Spot-On Theology and Worship…from the Least-Likely of Sources

“Yeah, see…you can’t really celebrate His birth in Bethlehem unless you remember the Cross…and the Resurrection. You gotta keep all three of them in mind, or else it really don’t make sense. That’s why I drew all three.”

Chalkboard at Turning Point, Nov. 2017

Chalkboard at Turning Point, Nov. 2017

Last week, I was minding my own business, very busy doing something terribly important, when a member of Columbia’s homeless community broke into my thoughts and quietly gave me a big, welcoming grin. Once he was in close physical proximity and quite sure that he had my attention, “Chris” took a few minutes to explain why he had spent 45 minutes the previous day sketching out the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to him, his biggest problem on that day was that he hadn’t had more colors of chalk to work with.

“More colors of chalk? Really?”

Not something that normally finds a spot on the priorities list at a day center for the city’s homeless population. Judging merely from his appearance, I’m almost certain that Chris – whom I have never seen before or since, at least not yet – had never once received any formal training from an accredited seminary. At no point did I receive a satisfactory explanation as to why he felt entirely free to erase the verse from John 4 I had scrawled there a few weeks prior.

In an age filled with selfish personal agendas, divisive/destructive word games, never-ending outrage and ever-more-deadly outbursts of hatred and violence, is there any question more urgent than, “Where can I go to find wisdom?”

Apparently, for me anyway, the answer on that particular day was, “Look at the joyful expression on the face of this guy who has, quite literally, nothing of value in this world.” Our friend Chris, who I hope to see again, at some point, was dressed shabbily in filthy denim overalls, in serious need of some help with hygiene and grooming, and his skin looked exactly as you would expect for someone who has spent the vast majority of his life outdoors, toughened to leather by ongoing exposure to the elements.

To look at his face, though, you would think he had just inherited six billion dollars. And in a spiritual way, I suppose he has.

All I could do was sit in my chair and gape at him, wondering when the smile would dissolve into an outward expression of pain and desperation…but that moment never came. I saw Chris in the Day Room at Turning Point a few hours later, quietly interacting with other homeless people and staff, still wearing the same happy grin and enjoying coffee and whatever happened to be available that day at the food table.

It might feel like a shopworn cliché to suggest that Chris has a firm grasp on an important Truth that eludes most of us, but there’s clearly something undeniable in his choosing to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to remind anyone who might be paying attention that the necessity of God’s scandalous intervention in all of human history starts at Bethlehem…but always intended to reach its appointed end at Golgotha. Our collective sin and suffering really ought to be front-and-center as we enter into the Christmas season. Or, as Paul David Tripp has previously said so memorably in a “Surviving the Holidays” video:

If there weren’t pain, suffering, sin, destruction, discouragement, and death, there would be no need for Christmas. This holiday is about suffering. This holiday is about pain. Now, what we’ve done – and it’s right to do that – we’ve made this a holiday of celebration, because we celebrate the coming of the Messiah. But in so doing, we forget why He came. He came to end suffering. He came to end death. He came to end sin, end brokenness, end pain, and destruction, and discouragement. And, so…this is the sufferer’s holiday. Rather than the holiday to be avoided, I ought to run toward Christmas! Because what Christmas tells me is, ‘There’s hope for people like me.’ Christmas guarantees that God has, will, and will continue to address what I’m going through.

My brief encounter with Chris ended with my making a few mental notes; 1) find more time to read the Bible this Christmas season, 2) be thankful for what I already have (and trust God 100% with whatever blessings He has chosen to withhold for now), 3) pay closer attention to people around me and far less attention to my MacBook Pro or my iPhone, or whatever, and 4) rejoice always as my single biggest problem has already been addressed by the central events so happily rendered with a limited palette of chalk.

Matthew 11:25-26 (ESV)
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

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