So, you wouldn't know it from looking at my day planner or peering into my life, but I really do love a good adventure. In my life in recent years I find an uninterrupted hour to read a book a luxury which is sad really. I used to dream of traveling to Figi by myself to explore the island and laying by the beach. I've always wanted to spend a month in solitude at an ashram in India to search for the meaning of life and develop a wonderful life map that I could follow to the letter. Strange but both true! And you never know. I might just do both one day.
I went to a Methodist college that really preferred that their students were........well, Methodist! And I went to the Methodist church. Twice. Nothing against the Methodist church, but it wasn't for me. Then I spent the next year at a Christian church which was like a motivational speech every Sunday. It was great as long as you didn't need a sermon about sin or anything in any way controversial. I always left feeling like I was better than I was and in some twisted way like Jesus didn't deserve me. Heaven help us!
So after my freshman year all of my friends continued to go to the feel better about yourself sermonette church and I just decided that wasn't going to work for me. I had promised myself one thing going into college and that was that I would not reject anything without researching it for myself. I cannot stand when people have opinions about things they know nothing about. I promised I would not adopt someone else's mindset as my own until I discovered it for myself.
Now I was saved at this point so it's not like I decided to try Buddhism for myself. I had good solid theology, but I was just fed up with the denominational borders with "do not cross" yellow tape. I believed and I still believe in The Body of Christ as a unified entity.
I flipped through the phone book and decided the first church that sounded interesting would be the one for me. Enter a 3 year experience of Bethel Harvest Church. Their byline in the phone book was "We're anointed to make you uncomfortable." PERFECT! I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
I'll tell you, looking back God was strategically working in my life at that time. I have always had a really hard time getting salvation from my head to my heart and the supernatural cannot just live in your head. I was at a place especially then that if Jesus didn't move into my heart for real we were going to be in big trouble.
Once I saw the ad in the phone book I knew two things-I knew I had to go at least once and I knew I had to go by myself. And I did. Looking back I think it's hilarious what we think things we know nothing about are going to be like. I think I jumped every time someone talked to me like I was expecting them to push me over! I was surprised at how normal the people were! We sang songs and the pastor preached and a bunch of people went to the alter for prayer and it was over. And I left in tears. I still cannot tell you exactly what it was but I knew in that moment like never before that Jesus was really real. It didn't matter that I was there by myself. It didn't matter what I dressed like or what shoes I was wearing. No one noticed. They had come to worship the living God and worship they did! It was SUCH a difference from the church I had been in for a year.
I came back to my dorm room and my roommate at the time said, "Where have you been?" I said, "church, why?" She said, "I don't know. You look peaceful." And I was. The next morning as we were getting ready she said, "spill it." I said, "spill what." "Church." I told her there was nothing to tell, but she insisted. So, I told her about the church and she said, "I'll go with you next Sunday." I didn't really think that was such a good idea. I wasn't so sure weird things weren't going to happen there, but she insisted and so we went together the next Sunday. And she left in tears. Eventually 8 of my friends and I went to Bethel Harvest Church for 3 years and I've never been the same.
Now, to be fair, the first Sunday may have been a little bit misleading. It definitely had it's moments of weirdness from there. It took a little getting used to finding myself smack dab in the middle of the gifts of the Spirit having grown up without much mention of them. But I really learned to appreciate the way other people worshipped. Especially toward the end of my time in Kentucky I had zero idea of what I was going to do or where I was going to go from there and I cannot tell you what a difference it made to my faith to have people there praying for me and with me great believing prayers. I hold those 3 years in my heart as some of the most important years of my faith journey.
Above everything else I respect the Lord. I have great holy fear for his power and position. I do not take for granted the dichotomy that he is Perfectly Holy and yet calls me His friend. I am on my very best day totally unworthy. And I believe in the church running decently and in order in accordance with scripture absolutely. But I also believe God is looking for true worshippers. People who are not ashamed to really love him whatever that looks like to you. I'm not really a weep at the alter kind of person, but I know people that are and I think that's wonderful. I've seen some amazing transformations come from time spent at the alter of the Lord and I've seen people go up there apparently for show and leave exactly the same.
I think some of charismatic tradition is a little too emotional. I think Jesus comes just as powerfully to the people wailing as he does for those whispering, "I need you now." He inhabits the praises of His people. But if you like to worship loudly I say go for it. If you like to worship quietly I say go for it. I have experienced both and I find them both amazingly comforting. I did not become a convert to the charismatic tradition necessarily by spending time there, but I did learn to appreciate that Jesus does not always come in the ways we expect him, but he always comes when we call.
I can't say that I didn't wonder to myself on several occasions, "What in the world was that?" I don't really understand all of what they do or how they do it. I think it would take a lot for me to get so caught up in the emotion of something that I'd fall on the floor. But, hey, whatever works for you! But I will tell you that the spirit filled sermons coming from the heart of a pastor that believed that Jesus was here to change you into his image-like now-were some of the most powerful I've ever heard and they changed my life forever. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss that church every Sunday morning for years. I missed the connection of people that not only would pray with you but believe with you. Big prayers. Powerful prayers. Relocating from that church was very lonely for a long time. And even though I've moved on I still wish sometimes that I could just fly in for the worship every once in awhile.
I don't think it was God's intention for me to stay at that church for the rest of my life. My time there was immediately followed by a serious valley and spiritual drought. That time taught me that we cannot live in the emotion of God because you will find yourself feeling abandoned when you leave that environment. They also were important years in the formation of my faith and learning to trust God for what I know Him to be and not just for the feelings that accompany faith. But it certainly was nice sometimes when I felt spiritually weak to be surrounded by people so passionate about their faith.
I am now in a church with a group of people that I believe with all my heart truly love the Lord. It is not a charismatic church. The sermons are straight from the word of God and they are changing my life every time I'm there. I was stressed to the max walking into church this morning and I found the peace of God to be very real. In a hug, in a kind word and most importantly from the Word of God itself. It is a church founded and sustained on the truth of scripture, solid theology and guidance from the Bible. I feel as much at home there in this season of my life as I did at Bethel Harvest Church in college. For everything there is a season.
I don't remember there being a lot of emotion at church this morning. The singing was good. The message was powerful. The people were friendly. And ironically, I left with tears in my eyes so grateful to have spent time with the Lord. I loved Bethel Harvest Church and I love Covenant Baptist Church. Equally powerful. Equally life changing. People who equally are in love with their Savior. They may express themselves differently at times, but they are both filled to the brim with sinners acknowledging in whatever way they choose that they are in need of a Savior. I appreciate the different worship styles of people and am thankful that we live in a country with enough religious freedom that we can worship openly in whatever way we choose.
Those people today around the world huddled in a corner with a single torn page of scripture that had to be smuggled in at the risk of death have a lot to teach our spoiled country about denominational disagreements. I'm not saying charismatic people have it all right and I'm not saying baptists do everything right. But they don't have it all wrong either. We need to look deeper into the hearts of those worshipping and not strictly on the way their worship is expressed.