A Tale of Two Churches

Let’s get the housekeeping stuff out of the way.  Yes, it’s been ages since I’ve posted.  We’ve moved to South Carolina, so I’m trying to think of what to rename this blog.  Guess I could continue to be the TXFatherofSeven, but part of me wants to embrace our new surroundings.

I’ve also been working in my new job for the last 3 months.  Same company, but new manager, team and responsibilities.  It’s completely different from anything I’ve done previously in my career.  It’s exciting and different.  My personality type doesn’t necessarily go looking for change, but I do get bored if I feel like I’ve learned / accomplished all I’m going to get out of a particular team or job.  More on my job in a future post.

We’ve been able to find a buyer for our home in TX and should be closing within the next week if all goes as planned.  We’re currently renting in SC, but we’ve signed a contract to build our new home.  Amazingly, the builders are expecting to deliver in just over 4 months.  That’s unheard of in North Dallas where new construction is taking some of our friends up to 2 YEARS because of the crazy market demand.  That demand certainly helped fuel the rapid appreciation in the existing home market in TX.  I’m very pleased and grateful that we’ve been able to cash out on our 10-year investment.

The holidays have all but come and gone.  We celebrated Thanksgiving twice, had a bout of intense, but short lived, stomach flu, had both sets of parents come to visit us, enjoyed a very special Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day.  And of course, we were thrilled with the latest STAR WARS new release.  Thumbs up, J.J.

But what I was hoping to share in this post, as the title eludes to, was our experience in looking for a new church.  Firstly, our family is a non-denominational, Bible believing Christian household.  We believe that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Throughout our lives, my wife and I have attended dozens of different churches and denominations.  Some were very good in certain areas but lacking in others.  Sometimes, we’ve had to leave congregations because the Holy Spirit convicted me of Biblical principles that were being violated or ignored.  Other times, we’ve helped close the doors on dead or dying churches.

When we moved to SC, there were certainly many places of worship from which to choose.  There are huge mega churches, old churches that have been around for over a hundred years, smaller congregations meeting in rented office space or schools.  Thank goodness for the internet.  Can’t imagine having to go to each and every place of worship just to get some basic information.

On the Sunday morning the weekend before Veterans Day, we visited one Christian church that was meeting in what looked like a high school gymnasium.  There was a stage, folding chairs, and wall dividers separating the worship area from the dining tables.  As we walked in, we were greeted by several people.  Our large family always draws attention wherever we go.  In a whirlwind of handshakes and questions, I was told several times that we were in luck showing up on this particular Sunday because this was Pastor Appreciation Sunday, and they had a special lunch planned after service.  (I had never heard of Pastor Appreciation Sunday.)  One couple started telling me about the great scouting program they had on Wednesday nights for the kids.  Another was telling me about the Veterans outreach program they were supporting.

After all the excitement of greeting us, we finally made our way to our seats and prepared for worship.  A band took the stage and performed a couple modern praise type songs, though I can’t seem to recall if the name of Jesus was ever mentioned.

From there, the service turned quickly to the Veterans Appreciation time where a video glorifying the bravery of the American soldier, establishing freedom and democracy throughout the world, was played for all to oooh and aaaah.  A veteran who was there to speak on behalf of a local secular Support Center took the stage to thank the congregation for their financial support over the years.  He spoke of the bravery of the men, the shameful treatment of our soldiers by our government once they return home, the fact that he wasn’t proud of the ‘hard living choices’ he’s had to make since returning home and that he wouldn’t wish it on any of us.

Next, a guest speaker came up to transition quickly to the Pastor Appreciation portion of the service.  Can’t be certain, but I think he might have been an elder or deacon of the congregation.  Anyway, after reading a couple verses from the Easy-to-Read Translation of the Bible, (all 7 of my children simultaneously gave me a puzzled look when he began to read), he reminded us how hard a life their pastor had, in selfless dedication to his flock.

After the sermon?, the worship leader opened up the floor to anyone in the congregation that felt like sharing any memories, funny stories, or touching testimonies about their pastor.  Several people continued to laud praise and adoration over their pastor’s selflessness and dedication.

They closed the service by repeating one of the songs with which they had opened.

As soon as we were dismissed, I quickly grabbed up my family and all but ran for the door.  We were asked to stay for the Pastor Appreciation Lunch, but I could not stay in that place a minute longer.

If you could have witnessed the utter looks of confusion on my children’s faces when we got in the van . . .  I didn’t even have to say anything, but immediately they started asking questions.

“Dad, what’s the Easy-to-Read translation of the Bible?  Is that like the Children’s Bible Matthew reads?”

“Why were we watching army videos?”

“Do we have to come back again next week?”

But we all knew the most important questions on our minds – “Did we just worship Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, on the Lord’s Day?  Was His Name lifted up and given Glory and Honor and Praise?  Was the worship done in awe and with reverence?

After lunch, we went home and had a short time of worship ourselves.

The following Sunday, I took our children to another church which we had driven by during the week.  The building was of modest size.  There was ample parking.  And BIBLE was in its name, so that was a good sign.

When we walked in, our family was greeted by one of the elders.  He asked a couple of general questions like whether we were from around the area and where we had attended church previously.  Before I could go too far into our history, he gentled reassured me that “as long as you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you’re in the right place.”

That was it.

He explained that worship would begin in a few minutes with a time of the Lord’s Supper.

As we entered the main room, I noticed several Christians already quietly seated.  The ladies wore coverings on their heads.  Children sat with their parents.

After a few moments of silence, one man stood up and started reading verses from Scripture.  Another would lead the congregation in a hymn.  Yet another man would offer up a prayer.  The congregation joined along, singing praises to Lord Jesus, offering up the Amen, and bowing in times of prayer together.

After about 45 minutes, words and songs and prayers began to focus on the Lord’s Supper, on remembering the reason for the bread and the juice, and preparing our hearts to partake in a thoughtful, reverent manner.  An elder came up to break and distribute the bread.  Another came to pass the juice.  There was also a time to collect offerings afterward.

All along, there was no worship leader or program prescribing each and every action or spoken word.  The Holy Spirit was allowed to move in men’s hearts to lead this congregation into worship.  This was not a performance to observe.  This was an act of worship in which we had actively participated.

Afterward, there was a short time of refreshments and fellowship in another room.  I was able to meet several members of the church including the elders.  I learned that following the fellowship time would be a time of hearing the preaching of the Word by one of the elders.  I was told that my children would be invited to join a separate Children’s Church program if they would like or that they were welcome to stay and hear the preaching.  I chose the later.

We began the preaching portion of the service with a couple more songs, led by an elder playing guitar.  Another gentleman came up to lead a couple hymns along with piano accompaniment.  Finally, the elder came forward to share God’s Word.  And it just so happened that on this Sunday, they were beginning a new series in the Gospel according to John.  The elder commented that over the last 15 years, John would mark the very last book of the Bible to be studied.  He asked rhetorically what they would do after finishing John and answered “start all over”.

Put simply, the preaching was so refreshing.  I later explained to my children that there are basically 2 methods of preaching God’s Word – 1) Topical and 2) Expository.  Topical preaching involves selecting a particular theme or topic which the preacher feels is relevant or necessary.  He searches the Scriptures to find the relevant verses and tries to frame the subject in terms of God’s Word.  Expository preaching, on the other hand, usually involves starting at Chapter 1 verse 1 of a particular book of the Bible and going through it verse by verse.  The preacher should definitely cross reference other Scriptures to help explain any context or meaning necessary, but the road map is the book selected.

Neither is right or wrong, but my personal preference is Expository preaching.  It forces the preacher to examine every verse, not to skip over the difficult or challenging ones, and to humble himself to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

What was especially encouraging was when I looked over at my children.  I could tell that they were engaged, listening, learning, and understanding the sermon.  You know it’s a good sign when you wish you had a notebook and pen with you to take some notes.  (The following week, I bought notebooks for everyone.)

At the conclusion of the service, I gave my contact information to one of the elders and he asked if it was okay for him to call on me during the week.  I said I was looking forward to it.

When we got in the van, I turned around and asked my children “is there any doubt in any of your minds whether we spent this morning worshiping Jesus Christ?”  The answer was an enthusiastic and resounding “NO doubt!  We definitely worshiped this morning.”

When Christians preach the Word of God in spirit and in truth, when men take their prescribed roles to actively lead the corporate worship, when the Holy Spirit is given room to move in Men’s hearts rather than to take a back seat to our preferences and stylistic moods, when orderly worship is not mistaken for scripted empty ritual, and when the time of worship is approached with utmost reverence and awe – there’s no need for the glamour or glitz.  God’s Word stands on its own as it has for eternity past and will for eternity future.

In saying all that, you wonder why the walls aren’t bursting at the seams at this particular, modestly sized, congregation.  And once again, God’s Word gives us the answer.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)



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