27 01 2008

I realise that I’m going to have to come back on various things in this flow of thoughts about life experiences and especially church experiences. I need to go with what is ‘live’ at the moment.
Today is Sunday. Many years ago I used to hate Sundays. As a child I went to a ‘church school’ and was dragged for a while into being one of two choirboys who turned up in the little local Anglican Church. Not a good experience and it didn’t mean much to me then anyway. Perhaps it was that, but for the most of my younger life I felt guilty about Sundays, which was strange because neither of my parents were religious at all and never imposed it on me. Somehow Sundays seemed a miserable day or at the very least a day when you couldn’t enjoy yourself. 
Today it’s a very different ball-game. I realise that there are a considerable number of churches that will not identify with my present experience and I respect their way of going about things. I’m just grateful for where we’ve come to. I’ll change the names but not the thoughts or actions.
Earlier this morning I found myself at the back of the hall our church uses (which immediately divides us of as weird as far as many more orthodox believers are concerned!) listening while this morning’s music group, comprising the worship leader on guitar, his wife on keyboard, a flautist and a singer, practised before most people arrived.  I sat there reflecting on other churches that I know – a friend in Mumbai whose congregation would have met some hours before, and my friend and his church in Los Angeles who wouldn’t be gathering for about another eight hours.  Around the globe a whole variety of Christian religious experience was under way.
I watched the welcome team greeting the early arrivals and the two girls on coffee setting up, ready to provide a tea or a coffee before the service for whoever wanted one. Then before I knew it we were into the ‘worship’ while in the background I could hear the strains of the children in another room having ‘Children’s Church’. This morning’s music was very personal, about the surrender of our lives to God. I couldn’t help but think of Christopher Hitchens who would no doubt call this craven, and wonder why this belief does “not make its adherents happy?” You’re joking, I thought, happy doesn’t go anywhere near the wonder and the joy that I see on so many faces. 
To prove the point, the worship leader paused up and two people immediately prayed out loud, one after the other, quite spontaneously giving thanks to God for His wonderful goodness. It was a love offering.  The worship moved on, there was another brief pause and someone else prayed about how wonderful it was that, although he knew he was far from perfect, God still loved him so much; another heartfelt expression of how good it was to be with God – because that was what it surely was. 
I looked around the room and marvelled at the signs of God’s goodness. There near the back was Frank, an elderly man now who, some twelve years or so ago, used to suffer so badly with a smashed knee as a result of a motorcycle accident. He became a Christian and decided to give up smoking. For a week he struggled with chewing gum until his jaws ached. It was probably that which provoked him to go to his mid-week house group and ask for prayer. As His house group leader and his wife went to stretch out their hands to pray for him, before they could say a word, the power of God hit him back onto the settee unconscious. When he came round he was light-headed for the rest of the evening and had to be taken home. When he woke in the night he suddenly realised that the pain in his knee had gone. He got up, dressed and danced out in the road in the night as he realised it had been completely healed – and his desire to smoke had gone as well! 
Across the room from me was my daughter, looking very pregnant. Several years ago tests had indicated it was almost impossible for her to conceive. She and her husband prayed. A travelling minister passed by and prophesied over her that she would have a child in a year’s time. She did! Now she’s expecting her second one. 
Those are the more spectacular instances of God’s goodness to us. There are plenty more, lives touched by God and transformed. Many of these people have been through tough times and much of the time it is not the spectacular which sustains them, just the sure sense of God with them, a God who was introduced to them through His Son Jesus Christ and who they have learned loves them very much – just as they are.
The service carried on and I was beginning to think it was going to be a quiet morning, when one of the girls goes out the front to testify to the release she had received in the week as she faced and confessed the fear she had as a mother, for her young child. “I feel there are people here who need to speak out their fears and be released.”  As the worship continues ones and two’s go to the back where two of the leaders listen to them and pray for them while the worship continues. There were life changes taking place. 
There was a mid-service coffee break where we are joined by the children and for twenty minutes the room is filled with the hum of conversation. At the end of the break the children return to their own time and one of our ladies brings the teaching to the church. It doesn’t happen often and we are following a structured series. She is able, confident in God’s word, humble and gracious, as she delivers the half hour teaching on, “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:8). Her husband another preacher looks on with a small measure of pride. The church leaders look on, blessed by the servant hearted delivery. It was a good time and, as our practice is now, sheets are available at the back at the end that lay out all she has been bringing. 
As we come to the end of the morning and clear away, I wonder what some of the crusading atheists would have made of this morning. Was God here? I believe so but I can’t prove it. One thing I do know though, and that is that at the end of this morning, through the experience they have been through, this group of people have gone back into the world and the week ahead, stronger in themselves, some of them healed up, some released from fears and anxieties, and all committed to live out a life of goodness, better equipped to love and care for those around them. What I also know is that all around us are lots of people who didn’t have that experience and didn’t come away like that – and that is their loss and the loss for our society.  More than that, all round the world in this twenty four hours, there will have been Christians of all persuasions, expressing their corporate worship in many different ways, and similarly coming away equipped to express God’s goodness in a hurting world. You can call them deluded or misguided and whatever other derogatory term you can dream up, but don’t question their sincerity and goodness. It will have been a good day.





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