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An Open Letter to Street Beggars  

An Open Letter to Street Beggars, pan handlers and what would be labeled in a less politically correct age as...bums. 

Please know that I hear you and see you every time I walk downtown.  See your handwritten cardboard signs, your coffee cups hungry for coins.  And like most followers of Jesus, I struggle in knowing how to respond.

So here's the deal I'm making—it's admittedly something of a compromise.  If you ask me for food, I will buy some—as long as it is in my power.  You have my commitment to doing what I can to alleviate your hunger.   I will likely NOT give you money to buy food—because I have seen the abuse this scenario invites.  I have no appetite for fake appetite—and I'm deeply opposed to buying your next beer or your next joint.   But if possible, I will give you physical food.

Can I be honest with you, Mr. or Ms. Street Person?  It irritates me when I see your deception and uncover the phony nature of some of your signs.  You know who you are—this month telling me you need $34 to pay for blood pressure medicine...next month $85 to—quote—“keep your place.”  And it just about makes me want to spit when I see some of you eating lunch at pricey places inside the train station.  I know, I know.  “Don't judge.”  Maybe someone donated the food—or gave you the money for those nice lunches.  It's not fair to jump to too many conclusions.   Nor is it fair to point out your inconsistencies while ignoring my own.

As I carefully weigh the stewardship of giving you a dollar or two or five...how I could wish the same sense of rigid accountability was a grid through which every dollar of mine is run.   Alas, I am usually happy to spend a twenty on myself without a thought...while agonizing over whether to give you a lousy buck.  

So as you can see, I am, at points, decidedly uncomfortable with the path I have chosen. 

Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you.”  I just wish BEING with the poor was less uncomfortable.  But maybe that was Jesus’ intent in the first place.

Thanks for wading through this letter.

See you...out on the street.

 
Dragonflies  

My wife and I spend most of our summer weekends camping.  And lately, I’ve been intrigued with the dragonflies we’ve been seeing.  There’s just something about the way they zoom back and forth, almost like a space vehicle in a video arcade game.

You know it’s only been in the last 10 years or so that we’ve really come to learn much about these four-winged fliers.  For instance…did you know there are about 5000 species of dragonflies worldwide—and new species are still being discovered!  Dragonflies can be smaller than one inch, or longer than four inches, with a wingspan exceeding five inches.  As for speed, they can fly between 30 and 35 miles per hour. 

A dragonfly typically eats 10 -15 percent of its own weight in prey.  That menu would include mosquitoes, aphids and other small insects.

Lots of myths have swirled around dragonflies for years.  Among the more popular: that they can sew your lips or eyelids shut.  My favorite myth: that dragonflies bring dead snakes back to life. 

Those myths seem silly.  Until you acknowledge the myths that you and I regularly entertain and even feed.  Myths like, “God doesn’t really know about my situation.” Or… “He really isn’t going to provide for me.”

Scientists report that when you’re actually handling a dragonfly, they’ll pretend they’re going to sting you. They curl up their abdomen and look exactly like they’re about to strike.  But the dirty little dragonfly secret is this: they can’t.  They don’t have a stinger!

Neither do those worries you and I cradle in our hearts. Romans 8:15 reminds us, “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba, Father!”

It’s time we stopped fearing worries without a stinger.  

Lord help us hear you and trust you.

 
Just as I Am  

It happened unexpectedly. 

I had just stepped through the revolving door onto LaSalle Blvd  in downtown Chicago It was then I heard the sound above the rumble of  downtown afternoon traffic. Could it be?

The unmistakable strains of “Just as I Am.”  Where was the music coming from?  As I stepped on to the corner of City Hall, I was swept up into a fog of sorts. 

Though the music playing was instrumental, I could hear the words in my head.

And I looked out at the faces on Randolph Street and wondered...  What if this was a giant urban Billy Graham outreach?   What if the music I was hearing was the altar call?  What if every person I saw was heading forward to pray and receive Christ?

Just as I am without one plea---

That's for the lady watering flowers in front of the hotel.

 

But that thy blood was shed for me.

There's a well-dressed businessman coming now.

 

And that thou bidst me come to thee

Over there— a cab driver's getting out of his car.

 

O Lamb of God, I come....

Look—is that the city council coming forward?

 

Just as I am thou wilt receive

Hundreds now.  Touching elbows.  Quickening their pace.

 

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve

Some of them are crying.  And I myself am fighting tears.

 

Because thy promise I believe,

See them all?  Weeping...praying?

O Lamb of God, I come....I come.

 

Alas...the music faded as I walked toward the train station. And with it the strange vision.

But why shouldn't it be so?

Why shouldn't it?

Lord Jesus...visit our cities. 

And may our personal holiness pave the way.

 
Prison Perspectives  

Recently, my wife and I visited a friend who is in prison.   If you've never been to one, it's a sobering and sensory exercise.  There's an unmistakable institutional smell—a fragrant bouquet of floor cleanser, window dust and the faint odor of new paint,  There's the sound of doors buzzing, keys jangling, radios squawking...along with the thud of your own pulse.

Faces around the room bear a sad and anxious presence.  You wonder who they have come to visit....what the crime was--and you know that they're wondering the same about you.

As we chatted in the official visiting room with my friend, we did what everybody else there did: pretended the gray grimy place was the setting for an ordinary conversation in an ordinary place on an ordinary day. 

My friend talked about the “Property Room,” where inmates pick up magazines, and care packages sent by loved ones.  The objects are treated so cautiously, that  harmless gifts often never get to the inmates because of security concerns. But the worst thing is the sign that officials have posted outside the property room: “Leave your feelings at the door.”

The experience got me to wondering.  Why must we add insult to a prisoner's injury with a sign like that? Why must the walls be a depressing gray?  Can't something be done?  And if so, what should I do, as a follower of Jesus, to make a difference?

Guess I'm probably best off supporting the ministries already doing effective work in this challenging arena.  But I had better do something.  And so had you.

If we claim to love Jesus, we can ill afford to ignore his haunting word picture in Matthew, “I was in prison...but you did not visit me.”

Surely a visit means more than merely showing up . 

Surely it means stepping up...and lifting others up—even if they reside in a prison.

 
Great Expectations  

Expectations.  And prayer meetings.  If your experience is anything like mine, they rarely go together.  Our prayer meetings are almost entirely predictable.  To the point of....dare I use so harsh a word.... boredom?   Expectations and prayer meetings don’t go together in the same sentence, let alone the same gathering room at church.    In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons our prayer meetings are attended by handfuls—rather than “room-fulls.”

Sure, we know that Scripture calls us to prayer.  But on a chilly winter night, with a warm supper settling in our gut, there’s little motivation to go out to prayer meeting—where we can reliably expect pretty much the same requests every week.  Monotony dressed up as ministry.  We don’t expect God to show up, so we don’t either.  

But what a difference it makes when expectation is in the atmosphere.  Twice, it has been my privilege to visit the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York and attend their Tuesday night prayer meeting.  If you’ve never been there, you’ll have difficulty believing my assessment.  The auditorium is jammed before the prayer meeting begins.   And when it does, instead of jumping into requests of the Almighty, it’s an intense time of praise.  Songs of praise.  Prayers of worship.  This is what they do most. 

They pray for the world…for missionaries…for persecuted Christians in a specific country.  They pray for lost people.  And—most refreshingly of all—they pray with expectancy.  These people fully expect that when they return the following week, they’ll hear a report on how God intervened in a situation—perhaps supernaturally—to work His will. They expect to hear testimonies from people who’ve just come to faith…and they do!

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that?  Who could possibly stay home and turn down a front row seat to the arena of the Almighty, doing what only God can do?

Every church, of course, has its own culture, its own flavor and style.  But to the extent that our prayer meetings continue to lack a sense of expectation—great expectations—we will continue to see a lack of participation.

I, however, am hoping for more.

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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