Though you do not know me, I hope you do not mind me addressing you by name. Besides, I feel like I do know you as I join the millions of others in congratulating you on your recent good fortune. In a matter of days your rocket ride from begging on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, to being an internet and TV sensation has captivated us. It has made us glad to hear some good news amidst all the bad. What has happened to you is incredible. You do have an amazing voice! It is good that you recognize it as a gift from God.
I know you already have many people trying to give you advice, and the likelihood of you reading this letter is small. Yet hearing agents, psychologists, and TV personalities all giving you counsel, I thought perhaps you could use a word from a pastor. Having ministered to a number of homeless men with our church through the years, there are some lessons we have learned along the way that I thought could be helpful to you. And, if I might be so bold, there are some concerns as I observe you that cause me to venture to speak to you. Warning people about dangers is just part of my job.
So here are three important next steps to consider, Ted. I am keeping this short and simple for the sake of focus.
1) Enjoy the attention but do not become addicted to it. You obviously are having a great time, appearing on NBC’s Today Show, becoming the spokesman for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (my kids’ favorite – they had it for lunch today!), and being reunited with your 90 year-old mother. That’s great, and you seem genuinely thankful. Enjoy this season of good fortune.
Yet please be careful, Ted. Fame can be every bit as addictive and destructive as crack cocaine. After all, according to what you are saying, was it not the media success you had before you were on the streets that led you into drugs in the first place? Around here we warn some of the homeless men we minister to about the “newsletter curse.” You see, the local mission often puts the picture and story of a man that has responded to their program on the front page of their newsletter. Sadly, far too often the men who have gotten this attention have just in a few short months returned to their former lifestyle. So we now warn any man who gets on the newsletter to beware! Jesus warned about the seed falling on shallow soil, quickly springing up, then withering when the sun – representing the adversity that inevitably follows the attention – shone upon it. With your background, Ted, I think you need to move quickly to the next step to avoid becoming addicted to all this hoopla.
2) Withdraw and take more time to mourn the sins that have ruined your soul and your family. Ted, now that you have enjoyed the moment and even secured some work (more about that in the final step), you need to withdraw, spend some time in isolation, and think about what you have done and where you are going. James 4:8-10 says:
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
I am not trying to be a killjoy. Neither do I expect you to be perfect with your tongue – it’s a beast we all struggle to tame. But in listening to some of the things you are saying, I fear. I keep hearing you make the same mistakes men who fail here make. Want some examples? Far too often you use God’s name in vain ways. Should not the phrase “O my God!” be reserved for crying out for mercy from the Almighty (see Psalm 13:3) rather than for meeting Matt Lauer? When you are with your aged mother, should you not just quietly hug and weep on her neck for what you have done to her rather than still trying to prove yourself to her? Several times you have touted how many children and grandchildren you have by your ex-wives, but I did not see you weeping over the lost years you were not there for them. I know some will think me judgmental by saying these things. But, again, I have seen too many men losing their lives and souls with similar responses.
Now I know I have not observed what you do off-camera. But that’s my point. That’s where you need to go – off-camera. Too many men treat their sins superficially, being fooled that a bit of good fortune and lots of positive attention somehow erases the sin. Then, because they have not truly been set free, they go back to their old ways or exchange one ruinous addiction for another. Ted, you need to go alone before God where you can be sincere. You need to mourn what your sins have done to you, your family, and especially God. Then, Ted, if you don’t mind me saying so, you need to become a beggar again. But this time, beg as your life depends on it for His mercy, like James encourages above or as the psalmist said, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me” (Psalm 57:1). You see, the only way to escape your addictions to crack or fame, which is just sin’s way of perverting our hearts to worship things instead of God, is to become utterly addicted – dependent, obsessed – with Jesus. If you write or contact me, I’d love to tell you more about how to do that.
3) Finally, beware of quick money; instead, do honest work and take care of your family. You have already indicated lucrative offers have come pouring in. You have quickly risen to star status, and it would be easy to accept many of these proposals to have all the earthly things you have lacked over the years. But Proverbs 23:4-5 says, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Beware of those who want to indulge you and make themselves feel and look good by treating you like a king. “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil,” and lesser forms than what you are facing have ensnared homeless men’s souls here. Please don’t let that happen to your own.
Instead, when you are alone before God, ask Him how He wants you now to serve Christ. I have to believe that He would lead you to quiet, steady work that will enable you to begin providing in some ways for your children, grandchildren, and mother. If possible, it should be work that also allows you time to be with them, as you have been absent for far too many years. I would think returning to Columbus to tell your family and friends on the street the great things God has done for you would factor into your plans (see Mark 5:1-20). Serving faithfully the missions where you stayed and were provided for would be another indication of the genuineness of your changes.
Again, congratulations. I’d love to talk with you about these things, Ted, or help you find a pastor in Columbus who could. I pray that the Lord will preserve you for His glory.
Pastor Barry York