I go to church with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa and our two munchkins Kenneth (8) and Alicia (6) on Saturday at 5 PM. That's because our church has services once on Friday, twice on Saturday, and four times on Sunday, and you pick which service you want to belong to based on where your friends are, or when the youth meet, or when you want to go over the river and through the woods to visit somebody. Each service has a different name; the name of my service is Five Alive.
Last week, it wasn't easy getting to church on time on Saturday. I had a really good reason to be late, but my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa wouldn't cooperate, so that didn't make us late. So then Vanessa had a pitiful reason to be late (stopping to buy food for home group), and I cooperated, but she was pretty quick, so that didn't make us late.
So even though it wasn't easy, we weren't late. Or not by much.
But then Vanessa sat way in the back. Look, I said, there's Liz. Why don't we go sit with her? We can scoot down this row, and go up the side aisle, and sit right next to her.
So she gave me a look, but she cooperated, and so we did that.
And then I was standing singing praises, and noticed Kenneth was sitting down, so I poked him with my stick. (I really like my stick. It helps me get around, makes people cut me ALL KINDS of slack that I don't really need, is a great kid poker, and since it's a 1" oak rod, I can whack somebody with it if I need to. Or want to.)
So, anyway, I poked Kenneth, who was sitting down, with my stick.
He looked at me. It's a natural reaction when you are eight and get poked in the ribs with an oak stick.
I told him, Do what I do.
By which he understood that I meant, stand up when I'm standing up, and sit down when I'm sitting down.
And he stood up.
End of story.
Well, not so much.
See, when I told him "Do what I do," he understood my meaning of 'stand when I stand, sit when I sit.'
But what I understood was that I was re-stating my parenting responsibilities to him.
You want to know how many times as a child, teen, and young man I heard "Do what I say, not what I do?" No, of course you don't want to know that. Why would you want to know how many times I heard something really stupid and perfectly designed to strip away the moral authority of the person who was saying it to me?I don't even want to to know how many times I heard that. What's more, I DON'T know how many times I heard it, but I heard it enough to learn to hate the phrase.
So when I told Kenneth, "Do what I do," I was not merely providing him with an instruction; I was providing myself with a righteous standard. I was affirming that i wanted to live my life in such a way that Kenneth would WANT to emulate it, and that would help him to keep on the good side of a LOT of the "if only " statements: "If only I hadn't;" "If only I had."
And so I thought about that.
And then we sang the chorus, "I give myself away, I give myself away, so You can use me."
It moved Katrina Campbell, one of our care pastors. And she took the microphone and said, sing it again, and if you need to really do that, then do it. And if you need to come down front to give yourself away, then do that, too.
She said it better than I just wrote.
And some people went down front.
And I didn't think about it too much; I just grabbed Kenneth, and said, help me get down front. And I leaned on his bony little eight year old shoulder with one hand, and my stick with the other, and Kenneth proudly helped old man Papa Pat down front, and then helped me stand up while I sang, I give myself away, so You can use me.
And I thought some more. And then I had something I wanted to share, but Andrew (the elder who administers our home group) got to the microphone before I did.
And what he said was that a lot of us may feel ground down by the sand, and smashed on the beach, but the truth was that there was all this lovely water that we were to float in, and that would move us along. He said, SURF'S UP!
He said it better than I just wrote.
And then I took the microphone, and pulled Kenneth in front of me so everybody could see him. And I told everybody that I thought children should be attentive and respectful during worship, and so I poked Kenneth with a stick. And then I told them about how I realized that in telling him to do what I do, etcetera, see above paragraph for complete exegesis.
And then I told them about my reaction when the Lord moved Katrina (I almost cried, but didn't) and came down front, and sang; and how I NEEDED Kenneth to provide me with the incentive and the strength to be the man that he would want to emulate.
And then I told them about how I realized that I was singing, I give myself away, so You can use me, and how when I realized what I was singing, I said to myself, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FREAKIN' MIND? YOU ARE ASKING GOD TO USE YOU! YOU ASK GOD TO USE YOU, AND HE JUST MIGHT DO IT!!!!
And then I told them that I would really prefer just to take it easy and not do anything, but that I eally didn't have that as an option, because Kenneth needed to have an example of how he should live. So with him as an incentive and as a help, I was just going to have to get with the program. And I turned to Andrew, and said, SURF'S UP, BABY!
I didn't say it better than I just wrote.
So then I sat down.
And in the next couple of minutes, two things happened:
1. A young woman, don't know her name, but she uses a cane, tapped me on the shoulder, and told me how she had seen me poke Kenneth with my stick, and how it ministered to her. She had been a single parent for a while, and she really wasn't sure if she was doing the right things to raise her son. And I shared with her how it wasn't until my mid 30's that I saw mature, godly, righteous men, lifting their hands and singing praises to God, and I realized how that was an example for ME.
2. Spencer, one of the other care pastors, said, We have a second time visitor! Welcome, Matthew! And I turned around, and it was Matthew, Vanessa's 29 year old son. So Matthew was there to see me talk about Kenneth and being an example. And he heard the youth pastor Stefan give the message from Psalm 2 about being defiant toward God, and how God's power manifested itself, and how people who live in accord with God's will are stable. And I prayed with Matthew afterward, he wanted some stability and some good influences in his life. So we prayed that. And then I got one of those thoughts, which I shall state in a moment.
AND then we went to home group, and Matthew went with us; the video was Andy Stanley teaching about when it's not time to pray, but to do; and how when someone is being irresponsible, we don't need to pray about it, we need to confront them about it. It was an uplifting message, not a condemning message
And then we went home.
And when we got there, I told Vanessa about the thought I had while talking and praying with Matthew, which is, why don't I take Matthew for breakfast every week or so? And she grabbed me and kissed me so hard my lips bled.
Not really. But I could tell she was thinking about it, because the idea spoke to her deep desire to be able to do something meaningful for Matthew.
So she told Matthew about it when he called her on Monday, and he called me the next night, and Tuesday at 11:30 Matthew and I had lunch at the Waffle House after he got out of his morning class.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Even though you can worship God out in the woods, it's not very likely that Katrina and Andrew and Stefan and Andy Stanley and a lady with a cane and a worship team and a person to eat lunch with are going to be in the same woods at the same time. So, cooperate, and go to church.
Feasting on locusts and wild honey,