It's a sacrifice to give up my Christmas Eve. In my early years as a parent, I was home by the fire, listening to “Silent Night” and opening gifts with my wife and children. It was wonderful. But for the last 30 years I've organized groups of carolers and musicians to go into our local bars and night clubs to sing Christmas carols and then, one-on-one, offer prayer. It's become a tradition.
I have a dream. I want to see the practice of Christianity in the church made relevant and mainstream in the real world. Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15) Jesus said, "You are the Light of the world..." (Matt. 5:14). If we are afraid to let our light shine in the world, then the church becomes marginalized and ignored by our society. How does the world discover the Light of Life if we don't carry it into the darkness? (John 8:12)
I remember one particular Christmas Eve when I led my team of carolers into a rowdy cowboy bar called Southern Comfort Saloon. Sensing the tension as we gathered on-stage to sing, I decided to begin with a more secular song. "We're going to start with a familiar carol that you all know—Jingle Bells!" I announced. A boisterous patron straddling a bar stool shouted back, "Come on, sing about Jesus, we know why you're here!" There was no fooling him! But I purposed to go straight to his table after the last song. As I approached him, he blurted out, "You're not afraid of us, are you?" "No," I responded. His reply, "Let me tell you, most of the people in here are afraid of YOU." Wow, what a Truth, I thought. The enemy keeps us fearful of speaking out for Christ, while it's really the world that is living in fear. We need more boldness!
I was raised in the church with preaching parents who taught me that bars were no place for Christians. In fact, I had never been to a bar until I was sent by God. I had never gotten into drinking, beyond a reckless party or two in my high school years. Never smoked or did drugs. So, admittedly, the bars were foreign and frightening to me at first. I felt as out of place there as the bar regulars may feel coming to our church.
But I soon discovered that bars are a lot like churches, and there are a lot of good people there. They attend routinely for fellowship. There are a variety of bars, like denominations: sports bars, biker bars, beach bars, Spanish bars, cowboy bars, youth bars, senior bars. Bar tenders are like pastors; they know their customers by name and do a lot of counseling. Every bar has music and atmosphere and they serve "spirits." Granted, the effect of those spirits is short lived and wears off in the morning, possibly followed by some pretty nasty headaches. But people go back for more.
Yes, I meet some Christians in the bars. But it's the seekers that I'm really looking for.
Last year, at a youthful establishment called Budda Bing!, we were singing our carols to a very indifferent crowd, busy on the pool tables and at the bar. But an enthusiastic girl, obviously drunk, danced close to my face exclaiming, "Hey, I love the accordion." Her bright red T-shirt said it all, "This Bud's for You!" I was playing the accordion and leading the group in song, while trying to keep her from disturbing our performance. We finished, and I turned to her and said, "Come here, I want to pray for you!" She immediately went sober. "Seriously? You would do that?” She exclaimed. “Yeeesss, I really need prayer!" Tears welled up in her eyes, and I invited my daughter, Amy, to join me in praying for her, and leading her to a glorious salvation. That's better than opening presents on Christmas Eve.
We were created for this. To be ambassadors for Jesus Christ. (II Cor. 5:20). And the Christmas Season brings many opportunities to share Christ. After all, it is the holiday that commemorates His birth... everybody knows that. They just wonder, WHY? Why Christmas? It's our distinct privilege to answer that question, from first-hand experience... our own. Your testimony is the most authentic sermon you can preach. Inquiring minds want to know, "Why is the Christ of Christmas important to YOU?"
I invite you to join us this Christmas Eve, and answer that question for someone. Our Caroling Teams are assembled immediately following our 6:00 PM Candlelight Christmas Eve Service, usually around 7:00, at The Family Church at Christian Retreat. See you in the bars!