The Eight Year Old Evangelist
I remember the day when I decided to write the story, The Eight Year Old Evangelist. Obviously, the story is about my daughter, Michelle, who was eight years old and had more evangelistic zeal than our entire church put together.
We were living at Villa Los Pinos in Tigre, Buenos Aires. Now, that sounds better than it was. It was a beautiful property for sure. Two thousand five hundred square meters of back yard, fifty four pine trees and fruit trees (yes, the girls counted them, every one), and grass everywhere. A bear to take care of but a real pleasure nonetheless. The swimming pool was falling apart but useable, but the house (and apartment) were almost unliveable when we first arrived. Still, it was a real pleasure to live there. It was a gift of God in a difficult time. Low rent, no downpayment, but, boy, did it need a lot of TLC. We painted, cleaned, fixed, scrubbed, and looked the other way until it was liveable….. and we were grateful.
We had visions of Villa Los Pinos becoming a spiritual retreat centre and headquaters (as well as a home) for our ministry. So far, that hasn´t come to pass and we no longer live there. But that´s another story.
Part of the deal for moving into the house was that we had to move out again a few months later (in December of that same year) since they had already rented it out for one month during the summer. There was a small one-bedroom apartment (also a disaster) that we fixed up. We stored our furniture and lived on the basics for a month in the summer while the other family enjoyed the back yard, the pool and the house. Still, it was a blessing.
Michelle had gotten to know the kids and she was invited to play with them and use the pool when they were home and generally have a good time. I wasn´t there when she stormed into our small apartment and said to my wife that the kids she was playing with were not Christians and that she would take her Bible and go over there and tell them about Jesus. Absolutely precious.
Of course, we were curious about what would happen…..
But it got me to thinking about our church. We were going to an English speaking expatriate church in Buenos Aires. Everyone who knows us and lives in Buenos Aires knows who we are talking about. That´s an issue. They say that you aren´t supposed to write about real people and events. That you can get sued. But our God is a God of reality and ministry is about dealing with reality. So I wrote the story, told the truth, but changed the names (and sometimes the gender) of the people involved so that it would be a general rather than a specific story.
Still, I don´t think anyone over there even cares. We don´t go to church there any more. We go to the OTHER English-speaking expatriate church in the North Zone of Buenos Aires. Everyone knows who they are too.
What do I mean, they don´t even care? That is the sad thing. They would probably agree with everything the story says, maybe add a few details for clarification, but not be ashamed of any of it. The capacity of the human heart (including mine) to decieve itself is so great, it scares me.
The church building and grounds are beautiful. The gardens and trees are a real treat. The people are nice and friendly, but the church is as dead as a doornail. No, that is not a judgment on individual people. Many of them continue to be our friends. It is discernment. I believe that the difference between judgment and discernment is involvement and we were very involved. I supported the pastor, my wife worked in the church as the Director of the preschool. I preached. We sang, cleaned, fixed, helped. We came early and stayed late. We did whatever was necessary.
We were identified with the poor and homeless that came to the church because we ministered to them, gave them money, clothes, shoes and lots of acceptance and love, and we got into trouble for it. And they were a pain. Some of them were real characters. Scotty, Charles, Julio. They ate more than their share of facturas and tea (with lots of sugar) after the morning service. They smelled and they interrupted the worship service. They asked for money. They cried. They laughed. They sang (mostly out of tune). They invited more of their friends off the street, because they knew that there was a friendly word, a helping hand, sometimes a few pesos or at least a bit of food that could be had on a Sunday morning.
We were a thorn in the flesh to the flesh of the church. It´s not a role we wanted or looked for, but it seemed to happen by itself. We were gentle (we thought), but we wouldn´t back up on the basics of the faith, like the cross, like feeding the poor and standing up for the powerless (even if they smell). But nobody promised that we wouldn´t get into trouble for it. Sometimes we have this idea that everything will have a Hollywood ending in this life (though it certainly will in the life to come). But, often, you get into trouble (even with the church) when you try to follow God (however imperfectly).
So, there you have it. The Eight Year Old Evangelist is a true story, a sad story, a story of the shame of the gospel (or not).
Frankly, we have found that many of the poor and homeless (like Scotty and Charles) do more evangelism on a weekly basis than the entire church on a yearly basis.
What does that say about us? Yes, we are ashamed of the gospel. We don´t need it desperately enough. We still rely on our own resources and power and we have not yet been destroyed. Our true flesh and arrogance and pride has not yet been revealed to us. We haven´t yet understood that we are all homeless, we are all losers, we are all addicted to sin, pride and ego. We are all in desperate need of the good news. It is that humility, that awareness of our own need for grace, and the thankfulness that God has given us that grace in Jesus Christ, that is the foundation of the ministry of the church and our spiritual walk with God.
Jesus made the standard of obedience to him how we deal with the poor, the needy, the least, the last, the lost (yes, the LOSER). There is no question about it. The Bible is abundantly clear on this issue.
Perhaps he did so because only in that context would our humility or our pride be shown for what it is. The things we learn about ourselves and our faith in God are revealed in how we deal with those around us who smell and are inconveniences and different and a bother. Forget about our enemies (yes, that too), it is how we deal with our brothers and sisters in Christ (especially the lowly ones) that is the litmus test of our faith.
Yes, the sad thing is that they don´t care. If they would be upset about the story, if they would protest their innocence, if they would claim it wasn´t so, that would be good news. It would indicate that there is some awareness of God´s standard of obedience in dealing with the poor and that they don´t want to fall short of it. Then you can talk, you can discuss, you can even argue, about how, and when and where and what happened, and “you don´t understand, and what I was trying to say or trying to do was”…..that conversation would be wonderful. I have no problem disagreeing with someone who is zealous for the things of God. That would be a welcome discussion, a necessary process, like iron sharpening iron.
What I have a problem with, is people who simply don´t care.
So they got rid of us. Had an official meeting. Came up with some bogus reasons, some half-baked accusations, some misunderstandings. Yes, there were other things going on about evangelism, pluralism and preaching the cross of Christ but that is in the story itself and I don´t want to give it all away here. Suffice it to say, that it was more of the same. And the process was a disaster. No conversation, no heart-to-heart. Just……go away. So we went. Who are we to defy the leadership of the church? We never intended to do anything wrong. So, we left.
After two years in the new church, we are leaving again. Lord, how heavy my heart is. It must be me. It must be my flesh, my zeal, my lack of gentleness, my pride, my ego, my sin. Forgive me for my blindness. Restore to us the joy of our salvation and the favor of a fellowship dedicated to you.
Yes, we have left. We were kicked out, again. Basically, for the same reasons. The poor seem to follow us around. We have been identified with them. The leadership comes to us to complain about them or to ask us to deal with them for some imagined (or real) slight or embarrasment. Thank you, Lord, for that priviledge.
But when they publicly kick someone out because he asks for money (wouldn´t you if you were broke?) and they threaten to call the police if he comes back and he only wants to meet with me on the street because he is afraid to come into the house of God…..we are talking here about a Christian brother who is a street evangelist…..and he cries on my shoulder …..a grown man….not able to handle, on top of everything else life has thrown at him, the rejection of the church, his own brothers and sisters in the Lord…..where else can he go? He is alone, rejected, worthless…..noone sees his true self in Christ……my family surronding us and laying hands on him as he weeps…..yes, even my children and my eight year old (now ten year old) evangelist……and praying on a street corner near the church because there was no room, no place, no acceptance for him in the fellowship of believers……..then there comes a time when a public rebuke is necessary and the church as a whole needs to know what is going on and decide what kind of church it is going to be.
Well, that kind of thinking will get anyone in trouble.
Perhaps the point is, that following God is not an easy task. There is no guarantee that even the church will not reject you, or throw you out. The status quo is precious to people even though God has condemned the status quo as a deception of the Devil. God wants us to grow in obedience and spiritual maturity. Spiritual growth and the status quo are not compatible. At least, not in this world, with the power of the flesh, the world and the Devil against us…..not when sin is automatic and the spirit takes dedicated effort…..not if you want to be useful to God and get your hands dirty and make a difference in the lives of real people in the power of the Holy Spirit as you share the good news of the power of God in the hearts of man through the cross of Christ.
Of course, that assumes that you actually want all this……but why bother? It´s not very comfortable. It´s rather inconvenient. Takes up a lot of time. It´s a lot of work and requires a lot of sacrifice…….
This time new accusations are made. I am spiritually immature (of course, aren´t you?). I lack self-control (I keep asking for forgiveness for my sins, so obviously I don´t have any victory over sin in my life…..or is the victory in the confession and repentance of the sin in the first place?). But, even worse……I am machavillean (with evil intentions) and “the Bible warned us that people like you would arise in the church.” (I am now either a wolf in sheeps clothing or the anti-christ). Lord, please forgive them. And show me where I am out of your will and how to conduct myself so that you are pleased with me. Do I really give them that impression? I always say that their list of accusations is shorter than my own list against myself and both of ours are nothing to the list of accusations that the Devil brings against us. Thank God that all of the accusations are covered by the blood of Christ. We do not deal in justice but in grace and that grace was bought with the blood of Christ because of the justice of God.
The problem is that kicking Scotty out of church was a line that I could not cross. Sure, there are lots of things that I might disagree with the elders on. Of course. I have opinions but I can write about them here, in my blog, and get them off my chest. But how do I condone kicking the poor out of the church? How can I be in agreement with the corporate sin of the fellowship? How can we have the anointing of God on our ministry, if we don´t minister to the poor (and everyone else)? I just couldn´t find a way to continue working on Desert Warrior Ministries, much less be a part of the fellowship in the church, if I just let this go.
Sure, I could have handled it better. I apologized for that later (again with the confessions of sins, how weak I must be). I find that there is some flesh in everything that I do, so I end up confessing whatever the Lord makes me aware of…..but, the truth is, I could not let this pass. I brought Scotty into the church after the service (he was waiting outside and scared to come in) and found the elder talking to a bunch of people, gentle and friendly, shaking everyone´s hand, a great preacher of the Word actually, and a genuinely good man. Someone that I like and respect as a community and even a church leader. I harbored the hope that it was all a big misunderstanding.
I brought Scotty to him and told him that Scotty was under the impression that he was not welcome in the church and that he, the elder, had threatened to call the police if Scotty showed up again. He said that it was true and glared at Scotty as if to say “what are you doing here”….perhaps that is where my flesh got the upper hand in my own heart. It was the arrogance of the leader, the bold faced assertion that he had the right to kick someone out of the church on his own authority if he wanted (without even consulting the rest of the elders, who ended up agreeing with him anyway after the fact). He claimed that Scotty had lied to him about coming from Canada (Scotty´s english wasn´t that good), but who cares? I don´t know if it´s true or not. Even the elder didn´t know, really, if it was true or not. He suspected that Scotty lied to him. So what? Are we kicking all liars out of church now? Then I have to go and the leader has to go, in fact, all of us have to go…..what was this? And it got worse from there. People had gathered around and I raised my voice and made it clear that this was not of God.
He wasn´t so much embarassed as angry that I was challenging his authority. What authority? Last time I checked, no one had the authority to do anything in the church that Jesus would not do. I can´t see Jesus kicking Scotty out and calling the police. In fact, Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do it unto me.”
Of course, we already had a history of discussions in private and with the elder board about my involvement in the church. This wasn´t the first time that they have accused me of doing something wrong. He didn´t like how I prayed in a prayer meeting. How I cried and was upset in a Men´s Bible Study because we pretended that everything was all right in the church when no one is ever saved and lives are not transformed. How I rebuked this same leader in a more private setting for suggesting that Charles was a danger to the church and could not come to a congregational meeting when we talked about money as if he was a gangster or would hold up the meeting with a gun or something. Who knows? We just don´t want him there, was the position taken. I had just prayed with him for safety on the streets because he had been threatened in the group home he was living in at nights……he leaves his extra meager possessions in my house, a few shirts and pants and a coat so they don´t get stolen……In any event, now I am an evil man. Apparently, in their eyes, I have no respect for the church elders and their spiritual authority, my goal is to destroy the church and I have evil, machivillean intentions towards the leadership……Lord, how did this all go so wrong? Yes, my flesh got the better of me. Yes, there was probably a better way to handle it…..but since when do we throw people out of the church and then throw other people out of church for standing up to defend them?
Now, a few months later, there is a new pastor in the church. My wife refuses to give up on the church even though she is in full agreement with what I did (minus the flesh parts). She is a true spiritual warrior. She believes, as I do, that God can use this situation to teach the church (and us) the value of spiritual unity on the basis of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Not just sweep it under the rug. Not just let time heal the wounds. Not just let sleeping dogs lie. No. God confronts sin and pride and ego and demands confession and repentance. God confronts pride, we negotiate, compromise, even ignore it. After all, it is the most difficult thing to do, take the journey from pride to humility. You can´t make anyone do it. It is always a miracle of the grace of God.
For us, it is impossible to imagine that these leaders would ever confess their sin in this matter. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Now there is a new elder and a new pastor and they want to talk. My wife will meet with them first (at their request). Will the miracle of the grace of God prevail? or will this just be more political maneuvering? Psalm 133 tells us that the blessing of God rests upon those who are in unity with each other. We know that spiritual unity is based on confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not the unity of compromise but the unity of obedience and loyalty to the same Master.
I don´t know the end of the story yet.
The Eight Year Old Evangelist continues to inspire me. It has led me to the story of Scotty (which I have yet to write) and perhaps the story of the triumph of God´s grace in our church fellowship and a renewed commitment to the priorities of God and the centrality, necessity and value of the cross. It may lead us to a growing, changing, developing ministry rather than the status quo. And that would please you immensely, Lord, I know. We want to be useful to you, Lord, in building your Kingdom and revealing your glory.
One of those same elders, an older man, who has been a Pastor for the Spanish service for many years, asked me once, why the church doesn´t grow. I told him what I honestly thought.
We, as a church and especially the leaders, do not seek the anointing of God with all of our hearts. If we did, we would crucify our pride and confess our sins one to another, help each other to repent, forgive one another in Christ and treat each other as we are in Christ not as we are in the flesh, which brings true reconciliation and spiritual unity. On that basis, in humility and spiritual power, we can minister in the anointing power of God to everyone who comes to us without shame or discrimination.
We lack the power of transforming lives because our life is not transformed. Frankly, that is always the answer and the solution. (I found out later that he was offended by my answer and that, too, became another reason why I was asked to leave.)
Lord, will they even care that I write these “truths” about them. They can hardly deny that this is what happened but, hopefully, your Holy Spirit will stir up some anger, some concern, some sort of explanation or justification why this interpretation of the facts is not so. Hopefully, they will care enough to fight back and then, perhaps, your new servant, the new pastor, can say something, do something (bathed in prayer and dependence on you) that will help the scales to fall from their eyes, so that they can see and repent and be restored. And then there can be reconciliation in the church. That is always the way that division in the church must be handled. Anything else is fake and powerless.
Lord, I pray for them with all my heart. It doesn´t matter whether or not we go back to church there (although we would like to if it is in the context of true spiritual unity). Lord, I pray for them because they are your children, they truly have good intentions, they are good people. They simply haven´t learned the power of the flesh to keep you in ignorance, blindness and willfulness. Lord, help them to learn that they can be good people, love you and have good intentions and still mess up big time and be blind to it, even (especially) as elders. After all, there is a spiritual war going on. Things are not what they seem and each of us, especially the leaders, has a crucial role to play.
Lord, help them to see that there is spiritual warfare going on all the time and that the heart and soul of our church fellowship is at stake. Lord, help them to understand that our own hearts are our biggest enemy and that we need the fellowship of believers to help us uncover our blind spots as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Being an elder isn´t about getting it right all the time. It´s about having the humility to go to the cross immediately when you become aware of your flesh and sin. That humility before the cross of Christ in the hearts of men and women, so rare and difficult to obtain, is the glory of God and the reason why nothing of importance can happen without prayer.
And you will reveal that glory in us, both as individuals and a church, both now and before your throne. That glory, the power of the cross in the hearts of men, is why the world continues on. It is the great adventure. It is the goal and purpose of creation. That ministry of reconciliation is the power of God for salvation and sanctification and it will empower our church to minister to the Spanish and English communities throughout the region. I know that is your will, Lord. Make us useful to you in your great rescue effort for the hearts of our families and friends and community.
Lord, we so desperately need your power and presence in our lives. Fill us with the certainty that we have your anointing because we dedicate ourselves to spiritual unity rooted in the cross. This ministry of reconcililation is the heart of what the church is and does. It is difficult to see our pride much less crucify it (me too). We need each other to help search out and destroy our blind spots and to keep each other accountable in humility and thankfulness, to help each other to stay at the foot of the cross in that sweet spot of grace. We need to keep our discipleship rooted in the humility of our own need for grace.
That is what I leaned from my Eight Year Old Evangelist. The simplicity of the truth, the humility of love and the natural result of evangelism and discipleship as expressions of the ministry of reconciliation. I truly wish we were all eight years old.
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus (Matthew 18:3 NIV).
The Desert Warrior
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The Eight Year Old Evangelist