The poet's words were made more famous by that grinning green frog, Kermit, of The Muppets fame. Recently, I’ve found myself humming that little ditty every Sunday when I show up for church.
Why? It’s because that’s where I always find my friend Larry. He’ll be parked in his usual place, halfway down the stairs in the entrance foyer of our church. He’s standing, though, not sitting, because he’s a man on a mission.
Larry has been rather good with missions impossible, embracing challenges both large and small. An extremely minor mission of his involves him cutting my hair. A gifted hairdresser, he is usually given more to work with than I can offer, but he manages to do the best job humanly possible with the shrinking peninsula I call my hairstyle. But his hairdressing has led to some life-altering, churchtransforming encounters. Decades ago he was the stylist for Nicki, a beautiful girl who was paying her way through college by dancing at a local strip club.
I’ve written about Nicki elsewhere, but her coming to our church triggered the beginning of a wonderful, messy influx of people who were rather more obviously lost than most lost people. There’s no doubt that the huge growth in our church was launched by Nicki’s arrival and immediate, dramatic conversion. These days, when asked how our church grew, I rather naughtily comment that we got a stripper in.
But all of that was almost 30 years ago. Yet Larry, now a sprightly 71-year-old, refuses to live on yesterday’s stories. And so he parks himself on the landing halfway down those stairs because he’s on the lookout. He scans the teeming crowd of gathering worshippers, searching for the people that he’s invited to come to church during the week. Then there are new Christians that he’s informally discipling; folks he wants to make sure he greets; others he’s on the lookout for to sit next to because they’re alone, or just encourage because he knows that they’ve been through a rough season.
Larry hasn’t had the benefit of a smooth life. Divorced twice, he spent a number of years living in his hairdressing salon because he couldn’t afford a business and a home. But he has no time for looking back, or for that matter, endlessly looking forward. This caring people-watcher could be forgiven for wanting his own space at the weekends, seeing as he spends his days chatting with one client after another while he attends to their hair. But often I’ll find him sitting through two services, singing the same songs, listening to the repeated message, because from his stairway vantage point, he’s spotted someone in need of company.
Led Zeppelin sang about a lady who was buying a stairway to heaven but those who follow Jesus know that all the trillions in the world wouldn’t buy a stairway to that place. Instead, at Christmas we celebrate that the way has been made open by the Jesus who came down, down and down again, navigating the inexplicable gap between the throne of heaven and manger of Bethlehem, opening the way by grace alone. That same Jesus went on the lookout for unlikely people such as Peter and outcasts like the Samaritan woman at the well.
So here’s to Larry, and many like him, who live life on the lookout, scanning the crowd for someone who needs a smile.
Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit. There isn’t any other stair quite like it.
I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top; so this is the stair where I always stop.
Keep doing that, Larry. Keep stopping and looking.
Jeff Lucas is teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado. He is an international speaker, author and broadcaster Follow Jeff @jeffreylucas