Dear Tom (and the crickets)

Judging by the lack of hits measured on the counter for this blog this year, it appears you are just about the last and only (not quite) person reading here.  And since this is such a lonely place to offer public words, I figure it is a secure place to share private shameful things.  No one will see it.

As long as I am dealing in such matters, I think I will just say that I sense strongly that I am being punished for sticking with Jesus.  I looked up in God’s Word how to behave as his people and saw where the church I belong to is betraying his directives.  So I spoke up about it to them, and in return they claimed I was being “unloving”.

Yes, I confronted church leaders with God’s Word on our misdeeds, and rather than repent OR, alternatively, show me (from God’s Word, or otherwise even) how I was mistaken about these things, they came around to tell me I was “unloving”.  So I showed them again from God’s Word the misdeeds we engage in and promote, and now I am shunned.

It is lonely standing here with Jesus.

I write about it, publish these writings (protecting the identities of the guilty while I am at it), and it’s just you, me, and the crickets out here…. or so it seems.

(You are getting this… right?)

(I mean, if you don’t read this, then…  Wow!)

So, anyway, this may come off as a pity party.  Maybe it is.  I don’t really think so, I am not overly invested in defending against that… so if you want to argue it is, then I will just surrender the point.

But I will say this:

There is a price to be paid following Jesus.  A cost of discipleship.  And I tell you it hurts.  It sucks that my brothers and sisters don’t talk to me anymore.  It hurts that they all just run off and back out on me without a word.  Loneliness hurts.

The American Church isn’t much interested in paying a price – except for the entrance fee… maybe a tithe or purchase of a book, a club membership, and what not…  Oh, and get your prayer shawl, your blessed Holy Water, and your handsome, leather-bound Purpose Driven Journal or your Left Behind family board game.  But wait, there’s more!  Be sure to act now and receive this complimentary latte at our coffee bar!  Yet losing all your friends, or worse actually getting crucified… things like that, hold no interest nor do they show up on the radar.

(That part sounds like a pity party. (Psalm 88 anyone???))

However, Tom, for your eyes only (and for any lonely freak out there still reading (yeah, if you are still reading, you are a freak)), you have the pleasure to witness God move through THIS dead and scorned ministry.  This ministry with barely any followers or readers or contributors…  This ministry with nary a pulse… This ministry with practically no budget or reputation to speak of – unless you count the regard it’s held in by leadership in the American church as represented in Lubbock, Texas.

Yeah… IF you are still reading, and IF you care at all, then you are in a very good place to witness God move in the dead.

And THAT, I think, is right at the core of Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, and John’s Gospel accounts.  THAT is not a pity party.  (Psalm 88 in light of the Gospel… anyone???)

 

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The Myth of The American Dream (and the Impact it has on Homeless Ministry)

What comes to mind if I mention the name Jennifer Aniston?  Do you think first of all of the TV show that brought her fame and fortune, or do you think of her tragic love life?  Can you talk about her without mention of both?

Aniston’s career had her at the top of her game for several years when she was very young: the highest paid television actress, a well-celebrated Hollywood marriage, movies being released every year.  Purchase of a $22 million mansion!  There was a while there when it seemed she had it all.  And yet somehow since the early 2000s she also appears to have become the posterchild for unhappy success.

How about other well-known names?  Robin Williams (drugs and suicide), Michael Jackson (creepy eccentricity and alleged child abuse), Sandra Bullock (ugly/shameful divorce and stalkers), Britney Spears (whatever that was) just to name a few.  Each of these people acquired fortune and fame, way beyond any I will ever enjoy, and yet their unhappiness also makes headlines.  But can we say they did not achieve The American Dream?

True enough, “The American Dream” is not a well-defined terminology.  There is a sense in which it means different things to different people, but the term still gets tossed around with broad acceptance as if we all know what we are talking about and as though it’s what we all want from life.  But the few names I list above are enough to demonstrate that achieving The American Dream is neither necessary nor sufficient to bring happiness to Americans whose founding fathers set out to guarantee us rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

As a Christian reflecting theologically on life, and as a churchman speaking to a church which also ostensibly reflects theologically on life, I think it worth noting that our desire to “effectively” help homeless and poor people takes its bearings more from the elusive American Dream than from Jesus.

I notice, in the popular literature and seminar series published by people like Lupton, Corbett, and Fikkert that the goal of poverty alleviation is to be “effective”, not by giving money, food, clothing, water, shelter and all the rest (things Jesus plainly directs, btw), but by engaging in “economic development” which only gives such aid in the extreme circumstances and seeks to withhold such aid as much as possible in an effort to discipline the needy and point them to independence and fiscal conservativism.  In fact, Corbett and Fikkert go so far as to suggest that the real help is found in low interest loans where the needy are forced to payback what is given to them at interest (something the Bible actually prohibits).

In my view, this mindset is framed by The American Dream, honors The American Dream, and promotes The American Dream as if it were God’s plan for Israel’s poor while it betrays Jesus and his commands for loving the poor, hosting the poor, and celebrating the poor (and SHARING our wealth with them too).

Look again at all the unhappiness of so many rich people around us who we celebrate as a culture.  These are people who have done all that self-sufficient stuff and yet still cave to the pressures of drug addiction, porn addiction, divorce, mental illness, and all the things that leave people damaged.  Better and more conservative finances just are not “the answer” to these problems – problems that are widely viewed (and rightly enough so, I think) as causes for poverty in the first place.

So if I put a bum through a personal finance class, teach him how to be careful with his money, and even if he responds well to this instruction, there is nothing inherent in that which addresses the loneliness and despair that dogs so many others who achieve The American Dream and fortune and fame in our society – nothing that rounds out the Shalom we claim we are seeking.

 

Yeah, I’m Talking To You

“You’re so vain, you probably think this [post] is about you.”

Well… it is.

The stark truth of the matter is that you don’t even WANT to follow Jesus.  Not even a little.

Yeah.  It’s a heart condition.  Condition-critical.  You have a very hard heart.  You have it both-ways just as much as you can, AND you have a whole culture that helps you take the Lord’s name in vain (or doesn’t care), thus you are not held to account by anyone you respect.

Let’s get into it.

No doubt my words above seem harsh, very harsh.  Caustic, abrasive, mean-spirited even.  I am sure they SEEM it.  But I will ask you to look again carefully.  There is no insult, no name-calling, no put downs here.  There is a diagnosis.  And telling a patient they have cancer isn’t nice either; it is in fact harsh.  But if accurate, it is important news.

Here’s the thing:

I was raised in church.  I was raised in a church that particularly adhered to Scripture, honored Scripture, revered and feared Scripture.  We didn’t actually get it right (though for a long time most of us claimed we did), but the part where we honored the Word of God was not a mistake.  The effort to do that was good and right, but we brought hermeneutics to the process that were deeply flawed without realizing it.

We should have demonstrated better humility in it.  For getting some things wrong and mishandling Scripture with humility means we are open to growth, to changes when we find them necessary.  God has a LOT of grace for that, I think.  But when you honor Scripture, revere it and all the rest, but then turn to the world and claim the rest have got it all wrong, damnably wrong, and that we have it all figured out, then you have crossed over into a very dark place in your own heart.

The church I was raised in did the latter far more than the former.  Did we get some parts right?  Yes.  And the honor we gave Scripture was no accident, no mistake.

The church I was raised in has all but split over the course of my life.  There are still old hardliners around in numerous enclaves, but a strong backlash against the old mentality took root and a large portion of this sect lost its sense of identity.  Seeing the old ways as too rigid and self-damaging, most of this more “liberal” portion of the church gave up most of its old ways – including, it would seem, the stern attempt to honor Scripture.

Basically, we threw the baby out with the bathwater.  

Now, I’m just guessing how/why this happened, but it is an educated guess from an old man who grew up in this stuff.  But as I reflect on the way the larger culture has affected my life, it is clear to me that the demons there are powerful, and since pride was always part of our communal problem, I feel certain that American culture and consumerism is at work on our church too.  Basically, we were giving our souls to Jesus every weekend and our asses to Uncle Sam, the bank, the shopping mall, professional sports, and eventually pornography and booze, divorce court, and the Republican Party at just about the same rate(s) as all the others.  We learned about Evolution in grade school and Creation in Sunday school, and eventually learned, though we dared not say it aloud, that knowing, teaching, and respecting one of these competing worldviews pays bills and buys toys, and the other does not.

So we sat looser and looser with Scripture all the time.  And in so doing, we thought we were becoming more humble, but we were not.

When I attend a worship service in the church in which I was raised, I find that MOST (not all, to be sure) of the earmarks of our heritage are still visible or palpable.  We still have prayer, song, and sermon every Sunday.  We still baptize new converts (though there are very few compared to the old days).  We still “observe” communion every Sunday, and the majority of our congregations still hold our song service a capella – though this is changing in a number of places.

I have no Scriptural basis to condemn musical instrumentation.  My heritage once did that (and still does in some quarters).  There is a right observation that the New Testament does not endorse it, but there is an arrogance that then claims it is thus prohibited.  The Bible does not endorse prohibiting it either, but we certainly were not, historically speaking, bashful about engaging in prohibiting what the Bible did not endorse us to prohibit.

Hmmm…  Follow that logic if you can.  But rest assured that we found the chance to be proud rather than humble with it.  Not that the humble can’t condemn a practice, but that we took it upon ourselves to condemn what the Bible does not condemn while claiming to be biblical about it.

Let that bake your noodle.

Today, I don’t think this stuff really matters to most of us.  We talk about it, but the reality is, like the thing about Evolution.  We talk like Creation matters on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday, we live with all the benefits of, and defend the teaching of, Evolution and of Survival of the Fittest which is reflected in our politics, our purchases, our driving habits, and our lifestyles in general.  When another congregation adopts the use of a rock band to lead our worship song service, it has very little to do with our views on what the Bible actually says or not, and far more to do with whether we are “comfortable” with it.  Beyond that, it has something to do with how we might attract outsiders who do not share the old views. (Survival of the Fittest as a method for church growth???)

This one example serves, I think, as a template for much of our engagement with the Bible any more.  If you attend one of our assemblies, you are likely to find Bible classes offered where a teacher actually opens a Bible alright, maybe even exegetes Scripture even analyzing Greek or Hebrew terms and so forth, but if you listen carefully, these studies tend to be put in service to submitting to the cultural values rather than honoring God or subverting the culture.  Such teaching tends to blend rather nicely with conservative politics and fiscal conservatism – sometimes even supporting particular political views.

As I have said several times on this blog and elsewhere, I am no church historian, but I suspect a lot of this kind of thing dates back to the emperor Constantine, who nearly 400 years after the church began, suddenly baptized his troops (and thus the empire) which not only legalized Christianity, but made it the official religion of empire.  Thus, in effect, Rome became the first “Christian nation”, and suddenly the ulterior motives for joining the church began to obscure the pure motives.  In fact, suddenly there were ulterior motives!

Empire co-opts the church.

Suddenly the culture invaded the church, not with nails and wood, not with persecutions and death sentences, not with oppressive edicts and social scorn, but with promises of SAFETY and security, with status, admiration, and even political clout!  Like the serpent tempting the bride of the gardener: Take a bite!  You’ll see: It doesn’t hurt; it makes you stronger and more desirable.

Sure!  Suddenly no one was signing up to follow Jesus to crucifixion anymore.

Now Caesar was God’s man in Washington Rome.  The whole emperor cult was revamped to honor Jesus as Lord in heaven with Caesar as his earthly representative – or soon enough it was the pope.  And on the surface it looked like the church had won, but ever since that time we have had far more trouble being Biblical, more trouble with honoring Scripture in humility.  And we have these Constantinian glasses (to borrow a concept from Lee Camp) that help us find in the Bible all the endorsements we might ever want for the bits of culture we church goers find ourselves embracing.

Take off your Constantinian glasses for a moment.

And go to your church and look around on ANY GIVEN SUNDAY.  I don’t care what brand, flavor, or heritage you come from, just look around at the place and the people there.  Are you Catholic?  Then look.  Are you Pentecostal?  Then look.  Are you Baptist???  Then you… especially… LOOK!  Are you Methodist, church of Christ, Presbyterian, Anglican, black church, brown church, rich church, poor church, cowboy church, trucker church, gay church, or anything in between???  Then look.  Are you Evangelical?  Look around at all the respectable people in their respectable digs.

Do you see ANY of them taking up a cross and following Jesus?

Do you see ANY homeless bums flocking to the door?  Do you see any whores sobbing on his feet?  Do you see any crippled, blind, or hungry people humbly coming to your assembly of believers who make up HIS body seeking a healing touch?

Or do you see a social club of insiders comforting the comforted and disturbing the disturbed, using Scripture (if it is used at all) to placate the culture and help you find your place in it?

This should be blindingly obvious, but it is not.  If you actually open a Bible and begin to read, just read what is in it in the plain English translated dozens of ways, you will find the humility of God’s people vs. the arrogance of the world, of principalities and powers, of demons and the like.  You will find little shepherd boy taking out a giant, slave people plundering empire, and a savior taking God’s crown turning a shameful execution into a coronation.  It’s got depth you cannot plumb, yet it’s all over the surface.  It’s the low hanging, easy pickings, yet your church is doing theological gymnastics to endorse your pride despite this.  And you can’t see it wearing Constantinian glasses.

I grew up in church.  I never saw it until I knocked at the door asking for this group to let Jesus in.  When I realized he was not in there nor even allowed, I insisted that we open the door to him, and I was kicked out for it.  And THEN I realized; I saw what I had not seen before.

We take the Lord’s name in vain.  We meet him in the street every day and turn the other way, walking right past him.  We don’t even WANT to follow him.

Open your eyes.

This Is What I Heard When I REALLY Listened

I recently visited a Bible study with people I only just met and do not know.  I was the visiting stranger, but the group was a bunch of kids – teens, actually.  A small group of 9 souls, counting myself, all younger than me, and almost all by more than 33 years.

I did not lead the study, and I did not want to hijack it either.  No doubt I could take the inch given me to speak and respond and run a mile with it, yet being the visiting stranger, I tried to be polite and listen more than speak.  I did not want to dominate the discussion, but hopefully my brief remarks might instigate engagement by the young people.

Our text was Psalm 118.  And just the mere reading of it was teaching me.  I was hearing new depths in God’s Word as we simply read it aloud – depths that challenge me.  Then there were the observations offered by the teacher, also which helped shape my thoughts.

This is a LOVE song, he said.  It is emphasized repeatedly at the start of the poem that God’s LOVE is everlasting.

I began thinking of some of the richer love songs I know from the radio which impact my imagination, and there are some alright.  But perhaps the one that I find most impactful, most rich in love, is The Righteous Brothers song Unchained Melody.  It’s not actually my favorite kind of music, but it is such a rich experience to listen to even if it’s not the genre I typically favor.  I mean between the tempo, the melody, the sweeping epic of emotion, and the lost-in-love lyrics take a listener on a rare journey into the heart.

But then there is Psalm 118, a song God himself inspired!  If only I could listen with heaven’s ears the words in the original language and played with the original instrumentation and arrangement; how might it affect me?

Being so far removed in culture, language, time, and understanding, I must overcome a LOT of limitations and lean in close to listen as carefully as I can.  Just casually hearing it as background noise might be nice, but the more context I can find for it, the more meaningful it is.  Because I must say that as the psalm suddenly moves to cries of distress and warnings about princes and shadowy alliances, it suddenly seems to lose the simple richness of Unchained Melody which does not require any effort to be swept away listening to it.

Hmmm…

What is this interruption in the happy vibe?

And then before it’s done we are talking about the “stone the builders reject”, which does not sound like the subject mater of a love song.  Rejection sounds more like the Blues.  Good music, maybe, but not an epic love song.

I spoke up at a couple of key points.

I noted that the writer of this psalm likely writes from a context of Exile.  As soon as I pointed this out, the teacher saw it too and began to explain Israel’s Exile to the teens.  He was right to see it as a love song.  The poetic device of opening with these words of Everlasting Love and repeating them all drive home the point that this is in fact a LOVE SONG alright.  God LOVES Israel deeply, even after Israel sinned and went into Exile.  And this writer is making a truly remarkable claim.  He has lost friends and family, in fact his home and homeland in the devastation of Judgment, and yet somehow this writer finds the LOVE of God to be everlasting.

And thus the warnings about the princes and alliances!  If we were talking about a jilted love, it’s God who was jilted when Israel gave her affections to others and sought peace and love in false alliance with people who were not her first LOVE.

The builders, the architects of Israel’s history, tried to build their nation with other stones and rejected the chief cornerstone chosen by God.  They were unfaithful to their LOVER who somehow still LOVES Israel despite all this.  And it is remarkable that amid so much suffering in Exile, all the bewildering chaos of so much suffering and loss, this writer finds God’s LOVE even there – and finds it amid the rejected stones.

I began hearing all this as I listened to this group soak in the meaning of this song as best they could.  But then I spoke up once more and offered one more instigating thought in an attempt to get the young people to engage at that next level.  And something truly remarkable was said in response.

When the question was posed, “Where do we find this love?”, I answered, “We must look among those people and things we reject in our pride and in our arrogance.”  And it was just then that one of the young ladies said, “…like among the homeless.”

A connection was made.  The juice – the electricity – flowed through the circuit.  The power went through the whole group.  I could see it and feel it as well as hear it.  Suddenly the conversation was animated at a new level.  This was getting interesting.  We were on the cusp of finding a new, modern-day application for this Word from God.  I noted that we see this all through the Bible actually.  Jesus is the rejected stone of Psalm 118 in Mark 12.  He is the “least of these brothers” rejected by the goats in Matthew 25.  He is knocking on the door in Revelation 3, and if you do not answer, he is rejected again.  This is a recurring theme that comes in many forms all throught the Bible, and this LOVE SONG is making this connection for us yet again.  We must take care not to reject Jesus, and he is there amid our rejections!

And as I sat and listened, really, REALLY listened to this group of young people discuss this point, I could see that they came alive with it.  The mood of the room turned to excitement!  We had opened a Bible and read what looked, felt, and sounded out of touch at first, but then we listened, really listened, and we heard the Word of God.  And the rush of oxygen and blood, the temperature of excitement, the movement of the Spirit of God overwhelmed us for just a moment as we considered how Jesus is among those people we so easily and regularly reject.

And then, just then, as I was listening closely, as I was leaning in to hear more, as I was filled with excitement about the connection this group was making between Jesus and the rejected stone, I heard the subtle shift of gears grind back into the old, familiar, safe world of “us and them”, of acceptables and rejects.

Yes, what I heard was all this excitement about finding Jesus right there where you least expect him one minute turn ever so slightly, ever so subtly, into a discussion of how we need to help these people.  Some of them really mean well.  Some of them really can fix their lives if we carefully help them, if we give them a chance.

did you catch it?

A well-meaning sentiment, perhaps, but one missing the point.

If you didn’t catch it, go read what I wrote again.  Listen carefully.  Lean in and cup your ear to the computer screen if you need to.

I have had a hard time putting my finger on it for years, but as I listened, really listened, trying hard not to dominate the discussion with these young people, but instead trying to instigate connections for them.  I heard it.  They aren’t quite as smooth at covering their tracks as us adults, but they are close.  And they reached in the same tool box, but instead of using the screwdriver, they used the hammer, and I heard it.

I suddenly recognized that for just a moment there, I had introduced the idea that the bum in the street IS Jesus, and you can FIND HIM THERE, and it really jazzed this group of young people.  But the moment they got their hands on it, they managed to revert the idea back into one of helping the people that need fixing.

And no doubt they need fixing, alright.  But that is for Jesus to do.

We also need fixing.  We need to listen again to this LOVE SONG from God and run back to those stones we rejected and find the rejected stone IS JESUS.  A different Judgment awaits those who receive these rejects!  That’s in the SONG!!!  And it might be that in receiving that which we have rejected we will MEET Jesus!  And that is not a matter of us fixing him.  It is a matter of humbling ourselves before him, of not knowing everything.

And the moment our discussion reverted to fixing the bums, we lost that.

And I heard it, when it happened.

 

 

A Street Minister’s Vacation

What exactly is a “vacation”?

I hate to get all philosophical about it, but as a street minister – a servant of Jesus with particular interest in the homeless – the moment I load up and leave town on a pleasure trip, I start feeling conflicted.  Certainly Jesus traveled around Galilee and Judea (not to mention a childhood sojourn in Egypt), and St. Paul traveled to many parts of the Roman Empire repeatedly (as did other apostles and disciples).  Also, it is clear that Jesus “withdrew to pray” on some occasions – seemingly to “get away from it all” if only for a night or an hour.  But I get no indication that these heroes of the faith ever took a real “vacation”.  On the contrary, at least some of those travels were achieved “in chains”.

Feeling conflicted has never stopped me from taking a vacation, but I have managed to find a way to connect to the streets nearly everywhere I go, even if only in minor and brief ways.

I never actually lived in Albuquerque (ABQ), NM at any time, but I have resided extensively in Arizona, Colorado, and Texas over the course of my life, and so ABQ is very familiar to me.  And while I do not doubt for one moment that ABQ has had a “problem” with winos, bums, and homeless people over the course of my life, I can say with confidence that in all my journeys to and through that city, I never noticed a population of homeless there until my visits in the last five years.

There are a number of reasons I did not see this population, to be sure.  For one thing I did not look for such people when I was young.  Also, there have been many years when I literally passed through ABQ at 65 mph without stopping.   But in the last five years, I have passed through or spent more than one night in that city several times, and these days I find myself confronted with the face of homeless on street corner after street corner, and at literally every exit ramp.  I can’t drive through town without seeing dozens of homeless people, and quite possibly hundreds!  They seem to be EVERYWHERE!

Just the visual encounter with the streets of ABQ gets me feeling overwhelmed fast.  Wearing a tee-shirt that says “Jesus Was Homeless” on it gets a LOT of attention and I can feel it raising expectations I am not prepared to handle.

Who is adequate for this???

And let’s not forget the OTHER focus of this ministry.  I have these foster kids that I am raising.  I take the adopted ones along for the trip too.  Kids born to drug addicted (sometimes homeless) parents who without me (or someone like me) have no access to the larger world beyond despair and addiction.  So when I take them to ABQ, we visit many of the attractions: the zoo, the Indian dances, the Sandia Tram, the Old Town district, and so on.  All of this is fun and recreational, yet educational and useful for rounding out their maturity too.  Plus it’s family time – a time of bonding and making memories.  But it’s also a chance for them to see the homeless of other communities – to teach them that this is a world-wide “problem” AND model for them my concern for the issue at that level too.

Thus, I am never really “off the clock” – so to speak.  It is a “working vacation” and requires care, prayer, and imagination.

I visited a local church in ABQ for worship Sunday morning.  I saw homeless people milling around just yards away from the church property as I entered it.  I found one lady in the shade of the trees on the sidewalk less than 20 paces from the front door/lobby where greeters met me and gave me a bulletin/flyer.  I wore my “Jesus Was Homeless” shirt to the service and toted in two of my toddler children and took a seat.

During the communion service, I looked around the auditorium at all the faces “partaking” in the bread and cup.  I was pleased to see that even though the largest single demographic appeared white and middle-class, there were more than just a token few brown and black faces in attendance.  I saw male and female, young and old.  But I did not see anyone who appeared to be living on the street inside the “service” despite the fact that I saw at least half a dozen within walking distance as I drove to the assembly.

At the close of the communion service, and as a matter of convenience, the deacons passed around the collection basket, at which point, I opted to fish out my contribution and walk back outside with it.  As the lobby ushers watched from the door, I traversed the 20 pace walk to the shade trees at the sidewalk where I met Agent D sleeping next to two grocery buggies on a pile of belongings she had carried on her back.  I woke her gently as I introduced myself and my youngest child, offered prayer and contribution, and inquired why she did not join the church inside for worship.

Her answer?

“Uh… I didn’t get a shower today.”

I am certain that she did NOT in fact get her shower, alright, but is that REALLY the reason she did not come in?  Hardly 20 paces from the body of Christ and this poor, needy person felt she had better not approach him because she didn’t get a shower???  Do we read of anyone like that in the Gospel accounts of all the bums, the cripples, the lost and needy riff raff of Galilee or Judea or from Tyre, Sidon, Dalmanutha or any of the other myriad places such people would trek to just touch him or be touched by him?

ABQ, it appears to me, is overrun with Jesus-mobs who are NOT finding Jesus.  Maybe not even looking for him.  I get the sense that the homeless population has exploded there over the years since I was a kid.  A quick look at a story from last December on KOB-4’s website informs me that the numbers are probably down, actually, since the Great Recession of recent years, but that it’s hard for the city itself to determine since the homeless are moving everywhere throughout the city.

Of course, I need only turn on the nightly news to get my daily update on the tragedy unfolding at our southern border with Mexico.  This tells me that by focusing so much on Lubbock (or even ABQ), this blog addresses only a tiny, miniscule portion of the “problem” plaguing our world and making headlines every day.

It’s a “problem” you can’t exactly take a vacation to get away from.

Thus it’s past time we find some Jesus ways of addressing it.

 

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”

Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If you open up to me, I will come in and party with you… -Jesus

A Grace-Filled Life

The sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen has written our devotion:

Genesis 18:1-14
Colossians 1:21-28
Luke 10:38-42

William Willimon tells about a Methodist pastor in Florida whose congregation got involved in ministry to the homeless. They had seen men on park benches, sleeping in doorways, and wandering the streets, and they wondered if there was a way they could help.

The pastor told the congregation: “We’ve got this big fellowship hall downstairs, why don’t we simply invite these homeless men to come spend the night here?” The others thought, “Why not?” and decided to make it happen.

The pastor told Willimon, “Now you take 55 homeless men off the streets and put them into a Methodist fellowship hall, and you’ve got problems! First of all, we found out that there’s a reason why nobody wants them — crazy, sick, offensive, malnourished, addicted. We had never actually met any homeless people. It was…

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What If My Heart Was A Shelter For The HOMELESS God?

I went to a worship service where the pastor preached his compelling homily after which he asked the assembly to bow our heads and anyone needing salvation could raise their hand.  Then he instructed us to “invite Jesus into [our] hearts.”

Did you catch that?

He told us we needed to INVITE JESUS INTO OUR HEARTS.

Not a bad idea (I’m thinking).  Yes.  We do need to invite Jesus into our hearts.

And so I got to thinking about how Jesus claims, in Matthew 25:31-46, that he is the “least of these brothers” in need of food, drink, shelter and charitable care, about how Jesus says, in Revelation 3:20, “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up to me, I will come in and party with you!”

And then I got to thinking about how my church serves the poor and needy homeless of Lubbock.  Not by taking Jesus in, not by inviting him into our worship, not by inviting him into our church building for shelter and rest, and not by accepting him in our fine homes with guest rooms that go empty night after night.

No.

We may invite him into our “hearts,” but we don’t invite him into our homes or our place of worship or our personal space hardly at all.

No.

We invite the homeless (and thus Jesus himself) to go to the homeless church that meets across town.

We are quite sacrificial about it, to be sure!  We are collectively one of the major financial supporters of that ministry.  And we are quite creative about it too!  One of our leaders runs a fancy coffee shop with all the baristas and ambiance you come to expect in a fancy coffee shop, and a portion of the profits from the coffee is sent to invite Jesus (the least of these brothers) over there across town at the homeless church too.  (It’s quite an impressive operation.)

But is that really inviting Jesus into our hearts?

And this got me to thinking…

What if Abe and Sarah (Genesis 18, if you wanna look this up) had seen the three Strangers walking by and run out to get a cup of coffee at a high end coffee shop so as to play their part in hosting these three Strangers at the shelter across town???

If Abe had done that, then he would not have told Sarah to prepare 3 seahs (about 33 gallons in the English measure system) of fine flour and bake bread for his guests, and would not have even met these men face to face.  The Angels would not have affirmed God’s promise to Abe that a son was about to be born, and Sarah would not have had the chance to laugh.  And then, the writer of Hebrews would not have included that fantastic little verse in 13:2 where we are instructed: “Do not neglect to show hospitality, for some have entertained angels unaware.”  And thus, finally, they would not have invited Jesus (God) into their hearts.

Is that the way you WANT this Bible story to read?

What if the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24, if you wanna look this up) saw a Stranger walking along the road going the same way and instead of joining up with him, they turned their heads, rolled up the window, locked the door, and drove on down to the coffee shop instead?  They might feel more safe, but they would not have shared their hearts with the Stranger they met walking along the road?  They would not have invited Jesus in to stay with them when they arrived home.  He would not have taken the bread and blessed it, and their eyes would not have been opened, and they would not have told their friends back in Jerusalem about how their hearts had been burning within them as this Stranger opened the Scriptures up to them.

Is that the way you WANT this Bible story to read?

Do you really think that just because you drive over to the white-flight side of town to worship on Sunday and eat a tiny pinch of cracker and drink a tiny thimble-full of grape juice that you have dined with Jesus?

REALLY???

Please explain.

In this world God made, he built a place for himself to live: YOUR HEART.  And if he is not there, then God is a HOMELESS God within his own creation.  A HOMELESS Carpenter.  And he is knocking.

Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and eat with you.

(I think I read that somewhere.)

 

Giving Money To The Homeless Is A Divine Commandment

There is NOTHING wrong with giving your money to that bum on the street if you so desire.  Nothing.  Period.

If there was something wrong with it, then Jesus was mistaken to tell the rich man in Mark 10 to sell all he owned, give it to the poor, count his blessings in Heaven, and come follow.

Is there something wrong with this command Jesus gives to the rich man???

The rich man does not follow this command.  He, it would seem, finds something wrong with it.

I belong to a church that teaches people not to give money to the poor.  This church claims it will do harm to the poor.  But Jesus tells at least one rich man to not only give his money to the poor, but to sell all he owns and give it to the poor!

Which do you believe?  The church I belong to?  Or Jesus?

Maybe, just maybe, this commandment does not apply to you.  Maybe.

But I have a sneaky suspicion that the reason we find fault with it is because WE ARE RICH PEOPLE who don’t want to obey it.  We pick and choose which commands we follow, and this one hits us in the pocket books, so we don’t obey it.  If you keep reading that passage in Mark 10, Jesus turns to his disciples (are you one of those? (a disciple, I mean)) and says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

THAT is a tough saying!  And it seems to me, it sheds light on why the rich man didn’t obey and why people in the rich, white church I belong to go to extraordinary lengths to teach that giving your wealth to the homeless harms them.  (It is a fancy way of throwing up smoke -n- mirrors on the subject, while we too turn away from Jesus like the rich man did.)

Yeah.  It’s not a command the poor find hard to hear, but if you find yourself looking for the exit and trying to dodge it, then it’s probably because you are rich.

Only rich people would come up with a teaching about how giving money to the poor harms them.

Hmmm…

Think about it.

Preparing For Judgment Day

Growing up in West Texas among fiery Protestants such as Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and, of course, churches of Christ, I learned quickly that essentially these “churches” presented competing ways of preparing for the Great and Coming Judgment of God.  Over time I have come to question that worldview and each of the competing methods of Judgment preparations.  I have even come to question the very existence of “hell” – at least in the traditional view.  But I notice in recent years we church people have very little to say about preparation for Judgment.

Oh, we are sure you shouldn’t get “legalist” about it or try to “work your way to heaven” – which would be “pharisaical” and wrong.  But beyond that, we don’t have much to say, these days.  We are more interested in having a “purpose driven life” or a good cup of coffee and an excellent rock band to lead us in contemporary worship songs like we hear on the radio.

But the Bible does in fact speak of a coming Judgment; the flagship memory verse/passage for HOMELESS MINISTRY (Matthew 25: 31-46) is one of the premier passages on the subject.  It’s a passage I visit and revisit quite often.

I will let you look it up and read it for yourself, but I bet if you are reading this blog, you are already familiar with it.  But I want, in this post, to consider how you can prepare yourself for that Judgment Day based on what Jesus says in that passage.

The King comes in and begins separating sheep and goats: sheep for eternal utopia and goats for eternal destruction.  And how can you tell which ones are sheep bound for glory and which ones are goats headed for damnation?  Well, it depends on whether you tended to the King’s needs of hunger, thirst, shelter, clothes and all that.

Oh, and by the way, these are all the marks of HOSPITALITY!

Did you show Jesus these hospitable charities when he came to you in need?  (Heb. 13:2 anyone?)

And interestingly, the King is asked by both the sheep and the goats: “When did we see you [in such need]?”  (Apparently, neither group recognized him as the Angel they entertained or not at the time.)

This is a curious question alright.  Normally, when you see a king, he is not in need of ANYTHING.  In fact, kings typically TAKE what they need and what they want with the impunity of sovereignty.  But not THIS King.  This King came to you disguised as one in need of your hospitality, and you either gave it to him or not.  And now it suddenly matters for your Judgment!

And so the King identifies himself with the needy saying: “When you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me!”

The least of these.

Hmmm…

How might you prepare for Judgment?

This is important.  It will be on the TEST!

However, it’s not that complicated.  You don’t have to be terribly smart to pass this test; you need only be LOVING.  (Not particularly “effective”, but LOVING.)

So, let’s step into the future for a moment, in your mind’s eye – in your heart’s imagination – and watch your Judgment unfold.

That old hag you drive past on your way to church every Sunday, the one you stop for to feed, clothe, and invite home with you (or not) is now stepping into the witness booth before the Judgment King.  The Prosecutor and the Defense Team are both there questioning her.  What does the tramp recall of you?

“Did he teach you sound doctrine?”

“Did he drive right on by without stopping?”

“Oh, he rolled up the window, locked the door, and looked the other way???”

“Your Honor, what need do we have of further testimony?”

“Wait, Your Honor.  That happened when he was young, foolish, and very greedy.  But he read a fantastic blog post on the Fat Beggars School of Prophets blog that convicted his heart one Sunday, and after that, he repented.  Please call one of the least of these Your brothers living behind the truck stop on Ave A and 50th.”

“Call your next witness.”

“What did the defendant do when he ‘encountered’ you, good sir?”

“Well, Your Honor, I was cold and hungry when he found me.  I was high as a kite and had not prepared at all to weather the storm that came.  When it started raining, he found me and gave me some warm, dry clothes, got me a cup of coffee, and invited me to come to his church building where he was taking other homeless people he found caught in the storm.”

“I think we’ve heard enough.”

Yes.  We have heard enough.

There is a day coming for which you can prepare now.

I invite you to open your heart, your home, your assembly to the King who comes to you in need today.  And whether you do or not, when the Judgment comes, and the court does NOT call your old football coach, your favorite high school teacher, or your youth pastor to testify about you, but instead calls that bum from the street, you will find yourself suddenly hanging on EVERY WORD.

Get ready.

Are You a Good Christian? Is Your Faith an Adventure?? Do You Even Want That???

Are you a GOOD Christian?

Do you personally feel good about your faith, about your life, about your discipleship?

How long have you been a follower of Christ?

All your life? Or are you a new Christian… still learning the basics about following Jesus?

In the wee hours of the night when it’s just you and Jesus, do you feel you are truly and meaningfully committed to following Jesus and living a life that reflects it?

Or do you see room for growth?

…or…

Or, when you really get honest about it, are you ready to confess that even with a life-long membership in the church, you actually have betrayed Jesus just like Judas, Peter, and all the rest – and continue to do so practically every day?

Hmmm…

Is your faith – your walk with Jesus, your prayer life, your church involvement, your life’s dedications – more like a day at the mall shopping (seeking to satisfy all your whims and desires) or more like an adventure full of risk and anything but SAFE? Which would you say? …in the wee hours when it’s just you and Jesus?

Let me ask you this:

If Jesus commanded you to pick up a cross and follow him or else you couldn’t be his disciple (Matt. 10:38), would you be ready to go?

Hmmm…

You do realize that taking up a real cross and really following Jesus means really dying a shameful, painful, and fearful death. Right?

Hmmm…

Still claim to be his disciple in good standing?

Starting to feel a little worried about that yet?

Yeah. It’s right about here that you are hoping the pastor’s harsh words of conviction will suddenly open the doors of grace to you. Right?

Yes. You have been fed a steady diet of that kind of preaching and best-selling Christian living books for the last 30 – 40 years!  And the really good ones ratchet up the tension to the point where it just becomes unbearable, and then the curtain is pulled back to reveal that you need do NOTHING. Jesus pays the price for you! In fact if you try to work this out for yourself, you are a “legalist” screwing up your very salvation.

No. You need to sit back and relax! Jesus got this for you! (Now just drop $30 for your own lucky-rabbit’s-foot copy of this book or put a tithe in the collection basket and we are all even steven!)

Sound familiar?

It does.

And just look at your life since swallowing that diet.

No. Seriously, look at your bank record and see where all your money is spent. Pornography, alcohol and drugs, extramarital affairs, alimony, child support, more porn, bar hopping, a second marriage, then a third. I am just totally bypassing all the menial selfish things like sports games you attended instead of worship, like all the fine dinners at high end restaurants instead of almsgiving, like the payments on that new truck and the Harley to match, like that man cave and she shed.

My God! Somebody actually invented the idea that you needed a “man cave” and suddenly when the Jones’s got one, you had to keep up with them!  And then when the man got one, the She had to get a shed!

Did ANY of THAT CRAP serve Jesus? EVER???

And that’s just your checkbook.

What about your mouth???

What about your time?

Hmmm???

Scared to get out that day planner and show me all that discipleship and cross carrying you do about now?

Good.

Then maybe – MAYBE – maybe we can talk.

Maybe.

Probably not, but maybe.

If your faith is marked by every new novelty and comfort they sell at the shopping mall or Amazon and not so much by the adventure that goes with LOVING God, and IF you are ready to admit that to yourself and to me, then MAYBE you are ready to talk seriously for a moment.

Here’s the thing:

Unless you take up a cross and follow Jesus, you can’t be his disciple.

(Take it up with him, not me; he said it, not me.)

And I am thinking that if I called you out on it right now, you probably are NOT so ready to lay down your life for Jesus as your membership card down at that social club you’ve been calling a “church” would suggest. And let’s face it; laying down your life is pretty heavy stuff. Believe me. I heard about a few churches getting shot up with the worshippers inside getting killed in recent years, and now we got new legislation arming the sheepfolds with lethal weaponry.

It’s in the news these days!

And that lethal weaponry ain’t crosses, ya’ll! And if it ain’t crosses, it ain’t discipleship.

(Again, take it up with him, not me.)

So, let’s get back to the milk of the word and start off like the babies we are. We are not able to handle the meat yet. We have been bluffing about discipleship, and our bluff has been called.  And I am not about to draw back the curtain of grace and just let you off so easy so we can go right back to that same diet we been on. No.

Let me ask you this:

If a gunman were about to burst in on your place of worship and take lives, would you rather be one who offers your life in the place of the hostages (like Jesus) or would you rather be one who shoots back?

Oh… I’m sorry, that’s not the answer Jesus is looking for.

Well, if you aren’t ready to lay down your life for Jesus yet, maybe you would consider something a little more laid back. How about open your church (or better yet your home) to some homeless bums – the least of these brothers – and throw them a party?

Sound strange?

Well, Jesus tells us to do this too (Luke 14:13-14).

Yes, do this and begin deepening your life in faith today. You gotta start somewhere, and this is a great place to start!

And look at the bright side: You get to party! Yes, that is the command! Throw the party!!!

I don’t know about you, but I find a LOT of GRACE in that. Grace you can grow in. And maybe, just maybe, your faith will actually do that – grow.

Think about it.

But then act on it.