Proph-O-Drama (1 -the intro)

 

 

So… You Wanna Be a Prophet… (Introduction)

 

The Call

 

So… you want to be a prophet of God. Is that why you picked up this book? Do you have what it takes? How do you know? You should. (You know?) You should desire to prophesy the word of God (I Cor. 14:1) to God’s creation around you. It is an honor, a privilege, and a duty to serve God in this way, and you were made for the job.

 

Speaking God’s word is a tremendous and awesome thing in which to engage. Do not tread here lightly or flippantly. To stop and think about the responsibility you must take for the words coming out of your mouth will strike the fear of God in your heart! (Deut. 13:1-5, 18:20; Jer. 13:13-14). But it is thrilling too.

 

You might think that the vocation to prophesy is too high and lofty a calling for a person such as yourself. That is possible, but not in the way you would probably think. Go look at Numbers 22:28 and see that God once spoke through Balaam’s ass. If God can and does choose to speak through a donkey, then he can and will speak through you – if he desires it.

 

Therefore, you don’t even have to be a good or willing man for God to use you in his prophetic service. But that is no excuse for you to say whatever you like in the name of God. No. You want to serve God, and you must do so wisely.

 

Though a call to a life of prophecy is not necessary, as Balaam’s ass demonstrates, it is the norm (Isa. 6; Jer. 1:4-10; Ezek. 2-3). And you can consider this book as that call, no matter how messed up your life is. However, there are a number of guidelines we will discuss along the way which will help you to move wisely and with prayer into the calling of God.

Home

 

A preliminary word on “home” is in order. Since I write specifically for the flock from a homeless church, it seems we need to draw together the call of a prophet with the condition of homelessness. But before we can dive too deeply into the discussion of homelessness, we need to sketch a brief outline of the concept of home in order to use as a sounding board for our discussion of homeless prophecy.

 

Home is a spiritual matter. Consider this: The home that God desires absolutely must be characterized through and through with love, trust, sacrifice, community, and peace – to say the least. In lesson #11, we will look much closer at the concept of home. For now it is enough to say, four walls and a roof may prove vital, but not sufficient to making a true home. And our culture is marked deeply by broken homes, which suggests ramifications that go far beyond marriage issues.

 

In lesson #6, we will look at the concept of God as Carpenter and at The House of God that he is building. This theme will be central for our study. Quite honestly, if you do not find your home in The House of God, then you are utterly homeless no matter what your living situation looks like.

 

Guidelines

 

One of the most important guidelines that I can state – one that needs to be as clear as possible and taken seriously here at the start is this: God’s word does not contradict God’s will or, put more simply, God’s word does not contradict itself.

 

This quickly implies a principle that I will honor as we move forward from here. We are not engaged in some willy-nilly, anything-goes manner of prophecy here. The word you receive from God (or think or feel that you receive from God) needs to be verified in prayerful analysis of Scripture. This goes for me, for you, and even this book you now read.

 

It is your God-given prerogative as his image-bearing creature to speak the word of God (in deed and word) over the world of his making. And doing so, since we are “fallen” creatures, will require that we learn it. This implies that we can and will make mistakes as we go about it.

 

Therefore, I suggest we engage this vocation with a sense of accountability. This, however, is nothing to fear; rather we should take comfort in it. You see… God loves you and his world (John 3:16). His message may be mysterious at first blush, but discernible all the same – and it will not contradict his love!

 

So, mistakes will happen, but let them not be mean, ugly, or prideful mistakes. We really can rule this kind out at the start. Let us move forward in humility and accountability, and seek verification – and – when need be, repent. God’s grace is sufficient and will ultimately guide us as he speaks through us to the world he loves and wants to call back to himself from the brink of destruction.

 

A Cautionary Tale

 

A note of caution is in order at the start of this study because I once experienced what amounts to spiritual abuse and charlatan, parlor tricks that confused and hurt some people and puffed up the so-called “prophet” to make himself look good. Let us be clear that neither God nor I am calling you into that kind of vocation. In fact, I for one will solidly rebuke you if you go there – and I will do it publically and TO YOUR FACE! And if you find that kind of spirit in me, or any other, you should rebuke it too.

 

Later I will have a lot more to say about prophecy, but I feel sure that this preliminary caution is in order at this point. Prophecy is not the same thing as “telling the future” and definitely not the same as promising blessings of miraculous wealth. In the case of the abusive “prophet” to whom I submitted, he seemed to think that is what his gift of prophecy was all about. He went around the room in a trance-like state, laying hands on people and speaking in his best authoritative voice about how each person could expect windfalls of financial gain and prosperous opportunities in their lives sometime in the next few months. It seemed he wanted us to think he could see into the future like a crystal ball and put us in touch with lots of money. Apparently he hoped to appear as if he was powerful and all-knowing.

 

However, none of his predictions came true for anyone. When he was confronted about it later, he declared that during the session, as he was under the Spirit’s influence (the trance), he spoke things he could not even remember! Accepting absolutely no accountability, he then blamed the lack of fulfillment of his prophecies on the lack of faith of those of us who submitted to him. His whole ministry was utter rubbish! And sadly this man fell into his former life-style of drug abuse and incarceration about a year later.

We need to distinguish the call of God from that garbage. This book will not lead you in that direction. I promise. And I invite you to prayerfully search the Scriptures (in community especially) to verify the things I say. When you find discrepancy, always go with Scripture instead of me, because the word of God will not contradict God’s will. I am fallible; God is not.

 

I have no doubt that God can still use the man who abused his gift of prophecy with me, even though he operated for his own prideful purposes, if only that man repent and wait on God.

 

With these things in mind, let us prayerfully submit ourselves to God and seek his prophetic call. As we do so, I want to offer some life-shaping thoughts in this little book. It is my hope that the thoughts I share here will give us a rich sense of empowerment for the task(s). I also hope to expand our imagination and put some tools in your hands. We might even say that I hope to equip the saints (Eph. 4:12).

 

 

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So… You Wanna Be A Prophet… Hmmm…

 

A side note of a quasi-administrative nature first:  Both this blog and my personal life are plunged into a number of changes in recent weeks.  The Fat Beggars School of Prophets blog never was intended to entertain or amuse readers.  It was not published in order to comfort the comforted.  And In recent weeks, I have begun to challenge readers here to answer God’s call to action rather than click a like button and then hope I come read your blog.  I have done a good job of shedding readers finally.  My view counter is way down.  But I find that a few people are discovering this blog and going deep with it.  Reading old posts, taking TIME with it.  I pray those readers are finding conviction.  And that is one of the changes.

The other area of change, more a matter of personal life, is that the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners is now filled up to the gills.  It looks like for Christmas this year every spare bed in the house will be filled with a soul who otherwise would have been homeless!  We now have 4 – count ‘m 1, 2, 3, FOUR – infant/toddler foster/adoption kids in this house demanding all of my attention!!!

SO…

My offerings here are slowing and changing.  And I find that over the course of the last two weeks, I quoted nearly half of Mike Yankoski’s book Under the Over Pass.  I provided a metaphorical/theological lens through which to look at those parts quoted, but by far, I reproduced his work – meaning, among other things, I did not have to strive to produce original offerings.  It’s easy to quote others.  Not nearly as much effort in posting other people’s words.

But, of course, long quotes like that also have a way of shedding readers who are only here for the quick fix, the light hearted read, something comfortable, or to seek a view-swap.  If you read those long posts, then you surely have more than a casual interest in the church vis-à-vis the homeless.  Otherwise, it is too easy just to quit reading here.  (So many have!)

I still want to move you to action.  I am hoping to find evidence of that in the near future, or else perhaps this blog is just a failure.  But maybe, just maybe, you few remaining readers would benefit from a bit more in depth instruction.  And that has me thinking about quoting myself.

I wrote a book too.  Thus far it is not published, and for that matter it is still in a revising process, but I wrote it during the months leading up to my expulsion from the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not its real name).  Amazingly enough, I reached out to the executive minister there when I started it hoping to get his cooperation and perhaps co-authorship.  Instead, I got kicked out.  But it is a short book (as books go) that I intended to be used as a 12/13-week Bible class discussion book about prophecy for a church made up largely of homeless people.  (It’s not actually exclusively for homeless people.)  The title of it is Proph-O-Drama.  And since it seems to be stuck in revisions and not available for regular publication, I think I will publish it lesson by lesson as individual posts for the blog.

The original title of the book was So… You Wanna Be A Prophet.  But I will publish it on this blog under its current title in a series of posts featuring each individual chapter/lesson.  I hope my readers here will offer feedback both positive and challenging.  Perhaps your input will help to develop it further and possibly prepare it for real publication.

But I really hope that readers here begin to hear the call of God on their lives in fresh, vibrant, and prophetic fashion, and then move to action as the Holy Spirit guides them.

Thanx for reading here.

X

You Are Cordially Invited To Party With Jesus

Agent Z’s Luke -14 Party starts in 20 minutes, ya’ll. Anyone reading this – head down to 14th Street and Ave U right now through the rest of the afternoon. Party is about to start!!!

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

This just in… Agent Z is facilitating another Luke-14 style party with Jesus on the streets of Lubbock.  You might recall that last time he put the word out, nobody came.  (Just like Jesus describes in Luke 14.)  Oh… we found a few street drifters to join us, but not our church friends, college friends, family, and others.

Let’s try this again.  Shall we?

Please find your invitation on the video link Z posted on YouTube.

Also, for those using Twitter, keep up with Agent Z on Twitter @fat_beggars.  Any new developments are likely to be published there.

Hope to see you!  Really!!!  I want all my friends and family to party with Jesus.  It’s what we live for!  What do you have that is more important?

See you there…

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Operation: Apocalypse (application form) … again (again)

Still not dropping it, ya’ll.

Yes… Fat Beggars School of Prophets is like the US Marines. We are looking for A Few Good Men. …and women. Please print off and fill out the application form and mail it in to the church address listed on it. There is still time to ring in the Apocalypse, and you can be part of it.

Okay readers.

It’s time to take this blog to the next level.  Rather than seeking “followers” as per WordPress, the goal here always was to affect ministry on the streets and in the churches of Lubbock.  However, this blog has proven that it reaches a Christian audience far beyond this locale (95% or more, of which, live in homes).  It’s nice to write ABOUT these things and it’s nice to read ABOUT them too, but it never was the goal.

Someone made a blog post just today (a different Christian blog) about the difference in knowing ABOUT God and actually knowing God.  If there is any truth to that, then it makes sense that it is better to actually SERVE God than it is to simply read ABOUT it.  If you are in a relationship with someone who wants to get serious, they are likely to say: Let’s take this to the next level.  That is what God is doing through The Fat Beggars School of Prophets; He is telling you, dear readers, Let’s take this to the next level.

If I have any readers here wishing to join the Fat Beggars School of Prophets on our mission from God, please review the blog over all and print off a copy of the Operation: Apocalypse application form below, and mail it to the address listed on the form.  (Emails to “Loiter Larry” in the Fat Beggar’s Office at clashofcashntrash@gmail.com are also acceptable as a means of response.)  Also as part of this mission, should you choose to accept it, print off extra copies of the application form and (discreetly) leave them (without being seen) in the men’s room where you attend church OR hand them out to the homeless you encounter in your city.

Should God choose not to empower this mission with the Holy Spirit, it will self destruct as soon as you forget it.

This is the REAL mission impossible: Bear the image of God in relation to the street homeless in your town and the church you attend.

Mission assignments will be posted weekly.

Pray for the mission.  Keep watch, and pray.

Thanx.

 

Agent X

Let’s Try This Again… Seems It Didn’t Take The First Time

Did you ever hear the sermon about the pastor who dressed up as a homeless man?

 

Yeah.  You know the one.  It’s been a while, but it is an old fav.  Pastor shows up for worship dressed like a homeless man and no one recognizes him.  He discovers that his own congregation functionally shuns him with contempt until he rises to the podium and reveals his true identity.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

That sermon did not change a thing.  Here is what it did: It gave parishioners who heard it a feeling of conviction – a warm and fuzzy feeling of conviction that seemed like what church should/oughta do.  And everyone left that sermon (no one ever actually experienced this, but they all heard the sermon ABOUT it), went home, watched the ball game, and once in a while, they blogged about the pastor’s sermon.

Meanwhile, the homeless still begged on the corner.  Parishioners drove past them on their way to church.  They rolled up the windows and locked the doors, and then the next thing you know, they bought a book called When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert and then justified their inactions to suit their consciences.

Fat Beggars Mission Assignment #1

 

Today is Thursday.  Many of you who MIGHT read this message will go to work today, and tomorrow, but not Saturday or Sunday.  I will do my best to help you engage in a prophetic act this weekend that won’t affect your professional life (an accommodation even Jesus would not make for you, and yet, I bet NONE of you do it.  (But fortunately for you and me, I am not actually a betting man.))

Come Friday night, when you get off work, skip your shower before going out with friends.  You had one in the morning, so just let that hold you all day.  You wont stink that bad, not really.  But come Saturday morning, continue skipping the shower.  Go work in the yard, in the shop, on the truck or even go get a hard workout.  But skip the shower after.  You are going to stink.

Come Saturday night, you are not fit to sleep in your own bed.  You stink too bad.  You offend yourself with the very stink God gave you.  Endure it, but if you must, get a sleeping bag and sleep in that.  And if you are really daring, sleep out back of the house.  No.  Not in the yard, but out back of the fence by the dumpster.  Go there after dark so the neighbors wont see (after all, you probably can’t handle this level of shame).

Okay… Sunday morning.  Dig out those gardening shoes you keep by the back porch.  Get your worst laundry day shirt – preferably from the bottom of your laundry pile.  Sniff it.  Actually, by now you smell worse than it.  Get some old pants and smear some mustard, ketchup, and some garden soil on them.  Put them on.

Now.  Load up and go to church.  Sing like no one is listening, and dance like no one is watching.  Actually, Jesus is listening and watching.

Now.  Imagine with me a new sermon illustration.  Imagine this little exercise catching on and more Christians doing it next Sunday.  And after that even more on the next.  Imagine churches a month from now all over America stinking to high heaven as their pastors take the podium and wonder what is happening as they find out their flock is actually taking action and identifying with the homeless as a witness to him!

NOTICE!

 

Nowhere in any of this exercise did I ask you for a single dime!

Nowhere in this exercise did you experience any danger from homeless strangers and street thugs.

Nowhere in this exercise did you  give any money to a drunk or addict, thus violating your delicate conscience about parting with money.

The only risk in any of this is to your pride.  You must humble yourself before the LORD!  Imagine that!!!

You maybe wondering what this will achieve, and I think that until you do it, you will be stuck wondering that even if I tell you.  Before I offer an answer, consider this:  What did Ezekiel achieve by laying siege to a brick?  What did Hosea achieve by marrying a whore?  Still wondering?  I bet you are.  But here goes my answer:  You will open the prophetic imagination.  Your own, that of your pastor, and that of your church.  You will humble yourself – something American Christians actually almost never do.  And you will be the main person a homeless guest would want to sit with during worship IF one ever felt compelled to enter the doors where you do that.

Think that’s nothing?

Talk to Jesus about that.

Oh.. and… PS…  Congratulations.  You are now taking the role of a Christian prophet of God.  You are helping the homeless who see (and smell) you imagine their place in church.  You are helping your church imagine “the least of these” coming to worship with you.

Calling Your Bluff – You Hypocrites, Snakes, and Liars

You call yourself a church.

How can you blaspheme so easily?

Do you even know who your hero is???  What he has done???  What he calls out of you???

If you are willing to pick up a cross and follow your Lord Jesus, then why not open your guest bedroom to a homeless person tonight?

I was talking with Agent Z last night in the yard after the sun went down.  The wind was whipping the cool of Fall air across this town.  My thoughts, as usual, began reflecting on those trying to sleep in it.

I described to Z in simple terms an overarching outline of what I think the church should be doing.  I told him that I think my ideas are all debatable, IF ONLY SOMEONE WOULD LISTEN AND THEN RESPOND.  But surely, my ideas can’t be that far off the mark…

Consider this:

A church that finds the funding to build a building in which to worship, hold Bible classes, and other functions – up to and including a kitchen, dining hall, a gymnasium, and perhaps a fire-side parlor.  Surely this church aims to serve God with this STUFF, right?  To glorify God with this STUFF, right?  To honor God with this STUFF, right?  The God of Jesus who claims to be the least of his brothers, among whom are the stranger/sojourner/homeless person… right?

So, the funding was secured, the contractors built it, and come Sunday night, it all gets locked up.  But the Matthew-25 Jesus mills around just outside.

Is it not possible, even with absolutely NO miraculous intervention, for this church that can coordinate all this money and work into this fabulous facility to also open the door to the homeless at night?

Oh… there are liabilities to think about? 

Really?

For a group that follows a hero who took a Roman cross and carried it to his own execution FOR, among other things, the purpose of SAVING the world to be stumped by liabilities is laughable.  You LIARS.  You are not stopped by liabilities.  You are stopped by your own contempt.

STOP LYING!  YOU CONTEMPTUOUS LIARS!  STOP IT!  STOP IT NOW!  BEG GOD FOR FORGIVENESS FOR TAKING HIS NAME IN VAIN!

Oh… you couldn’t find volunteers to chaperone the misfits who would stay here? 

Really?

For a group that follows a hero who took a Roman cross and carried it to his own execution FOR, among other things, the purpose of SAVING the world to be stumped by staffing problems is laughable.  You LIARS.  You have at least two Christian universities in this town full of young people itching to volunteer for adventurous ministry, and you are stopped by staffing problems?  No.  You are stopped by your own contempt.

STOP LYING!  YOU CONTEMPTUOUS LIARS!  STOP IT!  STOP IT NOW!  BEG GOD FOR FORGIVENESS FOR TAKING HIS NAME IN VAIN!

Oh… you think Tent City and the other homeless outreach ministries in this town have it all covered already, so you need not bother? 

Really?

You drive by homeless people on your way to church every Sunday, see their stories in the newspapers every week, and you went down to Tent City to spend a night or two with the Matthew-25 Jesus to see for yourself?  You think that when there was no room for the Baby Jesus at the inn in Bethlehem, that barns and mangers are acceptable for him now too?

Then why do you build such a fine facility for your rich, white butt to sit in and sip latte’s on Sunday morning?  Is your best just a little too good for the Matthew-25 Jesus, but not for yourself?

No wonder you don’t read here.  If you did, you would have to consider the fact that your bluff is called.  You are a hypocrite, a snake, and a blasphemous liar.  And unrepentant too.

Wow!  I fear for you.

But, like I said, I am sure my thoughts are debatable.  If only someone would listen and respond.

Touching Vulnerability With Jesus’ Hands

As always, since taking foster children into the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, I am so limited by matters of confidentiality, that I can hardly say anything.  I must speak only in the vaguest of terms.  But I will say this much, I am speaking from personal experience from more than one incident, and I am talking about toddler children too young to speak.

When a child comes to live at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, it is our expectation, and our usual result, that the child soon learns to trust us and begin to thrive.  Visitors in this home often remark about the children in just that regard.  This is one of those times when talking about my work involves a bit of bragging – thus I mute my identity.  I don’t seek personal credit for my reputation by telling this, and so I use a pseudonym.  But I want to share an important observation, one I hope you see too.

These children, especially the really young ones, come to this home bewildered.  Older ones come jaded, but young ones face the sudden loss of what they knew of as HOME (which usually was abusive and/or neglectful), and the significant people in their lives (Mom and Mom’s new boyfriend – or whoever), and they get passed off to medical professionals, CPS professionals, and often enough law enforcement professionals – the passing off of which might last a few days, and then the nice agency lady drops this bewildered child off at our house, where we greet them warmly and yet try to give them personal space to explore their new environs.

Sound complicated?

It is.

But these little people quickly need diaper changes, and before bed, there will be bath time.  And I, as a man with a gruff voice and a beard, take these duties on personally – serving a fearful person I just met in the most personal and intimate parts of daily life.

I am NOT this kid’s mom.

But I go where angels fear to tread.

There is a trembling moment there as the water in the tub starts running.  Usually Mrs. Agent X is nearby preparing the other rug rats to join us, and she may pop in and out on this scene too.  The eyes full of fear as the diaper comes off and the water starts to rise.

I speak reassuringly in as soft a voice as I can.  I begin to win the trust.  And it happens.  It really happens.  The child crosses a gulf of fear and seems to lean into my hands for support.

“My hands”.  Did I really just say that?

I must take off my shoes, in this place, because I am on Holy Ground.

They aren’t my hands anymore.  Heaven help me to be worthy of this, but Jesus is at work in my body, in my hands just then.  I dare not take the credit or think I have engineered this.

This child’s whole life is dependent on the Agents X while they are here.  This child will be fed, cleaned, groomed, and learn the routines.  Those are the basics.  This child will be celebrated, we will play, we will laugh, we will cheer this child on as he/she learns new things.

It is precious to behold.  Life in the child comes alive.  Healing begins.  Trust is born.  And it is all so very fragile that first night.  So very intimate.  So vulnerable.

I think something important happens in those moments that even us adults need.  I don’t know how to break it down or what to say about it.  But I think it is worth pondering.  I want to live in a world where faith like that is honored and cared for and celebrated, and where I can share my vulnerability and rest assured that I am loved and celebrated as I learn the routines and as I am fed.

And if that is true for these little ones, and if it could be true for me too, then wouldn’t it be important to transfer some of this thinking to our ministry for the streets?

You Are Cordially Invited To Party With Jesus

This just in… Agent Z is facilitating another Luke-14 style party with Jesus on the streets of Lubbock.  You might recall that last time he put the word out, nobody came.  (Just like Jesus describes in Luke 14.)  Oh… we found a few street drifters to join us, but not our church friends, college friends, family, and others.

Let’s try this again.  Shall we?

Please find your invitation on the video link Z posted on YouTube.

Also, for those using Twitter, keep up with Agent Z on Twitter @fat_beggars.  Any new developments are likely to be published there.

Hope to see you!  Really!!!  I want all my friends and family to party with Jesus.  It’s what we live for!  What do you have that is more important?

See you there…

Church Under The Overpass (pt. 7 (A Church Repents))

You might think this little series of posts is done with that last one.  (By the way, I want to thank both of my readers for staying up with these!)  But actually, I am saving the ironic one for last.  There is one more story from Yankoski’s book to reproduce.  It is one that defies the categories of the others.  It is a story of sin, repentance, and redemption – not on the part of the homeless guy, but on the part of the church that cares for him.

So far, in this series, I have held a Matthew-25 plumb line up against these churches that Yankoski encounters.  I do this largely because Jesus comes incognito among the poor and vulnerable just like Yankoski.  I have no doubt that if these same churches that fail Jesus so miserably knew Yankoski was a college kid on a covert mission and would write a book exposing what he finds, they would be scrambling to put their best foot forward.  This is just a small taste, though, of the surprise Jesus warns about – a dress rehearsal of sorts.

But also, up until now, I have introduced the extra-biblical metaphor of grading church performance like a teacher might with students.  And I suppose that metaphor still holds for this one too, if you really want to think about it that hard.  Sometimes students (disciples) start off the semester weak, but get serious just in time to pull up the grades to a passing level.  When this happens, sometimes the teacher shows mercy and between a student’s change in attitude and discipline and a teacher’s mercy, a semester can be saved..

Today’s post is sorta like that.

Let’s join Yankoski one more time.  We catch up with him in the chapter entitled “Phoenix”, under the heading “Return To Forgiveness” starting on page 164:

I awoke, rolled over, and saw beads of sweat already forming on my arms.  Saturday, early morning, Phoenix.

I reached for my glasses, shoved them onto my face, and watched as the world snapped into focus.  During our trip I couldn’t have afforded to spend food money on saline solution for contacts.  Glasses were the only option if I wanted to see anything.

Sam and I had spent the night on an out-of-the-way piece of lawn that was part of a large church campus.  Early as it was, carloads of people were already pulling up to a door on a building not far away.  We saw what looked like stainless steel buffet containers being carried indoors.  Vivid pictures of omelets, donuts, fruit, and coffee instantly came to mind.

“You awake?” Sam asked, also eyeing the activity.

“Yep,” I replied.  “Wonder what’s going on over there.  Think they have a Saturday morning service?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe.”

Sam and I both reached into our backpacks and grabbed our Bibles and journals.  Mind you, it wasn’t to make some kind of statement–these quiet times had become our normal morning habit on the streets.

About ten minutes later two men walked up.  They were nicely dressed and moved with an air of authority, especially the guy in the white polo shirt.

“How’s it going, guys?” I said as they approached.

“You need to leave,” the man in the white shirt said blankly.

“Oh, really?  Why?” Sam asked, obviously taken aback by the guy’s frankness.  Didn’t they see we were reading our Bibles?

“You heard me.  You need to leave,” he said again.  “You can’t sit outside the sanctuary like this.  We’ve got a lot of people coming today, and you can’t be here.”  Without waiting for a response, he turned and both men continued marching into the sanctuary.

“Huh,” I said, perplexed.  “Didn’t expect that.”

I guess Sam was feeling as cantankerous as I, because we both quickly decided we weren’t quite ready to leave.  “Let’s hold on a while and see what happens,” I said, and we turned back to our reading and journaling.

We didn’t have to wait long.  In five minutes, both men were back, and the man in the white polo shirt was fuming.

“What’s the deal, guys?  I told you you need to leave and you haven’t moved!”

“Yes, sir, I realize that,” I said, trying to be as polite as possible.  “But we don’t understand why.”

“I told you why!” The man’s face reddened.  Slowly, struggling to control his tone and volume, he restated his reason.  “We’ve got…something going on…and you’re not supposed to be on 164164…church grounds!”

I’ll admit, I gave up on polite at that point.  Throwing my journal at my backpack, I said, “Sir, forgive me for being troublesome, but what are church grounds for?”

“This is nonsense!” the man yelled.  By now, he looked like he was going to blow a gasket.  “We could stand here all day debating what church grounds are for!  The fact is, they’re not for this and you need to leave–now!”

With that he turned, and both men stormed away again.

After a moment or two of silence, Sam had a profound reaction.  “Wow,” he said.

My next thought was profound too.  “Del Taco burritos are only forty-nine cents,” I said.  “And it’s only about a mile away.”

Neither of us wanted to think through how disgusted we felt.  If there is any place on this earth, any group of people in which a person must sense welcome acceptance of their presence, it is the church.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed.  “I need to use the bathroom, too, and brush my teeth.”

We packed and started walking.

A mile-long walk carrying packs on a hot Phoenix morning is a very long mile.  We were sweating and miserable in no time.  But as we walked, we prayed.

They were honest, complaining, frustrated prayers.  They were prayers, too, asking for forgiveness for our attitudes.  And they were prayers for the man in the white polo shirt–for his conviction, and for the church he protected so annoyingly well from people like us.

– – –

The next morning we were back at the same Del Taco, cleaning up as best we could in the bathroom.  It was Sunday, and we had a church we intended to visit.

Guess which one.

After a scrub and a bite of breakfast, we retraced our steps from the day before.  Again, it was a scorching mile, and by the time we walked into the church lobby, we were dripping and radiating stench of life in the open.

“Welcome to our church,” an usher said, forcing a smile.

“Good to be here!” we replied.  But we meant it.

In the cool sanctuary, we found an open pew, took our packs off, and sat down, uncomfortably conscious of the murmurs and stares.

The lights dimmed and the service began–a choir, followed by a more contemporary band.  Toward the end of the music service, I looked around.  The church was packed–except for three rows ahead of us and three behind, as well as the full length of our pew.  In that empty circle, there wasn’t another worshiper to be found.

The pastor’s sermon, which lasted precisely thirty-five minutes, was interjected with occasional enthusiastic amens from around the sanctuary.  I leaned over to Sam.

“What says more about who you are in Christ–how loudly you say amen! in the service or how well you treat strangers in the foyer?”  We were both still feeling testy.

Then a most surprising thing happened.  After the benediction, as Sam and I prepared to leave, we heard a familiar voice.

“Guys!  Guys!”  It was Mr. White Polo Shirt, and he was rushing toward us.

I let my pack drop, which was a good thing, because when he reached us, he threw his arms around us both in a tight embrace.  When he let go, we saw tears streaming down his face.

“Guys, I’m so sorry,” he began.  “And I’m so glad you came back.  Forgive me for what I said and did yesterday.  Forgive me…”  His voice trailed off.  “I can’t believe I did that.  We were having a church breakfast.  I kicked you out of the church when I should have invited you in.  Really, I’m sorry.  By the way, I’m Terry.”

Of course, Sam and I were in shock.  We had prayed for this man, but, well, never expected this.

“That’s okay, man,” I said.  I put my hand on his shoulder.  “Honestly it’s okay.  We forgive you.  See, we’ve been traveling for a while, met some church folk…and we’re almost used to it by now.”

“But that’s just it,” said Terry.  “You shouldn’t be used to it.  Christians should never make you accustomed to rejection.  If there is anywhere you should be accepted and loved, it should be at a church.

We all began to relax.  Terry explained how he’d been convicted the previous day as soon as we’d left.  He had actually jumped in his car and gone looking for us, hoping he could bring us back to join in the breakfast.

And then he shared the most surprising fact of all.  He said, “I’m the director of a homeless outreach program in the area.  I should know better.”

He looked back and forth between us for a second, crestfallen–then all three of us burst out laughing.  We all agreed we were extremely thankful that love covers a multitude of wrongs.

As we parted on the front steps of the church, we thanked Terry again for his honesty and humility.  “You made our day,” I told him.  “Heck, You’ve made our whole month!”

You can never tell what the Spirit is up to in a heart, whether it’s beating under a crisp, white polo shirt or a filthy, torn, brown one.  You never know what God is up to inside His people everywhere, or inside the buildings they dedicate to Him.

I wonder what would have happened if Sam and I had decided not to return to that church Sunday morning.  Love can’t cover wrongs if we let frustrations and failures keep us apart.

As I bring this series to a close, I hope Yankoski’s words bring fresh conviction to the heart of the church, and that we begin to imagine our world differently.  His words above, “We’ve been traveling for a while, met some church folk… and we’re almost used to it by now” have a sting that should serve as a wake-up call.  And Terry is right to answer that statement with, “Christians should never make you accustomed to rejection.”  But I would not post this series if I had not discovered this exact problem myself, right here in Lubbock, Texas, and sadly, it seems to be wide spread.

Please read here, pray on this, and repent.  It is a Judgment matter, and deadly serious for goats and sheep.

Church Under The Overpass (pt. 6 Graduating Summa Cum Laude)

In this series of posts, I have taken the time to reproduce Mike Yankoski’s accounts of various churches he experienced AS A HOMELESS person.  This series has already depicted the good, the bad, and the ugly of church experiences vis-à-vis Jesus and the homeless.  Part of what I find so powerful about Yankoski’s book is that he acts like Jesus who claims “the least of these brothers” are him, and paints the picture of the final Judgment of God based on how charitable the sheep or the goats are toward vulnerable poor people.  Like an apocalyptic episode of Undercover Boss, it turns out, that poor, needy person you either helped or ignored was Jesus, your Lord!  And Yankoski plays that role like a preview of things to come, except that he is NICE about it, where I am playing the Judgment Card he abstained from playing.

In this post, I want to reproduce an account of a church that reached out to Yankoski as he stunk and appeared absolutely haggard, which he was, really, since he actually went out to live on the streets for several months.  But this account I reproduce for you now, depicts a church that truly LOVES Jesus and pursues him whole-heartedly in vulnerability and sacrifice.  I think we can all learn from this church.  I think we need to learn from this church.  THIS IS HOW IT”S DONE, YA’LL!!!  Take notes on this one.  And go and do likewise.

We catch up with Yankoski in the chapter entitled, San Francisco, under the heading, “Berkeley Booh Yah” starting on page 150:

By now the wear and tear of our weeks on the streets had given Sam and me something like the fearsome look of Old Testament prophets.  You know–rugged, weather-worn, shaggy, and a little scary.  The strange part was that we were beginning to feel the part, too.  Across this land we strode (okay, hobbled), looking for a “remnant of God’s faithful people,” those still passionate in both word and deed to honor Him.  It seemed as though there weren’t any left, and those out-of-touch but oh-so-religious folks we’d just met in church confirmed our doubts.

Sam and I had just walked into People’s Park.  We saw a man on the ground, crumpled in a heap where he had fallen, whiskey bottle still clutched in his hand.  Hippies danced naked around a tree while onlookers mocked.  Where was God in all this?  More to the point, where were His people?

Then we met Russ.

Earlier, someone had told us we’d find a group holding a church service Sunday afternoons in the park.  Rumors of sack lunches also helped to draw us on till we found them.

It was a group of about twenty.  Some wore khaki shorts and button-down shirts while others were obviously street people.  Two guitarists were leading worship.  As Sam and I set our packs down, several in the crowd nodded a welcome.

A Christian homeless guy next to us said enthusiastically, “This is where church should be!  It’s where the gospel meets the world, because this is where we are!”  He motioned around the park, pointing to a drug deal taking place, and to the drunk still passed out on the ground.  “Jesus came for us, too,” he said.  “It’s a shame when churches kick us out.”

The group leader followed with a clear, simple message while other park people wandered in.  When he was done, one of the guitarists started clapping.  “Do you know how old the speaker is?” he asked all of us in the circle.  “He’s seventeen years old!  A true man after Jesus!”  Wow, Sam and I were impressed!

Then the church folks opened two large coolers and handed out lunch.  The sandwiches were huge and fresh–a rarity on the streets.  While everybody ate and visited, the guitarist  who had applauded the speaker came over.  His name was Russ, and he wanted to know if Sam and I were getting enough to eat.  Then, without waiting for a response, he grabbed two more sack lunches and handed them to us.  :You guys look like you can eat a lot!” he said.

Tattoos covered Russ’ arms, suggesting a previous and different lifestyle, but freshly drawn across both wrists, two words stood out boldly: “JESUS CHRIST.”

Russ opened an extra large bag of potato chips to share, and while we munched and worked on our sandwiches, he asked questions. He wanted to know where we were headed.  We told him Phoenix.

“Excellent!  Phoenix is nice and hot!” Russ said with a smile.  “How are you guys going to get there?”

“Well,” I said, “we’re kind of wondering that ourselves.  We usually just cruise into a city, play the guitar and pan-handle, and save up enough to move on.”

Sam broke in.  “But panhandling in San Francisco sucks!  We’ve hardly made any money–hardly enough to live on, and definitely not enough to get bus tickets out of here.”

Russ wanted to know more.  We described our routines in San Francisco–panhandling in the Haight, hanging out near Golden Gate Park, sleeping by St. Mary’s.  “There’s a sweet church that does lunch on weekdays,” Sam said.  “Then on Saturdays and Sundays we scrounge.  We eat a lot of ninety-nine-cent hamburgers from McDonalds, too.”

“So you guys only eat one meal a day?” Russ asked.

We said yes–unless you count the ninety-nine-cent hamburger as a meal, then we ate two.

“Sounds rough,” Russ said.  He looked like he was contemplating what to do next.  Then he stood, said he’d be right back, and left.  Sam and I kept eating.  A few minutes later, he was back, looking excited.  With him was the teenage preacher.

“Guys, this is James,” said Russ.

“Great sermon today, James,” I said, extending a hand.

“Thanks, but all glory to God,” said James, pointing up.

“Check this out,” Russ said, so excited he could hardly contain himself.  “James and I were talking about it and we want to help you guys out.  We want you to come to our church later tonight and stick around for the evening service.  Then you can come over to our place to hang out, shower, and get some grub.  There are some awesome sisters who can cook a mean meal and they want to help you, too.  Then, we’ll see if we can get together enough cash for you to get to Phoenix.”

Sam and I had both stopped chewing and were staring back and forth between Russ and James.

“Are you serious?” I asked, astounded.

Russ nodded.

“Why?” I asked again.

“Are you in need?” James asked.

“Yeah, I guess we’re in a tight spot,” I said.

“The Bible says that we must reach out to those in need,” James replied.  “Jesus loves us, so we get to love you.  It’s a privilege.”

If months on the streets hadn’t hardened my emotions, I probably would have started weeping.  We looked wretched and smelled worse.  I had that disgusting problem with my foot.  And these men had no idea we, too, were Christians.  Yet they were offering in the name of Christ to befriend us and meet our needs.

“It really frustrates me when Christians talk about their faith in Christ but never let the fruit of it grow in their lives,” James said quietly.  “True faith is visible.”

“Yeah, us too, believe me!” I said.  “But be encouraged.  You two are the first Christians in all our time on the streets who have offered so much help, no questions asked.”

James and Russ looked surprised.

“No one?” James asked.

“No one,” said Sam.  “Thanks for living your faith.  It is powerful.”

“Well,” said James, “if we don’t, something’s wrong.  Jesus said, ‘By your love for one another they will know you are my disciples.'”

We visited some more, and before they left, Russ and James again invited us to join them for the evening.  “It would be rad if you came,” Russ said.

Sam and I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the park.  Then, as a bank of fog approached across the bay and the air began to cool, we set off for the mile and a half walk to church.

In the foyer, we met with our first surprise.  We were greeted warmly.  Then we were shown where we could stash our guitars and packs and walked to an empty pew.  Then two guys actually sat down with us.

While the four of us were talking, Russ ran up.  “My boys!” he said breathlessly.  “How ya doin’?”  He hugged both of us across the pew.  “This is great!” he exclaimed.  “I was praying you guys would come.  Do you have a minute?  I want to show you something.  Follow me.”

Russ led us out to the parking lot to an older white car and popped the trunk.

“This is all for you guys,” he said.  Inside was a grocery bag full of granola bars, bananas, canned beans, cookies, and peanut butter.  Russ beamed as Sam and I stared speechless.  “Oh, and this, too,” he said, pulling out an envelope stuffed with cash out of his back pocket.  “James checked on-line.  This should be enough to get you to Phoenix.”

With that he stuffed the envelope into my hand and gave us a big hug.  “I love you guys, really,” Russ said.  “And none of that fake crap–I mean it.”

The rest of the evening was filled with acts of love (none of that fake crap): an awesome church service; a beautifully prepared meal; a long, hot shower; good conversation; supplies for the road.  Russ and James even made sure we found new flip-flops.

The words “Jesus loves you” take on a whole different meaning when you’re down and out.  You hear them differently.  You need them more.  Just saying them to the next desperate person you meet could change his day.  Wrap those words in friendship, a home-cooked meal, bus fare, and you could change his life.