Oh, did I type that outloud?
We left in plenty of time… I was thinking that since we lived 20 minutes further north than when I grew up, we would need at least 45 minutes to get there… even with the new highway and all.
The scenery has changed so much.
I haven’t really gone down that way in what seems like a million years, but wow, what a difference a decade…. Or two? Makes.
The horse properties are all gone, replaced with tar and white lines, outlining the parking spaces of empty buildings, thrift stores and apartments.
The parking lot was empty. I was shocked. I had waited so long to come back to visit…. and here I thought we’d be late… we certainly weren’t early!
I remember it back then, when I attended NPBC (North Phoenix Baptist Church) it was considered to be the northern most part of Phoenix, right before you entered into the Sunny slope area beyond that was prestigious Moon Valley, followed by…. Uh…
Well, followed by… places to ride our horses and dirt bikes.
To the south and west was the splendor of multi-million dollar estates and to the east the Estates of Biltmore and homes of the Phoenix “elite” judges, politicians and of course the Wrigley’s.
I loved driving to and from church and seeing the beauty of that part of town. At the time, NPBC was the 3rd largest church in the country – the largest in AZ.
To enter the grounds of North Phoenix Baptist church – a sprawling 40 acre parcel of land…
Was to enter worship.
Never did I attend a Sunday morning service dressed in flat shoes, pants let alone shorts, like are worn today. (And I’m not condemning, I have succumb to wearing capri’s.)
I sang in the Choir, where we had to practice until we reached perfection as determined by one of the greatest musical minds ever – Mr. Forbes Woods, followed by the best composer and musician ever- Richard Hooton. (Not that I don’t mean to mention the others who followed…. who hold their own in awesomeness, I am sure).
But lord help us all… if we acted out or too much gaming was going on – and Pastor Jackson came in – we were dead. And we knew it.. all he had to do was peak his bald head around the corner… and
At the sight of Dr. Jackson in the Choir room, you could hear a pin drop as we all came to immediate order. (It was like he knew every single one of us and who our parents were).
We dressed in robes – we sat according to size and tone – and there was no switching either. If you did not like the rules, you were free to leave and no one… that I can ever remember… left.
We simply complied.
Respect. ? Yes. We did. And we expected it from each other as well. We spent each Sunday morning, Sunday night, Monday night (Outreach), Wednesday night (fellowship dinner followed by worship) and then each Friday we would meet at someone’s home for Bible Study… when we were not attending a service – most likely we could be found at each other’s home’s with whoever had the latest in the “BETA” VCR… or new fangled “Atari” game…
We had a “bar” that we raised and we held it high.
When it came time for church, we sat in the choir loft in silence. Not a word we would speak – and our holiday specials were mesmerizing. The lyrics were sung with heart and worship.
We auditioned for solos – they weren’t just handed out to the “next in line.” This was something that had to be perfection – after all people were coming to hear us that needed Jesus. There was no room for error. We sang to the Glory of God and to Him was all honor, glory and blessing.
We did not call our elders by their first names. We called our elders by their respected… earned names: Dr. Jackson, Pastor Green….. Mr. and Mrs. Miller… “Hooton.”
When… back then… would enter the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, we sat with our parents. If you had small children you took them OUT. There were people there “who needed to be saved and there were to be no distractions….” I cannot remember how many times I heard that from the pulpit.
The men down front… in the first two rows… Those were the Deacons. They did not smoke or drink. They took an oath, and they were always in a blue or black suit and tie.
They would do offering and everyone was on cue – they all began at the same time, did the same thing, served the same way, and they ended at the very same time. They never missed a beat.
When we participated in the Lord’s Supper – it was an event.
Everything was in sync it was practiced, well-rehearsed and well executed….
And it was reverent. The message was spectacular, the music was amazing… the lighting was dimmed, and you could feel the Holy Spirit move through the building. It was Holy. It was convicting – and their were many times, I just had to go to my knees before participating.
But today, as I walked up the walk way, I noticed the gravel and rocks that had replaced the once spectacularly manicured lawns…
Once inside there was a bookstore – I remembered our library back in the day – I checked out many books – but I don’t remember every buying books… Even those written by Dr. Jackson…
The pews have now been replaced by stadium seating and there is no more choir loft… just bleachers. (They have a choir in the earlier “traditional” service, I understand)…
The once spell-binding orchestra pit had been covered by a very large stage, filled with Connie Waddell’s grand piano… but she was not there – she too is in the other service….
I could see Rick Hooton in my mind holding my legs as I sang a very rare solo… (I used to move a lot when I sang – not well respected by Baptist standards)… but he has been gone a long time too.
As we took our seats, I realized that the balconies had been curtained off and the side seating, where as a high school student I spent my Sunday and Wednesday nights… was empty as well.
I took a quick inventory of the room… maybe I would catch a glimpse of someone from days gone by…
But all I could see were: Flip flops, short-shorts, and tank tops… (Maybe it is different in the “traditional” service).
Really? We show more respect for our favorite sports teams – heading to watch a game, we spend more time (and money) getting dressed then we do for church!
What has happened to us? Why has this become ok? Why are there two completely different services? Do we not serve to honor the same Holy God? Is this not the “Sabbath,” are we not ALL called to ‘Keep the Sabbath Holy?”
And then there were the kids – as a matter of fact in a blink of an eye my husband and I were surrounded by teenagers with my husband and me as the only adults in our section… we soon realized why.
“Where are your parents?” I thought… “Shut up…” was the next thought… Remembering the time, back in the day when Nancy Miller turned around to me and said, “Holly, do you know where you are?”
Mother… friend’s mother… woman I never knew… it didn’t matter, I shut my mouth.
As the musicians came to the stage – my mind flashed back to the NPBC alter of my day…
Whatever happened to that alter?
The beautiful steps, the grand entrance to the pulpit – where the anointed pastors and shepherds would be seated, all in their suits and ties… those grandiose chairs!
Hey… I thought…. As I looked up – where did those organ pipes go? That organ was amazing….
But the bright lights caught my attention back to the tatted up guitar player with the Mohawk and the other performers on the stage led by the female worship leader.
I waited anxiously – the band was great. The chick on stage was good too – it’s just hard for me to be led in “worship” by a woman… I find that unbiblical…
but there was no worship….
There was a lot of loud music, clothing and artwork…. And that has it’s place – in a Praise band down on Mill or at a church camp getting the kids ready to worship…. but there’s gotta be some WORSHIP!
There were a lot of people “making statements,” there was a lot of “praise” – “God is good,” “God is compassionate…” “God is mercy…” “Jesus died for me…. Because He loves me.”
Jesus had to die for us… because we are worthless wretches… how about that?! When does that part come in?
There is something to be said about “A wretch like me,” “The old rugged cross,” even some of the newer worship songs don’t make it to the new stages of our churches – “Lead me to the cross…. Where I lay me down… bring me to my knees…”
That would have been cool…
It was hard to determine the pastor from anyone else in the building… They use his first name. “Pastor Jason,” which now most churches do. He was in jeans and a t-shirt, like most church Pastors are now… (I understand he also wears a suit at the “traditional” service…)
We did communion – where it was nothing short of chaotic – no one knew who was serving whom… and one guy must have woke up from his theater chair ½ way through as to literally – jump into action…
The young girl in front of me almost got a slap on the head for munching on her cracker for the next 15 minutes…
It was a fine sermon… about “cleaning out the temple.”
Which made me think about maybe it’s time we start cleaning out ours.
What have we become when we have lowered the bar with no standard of Holiness? Or we have two bars – one called “Traditional” the other we lower to that of a limbo bar and call it “Contemporary.”
We don’t take time to present ourselves anymore – we don’t even wear our “Sunday best” anymore… Well… of course there’s that “traditional…”
When Solomon built the temple it was gorgeous! The finest was used! We treat our temple-churches to be something more “seeker-friendly,” and our Temple-body as a grunge-look, “don’t wanna offend a broth’a… or sist’a…” Oh Come ON!
What about offending your Holy God?
What about the “Older teaching the younger…” part of the Bible… when does that happen? How do the roads of “traditional and contemporary” cross?
Look… I realize it’s the heart that matters most– not the outer appearance – and you don’t throw pearls at swine – but does that mean we have to jump into the pigsty?
Our churches are empty – because we are no different than they are – our proverbial bar isn’t any higher than what the world has to offer –
The only we don’t do is serve beer, wine and cigars with our little “pulpit pep-talks” and “rock-star revivals.”
What have we become?
I am so sick of people telling me about how Jesus meets us “where we are at”
Yeah… but you can’t stay there! The Bible calls us to “Walk worthy…”
What is Jesus worth?
Is there a “Traditional” and “Contemporary” Heaven? Did I miss that part of the Bible – or are we re-writing that?
When we take reverence and holiness out of our sanctuary – we got nothing.
Back in the day – we (the youth) were on fire for Jesus. That 1980’s group of young men and women fought for Jesus. We were there every time the doors were opened. We were on mission – and brought our neighborhood with us.
We held events and went into the streets with flyers inviting everyone around. That was our “Contemporary” service! It was separate! It never took away from worship! Never did it take away from the Sabbath!
But then we took showers, got dressed, did our make-up and hair and then went to the event!
And we sang – and we played – hard… and loud!
We rocked the house – but we also knew when the lights went down- and the music softened it was time to remember the Holy God Almighty and His blessed, reverent, Son – Jesus Christ our Lord.
And we did it all in style – we were different. We were set apart.
What has happened to us?
I’m not saying that Dr. Jackson, and his crew were anything “special” I know… I was there – We all have something…
The point is that when we stepped into the sanctuary it was about Jesus – we were in His house…
And we met Him where He was at… or at least we made an attempt.
Holy, Holy, Holy. Lord God Almighty.
Revive us again.