This last week, one of my dearest and oldest friends was in town, and I invited her along on my journey. "What type of church are you used to attending?" After a little bit of back-and-forth, I found a Calvary Chapel location nearby and off we went.
The idea behind Calvary Chapel is that they work their way through the Bible, Genesis-Revelations, learning each chapter and verse and gaining a better understanding of God through His word. That's in a nutshell, of course. I had visited one of their services before, when we lived elsewhere, and I remember the upbeat music and the in-depth learning. I was excited to go! Plus, time with one of my best friends-- it would be a blessed day.
As usual when I think I "know" where a place is, I turned right instead of left and had to resort to GPS. I'm kind of glad that I did, or I most likely would have driven right past the actual building for the church. The area looked vaguely industrial, with many of the type of businesses that provide service without requiring an inviting storefront. Lots of metal outbuildings. At least two of those structures housed the church we sought (main chapel and children's building).
When I parked, my friend looked a little skeptical. "It's in a metal shed." Well, not quite, it was actually in a very nice and new (metal) building...but I giggled anyway. How would she have reacted to the church I attended in Kansas, where 50 or so met in a defunct video store? Where I suspect the nursery was housed in the "back room" for adults only? Or the church where I attend Bible study, in a (very nice) double-wide? Matthew 18:20 says, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." I would have to say this is one of the most important parts to this journey, and one that I am embracing.
This week, Calvary Fellowship was deep in the book of Luke. Specifically, Luke 15:11-32, the story of the prodigal son.
Now, I grew up attending Baptist churches, and I've heard this story many times. The father has two sons, one older and one younger. The older one is responsible, does the right thing, and works hard for his father. He obeys. The younger son is wasteful and self-centered, and leaves his family after getting his portion of the inheritance. The younger son uses up all of his inheritance, is forced to care for the pigs (which were unclean to him!), and finally hits rock bottom, coming home to his father.
The father, oh, the father-- he rejoices. He does not berate the younger son for his past, and does not turn him away. He falls on his son with joy, and demands that only the best be brought out for his beloved son.
The older son, who had been working in the field, came home to find a celebration. He asked why no party had ever been thrown for him, who had done only the right things and had not betrayed his father.
Until last Sunday, I will admit I had always kind of been on the side of the older son. Why wouldn't he be upset? Here he was, doing the right thing, being respectful, working hard...and his ungrateful, prodigal (wasteful) brother comes home to all glory.
I knew the story was about God and his forgiveness. That, no matter what, when we turn back to Him, He is there for us. I understood the role of the father in the story, and that the prodigal son was, in fact, us.
But I didn't understand the older son. Why was he wrong to be upset? Well, now I get it. If the "father" is our Father, and the younger son is us, then the older son represents the Philistines among us. The do-gooders who have hardened hearts towards others, or a proud manner, or who cannot forgive. The older son represents those of us who think we can somehow do enough good to earn that which our Father gives us, freely.
Little by little, through this journey, I am learning. I am re-learning stories I thought I knew, and I am surprised each visit by something new. Little things, such as location not mattering one whit, or what makes a church feel welcoming or holy-- I am so excited to keep going in this journey!