Saturday, December 31, 2016
Funny how something simple triggers a hankering to visit unknown places and to experience new adventures. So it was when we saw the cover of a Christian magazine. Our friend, a cowboy pastor, posed on the cover with a biker, also a pastor.
Intrigued, I flipped the pages to the article. This biker-pastor sounded like the real deal, and the Holy Spirit nudged Bruce and I to visit his church … in a bar. A biker bar. Cool!
Main street was quiet in the small town of Meridian, Idaho as we slowly drove around to the back of the bar to park. We strolled down the sidewalk passing motorcycles of every style neatly lined up side by side with their back tires against the front curb.
We didn’t know what to expect. Cautiously we opened the old wooden door, letting our eyes adjust to the dark room. As we stood in the doorway, we figured we’d be as conspicuous as a neon light with our cowboy boots and hats amidst the leathers and dew rags of the bikers. And, I’m pretty sure, we were the only ones who didn’t sport tats somewhere on our bodies.
Rough-looking, tatted, leathered, rode-hard parishioners graced the dim room with their warmth. And we felt more welcome there than we had in the “religious” establishments with their new carpet and fancy digs. We found a couple of stools next to a video game and settled in with our backs against a vintage juke box.
Before the service started, I decided to use the restroom and made my way through the crowd. As I opened the restroom door, I nearly collided with a woman on her way out. The tattoos on her face, hands and arms, her wild hair, and her generally tough exterior belied the light and peace in her eyes.
My first thought? “Whoa, I wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley.” But looking in those eyes and hearing her joyful, accepting, friendly greeting reminded me once again to never judge a book by its cover.
Most of the congregation had been rode-hard-and-put-away-wet. But they’d also found Jesus. God’s grace had saved them from a very hard life.
The service started with a guy and his guitar. I looked around the stage and noticed a drum set and other evidence that this church had a band. And yet, there was just this guy and his guitar. You could tell he loved the Lord, but he was nervous, apologizing for messing up a song as he started over on his guitar. He did his best filling in for the worship team.
His voice may not have been American Idol quality, and maybe he more than once fumbled around on his guitar. But what touched me was his heart—it lit up the room. I smiled as God revealed, yet again, that the performance is not as important as a person’s heart.
We all joined him in one accord, singing “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” How appropriate. I caught a movement to my left, and an old biker rose from his chair with something in his hand. An American flag dew rag adorned the top of his gray head, and his long ponytail swung down over the biker colors of his leather jacket. He lifted the object in his hands to his lips and the sweet, earthy tones of a harmonica filled the room. He played in perfect time with the guitar and voices.
It was simple, raw. And the Holy Spirit infiltrated that old bar. Tears welled in my eyes as the peace of God soothed my hurting soul. All the disappointment from dealing with other “worship” teams and churches with their critical, performance-based attitudes melted away. This is how it should be, I thought. This is how God always intended it to be—simple, yet powerful.
The old biker danced from one foot to the other in the joy of the Lord as his harmonica sang. And then he lowered his hands and quoted Matthew 18:20, “Where two or more are gathered in My Name, there will I be.” And we all knew that Jesus stood with us in that dark, musty, beer-stained biker bar.
The rest of that day continued to be one of the best times we’ve ever had with fellow believers. No pomp or parades. No ruses or airs. It was uncomplicated. It was genuine. It was Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen (2 Corinthians 13:14).
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