*sigh* Pastor, STOP Being a Bully!

Overheard:

“You need to trust me and allow me to lead you. I expect unconditional support of the leadership of this church in all ministry environments.”

What?! Are you KIDDING me?!

This is cult-talk, not Christian Church talk.

This is bullying, not leading.

This is oppression, not Christian servant-leadership.

This HAS to stop!

If you are in leadership in the church and this is your attitude, you need to get on your face and repent, begging God to change your heart and protect you from His due punishment for oppressors (Malachi 3:5; see also Psalm 94:20,  Jeremiah 25:34; Zechariah 9:8; et.al.).

In fact, God has something to say about oppression and oppressors 84 times  in Scripture…it is SO not okay with Him!

Jesus gave us His example of leadership (see the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet, for example, in John 13, especially John 13:14, 15, 17).

In fact, Jesus admonishes His disciples (that includes you, pastor),

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ~ Matthew 20:25-28

If you think your position in the church entitles you to “lord it over” (bully and oppress) those you are there to serve, better go back to Bible school – if you ever went.

You are there to serve, NOT to be served. You are to gently lead from in front, not drive from behind (that’s the role of the butcher!).

Also, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about what authority is and what it isn’t.

Other than Jesus Himself, NO ONE has any authority. Let me say that again…

“Other than Jesus Himself, NO ONE has any authority.”

  • Jesus: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18b)
  • Paul: “And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.” (Ephesians 1:22)
  • Paul again: “For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1b)

Bottom line is this: NO one “has” any authority; they simply exercise the authority God in Christ has assigned TO A POSITION, NOT A PERSON.

Example: If you get elected mayor, you will exercise the AUTHORITY OF THE POSITION of mayor until you are no longer mayor. Once you are no longer mayor, YOU NO LONGER EXERCISE THE AUTHORITY of the position of mayor.

If you serve as a pastor or other elder, your exercise the authority of that POSITION, and it DOES NOT belong to you!

Oh, and this nonsense about “spiritual authority?” Go back and read Matthew 28:18 and Ephesians 1:22 – again.

And before you take Titus 3:1 out of context (“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”), this was part of Paul’s instructions to Titus on teaching the people in his congregation about how to treat THOSE OUTSIDE the church.

Also, your limited scholarship in dealing with Hebrews 13:17 needs to be repented of and you need to seek to understand what is meant, not just what is being said. It requires more than a “letter of the law” approach based on English translation:

  • Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (KJV)
  • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (NASB)
  • Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (NIV)
  • The word often translated “obey”  is πείθω (peithō), and it means (among other things) “to suffer one’s self to be persuaded, yield to persuasion, to be convinced.”
  • In the very next verse, the same word is translated either “convinced” or “sure”, depending on translation (“Pray for us. We are sure…”NIV; “Pray for us, for we are sure…” ESV; “Pray for us, for we are sure…” NASB)
  • Even the go-to translation (KJV) for many hyper-headship and other oppressive authoritarians renders that same word in the next verse as “Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience…”
  • Some of the variants of this word are translated “But the ruling priests and the elders persuaded (epeisan | ἔπεισαν  the crowds …” in Matthew 27:20; “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will bribe (peisomen | πείσομεν ) him…” Matthew 28:14; and “He also told this parable to some who were confident (pepoithotas | πεποιθότας) in themselves…” Luke 18:19).

It seems quite clear that the idea of “obeying spiritual leaders” is not consistent with what God’s Word actually teaches, doesn’t it?

For those of you who think that a pastor or husband or father IS the authority or HAS authority, you have been deceived. Throw that off. Not only is that a man-made construct, it is oppressive at base.

Christ’s leadership was a servant-leadership.

It was self-sacrificial, not self-serving ( “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28).

It was for the good of us, not for the good of Him (Ephesians 5:25), and He had a passionate desire for God’s best for us, even if it cost Him everything (Philippians 2:3-11).

Pastor? Elder? STOP IT AND BE WARNED!

“Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come; you will fall like the best of the rams.”  Jeremiah 25:34

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.'” Ezekiel 34:10

“The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence [opression] His soul hates.” Psalm 11:5 (emphasis added)

For those who agree with God on the exact nature and character of their wrong, He provides forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). It requires a contrite heart to be truly repentant and confessing (Psalm 21:7; Isaiah 66:2).

Serve others as you have been commanded, or relinquish the position you are not entitled to because of your oppression. He will not long tolerate His sheep being oppressed.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Love – God’s Way (A St. Valentine’s Day Message)

Love is probably the most sought-after and least understood aspect of the human experience. We long for it, we hunger for it, we actually need it, and yet those things are at the very root of our inability to Love God’s Way.

The most famous passage in all of Scripture regarding love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a: “Love is patient, love is kind, and it is not envious. Love does not brag; it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, and it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Nice thoughts; great words; lovely sentiments. You’ve seen them on greeting cards, plaques on the wall, even hundreds of times on Facebook. What do they mean, and who are they for?

The Greek word for “love” in this passage of Scripture is agapē. It does not refer to brotherly love, familial love, or even romantic love. Agapē is unique and quite distinctive from our usual understanding and use of the word “love.”

Agapē is rooted in the very nature and character of God (1 John 4:8, 16b). Agapē is self-sacrificial (see Philippians 2:5-8). The verb form of this word means to love, highly value, honor, greatly esteem, manifest lavish concern for, be faithful towards, to delight in, and to emphasize the importance and value of another.

AGAPĒ EQUALS GIVE

To love God’s way is to give; there is no “take” in love (although there is a “receive” aspect to it which we will discuss in a moment).

  • John 3:16: “For this is the way God loved [agapaō, the verb form of agapē] the world: He gave [abandoned and delivered up for] His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved [agapaō], me and gave Himself for me.”
  • Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love [agapaō] your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

To “love” someone with any expectation at all of anything coming back in return is NOT love – it is a business deal, not relationship. Quid pro quo (this for that) is not love because it is not sacrificial; it is self-serving and self-seeking. This is not how God has loved us and not how we are to love others.

Jesus emphatically establishes a brand new economy for relationships for all those who are His true disciples (more than just followers). Three times in John 13:34-35, He uses the same words to express His command to them (and to us): “I give you a new commandment – to love one another [agapaō]. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”

As we have discussed in other lessons, repetition in Scripture is a device used to add emphasis to what is being said. Since they did not have exclamation marks, didn’t italicize or use all upper case for words, and didn’t have a way to bold the letters, they used repetition. Repeating something once meant it was highly significant; repeating twice (saying it three times) was like using all upper-case letters AND underlining-italicizing-bolding and adding several exclamation marks!!!

Loving God’s Way cannot be faked, pretended, or counterfeited for long because loving like God loves (even with our human limitations) is about much more than just behavior. To agapaō someone is to have a higher regard for them than you do for yourself (Philippians 2:3-4), to have a passionate desire for God’s best for them, even at great expense or sacrifice to yourself. This is something that happens on a heart level, not just with a bunch of words and some temporary actions.

His Word includes the commands to “love one another, just as I have loved you.” How has He loved us? “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (From Romans 5:5-6, 8, 10).

So, when we read that we are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mark 12:31a) these words take on a significantly powerful meaning. They are commanded by God in the Old Testament and retaught by Jesus in the New.

When we give to another with the expectation of receiving something in return, we have just dehumanized and objectified that individual. They have now gone from being regarded in our hearts as a fellow image-bearer of God to a resource for us to have our needs met by. Again, that is not relationship; that is using.

In a marriage, this can be an especially easy trap to fall in to. Most people get married because of what needs are being met or what emotions they experience being connected to that other person. That is not a Biblical or a Christian model. To “love another” is to passionately desire God’s best for them, not for you.

Another important idea to hold fast to is the idea that the “one another’s” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love them first and love them best. It is from a solid “one anothering” love that the Body of Christ is able to love the lost.

One more thing: We are also instructed to love our enemies with the same love we love our fellow believers. This is an even more difficult kind of love. If you read Luke 6:35, you will find that Jesus explains what that love looks like with these instructions: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Matthew has a different quote from Jesus along these same lines (5:43-47): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?”

Paul picks up this theme in Romans, Chapter 5 (verses 6, 8, and 10), and gives us the baseline for us to love others – even our enemies:

  • “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Verse 6)
  •  But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Verse 8)
  • For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? (Verse 10)

So, let us not forget that, just as God has loved us in Christ, so we are to love others – also in Christ, just as God has loved us. His love is not conditional, and neither should ours be.

 

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

 

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church

(Reblogged from The Gospel Coalition Blog)

by Jared C. Wilson

 

(NOTE: This is the kind of thing I have been praying for – no, BEGGING for – to see happen in the church for a VERY long time. His word-picture about the 3 doors parallels what I have often said: “When it comes to abuse, there is no ‘Switzerland’ – you either side with the abuser or the abused; there is no third choice.”)

Jason Meyer, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, gave a powerful and important sermon this past Sunday.

In it, he defined things like “hyper-headship”:

Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.

Meyer also addressed the issue of domestic abuse, highlighting three lessons in particular they had learned:

  1. Not all abuse cases are the same, even though they may share certain things in common. If you have seen one abuse case, you have seen one abuse case.
  2. We need to distinguish between two types of marital sinfulness: normative sinfulness and abusive sinfulness.
  3. There are spectrums and varieties of domestic abuse. A good working definition of domestic abuse is “a godless pattern of abusive behavior among spouses involving physical, psychological, and/or emotional means to exert and obtain power and control over a spouse for the achievement of selfish ends” (John Henderson).

Calling it a “draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of moment” for the church, Meyer read a statement from the elders about domestic abuse:

We, the council of elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church, are resolved to root out all forms of domestic abuse (mental, emotional, physical, and sexual) in our midst. This destructive way of relating to a spouse is a satanic distortion of Christ-like male leadership because it defaces the depiction of Christ’s love for his bride. The shepherds of Bethlehem stand at the ready to protect the abused, call abusers to repentance, discipline the unrepentant, and hold up high the stunning picture of how much Christ loves his church.

The statement goes on to give information about whom to contact when abuse is occurring.

Meyer addressed abusers:

If you are an abuser, I call you right now to repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The only hope is on the other side of repentance—getting out of denial so you can own your sin. That is the only hope because if you confess it as sin, there is a sacrifice for sin. There is no sacrifice for denial.

He addressed victims:

If you are being abused, the bulletin gives information on next steps. Please let us help. God hates abuse, and so do we. We are committed to help. If you have come to us for help before and have been disappointed, please give us another chance. We believe that the tide of awareness has risen on all three campuses and that positive changes are happening.

And he addressed children:

If you are a child and have seen one of your parents abuse the other, it is not right, and it is not your fault. You are not to blame. We want to get you help as well. You may think telling someone will tear your family apart, but it may be the only thing that can bring your family back together. If you are a child and you are being abused, let us help. Don’t walk this road alone. Tell someone. Please tell the children’s pastor or your youth pastor or a Sunday school worker.

He then closed with an address to men in particular:

Men of Bethlehem, let me address you. I will lay it on the line. At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take.

  • Door 1: side with the abusersm
  • Door 2: take no side, or
  • Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers.

If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide that just takes you to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”

I would strongly encourage you to read the entire sermon, which contains careful definitions of the various kinds of abuse and various principles about abuse. You can listen to the audio here.

For some resources on abuse, see Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s resources:

See also:

To My Mom – on Mothers’ Day

Thank you for providing love, hope, and strengthiStock_000004460545XLarge

When there seemed no reason we should have them.

Thank you for bringing a sense of peace

To the turmoil that we lived in.

Thank you for finding ways

To turn morsels in to meals.

Thank you for singing me to sleep

When I was scared and sad.

Thank you for rescuing me

Even though it didn’t work.

Thank you for tenderly loving me

Through all of the twists my life has turned.

And thank you for being my mom

Not “just anyone” could do it.

Happy Mothers’ Day – May 11, 2014

Hello, My Name is Church (Re-Blog)

Hello my name is church,

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about me. I have no shortage of critics. Perhaps you have heard that I am…

Boring

Shallow

Cheap

A waste of time

You’ve heard that I am full of

Hypocrites

Clowns

Greedy people

The self- righteous

Maybe you have visited me before and discovered

Horrible music

Passionless singing

Dry preaching

Rude congregants

Maybe you needed me and I was

Too busy

Too “righteous”

Too broke

Too blind

Maybe you joined me and found I was

Distant

Demanding

Dull

Preoccupied

Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by

Business meetings

Committees

Teams

Bureaucracy

Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody

Called

Cared

Noticed

Invited you back

Perhaps your experience has driven you to

Speak negatively of me

Swear to never come back to me

Proclaim that no one needs me

Believe you’re better off without me

If this is true, I have something to say to you

I’m sorry

I was wrong

I blew it

I made a huge mistake

But remember, I never said my name was

Perfect

Flawless

Complete

Arrived

My name is church. I welcome the

Hypocrite

Dry

Self-righteous

Shallow

I welcome the

Sincere

Passionate

Forgiving

Selfless

I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you

Angry

Uncomfortable

Impatient

Self-conscious

But I would remind you that we couldn’t always worship in the same room. In the Old Testament there was a division between the

Gentile

Jew

Man

Woman

In order for us to all worship in the same room Christ was

Shamed

Beaten

Killed

Resurrected

Which is far worse than being

Bored

Uncomfortable

Embarrassed

Ignored

So why not come back to church and let all of these messed up people

Challenge you

Sharpen you

Strengthen you

Humble you.

I can’t promise you that the people will be great. This is church. It’s not

Heaven

Paradise

Beulah Land

The Celestial city

Come back.

God wants you here

The body needs you here

The world needs your witness here.

You belong here.

Hello, my name is church

I miss you

I love you

I’m sorry

Can’t wait to see you.

The Unappreciated Pastor

 

Hello my name is church,

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about me. I have no shortage of critics. Perhaps you have heard that I am…

Boring

Shallow

Cheap

A waste of time

 

You’ve heard that I am full of

 

Hypocrites

Clowns

Greedy people

The self- righteous

 

Maybe you have visited me before and discovered

 

Horrible music

Passionless singing

Dry preaching

Rude congregants

 

Maybe you needed me and I was

 

Too busy

Too “righteous”

Too broke

Too blind

 

Maybe you joined me and found I was

 

Distant

Demanding

Dull

Preoccupied

 

Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by

 

Business meetings

Committees

Teams

Bureaucracy

 

Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody

 

Called

Cared

Noticed

Invited you back

 

 

Perhaps your experience has driven you to

 

Speak negatively of me

Swear…

View original post 251 more words

Worthy and Deserving are NOT the Same Thing

Overheard:treasure_gold_hoard_prehistoric_tesoro_de_villena

“I just feel so worthless!”

Perhaps the deepest, most pernicious lie many people believe is that they are “worthless”. The WordNet definition of worthless is, “Lacking in usefulness or value”.

Synonyms offered include despicable, ugly, vile, useless, insignificant, pointless (Yes, I see that hand over there!).

Anyone who has carried around the sense of being worthless has felt all of those things, and more.

But, all of them are lies!

While we may be undeserving of any good thing, deserving and worthy are two very different things.

To be deserving means to have earned something and goes to functional value. Worth, on the other hand, is not about “doing” but about “being”, and goes to essence.

Let me give you an example:

Suppose you have a block of gold sitting on the table in front of you. That block of gold, being gold, has an inherent worth no matter what form or shape it is in. If it is melted down and shaped into a doorstop, its worth is still the same, but its functional and aesthetic value has changed.

That same block of gold melted down into a creamery to use with grandma’s fine chine tea service will have a different functional and aesthetic value, but it is still gold and it still is worth what it was before anything was done to alter it.

Now, we can fashion that gold into a magnificent jewelry ensemble, greatly increasing its functional and aesthetic value, or we can leave it in its rawest from and stuff it under a manure pile. The one thing that does not and will not change is its INHERENT WORTH.

In like manner, when we consider each and every human being on planet earth, we find that each and every person – no matter what they have or have not done – is created in God’s image.

This concept of being bearers of the imago dei goes all the way back to the earliest chapters of the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Three times this phrase appears there, and each time it refers to God’s view of mankind, not mankind’s view of himself.

First we see God creating man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Then we see that the children borne of the first man and woman are also considered to be “in the image of God” (Genesis 5:1-3, with 1:26-27 revisited).

The third time we see this phrase is highly significant and points to the sanctity of human life – again from God’s perspective – when God’s institutes capital punishment for murder.

Noah and his family have just departed the ark and God gives them the basic laws they are to live by. Two are brand new: first, from this point on you will be eating meat: don’t eat it raw. Second, ““Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God has made humankind.” (Genesis 9:6)

In the New Testament, Jesus’ half-brother James revisits and intensifies how we are to regard one another when he says, “But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image.” (James 3:8-9)

But this is only the beginning of how we are to understand our inherent worth and value.

In Psalm 8, David muses over how it could possibly be that the Divine Creator of all that exists would have regard for mankind, and –even more significantly – would place His creation in the hands of mankind to steward and to manage.

In Matthew 6, Jesus invests quite a few moments commanding His listeners to not be anxious about any need they have because their Heavenly Father knows all of their needs, just as He does the needs of the birds He provides for, and “you are of far more value than they”.

God also provides beautifully for the grass and flowers, even though, once again, mankind is worth far more and will be provided for even more than they.

Later, Jesus says something else that is significant. In Matthew 16:26, He asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

As far as Jesus is concerned, one person is of more WORTH more than the created world!

In Luke 12:6-7, Jesus declares, “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

The list goes on and on, including how there is rejoicing in heaven when ONE sinner turns from their sinfulness and surrenders to Christ as Savior (Luke 15:7, 10).

This rejoicing comes as a result of the restoration of a lost loved one loved to their rightful and intended place as a future co-inheritor with Jesus and one who will be glorified right along beside Him (Romans 5:1-2, 6, 8, 10; Romans 8:16-17, 28-29).

Remember that block of gold? When we have turned from our ways and surrendered to Him, another change takes place. Our inherent worth is still there, but there is a change in our functional value (2 Corinthians 5:17).

In Ephesians 2:10, we find one of the most beautiful word pictures in all of Scripture that explains: “For we are His masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works He determined long ago would be our way of life.”

Thank of a master artisan, like Michelangelo, crafting a magnificent statue out of a clump of marble. It doesn’t start out very pretty at all, but the end result is a magnificent piece of art. That is the way the word poiema (masterpiece) can be best understood.

What this means is that, instead of getting our sense of worth and value from what we do and how flawlessly we do it, we focus on being who He created us to be and allow the “doing” to flow naturally from the “being”, like ripe fruit falls from a tree.

A peach tree does not have to sit out in the orchard and focus all of its attentions on growing peaches – it simply grows peaches because it IS a peach tree…the “doing” flows naturally from the “being”.

God created us worthy of love, worthy of dignity, worthy of His very best –the sacrifice of His Son in our place – and there is nothing that can change that any more than we can change our DNA from human to any other creature.

Our inherent worth is just as much a part of us as our humanity and it cannot be taken from us. And even if there are those in our life who now deny or have denied us that dignity and worth, it does NOT change the fact that we are inherently worthy of it.

There is more that I will say about this in a future post, but please hold on to the truth that, while we are deserving of no good thing (it cannot be earned), we are fully worthy of God’s BEST (we were created that way!

Soli Deo Gloria

To Be Such a Man

To Be Such a Man

This story was shared with me by a pastor several years ago and I wanted to share it with you all this evening. One of the elders in his church told him this story and said that it had changed his whole outlook on being a believer ad on his response to people that God brings across his path. Here is what he said:

“I sat, with two friends, looking out of the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the town-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day.

As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying a well-worn sign that read, ‘I will work for food.’ My heart sank.

I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and cynicism.

The stranger continued through the square and out of sight and we continued with our meal. The image of the stranger lingered in my mind and I wasn’t as attentive to the conversation or the food as I had been.

We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I was a bit fearful, though, because I knew that seeing him again would call some kind of response on my part. I drove through town but saw nothing of him.

I made a couple of stops, made some purchases at a store and then got back in my car and headed for my office.Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: ‘Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven at least once more around the square…Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven at least once more around the square.’

After a little hesitancy, I headed back into town. As I turned the third corner of the square, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the store-front church, going through his sack.

I stopped and looked; I felt compelled to do two things: I felt compelled to speak to him, yet I also felt compelled just to drive on to my office. The empty parking space on the corner by where the man stood seemed to be a sign from God – like an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town’s newest visitor.

‘Looking for the pastor?’ I asked.

‘Not really,’ he replied, ‘just resting.’

‘Have you eaten today?’

‘Oh, I ate something early this morning, thank you.’

‘Would you like to have lunch with me?’

‘Do you have some work I could do for you?’

‘No work,’ I replied. ‘I have a small one-man office on the outskirts of town, but I would like to take you to lunch.’

‘Sure,’ he replied with a smile.

As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. ‘Where you headed?’

‘St. Louis .’

‘Where you from?’

‘Oh, all over; mostly Florida.’

‘How long you been walking?’

‘Fourteen years,’ came the reply.

I was stunned and I knew I had met someone unusual. He was gentle and well spoken – not at all what a “professional” homeless person seemed like they would be to me.

We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered somewhat beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, ‘Jesus Is The Never Ending Story.’

Daniel – the name of my new friend – began to unfold his story. He had seen some very rough times early in his life. He’d made some wrong and bad choices and had reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier while backpacking across the country, trying to make some sense out of his life, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona, Florida. He had tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought.

He was hired to help for the day, but the tent would not be housing a concert that evening. It would be housing revival services that evening and over the next several days. Daniel stuck around. And it was during those services that he heard some things he had never heard before, felt some things he had never felt before and thought some things that he had never thought before. He began to see his life a whole lot more clearly. On the third night of the revival, he gave his life over to God.

‘Nothing’s been the same since,’ he said, ‘I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did – some 14 years now.’

‘Ever think of stopping?’ I asked.

‘Oh, once in a while, when things seem to get the best of me   But, God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles and talk to people about Jesus Christ. That’s what’s in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out whenever and to whomever His Spirit leads me to.’

I sat there amazed at what I was hearing. My homeless friend was not really homeless. He was on a mission and he lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: ‘What is it like?’

‘What?’

‘To walk into a town carrying all your belongings on your back and to show your sign?’

‘Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a rude gesture that certainly didn’t make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people’s concepts of Him and of other folks like me.’

My perceptions were changing, too. We finished our dessert and he gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, ‘Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.’

I felt as if we were standing on holy ground. ‘Could you use another Bible?’ I asked.

He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well, was not too heavy and was easy for people to understand. It was also his personal favorite. ‘I’ve read through it 14 times,’ he said.

‘I’m not sure we’ve got one of those, but let’s stop by our church and see.’  I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful.

‘Where are you headed from here?’ I asked.

‘Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon,’ he said, pulling out a folded and well-worn flyer from his hip pocket.

‘Are you hoping to hire on there for awhile?’

‘No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that’s where I’m going next.’

He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated with the peace from His relationship with Christ and with the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we’d met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and he unloaded his things.

‘Would you sign my autograph book?’ he asked. ‘I like to keep messages from folks I meet.’

I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; Plans to give you a future and a hope.’

‘Thanks, man,’ he said. ‘I know we just met and we’re really just strangers, but I love you.’

‘I know,’ I said, ‘I love you, too.’

‘The Lord is good!’

‘Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?’ I asked.

‘A long time,’ he replied.

And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed. He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, ‘See you in the New Jerusalem!’

‘I’ll be there!’ was my reply.

And so he set out on his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, ‘When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?’

‘You can count on it!’ I shouted back. ‘God bless you!’

‘God bless you, man!’ And that was the last I ever saw of him.

Late that evening as I left my office, the wind was blowing strong. The cold front had settled hard over our town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them… a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the brake handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend, wondering if his hands would stay warm that night without them.

Then I remembered his words:  ‘If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?’

Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry. ‘See you in the New Jerusalem,’ he had said. Yes, Daniel, I know I will…”

 

If this story touched you, perhaps you would share with us how it has done so?

‘I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.’

Prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards. Let’s continue to pray for one another as often as we think of one another. Pray that the Lord God will bless and keep us in the center of His will that day. We never know when that small prayer could make all the difference in the world for someone.

‘Father, I ask you to bless my friends, relatives and loved ones, and even those with whom I am at odds right now. Bless them right this very moment. Show them a new revelation of Your love and Your power. I pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to their spirit even as I pray this prayer. Where there is pain, bring them Your comfort and give them Your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence in and through Your grace. Where there is sin, bring repentance and cleansing though Jesus’ precious blood. In His mighty name I pray. Amen.’

Soli Deo Gloria

Merry Christmas