Jun 17, 2017

January 23, 2012 How I Went from Attending A Catholic Church to a Calvary Chapel

Good morning my LORD. This morning, as I sit in our new home church building, waiting for our worship team to play their first song, I begin to meditate upon Your ways. It seems curious to me, that I spent much of my life searching for You in a grand and glorious cathedral. I searched for You there, each Sunday morning between the walls of stained glass windows, high ceilings, marble altars, freshly polished pews and a rolled out, red carpet. I wonder now, “Were You there?”
In contrast, today, 38 years later, I find myself sitting among walls that display fine lines of aging. A cool breeze whirls inside this historic and quaint little chapel. My seat is dimly lit, causing me to struggle in recognizing each church goer’s face.
I pause for a moment to share a thought with You.  “Oh LORD, why did it have to take me so long to find You? Thank You for beckoning me to this place that I am sure, I would never have thought to seek on my own.”
Yet here I sit, restlessly waiting for the preaching of Your Word.  I watch as a modest amount of church members trickle in, bringing with them, warm greetings and smiles. I instantly feel at home as I sit up straight in my seat and smile. Soon, the worship team begins their warm up session. With time to spare, I try to remember the first time I walked through the doors of this sweet little chapel. Then, I remember.
 It was just a few weeks after my release from jail, just a little over four years ago. Travis and I had just moved into our new little apartment one hour away from the church we had been attending. For several months, I had commuted back and forth each Sunday to a church up north. Although Travis had turned four-years-old, I was still laying him down for a nap each day. However, by the time we returned home from Sunday 10:00 am service, it was too late to press the issue of a nap. Unfortunately, Travis wouldn’t sleep during the car ride home. So, each Sunday evening, I ended up with an overtired 4-yr-old on my hands. After several months of struggling, one morning, I decided to search for a church closer to our new home.
I conducted a quick online search and found a large, popular church located just 20 minutes away. “Next Sunday.” I thought as I readied my heart for the change. The following Sunday, I dressed Travis and myself in clean modest clothing. On a tight budget, it was the best we had to wear at the time. Then, I excitedly drove to the church. We took our place in a long line of cars being ushered into the parking lot. Right away, I noticed that the parking lot attendants were all dressed up in three piece suits. I glanced down at what I was wearing, took a second look at my son’s outfit in the back seat, and almost immediately I filled with anxiety. Just then, one of the men in suits approached my car. Looking down at me with a scornful expression, he said, “Can I help you?” My heart skipped a beat and all I could say was, “No thank you,” before I made a U-turn and left the church parking lot. A tear fell from the corner of my eye as we headed back home. “I guess we weren’t welcome there.” I thought to myself.
As we pulled up to our apartment, I said a little prayer. “Father, please direct me to a church where I can learn more about You and Your ways. Help us to find others who love You as much as I do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The following Sunday, I decided to attend whatever services were available at the charming little chapel located just down the street. So first thing in the morning, I conducted another online search. Right away, the church website popped up on my screen. Soon, I was determined to attend the next available morning service at Calvary Chapel Nipomo. 
I remember that first morning well. Mostly likely because the experience was none like any I had had before. I knew something was different the moment I pulled into the unpaved parking lot. I parked our car near a few other lonely cars.  No fanfare. No proud parking lot attendants. No church bells ringing. Just a quiet, modest little chapel with friendly welcoming faces. I followed two elderly women up to the tall skinny chapel doors. There a sweet woman named Leah waited to greet me. I shook her warm hand as she handed me a small folded piece of paper with her other hand. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the warm greeting made me instantly feel at home.  
Once inside, I was greeted by another member who walked with me and Travis over to Sunday school. There, Travis was greeted by the only other child in attendance, the Pastor’s grandson. We learned later that day, that Miles, had been praying for a child his age to attend church with him on Sunday.  Travis would be God’s answer to the sweet little boy’s prayer.
Once Travis settled in, I returned to the chapel. The minute I stepped inside, I smelled the sweet aroma that had completely filled the room. Throughout the service, that same sweet smell of fresh BBQ blew in from the well-known steakhouse, slash bar located directly across the street.
That first service was longer than I was used to. But the Pastor knew his Bible.  I found myself frantically trying to keep up with him as he quoted Scripture, turning from one chapter to the next. All the while, my heart stirred with conviction.  After the service, I shared my redemption story with the Pastor and his wife. “My husband and I are still struggling,” I said. Without hesitation, they both took me aside and prayed with me. How could I have known that such a kind and welcoming beginning would turn into years of constant encouragement and the sound teaching of Your Word? Of all the churches I have attended over the past 38 years, none has ever touched my heart the way this little-known, all but forgotten chapel has.
Sweet memories soothe me now, as my thoughts return to present time. My Pastor begins his sermon by sharing a story. “A congregation in the foothills of the Smokies wanted to build a new sanctuary. But days before opening, the building inspector noted that the church would not be able to add the addition until the church parking lot had doubled in size. With limited land space all around, the only way to provide additional parking would be to move the nearby mountain. The members of the church prayed. The next morning the Pastor was visited by a construction foreman. He said, 'We’re building a new shopping mall in the next county and we need fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? If we can have the dirt right away, not only will we pay you for the dirt, but we will remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge.’ ” [1] I immediately think, “Just imagine!”
By the time he had finished his sermon, I was all fired up. With reckless abandonment, I begin to think, “I want to pray like that!” 
A Little Later 
After the service had ended and everyone had left the church building, I giddily approached our Pastor and shared my excitement with him. I must have sounded so childlike when I innocently blurted out, “I’ll pray with all my heart that on Valentine’s Day, God will write ‘John 3:16’ across the sky in big puffy clouds for all to see.”  For a moment, my Pastor looked at me with a surprised expression. Perhaps he thought I had gone mad. I didn’t let it bother me. Instead, I marched right out of church feeling courageous and bold!
Them, for the rest of the day, I allowed the Scripture shared during service to penetrate my heart. “…for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”[2]
I was ready to pray, even just for the possibility.

[1] APA: A Small Congregation In The Foothills Of The ... text ... (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-paul-wallace-stor
[2] Matthew 17:20 “So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (NKJV)

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