Twenty Thirteen

man person people old

A man like Roy

He stole through the church doors, long, lanky, and strong of stench. His bony limbs were swallowed in oversized tweed, his hair a matted mess of gray, fingernails long and filthy. His face was gaunt, eyes expressionless. “Homeless” would have been a generous term for this man. He sat toward the back of the sanctuary, then slipped out before the brave-enough could greet him after the service. But he came back. (Something brought him back.) My heart sank when he walked through the church doors during my office hours one day. I should want to help someone like this, I chided myself. Simple conversation proved futile, which seemed a mercy—he couldn’t have had a bath in years and the smell was repugnant. I offered him a cup of coffee and went to find the pastor (who happened to be my dad). The man had a name, and soon Roy Pilcher was a regular at church, unpredictable as he was in the timing of his visits, with no regard for weekday office hours or Sunday service protocol. Occasionally he would disappear for weeks on end, and just as we wondered if we would ever see him again, he resurfaced looking and smelling as ghastly as ever. A quiet man, Roy would stand in silent reverie or sit alone at the back of church, legs folded, bony knees sticking out of his burnt-orange pants (those same pants, week after week). But when he sat with my dad—who, for all I know, became his sole friend in life—he would become so engaged in the conversation that he’d suddenly jump up, slam his fist on the table, and yell out random statements like, “Those children in Russia need Bibles!” I always felt uncomfortable around Roy, but I learned how to hold a brief conversation with him and care for him in one small way: every time he walked through the church doors, I offered him a cup of coffee and a chair in the Fellowship Hall while he waited for “The Pastor.” (It was never “Pastor Greg” or “your father”; it was ever and only “The Pastor.”) Other church members also made an effort to reach out to Roy, but he talked very little and when he did speak, it was largely nonsensical. Roy became a strangely beloved part of our church family. Of course he would never pursue membership or volunteer to serve in a ministry or reciprocate the love shown him. He would never be dependable or devoted. He would come and go as he pleased, needing help and conversation and cups of coffee. And although I never would have put it into words, subconsciously I considered Roy a lesser member of our church body. The idealistic, self-righteous, 22-year-old version of me understood so little…. When Roy needed a ride home one day, we discovered he lived just a mile from our church, in a small shack so filthy it deserved to be condemned. But the shack was set on valuable property, and Roy owned it. We found out later that he also owned property in the Northwest and sat on a sizeable amount of cash. This mangy man had more money and assets than I ever would, and that revelation would forever change me and my assumptions about people. Roy’s wealth remained confidential, and it never changed our treatment of him. Roy was Roy, and his money was irrelevant. Until one day…. Roy walked into the office again, the same rancid wildness about him, but this time with a surprising new agenda: he wanted to bequeath his property and cash to the church, to further its local ministry, and to buy Bibles for children in Russia. A man who desperately needed a shower and a good meal to eat, a car and a change of clothes, resolved to give everything he owned to God’s kingdom work. He did it behind closed doors, with a fanatical look in his eyes and urgency in his voice. And that unraveled my neatly packaged Christian paradigm. I sang on the worship team, directed kids’ choir, and discipled teenage girls while I waited for my missionary-husband to ride up on his white steed and carry me off to a notable overseas ministry. Together we would change the world for Christ! But this man was a little insane and had no spiritual ambitions to speak of. He lived in a dump and didn’t care one wit about what others thought of him. Yet he secretly gave everything he had as if it was the most natural thing in the world. When a man like Roy comes along, he brings a raggedy version of God’s love and divinely disrupts our tidy world, our neat and clean Christianity. After six years at our church, an aging Roy was too weak and disoriented to remain on his own, so my dad helped him settle into an assisted care facility in town. Dad got the call every time Roy escaped the premises, and he cared for him to his dying day. Not many mourned Roy’s death, nor cared about what he’d done with his life. But stealth kingdom work had been done because one unlikely, unkempt man gave everything he had to God. Scriptures for further encouragement: Mark 12:41-44; Matthew 16:24-27; and Matthew 6.

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brown and green grass field during sunset

As a new year dawns….

For years I religiously observed a late-December ritual of journaling my hopes and goals for the New Year. It was an ambitious, idealistic list, but even so, it was written out of great faith. With all my heart I believed God would show up in the next twelve months of my life. (I just didn’t yet understand that He often shows up so differently than we imagine.) It must have been in my late twenties, after another year had passed without a husband (an annual hope that always made the top of my list), that the ritual finally lost its charm and appeal. Plus, what with my failed attempt at goals like “Memorize a book of the Bible,” I realized The List had come to represent more disappointment than hope. Despite a decade’s distance between me and those annual lists, there’s still something in my heart that longs to commemorate this new beginning, to celebrate a fresh start. I so badly want to seize the time God has given me here on earth, and I still have future hopes and ambitions that stir within me. The turning of a new year beckons me to look behind and ponder…. and to look ahead and hope. This past year, in all its agony and ecstasy, has led me into deeper worship. And to worship God, I have to believe Him, take Him at His Word. It’s been a year of learning to say, No matter what my circumstances, regardless of what others are doing around me, I will look up at You and declare…. You are so good… Kind. Beautiful. Glorious. Faithful. Merciful. Majestic. Powerful. Perfect. Sovereign. Loving. And as I’ve worshiped God for WHO HE IS, my heart has been changed. This fall I wrapped myself up in the book of Genesis, the quintessential beginning. And I found myself worshiping God again and again as He revealed Himself in new ways on those old familiar pages. From the very beginning, He wanted us to know Him and adore Him. And at the beginning of 2014, He still wants the same thing. He is ready and willing to reveal more of Himself to us—revelations that will sustain us through every circumstance with joy and purpose and hope. Joy. Purpose. Hope. Every single time I looked up at Him this past year, even if it was from the bottom of the pit, He sustained me. Without exception, He has been more than enough for my every need and my darkest days. Yes, there have been pressures that have been too great for me to bear, circumstances too much for me to handle, but He has pressed them upon me—the “too much”—so that He could become my Much More. “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22) I am stunned at how often I needlessly carry my own burdens—for hours, days, weeks at a time. And the only reason I don’t quickly cast them on the Lord, is that I don’t believe He is who He says He is. Much of the time my view of Him is grievously small. In my pride and self-reliance I walk around bearing a load that was never intended for me to bear. HE bears. HE sustains. And when I cast my burdens on Him, it is an act of worship. I am agreeing with Him that He alone is God (and I am not). I am declaring that He is great, trustworthy, safe, good, and powerful. Oh dear one, we’ve got to stop looking at Self and Circumstances and Others and instead lock our gaze on God, on all that we have in Him. He is the Best and the Only, our Portion and Great Reward, the Beginning and the End. So instead of reviving my New-Year’s-Eve list-making ritual, I’m asking God to enlarge my worship of Him as this New Year dawns. I want to ring in 2014 with mind-boggling thoughts about Him and anticipate His goodness in the coming twelve months. And all these dreams and fears and longings and goals and doubts and hopes welling up inside me—they find their rightful place when I worship God. “Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5)

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