So, last weekend, the anniversary of 9/11 was the fourth church we visited. We seem to be sort of alternating back and forth in church size, so that was pretty much the criteria I went with for last week for picking where to go. We chose one of the larger congregations here in town. And here is where I hit a snag in continuing to share about the things we are discovering as we go along on this journey of discovery God has placed us on. I ran into something this past Sunday that shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. For the first time so far, the thing that was missing hit me pretty early in the service, and it wasn’t at all good.
After discussing my concern about writing about this past Sunday with Corey, I will not be sharing the name of the congregation we visited last Sunday. The point of this journey does not seem to be to call out churches, at least not at this point. But, God did make it pretty clear from the beginning that we were supposed to share the journey with those who are interested. So, instead I want to quickly explain something else before diving into this story.
I have mentioned shoes before a couple times in the course of this series, particularly taking them off. But, I haven’t really explained the significance of that, and it’s important to this story. Several months ago, while we were still at BGUMC, I began to be moved to remove my shoes and leave them off. This was a relatively new thing, out of the blue, as a year or two prior to that, after a couple years of running around during service without shoes I was asked to keep them on for some reason. I abided by that directive for quite a time, and didn’t think much of it.
Leaving the shoes off during service again stemmed initially simply from forgetting to put them back on. By that point, I was arriving at church between 8:30 and 9 in the morning, and spent most of the time from my arrival until after service at noon on my feet. I would take my sandals or heels off when I arrived so my back and feet weren’t killing me by the time service started. And I would put them back on when people started arriving. I began to occasionally forget.
God began to cause me to kneel to pray. I kept getting the message to kneel when I prayed, and to take my shoes off while I sat in my seat because it was holy ground, God’s house. So, I began taking my shoes off after I sat down from singing. The trouble was, I would forget to put them back on when we would go up for the last song. But it stopped being an issue when the band disbanded for a while and I was no longer up front.
The urge to remove my shoes continued when the band was reconstituted and after a few weeks, I stepped back up in the hopes it would draw others into singing in the “choir” we were trying to incorporate. I still kept forgetting to put them back on, and was growing frustrated with the inability to move easily with the music. Eventually, not wanting to create waves, I tried to step down from singing again. Others had finally joined the singing, and being fully engaged with worship without worrying about upsetting someone felt more important to why I was there.
That only lasted a couple weeks before I was asked by one of my band mates to return. I did that, but deliberately without my shoes that time. Not to create problems, but simply because God was still telling me that it was His house, holy ground, and I should have my shoes off. I should remain prepared at all times to move the way He told me to. That included sinking to my knees on stage to pray during benedictions if He said so. That included being able to move and dance easily on stage, if He so directed. He told me I was there to help lead worship, in His house. And every time I tried to put my shoes back on, He would whisper, stop, take off your shoes, this is holy ground.
When I left my church to begin this adventure with Corey and Jordan, God was still telling me to take off my shoes. And believe me, I was not entirely comfortable in that thought. I’d been at my church for eight years, camping and gathering since before that with Scouts, and working there part to full time depending on the needs of a given week for two years. It was one thing to deal with the upset my stocking feet seemed to create in the church God had made my home. It was a very different thing to walk in as an outsider and go stocking footed. But, I’ve spent a lot of years admonishing others and myself to do as we’re told, even if we don’t always understand why.
Oddly, what I expected has never actually happened in any of the churches we’ve visited so far. In every one, I have taken my shoes off when I get to my seat. Not one time have I had anyone question why I am moving around shaking hands or going to the altar barefoot. Not one time have I been asked to put them back on, at least not by people. But, something I didn’t expect last Sunday. God told me to put my shoes back on half way through the sermon.
He tells me to take my shoes off because I am on holy ground. For the first time, God told me the ground I was standing on, in a house that claimed His name, was no longer holy. It took me a little while to heed His command to put my shoes back on. As a Christian, I never want to believe that a church is a place where God is not present, at least not in the sense it is His place. I never walk into a church looking for the devil. I always assume it is holy ground.
As I sat listening to the children’s sermon about half way through the service, I began to grow uncomfortable. I shrugged it off as simply a twinge over a too simplistic message because it was targeted toward children. After all, the sanctuary was large and beautiful. The choir was robed and well rehearsed. They were mostly old hymns that spoke of God’s truth and glory. The trappings were there…
Within moments of the sermon beginning, I began to squirm as the whisper of “untruth” began creeping into my ears through the words. Anytime a sermon makes me start to squirm, my first instinct is to check to make sure it’s not because a conviction from Scripture is being spoken that I need to hear. After all, none of us likes correction or rebuke, and a good sermon that speaks to our own sin will often make us squirm. But, as I reflected and prayed for God’s wisdom in the listening, I began to recognize the squirmy sense. I used to feel it lightly back when Holy Spirit began moving in me, every time a sermon wasn’t speaking whole truth.
I felt it growing, even as I also felt Corey’s hand tense up in distress next to me. For the first time in my life, I nearly got up and walked out in the middle of a sermon in a church. I did put my shoes on, because God was whispering in my ear “run from this place as soon as you are able.” There came a moment when that whisper became a roar screaming “Blaspheme!” When this man of God spoke to the congregation to say that the one thing Christ really hated in his ministry, the central part of His ministry, was His hatred of walls, divisions. And then spoke an actual lie about a historical discovery that distorted the understanding of God’s Temple in the Old Testament.
I get what he was trying to do. I get that he was trying to preach a message of unity, especially on a day so many are reminded of evil in the world. Especially in a time when the divisions in our country have grown deep. But, we are not to distort the Word of God or the Gospel of Christ to proclaim our unity with all the world. Scripture is really clear that we are NOT united with the world. Not only that, we are not supposed to be united with the world. We are supposed to proclaim the Good News so that the world might find the narrow gate to be united with God through Christ.
I will not name this church, nor any other, as I am sadly certain there are more such teachings. After praying and talking to Corey, I believe it is my job to share the journey, and spread a word of encouragement and exhortation for those congregations that are seeking God. There may come a day when it will be time to correct and rebuke, but I have found generally, that is best done privately, one on one, to give the one who has strayed the opportunity to turn and repent. So, I will share the journey, as I have promised God I will. And I will pray for the pastors and congregations I run across where God tells me to put on my shoes because blaspheme is being proclaimed from the pulpit.
Be blessed and be a blessing.