(Other things came up and I did not finish my little “series” of divine appointment tales… So here is the final installment.)
Last Monday, when I arrived at North Overton Park, Agent Z gave me the initial assignment of searching for poor, crippled, lame, and blind people to invite to the Luke-14 Party he was throwing. I arrived first and parked my car. Then I began a 25 block circuit on foot carrying a cardboard placard announcing that Jesus was sleeping on the streets of Lubbock. I cut a long wide swath walking along Ave Q mostly, all the way up to Walmart, and then back down through alleys and back lots. I met several individuals along the way, but one group in particular touched me.
I rolled up on the little apartment complex two blocks back from Walmart. This humble, flea-bag joint sticks out like a sore thumb amid all the urban renovation and construction taking place in that area. The homeless are still concentrated there, but they are evermore squeezed between band-new, monumental Tech housing and brand-new, monumental high-rise parking lots on all sides. And that little apartment complex is just about the last vestige of poverty left in this clash-of-cash-n-trash.
As I came along the sidewalk, the bushes opened up to reveal a group of men sitting around in the parking area next to a broke-down car drinking beer and talking. I did not get a clear nose count, but I estimate at least 8 and maybe 10 men drinking there in the early noontime. In fact, I am pretty certain none of them were sober.
Here’s the thing about drunks: When people get too much to drink, they tend to either get mean or nice. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to tell which, but heaven help you if you have even one mean drunk in the group! You cannot reason with him, if you do. The moment the mean drunk takes offense, you have a real problem. And… well… I did not know yet what I had on my hands.
(As an aside, I tell a story on a previous post about encountering a group like this one before and uncovering a mean drunk. On that occasion, I spoke in tongues! The only time I ever did that… And it moved the mean drunk to calm down and join us in worship. For those interested, find that post here: https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/prophets-and-dangerous-missions/comment-page-1/ .)
So here I am encountering all these drunk guys not knowing what kind of reception my little invitation will get, but not being one to shrink away, I waved as I approached and asked, “Who here wants to party with Jesus?”. At that, all of the men wanted to talk to me. There were smiles and inquisitive looks on all faces. I quickly handed out my card to each as we greeted one another and told these men about our little party up the road a few blocks.
I could see these men were already quite inebriated. I didn’t really think they would come (which they did not), but as long as I was there, I wondered if we might pray. One older gentleman sitting in the shade seemed to speak with a bit of authority in the group. I cued in on that and addressed him mostly. He agreed to prayer, and in a flash, I dropped to my knees and removed my hat as I knelt next to him and held out my hand.
As I took that prayer posture, some of the others moved close to us and began placing their hands on the two of us. One guy was in a wheel chair, and he asked to join too, so we had to pause and accommodate him wheeling into our huddle. By this time I felt like I was in a game of TWISTER. Our little huddle was tangled up and my arm was reaching between two guys where my hand rested on the shoulder of a man who was in the outer shell of the huddle. And then after a pregnant pause, the authoritative man asked if I was going to lead the prayer.
I said, “I thought you should do it. I will receive your blessing.” I was surprised at the dignity this seemed to garner for him. He began to pray then and plea for God’s mercy. As he prayed holding my left hand, I could feel the man’s shoulder in my right hand as he began to break down in tears and sob. Once he was finished, the authoritative man closed his prayer and thanked me. He said, “We would not have prayed if you had not stopped.”
And just then one of the other guys in the group popped off saying, “Can I pray too?”
Can he pray??? YES he can pray! And I could see where this was going already! I spent almost 15 minutes there on my knees while these men took turns praying. And I was amazed at how confessional the prayers were. They all expressed how unworthy they felt in the presence of God. Some lamented that they were starting the day drinking and wondered if God would still love them.
And just when it seemed the praying was done, and everyone wishing to voice a prayer had taken a turn, this other, somewhat authoritative, man stepped forward to talk about the woman caught in the act. As he began telling the story, I realized he was preaching, and so I quickly removed my hat again and knelt on the ground again. The others followed my lead and we listened to this man preach telling us other Bible stories as well.
We had a fine impromptu worship service there on the last remaining vestige of dirt and humanity squaring off with the towering greed of all the high-rise construction. We did not need some hifalutin preacher with vestments in a sanctuary to lead us, though that would have been nice! In fact, where is that hifalutin preacher? Come to think of it, Where is he? He missed out.
I am sorry to say, none of the boys ever arrived at Agent Z’s Luke-14 Party. I truly wish they had. Perhaps I did not COMPEL them in strongly enough. (The text says that, btw.) But we had a small version of it there in that parking area at the flea-bag apartments. And I can’t help but think about the broken contrite hearts there (Psalm 51:17), shattered on the alcohol like the beer bottles smashed everywhere around those men. I think God is pleased with their worship, and his opinion is the one that matters.
As I left the group, the authoritative men thanked me for coming, and they actually used the words: This was a Divine Appointment.