Anointing and vengeance

My favorite passage of scripture is Luke 4:18-19. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 while omitting the phrase, “The day of vengeance of our God.” The audience may have been hoping for the “fulfilment of Scripture” to include the judgment and destruction of political enemies. We all have a secret list in our hearts entitled “People who deserve the vengeance of the Lord.” This prophetic proclamation of Jesus lets everyone know that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:21).” Jesus is anointed to heal the broken hearted and the time is now. The kingdom of Jesus extends God’s grace and mercy to people outside of familiar religious traditions and cultural circles. His healing and hospitality also invite hostility. “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath (Luke 4:28).” Jesus always makes church people mad! Dinner church makes people mad too! Vengeance will have to wait. Jesus has some healing to do.

When Jesus is baptized, he receives approval from his Father. “The heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ”You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).” It has taken me a while to believe that I am beloved by God. Through the dinner church I have learned that the kingdom of God is in our midst when the church is among the poor. “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours (Luke 6:20).” My prayer Is that the church would find its authority by walking in the anointing of Jesus. The favor of God is good news to the poor. The dinner church turns enemies into friends. “The vengeance of the Lord” becomes “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink (Romans 12:20a).”

I was driving home last week wondering what loving our neighbors will look like going forward in this time of uncertainty and divisiveness. How political enemies could become friends? How the dinner church could move forward during a pandemic? Within the span of thirty minutes, two people from our dinner church called. One gentleman wanted to thank me. The dinners had helped encourage him through a time of unemployment and homelessness. He now has an apartment and a job! He credits God and the prayers he received at the dinner as central to his improved situation. Another friend called to invite me over for coffee and to see if I had any extra polo shirts! Vengeance will have to wait. Jesus has some healing to do.

Michael Cox

The church that serves dinner

We had the Community Dinner for a year and a half. Our small gathering on Sunday night averaged around twenty people. We had been doing everything we could to get the word out. Putting signs up at the foodbank and library. Passing out sack lunches and fliers at the dollar store. Talking with community groups in the area. Posting on social media and the neighborhood blog. The night we had four people made me question what we were doing. Nobody new was coming and I began to wonder if God wanted to “remove our lampstand.” Maybe it was time to pack it in. I knew that the dinner was a blessing to the handful of people that came but I didn’t want to be delusional. God is faithful and wants to bring the increase, but maybe not at this particular location. We had our faithful volunteers over for dinner and talked about the future of our fellowship. We discussed the low attendance and I gave some ideas. We could try a new location. We could bring the meal to my friends living in a homeless encampment instead of inviting them to come to us. To my surprise the team wasn’t burned out or discouraged with our small turnout. They wanted to keep going. We decided to present ourselves as a church instead of emphasizing the free meal. The conventional wisdom was that the word church turns people off. We didn’t want people to feel misled or tricked so we would be upfront about our churchiness. Sharing a meal, music, art, and the Christ story, we were on a journey to becoming the church that serves dinner.

We prayed and prayed and thanked God for what he was going to do. We call that a “yet praise” in the spirit filled church world. Actually, we mostly yell that.  “Oh God, please bring more people. We have all this food and space. We want you to be honored and I want to be successful. Or at least prove to the people that made fun of us that they were wrong.” Sometimes my motives aren’t the holiest.

After six more months of faithfulness we still had not attracted any more people. Undeterred, my wife and I started serving food and prayer in the parking lot in front of the Bartell Drug store. People came and thanked us, and blessed us, making it clear that we had a new home. We now serve seventy- five meals and welcome the neighborhood of White Center into the kingdom of God every Sunday night. Sometimes the best place for church is out of the back of your car! “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).” We are becoming the church that serves dinner!

Michael Cox

Jesus in the parking garage

It’s Christmas Eve, and we are having our Community Dinner Church service. We meet very Tuesday in a parking garage downtown. The heat lamps are warm and toasty. The tablecloths are draped over a mismatch of round and square tables. Charlie Brown Christmas is playing on Spotify, we are ready to go. The meal is salad, mashed potatoes, and pork loin with cranberry and caramelized onion. We have chocolate mousse cake and Christmas cookies for dessert. When I start cutting the pork loin a silent awe falls over the dozen or so folks waiting in line. The meal is special and so are the people who have come to have dinner church with us. We sing Silent Night and pass out glow sticks. Our version of the traditional candle – light service. I share the story of Christs birth. God’s redemption and hope announced in a barn through unwed teenagers nobody believes, the Holy Spirit conceiving the inconceivable. The parking garage is the best place to celebrate the birth of Christ. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2-3). The people at our Christmas Eve service know the Jesus who suffers and is rejected. The women in the domestic violence shelter know what it’s like to not be believed, to flee violence. The Christmas story is hope in the shadow of suffering.

My friend Irene gives me a big hug and a Merry Christmas. She can’t work because of her disability so she volunteers her time serving. She stays in a shelter and is content to help people in more need then herself. A transgender woman chats with my wife over chocolate Santa’s and coffee. Harold tells me that the Mashed potatoes are the truth. “You can’t beat the price either!” How did I ever go to church anywhere else? Jesus is in the parking garage.

We start to wrap up. Tables are put away, chairs are stacked, and to go containers filled. “Merry Christmas” and “have a good night” are exchanged. A gentleman who has a new bike that he received for free from a nonprofit shakes my hand, thanks me, and tells me an old Proverb. “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Proverbs 19:17 NIV). I agree and proclaim, “He already has!”

Michael Cox

Church, justice, grace.

I pastor two Community Dinner Churches in Seattle, Washington and work full time as a Street Minister with Operation Nightwatch. My ministry context is with the socially isolated, poor, and marginalized of the city. Capitol Hill Community Dinner Church meets in the parking garage of a Salvation Army’s woman’s shelter downtown. White Center Community Dinner Church meets in a parking lot next to a busy bus route and drug store. My street ministry includes visiting homeless encampments, connecting people to services, developing relationships, and praying with people living on the street.  These ministries and churches all welcome the poor into the kingdom of God. The people who don’t consider my work ministry or church are usually “church people”. People who attend church on Sunday, Wednesday Bible study, and prayer meetings are often confused by dinner church. The people who call Community Dinners their church are folks that don’t have traditional backgrounds or experiences. People who have a hard time fitting in to society find community at these Jesus tables.

The church is frustratingly absent in both of my ministries. The dinner church is often dismissed by pastors and ministry leaders as a feeding program or outreach.  My relational style of street ministry is often seen by evangelical churches as “soft” or “watered down”. Attending my denomination’s webinars on “how to be the church in a time of pandemic crisis” or “tips for doing church online” is a painful reminder that my ministry and the people it serves aren’t part of evangelical ecclesiology. It is frustrating for me to even try and share my ministry with other church leaders from traditional backgrounds. I am often met with ridicule and dismissed.

The Assemblies of God lists sixteen fundamental truths as it’s foundational statement of faith. Number eleven on the list of these core doctrines is The Ministry: A divinely called and scripturally ordained ministry has been provided by our Lord for the fourfold purpose of leading the church in evangelizing the world, worship of God, building a body of saints being perfected in the image of his son, and meeting human needs with ministries of love and compassion. These four definitions of ministry are all displayed within the context of a dinner church.

God is present and active in the dinner church, often challenging the theology of those with economic and social power. Recently, as we were concluding the evening with prayer, the discussion turned to fundraising. Isabelle is a formerly homeless women and domestic abuse survivor. She went through the Salvation Army’s housing program and now works in the kitchen for their adult recovery center. She loves to bake and is using her gift to bless the dinner church. After praying for God’s provision, Isabelle wanted to know about our budget, and how we were funded. I gladly explained our budget and all our church’s revenue streams. The two pastor friends of mine began to tease me, saying, “you’re the campus pastor, you better get on it and start raising money.” These jokes caused Isabelle anxiety. She has always addressed me as pastor and plans to tithe the first chance she gets. Isabelle perceives the community dinner as her church. Caring for the needs of the poor is central to the mission of God. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27 NIV).” Isabelle and the other guests at dinner church understand who God is and how he works in the world. In our discussion of church fundraising Isabelle was unable to see why it was humorous that I was a pastor in charge of raising money.

My interactions with dinner church and street ministry speak to the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:13-14 NIV).” The dinner church is an opportunity to reflect the radical fellowship of Christian community. Where the morally, socially, culturally, and ethnically different worship, pray, and disciple each other. The parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14 describes a ministry that turns outsiders and guests into leaders and hosts. “Once again, therefore, the challenge comes to us today. Christians, reading this anywhere (Luke 14:12-24) in the world, must work out in their own churches and families what it would mean to celebrate God’s kingdom so that the people at the bottom of the pile, at the end of the line would find it to be good news (1).”

 Chapters 11-15 of the book of Acts tells the story of two congregations. The established and traditional church of Jerusalem and the new, creative, adaptable church of Antioch. “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21 NIV).” “The congregation in Antioch was more diverse ethnically than Jerusalem, and the blending of cultures resulted in a model of church that was, at best, surprising to the folks in Jerusalem. Because the new form of church was less bound by traditions. They read Scripture with new lenses. The Antioch church enjoyed the flexibility and vibrancy that comes with upstarts (2).”

Like the church of Jerusalem and Antioch, tensions exist between the dinner church and traditional proclamation-based churches. In Acts 15:1-3, Paul and Barnabas are in sharp dispute and debate with the Judean church for teaching that “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved (Acts 15:1 NIV).” The church in Jerusalem welcomes Paul and Barnabas to hear the reports of what God is doing in Antioch and to consider the issue of circumcision. “The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:6-11 NIV).” While tensions existed between both churches, they needed each other. “The stability and depth of Jerusalem, together with the rather cutting-edge evangelistic ministry of Antioch, provided effective outreach to a world hearing of Jesus for the first time (3).”

My hope is to bridge the ecclesiastical divide between dinner church and the Sunday morning proclamation event-based gatherings. The negative response I have experienced from traditional church leaders has lowered my motivation to seek restoration and renewal. I feel a responsibility to speak to the mainstream from the margins, for Isabelle and her community to disciple and lead the church back to the dinner table and back to Christ. A community that cares for the poor, the outcast, and the isolated honors God, and bears witness to his divine justice. Both expressions of church can benefit each other and expand the kingdom of God. God wants to rebuild and restore his church, so that all of humanity may seek him.

Michael Cox

Reference list

The Holy Bible, New International Version, 2011, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(1), Luke for Everyone. N.T. Wright, 2004, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. P 179.

(2,3) From the Steeple to the Street. Travis Collins, 2016, Seedbed Publishing, Franklin, Tennessee. P 119, 121.

Dust of his feet

Some nights on out-reach are better than others. The last few week have not been the greatest. With the stress of the pandemic, protests, and police brutality, the homeless population is on edge.  Last Thursday, Alex was drunk and belligerent, wildly swinging a samurai sword, and dishing out hugs designed to intimidate. The week before last, an intoxicated bully in the park tried to punch one of the Deacons. At the community dinner a man tried to pull my clerical collar off and fight me because I’m not a real Roman Catholic priest. Our team is always learning the balance between welcoming the stranger and being safe. Without fail, something beautiful always happens before or after one of these episodes of street violence. God is in the chaos and the street will minister to you if you let it. The hope of God always shows up when we persevere. “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:4-5 NIV).”

Last night was the Holy Ghost victory lap! We first talked with Doug who is trying to get into treatment. All of the human services programs in the city are hard to access during a pandemic. He has been reading the book of John and wanted to know why Jesus asked, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Luke 22:42 NLT).”  Jesus being fully human and fully divine is both confusing and comforting.

We meet Larry who had been protecting the Verizon store from looters during the protests. Larry has a big heart and feels responsible for his community. “I need to show the younger generation of homeless kids how to behave. Everybody needs help.” Larry tears up while talking about a police officer that gave him a leather jacket in Montana. We pray together and he says he will be praying for us while he prepares for his quarter mile foot race. “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1b NLT).”

Jeremy wants us to pray for him. We met him last week and talked about getting him a bus ticket back home to Connecticut. Phone calls are made, and the family reunion process begins. We bless several crucifixes and place them over the heads of our homeless friends living along the waterfront. We pray for Sheila who loves God and is filled with street survivor shame. Woman on the street are extremely vulnerable. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” We talk about scripture with two gentlemen living in tents by the ferry terminal. Matthew is reading Ezekiel and Romans. He says he reads with an open mind and thanks his creator every day. His friend reminds us to pray for understanding and wisdom before we study the Bible. We talk about reading the Bible for transformation and not information. “To be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans12:2).” Matthew’s favorite verse is Nahum 1:3. “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.” Matthew knows that God is real and in the midst of suffering, violence, and chaos. God is in the chaos and the street will minister to you if you let it!

Michael Cox

Baptism

Larry asked us if he could get baptized back in January. He comes to the dinner church regularly and we wanted to get to know him before we performed his public demonstration of new life. Over the next few months Larry would tell us that the devil was following him and telling him to do crazy things. I thought he might be addicted to meth and was being paranoid. I also believe in the spiritual reality of Jesus and that the battle for the soul is real. People on the street are often in-tune with the unseen world and understand the battle between good and evil. However, mental health issues can often distort reality in both the natural and supernatural. After many conversations, it became clear that Larry wanted to know how to deal with demonic activity in his life. “This guy came up to me on the bus and his face looked like a ghost. Then, I was walking down the street and I heard a voice tell me to walk in-front of the bus. It seems like the devil is after me.” I told Larry that I thought God was after him! I told him to play worship music and read scripture out loud. The words of the Bible are living and active and there is power in the name of Jesus. We prayed and ate some lasagna.

It’s a steamy hot day in the parking lot of the Salvation Army woman’s shelter. We are eating fried rice out of togo boxes. Some of us are practicing social distancing. Someone is drinking a twelve pack of Bud Ice at the bus stop. My friend James tells me I look like the combination of a referee and a priest. We all laugh, and I am flattered. We hand out masks and Larry’s ready to announce to the world that he wants to follow Christ. He is ready to get baptized. The dinner church community looks on as we read Colossians 2:14 from The Passion Translation, “He canceled out every legal violation we had on our record and the old arrest warrant that stood to indict us. He erased it all – our sins, our stained soul – he deleted it all and they cannot be retrieved! Everything we once were in Adam has been placed onto the cross and nailed permanently there as a public display of cancellation.” We ask him the traditional baptism questions. He answers yes and we poor a pitcher of water over his head. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!” The community yells congratulations and we praise God. I hand Larry his official baptism certificate and his smile looks like it’s going to hurt in the morning! Larry thanks me five times and leaves saying, “I can’t wait to tell everybody!”

Michael Cox

Orphan

“No, I will not abandon you as orphans – I will come to you (John 14:18 NLT).” I met James in front of a church service in the middle of the CHOP, Capitol Hill Occupied Protest. The church was holding a nightly prayer service and handing out coffee. Their doors were wide open with a sign that said, “The love of Jesus is for everyone, and so are the bathrooms.” The people living in the park across the street felt welcomed. James told us that he loves to read the Bible and asks me what I think of the Beatitude’s. The church couldn’t find a Bible to give him. I went to my car and returned with a pocket New Testament! James was excited, “It also has the Psalms! I don’t have a backpack, so this is the perfect size!”

A woman named Sally strikes up a conversation about astrology. She tells me that she was born when the moons and stars aligned. She brings up the three wiseman. I sing westward leading still proceeding. Guide us to your perfect light. We talk about the promise God gives Abraham in Genesis, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have (Genesis 15:5).” She is a riot and soon her friends come over and join us.

A homeless man comes into the prayer time and prays for our peace and safety. He uses a walker and can barely stand. “God has always provided for me. I am still alive and able to thank him for everything he has done for me.” He pats me on the arm and tells me to “be careful, the police are on their way.”

One of the volunteers asks James if he grew up going to church. James tells us that he went to Sunday school with his adopted family.  As an orphan he met God and found him to be a loving father to the fatherless. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children (Romans 8:15).”

People on the street have profound insight into the God who cares for the orphan and the widow. The Old Testament is a guide for relational responsibility. “Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows (Deuteronomy 27:19).” Jesus provides justice by sharing God the Father with all of us. “The love of Jesus is for everyone, and so are the bathrooms.”

Michael Cox

Amplify

 It is liberating to stand with homeless people and listen to their lives. Sitting in the pain of human suffering and listening to a broken heart amplifies the voice of Christ. Mostly, street ministry is me nodding my head in agreement and trying not to cry. It is amazing how listening restores human dignity. St. Vincent de Paul said, “If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts.”

I met Carissa downtown. She was barefoot and sitting in a pile of trash. She talked with me about the church and her time in state run mental hospitals. She showed me her arms and how they were free of track marks. She had been shooting up in her leg, which was covered with bruises. While we were talking, her friends commented that she was acting differently. “It’s like God is here and she knows it!” She talks nonstop and I listen. Between her incoherent sentence fragments, I can hear a thread of logic. She keeps saying the names of different men, her way of sharing abuse received on the street. Between her mental health and addiction, she is offering up prayers of lament. She pours water on her sandwich to make it easier to chew. I ask her if there is anything, I can keep in my prayers for her. She pulls her shirt up and wants me to pray that she isn’t pregnant. We pray and she says, “thanks for thinking of me!’

Laura comes to the dinner church with a twelve pack of beer. She introduces me to her friend “This is my pastor. He has known me since I was seventeen.” She needs pads and we walk to the corner store. She hears voices and thinks the cashier behind the counter killed her friend. He sympathizes with her and we both listen. Laura taps me on the shoulder and tells him that I am “literally a pastor”. She realizes he is not the killer and apologizes for having an open beer in his store.

We meet Len in a tent encampment. He has a needle in his hand and tells us that it’s his friend’s birthday. I suggest we sing, and a delightful birthday party ensues. After singing Happy Birthday we pass out water, snacks, and socks. Len wants to pray, and we all gather in a circle, elbow to elbow. He leads us in a prayer of thanksgiving. I give him a Bible and he asks me to write a blessing in it. We talk about the Spirit and baseball. He loves Roberto Clemente and 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged (1 Corinthians 13:4 NLT).” He gives me a can of soda and says, “Thanks for the good looking out. I like being around people with positive energy.”

Connie is cooking potatoes and eggs in her tent across from the auto part store. We talk about her former life with a violent husband. “He broke my leg because I made waffles instead of pancakes.” Her friend was jumped yesterday and has a cracked rib. Business owners are fed up with homeless people and have begun spraying them in the face with fire extinguishers. We pray safety and protection for the homeless community. “If people only listened to the story of how we became homeless.”

Michael Cox

Menace to society

We have a full crew of outreach workers hitting the streets tonight. Three Public Health Nurses, four Catholic Deacons, and loads of sandwiches and snacks. Doing outreach with the Public Health Nurses has been fascinating. They provide Hep A/B vaccines and flu shots as well as wound care. People living on the street represent all levels of understanding and interest in the value of medical services. Responses to the nurses’ questions range from the respectful: “I am all up to date on my shots. Thanks for asking,” to the defensive and suspicious: “I don’t do needles anymore of any kind. What are the ingredients in the vaccine? What big pharma is the government using?” Former heroin users want to avoid needles. Mental health issues and the internet help to form many ideas about what the nurses are up to. I never thought it would be important for the church to affirm and support the work of nurses. I assumed we all could agree that medicine was a basic human right and need. I never knew that pastoral care would be saying things like, “the pandemic is real,” or “washing your hands prevents the spread of disease.” I am shocked at how many people, both homeless and housed, take information from YouTube as authoritative.

The Catholic Deacons provide a refreshing non-evangelical approach to ministry. They are practical and compassionate, rallying their parishes to make sandwiches and donate money to serve the homeless of their city. I asked them about their feelings about The Church and our governor’s shut down orders. They speak with the authority of old oak trees whose limbs and trunks cannot be broken. “The church has always existed, and it always will!” Even though the restrictions are frustrating, their main concern is the care of people. The Deacons tell me, “People aren’t transformed by our opinions. They need to see Jesus in us.” Sometimes I wish I were a Jesuit Priest.

At the end of the night we meet a woman sitting on the ground in front of 7-11. She is rocking back and forth and doesn’t want anything to eat except fruit snacks. She seems like she has no idea where she is. As were talking, a woman walks up to us and asks me, “Why are you talking to her? She is a menace to society. Don’t waste your time.” The woman sitting on the ground says, “I don’t know about the world.” The outreach team walks back to the car, reflecting on all the times people have harassed us for helping homeless people. The nurses share stories of being yelled at from passing cars, “Your killing Seattle.” The pastors and deacons talk about belittling and dismissive questions from church leaders. “How is the homeless thing going?”

We get to the car and our friend Mark is setting up his “cardboard modular home!” He got clean from heroin on the street two years ago. He has had a hard time climbing up and out of homelessness. He always prays with us and reminds us not to forget to pray for ourselves. “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God (Proverbs 14:31).”

Michael Cox

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