Who is "the least of these"?

I don't know what God is trying to teach me, but I suspect it is something, and I am doing my best to listen up!

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had more than a fair share of opportunity to ponder exactly what Jesus meant in his story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. You'll recall that Jesus says that he will come in all his glory with the angels and gather the nations before him and then he will seperate them, the sheep on the right and the goats on the left. The bases of the division as Jesus tells it, is between those who saw the naked and clothed them, the hungry and fed them, the stranger and invited him in, the sick and in prison and looked after them vs. those who saw the same people and did not clothe,feed, invitie in or look after them.

Especially these days, you hear a lot of socially concious, christian affiliated groups using this scripture as a basis for there activism. I'm totally fine with that. But how do I determine this in my everyday life. Why do I ask this? Allow me to tell you my story of the last week or so. This will take a while, so sit back, relax...maybe grab a cup of joe or something.

So last Wednesday night I was at the church eating supper with our Wednesday night meal folks, when one of our members asked me to go outside and help another member deal with a guy who had wondered up and was asking for money. So I did. I invited the guy into my office and proceeded to find out his story. Now I don't want to judge people on looks, but there are certain signs that let you know a lot about a person. For instance, if the person has black or no teeth, they either had very bad hygene (which is probably somewhat true) or they use crystal meth (more likely to be true, especially in our area which is plagued by the rampant use of this drug). The guy I was talking to looked to be in his mid-forties, so I assumed that even the worst hygene would not have resulted in this extreme tooth decay. Anyway, so the guy gave the story of how his family had lost everything in their RV which caught on fire and they are now stranded in Guntersville, and they have everything they need except they need money for toiletries, bread, soap, etc. He had been to several local organizations in town who help in these situations and they quote "couldn't do anything for him" (for the record, this is a red flag for us as well...because those places do a really good job of background checking and etc....usually if they "can't do anything for them" it's for a good reason!!!). Well, being the tender-hearted guy that I am, I told him we would buy him some soap, shampoo, toiletries, etc. Well, in our 20 minute conversation the guy asked me for cash, ranging anywhere from $50 to $5. Each time I told him that I would not be giving him cash but that we would get him his essential needs.

So we did. The next day the guy shows up at my office again, as if we are old buddies, asking if I could give him a ride to a place that might hire him. I reluctantly told him I would take him. On the way there I asked him who he had an interview with, to which he responded that he did not in fact, have an interview lined up and that he was just going to try to talk to anybody who could hire him(followed by "can I borrow $5" to which I responded "buddy....I'm not giving you money!!). On the way home I realized that the place he was trying to get a job for was located right beside an area called East Lake...which is a low income housing project known mostly for the drug scene.....so I have a sneaky feeling what happened (not trying to judge...just being honest)!!

Well then last night, while at home, I had a guy call me telling me that he was having surgery tomorrow, he just got into town and he was looking for someone to come pray with him. Don't know how he got my name (a scary thought though), but I agreed to go pray with him at the Huddle House in Guntersville. As I left the house, Karen encouraged me to not go alone...and offered to come with me. I told her to stay home, that I would be fine. However about 3 minutes in to my 10 minute drive to Huddle House, I sensed overwhelmingly that I should get someone to go with me. So I called my good buddy/deacon/foot doctor(can't spell pediatrist) to go with me. It was a great thing that I did. From the first word the guy spoke I could tell he was loaded...not because he acted drunk, but because he reeked of alcohol. He had had both of his feet partially amputated due to frostbite. Anyway, we talked for a while and found out the real reason for calling me. Seems he had been in town for a week, had secured an apartment but couldn't afford to turn the heat on....and it was bitterly cold here last night. So, we got the guy a hotel room for the night. He, like others that I have helped, used every manner possible to ask us for money. We continually said no.

So that leads me to my title question. Who really is "the least of these"? My heart is to help people in need. I want to help those who can't help themselves...the orphans, widows, fatherless, etc. I want for our church and my life to be a beacon of hope to all in need. However, I have a hard time helping those who are completely unwilling to help themselves. Furthermore, those that come and ask for help most often here at the church are those who are, in my best estimation, just looking to mooch off of the church so that they can support their habit, thereby making us potential enablers, and potentially zapping our passion for those who truly are in need. So what is my responsibility to those who are bumming? After last night, I was kicking myself, wondering why I didn't just say outright "hey man, why do you reek of alcohol? How is it that you can afford the sauce but can't afford heat? Why do you keep asking for money when you know I'm not going to give it to you?" I just would like to start being a little more straightforward, and call the bluff you know.

There was a time not so very long ago when my honest thought was, "I'll help anyone in need, no matter what, because I know that God will hold that person accountable for what they do with what I give them." Now, I'm not so sure I am being a good steward if I don't hold them accountable myself!

One final note, in relation to helping those in need. I was walking in little five points in Atlanta one time with a good friend of mine. We passed this guy a couple of times who was just sitting on the street asking passer-bys for money. So as we approached the man for the second or third time, my friend said "Watch this" and he went up and asked the beggar if he could borrow a dollar!


Just wanted to let you know of something really interesting I found today. The link is enclosed, and the site is worth poking around. However, I was specifically intriqued by the post called "Making the Band Follow Up". Take a listen to the audio...I think they do a neat thing with worship music!

The Weekend

Had a really great weekend in a strange sorta way this past weekend. It was great in that my good friends Josh and Clay and their wives were here playing at a Disciple Now Weekend. It was really great to hang out with them, and I am really thankful for their friendship. Part of what I enjoy so much about them (beyond their incredible talent) is the fact that I think we could stay up all night and just chat about nothing.....and everything. Rarely in my life have I found people that I can just sit with and talk, and have meaningful conversation. That's not to say that everything we talk about is deep and serious...far from it. But there is a quality in the conversation and friendship with those guys that is so much greater than "surface" friendships...and perhaps greater than any other friends that I have or have had.

The weekend was however a bit strange in a couple of ways. First, Karen got sick on Saturday and was in bed all day. It is wierd to be with couple friends without her being around. She is also the "Martha" of our house...and does all the hosting duties. She does a wonderful job of cooking and cleaning and getting the house ready and making things special (living in Alabama, out of town company is a really big treat), and then when it came time to just enjoy the company, she wasn't able to. I really hate she missed it and really hate she is sick. I also hated that I wasn't able to tend to her as I would have liked.

Secondly it was wierd because of the event that we were playing. Being a former youth minister, I am altogether familiar with these type events (Disciple Nows). Our kids always seemed to enjoy them and we always had good D-Nows. Not to mention the countless D-Nows that I've played at, been a group leader for, etc. However, now that I am removed from student ministry and am a little older, I have a much different perspective on these type things. Don't get me wrong, I don't think they are a bad thing. Any chance to spend time with kids and help them spend time with God's word and in His presence is time well spent. But I just wonder what we actually accomplish in these weekends. And if we even know what our goal is for these type events. I could wax philosophic here, but I'll spare you. I will tell you why I will continue to do things like this. When I was 12 years old I went to a youth camp. I can't tell you a thing the speaker talked about, and I can't tell you anything about the worship (I do remember singing with motions "A pizza hut a pizza hut. Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut"....for what it's worth.) but I do remember God opening my eyes in a really amazing way, and I can look back at that time as a marker in my life where by His divine grace, God drew me closer to him beyond just the initial conversion experience. I think God can use those type events. My prayer with these events is that he will do the same or even a greater thing in the students lives. I just think we need to use caution and great care as we approach those type of events.

Finally, it was strange because these things always make me evaluate my life, and particularly my calling and ministry. I enjoy what I do, I think. I enjoy the fact that I am able to use music in ministry. And I am thankful for our church, and the opportunities they have afforded me and Karen to grow and learn and make mistakes. I also know that I am where God has called me for this time in my life. However, it just seems like life has more questions than answers sometimes. In five years will I still be doing what I am doing? Is this what church is really suppose to look like? Can I do anything to help change the current church culture to look more like God's original intention, or am I just adding to the noise? Why in the world do I live in Alabama? Why is it that the more I play music the more I wish I was doing something different with it? Am I just not content because I won't let myself be or because there really is something more out there waiting for me or is it just that nothing will ever satisfy this side of heaven? Oh so many questions that seem to be magnified for whatever reason when these events come along. But I say all that to say that I am really thankful for my life and all that God has done for me, and I want to be a person who is content in all situations.

Ok enough of all that. All in all the weekend was a good one. I am looking forward to April when we will get to do it again. However this time I hope we will all be healthy...and not have flat tires....and etc. Hope all of you, my faithful readers (all two of you HA!) had great weekends as well. If you ever need weekend plans, come on over to North Alabama. We'll treatcha real good!

The Entertainment Edition

So I've been sick for the last 9 (count them, 9) days, and have had a lot of time on my hands to do absolutely nothing......my least favorite thing in the world to do. I've had the flu, and any of you who have had that know it is bad....real bad.

So in the times that I wasn't asleep, I decided to catch up on some movie and tv watching, music listening, and book reading to pass the time while the anitbiotics supposedly did their work. The following will be a rundown and critique of some of the entertainment I digested. I will rate each piece on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest, 10 being the highest.

I'll start with the movies I watched, in no particular order:

1 - The Incredibles - This Pixar film about superheros was on Disney last Saturday, so I watched it (after all, what else did I have to do). It's really funny, and cute to an extent. This was at least my second time watching it, and I was surprised by some of the adult humor and themes throughout the movie. All in all, I give it a 7.

2. Double Jeopardy - This came on FX Friday night. It was made in 1999, and I saw it shortly after it came out, but had forgotten the plot. It was good though, and any movie that is filmed in New Orleans now intrigues me a lot since I am somewhat familiar with the town (given my endless education that draws me down there about twice a year). I give the movie a 6, and the sherbert that I ate while watching it a 9.

3. The Simpsons Movie - I giggle through almost every Simpsons episode I watch, and the movie was no different. It was really funny, and it seems the writers try to get a laugh out of every line. It works for me. However, I will say that it was just like watching a really long Simpsons episode (what else could one expect I guess!?!?!) I am a Simpsons fan, so I'll give it a 7, but I will say if you don't like the 30 minute show, you won't like the 90 minute movie!

4. The Ultimate Gift - This is one of those cheesy Fox Faith films. However, even though it was a cheesy, girly drama, it wasn't so bad! I actually liked it. One of our dear church members brought it over with a pot of Taco Soup, so that was the best part! I give the movie a 6 and the Taco Soup a 9 and 1/2.

5. Along Came Polly - Seen this one a hundred times and it is still really funny! It was on USA yesterday, and nothing else was on, so I watched it. I can't say I'm a huge Ben Stiller fan. He, like Adam Sandler and others,seems to always play the same character in a similar situation as every other movie he does. However, some of the lines in this one crack me up, even when I have the flu. I give it a 7 and a shout out of "Let it Rain!!!"

6. Rush Hour 3 - What can I say, I am a sucker for Chris Tucker. I had actually forgotten about this movie, but when I was at the movie store, it jumped out at me. Besides, I was in the mood for some action/comedy, and Jackie Chan is a sure bet. This movie is just the same movie as Rush Hour 1 and 2, it just takes place in a different city. But it did help pass the time. I give it a 6.

7. Transformers - HOLY COW!! Yes I realize that I am like the only person in his mid-twenties (notice I am saving late-twenties for when I turn 29) who hadn't already seen this movie. And after watching it, I was kicking myself for not seeing it in the theater! This movies rediculously awesome. I realize that the plot is completely unrealistic (what with Alien Robots....thats a combo), and the human acting barely up to par, but man the action sequences and the whole good transformer vs. bad was really cool. I thought that the ability to make me feel sorry for an Alien Robot was quiet a feat...one they accomplished in fine fashion (poor Bumble Bee). I also thought the choice of music during the action scenes was superb. All in all, I thought it was the best movie I had seen in a long time. I'm gonna go ahead and give it a 10.

There were probably a couple of more movies in there over the 9 day period. What can I say movies pass the time. Some movies that I wanted to see but either couldn't afford, or just wasn't in the mood for include Rescue Dawn (w/ Christian Bale), Amazing Grace, End of the Spear (I know, I'm not a good Christian since I haven't seen that one already....I have no excuse) and Daddy Day Care (kidding of course)

I also caught up on my day time TV (no not Soup-Stupid-Operas). I watched a 2 hour session of Home Improvement most days, followed by an appropriately titled Just Shoot Me hour, followed by an hour of Yes Dear, mixed with a little Full House, King of Queens (which is relatively funny) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (what a horrible horrible show...good grief...and I'm not even talking about the whole witch thing, I mean the acting, the plots, ad nauseum). Home Improvement gets a 6, the rest get 3s or lower!

Just before I got sick, I picked up the latest Number One Gun record. It's good. The guys a pop rock genius if you ask me, with a special knack for catchiness! The record overall seemed to lack substance though, so I give it a 6. I am looking forward to picking up the new Edison Glass record next! Other stand out songs for me right now include Happy Day (TIm Hughes), All Because of Jesus (Steve Fee), Thriller (Michael Jackson), and Hello (Lionel Ritchie).

Finally, for entertainment while spending countless hours on the couch, I counted my fingers. Still have 10 of them, so I give that activity a 10! I encourage you to count yours, you never know when you might have lost one!

Ok so that is all for this installment of the Entertainment Edition. I leave you with one piece of advice. If you get sick in the near future (and I pray you don't) go grab yourself some movies and watch them. You'll be glad you did!

Stop Making Sense

I had a really great conversation a few days ago with a member of my praise team. I stumbled upon the fact that she is a Talking Heads fan, as am I. How did I discover this? Well, to try to make a long story short, we played this game at a choir gathering, where we each had to say our name as way of introduction while at the same time do a physical motion. So my choir member, said her name "Lisa" and acted as if she were cutting her arm into a filet with her other hand (this will only make sense to those of you who have seen the video of the same title as my blog by the Talking Heads, where David Byrne was singing "Same as it ever was, same as it ever was" while making the same motion.)

Anyway, so we were talking about how delightfully strange the Talking Heads were, and how unique their music was along with the unusual antics of David Byrne onstage. Lisa informed me that he was very close to a nervous breakdown several times in his career. This is where it gets interesting. She said that she thinks that someone like Byrne, with his edge-of-sanity-creativity must have been given by God a sort of 6th sense of 3rd eye to see that of God's creation which most folks cannot see, thereby driving them almost crazy! I thought it was a brilliant explanation.

You see I really truly believe that all creativity is just a huge gift from the Creator himself and is just a reminder that we were indeed made from the beginning in His image. Don't get me wrong, tons of that creativity has been used in the exact opposite way than intended, but if we believe that God created everything, including humans, and that everything began in Him and lives because of Him, then reasoning demands that creativity itself is from God. And inside all of the creative music, or abstract paintings, or forms of dance, or moving poems, or stirring films, or can't-put-it-down novels lies some truth of the Almighty. At the very least it is the truth that a loving God made human beings to reflect his glory and to bring him pleasure, despite the fact that we try ever-so-hard to deny it and use our gifts for our own gain.

I also resonated with what Lisa said about Byrne. I am not by any means the most creative person in the world. I don't know that I've ever had an original thought or idea, and I know that none of my art will ever change the world. But I do tend to see myself as having a bit of an artistic bend. Because of that, I also seem to see many things very differently than a lot of people, such that I feel as though I go misunderstood sometimes. It's like I see things, and then I try to explain them, and it just never comes out like I intend. This may be a whole different problem than creativity can produce, but you see what I mean. The creative process does not, or at least should not, allow for mere status quo logic or reasoning. It searches for depth and deminsion that has heretofore not been seen, thereby often alientating itself from what is thought to be reality (this could become a slippery slope really quickly and could get really silly.....humor me will you!).

All I'm saying is that I think Lisa is right. Creative people are given a different bend, a different view of the world, and a different take on life. I think it is God's way of shaking it up a bit....not for the sake of just shaking it up, but for the sake, I believe, of revealing His beauty and creativity. That is where we as creators have the ultimate responsibility....to be sure that what we create in fact does point to the Creator, not because it always preaches a message, or wears a Christian shirt, or because it is slapped with a Christian label, but because it has redemptive value, full of integrety, originality, truth, insight, etc.

I'm not saying that I am on the verge of a breakdown......yet. All I am saying is that, if nothing else, you should definetly go grab a copy of "Stop Making Sense", it really is a fascinating expereince. Who knows, perhaps you'll even see a bit of God in it.....

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