Though officially closed to pay homage to our "ice day," I decided to come into the office today. An hour later, I ventured out for lunch and exited Wendy's with a couple of chicken sandwiches. To make the loop back to the church, I had to pull through several parking lots and there I encountered Charlie.
As I passed him, my conscience kicked into overdrive. I circled down the hill and into the parking lot of a liquor store hoping that all my congregants were snugly at home and wouldn't see me idling there. Charlie made his way cautiously down the ice-covered sidewalk and stepped over the guard rail to make his way under the bridge. I hollered across the creek bed, "Hey, have you had lunch?" Like a cat hearing the can opener, Charlie came the half-block toward me and we introduced ourselves.
"I thought you were Gary," I said, referring to another fellow I met a month ago.
"Gary?" he said. "You mean 'Big Green'?" We laughed as he described the monstrous post-six-foot friend that also lived in his secluded encampment.
"Have you had lunch today?" I asked.
"No," Charlie answered, still unsure where this connection was heading.
I said, "Well, it's either Panda or Jack-in-the-Box. You choose."
Charlie's eyes lit up. "Panda of course!" Why would anyone settle on a burger when the opportunity for a 3-entree meal was offered? As he tossed his backpack on the front floorboard of my SUV, he added, "It's nice to know that there are still good people in the world."
Good? My mind raced quickly to Mark 10:18: “Why do you call me good?“ Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone." Funny thing is, Jesus, as God, could have easily claimed that virtue for Himself. But me? I occasionally stumble over good things. But I have such a long way to go to be "good."
Lunch was chow mien noodles, shrimp, orange chicken, ragoons, shrimp crispers, chicken egg rolls and Gatorade. If Charlie pointed to it, we packed it up for him. Then, I ordered my modest "Panda Bowl"---a meal portion foreshadowing the fact that I would have another opportunity to eat in 5 hours. It's something I never even have to think about.
Charlie has been on the streets, off and on, for 10 years. He was remarkably cogent and shared his story: growing up in Savannah, Georgia (I spent 3 years in Lithonia); joining the Marines at age 19; building tractor trailers at 23; plucking chickens at a Butterball factory for several months; married twice; two 20-something children. I laughed when he told me about "plotting" the coordinates for air attacks when he was in the Marines. "And, I was no good at math in school!" he said. "The thing about math is that you just can't know the answer. You gotta know how to get the answer. It's the formula that matters!"
Wisdom. Pure wisdom. As a Christian, I know that Jesus is the "answer." Getting people to Jesus is equally important. It's seeing people like Jesus did, perceiving their need, loving the unlovely (aren't we all!?) and being Christ with flesh and bone to the world around us.
I invited Charlie to have dinner at our home tonight. The offer clearly made him uncomfortable. "I'd hate to put you out," he mumbled. His eyes shifting down to the restaurant floor.
"Charlie, I would be our highest privilege to have you as our guest. Think about it. At 5 o'clock, I'm going to come back to the parking lot and honk a couple of times..."
"I don't want to be rude, but I don't think I'll come. I'll be alright..."
"Charlie, please think it over," I insisted. "Five o'clock. If you're there, great. If not, we'll catch up with each other later."
Before I left, I gave him the two Wendy's chicken sandwiches still bagged in the back seat of my car. At least he'll have dinner tonight. And, I got to have lunch with Jesus today [Matthew 25:31-46].