Hustlers and Our Reputations!

Let me start by telling you a quick story; I first met James back in 2002, he was paroled to our shelter and needed help. The games started immediately. We'd let the older guys come in early so they could get off their feet, he faked his age and told me he was 64. Even though I showed him his parole papers that stated he was 46, he wouldn't drop it and continued to lie about his age, trying to convince me that the Illinois Department Of Corrections got it wrong!

That was only the beginning, it got worse, he told story after story, hustle after hustle, often doing it in the name of Jesus! James could act! He could preach! He could fall on the ground, get loud and cry crocodile tears. He could condemn you if you didn't believe him. There's so many stories I could mention here, I heard stories about a dead daughter, how he was beaten and robbed on multiple occasions and how he owned a fleet of trucks with 2 black panthers guarding them. Of course, all these stories were lies, with the intention of getting money or some kind of special treatment out of me. 

Years ago, we gave some of our residents the opportunity to give the Word before all the fellas would go to sleep, one of my coworkers gave James this chance. He considered himself a preacher, and trust me, he could preach a dynamic sermon, but when he stood up to deliver the Word and started condemning everyone, his homeless peers starting yelling at him to "shut up and sit down". They called him out as a hypocrite! They knew his game, they knew his habits, and they certainly didn't want to hear his jive. I wasn't there, but I heard all about the utter chaos the next day! 

Trust me when I say, his hustle and preaching worked magically with youth groups, visitors and those passing by, but he made his peers seethe with hostility! They knew his game and they knew what he did in the dark. 

A couple years ago, I had a real talk with James. He was pleading for a job. I told him I didn't trust him. I asked him, "how could I hire someone who didn't know how to tell the truth?" For the first time he admitted to me that he lied about his age and a bunch of other stories. He told me how he had changed. He told me how Jesus had changed him. As I told him I couldn't to hire him, he broke down on the ground, crying, yelling and accusing me of holding his past against him. He accused of not forgiving him! He told me how unchristian and wrong I was. 

The truth is, even in this, he was still playing game, he was still doing his thing! It was a great piece of acting. I must looked like a callous thug to any onlookers. As I walked away from a very dramatic James, lying and weeping on the ground, I asked myself "how will I ever know if he is hustling or if he is for real?", "how will I know if Jesus has truly transformed this guy into a new creation?", "how will I ever know if he's telling the truth?"

James, and many others, have often left me wondering how to tackle hustling. I see men and women working their magic and refining their art every single day. There's some great actors up north in Uptown, they know how to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it. They try and use their hustle on me, and admittedly, if I'm not alert, I get hustled. Sometimes I get hustled even when I am alert. Every day, I find myself wondering if certain people are being honest and truthful with me, or are they looking me straight in the eyes and lying through their teeth? 

It's hard! Now I want to turn this around a little and say: I feel sorry for people who've hustled for years, even decades, and then they stop hustling to try to do what's right. It seems impossible for someone to just cast aside that reputation they've built for years, and not have to deal with all the consequences. It lingers like a nagging injury that you cannot escape from! 

When someone has built their reputation by lying and deceiving others, the ones who've been hurt, aren't going to just instantly believe every word that comes out of their mouths. They're not going to know if it's the game or if it's for real; they're going to hold him or her at a healthy distance. It would be foolish for someone to automatically believe a known hustler the minute they say they've changed. This reality makes it extremely difficult for people on both sides! 

I believe this question goes beyond just "hustlers", this question deals with the reputations we all have in our neighborhoods, the reputations we build throughout our lives. 

Jesus, who was sinless and obviously not a hustler, also had to deal with people questioning his reputation. When he returned to his hometown, they didn't believe him or trust his words. They did this because they knew him and his family, they'd seen him grow up, they knew him as a humble carpenter, so they didn't believe in Him and doubted His power. In fact, Scripture tells us that His hometown folk, even took offense at Him.

We read in Mark 6:3-4; "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household."

If Jesus, who was sinless, had doubters and haters; so will we! This is a fact! No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we've changed, some people will keep on doubting us! They're going to keep on labeling us, they're going to look to our past and judge us, just like they did to Jesus!

Knowing this doesn't mean we should give in, should it? No, in fact, this means we've gotta keep on fighting, we gotta keep on doing what's right, we gotta keep our eyes on the prize, just as Jesus did! We got to persevere, just as Jesus did! People will doubt us, people will ridicule us, people won't trust us, but God sees what's really going on, He loves us and sees our heart, He knows if we're for real or if we're fake! He knows the truth! God knows and cares! If everyone around us doubts us and we're for real, God still has our backs and will not leave us, nor forsake us! 

Listen to these words that God said to Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b) We cannot forget this! These words give us hope! These words give us glimpse of the Lord's all-knowing compassion. God sees things that we cannot see. This verse encourages us and reminds us that if everyone forsakes us and calls us liars, God is still there and knows the truth! 

I want to briefly tell you about another friend of mine; Al has quite a reputation; here's a guy who's been in and out of the Joint on multiple occasions. He's been a chief gang-banger, drug slinger, enforcer and hustler. He'd built quite a reputation on the streets. People know him, the police know him, he is feared and respected, he is hated and loved. 

About 3 years ago he decided that enough was enough; it was time to stop hustling, stay out of prison and change his ways. He wanted to stop the madness and live a life of freedom. This change wasn't easy at all; but he did it! He managed to stop it all, but there was one thing that remained; his reputation! A reputation he'd built over decades. 

Al is now in a tough spot. Even though he has made all these radical changes, people don't believe him, people still don't trust him. He gets frustrated because people still accuse him, the police still question him and people still try to get him to do the things he once did! 

The good news is, the news that gives us hope, is that despite all these frustrations, Al has persevered, he has stayed on track! This has happened because he keeps on fighting, he surrounds himself with encouraging people who love him and he knows that God knows the truth and loves him beyond all words.

As much as I realize how rough and narrow the road is; as much as I realize how tough it can be to change our reputations, I want to close by encouraging you all with these 3 words:
  1. Keep fighting. Keep persevering. Keep your eye on the prize. We're told the road is narrow that leads to Life; so keep on it and keep it up! 
  2. Find people who believe in you and love you and cling onto them. Build trust, be accountable, be honest; so you can walk the narrow path together
  3. Know that God knows your heart. He sees what others don't! God loves you more than you can ever realize and He wants to you to overcome and conquer any and every hurdle that's in your way.

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....  
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question.Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 6/10/14, in response to this question;
“Using People”
How do I apologize for using people to satisfy my sinful nature? In the past I was so selfish, and I used people, and now I don’t know what to do or say to make things right again. I guess you could say I pulled every hustle in the book, and now I’m sure that’s what people see when they look at me, just another hustler. The funny thing is, everything I try to say to apologize comes out sounding like just another hustle. How can God help me to show that I’m for real this time?

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