Garbage is strewn all over the place. Discarded, feces-stained clothing is scattered in assorted places. What must be a case or more of water bottles some half-drunk are crushed and also part of the clutter. Discarded dirty blankets are wind-blown around trees and cigarette butts both tobacco and marijuana are piled high. Beer cans and hard liquor bottles decorate the landscape.
Archaeologists that might stumble on this many years in the future would find the remains of canned goods, junk food wrappers and more. Those experts would conclude that this location was an ancient trash dump from 2023. In their attempts to learn about the inhabitants they would conclude that the people of this era were unhealthy and careless with their belongings.
A week prior this was a thriving homeless camp. It was filled with men and women that want to live lives on their own terms. Though the community has a shelter that can provide for their needs they are trapped by their own addictions and rebellions. They don’t like rules. Ironically the camp also has rules though few are expressed. Don’t steal from me. Don’t lie to me. Don’t tell anyone where I am, among others. For the members of this camp the uber eats and free clothing supply has dried up. Rumor has been received from the local do gooders that the members of this camp have been shoplifting at the local stores and driving away customers by pan handling in front of local retail shops. Without unquestioning support, they had to move to another community and begin all over again.
Meanwhile in a local church a small group is sharing the statistics. “This week we were the hands and feet of Christ. We gave out six cases of water, twenty meals, 10 blankets and the list of benevolence goes on. When asked about outcomes they continue to list the outputs of meals, blankets and more. No one asks if the “help” was in the eternal best interest of these campers? No one asks if the “help” prevented these men and women from addressing their addictions or mental illnesses. Nobody asks if the “help” was an actual long-term benefit to them. Most telling is that nobody on the distribution team can tell you anything about these men and women. They do not know their name, nor their story, nor their dreams. After the report the church claps wildly for how loving and generous this church is and they go out to eat and give a sparing tip to the servers. Nobody has changed.
The house had been vacant for as long as anyone can remember. A couple of the locals who had grown up in the neighborhood could vaguely remember the sweet couple that had once lived there. In their time the lawn was immaculate. Flowers bloomed every spring, and the house was in good condition. In fact, even in a part of town where people really cared about the condition of their homes, this house stood out as exceptionally well kept. The couple that had lived there had been born, raised, and worked in the community. With the exception of a few years away at college and of course World War II, neither had ever lived anywhere else but in that community. They had saved and using the GI bill bought the house. Even though the home was small they had raised three children and never complained about the size of the house. They always found a way to make the house feel more than adequate.
Today though the house was in terrible condition. The couple had passed away several years ago. While the oldest child had inherited the house, he had no intention of ever moving back to the community of his youth. He lived in the big city now and enjoyed the convenience and special attractions that big city life offered. So, the house stood vacant.
One day some folks who were experiencing homelessness and did not want to live by the rules of the local shelter decided that they would take up residence in the house. There was no water or electricity in the house, so they set up rules about collecting water for toilet flushing. One pioneering young man figured out how to use some jumper cables to get electricity to the house. In the house the rules often changed based on who the strongest personality was but at least they were “free” After just a couple of weeks the smell in the house was becoming awful. With no showers and sporadic toilet flushing and living in fear that they would be discovered, which kept all windows closed and blinds keeping our all light, odors had nowhere to go. But at least they were “free”. Each person donated their food stamps, and they took turns calling churches for support. They worked day and night to scrounge up the necessities for life. If the calls did not produce the food or clothing, they needed they were able to do some dumpster diving to provide those needs. Some would watch mailboxes and steal social security checks and they enjoyed their “freedom.”
Drugs and alcohol always seemed to be available. They were free to engage in as much sin as they wanted. Freedom though did not always provide safety. Freedom did not always provide heat or air conditioning. Freedom did not keep some from getting sick and even being hospitalized. They had a rule that they had to go down the street to call an ambulance because nobody wanted to be caught. That is freedom!
During drug induced and drunken moments damage was done to the walls and plumbing. What did it matter? It was all free and they could do as they wanted. Over time the home became less and less habitable. When they completed doing their worst and the infighting got to a level of discomfort, they used their freedom to move into a home in your neighborhood.
After the city takes possession of the house due to failure to pay taxes there is nothing left to do but tear down the house and clear out the boxes of food, discarded clothing and other items donated by local churches. Those that had lived there have moved on to continue their life of freedom on your tab, ready to tear up someone else’s abandoned home. That is ok because eventually it will be yours.
Imagine that I am at a local park. The sun is shining, the air is just the right temperature. A slight cool breeze blows by and make me feel the very presence of God.
The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and their expanse shows the work of his hands.
On the playground I can hear the giggles of my granddaughters as they go down the slide or climb the assorted obstacles. They are having a great time. I feel peace and joy. God is present.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -Romans 15:13 13
Through the corner of my eye, I notice a young man sitting on another bench. He is also watching kids play. I try to figure out which ones might belong to him. However, he does not really seem to be watching any specific kids. In fact, as I look more carefully it looks sad. His expensive suit is messy, and his eyes look swollen.
I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the broken, and strengthen the weak; but the sleek and strong I will destroy. I will shepherd them with justice.’ – Ezekiel 34:16
My heart goes to him, and I go over to chat with him. Initially I just sit there on the bench praying for him. Looking for a way to break the ice I ask pointing in the direction where my youngest granddaughter is moving down the slide, “Those three are my granddaughters.” He looks in the direction I am pointing and gives a slight smile but says nothing. In fact, it looks like he is about to cry.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15
Suddenly he opens up and tells me that he had always been too busy to come to this park with his two kids, a boy and a girl. This morning his wife and they were in a horrific wreck, and they all died. He goes onto talk about the intense pain that he is feeling. I struggle because I recognize the opportunity that God has given me to share love for this man, but I also need to keep an eye on my granddaughters.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
– Matthew 6:33
I decide to trust God with my granddaughters but not totally take my eyes off of them while listening to this deeply hurting child of God. He goes on to talk of a whole host of regrets and sins in his life. He is really going now. Mostly I just nod. At the end he mentions that he is thinking about taking his life. Then silence. What am I to say? What does a man of God do? He then asks if I have a pistol that he can borrow? He promises me that he won’t actually commit suicide but he would feel safer with some protection. I shrug my shoulders and say, “Sure, here you go.”
That is absurd. Yet many choose to do the same thing with panhandlers or people camping out at local parks. They will say, “Its not my responsibility what they do with the cash or food I give them.” If you visit with them and discover that it is likely they are to buy drugs or prostitutes or eat the food and save their money for the above than it is like giving a gun to the suicidal man. You are responsible.
Real love would require the man or woman of God to take the man at the park to professionals. In the same way when you come across the random person experiencing homelessness take them to professionals so that they can get well.
Sojourner began the walk back to his home as the morning breeze began to give way to the summer sun. He thought about the man he met that morning and how difficult it must be for him in this heat. As the walked with a slight limp, he began to thank God for the freedom and ability to move and walk. As he entered his front door, Sojourner headed straight for the kitchen to get a glass of water. He sat down to get some relief from the pain he felt in his right leg and sighed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Lord, for this refreshing water and a comfortable place to sit.” Sojourner removed his newsie cap and placed it on the armrest of his chair. The morning conversation was still fresh in his mind. He played back pieces of the conversation in the quietness of his small living room. The final words spoke by the man he met really stuck. “I don’t get to have many conversations with people. They usually turn the other way to avoid eye contact.” Sojourner felt the sting of these words. He had experienced them. People do not like to feel uncomfortable. Often, we do not know how to respond to certain situations and so we pretend we do not see them. Whether it be seeing a panhandler and turning our head or quickly changing the subject when a difficult topic comes up, we ignore it as a defense mechanism. But ignoring a situation has never brought about change. As the afternoon gave way to evening, Sojourner allowed his mind to wander. He recalled how his grandfather would have so many stories of life on the railroad. It was a different time then and the life of a railroad was not easy. He was gone more than he was home and worked long hours. He left his young son (Sojourner’s father) to take care of the family farm. When grandfather was able to come home, he always had a great story to tell. Sojourner loved to hear the stories. Grandfather loved to share the stories, but Sojourner’s father would quickly say, “I’m going to turn in, somebody has to be responsible and work this farm.” Those words were intended to hurt grandfather because he knew he put a lot on his son at an early age.
Sojourner, took out the pocket watch which once belonged to grandfather and looked at the time. It was getting late, and he was getting tired. He pulled the watch close to his heart before placing it on the nightstand. Sojourner thought about the man he met earlier in the day. Where did he go during the day? Did he have a safe place to sleep tonight? What was his name? They had spent time together over that cup of coffee at breakfast time and never even told each other their names. He said a quiet prayer asking God to keep them both safe and allow them to continue their conversation in the future. All was quiet in Sojourner’s home. Only the sound of the fan could be heard as he drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
Sojourner and the man sat outside the diner enjoying the slight breeze and the hot coffee.
“How long have you been in the area? Where did you grow up?” Sojourner asks the man as the server brings the coffee. The man took a sip and after a brief pause, he responds, “I’ve been here for about 6 months.”
“Where were you before?”
Sojourner’s mind wanders a bit as he recalled stories of his grandfather. Sojourner’s grandfather often talked about Topeka. The railroad that grandfather worked on would often pass through Topeka. Sojourner took the pocket watch from his pocket and gently tapped the nickel plated back of the watch. He remembered grandfather looking at this same watch each time a train passed. He would always say, “right on time” with a proud smile on his face. The Santa Fe’ route was one grandfather often worked and he always made sure to get out and talk to the townspeople of Topeka.
“My wife left with our son and daughter a couple of years ago.” His voice cracked as he spoke those words. The lump in his throat from trying to hold back the pain gave him reason to take another sip of his coffee. “My life spiraled out of control after that [LINK TO RESOURCE PAGE]. Everything I thought I was working so hard for came crumbling. When she left, I found it harder to wake up in the mornings. I struggled to make it into work on time. Eventually I lost my job. I was in debt. I lost the house. I lost it all
Sojourner knew the pain all too well. Not only had he heard similar stories, but he had also experienced his own trials and hardships. He took off his newsie hat and held it near his chest. The hat belonged to his father. His father would often wear it to keep the sun out of his eyes as he worked the family farm. It was a tough time for farming as it was just near the end of what is commonly referred to as the Great Depression. The details were different, but Sojourner recalled how lost his father felt when his mother left. Life seemed to crumble and everything fell apart.
“Pray? I haven’t done that in such a long time.” The man said matter-of-factly as he took another sip of his coffee. “I’m not sure how much good it would do. The big guy doesn’t seem to care what I have to say lately.”
Sojourner smiled an understanding smile as he replied, “I’m sure those feelings are real. I’m also sure that you should give it a try. He does care.” Sojourner took the watch from his pocket and looked once more at the time. “I’ve seen you here a few times before. Would it be okay if we had coffee again sometime? I would like to hear more of your story.”
The man smiled, “I’d like that. I don’t get to have many conversations with people. They usually turn the other way to avoid eye contact.”
The small round table under the canopy outside the local diner provided a perfect place for Sojourner to sit and enjoy a small breakfast and a cup of coffee. He came here often as it became his favorite spot. It wasn’t far from his place, and he enjoyed getting outside and sitting there as the slight breeze provided relief from the hot summer sun.
The proximity made it possible for him to walk there despite the pain he often felt in his right leg. He rubs his leg to acknowledge the moment of slight pain and quickly opens his Bible and grabs his pencil and paper. Journaling had become quite important to him over the years. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Sojourner quietly reflected on those words spoken by Jesus in Matthew 5. Thankful that Jesus seemed to show dignity to those who may often feel overlooked, a slight smile comes across his face. He scratches his gray beard as he whispers, “thank you, Jesus, for your blessing.”
He takes another sip of coffee as he ponders his life. So many faces and names and places run through his mind. He had lived a life of struggle and hardship. The lessons he has learned through the years have given him a greater appreciation. He is filled with joy and contentment because of his relationship with God.
Sojourner looks around and sees the man a few tables down. The man is noticeably homeless. His clothes are tattered and smell of urine. His hair is long and unkempt and probably hasn’t seen a comb in a month. His eyes are bloodshot, and his speech is slurred as he talks to himself. Nobody is sitting in the area near him. The occasional glance in his direction is accompanied by condescending snickers or whispers of condemnation.
What is his story? What events led him to these circumstances? Did he once have a family? Is he able to work? Was he hurt?
Sojourner sits and begins asking questions……
Judges 11:29 New International Version
Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.
The Holy Spirit is our only consistently accurate guide for all things in our life. He will take us on a journey that is filled with adventure, passion and blessing. That is if we will trust in Him. He is our leader and our friend. Listen to His voice, do what He says and things will go better for you. The Holy Spirit does not always offer a life of comfort. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the one that drove Jesus into the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer. Do not glamorize that event. That was difficult. Jesus was obedient to the leading though it was uncomfortable. From time to time, the Holy Spirit will do the same for you. One of the things that the Holy Spirit focuses on is to get you in the right frame of mind, in the right place at the right time. Trust in His guidance. His leadership will not always make sense, look beyond logic. Remember that His ways are not our ways. His ways are always better. Surrender to Him today.
Earlier we had looked at the first of Jesus’ Ten Commandment upgrades regarding murder. We learned that in the Old Testament if I did not take a life from another human being, I was not considered to have broken the commandment. However, Jesus tells us that if we so much as call someone a fool or in other words use life sucking words about someone than we have committed murder.
Now we have Jesus’s second upgrade. In the Old Testament as long as I never have sex with another woman I am generally seen as having not broken the adultery commandment. Now Jesus goes to meddling with that simplistic interpretation. He says if you lust you are committing adultery. Consider what that means.
If you look at pornography you have committed adultery. If you fantasize about a woman that is not your spouse, you have committed adultery. Any time that you dehumanize a woman and degrade her even in your mind you have committed adultery.
Again, we come to the concept, you must guard your thoughts. It is easy for our mind to wander to cleavage or short skirts. I hate to even mention it in fear that it will cause some of you to stumble but silence also has it s power. When you find yourself struggling, when temptation is calling out to you. Call out to Jesus.
If the image is on a screen, shut it down, but I know that it is already seared into your brain, so call out to Jesus. Consider this, Jesus loves that woman, purely. Consider this, that is someone’s daughter. If she is a Christian woman, she is God’s daughter. Do you really want to fantasize about the daughter of God? Ask Jesus to help you think purely. Acknowledge that He has made beauty and cherish that beauty. Protect it, do not allow others to degrade her with coarse jokes or comments. Rise up.
Jesus takes this command very seriously as He directs us to pluck eyes, rip off hands in other words to take extreme measures. Do whatever it takes to make your thoughts pure. Seek counsel, find friends who also struggle and confide in them. This is a battle. Be free or be dead in hell.
Judges 6:34 New International Version (NIV)
Are you trying to decide if someone is filled and led by the Holy Spirit? Are believers drawn to them? The Holy Spirit calls out to itself within the lives of others of like faith to come together. I do not believe in unity at all costs, but I do believe that the Holy Spirit brings together men and women of God. Even if they disagree on certain topics, they discover that they can work together for the causes of the Kingdom of God. Even those that are normally opposed will feel compelled to join the effort given by the Holy Spirit. I desire to see this Spirit more and more each day. Jesus fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I might see Your church united and lead our community to love and serve You more. Help us to be a light to the lost. Let us share the hope that can only be found in You.
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Judges 6:34 New International Version (NIV)