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Lessons from the Bar

On Wednesday nights I’m often with a group of men at a Boys’ Night Out at a restaurant/bar in Chapel Hill or Durham. An email gets sent out by Modi on Wednesday afternoon, announcing the place. A neighbor invited me months ago and I’ve been going ever since. The men are mostly Israeli, or American Jews, just hanging out together. I’m the odd person in the group, but they kindly welcome and include me.

I usually learn something important from our conversations, although last night the first game of the World Series was mostly our focus. But, I also just have fun getting to know these men. Plus, my repertoire of jokes has greatly increased, very few, of which, I could use in the pulpit.

Last night I was one of the first to arrive. Daniel, the godfather of the group, and Martin were there, and as we settled in around our table a conversation about God started. I told them that I had been learning from the Hebrew Psalms that God is so great that the best joy in life is to know him. They both indicated that what is expressed in the Psalms is not their experience. So, I asked them how relevant was God to their lives.

Martin: From one to ten?  About .5.

Daniel: I believe in him, but, it’s not like I think about him that much?

Me: How relevant is your dad in your life?

Daniel: Not so much on a daily basis.

Martin: I call him twice a day. He lives in New York. “Sammy, baby. How ya doing?” That's what I call him. Sammy, baby.

Me: Do you think that if God exists he would like to enjoy a relationship with us?

Daniel: If God is omnipotent, he shouldn’t have time for me. I don’t expect him to be micromanaging my life. And how vain and egocentric would he have to be to want me to be thinking about him all the time, praying to him

Me: How relevant are you to your own kids? Do they think that you are vain and egocentric because you want to be involved in their lives.? (It’s hard in print to express the tone of our conversation. There Is always a lot of laughter and good humor as we talk. I mean, they’re Jewish – honest, direct, and funny.)

Before Daniel could answer, someone else joined us, someone we did not know that well, so the conversation stopped, or rather changed. Daniel told the newcomer that we were talking about God. So, the newcomer began to ask me questions about what I do, where’s my church, how did I become a pastor. Then about eight other guys dribbled in and the Yankees fell behind to the Phillies.

Lessons?

1. Experiencing and expressing the greatness of God. I’ve been camping out in Psalm 145, which celebrates the greatness of God. I want to experience God’s greatness more, myself, so that I can express it to others. I want others to know that there is nothing better than knowing this great God. I want to plant a seed that says that something is terribly wrong if we are not experiencing the greatness of God, that we are missing out on life itself.

2. Getting relational with God. Most people are functionally agnostics or deists. Agnostics function like they can’t really know anything about God, except that in some form there may be a higher power. Deists believe that they can know that there is a God, but functionally, God is removed and irrelevant to life, which is impossible if God loves us. (Many Christians live like deists. I know it’s too easy for me to live like one.)

My father died nineteen years ago. Whenever I’m channel flipping and come across the movie, Field of Dreams, I will almost always watch the last scene, where Ray comes face to face with his father, with whom he had been estranged. And, I always have the same thought, “I’d give almost anything to be face to face with my dad, enjoying him in this life again.” The whole thing about God, is that we can have that kind of relationship with him, not face to face, but heart to heart. May our lives demonstrate the awesomeness and closeness of God, so that others may know “the glorious splendor of his kingdom.” Psalm 145:12.

What other lessons could I have learned?