The Strip Club

23 07 2014

“Why are you doing this?” I remember asking her. “Don’t you know how much God loves you?”

As far as I know, I’ve only had one conversation with a stripper in my lifetime; and I have my fraternity brothers to thank for that! It was my sophomore year of college and my Big Brother was getting married. I had never been to a ‘bachelor party’ before, so I was . . . curious? . . . to see what it was all about.

Watching my friends approach the stage in this filthy, seedy-looking bar, in order to slip a $20 bill in a gyrating G-string (actually, they were probably more like $5 bills, because we were always trying to save our money for more beer) was . . . well . . . will my masculinity be called into question if I say it was far from exciting? While I was 19 years old, my sheltered upbringing had never allowed me to see anything quite like this before; and as attractive as the young woman was, I simply couldn’t understand why she was doing what she was doing. As captivating as the whole scene was, I had this pit in my stomach, and couldn’t help but wonder about this woman’s past, and what on earth had led her to this point in her life!

When her portion of the show concluded, knowing of my naivete, my buddies approached her and told her it was MY bachelor party so that she would wander over my way and spend a little time with me. And she did.

The half-naked woman approached my table, sat down beside me on the red faux leather bench that ran the entire wall of the establishment, and introduced herself. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember thinking it was a name that no mother would ever give her child. Then, sitting way too close, and putting her hand on my thigh, she began asking me about myself. Where was I from? What was I studying?

But I didn’t want to talk about me. I wanted to talk about her. And that’s when it popped out – that ridiculous question . . . “Why on earth are you doing this?”

At first, she rightly looked at me like I was crazy! Who on earth goes to a strip club and asks such a question? But when I removed her hand from my lap, and didn’t give up with the questions, I very clearly remember her features softening, and her sheepishly lowering her eyes.

“Don’t you know how much God loves you?” I said!

She shrugged her shoulders and became very quiet. And that’s when I got to preaching! I don’t know exactly what I said, or how I said it; but I DO remember telling her over and over again how special she was to God, and how much God valued and cared for her.

I think back to that night every now and then, wondering what on earth led me to do what I did . . . to say what I said. And the only conclusion I can come to is that the Spirit of God was moving that night. Thinking about it recently, I realized that this is an important part of my theology. The more we grasp the depth of God’s love for us, the more likely we are to love ourselves and the more prone we are to treat ourselves with respect and to live lives that honor the one who made us.

One of my wife’s primary ‘love language’ is words of affirmation; and so she is always telling me how much she loves me. She is the most affirming and encouraging person I know; and for 29 years she has told me, and shown me, how much she cares for me. As a result, I think her words have prompted me to be a better husband. It’s as though when I consider the depth of her affection for me, I can’t help but want to honor and love her more. Her love for me makes me want to become worthy of that love – and so I’m motivated to be the best I can be, and to do with my life only that which will reciprocate her generous and life-changing affection.

And the same is true of God.

Thirty-four years “after the fact” I now know that I wasn’t too far off track in that strip club. For too long, the church has done a fine job of criticizing and condemning the prostitute. We’ve done a great job of “hating the sin” and been quick and bold to list those sins that we believe to be plaguing our world today. But when it comes to “loving the sinner,” we in the church have too often missed the mark, and . . . big time!

Could it be that ranting and raving about peoples’ sin is NOT the best way to introduce the Gospel? Could it be that Jesus’ response to the question about what is the greatest commandment really is the best model of evangelism – loving God and loving our neighbors? Could it be that if we’re going to strip down the Gospel to the basics, we need to remember that in the end . . . it’s all about the love?

Love is what changes us. God’s love is what transforms lives! And the more we realize how deep it really is, the more we are prone to reflect and share that love with the world around us. It is a love that leads us away from fear, hatred, and violence, and moves us to a place of peace, joy and holiness. It’s a love that keeps us from exploiting ourselves and others, and takes us to a place of self-respect, confidence, and beauty.

I haven’t forgotten that woman; and I hope she hasn’t forgotten me. I hope she continues to reflect on that night some naive college kid tried to convince her that she was deeply loved by God. I hope she remembers a night that she not only took off her clothes, but a night that she took off the label “sinner” – and began to see herself as the very good creation of God, precious, and beloved.

That’s the Gospel. And that’s the message that the world needs most today.

“For this reason I pray that you may have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and that you might know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

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