From the beginning of my ministry God had called me to give focus to those who do not believe in Him and to reach out to them with His love. It has never been about getting people to come to the Jesus community I lead, rather my only agenda was to love them as they are, tell them about Jesus’ love and grace, and get them connected to the church community that was best for them. This is a major part of my ministry, but then God revealed something to me that humbled me as He taught me about His kind of transformation. This week I want to tell you the story that changed things for me and then next week I will talk about how God used this story to help me see and do things differently.
There was this guy in town—I will call him Joe—that was well known. People usually gave him a hard time; sometimes for no reason, others times because he brought it on himself. He lived with some poplin town; however, you would not know he did because he more or less lived a homeless lifestyle. Joe did not talk very clearly so most people did not understand him; well that is unless he was cussing, those words came out pretty clearly. Joe did not take much care of himself so he tended to not smell very good and look dirty.
One Sunday Joe haphazardly strolled into the church where I am a pastor. We got him some coffee and cookies as he told me about being run off from another church in town. He shared many other stories on different topics many of which he was very passionate about. Over the next six months or more I had the privilege of talking with Joe each Sunday. There were some Sunday mornings as I arrived early to the church to get things ready that I would find Joe sleeping in the grass in the side yard of the building. I would tell him to get up and come inside. He would come in then find a pew to finish his nap after he told me a few more of his stories first. I had heard them all before and I had a hard time understanding what he said, but I knew all he really wanted was someone to listen to him and care. Joe would sit through our worship gathering and I can remember him walking to the back after the offering and put in the little bit of change he had left from collecting cans around town. After each worship gathering Joe would talk to some people for a while then he would walk out the doors of the building to live life as he knew it.
Some time went by and I had not seen Joe. I found out Joe was having a lot of problems with the people he lived with and needed a new place to stay. After a few days went by I was given an update that a new couple in town had taken Joe into their home. What I had not known before was that Joe was not getting the money that was for his care so he was not able to buy his medication or anything for that matter, which is why he spent most of his days searching for metal to get some money from the local scrap yard. However, when this family took Joe in something transformational took place. They got Joe the medical attention that he desperately needed. They got Joe back on his medications. They fed him, got him new clothes for the first time, gave him a shower to clean himself in, gave him a bed to sleep in, and a place to call home.
As I watched Joe’s transformation take place I was so happy and excited for him. You could now understand him when he talked to you, and I will never forget the smile on his face when he flashed me his new teeth. Before that moment I had never seen Joe smile. The stories he used to tell were gone because they had been replaced by many new stories of all the great things this family had done for him.
Then one day as I was thinking about Joe I began to cry as God revealed to me that we—i.e. the church—had failed Joe. I had failed Joe. We saw Joe based on his outward appearance, which in doing so caused us to disregard his value as a person; someone created in the image of God. Someone God loves and sent His Son to die on the cross for. The couple who took Joe in were not associated with a church or Christianity for that matter, yet they are doing for Joe what Jesus Christ calls each of His followers to do for others. I began to realize the when Jesus’ followers miss it; he will use others to wake us up.
This is the story of how God began to open my eyes to a more holistic transformation that He desires His Church to be about. Next week I will tell you what God has taught me through all of this.