What a Friend We Have in Jesus?

Who hangs out with Jesus?

“Religious leaders”?

Yeah… actually, they do… some of the time.  Almost always there to criticize, but yeah, they hang out with him sometimes.  But they are not his close friends.  Really, it is hard to call them friends at all.

So who are his friends?

Fishermen, tax collectors, argumentative zealots, smelly shepherds and multitudes of left-out/cast out blind, deaf, and lame people with a few lepers, prostitutes, and demon-possessed folk thrown in too.  Just the kind of people my pastor hangs out with.  Just the kind of people my pastor hosts at his house on an average weeknight.  Just the kind of people my pastor opens the church house doors to after hours.

Oh… wait.

No.  Actually my pastor doesn’t hang out with those kinds of friends.

Truth be known, he hangs out quite a lot with fellow “religious leaders”.

Hmmm…

Doesn’t sound like Jesus to me.

Hey, you know what?  Maybe if you actually read the Gospels, you will see what I mean.  Jesus seems to have conflict with the religious folk well over half the time he encounters them, but he seems to heal and party with an awful lot of broken, left-out people.

What’s up with that?  And why isn’t my church open to Jesus’s friends?

Good question.

Think about it.

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A Call To Beggars, Bums, & Prophets

Help the church actually BE the Body of Christ.

Yeah.  She seems to have lost her way and does not know how to function as the Body of Christ in the world – you know… touching and healing and loving Jesus in our midst.

How? …you ask, do we help the church be the Body of Christ???

So glad you asked.

First off, HUMBLE yourself.

Yeah.  Humble yourself.  That sense of righteous indignation you feel at being referred to as a “beggar” or a “bum”?  Yeah.  That.

Let go of it.  …the indignation.  And embrace the reference.  Yeah.  Humble yourself.  To the white, middle-class world driving past you on the street corner as they go to worship on Sunday morning sees bums there, but that is not a disadvantage at all.

Why?

Glad you asked…

Because in their own Scriptures Jesus tells us he is that bum on the street!  Seriously.  Look it up in Matthew 25:40.  And if you are too proud to embrace the reference as being “the least of these brothers” – in fact a “stranger” we might take in – then you are denying Christ his chance to shine through you!

Think about it.

Oh… And then do something really prophetic.

Go to the locked up door of every church building in the city of Lubbock and beat on the door with your fist.  Look into the security camera mounted there and quote this verse from Revelation 3:20: “Behold!  I stand and the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and party with you!”

Yeah.  Do that.

And when every pastor in Lubbock reviews his security footage in the morning (or switches off his porn site to see what is happening at his church building after hours), he will be confronted by Jesus.  He knows the Bible.  He will see Jesus in you.  And when that happens, Jesus will begin working on his heart.

Now… just imagine if all the pastors of Lubbock experienced this.  What do you think the topic of conversation will be at the next Pray Lubbock meeting?  What do you think the topic of conversation will be at the next deacon meeting?  Can you begin to imagine Jesus speaking out to these closed off hearts that lock doors to God’s sanctuary?

I can.

And I see him doing it using the humility of his lowliest people.  And that is God’s M.O.  He has been doing this since little shepherd boys take out giants.  Since slaves walked out of Egypt.  Since beggars at the gates of Samaria turned the whole economy upside down and fed a starving city!  (Really.  Read about it in II Kings 6 – 7.)

Wanted: Jesus of Nazareth – Dead or Alive

I tend to dwell in St. Mark’s Gospel more than the others.  Mark’s is the dark one.  The others do not contradict him outright, but they all soften up the dark nature of Mark’s Jesus in various ways.

Mark’s Jesus is a scary man (4:41; 6:49-50; 9:6, 15, 32; 12:12; 16:5, 6, 8).  Mark’s Jesus is a man of confrontation and argument (2:8; 3:1-6; 4:40; 6:3; 7:1-13; 8:11-13, 17-21, 32-33; 9:19; 12:1-12, 18-27; 14:53-65).  Mark’s Jesus, therefore, is not easy to follow or get along with.  He is difficult, and to engage him is to be challenged.

Sometimes his own disciples find him scary and confrontational, but mostly the establishment does – the leaders and shepherds of Israel.  In fact the establishment practically never finds peace with him.  And when he throws tables in the temple, he is openly picking a fight with a cheap shot.  Jesus is not playing nice.  He does not come all gentle and peaceful finding hostility in the establishment; he comes picking the fight by throwing out all the cash registers in the place of worship.

I point this out because if I follow this Jesus  and do like he does, then I am going to ignite trouble.  I will likely stir up some trouble with the bums and outcasts, but I certainly will reap a whirlwind with the establishment folk.

Speaking of St. Paul (a disciple become apostle who follows this Jesus), N.T. Wright says, “Everywhere St. Paul went, they had a riot; everywhere I go, they serve tea”.  I could say of my own pastor: Everywhere he goes, they serve coffee, but he never started a riot.  In fact he generally works very hard not to make any waves or step on anyone’s toes.  He did not get hired by the church with a trouble-making resume – quite the opposite actually.

I need to take care that I don’t start sounding like I am in favor of making trouble per se – at least not for trouble’s sake.  But timidity about making trouble is actually un-Christ-like.  And, after all, all four Gospels, not just Mark, depict the man executed as a wanted criminal brought to justice – the establishment’s form of justice.  I am not advocating hostility, and certainly not violence, but confrontation of evil with good and a willingness to suffer for it seems to be lacking in the established church of America today.  I am certain that the training I received and that my kid (Agent Z) is currently receiving, purposefully and mistakenly steers away from this observation.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets is looking for a Few Good Men (and women!) to confront the arrogance of the modern church and call her back to humility and loving service.  It is too easy to write a check and give it to the benevolence ministry as you drive past a homeless bum on the way to church.  How can you lay your head down in a “Christian” home night after night with an empty guest bedroom in it?  This is the Christmas season again, when we celebrate the birth of a Savior who found no room at the inn, but spent his nights homeless in a barn, and we hang stockings and mistletoe on the mantle while that guest bed could host him full of dinner and hot chocolate… but no.

How can you ask Jesus into your heart, but not ask him into your home for the night?

Yes, Fat Beggars School of Prophets confronts that.  It is written, My House shall be a house of prayer for all bums, but you have made it a hoarder’s storage shed!  You have made it a museum of YOU!

We come in fearful confrontation against your arrogance and greed, against your establishment security.  Jesus, the same one you pay lip service with your mouth, is a criminal, according your own justice system.  And he wants to eat at your table and sleep in your guest bed tonight; he wants to find honor and love among his people.

Behold! (he says), I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and eat with you (Rev. 3:20).

So what are you waiting for?  Somebody get up and open the door!  Let the bum in!  That is Jesus shivering out there! (Matt. 25:40).  Open your heart and open the door!  Jesus is a Wanted Man.

Micah The Prophet

I have been looking closer at Micah in recent days.  Probing, searching, learning… I realize I don’t know this prophet well.

Two verses in chapter 4 keep resonating through my mind now for days.  In 4:6-7, Micah says, “In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
 and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.”

Here is why it speaks to me:

I have often watched Jesus (as I read the gospels) gather followings of masses of people he heals of blindness, leprosy, lameness, deafness, and really all manner of ailments.  These masses become a mob force – an impromptu army that the Temple officials fear will riot to protect their leader.  Jesus builds an army of the lame in a manner reminiscent of Ezekiel 37:10 which predicts an army of the formerly dead.

Without these prophecies, we might not view all these lame bums as much of a force.  After all, no one else came around seeing an army amid the lame and dead.  Everyone from the throne in Rome, through the elites of Israel, down to the bums themselves see only worthless peasants of no value, but not Jesus and not these prophets of old.

But I wonder… what does  Jesus see in the homeless on the streets of Lubbock?  And why are the pastors of this town not mustering the army among them?

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #12)

(lesson #12)

Jesus At Table

 

As we come, now, to the final pages of our discussion.  I feel a little sentimental, as if I have more to offer, but our time is done.  I hope this is really just the beginning, though.  I hope we prophesy together from here to Kingdom Come.  I hope….

 

In many ways the thoughts and experiences I share with you here have been developing for many years.  It is time that I make this offering to the church.  I began taking communion to the mean streets of Lubbock about 13 years ago.  Those of us in that Midnight Communion ministry simply wanted to lay claim to that Scripture which says, “Thou preparest me a table before my enemies….” (Ps. 23:5).

 

One of the most powerful lessons they taught me in Bible school came from Luke 24.  It is a familiar passage to many of us who have participated in “The Walk to Emmaus” – and especially to convicts involved in “Kairos” ministries.  Luke relates a brief story there about a couple of disciples leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus and walking back to Emmaus feeling utterly destroyed by the events of the weekend.  They are joined by a stranger (a drifter?… bum???) who lifts their spirits as he opens the Scriptures to them with fresh insights, and they invite him into their home to share a meal.  At the point where they break the bread, it is revealed to them that the stranger they have made friends with is actually none other than their Lord Jesus having risen from the grave!

 

I find that taking communion to the streets is no less powerful today than it was in Luke’s day.

 

Meal vs. Murder

 

If I wasn’t on my way into a life of prophecy before that street ministry, I certainly was after.  We had many grand adventures around that table.  We watched God move mightily and mysteriously – including the night we were joined by a man who was out to murder his lover who had betrayed him.

 

We were praying and singing and eating bread and drinking wine at a table in an empty lot on a troubled street at midnight.  A voice from the darkness shouted, “Are you the real Christians?”  Stunned and not knowing how to answer, suddenly the voice rang out again, “You must be!  Who else would come out here like this?”

 

The man was drunk and angry about his woman stepping out with another man, but he joined our little PROPH-O-DRAMA, and in the course of visiting with us told about his plans for revenge and murder.  As it happened on that occasion, Rev. Rodney, a street minister, was in our party, and he counseled the young man with divine wisdom and timing.

 

Rodney told the man, “I did that very thing myself and spent sixteen years in prison for it.  … It’s not worth it.  When I got out, I found my daughter who asked, ‘Daddy, where were you when I needed you’?”  Rodney’s gentle wise words dowsed the passionate rage burning in that man’s heart.  Then they sucked the poison out of his soul.

 

That man met Jesus on that street, and we played a prophetic role in saving at least three lives.  I have to say, that kind of living is powerful.  I want to share in it with you.

 

Jesus at a Wedding Feast

 

I came to [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church almost 5 and a half years ago.  At first I did not attend worship; rather I just quietly joined some of you out on the pavement and spent the night.  That was some tough going for me.  I was miserable on that cold, windy concrete.

 

I remember hearing one brother’s cough deep in the night.  I knew he was getting sick.  I lay there in desperate feelings looking up through the tree branches at the stars and praying.  I felt helpless and irritable.

 

But my bride, Mrs. Agent X, and I decided to get married and make a home out of the ashes of our failed previous marriages.  We decided to really invite Jesus into our hearts in a truly prophetic sense.  We looked at a number of Scriptures, but the one that really stirred our imagination was found in Luke 14.  As I recall, that is a Scripture that depicts Jesus going to a party and picking on the guests as they take their seats.  He chews them out for sitting in the places of honor out of turn, and then he picks on the host for inviting all his “important” friends.  Jesus says it is God’s will that when you throw a party, you invite the poor and crippled – the marginalized who CANNOT REPAY you (Luke 14:14).

 

Mrs. Agent X and I wanted Jesus to be the guest of honor at our wedding, and so we put on the best BBQ feast we could, facilitated the Lord’s Supper within the course of the meal, and held it at [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church.  We did just like Jesus said and went out into the alleys and byways and compelled the homeless to come in and join us (Luke 14:21).

 

I remember that I wanted to dramatize the part where Jesus talks about the host asking a guest to give up the seat of honor after presuming it was for him.  But how would I do such a thing?  I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings – not at my wedding!

 

At first it seemed that I would have to find a guest who would stage it with me… an actor who would pretend to be humiliated.  But I could not figure who that would be on the one hand, and on the other, the idea of faking it seemed disingenuous.  Finally, I gave up on that aspect.

 

We decided to arrange the tables in such a way that there would be no real focal point, and thus no “seats of honor”.  The bride and I made a point to not sit directly with our family, but with our street friends.  We prayed about it and gave it to God.

 

But then a powerful thing happened at that party.  As the feast/ceremony reached the point where we began incorporating the Lord’s Supper – at just at the breaking of the bread – the church house door swung open, and one last street drifter stumbled in.  He rubbed his eyes a moment and realized that he was interrupting a special ceremony as a hush fell on the crowd.  He started to excuse himself and retreat back out the door.  But suddenly the groom realized there were no more seats available in the room when Jesus – in the form of “one of the least of these…” (Matt. 25:40) – had showed up as the guest of honor!  This meant that the groom had presumed to take the seat of honor and had to give it up!

 

So I moved out of the groom’s seat and compelled the drifter to take it.  I took the shame of presuming too much honor onto myself and honored the drifter as if he personally embodied Jesus, which he did.  And that is how I experienced the world of Scripture, how God expanded my imagination, how we invited Jesus into our wedding and our home, and dramatized a staged production on the love of God in our community all in one moment.  Now that is living!

 

As I wind down this book on prophecy, I feel a little sentimental.  But I hope we move forward together into the rich, imaginative vocation of bringing God’s word to bear on creation.  I hope we go together to the place of shame, pain, and despair bearing the image of God there and finding his beautiful and mysterious redemptive power transforming our lives and this world.

 

 

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #11)

Section III

 

In this section of the book, I want to round out our discussion with a rich analysis of home and offer a little more personal experience as a way to enhance our prophetic imagination.

 

 

(lesson #11)

Coming Home (Discerning the Point of Your Prophecy)

 

In lesson #1, we talked about homelessness and broadened the definition significantly.  In the process of doing that, we barely touched on the concept of home as a sounding board upon which to bounce ideas regarding homelessness.  At that point, we merely said home is a place where God is celebrated and where he dwells.  Let’s now expand our image of home to a size in which the loving, Creator God of the universe might want to live.

 

Perhaps this is especially important since these pages are dedicated to an assembly of mostly homeless people.  I hope I have made a sufficient case for suggesting that American society is manifested in a homeless culture.  This, in large part, is why, or at the root of how, I sense that God is calling you in particular to bring his image to bear on our world at this place and time.

 

Re-IMAGINING HOME

 

The word “home” is actually rather tricky to define.  Go look it up in a dictionary and see all the different slants and/or directions a definition takes.  And yet we use the word prolifically, casually, and specifically all the time.  Rarely do we analyze it or split hairs over its meaning as I have done here.

 

And yet I claim our culture is homeless, including the President of the United States.  By virtue of saying that, I am also saying that those of us in this culture basically don’t know home.  We are lost – which is something you cannot be… AT HOME!

 

Look at the phrases and ways we use the term in our culture.  The “American Dream” is all about “owning a home” where a man (or woman) is master of their own domain.  We “grow up and leave home”.  We get divorced and have a “broken home”.  We call a girl that entices a married man a “home-wrecker”.  In the market place we use phrases like “new and used homes”.  Sometimes we “buy a home” or “sell a home”.

 

Surely all of these expressions (and more) marginalize the concept of home.  I mean, if you want “down home cookin’”, you aren’t suggesting some trivial sense of the meal you want to eat.  You are suggesting that there is a sense of rich blessing and care that goes into it.  That is not a home you could buy or sell.  Hey, we don’t ever get a hankerin’ for “new house cookin’!”  That doesn’t even compute, and there is a reason for that.  A new house does not yet have the history of rich blessing, care, and family upon which you CAN’T put a price tag!

 

And yet we have to dance around the concept of “home” basically because the term has been hijacked by the marketing culture.  Without that blessed sense of the word “home”, we have to explain what we mean, and still it seems elusive.

 

As we go about leading lives of prophetic witness to The House of God and to The Carpenter, whose church we are, we will do well to find deep connection between our spirits and home.  We will do well to develop words, concepts, and thinking regarding what home is all about.

 

I say this because I have personally watched people living in the shame and hardship of the streets work their way into indoor living only to fail at it.  Obtaining a bed within four walls and a roof does not mean you are no longer homeless.  And it’s not merely a state of mind – though your imagination is definitely involved.

 

If you are merely escaping the cruel elements of bad weather, hard concrete, public scorn or ridicule, and/or crime, then you are still homeless.  If you obtain an apartment with a locked door and pay rent on time, but there is little or no furniture and you sit in it drinking (whether alone or with friends), you are still homeless.  If you only “show off” to other street people that you now have a place of your own – you are still homeless.  And some of you at [The Premier Homeless Pseudo Church] know what I mean.

 

Oh, you can lock yourself inside, get on your knees, and pray and still be homeless in there!  Who are we kidding?  This is why I say our whole culture is homeless, and that there are varying expressions of it – some of which are actually quite wealthy and powerful.

 

Home is not simply where your heart is (though that could be a fair depiction of it in any given case).  Rather, home – any real home that could exist within God’s creation – is a place where God is Master and where both you and he are celebrated.  Money cannot buy this home, nor can you sell it.  It can only be broken if you (or some other key players) cease to celebrate God and each other.  And as I see it, there are at least three ways celebration is manifested in a home specifically.  Home is a place to eat, sleep, and have sex – each of these finding a proper way of being expressed.

 

Celebrating HOME

 

I want to say a word about each of these ways of celebration and demonstrate the culture’s attack on them which renders us homeless.  I believe that we need to expand this line of thinking within our community and expose the culture around us to it as well.

 

Home and Eating

 

If we could step back in time, even thirty or forty years ago, but especially 100 years or more, we would find a culture that either was specifically agrarian or at least honored agrarian ways.  Men had certain kinds of roles to play and women had others.  I will not dispute that there were elements within that which short-changed some people – usually women (as well as minorities, which I will not take time to discuss specifically).  But gender roles are almost gone and forgotten now, and we are a lost society – not better for it.

 

Typically your mother did the cooking.  Typically your father either physically built the structure in which your mother “made a home” or he worked and paid to have it done by professionals.  Typically you had a hearth in that house – a focal point from which heat and food and light emanated.  When you thought of “home”, the picture of that scene would likely fill your imagination.

 

If you were out and about town and became hungry at dinner time, you would go home to eat.  The food would be prepared – largely “from scratch” by your mother (or wife or sister – a significant woman who loves you).  She did not charge you $5 to eat some dish called by a number and mass produced like in a factory.  And never in your wildest dreams would you imagine eating her meal wrapped up in waste paper and “on the go”.  No.  The mere thought of it would be deeply insulting!

 

No.  You would return to the hearth and patiently and gratefully receive a full-blown meal that was lovingly and sacrificially prepared at no cost to you.  And yet, you would sacrifice and contribute to that experience yourself in both big and small ways.  This is your home.  You will work for it, and if need be you will fight and die for it.  This is the core of your life, and without it, you are lost.

 

Compare that to the experience nearly all of us (rich or poor) go through on a daily basis and you quickly see that by that measure we are all utterly homeless.  In fact we cannot really even imagine home at all.  The picture I paint here by going back in time is overly rosy actually.  After all, as I stated above, the women (and minorities) were frequently (if not normally) treated as second-class or worse.  But even that is idyllic contrasted against where we are as a culture now.

 

And the marketplace is only too happy to numb the pain – the loss of home.  It will manipulate you with its cornucopia of distractions and caricatures of sustenance.  For instance, Olive Garden advertises, “When you’re here, you’re family,” as if they would feed you from Mamma’s kitchen.  Never mind that she is not your Mamma – or even Italian.  Never mind whether she is an unwed, teenaged, pregnant mamma of someone else.

 

Sadly, you won’t notice when your Olive Garden waitress takes your credit card, runs it through the card reader, and gives it back to you with the receipt that has the line for the tip…. That line on the ticket says, “You are here, but you’re NOT family!”  No.  You will not notice that.  And sadly, this is the caricature of family you are stuck with: people who smile and wait on you for the money in your pocket.

 

We have ordered the world around the exchange of money.  We were supposed to bear God’s image and thereby order it for him.  His world order puts the powers of chaos on notice that the Creator God who made this world is master of this home. Thereby we usher in his utopia.  But instead, we think we can charge the Olive Garden meal to the MasterCard at 3.4% interest and get a better deal than using the Visa at 3.8%!  What does that have to do with anything?

 

And somehow the idea has infected church-going ministers across this land that our goal in “helping” homeless people is to make them learn to manage this kind of living in some form of independence.  Rather, we need to call the bluff on the pride that thinking promotes and join The Carpenter who is building The House of God in which we find our true home.

 

Home is where a celebration of God happens – a party where there is plenty of food for all.  Home is a place where you are celebrated for coming home – like the prodigal son.  A feast is in order, and the “number 6 with large fries” at the drive through is an insult to all of that.  The people of this God which that story celebrates must imagine and present an image of world-order that counters the mess we find ourselves in rather than try to equip people to accommodate it.

 

Home and Rest

 

Home is also a place to rest – to even sleep.  You can “let your hair down” at home.  You can “prop your feet up” at home.  You end and start your day at home.

 

I do not mean to suggest that there is no work to be done at home; there is.  But there is work to be done in lots of places, but rest is holy.  You don’t rest just anywhere, and you don’t rest anywhere like you do at home.  Rest is a key element of home.  It is also key to celebrating.  This is largely because rest is a major manifestation of trust – of faith.  You don’t lay your head down in a time or place of mistrust – only in trust.  And home is the premiere locale of trust.  And trust is something you celebrate, and celebrate with rest.

 

You can’t rest in McDonalds, not really.  You can’t rest in the street.  And, sadly, that “ADT” sign you have in your flower bed is an admission and witness against you before God and creation that you do not trust your neighbors.  That broken trust is like a crack in the image, and the way to fix it is not by building suspicion between neighbors (and strangers) but by building faith between God and all of God’s creatures.  (ADT, though, makes its “living” off selling suspicion and fear.  That is a cancer growing in our culture.)  It is your vocation as a prophet of home to imagine how God would address that kind of fundamental disorder in his creation.

 

I hope your image of home is expanding dramatically as you read this.  You are a homeless prophet sent by God to testify to his carpentry and to the home he makes for you and me to share.  You need to have a bigger imagination if you expect God to dwell in it.

 

Home and Sex

 

So let me say a word on sex.  Sex is designed by God to be a central feature of home.  Godly sex happens at home.  Sex is the labor in which the building of home with sons (instead of bricks) happens.  And sex between The Man and The Woman is the original bearing of God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).

 

Think about it.  Mountains bow down, valleys stand at attention, and crooked places straighten out at the sight of God’s image (Isa. 40:3-5, which also has bearing on Rom. 8:19).  And this means that truly good sex, in God’s economy, moves mountains!  You don’t want to miss out on that.  But that is sex at home, not on the streets or internet.

 

Sex was always meant to be a celebration of God, but it is not the same kind of party as a feast or sleep.  No.  This is a party for two in which your naked vulnerability is celebrated and in which you celebrate the naked vulnerability of your spouse.  When God’s image bearers celebrate each other’s naked vulnerability, it expresses a deep and rich trust and love that we all crave in our hearts.  Thus God builds a home out of sons.  Thus the creation responds by becoming the home we long for in our hearts.

 

Our culture makes more a circus, though, out of this celebration than the other two combined.  We are a culture of people engaged in homeless sex at every turn.  You can’t stand in the checkout line at Market Street without seeing sexy models on magazines calling you to feel unsatisfied at home.  No.  The manipulative marketplace would rather you find a cheap thrill than suggest you move a mountain.  And let’s face it; we are sexual creatures.  There are powerful urges within us that we do not control.  Sex is too big for that.

 

In ancient times and in other societies, the young maidens are kept separated from the young men by the village fathers and tribal elders.  This is not because they are prudish in some post-Victorian sense but because if left alone by yourself against the urges, YOU DON’T STAND A CHANCE!  And let’s face it; in this culture you are not actually left alone with the urges.  No.  The demons of the sex-industrial-complex are actively hunting you down day and night seeking to snare you at every turn!

 

It takes a village to manage the raging flow of sexual urges that runs through nearly all of us.  But our culture prides our freedom to do whatever we want.  It is amazing all the misery that unleashes on innocent, young people, but still we persist in our pride and freedom despite the folly.

 

And the homeless sex ruins many homes.  Pornography, infidelity, disease, mistrust – none of these move mountains, but they leave broken homes in their wake every day.  Generations of betrayal have now reached epic proportions where more marriages end in divorce than ever, and the rates of poverty and homelessness increase right alongside.

 

The love of God is the thing betrayed, and trust and celebration get lost.  As prophets we must come to imagine love, trust, and celebration in the richest terms possible.  I believe God wants to spread the word about good sex in The House of God.  This means you have a job to do regarding that message.

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #10)

(lesson #10)

Discerning Together

 

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, author Phillip Yancey tells of sociologist and preacher, Tony Campolo, visiting a chapel service at a Christian college as a guest speaker.  He says that Campolo addressed the worship service saying, “The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don’t give a shit!”[i]

 

I view both that moment and subsequent accounts of it as prophetic.  However, that moment is legendary for being controversial as well.  Not all Christians discern it the same.  Some view Campolo’s indulgence in foul language as a means of using evil to attempt doing good.  That actually may be a fair argument.  And yet there is still the obvious and wise observation inherent in his action.  Christians often become blind to the things that are really important and too easily make a fuss over trivial matters that affect our pride.

 

I believe Campolo spoke self-sacrificially in love to the powers and symbols that wrongly captivated the imagination(s) of American Christians.  I think he honored God in that instance.  But discernment is not universal in that case.

 

I hinted in both the introduction to this book, and in the second lesson, that discernment can be challenging.  I moved forward suggesting, though, that usually it is not.  Usually, the problems we find with a prophecy are more gut-level reactions.  Either the word from God calls us to suffer some pain or shame that we do not want, or it picks on some cherished idol that needs to be pried out of our hearts.  In those cases, lack of discernment has to do with stubbornness – not that it’s hard to understand.  But we should consider briefly, again, how to handle a prophecy that is truly difficult to discern in Scripture, in prayer, and in community.  Sooner or later it will come up and can be painful.

 

My advice is to search your own heart and that of the prophet.  I mean, when you are in that nebulous place between clear discernment and none, get an honest assessment of the love in the hearts of those involved.  Take it before God in prayer, examining your own heart and asking yourself: Am I truly loving God and honoring him with this action?  Does this action show love and honor for my neighbor as for myself?  The prophecy may appear biblical and have community support with time spent in prayer behind it, and yet it still causes alarm for some people.

 

Jesus is clear that he wants us all on the same page in unity (John 17:21).  But sometimes being “together” finds tension with being “right”.  This is the point where it really hurts.

 

Have Patience

 

My thought is that unless the action in that case is clearly wrong NOT to be taken (or conversely the inaction is clearly wrong) to any of the parties involved in discernment, then step back from that prophecy.  Give it time to find clarity one way or the other.  Hold out the hand of grace and fellowship with each other as you wait on it.

 

A willingness to endure being over-ruled (or even wronged somehow) is generally a sign of deep maturity.  Sadly, it also likely means the mature position risks yielding to the immature.  But let’s not forget that the prophecy is God’s word, not ours.  If he empowers it, it will not fail.  It is his message on the line, and he bears the ultimate responsibility for it (Ezek. 3:16-21).

 

Care for One Another

 

In the meantime, make a point to listen – really listen – and keep talking too.  But communication is not really the point either.  Actually, it is more crucial to share the meal.

 

Eat

 

That same meal we talked about in the last lesson by which the prophet seeks to reveal God and order the world is a power of reckoning.  Share the meal with fellow prophets and discerning believers, and give the issues of the moment time.  And search out your own heart and each others, and see if God does not bless it with discernment.

 

But there is no excuse for turning your back on the word of God.  You absolutely must take God’s prophet seriously as you discern his word.  The prophet may be willing to suffer deeply for the message he bears, and that is a prerequisite anyway.

 

Hopefully this kind of situation will be rare, actually.  A group of people living for Jesus, both sacrificially and prophetically, and who take seriously the command to take up a cross and follow are not likely to spend too much time or energy nit-picking each other.  Rather, they will be bold against a counterfeit culture that desperately needs to see Jesus.

 

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[i] Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), page 201

Proph-O-Drama (Lesson #9)

(lesson #9)

The Dramatic Meal (Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes)

 

Even taken individually, but especially together, we instantly see that the prophetic acts of Jesus are all designed to demonstrate: God is here.  God is in charge.  God loves you.  Even at the most shrill moment when Jesus drives out money changers from the temple, it is an act of love.  Maybe not visible at first blush, but highly discernible all the same.

 

As prophets, we must always be prepared to show the love of God – even for the sinners he would have us confront – and that often is demonstrated in the suffering we prophets embrace.  Yes.  Jesus wants the idolatrous symbols confronted but in and for love.  Yes.  He wants us to challenge the world around us with a meal.

 

Order and Eating

 

Now, stop and think about this a moment.  If I had started this book with the paragraph above, it would not have made much sense.  But we have come a long way together on these pages, and now it does make sense.  But let’s keep in mind that these are strange words and concepts.  Here is an important observation to consider: Who we eat with symbolically says a lot about how we order the world.  It has always been like this.  Go look at Genesis 43:32 and the story in which it is found.  Joseph, his brothers, and the Egyptians eat at separate tables.  Centuries later, St. Paul will confront St. Peter over effectively the same issue (Gal. 2:11-14).

 

It is no mere coincidence that the civil rights movement in the United States also came to a head at the lunch counter. [i]  Though this is not a biblical example, that world-order, symbolically expressed in eating arrangements, hits our culture close to home and powerfully demonstrates the connection to us.  Just as that lunch counter imaged an ungodly world-order and thus needed to be confronted, so we find our prophetic call even today – even in our community.  Sharing the meal is the regular observance of the Church whenever assembled (Acts 2:42), and thus we will look closely into it to find our prophetic mission and marching orders from on high.

 

It is a strange idea to think that this meal would change the world.  We tend to think that we need to have a fund raiser to do that.  We tend to think we need someone to put in a lot of sweat-of-the-brow in order to really change things.  We tend to think we need some “service project” or something to help us relate with others, but that is not actually the case.  God did not equip the church with such powers on that day of Pentecost when the Body of Christ first moved against the might of Rome (see practically the whole book of Acts).

 

Some of the key things that make my house a home are: I can rest and eat there.  I am wanted and celebrated there.  I do not have to pay to be there (though of course I make sacrifices for it).  But there is a routine celebration there that usually centers on that table.

 

One of the things [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church has sought to do, that I observe, is to build up relationships between street people and people of means.  [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church wants to see us make friends and family of people from both of these backgrounds.  Wow!  That in and of itself is an attempt at prophecy.

 

And it is working… sort of….  We have a long way to go, but I have participated in that idea, and I have witnessed it among others.  Yet I have also witnessed a lot of blank stares and blinking at the suggestion too.  And I have personally suffered the failures that accompany the risks of that kind of thing.  Sadly, that generates fear and distraction.

 

But I want to suggest “The Meal” as the stage upon which this prophecy is dramatized.  I think that anyone from either side of the divide can facilitate it.  But I will begin with the more natural example of those with a “home” inviting those without one to come and share Jesus.

 

Call of the “Haves”

 

If you have a house (or apartment) and a table with a few chairs, then you have the really hard part behind you already.  All you need is to share some of the food you were already going to eat anyway with a person that you invite.  However, I suggest you do so prayerfully and without television interruptions.  Basically, incorporate the Lord’s Supper into the meal!  The Dallas Cowboys can wait!

 

The benefits of this become obvious right away.  Anyone you invite into your home is a guest.  You want to be able to trust the guests who come to visit.  But sometimes you entertain strangers that you do not know very well (Heb. 13:2 …anyone?), and that causes you to feel vulnerable.

 

But when you invite the poor into your home, you effectively invite Jesus himself (as per Matt. 25:40).  Still, if the poor who accept your invitation know that you are inviting them to a worship service, then they become accountable to you and to God.  If that poor person has bad intentions, they will most likely decline your invitation.  This is not without risk, but I think of all the street people I ever invited to church who suddenly did not want my “help” in that circumstance.  And I say, “SO BE IT!”  Their loss.  Maybe next time.  But it has an amazing way of weeding out trouble at the start – well before it even begins.

 

I would also say that since you invited Jesus into your home, you should consider asking him to host and lead the worship.  Even if you need to help the needy person with it, you need to take direction from Jesus, whom you really invited.  It is not really your home – it’s his.  And we all need to grow into that kind of culture rather than the American one.  Our imaginations need to expand.  Once the poor come to live – really live – in your heart, then God will have built the home he always intended from the beginning.

 

Call of the “Have-Nots”

 

But this can work in the other direction too.  Remember that we discussed in the early lessons how we are a culture of homelessness.  Even the rich are homeless in our society, though they may not be “shelter-less,” “roofless,” or “house-less.”  The key to having a home in God’s creation is whether God dwells there.

 

How many “Christians” in this town make a ceremonious practice of “inviting Jesus into our hearts” but won’t invite a homeless man into our house?  That is a convicting thought.  How many guest bedrooms in “Christian” homes in this “Christian” community go empty night after night while men and women (think Jesus) sleep on the concrete or in tents?  Is that house you’re in the home God built?  Is that a home at all?

 

When I was staying in tent city, I found one man who invited me into his tent.  One out of forty some-odd tents.  Only one!  Why only one?  Because our imaginations are shriveled up.  There is no reason why a homeless person living in a tent cannot invite someone into it for a meal.  For that matter, you really can invite someone to a shade tree in the park or to a busy street corner where the image can be seen by all who pass by.  In fact inviting someone who has a fine house across town to eat in your humble circumstance after church would be a truly convicting and prophetic thing to do.

 

Back to my story though, this one man invited me into his tent, and my wife and I took a communion meal with us and accepted his warm invitation.  We all three sensed in our bones that Jesus was with us (Matt. 18:20) and that we were living life at a level we had not known before.  It was thrilling us for Jesus to expand our imaginations, and for him to show himself to us.  I have seen God, and yet I live to tell of it!

 

Jesus v. City Hall

 

So far these notions prophesy “in house,” so to speak.  But there is no reason this meal cannot or should not confront the community at large.  I remember another event where a meal prophetically impacted the whole city, the news media, and the city council.  I bet most of you remember it too.

 

Back in the summer of 2011, the code enforcement department at Lubbock’s City Hall suddenly stopped a Christian family from bringing food to the park for homeless people to eat.  Though none of the church or civic leaders at the time decided to facilitate the Lord’s Supper, there was a community-activist backlash to that ruling, and a protest pot-luck was held in which the public was invited to a meal in the park.

 

Afterward, the city council took measures to allow the feeding rather than inhibit it.  I certainly see that as a prophetic moment.  The city learned that it is not really in charge; Jesus is.  That meal symbolically confronted the powers that be and put them on notice that they had over-stepped their mandate.

 

Praise God!

 

Jesus vs. The Housing Market

 

But there was another image that came to me around that time that never has left me yet.  Every year the “home builders” and realtor industries in this town host an event called “The Lubbock Parade of Homes”.  This is the marketing of houses.  Actually, it is a way of selling bigger houses to people who usually already have at least one.

 

It is a shameless exercise in “keeping up with the Jones’s”.  People who largely are already in debt are enticed to get “bigger and better” houses involving even more money.

 

The problem is that this is a “Christian” community that already has huge football stadiums, freeways, and animal shelters – not to mention thousands of guest bedrooms that go empty night after night, and this program teases the public with the shameless desire for MORE!  The word for that is “greed”, and it is a sin.  I see a symbol there that needs to be confronted.  I wonder what a band of homeless prophets may discern as God’s word on that matter.  WWDJ?

 

Now, I am just spit-ballin’ here, but I wonder what the Parade organizers would think if a band of homeless prophets put their nickels and dimes together and purchased tickets and attended the event.  I wonder how the local news media would cover the story if those prophets cracked out a communion service and humbly asked those “home” sellers and “home” buyers to come to the Table of the Lord.

 

Let’s not forget; just because these people are selling and buying houses does not mean they are not homeless.  Oh, they most certainly are!  Jesus wants to move into the neighborhood and dwell among them as the word made flesh (John 1:14).  And as street people in need of a home, this band of prophets knows how lost it is to be homeless.  The prophetic confrontation would strip all involved of the false pretense and offer them the love of Jesus.  This meal will call the bluff on the shifty impermanence the marketing of houses subtly causes when it tries to turn home into a commodity.

 

May the prophet embrace the suffering of shame that goes with the Lubbock Parade of Homeless!  In so doing, the prophets expand the imaginations of those trapped in debt and shameless pursuit of “MORE” at the expense of home and a love of Jesus.  May God express himself through the risk and shame of his suffering prophets to the whole community.  May Jesus move into the community and make a home here – for real.

 

Discernment

 

Of course the “Lubbock Parade of Homeless” idea needs to be discerned.  I offer it as a suggestion, but I expect [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church to weigh it with Scripture, consider it prayerfully, and decide on it as a community.  It may not pass this verification process, and maybe for good reasons.

 

However, it might pass the verification process after all.  That is not a decision I make for you.  I will leave it to you to decide.  And it may pass with modifications.  That is fine too.

 

All that being said, allow me to offer this caution.  From my vantage point, I see it failing a cost/benefit analysis.  The cost is too high and the benefit too low.  I stands to bring shame on all who participate and see it.  It will not advance the cause of greed.  I suspect that the prophets quickly see themselves risking (or flat out accepting) great shame.  I figure the organizers of the Lubbock Parade of Homes will be puzzled by it all and not understand it, since their imaginations are trapped in the service of greed.

 

My caution is this: Weighing it with Scripture cuts two ways.  If this is God’s word given to you to take to the community and you refuse him because it will make you suffer, then you fall under the judgment for that decision (Ezek. 3:18/Jonah 1:3-4, 12).  As for puzzling your audience, if need be – explain it to them.  Either way, a cost/benefit analysis is not a good measure of God’s word; God’s word is a good measure of God’s word.

 

This city claims to be a “Christian” community in hundreds of ways every day.  It is entirely appropriate for the prophets of God to confront the adulterated symbols of pretentious piety with their own example of suffering and shame.  Besides, offering communion with the “home” marketers of Lubbock by a band of homeless prophets holds the real potential of achieving, on a grand scale, the very ambitions [The Premier Homeless Pseudo] Church has already sought after prophetically.  If the “Haves” accept the invitation of the “Have-Nots”, God will be pleased!

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[i] Walter Brueggemann, Peace (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001), page 78.