When God Became a Bum – A Christmas Post

Think about the last time that you walked past a bum, sprawled out across the sidewalk. What was your gut response: Pity? Contempt? A mixture of the two? In any case, I’m pretty sure you didn’t steal his backpack. Their life is hard enough without losing what little they have. Yet they are frequently victims of such crimes.

_60781461_homeless_gettyThere was one police department that did something to protect them. They had an officer go undercover as an unconscious bum while his partners arrested anyone who stole his stuff. Score one for the good guys!

In an interview, the undercover cop described the “bum-ification” process of looking and smelling the part. He didn’t shave or shower for a couple of days. Then he took on a bum’s garb – multiple layers of torn and unwashed clothes, doused in cheap beer. Next, he went to the local car wash, rubbed his hands in the car grime, and smeared it all over his neck and face. In order to save the bums, he became a bum.

At church yesterday, I was trying to think of a way to describe the miracle of Christmas. This image of an officer-turned-bum is what came to mind. In the words of Philippians:

[Jesus], being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself and became obedient to death –

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.[1]

Our God sank down to the depths of humanity, putting on himself all of our filth and stench in order to save us.

But don’t forget that the officer-turned-bum never ceased to be an officer. It was because of his authority that he had the power to save. Jesus made himself nothing yet never ceased to be, in very nature, God. He retained his divine character – a God of love, grace, righteousness, and compassion – able to save us.

Here’s what blows my mind: Though our Savior shed his radiance and took on our humanity, he didn’t lose any of his glory. Rather than sinking to our level, he showed us what God is like – the Greatest who willing pours himself out for the least. In the rare moments when I really grasp this wonder, I am left speechless and can only whisper in awe with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!”

So this Christmas, we celebrate the God who became a bum for bums like us.

Merry Christmas!

Josh Kelley

 

 

[1] Philippians 2:6-11. In the original Greek, this passage was a poem or song, and this format attempts to preserve that poetic structure.

Thanksgiving When Life Stinks

A little over a decade ago, my family celebrated a somber Thanksgiving. My grandpa joined us because it would be his first holiday without his wife of almost 50 years. That year, we didn’t make lists of everything we were thankful for. We tried to pray “We thank Thee for food and remember the hungry,” but it rang hallow. We were heartbroken at the recent loss of a grandmother, mother, wife, and friend and there was little else for it.

It seems to me that many Thanksgiving messages are about making “thankful lists” and comparing ourselves with all the starving kids in Africa. Yes, we are much better off than most of the world (physically at least), but focusing on that fact isn’t always the best way promote gratitude. Sometimes you can have all the stuff, but still be miserable.

Here’s another approach to gratitude. Thanksgiving begins as an act of faith in God’s goodness, regardless of your circumstances. It isn’t about what you have but the One holds you.

“…thanksgiving marks the dividing line between belief and unbelief…” R. P. Meye

When Paul wrote “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), he wasn’t saying that all things are good but that God will transform even the darkest nights into glory. And for that we can be grateful.

“They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” C. S. Lewis

Are you in a good season right now? Enjoy it and be thankful. Are you in a dark season? Seek God’s help and comfort from your community and be thankful for what God is doing in the night.

This Thanksgiving, may God strengthen your faith in his goodness and may that bear the fruit of gratitude.

What could be worse than a “laying on of hands” for a parishioner’s corns?

(This is a repost of an article I wrote for Verso Voice)

I cringed as I saw Mabel walking by my house. At church she told me she lived in my neighborhood, and now she’d found my house. As she walked up to my door, I put on my best pastor face.

“Hi Mabel, so good to see you!” I lied.

“Hi neighbor, I mean Pastor! God bless you!” she said, the words interrupted by nervous laughter. As she spoke, she bobbed back and forth, like a Hasidic Jew praying at the Wailing Wall.

I allowed her to chatter and bob away, nodding and smiling at appropriate intervals. After giving her enough of my Saturday, I politely drew the one-way conversation to an end.

“Can you pray for my corns first?” asked Mabel. “They’re hurting from the walk.”

She plopped herself down in a chair, took off her shoe, pull off her sock, and propped her foot up on another chair. She believed prayer required direct contact. I gingerly put my hand on the top of the offending foot, but she said, “They’re under here,” and wrapped my fingers around her toes.

A couple of minutes later, as Mabel was walking down my driveway and I was washing my hands a second time, my wife asked me, “What was that about?!?”

“That’s nothing,” I said. “She once had Pastor Bruce pray for her hemorrhoids.”

The Real Problem

Looking back, the part of that story that makes me cringe is not the memory of Mabel’s sweaty foot, but the stench of my own attitude. Back in Bible college, we used to joke, “Ministry would be great . . . if it weren’t for the people.” I saw Mabel as one of those people—I ministered to her because I had to. Given a choice, I would’ve spent my time with the movers and shakers who matched my idea of spiritual greatness.

Because I’m writing this to Logos and Vyrso users, I suspect that many of you are pastors, students, and lay leaders and that you’ve heard that joke before. Even if you aren’t in formal ministry, God probably brings hurting people across your path on a regular basis, people that are a drain on your time and patience. In either case, think about what “if it weren’t for the people” communicates—“They are lucky to have me ministering to them.” Somehow that doesn’t feel very Christ-like, does it?

In truth, you and I are lucky to minister to them. Here’s how I now see it. I’m crazy about my two young daughters. They are the apple of my eye and I’m very protective of them. Were I ever to ever allow you to care for them, it would be very high praise indeed.

I finally realized that Mabel is one of God’s precious daughters. He had given me the high privilege of carrying for her and I treated it as a burden. I say that to my shame. My attitude reeked worse than any sweaty foot. I’m learning that until I see it as a privilege to lay hands on Mabel’s feet, I am not worthy to do so.

This hasn’t been an overnight change for me. I’m learning to come off my high horse and be less impressed with myself and my Biblical knowledge. I’m learning that God cares a lot more about his broken children than I did. He has also allowed me to be deeply hurt by the sort of people that used to impress me.

Becoming less impressed with myself (especially when I had to get a second job at Starbucks) is a key part of my story, which you can find in my book, Radically Normal. It’s free on Vyrso until November 27, so you may want to download it and read chapter 2, “It’s Okay to Be Normal.” In the meantime, I pray that God blesses you with many stinky feet to pray for and the perspective to know that it’s a privilege.

The Value of Slow Starts

How would you feel if you were told that you’d be interviewed on live TV? Some of you would be excited, but most of us would start freaking out.

Earlier this week, as I sat down on set of “Focus Today,” the host said “Get ready for the fastest twelve minutes of your life.” Quick mic check, some adjustments on my chair, and we were off and running. Twelve minutes later, I agreed – that went really fast.

Watch the interview here – begins at 25:45

But it was also a lot easier than I thought it would be. Instead of being a nervous wreck, I slept well the night before and genuinely enjoyed my time on the air. In fact, it was easier than my call-in radio interviews because we were interacting face to face. And it feels like this local-TV interview, helped prepare me for future interviews.

This is important for me to remember because I hate slow starts. I want to go straight to the BIG THING. I feel silly admitting this to you, but I had fantasies of Radically Normal exploding out of the gates. So far, nothing is going as fast as I want it to. But perhaps God is moving things at the perfect pace. When I think about it, his timing has always been perfect, even if his plan makes more sense in hindsight than in the moment.

Playing our part

That is not to say that God just wants us to sit on our hands and wait for him to make the pieces fall into place. I’ve been actively pursuing every opportunity I can because I know he expects me to play my part.

This is how I see it: Back in Mount Vernon, someone had put up over 100 posters for a certain lost dog. On one hand, there was nothing the owners could do to make that dog come home. Not even 100,000 posters would guarantee success. Yet, without those posters, the chances of their collarless dog being returned dropped to nearly zero. They had to do their part, but the final outcome was not in their hands.

Likewise, Marilyn and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get radio and TV interviews without some help (I’d already tried). So we decided to hire a publicist, Don Otis of Veritas Communications, for an eight-month contract. While this isn’t cheap, we believe it was vital in order to reach a national audience with the message of Radically Normal. So far he has gotten me about dozen interviews (some of them nationally syndicated) and more come every week.

There is a part that you can play…

But it’s not enough to say that we do our part and God does his. We are also dependent on one another. Many of you have already helped us find speaking opportunities and places to stay. Others have prayed for us and helped us with the book launch. Now I want to ask you to prayerfully consider helping us with the cost of our publicist. The total cost will be about $2,750 over the next eight months.

Marilyn and I believe that many in the church need to be freed from the guilt of obsessive Christianity. We believe in it so much that we’ve decided to drive around the country for a year and spend some of our limited resources to hire a publicist. We’d be very grateful if you could add even more generosity to what you’ve already done.

All you need to do is visit our GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/radicallynormal. Here you’ll be able to make a contribution via credit card as well as view the “thank you gifts” we are offering. And please repost the page to your friends on Facebook too!

To the glory of God and the joy and the saints!

Josh Signature, Blue

Asking for Prayer (It’s a good thing)

Hi friends!

God has brought an amazing opportunity: Logos Bible Software will be offering free downloads of my book to Logos and Vyrso users and they’re including it in their “Monthly Freebie” email (join that email list here), which goes out to over half a million readers. On top of all that, they’ve offered to feature me as their “Author of the Month.” Wow.

index

So why am I excited to give out so many free copies of my book?

I once told a friend that I wish I could give my book to every pastor in America because that would be the best way to get its message to the people in the pews. Most Logos users are in the ministry, so this basically allows me to do just that, but without cost to me.

That said, can you please be in prayer for all this? Pray that everything work like it’s supposed to, that lots of pastors download my book and that they read it!

I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

[May it all be] To the glory of God and the joy of the saints!

Josh Signature, Blue

Why I Started Giving Money to Panhandlers

Yesterday, as I was walking through downtown Portland with my wife and daughters, I was approached by an older woman pushing a shopping cart. She asked if I had any change. I reached in my pocket, pulled out a $1 bill and handed it to her.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. But it was a big deal to me because it was the first time I’d given money to a panhandler since…since ever, I think.

It’s not that I lacked compassion until yesterday. As a pastor, I’d dealt with many people asking for money and discovered that the majority of people with “Will work for food” signs are deceitful. I not saying they aren’t in genuine need – they are. Rather, their needs are frequently driven by their own addictions and sin. I’ve also learned how pitifully few are interested in genuine change. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. All of us have stories about guys with “Will work for food” signs refusing a job offer.

“Anything Helps” Chad Estes, Starry Night Media

So rather than “throw my pearls before swine,” as I saw it, I had decided my time and money would be better spent supporting organizations that helped the poor, such our local homeless shelter (you can read about the lessons I learned spending a night there).

Understand, I still believe all that – I’m convinced that giving money to panhandlers seldom does any lasting good. I still believe the best way to help the homeless is to give my time and money to ministries that serve them.

My mistake was thinking that giving money to panhandlers was about them. It’s not. It’s actually about me.

About a month ago I read this passage:

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” NIV Luke 6:35

Like a splinter in my brain, “kind to the ungrateful and wicked” burrowed its way deeper and deeper into me. It cut through all my arguments. Will the panhandlers use my money to support their addiction? Perhaps. Sounds like being kind to the wicked to me. Will they appreciate my gift? I can’t control their response (nor can I let it control me), I’m called to give, even to the ungrateful.

It took me a long time to work through theoretical implications of Jesus’ words and move towards action. About a week ago, I asked to get my change back in $1’s so I could always have some on hand. Then yesterday, as we got out of our van in Portland, I put them in my pocket with a mixture of anticipation and fear. So when that woman approached me, I was able to smile, look her in the eyes, and hand her a dollar.

Did my $1 help her? I don’t know. But I do know that it helped me. It allowed me to act more like my Father. It helped me to be more grateful for his kindness to all of his children, even when we are wicked and ungrateful.

 

What do think? How do Jesus’ words affect how you feel about giving to panhandlers?

What C.S. Lewis Taught Me about Rap Music

Last night I read a great article by C. S. Lewis, “On Science Fiction.” I learned a little bit about science fiction but even more about humility.

“It is very dangerous to write about a [genre] you hate. Hatred obscures all distinctions. I don’t like detective stories and therefore all detective stories look much alike to me: if I wrote about them I should therefore infallibly write drivel.”

LecraeRehabI was thinking about that statement as a Lecrea song came on the radio. I started to inwardly criticize his lack of lyrical subtlety, but then I understood Lewis’ point: I hate rap music, so I’m wholly incapable of telling you if Lecrea is a good rapper. I don’t know the good from the bad.

 

Then I heard my younger-self say “Good rap music? There is no such thing!” And therein lies the real arrogance of critiquing a genre that you don’t like: It’s almost always driven by the belief that you are a better person for not liking it. It’s easy for me to think that I like lyrical subtlety because subtlety is better, more refined. And hence I am more refined.

Lewis was an authority on literature and literary criticism, so if anyone could claim that his tastes were “right” he could. But he didn’t and that demonstrates a humility that I want. It also demonstrates a kind of self-forgetfulness which in turn allowed him to enjoy or dislike something without caring whether or not it was fashionable. Sounds rather freeing to me!

 

Does this get you thinking about how you treat genres you dislike? Like me, do you find yourself confusing your personal tastes with good tastes?

(Please forgive the repost – I’m playing with the title!)