Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pickles and War Stories

Last week our church planned neighborhood football watching parties for the Cowboys kickoff. We had a spontaneous move of locations to a back club house in in our neighborhood because our friends couldn't host because of a sick child. When I called the HOA to see if we could move it to the club house they said the condition was that we invite the whole community to it. No problem! This was an unexpected opportunity to potentially see many more people come.
I was dreaming big and praying for courage to invite a room full of strangers to Guest Sunday and the Bridge Course next Thursday. I was nervous with that familiar feeling when I have no idea who will show up, how the conversations will go, and when I know God is asking me to be social and extroverted when I really just want to be alone on my couch—and not a smiley preacher.

God had different plans.

Maybe it was the last minute email that went out or the location. Maybe nobody likes that particular clubhouse. Maybe it’s that the TV isn’t HD. Maybe nobody likes the Cowboys in my neighborhood. But my idea of having a bunch of guests turned into having one guest.
One guy.
One dude with a plate full of pickles and cheese.
I felt a strange mixture of disappointment and relief at the same time—and a pinch of guilt about both.
So there we were—the Tombrellas, the Dickersons, and a 67 year old man sharing a feast while the game echoed in the near empty clubhouse.
But I learned last night that God was answering my prayer in a very different way. As we got to know him we learned that he had a story to tell—many actually.
He told us how he was shot down twice in countries denied by most history books—surviving when other soldiers died. He crash landed once after enemy fire. He knew General Chuck Yeager (of the movie The Right Stuff) on a first name basis because he was his flight engineer. He almost died in Nicaragua when a mig had missile lock on him. He told me other tragedies he experienced in war I’ve never personally heard from a veteran.
I mostly listened. Nodding my head and saying the kind of things one says when you have almost no reference point.
Around the third quarter he began to talk about religion. I held back a nervous smile because I found it comical. Up until this time my evangelism skills consisted of watching football, eating cheese, commenting on the Cowboys, and listening to war stories. As a complete stranger he told me his opinions on the matter unprovoked…
“I believe in God…I believe in a higher power…I mean..no one-no one has the right to tell another person who he is…”
“the Bible is just a book about man….man wrote it. God didn’t write the Bible.”
“I mean…why do you have to pray to Jesus…what is that all about? I know God my way…and you can know God your way…and that’s that..”
“I don’t believe in hell…I’ve been to hell…this is hell now…”
It was getting intense. It was one of those moments I wish I wasn’t a pastor. I was feeling a bit like Undercover Boss at the reveal if he asks me what I “do.”
In times like these I’ve found the best thing to do is not argue for the validity of Scripture or some apologetic point, or some doctrine—but just talk about the person of Jesus. So I did.
I shared that I was a Christian and how the gospels talk about Jesus…and that he is the one who says he’s the only way to know God and sends us out to tell the world.  I honestly don’t think I did a great job—but I was aware of God’s help—and how he was giving me courage and strength.
The courage for strength to invite a room full of people to church and the Bridge Course turned into courage to talk to one person about the Bridge Course.
“I think your perspective would be really valuable at this class I’d like you to consider coming. We don’t have any combat veterans.”
“I will think about it. I don’t have any problem telling people what I think…so long as they know where I’m coming from.”
I walked to my car with the seeds of gratitude that God allowed me the opportunity to share his love with a man he created in his image, and protected and pursued in grace throughout his fascinating life—even though it wasn’t what I had planned.
I was also thankful the Cowboys won…