I took a rather lengthy break from blogging over the past few weeks as the Christmas holidays kept me pretty occupied. We were blessed to have all four of our sons home for Christmas plus the families of the oldest two. That meant some special time with the two grandkids as well as with the two daughters-in-law. We enjoyed their visit a lot and had fun with various table games and some rousing video games as well. The day after Christmas we took off for Texas for a visit with my mom. Other than a few snow flurries on the way down through Kansas, we had great weather and a wonderful time visiting with her as well. We drove back to Lee’s Summit, arriving about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night and I was privileged to preach in both morning services on Sunday in our pastor’s absence. We had a pretty good crowd for the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I shared a message from Neh. 8:1-12 entitled “Focusing on What Matters Most” and highlighted four priorities from the text: (1) Spend time with God’s people, (2) Treasure God’s Word, (3) Experience brokenness for sin, (4) Joyfully celebrate God’s presence.
I concluded the message with one of my favorite stories from Tony Campolo. It’s found in the opening chapter of his book, "The Kingdom of God is a Party," in case you’d like to read it. The gist of it in case you don’t have access to the book or prefer my Reader’s Digest version of it is that Campolo found himself wide awake and hungry one morning at 3:30 a.m. while on a speaking trip to Honolulu. He found a greasy spoon diner open and ordered coffee and a donut which Harry grabbed off the shelf (without tongs or wax paper of course) and plopped on his plate. As he was eating, a group of 8 or 9 streetwalkers noisily entered the diner. Their language was crude as well as the subject matter of their conversation and Campolo was planning his exit when he heard one of them who was seated next to him tell her companion that the next day was her birthday. Her friend seated on the other side of her from Campolo responded, “What do you expect me to do, throw you a party or something?” The woman by Campolo replied, “No, I wouldn’t expect you to do that. In fact, I’ve never had a birthday party in my entire life.”
After the women left, Campolo asked Harry if they came in often. He replied that they were regulars every night. Campolo asked if the lady seated next to him also came each night. Harry identified her as Agnes and said she was there each evening. Campolo proposed to Harry that he come back the next night if it was okay and decorate the diner for a birthday celebration for Agnes. Harry agreed and insisted that he would bake a birthday cake for the occasion.
The next night Campolo arrived about 2:30 to decorate the diner with balloons and streamers and a big banner that said “Happy Birthday Agnes.” By the time Agnes and her friends arrived, the diner was packed with other women who shared her profession. News had gotten out via the grapevine about the party. On cue, Campolo led the group in singing Happy Birthday to Agnes and Harry brought out the cake with the candles already lit. Agnes had gotten a bit teary-eyed at the singing of Happy Birthday, but at the sight of the cake she lost it totally and began to weep uncontrollably. Harry kept insisting that she blow out the candles or he’d do so himself, which he finally did. Harry handed Agnes a knife and said, “Go ahead and cut the cake, Agnes. We’re hungry. We want some cake.”
Agnes paused, staring at the cake and finally spoke to Harry. She asked him if they might wait a bit before the cut the cake. He replied, “Sure, it’s your cake. You can even take it home if you’d like.”
Agnes replied, “Can I really? I live just down the street. I’ll be right back, I promise.” Then carrying the cake as if it were the Holy Grail, she walked out of the diner and everyone sat in stunned silence.
At that point Campolo said, “What do you say we pray?” Looking back on the event Campolo said it was a highly unusual setting—a Baptist preacher surrounded by streetwalkers in a diner at 3:30 a.m. in a prayer meeting. He prayed for Agnes’ salvation and the blessings of God upon her life.
When he had concluded his prayer, Harry leaned over the counter a bit confrontationally and said gruffly, “Hey, you never told me you were a preacher! What kind of church do you belong to?”
In a moment of inspiration, Campolo replied, “The kind of church that throws birthday parties for streetwalkers at 3:30 a.m.”
After a brief pause, Harry responded, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”
I’d say that’s a pretty powerful illustration of being missional. May the year 2008 find us all engaged in living missionally.