After stepping down from leading the church I was a part of for thirty years, finding a new “church home” was a challenge.
When my daughter Rachel and her husband in North Carolina suddenly felt a call to plant an urban church in Covington, Kentucky—which is right across the river from Cincinnati, where we live—we wanted to support them in whatever way we could, even though it was nearly forty minutes away. Sometimes I’m the sound guy, sometimes the fill-in drummer, sometimes on the prayer team, and mostly just the grandchildren wrangler.
Last week on Christmas Eve, they met for their regular worship time in a rented facility called The Leaping Lizard, an event space in a former Episcopal church building. As a matter of fact, I once told my daughter that their children’s ministry has the best-stocked bar in the city.
In church planting, you use what you can.
After the Christmas Eve Sunday morning service, they had dozens of boxes of doughnuts that people were encouraged to take and deliver to anyone who had to work on Christmas Eve, like hospitals, fire and police stations, hotels, bars, gas stations, wherever. We had done this for the last twenty-some years at our previous church. The approach was simple—offer a box of doughnuts to a worker and simply say, “We’re from so-and-so church and we’re giving away doughnuts to folks who have to work on Christmas Eve…and just wanted you to know God loves you.”
My wife and I were rushing home to start preparing the meal for our family coming soon to our house. But I wanted to swing by a particular supermarket in Kentucky that had good prices on bourbon for our get-together. There must have been twenty-five people waiting in a single-file line that snaked all the way to the back of the store. I went to the end of the line with my box of doughnuts and bourbon and noticed that it was divided up between two young, overworked cashiers. One of them was a large guy with multiple tattoos on his face and arms and a mohawk. My first thought was: I hope I get him.
When it came to my turn, I did. I looked at him and said, “Hey, I’m from Vineyard Covington Church, and we’re passing out free doughnuts to people who have to work today…”
He stopped me and grunted, “It’s my first day.”
“Wow,” I said. “This is a tough day to start.”
He rang up my bottle and said, “Having a party tonight?”
“Nope,” I responded, “just the family is coming over today.”
He looked down and said simply, “I don’t have a family.”
I was momentarily stunned by his admission and asked, “So, uh…what’s the deal with that?”
He told me they were all kind of crazy and that most of them were Pentecostal (actually, those are my roots as well)—and parenthetically said, “They’re not snake handlers or anything like that. They just don’t want to have anything to do with me because of this,” and pointed to his own face. There were multiple tattoos on his forehead, cheeks, and neck.
“Oh man, I’m so sorry. But I’ve got to tell you that Jesus loves you just exactly the way you are…and looking just like you do.”
He paused, half-smiled, and responded, “I’m pretty unique.”
I laughed and said, “God is all about unique! I’m telling you, he’s crazy in love with you.”
He handed me the receipt. I thanked him and wished him a merry Christmas. He smiled, and the next person behind me walked up quickly with his bottles of wine.
Of course, I’ve thought about him since then. And prayed for him. I don’t know his name, but I know God does…because he loves this broken world so much. Or, as Peterson paraphrased it:
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” JOHN 3:16-17 (THE MESSAGE)
Those are the words of the one I serve and celebrate at Christmas. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
Happy New Year, my friends.