Three churches

By Frank Decker

My mind was swirling because our family had just moved the previous day. And now it was Christmas Eve and in the midst of our box-infested life I was seeking some infusion of peace, of presence; a place for repose in the silent night.

We actually attended services at two different churches that night. Our base church is a United Methodist congregation that is less than four years old called The Vine. My son led the worship, which caters to the predilections of the hundreds of 20- and 30-something adults who comprise the majority of the congregation. Christmas Eve at The Vine was marked by electric guitars, contemporary praise songs, video screens, and exuberant worship. I usually leave our worship services with a sense of excitement and joy, and this evening was no exception.

Dashing out at the close of that service, I then sped 35 miles down the interstate to another church in our denomination for their next Christmas Eve service. Why?  This is where my oldest daughter is a member, and she was scheduled to sing a solo. As I quieted my soul after hurrying into that service, I was struck by the stark contrast with the one I had just left. Instead of electric guitars, the music was accentuated by a pipe organ, (and the song my daughter sang was a traditional Catalonian carol “El Noi de La Mare”). Rather than video screens, dozens of bright red poinsettias captured my eye as they sat perched across the front of the well-appointed sanctuary. And instead of a pastor and worship team in jeans there were six ministers adorned in black robes, flanked by four acolytes. I am not as accustomed to more traditional forms of worship, and yet I was overcome by the sense of awe and wonder about the story of Jesus that came to rest upon me there. I left with a sense of gratitude to be a part of a denomination that embraces diverse worship styles in adoration of The King.

Now fast-forward two weeks into January where I find myself in a third church, literally on the other side of the world. My work with The Mission Society has brought me on a trip to Asia at the foothills of the Himalayas, where malaria and other endemic diseases exacerbate the extreme poverty. Even an official with UNICEF, himself an African, told me that this specific province is the poorest he’s ever seen. Spiritually, it’s no more promising. One mission journal describes it as “one of the least-evangelized mega-populations in the world.”

In this setting we have gathered in the January fog and chill, the only thing protecting us from the elements is a corrugated roofing sheet propped above the brick walls of a small courtyard. A few of the believers are huddled around a small fire for warmth and we all are wrapped in layers of clothing. In this particular gathering, two people share testimonies of how God has intervened miraculously in their lives. One lady shared about how her unborn child, confirmed dead by a doctor, was born perfectly healthy the next day.

My coworker Dick McClain, president of The Mission Society, wrote in an email, “The Christ followers we were with today never doubt that Jesus will heal and do miracles … and He does. And as a result, people believe.”

Now, here you may expect that I would take a shot at the easy target of our prosperity in America as a hindrance to dependency on God. That would be predictable and somewhat unfair, as both of the American congregations also have small group ministries in which people encounter the Lord. (And, through my familiarity with The Vine, I am aware of some astounding miraculous healings.)

The point, rather, is this: Whether we find ourselves in prosperity or material want, we will only see Jesus after we accept our utter need for him. The apostle Paul said, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret…both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:12). John Wesley’s covenant prayer included the lines, “Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

The good news of Jesus is that wherever he is sought, he will be found. Whether it is among those huddled around a fire in Asia or amid persons neatly seated in a beautiful sanctuary; he comes to occupy the willing heart.