I confess I am still emotionally shaken from last night. My friend, the gothic transvestite sex shop manager invited me to his 50th birthday party. Maybe I am stupid, but as he made it clear, he wanted a get together of his closest friends and family and I felt honoured to be invited. As I contemplated a suitable gift, it seemed that only one was appropriate and so I found a Message version of the Bible with a very psychedelic cover. I arrived at the bar where the evening was to begin and was soon introduced another sex shop manager (also involved Australia wide with Sexpo), a girl who dances for the shop’s ‘peep show’, other men who had all met in or through the sex shops and my friend BA from the bar. NY happily introduced me to all his friends, letting them know that I was a minister and happily telling them I had been helping him spiritually. There was obvious emotion in his eyes as he thanked me for coming. I gave him his gift, it was his only gift, and along with much discussion and page turning by all present he assured his friends that he would indeed be reading this book. And so the evening began with a lot of discussion about God, religious backgrounds (at least two ex Anglican altar boys present) and a genuine desire to share and ask questions. One many sitting beside me who looked at least ten years older than me, I discovered he was actually younger, opened up about his new journey out of drugs and trying to get his life together. As we finished up at the bar, we were all invited to the man’s unit, and I headed for my car feeling quite elated at the genuine openness I was witnessing to my presence and the things I represented.
Back at NY’s unit I continued to have a good talk to the ex-drug addict. Things however started to become a little more difficult. There was copious amounts of alcohol and little in the way of non-alcoholic drinks. Balancing my drinking was becoming more difficult. Then two young ladies turned up in very tight fitting short dresses. I overheard that one was wearing no underwear and the other had hers appear to be hung from NY’s verandah. When the peep show girl and one of the other girls started a bit of a dance I started praying very hard seeking God’s direction. As part of the hospitality I was offered dope which I politely refused. It was becoming clearer where the evening was likely to head and I found myself torn between the desire to get out of the place before I was exposed to anything that I really didn’t need to see and the equally strong awareness that very few Christians/ Christian ministers ever have the opportunity and the invitation to share their lives and faith with such people.
I ended up having another really good talk with the ex-drug addict about the changes taking place in his life and I left him my card with the invitation to call if he ever wanted to talk further. I assured him that I would happily meet in a pub if he preferred. He let me know that that was probably the only place he would feel happy to catch up in. I finally got out the door at about 10 pm. I had managed, with God’s help and much prayer, to act appropriately and in a God honouring way towards all I had met. Nonetheless as I left and headed home my head was spinning and I literally felt as though I had been wading in a human sewer, with people who had let go of all moral restraint and natural human dignity. This is not to say that these people were bad people or evil people, no more so than anyone else. Some of the things people shared with me indicated their very real desire to live a good life that made a difference to others. Interestingly enough, my Bible reading this morning in Luke 5:27 onwards was about the call of Levi the tax collector and the party he threw which Jesus attended along with many ‘sinners’.
27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
I am deeply grateful to God that he has given me the call he has. I am excited that he has given me favour with people who seem out of reach of the church and the Good News of Jesus and I feel deeply his desire to make himself known to such people. What hope do they have apart from him? And yet, there is no question that often this journey leaves me feeling incredibly vulnerable and uncomfortable. I am thankful that I no longer feel as if the darkness and temptations are going to somehow suck me in or overwhelm me. This is not to say that I don’t feel tempted and allured. But it no longer makes sense to me to live a removed life for fear of tainting. Somehow the Spirit within me has given me strength when the darkness seems most overwhelming. Much prayer needed for NY and his friends. Pray that he will read his Bible and that he will continue moving towards Jesus.
Last Wednesday I spent a couple of hours with VV the ex nun just talking together in the bar. It was a good two hours and it certainly felt as though I continue to be able to offer her well received spiritual direction. It is always a precious thing to be trusted by those who feel battered and abandoned by God and his people. I know God has not abandoned her, but she struggles still to believe that.
On Monday just gone I had a fellow referred to me by some friends. His life has recently completely fallen apart after a broken relationship and these friends have been pointing him to Jesus and taking him to church. He is from a Catholic background and very open to God. In the midst of his depression and suicidal thoughts I was able to challenge him to continue seeking God and his kingdom as his number one priority. The next day I got a text thanking me and affirming that he was feeling better. He then turned up at our Wednesday Bible study and again this turned out so much better than expected. Only two weeks before one of the guys from a drug background had walked off in a huff, asked to have his name deleted from my contacts and made it clear that he wanted nothing more to do with us. On Wednesday he turned up offering heartfelt apologies and recognising his need to keep on seeking Jesus. EL also came sharing of God’s continued work in her life. The week before no one had showed up and I certainly wondered whether it was worth keeping ongoing. I left the group yet again amazed as one by one each of the participants shared of their desire to follow God wholeheartedly, their acceptance of his discipline in their lives, the acknowledgment of their hopelessness apart from him.
As I continue to say, “This work is slow!” But I am so excited as I watch people out of all sorts of backgrounds and addictions being touched by the Gospel. And I also stand amazed as slowly but surely I watch one person at a time being discipled and growing in their faith in Jesus. Slowly but surely a church is being formed right in the midst of the sewer.
As always please keep on praying for us
PS – last Thursday Sharon and I decided to have a day’s retreat at a friend’s farm past Gin Gin. It was hot and so Shaz decided to check out some of the local places whilst I stayed in the shed at the farm and read and prayed. Shaz visited the Moore river and ended up chatting to a young aboriginal woman and two aboriginal men who had been swimming there. Their car had broken down and so Shaz offered them a lift home to Moura some 60 or so kilometres away. I don’t know whether my wife is crazy or not, but I am very proud of her. The three aboriginals were blown away that some strange white woman would help them at all, let alone drive them to Moura. As they travelled together it came out that the lady had tried to kill herself just days before and so Shaz was able to share God’s love with her and pray for her. One of the young men exclaimed that he didn’t believe in all that God stuff but his mother used to before she died. Shaz pointed out that when they first met, the young man had told Shaz that she was just like an angel who had been sent to them, and so Shaz suggested that maybe the prayers and faith of this man’s mother was the reason why Sharon had even turned up when she had. He responded very enthusiastically to this suggestion. By the end of it all Sharon had become Auntie Sharon and had been welcomed into a new family.