Sunday, April 01, 2007

Oh the wonderful cross . . .

I experienced two completely different worship services today--and encountered the Lord in both of them. Jesus was there during the high-tech, carefully excuted Palm Sunday celebration at Abundant Life. And He was equally present at the chaotic, unrehearsed yet jubilant service at the church for the homeless.
I'm not sure where I felt more at home . . .

The service at Abudant Life really was powerful today. George spoke on the cross--he emphasized the fact that it was our sins that nailed the sinless Christ to the cross. At one point during the worship service, we were invited to approach one of several wooden crosses stationed about the auditorium. We each had the opportunity to take a nail, and pound it into the cross. I was shocked at how violently my flesh shrank back from this simple action--this admission that I was directly responsible for His death. But I did, kneeling at the foot of the cross, and then returned to my seat and took communion with a new depth of gratitude.

Our portable baptistry was up front, and George invited people to come forward and be united with Christ's death, burial and resurrection in this "watery grave." Even at the 8:30 service, families and individuals came and gave their lives to Jesus.

I couldn't keep the tears from coming--tears of sorrow for the pain I've caused my Lord, tears of joy for the freedom and forgiveness He's so graciously offered me.


The other church we attended meets in the Clackamas Service Center (where a group of people from Abundant Life gather and serve meals to the hungry and homeless every Monday night). When Greg and I pulled into the parking lot at 10:55, there was a small crowd milling about outside, taking cigarette breaks and shooting the breeze. A mangy dog was tied up to a rail on the front steps.

"Is that the church dog?" I asked no one in particular.

"No, it's MY dog!" a disheveled man snapped. He and his friends cackled together as Greg and I stepped over the mutt and entered the building.

The odors of stale smoke, sweat and alcohol mingled in an interesting way as we claimed two empty metal folding chairs. There were maybe 20 folks inside the building when the music started at 11, another 15 or so drifted in during the hour-long service. We greeted Chief, who was preaching today, and then joined in the praise service.

It was, without a doubt, a joyful noise unto the Lord!

The worship leader, who is also the pastor of the church, led the singing with admirable volume and gusto. Unfortunately, he started every song in the wrong key, but it all usually came together by the last verse. One older gentleman, who sang lustily from the back of the room, began each song a full two beats before the worship team jumped in, giving an odd echo effect to the worship service. The tempo evidently wasn't upbeat enough for him, and every now and then he'd holler at the worship band to hurry things up.

Chief, our dear little Native friend, sat grinning ear to ear, beating timidly on the electric drums. He and the tambourine player were never quite in sync--but no one seemed to mind a bit.

Greg and I couldn't stop laughing, tickled and touched by the joy of the Lord that was so evident in this place.

Then worship ended, and Chief came forward to speak. He was quite nervous, as this was only his second time to preach before his peers. He spoke softly at first, but then fear lost it's grip on Chief and he share the Word boldly with the small crowd.

"We are some tough Christians here, I tell you," Chief said, grinning at us all.

"Amen!" his homeless friends chorused.

"Where would I be without God in my life?" he asked. "Because He shed His blood on the cross, Jesus saved my soul--and He saved my life. He is there to help you--all you have to do is ask."

After another round of "Amens!" the pastor joined Chief and asked if anyone in his flock needed prayer. A few responded, going forward as tears traced clean paths across their faces. I blinked back a tear of my own as I watched Chief--who'd spend six years on the streets battling his owns demons and addictions--pray for his struggling friends.
I sensed I was witnessing a miracle . . .

Two wildly different expressions of worship today--but we came to the foot of the same cross. Rich or poor, white or Native, college-educated or street-wise, we all helped crucify our Lord. And we all experience the same redemption in Him.

Thank You for the cross, thank You for the cross, thank You for the cross, my Friend!


jenzai said...

At the first service you described, I ran into Sandy who was so excited to go hear Chief preach; glad y'all could be there too. It is such an honor to witness the way God is working in people's lives. Since I couldn't be there, I thank you for your vivid descriptions...and the challenge to us therein. Luv, Jen

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