05 January, 2008

Joining My Church

I eat my own dog food.

That's a programming phrase. Programmers who don't use their own programs are roundly riduculed. If, for example, Microsoft were running all their servers on IBM software, they'd be in for a pounding. Programmers call using your own software, "eating your own dogfood."

I attend the church closest to me. There are benefits to practicing what I preach beyond the moral high ground. I know what it feels like to look in a place so close to home for Christian fellowship. I also know the strange feeling that if I mess up, I don't have 500 other churches to choose from. This is the closest church to my home. Messing up here would be a lot like speeding in your own neighborhood. It's just not smart.

In August of 2005 I joined the LifeBridge. I wanted something very different for myself, but 7 years had just been too long without believers in my life. I'd moved my ex's bed in the spring of 2004, and my daughter had moved in with her in June of 2005, so it was just me and my boy.

More to the point, I'd been without a Christian in my life since '98.

I'd been hanging out at the Thinklings for a long time, but I was beginning to notice that commenting on a wildly popular blog was a long way from fulfilling. First off, I had too much skin in the game to not get hurt when I got no response. Second, they were people, but they were people a long way off. Eventually, I had to leave my screen each night, and when I did they were gone and there was no one. And really, when I eventually quit commenting over there in early 2006 no one even noticed (except Milly :-).

The closest church to me is named, "Neighborhood Family of Jesus" or something equally appealing.

I held my breath and walked in.

The people could not have been friendlier. They took me in like a long-lost cousin and made me feel as welcome as I could possibly hope. I shook hands, pointed in the direction of my house, and let them know there wasn't a wife any more. They smiled and understood and casually made sure I knew everyone, including the other single. They were good people.

Then I wandered over to the literature rack. They didn't believe Jesus was as truly God as His Father was God. I didn't bolt, but there was no chance I'd be sticking around. I enjoyed their sermon, especially because it was delivered by a woman. It was all true enough, and I was delighted to see a woman preach, but they don't hold Christ as Christ, and that's the end of that.

Going to the church nearest does not mean taking on responsibility to rehab an anti-Christian organization. If anyone ever reads this who's thinking about giving themselves to a nearby church, make sure it's a living church that loves Christ at least as much as Ephesus did in Revelation 2. Join a church, not a missionary project.

The next week I suited up again, and visited the next nearest church. This one had international flags up in their front yard, and was a part of the Christian Missionary Alliance. I found it hard to be against that, so I stepped into Lifebridge Church.

The church was almost entirely made up of seniors. I'd been in a Free-Will Baptist Church like that back before I was married, and I'll always remember it with a grin. I heard more stories in 30 minutes about attractive granddaughters than I ever knew existed. I was a fool and I never went back, but what's done is done.

The literature rack at LifeBridge was stocked with the preachers of my youth. There was nothing there to blow me away, but nothing to scare me away either. A seeker could do worse than to read their stuff. (I'm a very harsh customer, in case you didn't already know.) I was greeted by four or five kind people, and everyone seemed normal. Nobody offered me a possible bride, but other than that they seemed friendly enough. My hopes were pretty low, but they seemed to be well above them.

I found a seat pretty much exactly in the middle of the auditorium and waited. The hundred or so seats were about half-filled when they started. I'd been going through one of my phases of listening to Christian music, so I actually knew most of the songs they sung that day. That meant I had to decide right-away how to sing. Left to my own, I sing about twice as loudly as most people can. And since most people don't sing anywhere near as loudly as they can, I can make quite a spectacle of myself. I decided I was there to sing, and I sang.

It wasn't long before I was crying. It had been too many long, long years since I had joined my voice to others in praising our Lord, and it was beyond moving to do so again. I'll never forget those first three weeks when I wept every time we sung. I hear there's a move to minimize the singing in many churches because us guys don't like it. I assume that's the truth, but I'd follow the singing wherever it went. I can replace a sermon with a book, but singing alone is completely different from singing with brothers and sisters.

I'm an intensely harsh customer when it comes to preaching, but the sermon was solid. There was no doubt this church and its pastor loved Christ as the Lord.

As long as I was teeing off on things, I figured I'd swing for the bleachers after the sermon was over. I walked up to the pastor and explained exactly what was going on. I was divorced, and I believed a lot of things they'd call heresy. I had chosen the church because I believed in home church, but I was not going to have a home church any time soon, so I was at going to go to the church closest to my home. If he could live with that, I'd be back.

We talked for a minute or two about home church, predestination and amillenialism and he was completely open to me being me. He understood a lot, and what he did not understand he was willing to live with.

I could not have been more relieved. There were another 6 churches almost as close to me, but I am not much of a shopper. I'm a harsh customer, but when I've found what I want and a price I can afford, I quit looking.

I instantly felt warm with these people, and that was what I needed.

---

Looking back over my 2 1/2 years with LifeBridge, it's been a wonderful choice. The people have been a cool drink of water for me more times than I can count, and they assure me that I've been a blessing to them too.

I've found that to be true every time I've given myself to Christians.

That's why I stepped back into a church even when I thought it was wrong to do so. Christians prove themselves worth the risk over and over.

I did not go back because it's some kind of are you. though. If you want to make me angry, quote Hebrews 10:25 to me.
Hbr 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

I spent 6 years alone as a Christian before starting at LifeBridge. I spent 10 years before that in a home church that many people felt was a forsaking of the assembling. In the 8 years or so before that I was fellowshipping in ways hardly anyone would recognize as Christian. I've had that verse quoted to me too many times, and to too little purpose to take it cheerfully any more. Take your Hebrews 10:25 and interpret it in a room with no windows. (presumably, that's somewhere that the sun don't shine, right?)

Hebrews 10 is about Christians approaching God with boldness, and provoking one another to do so. I'm "for" that. I quit church a quarter century ago precisely because no one was obeying it so's I could tell. The problem was partly mine, and I'll own that even now, but provoking me to assemble with someone was ALWAYS counter-productive. Provoke me to approach God, and show me how your assembly will help me do that, and I'll be there. Provoke me to show up, tithe, and sing on cue and I'll go off on one of these rants of mine.

When I stepped into LifeBridge, I didn't just assemble myself with believers, I approached God with them. Two+ years on, I still am. I'm glad I finally matured enough to handle that, and I'm glad my doctrine of the church is coming in line with something that gives me so much joy.

I don't know. That was pretty rambly, but I wanted to look at that history again.

May the Lord bless your search.

11 comments:

Milly said...

It’s funny how you and I met over there and have developed a friendship. This has been a good and timely series. I’ve needed some guidance on how to walk away and find. I won’t be doing it this week I received a call, so I’ll stay a bit longer.

Missy said...

That's good history. Milly doesn't seem to let go of friends too easily, eh? ;-)

I am glad you have hope in people - esp. God's - the same way I do. I try never to expect anyone to be a better Christian than me, and that sets the bar low - and delightfully surprises me most of the time.

Milly said...

Kevin is a hard one to let go of.

Missy said...

I agree. :)

codepoke said...

It made my night to see any comments at all, and such nice ones. Aw shucks. :-)

Thank you both! You're quite kind. It is wonderful how the Lord brings His children together, and it's a good thing to stay through thick and thin.

eclexia said...

Thanks for sharing more of your personal "church history" story. Pray for me. This is my third Sunday at the church in my town where I've decided to stay put. I'm still kind of surprised by the changes in my heart which God has done and a bit skeptical, I think, waiting for the day when the arrogant, critical part of me pops back up its ugly head.

For now, it's just so nice to look forward to going to church and approaching God with others. I know feelings aren't everything, but it is sure nice to feel good about going to church, and not have it be a huge battle with my own emotions and a resentful battle against all the "red tape".

I'm so thankful to the Lord for the part your words have had in this process in my life. It humbles me over and over to have my life be touched by the sufferings and confusion and pain others have walked through already.

lingamish said...

I love churches with a good representation of gray-haired grannies and gents. A church that can be inclusive to the next generation without scaring aways elderly saints is heaven on earth.

Thanks for this post and others I read. And thanks for commenting on my blog yesterday!

pearlie said...

Thanks for your story, Kevin. It encouraged me. I am beginning to be a harsh customer myself but I suppose staying 29 years in a family church more than 20 miles away made me one finally. I have been with Life Methodist almost a year now, which I believe is the nearest church to our house - just a minute drive away.

I can replace a sermon with a book, but singing alone is completely different from singing with brothers and sisters.
I like what you said here - and it is so true, though I must learn to sing together - I have been harsh in this respect.

DugALug said...

Kevin,

I was in your neck of the woods two months ago... I thought of you (actually in Westerville... but close enough).

I still read your stuff and love it. I hope you know I have prayed a lot for you and that God would lovingly and patiently remove the walls that you have imposed upon yourself.

Blogging and pontificating are nice, but there is no replacement for good 'ol human fellowship. I also believe that God speaks volumes to me through people in my life.

One thing that always has amazed me about your blog is how inredibly open you are. I know I haven't been posting, but know that I am still reading.

I'm really happy for you and it sounds like there is a lot of health in where you are.

Hey... My family (an me) are all doing pretty well too... BTW.

God Bless
Doug

codepoke said...

What a pleasant surprise, Doug! Thank you.

I'm glad to hear you're well, and that your little ones are doing well. Thank you for the kind wishes, and I hope you've been able to find the focus you were seeking when you exchanged hangouts.

Yeah, there are a lot of walls in my life. We'll see how the Lord works to unveil them to me. They say that a dog tormented too much will cower on an electric floor rather than leave it. At some point the dog quits seeking freedom, and you have to teach it to do so from scratch. I suspect I cower way more than I know, but the Lord keeps opening my mind to life. He's faithful.

Good to read you again,

Mike said...

I'm not ready to set foot in a "church" again, but this was an encouraging post.

Peace,
Mike