The best experience I have had in church has been at Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York. Why? Well, how about I take you by the hand and take you with me, so you can envision it for yourself. I knew about the church because I had read a book by the pastor; the book changed my life. (More at the end). When I walked up to the old downtown location, I saw a line of people wrapping around the corner and down the block - all waiting to enter. Never mind that it was very cold outside, folks were expectantly waiting to get inside. Once through the doors, it was paradise for me. Someone warmly greeted me with “Welcome, Sister. I’m glad you’re here.” She was an older black woman, didn’t seem to mind or even notice that I was not. Once through the doors and into the old theatre/now sanctuary, I took note that many more folk looked like the greeter than me.
Upon taking my seat, I watched as folks greeted one another warmly, often embracing with sincere affection. By the time the choir . . . O, and the choir, my friend! . . . I couldn’t help but do a quick count which quickly ran over 200 people, all singing their hearts out. Again, there were many more who looked like the greeter than me. Hmmm… Well, by the time the choir started singing, I could not see an empty seat anywhere in the large historic theatre. The songs they sang were praises to God for who He is and what He has done for us - songs about Him forgiving us and setting us free. Looking around, people were really into it, singing with abandon, many with arms raised. And then the pastor walked onto the platform -- now, he more closely resembled me I noticed, but then I knew his back story, how he got to the hood and all. When he opened his mouth to teach, he opened the Word of God and taught straight from Scripture--no fancy audiovisual for an introduction, no clever enticements, but the pure unadulterated words of the Bible. But his manner--O his manner--he clearly loved God with all his heart and he also loved these people who had poured into Brooklyn from the five boroughs of New York City, streaming out of the subways and buses. Since that day, I have had the privilege of worshipping at Brooklyn Tabernacle many times, even starting my tours to Israel by gathering together to first worship with Pastor Cymbala, then get barbecue across the street before heading to the airport bound for Tel Aviv and the land where Jesus walked. Oh, and then there was the time one of those tour groups walked through the doors of St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem, (steps from the Pools of Bethesda), and sang a couple worship songs together while we were locked arms in a circle. (pictured above) In short order, I saw a tour group of Korea enter the church and another group from Nigeria also. All of us were there to lift high the name of Jesus, and we knew we were standing on hallowed ground. I get it now - when God said to Moses, ‘Take off your shoes, Moses, for the place you are standing is holy ground…’1 Where the presence of the Lord is, where He comes to join us, this is surely holy ground. Another time that sticks out in my mind was a prayer service in Salt Lake City, Utah. I heard about an international meeting to pray together for our world, so I jumped in the huge F-150 truck I had rented and drove to find the Sunday night gathering at an old inner city church. Sure enough, there were folks of many tribes and tongues--literally, some North American tribes in native attire, African women in tribal dresses and headpieces, Asians, Hispanics . . . each group had a representative who went to the microphone to pray that God would come, move, save, unite and draw people to Himself in America and around the world. It was beautiful! Three different worship settings - each in a church --with people of different races and tongues --with one desire to honor God --to be in His presence2 --to grow in faith and trust in Him --and to do it together in joy Why does it matter? Where the Word of God is opened and preached, where praises are offered to God, He is there and He makes himself known. The psalmist wrote "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."3 And besides that, it is a real taste of Heaven. Nothing else like it either, this side of Heaven.4 Once you have been in the presence of God, it changes you. Search it out, find your place in a community of God followers - it will not be in online worship or listening to podcasts while you’re on the stationary bike, my friend. It will be in a face-to-face gathering. Check this out: Fires, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOrSj9w01xw Christine 1 - Exodus 3.5 2 - Psalm 22.3, King James Version 3 - Psalm 16.11 4 - And what was the book I read that informed me about Brooklyn Tabernacle? Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. What happens when people take the Word of God, believe it, and pray for change. It is radical what happens in the lives of prostitutes, drug dealers and swindlers--people like you and me.