If it is true (and it is) that we are in a Kingdom struggle of darkness versus light, we are at war against spiritual realities – “principalities and powers” as they are called in Ephesians chapter six. So it is not a surprise that we’ll experience the “fog of war” from time to time. I have felt that of late … confusion about direction and purpose and my role in ministry. (If this sounds vague, yep – that’s the issue from inside me as well!)
So, I had a scheduled vacation day yesterday and decided at the last minute to use it as a time to go meet with God … and not just anywhere, but to go back to our beginning (humanly speaking, not theologically – since I can’t get back to the foundation of the world!). There is some precedent in the Old Testament patriarchs of visiting the place where a covenant was established – doing so as a sort of reconnection or reaffirmation of God’s calling and work. As an illustration of this, I’d refer you to Genesis 25 and the account of Jacob visiting Bethel.
And so, I went to visit my own Bethel – a place called Calvary Community Church in Harmony Township, NJ, just a few hundred yards was where I grew up. It was in this church that I have a first memory of understanding and committing to the Gospel of Christ (as I recall, in a children’s program with a teaching about Jacob and Esau). This happened about 49-50 years ago, and I remember the exact spot and knew I could even now pinpoint it to within a foot or two of where I was sitting that evening.
This church was founded as an independent congregation that split from a liberal church and denomination about 75 years ago. My grandfather was one of the original elders and my father one of the first deacons. My family attended until I was age 10, and when the church voted to join a certain denomination, we departed to go to another independent church – where I grew through my high school and college years, Diana and I were married, etc. And then, after seminary, I moved back to this same community to be a pastor at a third local church there (for 11 years before coming to TSF).
So anyhow, this is a somewhat small, older, traditional church building. Attached is the church office and the old parsonage. There was nobody in the office or the parsonage – now occupied by old family friends of many generations (who are the church caretakers). I tried one of the lower level doors of the church, and it was open. So I made myself at home and looked around at rooms I’ve not seen in literally decades. Most were far smaller than my childhood memories of them.
My plan was to read and pray at the spot where I first met the Lord. Well, it is no longer an educational space; it has been turned into a kitchen – with a door frame now at my spot! So I went to the sanctuary and sat in the pew where I went to church EVERY Sunday with my family. I would sit with only my father, since my mother was the church organist and was on a sort of side stage for the duration of the services.
I read and prayed and read and prayed – through the entire pastoral and prison epistles … and a collection of other Gospel accounts, Psalms, etc. I would have much preferred that God showed up in some vision and sat there next to me and answered all my questions and concerns. But I believe I came away with what I needed to move forward – yet as always, living it out over time is the challenge. Even the first generation church was a major mixed bag of blessings and burdens, of faith and encouraging people, yet of those who abandoned Paul and even denied the faith!
So it was a good trip for me, though I don’t want to make the final trip there too terribly soon – since the cemetery there is my final earthly destination! Not everyone gets to be born and raised and ultimately buried “in Harmony!”