As I’ve gone over in this blog a couple times, I was saved by giving my life to Christ back in 2019. Through a string of events only He could have tied together, I walked into a new church where I had never been before and realized that I was where I was supposed to be. It was more than a feeling, it was knowledge. Through that church I made friends who became family, brothers and sisters in Christ who I walk in worship with every day, even 900 miles away.
One of the first things I did when I got to GA was try to find a church. Now I like to joke that churches in the south are like Starbucks in NYC. There’s one on every corner and sometimes while standing at one, you can see another. Many churches, many denominations, how is a guy to choose? I’d spot checked a few which I decided against for various reasons. One looked promising until I realized that they were in the midst of a 6 week series on tithing.
What is tithing? These days, tithing is sacrificing 10% of your income to your church to further the mission of God (Numbers 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:22, Deuteronomy 26:12). Now I may be oversimplifying that, but it is how I see it. Being raised Catholic, I recall every week the basket being passed through the pews as folks would sacrifice money to support the church. Other churches had small boxes around the room where one could give.
It’s always been a point of contention to me, tithing. I believe that if any church takes more than a minute to explain the where and why to tithing, they’ve lost the mission. I could be completely wrong there, but in my own personal experience the longer the message on tithing the shorter the message on anything else. It came off more like marketing than teaching. The numbers are down, so they must remind us why we need to give to them.
I distinctly recall the last time I attended a bible study at the church in Warwick. I believe we’d planned on discussing 1 Corinthians, but it was abruptly derailed into a very forced conversation on tithing to the church we’d all been attending. I sat quietly as what seemed to me a marketing spiel unfolding which had nothing to do with our studies. Amidst the cacophony, I bluntly stated “Look, if my choice is between giving money to this church, or a brother/sister in Christ who needs it, I will joyfully give that money to my brother/sister and not feel badly for a even a moment. By doing so, I am loving my neighbor as myself and following the commandment of Christ.” With that, the marketing spiel promptly came to a close and we resumed our previous bible study.
Once I heard someone say it better than I could, I’m paraphrasing here… “If you preach the Gospel, and people are convicted, the money will come.” Period, end of story (for me). I’m not against a message on tithing, of sacrificing the first fruits of our labor to the Lord… 6 weeks of messaging though? Nope. So I kept looking. I could have simply remained watching Jack Hibbs out of California, or messages from other Pastors whom I know and respect online, but it wasn’t enough.
I tried one of the local “mega” churches, just once. On the way in I was stuck behind a Ferrari. Thousands of folks attended that service, the place was packed to the rafters as the band broke out into a CSI themed introduction to that weeks message which could have rivaled most rock concerts I’d been to in my life. It was too big, it was less worship and more noise to me (Amos 5:23, 1 Corinthians 13:1, Isaiah 29:13). Not to mention, the lead pastor heavily discounted if not dismissed the Old Testament and God’s original covenant with mankind. I left that grand building and never returned.
I craved fellowship. Now I already had that, in buckets, even 900 miles away from the home church I attended until I moved south. I needed to get out of this house though. I needed to meet people, listen, testify, and learn. Easter Sunday was approaching. It would be my first holiday away from home. I kept seeing and hearing reference to lake front services, so I began to attend one maybe 15 minutes from my house. I think the first thing I experienced there which rubbed me the wrong way was one family who arrived by personal helicopter and landed maybe 20 yards from the stage, blasting everyone and everything present with a nice layer of red dust. Thankfully it was not the pastor arriving via chopper, had that been the case I would have immediately left instead of continuing to attend for several months.
The style was different. Maybe a few blips of scripture encased in a boisterous message. The pastor was a great speaker, he did quickly introduce himself once or twice, and I will admit I had moments of conviction during the weekly services. Like I said though, I was craving fellowship. To this day I still attend the remote bible study from my home church, but I needed to expand my studies. Prior to a service one day, after hemming and hawing to myself about that need, small voice in my head said “ask the pastor, duh.”
So I asked the pastor. A new study was to begin that very day after the service. Previous studies I had experienced, all involved direct discussion of various books of the bible. This study involved a book that was not the bible – but heavily influenced by scripture. I won’t lie, it was a good book, but it was not – to me – a bible study. It felt more like discussing a commentary on the bible as opposed to discussing the bible while utilizing a commentary to more greatly understand the message and the context.
Recently I began to grumble quite a bit. I was becoming more and more distracted by the world around me. I personally was losing the mission. The weekly services I attended had the spark of the Holy Spirit, but not the illumination I was used to. I’d found that illumination again, online, but it wasn’t enough for me. I’d recently begun attending services in VR (Virtual Reality) via an application called BigScreen. I was introduced to it by a friend and brother in Christ, and will frequently visit the weekly service.
It’s through that VR experience that I met another gentleman who is a well known Christian apologist. What is that? I’ll quote Wikipedia here as the definition is short, sweet, and to the point for the purposes of this discussion: “Christian apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that defends Christianity.” This fellow knows scripture, inside and out, and also provides guidance to those seeking a church. As I explained my current situation, and what I was looking for, he asked for info about the church I’d been attending.
I provided the name of the Church and within minutes he found one immediate problem. The church believes that baptism is required for salvation. Now I was baptized as an infant (an experience that although scientifically improbable, I remember to this day). I was again baptized, and born again of water (which I interpret as the water of everlasting life, given to us by Jesus (John 4:14) and the Spirit on April 28th, 2019. This was after giving myself to Christ and accepting him as my Lord and Savior.
By the time I had been baptized, I had already declared my decision to follow Jesus. The baptism was a public declaration of what I had already privately declared. Over the years I have heard many pastors state unequivocally that baptism is a requirement, usually as they quote the number of people who were baptized at any specific event. It felt like marketing to me. What did not come off as marketing to me was what transpired in Luke 23:40-43.
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said [a]to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
That criminal was redeemed by Christ in that very moment, but where was the baptism?
This realization, in addition to others which I felt made me realize that the church I had been attending was the wrong church for me – forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and find a new church. Again – at that church, the messages were good and I did find myself convicted at times, the environment was beautiful (lake side services), but I noticed that there were no men’s bible studies available and the one I’d been attending was not scripturally sound (1 Timothy 2 / Titus 2).
I discussed this with a brother in Christ, and the solution he suggested was to find a church affiliated with Calvary Chapel. I’d been virtually attending Calvary Chapel Chino Hills lead by Jack Hibbs for years. Now while I don’t agree with everything he says, and at times I can find the preaching prideful, there is no doubt that what is taught there is 100% scripture, verse by verse, and fellowship abounds. Christ is absolutely in the room. So I hopped online and found that this entire time, a mere 15 minute drive from my home was River Rocks Church, who is affiliated with Calvary Chapel.
Not only were they 15 minutes down the road, but last night they had a Wednesday bible study service I was able to attend. Upon arriving, I had a short and fruitful chat with the Pastor who immediately introduced himself. Once inside, others introduced themselves to me completely unprompted, we shared portions of our walk thus far and what lead us to that specific church. The study of Ruth 3 was on point, delving further into Numbers, Leviticus, and Genesis. The prayer was fulfilling. Against my old nature, I participated and shared.
For the first time since I moved to Georgia, I felt that I was where I belonged. The church I came from back in Warwick had a mission statement about creating thousands of new followers. The church I just began to attend proclaims… “just one more.”
I cannot wait to go back.