Archive for the ‘Iglesia’ Category

The Extended Sermon Prayer

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Iglesia
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“Bow with me as we pray,” the preacher says solemnly.  After allowing a few moments to tiptoe past, he exhales determinedly through his nostrils.  And then, he doesn’t pray.

He spends the next ten minutes throwing out all these hypotheticals about the congregants.  He ponders which types of individuals should have been touched by the compelling message he just delivered and then he encourages them to be touched.  He reaches out to the unchurched, the overchurched, and the mis-churched.  He outlines every possible scenario and basically makes you feel that if you do not make a decision – any decision – in response to the divinely-inspired sermon you just heard, then you’re simply denying God.

While everyone has their heads bowed and their eyes closed, in total prayer mode, Mr. Preacher talks to us.  But our eyes are closed.  But he’s talking to us.  But we can’t see him.

Does anyone else find this odd?  I mean, how often do you tell people to close their eyes before you speak to them about something you feel is very important?  Even better, how often does this happen:

Your Friend: AH!  This food looks delicious!  Would you bless it?
You:  Of course!  If you would bow with me.  Friend, I want to take this opportunity to let you know that I have really been thinking about you and the direction God is trying to take you.  He wants so badly for you to listen and trust Him.  He’s knocking at the door.  Will you answer?  And now, Father, we come before you, asking that you would bless this food and the hands that prepared it.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sounds ridiculous, right?  I KNOW!  So why does the preacher do it?  It’s like he’s not quite done lecturing us, but he’s looked at the clock and it’s clearly time to move into the post-sermon prayer.  So, he tricks the staff by faking it.  I’m sure that when he’s confronted about it, he just argues that he’s eliminating distractions and getting us all prepared for the seriousness of prayer.  Well, I’ve got you all figured out, preacher man!  You don’t fool me!  You’re just trying to secretly extend your sermon!  And next time you pull one of these maneuvers, I’m popping my eyes right back open and staring at you until you actually begin speaking to God!  And I hope you see me glaring and it makes you stumble over your carefully-chosen words, you faker!  I’m exposing you for everything you are!

Seriously, if you feel the need to keep preaching, then keep preaching.  Don’t be weird.  It doesn’t make the atmosphere more holy or get us to focus more when you get us in prayer mode.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I simply focus on the fact that you just lied to us.  Now it’s YOUR sinful soul we need to discuss.

You would think the lesson I learned when Jesus walked up to my car would have stuck, but it didn’t. (In case you missed it, here’s Part One of that story, and here’s Part Two.) The story below retells another frustrating situation that happened to me about two years ago.

On to today’s story:

So Jesus walked up to my car a little less than a year ago.  He was a filthy, possibly drunk, homeless man, but I already told you about that.  What I didn’t tell you about was that roughly a month ago, Jesus showed up in my new city, and He was a lesbian beggar.  Let me back up a little.

After insulting Jesus a year ago, I had a serious change of heart.  That moment affected me in ways I can’t even begin to explain, even though I attempted to in the previous posts.  (I’m still not happy with how I told it.)  Anyway, I decided that the best thing to do would be to get gift cards to Subway and hand them out.  If they’re really hungry, they can eat.  And as a bonus, it really was pretty healthy food.  Some hobos appreciated it and asked God to bless me while some refused it completely.  That’s okay.

Fast forward to my new, slightly-less-urban city.  I really just didn’t expect to see homeless people here; I don’t know why.  I guess I associated them with my old city and thought things would be peachy here.  I mean, this is the South, after all.  So, I have not kept up with my Subway gift cards, nor have I paid any attention to homeless people at all.

Therefore, at a moderately major intersection, when I saw a rather masculine-looking bum with a buzz cut, camo pants, and breasts, I did not have the upwelling of compassion I had become accustomed to in my previous city.  Here was my actual, disgusting thought process as I approached the intersection: “Is he holding a sign?  Wonder if he’s creative or if it’s the same as all the others.  Wait… no way is that a chick?  Ha – it’s a lesbian.  Weird.  I’ve never seen a gay homeless girl.”  And I turned the corner without another thought.  Until later, of course.  Not only did I dismiss her because she was homeless, but I also dismissed her because she was [probably] gay.

I could say a lot here, but there’s no need.  I was about as wrong as I could have possibly been, and there’s no reason to try and explain away my wrongness.  Instead, I just want to end with two questions and a reminder.

  1. Since when did God sanction a feeling of superiority among His followers?
  2. When is God ever pleased when we devalue His precious creation?

For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.

~Matthew 7:2

~LG

Click here for Part One of this story.

Part Two:
Fast-forward three long days to August 29, 2007. Running about 10 minutes late for work, (which would get me there right on time, because I’m usually 10 minutes early), I’m pulling up to what’s normally a busy intersection, and I’m trying to fix my hair at the same time. Although this is an intersection of three streets, and it is usually semi-dangerous, it was noticeably empty this morning. Empty except for this mis-buttoned flannel shirt with a hairy belly and very dirty jeans sticking out of the bottom. I could smell him in my mind’s nose even though my windows were rolled up and he was about five yards away from my car. Watching him stagger around somewhat aimlessly, a mixture of anxiety and disgust tightened in my chest. So, I stopped my car several yards back from the intersection to keep my distance. He seemed to be crossing the street at this point anyway.

As I was checking my reflection in my mirror, my peripheral vision noticed him walking toward my window. Without turning my head, I let my foot off the brake enough to inch the car forward to pass him (nice trick I picked up in this urban area), hoping he’d get the hint. He didn’t. I saw his belly in my side-view mirror swaggering up to the car and I quickly glanced up at the light. Still red. I’m thinking, “God, he’s probably going to ask me for money, but he seems drunk, and I don’t know what he’d do with it. And what if he’s really crazy?” My eyes darted around and I noticed that I was still alone at the intersection with this man. And the light was still red. He’s at my window now. My anxiety heightens as his hairy navel stops literally six inches from my face. Keeping my eyes locked on the red light, I wave my left hand up by my head in a stern “go away” fashion. And he did. And the light turned green. And God slapped me across the face as I made my way through the intersection.

See, I had been feeling pretty good about myself as far as compassion was concerned. I gave money to the church, which I know gives money to the homeless, and I committed to giving money when I saw the homeless organization people. I was doing my part! It was certainly more than most people do; I knew that for sure. I was even so sure of myself that I cut out that little picture of my homeless Jesus and kept it in agreement with the sentiment. And then I’m driving along, completely self-absorbed, and Jesus walks up to my car absolutely out of the blue. I never even let him say a single word to me. I never even saw his face. I refused to connect enough humanity with that sloppy, dirty clothing to even dignify him with a level look in the eye. I still, ultimately, don’t have a clue what he was going to say to me. I waved him off like you’d shoo away a fly.

Do you think I’m being too hard on myself? I was a woman alone who felt scared by an intimidating man approaching my vehicle! In that situation, I simply did what was best for my own safety! I couldn’t have known what his intentions were, and I have to go with my gut in these situations! And he probably would have taken my money and drank or smoked it away. Maybe.  I certainly made all those excuses to myself.

But maybe I could have looked at him the way Jesus looks at him and taken two seconds to stop and think. EMPTY intersection. If he was the slightest bit aggressive, I could have run the red light! Maybe he really was just starving. Maybe he was lost. Maybe he just needed one good meal because he was feeling disoriented from lack of food. And I didn’t even have to give him money! That’s what kills me in all this! If I had taken that two seconds to think, I would have remembered that my mother-in-law had just mailed me a Subway gift card to use “any time [I] need a lift.” So God, in all His wisdom, knew that I thought I was a pretty nice person. And He orchestrated the perfect circumstances for the claims of my head to come face-to-face with the reality of my heart.

Jesus showed me my heart in a way that literally broke it. I haven’t felt convicted by the Spirit like that probably in years – if ever. Sure, I’ve felt correction and guidance. But something like this? Sometimes, you feel gentle nudging by the Spirit. Sometimes it’s so gentle, or else you’re so self-absorbed, you feel nothing at all. And sometimes, He lets you alone to let you see how disgusting your nature is, and then walks right into your soul and spiritually and emotionally breaks you into little pieces.

And I have no idea if that poor man ever got any food, or if that was even what he wanted, or if it was actually an angel of the Lord sent to test me. Whether human or angel, I know without a doubt in my mind that he was a test that I failed so miserably. And do you want to know what I realized later is even worse? Even though I realized my error within a block of where he was standing, I didn’t go back. It literally didn’t occur to me; I was late to work.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

~Matthew 25:41-45

~LG

I wrote this about three years ago, when my husband and I were living in a very urban area filled with a lot (and I mean a lot) of homeless people.  I wanted to share this mostly as a reminder to myself.  I learned a lesson that day, but it hasn’t always stuck with me.

. . .

Have you ever noticed that there are a ton of homeless people?  Although I sympathize with the fact that some of them have mental health issues, I’ve always felt a little bothered that they’re at EVERY intersection begging for money. I’m just going to be honest: it’s annoying and sometimes scary.  You also don’t know if they’re scamming you, and their car’s around the corner, or if they plan to waste your money on dope.  Thus, I’ve always been leery when it comes to homeless people.  I generally avoid them, finding something incredibly important to do in my car as they walk past my window.  If they persist and ask anyway, I usually lie and say I have no money. “I’m really sorry. I just don’t have any cash.” Mmm. Right.

So, I’d been feeling kind of bad about this and had read in the Bible all these passages about caring for the needy, and I decided I’d turned over a new leaf.  Anytime I saw someone at an intersection working for the local homeless organization, then I would give a buck or two. They may still steal out of the bucket or whatever, but I just felt a little better about it being an organization where the homeless were working. When you donate money, you get their publication that has news about the homeless population in the area as well as other handy tips just about life. So begins Part One of my story.

Part One:
As I drove home from church on Sunday, my car squeaked to a stop at the intersection of [major interstate highway] and [major cross-street].  As expected, the familiar bright yellow, homeless organization shirt came into view with a shady-looking young man in it.  Coarse, long hair and a snaggle-toothed smile topped the baggy, yellow shirt that hung on his emaciated frame. I estimated his age to be in the upper-30s range, but then I quickly reassessed in light of the probability of years of drug abuse. He may have been no older than myself. I gave a dollar in exchange for a “Thank you” and one of their newspapers.

Upon my arrival home, I collapsed onto my couch a little amused in anticipation of reading the little stories in their little paper. But the stories were not little at all; rather, they related heart-wrenching tales about homeless children who “live” all around me and are turned away from shelters. I muttered the obligatory, “That’s just so sad,” and shot up a three-second prayer as I turned to the last page. Staring back at me was a young man with long, scraggly hair and a scruffy beard. He wore the stereotypical sign about his neck lamenting his lack of food, but this sign was different. It simply stated, “Will work for loaves and fishes.” What…? Then my eyes caught the caption, “How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday, and ignore one on Monday?” Wow. That’s pretty good.

I didn’t feel terribly bothered by this. I thought it was very clever. Cutting it out, I put it by my computer. There was no stinging conviction in my heart because, remember, I had just given a whole dollar. I didn’t ignore him — not at all! I gave him money, and I didn’t worry about what he would do with it. (Even though I did see him 30 seconds later apparently stuffing something in his pocket and I muttered,”Typical.” But I still did my part!) So ends Part One.

~LG


and I’m a Baptist.

I also believe the world is 4.5 billion years old.  Is that okay?  Am I going to have my Baptist card revoked?

And I drink a little.  (So did Jesus.)

And I think it’s okay for women to be teachers and deacons.  Shhhhh…

Don’t tell.

They might take my paper out of the file and put red marks all over it.  Then what happens when it comes time to transfer my letter???  Nothing good, my friends.  Nothing good.

~LG