Is This Seat Taken?

“He couldn’t have been more surprised if the Little Lord Baby Jesus had walked through the door in his swaddling clothes. And lucky me, the only empty folding chair in the circle of fifth graders sat right next to him. He tried to put his Bible there, but the Sunday School teacher pried it from his hands…” — Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen

How often does the church use the Bible to keep people from sitting at the table? 

Niki Lenz’s book reads like the Best Christmas Pagent Ever. Silly – filled with literal and figurative cheeseballs – but it becomes a heartfelt journey to redemption. And in an opening chapter, when Bernice makes her way into the First Baptist Church, I knew I wanted Chandler to read the book.

So last night at our Volunteer Appreciation Night, following a gaggle of awards (like the “Oh Bollocks” award), we gave everyone a copy. As the books were being handed out I recalled a few recent meetings when Disney Cruises came up. Disney could not create better promotions – they left me convicted by my rudderless parenting. Then I asked a pastor friend, “How much does it cost?”… and I realized I was never going to be a good-Disney-Cruise-parent. Maybe, if we start now, we will be grand-Disney-Cruise-parents…

As I lamented my poor children, I have been volunteering at their elementary school – connecting with kids who need a little extra help. While there, the teacher mentioned a child who had never been to the zoo. In an instant, I realized the absurdity of a Disney Cruise. Even with the free tax zone passes, their parents never took them to the zoo.

I get so wrapped up in myself. Concerned with what I don’t have or haven’t become. Self-focused, I am more worried that my kids have luxuries – that they can cruise through life — than I am about other kids having the bare necessities.

When the church turns inward we stop setting out chairs. The Bible becomes a guide to fitting in, taking up seats, rather than the good news opening salvation to the world.

Before Bernice heads to church she wonders about a whole series of ideas: does Sunday School have snacks, would God let her through the front door, “I wonder if my momma would even notice I’d left.”

This book – from trailer park trampolines to a nun who only speaks in literature quotes – will bring our church a lot of laughter. But I hope at the end we will turn our eyes from ourselves and notice the community all around us. There we will find Bernice and a million others hoping to be loved. Let’s be a church opening another folding chair for them. That God’s Good story will become reality!


The Author is Coming — Niki Lenz is coming to Chandler August 21st to meet with our volunteers as a Fall Events kick off! If you missed last night and would like a copy of the book, please let me know.

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