Sunday mornings have been kind of different for me and my family lately.
We’ve changed our location of worship, shall I say. We’ve found somewhere the Scriptures are taught in much more depth than in most places we’ve been. There’s a greater sense of the presence of God, and more recognition that He wants to speak to us. And at the same time, there isn’t the sense of frantic busyness, of noise and fury and trying to force the Holy Spirit to show up, that we’ve so often seen. My daughter Charlotte, I know, has found it a real chance to grow, and is getting a lot more chance to interact and contribute than in previous places. Even our son Sean, wheelchair and all, has been welcomed and seems to be getting something out of it.
And all without leaving our house.
The impetus for what we’re doing is manifold. While still maintaining fellowship with a number of strong Christians, I haven’t attended a Sunday congregational service in over 18 months — on what I believe are God’s orders. (If I’m wrong, I’ll take the heat — and start attending again. So far, I haven’t been wrong.) At the same time, I was noticing my wife Nina’s growing discontent with the institutional-congregation system in general and the congregation she was spending Sundays with in particular — the shallowness of the preaching, the “worship music” that made it near-impossible to focus on the God supposedly being worshiped, the “fellowship” that left no time to actually interact with people. And Charlotte, a fairly intelligent nine-year-old, was finding that she wasn’t learning much either, and was increasingly bored with her Sunday school classes. (I recall an evangelist named Mario Murillo saying that he believes in an Eleventh Commandment — “thou shalt not bore” — and I believe it especially applies to ministering to children.)
A couple of times in the past, we’d attempted to supplement our Sunday activities by starting a home meeting or “house church” of some sort, but it never got off the ground — it was just us and maybe one or two other people. I’ve heard about a lot of great things happening in the house-church movement, but none of them seem to be happening in Stockton, or within 30 miles of Stockton for that matter. So Nina and Charlotte (and before he got sick, Sean) would head back to the institutional congregation … only to experience a whole lot more of the previous paragraph.
The final straw was the incident I described about a month and a half ago in the blog post “The Reality Test.” Nina was fed up, Charlotte was disinterested in the extreme, and I was tired of hearing about it. So I made the suggestion — “why not have a home fellowship and not worry about who else might or might not show? Maybe they (points at the rest of the world) don’t feel they need a change, but golly gee, WE sure need more than what we’re getting!” (That’s not an exact quote, but you get the gist.) I asked Charlotte what she might want to learn about, she suggested the book of Daniel, and off we went the following Sunday.
That was six weeks ago. And while what we have is hardly a finished product, it seems to be coming along nicely.
Mind, what we’re doing is a fairly simple thing. At 10 a.m. Sunday morning, we turn off the TV (the local PBS station runs their “preschool block” of shows on Sundays as well as weekdays), grab our Bibles and form a half-circle around the living room table. After a little recap and a short prayer, we dive right into the Word. Each of us reads out loud small portions of Scripture, in between which we discuss it and teach each other what we know or can figure out. After 45 minutes to an hour, we wrap up. Very low-key.
In fact, “low-key” probably sums up a lot of it. We’re not pressuring ourselves to do more stuff, be more religious, live according to an imposed human standard. We’re just getting together and opening ourselves up to whatever God might show us. There’s no set schedule, no liturgy we have to follow. We’ve been going at a one-chapter-a-week rate, so we’ll probably finish Daniel on December 12 (just in time for some Christmas reading?), but if we decide to go through three chapters, or only three verses, it’s okay. We hope to let the Holy Spirit lead us, and see what He has in store rather than what’s written in the bulletins we aren’t prinitng.
And we’re discovering things that we haven’t before — striking, since Nina has been a believer for 17 years and me for almost 23. F’rinstance … after reading Daniel 4 and Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony of what sure sounds like a conversion experience, both she and I realized we had never heard a sermon preached on that passage before. it’s rather extraordinary if you think about it — given American evangelicalism’s emphasis on “saving souls,” why is no one using this passage about the apparent salvation of the most powerful man on earth at the time? Our best guess was that God’s dramatic confrontation with the Babylonian king maybe wasn’t in line with our modern taste for altar calls with soft choruses being played in the background. (Read the passage sometime; the Almighty smacks Neb pretty hard to get his attention!) Or perhaps it’s that there seemed to be a dramatic change in Nebuchadnezzar’s life after the event … which makes many of our easy-but-ineffective “acceptances of Christ” pale by comparison. We don’t know, but it was sure interesting to see such a change in life of someone whom many would have thought impossible to reach.
Or after finishing Daniel 6 (the end of the biographical part of the book, before you get to the all-prophecy section), when we discussed the theme of those six chapters. What we came up with was something along the lines of “do the right thing, do what God wants you to, and let Him handle everything else.” It’s a concept that jibes well with the whole of the Bible (Charlotte tied it straight into the stories of Joseph, Moses and Joshua, which she knows from Sunday school and VeggieTales). And it’s a good philosophy of life as well. How likely you are to hear that message in an American church that often majors on self-help, wealth creation, political action and railing screeds against “them” is another matter. But we heard it here.
Charlotte especially. This has probably been better for her than for anyone else, because she’s sitting at the grown-ups’ table now. Other than occasionally asking her to sit still or please not put her shoes on the couch, we treat her like a short adult who wants to learn about God. And she’s picking up on that — participating, reading aloud, even spotting things we might otherwise have missed. It’s a kick in the pants to watch. I’m enjoying it too, and am learning more about Daniel, even though I’m the main teaching-person. Nina’s still adjusting — she’s used to having more people around to fellowship with — but it’s happening. (I think that after Christmas, I’ll suggest she pick a subject or book that she can teach on. She’s a pretty good preacher when she comes out of her shell.)
One thing that hasn’t happened over the seven weeks we’ve been doing this is any reaction from Nina’s former congregation. Only two people have even asked about her absence (in a congregation of a couple hundred), and one of them is the respite care nurse who comes by a few Tuesdays a month to give me a break. The pastor certainly hasn’t — in fact, as of last week we were still getting weekly form e-mails from him about all the great things he’s believing for God to do in the next Sunday meeting. (A few days ago, Nina asked me to block the pastor’s e-mail address. Wonder if he noticed that …) Not a word from Charlotte’s former Sunday school teachers either. For all their concern about souls in general, they don’t seem to be too interested in ours in particular.
But God is. So we keep meeting with Him, studying His Word, asking Him to teach us. And we believe He is. As the old altar-call standby goes, “though none go with me, I still will follow.”
And if you care to join us, just let us know and we’ll give you directions to get here. We’d love to have you. 10 o’clock Sunday; bring your Bible!