* We arrived to find that over 175 African delegates to the General Conference were joining us in worship. It was amazing to see and hear them as we arrived, mingling and speaking in their own native tongues. The sanctuary, which holds over 1000, was packed to overflowing. I sat across the isle from the the seats reserved for our guests, and was absolutely amazed at the spirit they brought to worship. The music was uplifting (including a saxophone; is it just me or is all music better with a sax?) and set a great tone for what was to come. After some preliminaries, Pastor Matthew Hartsfield introduced our visitors. We received a welcome reminding us that in order to complete the Great Commission it will require all of us to work together. And then the French speaking portion of the delegates stood and sang to us- in French! I recorded a portion and you can see and hear it below.
* Matthew's message for the day was the third in his series called I Am. This one was called "I Am Powerful," and it spoke to how we can do all things through Christ Jesus. Matthew is a wonderful preacher on any day, but yesterday he just KILLED it! He talked about how we in the church seem to shy away from our power, saying that "The church too often resembles actors in a poorly cast zombie movie. We look like the living dead!" He called upon us all to claim the power that comes from following Jesus. He called us to "turn our tests into testimonies and our messes into messages." And then he invited those who had never done so to commit to surrendering to the Savior. Some 16 people raised their hands, and you could feel the overwhelming presence of God in the room. And that presence was about to get HUGE!
* It was already 12:10 PM or so when Matthew started the baptisms. He warned us not to look at our watches. He also broke the news that the folks from Idlewild Baptist were going to be beat us to the Picadilly Cafeteria (we always go to Moe's, so that had no impact on us)! Baptism Sunday at Van Dyke is always a great day, as they rent a big tank and do full immersions of adults and youth who have taken a class and are ready to take the next step with Jesus. It is always very powerful. But on this day, Matthew decided that was not enough. As those who had prepared came forward, he invited anyone else who had never been baptized and felt led to join them. And a dozen or so did just that! If you are a United Methodist, then you know how radical this was. The Pharisees in attendance were no doubt stunned. If you are not part of the UMC, then I suspect you cannot imagine how out-of-the-box this was. It was wonderful, and each new baptism was greeted with a roar from the congregation. The African delegates were taking pictures and praising God for the outpouring of the Spirit. You could not help but be moved when the final person- a young African-American man from the special needs ministry of the church who often sits near us during worship- was led into the pool. He was hesitant to enter the water, but once he did he gave a holler and went with gusto. When he came back up- resurrected into new life, as Matthew pointed out- the entire crowed was on its feet, applauding and giving praise to Jesus. As I told my friend and Van Dyke staff member Rob Rose on the the way out, "That was unbelievable!" The entire service was most definitely a God Thing.
So what should church be like? Just like that. People may come for church. But we need to give them Jesus. Amen & Amen!
Because of Jesus,