Charlie and Jimmy and Richard

I apologize in advance for the length of this post but I've been thinking about this for almost 24-hours now, so I need to get this out.

When it comes to ministry, I like pretty people. Doesn't everyone? I prefer pastoring nice looking people who don't have personal problems [or at least they keep those problems to themselves] and tithe. I can fluctuate and even accept a few personal foibles as long as they double-tithe. Gimme a group of those people, and I'm just fine; I'm happy pastor.

We've already had our first repeat visitor to Echo. His name is Richard. I actually met Richard right as we were about to begin our first service; he caught me in the hallway at the church and asked me for money. Richard is a 47 year-old divorced father of two kids. He's unemployed, almost homeless, and shows up when something is happening at the church. Currently he lives up the street with a friend. The people at the WHCC warned us that he's been hanging around, hitting people up for money. And he's already figured out that we're the new kids on the block [I'll be lovin' you forever, Donny]; like I said, he was there Sunday night for our first service and he showed up at our prayer meeting last night.

Richard asked if he could pray with us, and we said sure. He even offered up a prayer for all of us at the end of our prayer time. I hope he was sincere, but I'm a tad skeptical. Richard is looking for money from us. He privately asked me if we could take up a special offering for him. I told him we couldn't do that because we're not going to give him temporary fixes, but we'll see what we can do. Kelly and I ended up taking him home and we gave him a couple of bucks to help him out. I know Richard is here to stay with us.

Now let me be honest with you: my first thought about Richard is, "Great, another leech to deal with." I might be a pastor, but sometimes I'd rather not deal with it. I plead to God: "where are all the normal people who need ministry?" His answer: "take what I give you." I just wonder why I always get the people with extra-wants, extra-needs, and take a lot more work to pastor.

But that's my heritage. When we were growing up, my parents always had people projects they worked on. I specifically remember this guy named Charlie who lived in the ghetto. He'd come to our church on Sunday night and my parents would drive him home after church. Charlie lived a "fer piece" from our house, so taking him home killed our Sunday nights. Church didn't get out until 8:00, we wouldn't leave there until 8:30. Taking Charlie home meant we wouldn't get home until after 9:00 and we had to go to school the next day. It sucked, but my parents never complained; they just did it because they knew they should.

I guess their example actually got through to me. God has brought those same type of people to us, and we've always accepted them. Most recently, at Mason, it was a guy named Jimmy. Jimmy was in an alcohol related accident when he was 15 and is now 35; he has little use of his right side and he hasn't matured past his age at the time of his accident. Being around Jimmy is trying, but most people get fed up with his act and move on. I, instead, chose to plant a church to get away from him. Just kidding.

Jimmy used to call me at church all the time. One time he left a voice mail on my answering machine asking if Jesus wore cross jewelry. I told him I didn't think so. Jimmy was kicked out of quite a few churches, but somehow we were able to get through to him. Our relationship progressed so much that I even gave him my cell phone number. He calls me every couple of weeks now to check in with me [and he calls my buddy Tim Tucker everyday in my absence].

My point is this: these are the types of people we can't dismiss. God puts them in our lives for a purpose. Sure, they're rough around the edges, have a list of problems and need attention or money. It's so much easier to ignore them. But we can't. I know what the next weeks and months [maybe years] of dealing with Richard is going to be like, but we've got to embrace it. Sure, he might only look at us and only see money, but maybe this is an open door from God is transform his life through Christ. Yeah, I'll give him some cash here and there, but hopefully he'll figure out there's something more he needs.

Speaking of Jesus, His is an example we can look at for inspiration. The Creator of the world comes to earth and who does he chose to hang with? No, not the pretty people, but the outcasts and the [literal] lepers. If you claim to be followers of Jesus and dismiss needy people as freeloaders, I'd question your faith.

This isn't a guilt trip or anything. Well, maybe it is. But I need to be clear that I'm stating this as chief hypocrite. These are big words from a guy who has been in the area a little more than a month. I've screwed this up in the past; I've chosen to avert my eyes sometimes when there's an undesirable person who wants my attention. And I'll screw it up in the future too. I just hope I can be a little more like Jesus everyday.

Do you have a Charlie or Jimmy or Richard in your life. If so, keep on loving them. If not, open your eyes; maybe they're right in front of you.