One of our first blogs way back in July after Lisa and I just moved to Hanover, Pa. was the story of trying to find the First Baptist Church of Hanover. Our GPS mistakenly took us to the First Church of the Nazarene – which happened to be right next to the church we were looking for. We stayed and fell in love with the little church – having never made it to the church we were originally looking for. I spoke of GPS standing for “God’s Positional System” and how it seemed crystal clear to us that He wanted us at this little church for the blessings that we unexpectedly received.
Now we find ourselves in Loma Linda, California and living in a community made up of a hospital, university and an academy associated with the Seventh Day Adventists. Lisa and I had unsuccessfully been looking for a Southern Baptist church. We even considered trying to attend a church linked to the mega church, “Saddleback”. Then God stepped in – again.
Friday night I decided to walk over to the hospital campus (just a five-minute walk from our apartment) to mail a couple of bill payments. I never thought God could use such mundane activities as paying bills to teach us something – but I was wrong.
While walking across the campus – I noticed some little booths set up in the center quad area and as I got closer realized they were little scenes from the Christmas story. A couple of people walked up and explained to me it was called, “The Simplicity of Christmas” and would be starting in the next few minutes. I called Lisa and she joined me for the guided tour of the different scenes depicting the Christmas story. Some of the youth from the church played the different roles of angels, Mary, Joseph and the wise men. It was spectacularly simple. Afterward we were invited into the church (located on the hospital campus) to sing Christmas carols and have refreshments. We met a couple during that event who attended the church – the Loma Linda University Church of Seventh Day Adventists – and they invited us to the church yesterday (Saturday) for their regular weekly service.
It seemed so strange getting ready to go to church on a Saturday morning – but when in Rome…, We noticed right away that we were waaaaay under dressed for their church service and felt really out-of-place. I searched for any man in attendance who was like me – not wearing a tie. Lisa was in search of woman not in a dress and high heels. We both spotted a few dressed similarly to us but still felt the need to sit in the back and cover ourselves with the huge programs we were handed as we stepped into the sanctuary. We started feeling more comfortable as they allowed us in the door with a smile and their traditional greeting, “Happy Sabbath”.
We walked into the surprisingly huge sanctuary where on the stage was a seventy person choir and a fifty piece orchestra. The organ itself looked like something the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would approve of and the decorations were stunning. We had walked past this building numerous times but had no idea it was a sanctuary. I thought back to that first experience in Hanover and the contrast of styles between the “high” church of this place and the simplistic style of that little Nazarene church in Pennsylvania. God had brought Lisa and I two thousand miles from home – away from family and friends – to show us He lives in high churches with trained musicians and in little brick buildings where cassette tapes are still used to lead singing. What a contrast – but what a lesson.
The service was spectacular as the choir and orchestra performed selections from Handel’s “Messiah” including a heart stopping rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus”. The simple message was about Jesus being identified as a “Nazarene”, a place disregarded as being without honor and shamed. The pastor deftly turned that historic truth to say many came into the church this morning – “from Nazareth” – places of shame and sorrow. But all should take heart in knowing Christ, the Nazarene – is who we ultimately will be identified with as His children. Wonderful!
It seemed so strange to me as I sat listening to the music and message that this was Saturday morning. All day Lisa and I felt confused thinking it was Sunday and I even joked as we walked back to our apartment that I felt like going home and watching an NFL game – but wait – this is Saturday.
Our travels have given Lisa and I a chance to meet some wonderful people, see amazing places and experience life from various perspectives. But maybe the most important lesson in all our travels is knowing God is loved and worshipped in different ways and different places. He is loved in small one hundred seat buildings and in thousand seat auditoriums. He is loved in California, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. He is loved by trained musicians and uneducated harmonica players. He is loved on Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings. He is loved by people who speak different languages and wear different styles of clothing.
During the choir and orchestra’s performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” Lisa and I looked at each other amazed at the high, perfectly pitched voices of the (obviously) trained choir. But behind me I heard a small, sort of squeaky voice trying to sing along with this powerful and soaring famous piece of music. She was giving it everything she had. Finally – I had to turn to see who it was singing and there was a small, older African-American lady – singing without embarrassment or restraint. “Hallelujah” indeed!
God is loved in a lot of places by a lot of different people and where Lisa and I have found that love of God expressed – we feel like we are home.
Steve and Lisa