"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege.
"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?
"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get."
(Matthew 7 from "The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language" by Eugene H. Peterson.)
This was one of two passages read this morning at the dedication of a home that was moved and renovated by Mustard Seed Development Corporation: A Partnership With God. This little dedication, which lasted maybe half an hour, was one of the most powerful examples of human flesh becoming the arms and legs for God I've seen in quite a while.
The house is now located in a comeback neighborhood in north Oklahoma City, just a stone's throw west of my former office. It's been blighted with violence, drug infestation -- and mostly, poverty -- for the past 25 to 30 years. It's near the neighborhood where I bought my first house; I moved out right after my house was hit during a drive-by shooting aimed at my next door neighbor's teen daughters.
The house that was dedicated Saturday morning originally belonged to an Edmond doctor and his wife. They donated the home to Mustard Seed rather than bulldozing it when they decided to use the property for a new office building.
God's hand has been all over this project from before the beginning. First, a woman familiar with Mustard Seed's work on another project contacted Santa Claus -- the executive director of Mustard Seed (see yesterday's post). The next day he was contacted by this doctor and his wife about the donation of this house they had. The NEXT day, a landowner in this blighted neighborhood called him and said he had a vacant lot he was interested in donating.
Before the first week was up, the agency's finance gurus had raised the money to make it happen.
Things like this don't just happen, not even in efficient organizations, without God's hand being on top of it in a big way.
I had the chance to visit with the new homeowner today and she told me all the ways this was a blessing to her. It's material that I'll use in an article, but I'll tell you it was a powerful testimony.
Ah, but there is something even more powerful, which will never see newspaper ink. And I think this is the REAL story about this deal.
The doctor and his wife attended this morning's dedication. So did the people who donated the first house that was renovated by Mustard Seed. So did two city council members. And several neighbors. And others who were instrumental in fundraising and the behind-the-scenes work that helped pull this together.
And so did Sherman, who lives across the street.
Sherman is a black man in his 60s who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years or so.
"I'm Uncle to a bunch of kids around here, kids who have grown up now and have kids of their own who call me Uncle too," Sherman said. "Most of them I don't even know their names any more, but when they call me Uncle I look at them and wave and try to remember them for the next time."
Sherman keeps an eye on his block, better than Gladys Kravitz ever could. He knows who comes and goes on the street and knows who belongs here and who doesn't. During the day he walks the block, visiting with his neighbors. At night, he keeps watch through his curtained windows like Gladys.
"I used to work security at night, so it's hard for me to get to sleep and I just keep watch," he said.
He starts pointing out where everyone lives on the street.
"I used to live in this house next door and I owned this lot," nodding at the new house. "Then I lived down there, and then over there, and now with my mom across the street there. I want to get her a new roof, because without a good roof you don't have a good house."
The doctor's wife touched his arm, her mouth open slightly.
"You donated this land, didn't you?" she asked him quietly.
Sherman just touched his lips with one finger. "It's better not to tell your secrets when you do something good," he whispered.
"But this makes us partners, doesn't it?" she said. Both she and her husband shook Sherman's hand. I felt like a sacred observer, being the only person who saw this exchange between them.
Sherman turned back to me.
"I came to Oklahoma City in 1968. I had been a poor black cotton picker before I got here and made 75 cents an hour," he said. "When I got here I got a job and they said they could start me out at two dollars and fifty cents an hour. $2.50 for cleaning rooms! I was going to get rich!"
Later Sherman and his daughter, who was 4, moved to Alaska. "We moved back here when she was 7, still intact," he laughed.
"I married a woman I thought was the finest woman in the whole world and we lived here next door," he said. "She was so fine I felt like I needed to put her on top of the house to see her. But she done me wrong."
Sherman was down so low he was ready to die after that split. His heart was broken.
"I figured if I was going to die, I might as well die for something," he said. "So I joined the military and did my service."
He talked more about God's blessings in his life. He learned a trade and made a life he never dreamed possible during his young years as a poor, cotton-picking black man.
Today, though, Sherman got to see how he made a difference in someone else's life. He got to see the power of neighbors working together to change a neighborhood. And for the most part, he has gotten to keep his secret. I don't think it was an accident that I was privileged to hear his story or to see his secret partnership with the doctor and his wife.
Thank you Father God for Sherman and his goodness, and for the goodness of all the others who made today's blessing what it was.