"Help me celebrate…"

“My plane just had to do an emergency landing,” he wrote. “Engine over heated. Fire trucks everywhere. Good times.”

That was Ashton Kutcher’s tweet yesterday. His private airplane was forced to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas, just a few minutes after it took off, officials reported.

In case you’re not in tune with the comm-phenom “Twitter”, Kutcher (a.k.a. “aplusk”) is the #1 followed person on the site. At present, he has has well over 3 million followers. By contrast, yours truly has 16 followers. One of the reasons (besides insane celebrity) that he is so followed is because he is such an avid tweeter. Following Ashton is pretty much a moment-by-moment, play-by-play window on his daily life. If you’re looking for that “I wanna feel like a stalker without the criminal ramifications” vibe, then simply click “Follow” next to Ashton’s name on the Twitter site.

So, as you can imagine (or have heard), all ended well and no one was hurt during the emergency landing. He’s thankful to be okay, and reassured his fans via Twitter. But then he did something that I personally found interesting. He encouraged his fans to help him celebrate him being alive by helping to promote his latest movie.

And that is why he’s a money-making machine. His life equates money-making movies. Happy to be alive? What better way to celebrate than to plug a movie? I don’t know, I just found it odd. But then again, that’s why he sneezes into million dollar bills.

Desperately Devout

The other day, I was thinking about something that happened to me years ago, and what God might want me to [re]learn from it now.

It was early one morning, and I was awakened by the phone ringing. Trying not to sound too groggy, I answered, “Hhhelllo?” It was Sue, a nurse who attended our church. She was calling from the hospital and was near the end of her night shift, asking me to come as quickly as I could. So, I got dressed and bolted out the door.

When I arrived, I was met by Sue who stopped me in the hall outside the hospital room she would take me into. She explained what I was about to walk into. A young man lay inside that room; 18 years old and as she explained, brain dead. He had been in an early morning motorcycle accident and there was really no hope of him surviving, based on the extensive brain trauma.

It was devastatingly sad, but I didn’t know this young man, or mother and sister who were also in his room. So, why had I been called into this situation?

This Middle Eastern mother, sister, and son were recent converts to Christianity. They each had converted from Islam to embrace a relationship with Jesus. Wonderful! But again, why was I asked to come? I had been asked to come as a pastor to pray for and with them. You see, the father of the family had stepped out. The father of the family was still a devout Muslim. The father of the family didn’t know about his wife’s, daughter’s, and son’s conversion to Jesus. And the father of the family would be returning to the hospital at any moment. So, essentially the mother wanted a Christian pastor to come and pray with her, her daughter, and her son a) before they turned off the life support system keeping him alive, and b) before the husband/father returned. Have you ever felt pressure?

In the midst of that incredibly sad situation, I was so impressed by the mother’s faith. You might say, “If her faith was so strong, she’d stand up to her husband and tell him about her conversion.” But if you understand anything about the Muslim faith, you know that such a thing is easier said than done, to say the very least.

The truth is, she had risked a lot. Not only had she risked so much to leave Islam and embrace Jesus, but she continued to risk by inviting me to come and share in the darkness of their family’s history. While I will never know just what would have happened had the father walked in while we were praying together, I can’t help but be captivated by her desperately devout faith in Jesus.

What risks do I take with my faith? How safe do I play it? Who’s being impacted by what I believe? Does what I believe truly revolutionize how I behave? Who’s eternity has been altered because I’ve been faithful and obedient to God’s instructions in my life? And conversely, who’s eternity hasn’t been altered because I’ve been unfaithful and disobedient to God’s instructions in my life?

Thanking the Machine

Yesterday my family and I headed to Mickey D’s after church to grab a quick lunch. While standing in line waiting our turn to order, I watched 2 couples heading toward the door. Well-dressed 60-somethings and all smiles, one of the gentlemen stopped and turned toward the workers behind the counter and offered a hearty, “Thanks for the lunch!”. No response. He waited 10 seconds or so then tried again: “Enjoyed the lunch! Thanks!” Even though I was captivated by his two rather loud and cheerful statements, not one of the employees even looked up. No acknowledgement whatsoever of his words or even his existence.

Finally, with a look of “oh well”, but still smiling, he turned and walked out the door.

I immediately thought, “That was weird.”
Then I immediately thought, “No it’s wasn’t.”

The reason why it wasn’t weird is because McDonalds is more machine than man. It’s a collection of cogs, not veins. Every franchise works the same playbook, and based on what I saw yesterday the playbook says nothing about making the customer feel like a person. I was so struck by the lack of anyone’s response to the gentleman that I nearly shouted, “You’re welcome!”

As you probably know, I live the life of a person in fulltime ministry. While the lion’s share of my time is based in student ministry, my experiences span much further than just that age group. I’ve seen a lot over the years and there’s a premise I hold to that connects with those few, awkward, embarassing moments in that McDonald’s yesterday.

I have heard (in the context of ministry and church leadership) the concept that pastors are in the business of “customer service”. While I always understand the reason those words are used and I believe the heart behind them is good, I seem to always wince when I hear them. I abhor the thought that those who attend, worship at, and are connected with the church I serve in are “customers” that I help to serve. Because the underlying thought is that I am here to serve the customers, that the customers should be my #1 priority, and that as the old retail adage says: “The customer is always right.” I just don’t see that in the Bible.

And truth be told, I have always had a “take it or leave it” style of leadership. (I use the word “style” simply due to lack of a better term.) I have never read in the Bible a time when Jesus pleaded with anyone to follow Him. It seems to me that Jesus invited people while he was walking past them. Whether he literally stopped in His tracks on the beach to say “Follow Me” isn’t as much the point than that sense that whether those fishermen left their nets or not wasn’t His concern. (Yes, I know He knew they would and that there’s much more to say about all that.)

So, while I lead those God has entrusted to my care, I want to do so with the love of God clearly seen in everything I do. I want it to be said of me that I cared for people, no matter what. I want to be remembered as someone who lived his life putting others first. I want my life to be unmistakably about serving people. But that none of that ever gets confused with a passion for walking with God.