A couple from out of town needs a place to stay…

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Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

“There’s someone on the phone — they need a place to stay tonight.”

“OK, I’ll talk to them.” When I pick up the phone, I never know how the conversation will go. Even though I’ve heard the request before, it’s never the same experience.

“Hey, how can I help you?” The story was familiar but unique. Evicted, no transportation, friend picking them up tomorrow to drive them back up north, need a place to spend the night. He and his wife were at the hospital last night until they were asked to leave the ER waiting room. Now they were waiting at a gas station, calling around to find someone who would pay for a motel room.

In the “olden” days, you would work your way through the yellow pages listing of churches in the area. Today, I guess you google “churches” and find out who’s in the area. Then you start calling until you reach someone who will help you out.

I had about an hour before a scheduled visit and had just finished up a sermon for tomorrow, so I agreed to come and get them and take them to a motel. It wasn’t out of my way and it’s not a lot of money and mercy is a good thing, so I headed out the door and down the road.

On the way, I though to myself, “Shouldn’t you be more careful?” I mean, you have no idea who is on the other end of that conversation. You have no idea what they are really up to. You are just going to go there and pick up a guy and his wife and take them to a hotel?

Then I thought, “Oh, stop it. What are they going to do, rob me? I was going to give them the 11 bucks in my pocket anyway. I’m meeting them at a public place. If they look creepy, I’ll figure something out. Why don’t you try trusting God? He made sure you had extra time today. He’s got your back, you know.”

I pulled in, walked up and met one of the nicest couples I’ve encountered in a long time. They had come to Florida from Pennsylvania, couldn’t really make it here, and were headed back where they had family support. They had been married just over a year, were feeling very alone, and very, very grateful. After a short ride, the very kind hotel manager got them situated, I had a chance to pray with them, and we parted ways.

What would I do if I were in that situation? Who would I call if I had no where else to turn? I have no idea. They had more courage and faith than I did today, humbly reaching out to a stranger, any stranger, for help. I think God is starting to get somewhere with me. My gut more often tells me “have mercy” than “be careful.”

And I didn’t even see it till just now: this is Christmas. A couple from out of town looking for a place to say. No baby, but maybe someday. You know what? This is even better than being in a Christmas play or live nativity!

 

Denied.

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Photo by Peter Miranda on Unsplash

I just started reading the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and I think I had forgotten how harsh that prophetic message is. By the end of the second chapter God is basically saying, “Don’t come to me for help. Go to all those gods you’ve been worshiping” (Jeremiah 2:28).

So I began to wonder, at what point could I turn someone away who has been away from the church for a long, long time, but comes back for some a la carte spiritual food? Like someone who you haven’t heard from in about fifteen years who calls up one day and says, “Can I get my kids baptized this Sunday?” Or another who stops by the church now and again and sends an email asking me to do their wedding eighteen months from now. I denied both requests.

Of course I felt guilty. How could I not, seeing as how Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son being welcomed home? And there have been families who have been away for a while who have recently reconnected with the church. And I had no problem with them.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I always thought Uncle Ben said that to Peter Parker (Spiderman). Actually, it is attributed to Voltaire. Anyway, it applies here. Jesus gives the church the authority to forgive or not, to loose or bind people in their sin.

But how do you know whether to apply mercy or accountability in a given situation? The catechism says you forgive the sins of the repentant. But how do you know if someone is repentant?

The bottom line is, you don’t. You can talk to someone and try to understand their story. You could look for the fruits of repentance. But in the end, you really don’t know. I tend to lean towards compassion, but in the two examples above, I just couldn’t do it.

Sometimes Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Other times he said, “You’re already condemned” (John 3:18). Jesus didn’t like it when the Pharisees shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. Yet he also warned against giving pearls to the pigs.

But Jesus was better at sorting things out. He’s really good at reading hearts and minds.

And he’s great at keeping me on task. I’m not supposed to be a religious sub-contractor, providing various services. I’m just the messenger.

 

All the signs are there

58054dca7ec3a.imageNo church today. Waiting for Hurricane Irma to traverse the Florida peninsula. Plenty of time to think and pray…

Of course you’re going to hear about it. You’ve thought about it, too. How could you not? All the pieces are there: a total eclipse, back-to-back hurricanes hitting the United States, a devastating earthquake in Mexico City, scorching wildfires in the west after record high temperatures and years of drought, hatred and violence in places like Charlottesville, VA and nuclear war just over the horizon. Science fiction writer John Scalzi tweeted, “These aren’t the End Times, but it sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now” (1:20 pm Sept 8. 2017)

[Jesus said,] “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

Just make sure you keep reading. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). The coming of our Lord is good news for God’s people. We’ve been waiting for him, right? Continue reading

Compassion for the lost?

In the same conversation I mentioned yesterday another question was posed: “How do you display compassion for the lost?” By “the lost,” we mean those who do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Once again, it’s probably easier to see that in someone else than to see it in yourself. So what does that quality look like? Can you hear it in someone’s voice? Or see it in their actions? Jesus is, of course, the best example. When he shows up and sees a crowd of people, they looked lost to him, like sheep without a shepherd, so he immediately gets to work teaching, proclaiming, and healing (Matthew 9:35-36).

Here’s what I’d look for (not in any particular order):

  • Someone who listens and gets to know people.
  • Someone who truly cares about people and their situation.
  • Someone who’s confident that God’s love includes anyone and everyone.
  • Someone who’s willing to invest time and energy in a relationship.
  • Someone who understands the mercy of God in their own lives.

Are those things evident in my life? Sometimes. But honestly, sometimes not. There’s something to pray about.