As I pulled out of the zombie church and onto the main road a few weeks ago, grieving over what I had seen, I looked over and saw the neighboring church, Emmanuel Alliance Church, right next door. “That church is different,” God told me. “I want you to go there next, in two weeks.”
So accordingly, this past Sunday, I got in the car and headed for Emmanuel. When I checked their website before going, I saw that the pastor was preaching a series called “Miracle Grow” on the fruits of the Spirit. I groaned inwardly. It sounded so cheesy, especially after hearing most people teach the fruit of the Spirit as something that we work within ourselves—like ideals for a Christian to strive for.
I arrived at the church and was greeted warmly by various people. I sat down and began counting chairs to try to get an idea of the capacity of the sanctuary (I’m really horrible at estimating the size of a group). I never did finish the math. Please don’t ask me how many seats there are. I would say attendance ended up at 50-60 people.
The worship team—two vocalists, piano, and guitar—started in with “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, followed by some contemporary songs.
Friends, I grew up believing that contemporary Christian music was full of Satanic influences, and I never listened to it. Even today, when I flip on a Christian radio station, the music grates on my nerves and sensibilities. And contemporary praise-and-worship? My experience has been that it is a bunch of religious fluff, repeated ad nauseum.
But Sunday, from the first moment, I felt the Holy Spirit moving in the music. It was alive! Even the contemporary songs were pretty good. They had some substance!
Announcements came next. This probably ended up being the cheesiest part of the service, as the pastor and the worship leader engaged in some canned back-and-forth about upcoming events. Oh, well. Then they had a commissioning for a man who is leaving to take a pastoral position in Alberta, in the Fort McMurray area.
The pastor opened his sermon with prayer, asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit and give him the words to speak. Great! We were starting out better than the zombie church. And then he said something I wasn’t expecting:
“If you are listening to these messages on the fruits of the Spirit, and you think it’s something that you’re going to make happen in your life, you’ve missed the point. The fruit of the Spirit is something God does in you. If you lack these characteristics, you need to ask God for them.” (I’m probably horribly paraphrasing.)
Wow. He got it! He wasn’t going to give me some fluff-and-nonsense sermon about working to try to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit! This was definitely a good start.
The fruit discussed this particular Sunday was gentleness. I think that God knew that I needed to hear about this fruit of the Spirit to help me develop it in my life.
The pastor shared, from Isaiah 42:1-4, three characteristic of gentleness as seen in the life of Christ:
- Gentleness in word. “He will not shout, nor raise his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2)
- Gentleness to those who are hurting and broken, instead of attacking and condemning them. “He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a dimly burning wick.” (Isaiah 42:3a)
- Bringing justice on earth. ““Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights— I have put my Spirit on him. He will bring justice to the nations… He will faithfully bring justice. He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he has set justice in the earth, and the islands will wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42:1, 3b-4)
I left the church, greatly encouraged in my walk with Christ, and also encouraged to find some spiritual life. As I headed home, I started thinking, “What if every sermon there is that good? That would be too good to be true!” I mean, most of the time, when I go somewhere for church, the sermon ranges somewhere from “zombie” to decent–like having a couple challenging points. This time, I really felt like I had been spiritually fed.
Will God lead me to continue going to Emmanuel Alliance Church? I don’t know. Would I even agree with them doctrinally? I don’t know. But this much I know: God was there.
The posts on the “zombie churches” painted a pretty bleak picture. Without retracting anything I said there, I do want to say that there is hope. God is not dead! And the church has not died out either. It is still alive.
Friends, let’s pray for revival.
Photo courtesy of Alejandro Rdguez/flickr
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