Saturday, November 23, 2013

Is Jesus glorified when we only seem to be making burritos?

Sometimes, Oaks Cafe is nearly empty. We'll have five adult volunteers hanging out with two kids. But those times are getting more and more rare.

Yesterday afternoon, we had the opposite scenario. A couple of adult volunteers and 45 people (mostly kids) coming through our little building in a 2 1/2 hour period.

It was pandemonium. Little kids racing around and playing with toys. Teens congregated on the window sills, playfully trash talking and flirting and occasionally picking a real fight. A cluster of kids around a table with coloring books. And a roving army of kids of all ages, following us around and firing off questions: Why isn't my burrito done yet? Where's my brownie? Why won't you move jobs back to Friday instead of Wednesday? Why isn't there a hip hop concert tonight? Why haven't you put out more apples yet? Can I play the guitar?

And so on.

On days like this, I feel like a mish-mash of a cop, a day care worker and a short order cook. One moment I'm in the back, mixing more burrito filling together. The next, I'm getting someone a glass of water or saying, "Please watch your language" or wedging myself onto the window sill in between the teens to keep a small riot from breaking out. Some of the time, in my better moments, I'm quietly praying under my breath.

And I'll admit, I find myself asking: Why am I doing this again? Is Jesus visible in the middle of this madness? Where is the gospel being seen or heard in this place?

Yesterday, a teen who isn't in much answered this question for me. She shook her head and said, "How on earth do you do this? I couldn't. These kids are rude. They never say please or thank you."

And I said, with all my heart, "Only by the grace of God."

She said, "I guess. You gotta know Jesus to be able to do this."

And there it was. Jesus getting the glory, in the middle of the crazy. Doesn't that make an entire day worth it? And weren't there other moments -- little stolen moments when I managed to pat a kid on the shoulder, call them by name, ask how their day was?

And then there was the 5-minute prayer service at the end of the day, when 8 of us stayed behind to sing and hear a Bible story on Jesus searching for the 1 sheep in 99.

"He would look for the 1," one of the kids said with confidence. "He counts all of them to make sure he doesn't lose any, and he looks for any that get lost."

That he does.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Every teenager has moments of being a twerp, right? When they repeat every word you say in a mocking tone. Or say, "Can I have a dollar?" exactly 587 times. Or giggle because you're so uncool. (Can't say I blame them for that last one).

We have a small army of preteen and teen boys who cycle in and out of twerpitude. And in our less patient moments, we have to remind ourselves -- God is crazy in love with this twerp. Jesus died for these twerps.

So last Sunday, Hannah and I were beginning to worship. I'd just finished praying the Collect for Purity, and a big group of these boys come cantering into the Cafe, looking ornery. Hannah reflexively launched into a rousing guitar setting of the Te Deum, and we both sang our hearts out.

And something crazy happened. The boys got quiet, and they sat down. At the end of the song, improbably, they clapped.

I invited them to worship with us. And they did -- all of them! They listened intently to Hannah's sermon on Zacchaeus "the snitch" and thief, now redeemed by Jesus' kindness and his repentance. And you could see a new realization in their faces -- "I could be redeemed. I could be a saint like this short little snitch became a saint. I have a choice."

At the communion invitation, a few of the boys loudly proclaimed they'd been baptized and that they wanted the bread and wine. I paused, then explained what the Sacrament means. Taking Jesus' living presence inside of you. Living a totally new life for him -- and dying to the old one. The boys looked serious, whispered, and then admitted they weren't ready to receive. They had something I've never seen in their faces before -- reverence for the holy.

To top it off, after communion the boys began asking questions about God. For 15 minutes. What's heaven like? What about hell? Is it true the devil used to be an angel? A lady once told me I was going to hell because I'm Muslim -- is that true? And so forth. It was astounding.

We ate dinner afterward with the boys, trash talking each other's NFL teams and generally bantering. And when they left, Hannah and I looked at one another in amazement and gratitude.

The Lord did it again -- overwhelming us with doing miraculous work in the hearts of the people around us. And he was good enough to let a couple of twerpy priests see him do it.