The VOICE of the OUTCAST
I am at this point in my ministry a veteran of the Holy War. This is
my 13th year of ministry and I am 31 years old. And as I sit here
and write this, my speaking date book starts to fill up and the
prospects look good so far. And still I am restless. I actually loathe
the thought of another speaking date. Dont get me wrong - good
things seemingly happen. I will preach hard and to the point. I will
not dodge issues and I will speak in the vernacular of my day. I will
dress how I want and force people to see God beyond the exterior.
I will play the role of a novelty and try my best to make something
positive happen. And it will not be enough.
Because even on those rare occasions when the sermon that God
gives me is revolutionary in scope and substance, even when people
flood the altar and repent, I still retire to whatever room I have and
lament the entire event. Because no matter how well I may perform,
no matter how strong the message seems to be, I know it is partly
due to intellect, partly due to street smarts, part marketing and a
part Gods Spirit. How can that ever be enough?
The weight of the ministry is at times oppressive. I feel the weight of
my speaking to these nameless, faceless people. I know that
perhaps God wants to intervene in their lives and that so much may
be riding on Gods being able to use what I say and do as a catalyst
for change. And I fear that I will fail in my task because of there being
too much of me in the equation.
The phrase Forever Change is constantly with me after this last fast
that I was on. Something has transpired in me over these past years
that does not allow me to take the ministry in a cavalier way. I know
that somewhere out there, just beyond my grasp is the light switch.
In every event, every innocent meeting, the forever change potentially
waits for the people that I come into contact with. That the possibility
exists that somehow God could use this ugly vessel to produce a
radical shift in someones accustomed paradigm that could affect
the rest of his or her life. And I know that its not me. And it is nothing
that I know, nor any skill I possess. My cleverness cannot produce
this forever change. And I cannot afford to write it off as some
sovereign work of God that is simply beyond me, a divine comic
lottery, if you will. There is a method to Gods seeming madness at
all times, even (or especially) when His will makes no clear sense to us.
I am terrified of speaking well and manipulating peoples emotions in
some way that I had predetermined that they should go. I am
distressed at the thought that I am a factor in this ministry at all. I
wish above all things that people would just say that God shows up
at my meetings. I do not wish to be known for my intellect, my
cutting style, my dress or my caustic sense of humor. I wish they
would just see Jesus. But I am not equal to that task. And I wish
more than anything that that fact were not so. I fall so short of the
mark in so many areas; I am the perfect example of the wrong
person for the job.
We are again in dire straits as a family. I have a short time to
produce something that I simply cannot by any actions of my own.
But where we should be terrified, we are patiently determined. We
are used to this place after all these years. I choose to live on the
edge and so the position of the tenuous and slippery hold is almost
commonplace. If I were like many of the preachers that I know, I
would simply shut up, play the game and prosper. I see so many of
them do just that. It regularly pains me to see my family go without
when with just a small amount of what I would call compromise they
would be just fine. But I seem to live my life along the lines of Robert
Frosts poem The Road Not Taken.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I live a life of faith. It is one of the areas of my life that I am most
attacked for. My heart was stirred at 19 when I first entered the
ministry by a biography of the life of George Mueller. He managed
to run an orphanage and carry on a ministry for sixty-six years
through prayer. He believed God for every single thing he had. He
took no salary and regularly, the children in his charge went to bed
peacefully, never knowing there was no money to buy food for
breakfast. But in the morning, the answer came. I too feel compelled
to pray for the Lord to supply. And though we have very little, I am
grateful for what this life of faith has done for me. There have been
times when my life was threatened when the years of faith paid off.
I have had people sit on the front row during sermons of mine and
show me the gun they had hidden between their legs. I do not know
much but I know that the same person who did that was on their face
outside of the church that night repenting in the pouring rain with their
face in the grass. A part of my preparation for that moment happened
during the times we prayed in dinner or rent. We live on the edge of
disaster all of the time. People come and go in our lives. Promises
are made and broken regularly. We sit on the verge of having nothing
and losing what little we do have. But in all of that, one thing never
changes; we know that God is faithful.
And this is why I continue despite everything that happens. We are
not the right choice for the job; I know there is someone out there
who can do what I do better than me. But Gods love compels me.
When I want to quit and start a business, when people desert us
and forget us, when disaster looms ahead and there is no hope in
sight, I still cannot quit. Because I remember when, despite all of
my faults, God showed mercy. I remember when the answer came
when all hope was lost. And I remember the joy at rediscovering
the faithfulness of God when all else had failed. And so, I continue
to be Gods fool. I do not try and clean up to speak at the big
churches; I would rather hug the AIDS patient or befriend the
runaway teen that is forgotten. I would rather live with nothing and
know the joy of Gods provision in the midst of impossible odds than
compromise and never experience him that way. It is just God and
us alone most of the time. Funny how easily people turn away from
you when you have nothing and they have nothing to gain from you.
We have learned from vast experience that you can count on no one
except God. I will fail you or offend you at some point. I will do wrong
and you will walk away. But when that happens, I look around and
find the Father smiling at me.
We have been asking local churches about the possibility of using
their church for two hours Sunday afternoons. When I approached a
local pastor with the question, he put the religious 20 questions to
me earlier on this week. Before I could use his building for a two-hour
slot on Sundays he had to know who I was, what credentials I carried,
my education, my thoughts on everything from predestination to the
Apostles Creed. I started off answering his questions politely but
very quickly grew tired of them. Finally, I had to stop the inquisition
and speak frankly. I said, Pastor, you want to know who I am? Let
me tell you. I am a failure. I have been a liar, a cheat, a conman, a
criminal and a violent racist. I am the epitome of wasted potential.
I was locked up in juvenile hall for a large part of my teenage years.
I have a verified I.Q. of 153... And yet the last full year I spent in
school was the seventh grade. I taught myself everything that I
know. I grew up as true white trash; my family lived in trailers my
entire life. We were on welfare most of the time and I shopped for
school clothes at the Salvation Army. I was a runaway and a
vagrant. I could have been a great doctor or a lawyer, perhaps. If
the plan would have worked out differently maybe I would have had
a Dad who cared and a family that helped me. But I lived on the
streets from the time I was twelve. I saw a friend shot dead beside
me and a girlfriend shot in the face in a drive-by shooting when I
was a teenager. I had a seventeen-year-old friend die of AIDS as
I watched. There have been at least 4 serious attempts on my life
and I carry the scars to prove it. I have woken up in the middle of
the night with a gang members pistol shoved in my mouth. So, I
am by all normal estimates a failure and a dreg. But when I was 19,
Jesus intervened in my life during a suicide attempt. I crawled
bloody out of a cold bathtub and sobbed naked on the floor asking
him for help. And he changed my life. I may not have a degree like
you that will make you feel that I am qualified; I may not have the
backing of a denomination that is well respected. I have none of
the qualities that people like you look for in a safe spiritual leader.
I spent no time in Bible School because I was too busy being a
street preacher, reaching out to those that no one else cares for
because there is no money in them. All that I have to qualify me is
Christ in me. And that may not be much to someone like you but
for someone like me, it is everything.
The simple and elusive fact to many is that God loves the outcast.
He loves the second-rate and the counted out. He seems to embrace
those of us with nothing to show for years that we wasted on the
world. When you look in the eyes of someone not worth your time,
someone dying or poor, the obvious welfare mother at the store or
the bum on the library steps, you are seeing Jesus stare back at
you. When you stand next to the alcoholic who smells of urine and
booze or the criminal Christian who has failed even after salvation,
you stand shoulder to shoulder with the Messiahs heart. I am not
the best man for the job and yet God chooses to use me. And that
makes some people very angry. Because I leave them, who are
way more qualified than I, without excuse. I live my life in joyful
abandon because when the lights dim and the music is over, when
the crowd is gone and the only sound is my own breathing, all that
I have is God.
I can say with some pride that I am a fool and deserve to lose it all
for foolishly trusting in God. But that trust that God will provide is
my joy and that abandon is my identity. And He gave that to me,
me the outcast, me the failure and liar and cheat. He looked on
me in my worst possible moments, during the times I am most
ashamed of and still he loved me. And if he loved me then, at that
place and that time, how could he think less of me now? God can
never love us more and he will never love us less. What a mighty
and amazing God we serve! I feel his presence so strong even as
I write this. Yes, you too are a failure and a hypocrite. Yes, you
could be better than what you are. But God called you as you were.
Not because you were the best or the brightest. He didnt call you
because of your morals or your strengths. God called you because
of your failings and your shortcomings. He chose you because you
are a fool and He loves to make purses out of sows ears. So many
of us are deceived into thinking that it is what we dont do or what
we overcome that gives us our testimony. But your weakness is
your testimony, not your strengths.
I may very well be wrong in what I believe. The disaster that looms
just days ahead, threatening our destruction as a family may very
well do just that - destroy us and cast us adrift. The thing we believe
for may not happen. I may never be a success in the churchs eyes.
I may not get a building here and those who hate me may get to
laugh as I fail. But I am thrilled at the ride. I am addicted to my
hero, Jehovah Jireh. I know that life is no fun without danger and a
man or woman needs no savior when there is no threat. And I have
a hero who exalts in the role. He lives for it, in fact. Because even
though the one he rescues is dirty and discarded, used and
abandoned, he is by nature the Savior.
-James Smith, South Dakota.