It is such a surprising thing for me to say, that in the last two and a half years, some of the best connections and conversations I have had were found at the Pub. This is certainly not something I could have said years ago, when the order of the day was, ‘You can’t be a light for Christ down at the honkey-tonk.’
Yet, what I have discovered in the grace of freedom, and that freedom being found in Christ – is that being among all people, without judgment are haste of tongue against them or who they are, is to be like Christ. And today, was no different for me, in multiple ways.
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: ~ Galatians 2:4, AMP
Today I had three moments of clarity that I believe was meant to be and each and every time this happens to be I find more peace and joy than I had ever had before.
It certainly may come as a surprise to those who follow my blog that I am now happy in the home of a small non-denominational Grace-based church and recently have joined the worship team singing. Last week I was able to speak and give my testimony of coming from incredible legalism to grace. And this Sunday morning I had one of those choice encounters.
After singing practice, a woman named Emily came to me and asked, “You are the one who spoke last week right?” So I responded that yes, it was me. And immediately, she asked, “How do you do it?”
At first, I was somewhat taken back but I assumed what she was meaning was speaking in public. I’ve been doing that for nearly 20 years and now it comes naturally, and because of that, it’s fairly normal for people to express that kind of thought, coming from people who struggle to speak in front of others. Yet – I wasn’t really sure what that question meant, so I asked, “What do you mean, how do I do what?”
Tears instantly filled this woman’s eyes, and she went on to say, “How do you live? How do you get over the hurt? The pain?” Then she went on to explain the death of a loved one, her anger over the loss, her emotional state, etc. It was at this time I knew that it was an encounter where I had the opportunity to show love and compassion, grace and peace. Remembering the same pangs I felt after the death of my mother the only thing I could feel right to do was to listen and to tell her I knew her pain.
I asked her, Emily by name, what good memories she had of this person. What amazing impacts had they made on her life, and as she explained all of the good memories she had, that was my answer. Hold on to those! That is what makes the pain of my mothers passing turn in to smiles of joy – the legacy she left is what I hold to, and I told Emily, “He is still there, right there (pointing at her heart) and you have loving memories that will overpower that pain in time.”
In the Pub
After church today I took my daughter Chloe to my favorite local pub for lunch. She got her Grilled cheese and played on my phone while I had a beer, ate my salad and watched some baseball on the big screen. (And before you think it…yes we talked, a lot! She is a chatty 6-year-old) It was a normal, casual, and wonderful Sunday afternoon with the gleam in my eye.
And there, I came back from using the restroom to sit down and the man in the table behind me got up, walked to my table and said, “Are you, Ralph Brickley?” I replied, asking him how he knew me, apologizing for not recognizing him.
“Oh no, it’s ok, I have seen your posts online on the Men in the Arena Facebook group.” And from there, we had a wonderful 10-minute chat where he encouraged me, bringing me to tears to hold on to hope and grace. It was in this small talk that I learned he, Tom, had been diagnosed with terminal Colon cancer – the doctors had given him a month if he did nothing, 1-2 years if he had multiple surgeries.
As he spoke, I was chilled and tears came to my eyes, he was so positive, so upbeat, talking like someone who had just sold their business, was planning for retirement and had not a care in this world. His wife and daughter sat behind me eating while he spoke. Humbled, I told Tom, “I just can’t believe what a good attitude you have!” and he said to me, “What other attitudes could I have? I could cry and throw a fit but would that make me better?”
He told me to ‘hold on‘ in my own trials, to find peace and comfort in Christ. And with that Tom went his way, leaving me to wonder if I would ever be graced by his amazing presence again.
Chance may seem like Chance, but Is It?
These encounters always leave me wondering if there isn’t a divine hand orchestrating the choir if you know what I mean. Perhaps my experience and empathy were what Emily needed to get through her day – and Tom’s non-critical attitude to his critical (and life-threatening) illness was just what I needed to apply to my own life!
No wonder that when Jesus spoke of the parable of the wedding feast in Luke 14 he said, “Go out into the hedges and the highways and compel them to come, that my house may be full!” I spent 15 years of my life in Christ believing and being taught that God wasn’t anywhere to be found except at 1145 Wallace Road. You couldn’t go to the beach, the mountains, the park, the bar, and find Christ, and most certainly, you couldn’t be a light for Him in those places – your work, His work, ALL the work, was in Church.
And – while I am not about to discredit going to church, for the good it can do for people, my previous understanding of God was such a perverted and twisted idea of being ‘a light’ (candle) for Christ. Or being that city set up on a hill for all to see. No where did Christ teach, “Go, start a church, huddle there, don’t ever leave that building, and just be your own elite club.” He instructed His disciples to GO, and don’t stop going, unto the ends of the world.
And the biggest criticism his opposers had of him was that he went places, and sat with ALL the people that the religious community rejected. In today’s world-view, you could say that Jesus went and sat down with the drunk, the depressed, the transgender, that kid with ADHD, the homeless, the erotic dancer (no I’m not saying go to clubs…), and, as we see in John 8, the Adulterer. Did he condone their lifestyles?
Well, the fast and easy answer is no – but never in one conversation with the thief on the cross, the adulteress, or any other less-than character Jesus met with, did he feel compelled to sit down and point out the error of their ways – he reserved that for the religious community. Why?
I want to believe it was because He knew that people are won, hearts are strengthened and even changed in those Choice encounters that the ultra-conservative and religious community will never have, because, like me in my elitist and legalistic past, they have turned the nose up at those people and their dwelling places. Those moments in church, at the pub, or the park, or the grocery store – reminds me of a teaching of Paul to Timothy – and while it had a different context, there are some parallels.’
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. ~ 2 Timothy 2:4
The ‘word’ isn’t the law, the Word is Christ Jesus. (John 1:1) So be ready – at church, or the PUB, to give an account of the goodness we have received of him!