The post below is a series of publications from THE FAT BEGGARS’ SPOT. Four issues copied and pasted together and republished here. They tell the story of a young man who came to church homeless and left WHOLE. They tell the story of a church wrestling with how that would work, and of one family rising to the challenge. They tell the story of several lives transformed – not the least – MINE, since I had a front row seat to the action.
The post is long, I know, but it is broke up in segments. I hope you will find it worth your time (and I suggest taking a break from it at each segment and coming back as it is convenient). But mostly I hope it challenges your imagination and blesses your efforts to care for the homeless.
Year 1 Rocktober 9, 2014 Vol. 25
The Fat Beggars’ Spot
A Revolutionary Rag
Jason (Part 1)
His name was Jason. At least we thought it was. Even he thought it was. Why would I question it? He was 16 and homeless. He did not know much. Not even his real name (as we found out much later). But he knew enough to come to Jesus – and that meant reaching out to the church – the little church where I used to worship when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona 20 years ago.
I said Jason didn’t know much, but he knew enough to come to Jesus. It meant he reached out to our little church in Arizona. And that is where I saw the difference between Jesus and the church. I learned a lesson about love that I want to share with you in a 4-part series.
Let me tell you something about little churches. In fact, let’s not limit this to little churches; let’s focus on American churches – conservative particularly. I am about to make some blanket statements. There are exceptions to be sure, but they are the exceptions – not the rule. So don’t go thinking this does not apply to your church. It probably does.
We conservative, American churches (especially Protestant) tend to find ourselves trying to “be like Jesus” on the one hand and hold tightly to conservative politics and economics on the other. (I have to throw politics into the mix because sometimes there are issues that are not so blatantly economic in nature but which still push and pull on the hearts and minds of people, but mostly the economics are involved too.) And this puts American churches right smack dab in the lurch Jesus warns about when he says, “No one can serve two masters. For either he will love the one and hate the other, or he will devote himself to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money!” (Matt. 6:24).
Here’s the thing: American churches want to be respectable. Not so much in the moral or charitable sense, but in the white-middle-class, conservative sense. And we do not want to give up our money unless it makes us look good doing it. This means, when push comes to shove, most American churches love money and hate Jesus (like Jesus says in Matt. 6:24). You just cannot have it both ways – if you could then Jesus is a liar. Thus the unspoken strategy for this dilemma is to keep distance from the poor (or keep them out of sight).
Well, of course this idea is deeply troubling to a group that is trying to have it both ways. And the Phoenix church, where I was attending, was proud to be situated at the corner of 3 brand-new subdivisions with oceans of brand-new, fancy, custom-built, white-collar homes on all sides. Homelessness was not an ongoing concern for this congregation.
But then Jason showed up at our door.
Jason had joined a homeless “family” in Florida, his home state, and headed west for California. This “family” had a run-down, old jalopy crammed full of junk (everything they owned) and had made the trip three quarters of the way across America by hitting up churches in town after town for “gas money” or “food money” to finance the trip. This “family” had hit up our church for “help” about three times before Jason showed up alone without the others.
Well, let me tell you something else about our little church. The policy set in place there allowed our preacher, the only guy at the church building on a daily basis, to give away $100 a month for such needs that arise from time to time. This policy put this money at the preacher’s discretion without having to convene leadership meetings. It made this small charity expeditious. Thus it kept (so everyone hoped) leadership from having to bother with the poor. (It kept the poor at a distance and out of sight).
This meant that the “family” had already used up the preacher’s discretionary fund about 3 times before Jason showed up. The money the preacher gave the “family” had not been used to get them on the road to California; rather it had backfired, and now Jason was seeking special favor. Jason was coming to Jesus, which meant reaching out to our little church. A church that did not even know we were helping him before that time; a church that was happy for him to be out of sight and out of mind.
Jason came asking for help to get back home to Florida. He complained that the people he was with were not really his family at all, and that they seemed more interested in wasting the church’s money rather than actually going to California like they said. But since our church had been so generous, Jason thought we might help him get back home now. It had been a mistake, he said, to ever join this “family,” and now he wanted out. Could we help?
Suddenly, our little church had a homeless problem that could not be bought off with $100. Homelessness was not out of sight; it was in our face! Poised to catch fish from all the surrounding white-collar homes, we were instead attracting homeless teens from Florida. This required our attention. It required our care and energy. The poor would not remain out of sight. A meeting of leadership would have to be convened. Choices would have to be made. Would our church, the very body of the Good Shepherd in our community, tend to this lost lamb? Or, would we try to serve two masters – God and money? Thus shortchanging the poor.
Jason exposed our heart. He came like a surgeon’s blade to open us up and see what was inside. Jason became Jesus to us (Matt. 25:40) knocking at the door our little church (Rev. 3:20) in disguise. He showed us which master we loved and which one we hated.
Do you want to know what happened to Jason and our church after that? Then catch the next issue of The Fat Beggar’s Spot and find out!
Year 1 Rocktober 15, 2014 Vol. 26
The Fat Beggars’ Spot
A Revolutionary Rag
Jason (Part 2)
His name was Jason (if you recall the previous issue of FBS). And he came knocking on our little church-house door in Phoenix, Arizona after travelling all the way from Florida. The “family” he was with had burned church charities across 6 states before reaching us. They burned us too. After “wasting” $300 we gave them before he broke away, Jason came back wanting even more. We were his cash cow! Or so it seemed. (Did our help “hurt” him?)
Burning other peoples’ money leaves a bad taste in their mouth. And so, as my story began in the previous issue, I said I saw the difference between Jesus and the church. I explained how actually it is common for conservative, American churches to try to serve two masters despite Jesus’s warning against it (Matt. 6:24). The American church luuuvs money! And the strategy we use to handle this dilemma is to keep distance from the poor – or keep the poor out of sight. Like the elephant-in-the-room, this enables us to pretend the dilemma’s not there.
So, how did our church respond when Jesus, appearing as Jason, “one of the least of these” (Matt. 25:40), came knocking at that door (Rev. 3:20)? Well, glad you tuned in to find out.
I was part of the leadership meeting convened to deal with him. I remember that Agent S (a fellow church leader) and his wife Agent J brought Jason to our attention and pleaded his case. Agent S explained that Jason was a teenager a long way from home who had joined up with the wrong crowd – a “family” who burned through our money repeatedly already. Our help had not achieved the stated goal of aiding the “family” in its travels. Rather, it attracted them back for more money. And wouldn’t you know it? Jason was back asking for our help again. He came to us, the church – the body of Christ, asking for money yet again.
Jason wasn’t a poster-child for church charity. He did not dress conservatively. His Mohawk, his rock-band tee shirt, his pack of cigarettes, his missing tooth, and his ripped blue jeans, all suggested that Jason was not one of us and did not share our conservative values. We had a stated mission to reach out to all the white-collar homes of our neighborhood (the rich), and Jason did not fit that agenda. Helping him had already proved futile 3 times before. So, it was no surprise when the church leaders asked him to step out to the lobby as we discussed his urgent request. We needed him out of sight while we talked about him behind his back!
Almost immediately, one good brother spoke up with a growl in his voice and stated, “It’s too bad Jason didn’t go to the church over in AJ to make his request; they know how to deal with his kind!” Then one of the more level-headed, dignified men spoke up pointing out that Florida was a long way off. Funding his travel would not be cheap. Then another wise voice cautioned, “If we buy a plane ticket, it will be expensive, but if we buy a bus ticket… well the bus stops at every town along the way. Jason might just get off at the next bus stop and come right back to us and ask for help all over again.” We sure didn’t want that!
I couldn’t believe my ears. We were the church, the very body of Christ, the body of The Good Shepherd himself. I never read in the Bible where Jesus spoke this way about lost sheep. I didn’t know what we should do, but this didn’t sound like the Jesus Way to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I see all the wisdom OF the world in us church leaders. We followed good conservative ideals right down the line. We already had a “mission” – for the rich. It didn’t matter that those home owners were NOT in fact beating on our church house door, the poor did knock. But Jason only detracted from our “mission.” And on top of that, he had wasted our help at least 3 times before. No. We did our part; they squandered theirs! Jason wasn’t a wise investment opportunity. In fact, his Billy Idol snarl (and the eye he gave the daughters of our church when he came in) suggested we should protect ourselves from him!
But no one ever stopped to ask what Jesus thought about him. This meeting kept us late at church – interrupting the Cardinals/Cowboys game! We were in a hurry, so we didn’t even pause to pray. No one opened a Bible to consult God. Instead, the tone of the meeting turned grim for Jason, but by god it upheld good, conservative economic ideals! (Honored Mammon.)
Though this experience happened 20 years ago, I was there. I am a witness, and it made a lasting impression on me. Like Jason, I was young and looking for LOVE in this world. I was looking for Jesus. Like Jason, I thought I would find Jesus in that church. And I did. But not like you would think. I mean no one ever used the word LOVE! No one even mentioned the name Jesus! No one asked, “WWJD?” No one in that church opened a Bible to see if Jesus might challenge the agenda we had already set for ourselves. No one questioned whether we were trying to serve two masters and have it both ways.
Agent S left that meeting with absolutely no resolution. No one in this rich church spared a dime for a plane ticket, a bus ticket, a sandwich… NOTHING! After 10 minutes of discussion shoring up our conservative ideals, it became clear that Jason was only a burden we didn’t want. Someone patted Agent S on the shoulder and said, “I’m sure you will figure something out.” And we all went home – to the game …finally. But at least we served Master Mammon!
Later that night, Agent S and Agent J invited me to their home where I witnessed Master Jesus speak to Jason and, and I saw the treasure chest of God open up. Yeah. I saw Jesus enter Agent S’s house (Matt. 25:40/Rev. 3:20) and eat with us. I found LOVE alright. It was a party!
And if you want to read about it, then be sure to catch the next issue of FBS.
Year 1 Rocktober 21, 2014 Vol. 27
The Fat Beggars’ Spot
A Revolutionary Rag
Jason (Part 3)
His name was Jason (if you recall from the last 2 issues of FBS). At least he thought it was his name. He was homeless at 16 and had traveled across America from Florida to Arizona burning church charity wherever he could get it. Then he showed up at our little church.
I told you he came to church looking for Jesus. I said I saw a difference between Jesus and the church. I described how conservative, American churches typically struggle to serve two masters – the very thing Jesus warns against (Matt. 6:24). I explained how this creates a dilemma for such churches whose unspoken strategy is to keep the poor at a distance and/or keep the poor out of sight. And I told how our church shunned Jason rather than showing him LOVE, as we struggled to serve two masters. Sadly, we remained faithful to conservative economics and politics, but we let go of Jason!
My heart was hurting as I left the leadership meeting where the decision not to decide was decided. Our church did not pray. We did not consult the Bible. We did not consider what it means to LOVE Jason. We did not ask, “WWJD?” We were no shepherd to this lost lamb.
But later (after the leadership meeting) Agent S called and invited me to his house. What I witnessed there revolutionized my imagination. It was a lesson in LOVE.
Agent S and Agent J lived in one of those fancy, custom, white-collar homes a few blocks away from our church. Their home had giant walk-in closets, a fine dining room, a huge TV with video games for the kids, a backyard swimming pool, and an unused, guest bedroom (complete with pretty doilies and all!). And after that meeting had adjourned, they took Jason (this scary-looking, homeless kid) home with them. And they threw a party! A Jesus-Party!!!
Jason joined the kids playing video games in the den while Agent J ordered pizzas. We laughed and played and began showing LOVE to Jason while we waited for the pizza delivery.
When the food arrived, Agent S called us all around the dining table. Then (for the first time) we prayed! Agent S thanked God for sending Jason to his house. (Imagine that!) As we began eating, Agent S made a proposal. He said, “Jason, you came all the way from Florida to be here in this house. You asked for help to go back, but we think God is leading your life. It’s no accident that you’re here. We don’t want to hinder his will for your life. What if God wants you here in Arizona for some reason we don’t know? We think you need to ask him about that.”
Then Agent S invited Jason to stay as a special guest in their home for one solid week. During that week, Jason was welcome to play all the video games he wanted, eat all the food he wanted, swim in the pool, and play with the kids and the dog all he wanted – as long as he abided by house rules. The one condition Agent S placed on Jason was that Jason should spend that week praying, and ask God if he should stay in Arizona or go back to Florida. Agent S did not want to send Jason back to Florida if God had plans for him with us. We needed know.
Then Agent S said, “If, at the end of the week, you determine God is calling you back to Florida, we will find a way to get you there. If, on the other hand, it is God’s will for you to stay in Arizona, then you will live here with us. But if you stay, then we will help you find a job or go to school – whichever is right for you.”
When Agent S stated the terms of this proposal, it seemed good to Jason and the rest of us. So Jason stayed and played with Agent S’s family the whole week. I mean this kid lived high-on-the-hog! He played video games; he ate pizza and casserole and hamburgers and every other wonderful thing Agent S’s kids ate. He swam in the pool. He slept in the guest bed. He lived like a king! He was treated like royalty! I can only imagine that after living on the streets, God had this boy’s full and undivided attention. I mean they really LOVED that kid!
(It’s just simple LOVE ya’ll! This is not complicated! It ain’t ROCKET SURGERY!!!)
Then we reconvened a week later for another party and asked Jason, “What is the Lord’s will for your life? Should you go back to Florida or stay in Arizona?” Wanna know what he said?
…I will give you one guess…. (You might argue Agent S stacked the deck! What choice did Jason really have?)
Jason said, “I sense that God wants me to stay here in Arizona.”
And Agent S and Agent J spent two weeks trying to get proper identification for Jason so that he could get a job or go to school. And like the Peace Corps used to say, it was the toughest job they ever LOVED. Back then, we didn’t have the internet – it was a tough challenge. And when Agent J finally got a proper I.D. for him, Jason found out his name was not really Jason at all.
His name was actually David.
And this pleased the boy very much, because in all his newfound life, he had been reading a Bible someone gave him. And in that Bible, he found the name of one of the great heroes of the faith: David. And from then on, he wanted to be called David.
And if you want to know what happened next, you will have to catch the next issue of The Fat Beggar’s Spot! (Imagine that!)
Year 1 Rocktober 25, 2014 Vol. 28
The Fat Beggars’ Spot
A Revolutionary Rag
David (Jason Part 4)
His name was Jason (if you recall from the last 3 issues of FBS). But much like God changed the name Abram to Abraham or Jacob to Israel, God had now changed Jason to David! If you read these last few issues, you know that I said I saw a difference between Jesus and the church. Then I showed how conservative, American churches try to serve two masters, both God and money – the very thing Jesus warns against (Matt. 6:24). I showed how we handle that dilemma by distancing ourselves from the poor and/or keeping the poor out of sight.
But… To be fair, Agent S and Agent J were part of the church that shunned David to begin with (as was I). That never changed. And so in that sense, the church actually did open its doors to Jason/Jesus (Matt. 25:40). And Jesus did come in and eat (Rev. 3:20). But even though Jason, now known as David, began worshipping with that church on a regular basis, I cannot deny that I see a difference there between Jesus and the church! (I think you see it too.)
Agent S and Agent J risked everything on this homeless boy who did NOT show ANY potential. They bore the burden, and a beautiful thing happened! And it happened right under the nose of the church that could not see it (reminds me of the water-turned-to-wine story where the headwaiter did not know where the wine came from, but the servants who poured the water knew…(John 2:9)). So, yes, I see a difference, but David found Jesus in this church despite itself!
A nice church lady helped David get a job as a pest control tech where she worked, and he lived with Agent S and Agent J for a few months. I got to know him then. I spent a lot of time with him. But the church lady was able to report independently on his employment progress and status (something of a benchmark for conservative types). And David’s reputation grew, and he became known as “the hardest worker the company had ever hired!”
David lived with Agent S and Agent J until he had saved enough money and bought his own van. Then one day he approached Agent S saying that he wanted to get an apartment of his own down in Phoenix close to where he worked; it would cut out his morning commute. That was a sad day when David moved out. It meant Agent S and Agent J did not get to see him every day. It also meant David did not regularly attend worship with us anymore. But the nice church lady who helped him get the job kept reporting on him, and all the reports were stellar!
David worked hard and got licensed as a pest control tech. He got raises and praises from his boss. He saved money and lived like a good conservative would hope. In time, he met every benchmark a critic could desire or dream up, and he did it with finesse.
Then one day after many months, David drove out to see Agent S and told him that God was now calling him back to Florida. He said that since he now had a skill, a van, and some money saved, he was marketable there. He wanted to go back, find his mom, and take care of her.
And two weeks later, David packed up and left. We had a send-off party and watched him drive out of Phoenix in his own van – bought with his own money! He did not need a plane ticket. He did not need a bus ticket. And he did not stop at the next town, come back and beg for more money. No. He just needed LOVE. And then David disappeared from our lives. I weep now just thinking of it. I miss him, and so does Agent S and Agent J – even after all these years.
Jesus came to visit us, like in Luke 24, and when our eyes were opened and we saw him for who he really was, he vanished – but our hearts burned within us! (See Luke 24:13-35). Agent J later said she thought David had been an angel of God who visited us unaware (Heb. 13:2). How can you argue with that? We never heard from David again. For all I know, he really was an angel who pretended to be a homeless boy in need – a test of the LOVE of our hearts. A witness for the defense – come Judgment Day!
Agent S had not distanced himself from the poor; rather he invited the poor in his open door to eat. He invited Jesus into his home and into his life (Matt. 25:40). The whole reason for keeping the poor out of sight is to deny them our LOVE without feeling bad about it.
Ask yourself: Why does Lubbock need a church FOR the homeless? Doesn’t that kind of arrangement merely keep the homeless out of the rest of our churches? If someone asks, “How do the Christians of Lubbock serve the poor and the homeless?” Then every church in town can easily say, “Oh… we have [Such –n– such] Church for them down at [such –n– such] street.” Or “They go to [such –n– such] to eat.” Or “They stay out at [such –n– such].”
It has the unspoken effect of keeping the poor and homeless at a distance. It keeps the poor and homeless out of sight and out of mind. It keeps Jesus out of church (Matt. 25:45) while it upholds conservative values! (Matt. 6:24). And when the homeless church runs homeless people off church property and scatters them to the wind rather than providing a sheepfold, who will know? Who will care? After all, the poor and homeless are out of sight and not our problem! Btw, this is the driving force behind big fundraisers! (Thank you, Master Moola!)
David’s story may be anecdotal. It may not represent all cases well. But it does represent Jesus well. It’s a lesson in LOVE. And that’s what matters most – if you want to be a church, if you want to be the body of Christ. Imagine that!