In Search of the Perfect Church (Part One)

church buildings

Spirit, Spirit, heed my call.

Where is the fairest church of all?

Where is the church who will love me the best?

Where is the church where I can get some rest;

Where the preacher will make me laugh and relax,

And one who doesn’t confuse me with the facts?

Where can I find a church like that?

“It will never happen in my church” or  “It will never happen again in my church.” I have said both of these statements and believed them about my church.  The first Protestant church I ever attended was a church my high school friend dragged me to. I did not want to go because my family was Catholic. The only reason I agreed to go was out of my loneliness and desperation to have something (anything) to do besides stay home.  Through the high school ministry and Sunday preaching at this church (I will refer to as CC for Christian Church), I heard the Gospel explained in such a way that it made sense to me for the first time. I heard from the teaching and preaching the Good News of Jesus dying for my sins, so that I could live life “abundantly “ (John 10:10b) as a child of the God who dearly loved me unconditionally now and forever, no matter what. The Holy Spirit opened the ears of my heart to understand God’s grace. Not only did I hear about the Gospel of grace,  I also met people living out the joy of knowing  “Jesus paid it all!” And not only did I know I was accepted and loved by God, the people of CC accepted and loved me and treated me as one of them.

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I was not used to this extraordinary kind love from people outside my immediate family because, most of the time, my experiences with people were not very positive ones. Most of the time, people would only see my disability (cerebral palsy) and did not take the time to get to know who I was on the inside – who God made me to be and the gifts He blessed me with. People did not know me as a person who has a sense of humor, that I am compassionate, nurturing and encouraging, that I give everything my all and will hardly ever give up, and that God has blessed me with lots of  “smarts” (and I also can be a bit of a “smart-aleck” at times, but in a good way), just to name a few of my God-given attributes most people not see in me.

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CC became my second home; a place where I sought refuge from the stormy struggles that come with living life with a disability. The people at CC accepted me and saw the person I really was. I did not have to prove who I was over and over again. In turn, I loved them and valued my new family in Christ. In a way, CC became my “Cheers” (TV situational comedy in the ‘80s about a bar in Boston); a place “where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see – our troubles are all the same. You want to go where everybody knows your name. You wanna go where people know people are all the same. You want to go where people know your name” (theme song written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo).  At CC, I wasn’t a disabled person; I was Lydia.

cheers

During the first five years of my new Christian life, I graduated from high school and started my college career, first at a community college, then at a four-year college, then at another nearby college for my Master’s Degree. The first four years, I lived at home and was able to attend CC every Sunday for Sunday School and Worship Services. I also attended Bible Studies in people’s homes and I was excited to be able to read and study the Bible on my own. I grew like a weed in my Christian walk. In my junior year of college, I lived on campus and lived away from home for the rest of my college career. During that time, I came home once or twice a month and attended CC, but I also attended other churches nearby the colleges I attended and made many Christian friends, many of whom belonged to Para-church ministries, such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. These college friends all helped nurture me in my Christian walk. In those first five years of my Christian walk, I grew to love Christ more and more, and I no longer attended Christian functions because I wanting something (anything) to break the cycle of boredom in my life. I went to church, Sunday School, Bible Studies, weekend retreats to get to know the One who loved me best – my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My new focus on Christ, rather than having a social life, proved to be invaluable in 1979.

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During one of the weekends I came home and attended the Sunday worship  at CC,  the Senior Pastor announced that he had been given the opportunity to go to Pakistan and that he would be leaving  CC. This was a bit of a shock to everyone. I can remember seeing grown men crying because the Senior Pastor, a very charismatic and gifted speaker, was leaving. But, I thought it very strange that people felt so much emotion about his departure. We still had two Assistant Pastors that were able to carry on the ministry of CC. However, after all that hubbub took place, a short while later, the Senior Pastor announced that the Pakistan opportunity fell through and that he was staying after all. Then, a little while after that, the Senior Pastor again announced that he was leaving, but this time to a church in Florida. What in the world was going on?

Because of being away and immersed in college studies, the Lord spared me the details of my church’s first experience with church conflict. It was only a good while later, that I learned the first Senior Pastor of the church where I found Christ and Christ-like people was involve in sexual immorality, divorced his wife and married CC’s secretary, after moving to Florida. Very little was known about what was going on because the Senior Pastor picked his own “yes men” to be the elders of CC. If ever there was such a thing as a “church conflict,” this was a CHURCH CONFLICT! How would we as a church survive this? The answer is, God is faithful. The answer is, God is the God of the impossible. The answer is God.

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“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:21-26).

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, BUT with GOD all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

I find it fascinating, and somewhat ironic, that this Pastor’s favorite hymn was “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and that one year he had scripture cards printed for the entire congregation with the partial verse “With God all things are possible.” I believe that, way before our first church conflict, God was preparing us for what was coming from the very beginning. And God was true to his Word and CC survived our first major church conflict and even grew stronger because of it. It is true that many people who “followed” the first CC Pastor left the church and others left because they felt betrayed by him. But many people stayed at CC and were committed to rebuilding the church and restoring its witness for Christ. God used a “Search Team” to find a godly man to be the second Senior Pastor of CC, he stayed for over twenty years and the church grew, prospered and our witness for Christ was restored under his servant-leadership. “And we all lived happily ever after.“ Right? That would only be the case if Jesus’ second coming happened. To the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t happened yet. For the rest of the story, stay tuned (wait) for my next post.

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