Monday, September 10, 2007


I was preparing for a funeral a couple of weeks ago. I noticed the entrance to the front doorway slightly undone, so I took a stab at straightening it for company. The work seemed to expand and before long I was vacuuming the outdoor mat which says, A Place to Start Life Over. From there I noticed a few discarded cigarette butts left over from two AA meetings that week. As I picked them up in the two coffee tins, I noticed the stench of those butts which made their way into the cans now combined with rain water. It was like holding two quarts of cigarette soup. Before the job was completed I had black slosh spots on my white shirt from emptying the two cans of mixture into the dumpster. For the rest of the day, including the funeral, I smelled like cigarettes.

It's possible some may have noticed my new Philip Morris cologne. But, I didn't mind. As I worked to clean up the trash left behind by our AA friends, I thought how proud I was to be a part of a church that touches the lives of real people. I'm glad for the times when we have a wedding rehearsal on Friday evenings that guests have to work their way through 45 to 70 community neighbors smoking at our entrance to the church as they wait for AA to start. I'm glad we sometimes smell like smoke.

Here's why. What do you think it smelled like when Jesus landed on earth? Lemon-scented PineSol? Don't you get it that Jesus was born in a manger where variations of barnyard sounds and scents were abundant? That's what makes God reliable. He knows how earthlings live. The Nativity was not sanitized. It was raw life.

If you ever visit our church I hope we are cleaned up and presentable. But should you encounter a poopy diaper in a classroom or a can of cigarette butts just outside the entry way, know you have found a pretty neat church! We've kept the Nativity tradition going: real people doing real living in front of a real God.

Jeff Childers and Frederick Aquino wrote, The Lord came into the world as it is, no prior cleanup necessary. In fact, he seems eager to face the world's ugliness head on.....showing us a Creator whose strategy for rescuing us out of our pain begins with a gesture of humility: joining us in it. Church isn't when you give God your best. It's when you give God what you have where you clean up necessary. We don't get ourselves right and then go to God. We give ourselves to God.....and He alone cleans us up and makes us right.


Brenda said...

When we use to have rehersal on Tuesday evenings, we could smell the smoke throughout the building. What I loved is that when we sang to the Lord and praised him, our friends in the building could hear our voices and enjoy the praises. Or at least that was my hope anyway.
I love that we are real. I love that we are raw too.
I love that I don't feel like I have to get it right so that God can then accept me. He does so just as I am. He wants me with my dirt so that he can wash me new again. He knew I was a child that would come home dirty and there he is...always waiting with another clean white shirt.

Anonymous said...

Terry, I think that 90% of those who came to rescue us from Katrina smoked. Every Sunday after worship we exited the building through the cloud. Sounds biblical. Anyway, some complained about this ... and I guess it wasn't pleasant ... but it was the blood, sweat and tears of those volunteers that rescued us from the swamp and mud. I will never forget them. Or their smoke.

balmanza said...

I'm going to tell on my husband...This past Sunday, one of our Freedom church neighbors came to worship at Highland. You can tell she has lived a hard life. While waiting for Bible class to start, she asks Joe if he had a cigarette. Joe tells her no and quickly notices that she is on edge and really needs a smoke. So he tells her, "Surely someone around here has a cigarette. Let's go ask." After asking about 20 people, they finally find someone who has a cigarette and she quickly goes outside to have her smoke and the smile on her face was priceless.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Terry. Good work.

Sista Cala said...

One is truly a minister when they can look beyond the faults of others and see their needs. And not only see them, but meet them.

My pastor says it is not his job to clean them up, it is his job to catch the fish. Jesus will do the cleaning.