Sticks and stones

Experience can sometimes lead to the assumption that you have seen it all. When I first started working in ministry, I found that experienced leaders could be closed off to new ideas or approaches to sharing the gospel. “We already tried that, and it didn’t work. Let’s not waste our time.” Stuck between the desire to innovate or to be instructed, I was either bold or timid. Confidence in my relationship with God was born from both listening to others and myself, from finding balance between the wisdom of experience and the fresh wind of the Spirit. It has taken me many years to understand God’s plan for my life, to trust that I am not “out of order” for serving him in the way that I do. It’s so strange to be thankful for every terrible, hurtful thing that has happened to me. I have learned to be encouraged when people ridicule me. “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12 NLT).” It’s a blessing not to take yourself too seriously! The painful and humiliating events in my life that used to torture me have now become some of my greatest assets. God has taught me to trust him, preparing me for the distractions that come from people and their words.

Before our Tuesday dinner we walk around the neighborhood inviting people to join us. Our friend Tanya and Gus are drinking beer with some friends at the bus stop. Tanya, without fail, always asks us for money. My coworker and I have an over/under bet on how long it will take before she asks us for a dollar. I think it will be over two minutes and Ben guesses under thirty seconds. It takes Tanya a microsecond. Before I can respond, one of her drinking buddies starts screaming at me. “You’re a hypocrite. Give her some money.” I try to explain that I don’t have any money. But he insists, yelling, “You are a priest and a hypocrite, give her a dollar.” We explain that I am not a Priest but a Reverend. I am still apparently a hypocrite. After a few more minutes of being yelled at, I offer some pastoral advice and suggest that he is being judgmental. His response is one of my favorites: “I repented so fuck you.” We invite everyone to dinner and leave, feeling a mixture of comedy and tragedy.

Later that night I am serving coffee at the dinner. Tanya and Gus approach me with looks of great sorrow on their faces. They tell me they have come to apologize for their friend. “We are really sorry about Ernie yelling at you. We wanted to let you know how much we love and appreciate you.” Gus pats me on the arm and looks like he is going to cry. “How ecstatic you can be when people insult and persecute you and speak all kinds of cruel lies about your love for me (Matthew 5:11 TPT)!”

Michael Cox

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