One night I wandered into a group gathered in a college dorm and heard regular people sincerely telling how Jesus had changed their lives. Later the group joined hands in a large circle, pulled me in, and began to talk to Jesus one after the other.
This was my first encounter with the Kingdom of God, the presence of the actual reign (rule) of God. Jesus had said that the Kingdom of God was at hand (close) but I had never before been aware of God’s government. But I was that night — my heart shuddered. I was so overcome with awe at what I was encountering that I did something I had never done before. I began to talk to God out loud in front of people. The word’s flowed from deep within me.
This was God’s gathering of “called out ones” — God’s active assembly, not man’s religious ritual. Afterwards, I went back to my dorm room and wrote these lines:
Today I saw the Son
Rising From The Water,
And felt His warmth
As I disrobed
I did see the Son that night (41 years ago) and I’ve never been the same. He rose in front of my eyes from a gathering of ordinary people who seemed as common as water. With His Presence, I saw warmth and felt it deeply — peace, love, compassion, sincerity, openness, reality, and meaning — wrapping around me, soothing my pain.
I was overcome. My walls fell down. My masks and coverings came off. My problems, my obsessions, my fears, my self-focus; all began to melt as I sank into the loving reign of God.
For almost 4 years I gathered spontaneously with this group of called out ones. They were called, not to be preachers or religious professionals. No, they were called to passionately pursue the Presence and will of God — to seek first God’s reign and His right living. (See New Testament verse: Matthew 6:33.)
When I graduated and moved on, I went looking for God’s gathering of called out ones, for His ekklesia. I went to many churches (sometimes staying for years in a particular church) but I could not find the present reign of God. I couldn’t find anyplace where God, Himself, was allowed to be the One in control (to set up His kingdom). There was always a strong element of human control — agendas, programs, strong human authority figures — a tightly regulated environment.
How I longed for so many years to see again God’s gathering, freely led by the Holy Spirit rather than by human domination.
Finally a call came from an unexpected place. A Salvation Army major wanted to meet with my wife and me. He told us that a Salvation Army corps (church) had been closed a few years before and he wanted to reopen it. However, because traditional church hadn’t worked in that place, he wanted it to be different. His word was “nontraditional.” He asked if my wife and I could start something different.
My heart leapt. Did I hear him correctly?
Yes. We were given the freedom and support to begin a Spirit-led gathering of God’s people. That was four years ago. As you know, I can’t keep quiet about what God has done and is doing at The Salvation Army Berry Street Worship Center. I written many blogs about it, such as:
However, words can’t really show you what it is like. Perhaps you should wander in and see for yourself (like I wandered into that gathering). It might just be the very thing that you have been looking for all your life.
Sunday mornings @ 10:45 & Thursday nights @ 6:30. 225 Berry Street, Nashville, TN 37207.
Update . . .
After writing and posting this article this morning, I had a “stumble upon” experience, or what I prefer to call a God leading. I saw copy of Time magazine in an office and picked it up. It contained an article about Nones.
Nones are a growing percentage of America’s population — people who claim no religion. However, the article said that most Nones consider themselves to be spiritual and open to God, just not religion. The article said that denominations must decide whether to adapt to the Nones or loose them.
Thank God that The Salvation Army has chosen to be adaptable. And our experience matches the Time article. We have found that Nones are very open to participatory, non-religious gatherings for God. (This is sometimes called “organic church.”)
Check out this book about ekklesia on Amazon!