This past Saturday night I picked Ricky up from the Greyhound Bus station. The actual station is nice enough, but it’s located in a seedy side of town. On the side streets and parking lots are any number of homeless people sleeping it off or panhandling for money. Some see it as urban blight. I’m trying to see it as ministry opportunities.

Anyhow, Ricky was transferring from one recovery center to another. In his late fifties, he’s spent thirty five years feeding his addiction to drugs and alcohol. I met him back around the first of May when he came in off the streets and said, “I heard you helps people. I need help. I’m tired of this life I been living.”

It’s not every day that someone surrender themselves to God’s police force (We arrest people in the name of Jesus in order to set them free. We break demonic chains by the power of the Spirit of God).

“You eat yet?” I asked him.

“Naw, man. But you already done enough for me. I’m good.”

My wife, always the one to volunteer to spend my money, blurted out, “No way! You are going to eat before we take you to the recovery house.”

She diverted her gaze from Ricky and stared at me in a commanding way, “Pull into that Popeyes Chicken store and get RIcky some chicken. He likes dark meat.”

While we waited for the order to arrive, Jan and I used the opportunity to impart some wisdom.

“Pastor, I sure do appreciate all you done for me. I been sober for two and a half months, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, spent four hours a day studying his word, and now I been baptized. I thank you. Some day I’m gonna pay you back.”

I have to admit, I felt some liquid welling up in my eyes. That kind of humility and gratitude is hard to come by nowadays.

“Well, RIcky, do you know what I want in return?”

“You want me to come to church and stay sober.”

I laughed under my breath. “Sure, but that isn’t what I really want. You see, I’m really working for someone else. And what he wants is simple. He wants you to survey his goodness and the good things he’s brought into your life. He wants you to continue to admit that you are powerless over all of your sin and addictions. He wants you to love him back and to run after him with all your heart. Then he wants you to start looking for ways that you can introduce other whacked up people to him so that he can bring about a total transformation in their lives too.”

“So you want me to pay it forward?”

“Yeah, sort of. Just think about God’s mercy toward you then go pass out mercy and grace freely to broken-hearted people. If you only pursue sobriety, you’ll be disappointed in the outcome because then it’s still only about you. That’s different than pursuing sobriety so that you can pursue God with a clear and open mind, so that you can then introduce other people to Jesus. You understand?”

As far as I can tell, this is the essence of the gospel’s affect on me. More than changing what I do, it changes who I am. My natural inclination is to take care of me – to make it all about me. But in the gospel, I see another force at work. God is calling me to empty me of myself – to resist, in his name and for his sake, the urge to seek comfort and ease for myself.

If I am confused about what this looks like, I simply recall what Paul said about Jesus.

Philippians 2:1-8 NIV
[1] … If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, [2] then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. [3] Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. [4] Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: [6] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, [7] but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. [8] And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! …

Do you get that? That God would empty himself of himself….to shed himself of his rights as God and become one of us. Did you get the “taking on the nature of a servant” part? Or the words “humbled” and “obedient?” And that he would subject himself to the violent whims of mankind – mankind that was created in his image, by the him.

Yes, this is the essence of the gospel. You might try some other approach – a radical obsession with theology or legal codes. Maybe you have the secret codes of the Bible deciphered that will lead to prosperity and fame. Smoke screens come a dime a dozen. But what is truly rare is the disciple who has internalized what Paul is saying here about what being a true follower of Jesus is all about.

Do what I told Ricky to do – go out and find someone to serve in the name of and for the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

That’s what he wants.gty67