Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Panera Bread

I'll never forget the first time I was introduced to Panera Bread. It was Wednesday, November 15th, 2006. That morning, tragedy struck our church and Christian School family. One of our students, Grant Zeinert, a 16-year old sophomore at the time, was found dead in his room. He was an accidental casualty of the choking game, or some form of it.

It was an incredibly rough morning. In the driveway outside his house, I huddled with several of his friends & various adults, and we just cried. We stood there speechless at times just crying. Other moments we hugged, and then we circled up and prayed. We prayed a bunch from what I remember that morning. It seemed to help the time pass.

After a few hours, I was able to go in the house and see Grant's mom, Paige. There's really no words to describe the storm of emotions tossing around inside her...her husband Randy was actually being located in a remote section of Idaho at the time, and a close family friend sent a chartered jet to retrieve him immediately.

A couple men and I went up into Grant's room, and that was an experience. Of course the police, firemen, doctors, etc. had already been there...but simply to hover in a space where he had just been--gently examine various parts of his room, desperately hoping to find some kind of lead or answer as to why this all happened, ya know...what motivated this whole event. We didn't find much. I do remember looking into the closet though, and my heart just sank. A part of me is still up there in that room, looking for the young man I had the privilege of baptizing just a few short months before @ Harding Uplift.

Lunch was where things took an interesting turn. I met several of his classmates, some of which were in our youth group @ Panera Bread, and I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I guess I was always working under the impression that this was just another cousin of my arch-nemesis of restaurants--La Madeline, Cafe Express, etc. Boy was I wrong.

I devoured one of their zesty sandwiches and treated myself to a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel for dessert. I was stuffed but oh so satisfied. And yet sometime during the feast one of the students explained to me why they had chosen Panera for lunch on this horrible day. They told me that this was Grant's favorite place in all the world--and that we showed him honor by eating here on the day of his death. And ya know...Panera Bread has meant a whole lot to me since that day.

Every Friday my wife and I have a date is truly wonderful. We begin by dropping our amazing daughter off at pre-school, which sort of serves as the best free babysitting we could ever hope for. We then head to an incredible place for our breakfast, and yes, you're brain might be predicting's Panera Bread. We pig out on Cinnamon Crunch bagels, mess around on their wi-fi, and have a grand 'ole time. We conclude the day with an early movie at AMC Willowbrook for only $5 a ticket--nice! (sometimes we snag lunch after that, depending on the cravings)

I blog about all this to say that every time I step foot in a Panera Bread, I feel at peace. I feel a home. I feel like someone who I treasured, someone who has departed me now to go begin with God, is close to me. I believe I can just sit forever in one of these booths, and just eat, type, drink aqua or Dew, and on and on...

Grant, I miss you everyday, buddy. I promise to remember you everyday for the rest of my life. Thanks for showing me something of God's heart during your years here on this earth. I will see you again...but not yet. Not yet.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I remember in the mid ‘90’s when the NBC drama E.R. burst onto the television scene. It was such an enormous success because of the incredible storylines of hope, rescue, and deliverance amidst the varying degrees of medical situations and difficulties. Over a dozen years later, the show is still going strong, and I’m guessing the attractive doctors and nurses who comprised the cast during that time haven’t hurt the ratings either.

What about the church? In the middle of our busy lives, have we ever stopped to make sure our church is a place of hope, rescue, and deliverance? Abigail Van Buren, the pen name for the “Dear Abby” column, had a very intriguing quote a while back concerning this whole idea of the identity of the church in relation to the medical field. It was this:

“A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”

The image of the hospital is a little disturbing to me, because the first place my mind wonders to is certain smells, over-priced taste-challenged food, and germs. I confess that those things may have held me back from frequenting hospitals as much as I probably should. But the marvelous thing about the church as a hospital is that a hospital never sleeps, never veers from its mission and purpose. Hospitals seem to attract the full range of emotions, miraculous moments, life-changing experiences, and intentional prayer. There are a large number of people working toward the same goals of healing, treatment, hope, rescue, deliverance…well, you get the idea.

I believe Jesus was onto this concept as well, his words customized for his Pharisee audience: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Jesus led the charge for His followers to meet “sinners” where they are, and not be afraid to eat with them, to know them, to love them, to guide them to His Father’s healing grace.

Imagine a place where a sick patient, after receiving the treatment needed for their illness, immediately began working in the ER…or maybe as a nurse…or maybe as a doctor. Imagine a church that never rested because it was driven by its mission. Imagine a people that traded the blessings of ritual Christian fellowship for the bottomless well ministering God’s grace to “sinners.”

May we all commit to be apart of "Hospital Church", and may our actions and prayers be directed towards this mission and purpose.