My parents tell me that when I was a toddler, I used to talk to them about God. They didn’t go to church or have much interest in spiritual things, so they were quite surprised by my interest in God and wondered how a toddler could have such an interest.
As I got a little older, I would ask them to take me to church and ever now and then, my mother would. When I was in elementary school in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my parents started regularly attending a Presbyterian church, mainly to make me happy.
Funny thing though, when we started attending church regularly, I didn’t feel any closer to God. In church it seemed like He was a million miles away. The preacher talked about God and the rest of us sat passively by and some people listened (I did); but the sense of God’s absence was rather eerie to me.
When I was around 12, I went through a series of classes they called Communicant’s Class and then, on a Sunday morning, was made an official church member. The classes were all about confusing doctrines, but there was nothing in them about knowing God, relating to God, or experiencing God. The whole process left me spiritually empty.
When I was starting the 9th grade, my family moved to Jackson, Tennessee and joined a Cumberland Presbyterian Church. I also felt no sense of God’s presence there — with one exception. Every few months, they used to sing the song, Holy Holy Holy. This hymn wasn’t sung about God, but was actually sung to Him. As the congregation would sing that song, I could feel something stirring inside of me — a faint sense of God’s awesome presence — but I didn’t know how to connect with Him.
I remember one other time I felt that. One year around a Boy Scout campfire we sang Kumbaya. I could feel a sweet Presence — especially when we sang the verse, “Come by here, my Lord,”
Then, around my junior year in high school, a rather odd thought popped into my mind during the Sunday sermon: “If you were born a Hindu, what would you be today?” I thought about it and realized that I would be a Hindu. Immediately, another thought entered my mind: “Why do you think you are a Christian?”
My spiritual condition was suddenly exposed. I realized that I wasn’t a real believer in Christ, Christianity, or even in the Bible. So I rejected it all and realized that I was an agnostic, but I kept attending church, now knowing that I didn’t know God.
Two years later, as a freshman at The University of Tennessee Martin, I met some Jesus Freaks. These people had a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus. I sensed Him when I was around them. At that time, Jesus became more real to me and more present with me than my physical surroundings.
That was 41 years ago — and an all-consuming, spiritual fire still burns in my heart. I sometimes think back to my childhood years in church and wonder: “Shouldn’t church usher in the actual Presence of the Living God, rather than being focused on words and rituals about Him?”
Four years ago, my wife and I were invited to start a non-traditional church with The Salvation Army. We were given the freedom to do church creatively. So we modeled after I Corinthians 14:26, which describes church like a modern support group where people freely participate. The results have been amazing. God is not preached about — He is actually felt and experienced.
Come and see for yourself. You will be blessed at how God shows up at Berry Street Worship Center, 225 Berry St., Nashville, TN, 37207, Sundays at 10:45 am.