Today is Wednesday. On Monday, I heard that Pastor Michael Salman was in jail for worshipping in his home. I guess zoning is saying he is acting like a “church” and not a “home.” Of course, as always, the case is filled with details and twists and turns, but the simple fact is he is in jail because he has a Bible Study in his home. He does not have zoning or permits as a church. Only as a residence. He does, however, have a permit for the building out back and for the sign out front. And weekly his community of 30ish people gather together to study the Bible. And they park their cars in his back yard…the lot is several acres.
I first met Pastor Michael when we were feeding the homeless at CrossRoads and a handful of people came with Pastor to help us every Saturday. They faithfully assisted and fed the homeless, worshipping and serving with us. I remember being impressed with Pastor’s humble spirit and with their faithful presence and encouragement. At that time, Pastor Michael was already in conversations with the City of Phoenix because of his Bible Study in his home. At that time the building out back wasn’t up…they were meeting in the living room. About the same number of people. Today is Wednesday and I went out to see Suzanne Salmon and their six beautiful girl children. They welcomed me warmly, and we talked, and prayed, and hugged. I left uplifted by their courage. I went to lunch, thinking it was really too hot to go down to the jail to see Pastor Michael. But I remembered that he was in Tent City, sleeping outside at night in this hot weather, and so I got my lazy butt off the lunch booth and went down to see him in jail. I gave my credentials as a pastor and showed my ID and went in to talk with Pastor Michael on a monitor. He still maintains a humble spirit and he is most concerned about his family, and he wanted to encourage me, and others, that God is with him, so he is fine. I caught his passion for others as we talked. We prayed. I prayed for him, and he prayed for me. I guess we are able to pray in jail. I left thinking that God is powerfully present in this man. I wanted to stay there and encourage him more, but our time was up. The clock said so. Sunday I preached about Daniel in the lion’s pit. He was there because he refused to stop praying to his God when the law of the land said that, for a month, he could only pray to the King. He broke the law and was thrown into the lion’s pit. And God shut the lion’s mouth. The king was so concerned about Daniel, he couldn’t wait to see him at the first crack of dawn to see if his God had delivered him. God had. Delivered him. God delivered Daniel by shutting the lion’s mouths and Daniel came out in good favor in front of all the people and the king. Without a scratch. The city says his house is a church. They said our church was a charity dining hall when we fed the homeless there. Since when does the city get to redefine who we are? What maybe has been forgotten is that all over the city and our nation, Bible Studies are happening in homes, and there is a phenomenon called “The House Church Movement.” I don’t think zoning codes are going to be able to stop this…it is the wave of the present-future, and in fact, it is also the ribbon-thread of the past. May God intervene. And may the city bring favor upon itself by honoring the one who has suffered for his refusal to stop worshipping God in his home. Because it’s Wednesday, and his girls have been missing him since Monday….