Or, more specifically, what makes a church MY church?
I’ve always enjoyed visiting other churches during my travels. Reasons for choosing a particular church have ranged anywhere from, “I have to get on the road early, and this one has an early service,” to “This one is closer to the hotel than that one.” It’s a little different when you’ve moved to a new city and now you’re looking for a new “home.” It’s still been very enjoyable to scope out the religious environment (at least the Baptist environment) here; kind of like an extended vacation.
But let me back up a bit.
My first contact with Baptists of any sort was related in my “What’s Your Life Verse” post and the follow up. After going to the local Southern Baptist Church with Mr. G and his family for a while, I actually did make a profession of faith and was baptised. Unfortunately, while I might have been sincere about something or other, it certainly wasn’t about any desire to actually love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. After high school, I promptly told God to take a hike and would have done so sooner if I had been allowed to by my preacher folks. But there was something about that family so real that it has stuck with me to this day. (Side note: I caught up with Mr. G twice after high school. In 2004, as I sat down to dinner with he and his wife, he prayed a blessing over me that would have made Abraham proud, and there was a fourth guest at the table that night who was just as real as the three of us – Jesus Christ – and I knew that what I had sensed as “real” in 1980 was still just as real 24 years later.)
After 18 years of atheism, God stopped me in my tracks. Since I had been out of the church scene for so long and had no idea where to start (except that I remembered Mr. G and his Southern Baptist Church), I went to the church of one of the preachers I had been listening to on the radio who had been making sense to me – Parkside Church in Solon, Ohio. That got me off to a great start. In fact the first sermon I heard there after my life of unbelief still drives much of my desire to live as a Christ follower. But that church was over an hour away from home, and there was no way to really connect with other Christians at that distance. So we started looking closer to home.
There were a few visits to churches that were either odd (a foot washing service – something I had never seen before), uncomfortable (don’t know what it was at that church), or flat, we ended up at an Independent Baptist church in Spencer, Ohio, and that’s where I finally realized that whatever other motives I might have had for “accepting Christ” previously in my life – i.e., get out of hell, get mom and dad off my back, trying to turn over a new leaf, etc. – never once was there any desire to actually love God or have him take the first place in my life. That church has been my home and my family for the last 10 years.
Until June. First impression on looking in the phone book when we got one was that there are a LOT of Baptist churches here. The only place I had seen more was in North Carolina where there is literally a Baptist church on every corner (or so it seems ). So with a couple of recommendations and a phone book in hand, I started visiting. I’ll refrain from naming names, but here are my impressions:
Church number one – The people were very friendly. The adult Sunday School teacher was very knowledgeable about the Scriptures and was a very good teacher. The first time I visited, the pastor preached a largely political sermon full of a lot of fundamentalist “hear say” stuff that really turned me off. Because I had determined that I would visit each church at least twice before making a decision, I went back one more time. Again, everyone was very friendly, and the Sunday School teacher gave a great lesson. The pastor started off with a pretty good Gospel message, and then about halfway through got entirely side tracked on the number 7. Now I’m just as capable of going off on tangents as anyone else, and sometimes they’re fun and interesting. But when I go to church, I expect to hear from God – not someone’s half baked ideas about numbers or genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4). I still think A. W. Tozer said it best:
Toward anything like thorough scholarship I make no claim. I am not an authority on any man’s teaching; I have never tried to be. I take my help where I find it and set my heart to graze where the pastures are greenest. Only one stipulation do I make: my teacher must know God, as Carlyle said, “otherwise than by hearsay,” and Christ must be all in all to him. If a man have only correct doctrine to offer me I am sure to slip out at the first intermission to seek the company of someone who has seen for himself how lovely is the face of Him who is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Such a man can help me, and no one else can. (A. W. Tozer)
Second church – This was one of my less than spiritual reasons for choosing to visit one church over another. I needed to go to an early service, and they had one. A very nice lady took the time to show me around and introduce me to people. Lots of Bible studies going on. The sermon was okay. One comment by the Associate Pastor left me wondering whether the church was more concerned about “projects” than people.
The next church I visited was one I had pulled out of the phone book and driven by and decided I should visit based on my drive by. After doing a little investigation on the Internet, I found out that 1) they were without a pastor, 2) they were Southern Baptists (I did have another memorable encounter with the Southern Baptists during a visit to Gastonia, NC, in 2007.), 3) the wife of the interim pastor was involved with Beautiful Feet. I had gone to the first Beautiful Feet conference at Cedarville University back in 2006, and so I sent her an email. The day I visited for the first time, the serrmon text was from my “testimony” verses – Psalm 40:1-3, and there was nothing goofy or off base at all. I was clearly hearing from someone who knew God “other than by hearsay”. It was also the day the church determined to call their new pastor. That week a loaf very tasty bread showed up on my door. Yummmm. Back on the Internet to investigate the new pastor. I listened to the sermons he had preached as a candidate at this church, then I found the website of the church he was then at and listened to every sermon he had preached there, along with some of the youth group stuff on the site that he had led. Good stuff. He’ll be arriving in August, so I can finish off my list of churches and see what he’s like in person. (Why the focus on the pastor? Because churches tend to become like their pastor, and so I want to make sure this is someone whose faith I want to follow – Hebrews 13:7.)
Next visit – a small church with a big heart. Good preaching and teaching. It was interesting in this church that the pastor “prayed” my testimony verses as he closed the service. I was talking to a friend about this odd “coincidence” (no such thing), and wondering what – if anything – I was supposed to do with that. She very succinctly said, “Maybe God is just telling you that either church will be okay.” I’ve chewed on that but haven’t come to any firm conclusions.
Next church – I arrived late and a gentleman in the hall showed me where to go for Sunday School. I was sitting there feeling very strange and the more the gentleman leading the class talked, the stranger it got. Finally, he said something along the lines of, “All sin has to be paid for before we leave this earth. You have to pay for your sin before you leave earth.” I waited for the next part – “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe” – but it never came. I’m sorry. If I couldn’t pay for my own sins before I was saved, what on earth makes this guy think I’m going to pay for them now. Jesus has done all that ever needed to be done in order to pay for the sins of the whole world, and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do to add to that. I simply have to rely on Him.
So at this point, I can’t wait to just get out of there. I restrained myself until Sunday School was over, by which time I was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic, and then high tailed it out of there – very grateful that no one wanted to stop me and talk. There was a place just a few minutes away where I knew I would hear from people who believed and preached the Gospel, and so I ended up at the “drive by” church. It was like a big tall glass of fresh water to sit in the worship service with them that day, as it has been every other time I’ve gone there.
For a few weeks I bounced back and forth between the two “testimony” churches. One Sunday I drove by another church that I had put on my list. I got there about 3 minutes early for Sunday School, but something just didn’t seem right. The building was a decent size – probably a couple hundred or so capacity, but there were only 5 cars in the lot. As I was driving in, two couples got out of two of the cars, and they were both seniors. As I continued slowly driving through the parking lot, I wondered what a nice looking church like that was doing with no kids for Sunday School. As I drove out, another elderly couple was driving in. I went to one of the “testimony” churches that day.
And at this point, I really feel like I don’t need to visit anymore churches. The Lord led me to two good ones, and now I just need to settle somewhere. I’ve been going every Sunday for a while now to the SBC church, and I’m pretty sure I know why. My last visit to the other church, I left with the impression that both the pastor and the church were “settled.” I could be wrong about that, but it seemed like everyone knew the routine. Their love for each other and the Lord is very real, but I had a hard time seeing where I might find a place there. On the other hand, at the SBC church, the new preacher, though young, is clearly someone who has heard from and is listening to the Lord. The people love the Lord and each other – this is very obvious from overhearing converesations about different people who are going through trouble of one sort or another. I haven’t heard any condemnation or malicious gossip – just a deep, heartfelt desire to care for those who need cared for. And they are moving! I don’t think it’s just the new pastor either. Things were happening before he got there.
Obstacles? It seems like all of the potential obstacles that I came up with have all been removed, so we’ll see if the Lord wants to send any further confirmation or whether I just jump in the rest of the way with both feet.by beakennedy
On Wednesday, I’ll likely be tested on my professor’s definition of religion which reads as follows:
Religion derives from the haunting realization of ultimate powerlessness in an inscrutable world, where each person harbors the unquestioning and irrational conviction of the possibility of gaining mystic security by somehow identifying one’s self with what can never be known.
He goes on to both quote and state that it is a “‘never-ceasing attempt to discover a road to spiritual serenity across the perplexities and dangers of daily life’ (Sapir), manifesting itself as a system of symbols which acts as the vehicle for establishing powerful moods and motivations through a) the formulation of conceptions of a general order, and through b) rituals to act them out (Geertz).”
“The components of the religious experience include a configuration of emotional states: Fear, awe, hope, love, the plea, and belief or faith, and sometimes ecstasy; emotional states that are brought within the context of ultimate values and transcendent truths which generate commitments to certain types of social action oriented to penultimate concerns, THE MOST ULTIMATE OF WHICH IS THE REALIZATION OF THE INEVITABILITY OF DEATH.” (emphasis mine)
I suppose it’s a fine definition as far as it goes. Fifteen years ago, I would have (and did) hop right on board with this and similar sentiments about religion in general and Christianity in particular. So what changed? On this day when the majority of the Christian world recognizes that something truly extraordinary, if not downright impossible, took place some 2000 years ago, what changed is that 10 years ago I ran headlong into a spiritual brick wall named Jesus Christ and became convinced over the course of the next 13 months that he did indeed die for MY sins according to the Scriptures,
and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the 12, after that he was seen of above 500 brethren at once . . . After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles, And last of all he was seen by me . . . (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
With that in mind, I was reading in the book of Hebrews this morning as communion was being served.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
For both he that sactifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I WILL DECLARE THY NAME UNTO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CHURCH WILL I SING PRAISE UNTO THEE. And again, I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM. And again, BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN WHICH GOD HATH GIVEN ME.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; AND DELIVER THEM WHO THROUGH FEAR OF DEATH WERE ALL THEIR LIFETIME SUBJECT TO BONDAGE,
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:9-18)
And continuing on, in chapter 7, something occurred to me earlier in the course in a discussion of the evolutionary pressures that have affected what males and females find attractive in each other – males – youth and curves and ability to procreate, females – power and ability to bring home the bacon.
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest,
WHO IS MADE, NOT AFTER THE LAW OF A CARNAL COMMANDMENT, BUT AFTER THE POWER OF AN ENDLESS LIFE.
For he testifieth, THOU ART A PRIEST FOR EVER AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
For the law made nothing perfect, BUT THE BRINGING IN OF A BETTER HOPE DID; BY THE WHICH WE DRAW NIGH UNTO GOD. (Hebrews 7:11-19)
Lots of quotes, I know. Maybe not the most decisive set of verses that would demonstrate the crucial difference between “drawing nigh to God” and “formulating conceptions of the general order and rituals to act them out”, but I’ve hung my hopes on someone with the “power of an endless life”, and that’s okay by me. Does this “better hope” give me “spiritual serenity across the perplexities and dangers of daily life”? You bet it does. However, unlike my previous state of relative calm in the face of the “inscrutable”, which was based mostly on the assumption that science would eventually provide answers to all of the unknowns and make religion obsolete, this hope is something that I have “AS AN ANCHOR OF THE SOUL, BOTH SURE AND STEADFAST, AND WHICH ENTERETH INTO THAT WITHIN THE VEIL.” (Hebrews 6:19)
Did I ever mention that I LOVE Hebrews? Try reading some verses from there during your communion service sometime.by beakennedy
Okay, so maybe my husband has been right all these years, and all I learned in college was how to say “I don’t know” in 20 words instead of 3. Dr. R made the above statement today while discussing a couple of concepts having to do with the complementary roles in society that men and women traditionally fulfill that will most likely appear on the next test. I’m sure that all he’s claiming he “made up” is that he coined the phrase, or applied it in the particular context we’re studying, but I did have to remind myself not to laugh out loud.
On the way home, I was wondering how this complementary structure of how men and women interact with the world in different ways, which seems to be rooted in our biology (the “true” part of the discussion), relates to what the Scriptures say about the differences between men and women, as well as how those differences are played out on a spiritual level.
My initial thought is that Dr. R, as interested as he seems to be in healing and spirituality and such, as knowledgable as he is about “religion”, has never seen beyond the level of pure biology. It’s rather interesting to me that he’s mentioned a friend of his on several occasions who was miraculously healed of breast cancer. She attributes this healing to Jesus Christ. He relates exactly what happened in class with the straigtest of faces (how do you deny something physical has happened when an ulcerous lesion is just gone and when you really enjoyed the fried chicken after the healing service?) and calls it psychology and “faith” and electromagnetic energy. He reminds me very much of my old friends, the Pharisees in John chapter 10 who saw the miracles Jesus did, saw the blind man who could now see, saw Lazarus raised from the dead, and when they heard the voice of God speak from heaven said it sounded like thunder.
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
At what level does the physical relationship of man and woman joining their complementary roles together in marriage intersect with the spiritual reality of Christ’s relationship with the church?
Stay tuned.by beakennedy
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. –1 Corinthians 6:11
I do not know all of the Savior’s reasons for choosing the woman at the well. I know that His revelation of Himself to her constituted an everlasting rebuke to human self-righteousness. I know that every smug woman who walks down the street in pride and status ought to be ashamed of herself. I know that every self-righteous man who looks into his mirror each morning to shave what he believes to be an honest face ought to be ashamed of himself….
Jesus was able to see potential in the woman at the well that we could never have sensed. What a gracious thing for us that Jesus Christ never thinks about what we have been! He always thinks about what we are going to be. You and I are slaves to time and space and records and reputations and publicity and the past-all that we call the case history. Jesus Christ cares absolutely nothing about anyone’s moral case history. He forgives it and starts from there as though the person had been born one minute before. (A. W. Tozer)by beakennedy
Okay, so sometimes my lesson illustrations leave a little something to be desired. Tonight, I thought I was right on the money. The text tonight was Micah 6:6-8 –
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the LORD require of thee,
but to do justly,
and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?
So I needed to define terms some with the girls, and we’re discussing what this thing called mercy is. The discussion was pretty lame, but a couple of them had some good ideas. To move things along, I said that mercy is like when you’re in big trouble with your mom. You KNOW you’ve messed up bad this time, and you DESERVE what you know is coming. But instead of punishing you, she comes up and gives you a hug.
Silence and blank stares.
One of the girls piped up with the fact that this wasn’t something that was part of her experience. This got a chorus of agreement. That got me wondering where that illustration even came from. Is it something I remember from my own childhood, or something I know I’ve done with my daughter? I don’t really remember. It must be in my heart somewhere in order for it to have come out like that, though.
I pulled it out by saying that if our own mothers have never had mercy on us like that, it’s still exactly what God has done for us by sending Jesus Christ. But for a minute there, I was wondering if it were going to be a total loss.
So is this experience so foreign? Has none of us who are mothers ever had mercy on our kids instead of requiring sacrifice? Do none of us who are children have memories of receiving mercy from our parents? If they give us our first picture of what God is like, what does that say about how we view God?by beakennedy
Suffering is a subject that seems to keep coming up in one way or another in the ladies’ Sunday school class that I lead – the suffering of the martrys, in particular, but also the suffering that simply accompanies being alive in a body and a world that is decaying.
The verse that my title today is taken from refers to the death of the saints, but I think it could equally be applied to the suffering of the saints. Listen to Peter:
. . . though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
So, in a week that has seen one saint enter the valley of suffering, and another saint testify of God’s faithfulness in the valley of suffering, I’m encouraged to know that the things I’ve been reading in the scriptures and teaching in my class are true. I’m encouraged to know that when it’s my turn, whenever that might be, that God will be there for me too. I’m encouraged to know that these things are precious in His sight, as well.
Thanks, Tom, for giving us a small taste of the worth of our Savior tonight.
One of many songs I just love to hear and sing along with and wish were part of the repertoire at my church.
Gracious God, we worship Thee,
for salvation full and free.
Jesus Christ, our only plea,
Father, we adore Thee.
For Thy love so vast and wide,
shown to us by Him who died.
Holy justice satisfied,
Father, we adore Thee.
Now we bow before Thy face,
let Thy presence fill this place.
Oh the wonders of Your grace,
Father, we adore Thee.
Now again our song we raise,
sound of deep adoring praise.
Soon we’ll sing through endless days,
Father, we adore Thee.
Jesus Christ, our only plea,
Father, we adore Thee.
I have no hope, except that I believe that Christ died for my sins,
according to the Scriptures.
I expect to swing out into eternity on that.
(F. F. Brown)
I’ve got a couple. First is Psalm 40:2-3 because that’s the story of what God through faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection has done for me.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
My second is 1 John 3:2.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Here’s the story I submitted for the One Year Life Verse Devotional, which will be published next year. Check back to see if I’ll have my 15 minutes of fame.
During my last two years of high school, I attended church with one of my high school teachers, Mr. G., and his family. Mr. G. would listen to my teenage troubles, and say “Don’t worry. You’ll get there.” After graduation, I joined the Navy and lost contact with Mr. G. for many years. During that time, I became an atheist and spent the next 18 years totally apart from God. But no matter how bad things seemed, I would always hear Mr. G. saying, “Don’t worry. You’ll get there.” Sometimes that was the only hope I had.
Finally, in 1997, just when things couldn’t have been better, God stepped back into my life, and in January 1999, I placed my faith in Jesus Christ. Sometime later I began to understand how unlike Christ I was. It was then that I found 1 John 3:2 and realized that, even though I wasn’t as much like Jesus right now as I wanted to be, there is coming a day when I will be. Then I remembered how Mr. G. would always say, “Don’t worry. You’ll get there.” I didn’t know where “there” was then, but now I don’t worry about how slow my progress seems or how often I fail. God has promised that with one look I’ll finally be there.
What better news has there ever been than that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again so that we might have hope in him.
Had you asked me last weekend what I would be doing this weekend, I would have said, “Not much.” God had other ideas and I ended up attending a Women’s Evangelism conference. It was a real blessing to see so many other women who were interested like I was in how they might be more effective in bringing the glad tidings of good things to those who need to hear, whether they are right next door or around the world.
Bonus: I got to meet Babbie Mason, who it was a pleasure to find out is just as warm and personable up close as she is on stage and take some pictures. She’s also a 3rd generation PK. Cool!