One evening last week, I made the usual rounds through my very heavily traveled patrol district that includes Interstate 75 and the second largest shopping mall in Tennessee. Given that our city is also very accommodating to the homeless, the issue of panhandlers at the interstate exit ramps and shopping center entrances is a frequent source of calls.
I won’t spend time getting into the issue of whether or not people should stop or give money to panhandlers, although I have my opinions based on a great deal of experience. I will say that the members of our community have demonstrated their concern for the homeless through the establishment of a community kitchen that feeds thousands of meals a week, a homeless health care clinic in addition to the standard free public health care clinics, a food bank, a coalition of other churches and non-profits that support the poor and transitional, and a strong network of mental health resources to assist with the systemic issues behind homelessness. And with all of those resources available, the community has established that they will not tolerate panhandling both through the passing of city ordinances and by virtue of the fact that citizens call police constantly to report their locations.
In a matter of a few hours that evening, I encountered three panhandlers. With the compassion that all people – and especially Christians – should have for all humans who are created in the image of God, I always talk with respect and concern for the individual. I ask for their story. I check their history. I attempt to determine if there is something more I can do to help even as I do my job of sending them away. The first has been previously warned countless times and has been issued a number of citations. He’s burned bridges with family and community resources. The second was a similar situation.
Then, I encountered Roger. But before I tell you about Roger, I want to tell you about a young lady from the previous night. Her mother called from a state 10 hours away to say she was in a manic state of her bipolar disorder. She was off her meds, coming down from a crack cocaine high, and left with a trucker in nothing more than a t-shirt and sweatpants. He dropped her off nearby, and now she was at the Waffle House with no money, no food, and no place to go. In her very talkative manic state, she cursed out the Greyhound Bus attendant who then refused her service back home. A hotel ran her off for the same reason. Now, Waffle House wanted her gone.
I was able to speak at length with her mother, gain her cooperation, and transported her to our mental health crisis walk-in center for evaluation, treatment, and further assistance. Before that, I stopped by Wendy’s and bought her a meal to eat on the way. Why do I tell you that? I’m not asking for pats on the back, but to make a point. There are thousands of cops around our country who have good hearts and good morals and go above and beyond to help people. Their stories seldom make the news. It doesn’t take a Christian cop to do good deeds.
I would suggest to you that Christian cops should be more sensitive to the needs of those they encounter, and with a heart of compassion and love for Christ, minister to the felt needs of the poor. We should do more and more regularly as we look at the world through the filter of Christ’s love.
But Christian cops who are in fellowship with Jesus Christ and deep communion with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, can and should do what others cannot. That’s where Roger’s story comes into play.
Roger explained that he has always struggled with alcohol addiction, but at one point went through rehab and had been sober for a number of years. He was a truck driver. He felt humiliated begging others for help. I only located a few contacts with police, and he was honest enough to admit he had been warned twice (while the first guy who had received all the citations lied and said he never had been warned – as if I couldn’t find out). Then, in 1991, his life began a downward spiral. His brother was murdered, and he confessed that he was dealing with bitterness and unforgiveness for the man who committed the atrocity. He was angry that the man was now out of prison. He started back drinking, and has struggled ever since. He got traffic citations that he couldn’t pay. He lost his license…then his job.
Roger said, “When a member of the family is killed, it kills the whole family.”
He said that his 74-year-old mother has begged him to come home and get on his feet, but his pride keeps him from going home. He said she prays for him and tries to talk to him about the Lord. He knows the story of the prodigal son. He knows he has to forgive, but doesn’t know how. As hundreds of cars passed by during rush hour traffic, Roger wept as he talked with me.
The Holy Spirit quickened me to share with Roger what I have shared with many people – the background of Jeremiah 29:11. I explained how the children of Israel were in bondage. False prophets told them it would be short-lived. Jeremiah told them to settle in…to plant gardens, build houses, raise families, and prepare to dwell there (Jeremiah 29:5). Their sin and disobedience to God brought them into captivity, and they despised it. Psalm 137 tells us how much they hated Babylon. They wept, they stopped singing, they put down their instruments…they wished the Babylonian babies were hurled over cliffs and crushed on the rocks (Psalm 137:9).
But, in the midst of their place of despair, the voice of God’s Spirit breaks in to say, “I know right where you are, and this isn’t the end. I have plans for your life, and they are good plans” (Jeremiah 29:11).
And at that moment, the Holy Spirit pierced my heart with a part of this passage that I have read and quoted many times, but never thought about in the sense of forgiveness. The Spirit of the Lord said, “This is the message for Roger. Tell him.” Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Pray for the peace of those holding you captive. Pray for their peace and prosperity. In their peace and prosperity, you will have the same.”
Standing on the side of the road, I told Roger, “The Lord said the answer for you is to pray for the man whose actions hold you hostage. Pray for him to be blessed and prosper. Pray even if you don’t feel like it. Pray even if you don’t think you really even mean it. Pray even if it doesn’t seem fair. Pray for him. That is the key to your freedom from bitterness and unforgiveness. Your situation is going to change.”
I told Roger I would join him in prayer. I also encouraged him to go home. His mother needs him to be there and help out. And I asked him to find me one day in the future when his life has been transformed by the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. By faith, I am believing to see Roger in Heaven if not before.
Good deeds certainly meet needs. But they will never reach down into the depths of sin and despair to minister true change. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Only a Word from the Lord spoken in a timely season can do that. Only a Christian cop who has an ear for what the Spirit is saying can do that on the streets of our communities.
I often say that Christian cops are missionaries in the truest sense. We are working on the home missions field, going into places many Christians or church ministries will never reach. And Covered Law Enforcement is committed to supporting and strengthening the faith of Christian cops, as well as reaching those who are not born again with the life saving message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
I mentioned in a previous blog post about a man who argued that Christians cannot and should not be police officers. This example is just one reason why Christians MUST serve in this capacity. Oh that the Spirit would speak to us and lead us to bring about change in our communities…change that can never come from good deeds alone. We need the prophetic voice of Christian cops walking the streets and speaking the oracles of God.
One of my favorite Scriptures, Acts 10:38, says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” My prayer is that you and I will walk in the Holy Spirit anointing of God, ministering in the power of the name of Jesus of Nazareth, doing good and healing all who are oppressed because God is with us. And just for the record, Peter made that statement in the house of a cop!
Also in this series: Law Enforcement in the Scriptures