Yesterday I went to church for the second week in a row. I went to First Assembly Ministries, same place I went the week before. I am really liking that place. Yesterday the Pastor of the church was back from India of all places, where he was a guest at a HUGE church there, in a city that used to be called one name (by the British) and is now called something else (by the native Indians). I'll have to check the spelling ... Chennai is the current, and dare I say correct name. The pastor there, Rev. David Mohan, is a good friend of Pastor Betzer, whom I heard speak yesterday.
Let me describe to you my impression of Pastor Betzer. He is somewhat short, older (he has grey hair), and a singing voice like Johnny Cash. The funny thing is at yesterday's service he was wearing an all-black outfit! He told us there was a reason he was wearing it - his good friend Rev. Mohan wears the same thing when he preaches on Sunday (but in different colors). Well Pastor Betzer has so much respect and love for Pastor Mohan that he wanted to dress like him, at least for one service. It was an all-black, satiny-looking simple outfit. He said wearing it inspired him to be as evangelical as Pastor Mohan.
Pastor Mohan has a lot of energy, according to Pastor Betzer. Pastor Mohan's goal is to start 25,000 christian churches in India by 2012. He just might accomplish that, according to Pastor Betzer. He is so filled with the Holy Spirit, so dedicated to God and to Jesus Christ that there is no doubt in Pastor Mohan's mind, or in Pastor Betzer's mind for that matter, that he will succeed in his mission.
I learned so much at yesterday's service. Not only did I learn a little bit about the corner of India that Pastor Mohan visited, I also learned about what drives First Assembly Ministries - it is a verse from John 20, verse 21 of that chapter I believe: "Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.'" (John 20:21) Pastor Betzer said that is a "key verse" to what First Assembly Ministries is founded on, as a church. That church is very mission-driven, as any Christian church should be, but they don't just talk about it, they do it. Pastor Betzer described himself yesterday as a "mission fanatic". The only symbols at the altar are that of a dove and a cross. It is my kind of church.
The most interesting thing I learned is that Chennai, India is the site of where the Doubting Thomas of the Bible was martyred. I never knew that! Apparently the surviving apostles spread out through the present-day Middle East, and to Europe, but Thomas, the famous doubter, he went as far as India! How I was raised Catholic and did not know that piece of information is beyond me. Maybe I missed it; or maybe I was just never exposed to it, but whatever, I found that fascinating!
It's not just the experience that comes to me while I'm there, it's how I'm thinking about how I direct my life after I leave the church. I feel challenged. You don't go to a church like that to get comfortable in your routine. In fact, that was part of the sermon yesterday - don't let yourself get stuck in a rut! Don't be content with the "status quo" (when Pastor Betzer said 'status quo' there was so much contempt dripping from his voice; he really hates complacency).
Of course, we heard about tithing. You're going to hear about tithing at any Christian church or Jewish synagogue you go to, but how many of those turn your tithing dollars to such fruitful use? Everywhere you turn inside the sanctuary and beyond, you look at the website and you realize that they use everything they touch to forward and advance the Good News of Jesus Christ!
It is an extreme challenge for me. I'm not used to a) doing the right thing all the time or, 2) witnessing to the faith I profess to have. I'm one of those who talks a big game in conversation with people but I don't always stop to help those in need when I pass them on the street, or wherever I happen to be. I've spent so many years making myself so self-aware, living for myself, making sure I'm comfortable. I've spent so many years making excuses for myself and others, that I find it difficult now to break out of such ingrained habits. But I'm not going to lean on that as some excuse; none of that matters now. What matters is this moment in time that I'm given, this day right here. That's how I try to keep it in perspective: whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and anxious I just try to remember that nothing in my life is too big for God to handle, and to just take it one day at a time. It really helps me to think of it that way.
I like challenging myself. I do believe that Jesus Christ is coming again to save the faithful and to wipe out evil from this world once and for all. In this society we have gotten too permissive, too complacent and not faithful enough. I see a lot going on around me; I don't know how to witness to people without jeopardizing my job or turning friends away or just generally making myself look like a crazy person. That is what I struggle with; I don't have enough faith.
That's why I read the Bible every day, or I try to anyway. If I don't get to sit down and read my daily Bible verse then I try to get a "verse of the day" from the Biblegateway.com website or something like that. I've replaced the secular music I used to listen to (and sometimes still do) with Christian selections. And every day I pray to the Holy Spirit to give me strength to do the right thing, no matter what.
It works, it really does!