Quick, wish me and my wife a happy anniversary! My two kids, too. It's not our wedding anniversary, though, or even the anniversary of our first date as a couple. But two years ago today was our first date, in a sense... our first date with the church we've been part of ever since, The Bridge in Bixby, Oklahoma. You can read what I blogged back then about the experience here... we're in a beautiful new sanctuary now, and the children's ministry is quite different since then (for one thing, the kids don't come into the adult song service any more), but we still love it. It's the place for us to be!
This past weekend someone asked me why we had left our old church (which they still attend). They weren't being defensive or accusatury; just looking for information. What I told them there I'm not going to say here, any more than I did back when we originally left, because I still have immense respect for that church, and love for our friends who still attend there, and I would never want to be perceived as talking that church down. You could find some clues, though, in this post I wrote back then about what we were looking for in a new church, and what we ultimately found at The Bridge. As I read back over that post, I'm actually a little bit amazed that, in the two years we've been there, The Bridge has met all of those expectations in one way or another. There's not a paragraph in that post that I can say, nope, The Bridge isn't like that. It's like all of them. Maybe not in every tiny detail in every case, but in most of the details and certainly in all of the larger brush strokes. It seems like what we had on our hearts was what God ultimately brought us to... or, what God knew He was going to bring us to was what He laid on our hearts. Does it really matter which one it was? We found a place where we are happy and fulfilled, and that's an amazing feeling.
One of my favorite things about The Bridge is something that I think many people wouldn't think to put on their "important things" list if they were looking for a new church, but to me it is of central importance, and I think part of what we like about The Bridge is that it's clearly part of Pastor Orlando's priorities too. Once upon a time in history, people could not read. Also, there were no televisions and no CD players. There were no cassette players and there were no radios. The only way that people could learn about God was by personally hearing the Word recited out loud, and maybe expounded upon. I imagine that's the way it was in Bible days, and throughout much of history afterward, up to the time that sound recording was invented. But now, for someone who wants to know about the Bible, not only are there literally hundreds of Bible translations in English, but they are available at Bible bookstores, mainstream bookstores, the grocery store book aisle, your favorite Wal-Mart or Target, and for free in the drawer next to the bed in your hotel room. Online, site after site has the Bible available for free for searching and reading, often in many translations (sometimes so many it could make your head swim). Often, these Bible study sites will not only have the Bible text itself, but multiple study helps such as commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Greek/Hebrew lexicons, sermons, maps... whole Pastor's Office Bookshelf-loads of information. Even if you don't read, you might be able to figure out how to access the audio versions of the Bible on those sites. These days, if you fail to know what the Bible says, it's not because nobody was there to read it out loud to you. It's easily available.
You don't need a preacher to stand up in front of you and expound on the Scriptures, either. In addition to those online sites full of information, Christian bookstores across the country, and powerful Bible study software applications, there are thousands upon thousands of hours of television programming every day in which pastors and other ministers share their messages. So not only do you not have to have the Bible read to you, you do not even have to go to a church to hear a good message about the Bible. In fact, there's a pretty good chance these days that even your own pastor can be seen on TV or heard on the radio; I listen to a few-weeks-old message from my church's Sunday morning service on the radio every Sunday when I'm getting ready for church. You don't need to hear a sermon from a guy standing in front of you at all; there's a guy on TV who will happily provide a similar experience to you while you sit comfortably on your couch.
Decades ago, contemporary-style worship music was hard to come by. If you wanted to break away from hymns and sing something a little more modern in style, you were probably going to have to learn the song at church and sing it yourself. These days, Christian radio is filled with pop songs that are not only religious in theme, but that are actually worship songs. Often, the song hits the radio, and then later becomes a staple of church worship! And even if you don't have Christian radio where you live, you can buy a CD of Hillsong or Chris Tomlin or any number of other artists, and you've got a worship experience happening in your living room or car or earbuds that contains authentic worship music, probably performed and produced far better than your local church is able to do with volunteer musicians and production staff. You don't really need a church to fill your need for worship music, either.
I don't want to seem to be speaking out against pastors or their messages, reading the Word out loud, participating in a real live worship song service, or any other part of the Church experience. But I do want to highlight one thing that you cannot get from sitting on the sofa at home. What you can't do at home is build relationships with other believers. We need relationships with other believers in order to stay strong and live the life that Christ is calling us to. And to be honest, when you have a social, church-family bond with the people around you, all of those other things - the singing, the message, even things like giving in the offering - all of those things take on added significance, added importance. Being in a worship service with other believers is an amazing experience... being in a worship service with church family is even more amazing. It can make even a mistake from one of the people on stage turn into a worshipful experience when you know the person, know their heart. I love it when I'm in church and I catch sight of someone I know, maybe someone who has struggled with something in life or someone who is still struggling, and I see them worshiping with all of their heart. It makes me want to worship God with all of my heart, too. Their gratitude and love for the Lord reminds me that I've got a lot to be grateful and loving for, as well. Iron sharpening iron, so to speak.
I want to celebrate the two-year anniversary of us joining ourselves to The Bridge church. We love the people; we love and feel cared about by and appreciated by pastors and staff; our children learn about the Word; it's a fabulous place to be. If you're in the Tulsa/Bixby area and your heart is telling you it's time for a change, come on out and see what's happening. We'd love for you to become part of our little corner of the family of God!