The Miracle for Five Guys

 “Negative characteristics that defined this homeless man were barriers that kept people like ‘us’ away from him.”

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”          Matthew 25:37-40

 It is easy for us to dehumanize and categorize the people Jesus mentions here. But He lifts these people to a higher level by indicating that when you care for one of them you are doing it to Him. Through the years, I have spent time talking with and listening to homeless people…this has helped me remove a critical view of the them. I have found that homeless people are all uniquely different. Some have chosen intentionally to live on the street. Where others have fallen on hard times and they are trying to get their feet back on the ground. Some of these would not want anything from you, but others would appreciate any help you can give them. I remember talking with a homeless man in Palm Springs, California, we sat down on a bench together, on the main street in town, and talked for quite some time. He shared with me his background…he used to be a tennis coach in the local high school. During our warm exchange, I was heartened by this man’s life and was grateful for the privilege to spend time with him. The homeless are our neighbors and are to be cared for as Jesus points out here. Our neighbors are not just those who live next door, but those who cross our path as John points out in his story with Dave.

John Tolle and Four Guys Neighbor

“Five Guys” is the name of a fast food restaurant chain but we are five men who intentionally stepped out yet stumbled our way into neighboring a homeless man.

Unkempt, unshaved, matted hair, rotted and missing teeth – you get the picture. This was Dave five years ago and today he is my friend and brother in Christ.

Most nights saw Dave asleep adjacent to a local freeway in his encampment. And every morning he would make his way to a local restaurant to buy a cup of coffee with the money he had collected while panhandling the day before. He pretty much kept to himself though he’d engage if talked to. One Sunday, I was introduced to Dave by a group I came to affectionately call, Panera Church. They graciously extended themselves to this wonderful man and allowed me into their fledgling circle of friendship. That was five years ago.

Nationally ranked as a high school swimmer, Dave earned a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious, sports powerhouse university. He was on top of the world. But!

Injuries, drugs, partying, and a whole host of other human demons robbed him of his privileged life and in time reduced Dave to the loneliness of homelessness. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. Make no mistake, Dave was bright, gifted, and personable, yet he’d fallen on hard times and much of it by his own choosing.

All the negative characteristics that defined this homeless man were barriers that kept people like “us” away from him and God had his hands full while dealing with us.

In time, each of us came to understand that we needed Dave as much or more than he needed us. He was our neighbor. Jesus said so. (1)

The process of neighboring has been a rewardingly costly one as love and obedience usually are. Time, energy, finances, you name it. It was a slow process. Then we lost him. He disappeared. Years of investment down the tubes or so we thought.

About a month later we received a message. Dave was in the hospital barely able to communicate. He’d had an aortic aneurysm. He credits God’s “loud voice” as having prompted him to dial 911. Barely conscious when the paramedics arrived, Dave died while being rushed to the hospital. Marginally revived by the ambulance crew, he was rushed into emergency surgery only to suffer a heart attack and stroke while on the operating table.

Recuperation was difficult but his recovery miraculous! God has restored Dave’s health. Today he has a full-time job at the very restaurant where we met. He rents a room in a home and attends church regularly.   He belongs to a men’s Bible study group and has lunch with his pastor every week.

God gave each of us to the other as a neighbor.

The willingness and obedience of five men continues to be a neighborly blessing to Dave and his loving friendship to us has enriched us beyond description. Dave is a miracle . . . and a miracle to five guys.

1) Luke 10:25-37

A time for reflection:

John’s story helps to humanize and remove the stigma that we often place on homeless people. This is a wonderful account of redemption. What John doesn’t go into detail on is how long and difficult this process was. What God called John and his four friends to do is not what He may call you to do. Caring for a homeless neighbor is best seen as an opportunity (kairos) where God lays an individual on your heart in the moment or over time and directs you to care for them in some way. I caution you, as Jesus did his own disciples, be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. (Matthew 16:10) We can be moved by John’s story and foolishly walk into a situation where we have not heard from God and find ourselves in a situation we may regret. Helping a homeless neighbor should include prayerfully considering the following: 1) Have you asked the Lord if you should help in some way? 2) What would the Lord like you to do to help this person? 3) Like John and his friends, is this something you should do with another person(s)? 4) What kind of commitment should you make to this person? Remember to seek counsel from people with wisdom.

(John Tolle was born in Los Angeles and grew up as a missionary kid in Central America and pastor’s kid in California. While attending college he answered the call of God to prepare for pastoral ministry. He has served in a variety of ministry roles but is best known for being a pastor.  John and his wife, Rosemary, reside in Thousand Oaks, California. They have four grown and married children with ten grandchildren. It doesn’t get any better than that!)




Listen to Bruce Zachary's experience with Neighborhood Initiative.

Listen to Dallas Willard's word to pastors and leaders about Neighborhood Initiative.

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