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DEVOTIONS AT DENNY'S

By: David Fournier

They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. I find that the followers of the Lord are even
more mysterious. How they are trained, how they grow in their knowledge and how they
learn to interact with each other must be very mysterious as well. I get that idea from the
mysterious results we seem to be getting.

It is very hard to understand where a person is with their faith. Recent developments in
the practice of the Christian faith do not allow for much openness or honesty. Actually, it
appears that the least information they know about you, the better. Because if they knew
what a dirtbag you were, you are sure to be voted off the island.

However, every occasionally, a situation will arise, and we can see the Christian in his/her
natural habitat, uncensored and unabashed. Such was my experience at the hands of a
local Denny’s diner. For just over a year, while working on my Masters program, I ate and
studied at the same Denny’s around three times a week. I must confess I have a weakness
for Denny’s. My family is not as much a fan as I am so when I took a job that required
being away from home; Denny’s became my best friend (food-wise).

During this period, I was blessed to get to meet many of the staff members on a very
personal level. They shared their frustrations with life, the economy and with Christians.
It is to their love and willingness to share I dedicate this writing. I hope I can summarize
their thoughts in an impacting way equal to how they impacted me.

Even though I went to Denny’s on different nights, it seemed very consistent that I would
be found there on a Wednesday evening. The typical routine was to finish work at 6pm, go
to the hotel, clean up and head out to dinner/studying around 7pm. I would finish around
10pm. Wednesday evening around 9pm would bring out the local churchgoers fresh off
their evenings of inspirational instruction, worship and fellowship.

I feel odd admitting it, but I began to eavesdrop on their conversations. Maybe I was lonely
for some Christian companionship or I just could have been nosey. Either way, I started
looking forward to dropping in on their conversations and picturing myself as part of their
group.

As time went on, I was able to position myself at the proper table location to maximize my
ability to hear. That is right; I purposely found the best possible position. Often I could see
no fewer than 20 people chatting up their faith. Their demographics were widely spread
and just about all-denominational backgrounds were represented. These are families, so a
wide range of ages was also observed.

Coming from a sociologist background, this was an ideal study template. The problem that
I quickly observed was the transient nature of the conversations. Each church group was
engaged in different topics and areas of the Bible. Each group had their denominations
worldview entrenched into their thinking so deeply; finding an original thought was an
effort.

A few similarities are worth noting. Almost all of these believers expressed a deep
conviction about being right. There was very little “wiggle” room. To disagree means to be
disenfranchised. The statement of faith seemed less designed to explain what a group stood
for as much as it expressed what it took to be part of the group.

I also noticed that in order to establish “corrected-ness”, comparisons were often offered.
It seemed that in order to strengthen their positions was to reduce their opponents. The
“us and them” mentality was obvious in most of their beliefs. The idea of tolerance and
understanding were distant lights burning on the island of “we don’t see the need.”

On a strange note, these champions of the love of Jesus really enjoyed the stories about
other people’s failures and struggles. I do not just mean re- telling the stories. I mean they
enjoyed the suffering that others were enduring for no other reason then their differences
of belief. Statements like, “Well, what can you expect from a Methodist”, or, “We warned
you, if you play with fire you will get burned.”

This may sound odd, but I know if I see someone burning, they probably are already aware
of their situation and might need some help. I guess pointing out the obvious is a very
important ministry skill.

There are three observations I would like to make from my nights at Denny’s. I would ask
in advance that you look at these not as a master list, but an honest evaluation of the data I
collected. This is the world I was presented and I hope to make some sense of it. More
importantly, I hope we can all realize that the people around us are listening, even if we are
boring and self-centered. Our words to them represent the words of Jesus and all His
followers.

1) I was unaware that “pastor bashing” was a Wednesday Night activity, like Monday
NightFootball. The disagreements appeared to surround the way a pastor would describe
or evaluate a portion of scripture. I cannot say from what I was hearing that the pastor
was in the right or not. Nevertheless, I can say that it was obvious that these different
spiritual giants felt quite at home announcing their issues with the teaching of their pastor.
No matter had much you disagree with your Pastor, discussing it publically is of no benefit.
I think we should encourage dialogue and I have been a firm believer in all of us finding the
truth of God for ourselves. However, expressing your sense of disagreement with your
pastor’s teaching is not about open dialogue. It lends itself to disharmony, despair and
discouragement. Let me explain more fully.

We are the Body of Christ, working and serving together to bring glory to God and allow
an opportunity for people to learn about Jesus. There is only one Head on this body and
this Head bows to no one and takes orders from no one. We are to serve Him.

Part of the New Testament understanding of this submission to Jesus is also seen as how we
submit to our spiritual leaders here on earth. When people have issues and troubles
submitting to earthly leaders, how much more difficult is it to submit to our Heavenly
Leader, Jesus?

For years, the Rabbis have taught that words are like seeds. They go into the ears of the
hearers and grow based on the watering and nurturing they receive. Planting seeds of
doubt as to the ability of your pastor and the way they bring the Word of God can never
serve a godly purpose or bring a godly outcome.

Discussions on scripture should be encouraged and welcomed. It is each of our


responsibility to own our thoughts and ideas and to be creative enough to present them
without having to decry the teaching of others. Especially, the gifted leaders God has
brought us.

2) With all the experts we have in the Christian faith, how come we have so many
problems? Listening to these people assured me of one thing; after about a year in the
faith, you can know everything you need to know about God. I was amazed at how many
people never said things like, “good question, I’ll have to look into it” or “I don’t know the
answer to that one”. Everyone had an answer to everything that was discussed.

To make matters worse, the subjects they discussed had very little to do with anything
about the Kingdom that you could use or apply to your life. It was like being at a 13-month
long Biblical Trivia contest. Please allow me illustrate.

I just recently learned (after a boring night of research online) that you can lead a cow
upstairs but you cannot lead them downstairs. The reason has something to do with the
way their legs bend and their inability to negotiate the steps.

Even though I cannot think of one good reason why you would need to take a cow upstairs,
what possible explanation you would offer as to why you took the cow upstairs, or more
importantly, how you plan to get this future Big Mac down the stairs (hopefully before
anyone finds out you have a cow in the house), why anyone thought this piece of
information had any value in the first place.

Was there a run of cow injuries from stair accidents? Is there an American Disabled Cow
Act that only allows cows to live in one-story homes unless proper accommodations are
developed? Did people tire from explaining why they had a cow upstairs? I do not know.

I hope you got a chuckle out of the last three paragraphs. Reason being is all you are going
to get out of it is a laugh. It was a bunch of stupid and wasteful information that is also,
strange as it may seems, somehow true.
Make no mistake about it none of us know all there is to know about the mysteries of God.
That might be the reason they are called mysteries. The problem is, when you have a
roomful of experts, you can bet anyone who does not know the answer is not going to ask.

So, we get a bunch of self-appointed and self-anointed experts (definition of an expert: a


person between jobs) filling the room with words of knowledge, meanwhile the people who
could be genuinely seeking answers sit in silent amazement as more people learn the
importance of not taking the cow up the stairs.

More than pat answers and historical trivia, people need to hear about hope. If the
message of God’s Word is about anything, it is about hope. We can all learn a thing or two
and no one thinks we must have all the answers to be spiritual. We need a heart for God,
not just a head-full about Him. Remember, believing all the right things about God is
different than believing in God.

3) Believe it or not, people are listening. The Bible indicates that witnesses surround us all
the time. We do not get to eat out and figure that our accountability for responsible
Christian behavior ends because we are eating. It never ends and it never should. Every
place, everywhere, at all times and in all ways, we are a testimony to the marketplace for
the cause of Christ.

Just because you stopped listening does not mean others have as well. You have your Bible
on the table, your order of services and announcements right beside it; people see you are
from church. As they nestle up to listen in (as I did) they hear how the leadership cannot
lead, the teachers cannot teach, the singers cannot sing and you could straighten it all out if
provided the opportunity. What a wonderful offering of the unity in the faith. What a
great picture of Jesus: the King with no control.

I learned a lot more than I am letting on (see, secret knowledge, but you knew that about
me already) but time and space limit my ranting here. But let me close you with this cheery
thought.

I asked my usual waiter, who was the same person for the whole 13 months, what was the
hardest group to work with. I was kind of going for more of an ethnic vibe, or a tourist
versus residents, or large groups versus small groups and families. He answered quickly
and decidedly.

“Christians, by far. Especially the born-again ones”

I did not know there were non-born again ones, but that was for a later time. He went on
to tell me that “Christians” come on their church nights, sit for an hour or two, demand
constant attention, go on and on about their depth of spiritual commitment to mankind,
then leave a mess and tip less than 3%.

“Who tips the best”? I quipped, hoping to change the subject.

“Regulars, like you. But not the Christians”, he replied. Then, after a thoughtful moment
he asked the question.

“Hey, you're not a Christian are you? What I mean is a Christian like them? I just thought
about the books you read and some of the conversations we have had. Did I just insult
you?”

Wow. There was not enough food to shove into my mouth to give me the time to create a
valid response. So, in typical David fashion, I launched my best shoot from the hip.

“Yes. I am a Christian. Those people you are talking about are my brothers and sisters in
the faith. We do not see eye to eye on many things, but they are still family. I am sorry
where they have shortchanged you or spoke in ways that seem ungodly or mean-spirited.
We are just a reflection of Jesus, my friend, but you can see the real picture for yourself if
you should desire.”

He seemed pleased with my answer and we moved on. But I felt that overwhelming
sickness in my soul. The one that tells you that for no reason at all, we have forgotten the
importance of being a light and witness for Jesus in all ways and all places.

And, sometimes being a Christian, sharing our faith, is not so much about 10% in a plate
but 15% at Denny’s.

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