May 25, 2011

The Experience

As I have shared before, I find Starbucks and their concept of doing business interesting. I guess they captured my attention first because they had the ability to sell a $5 cup of coffee. I mean really, its just bean-juice, right?

Now it hasn't escaped me that there are some coffee beans that are of a higher quality than others. But you can still get a reasonably good cup of coffee at a third of the price. And when Average Joe wants a cup of joe, price matters.

But after going to Starbucks a few times to see my daughter, who is a "partner," (meaning they pay her to work there) I realized that Starbucks wasn't actually selling coffee. They were selling an experience.

In his book, Onward, Howard Schultz, the ceo and founder of Starbucks, writes about his vision for his coffee company. He states that the concept for the stores are not his own, but are borrowed from a small espresso bar in Italy.

When he was traveling Europe, he visited this coffee bar and the experience overwhelmed him. The first thing he noticed was that everyone in the place seemed to "belong" there. Yet, even during his first visit, he was made to feel like an insider.

This feeling of being an "insider" motivated him to create a uniquely American place to accomplish the same thing. He calls this our "third place." He explained the term this way...everyone craves connection. The first place one should connect with others is in their home. Usually, the second place people find connection is at work. But most people need another place to connect in order to be emotionally healthy. For Schultz, Starbucks is intended to be that place. Every aspect of the place, from free wi-fi to the aroma that hits you at the door, are premeditated. They are intended to allow each customer the opportunity to have an "experience."

(One thing I found incredibly interesting is his aversion to selling breakfast sandwiches in the stores. Why no sandwiches? Because the cheese eventually drips onto the burners, creating an odor that masks the intended "Starbucks smell"!)

I guess I'm writing this because I totally agree with his "connection concept." If I didn't, I wouldn't do what I do for a living. But I believe the place for people to connect, other than home and work, should be in God's family.

And I've always wondered why this connection rarely occurred, but after reading Schultz's book, I am beginning to understand.

If we all need connection, and God intends for us to be connected in His family, then what kind of "experience" will allow us the optimum opportunity to do so? What should God's church "look" like in order to maximize our opportunity to connect? Scripture states that our worship is a "fragrant aroma" before God, so what should worship "smell" like in order to create an opportunity to "experience" God? What is the "burnt cheese" in your life (or church) that masks the aroma of God, even though, like the coffee, He is still present and excellent?

Just a little coffee talk to get us thinking about how important the little things are when we are trying to connect to God and each other. After all, its pretty important to me to be able to continually "experience" God's presence anew.

May 16, 2011

Grassroots Ministry

In the wake of the devastating storms that ripped through our area a couple of weeks ago, I continue to hear stories of how the small groups at our church quietly helped so many.

One person told me that after the storms, there were several churches that were in their neighborhood helping cut trees, pull brush, and checking for people. Their neighbors knew that this person was a church-goer and asked, "when is your church going to get here." At that time, one of our small groups arrived to help. This person turned to their friend and said, "they just did." (By the way, this person has never been to our church.)

Last week, I went in for a doctor's visit. Just routine stuff. I actually had an appointment with a nurse practitioner. When she walked in the room, the first thing she said to me was, "your church was at our house this week." She went on to say that a small group from our church had knocked on her door and offered to help with clean up..."at no charge." (she sounded shocked that anyone would help out without asking for something in return)

Story after story, the word continues to get out that our church family helped in so many tangible ways. Whether it was offering money to help storm victims, carrying a chainsaw into a neighborhood where they didn't know a soul, sorting cans at a food bank, taking food to a homeless shelter, carrying ice and water to first responders, or praying with victims, grassroots ministry truly affected a great many lives in incredibly positive ways.

Since grassroots ministry is one how our church family has chosen to do ministry, I thought I'd share a poem that I read a few years back to encourage you that you are doing the right thing . . .

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. . . Thank you.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. . . Nice.

I was naked and you debated the morality Of my appearance. . . What good did that do?

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. . . But I needed you.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the shelter of the love of God . . .I wish you'd taken me home.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me . . . Why didn't you stay?

You seem so holy, so close to God; but I'm still very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain. . . Does it matter?


. . . I hope I can always be part of a church that will help people. We will never be able to meet everyone's needs all the time. But I think God is truly honored by those who will share a cup of cold water with one thirsty soul at a time, and do it all in His name.

To all who helped in so many ways, thank you for letting God work through you in this time of need.

May 4, 2011


Okay, let me start this post by restating that I rarely (almost never) write about political issues. This doesn't mean that I'm ignorant of them or that they are disinteresting to me. I just realize that some of my opinions are probably unpopular, and I have a strict policy of only fighting over hills I'm willing to die for...

...Now that my disclaimer is out of the way, my issue is disappointment over the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death. One television commentator suggested that instead of burying him at sea we should have "put this guy in a meat grinder with a pig." Another stated that "hell is certainly much hotter tonight." I saw televised celebrations in the streets that looked eerily similar to the ones in the Middle East when the twin towers fell.

Let me unpack my opinions. Osama bin Laden was a murderer and a terrorist who should have been brought to justice. His demise will cost lives in retaliation, but will save exponentially more. Was this event a political ploy by the President? Probably so. But before we take shots at the President, do you know any other politicians who would not have made the same call if given the same opportunity?

What I find discouraging is the reactions I have seen from some Christians.

Paul Brandeis Raushernbush with the Huffington Post wrote, "Osama bin Laden has exemplified the absolute worst of religion. He was a zealot in his own belief and willing to kill those who believed differently; he recruited young people into his ranks by preying on their despair; and he carried out violence in the name of God. Osama bin Laden profaned the name of God and denigrated all people of faith."

I definitely believe bin Laden was evil. But I fear some Christians have forgotten that evil doesn't have a face. And I fear that in our joy at justice being done, some have become what we despise...angry zealots who preach a love for God and practice hate toward the ones he created in His image.

Please remember that the cornerstone of the Christian faith is mercy. And remember that although hell is a real place, if we proclaim to be a people who are dedicated to rescuing souls from hell, we should never take joy in the idea that someone might be destined for it.

What happened this past weekend was earthly justice being served. However, eternal justice is far over our pay grade. As Christians, we should be happy to allow God to be "God," and even happier that we are not gods.

I hope we will always remember that we are sinners saved by a merciful God, that love never rejoices in unrighteousness but rejoices in truth, that life is precious to God and His Son died for everyone (even bin Laden), and that hell is the ultimate in maximum torture and despair...therefore it's the same temperature this week as it was the last.

You have heard that it was said, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)