THE BAR EXPEDITION
It was too late now. I was on the way. No matter that this was Pastor Skunkhollow’s idea, I was guilty of complicity in the endeavor. That means I was an accomplice, and the only way to get that off my ecclesiastical rap sheet was for him to stop the car and let me walk home. For you see we were now on the way to bar land, and I could already hear the words in the next church board meeting, “Bang, you’re dead!”
A couple of the board members were the types that were always nit-picking me for something. The church board always has one or two of those who are like cops, who though they can’t get you for speeding or driving drunk, they will cite you for broken taillights or bald tires. They were the ones who concerned me the most once this thing hit the grapevine. I already had the feeling of a soldier in a trench waiting for a mortar round to hit.
On the way to the tavern, Pastor Skunkhollow said to me that we were intentionally arriving early to beat the crowd to be able to spend some time in prayer in the car. I was all for that, and as far as I was concerned we could just as well hold an all-night-prayer meeting for the heathen inside and then return home unscathed.
So we arrived, and in our parking-lot prayer outside of the no-no place, we prayed for the Lord to help us witness for Jesus to the customers. In his prayer, he prayed the Word of God back to the Lord again and again. I had never heard anything quite like that before either. His whole pray was like a Biblical echo. I will never forget one particular thing that my bold and fearless partner prayed, and it was taken from Psalm 2:8,
“Ask of me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance,
and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.”
That is a Messianic passage where God the Father is talking to God the Son and promising to Him, as the KJV states, that if the Son of God asks the Father, the father will give Him the heathen for His inheritance. I could tell that Pastor Skunkhollow was hot after his inheritance, and I can still hear him cry out in that car,
“FATHER, GIVE US THE HEATHEN FOR OUR INHERITANCE TONIGHT
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.”
I remember clearly how I thought, when he repeated that prayer a few times, that I really didn’t want the heathen for my inheritance, especially the bar heathen. Not anymore than Jonah wanted the Ninevites in the family of God. I wanted my wife to hold me and she seemed so far away.
However, I was about to experience first hand this truth:
“GOD’S POWER NEVER CREATES WHAT HIS LOVE
STEAKS, BEER AND BLUNT
Said Pastor Skunkhollow after 15 minutes or so, which seemed like 5 minutes, “Okay Bob, we’ve done enough praying now, let’s go.” We approached the door and my young mentor pushed me in front of him to go first and said, “Age before beauty.” He got me in that position because I think he was sensing that I might make a break for it.
The entire scene reminded me on the other hand of a large, strong dog on a leash pulling its owner in every unwanted direction. Pastor Skunkhollow in this case was the large dog who was walking and yanking me around.
On my first day in kindergarten as a 4 year old, I wet my pants. I felt like I was about to do the same my first day in the bar-mission field. I felt like I had just been pushed through the gates of Hell. We sat down at a corner table next to the dance floor and band instruments, and the barmaid came to take our order. She addressed us as “Fathers” and I thought we would surely be arrested for impersonating Catholic Priests. We maintained our cover, ordered two 7Ups, and tried to look relaxed.
Across the barroom was another table at which several men were seated, and we could see that they were eating steaks and drinking beer. Suddenly one of them began to motion to us and shouted, “Hey Fathers, come over here and join us.” So we took our soft drinks and walked slowly over to them. The same spokesman, whom we soon learned was the owner, said to us, “Come and have a seat, would you like some steaks and beer, it’s on the house?” We said that we would pass on the beer, but steaks did sound really good.
Friendly small-talk was exchanged, and after awhile, the proprietor looked at us and asked directly, “Well Fathers, may I ask what are you doing here?” The Skunkhollow Phenom quickly responded and said, “We are not Fathers, we are Protestant pastors and we are here to witness to your customers about Jesus and save them from Hell, if that’s okay with you.” I about choked on my steak and took a large swig of my 7Up. I thought to myself, “Jay, must you be so blunt about it? Man, can’t you have a little more tact?”
Fast forwarding, this Pastor Skunkhollow was the same fella who later conned me into joining him in beach ministry in Grand Haven, Michigan. I should have known that every time he brainstormed with me about evangelism and witnessing, we always ended up in the eye of the storm.
As when a chapter of Hell’s Angels came rumbling onto the beach scene one evening, and when they obviously saw us in our infamous black shirts and white collars, one of them above the grumbling idling of their cycles shouted to us, “God is dead!” At which point my buddy walked over to them with me in tow, and said to them, “Sorry to hear that about your God, but ours is alive and well, His name is Jesus, and we would like you to meet Him.” And he went on to introduce them to Jesus Christ and why they needed to accept Him as their Savior from sin and the Lord of their lives. What was even more astounding was that the long haired, bearded, tattooed fallen angels listened to him. Hell’s Angel #1 said they would think about it, and I was just thankful to escape with my life.
So it was that Pastor Blunt Mouth informed the bar owner and his steak-eating, beer-drinking buddies that we were there to save His customers from Hell through Jesus Christ. This of course included them because they were, except for the owner, customers! This fearless phenom stood before them with bluntness on his tongue, with utter fearlessness in his heart, and yet with a warming smile on his face. He was as mesmerizing as he was commanding to see and hear.
This man who became my dear friend and inspiration, though I haven’t seen him now for many years, reminds me of the words of Proverbs 28:1,
“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous
man is as bold as a lion.”
The wicked are always looking over their shoulder running from what they really don’t know. In short, they live in guilt and fear and are always trying to escape impending danger which ever haunts them. We can and must use that in our favor when witnessing. Why? Because:
“A MAN’S FEAR WILL MAKE HIM SAY AND DO ANYTHING TO
RESCUE HIMSELF FROM AN IMPENDING PUNISHMENT.”
But the righteous man is as bold as a lion, and that surely was my witnessing team partner! Hear him roar! There was no sneaky look or wimpy voice in this lion. Even as “ham an’ eggs,” “rock an’ roll” go together, so do “lion an’ roar.” Why so bold and so amazingly fearless like a lion or lioness? Simply put:
“BECAUSE THE RIGHTEOUS ARE RIGHT WITH GOD, THEY FEAR NOT
THOSE WHO CAN ONLY KILL THE BODY.”
So it is with the righteous-lionhearted witness:
“HE CAN AND WILL CHOOSE DUTY EVEN WHEN HE IS FACED
WITH THE GREATEST DANGER.”
“WE CANNOT HAVE A BAD CONSCIENCE AND BE BOLD FOR JESUS
AT THE SAME TIME.”
Pastor Skunkhollow’s Christianity was not the traditional, conservative and understated kind that has always plagued the Christian Church. Standing before me was a new and vastly improved model of Christianity in which most if not all of the bugs of fear and cowardice has been worked out. Pastor Jay did not hesitatingly clear his throat when he talked, not did he scuff his Gospel shoes when he walked. No, not with Pastor Skunkhollow! With him it was command and march!
THE BAR-MISSION DOOR MIRACULOUSLY OPENS
As a child and even a young pastor, I had the erroneous idea that Christians were mostly on the defense against a world that hated them and was out to kill them. I got that idea from a complete misinterpretation of the words of Jesus to Peter in Matthew 16:18,
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will
build my church; and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
From those words I had drawn a picture in my mind of the gates of Hell chasing the church, wanting to catch her and do her in. Some childhood preachers had been entrenching me in that horribly destructive concept of a retreating church from a total misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18. As a matter of fact, carried to its ultimate position of cowardice:
“I THOUGHT THAT IT WOULD ALWAYS BE MUCH SAFER TO BE AT
THE REAR OF CHRISTIAN ARMY, FOR THEN YOU COULD
ALWAYS BE AT THE HEAD OF THE RETREAT.”
Suddenly, and to me unbelievably, the bar owner said to us, “I welcome you and you can have my bar as your mission field any night of the week. I want you to save all of my customers, and especially those religious hypocrites who come into my bar from the local churches and drink themselves under the table, and then go to church on Sunday morning. Have at ‘em.”
It wasn’t the black shirts with the snappy white collars. It was an astonishing miracle before my very eyes. A saloon keeper telling us to evangelize his bar for Jesus!
This is exactly what Jesus had promised Peter, namely, that the Church of Christ would knock down the gates of Hell, then go in and set those bound in sin free by the blood of Jesus. The army of God would neutralize Satan’s power and turn him into a snake without fangs.
God, through two simple preachers, knocked down the doors of the tavern as the gates of Hell bowed before the name of Jesus. The words of Revelation 3:7-8,
“…He Who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens
and no one can shut, and who shuts and no
one opens, says this:”
“I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door that no
one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My
Word, and have not denied My name.”
This was not a fairy tale to be shared with your children before bedtime. This was Heaven’s raid on Hell, and the permit for search and rescue had been issued by the King of kings and the Lord of lords Himself. The tavern owner had no choice but to obey.
It was God’s opened door that no one could shut against us, because while the owner had the bar key, Jesus Christ had the key of David which was the symbol for the greatest authority and power on earth. We were only two tiny servants of God, and the church at Philadelphia, to which Revelation 3:7-8 was written, was little too. But listen, it is never us, but Christ in us. As the Apostle John says in I John 4:4,
“You are from God little children, and have overcome them; because
greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world.”
These three Biblical principles over time began to become very clear to me:
“THE REASON THE CHURCH DOES NOT SEE MORE MIRACLES OF
SUPERNATURALLY OPENED DOORS, IS THAT SHE DOES NOT
PUT HERSELF IN THE PLACE WHERE SHE NEEDS THEM.”
“OUT ON A LIMB WITH JESUS IS THE BEST AND THE MOST
EFFECTIVE PLACE TO BE, BECAUSE THAT IS
WHERE THE FRUIT IT.”
“FEW CHURCH PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO PUT THEMSELVES AT
RISK FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S ETERNAL SAFETY, AND TO
BRAVE THE STORM TO BRING THE PERISHING
INTO THE HARBOR OF SALVATION.”
PLAYING POOL FOR SOULS
I can still hear the voice of the Skunkhollow street fighter, and a street fighter he surely was. He fought for souls like no other fighter I had met before. No holds barred! He would often quote to me the well known words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:12 (KJV),
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world,
against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
When he talked about fighting the devil, he would always illustrate it with arms and fists flying. Can’t you just see it? I can – a strong left to Satan’s midsection followed by a powerful roundhouse right to Satan’s head which just had to end the fight before it was even started. I could see the ole devil running like crazy and hot footing it for Hell.
Then he would say about our wrestling souls from the enemy’s grip, “Use every tactic against Satan that you can! Trip him, gouge him, kick him, use your knee to his groin, get him in a headlock and squeeze him, slam him, and trick him every chance you get, for he will use every trick in the book.” I didn’t know what all of that meant, especially the “trick him” part. But whatever it was, by the time he got done with me, man, I was as ready to fight as I would ever be.
The customers were starting to come into the bar now, and Pastor Phenom spotted a pool table section off to the side, which discovery lit up his eyes. He told the owner that we would be in the pool area playing folks in pool when they would come in. And sure enough they did, only to find two black-shirted, white-collared priests (for all they knew) waiting for them with pool sticks in their hands.
At first, even though I didn’t really have much pool skill at all, I was glad that we could do something as non-threatening as a friendly game of pool with strangers. Each game cost 50 cents, and my pool partner would immediately say to the usually two guys or guy and gal that came in, “Want to take us on in game of pool? We’ll even pay for it, how is that?” “Sure,” they would say, “not often do we get to play pool with priests.” Upon correcting the priest thing, Pastor Jay would then say, “You rack ‘em and we’ll break ‘em seeing we are footing the bill,” as he laid down two quarters on the side of the table.
Then it all became clear to me what he meant by tricking Satan the master trickster, and giving him some of his own medicine. I did not know this, but Pastor Skunkhollow had been a pool hustler, and now was using his talents for Jesus. He was a genius at pool, and every time he would break the racked balls, a ball or two would go into a pocket, and then he would run the table and no one else would even get in a shot. Then he would look at our stunned opponents and say,
“WELL YOU HAVE LOST AT THE GAME OF POOL, NOW HOW WOULD
YOU LIKE TO LEARN HOW TO WIN BIG IN LIFE?”
What a glorious and ingenious set up! Then off he would go into sharing with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and how nothing but the blood of Jesus could forgive their sins, and how nothing and no one but God could fill their emptiness with His love, joy and peace. How he, with polish and power, would point to all the dumb and harmful things that we all have done in our lives, and how only Jesus could fill that God-shaped hole in us that we try to fill with money, booze, sex etc.
There the customers were, standing in a tavern-pool room getting the Gospel. Who would have ever imagined among them that night that they were headed for church and not a bar? A Sunday School superintendent, a teacher, a salesman, a housewife. On and on it went, and among them a microcosm of society. A sophisticated drunkard, a sly adulterer, a tentative atheist! All thoroughbred sinners like the rest of us. And as the Holy Spirit had done in me and all of God’s humbled children:
“HE STRIPPED FROM THESE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF SHAME
THEIR PRETENSES TO HONOR.”
No soft sell here, no, not at all. No more of this living one way in secret and living another way in public. I can still hear him say:
“YOU MUST BE SAVED ON HIS TERMS, NOT ON YOUR TERMS. HE
GAVE YOU HIS LIFE, AND NOW YOU MUST GIVE HIM
TOTAL CONTROL OF YOURS.”
Botta bing, botta boom!
For the sake of space, I cannot go into his entire altar call in the bar poolroom, but before my very eyes a pool table became an altar. Again and again people would become teary eyed if not begin to out and out cry, and he would lead them to Christ by having them repeat the sinner’s prayer after him. I said a few things now and then, but in comparison it was all pretty pale stuff. I was learning and getting saved all over again myself.
But more than that, I could barely speak as I was crying more than the repenting sinners. To be honest, I was part of the rapt audience. What I thought was unbridled recklessness in Pastor Skunkhollow proved to be bridled precision in perfect harmony with the Holy Spirit. All I could do is what Moses told the children of Israel to do in Exodus 14:13,
“Stand by and the see the salvation of the Lord….”
There I stood watching and listening to the Skunkhollow Phenom lead people to Christ all night long until closing time at 2:00 a.m. It was absolutely exhilarating and draining at the same time. Yet, Pastor Skunkhollow, this champion of the taverns and beaches, always appeared as if he had always just begun, and seemed to become fresher as the evenings went along.
HONEY – GOD LOVES ALL MEN
I read somewhere and it stuck with me:
“JESUS DID NOT DIE ON AN ALTAR BETWEEN TWO CANDLESTICKS.
JESUS DIED ON A CROSS BETWEEN TWO THEIVES
IN THE CITY DUMP.”
The church cannot ever know the awesomeness of God’s love when she simply does her little religious thing within four walls.
That night at about 2:10 a.m. Pastor Skunkhollow took me back to the sheltered world of my church and parsonage after we had prayed all the way home prayers of thanksgiving. I went into our bedroom where my precious wife was asleep, laid down next to her, put my arms around her, and burst into tears while crying out the words, “Honey, God really does love all men.”
I am embarrassed and ashamed to have to admit at this time that I was part of a denomination, which at that time at least, believed that God only loved the elect, and of course, we were the elect. Dr. Harold Dekker, another heroic mentor of mine and professor of missions at Calvin Theological Seminary, laid it all on the line when he began to teach that God loves all men and that Jesus died for all men. I with other brave seminarians stood with this champion of truth. All Hell was breaking loose around him near and far.
Our church believed in the TULIP, i.e. total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the preservation of the saints. I believed in the CURB where tulips grow in Holland, Michigan during Tulip Time. The CURB stands for conditional election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, and backsliding.
Enough of this! Honey, God loves all men! I guess you could say,
“A CHURCH WITH A THEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT ABOUT GOD’S LOVE
IS NO MATCH FOR MEN WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S LOVE.”
Oh yes, that loved was challenged. The bar and beach ministry were not always easy. Some we witnessed to cursed in their beer. Some angrily refused our ministry. Some saw us and at first sight left. A few women on the dance floor would make their gyrations all the more sensual so as to mock us.
Still, with each ministry night, God’s love and compassion for all of them was absorbing. No wonder Jesus hung around with publicans and sinners. That is where God’s love burns the hottest.
“THE MORE PATHETIC THE STATE OF THE ONE BEING LOVED, THE
GREATER THE LOVE OF GOD IN THOSE DOING THE LOVING.”
That is the test of the presence or absence of God’s love. Why? Because:
“AT THE DEPTH OF A PERSON’S DEPRAVITY THE LOVE OF
GOD REACHES ITS HIGHEST.”
Hence we read in Romans 5:8,
“But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we
were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
In a few weeks on a Sunday morning, sitting in my church was the bar owner with his wife and children, along with the bartender and his female companion with assorted children. They were not only in the church, but they were in the front row worshipping the Lord with us. They attended Pastor Skunkhollow’s church the next Sunday morning. How incredible!
Now my only concern was that it would be more difficult for them to be welcomed in the doors of our church than it was for pastors to be welcomed in their bar. My fears were well founded, as some of the people in my church recognized the bar people and vice versa. The tension was palpable. I will leave the rest to your imagination.