Misfits Welcome

Looks like I might not have a choice but have to go to this party. A Luke-14 Party on the blogs… Wow! What a find?

Jonker Ministries International

Consider the Parable of the Great Supper. In Luke 14:15-24, a certain man gave a great dinner and invited many. When everything was prepared, he sent his servant out to inform the invited guests the meal was ready. One by one they gave him reasons as to why they should be excused. The servant returned to his master and reported their excuses, which made him very angry.

The Message Bible says the master then told the servant to go out into the city streets and alleys and collect all of the wretched, homeless, hungry, and misfits he could get his hands on. Once he had done so, there was still room, so the master commanded him to go to the country roads and drag in whomever he could find. One version says to go out and compel them to come in. The word compel in this form means to…

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Update *** Agent W’s Rig Sighted*** Update

As so often happens on the weekend, I had cause to be up on 34th Street near Ave Q again today.  And as I explained in a recent post, I tend to look through the lot between the Family Dollar store and the church sitting across that lot for any sign of urban camper/rough sleepers.  And as I detailed in that post, I saw Agent W and her massive, Mad-Maxish rig parked there jammed right up under the shelter of the church door overhang.

Well, it’s there again today!

Here’s the thing:

I know from newspaper reports that 34th Street generates a lot of complaints about homeless people committing crimes, leaving messes, and just being human eyesores on businesses and homes in the area.  There is a lot of vagrancy going on around there these days.

I do not know what kind of arrangement Agent W may (or may not) have made with the pastor at the church there.  But I have always figured that especially since she keeps such a gaudy rig with her and several dogs on several leashes tied to it, that she would be unwelcome and run off at first notice.

But it’s been weeks now, and Agent W is still there!

I have not contacted the pastor to ask, and honestly I think if I did, my meddling might upset her delicate situation!  (Talk to me now about When Helping Hurts.)  But it is clear to me that there is NO WAY the pastor is oblivious to her continued presence there.

This means either he has given her permission to be there (which is a very important step in the right direction) or he is turning a blind eye to it (which is better than most of the other alternatives).

(To be honest, I don’t know if using the masculine pronoun in reference to the pastor is accurate, but considering the kind of church I perceive it to be, I think it is the safe bet.)

Anyway, point being…

Yay!

Score a point for Jesus!

I Need To Confess…

I need to offer a confession.  Well, it seems like I need to offer a confession.  To be honest, there is a feeling of need that has to do with confessing my shortcoming.

Actually, there are many sins.  But there is one in particular that I pray about every day – that haunts me.  But the thing is… I have not divulged it because I am bound by confidentiality and cannot tell the tale.

To be forthright about it, the confidentiality is only part of the reason I have not shared this confession.  There is a second order/next level reason as well:  I think you will be too quick to pardon me… to write it off… in fact to say it is not a shortfall at all, that I didn’t miss the mark, but instead did exactly the right thing.

If that is the case, then you will not even take it seriously.

Look, this blog is anonymous anyway.  I know that.  But the anonymity is not hermetically sealed.  My identity is not under lock and key.  It’s no state secret.  It’s just covered over by this pseudonym, “Agent X”.  So I really must be careful about confidentiality on the one hand, but then confessing anonymously is not a thorough purge of the sin on the other.  So, this is complicated.  Thus I give no details, which inhibits the value of this confession.

But I will set a stage and tell a tale which I hope will get it all out there.

It has to do with serving God via foster care.

It was several years ago when we moved into the house we currently occupy.  And moving in was itself an answer to many years of prayer.  Mrs. Agent X and I pondered and meditated and prayed about a future in foster care, and then we worked hard to obtain a house and training suitable for such ministry.  When the opportunity finally opened up and we were finally certified, it still took time to start filling beds.  And in all that time, we prayed.

Prayer began shaping our home, our life, our ministry.  I recall being very grateful to move in, and prayers of gratitude came pouring out.  Of course the beds were still empty at first.  We got a name and description of one child that we thought would be coming any day, and we began praying for that one.  But eventually, it became clear that one would be going to a psych facility instead.  Then we started this cycle with another.

During that time, the gratitude for living in this new home was intense!  Moving to a new house… well, let’s face it.  That’s fun.  This place is bigger and fancier than the old one.  Filling it with our stuff was a challenge, but it’s a joyous kind of challenge.  It’s akin to getting a new car, and once you have it, you just gotta drive it and play with all the new gadgets and sniff that new-car smell!  It was a celebration just to come home to this place after work each day.

But all that was tempered with the emptiness of the beds we planed to fill with Jesus.  And I prayed, thanking God for giving us this house… for letting us live in HIS house, really.  It is the house of God that he made – and made available to us!  And all that was missing was him!  …him, in the form of the orphan/stranger – the very reason for us being here.  And so we prayed inviting him to come.

And then he did!

We got babies.  Two of them.  And they were precious!  Little baby Jesuses!  And we greeted them at the door of the house of God with open hearts and open arms.

And our (my) prayers came to fulfillment.  In every way, the house was full, or so I thought.  But then church friends came too, and we ate together with them, and they held the babies in their arms.  And we treasured the coming together of God’s people in this house, the House of God, of which I was the door keeper, the two or three (and more) gathered in his name – the midst of which he came to be!

And I thought about that a lot.  And I still do.  Jesus warns the door keeper to be alert because you do not know the day or hour of the Master’s return!  But I had been alert!  And I was ready.  And the Master did come!  And I was so grateful!

But then the foster babies’ case closed; the courts settled their family back together again, and the house was empty for a couple nights when suddenly more babies came.  And some of them left, and more came, and went and on and on and on.

And in all of these cases, Jesus kept coming to our door, and I kept letting him in!  And I kept being grateful and overjoyed!  And I learned so much about baby care and babies, and little kids, and myself, and how old I am compared to how young I used to be!  And I can look in these faces and see Jesus!  And I can look in the arms of a widow lady from church holding one of these kids, and I see Jesus rocking in Jesus’ arms!  And I am so deeply blessed!  And I see I have a role to play in forming Jesus in these lives as well as recognizing him there.  And I feel the heaviness of Jesus’ warning to not cause one of these little ones to stumble!

But then one of our kids, one a little older than the babies, but still very much a small person, came to stay with us who was deeply troubled.  We were ready when the knock came at the door.  The doorkeeper let this one in!  We even threw a party to welcome Jesus in our midst!  But it quickly became clear that this one was a different kind of challenge.

The only thing I will say about this child is that we called emergency services and cops to our house repeatedly when things got sour.  And on the last occasion of EMS and PD deployment, I said this one has to go.

I sent Jesus out of this house.  I was unprepared.  I didn’t care where he went, as long as he wasn’t here anymore.  He had turned our tables and made a mess of the precious order we were establishing.  And he just had to go!

I will not give details about this one, but I will say that if I had it to do again, I don’t know what I would change.  This one has been in my  prayers daily for a long time, and though God reveals things to me in prayer frequently, I still don’t know what I could have/should have done, and if it happened again, I don’t know what I would change.

And I fear that you, dear reader, will all too easily say that what I did was right.  But when I pray, I remember that I am the doorkeeper at the House of God.  That a child of God came to the House of God, seeking the healing touch of God, and I turned him away.  There is no telling the contribution I made to this little one stumbling!  These are facts that I cannot deny.  And the reason why is because I was not prepared for the Master’s return.

I sense a need to confess this.

In part, I share it because I am a staunch advocate for opening the door.  My church refuses to open its door to Jesus outside in the cold of night in winter snow or rain.  But I insist my church go into Kingdom Come mode and actually shuffle these people into there empty guest rooms.  I ask tough questions that are right off the charts like: How can you ask Jesus into your heart but not into that guest bedroom that goes empty night after night in that fancy house God gave you?

And I know full well what happens when you let Jesus in.  He parties with you alright, just like he claims.   (See Rev. 3:20 if you don’t know what I am talking about.)  But he also steals your things.  This really does happen!  He flips the tables; turns them on you in a heartbeat.  I know first hand.  The only Matthew-25 strangers I ever hosted who didn’t steal from me were the babies who came and went.  Quite literally, every other one did it!  So, I am very aware that the claims I make, the questions I pose, and the directions I give as part of this blog and ministry require SACRIFICE of you.  They do me too.

And…

I too have failed in the ministry of it.  I too missed the mark.

I am no better than you.

 

 

The Sermon Not In The Bible

You know what sermon Jesus NEVER preached?

(Well… there are actually quite a lot of them, I reckon.  But one in particular stands out for this blog.)

Jesus NEVER teaches about When Helping Hurts.  Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert want you to think God would caution you against carelessly helping needy people.  But look closely at everything Jesus has to say in Scriptures.  It’s just not his concern.  Neither is it that of St. Paul, St. Peter, Isaiah, Moses, or any other Bible character.

Don’t believe me?

Look it up.  Find the sermon, the epistle, the poem, oracle, or prayer that outlines the dangers of giving assistance to needy people anywhere in the Bible, and send me the citation.

Meanwhile, if you find Jesus (or any other) directing us to give to, or care for, the poor while showing no regard for the dangers inherent in doing harm to them, please point that out too.

Let’s see which list of passages is longer.

Let’s see which list is even a list.

Jesus vis-a-vis Religious Leaders

Recent communiques with church leadership prove very discouraging.  In fact, it’s not just recent.  I was shunned at one church, kicked out of another, and recently confronted by leadership in the latest church I joined, where not only is my ministry outright rejected, but I am told I “do more harm than good”.

It’s all unsettling, really.  I pay a LOT of money in monthly payments for the Bible education I received at two highly regarded schools – highly regarded by the very churches that find me so offensive.  I can’t see the end of that bill anywhere in my future, but that education should qualify me for a better hearing than I get – at least a modicum of respect.  I definitely invested myself in it, but for all that trouble you can bet there won’t be any job offers.  It is clear that the church that rejects me has no use for me.

Hmmm…

With this in mind, I seek solace in prayer every day, and the Word that comes back to me is: Look at My Son.  He knows how you feel, and if you consider things carefully, you know how he feels too.  You are in communion with him there at the place of shame, pain, and despair.  Take heart; I made you for this.

And so I am looking at Jesus vis-à-vis the religious leaders of his day.  And here is what I find:

Mark 2:15-22

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

 

Do these sound like harmless questions?

They are not.  They are loaded questions, actually.  Jesus, the Son of God who did not grasp at deity, as St. Paul tells us, but humbled himself – yeah… him, he faces these scrutinizing questions.  Bringing his healing love to the “unlovable”, he now deals with religious leaders bringing critical questions that express their displeasure with him and the work he does.

How do you think Jesus feels, personally, about this?  He lets go of his own deity, humbles himself, and goes to work serving the lowliest of his own chosen people out of the abundant overflow of love from the heart of God.  But leadership comes grilling him about his work?  Really?

Shouldn’t leadership, with all their studies, all their experts, all their experience serving God be able to recognize when God is at work in their midst?  Shouldn’t they recognize the day of their visitation?  Why aren’t they endorsing him?

So far the questions seem harmless enough.  This early in Mark’s Gospel, the confrontation is not all that heated yet.  But just wait.  Not long, either, but just give it a moment… just a turn of the page….

 

Mark 2:23-28

One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”  And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

 

Are you seeing the tension beginning to develop now?  Jesus is accused of hanging out with a group who breaks the law.  He is leading a group of criminals in criminal acts.  He doesn’t deny it at all, but that is really beside the point at present.  Don’t you think?  Because for me, the point at present is that the religious leaders effectively say Jesus’ ministry does more harm than good.

This isn’t a matter of nervous questions anymore; it’s accusation.  The minister of all ministers, the prophet of all prophets, comes in their midst and they oppose him with harsh words.  We can already see the theme that will come to a head in Mark 6:4 where he will say, “A prophet is not without dishonor except in his hometown among his own people!”  Yes, Jesus is feeling the dishonor, the disrespect, the misunderstanding, and the heat of accusation meant to cause him frustration.

OH!  But, keep looking…

Mark 3:1-6

 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.  And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”  And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

 

Oh my… the religious leaders are now holding leadership meetings to talk about him behind his back and attempt entrapment, and Jesus steps right into it.  They see a guy get healed of a life-long affliction, and it is so upsetting that they make common cause with Herodians so they can find a way to destroy him.

Hmmm…

Now, “destroy” is a big word.  We don’t have any reason to believe they are thinking of crucifixion – just yet.  Religious leaders generally hope it won’t come to all that.  It doesn’t look good or feel right for them to be so openly hard hearted as all that.  They might even give Jesus a hug after arguing with him, just to feign “love” for him.  He needs discipline, they think, but if he won’t take to that….

Hopefully just a good embarrassment will discredit the prophet, and his career will be destroyed.  I honestly think they hope for something a little less distasteful like that at this point in the drama.  But the word “destroyed” is a big word, alright, and if it comes down to it, their darker angels might need to be deployed after all, and hopefully the Herodians can help.  One might think it’s like as if the church leaders called the cops to watch this guy and see if he pees in a bush, gives money out a car window where panhandling is prohibited, or if he sleeps under a “no loitering” sign so he might get a ticket, face arrest, or anything that could destroy his credibility and career as a minister.  The religious leaders could then point to that and claim Jesus is not serving God!

How do you think Jesus feels about now – you know, vis-à-vis the religious leaders?  Aren’t we all working for the same goal here?  Isn’t it their purpose and his to serve the same God?  How is it that in everything Jesus does, it seems he fails to be a team player?  By all usual standards, it looks like Jesus is going rogue!  It looks like he doesn’t play well with others.  He appears irresponsible – by the usual standards.

He faces tough issues on two fronts.  On the one hand, he wants to reach out to the poor, the broken, the lost, the hurting with a personal, healing touch.  On the other hand, he gets no support from the “legitimate” authorities, who should recognize God’s love at work through him, but does not.  And yet, lack of support is not the whole story, rather leadership actually opposes him!  Elsewhere in the gospels, you see Jesus speak out against this “leadership” in various places with very harsh words, and it becomes clear that he is not going to be a “career” minister.  There won’t be a plush office in the back, no secretary to field calls and file papers, no vacation in the Bahamas with the little umbrella drinks, and not a shred of respect or support from those who would paint him as a poor team player.

No.

By now, if not long before, he sees a cross on his horizon.  When he withdraws to pray alone, he knows he has come to a place amid God’s people, where only he and God know the love of God.  It is a lonely place for love to be.  Love that is meant to be shared, endures alone until God’s apocalypse amid open hostility that has no limits except its own exhaustion.

But that is to get ahead of ourselves, I think.  But not Jesus.  What do you think it is that drives a man to pray all night?  Go to Gethsemane and see; the man with this agenda can’t stop praying, while those without it cannot keep awake.  But as I said, that is getting ahead of ourselves.

Meanwhile, all the “little people”, the broken, the sick, the poor, the sinners – all the riff raff you normally see sleeping under “no loitering” signs (but you DON’T find in church) are hearing about his care for them, and they are getting excited about his ministry.  Check it out, this is what Mark says next:

Mark 3:7-10

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a GREAT crowd followed, from Galilee AND Judea  AND Jerusalem AND Idumea AND from beyond the Jordan AND from around Tyre and Sidon. When the GREAT crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him.  And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.

 

Let’s talk about this a minute.

The religious leaders think Jesus’ ministry does more harm than good, and the more he engages it, the more he enrages them.  His engage is their enrage.  Hmmm…  But the poor little people come crowding around him.  They see what God shows them while the religious leaders totally miss it!

Am I making sense here?

And I don’t need to tell you how the story ends.  You already know.  I can stop quoting passages now, I have made my point.  I will merely say that it keeps escalating until they crucify him!  Even before we get out of chapter 3, the religious leaders will accuse him of having an unclean spirit!  What a petty smear is that???  Thus Jesus will warn them not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit!

So, it turns out that religious leaders have a really bad track record dating all the way back to the earliest gospel (and beyond that too, actually!).

Am I saying religious leaders are a worthless lot, and we should be done with them?

No.  I make no such claim.  However, I do show how fallible they are on the one hand, and I invite them to get with Jesus on the other.

But down where my own prayer life is concerned, where my own ministry is concerned, I find encouragement from God in the face of church leadership’s very damaging discouragement.  And I stand justified by faith, when I trust that following Jesus, doing what he says (rather than what Lupton and friends say) and when I trust that doing like he does actually serves God.

In that I have hope.

And when I go to God in prayer, Jesus (this Jesus – Jesus vis-à-vis the religious leaders), joins me there.  He says, come sit a minute here in this place.  Take a load off.  I have prepared this prayer from long ago.  It is for you now.  You felt alone at the threshold, but once you entered into this place, you found that I am here with you.  I built this place of prayer!  It is my house.  It is full of love and mystery.  There is refreshment here, encouragement, welcome, and love here, and you are welcome to explore it all.

Yeah.  And when I come back from that place of prayer, I have a new perspective that maintains me until I come again.

 

 

Thank you for reading and caring.

(Another) You Have Heard It Said…

You have heard it said:

Two men owed a loan shark money.  One guy owed a couple dollars; the other owed his whole life’s savings.  The loan shark was in a good mood and forgave both the debts!

Which one of the borrowers do you think loved the loan shark more?

The guy who owed his whole life savings!  A NO-BRAINER if ever there was one.

But I tell you:

There were two loan sharks holding debts of the same guy.  They both thought they would show love to the guy and forgive his debts.  The one loan shark took the guy out to dinner, sat him down and explained he no longer owed money to him.  The other loan shark opened a coffee shop and invited the public to come in and drink high priced lattes, from which one dollar would be placed in a fund to pay off the debtor’s bill.

Which one of these makes sense?

 

 

Designer Ministries

I looked up the definition of “designer jeans” on the internet, and one of the many offerings said, in bold type, “Fancy and expensive“.

To be honest, I am no fashionista.  I have no idea what designer jeans are, and no idea why they are called “designer”.  I learn, in searching, that the trend started in 1978 with Jordache Jeans.  I only assume that is accurate.  And it occurs to me that the whole industry and phenom is devoted to vanity.

I remember several years ago when our church “sponsored” a man who was raising money for the homeless by hiking the Colorado Trail.  We had a fancy presentation, and I was given a fancy brochure.  We could donate 50 cents or a dollar for every mile he walked.  If every person in our church, and every other church who sponsored him too, were to make these donations, and if the guy managed to actually finish the hike in one summer, then it would raise a boat-load of cash for the cause!

Yay!

There’s just one thing I don’t get though.

What does hiking the Colorado Trail have to do with anything?

It sure looked to me like the guy was having a nice vacation – maybe the vacation of a lifetime!  And I was gonna help him pay for it.  And the left over money would go to my favorite charity/cause.  And then the charity would use their slice of the left over money to keep the lights on, gas up the office van, and pay the staff, and then use the left over of that to purchase hygiene products to give to the homeless they deemed deserving of their charity.

I didn’t know the guy taking the hike.  I don’t know if he finished his goal.  I don’t know how much of the $25 I had to give went to brush a homeless woman’s last tooth.

But it all sounded real cool. 

Like Jordache Jeans, it sounded cool.  Trendy.  Fashionable.

Today we have a new coffee shop in town that is devoting 100% of their profits to charity!  Think about that.  If they can give 100% of the profits of a fancy, designer coffee shop to foster care and homeless ministry, then there would be a lot of support for those causes.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

(Now, keep in mind that the main homeless charity they support (Lubbock’s Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not it’s real name)) claims that in 10 years they will end homelessness in Lubbock!  So, I just wonder if the coffee shop plans to be a temporary business, since 100% of the profits are going to charity that should hopefully not be needed any more in just a few years!)

I never had any Jordache Jeans.  I remember ads and hype from my youth, but somehow the brand never targeted me, and I never got enthused about them.  But I notice that despite the fact that once upon a time they were all the rage, today, they are ancient, fashion history.  I notice that the guy hiking for the homeless seems to have taken a hike now too.  And I notice that Fat Beggars School of Prophets ain’t “trending”, ain’t a fad, and gets no hype.

We don’t drive past a homeless person on the corner to go down to the trendy coffee shop to get a delicious cup of fancy and expensive coffee so that it will help the person we just drove past.  

No.

We heed Jesus’ words and just love the needy.

Am I against using coffee money to help?

No.  I never said that.

But leadership at my church did say that the ministry I engage in does “more harm than good”.

Hmmm… I was just clinging to Jesus and to his Word.

Something seems a bit off here.  It looks like that IF I would just come up with some hifalutin, trendy scheme to “help” the needy by generating buzz for your own vanity, and then tap into the money left over from all that and pass it on to professionals who know how to use it “wisely” and not just give it to the poor in vain, THEN I would finally be doing more good than harm, and would have the blessing of my church.

Make sense?

Good.  Now go and do likewise….

… and now for the stuff we don’t put in the brochures…

I’ve had a few days now to reflect on the Luke-14 Party Secret Agent Kid Sister put on in the park last weekend, and finally a chance to debrief with her too.  I already posted my shiny review the day before yesterday, but I did not tell all.  I only put in the bright stuff, which I think is a fair depiction of the event since it was, in fact, a very positive experience.  The net result was positive, really.

But that is not to say there were no dark spots in it.  With street people, how can there not be?  We held a party in the park with people who live and sleep on the streets, in alleys, and back lots, who pee in bushes and walk from soup kitchen to soup kitchen for their next meal.  Many of them suffer addiction, mental illness, and broken homes, all in addition to financial hardship and displacement.

Ain’t nobody coming to this party that ain’t bringing BAGGAGE!  (Not even us ministers.)

The Danger Element

So, yeah.  There were a few rubs here and there, in addition to the standard difficulties like heat of the day, lack of comfortable chairs, and the general smell of homelessness that accompanies any such gathering even if everything else is good.  I will not deny there is a heightened risk of real trouble among a crowd like this.

Secret Agent Kid Sister and I talked about this.  We recalled similar outings in the past when a belligerent drunk began accosting attractive females during a worship service we were facilitating.  Ultimately someone called the cops, and that guy had to go.  I have seen fights break out; I even was present one time when a guy got bashed on the head with a brick!  So, yeah, hanging out with street people can be dangerous.

But you know what?  Just showing up for Sunday worship in Sutherland Springs, Texas got 26 people shot dead last year.  Showing up to school at tranquil places like Columbine High, Sandy Hook Elementary, or even a little Amish school house out in the woods can get you shot dead these days.  You might think it’s a wonderful Tuesday morning and feel like your on top of the world one minute in the World Trade Center, and the next thing you know, you’ve found hell on earth!

So a little perspective is in order here.

But yes… there were two congregants who had a blistering lover’s spat complete with shoving and shouting about an hour before our party wound down.  Yes, it was scary.  That’s my kid hosting these people!  I will not try to hide this fact from my readers at all.  However, the scuffle was short-lived, ugly as it was, and the two doing the fighting moved along and left the park a few minutes later.

“Bad Attitudes” and “Negativity”

But then there were the frank discussions.

I want to emphasize here that I do not solicit criticism of Lubbock’s Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not it’s real name).  I never have… and, in fact, I used to discouraged it back when I was a member there, and anyway, I have enough of my own!  But it is also worth noting that ever since the first night I hit the open streets (after enjoying the relative safety of Tent City) about eight years ago, I have encountered such critics over and over and over among the ranks of the homeless.  I am talking about church members who voluntarily come up to strangers they only just met and complain about their pastor.

Think about that.

I did.  And the first time I experienced it, I thought: “This guy is a bitter man; may have a lot to do with why he is homeless”.  I also thought that it is likely that most people living on the streets are a little hard-bitten in general, and may just complain more freely than most.  So I defended the pastor when his reputation was smeared, even before I met him – based on that kind of thinking.

Well, the homeless often are a little hard-bitten, but then I have seen with my own eyes the kind of treatment this “pastor” puts his flock through more times than I can count – always when there are no TV news cameras around.  (And he gets on TV a lot!)  I have seen him run people off church property (the homeless church, no less) saying, “I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay here.”  It sounds like a bartender after last call, not a shepherd of God’s flock!

Anyway, in the years since I was kicked out of this church for insisting we let the homeless in during freezing cold nights, people from the streets have not forgotten me.  And sure enough, before the party was done, one brother who remembered me from former times informed us that the church no longer lets the homeless gather on the property at all.  They have “no loitering” signs, and now enforce them too.

And then the brother made a very interesting statement.  He said, “The more money these people get, the worse it gets for us.”

Hmmm…  I am real clear that his opinion won’t be represented in the brochures or on the website!  But this is one of the flock that meets there giving unsolicited testimony to the love his church shows… for who?  The poor?  Is it love to tell a poor man he can’t sit here in this church?  Who feels that love?  Not the poor man, but maybe the donor does.

I have been thinking for a while (and should offer a separate post on it) that when homeless ministry becomes a business, it’s not the homeless that are being served; it’s the donors.  What is the real goal here?  Sales.

Sales is the real goal.  And the ministers are selling conscience salve to donors, even telling the donors not to get too deeply involved; just write a check and send it to us.  We will handle that pesky homeless problem for you.  In fact, give us ten years and we will actually end homelessness!

Yeah.  Sales.

And the guy in the park the other day said, “The more money they get, the worse it gets for us.”  This after he noted the church does not allow the homeless to even sit a spell in the shade on church property!

So it kinda fits my theory.

Hmmm…

Bitterness among the flock festers about church leadership, and it comes out in the midst of the Luke-14 Jesus Party.  Not the kind of stuff to brag about.  But I can’t think of a time it hasn’t come up.  And I wonder why?  Why can’t a homeless church LOVE their pastor?  Is that really a far-fetched idea?

As a side note, I will say that I learned one amusing factoid from the bull session.  I learned that the nickname the street people themselves call the park down on Ave Q by the Park Tower Apts.  They call it Zombie Land Park.

I think this is useful information, and knowing it is one little signal that I have my finger on the pulse of the streets.

The Backlash!

But then there is the family resistance too.  I will not indicate who, but at least one family member (perhaps more?) holds a low opinion of what Secret Agent Kid Sister did in the park the other day.  I do not know the specifics of what was said to her, but I am clear that at least one person gave her negative, critical feedback.  Not for the taste or quality of her sandwiches, nor the choice of the time or location, nor the quality of the devotional thoughts offered, but more for the fact that she chose to express God’s care for and to the homeless!  It turns out that we have family members who love us dearly but are not bashful about criticizing us for the care we give to the “unlovable” of the streets of Lubbock.

Hmmm…

If our own family harbors such criticism in some quarters, how much more our church?  There’s got to be a reason why the church of Lubbock so easily rejects the words of Jesus to take the stranger in and to party with the poor.  Gotta be!  And there’s got to be a reason this phenom is allowed to pervade and persist unchecked in this town almost without question.

At any rate, these are the low-lights, we might call them – the stuff we don’t put in the brochures.

 

Discouragement 101

“Do you know what the devil’s number one thing is he likes to do to God’s ministers?” he said.

I replied, “No, I don’t.”

“Discouragement,” he answered.

Let me now set the stage.

It was a dozen years ago, or more, and I met a crack addicted hooker on the streets during one of my ministry outings back when I was still nervous about using words like “prophetic” to describe the things I do.  To make a long story short as I know how, let me just say ministry with this girl was an adventure.  She was black, poor, cheap, HIV positive, schizophrenic, and living in and out of crack houses around town.  But somehow this lost, little lamb became my focus of ministry.

I had a ministry partner in those days (I have blogged about both of these individuals a few times before) who helped me serve this girl, and he became involved in caring for her too.  But I quickly took the lead role where she was concerned.  Nevertheless, the first time I talked her into coming to worship, I promised her she could sleep on a pew during the service, and my partner found us a pillow and helped me escort – ahem – carry her to her pew – ahem – cot.

It really changed her life too.  She quit the dope suddenly and found rehab and sobriety for nine months after that.  But then she slid back into addiction.  She continued to attend church, as long as I would come down to the crack house and get her on Sunday mornings.  This too was a story in itself, because she disciplined herself to get off the dope on Saturday nights so that she would be ready on Sunday mornings.

Who ever heard of such a thing?

At any rate, caring for her was taxing.  It required a lot from me … and my partner.  She really stood out among our flock as different, as needy.  The joys and serendipities were tremendous, but so were the challenges and risks.  The girl was a “hot mess”.  (I really want to tell more of her story, but this would be a monster post if I did that.)  She was baptized at one point and became one of us, yet she always remained very needy as long as I knew her.

Her lifestyle was dangerous too.  And one day she got threatened by a drug dealer with a gun.  He reportedly was hunting her down around the neighborhood looking to shoot her.  I was at my job that day when I got a call from the church secretary about it.  Then I got a call from the girl too.  Then another call from the secretary.  It turns out, the girl fled to the church building hoping to find refuge there, but the door was locked (typical), and the staff did not want to let her in for fear that the gunman would track her down there and shoot them all.

That’s when the church secretary let me have it.  I got an earful.  She told me in no uncertain terms that I had done ENOUGH for this girl.  My work with her was too taxing, was already a danger to me, my partner, and now the danger had enveloped the rest of the church too.  It was time to cut her off, to send her packing.  If she wouldn’t learn from that, then there was no hope for her.

And I was feeling it.  I mean, I really questioned the picture in my mind of a lost lamb seeking refuge at a locked church house door and a gunman shooting her because the church refused to let her in.  That kind of thing could really make the Peter Jennings News (Peter Jennings was still alive in those days) and upset the nice American church image we otherwise had going.  It would be bad PR for the church, but I didn’t really care about that.  I cared what God thought.  But I was sorta new to this prophetic stuff then, and the secretary’s words really seemed wise too.  There seemed to be no end to the chaos.  We were well past forgiving this girl 70 times 7 times for her shenanigans.  I really was tired, and this really was danger!  Against my better judgment, I decided the church secretary was right.

It turned out that the gunman thing blew over a couple hours later, but when I got off work that day, I had the new mission to go end my ties with this girl.  I was actually moved to tears as this felt like breaking up, almost.  I drove to a public place over on the East Side (the black side of town) to meet her – in fact the big grocery store.  When I arrived, I found a pay phone out front and called her.  She was a few blocks away and would walk over to meet me.  So I took a seat on one of the benches out front.

I took a seat on the end of the farthest bench.  But along that row of benches quietly sat four older black gentlemen staring out across the lot each minding his own business.  I was the sole, white brotha in the mix, and I felt outa place.  I sensed a need to say something, but I don’t much care for clichés, so I purposely avoided saying anything about the weather or the latest ball game.

What could I say?  The perfect idea presented itself to my mind and came out my mouth before I could stop it.

Loudly enough for everyone to hear me clearly, I announced, “Every time I go to the store, I wind up waiting on a woman!”  Immediately I saw three heads nodding and a voice saying, “Hmmm…”  And just then the man at the other end of the row spoke out very loudly, “Ya need to be waitin’ on Jesus!”

Yay!  My kinda guy.  I responded saying, “You’re talkin’ my language!”  I got up and moved closer to him.  He asked me what I was doing, and I said I was a minister coming to meet a woman I looked after.  And that is when he offered the lines I posted above.

He introduced himself to me as Elder Barnes.  And then he proceeded to preach to me very loudly right in front of the grocery store as customers came and went by us.  I dutifully submitted to his authoritative manner, and after asking if I knew what the devil’s number one thing to do to ministers was, he said, “I bet you are discouraged right now!”

I thought he could see right through me.

“Yes.  I can see you are,” he stated.  And I melted under his sermon.  It was like he had me all figured out.  It was like as if God had put him there just for that moment, and had given me the remark about waiting for a woman just to segue our afternoon into this divine appointment.

After a few minutes of this sermon, I heard my name cried from half way across the lot.  It was my girl waddling (that is how she walked) over our way, and I interrupted Elder Barnes to say, “Elder Barnes, you see that woman over there?… She is the one I’ve been waitin’ on.”

He turned and lowered his spectacles and said, “Hu?  I known hu all hu life.  We betta pray fa’ you.”  And when the girl reached us he took her in one hand and me in the other and lifted his face to heaven and prayed very loudly as the customers walked past that God would intervene and help me to be the minister this young lady needs.

Wow!

When we left Elder Barnes, all my plans to break up with this hooker just fell apart.  So much for that church secretary’s wisdom and all that!  God had showed up to encourage me to not be discouraged any more.

Why am I writing this stuff today a dozen years or more later?

Because I feel utterly discouraged by my church again.

There is no discouragement like discouragement in church.  When the people of God get together to shun you, kick you out, or tell you that your ministry does “more harm than good”, THAT HURTS!  And I mean if they are in the right about that stuff, then it is surely motivational to accept good discipline and repent.

But what about when the church is wrong?

Then it is just the people of God kicking you in the teeth!

The only solace I find in it is that I think Jeremiah knew the feeling.  I sense the St. Paul had a similar problem with the Corinthians.  But I know Jesus has been there/done that.

I will never forget; on my first blog, Messianic Gentile (don’t look for it; it’s long gone now), many years ago I offered a post about getting hurt by the church.  It featured a photograph of a pack of wolves shredding a bloody kill with their teeth.  And that post was my all time most visited post on that blog!  People all over the world resonated with it.

Hmmm…

So do I.

Seeing The Big Picture

I could hardly agree more!

Go Where I Send You

picture 2

I have been listening to some videos this morning and felt encouraged but at the same time saddened. As any one who has read my blog should know I have based this ministry on Luke 14:23 where the Master challenges us to go out and bring in the lost , the hungry and more so that His house is full.

These videos I watched reminded me of this passage.

Luke 14:23

And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.

The first video was one I have seen, at least the message was the same, but the presentation was new. A pastor going into his new church for the first time, he went dressed as a homeless person. The video talks about the reception his congregation gave the homeless man…

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