Church Experience #43 – November 13, 2011
Signal Mountain Bible Church – Signal Mountain, TN
Dun, dun, duhhhhhh……….the In-Laws
It is nearing the end of my year of “churfing” (a.k.a. church-surfing) and there was still one particularly important church that I had not included in my ChurchSurfer visits. I think you will all agree that it probably would not be fair to visit my parents’ church (for Father’s Day) and leave out my in-laws’ church. My wife’s parents, Speight and Trudee Overman, and her sister Karen, live on Signal Mountain and are members of Signal Mountain Bible Church. I have visited there before (of course…gosh!), so this experience was not entirely new to me, but a “must” on my ever-shrinking list of church visits left for 2011 (can you believe it’s almost over?). Laura and I did not tell them we were showing up…like all the other Sundays this year, we just sort of decided to go and went. No special preparations or staged theatrics, we just pick a church and go and see what the Lord shows us through our experience. One of the great things about the church experiences that I have had this year is that I never have expectations. I may have suppositions about what or how things might happen at certain churches, but I never expect anything to happen a certain way…how could I? I do not go to these churches regularly and therefore cannot make any presumptuous conclusions. Why would I do that anyway? Would that not be saying that God is predictable? Or even worse, that He is not present and we have become predictable in our churches? Think about this for a moment…if we are trying to be imitators of Christ, would we honestly be predictable about how we do anything? It seems to me like the twelve who were closest to Jesus never knew what to expect. That is why Jesus was always explaining His actions to them. With unpredictability comes unexpected events, and with unexpected events comes misunderstanding. If you were not expecting something and it takes you “off guard”, you usually get details wrong and miss the point completely. Jesus made sure His disciples did not miss the details or the point of anything. Can you say the same about your church? Do you go to church each week expecting certain things? Would you be open to the unexpected? Do we purposefully create predictable churches out of fear of the unknown or the desire to keep everything “under control”? Just some good introspective questions that popped into my mind…but now back to the point of this article – Signal Mountain Bible Church.
Completely Natural, Naturally
Signal Mountain Bible Church is off the beaten path in Signal Mountain out on Shackleford Ridge Road. The church shows a distinctly conscientious construction style that captures and blends with the natural beauty of this region by employing liberal use of stones, natural wood, and earth tones from the outside in. The sanctuary is painted sky blue, and there are skylights throughout the room to allow whatever natural light is available at any given moment to illuminate and accentuate the wood beams and unique architecture. There is a recessed baptismal in the wall behind the stage, and to further drive home the natural simplicity of this church, the full extent of their stage decorations were palms nestled on either side. I found this to be pretty refreshing after visiting so many churches with the downtown Chattanooga “repurposed industrial” feel or the megachurch monstrosities in the suburbs. Not that I’m a church architecture critic, but I just wanted to point this out because it felt like one of those days where you leave the city and go for a drive on a two-lane country road and suddenly feel the pressures of the world melt away…it was that kind of refreshing. I know city dwellers love the look and feel of the city (and I do too), but an escape into the wilderness is always more than welcome.
Laura and I went in the church and found her family. We spent some time in the lobby meeting some of their friends and fellow church members, and then went in and took seats in the back row of the sanctuary so that we could be close to Speight, who helps run the audio and video. When the worship music started, I immediately noticed that the praise band consisted of more traditional instruments…a keyboard and piano, acoustic guitar, bass, and hand drums. All of the musicians remained seated while playing and the only people standing on stage were a few praise singers who were leading the worship. We sang mostly hymn-style songs with commentary and prayers provided by the worship director in between each one, creating a flowing narrative, which like most of the other things Signal Mountain Bible Church does, seemed to feel very steeped in tradition. After reciting the Nicene Creed as a congregation, this video was shown for Operation Christmas Child which showed the impact this program has had on the children of Haiti. The congregation was urged to participate and given directions on how to take one of the “shoe boxes” and fill it with gifts for a Haitian child. What an amazing way to bring joy into the life of impoverished children and open the door to share with them the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. You do not have to be a member of Signal Mountain Bible Church to participate, so if you would like to support a charitable and evangelical program, go here to “Build-A-Box” for Operation Christmas Child.
What Do Men Say?
After worship, Co-Pastor Gary Phillips offered the Scripture reading for the day from Luke 9:18-27. He then began speaking about a family in their church whose four-and-a-half year-old daughter had recently prayed to God for salvation through Jesus Christ. Pastor Phillips offered up the often debated question about how old you have to be to really understand and be able to accept salvation. People who are saved as a child often dismiss their decision by arguing that they did not really understand what type of commitment they were making. Pastor Phillips wondered aloud how much Jesus’ disciples really understood at any given moment as adults. What happened was that Jesus progressively unfolded His truths to them, which is what happens to a child as they grow and learn and gain perspective on the world and their place in it. So who is to say at exactly what point you get to that mysterious age of accountability when you can understand salvation enough to accept or forego it. I am not God so I don’t know, but these are very interesting things to contemplate. Pastor Phillips spoke from the podium on stage in a suit with a red tie, and his soothing deep voice and point-by-point preaching style evoked the imagery in my mind that this sanctuary was a college classroom and he was the “spiritual professor”. He further cemented that image as he talked through Jesus’ question to the disciples about “Who do men say that I am?”, and the fact that their responses were the majority opinions of common people rather than religious leaders. What is interesting is that “Messiah” was not even one of the options they replied with. Pastor Phillips explained that one of the reasons for this can be seen in John 6:14-15, which shows that the common people were expecting the Messiah to be someone who would become king and lead a war against Rome. Obviously that person was not Jesus, at least in their worldly view of “king” and “war”. Pastor Phillips also took the opportunity to research how religious leaders of our time would answer Jesus’ question about who He is. He spoke about Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, and Islamic views of Jesus and how their opinions fall in line with the answers submitted by the disciples and what the people of their time were saying…that Jesus was a prophet or religious leader, but not God. Pastor Phillips continued through several more teaching points on sacrificial atonement, what “Christ” really meant to the Jews, and about watershed moments in our own lives. I felt like this was a church that really received the meat of Biblical doctrine and principles of the Christian faith in their Sunday sermons, which is important because that may be the full extent of some people’s involvement in church. How will those people ever come to understand the deeper commitment they are called to unless they are introduced to it on Sunday mornings?
Application for Employment
After the sermon, the service was concluded with a traditional hymn and benediction. As Laura and I spent some more time greeting various people and saying our farewells to the family, I was taken off in thought about the Scripture reading in Luke 9 from the day’s sermon, and specifically verses 23-26. I had recently been fired from my job (not because of anything I did, but because the company I worked for was bought out by another company who then fired all the remaining employees) and had begun the process of submitting resumes and applications for several job openings. During this process I applied for one position which said that “applications which disclose religious affiliation will not be considered”. Wow. Since when does “professional” mean that we have to leave our personal identity at the door? I don’t know about anyone else, but I am a disciple of Jesus Christ first and foremost, and being requested to hide that information just doesn’t sit right with me (needless to say I did not follow instructions and also did not get the job). As Christians should we submit to the world and hide our faith, or should we submit to Christ an proclaim our faith? I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this, but I choose to proclaim my faith at every opportunity whether it is deemed “appropriate” by society or not. So from now on I think the “objective statement” on my resume will read something like this:
My objective is to bring glory and honor to my savior, Jesus Christ, by fulfilling the requirements of Ephesians 6:5-8, which calls me to work for men as if working for the Lord, knowing that whatever good I do will be rewarded by God. To this end, I will do my best to serve my employer faithfully and wholeheartedly, applying all of my God-given skills and knowledge to perform the requirements of my position to the very best of my ability and without any expectation of acknowledgement or distinction. If given the opportunity to work for this company, I will treat people with respect and do my very best to show love and compassion to my co-workers and supervisors in all circumstances. In all aspects of my work and personal life I will seek to display self-control, patience, understanding, and honesty, and to conduct myself with modesty and humility while also seeking to help train and assist others to elevate their work performance through the same commitments that I have made.
So if you are reading this and you are an Executive at an awesome company who would like to have an employee like me, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org (shameless plug for a dream job). Now if I can only live up to that objective!
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Grace and peace in Christ,