I SAW JESUS IN A PARKING LOT
By: Mike White
November 13, 2021
I was invited to attend a weekly prayer and ministry service last week. As I walked into the crowd, a 3 person band was playing soulful Christian songs with a somewhat country flair. People were mostly gathered in small groups of two or more visiting and laughing. Each time I made eye contact and several times when I didn't, I was warmly greeted with a "welcome brother". The crowd had just a few more men than women, and was racially diverse. Almost every person I saw had a smile on their face. Unfortunately, it was easy to see the smiles on many partially hid the pain in their eyes.
The service is open to anyone, but is held primarily for who some would say are "down on their luck", the homeless, recovering addicts, sex workers and other marginalized people.
Some come to be prayed over, some come to pray over others and some come just to pray. Most come simply to praise Jesus. While there, they can also get some donuts and coffee and take advantage of free haircuts, and a selection of donated clothing if needed.
They also come to be fed, and they are fed well. Their souls are fed with songs of praise by a local band, heart wrenching testimonies given by others attending and by a biblical message from a guest speaker. Those coming to have their bodies fed are provided a hot meal at the end of the service. I am guessing this is where the unusual name came from, Jesus Burger.
I settled in a seat as the first person was invited to give their testimony. A small female walked up to the podium. She told of growing up in a small village in India where she had never heard of Jesus until missionaries came and told her of His love and grace. She explained the persecution and threats of death she faced after becoming a follower of Christ and of eventually fleeing to safety in America.
A young man in his late 20's shared his past. He described being raised in a family of non-believers, two failed marriages and the loss of his children. He then praised Jesus as he told us how his life had changed since turning to Christ. He gave God the glory in his sobriety and in his happiness.
Another lanky, all American, looking young man wearing a Marines' T-Shirt told of his drug dependency that started as a young boy and his multiple stints in jail. He described the pain in his life, and spoke of his fear that he was not good enough to be saved by God's grace. He then testified to finally understanding that God's grace is enough even for the worst of the worst, even for a guy like him. He talked about how that realization changed his life and allowed him to follow Christ.
The testimonies were overwhelming. I praised God and thanked Him. I praised Him for his undeserving grace and thanked Him for giving me hope for an eternal life at His side.
During a short break before the actual service began, a fella wearing a big Texas cowboy hat rolled by in a wheelchair. We made eye contact and I greeted him with a "Hi-dee Cowboy". He grinned, wheeled over and introduced himself.
I recognized his name and confirmed with him that we had gone to high school together almost forty years ago. He had been a couple of years older than I was but I remembered him and he said he remembered me. For the sake of his privacy, I am just going to call him "Cowboy".
Cowboy told me his story. He told me of traveling the US and living in states like Arizona and Michigan while working in construction. Cowboy told me that he had started drinking extremely young and that later his drinking had turned to drug use. He shared that his drug use included the use of IV-Drugs and that this had infected him with Hepatitis-C after sharing a dirty needle.
As we reminisced, the worship band played. Cowboy would occasionally break into song and sing a line or two with band or encourage them by hollering a loud "Amen!" or "praise Jesus!".
The pain in his heart quickly showed on his face when I ask him about his two brothers. He shrugged his shoulders and simply said they had lost contact. He then sadly said, "they don't even know I lost my legs". Recognizing the lost connection to his family was painful and personal, I changed the subject and ask him how he had lost his legs. The story was heart-wrenching.
Cowboy explained that while living in Detroit, Michigan he had decided it was just too cold for a Texas boy and had ridden a bus back to Longview. He said that after making the decision to return, he had been excited about getting back to the Texas sun and it's warmth. Instead, he was greeted with cold and a rare snow. He told me that one night, shortly after arriving, he slept under an awning at a shuttered business off along the highway and awoke to searing pain in his feet and legs. He had a severe case of frostbite from the bitter cold.
He went on to detail the loss of his legs, the healing process and how this had led him to being a resident of the Highway 80 Rescue Mission for the homeless. He amazingly showed no bitterness, no self-pity. He took responsibility and ownership of the choices he had made in life and the outcome that came from them.
During his story his eyes clouded with tears as he told me that he had had a dream where he was speaking to hundreds of disabled people. He lifted what remained of one leg into the air as he said the word disabled. He told me that he believed God had a plan for him. With full confidence, I assured him that I had no doubt he was right. God most certainly has a plan for Cowboy.
He told this story stoically, until he began to speak about how the loss of his legs had led him to dedicate his life to the Lord and how that had changed his life. He smiled as he told me about how God had given him the strength to give up excessive alcohol use and to quit drugs. He spoke of the joy in his life and his appreciation for what he has today and praised God for allowing him to live.
We parted that day with a "God bless ya brother" and him smiling and assumedly saying "I'll see ya next Saturday" as if he knew I would be back.
So, where did I see Jesus? I saw Him everywhere! I saw Jesus in people who weren't even there that day, the people who provide the funds for all this to happen. I saw Jesus in the lady that rushed from her seat, five chairs down a row, just to help another lady get her sweater over her shoulders. I saw Jesus in the man that smiled and handed me a cup of coffee and replied, "not me, just God" after I thanked him. I saw Jesus in the young man that caringly washed blood from the scrape of physically challenged man who had take a tumble.
I saw Jesus through tears and my heart hurt when I saw a young girl smiling as she proudly went through the plastic bag of clothes and coat she had just been given. I saw Jesus in the eyes of a young lady as she ask if I would like a bible verse she had beautifully written on a slip of paper.
I saw Jesus in the guest speaker, "Burundi Jane" as she gave her testimony of going to college as an older single mom, starting her teaching career in White Oak, Texas only to be called by God to teach children thousands of miles away in a remote country in Africa torn by civil war. I saw Jesus in my sister as I watch her soft heart fill her eyes time and again throughout the morning and I saw Jesus in my brother-in-law's face when he and Burundi Jane discussed his mission trips to Burundi, Africa. The very town her nickname came from and where she lived, taught school and ministered to children now.
I saw Jesus in a guy as he struggled to stand after kneeling on pebbled asphalt praying over a man and saw Jesus again when the same guy held the man as he sobbed in his arms as they stood in the shadow of a rugged cross made from post.
He stood beside me as a homeless man told Cowboy how he had "scored" a pair of insulated coveralls for himself but thought they would serve Cowboy better keeping his "stumps" warm. I saw Jesus as friends hugged friends and strangers hugged strangers. I saw Jesus everywhere I looked.
I even saw Jesus with my eyes closed as He gently placed it on my shoulder and quietly ask, "how do these people see me in you?" I wasn't prepared to see him when I shut my eyes.
Unfortunately, the answer was easy, they didn't. No one saw Jesus in me that day. I didn't pray over anyone, I didn't serve anyone and I certainly didn't express love for anyone. For this, I am ashamed. I had the opportunity. There were people there to love on, people that needed to be loved on all around me.
Jesus tells us in John 13:35, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” .
When I saw "Jesus" in so many people, what I was seeing was people loving on others. People loving like Jesus loved.
Jesus didn't say they will know that you are my disciples by the cross you wear around your neck, the bumper sticker on your car or your bible verse wrist tattoo. He didn't say they will know you're a Christian by the cute shirt that says "Blessed" on the front or the religious Facebook meme you reposted. He simply tells us "... everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
My self-disappointment in failing to love on someone at Jesus Burger was not about them "knowing I am a Christian", my disappointment was that I had not helped someone to see the love Jesus has for them. I am a "Carpe Diem", seize the day type of person, yet I had failed to seize the moment on this day.
I don't think Jesus ever failed to "seize" the moment. He didn't hold massive events except for on a few exceptions like The Sermon on the Mound. Jesus found His opportunity to love on people as they passed through his world. He spent time with the individuals and small groups He crossed paths with because they mattered to Him and because he loved them.
Jesus tells us there is another way that people should recognize us as His followers – it is by the fruit that is produced in our lives. “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:17-20).
Jesus even tells us in the bible what some of the "good fruit" is;
Good works – “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”(Matthew 5:16). Make no mistake, people see you and what you do. We should act in such a way that our “good works” cause them to look to God more than praise us for our actions. We must also know that our "good works" alone, will never get us into Heaven.
Avoid sin – “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:3-4). Being a Christian is not just about what we do ,but what we do not do.
Monitor our words – “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). Our words carry power and can cut deep, and bring torturous pain to others. As we are called to do, we should "do everything in love".
Biblical teaching – “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God…” (1 Peter 4:11). We shouldn't try to teach or counsel others based on what we "think" or what we "feel" or what a preacher on TV says... we should only use what God has said and what is right from the bible. This one hit me hard. I am committing to more time studying God's word in the bible. Not just so I can teach what is right but so that I can apply what is right to my own life.
Obey God – “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29). We have gotten ok with a lot of sin because today's society accepts some sin as normal. Just because others no longer see an act as evil, does not make it any less of a sin. We must also stand for right, even when it is not popular or when those we love oppose us for our stance. Obedience to God is not just something that is done when it is convenient.
Displaying the Change in our Lives – “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2). People love to judge, and especially love to judge Christians. As Christians, we must be diligent in our actions and behavior, to strive to remain above reproach. We must understand that others watch us, some hoping that we fail so they can tell others. Some may be caused to stumble because of our actions, while others will us our missteps as an excuse for them to stumble.
I guess this falls under good works but one of the first ways we can show the love of Jesus is by caring for the sick, the elderly, fatherless, the homeless and the widows in our community.
Isaiah 1:17 "Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause".
When we become the hands and feet of Jesus, we are showing others love, in His name. We are telling them, “Yes, I love you, because I was loved by Him, first.” Because Jesus told us they will know we are Christians by our love…