Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lord, The One You Love Is Sick

Today's blog is for Ruth and especially for Pastor Franks. They are such dear people to me, and Pastor especially needs our prayers.

Lord, the one you love is sick.

Last night, fending off a migraine, I decided to look around at some of the more popular online churches today.  The ones with pastors who are well-known authors, the ones where I am more familiar with the titles of their books than I am the content of their preaching. I came across a Facebook post that asked for suggestions for online services, and found out that Max Lucado isn't just the author I thought he was, but he is the minister of a busy church a few hours south of here.

Until then, I'd thought he was kind of a mystical author, more "feel good" than biblical. I hadn't read his books, and had only seen a few quotes, but I'm generally leery of authors I first hear of from Oprah or other sources.

There are no accidents, remember?  I turned to the website for Oak Hills Church. Their service was over, but they had archived sermons. "Have You Prayed About It?" immediately popped out at me, and I turned on the first installment of the series.

One of the first things he talked about was the story of Lazarus. How Mary and Martha needed to care for him, but they sent "someone" to find Jesus and ask for healing.

That someone spoke to Jesus and said, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

That someone prayed on Lazarus' behalf.  "The healing began when the prayer was offered," said Pastor Lucado.  When we pray, Heaven acts.

Are you someone?  Am I?

Of course I am.

So tonight I am praying for Pastor Franks.  I am so thankful for these thoughts from Pastor Lucado, and for a way of looking at the simplest words in this familiar story--  I am someone. I am praying.

You see, when I began this journey, it was the first time I had met Pastor Franks and it was his birthday party. He and the church family had invited me to stay, and I found myself telling Pastor Franks about this project of mine. I told him about my search for a church home.

He said the words that I have tried to hold to the entire time-- "Don't let them lead you astray."  He knew some of the churches would hold sermons about falsehoods instead of Biblical truths. He knew some of the ministers would be tempted by the respect their congregations have for them, and give in to that temptation to ask the congregants to do something that was not biblically based, such as voting a certain way.  He knew, and he warned me.

Pastor Franks' church family has embraced me as part of their family, though I don't (yet) attend their church. They see me as "someone".

And, Lord, the one you love is ill.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Best Note

There is a building along one of the main routes in Killeen that has fascinated me since we moved here. The building is shaped like a house but is in a more commercial district, and it's had several different personalities over the years. It has been, I think, a realtor's office, empty, a church, and now a different church.

Hill Country Church (PCA) is there, now, and they have made the building homey looking and welcoming, with a new bright sign and an invitation "Join Us" along with service times. Both are easily seen from the street, which I always appreciate.

I have to laugh at myself sometimes, though, for my occasional gaps in denominational knowledge.  PCA does not, as I had imagined, mean Pentecostal Churches of America.  I had gone to the service, expecting hats and white gloves and shouted aleluia's.  Instead, I saw everything from blue jeans to nice blazers and cotton dresses.  The "P," as it turns out, means Presbyterian.

So this is where some research comes in. According to, Presbyterian Churches in America (PCA) was formed in protest of the more liberal changes that were occurring elsewhere in the denomination, holding to the rules about women in Church offices and the "inerrancy and authority of Scripture". Like the Lutherans, then, it appears the Presbyterians have synods, or divisions, based on strict (or more lenient) interpretations of the Bible.

Here is where it gets difficult. On that same site, they refer to certain "doctrines of grace," to include the following: (3)  Particular atonement.  God in His infinite mercy, in order to accomplish the planned redemption, sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die as a substitute for the sins of a large but specific number of people, cf. Romans 8:29 and 30.  

Wait... A specific number? That's something I will have to think about long and hard. It almost sounds like they believe that number will never change, that some people will always be lost. I already struggle with the idea that there are so many people who will never be "saved," and I read about an entire denomination that knows and accepts this. 

But that isn't Hill Country, necessarily. It's just a peek into the denomination, and it gives me something to think about and study. Since gaining spiritual knowledge is one of my goals in writing this blog and making these visits, I can't very well complain when it happens.

Entering the church, I met smiles and warm welcomes from everyone I saw. There seemed to be more men in the service than women, which is a shift from what I've seen elsewhere. It may just be that I so seldom sit near anyone (or people so rarely sit by me after I've chosen my spot), that I noticed the ones closest to me more clearly. Pastor Lou Best welcomed me warmly, both personally after I sat down and again during the church announcements. This is a smaller church, seating what looked like maybe a hundred congregants (but may have been more). It felt comfortable and homey. The gentleman next to me helped me figure out which was the hymn book and which was the song book as we worked our way through the (blessedly detailed) order of service.

Here I will add: One thing I am growing to love about the more liturgical services is this tendency to outline everything they are going to do throughout the service. They explain the prayers of response, the verses we will say and sing, they outline page numbers and hymn numbers and what they believe about the Lord's Supper. Not every church welcomes the majority of people to participate in Communion, and it is very helpful to know whether and under what circumstances I am to take part. Some even show when to stand and when to sit, so I am not furtively watching my closest seatmates for their actions.

Pastor Best gave a terrific sermon.  He moved smoothly through the Scripture, detailing meaning and thought. He brought in modern situations (Facebook as a public relations instrument) and tied that in with God's actions and Words. I should have taken better notes. 

The associate pastor, Adam Viramontes, offered the Pastoral prayer and asked for specific congregational prayer requests. His prayer blended brief but specific words, demonstrating empathy and compassion, and was also spoken clearly enough so I could hear him easily from several rows back. He greeted me as service was ended, and I could see he loves this church family.

Hill Country is very fortunate to have both Pastors Best and Viramontes.

What made this visit special, aside from the fact that people really seemed to see me, was a hand-written note I received about a week afterwards. 

"Dear Casey,
     Thank you for visiting and worshiping with us on Sunday. It is an honor to be at the middle of your 52-Sunday church journey! I'd be interested in hearing about this project and what you have discovered. As you could probably tell we are a mostly military congregation and deal with all the challenges that population brings. Please let us know if we can assist you in any way. When your "pilgrimage" is over you know where we are!  Blessings in Christ, Lou Best."

I should note that I have started filling out the visitor cards with my name, address, email and a short comment about this church journey. I have received two emails before this, from different pastors, and both were friendly and interesting. I have made dear friends who are like family to me. I have been so incredibly blessed along this journey, and it's only a little over halfway done. I am not one to ask, "what next?" but I am looking so forward to hearing the answer.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Many Kinds of Baptist

A couple of Sundays ago, I decided to visit a church that is next door to another one I've visited a few times. Westside Baptist Church is tucked back in next to some trees, with a much older parsonage-looking building in front of it.  They call themselves "an oasis of light in a darkened world".  Sounded good to me, and off I went.

So far, I have been to five (or is it six?) different churches that have specifically called themselves Baptist.  One was much like the churches I grew up in, with traditional hymns and accompanying organ music. One was a more modern-feeling service, but still had the older pews and the kind of quiet and formal familiarity. Another one preached a bit of fire and brimstone and abstaining from any and all alcohol, while people were friendly and open with one another. Perhaps a missionary Baptist is a different type of denomination, but that visit was full-on gospel and ushers with white gloves.

Is it any wonder, then, that I no longer know what to expect of any church I enter?

If anyone local wonders about Westside, Baptist Church, I can tell them that it is the full-gospel, white-glove, 1 1/2-hour type of Baptist church.

Yes, there is a bit of a racial divide between the types of Baptist I've described.  Both the missionary Baptist and Westside Baptist are places where I really stick out, versus the others where I am more likely to blend in.  However, at the missionary Baptist, I really felt like I stuck out. I didn't feel like they were used to folks from different backgrounds visiting their church, and they weren't entirely sure how to deal with it.

Westside Baptist Church made me feel welcomed. Someone close by to my seat asked me if it was my first visit. She thanked me for coming, she showed me where the hymnals were. She was also a teenager, which shows that grace knows no age.

There was a sweet little Children's sermon, where Pastor talked about being thankful for our gifts, especially the gift God gave of His Son.

The choir was amazing, not the least of which because of one of the singers. His voice was deep and filling, like the richest stock.

There were lots of things that I took note of, during the sermon.

**Obedience: Doing what we're told, when we're told to do it, in the manner told, with the right attitude.  Without the attitude, it's merely compliance. God wants obedience.

**Hold God's word in your heart, don't let anything crowd it out. God in our heart helps us hold to who we are, and God has a way of reminding us who He is.

**When we leave the house, we need to put on the full armor of God. Armor only does us good if we wear it.

**It's not enough to know Him, we need to be in love with Him. When we love something, we keep it close to our hearts.

And my favorite, Brother Lee: First Sunday of the new year, he always stands and gives his testimony.  "Every time I turn around, the Lord is blessing me."

Little by little, I am learning what types of Baptist church I would like to return to, what I feel comfortable with, and how to act in each of them. It is not enough to say what denomination you prefer, but it's important to communicate what types of traditions you find valuable and which styles of worship feel most comfortable.

And may I add, every time I turn around, the Lord is blessing me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Crashing the Party

My experience last Sunday is actually the second half of a story. The first half was a little awkward, a little embarrassing, and is now the focal point of a new family story...starring me.

One of the ways I find new churches is by keeping my eyes open, and if I see a church as I'm driving, I try to make note of its name and then I go look it up. Some churches have websites, some have marquees with all of their information, some require a more personal approach. Sometimes, I get the wrong information or I get a little confused or I get the wrong time in my head and fail to double-check.

Crossroads Church has two locations, one that is close to an hour away and one closer to me. I've made two previous attempts to visit this church, once pulling into the close location just as the distant location would have been starting service and once pulling into the correct location but being a half hour behind.  I have a tenacious nature (I can hear my husband laughing now), so I determined that I'd try one more time.  I'd go during their "Wednesday refreshing" service. I have been wanting to try a midweek service for a while now, and decided this was the time.


I didn't take into account that this was likely a smaller church.

And I didn't take into account that it was the week before Christmas.

I also didn't know that there was a Korean congregation that shared the building with the church, but that ended up being a non-issue other than making me wonder if I would even be able to understand any service that was held (they were in a different part of the building).

As I walked up to the building, it was very dark and seemed very late in that way that only winter evenings can be.  I was about to leave, when I mustered nerve to speak with someone in the parking lot.  It was an older lady, and the girl with her turned out to be her granddaughter.

They don't actually hold service on Wednesday nights.

It's a Bible Study.

And that night?  Well, they were holding fellowship.  But they welcomed me, anyway, please...come in, come in.

Yes, dear reader...  I crashed their Christmas party.

These people fed me.  They welcomed me to their party and they wanted to get to know me.  This is a small group; there were maybe 10-15 people there, including some kids, and the kids went off into another part of the building for their own party.  We played Win, Lose, or Draw.  I am horrible at it.  They didn't care.

This last Sunday, just before the New Year, I attended this same church at the correct time, in the location I wanted to visit.  These people remembered me, hugged me, welcomed me back.

So I don't think it matters what the songs were.  I don't think it even matters what the verses were, though I wrote them down at the time.  Church service was small, with many people, including the pastor, on vacation.  But this is a church that acts as Jesus would have-- welcoming, loving, and being thankful just that someone came to share their love for God.

I am truly humbled.