THE LEAST OF THESE

Class hadn’t even begun when everyone passed the “final exam.” It was the first day of teaching a new series in Sunday School, using Philip Yancy’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? My plan was to begin class by showing a video clip of a powerful story told by Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church:   A homeless alcoholic named David used to sleep in his own urine on the steps of the church. One Easter Sunday he wandered inside, reeking of alcohol, urine and the streets. After the message, David approached Pastor Cymbala. The pastor admits his first thought was that he was going to get hit up for money. Instead, David fell into his arms and said, “I want this Jesus you spoke of.”  David received Christ that day and experienced a miraculous transformation in his life. After the clip, my plan was to ask the class, “What would we do if a man like David walked into our church this morning? Would we welcome him with open arms or would we be uncomfortable and hope he would go away?” Minutes before class began, a homeless man walked in…His clothes were filthy. He looked like he hadn’t showered in a long time. Truthfully, he looked a bit scary. I wish I could say I was creative enough to arrange for a homeless decoy to show up that day, but it was totally a God-thing.  In light of our lesson, I wondered if this man would experience grace that morning. I was relieved – and proud – to see several people walk over to welcome him. They invited him to help himself to coffee and donuts. He took a seat towards the back. Just as I began the introduction to our study, he got up and walked out, never to be seen again. After we viewed the video clip, I explained my intentions to ask how they would respond if a man like David walked into our church. I said, “I don’t have to ask, because I know what you would do. You passed the ‘final exam’ before you heard the first lesson!”  There is a powerful story circulating on social media these days about Pastor Jeremiah Steepek who transformed himself in appearance as a homeless man. ( According to snopes.com the validity of this story is “Undetermined,” meaning they were unable to confirm it.) Supposedly, Steepek showed up disguised and disheveled for his first Sunday as head pastor of a 10,000-member church.  As the story goes, only three people said hello to him; the rest shunned him completely. The pastor taught from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46 that morning: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The people wept with conviction.  It would be easy to judge the congregation in this story, but let’s be honest: We all need reminding from time to time to keep our hearts and churches open to the least of these. Today’s Challenge: Let’s all check our hearts, faces and actions. Do they communicate, “You are welcome here,” especially to “the least of...

OUTCOMES: IN GOD’S HANDS

Got expectations? How’s your serenity? According to the Big Book* of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), our serenity (sense of wellness, peace of mind) is “inversely proportional” to our expectations. Therefore, when we anticipate a particular outcome with a person or situation, our serenity is low – especially when they are not cooperating with our plans! When we leave outcomes in God’s hands, our serenity level is high. AA made the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr famous: God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Ah, yes – the wisdom to know the difference… It is not wrong to have expectations. It is a problem, however, to expect or demand that life go our way. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had expectations. They were bemoaning the death of Jesus, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Hindsight is 20/20. We know that the outcome God planned through the death and resurrection of Jesus was far beyond their expectations. There is a lesson for us in that. I believe that God’s plan for me is always the best plan, but sometimes I am like my friend who said, “I never let go of anything I didn’t leave my claw marks in!” That is why I am grateful for that famous author, “Unknown,” who wrote this prayer: Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require. I like peace of mind, so when I am asking God for direction regarding my hopes and dreams, I pray with my hands open and palms up, as a gesture of surrender of that thing or person to God. In April I signed on with an agent. He is currently representing my book proposal to a number of publishing houses. My hard work and dream of being published is out of my hands. I had the courage to change what I could: I gained new skills at writers’ and speakers’ conferences. I have honed my craft. I have followed the suggestions of mentors. And then, I did the work.  Whatever the outcome, I gave my best effort. I can live with that. How about you? Are you willing to hold loosely to expectations? Join me in  praying with open hands, palms up: Lord, I am willing to receive what you give… Today’s Challenge: Got expectations? Want serenity? Consider this: Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The LORD works out everything for his own ends….In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:3, 4 & 9). * Alcoholics Anonymous, Third Edition, New & Revised 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, p....