I’m writing this in September and you’re reading it in November. I know that November is an appropriate time to talk about Thanksgiving and my letters should always be reasonably sensitive to the season. In fact, my assistant Cathy just reminded me, “Don’t forget it’s Thanksgiving.”
But I’m not going to write about Thanksgiving.
You’re not thankful?
Of course I’m thankful...well...most of the time. Sometimes I complain, but I can always sing the Doxology even when I’m an ungrateful brat.
I had a very different experience last week and I can hardly wait to tell somebody. I can’t for the life of me think of a way to make that experience fit into a Thanksgiving letter, but I don’t care. I’m going to tell you about it anyway.
Do you know where I went last week? I went to a Metalcore concert. I’ll bet you don’t even know what that is. Metalcore is a fusion of extreme metal and hardcore punk music. I told our staff that I was going but it would be okay because, even though it would be very loud, I just planned to take out my hearing aids. John Myers, our IT guy who knows about this stuff, said, “Steve, that’s not going to be nearly enough.” He was right. It wasn’t.
Here’s how this happened. We interviewed Jake Luhrs on our talk show about a week before the concert. Jake’s secular band, August Burns Red, is very popular and has been nominated for a Grammy twice. They fill stadiums all over the country and sell hundreds of thousands of albums. I didn’t know any of this beforehand, but August Burns Red is a very big deal.
Jake is a Christian (and so is the drummer in the band)...and he’s the real deal. We interviewed Jake about his devotional book Mountains. (I guess he was trying to get people to have a “quiet time” in one of his concerts. (:) It was a very good book, and during the interview Jake and I hit it off. I told him that while I was an old guy and didn’t like music I couldn’t hum, if I ever went to one of his concerts, I would probably like it. It turned out that August Burns Red was going to be in Orlando at The House of Blues the next week, and he invited me to come have dinner with him and attend the concert. Some of us at Key Life—George Bingham, Erik Guzman, Justin Holcomb and I—had dinner with Jake and then went to his concert. Jake gave us All Access passes so we could go wherever we wanted (there was a whole lot of security) including backstage.
The place was packed (even the balconies) with some of the most “out of the box” people I’ve ever seen. Tattoos, goth clothes, crazy colors, long beards, some of the men shirtless, girls in skimpy outfits, earrings in funny places, and black fingernail polish, etc. They were all very much into the music—dancing, jumping, and passing people over the heads of the crowd packed in front of the stage. I remember thinking that the concert gave new meaning to the words of Psalm 98:4, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.”
To the Lord? Are you crazy? I’m not even sure you’re saved...
Wait. I’m going to teach you a couple things I learned and you’ll be better for it.
First, I learned that God is working in places I never expected. That shouldn’t have surprised me. God is, after all, omnipresent. The Psalmist said, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me…” (Psalm 139:7-10). Jesus hardly ever went where one expected him to go, he hardly ever said what one expected him to say, and he hardly ever did what one expected him to do. I love the comment of John about one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances: “the doors being locked...Jesus came and stood among them” (John 20:19). He does that. I didn’t expect to find Jesus at a rock concert but he was there.
I learned that God is working in places I never expected. That shouldn’t have surprised me.
Jake Luhrs is a very unusual guy. He created HeartSupport, an online community of over 70 thousand marginalized folks who have found hope, help, encouragement and acceptance. Jake founded HeartSupport because so many kids wanted to talk and ask questions, and he was always on tour and didn’t have the time because he had to move on to the next city. Jake is soft-spoken, gentle, kind, balding and, other than the tattoos and being quite large, you wouldn’t pick him out of a crowd. At dinner I kept thinking that we were sitting down with the wrong guy. Later on the stage, Jake exploded with so much energy and drive you wouldn’t believe. When he was on stage I finally got it. I’ll never be a fan of that kind of music, but when I saw the energy, dancing, lights and unbridled joy, I got it.
As I watched Jake on stage, I sensed that Jesus was there too...and in the audience of dancing young people. Jesus is present—working, caring and loving—in a lot of places that Christians don’t often frequent.
I also learned that people are different than what I expected. I’m as old as dirt and I look as old as dirt. Not only was I the best dressed person at the concert, I stood out like a sore thumb. I expected to be treated with contempt or derision, or maybe just ignored. That didn’t happen. In fact, when kids at the concert noticed me, they seemed pleased and surprised that I was there. Kids even made sure I could see the stage. Instead of feeling rejected, I felt accepted. I realized that Jesus hung out with the “marginalized” for a number of reasons, but one was that he felt more comfortable with them than with the religious folks. The marginalized weren’t planning to crucify him. Mark says that the “great throng heard him [Jesus] gladly” (Mark 12:37, ESV). The King James Version says that the “common people heard him gladly.” Both translations are accurate. It was a great crowd, but the crowd was not the elite or the religious leaders.
A number of years ago Key Life did a seminar in Portland. We brought support staff, musicians, sound people and a variety of other folks in to help for the two-day event. As I remember it, the event was fairly successful...except for one thing. There was a man sitting on the back row who looked like the genetic mix of The Hulk and Frankenstein. He just sat there with a very hostile scowl on his face the whole time I taught. I can remember intentionally not looking at him while I was teaching because every time I did, I couldn’t help but wince. It was so obvious that when the first night was over and the staff talked about him as we drove away, we decided to drive back to the auditorium just to make sure that this man had not broken in and stolen some of the musical instruments and sound equipment. As I went to sleep that night, I prayed that God would keep the man away the second night. As so often happens, God didn’t agree. The man showed again that second night, sat in the same seat in the back, and looked—if at all possible—even more intimidating than the first night.
When the event was over, the staff started packing up the equipment and I stood in the front of the auditorium signing books and talking to people. When all of the people I was talking to left and with the staff still all in the back, I saw to my horror that monster of a man walking down the aisle in my direction. My whole life passed before me and I was sure I was going to die. (I even went over my life insurance relieved that my wife Anna would be okay financially after my death.) And then that man, as he got closer, raised his arms in an apparent effort to either hit or strangle me. I closed my eyes preparing to go to heaven...when his arms encircled me in a giant bear hug, lifting me off the floor and up into the air. “Brother,” he said in a low and pretty threatening voice, “I love you, dude. I love your ministry and from now on I’m going to support you.”
Life is full of surprises. We sometimes miss them simply because we’re so reluctant to go where Jesus goes. Jesus said that we are the “salt of the earth.” Unlike a lump of sugar, hardly anybody wants a lump of salt. Salt has to be spread out.
So go out and mingle. You might be surprised.
He asked me to tell you.
He also told me to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.