlying point is that placing appropriate value on things plays a vital part of ordering our world!  We do it all the time, but normally don’t see it for what it is.  Ascribing appropriate value to various created objects is a form of worship that in turn highlights ascribing ultimate worth/value to the Creator himself.  Sticking price tags to loaves of bread is just one small example among hundreds, perhaps thousands, that I could easily offer. But it demonstrates how we order our world, in part, by ascribing worth to objects in it as a means of ordering all of it.

So, if the bagboy at the grocery store is ordering the world with his mundane worship, what is exuberant worship?

Exuberant worth’ship is the more familiar use of the term – the usual sense of liturgy associated with “worship”.  This worth’ship is prayer and fasting, song and sermon, kneeling and bowing, preaching and prophesying, speaking in tongues and dancing whether in a reserved fashion or ecstatic.  And ultimately it is a matter of offering your very body – which is your spiritual ascription of value to God (Rom. 12:1).  This is worship reserved for the Creator.

God is worth how much to you???  You show that … how?

This too is a world-ordering force/power.  In fact it is the ultimate force to proper, abundant-life-giving world order.  God created the world to give him glory, honor, and praise.  When every aspect of creation does that, the world is in proper order and death and chaos have no place in it.

Funny, in today’s marketplace and marketplace of ideas, this world-ordering force is largely considered irrelevant.  Your 3rd grader’s earth science textbook will make no mention of it.  Your college history text will describe how differing ideas on worship have caused wars all over Europe, and how in the Great Enlightenment, the founding fathers of the United States purposefully separated church (worship) and state (governmental order) as a way of addressing those war-causing differences.  Thus our culture has marginalized exuberant worth’ship to the back alleys of private, personal piety and made it a matter of pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-n-by – otherwise completely irrelevant.

Summary

Obviously the implications for WORSHIP go far, wide, and deep.  Less obvious, perhaps, there are different kinds of worship and they can, and do, serve different agendas and different gods.  And finally, despite seeming almost irrelevant, worship is the most central world-ordering force there is and our culture either overlooks it or reduces and belittles it.

I am just a simple street prophet.  I am working from the bottom up.  This ministry is not ordered by budgets, administrative decisions, marketing techniques and strategies, science, or money.  It is ordered and powered by worth’ship.  We ascribe ultimate value to God and then appropriate value to people and then to things.  And we express that value in mundane ways as well as exuberant.  But even more, we see God in the humble people of the streets.  Thus we both ascribe value by celebrating him in them, and we express his image there for all we are worth in our humble worship.  And these humble ones in turn invite you to the party.

Worship: A Theology of Celebration

(I wrote a whole book on this topic a few years ago.  (Unpublished; Don’t look for it.)  So, I have a lot to say on this matter.  I am reluctant to blog on it, because I hope to redraft and develop the book further and offer these thoughts there.  But that seems somewhat unlikely.)

My years in street ministry have taught me there is an ill-defined line between serving God and serving needs.  On the one side we put worship – prayer, song, preaching, (even communion) and perhaps label that part as “saving souls”.  On the other, we put feeding, warming, sheltering, and other services such as job training, addiction treatment and a host of other “practical” measures.  And then there is a driving concern about which comes first!

I sense the prevailing mood among street ministries in the last 20 years moves the practical measures to the first place.  It is common to ask: How do you preach Jesus to someone who is freezing cold and hungry?  Shouldn’t you feed and warm the tramp FIRST and THEN tell him about Jesus?  Won’t he be better able to receive your message with a full tummy and a warm cup of joe?

I encountered a Baptist Evangelist a few years ago who tried to tackle the question by wheeling in a crew of volunteers to grill burgers and dogs about 20 feet away from his Bible Study (BS) huddle.  He passed out pencils and sheets of paper to everyone who attended his BS so they could take notes on his fantastic sermon.  But then after 30 minutes of BS, about the time the food was ready, he invited everyone to line up and get some of the awesome smelling food, but in order to get a plate, you had to hand over your pencil which proved you sat through the BS.

Funny.  His method actually put a bad taste in a lot of mouths.  Personally, at the time I admired his effort.  I thought it had an ingenious edge to seeking first the Kingdom of God and letting him add everything else.

Well, it was his way of addressing the balance of “practical” needs and “spiritual” needs.  It was a bit unique, but addressed an issue that commonly comes up for discussion among street ministry types.  And as I said, I think the prevailing mood is to address the “practical” needs FIRST, though this is obviously not universal.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets (FBSOP) has no budget and no bureaucratic organization (none of the usual structure or cache of resources).  We don’t go out “meeting” a lot of “needs” in any ordinary sense of that phrase.  On the contrary, most of us actually come from the ranks of the street homeless themselves.  While it would be an exaggeration to say we come with nothing to do something, that idea is not far off the mark.  I have camped with beggars, bums, and prophets in parks and back lots where we pooled our pocket change and supplied a feast.  (This came very near looking and feeling like Jesus feeding 5,000!)  I recall a feast of s’mores one night accompanied by Little Caesar’s Hot-n-Ready pizzas that fed us as we sang, prayed, and talked about Jesus deep into the night in a rich blending of meeting both “practical” and “spiritual” needs.

Snapshot 1 Calendar attempt 1

Sadly, no church (or for that matter, no 501c3 ministers) was there to see and experience it.

Now, lest you think the point is to just get all “Christian-Mystic” about this, I must say I have no control over that.  FBSOP is either empowered by God or we are a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants ministry.  God does not always move in such mystical ways.  Sometimes we just sleep in the stink of a nearby dumpster and the bums are more interested in drinking than in praying (rare, but hard to count those times as “successful”).  God moves this way and that, but he does not check with me first.

Dumpsters n Steeples

On the other hand, I have a lot to say about the blending of “practical” and “spiritual” needs.  In fact, I don’t really treat them as distinctly separate.  FBSOP has made it our usual practice to host a communion service and that then IS the ministry – however I am not talking about a pinch of cracker followed by a thimble of juice with some stodgy prayer.  No.  I am talking about a Luke-14 party with communion at the center of it.  And THAT then sets the stage for a discussion of Worship: A Theology of Celebration.

Jesus tells us (Matt. 25:40), those bums and needy people ARE him!

What do you do with Jesus when you meet him?  Does worship come to mind?

(Can I get an Amen???  …anyone???)

Yeah, it should come to mind and into praxis.  And I think this is a topic that needs to be explored far more carefully than it ever has been, that I have encountered.  I look forward to doing that more in future posts.

Reflections on rough sleepers

I am amazed at what I find by clicking. What a treasure to find this post! Please read it; absorb it; find Jesus in it and then join him as he joins you in ruling his creation.

Just me being curious

Years ago, for several months, I lived in a bed-and-breakfast Monday-Friday. Working away. Family living in last-job place before all of us moved to new-job place.

One Sunday night the b&b owners were away. I had two keys: one to the house and one to my room.  Just me in this big empty house.  Except a couple had already slept in my bed and used my pillow and used my sheets and my duvet and then left. That’s what happens in a b&b.

And here I was.  Just me and a slept-in bed. Maybe a made-love-in bed. Maybe a some-other-bodily-fluids-yucky bed. Now my bed that Sunday night with nowhere else to go.  The following day I found another b&b.

Did I tell you that I slept with a man this weekend?  Never did find out his name.  Just that he snores.

Night Shelter.  25 for dinner and hot drinks. 15…

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NAMES on the Walls of My Heart

I was a kid when they opened the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.  There was a lot of controversy over it at the time; it seemed a bit plain at first blush… just a wall… but a wall with names… names that haunt us.  Names that you can pencil on a piece of paper if you go there.

Ever since, I note memorials seem to engrave THE NAMES.  Go to the 9/11 Memorial in NYC – they got names too.  The names remind us!  The names haunt us.  The names connect us…

It’s kinda ironic that when I go to church and meet new people (or when new people come and meet us) someone always says, “I forget names… Never forget a face, but can’t remember names…”.  (Yeah, I have trouble with that too.)  But when someone remembers your name, that feels special.

I have a memorial wall with a list of names.  Names I pray for every day.  Names of foster children (I cannot reveal) and names of beggars, bums, and prophets from the streets.  Only it ain’t really a wall, it’s a prayer list.  The list just keeps growing.  It is difficult to pray for them all.  It is difficult to remember them all.  Some of them are dead now, but I have not taken their names off my memorial-wall, prayer list.  They all haunt me, every night when I lay my head on my pillow; I know they are OUT THERE.

I will now share the names on this blog roll wall.  I hope you will pray for them too…

 

Thomas*     Mark**     Jerry     Jason

Heather     Dennis     Ricardo     Ishmael

George***     Belinda     Leo     Pedro***

Sylvia***     Charles*     Autum*     Aaron

Aaron     Dustin     Justina     Jeremy

Andy**     Damien     John     Gina***     Mike

Faith     Erica     Rudy     Daniel & Jennifer

Steve-O     Patty     Samuel     Jenny****

James**** & May     Lee     Suzy     Jessica*** (and her friends from Denver)

Matt     Mary     Tex      Ryan

Kathy     Roadkill     Scarlett     Harry

Kate     Happy*

 

I have met each one of these people when they were homeless and living on the streets of Lubbock.  Some I only met once or twice.  Some have stayed in my home.  Some I can hardly remember.  There are a LOT more that I don’t remember and more yet that I have never met.

Do you recall that old Sally Fields movie Places In The Heart?  Recall how some of the characters died as the story unfolded, but at the end, in the last scene the family goes to church.  And there on the pews with the living are the dead, killers and victims side-by-side communing in worship in Spirit with the living.  That is what praying is like for me.  The foster kids that have left my care and the bums and beggars who are near and dear to my heart all join me in Spirit in that place of prayer.

If you are homeless, or if you know someone who is homeless, I invite you to leave the name on this post.  And then I invite all my readers from all over the world to pray for these names – even if only once.  Go to that garden of prayer and look around and see them all join you there.  I want to introduce you to a few friends of mine.  They go by another name too, one you need to know:  JESUS (Matt. 25:40).

 

* last known status: “off the streets” (YAY!)

** last known status: in jail or prison

*** unknown status (more than 2 years)

**** confirmed status: deceased

OUR CHURCHES AS SANCTUARIES

Wow! I did not know we had churches dealing with this. I am so glad to find SOMEONE IN THERE dealing with this exact issue.

ICPE Singapore

RONROLHEISER,OMI, DECEMBER 12, 2016

Whenever we have been at our best, as Christians, we have opened our churches as sanctuaries to the poor and the endangered. We have a long, proud history wherein refugees, homeless persons, immigrants facing deportation, and others who are endangered, take shelter inside our churches. If we believe what Jesus tells us about the Last Judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, this should serve us well when we stand before God at the end.

Unfortunately our churches have not always provided that same kind of sanctuary (safety and shelter) to those who are refugees, immigrants, and homeless in their relationship to God and our churches. There are millions of persons, today perhaps the majority within our nations, who are looking for a safe harbor in terms of sorting out their faith and their relationship to the church. Sadly, too often our rigid paradigms…

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Measuring $ucce$$

Mine’s BIGGER!

Great answer, but what’s the question?  Are we talking about wives or trucks?  (Or something else???)

Well, if you read here much, you surely know I am NOT talking about those things.  I am talking about ministry – service to God.  And as I watch one of my college-age children begin a career path in ministry, I am getting a much more mature view of what his training involves and what it aims him at (of what mine involved and what it aimed at).  And like so much else involved with church and ministry today, I am skeptical.  Something is amiss here, and it stinks of idolatry.

Are you aware, dear reader, that King Herod The Great, the king of the Jews when Jesus was born, started a construction project to rival all others?  A construction project that lasted over 70 years!  And the monument he was building was Jerusalem’s Temple – aka The HOUSE of God.  Herod would not live to see it completed.  However Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem (it’s complicated, I know, but try to keep up) was born very early on in the construction process.  He was crucified well before its completion.  But when it was finished, it was one of the great Wonders of the World and rivaled even Rome’s glory!  And just to give you a taste, let me point out that some modern scholars have chosen to call Ancient Jerusalem not a city, but a temple with a small village around it!

Yeah.  That’s HUGE!

If you thought Solomon’s temple was big… sorry to tell you, but Herod’s was bigger!

Let me round out the picture just a bit more, for I suspect many of my readers just are not really equipped with sufficient knowledge of this monstrosity to truly appreciate it’s significance as a looming backdrop to the canonical gospel stage upon which this Jesus plays in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  During Jesus’s whole life (“earthly Jesus” as some of us call him), Jerusalem would have effectively been an orange barrel city.  Digging, dirt moving, stone-stacking, men-at-work, hard-hat-required zoning at every turn.  Kinda like driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico any time in the last 40 years!  But this is, in a sense, the place of worship when Jesus was doing his “earthly ministry”.  It was big and massive AND it took a loooooooong time to complete!

The temple always was meant to be the place where heaven and earth met.  God would live there (at least that was the idea).  But if you had to choose between that monumental stone structure or the young, donkey-riding prophet who throws tables inside it, which one would you say was God’s real dwelling place?  (John 1:14 anyone?)

Perhaps you recall that scene when the disciples follow Jesus out of the temple district and pause on the Mount of Olives to look back at the construction project.  One of the disciples points out the size of the stones being moved in to place (Mark 13; Matt. 24; Luke 21).  Suddenly the construction site is starting to take shape.  All those taxes Herod raised for all those years are finally starting to grip the imagination of Jews who patriotically love God and country!  And what does Jesus say about those stones?  Does he say, “Yeah, God is really blessing Herod’s ministry with fantastic success!”?

No.  He doesn’t.  And instead of blessing that construction site, God sends his young prophet to die on a cross outside the city.

Maybe when Jesus says not one stone atop another he is just being jealous!  But if you are a New Testament Christian believer, that is not an option you entertain.

Maybe for him SIZE doesn’t matter.

Or… Maybe smaller is better with Jesus?

How big is your heart?  That is the Christian temple after all… No?

Let’s consider this a bit more critically.  Did I say these passages of Scripture teach us how to do ministry – the ins-n-outs of service pleasing to God?  No.  I am not claiming that.  They do, however, make a good springboard for our discussion though.  After all, I did mention idolatry, yet no one ever accused Herod of that!  Yet, there is no doubt that money, sex, and power characterized Herod and his kingship/dom.  As N.T. Wright demonstrates, these ancient Roman gods are alive and well in America today too.*  And if they could so severely infiltrate the king of the Jews and his (supposed) best efforts at leading and serving God’s people in Jesus’ day, who’s to say they aren’t our problem now too?  And anyway, we certainly see quite clearly the difference between BIG SUCCESS and small failure.

And here’s the rub… neither in my own training for ministry, nor that of one of my kids in school training now too, do I find the slightest concern regarding this problem, but I sure do see plenty of collusion both there in the academy as well as in the field.

When I was young “success” used to be measured in numbers of souls saved.  You could have a revival if you were good at packing the house.  And if you were successful, you could get an appointment at a big church, if not – a small one.  Conversely, if you started a church that grew large (or pastored a small one into strong numerical growth) you would be considered a success.  And this idea is not entirely gone and forgotten now, but the money and influence that go with those numbers is where the real measure of $ucce$$ is now.

I especially see this in the 501c3 ministries.  Don’t be fooled by the label “non-profit”.  There is a LOT of ca$h to be made out there with a “non-profit” mini$try.  And as the 501c3 ministries don’t really need to claim numbers of souls saved to be a mark of success, there is no way around claiming ever-growing budgets that reach into the million$!  And, anyway, wouldn’t you rather give your money to an organization that is known for, and has a track record of, handling large $um$?  The health-n-wealth gospel preachers on your TV have nothing on these ministries!  As one of my fellow street ministers asked me two years ago: When did HOMELESS MINISTRY BECOME A BU$INE$$???

The church I attend used to be located, not too many years ago, in a more central part of town (not exactly poor, but certainly not the glitz-n-glam), and the building was a bit frumpy and “dated”.  But we put together a fundraising campaign and joined the white-flight district with a HUGE and ornate monument to the peasant Jew crucified in the backwater part of someone else’s empire!  And now that church is considered a $ucce$$ of the first order!  Not exactly the achievement of coronation by crucifixion… No.  A bit more respectable (with Roman-style respectability) than that.

College is all about training successful professionals.  And I watch my boy taking ministry classes to train him (among other things) to write a $ucce$$ful resume, to dre$$ for $ucce$$, to $trategize proper time management, and so forth – you know, just the kind of stuff God sent Moses into the deserts of Midian to learn before he started his ministry, or like he sent young David to learn in the sheep fields, or just like Jesus taught the twelve before he sent them out two by two.  What counted as success in each of those examples?

Wait… WHAT?

Agent X, Are you saying we should not train budding pastors of 19-21 years old to manage their time properly?

Yeah… I am saying that.  For Jesus, time management in ministry seems to have involved arriving a bit late to heal Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35) or Lazarus (John 11:32), but showing up in time to party at all the major weddings and festivals! (Matt. 11:19/Luke 7:34).  Who is really served by proper time management, as it’s taught in “ministry” courses at the Christian university?  Is it not the business interests of church buildings and colleges?  I know when I was in college, the same exact school that taught me that when I give I should not let my right hand know what my left hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) turned around the day after graduation and tried to sell me a brick in the memorial wall with my name on it for only $100!  And for $1000, I could get my name on a seat in the coliseum.

Really???  I got that Christian education for that?  Yeah.  I did, it seems.  And as I recall, I loved my Bible classes and hated my ministry classes.  And hey, while I am at it, will someone please tell Dave Ramsey that Jesus teaches us to FORGIVE debt, and that if and when our pastors, churches, and 501c3 ministry representatives ever finally get that message across to God’s creation, THERE WON’T BE ANY DEBT ANYMORE!  IT’S CALLED JUBILEE!!!

And this Jesus we serve, if we are in fact serving him, says not one stone will be left upon another…  All this aiming big at success and so on is really not found on his lips or in his example.  Look again!  The ministry God is blessing is probably NOT a huge temple-construction project; it’s a young prophet dying on a Roman cross!  Perhaps we could find another measuring stick for ministry success.  Try APOCALYPTIC!

 

 

*  Wright, N. T. (1994). Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.