Dear Darus,

“I know of a Heavenly Father who loves you, even if you’ve never heard those words from an earthly father.” And so it begins….a mostly one sided conversation, me talking about the love of God, him weeping, barely whispering bitter answers.

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I’m out for coffee with a friend, the sweetest $4.95 of my day. Mid-summer warmth dimly fades into night as conversations linger. A coffee shop Bible study ends, drifting people into the illuminated parking lot.

Peaceful, fond goodbyes drift through the air as I hop into my comfy car. Plugging in my phone, I glance up….there you are. Sitting on the curb, your face on your knees. Christian hands juggle Bibles, coffees, keys….cars start and fade away, nobody sees you. Nobody is looking at the dirty teenager on the curb.  I pause, my hand upon the starter….

You are young, but your shoulders already bear the slump of burdens….something about the tilt of your head, the way your hands shield your face pierces my mother’s heart, but I hesitate…it’s late, I’m a woman, alone in a parking lot at night…

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Whelp…here goes, God!

I roll down my window….calling out, “are you okay?”  My voice sounds thin and I wonder if he heard me. He glances up….a tear snakes its way down his smooth cheek only to be roughly captured by a sleeve. He jerks his face away from me.

He’s not ok. He has no words, but I’ve seen all I need to know.

Heart pounding, I leave the car and settle down on the pavement next to him, tucking my comfy orange “homeschool mom” sundress underneath me, pavement digging into my bare ankles.

A garish clown leers at me from his shoulder ink, his curly head stays down on his knees.

“Are you ok?” His head shakes a negative.  He’s not.

I tentatively reach out and touch his shoulder as sobs shake his young body. The leering clown mocks his pain, its evil eyes laugh at me…do I know what I’m doing?  I’m desperately praying for wisdom here.

“Do you want me to leave? I can’t leave you here, I’m concerned about you.” He doesn’t want me to leave, the slightest of head shakes.

Ok, Lord, I’ll stay, now what?

Talk to him about God. Got it.

“Do you know the love of a father?” More sobs, accompanied by gritted teeth…silence.

“I know of a Heavenly Father who loves you, even if you’ve never heard those words from an earthly father.” And so it begins….a mostly one sided conversation, me talking about the love of God, him weeping, barely whispering bitter answers.

His name is Darus (Daris?) He was kicked out of the house three days ago.  He’s 18. He’s in high school, plays football, works at the fish market downtown.

I lean against the building and talk about creation, God, Jesus, heaven….that there was a reason he was there tonight and I was there….about how there are no coincidences in God’s eternal, wondrous time-line.

Mid-conversation, a man strolls up and tosses $2 down at Darus,”Buy yourself some food”, he states coldly, and stalks away.  Darus hasn’t eaten in three days and even his clown is starting to look a bit famished.

It’s Darus’ brother. I look down at the 2 filthy, crumpled bills in the gutter. That won’t buy much of anything.

Let’s go get a burger…and we head over to the biker restaurant next door….loud music, smoke, there’s a rousing game of corn hole going on…

We make our way through the crowd, this rough, young man and this homeschool mom in her orange, flowered dress and pony-tail. I order a burger, fries, a drink.

His tears are dried as he eats…. I jot down the number of someone who can help him….I long to pat his head, like I do my sons…but I refrain…. only saying, take care of yourself. Remember what we spoke of….remember….there’s a God who loves you. Please don’t forget. Remember.

Please.

Remember.

He mumbles a thank you and our eyes lock for one brief moment, his dark and shadowed, heavily lashed, reddened from the tears of a thousand hurts, aged beyond their years…and he looks away.

And I leave…because there’s not much more I can do….and as I walk away, I look back at this broken, young life with the scary clown that mocks the world from his shoulder, and I plead with God to make him count for eternity.

Grow the seed. Change the life. Heal the heart.

Please, God.

This was several years ago, but every time I pass by that spot in Garner at Aversboro coffee, I think of Darus and the hand he was dealt in life, and I pray that somewhere, somehow, he has found his way, found God, found the love of a true Father….found someone to say “I love you” and mean it.

Please, God. Let’s not leave the coffee shop with our lattes, laughs, and Bibles, not seeing, not looking for the broken.

Please, God.

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worship in the gutters

What I greatly fear has happened in Christian churches worldwide, is that this brand of worship has produced an experientially focused, overfed, overindulgent brand of believers.

If I say “worship” or “religion”, what’s the first image that pops into your brain? If you’ve been a part of the Christian community for even a nanosecond, this is probably what you’re envisioning:

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Looks amazing! We’ve all been here. Expensive, colored, sometimes pulsing lights, atmospheric smoke, trendy, attractive people on stage fueling the compliant crowd into an emotional experience.  Eyes are shut tight, hands waving, bodies swaying in musical accord. Musicians expertly playing state of the art instruments. The service ends and expensively dressed congregants file out of such a “worship” service feeling energized, yet longing for the next religious personal “experience” as soon as this one fades.

What if I told you that this isn’t worship. This is not true Biblical religion. You’ve been fed an indulgent half-truth and the whole Christian world believes that this, THIS is true worship. True religion.

It.

Is.

Not.

Yes, yes, the Psalmist talks about singing to the Lord a new song and that is great! Let’s do that! Raising holy hands, yes! Awesome! Have at it! I’m all about some great Christian music. Lights, smoke, etc…nothing inherently sinful about these things….

BUT…

What I greatly fear has happened in Christian churches worldwide, is that this brand of worship has produced an experientially focused, overfed, overindulgent brand of believers. It breeds prideful performers and esurient, entertainment seeking congregants…people who are so focused on sentient religion that they fail to comprehend what God has instructed us, through Paul, as to what pure, unerring religion is.

The early church didn’t have lights, camera, smoke, action, glory, accolades….. No, my friends….. Their religion had simple hands, traveling feet, unending suffering, total sacrifice, pain, and many times, a bloody martyrs’ death.

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What concerns me greatly about the seeker-friendly focus of churches is that this type of experiential worship is NEVER mentioned in the New Testament. Never.  In fact, James addresses what true religion is, very clearly and explicitly:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

Wha?!?!  No flashing lights? No smoke, come on! For Pete’s sake, where’s the smoke machine? How can I worship God without conjuring up that wondrous, sparkly experience?

So, let me get this straight….. you’re telling me that true religion is this:

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And not this?

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Yep. According to the apostles.  The persecution and sacrifices they endured and God’s calling qualified them all to teach with the utmost, tip-top, religious authority.

I have this strange feeling that if James or Paul were alive today,  you wouldn’t find them on stage riffing away in torn jeans, you’d find them in the gutters and street corners, hands dirty, picking up filthy, abandoned infants, praying with widows, ministering to the homeless.  You’d see the scars on Paul’s back, a split underneath his eye from the stoning he’d recently walked away from. You’d see the bloody chafe marks on his wrists from the chains that attempted to paralyze him from proclaiming the glorious gospel of Christ.

I wonder what Paul, and the other great saints of old, think when they look down at our churches right now….and you know they ARE looking.  At you.  At me. At this church of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you’ve had some sort of ecstatic religious experience, my friend, and that’s great! But I’ll let you in on a lovely secret…..Ready?

Lean closer.

God meets you when you’re here, at the bottom, weeping because of the lost souls in those dirty rows of cribs….He gathers your tears as you gaze upon the abandoned child in your arms….as you stroke their thin, sore covered neck. God meets you in your painful longing to bring Christ to as many lost, broken, difficult, RAD, sleepless, defiant, sick, hopeless, damaged, sweet images of God as you possibly can.

God meets you in the broken, not in the mighty.

Recently, my husband was in India on a business trip. There were two sisters who slept on the sidewalk outside his office building every day. One can’t help but wonder what these children would think if they walked into one of our churches today….at the colossal amount of money wasted on entertaining the masses of “believers”.

My heart weeps because we are all living for the NOW, not the eternal. We aren’t really broken up by this photo. We are numb to it. I am numb to it. You are as well.

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When you meet a lost soul here and there is no fanfare, no accolades, no lights, no atmospheric music, no “likes” on YouTube…. this, THIS is where you will find pure religion. Perfect, silent, heart-broken worship. This is where you see God move mountains, miracles happen, healings take seed.

I’ve been here before and it’s heart wrenching. It’s gut twisting to be snatching little ones from the jaws of hell. It’s horrible, frightening, and down-right terrifying to invite the unknown into the rest of your life…into your family…..

and I want to be here again because this is where you meet God.

 

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What makes this religion real? It’s real because orphans and widows cannot give anything back to you. Pure, perfect, holy religion! There is no mar in it, no thought of self, no consideration of how it’ll give back…what you can gain from it.  Christ-like, sacrificial, wholly pure religion.

Let’s get back there! Let’s be so radically on fire for Christ that we may have to hide amongst the dusty bones of the catacombs, picking up abandoned ones from the gutters.

Let’s go there together, you and me.

Because Jesus said, “ For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  

Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

If you’ve read this far, then I beg you to wrestle with this question….where would you like to meet God?

Here?

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Or here?

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Let’s gather in the gutters and meet God.