Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Ten years ago I was invited here to speak at an urban missions week. The church seemed serious about reaching out to their community so I decided to take a calculated risk. I told them that if they really wanted to change the neighborhood, they needed to move in, become neighbors, and begin to take seriously the great command to love God and love their neighbors as themselves. A couple of members had already taken this courageous step. I encouraged the pastoral staff to lead the way for others in the congregation. That was ten years ago.
Recently I was invited back. The pastor's son, now an associate minister, led me proudly to his office and showed me a large map of the city. Blue dots pinpointed where every church member lived. To my utter amazement, the neighborhood around the church was nearly solid blue. "How many members do you have living there now?" I asked. "Nearly two hundred fifty!" he smiled. He and his wife had bought a home there, he said. So had his dad. And a number of the staff. I was speechless.
"And so what has happened in the community?" I was eager to learn. They had started a number of programs, he told me - an after school tutoring program, summer camp, ESL classes, a counseling ministry to single moms. They had formed a community development corporation (CDC) and had hired a full-time director to coordinate these programs and mobilize volunteers to run them. "And what is happening in the community?" I asked again. The pastor's son seemed a bit confused by my question but courteously repeated the list of programs he had just described. "Yes, but what is happening in the community?" I persisted. "Has crime gone down? Has drug trafficking dried up? Has prostitution left? Has the education level improved in the neighborhood schools?"
"No, not really," the young pastor admitted. The streets were still unsafe. There were still a lot of break-ins, a lot of crack houses. The schools were still bad. "Sometimes I wonder if our living there really makes any difference," he confessed quietly. I picked up a note of discouragement in his voice. Property values were edging up, he was pleased about that. But the neighborhood association was ineffective - run by a few loud-mouthed activists who were always bickering over city grants and never getting anything done. No, the neighborhood hadn't really changed all that much.
I was stunned. I had obviously made a wrong assumption. I had assumed that if resourced Christians relocated into an area of need they would have a transforming impact on their neighborhood - if for no other reason than their own self-interest. I was wrong.
How could two hundred fifty committed Christians, all with a concern for the poor and sufficiently motivated to relocate in the inner-city, have such little influence in changing their community? In the meetings that followed with the pastoral staff and other church members who had moved in, I probed deeper. The programs were definitely helping some of the kids and families, they told me, but their converts were not coming to church - the class and cultural divide was too great. Their vision for a multi-racial church was not working as they had hoped. They were now exploring other options. Should the church change its style of worship to accommodate more ethnic diversity? Or perhaps they should start new churches where the poor and immigrant populations would feel more comfortable? Each time I asked about life in the neighborhood, the responses seemed to end up on the issue of church. "Is there a vision for the community?" I pressed. The question drew puzzled looks and more talk of evangelism and getting people into the church.
And then it dawned on me. These were suburban Christians, born and bred in individualism, who had brought into the city with them a church-centric theology of personal salvation and corporate worship. Ministry to the poor - ministry to anyone - was evangelism-driven. A vision for the rebirth of a community could only be understood through the lens of saving souls and church growth. The reclaiming of dangerous streets, the regeneration of broken systems, the transformation of corrupted political power - these were aspects of God's redeeming work that had somehow been omitted from their Biblical teaching. Of course they had no vision for their community. They had no theological framework on which to fashion one.
It would be a serious error to diminish in any way the wonder of God's transforming work in the heart of a woman or man. It would be equally wrong to devalue the importance of worship. To even hint at such things would have brought our dialogue to an abrupt end. Yet, if this church was to ever grasp a vision for the transformation of their community, they must begin to consider that there is more to salvation than the saving of an individual soul. Redemption has societal implications, not merely personal. Closing down a crack house that is destroying the lives of youth is as least as redemptive as rescuing a child from its clutches. Organizing a crime watch to eliminate break-ins is an important part of establishing the Shalom that God desires for all His creation. The love of neighbor - not a small concern to God - is best seen and is certainly more effectual on the streets where they live than behind the walls where they worship.
We definitely have more work to do."
It’s time for healing, time to move on,
it’s time to fix what’s been broken too long
Time to make right what has been wrong;
it’s time to find my way to where I belong
There’s a wave that’s crashing over me, and all I can do is surrender
Whatever You’re doing inside of me
It feels like chaos, but somehow there’s peace
And it’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see, but I’m giving in to something heavenly
Time for a milestone, time to begin again, re-evaluate who I really am
Am I doing everything to follow Your will or just climbing aimlessly over these hills?
So show me what it is You want from me
I give everything – I surrender
Time to face up, clean this old house
Time to breathe in and let everything out that I’ve wanted to say for so many years
Time to release all my held back tears
Whatever You’re doing inside of me
It feels like chaos, but I believe …
You’re up to something bigger than me
Larger than life, something heavenly
Whatever You’re doing inside of me
It feels like chaos, but now I can see
This is something bigger than me
Larger than life
Something heavenly, something heavenly
Time to face up, clean this old house
Time to breathe in and let everything out
Monday, April 27, 2009
- the Garden will help people to reclaim their neighborhoods turning filth into beauty
- produce fresh, organic and delicious food
- Gardening gives kid and young people a productive, educational and confidence-building activity ( lets night forget the bible lessons that can be taught:)
- the Garden will provide daily recreation and social interaction for retirees
- provide income(maybe)
- providing healthier alternatives for those who live in our hood..and many,many more
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Many times, you have to go back and remind yourself of what is it the LORD has ordained for your trials and sufferings to bring about. The more and more I go through trials, the more and more my love for the things of this world decreases. Amen for that.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
"Mary Phillips lived in our home before my earliest recollection. She was like a member of our family, a grand motherly figure to me. When I was seriously ill as a baby, she sat and rocked me for days on end, long days that caused a special bond to grow between us. MeMe, as I called her (a name that stuck with her the rest of her life), worked for a dry cleaner. I remember as a little tyke, when supper time approached, I would watch out our front window for her to get off the bus. She seemed to take great joy in seeing me race to the door to greet her with a hug. Each evening, she would delight me with a surprise. She would reach into her coat pocket and, glancing around to be sure no one else would see, secretly slip me some little trinket or piece of candy, pretending that no one else in the world knew. "You're my boy," she would say with affection, an affirmation I relished, though it did cost me some teasing from my older sister.
I remember like it was yesterday (though I was only four) the day MeMe stopped giving me those daily surprises. I had run to the door to greet her as I always did and, after a big hug, waited expectantly to see what she had brought for me. But for some reason on that particular day she had nothing in her pocket for me. I immediately threw a temper tantrum, creating quite an ugly, tearful scene. MeMe was obviously distressed by my behavior and vowed that she was not going to bring me any more surprises. I assumed, of course, that this was her way of warning me to control such outbursts in the future. I was confident that my special friend, as soon as she recovered from my tirade, would continue expressing her affection for "her boy" as she always had. But the following day when she arrived home from work her pockets contained no treats. The next day was the same. And the next. And the next. I could hardly believe it! How could someone who said I was her special friend be so unforgiving and punishing? It wasn't until many years later that I understood why she had so abruptly stopped her daily surprises. MeMe's giving had become an entitlement and the joy had gone out of it.
A very different but analogous episode took place in our Atlanta neighborhood a number of Christmases ago. Our ministry had been receiving many offers of food, clothes and toys from caring supporters who wanted to share their abundance with the less fortunate at this special season. We asked Zack, an emerging young community leader, if he would assume responsibility for identifying needy recipients and passing out the donations. He accepted the role with eagerness. The first year was a delight as Zack delivered unexpected blessings to the homes of those whose cupboards were bare. The next year, however, his enthusiasm diminished as he was pressured by recipients for special favors and specific gifts. By year three, Zack was ready to quit. Recipients grumbled about their lack of choices, made accusations of favoritism and claimed priority rights based on their longevity in the program. What began as a joyful sharing of unexpected resources had turned into an entitlement program. When the gifts became rights, the joy departed.
MeMe and Zack figured out what it seems to take charities and churches much longer to learn. And what governments seldom learn. Something goes wrong with giving when the recipient comes to expect it. Gratitude turns into presumption. And the benefactor ends up promoting the very thing he hopes to abate: dependency. In the reciprocity of the marketplace, unlike charity programs, there is a built-in corrective to this dilemma. Both seller and purchaser come to the table with something of value to offer and each stands to gain. Both enter the exchange with worth and exit with dignity.
Contemporary charity, on the contrary, is a wholly other dynamic. Transactions are one-way. Polite smiles conceal the unspoken expectations of the donor. Charity in the best of circumstances creates a sense of obligation in the recipient; at its worst it produces resentment. A traditional Chinese saying, acknowledging the potentially torturous relationship that giving creates between the one who gives and the one who receives, puts it this way: "Why do you hate me? I have never given you anything."
"The Lord loves a cheerful giver," the scripture says. Obviously, there is something very good about giving, and the joy it produces - something that reflects the character of the Divine Giver. The original Giver seems to take special delight in bestowing gifts in ways that catch us by surprise at every turn. Even in adversity He startles us with blessing.
Yet, it is no simple matter to understand God's ways of giving. Though utterly capable and dependable, He often appears to be capricious. He heals on one occasion and not another, answers this prayer and not that, intervenes supernaturally in one instance and allows natural consequences to play out in another. He is at once absolutely consistent yet totally unpredictable. He causes the sun to rise every morning yet may never answer a prayer the same way. He somehow provides security without creating dependency. In the mystery of His giving there lies a secret to the joyfulness He intends for those He created in His image.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." (Matt 6:3, NIV) There is a clue here. Public announcement diminishes the joy of giving. Anonymous giving, on the other hand, not only checks one's motives but keeps the elements of surprise and wonder in the process as well. It may be somewhat impractical in an age of checks, receipts and tax deductions, especially for sizable or sustained giving. Never the less, the unadulterated joy of a quiet, unexpected gift, well given, is still its own rich reward.
Anonymous giving, in its essence, is fundamentally different from the clothes-closet, food-pantry-type giving that proclaims itself as charity while disclosing the neediness of the recipient. When the surprise goes out of giving, as MeMe and Zack discovered, it loses its magic. If giving is to have enduring health, the dignity of authentic exchange must be introduced into the process. At some point the Divine gifts of sunshine and rain must be met with the human response of planting and harvest. Food pantries and clothes closets, if they are to ennoble the human spirit, must convert to coops and thrift stores.
Ancient Hebrew wisdom describes four levels of charity. The highest level is to provide a job for one in need without his knowing that you provided it. The next lower level is to provide work that the needy one knows you provided. The third level is to give an anonymous gift. The lowest level of charity, to be avoided if at all possible, is to give a poor person a gift with his full knowledge that you are the donor.
The design of giving is to produce joy and satisfaction in the heart of the donor, and wonder and appreciation in the soul of the recipient. Its ultimate aim is to bring glory to the One from whom every good and perfect gift comes. Joyful giving is no unthinking, pity-response of a too-soft or too-busy heart. Rather, it is a mindful, care-full investment that ignites gladness and affirms the dignity of the human spirit."
Robert D. Lupton
Monday, April 20, 2009
I got a phone call today saying there was a shooting in our neighborhood, next block over to be exact. A friend of mine called my husband to warn him that the block was full of police and detectives so that he could properly prepare himself to take another route to drop kids off at home. My initial reaction at first was not fear but, "Oh LORD, not again, not another shooting". The concern was overwhelming thinking about the chances of it being one of the many kids that are in and out of my home everyday. One teenager who was over today was caring around a b-b gun that looked JUST like a real gun. A friend and I after seeing it was immediately concerned that someone out in the streets could easily mistake it for a real one and you know how the story goes after that..not good.
Any other day these and past circumstances might have thrown me off of my rocker a little bit, but let me tell you something...TIME IN THE WORD is the weapon that will kill all fear, & doubt. Today as I was reading the scriptures, the LORD graciously brought Nicodemus to mind. We are talking about a member of the Jewish council ( which was powerful back then).The significant thing about this Pharisee was how he was attracted to Jesus character and miracles. Then there is Paul the Apostle. A trained Pharisee who persecuted and killed Christians. Reading about these two men today reminded me tonight of God's GRACE. My study notes in my bible said ( which I could not have agreed more) "God specializes in finding and changing people we consider out of reach." I am thankful,yet amazed that God's grace through FAITH in CHRIST are available to ALL PEOPLE even those I spoke of above and even those you know personally and feel they don't deserve a inch of justice or grace. Though I have never killed anyone, I have done my share of sin ( and the saga continues) and does not the LORD look at all our mess as sin. One is not more sinful then the other. Sin is sin and all is offensive to the LORD.
I go to sleep tonight in the midst of chaos around me. Yet, I go to bed with HOPE, hope that the LORD can change all that happens in the light as well as the dark areas of my hood.
As I have read, "God does not waste our time; he will use our past and present so we may serve him with our future." I hope to one day hear of many stories of thugs, prostitutes, rapist,ect.. be transformed by the power of the GOSPEL. This same Gospel that transformed men such as Paul and Nicodemus. I believe that the gospel is just that powerful! My LORD, what a example I am of that!!!
In Romans 12:13, Paul points out that one effect of God’s mercy on his people is that they “seek to show hospitality.”
Seek. Pursue. Chase after.
They are not merely willing to be hospitable when someone comes to the door or asks for a favor. But they seek to show hospitality. They’re looking for and creating opportunities to be hospitable, not just answering the doorbell.
That Paul would point to seeking, not merely being willing to be hospitable, makes sense. After all, it’s an implication he’s drawing from the gospel—a gospel that says God was not merely hospitable to us when we asked him, but he sought to show hospitality.
He took initiative toward us before we showed up at his door or asked for any favors.
I’m thinking who we should have over next.
Alrighty then...well..there you have it!!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Many times in urban ministry I have this belief that the 'evil' one is succeeding in all his ways. Many times I feel as if we are alone and the LORD for some odd reason does not hear the intercessory prayers of his saints below. This past weekend the drug dealers hosted an Easter Bar-B-Que. There were games, prizes,a space walk, you name it, they pulled no punches for this party. Lets not forget the alcohol and hundreds of drug money that was thrown out into the crowd for the little kids to catch. I am sure this was their way ( as well as Satan's) to lure these kids into believing that this drug dealing life that they live is one to chase after. It makes me sick!!
As I opened my computer this morning the verse on my desktop reads:
"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes."
Be still....Be still...exactly what does that mean??( in some translations the word here is 'Rest')
The Hebrew word there is 'damam' (daw-mam)- to be dumb; to be astonished, to stop, also to bear, hold peace, quiet self, rest, be silent, keep (put to) silence, be (stand) still, tarry,wait.
Simply put, I am to TRUST the LORD and believe in what HE can and will do in the months/ years to come for our neighborhood. ( and my family) I am to arm myself against distrust and discontent when it comes to the possibilities and character of the LORD.Matthew Henry in his commentary on Psalm 37 says this:
"Let us compose ourselves by believing in God: "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him (v. 7), that is, be well reconciled to all he does and acquiesce in it, for that is best that is, because it is what God has appointed; and be well satisfied that he will still make all to work for good to us, though we know not how or which way.’’ Be silent to the Lord (so the word is), not with a sullen, but a submissive silence. A patient bearing of what is laid upon us, with a patient expectation of what is further appointed for us, is as much our interest as it is our duty, for it will make us always easy; and there is a great deal of reason for it, for it is making a virtue of necessity. 2. Let us not discompose ourselves at what we see in this world: "Fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his wicked way, who, though he is a bad man, yet thrives and grows rich and great in the world; no, nor because of him who does mischief with his power and wealth, and brings wicked devices to pass against those that are virtuous and good, who seems to have gained his point and to have run them down. If thy heart begins to rise at it, stroke down thy folly, and cease from anger..."
That has brought much peace to my soul. At that moment I began to think about the other verses that talk about the wicked not prospering in their ways.
Job 20:28 A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God's wrath. Psalm 73:18-19 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
I am thankful for the NEW MINISTRY partners that will be joining us over this summer and fall (possibility) We have just hired two families,- ( one husband will oversee our community development and the other will have a role in the leadership of our future church plant)
two singles(Joshua- who will minister on a local college campus and bring students to help minister in our hood; Keisha- who will head up our Women ministry, as well as offer biblical counseling to those hurting around us. I will give you a more detailed introduction of them later this week) All of the mentioned above have decided that it is BEST to relocate from where they are and live with us here in our community. We are thrilled about that!
I am thankful for the reminder that CHRIST death has defeated all evil, past, present and future!!! I am thankful and was very overwhelmed with joy this morning as I met with a mother and daughter team that will help me begin a community garden on the property of our NEW ministry space. This garden will house green beans, okra, field peas, and an array of herbs! In the future we are also looking to began a strawberry patch! What I love the most about having the opportunity to tend a garden is, the beauty of what and how this will help transform our neighborhood and minister to the WHOLE person. This garden will teach and train many of the benefits of eating healthier, many families and singles will have the opportunity to have fresh fruits and vege's without having to break the bank to afford them, lets not forget the lessons in Math, Science and most importantly the GOSPEL that could very will begin in that field. We talk a lot about the gospel being holistic and this provides the opportunity to show many what that looks like as well as what it means, all for the GLORY of the LORD!
The Scripture above says to WAIT, to REST, to BE STILL...as I think about all the new and exciting changes CGM is going through it brings tears because I see the LORD moving. I am witnessing what waiting and being still brings..whether the LORD decided to make it happen here on EARTH or in HEAVEN, waiting and being still before the LORD brings good news for all those who TRUST in HIS HOLY NAME.
Friday, April 10, 2009
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
That is not to say that the church is community-friendly, however. It is just not community-unfriendly. Some neighbors even remember that a few years back church members went door-to-door inviting community children to enroll in their summer vacation Bible school. But they haven't done this for some time now. Like most all of the churches in our neighborhood, Lighthouse Tabernacle Holiness Church, Inc. is a commuter church and neither pastor nor parishioners live in the area. Because they drive in from other places they have little vested interest in the neighborhood - except, of course, their building, which they maintain beautifully.
In 1934 (the date on its cornerstone) the church was a vital part of the life of the neighborhood. It served as a moral compass, a spiritual strand in the fabric of the community. The pastor lived in a parsonage next door and his children attended the neighborhood schools. His voice carried authority when he attended PTA meetings for he spoke not only for his own children but also for those of his congregation. Tithes and offerings stayed largely in the community, paying for salaries, youth programs, benevolence for those in need and, of course, the building. When the church bought the adjacent lot to build an educational wing, the neighborhood was supportive. What was good for the church, they knew, was good for the community. That's when the church was of the community.
But over time members moved to the suburbs and eventually the church was sold to another group. The new pastor owned a home in another part of the city and had no need for the parsonage. The new congregation was friendly enough but their busy lives were invested elsewhere. Their community "outreach" efforts were well-intentioned but lacked consistency. And they gave the subtle impression that they viewed neighborhood folk as "the lost", which seemed not a very community-friendly theology. Though the church building continued to be attractively maintained, the church was no longer of the community.
Expressways and multiple-car families have changed everything over the past 50 years. Even the church. Especially the church. From an institution rooted in the soil of community it has become a spiritual health club for commuters. Pastors now measure their success by the number of zip codes they draw their membership from. Accessibility and parking have become two of the church's greatest challenges. Church growth consultants advise locating on a visible site along an expressway near an exit for easy access. In a strange twist of history, church growth has fallen subject to the same "impact studies" required of ampha-theatres and shopping centers. The church, as it has conformed to the commuter age, must now be scrutinized for its disruptiveness to neighborhoods.
A watershed decision took place eight years ago in Atlanta when the largest, most powerful church in my denomination applied to the city for a permit to build yet another addition to their already huge facility. To everyone's disbelief, they were turned down flat - something that had not happened before to a church in Atlanta. The premise had always been: what's good for the church is good for the community. But not this time. Neighbors showed up en-mass at public hearings to protest. Enough jammed streets. Enough blocked driveways. Enough police directing traffic on their residential streets. And the city listened. The substantial political and legal muscle that the church was able to summon was unable to reverse city council's vote. From that landmark decision onward, churches in Atlanta have had great difficulty obtaining building permits without strong support from the "impacted" community. Even a large youth center proposed by the mega World Changers church, arguably a needed resource for the youth on the south side, was recently turned down by the city. Congestion issues.
Many religious leaders are convinced that this resistance to church growth is a manifestation of demonic opposition to the work of God's Kingdom. I have a different opinion. Rather than demonic, I believe it is prophetic. This new phenomenon of community resistance to churches is not so much the influence of "principalities and powers" subverting the work of God as it is the cry of a people whose churches are no longer part of the life of their communities. It is more a plea than a protest, I believe, that arises out of the soul of a society who has lost a fundamental social mooring - community. When our culture traded front porch neighborhood life for private backyard patios, when we succumbed to the seduction of individualism and lost touch with our next-door neighbors, a void was created in the spirit of our people that chat rooms cannot fill. The commuting church, with its scattered members buzzing in and out of the neighborhood, is one more troubling reminder of what we have lost. A community-starved society, by its protests, is calling the church back to its historic mandate: to be the exemplar within the community of both love of God and love of neighbor.-Bob Lupton
Monday, April 6, 2009
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We repeat it every Sunday. It is so commonplace for Christians that its profound meaning slips right past us. We ask for the Kingdom of Heaven to come, here, now, scarcely realizing what we have prayed for.
For the One who gave us the prayer it had enormous meaning. The Kingdom is at hand, He declared to His followers. He told them stories to describe it — a lost coin, a pearl of great price, a farmer scattering seed, a wedding feast, a mustard seed. He told them this Kingdom would be full of surprises, upside-down from the way they normally think — the first will be last, the greatest will be least, the poor will be favored over the rich, the servant will be greater than the master. It seemed like this Kingdom was all He talked about. And it was all so confusing to His close friends. His directions were extreme (like giving away your second coat and forgiving your offender seventy times seven) and His stories were often difficult to decipher.
For some reason He left without clarifying things for them, or us. He left us with the prayer and some parables, and the assurance that if we lived the way He told us to (loving one another) that the Spirit He was sending would lead us into all truth. So here we are, still trying to figure out the meaning of the Kingdom that He introduced.
I tried to follow that Spirit when I left my business career and moved into the inner-city to live among the poor. I came with a ready-made package of Good News, ready to offer it in word or deed or both to any needy soul who was receptive. That’s when I began to discover just how surprising the Kingdom really is. Among the destitute I observed faith to believe God for their daily bread — faith like I had never had to exercise. Among those who had only enough food to last them a day I saw a willingness to share with those who had even less. I had come to bring the light of the Gospel into the darkness of the ghetto only to find that the greater darkness was not in the ghetto but within me. A penetrating light exposed in me an anemic faith supported by ample physical securities, a self-centeredness neatly camouflaged behind a sacrificial servant image, a spiritual pride wrapped in graciousness. The Kingdom had found me!
I began to suspect then that the Kingdom was not something I was going to “bring about” or recruit people into but rather it was something more elusive, something that had to be discovered — again and again. Like when I was talking with Raymond — poor, broken, homeless, alcoholic Raymond — who showed up from time to time at our Wednesday noon lunches. He was helping me mop some tar over a leak in the church roof, hot, messy work that he had considerable experience in. Feeling grateful for the job and happy about the few dollars it would put into his pocket, he said in all seriousness: “Bob, I ain’t no Christian but I love my Jesus.” Now what do you do with that? Raymond was hardly a living example of the victorious Christian life, anyone who could smell would attest to that. Half the time he slept on a bench in the park, picked up odd jobs when he was sober enough, seldom shaved his matted salt-and-pepper beard. His life was ensnared in an unending spiral of bad choices - permanently ensnared, it would seem. What could he possibly know of Jesus?
As I listened to his ramblings, it became clearer. Who but Jesus could he talk to on those long, shivering nights alone in the park? Who stayed with him when others kept their distance and he had only the warmth of his bottle for comfort? Who helped him find the next meal, the next job? Who was there when he was rousted by the police, pushed into the back of a cruiser, booked into the city jail for vagrancy? No family to pay bail, no friends to turn to, alone in his pillar-to-post existence — except for Jesus. Now there was a true friend! “I ain’t no Christian...” he said it again, just couldn‛t live the life. But whatever would he do without the faithful companionship of his Jesus?
Raymond, wasted, foggy-minded old Raymond with one eye gouged out, teaching me about Jesus! Go figure. I never realized that Jesus hung around with Raymond’s kind, let alone answered their prayers. I always thought Jesus liked good witnesses, people a bit more like, well, me. Devout people, upright. Then again, I remembered what He said about the righteous guy giving a glowing testimony in the front of the temple and the poor sinner in the back who beat on his chest and begged for mercy. Hmm. Maybe Raymond had some insight there that had escaped me. The Kingdom seems so full of surprises. And elusive.
Raymond and a host of other unlikely messengers have largely dismantled my well defined conception of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not, as I had presumed, for the well-heeled but the bedraggled — it’s real hard for achievers to get in, Jesus said. The respectable ones end up not coming to the Kingdom wedding feast, but the social outcasts are welcomed in. Raymond at the wedding feast?! So where does that leave me? Taken a-back. Humbled. Not quite so confident of my buttoned-down, well-rehearsed answers. One thing is for certain. On Sunday mornings when I stand and pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” I no longer experience it as the confident rhetoric of the prosperous church triumphant but rather a plea that I might catch glimpses of this mysterious spiritual Kingdom and be transformed by it.