Is This Church or a Stones Concert?
I've been going to church for over 65 years. I wasn't taken the first five years of my life, my thinking being, I think, that Mom was Protestant and Dad Catholic, so to keep the peace, we just didn't go.
Looking back, I am more inclined to believe Mom used it as an excuse because she was simply tired and needed that day of rest without having to dress a bunch of kids one more time. Perhaps, teaching Sunday School in Chloride as a young woman, she thought God would cut her some slack.
Circumstances caused her to work her entire life. You could set clocks by how our lives were laid out. Saturdays the whole house was cleaned, beds stripped, wash hung. Then uptown for groceries. Until 8th grade, we often walked, never having reliable transportation. Relatives were everywhere but she never asked for rides, nor did I ever think about it, walking was so routine for us. She carried two sacks, I carried one. Evenings we kids laid on our stomachs in front of a huge radio and listened to our favorite radio shows. Or we endlessly played board games and cards.
Sunday mornings Mom ironed all our clothes for the next week. By age 9 I ironed my own. With that finished, Mom was done and the rest of the day was finally hers to do as she pleased. However, it always seemed to include others. If carless, her and I took long desert walks, hunted for Indian paints and arrowheads. She loved walking as I loved hiking the hills so we were at peace.
If her car was running, she visited family, picked up old Aunts for a ride and a DQ treat. Or she packed a picnic lunch and a blanket, picked up friends who needed an outing and drove them to the desert or the river or the Hualapais, laid out her simple spread and we ate and talked and laughed. Life was simple but even without Sunday church attendance, there was something quiet and sacred and special about the day. It always seemed to revive her, God's original intent for it.
If staying home, we always had meat. Sunday was meat day, usually pot roast or chicken. Sometimes it was rabbit or quail we hunted for near Chloride the evening before. We were poor and not every day of the week was a meat day but Sundays were always the exception. You could count on two things on Sunday. Two downtown churches always rang their beautiful bells and pot roast and chicken permeated the air. Quiet prevailed as no stores opened except the one required gas station in case of emergencies.
Upon entering Grammar School, my BFF and I had a long God talk. Her family didn't attend church either but we were both very aware of God. As He tells us, we will see Him in nature, and so we did. At the ripe old age of 6, while sitting on the grammar school playground one day, I had a great epiphany. Looking around at the sky and mountains, it hit me that this earth thing was a big deal and so was He who had made it.
So BFF and I discussed the fact we needed to go to church. Deciding on the big Methodist Church simply because we walked by it daily on the way to school, we advised our Mothers of our decision and that they were responsible for getting us there on time. .
Church totally agreed with us. We rarely missed it, loved being in a congregation, part of the warp and woof of the town, even getting called down by name from the pulpit by Revernd Meier after endlessly giggling when BFF's rancher uncle showed up one day in a beautiful suit with horse dung on his boots which he promptly deposited on the carpet on the way to taking communion. We loved dressing up and later wore gloves and hats, high heels and hose with seams up the back. When God created pantyhouse, we gratefully thanked him and threw our garter belts away.
Older, we enjoyed the camaraderie of Methodist Youth Fellowship where we studied the Bible, baked for the poor, caroled downtown at Christmastime, taught vacation Bible school and made ornaments and memories.
But what we loved the most was Mrs. Cole or Mrs. Morgan playing the old hymns on the big pipe organ while we sang those beautiful songs which held so much meaning. Hymns by Fanny Crosby, a blind woman who wrote 8,000 hymns including Blessed Redeemer, John Wesley and others. Behind almost every great hymn of the Christian faith is a powerful story of how it came to be written. As with the psalms of Israel, which were written out of the life experiences of David and others, songs burst forth when the actions of God are seen clearly, often in lifesaving ways.
Hymns we learned the words to soon enough, words we would carry throughout out lives bringing us hope and peace in a world that often didn't have either one. And hymns that always reminded us it was the blood of the lamb that made our souls white and would continue to do so.
To my astonishment, years later at my Mother's funeral at the same Methodist church we started in, Mrs. Morgan played the piano again, same old hymns, same majesty they always carried. She must have been 130 by then. And two years ago, the pipe organ now living at Mohave Museum, I was able to take my Granddaughter to hear a wonderful man play, yet again, those beautiful old hymns of old. .
And so began my 65-plus years attending church, a place I have loved being far more than any other place.
At 32, in a large city by then, I left the traditional church and joined the Charismatic Renewal. God was moving. People were saved, healed, delivered. Miracles happened weekly and I drug four kids along to see them. My new church often ended with "How Great Thou Art" with an anointing so powerful, it was hard to stand up. And just as often, the next week testimonies would be given telling how God had saved or healed someone during the singing of that song the prior week. It was a wonderful, exciting time. Even the kids loved attending.
At the same time, many tragedies hit my own life including traumatic injuries to two of my sons, my own cancer, the first new paid for car I had in years was knocked through three rooms of my house as we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, a heat stroke nearly killed me, and my younger brother died an untimely death. And that was just one year.
In spite of it all, my church and My God were my hiding places. The great hymns from the past were my salvation. In my darkest hours, sitting beside a comatose son for months, I played The Old Rugged Cross sung by Elvis and He would speak to me and tell me He hung there so I could get through this latest trauma.
Next, an autoimmune disease diagnosis told me I would be wheelchair bound in two years. Still in my 30s. This time God gave me the beautiful old hymn, "Just as I am", reminding me of another woman, my age, who had felt discouraged and unusable. The year was 1840. The woman was Charlotte Elliot who, suffering an illness, was left a semi-invalid. A well known pastor visiting reminded Charlotte God could use her just as she was.
Feeling small and weak, she invited Him in just as she was; later wrote the hymn that was to be the most widely sung hymn at alter calls in all of history. The hymn "Just as I am, though tossed about, With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come".
And then, the once weak and small Charlotte wrote 150 more. And so they go, those old hymns. Often written by people who suffered deeply or caused others to suffer until they finally saw the light, only to put pen to paper and write the most deeply touching songs to grace our earth, pull us through, let us know He knows our circumstances every minute of every day.
Such was the case with John Newton in the 1700's. A slave ship Captain, during a great storm he met God, became a Christian and later an Anglican minister, writing many hymns, one being Amazing Grace. Profoundly sorry for his part in slavery, the hymn says Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
Undoubtedly thousands have been saved just singing the words to this song.
Ignoring wheelchairs, I decided to spit in Satan's face and had a Bible study for cocaine addicts in my home, taught by a friend who had been there. Every Tuesday night, we opened with the old hymns which set the mood for the night.
One attendee is a pastor now, another left drugs to give his life to ministering drugs as a wonderful RN at Camelback Hospital in Phoenix.
And then I worked with a Christian Home for Alcoholics, something near and dear to me. One night a week, when we met, often in open tents, we sang rousing blood songs, the power songs that seemed to set those shackled the longest free. Standing in the midst of those 80 or so men was a deep honor for me.
Many had not only been to hell and back for many years, they had put their families through hell also, tearing them apart, destroying their children's childhoods and worse. Some young, some old, some grey, all with deeply etched faces and hard, tough stories to tell, some still shaky from coming through DTs. So there they stood, naked before God, singing with everything that was in them, finally at long last giving it all, the good the bad and the ugly, to Him who was able to carry it, big tears dripping off their faces. And always, our opening and closing hymn:
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o'er evil a victory win?
There's wonderful power in the blood.
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There's wonderful power in the blood.
And that little Christian home, run out of an old motel re-modeled in a run down part of town, had a whopping 93% success rate.
As the years rolled by, like the frog being boiled in the pot, the Charismatic and
Non-Denominational churches lost the great hymns. Or if you wanted to hear them, they usually had some at a Sunday night service. It started slowly. The blood songs where the power is started disappearing. Then the sermons condemning sin and telling us we needed that blood of the Lamb to make us clean started disappearing. Might offend someone, I suppose.
I first recall praise songs appearing. Everything was a praise song. Often still are. Some Sundays I wanted to belt out Battle Hymn of The Republic, that grand old Civil War hymn by Julia Ward Howe.
I wanted to hear that He was trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, that He had loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword and in spite of all, in spite of this God awful war, His truth was still marching on.
Most of all I wanted to sing In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me, as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.
I wanted to sing that He alone could transfigure people, even those who were OK with slavery. And so, as in that day, He could still transfigure people in this day.
But instead we kept on with the praise songs and then it got worse. Songs with no anointing at all ... and it got louder and louder until you could no longer invite an unsaved person who was older for the music would scare hell out of them.
A year ago I ran across a pastor on the Internet and instantly loved his preaching. I read one of his many books and again, loved him. Then, learning he now has a church here where he is seen from another city via satellite, I started attending. And then I stopped going. And then I started again. And then I stopped.
The last time I went, the band (all nice young people as is the local pastor) played songs I had never heard in my life at 10 decibels, there was a many colored light show going on behind them and smoke rising from the floor. At one point, the lights went out and all you could see were their silhouettes...and more smoke.
For the first time in my life, although the words were on the wall, I felt no compunction at all to sing. I could not make myself actually. Something seemed very wrong. Looking around, I realized no one else was singing either. Young, old ... no one was singing. There were no looks of peace and joy on their faces. The only ones that seemed to be having a great time were the band themselves.
Without realizing it and to drown out the terrible loudness attacking us, I started singing an old hymn in my head.
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
When I came to He speaks and the sound of His voice, I remember saying thank God He isn't here right now for you couldn't hear anything over the din of this music. Then a visual of Jesus sitting on the front row hit me and again, I said to myself, I'm so glad He isn't here today.
And then I realized what is missing in these type churches of today. I had just sat in this church and actually said, thank God Jesus is not here. That is profound.
There has to be a balance and there is none. There is no anointing from the Holy Spirit, no people so touched by the old hymns or the old time sermons that they rush up front to ask forgiveness for their sins and a chance at starting life over like happened when Billy Sunday, many years ago, came and preached at the Methodist Church here.
We are not to squelch the Holy Spirit. The louder we play does NOT mean the more holy, the more in touch with God we will become. On the earthly side, it means we will probably become deaf sooner rather than later. In fact, that day, we drowned God out.
I think in fact, Jesus would say "Peace, be still, how can you possibly hear me?" Or, like the money changers in the temple, He might have just thrown us all out on our ears.
The sermon was on lying and Christian character. I would be lying if I said I liked this almost heavy metal music. I do not, it is being played in the wrong place. But I won't lie and say I don't like loud music because sometimes I do. An old rocker, I've been to a Stones concert, Bob Seger, etc - hope to go see Skynyrd in Laughlin soon. It's a choice and it's not in a church being a stumbling block to others.
It came to me, had Jesus been sitting there in the flesh, no way would this band have played the music that deafeningly loud.
Christian character. Isn't the very personification of Christian character the Fruits of the Spirit. They are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, self-control, against such there is no law (Galatians).
A very old Christian missionary friend of mine once pointed out that the very fruit of the Spirit could be compared to fruit on a tree. It isn't loud, doesn't make a spectacle of itself, it just sits there and grows, matures and ripens. One day you realize it's just about there. But being loud was not what got it there. She was referring to a new Christian band at a coffee house where she was asked to speak.