On my walk into work this morning, a woman stopped me near the corner of Grand and 20th Street to ask for money.
“Do you have a dollar for a homeless woman?” she asked.
“I have something better, I told her.
I was carrying a bag of food that my daughter Annie prepared last night for the homeless people who set up camp in the park by my office. I started taking out sandwiches, bags of pretzels and bottled water and handing them to her. I asked her name and she told me it was Carrie P. I noticed right away that she was wearing a cross around her neck.
“The teaching of Jesus Christ comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with, because it is out of all proportion to our natural way of looking at things, but Jesus puts in a new sense of proportion, and slowly we form our way of walking and our conversation on the line of His precepts. Remember that our Lord’s teaching applies only to those who are His disciples.”
Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Early one Sunday morning I rolled over and looked at my bedside table. My bible was lying where it had been all night — a foot away from me, under the reading lamp — like a protector. I sat up and looked at the book’s leather cover and its sheer weight. I rubbed my eyes, then shook my head and thought, “How did I ever become a Christian?”
Some mornings are like this, especially Sundays when I know in a few hours I’ll be getting dressed and heading to the second service at Life Mission Church. The disbelief also nags at me when I’m putting on my crucifix necklace or catch a glimpse of it in the bathroom mirror when getting ready for the workday. I just wouldn’t have guessed that I would eventually become such a committed Christian. But I am.
I made a new best friend at summer camp this year. Here’s an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote during “God time” while we were at camp.
July 8th, 2015 – – This morning I went on a hike with Aadan, a 12-year-old boy who gave his life to Christ last night. This was the first morning of his new life. I was dressed and ready to slip out of the cabin on a hike, alone, when I saw him searching for his glasses by our bunk beds. I told him I would go fill my water bottle from the well by our lodge and then wait for him by the stairs coming down from our room.
The water was winter cold and I filled up my aluminum bottle and slipped it in my backpack because it was too chilled to hold. Aadan still wasn’t outside yet so I waited for him while watching sparrows make flashes in the underbrush. I was on alert because I knew there were mountain lions and even black bears near our campsite. I still felt weary from the night before – – a 12-hour drive straight through from Kansas City to Colorado Springs followed by a late night, fireside revival.
I learned a long time ago as a punk kid growing up in the Dotte that material possessions are not what this world is about. This was an easy lesson for me because our family had nothing of any real value then (except each other, of course.) I cannot say – at any point of my life – what my most “prized” possession was because my mind doesn’t work that way. I could walk away from my house right now and leave everything if I felt the need – and to tell you the truth, I’ve thought about doing that a lot recently. But all that being said, this statue is the first item I have ever owned that bears any real meaning. My cousin Ron gave this to me on the Fourth of July after reading one of my Facebook posts about helping a homeless man on my drive into work one morning. Ron is a youth leader in his church and, like his father (my uncle Floyd) before him, he has an exceptional ability to relate to children with his sense of humor and, when needed, the stop-you-in-your-tracks-firm-but-tender words of a caring father. Ron has overcome challenges in his life, as we all have, and is deep in his walk with The Lord now. He has masterfully led the proceedings at the funerals for some of my dearest relatives. He has become one of the spiritual leaders for our family. I am honored that he gave me this, Homeless Jesus, which came to him as a gift at a youth conference he attended last month. I’m honored that he thought of me and decided to give it freely – in the true spirit of Jesus. I have to admit – I’m slightly ashamed to say I accepted it. But as any Christian knows, it’s the free gift that Jesus gives that is the most valuable of all. I love you Ron …
The drive is only about 20 minutes, but those minutes might as well be years as you head south on the interstate toward Ottawa, Kansas.
The rings of suburban houses and strip malls fade away and all that’s left are pastures, distant barns and the occasional roadside antique mall.
We turned off at the first exit – our car slowing to a crawl after traveling close to 80, legally, on the road – and turned left at the first stop light onto Main Street that leads “downtown.” On either side of the road are two strips of two-story, brick buildings 150-plus years old with window faces and narrow front doors.
At some point every day, I read this entry from Oswald Chamber’s classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest. The passage involves Paul, the author of 13 books in the New Testament and the apostle whose writings have affected me most. Strangely enough, last week I photocopied this page so I could post it in my house — someplace where my eyes would be sure to fall across it. Only after taking the copy off the copy machine did I see that this particular piece of writing fell on my birthday, April 2:
“When Paul received his sight, he also received spiritual insight into the Person of Jesus Christ. His entire life and preaching from that point on were totally consumed with nothing but Jesus Christ – ‘For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul never again allowed anything to attract and hold the attention of his mind and soul except the face of Jesus Christ.
“We must learn to maintain a strong degree of character in our lives, even to the level that has been revealed in our vision of Jesus Christ.
“The lasting characteristic of a spiritual man is the ability to understand correctly the meaning of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life, and the ability to explain the purposes of God to others. The overruling passion of his life is Jesus Christ. Whenever you see this quality in a person, you get the feeling that he is a man after God’s own heart (see Acts 13:22).
“Never allow anything to divert you from your insight into Jesus Christ. It is the true test of whether you are spiritual or not. To be unspiritual means that other things have a growing fascination for you.”
In the few weeks before I became a Christian, someone was dropped into my life who I am certain is an angel. Not purely divine, of course, but someone who is most assuredly blessed — who walks and lives among us. Heaven opens over her and her presence seems to bring about great and incredible things.
Our relationship has been left intentionally undefined by both of us – because, while it’s been unspoken, we’re both “recovering” in a way. But since meeting her, I have been observant of other individuals in my world who could potentially be angels – people I know and love, and sometimes strangers. My mother is the only other definite person I’ve landed on as angelic.
This morning, though, while I sat at an intersection near my office downtown, I felt a strange pull toward a sight along the roadside. I saw someone wrapped from head to toe in a purple blanket, lying on a hill of grass near West Pennway and Southwest Boulevard. I couldn’t tell if the body was a man or woman. But there “it” was, lying there asleep while a few thousand cars drove by. I drove past too, initially, then when the light changed, I made a U-turn and stopped on a side street.
I walked over to the body and when I was about 10 feet away, I said loudly, “Excuse me, sir …” There was some motion, but the body didn’t sit up. I repeated what I said, only this time I added, “I have some money for you.” Then the blanket was pulled back. He was an older man, probably almost 50 years old with short-cropped gray hair and skin the color of a Goodyear tire. I knelt next to him. I had two fives rolled up in my fist where he could see them. He seemed surprised and didn’t take the money.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
When he spoke, I saw he was missing several teeth on his bottom row. He told me his name but I couldn’t hear him over the passing traffic, so I asked again. “J.T.” he said.
“J.T.,” I said. “Try to have a good day, ok?”
He took the money and said, “God bless you sir.”
He couldn’t have said anything more wonderful than that to me: God bless. I know sometimes we refrain from giving money to the homeless because of how it could be spent. But even if he used it to buy alcohol or even drugs, that would still be an exercise on my part in forgiveness.
These people you see lying around under the overpasses downtown or begging for food … what if they were something more than downtrodden? What if they were tests of your spirit and what’s in your own soul? I have learned in the last year to see through people and to find their essence. This is at the heart of Christianity.
You don’t have to be a Christian to be kind and loving, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. There are angels everywhere. I’m grateful to know the names of at least three.