Never Pull a Lion Out of Your Pants at Bible Study
Week 19 of 52 Churches in 52 Weeks:
This Means War at Immanuel Baptist Church in Wausau, Wisconsin
Word to the wise. It’s never a good idea to pull a stuffed lion out of your pants while shouting Spanish at ultra-conservative Christians during Bible study.
I would know.
I still have the lion.
It all started with a girl. I was a young 21, and when it came to dating, I was greener than Oscar the Grouch learning to recycle on Earth Day. One night, I mustered up the courage to ask her out for coffee after she finished second shift at work. She took me up on the offer and I brought her to a restaurant.
Rattled with no alternative in mind for an open restaurant at 11 pm, I instead wished her a good night, giving her the impression that she was far, far away from the Rico Suave gene pool. Eventually, I got a redeem date! Things started off well, so well that she invited me to her young adult Bible study. Well, the date quickly fell apart when a number of drunk and drunker buddies I knew from high school decided to crash our bowling date. With some of the comments they were making, her beet red face resembled Elmo after partcipating in a Blazin’ Wing Challenge.
Still thinking I had a chance, I took her up on the Bible study group as a fresh new entry point to befriend fellow Christians. The group was officially unaffiliated which I thought was cool, and on the night of the first Bible study I can remember three things that stood out:
- I made a poor fashion statement by wearing a blue turtleneck made of the same material as Cookie Monster.
- The group leader mentioned how an “eye for an eye will leave the world blind” as he looked at my turtleneck, pondering where the googly eyes were located.
- Someone brought cookies and I ate more than one. Nom nom nom.
My emotional maturity to woo her for a third date got worse. I didn’t know what I was doing and my sure-fire pick-up lines morphed into comments like “Hi, those are nice white socks you’re wearing, what type of laundry detergent do you use to make them so white?” One night during one of my advances to ask what type of Palmolive she prefers for dish soap, she made a daring Alcatraz-like escape by weaving through living room furniture as I followed in hot pursuit. Eventually, she safely reached the door and politely slammed it in my face as she fled to her getaway car. The door was made of high-quality alder wood for anyone wondering.
While I had no clue how to attract a girl, I had found a niche in the group by using improv comedy to add a dimension to the Bible studies. I would find nearby props in the room to dramatize the sins of others, for instance the Fall of Man by comparing it to a pen (don’t ask), then combined a Tonka truck with a fog light to illustrate how David’s adultery with Bathsheba drove him further from “the light”. Everyone loved it, even my crush when she wasn’t praying for a restraining order. It was a neat little twist to the literalist Bible studies and the group leader asked what I could do with the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den the next week. He would later regret it.
That night, the turn-out had doubled since the study was a few blocks nearby Immanuel Baptist Church. Those who had seen my previous improvs couldn’t wait for what I had prepared. When it was my turn to talk, I rebelled against my introversion and pulled out a stuffed lion from my khakis, then declared that I had voices in my head, all whom spoke to me in Spanish. I maniacally shouted my favorite Martin Lawrence one-liner from Blue Streak:
“¡Tengo el gato los pantelones!”
I shouted this Spanish phrase over and over and over. I don’t even know if I translated it to those in the room, “I have a cat in my pants.” Well, no one found it funny. Sensing this was a really bad idea in mid-act, I decided to make things worse by grabbing a nearby potted plant, then pranced around while I pointed out the sins of those who do pot (since I was holding a pot, get it?). It looked as stupid as it sounds. Several started to tsk at my erratic behavior and I saved myself from further embarrassment by planting myself instead.
I screwed up.
I felt like Mr. Snuffleupagus subbing for Daniel in the lion’s den. Frankly, I don’t recall how I compared my rant to Daniel in my lunacy, but I do remember that mortifying feeling of condemning stares, their eyes turning to muzzles pointed at me for my mistake. I looked back, an eye for an eye. Then I hung my head.
I never got that third date.
Between picking a new weekly church and ordering from the Applebee’s menu, my decision-making resembles that of a squirrel crossing the street. This was the case for Week 19 of 52 Churches in 52 Weeks when I changed my mind on four different churches before finally choosing The Shepherd’s House for a Seventh Day Adventist service. When I looked at their website, their choice of Bible passage on its mission statement caught my eye:
“We believe that God has given The Shepherd’s House congregation a ministry of hope, of grace, of salvation — not a message of condemnation. John 3:17 states: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Everyone knows John 3:16 by heart, yet no one knows the passage right after. Why use John 3:17?
When I drove to The Shepherd’s House on Sunday morning, I was quick to discover that no one was there. As I later found out, Seventh Day Adventist churches hold services on Saturday. Who knew? To avoid being late to any church, I knew the nearby Immanuel Baptist Church would be starting. Walking in felt like crossing into enemy lines. My idiotic stunt happened blocks from Immanuel, where several young adult members had witnessed.
This time, I made sure no stuffed animals were in my pants.
February 15, 2015–10:15 am Sunday Worship Service: Immanuel Baptist Church in Wausau, Wisconsin
After a few minutes of waiting in the front row, two children wearing matching neon yellow t-shirts started playing patty cake in front of me. Eventually, the participation multiplied to four, then eight, and pretty soon I was surrounded by 20 children wearing the same highlighted shirts, all joining in on the patty party. The teacher eventually came over and instructed them to climb up their chairs for the service, their little chicken legs dangling from their seats. For those behind me, I was sticking out like Big Bird in an Easter basket of Peeps.
After being implicated as a Stranger Danger a few weeks earlier at church in Dallas, I was well aware not to take a picture. Figuring this could only happen to me, when the kids went onstage to recite memorized Bible passages, I clicked my voice recorder app for the last two passages. One was a softball with John 3:16, and the final passage was coincidentally the same verse that had me come out.
“John 3:17…” she started.
Stage fright. The little girl was frozen, forgetting her passage as her blue eyes gave a deer-in-the — headlights look. Despite all the eyes on her, the little girl remained calm while the teacher quickly went into action, reading the words so that the girl could repeat.
“For God… for God did not send His son into der world to condemn da world, but in order that da world might be saved for Him.”
I found this ironic, especially considering how condemned I felt after my stunt. While every Christian can rattle off John 3:16 with no problem, why don’t we remember the Bible passage right next door?
The ongoing sermon theme was entitled:
This Means War
The 30-minute sermon was based on five words from Ephesians 6:17, “Take the helmet of salvation”. The series was very militant, taking one piece of armor each week and weaponizing the Bible with allegories to battle the evil in the war of our souls.
The pastor disaggregated the helmet of salvation by breaking down a 1st Century battle helmet by how it was designed. He pointed out that the helmet surrounds the head to protect the mind from the enemy.
“Stand. Take the Helmet of Salvation… It is a head game. The battle is won or lost in the mind (against the enemy).”
He explained how several Biblical characters lost ground in the battle of their minds, pointing out the sins of Adam and Eve, then also to David’s lust to keep looking at Bathsheba (if he needed props for those examples, I was all over it). The pastor finished by stating the Gospel Good News has saved us. “Deliver us from… some translations have it wrong, some say just evil. Deliver us from the one we are battling against:
“Deliver us from the evil one.”
When the service finished, I turned around to see if I’d be looking down a barrel with shotgun stares. To my surpirse, not a single person from that Bible study was in attendance.
At first, the sermon was rather uncomfortable for me. Given how militarized the Bible was portrayed, I’ve been on the receiving end of Christians who will judge fellow Christians who don’t measure up to Holier Than Thou self-standards. I was thankful that the pastor pointed out that we have been delivered from ourselves, as sin is bunkered within all of us. Unfortunately, how often do Christians take the steeple above their churches and equip them as spears?
The John 3:17 recital from the little girl made an imprint as I try my best to exemplify Christ. Instead of “an eye for an eye leaves the world blind”, John 3:17 reminded me the conceptualization of Christ’s purpose to not condemn, even for those who make fools of themselves at trying to be funny. Will I be able to do it myself?
No. I’ll harm others when I don’t mean to. But at the very least:
No stuffed animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.
Dave Boice hasn’t pulled a stuffed animal from his trousers in the past 10 years. Today, he is currently visiting 52 Churches in 52 Weeks and you’re invited to ‘follow’.
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