Was God at Church?

Attending church in this village poses unique challenges.

For instance, today during “Sunday School,” the pastor kept talking directly at me, and slowly, and repeating himself multiple times so I could understand everything.

Then he got tired of me sitting in the back row being incognito and insisted I move to the front. The VERY front. After that he wanted me to read a scripture passage out loud, but this I passed on.

It’s disconcerting to cause such a sensation at church. This was my second Sunday at this place, but the first was with Ryan, and akward social cross-cultural situations are always easier with someone else, together.

Everytime I would lose concentration today during service I would hear my name, “Nee-Koe-Lah!” and look up to see Pastor keeping tabs on my attentiveness. Oh bother.

Last night I tried sneaking to bed early (like when the sun went down and it was dark out) but that didn’t work as I was called from my repose due to visitors. Which was fine, that’s why I’m here…!

After rehashing my Venezuela trip several more times, I ended up getting into an interesting conversation with one young man about whether Noah in the Bible had been a black man or a white man. He thought white. I tried explaining Noah was probably inbetween, and attempted a lesson on genetics and the origin of the races, which considering I only speak about ten Creole words, was tricky.

Then Pastor loomed from the dark, coming to visit me and make sure I was attending church tomorrow. The guy I was talking to excitedly posed the question to Pastor about Noah’s skin color. Surely this recognized local spiritual authority would have the definitive answer?

After deliberation, Pastor declared the Bible remained silent on Noah’s, “Nationality.” Therefore, “Tout moun pa konnen.” That is, “Nobody knows.” I figured I DID know, but didn’t press the point.

I asked Pastor when church would start tomorrow. There was some argument among the bystanders over this point. Pastor thought 7:30 would be good for me, but under pressure gave in to 7:45, and eventually conceded 8:00 would probably be early enough, for me.

I showed up at 8:00 this morning and the church was empty except for Pastor, one lady, and two small kids with the lady. Pastor was in the midst of animatedly expounding solid teaching to his small, but captive, audience.

Next week I’ll come no earlier than 9:00, when everyone else  shows up and things really get going. I wouldn’t be surprised if God arrives closer to 9:00 too.

I’ve been to tons of churches. Across America. Across the globe. Customs differ. Some are sober, some are carnival-like. Sermons are screamed, others are whispered. People come dressed to the hilt, others in shorts and flip-flops. Some churches are into “outreach,” others are “teaching focused.” Some have thousands, others only a loyal handful.

What I wondered this morning as I watched people praising with hands lifted high, as I noticed various men sweltering inside suits in this tropical heat, as I heard the guest speaker talk so long nearly everyone fell asleep, and as I observed people file out one by one afterwards exchanging cordial handshakes, was, “Is God here? In this modest tin-roofed building? In this rural community off the beaten path on this impoverished Caribbean island? Does he hear? IS He here?”

I don’t know (what mortal can claim to know the unsearchable??) But, I’d like to think He was, residing inside the hearts of each true believer in the room. “But who are the true believers?” my cynical side idly wondered. Am I even a true believer? If I am, how come I don’t here His voice more?

Last night I didn’t know what to read in my Bible, so I randomly thumbed through… and Romans 14 fell open. By the steady orange glow of my kerosene lamp I read that chapter, not remembering what it said, expecting at first something about Jewish unbelief. But no, that was several chapters earlier, Romans 14 is where Paul talks about our freedom in eating and drinking:

“As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean…” Paul says,  continuing, “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”

The significance of the timing of reading these verses would be clearest only to me, but suffice it to say I’ve been working through in my own mind the ramifications of legalism vs freedom in Christ as of late about food and drink, particularly drink, and I felt that “randomly” opening to these verses wasn’t so random afterall. God knows I’m here.

Does this mean I’m about to start espousing drinking? Not likely, not hardly. And I think Paul’s other statements in the chapter are balancing, including, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between you and God,” and, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that causes your brother to fall.”

My point in sharing this is just this: I HAD been thinking a lot about the topic, and about my attitude towards those who have thought differently than me in the past, and yesterday was an appropriate day for God to specifically lead me to those verses.

Anyways, was God at church this morning?

I’m confident He was, but… I am even MORE confident of God’s presence in my own life.

Others may argue, but I know (as much as any mortal can know the unsearchable).

One thought on “Was God at Church?”

  1. So much of what you explain in the beginning is why we chose to quietly meet together with some other likeminded folks in a home gathering when abroad for awhile. Later we would meet together with an international assembly. Thing is, one is not better than the natives. When we’d get treated like it I’d think of that passage in James that talked about preferential treatment. It is also sometimes difficult for a native pastor to lead things knowing that he probably has someone educated in his midst.

    And on the other topic, it is for freedom Christ has made us free. When we want to take a hard line on things that even the Bible doesn’t, it is a preference. What matters most is not the issue that is not outlined, it is our heart bending toward obedience and our love for others. When people don’t agree, that’s when it’s okay to say you see things differently. It’s also okay to realize that lots of Christians have preferences they don’t agree on. It’s healthy, it’s needed to have diversity and discourse. That is how one learns. It is when everyone does agree or everyone is alike that I’d be wary.

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