Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What do you mean, the ATM is broken?

Walking through that church door was tough.  I didn’t want to go but I was at the end of my rope.  I wasn't looking for God or Jesus.  I just needed some money.
I will spare you the reasons.  They are all things that you could just shake your head and say, “He should have known better.”
Yeah, I should have known better.
Well, I made it through the door.  The preacher man is just hanging up the phone.  Maybe he will have just a couple moments to open up the cash drawer and send me on my way.
That would be best.  In and out, just like the burger place.  But this dude didn’t get the memo.  He wants to talk.
He wants to talk.  Maybe I should try the church across the street.  It looks a little newer.  Maybe they have an ATM.  I just tell my story and the cash comes out, maybe it will be a debit card.
Well I have been sitting here for a few minutes; I just as well see what I have to do to get the money.
I have told him that I don’t fit in to any of the churches.  Can’t he get that through his thick skull?
Evidently not, he keeps telling me that my excuses don’t hold water.  He tells me that if I am following Jesus then I will abide in this word.  Preachers like that “abide” word so I call him on it.
He says we need to keep doing what God’s word tells us to do.  In this case to continue to gather together for worship and fellowship.
I tell him that I can be a Christian without coming to church.
He tells me something crazy like we are the church.  What’s up with this dude?  I need some money.
He goes on to say that I won’t be a very effective Christian if I don’t gather with other believers.
I tell him that he has his opinion and I have mine.

“You’re right,” he says.  He stands and reaches out to shake my hand.  I reach out.  He shakes it and opens the door to his office.
I say, “What about the money?”
I look at him like he is crazy.  Maybe he is.
“Oh, the money.  How silly of me.”
“Thank God,” I say.
“We thank God a lot around here and in fact everywhere we go we are always giving thanks.  God has given us so many blessings, and not just for us but enough so that we may bless others.”
Now this guy gets it.  I just used the wrong words.  “I am here for some of those blessings”
“No, you are here for some money.”
“That’s what I have been trying to say but you wanted to use the word blessings so I played the game.  This is getting old.  I have placed to go and things to do.”
“Need to get to work?”
“No.  No job.  That’s part of the reason that I am here.”
“Volunteering somewhere?”
“Out looking for work?”
“Ready to cut to the heart of the matter?”
“No, but I don’t think that is going to make a difference.”
“You’re right.  I am faithful to my Master and he has commanded me and equipped me to speak the truth in love.”
Here he goes again with more churchspeak.   If he starts singing Standing on the Promises then I am exiting the premises.
“The truth is that you came looking for the vending machine, the ATM if you will.”
“I thought only the fancy churches had those?”
“Unfortunately, most of us have had them for decades.”
“I don’t see them.”
“I unplugged ours and threw it away.”
“You what!”
“It was getting in the way of ministry.  You see people would just show up at the door.  They hand to think about it for a long time before they came in, but when they did the just wanted to get out of here as quickly as they could.”
“You’ve got that part right.”
“I know.  Not my first rodeo.”
“So why did you throw it away.  I need that money.  A lot of us need that money.”
“I threw it away because it got in the way of who we are.”
“We are the church.  We are the Body of Christ.  We take God’s light and his love into the world.  We feed the hungry and take care of the needy and minister to the sick and those in prison.”
“That’s me.  I am needy for sure.”
“Yes, you are.  And we are going to help.”
“Thank you!  If I can just get $300, maybe $350 since the cash drawer is already open, then I will be on my way.”
“Oh, there isn’t going to be any cash dispersed today.”
“You said that you would help me.”
“I did and we will.”
“But not with any money…”
“Not right now anyway.  That is not what we are all about.  This is not a place to fill out a form and get a bill paid.  We pay bills for folks every once in a while, but that is not who we are.”
“Is the ATM at the church across the street working?”
“No.  We all sent them to the landfill.”
“Are all of you people nuts?”
“Nuts, no.  Fools, yes.”
“I knew it was something like that.”
“We are fools for Christ.  We follow Jesus and we don’t need to apply the same rules that the world does.  In fact, we had conformed to the patterns of this world and not even noticed.  That dog don’t hunt.”
“I am not sure that I follow but I think it means that I am not getting any money.”
“We do help with some things that are temporary like a water bill or an electric bill or some food, but we are about things eternal—mostly life.”
“You paying my ‘lectric bill or not?”
“Probably not, but we will see what transpires.”
“If there’s no money coming out then I’m not hanging around.”
“I won’t even pretend to be surprised.”
“How can you be this way?  Do you know how hard it was for me to come here?”
“I am this way because I know exactly how hard it was for you to come here today and I don’t want you to ever have to go through that again.”
“You throwing me out?”
“On the contrary.  I am inviting you in.”
“You say you are a fool for Christ, but I’m sticking with nuts.  You’re nuts, man.”
“Could be, but I can tell you that we would not be having this conversation if you were a part of this body of believers.  If this were your family, someone would have known that you were hurting long ago and given you some help.”
“Yeah, well they might have told me that I should give up drinking or smoking or pay-per-view movies.  I don’t like being judged.’
“If you did give up those things and had your utility bills paid in full now would you still consider that advice judgmental.”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
“That’s the way I’m putting it.”
“Yeah, OK, it might have been good advice.”
“We have a church term for that.”
“Surprise, surprise.  I sure was hoping that I could hear some more churchspeak.”
“See, you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
“Right.”  What’s the term?”
“Speaking the truth in love.”
“Sounds a lot like sugar coated judging.”
“You’re right it sounds like it, but it is different.”
“The condition of the heart.  The person who speaks the truth in love truly desires the best for you.  They want you to have a life as rich as their own.”
“And you think that paying my bill will shortchange this process.”
“No.  I am certain that it will.  Sometimes we pay a bill or two or three based purely on mercy and compassion.  Sometimes a family is so down and out that they need some physical help before they can lift their heads high enough to hear the truth.”
“But you don’t think I am in the same boat?”
“Not even close and if you will have a moment of self examination, you will concur.  You are at the point of temporary discomfort, not desperation.  We have the time and the means to work on the root causes of your problems.”
“That’s not why I came here.”
“I know.”
“I am probably just going to leave and tell everyone that you don’t help anyone, that the church doesn’t help anyone.”
“I know.  Like I said…”
“Not your first rodeo.”
“If you needed to buy new tires for your car would you go to the bakery?”
“No.  Is that where you go?”
“Only for bread.  If you needed a plumber would you call a tax attorney?”
“Dude, you are losing me here.”
“Not making any sense?”
“None at all.”
“Good, because those would be nonsensical things to do.”
“Finally, we agree on something—nonsense.”
“But you come to the church with an electric bill?  If you were to call the electric company and ask who pays most of the electric bills in this country, they would say…”
“The people or companies who use the electricity.”
“But you come to this church with an electric bill?”
“Obviously, here I sit.”
“Have you thought about coming here to worship God or to help others or to learn more about God.”
“I’m not much for church.”
“Yet, here you sit.  You won’t come and be a part of the things that the people of the church are called to do but you ask for help in things they are not called to do—is that it?”
“When you put it that way, it sounds sort of ridiculous.  Maybe, I should not have come in today.”
“That is what is ridiculous.  You are exactly where you need to be.”
“I need my ‘lectric bill paid!”
“Six months or a year from now, how important will it be that your bill got paid today or tomorrow or even this month?”
“It is important to me now.  I know that.”
“So it is.  What I am asking you to consider is how important is your relationship with God and his people right now?”
“That can wait.”
“And so we come the crux of the matter.  You want what you want from a place created to give you something else.”
“If you say so.  Yeah, I want what I want.”
“Who will be faithful to their purpose?”
“I heard that you do sometimes pay people’s bills.”
“You heard correctly.”
“For me to help with your bill and leave you disconnected from the Body of Christ is to help you remain disconnected from the one place where you most need to be.”
“So, I am not getting any money?”
“You have heard the old saying ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime?’”
“Yes, but I don’t like fish that much.”
“Same thinking regardless of taste, except that we are talking about life right now and life without end.  Don’t you think it is time to get your life on the course God has set for you?”
“It may be time, but all I care about is getting this bill paid.”
“God cares for you more than your care about that bill.”
“If you say so.”
“I do.”
“Does he care enough to get me some help?”
“Absolutely!  Let’s start getting you connected to some of the people in the congregation.”
“But what about my money?”
“We don’t have an ATM.  We are the church.”
“Why am I still hanging around here?”
“Because you came to the exact place you need to be.  God wants you following Jesus again.  He wants you to worship him, serve him, and learn more about him and his fantastic love in the company of other believers.  That’s our starting point.”
“Well, thanks, but no thanks or thanks for nothing might be more accurate.”
“You know that Jesus once had an encounter with a rich young ruler who said he followed the Law of Moses his whole life.  He asked Jesus what he needed to do to be complete.”
“Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor and then to come and follow Jesus.”
“What happened?”
“I’m not sure.  The man went away sad because he had a lot of stuff, and evidently loved his stuff a lot as well.”
“What do you mean you are not sure?  How can you start a story like that and not give folks the ending?”
“It is not the ending that has the lesson.  Before Jesus told this man to sell everything, the Bible says that Jesus loved him.”
“Jesus loved him?  He told the man to sell all his stuff and give the money away.  How is this love?”
“The man was imprisoned by his stuff.  It owned him.  He couldn’t walk away from it.  Jesus gave him instructions that would set him free but it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.”
“Is that what you call ‘tough love’?”
“No.  That is just love.  It is genuine love.  It is love that cuts to the core of a person’s being.”
“I can think of other words for it.”
“Jesus told the man what he needed to do to be complete—perfect if you will.  The man cared more for his possessions than he did for living God’s way.”
“So the man went away sad.  Well, guess what?”
“So are you?”
“And a little angry.  You guys need to fix the vending machine.”
“Not going to happen.”
So I am outta here.”
“You are invited to stay and get to know this family.  These are people who have been through lean times as well as lucrative times but have followed the Lord every day.  They know what you are going through.  They won’t judge you.  They will help you.”
“No thanks.”
“Very well.”
“Don’t you have to say, ‘God bless you’ or something like that?”
“I could if I wanted, but my prayer is that you hit rock bottom sooner than later so you can shake off this blindness and we can get you living God’s way.”
“Preachers can’t say that!”
“I see.  Tell me more.”
“Preachers have to tell you nice stuff like ‘Have a nice day’ and that sort of stuff.
“OK.  Have a nice day.  Did that help?”
“No.  I don’t think you meant it.”
“I didn’t.  I hope your day gets worse and your vision gets better.  I hope that you have eyes to see how much God loves you and that he has provided a family for you.  It is a family based in love and truth and encouragement, and discipline, and learning, where you can learn to follow Jesus.”
“It is a family where you will be at home because you will be among your brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Don’t you get it.  I don’t deserve to be in that family.”
“You are right about that.”
“Now you are just being mean.”
“No, I am making a real connection with you.”
“What connection?  You are telling me that I don’t deserve to be a part of the family that you have spent so much effort inviting me into.”
“Yes, you do not deserve the joy of being in this family just as I did not deserve it either.  God loved us when we did not love him.  The entire human race had rebelled against God but instead of destroying us, he saved us.  He made a way for us to live in right relationship with him when we had done nothing to deserve it.”
“You are talking about the blood of Jesus.”
“I remember how that moved me a long time ago, but here I am today struggling just to keep the lights on.”
“Isn’t that crazy?”
“That’s what I have been trying to say.  I need some help.  I need some money.”
“And God has been asking you why you keep trying to live your life on your terms instead of his?  Why are you disconnected from the family of faith?”
“This isn’t why I came here.”
“Did you ever stop to think that you came here when the Vending Machine was broken and discarded because God wanted you to have this conversation?”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I like this one little bit.”
“We do love.  Like is sometimes not included in the sticker price.”
“Tell me about it.”

“That is exactly what I would love to do.  How about I call some folks from the church and you get to know each other?”

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