Saturday, February 9, 2008

Church Search -- (pt 2)

I'll see if I can keep this one shorter :)

After the first two churches, I went on down my list to the next church that was close to the house.

3) Visiting pastor -
This is actually a fairly common epidemic for me. The church we wound up going to in IL had a visiting pastor the first time we were there. When we were in Louisville, I think there was a guest preacher on 2 or 3 church visits.

This seems to be a problem for me. Not that there is a guest preacher, but it feels as if it is a "wasted" visit. Because the church I was at in IL would use nice, Godly men who everyone loved, but didn't preach from the Bible per se (they read a couple passages told a BUNCH of stories.) But the pastor at the church was fairly competent at explaining the Bible.

In this case, the music was nice, nobody (apart from the door greater) said anything to me. The music was average. One thing I liked, however, was that they had dedicated prayer time at (what appeared to be) every service. I mean prayer time. Middle of the service, they had counselors up front, and had everyone pray in the pew if you didn't go up. That was refreshing, hadn't seen that in a while.

4) E-Free
Got tired of the SBC churches being the same (after visiting 2 or 3) so I branched out. Went to an E-Free church.

It was pretty big. Not sure the door greeter even said anything too me. I could have gotten in and out without anyone hardly making eye contact except they had a time to shake hands, and this nice gentleman behind me actually started talking to me.

Songs were the "Jesus is my boyfriend" type of music. Real light on any meaning.

Sermon time I was hopeful as the preacher referenced Trinity Seminary in his opening remarks. He actually tended to keep going back to the passage at hand (a rare feat). But seemed to miss the main point. He preached on Unity out of Ephesians, and seemed to miss the point that the reason that Christians have unity is because they have Christ and the Spirit. Apparently, this is easy to do, as another church I visited had the same problem.

5) Bible Church -
So now that I wasn't sticking to SBC churches, I thought "why not try the Bible Church on the corner of my neighborhood." It was truly un-remarkable, in that I can barely remember anything that happened in the service. It must not have been too bad, though, because of church #6.

6) Second Bible Church -
Went to a much larger Bible church. The building was nice, and full. I estimated 3 or 400 people there, and it looked like they had an overflow room that was full. Songs seemed better than the boyfriend genre. The interesting point was that they had a rather long drama (about 15 minutes out of an hour or hour fifteen minute service.)

The drama was well done, in that the players obviously knew their lines and roles. They put good energy into it. However, I'm NOT a fan of drama in church. This case was part of the reason why. They went so long on the drama, the sermon itself was 10 -15 minutes. The drama was on the entire OT in 15 minutes. Like I said, they did a good job.

The sermon was on the usefulness of the OT. The pastor made a couple good, albeit brief, points. Mainly that the OT is just as divinely inspired as the NT. And that the OT is what the saints such as Timothy used as their Bible.

Where I thought it was lacking was that I walked out of the service thinking that the OT was primarily there to teach me to be moral. That anyone could pick up the OT, read it, and be a "good person." Furthermore, I felt like he missed the opportunity to talk about how the OT points to Christ. Maybe he didn't really believe that. It's rare to hear a sermon about the OT that shares my view. But it's also disappointing to hear a sermon on the OT without scarcely a mention of Christ.

#7) Reformed SBC? (last one today)
So I headed south to a church that looked to be a bit more reformed than most SBC churches in the area. I was really hoping to find one that was at least partly reformed. But I approached with a bit of trepidation as well. While I am reformed in my understanding of election etc. I'm not a regulative principle kind of guy. Nor am I still fighting the RCC. In deed, I might be blasted by reformed Christians as not really being reformed. I'm sure I'd be blasted by anti-reformed Christians as being too reformed :)

This church actually had someone besides a pastor that came up and talked to me. The songs were the kind that I was looking for. What I mean is songs with a deep meaning, sung by people who meant it. It wasn't dry-boring-hymns. It wasn't upbeat-shallow-choruses. It was some kind of mixture.

The sermon seemed to be pretty good as well. I thought he challenged the congregants to see their sin in ways that they wouldn't have normally.

So I walked out in the entry-way and grabbed a couple of their documents. I passed up the 1689 confession, but grabbed some others. Then on Monday I emailed the pastor asking "how reformed" you have to be. For example, I'm not a sabatarrian in the strictest since, and a lot of reformed baptist are. Also, I'm not at a point where I believe in Limited Atonement as expressed by most "reformed" baptist churches, and I know my family isn't there either.

Problem is, I never heard back from the pastor. Turns out his email bounced back twice. So I called the secretary. (An asside here, I have an aversion to the phone unless I'm really close to you. So right now I talk to my family, and one or two close friends with the phone. It's a long story, and I'm not even sure why. But phone conversations tend to give me more anxiety than even face-to-face.) I asked her my questions about how much of the 1689 do I have to affirm without reservation? She didn't really know, so I asked about sabbatarrianism and limited atonement. She said she'd pass my info to the pastor and took my phone number. Seems that the pastor didn't like email. So he called once (might have left a message, not sure) and I wasn't able to get it because it was the middle of the work day.

It wasn't that I was unsure of these issues. But rather I had made up my mind on them, and was pretty sure they were in opposition to their state beliefs. I still consider this church and it's members of like mind, but we differ over a couple minor points (in my mind, probably not in theirs). It was kind of like the church with a pre-tribulational position in their statement of beliefs...Not sure it's wrong, but I can't affirm it without reservation.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Church Search -- (pt 1)

Well, one post to start wasn't enough, so I'll have to write 2. I thought about including this in the first one, but that would make it entirely too long.

My family and I moved to Omaha, NE from Louisville, KY in June of 2007. Since that time I've been looking for a church. I thought I'd write some about my search. I'll use fake names, because I'm largely sure that the churches I've visited love Jesus and in no way do I want to take away from what they're doing. But for various reasons they didn't work out for me.

1)Pre-Trib Church.
This was the first church I visited when I got in town. I decided that I was going to be methodical about my search. So I did a search for "Baptist" on yahoo's yellow pages. I started with the closest one, and each week went to the next one on the list.

As I started driving to this church, I realized that I didn't know what "kind" of baptist they were. I've attended a KJV1611 church for a couple months before realizing what was going on. (For those who don't know, these type of churches think that only the KJV published in 1611 should be used, and the rest of the Bibles espouse heresy.) Additionally, I've worked with people who went to Baptist churches with women pastors (a stance, I do not agree with).

So I get into this church, and realize from the bulliten that the pastor was a guy (His name was Ray, or Dan, or something short and masculine). As I'm reading about their activities I see a brief doctrinal statement. In that statement they specify that the are pre-tribulational. Not a huge deal, as I myself have been pre-trib before. Heck, I might be right now, I'm not sure. But putting it in the statement of faith for their church seemed a little much.

They were nice. By that I mean, nobody really snubbed me. The pastor and door greeter talked to me for a couple seconds.

Nothing remarkable in their music, although all their songs appeared to be very purposefully chosen. Additionally, the sermon was about as standard as you can be.

I never went back. There wasn't anything wrong with this church, but there wasn't anything that said "This is where my family needs to be."

2) Recently moved church plant.
This church was actually closer to my home, but their old location is what Yahoo still had. I was a bit disappointed here in that their website said the service started at 10:30 so I got there at 10:25 (I don't like getting to new churches TOO early, but usually 5 or 10 minutes is enough). Problem was, their service didn't start till either 10:45 or 11, so I was there a long time.

This church was small enough that they knew I was a guest. This lead them to have the associate pastor "latch on" to me. Which was nice, he introduced me to several people there. All those people were nice as well. But at times I felt like I wanted to get away from him. Or maybe that I was on display as he bounced me from person to person.

The service started, and it was a store front with the ceiling painted black, spotlights (or lights of some kind) on the praise team while the rest of us were less well lit (we had some light, but our attention was forced to the front.) Again the songs weren't remarkable, except for the fact that several of them could have been sung about someone's girlfriend (since there was no mention of God or Jesus, but rather, how "you" make me feel.)

The sermon was on the importance of reading God's word. No doubt true, but it is a sermon that I have so rarely heard preached well. For 20 - 30 minutes this gentlemen went on and on about the importance of God's word. Yet, he did not preach God's word during that time. I left the service knowing nothing more of Jesus than when I went in. I did not feel as if I met him there (maybe a problem with me.) And only felt like "I should read my Bible more" in the same way that I know "I should eat out less and eat more vegetables."

I didn't even consider going back to this church. It just seemed like they were forcing it too much, and they, as a church, were really a place for young believers.

Wow, that's only 2 of the churches I've been to here (there are at least 9 so I'll have to shorten it up :D )

I am a Bruised Reed

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nate and I am a bruised reed.

That sounds a bit like an AA introduction. And in some ways, maybe it is. Bruised reeds don't get much talk these days. The world isn't run by bruised reeds. They aren't the ones on the cover of books, and magazines. People don't generally try to emulate them. Instead, they are hurt people. Not in the vein of dissociative identity disorder (although they're definitely bruised as well.) Instead, we're people whose lives aren't perfect, and are consciously aware of that.

The one place that Bruised Reeds should get the attention and care they need are in the local church. After all, Isaiah 42.3 foretells that Jesus will not break a bruise reed. A promise later fulfilled in Matthew. But bruised reeds are messy. I don't think I'm co-dependent or anything like that, but I don't fit into a well defined church box.

For example, I'm 15 hours away from completing my Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I know quite a it of my Bible, and theology. Without being proud, I'd say I know more than the average SBC church member. Bruised reeds are often thought of as people who just need to know the truth of scripture and that will sort everything out. And in deed, it may. Although my version of "knowing" and their version of knowing are vastly different. I can cite passages, defend theologies and parse Greek and Hebrew verbs. I know that Jesus loves me and that the Father loves me. Yet often those truths feel elusive in my life.

I'm not a bruised reed because I doubt my salvation. I'm very much assured of my salvation.

Instead, I'm a bruised reed because I have pain in my life. Who doesn't right? And I don't think that my pain is more than normal. I don't want to be some kind of martyr here. But for so long, I have stuffed the pain deep inside. I took the approach that for good Christians, every day with Jesus is better than the day before. So, I was determined to make the day better than yesterday. No time for pain, no time for hurt, because I follow Jesus.

But now, I'm coming to terms with the fact that, as was so well stated by REM, everybody hurts sometime. And I know the answer to that hurt is Jesus. But simply saying "Jesus will take care of it" seems to be a bit trite to me. Yet, I'm sure I've uttered that phrase to similarly hurting people at various times in my life.

Fact of the matter is, I wouldn't trade being a bruised reed for anything. It is when I'm in this bruised state that I see more clearly the love of Jesus. I feel, more strongly, his care and attention for me. Even though I may hurt, I know that Horatio Spafford was right, when he said "It is well with my soul" Jesus means more to me now, as a bruised reed, than at any point in my life.