What Starbucks, Harry and You All Have in Common (Heb. 2:2-3)
By John A. Huffman Jr.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
"For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:2-3).Rick Richardson, professor and writer, tells about a pastor named Dan, who realized he was getting stale. So with the approval of his pastoral team, he took a part-time job at a Starbucks coffee shop.
To his surprise, "All 21 people he worked with believed in God. Not one was an atheist ... They were all very positive toward God and spirituality."
Richardson goes on to report:A second surprise was that all were interested in spiritual things, but not in Christians, Christianity, or the church. No one wanted to hear Dan's proofs for God or invitations to come to church or ideas about salvation. Almost everyone thought they knew what Christianity was about and had decided they didn't want it. They were post Christian. At some point along the way, each of them had experienced a breach in trust related to Christianity. Maybe a Christian friend had been hypocritical or pushy. Maybe when they were young they had attended church and found it boring and irrelevant. Maybe they had watched TV preachers and been turned off. Or maybe they had experienced a tragedy—death or sexual abuse or some other trauma—and felt that God had been distant and uncaring.Richardson said, "Dan wasn't starting at ground zero, but rather at minus-three or four. ... The biggest thing Dan learned is that people in this generation have a prior question of trust that must be addressed before we can have meaningful spiritual conversations with them."
Pastor Dan had discovered the outside understanding of how the church was viewed by some people.
That may be your perception today on Easter Sunday. You come Christmas Eve and Easter, tipping your hat to the notion of God. You believe in Him—you're not an atheist. You're very positive toward God in spirituality. But, somehow, a disconnect has happened. It may be a bad experience with Christians, Christianity or the church. Or perhaps you've just found it boring and irrelevant.
Forty-something years ago, I graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. I took my first pastorate as an associate on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma. My job included visiting the hospitals three days a week.
I'll never forget that afternoon as I signed into the psychiatric wing, a lock-and-key ward, to see a patient by the name of Harry. Harry was in for alcoholic detoxification. He was most gracious to me. I had prayer with him and, on subsequent visits, got to know him quite well. He told me that he had been a member of the First Presbyterian Church for some 40 years. He had come to Tulsa as a young man to start his insurance business. He figured that joining a prominent service club and a prominent, large church would be good for business. His business did prosper. The next thing he knew, he was elected a deacon because the deacons handled the money, and they knew he'd be good at that.
Finally, I got up the courage to ask Harry if he knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. In a non-hostile, somewhat avuncular way, Harry said to me, "To be honest with you John, I just go through the motions at First Presbyterian Church. It's good for Louise and the family. But where I find spiritual reality, although it doesn't look like it here in this detox ward, is at AA. For me, spiritual reality is trusting in my Higher Power to get through one day at a time."
I responded, "Harry, do you know what the name of your Higher Power is?"
He answered, "Yes, Higher Power!"
I said, "Harry, the real name of your Higher Power is Jesus Christ. Every one of those 12 Steps was taken straight out of the Bible. A friend of mine, the late Dr. Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopal rector, helped Bill W. put those steps in place. The term ‘Higher Power' is simply to help people who do not believe in God or are of different faiths to get a handle on their addictions. But the true name of your Higher Power is Jesus Christ."
Well, Harry was finally released from the hospital. We had bonded in a close friendship. In fact, I've discovered some of my closest friends through the years are people honest enough to admit that they have addictions. They want authentic, honest communication. That's what attracts me to them. I would sometimes stop by Harry's house for root beer floats on Monday afternoons on my way home from my
And a few weeks into our friendship, Harry, a man who had found the church to be irrelevant, came to personal faith in Jesus Christ, declaring Him to be his Higher Power. Harry, several years later, died of cancer. He put in his will that he wanted me to come back, with the permission of the senior pastor of that church, to do his funeral and, at that funeral, tell everyone how Harry Parrish came to know that the name of his Higher Power was Jesus Christ.
Our friend, Pastor Dan, stumbled into a kind of outside view of the church. My friend Harry Parrish initiated me into a kind of inside view of the church. In all these years of my ministry, I've tried to keep in healthy balance some kind of understanding and appreciation for people, including the unchurched and the Christmas/Easter crowd, who aren't hostile to what we're doing but just don't find it that relevant to their daily existence. And I also try to be sensitive to those who are members and perhaps come quite regularly because it's good for their families, and the friendships are helpful, but they've never yet given their lives personally to Jesus Christ.
The Starbucks employees and Harry had one thing in common. Neither found spiritual reality in the church. But both could have found that reality and found it in spades. I personally want to apologize wherein how we come across as followers of Jesus seems so irrelevant to the practical needs of people living in 2009.
Let me share from my heart the relevancy of the gospel, the good news of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Let's state this in the form of some basic facts about you and me. Check me out and let me know if you disagree with these basic facts.