August 12, 2020

God’s Fool

Now Jeremiah wasn’t cool, they all said Jeremiah was a fool. And Ezekiel wasn’t cool, they all said Ezekiel was a fool. And Isaiah wasn’t cool, they all said Isaiah was a fool. And Jesus wasn’t cool, they all said Jesus was a fool. And if Jesus wasn’t cool, and if Jesus was a fool, then I don’t want to be cool.

(Razor Light, Waterdeep)

You know the drill. If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, blah blah blah. For me, it’s always been an easy choice. I would love to dine with St. Francis of Assisi. He is my spiritual hero. And I don’t think it would take much to prepare the dinner, either. Perhaps some bread, a little wine. Nothing more.

Many consider Francis the most Christlike person since, well, Christ. There are many myths about Francis, such as him talking a wolf out of eating the sheep in a nearby village. Or the quote mistakenly attributed to Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Francis certainly used words when he preached the Gospel. But before he could speak, he had to gather a crowd.

His usual method was to enter a village and find the town square where he would begin to ring a cowbell and dance around like a wild man. Once he had attracted a crowd, Francis would teach about Jesus, about the joys of following Jesus in poverty and simplicity. Most people considered Francis at worst a mad man, and at best a simpleton. He was called by many a fool—a word that Francis liked. “God’s fool,” he said. “I welcome being called God’s fool.”

“My brothers, my brothers,” said Francis. “God called me to walk the way of humility and showed me the way of simplicity… The Lord has told me that he wanted to make a new fool of me in the world… I put my trust in him.”

God’s fool. It is not a term of endearment these days, is it? Which of us longs to be known as a fool, whether it be for God or not?

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:25, NIV).

Well, there is one person I can think of. Keith Wheeler. If Francis of Assisi is the closest person to resembling Jesus, then Keith Wheeler is the closest person to resembling Francis.

Keith Wheeler carries a twelve foot by six foot cross around the world, something he has been doing now for 25 years. He doesn’t hold healing crusades. He doesn’t speak in packed-out stadiums. He carries a wooden cross. For nearly 20,000 miles in 185 countries on all seven continents.

He gets off the plane in some country where he doesn’t know the language, has no one to meet him, and almost no money in his pocket. He assembles the cross, places it across his shoulder, and starts to walk. And he walks. And he talks to anyone who will stop to listen to him, even if they don’t speak the same language.

“I go with Jesus, the cross, and the simple message of God’s love for all people,” says Wheeler. “I carry the cross because I feel that it is God’s will and calling for my life. I want to be very clear in stating that Jesus is my Saviour and Lord. My desire is to simply follow Him, to love Him with all of my heart, and to love all people as God loves them. Jesus called His followers to travel the roads of life as pilgrims.”

He has slept in five star hotels and prime minister’s palaces, but most of the time you will find him sleeping under a bridge or in a ditch or on a jungle floor. He doesn’t have a support vehicle driving behind him. He has a backback with some food and a few changes of clothing. There are times of great joy, as when he prays with others to become Christians. Or sees miraculous healings. And then there are the other times.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise (1 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).

Wheeler has been stoned three times, run over by cars or trucks four times, and beaten and left for dead twice. He has been jailed more than 40 times, and once was taken before a firing squad. He has been chased, kicked and bitten by rhinos, elephants, a donkey, a camel and a monkey.

He lives in a modest home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he attends a church that is not the largest or most influential. He has suffered great personal loss because of what he does. I am not at liberty to discuss all it has cost him, but I can tell you most would have quit by now. No, make that most would never have started in the first place.

Keith Wheeler is a fool. By now he should have signed a three-book deal with a New York publisher for a sizable advance. He then could be working with PR firm to line him up to speak at the largest churches in the country. He would not only get a nice honorarium, but could sell his books after the service for a very tidy profit. He would be a welcome guest on Christian TV programs (where again he could hawk his books) and speak at the nicest conferences each year. You know, the ones in Hawaii, Florida and Southern California. He could talk about the 25 years he carried the cross around the world and all the exciting adventures he had. If he played it right, the only times he would have to leave the country would be for Caribbean vacations.

But he’s a fool. He just returned from carrying the cross in Malawi, Africa. Malawi. I have no idea where Malawi is (other than it’s in Africa). He could have gone to somewhere in Africa I could find on the map. But he goes where God tells him to go. Not where his agent or his PR firm tell him to go (if he had an agent or PR firm, which he doesn’t). Not where a TV crew is most likely to find favorable shooting conditions. He listens to God, and then he goes where the Lord tells him to go.

He doesn’t even bother to make hotel reservations.

Keith Wheeler, God’s fool.

I make hotel reservations. I exchange currency and make sure I have the phone number of the person who is to meet me at the airport, and a backup number just in case.  I have a rental car waiting and I already know where I will eat every meal. I’m no fool.

And my question is, why not?

Why am I not God’s fool?

Does God need more fools today? Am I willing to be one? Are you?

You can read more about Keith Wheeler on his web site.

(Thanks to Laree Lindburg for the Scripture suggestions…)

Comments

  1. God bless this man. He is doing something that is absolutely crazy. And he is all the more blessed for it.

  2. Good story, Jeff. I went to his website and he kept referring to “we.” I saw a letter he wrote to the readers and it was signed “The Wheelers” so hopefully he has a wife or other relative(s) who travel with him and take the photos of him. I am glad for him that he is not totally alone doing these things. He has been to SO many countries doing this. And to be put in front of a firing squad! Can you tell us more about that story? How did he get a reprieve at the last minute?

    • His wife does not travel with him, but he does on occasion have another guy go with him. Sometimes he can coordinate some of his travels with short-term missions groups. But most often it is just Keith.

      I will ask him to elaborate on the firing squad story. I just heard about that recently, and need to get him to unpack that one for us…

      • Well, I was wrong. His wife does travel with him at times. Here is what Keith wrote to me:

        “Actually, Tammy does travel with me. We spent our Christmas last year taking gifts to the poor in Central America, and carrying the cross. This summer she was with me in Estonia and Finland; and then she spent four weeks living in a hut in India working with women and children! She’s an incredible answer to prayer, an awesome companion … and one of the reasons grace is called “amazing”!”

        Still waiting for the firing squad story…

  3. Hello Mr. Dunn.
    I really enjoyed our talk last night and I loved hearing about Mr. Keith. This website is amazing. Truly a god send. It is exactly what i was looking for.

    If i could have dinner with one person dead or alive…at the time right now, I would have to say St. Kateri. She is not a very well known saint and she didnt do anything like St. Francis. But she is someone pretty special to me.

    She was four years old when her mother died of smallpox. The disease also attacked Kateri and transfigured her face. Kateri became converted as a teenager. She was baptized at the age of twenty and had the great hostility of her tribe. Although she had to suffer greatly for her Faith, she remained faithful. Kateri went to the new Christian colony of Indians in Canada. Here she lived a life dedicated to prayer, and care for the sick and aged. Every morning, she stood before the chapel door until it opened at four and remained there until after the last Mass. She was devoted to the Eucharist and to Jesus Crucified.
    To be that devoted to Jesus and the eucharist is amazing. I would love to be like this woman!

  4. I met Keith Wheeler a couple of years ago when he came to speak at a small gathering we had organized. He is a most interesting fool.

  5. Thanks for this post. I would like to meet that man, and feed him a hot bowl of chili.

  6. Cedric Klein says

    So if we can’t attribute the “if necessary, use words” to St. Francis, can we attribute “Mo’ cowbell!”?

    I’m sorry.

  7. Ok, it works for Keith. That doesn’t mean we’re all supposed to live that way. Sheesh.

    • Who said we were?

    • Ah, but many in the church have made safety and security an article of faith. While few are called at this level, the point is clear that maybe we need to leave our nice “convenient Lexus cages” (don’t ask me what song that’s from, but yes, that’s a quote) and actually live for Christ, rather than walling ourselves into our nice safe fortresses, hiding the light that is supposed to shine through us under a bushel basket.

      So yes, while this example is extreme I think we can all learn from it.

      • But I would argue that Mr. Wheeler does not value safety or comfort naturally as part of his psychological profile. He wants to travel around, getting to know people, experiencing other cultures on the wings of his fancy and scraping a rough living out of it. That’s what he likes to do and there is nothing wrong with it. But I would think it very wrong to use his choices to manipulate other people into acting in ways that may be against their psychological makeup.

        Some people are innate risk takers. Others are not.

        • Keith did not start off as a risk taker. He was scared to death just to hand out tracts on the safe streets of Tulsa. No, we are talking a God-transformation here, not an innate psychological makeup…

  8. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, and certainly I have nothing to say about Keith Wheeler (whom I know nothing about) . . . but I do want to raise the point that there is a not-so-glorious dark side to this equation. Somehow there is a difference between the fool for Jesus and the idiot for Jesus . . . and maybe someone else here can sort that out.

    But history, besides pointing to the glorious saints, is also riddled with the ruins of the Jesus idiots. I would put the Children’s Crusade (1212) in that later category as just an example.

    In a more practical and recent example I think of Joe (factious name). He was an extremely jealous missionary who came to Cairo when we were there. He, in my humble opinion, was the most spiritually arrogant person I had ever met. He treated his wife and children very, very poorly (long story but his wife almost died from medical neglect per his “authority”). He told me that his glorious mission was to preach Jesus in Mecca. Soon after his arrival, he stood on a box in downtown Cairo and preached, in English . . . until he was detained by authorities. He was released while a hearing was pending.

    While out of jail, he flew to Mecca . . . tried to get into the holy city (which Christians are not allowed) and when he couldn’t he stood on a box and started preaching in English . . . briefly, before he went to jail.

    We came back to the states. Joe was in jail for a few months and then deported to the US by the Saudi government.

    About a year later I saw Joe’s face on a brochure for a big Christian conference. Inside it told his glorious story of trying to reach Muslims in Mecca for Jesus and how much he had suffered for the lord (but I knew the inside and how his wife and kids suffered far more than he did without the glory). I think he wrote a book about it.

    Then I think of Barb, a quiet and humble woman who has lived in Cairo for almost thirty years. She never married because she was consumed with her work (which she would hesitate to talk about, not seeking any personal glory). She has methodically become a fluent speaker of Egyptian dialect of Arabic (I visited her there two years ago and my Egyptian friend could not tell her use of Arabic from a native speaker). She has been a quiet witness for hundreds of college girls over these decades. You will never see her name mentioned in any headlines. She has had a far more powerful influence for Jesus than Joe.

    But my point is, we are foolish for Jesus at times. But if we see logic (not Aristotelian, perfect logic, but fallen logic) as from Satan, rather from God, which it is, then we can do more harm than good. Then we can create an Evangelio-idiocracy. So my question is how do you have one approach and be sure to avoid the other?

    • The difference is the Holy Spirit. That is not a cliche’—it is the way we must live. We must walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

      Now, some people are idiots whether or not they follow Jesus. And some people are nice and humble without following Jesus as well. But in order to be a fool, and not an idiot, for the sake of Christ, we must walk in the Spirit. If Keith Wheeler were to build a cross and carry it anywhere where he was not led by God, he would be foolish. So learning to listen to the Spirit of God who lives inside each of us is the key.

      By the way, I have known many “Joes” and very few “Barbs.” Isn’t that the case so often?

      • And would you also say that not all are called to the role of God’s fool? A great contemporary of St. Francis was St. Dominic. Like Francis he led a holy life, though a very organized and disciplined one. He also left his old life behind and took up his cross daily, though his cross was different. The church has felt over the years that there was room for both men, and both types of spirituality. From both of them we can learn courage and utter dedication. I’m delighted they both existed and are considered saints.

        It’s Martha and Mary again. Personally, being more of a Martha, I’d rather teach people to read or help doctors treat sick people; but I honor Christians like Keith Wheeler and know he reaches people I never would.

  9. Awesome story, thanks for sharing this! Haven’t we all, at times, had trouble deciphering the difference between being foolish for Jesus and being an idiot? Maybe others are more seasoned in their walk, and maybe others have never taken a serious risk for their faith. For myself, I have leaped at times in vain, preferring to err on the side of having too much faith rather than not enough. And Jeff, you hit it on the head – the Holy Spirit must lead us.

    I pray that our world would see more St. Francis’, more George Muellers, more Hudson Taylors than those who are comfortable just sitting in the comfort and complacency of a faith that never leaves the home.

    • What I’m about to say has nothing to do with Wheeler, and, without meaning to sound facetious, how does one know that they are being led to do such and such by the Holy Spirit? I mean that answer is often given in Christian circles. I know I used the term prolifically in my hard-core evangelical days, as did my contemporaries, as the panacea answer. I also know that years ago I did things for my own benefit, which I convinced even myself (on a psychological level) and others that it was from the Holy Spirit. We’ve all known pastors and the like who, on the local level, have manipulated people (like their wives) and done things while convincing them that he/she were acting on the leading of the Holy Spirit (usually involving sex or money). And then there are the more national and notorious cases such as David Berg, who (according to some witnesses) used the “moving of the Holy Spirit” as a cover for all kinds of terrible mischief.

      I’m asking an honest question here. The Bible itself teaches (in Jer 17:9) that one’s own heart (meaning psyche, soul, mind, etc.) is more deceitful than anything else. Maybe this could be a topic of an entire posting by one of you, but how does one really know that the “leading” is of the Holy Spirit. The answer can’t use the word “feel” or “you just know it” or it becomes circular and empty.

      • Our wicked hearts were part of our old man. In Christ, all things–including our hearts–are new. We are new creations if we are in Christ. That is the key: Being in Christ. Walking in the Spirit. Being in Christ. Neither one is part of living according to this safe, convenient world.

      • I think this is a good point. Most of us can fool ourselves into most anything.

        Hannah Whitehall Smith, a Quaker writer of the 19th century, had a “checklist” which she suggested for trying to decide if a strong impulse or feeling truly was God’s call or not. She suggested these steps:
        1. Search the Scriptures. If they support the call then also
        2. Pray about it. And,
        3. Check it out with other believers. Do they discern that you are receiving a true call? If so, then
        4. If the call is truly from God, “a way will open” for you to answer it.

        In 2003, I felt a strong call to do something very weird and counter-intuitive: “Go to Iraq and stand with the women and children.” I didn’t even know what that meant, and it was just before the American invasion and Americans were forbidden to go to Iraq. I was an Ohio grandmother working in the computer industry. It would cost me several thousand dollars to get there and back — assuming I made it back. It made no sense. But the call kept coming, emphatically. So , I followed Smith’s “checklist” over a period of several months, and finally went into Baghdad with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in February of 2003. Obviously, I made it out. Why the Lord thought plunking a chubby little Ohio grandma down in the middle of Baghdad would help anything, I don’t know. But I figured it wasn’t my business to ask.

        And there was a time — we were in the children’s hospital, in the cancer ward. The children, we learned beforehand, were all doomed, because the medicine they needed to continue therapy was blocked by the US-led sanctions. So we were on Death Row with children. Their mothers and in some cases fathers were with them. Well, as it “happened,” I had a Polaroid camera. Polaroids were not sold in Iraq, probably because Saddam, as a military dictator, wanted to make sure all photos taken were developed through state-overseen photo shops. So anyway, I took pictures of the children with their parents, and gave them to the parents. Once the mothers realized what I was doing, they were enormously pleased, and everyone wanted to have their picture taken with their child. So maybe that’s why I was there. Those pictures may have been the last, or only, ones they had of their children — I don’t know. That’s good enough for me, anyway.

        Well, so that’s an example of trying to find out if what I thought was a “call” really was one. Smith’s process seemed to work for me, and I plan to use it again should I receive another call. (I lacked the courage, I guess, to follow this call to its logical conclusion, and join the Christian Peacemaker Teams permanently. Certainly I am not the stuff of which Keith Wheelers are made!)

        • Thank you for sharing this story with us. This is a perfect example of what I was getting at…

          Thanks!

        • H. Lee (and Jeff, et al), you have my upmost respect, especially since I too was moved for these same people (having connections in the Arab world) but I did nothing. I’m glad this worked out so well and you did great work

          I am very familiar with the Smith protocol. When I was involved with campus ministry with the Navigators back in the 70s and 80s, I actually taught workshops at conferences on “Determining God’s Will” and we did another year-long study on “The Calling of God.”

          But then I started witnessing the situation where humble people, with the most pure motives, followed that formula to the “t.” But then, their stories turned into disasters.

          I know girls whose time in the word, prayer, and counsel from their “godly” leaders convinced them to marry certain men . . . being totally convinced that this was God’s will and would dove tail with their dreams for ministry. One gal’s “godly” husband turned out to be a pedophile, another one’s husband left her a few years later . . . for another man and I could tell many other stories.

          I personally know of other situations where people were equally convinced that a mission was God’s will . . . and it turned out terrible. The same is true for some job changes, moves and etc.

          In my opinion, these stories are swept under the carpet because “failures” makes Christians feel very, very uncomfortable. The poor souls who tried extremely hard to do everything exactly right . . . then must hide their failures like an embarrassing case of herpes. If they go public in the church, they will be immediately accused of either 1) not seeking God’s will correctly, or 2) accuse them of suggesting that God had failed them, which would be blasphemous or, in some cases worse, 3) suggest that the terrible out come (child died, husband was a jerk, plane was bombed on the way to the mission field, son drowned as soon as they got to the mission field, company failed within weeks of taking the new job) were all carefully planned by God to teach them patience.

          I’m simply speaking for the many dear people who have gone through this. I will stop because I sense the “herd” here has already moved on to greener pastures (topics). I may write more about this on my blog tomorrow.

          • I know exactly what you’re talking about, J. Michael, and I think your explanations for why people continue to “cover” for God are good. There’s one other element that makes it hard for people to admit that their choices were bad ones: maybe they were just wrong. Maybe they needed not just more faith but more wisdom and common sense. Because God often surprises us with unexpected outcomes, people sometimes think they have to make the unexpected choice — marry the challenging person, take off to the foreign country without money or preparation, accept the “Christian” job that is obviously dysfunctional to those who look. In my experience God is more likely to come through with the unexpected outcomes when we are doing everything expected.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And then there are the more national and notorious cases such as David Berg, who (according to some witnesses) used the “moving of the Holy Spirit” as a cover for all kinds of terrible mischief.

        This Mo David and his Flirty Little Fishies?

        (You know, that sounds like a name for a band. And I’ve got a list of band names that were in even worse taste.)

        I’m asking an honest question here. The Bible itself teaches (in Jer 17:9) that one’s own heart (meaning psyche, soul, mind, etc.) is more deceitful than anything else. Maybe this could be a topic of an entire posting by one of you, but how does one really know that the “leading” is of the Holy Spirit? The answer can’t use the word “feel” or “you just know it” or it becomes circular and empty.

        How does “feel” or “you just know it” differ from the Mormon “Burning in the Bosom”?

  10. Most people do not realize that Saint Francis had a strong calling to overseas missions. In 1213 he set out for Morocco to preach the Gospel but got ill on the way and had to stop in Spain. In 1219 he went to Egypt and crossed the battle lines between Crusaders and Saracens. He got to know the Sultan who was so impressed by Saint Francis that he allowed him to preach Christ in the streets. As a result, after the fall of the Crusader kingdom, the Franciscans were the only non-local Christians allowed to stay and were named Custodians of the Holy Places, which is why you find Franciscans as custodians of the Roman Catholic parts of the Jerusalem shrines.

  11. “He got to know the Sultan…”

    That is the the “clue” to anyone truly bringing Jesus to anyone. You get to know the person as a person, not as a “notch” on your witnessing belt, so to speak. And if you are living a life of love and peace, people will notice and wonder about it and maybe ask about it. And THEN you can tell him or her about your faith and hope in Jesus. The seed is planted.

    The apostle Paul went into dangerous places, but if he knew he was in immanent danger, he had no qualms about getting out or letting people help him get out. If he had been killed, he would not have been able to tell more people about Jesus and we would not have been able to read his wonderful letters. He may have been a “fool for Jesus,” but he was no idiot.

  12. First off, Jeff, you get a gold star and a smiley face for quoting Waterdeep in your post. Only Waterdeep would start off a song with the line: “In the gas station bathroom by the condom machine, I heard the word of the Lord … ”
    And the rest of the post was great too. I think God calls some of His “fools” (like St. Francis and Wheeler) to be public spectacles and visible reminders that He is still in the business of confounding the Powers That Be in this world by using people they regard as worthless to do things they dismiss as absurd. And for His church, these fools often serve as a loving slap in the face when we’ve slipped out of a living, wide-awake Spirit-walk with Jesus and into the warm and comfy sleep of religiousness.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Only Waterdeep would start off a song with the line: “In the gas station bathroom by the condom machine, I heard the word of the Lord … ”

      Good a place as any.
      Sounds REAL.

  13. Reminds me of that hymn

    ‘be not afraid, I go before you always
    Come, follow Me . ..

  14. Francis is my hero too, there is something about forgetting everything and giving yourself completely to the Lord. Something in me yearns for this, to be free and completely open to Him.