Life of Dee

We live in the suburbs.  Four bedrooms and a two-car garage.  We’ve lived in the same house for 27 years.  The grass is green and the AC works just fine.

news3-1_pg18My 19-year-old friend Dee guesses that he has lived in 30 different locations in his lifetime.  In the five years I’ve known him, he has stayed in at least 10 different places, all in the worst parts of the city.  Sometimes his family – as many as 11 kids and his mom – has lived in abandoned houses or in tiny, roach-infested apartments.  Electricity and food were not always available; violence and crime were plentiful.

Dee said about 17 of his friends and acquaintances have been killed during just his teenage years.  I have no reason to doubt him, having seen these neighborhoods up close.  Most were killed by guns, though at least one was struck by a car.  He said his uncle was shot while holding a baby.

I met Dee through a mutual friend.  The friend found Dee on a basketball court in Orange Mound, one of Memphis’s poorest neighborhoods.  He offered Dee a bottle of water and conversation.  While many of the African-American ballers were skeptical of the strange white dude, the ever-affable Dee was happy to meet someone new.

The friend started bringing Dee to our suburban mega-church.  Dee was different than most of the students, rougher around the edges and more poorly dressed.  He told me that as a young kid he often wore the same clothing for two or three weeks at a time without washing.  This embarrassed him and he felt gross, but what’s a kid going to do when your mom doesn’t have a washing machine or money for the laundry mat?  Momma has congestive heart failure and asthma, conditions that have put her in the hospital on numerous occasions.  When she is in the hospital, the kids have to fend for themselves.

Dee, have you ever been hungry?  “Lots of times.”  He said he has slept in cars and on cold floors because there was no bed, blankets or heat.  “But I was okay because I had a hoodie.”  Mom kicked him out on a few occasions after arguments.  Sometimes he would call me.  I picked him up one night outside a cheap motel where the local assistance agency had put them up for the night.  He was about 16 at the time, shivering in gym shorts and a tank top because it was 40 degrees.

Dee rarely got into trouble like some of his friends and siblings did.  He credits the advice of older people in the neighborhood who explained the consequences of drugs and crime.  Dee’s younger half-brother didn’t listen.  Now 16, the kid brother already has a long criminal record that includes car theft, gun possession, attempted murder and kidnapping.  Another younger brother has a rape charge among other crimes.

At church Dee met people who, for some reason, were interested in him.  Sometimes they took him home for a meal.  They bought him birthday and Christmas gifts.  They took him on youth retreats.  “I got to know who God was,” Dee said.  “I had some deep conversations with some of the counselors.  I realized I was lost.  I also realized I could have a better life.”

It was on a youth trip that Dee heard God whisper to him, “You’re ready for this.”  With some counseling, Dee became a follower of Jesus and was baptized.  Now he says, “I want to do something different with my life, I want to change my family’s future.”

Dee says his home life is better these days, though far from ideal.  Some of his siblings are grown and two are currently incarcerated.  Only the younger kids remain, and Dee helps out by watching them when Mom is at work or sick.  Dee works at a community gym.  He has a girlfriend and is considering moving to another city for a fresh start.

“My life is definitely better than it used to be.  I have some cool friends that love me.  My mom and I get along better.  I finished high school and then my sister went back and got her GED, so maybe I was a good influence on her.  I’m trying to help the younger kids and keep them out of trouble.”

Dee tells me his story with little emotion or self-pity.  He knows his life is normal for an inner-city kid; there are thousands more like him on the streets of Memphis.  Many may never know that there is a God who loves them and has a better life waiting for them.  They’ll never know unless someone tells them.

The question is, what am I doing to help the other “Dee’s” who are out there?

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” – 1 John 3:17



Rx for Anxiety

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting some 40 million adults.  Furthermore, Americans spend about $40 billion annually on depression drugs. God has something to help you with fear and anxiety and it’s not in a pill bottle.  It’s the Book of Matthew.  Take one passage as needed for relief of disquietude.  Note: works more effectively with faith.

Matthew 6:25-34 – Birds and flowers.  Your income is low and your bills are high.  It is hard NOT to worry when your bank Fat thinkerbalance is tiny.  Does God punish you for your lack of faith?  Nope.  He knows your weaknesses and limitations and loves you anyway.  Jesus himself said, “(God) will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”

Matthew 8:5-13 – Just say the word.  Real faith knows that Jesus will deliver more reliably than FedEx.  A Roman officer was so confident in Jesus that he told the Messiah, “just say the word and my son will be healed.” The same Jesus that healed this man’s son is waiting to hear from you right now.

Matthew 8:23-27 – HELP!  It’s a big storm and your small boat is about to capsize.  Everyone will drown.  HELP! You need somebody.  HELP! Not just anybody.  HEEEELP!!!  Preach it, Beatles!  You yell for Jesus and the storm dissipates.  Relief doesn’t always come immediately, but it will come.  Meanwhile, Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid?”

Matthew 9:1-8 – Mat-Man.  Determination and faith are like caramel and sea salt; they go great together.  These dudes in Matthew 9 REALLY believed Jesus could heal their friend and the Lord rewarded their faith.  Don’t let Satan discourage you.  Overcome the obstacles, block out the distractions.  Get to Jesus.

Matthew 9:19-22 – Just a touch.  God is way more powerful and capable than we often understand.  A woman who had been ill for 12 years knew that just touching Jesus’s garment would heal her.  The combination of humility and faith will bring results.

Matthew 14:22-33 – Get out of the boat.  Faith is so much easier when life is smooth and easy.  When turbulence comes along you begin to get nervous.  You see Jesus and step out in faith, but things get even worse.  Yikes!  Fortunately, Jesus takes your hand and saves you, sometimes miraculously.  It’s scary, but you need to experience storms so you can learn to rely on God.

Matthew 21:21-22 – Moving mountains.  “Faith can move mountains!”  That’s a Bible cliché, but if you believe in God and His Word, He will move ‘em.  An example:  Milton Hatcher was an alcoholic who became a follower of Jesus.  In 1967, he looked around his hometown of Memphis and saw hundreds of alcoholics and drug addicts who were homeless and hopeless. He decided to start a shelter, even though he had no money, training or resources.  All he had was faith.  Fast-forward 50 years: Calvary Rescue Mission has provided overnight lodging and hot meals for more than a half-million men.  Thousands have become Jesus followers!  BTW, Milton died in 1995, but there are dozens of people carrying on the ministry.  God moved many mountains for Milton and Calvary Rescue Mission.  He also has moved mountains in the lives of thousands of homeless, addicted men.  He can move one for you.

But the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.  And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.  But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’  And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’  He said, ‘Come.’  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’   Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”’” – Matthew 14:24-31


Revelation and Jerry Lee Lewis

The Book of Revelation is deep, deep like a Yeats poem or that movie The Matrix.  It contains prophecy wrapped in symbolism explained by the Apostle John who was doing his best to describe things he did not fully understand.  John, the last living disciple, had been exiled to a small island in the Mediterranean Sea by the Romans who were sick of him talking about Jesus all the time.  John had seen Jesus resurrected from the dead.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock & Roll Singer(Date Unknown/Possible 50s)
Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock & Roll Singer

I met Jerry Lee Lewis once and I still talk about it.  He showed up at a nightclub on the night of my bachelor party.  (Note: I wasn’t following Jesus very much in those days.)  He was long past his hell-raising prime but looking to resurrect his career.  He’s still alive, his career is still dead.

In chapter 4 John is given a vision of heaven.  His described a church service like nothing we’ve ever seen, with creatures that looked like eagles and oxen and elders.  Not your typical Presbyterian meeting.  They all worshipped God, saying “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”  Bible experts say that the creatures John saw represented the attributes of God.  I don’t know much about that, but I do know that worshipping God is very important.  In fact, it is why people exist… to give God glory.

In chapters 5-9 John writes about a scroll with seven seals.  The scroll contains a glimpse of the future.  In chapter six he mentions the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which some say represent pestilence, war, famine and death (my opinion: Kim, Khloé, Kourtney and Kanye).

When the fifth seal is opened, John gets a glimpse of all the martyrs who have suffered and died for the cause of Jesus.  He likely saw people who are suffering and dying for Jesus right now in places all around the world.  Keep in mind that God is not bound by time.  Boggles the mind, right?  Open Doors, a persecution watchdog group, said that 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2015.  Christian persecution is real, horrific and occurs every day around the world.  American believers live in a fantasy bubble.

The sixth and seventh seals contain images from the end times; the final battle between God and Satan, natural disasters, war, Armageddon, and a celebration in heaven for God’s great victory.

The final three chapters (11-13) of Revelation speak of Satan’s imprisonment (in hell, we presume), a final judgement and the creation of a new heaven and a “New Earth.”  This New Earth will be life as God originally planned it, before Adam and Eve goofed up everything.

The purpose of Revelation is not predicting the future; it is to emphasize the preeminence of Jesus.  “Preeminence” is one of those churchy words that simply means Jesus is the most important person ever.  More important than Plato, Gandhi, Einstein or Tom Brady.

In one of John’s other books, the Gospel of John, he refers to Jesus as “The Word.”  He writes, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He (Jesus) was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him (Jesus), and without him (Jesus) was not anything made that was made.  In him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men.   The light (Jesus) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

According to Revelation, Jesus is a big deal, in fact, the BIGGEST DEAL.  Certainly more important than Jerry Lee.  He (Jesus, not Jerry Lee) is the focal point of creation and all of history.  God revealed that fact to John in a vision.  The Book of Revelation is John’s version of the vision.

Goodness gracious!

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.’” – Revelation 1:17-18