Monday, July 31, 2006

Things I Learned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (#11 - Sundays)

The family and I just completed a two-day visit to Disney World en route to Miami, where we ship off tomorrow for our new home in the Cayman Islands. While visiting Orlando (at least the Disney World area of the city), I was struck by the rather confident/boastful slogan of the Disney franchise. Everywhere I turned, I saw on billboards, buttons and pamphlets "The happiest place on earth."


The slogan brought to mind something I've heard C.J. Mahaney say often. C.J.'s favorite day is Sunday. And his favorite place to be on Sunday is Covenant Life Church. For C.J., the happiest place on earth is gathered together with the Lord's people on the Lord's day at the Lord's church known as Covenant Life.

Several hundred dollars later, for my money, I'm with C.J. Of course, I already knew that before going to see the mouse and all his friends. But, this really came home to me over the past couple of weekends we've been away from CHBC. We've been unable to attend church due to sickness and traveling, and we've missed gathering with the Lord's people on the Lord's day. So, it seems fitting to end this series of posts with a reflection on the Lord's day.

In short, here's what I learned at CHBC: Sundays are the most exciting days of all.

Tozer once remarked that God's people really seem to be bored with God, hence low participation and low interest in the things of God. He's probably correct. I've observed as much in some churches I've attended or been a part of. And honestly, my heart is sometimes dull and my ears sometimes filled with wax when it comes to spiritual things.

But I observed an uncommon vitality in the corporate Lord's day gatherings at CHBC that leads me to believe that Sundays not only should be but can be the happiest times we experience in our local churches. And hey, if you've been to CHBC you know I'm not staking this claim on some notion of "exciting, dynamic" praise and worship services (which too often means a fair amount of emotionalism and entertainment over substantive, reflective engagement). Nope, the hymns are old, the musical accompaniment is mere, and all of the singing is congregational.

And if you've been to CHBC you know I'm not staking this claim on a posh new facility with superb parking and a Starbucks lounge somewhere on the premises. Nope. The main building and meeting area is nearly 100 years old, replete with stain glass windows and stiff wooden pews, and the parking (located as it is in the inner city) is limited to about 100 spaces with over 700 attending on a Sunday. We do provide juice, cookies, and coffee afterward, but you'll have to enjoy them while standing with 300 other people in a space that holds about 100 folks comfortably.

What makes Sundays such a happy time at CHBC (and I'd wager any church that has this experience) is the Godward longing that brings people there, and the fulfillment that follows so regularly. I've learned that the local church gathering can be the place where we most frequently "taste and see that the Lord is good."

We taste the goodness of the Lord in our shared times of prayer and singing. We savor the word of the Lord and see that He is good as we hear the Scriptures read and as the preached word goes out with power. And these are but the appetizers.

Then there is the fellowship that happens before, during and after the services. The exchange between the saints tends to center on the things of God rather than the Sunday afternoon football game or the week's politics (no small temptation in DC). What began as a meal offered through preaching becomes a feast that is lingered over and enjoyed well into the dinner hour at a fellow members home.

There is eagerness to delight in the day with God's people. Five hundred members show up for the morning service and some 300 or so return for the evening service where we again sing praises to our God, hear about and pray for a number of matters relevant to our life together as a church, and hear a short devotion/message from the opposite text of scripture preached in the morning. We rejoice together over marriage engagements, new marriages, good reports from ministry endeavors, births, and baptisms. We mourn together those who have left this life for the next and the occasional case of unrepentant sin leading to discipline. And we pray for all these things and especially for more opportunities to proclaim the gospel at home and abroad through missions. Our hearts are joined together more tightly as we call down heaven.

And you'd be hard pressed to find someone who would joyfully choose to miss either service. Miss a Lord's day at CHBC and you feel as though you've been in stasis in some time capsule only to be awakened a generation later. You wake with the pain of loss, and you ask the next several folks you see, "What did I miss?! What did I miss?!"

Most amazingly, this expectation to hear God speak and to witness the impact of His speaking in the lives of others is created with the most mere of approaches. It's created by preaching God's word, uncovering and applying its truth to the hearers who faithfully gather each Lord's day. I started this paragraph with "most amazingly." I suppose it's most amazing to me that God's word should excite and satisfy this way because I struggle at times to relax and let His word do His work. I believe, but I need the Lord to help my unbelief. And, I guess I started with "most amazingly" because so few others seem to trust that God's word is His normal means of administering grace to the hearers and effecting change. Such faith seems rare to me.

But I've learned that such faith is warranted. I've learned to not only believe in Jesus but to believe Jesus. To take Him at His word. "Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled." He will "build His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." And the result of His word and work is that Sundays in the local church are the happiest day and happiest place on earth... until the Lord returns and everyday shall be Sunday!

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