Your Greatest Worship Experience Won’t Come At Church

I don’t have much against flashy, high-tech neon-drenched worship services courtesy of starched hair and skinny jeans.

That’s because I don’t know the hearts of the hair and jeans. When the great test of worship comes at 3am – when they get the dreaded phone call, or when they simply wake up with the old terror pressing in upon them – for all I know, they pass with flying colors. They trust God. They worship at their bedside.

Why assume that they don’t?

See, your greatest worship experiences probably won’t come at church.

I attend a church that doesn’t have one of “those” worship experiences every week. We try to stay simple, competent, and authentic. Fortunately, it’s also a church that teaches us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”, which has helped me check my critical spirit towards other churches and how they operate. We celebrate when other churches succeed.

After all, what access do I have to the hospital rooms in which the rubber of those believers’ faith meets the road?

What access do I have to their last late-night session with their thinning checkbook?

What access do I have when twenty years of isolation finally breaches the dam of their hearts and leaves them curled up against a silent wall, even after all their valiant demeanor on Sunday?

Your greatest worship experience won’t come at church. It comes unscheduled, unrehearsed, unforeseen, on days other than Sunday, when your character and trust are tested by life’s nastiest assaults. It comes when you’re on the ragged edge of snapping at your coworkers, or when the bottle’s comfort just feels irresistible, or the arms of someone you know you shouldn’t be seeing. The true and only question is simply this: will you choose him? Over despair? Over idols? Over distance?

That’s worship.

Raising your hands on Sunday means nothing if you sin with them the other six days. Tithing means little from a resistant giver. A degree from a Bible college is pointless if it’s not put into practice. This sounds harsh, but I can draw no other conclusion from Jesus’ words.

Worship at its deepest form happens not on the stage, but in the closet.

That’s comforting on a number of levels. It means your life and spiritual performance don’t have to be the internal equivalent of a dozen multicolored spotlights and smoke machines for you to come before him. It means that humble churches without such assets can still run to him. It means that the “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) is ours regardless of the rest of our wardrobe.

Worship with your life.

And if it’s been a while since you did so, worship with repentance right now, in your closet. It can be done. Jesus awaits with open arms.

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Our Social Stratification and Its Role in Reaching the Poor

I’ve had the privilege of working in fast food for seven years out of my adult life (mostly as a side gig).

I say “privilege” because I think this matches up with Jesus’ value system: the lower you go, the higher you get. The service industry is an incredible opportunity to witness to hard cases who bounce around at that level of work, often with no path out.

It got me thinking, though – have you ever noticed that it often takes flipping burgers for some of us to ever meet these people in any quantity?

Let me set the table for this point. I attend a fairly well-to-do church. Most of my church family is middle- to upper middle-class with relatively stable incomes – a deft mix of business owners, farmers/ranchers, medical professionals, management types, educators, engineers, code geeks, and experienced tradesmen. That sort of thing. We live in comfortable homes, some of them rented, some of them remodeled by our own hands.

And it’s not just the money. Though we wouldn’t call ourselves filthy rich by any measure, we enjoy an assurance that many lack: we’ve got arrows in our quivers like degrees, certifications, references, and experience. Unexpected unemployment can still be dicey, but generally, we’ve got resources to fight it. There’s a lot of that blue-collar ruggedness mixed up in my church.

Now, the people I work with in the service sector are often not so blessed. Many have lots of mouths to feed, but without the resources to match. A fellow delivery driver lost the gig because her car got hit by a deer and she lacked the money to fix it. Another was trying to rise above a misdemeanor rap last time I saw him. It’s more common to find such folk living in humbler abodes – run-down apartment complexes, the less desirable trailer parks. Many of them have worked at dead-end jobs their entire life, without much in the way of resumes or references to catapult them to the next level. They also may never have learned where to even look for the button-up-shirt-and-benefits jobs that can widen a cashflow even without a degree, and many of them wouldn’t know the first thing about home renovation, or at least doing it right. (I emphasize that these are all general trends, not hard and fast rules.)

But while I was recently pondering the plight of the “first-world poor” in this country and the countless political solutions being bandied about, it occurred to me that probably the biggest gap between these two groups of people is their community.

The average attendee of my church potentially has an army of a thousand at their back should they ever want. It’s a remarkable position. At my church, you could quickly find a quality babysitter, mechanic, CPA, math tutor (ahem), veterinarian, property manager, plumber, graphics designer, pro bono attorney, or disaster restoration guy all in one congregation – maybe even all in one service, the way we’re going – without breaking a sweat. The overwhelmed mom has tight friends to help babysit (or be fodder for their internet business); the dad has buddies willing to jaunt over and help build the house he’s planning to flip and sell in two years. Basically, it’s much harder to crash and burn. You always have someone who can provide solutions and manpower.

What do the poor outside my church have?

Their community looks very different. Often, they have a few close friends, mostly family, and those folks are often as poor and unconnected as they. I’m not fixing blame; I’m stating a problem. There just haven’t been that many dynamics in their lives that would naturally bring them into contact with richer, more versatile folks. Community college, a big social and vocational enabler, often isn’t an option because of kids and debt. And it isn’t just that they don’t go to church – that’s not where I’m going with this – they’re often introverts, sometimes feeling vaguely unwanted by the world, and really don’t go that many places at all.

It’s a situation robs a family of momentum. Social collateral, of a kind. There just aren’t that many paths out of such a life, not without immense expense that just isn’t practical.

(And yes, alcohol, drugs, and sloth are certainly part of some stories. So are the $3,400 DVD collections in their living rooms. But this isn’t part of the post, because this post is for someone else.)

I almost used the word “castes” to describe this social layering. I decided that was a little strong. It makes it sound intentional when none of us really mean to contribute to any of this.

But when Jesus said to help the poor, I don’t believe he was giving polite advice. He knew what the causes and barriers of poverty would be, in every epoch and culture. That doesn’t surprise him. Yet the command stands. He wanted us to go the distance. He certainly went out of his own way himself.

Could it be that equipping the poor is one of the ways a church was intended to serve as a light to the world?

So I wondered – do we know enough poor people?

Do our professional and personal circles bring us into enough contact with the poor?

Are we sharing experiences with people who might lack the same gear, hobbies, or interests as us because they haven’t had the time or money to pursue them?

Are we spending quality time around people who make us nervous because we never know when they honestly might just baldly ask for money?

Because, sad to say, I don’t know how many of these poor people I would know right now without my pizza gig. Probably not enough.

Most of us know someone like these. But oftentimes, we “allow” the chance for deeper friendship to slip away. We turn to other priorities, often legitimate, or perhaps just choosing friends who are closer to our world. It leads to a form of unintended social caste system, one whose layers can be defied and moved between (more so in this country than any other, in fact) but still requires a helping hand. The two groups just don’t have much in common, and we don’t fight the lack of inertia.

How might these people’s lives instantly be changed if they were invited to church? Regularly invested in? Handed a few life skills we picked up along the way? Or even just smiled at?

Many of my friends do take advantage of these opportunities. They’ve been a huge inspiration to me. But it’s taken an intentionality. Inviting these folks over to the next drywall hanging, using them as a babysitter (assuming trustworthiness) instead of the sister, or just introducing them to friends. It makes a difference in their lives. They pick up skills, connections, confidence, and yes, some money along the way.

I think it’s the sort of thing Jesus wants us to do.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

The Man with a Cord Around His Neck

A couple summers ago, a shocking moment intruded upon a random delivery.

In a fading summer twilight, I was bringing pizza to the local emergency room (draped up in plastic amidst a remodel at the time). As I was walking in, I’d noticed a young guy sitting on the curb, head down, but thought little of it. As I came back out, I felt compelled to say hello to him – a risky move for an introvert like myself, but doubly so given this guy appeared to be in some distress.

Pay attention to those little urges to connect. They could shape eternity.

I drew near to this young man and hailed him. He didn’t answer, head bowed, face hidden. I now registered sniffling. I asked if he was all right; he again didn’t answer. I asked him his name; he gave it.

It was then that I noticed that he had twisted what looked like an iPod cord around his neck and was pulling so tight that it was starting to bruise his skin.

Alarmed, I told him that I was concerned and asked him to stop. He didn’t. I told him that if he kept doing it, I’d have no choice but to notify the people inside the ER. He said he didn’t care. I ran in and announced the situation to the front desk, and they sprang into action; a tall, imposing male nurse quickly sprinted out to the guy carrying a pair of scissors. While that happened, I took my leave and returned to my car.

My thoughts were unsettled for the rest of my shift, sinking with the sun. The fact that this young man chose to sit right outside an ER as he harmed himself suggested that he did not want to die, that he was really crying out for help. It wasn’t the way I would have chosen to ask. Then again, I have no idea what pain the man was going through, what his story was. And as the saying goes, “Be kind; everyone you know is grieving.”

I have not heard news of the man since. I hope he got the help he needed.

Many people would have done what I had the opportunity to do. I just happened to be there because someone nearby ordered cheese and sauce.

What I hope is that, if you are struggling today and you just can’t regulate, if it’s searing to burst from your mouth or body, you will seek help. Seek it from God, who sent his son to navigate himself into a position of “not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And seek it from the people he sends. There are countless people around you – even strangers – who will listen without judging.

May we all be such people.

A Thank-You to Fast Food Managers

We all likely have fond memories of our first bosses.

Well, perhaps not all so fond. But I do.

At my first job (Taco Johns’, in case you were dying of curiosity), I had a GM named Cyndi. She was hilarious, compassionate, efficient, a great trainer, and on top of her job. Kind of like a mom to us young pups, she listened, understood, encouraged, and kept smiles on our faces. She gave us rides to work when we needed (and may or may not have handed her closing crew a Chaco Taco on the sly every once in a while). It’s so important to have someone like that to guide you over your first steps into the working world – or perhaps your return to it.

When someone is struggling to get back into the workforce – maybe down on their luck, perhaps without a lot of high-end skills, trying to finally beat a substance rap, or just fresh out of 9th grade – it’s typically not high-powered jobs that they search for. Most law firms won’t be hiring them, if we’re honest. It’s fast food, or grocery, or retail they’ll be going after.

And store managers are the ones holding the keys. They hire, they supervise, they develop. You’re not getting or keeping a job without them.

If you think about it, store managers play a underappreciated and frankly crucial role in our society. In light of that, perhaps McDonald’s general managers are not a target for mockery, no matter how they feel. A lot of down-and-out people rely on their goodwill to get back into the game. That’s power. They’re gatekeepers, in a way.

And there seem to be more and more broken people pounding on these gates with each passing year.

Such managers often lead pretty thankless existences. They have to deal with constant turnover; a competent crew lasting months would be a dream for them. They often don’t make much. They’ve got families they battle to feed, just like us. They get plenty of abuse from their own bosses and have to bear the weight of firing people (which, hopefully, is a weight for them, no matter how much the fired deserve it). They can’t please everybody, and there are days when it seems they can’t please anybody. And if anything goes wrong – the product, an employee, something completely out of anyone’s control – and the customer comes calling, guess who gets blamed?

Of course, not every manager is an angel. And with poverty and rising cost of living such a prevalent point of discussion, bosses are in the spotlight more than ever. It used to be that a household could get by with just one breadwinner. Now it seems to take both parents working – and building and selling a house. The pressure is on. And managers have a role.

To the fast food bosses out there, I’d say this: you’re not ruler of a henhouse, but a steward of the poor and suffering. You have not gained power and authority by accident; you’ve been given it by God. That’s a great privilege, and it holds great potential.

As Spiderman often heard, with great power comes great responsibility. In light of their struggle, I would simply say, I hope you will put your people first. Make decisions that treat your employees as more important than yourself. Their livelihoods depend on you. God does not give a person power for his or her own comfort or control, but for the welfare of those beneath you. And God brings it back around to you. I’d be glad to help out most of my former bosses even today. Remember the saying: we are judged not by how we treat our peers, but by how we treat those beneath us.

To the bosses who have helped salvage lives by bringing in the misfit, recovering, recently released, or marginally skilled, and getting a paycheck to them and their kids, you are part of what keeps the world turning. Thank you.

Just figured you wouldn’t mind hearing such things on a Monday. May your grills be hot and your hands fully washed.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Sometimes You Just Have to Declare

I asked a co-worker today if there was anything I could pray for him about this coming week.

He looked at me for a moment, then dropped his eyes to his phone, shook his head almost imperceptibly, and mumbled words no doubt borne from decades of unremitting disappointment: “There’s nothing anyone can do.”

Lord knows those words have tried to gnaw their way into my soul. Too often, I’ve let them.

But something about hearing them from outside my head, from another’s lips, lit a fire in me. That can be a huge blessing.

I do not know why some people are asked to walk this earth without basic love, without functioning bodies, without full bellies.

But I know my God is the God of mid-life crises – and all-life crises. Jesus healed ailments of twelve (Luke 8), eighteen (Luke 13), and thirty-eight years (John 5). He healed people blind and lame from birth. Imagine waiting for your answer that long. Most of us would go about our business in that time, give up, cut our losses, buy the wheelchair and accessible house and call it final. Or maybe walk away from God entirely.

Not us. I pray it is not us.

Sometimes we need to get angry at our disappointment. We need to stand straight, face the letdown, gird ourselves, and slap back. We need to claim and declare that the Lord is faithful.

Not claim and declare the outcome we want – claim and declare the character of the one we’re beseeching. They’re different things. The first leaves room for, “I am dependent on this answer for my well-being and might shelve God in weariness if it doesn’t come.” The second says, “I love God.”

At some point, the answer is irrelevant. What matters is what we believe.

Sure, we struggle to be satisfied with that, especially when the tragedy actively burns your soul on a daily basis. I will admit this: which statement gives the better chance of eliciting the miracle from God? I’d say the latter. It loves the giver rather than the gift. But it’s a bad question to ask, really. It invites a mercenary, transactional attitude.

At some point, like William Wallace rallying the Scots, we have to admit that the stand matters more than the result. If you run, throw in the towel, or shelve your faith, how will you look back on that decision for the rest of your life?

I’ve watched enough Seahawks games to know that leaving before the fourth quarter is a good way to miss out on the finest triumphs. I want to stand. I want to shout into the howling dark that God is coming for it, treat it like the glass-chinned bully it is. I want him to have my best love, one that’s given even when hope is deferred. It’s the purest type, the most sincere type, the most Christlike type.

So I will snarl at the lies this week. May God give me breath. And I will pray for my co-worker, that God might surprise him.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

What If Jesus Announced That He Would Return On…

Brandon J. Adams

The following scenario will not happen. “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

I don’t anticipate the Lord going back on such long-laid plans. After all, the prior verse says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (v. 35).

But humor me for a moment, and consider this hypothetical exchange:

Church: “Lord, we faint. We long for your presence. Please, please tell us when you’re coming back.”

Jesus: “Oh, very well. The Father has relented and authorized me to tell you. I will be returning on…”

Global bated breath. People in every village, city, region, and nation await the next words. One of the most significant, weighty questions ever pondered on earth is about to be answered.

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Let Your Inner Rhoda Talk

storm-4582219_960_720For this I’m grateful: my denominational tastes have put me in position to drink a lot of sound Biblical truth.

My social media feeds are culled inlets of soulful Scriptural truth. I get a foundation of obedience and surrender. Names like Tozer, Chambers, Piper, ten Boom, and Elliott roll through my feed, highlighting for me the narrowness and ache of Jesus’ path. I get it. It’s not about me. Life is not a flowery bed of ease, a get-rich scheme, or a catapult to political power. Though this isn’t pleasant news, it’s true, it’s far more realistic-sounding, and I would rather know up front and be braced than blindsided later down the path.

But on occasion, it can be such a drag. (Yeesh. Is that okay to say?)

There’s plenty in this vein on how to handle a “no” from God. We know he is not a vending machine. We learn that sometimes perseverance in prayer is needed. We understand that God has his sovereign reasons for saying no, that he’s up to things far above our pay grade. We accept the immense value of patience and suffering in shaping and refining our souls, in teaching us to rely on the giver rather than the gifts. It worked for Jesus (Hebrews 2:10).

To be in both worlds full

Is more than God was, who was hungry here

– George Herbert

And if we read Scripture with ice-cold objectivity for long enough, we eventually pick up the idea that, quite frankly, disappointment in our lives is sometimes the only thing that will keep our wandering hearts bound to God.

See, I’ve learned my lines.

Meanwhile, we broach the topic of miracles and answered prayers oh so gingerly, so reluctantly. Certainly not with boldness. Sometimes we even attack it.  We’re too uncomfortable for that; it feels vaguely immature. Risky. You know what I mean. Perish the thought of that health-and-wealth business. We’re determined not to get our theology wrong, and that’s excellent, because we value getting Jesus’ words right (not a fashionable practice in today’s church).

But sometimes I wonder…

Are we just having a hard time hoping?

Are we just making excuses for our unbelief?

Are we just trying to muffle a voice deep down that’s wearily confessing, “I just don’t expect much from God. He doesn’t work that way anymore. Let’s just obey now and we’ll get heaven later. I can’t go wrong thinking like that.”

It occurred to me one day that I almost feel better equipped to handle a no from God than a yes.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.

“You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. (Acts 12:11-16)

It’s kind of hilarious. The fledgling church is assembled and praying, but when God answers, there’s no confident grinning, no “yep, I knew he’d come through.” They’re astounded that their prayer has been granted. Floored. God supernaturally keeps Rhoda from bringing the evidence inside so that the story will record them almost resisting good news, coming up with alternative explanations to the miracle. These downtrodden Roman citizens weren’t used to shining angels and chains falling off wrists.

I can relate. It’s not a “no” that would surprise me from God these days; it’s a “yes”. In pretty much any area. I default to low expectations.

How bad is that?

Miraculous events have taken place in my church in the last year and I hardly know what to do with it. God is moving powerfully through South Asia and I’m shaking my head like a dog getting out of the water. He really does this stuff?

But I know why. I’ve witnessed a lot more “no’s” than “yes’s”, needless to say, as have we all. Perhaps it’s that disappointment, that jadedness, that I’ve wrapped around myself like a cloak to protect my heart from further letdown. It’s a mechanism that walks a verrry fine line between guarded heart (Proverbs 4:23) and simple lack of faith. At some point, it steps over.

There are days when I need to read less about how to handle the lack of a miracle, and more about miracles.

Fortunately, Scripture’s up for that. Remarkable displays of power, signs and wonders – they’re in there for a reason. Scripture loses vast swaths of its educational value to us if they’ve stopped. They’re for God’s glory, of course, for pointing people to him. But they’re also out of his generous heart and his desire to come through. Why cannot I simply sit back like a little child and let him…?

Like water sloshing back and forth in a pipe seeking its level, I find myself sliding back towards God’s Word – its full balance, richness, and hope.

I won’t accept a fortune-cookie Christianity that outdoes itself every week in predicting exciting new bombshells for your life, never presages anything bad, and winds up at “thanks God, see ya next crisis”.

But neither am I going to truss up my heart in resignation and call it holiness.

How, Lord? How will my inner Rhoda convince the rest of my heart?

Through his Spirit. Only way.

So I will pray, study, and let God do the answering.

Who knows what will happen?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!