Saturday, July 26, 2014

Happy Hour

It's where everybody's at!

This month we have been focusing on the idea of working "with God".
Working with God is a whole lot different than working "for God".
The concept and intent are much different both scripturally and personally. 

Working with God implies that God is right there in the thick of it with us.
Working for God implies that God has given us a job and it's up to us to get it done.

This idea will envelope us as we look to another part of working with God.
God is with us when we go to the people we need to reach.
And, we need to go everywhere and anywhere that the people are.

I lay before you the inspiration of of one Bill Jenkins, an ex-firefighter from London who moved to San Jose, CA. Bill's journey, at first glance, looks an Abrahamic experience journeying across an ocean and a continent to be a in a new place with an inspiration to share the message of Christ. Jenkins is also an ordained Baptist pastor. Upon entering the culture of San Jose he was drawn to the unchurched in society and reminded of what people thought of church back in his native England.

In England, Jenkins found his own country turned off to church. "Many people simply think Jesus is a Jew with a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah." Those of us who have grown up in church and have at least a rudimentary understanding of scripture and God take for granted the idea that people simply know about church. There is an ever growing number of people who do not. The label has been placed and hung. We call them "unchurched". Studies are showing around 90% of the population around San Jose is now unchurched. Those who have no regular church going, worshiping life.  Maybe they don't believe in God. Maybe they have heard something about it. Most of them were not raised in church or have never been to one. So, some Christians have figured out that we need to take the message to them.

Jenkins started a "church in a bar". The Loft Bar & Bistro on 2nd St in San Jose is home to this small gathering of 20 or so on Sunday mornings @ 9:30. A brief message by Jenkins is then converted in to a gathering of small group discussions around the bar. People feel he freedom to share what is on their minds in this casual environment. The surroundings might feel a bit churchy with high ceilings and lofty windows. But, the decor is far from being pew worthy. This change in scenery is exactly what some folks need to open up and be themselves while not feeling threatened about the subjects of God and faith. These spiritual subjects can be a bit hard to swallow. A different venue than a grand and unfamiliar church building with it's stringent looking faces and hard lined seats is what is needed to soften a heart and make the message of God's grace sink in.

We need to go wherever there are people.

The Apostle Paul did exactly that.
We look at two scriptures in the book of Acts that refer to Paul going out to the people.

Acts 17:17      New International Version (NIV)

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Acts 20:20      New International Version (NIV)

20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.

Paul was a man on a mission. Ever since being blinded for the sheer light of Jesus shining down on him from the clouds, his entire outlook changed from being burdened to keep a law to that of making sure all knew about the grace and forgiveness of God. Paul seems to know in his own time, not long after Jesus' resurrection, that his own culture and ways of religion will not reach those outside of the Jewish audience that need to hear the message. Paul does battle with those who are bent on the idea that all must continue to keep the law and be circumcised in the flesh. Paul goes everywhere with the message of Christ. He is in the synagogue, the religious center where people gathered on a daily basis to hear scripture read. He is also in the marketplace, where the daily business of everyday life goes on. Paul would state to his readers and hearers that he has taught "
publicly and from house to house".

I'd say two things about Paul's approach.
One, he does not wait for the people to come to him or to the regular place of worship so they can hear the message of Jesus. He takes it to them. He goes where they are. The synagogue or the temple is a place where the reverent and the perfect are accentuated. People might not be themselves there. In the marketplace, however, is where the daily rigors of life are being dealt with. People are bearing their souls and dealing with the weight of making it for their families. Two, everywhere is a place to share Jesus with someone. No place is off limits. Even "house to house" is somewhere to share Jesus Christ. Some people might call that "old school". The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are still working those avenues. Leaving pamphlets. Having conversations with folks on the street. If there are people present, the door is open to the possibility of saying something about Jesus Christ to someone.

This past week another large and seemingly unwelcome concert descended upon our area. The Gathering of the Juggalos came to Legend Valley. The "juggalo" culture came to begin in late 90's around certain rap/heavy metal music group who created an ultra harsh identity for themselves. Painting their faces black and white, usually in representation of a mime or clown, they immersed themselves in a culture of drugs and violence that have seen many of their concert venues become places of utter decadence. Into such an atmosphere Pastor Bob Beyer and the Jacksontown United Methodist Church plunged themselves in an effort to show some kind of love and mercy to the people in Legends Valley on this past hot and steamy week in July. Armed with a vehicle full of food referred to as "Lunches for Juggalos" and a decal on the back of the SUV stating "From Juggalo to Jesus Freak", Pastor Beyer and his team move in to feed a crowd of people who desperately need something better than they are finding in life. A life of drugs and despair can leave one bitter and despondent. A free meal might just show someone a bit of love and mercy that can be the seed to grow into something beautiful.

It's a Monday and I have driven to a little white shack on the outskirts of Baltimore.
The building looks like a stiff breeze might knock it over. The windows have seen better days. The floor inside creaks and groans and might just give a little too much in some places.

It's one of my favorite places to eat.

Affectionately referred to as "The Corner" by many a local, Weider's Corner has stood on this piece of ground for what seems like forever. Ask any local farmer or redneck about it and you'll get some stories. I recall my first visit some 10 years ago. Every seat was taken at the main counter. Off to the right of the main room is a collection of benches and maybe a chair or two. Finally a seat opens up at the counter and I sit down. Above all the talk and banter comes the voice of one fella needing a vote. "Hey, I'm running for county commissioner. You gonna vote for me?", he points down the to the other end of the room. "NO!", comes the reply. "Why not?", he wants to know. "'Cause I don't vote for politicians!" Laughter ensues. Such it is on any occasion when you enter The Corner. A place where the roughkins and their profanity or the manly men with chewing tobacco and a spit cup have gathered to get a bologna sandwich or a cup of soup, maybe a can of pop too and share their views on politics or local weather.

It's on one such occasion that I see a guy I know. He's recently lost his wife to cancer.
He came in and sat down next to me. Didn't realize who he was for a several minutes. We shake hands and eat our sandwiches. He has this thing for using yellow mustard and then using the pepper shaker. He says it takes way better then that stuff they call "spicy mustard". He has a few choices words I'll leave out here. I ask him how he's doing. He knows what I'm referring too. He shrugs and say best he can. We're quiet for awhile. We talk about some sports and the Buckeyes. I'm entering my second hot ham and cheese sandwich and sipping on a Pepsi. I break the silence by quietly asking him if he needs help with anything. Trying to move on is never easy after losing a loved one. Maybe there are clothes that need going through. He says his family is on it. He thanks me for asking.

Not much is said after that. We eat our food in quiet, listening to the older guys at the end of the bar rattle on about Washington and senators and representatives. I finished my bag of chips and down the last of my Pepsi. I put my hand on his shoulder and simply say a quick, "God bless you man". He nods his head. And, that is that. A few moments and not so many words. But, I'd like to think a soul was touched. maybe Jesus could somehow use us in the small moments and in the Juggalo times also.

Everywhere. There are people who need to know about the love of Jesus Christ.

Happy Hour can be more than you think or imagine.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Restaurant Reviews

If you could tell people one good thing...

I'm a big fan of the show Restaurant Impossible over on the Food Network.
If you have never taken in an episode, the show is led by English chef and restauranteur, Robert Irvine.
Irvine spent some time in the British Navy, has arms the size of a small child, and doesn't take "no" for an answer. A typical episode begins with Irvine entering a restaurant, meeting the owners, watching the place in full action, ordering some food for himself, and then gutting the entire building to the dismay of the owners.

Irvine has no problem with taking charge and saying what he thinks. Some might think he is arrogant. Some might suggested it is all show for the camera. I would like to put a word out there for the benefit of this message. Boldness. A TV show is one thing. There is a certain charisma dwelling in a person who can step up and lead. Being able to say what is needed in a moment that someone else needs to hear requires something more.  Maybe Robert Irvine is bold. Maybe he's getting paid enough money to act like it.

There is something very strong about the stage presence of Mr. Irvine that makes me want to equate what I see there with the subject matter for today. These next few messages are going to center around the idea of working "with God". That phrase is key. We are not working "for" God, as if he hired us and then gave us a list of things to accomplish. As a boss, he'll check in later and see how we are doing. No, we are working with God.In learning how to work with God we will also see another side of ourselves come out. A side of ourselves where we don't depend on this center of the universe to run things. We depend on God. He hasn't sent us off with a list of demands to fulfill and then it is as if he expects us to find the wherewithal of our own devices to make it all happens. See the promises he speaks to his believers.

"Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age."

"I will never leave you, nor forsake you..."

"My sheep know me..."

As we go through the course of scripture, we see many who have found another way of doing things. God's way. People who probably would not have been speaking or doing the acts of service they are intertwined with unless something greater than themselves were the driving force. Such it is with the matter in the scripture at hand. In the 3rd chapter of John, we see Jesus speaking with Nicodemus early on. That last part of the chapter is a discussion between some believers and John the Baptist. Now, here is a guy with some strange makings. A guy who was born to two elderly people, way beyond the childbearing point. His father was not able to speak until he was born because of he did not believe the promise that God had sent through his angel. Has he grown up with this feeling all his life that he was meant for something greater or did he just one day wake up and decide to put on a sackcloth with camel's hair? It must take some kind of other worldly notion to get the idea to go stand out by a river and shout about repentance, forgiveness and baptism. And, here is where we find John when we enter the Gospels. At this point, Jesus has come. John has already baptized him. Now, there is a feeling about the enlargement of Jesus' ministry and the declination of John's. What we see and hear from John is important to our feelings and mission about the church and our own personal outlook. Listen to John's words.

John 3:31-36   New International Version (NIV)

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God[a] gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Testifying. Witnessing. It's much like giving a review of a product that you have used or had some experience with. John is talking here about Jesus testifying. Jesus will tell others about what he has seen and witnessed. John is always giving testimony to what he believes. If you have been to restaurant or a store or, for the sake of conversation, even a friend's house, you have probably given a review or statement about what your experience in that place was like.

We should jog back to our Restaurant Impossible opening. One of the things they do during the opening of the show is to hear from the actual customers about what they think of the decor and the food and the service. Usually, it is not very good. For the sake of the show, the person whose opinion matter the most is, of course, Irvine's opinion. He speaks freely, openly, and sometimes, harshly about what he is seeing and experiencing. He has seen so much. Bug infestation. No leadership from the owners. Food going bad in someone's cooler. He also gets straight to the heart of the matter. usually there is some disconnect between members of a family who own the establishment. They are not connecting. They are not working together. All parties involved have their own opinion as to what should be done in said establishment and nobody is doing what is best for the good of all. Such is was for our dear John the Baptist as well. Do you remember his words when the religious leaders tried to come and be baptized?

Matthew 3:7   New International Version (NIV)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
What did he call them? Wow. Not sure I could do that in my own accord. Working with God must give the person involved some kind of, what's the word, boldness, to step forth and speak in a way they might not otherwise speak. John the Baptist is clear in the passage from John the Disciple's gospel. In verse 31 he begins to say, "The One who comes from above is above all..." None of this is done so that John gets a pat on the back. John refers to himself as a forerunner. He knows that he is laying a path, a road, for the One who is to come. And, when that One comes, it is no longer about himself, John. It is now about Jesus. And, John seems to be ok with that. How ok are we with that in our own lives?

As I have watched many of the episodes of Restaurant Impossible, I see many a store owner who seems to think that the world revolves around themselves. There is no outward look. There is survival. How am I going to make it to tomorrow? How will I pay these bills for one more day? What got them in the mess they are in? We could probably investigate numerous possibilities. From just not having their eyes open to the present circumstances to personal and family tragedies to not taking care of their finances. When Irvine comes into a restaurant, he comes much as a forerunner. He works for two days straight, knowing all the while that he will have to turn it all over to the the original owners and they are going to have to pick it up and make it work. I can't help but draw some kind of correlation to working "with God" from my observation of the show. Wouldn't it be really cool to know that God is right there beside of you, all the way through a difficult situation, to help you and correct you and guide you as you do the thing you are doing? If someone as bold as Irvine were doing the speaking and all we had to do was stand there while he straightened everything out, wouldn't that be cool?

I would plead the case that that is very close to what it is like.
The only difference is that it has to be us doing the talking. God wants to speak through us. He wants to use us as witnesses to His glory.John the Baptist seems to have this boldness to say what he says because he knows who he with in conjunction with as he lays this path. Just as Irvine can walk into a business and lay it all out without fear this forerunner knows that he has a greater power overseeing and walking with him as he dunks heads in the Jordan. And, now, the very person whom visited him while in Mary's womb, whom he jumped for joy about in Elizabeth's womb, He is here. John has most likely gained prestige and admirers and followers over these past few years. Now, some of them are leaving to follow Jesus. How would that make you feel to see some walk away? To John, it matters not. "He must increase, I must decrease." Jesus is the center of the universe, not John. In order to testify, the testifier must know who is more important.

I'm curious. Have to see what the dictionary says...

Full Definition of TESTIFY

intransitive verb
1 a :  to make a statement based on personal knowledge or belief :  bear witness
   b :  to serve as evidence or proof
2:  to express a personal conviction
3:  to make a solemn declaration under oath for the purpose of establishing a fact (as in a court)
transitive verb
1 a :  to bear witness to :  attest
   b :  to serve as evidence of :  prove
2  archaic
   a :  to make known (a personal conviction)
   b :  to give evidence of :  show
3:  to declare under oath before a tribunal or officially constituted public body 
Wow. Could preach a whole other sermon just on the definition.
I feel as if the definition leads us to realize that we do not stand on our own as we testify.
Oh, there is that intransitive part there.There are moments in life where it feels as if we are standing alone against the world. And, it is transitive also. We stand together. We testify together. We stand with God as we do our work for the Kingdom.

Testifying literally means to give a review.
Just like giving a review on a restaurant you visited, it also entails what we think about some thing or person.
What kind of a review would we give about what God has done in our lives? On the internet you'll find a 5 star scale with some words given by the reviewer. Sometime people say nothing. If they didn't like the services they experienced a single star will suffice for their feelings. Sometimes people give 4 or 5 stars. Sometimes an entire paragraph or a near letter form is needed share all they want to say.

What would you say about what God has done in your life?
What kind of a review would you give about who God is and what he has done?
Would you speak it boldly or just click a few stars?

The idea of giving a review is that you can bear your soul.
If you don't like something, you put it out there and hope the owning party will improve their services.
If you want them to keep up the good work you give them glowing words and all the praise.
What could say about your God? About your church? About your faith and what you believe?
Could you say one good thing? Is there anything about which to praise your God?
Do you feel as if you are working with God in this area of testifying or do you feel as if it is all on you?
Change your outlook to working "with God" and get the focus off of yourself and you'll see the whole nature of the matter change along with your outlook.

Giving a review is easy. Just speak your heart and mind. Let God lead the way.