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.

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