What benefits I would reap if I could just reject evolution and accept (the evangelical version of) salvation by faith alone!
I know how things work in a business. It doesn’t matter what you are getting paid today or what job you are doing. Do it well. Wow your bosses, and you will reap your reward. You will advance, you will be courted, you will find your path.
That works in Christendom as well if I could just be less honest. Churches love my work ethic. They love my participation. They love my knowledge of the Scriptures. I have had two offers to become a youth pastor. I have had requests to speak. I have been nominated for deacon in a church where I was not even a member!
In the end, though, all those things can only go so far. In modern evangelicalism, I am either a heretic, or I border on one. In Tennessee, had a new organization not arose at the last minute, I could not even have home schooled my children because I could not sign the statement of faith of any home school oversight organization.
Bellevue Baptist Church has some ministries I would love to be a part of. I have to be a member, however. I don’t approve of their “system,” but that wouldn’t be any problem for me. I am required to approve certain statements of faith, however, and I can approve neither their statement on Biblical inerrancy nor their belief that heaven is a free gift.
Fortunately, outside the evangelical system, there are plenty of people who look at my life, my commitment to our Master, and my obvious love for and belief in the Scriptures. There is fellowship to be had, and even a close, family, sharing, loving church life based on relationship and discipleship.
It’s found by living in gratitude and not complaint.
I was thinking this weekend about my first visit to Bellevue Baptist a few months ago. I was pleasantly surprised–well, stunned–at the message I heard from the pulpit and the refreshing focus on discpleship that included a churchwide plan for making discipleship training happen in small groups and on an individual basis.
I’m not really capable of attending a huge production like theirs ever Sunday. I don’t want to have to struggle week after week with a skilled, impressive, Broadway-style production masquerading as the church.
Nonetheless, I want to find those that love the Lord and pursue him with their whole heart. I want to encourage them and be encouraged by them. I want to model and be a part of the love that comes from heaven and proves that we are Jesus’ disciples and that Jesus was sent by God (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
So the first week I visited, way back in August, I looked for a “Life Group” (Sunday School) that I could attend. There was an “over-50’s men” group meeting at the 11:00 hour, so I attended the 9:20 service, then headed for the Life Group. I made it there about 10 minutes early.
Three people were already there, so I sat down. I heard about 5 minutes of discussion before I realized these were not Over-50 Life Group members arrived early, but the 9:20 Over-40 men’s group running late.
In those 5 minutes, I knew I had to go back. (Of course, that probably tells you that in the next hour and 15 minutes, I knew I wasn’t going to go back to the Over-50 group.)
Circumstances, primarily home church meetings on Sunday morning, prevented me from returning for several months.
Then, last month, we moved our weekly gatherings to Saturday night because one of our house church members is going to nursing school and doing clinicals most of the day on Sunday.
Most of us were thrilled because of the opportunity to get to know other Christians here in Memphis. I made it back to the Over-40 group, and I didn’t remember a single person. A couple of them remembered me, though, and there were 6 or 7 of them rather than 3.
That particular meeting wasn’t that great (not all are “awesome”), but once again I felt very much like I was supposed to be there.
The following week, I got sick on Sunday morning. A week later I was in the hospital with pneumonia. The week after that, I was back in the hospital with a torn rectus abdominus muscle with a pressurized hematoma (bruise, basically) inside the stomach muscle. The antibiotics for the pneumonia had thinned my blood to a dangerous level, and the pain in my stomach from the bleeding was intense.
The day I was to be released, after my blood had been thickened to a more normal level (with Vitamin K), I got a call from the Over-40 Life Group leader. He was checking up on me. We had had a really good talk after my previous visit.
I explained that it was difficult to make it from the hospital, but that I hoped to be there Sunday. There was just something wonderful about talking to him.
So this last Sunday I did make it.
I am so glad I did. We talked about prayer. We were going through a book (written by the pastor of Bellevue) on prayer, and we were supposed to cover chapters 9 and 10. Due to the diligent efforts of Oscar, the Life Group leader, we got through chapter 9.
It was hard, though, because everyone was talking. There were 7 other guys there beside me, and I was horribly convicted by the discussion.
These guys, going to “the system” and in a big Sunday morning production, knew some things about prayer, and they knew them from experience. They talked about their battle for intercessory prayer time and about learning how to spend time with God. No one boasted, everyone shared humbly how they were learning to overcome their own tendency not to pray, and I was thrilled by everything.
Usually I hate Sunday school book lessons because most are “shallowed down” so that nominal, half-hearted believers can be encouraged, just a little, to live like a Christian, without being offended or directly admonished or reproved.
This book, however, assumed that you wanted to pray as much as possible and be with God as much as possible, and it presented practical steps for organizing your prayer life in a personalized way.
The ideas helped me, and I made a notecard system to handle all the prayer requests I run across. It works great for me, and I carry it in my pocket.
Oscar talked about using time standing in line at WalMart to pray. He’ll pull out his prayer list in line to pray over it. He said, “I used to hate it when I chose the ‘wrong’ line, like I always do, but now I like having to wait.”
Wow. I wasn’t there last week, but I’m there now.
So this anti-“sola” evilutionist opposer of “the system” has found a home in a Life Group in the largest Southern Baptist Church in the United States.
Walking by the Spirit, though, has always served me well. Being who I am in subjection to the Spirit of God, and to spiritual leaders in congregations of mostly spiritual believers, has been a delightful, albeit painful, race through life. I have met friends, experienced church life, met some of the weirdest people on the plant, traveled all over the worlds, been a part of transforming and even saving lives, and unfortunately also being a hindrance to the faith of some in my over-zealous youth. (Some would charge me with continuing to be over-zealous.)
A friend of mine used to say, “I devote myself to being a principled man, but I do not live by principles. I live by the Spirit of God.”
Thank God for spiritual living. Thank God for fellowship with people whose eyes widen as they learn what I believe, but whose hearts remain joined to mine because of the mutual work of the Spirit of Jesus within us.
Finally, thank you to Gabrielle Songe, with whom I spent at least an hour reminiscing about the work of God in our lives today. A very, very enjoyable time sent to us by the kind hand of our loving Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.