God of the Ordinary

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to do the sound AND video/projection at my church for a private Thanksgiving party that was being thrown by the outside family that cleans our church. (During Sunday worship this is a 2 person job.) It was one of those things where they were only asking out of politeness for the family. They didn’t really expect anyone to be able to do it. I was told in years past it was stressful and difficult to organize all the moving pieces of things that were desired to be played and projected – especially at the last minute. With this new selfless servant heart that God has given me (seriously, this is ALL the Holy Spirit working through my selfish and comfort-seeking-self), I agreed to do it and ignored any worry about what I was getting into. I saw it, through God’s eyes, as an opportunity to extend grace in service to the family that cleans our church. (Admittedly, I also sometimes don’t think about what I’m doing and take on more than I probably should at once… Something I’ve talked about here before. Something I probably need to work on more.)

I realized I had no idea what I was getting myself into when 30 minutes before I left the house I remembered, “I don’t even know the password to the computer in the tech booth.” I don’t do the computer/projection part of the tech booth (go figure, ha!) I do the sound/audio part.

But God is sovereign – over everything. Even the silly stuff like computer passwords.

When I entered the church there was a spread of food like I had never seen before. The smell of home-style down-south just dag gum good ole country cooking was intoxicating. “OK, this is gonna be alright,” I said to myself.

I got what little I knew ahead of time ready to go… About a half hour before the event started I finally got the run-down of what they wanted done. OH BOY. It was a doozy. There was content from a CD, DVD, lyrics, songs with audio that didn’t exist, special music, speakers, etc.

I think people in general often take for granted how much planning and work goes into putting on a smooth running event or even worship service – especially around the music, projection, and tech. It comes out looking like a well-oiled machine, because there is a team of people scrambling to make it go off without a hitch as best it can. This is absolutely not out of the ordinary. I see it everyday at work. I’ve been involved with doing this kind of tech stuff for the past 3 years at my job as we put on an annual “customer conference” – ourselves. God alone has given me certain skills and abilities: some of which are interpreting the convoluted tech or project needs of people and looking at the whole picture and delivering a solution.

Ultimately, I got a schedule setup, documented everything I needed, the source of each part, I even came up with some things that they weren’t expecting to have. The show went on quite well.

I came to serve… but I got served, for real

After a fabulous dinner… the real program started. Each table was instructed to have someone read a designated passage of scripture and share something they were thankful for. The night before Thanksgiving, we did the same thing at church. It was a blessing to hear my church family share what God has been doing in their lives – stuff I could relate to and sort of knew about. But man, tonight, it was so encouraging to hear from a dozen ‘strangers’, but brothers and sisters in Christ, share how their year hadn’t been all rainbows and butterflies – but was rather filled with struggle… yet they were all so passionately thankful for the way God had worked through those tough times and how they’ve come out stronger and more faithful – all the praise was given to God. Man, I could listen for hours of peoples stories of how God is working in their lives.

Then there was some wonderful music, mixed in with some scripture reading… Then the message – delivered by a friend of the family that was throwing the party.

What a gospel message it was! Impassioned. Clear. Filled with audience ‘amens’.

He started with the background of the gospels, followed by a few implications of the gospel: Our identity is found in Christ so we’re free to be who we are.. to live for Christ and not to anyone else’s expectations, to forgive as Christ forgave, to love as Christ loved us, and to take chances in faith (you know, since Christianity is a ‘faith-based’ religion.)

The whole night was one of just humility and ‘realness’ – you could just sense it in the room. They were generous to me. These people weren’t there for a show. They loved their Lord and were enjoying the fellowship with one another. What a joy to be apart of something like that.

I like the ordinary

I am so thankful to God for sending His perfect Son to die for my messed up self. I am so thankful for God sending His Spirit this past year to chisel through my heart and dwell in me. I am so thankful that through that, He has given me the strength to drop fear, take chances, and walk in faith along the path that He has been laying out – without knowing exactly what it is He is up to or where it is that He is leading me…. for being content in the day-to-day BUT also hopeful for the future He has for me with whoever He has for me. That’s not to say I don’t step up and out when the opportunity presents itself – I certainly have and it’s been a blessing!

Tonight was such an incredible personal reminder that I can be used by God in ways that aren’t necessarily always in the spotlight – that my skills and desire for behind-the-scenes Kingdom work type of stuff is welcomed and totally needed. As I come off of a hard decision to not pursue, at least for now (at the last minute), a service opportunity way away from Baltimore, tonight was a reaffirmation of God’s providence in providing areas here, locally, to serve in practical ways.

Running the projection and sound for a church event is an ordinary thing. It’s ordinary, but necessary. Tonight was stressful. I realize that not everyone could do it or would want to do it. But this ordinary thing is something that I can do. I can actually do it and do it well, praise God. If I can be involved, using my specific God-given skills and abilities, in allowing a room full of people to hear the Gospel message preached by someone else and to have them join in praise through music that someone else wrote than I want to be involved in that. Every time. Like the Bible explains, the church is like a body made up of many parts that all rely on each other. A finger alone is pretty insignificant. But 10 fingers on a hand, connected to an arm, controlled by a brain can do miraculous and extraordinary things – it can perform a heart transplant, or farm a field, or build a house, or cradle a newborn, or write encouragement to a sufferer.

I want to use MY ordinary to contribute to HIS extraordinary.

One turn makes a difference

So…. I left church and headed over to my parents house to help my Mom out with something and to visit with my Dad who had been discharged from the hospital earlier in the day after recovering from a knee-replacement surgery. It was such a relief to see my Dad safely in the comfort of his own home – not hooked up to IV’s and tubes. You have no idea how good that felt. I got to share the details and take-away of my ‘ordinary’ night with my Mom, which was great. She’s been a great listener and encourager this past year. I treasure her motherly love and wisdom.

Then I headed back to my place with this overwhelming internal joy and peace – that amongst the big things and the ‘ordinary’ things God is so good – so strong – so sovereign – and so gracious. I drafted this blog post in my head while listening to some of my favorite go-to ‘praise music’. As I was nearing my street, I decided that I wanted to go on one of my late-night backroad drives to continue this little spiritual high – to talk with my Father, so I made a detour to Starbucks to get my favorite hot chocolate for the journey.

This is where the blog post was going to end… but then I met Elaine.

As I was pulling into Starbucks, I saw bags of stuff strewn across a bus stop bench with a heavily bundled up person bending over into a shopping cart. A homeless person. I got out of my car and walked over the the person – at pretty much, let’s just say, the most inopportune time. I asked her if she needed any help and if she wanted a warm drink… she mumbled something that sounded like, “no thanks, you don’t have to.” I left her be and went into Starbucks to get some drinks.

I came back out and gave her the hot chocolate and started a conversation. Eventually, she asked, “Why are you doing this?”

Before I could answer, she interjected, “Are you a Christian?”

Honestly, my first thought was to say no, because I didn’t want her to shut down if she wasn’t fond of ‘Christians’. But I responded, “Yes, I am.”

We got to talking about local churches, where she went, where I went – where both those places were. She was really adamant about explaining locations.

I asked if I could take her to get some dinner – inside – out of the 30 deg cold on the side of the street at a bus stop in an area where there is a robbery every single week.

Out of nowhere she expressed some concern about my “motives”. It took me by surprise. It broke my heart to know (and later find out) that something happened to her that would cause her concern about my motives.

I assured her that I was just here to get to know her and have some dinner – nothing else. She actually interrupted and said, “So, agape love, right?”

“Exactly”, I replied, “The same type of love Jesus has for us.”

We continued talking – mostly about the Bible (she knew a lot of the stories about the Old Testament and the Law) and I was trying to share the New Testament and the Gospel with her – you know, say that, yes the Old Testament is super important and the Law is good, but we’ve got Jesus who came and fulfilled the Law. We should strive to live those Commandments – but it’s more about what Jesus did, in love, on Calvary than what we do. We talked, with her bringing it up, about many of the things I’ve written about on this blog in the past weeks… how funny, right? I chuckle at how God is using what I’m learning about Him.

It’s cold out there

Over the next hour of talking I helped her load up her cart – which she says has been stolen from her 6 times – with all her stuff destroyed. She was very particular with her cart and they way she packed it. In just a hoddie and no gloves I was getting pretty cold and I just wanted to pick up all her stuff and pile it on but I realized that was her everything – I wouldn’t want someone coming into my home and rearranging things..

Eventually, we made it to a local pizza shop, ordered some food, sat down and continued to talk. She was overcome with the state of our world – with the corruption in politics, in humanity, and in the hardness of peoples hearts to God. She told me about her past, about her jobs (a typesetter and a book maker for a large publisher in Texas years ago. She threw out a bunch of typography and printing terms). She would occasionally ask me about myself – I would oblige and answer… but I would follow up and ask her about herself and let her talk about herself – she really lit up on some topics. She is quiet, and a little hard to understand – probably because of the abuse her body has taken from the harsh weather she lives in, but well spoken – she knows a lot about history, politics, the world, the Bible, and relationships.

Turning the tables

Eventually, she asked why I even walked up to her in the first place… I chuckled and briefly explained that God grabbed a hold of my heart this past year and softened it to see opportunities like this to serve Him and meet new people.

“What did He use to grab your heart?” she inquisitively asked.

I told her the general overview… to which she asked, almost as if she had been involved in the process, penetrating questions. Smiling, she was asking me these questions that I’ve been wrestling with in my head – even some things I’ve talked about with some close friends… But a stranger? A woman’s intuition I guess. Through what I was saying I guess she saw into my heart and, smiling the whole time, pointed out the feelings that I have kept inside. She gave me some good relationship advice – advice that I’d been given by others, too – where I might go, who I might go with, etc.

I came to serve… and I got served, again. +2 God.

Exchanging a handshake and some extended encouragement (more like another 15 minutes of chatting) we departed.

I felt so helpless just leaving. Why do I get to go home to a warm apartment and she has to find a place on the street? It’s not fair. I don’t deserve what I have anymore than her. But what can I do? I don’t know what to really do in these situations. I’m not in a financial position to give this woman a new start on life. I did ‘something’, I guess.

If you feel inclined, please pray for Elaine. She’s had a difficult life, a rough past few years in a city that isn’t her ‘home’, and from what I gathered, it wasn’t because of her poor choices… but rather having a good heart that got taken advantage of by someone who had no right to hold it. I really hope that others, maybe others who have more experience and resources, can provide her some real relief. It’s cold and lonely out there.

It’s not me

If you don’t know me, I’ll let you in on a little secret…. I don’t seek out homeless people in dangerous areas, at 10PM, in the freezing cold, get up close and physical with them and their possessions (think germaphobe) , and eat dinner with them. Please please please remember, this isn’t about me. I didn’t seek any of this… One bold faith driven decision by someone else to follow God’s call caused me to fall on my knees and ask for God to change me, which led to a year of learning and growing and saying ‘yes’, which led me to saying ‘yes’ to working tonight’s dinner, an experience which impacted my heart, which led me to wanting to continue the ‘spiritual high’ which led me to Starbucks which led me to Elaine which led me to sharing the Gospel which led me to writing this 2,500 word blog post that you’re reading, which hopefully leads to another nudge to pursue God’s call on YOUR life – in the ordinary or the extraordinary.

I’m still a sinner with the best of them, everyday struggling with decisions and temptations and failings.. I couldn’t do this on my own – because, in fact, I haven’t before. God gave me the faith to take the first step of faith to say, “yes” to Him… to His will… The rest is the Holy Spirit guiding my heart, my words, and my hands through this life that isn’t mine to control.

He must become greater; I must become less. -John 3:30