Why You Can’t Go Home Again, And Don’t Really Need to

While some folks say, things aren’t what they used to be, I say, yes, but they never were what they are now.

I am a historian by nature. When I visited the Litchfield Congregational church, built in Connecticut in 1721, I tried to imagine all the sin-weary souls who had come to hear the Gospel preached for over three centuries inside those consecrated walls.

In 1991 I drove  to a remote little town in extreme western Oklahoma, to preach. When I arrived at the church, I went downstairs to get water. While downstairs I saw several Sabbath School classrooms, all totally vacant and abandoned.  The elderly couple who invited me home for lunch explained that all those rooms were packed with children back in the day. But they all grew up and moved away to find jobs. The husband was the school master back in the day, but had since  retired for decades, and, with no children around any more, the only traces of the school were distant memories. I remember a feeling of sadness coming over me as I thought of the hollow classrooms once full of life. I can’t say if it was the evangelist or the historian in me that made me wish there was a way to fill those classrooms with lively children again.

Over the years those hollow classrooms occasionally haunt my mind. Of course in my lifetime, I have seen changes in my own childhood church. It still has a thriving church school and Sabbath School department, but when my friends and I go home to visit, we remember days gone by when the church was much fuller. But I have to keep in mind that when we were kids our church was The Adventist Church in the area.  Today there are several Adventist churches in the area, and there really is no “The”  Church now. This is where the evangelist in me wars with the historian in me. The historian in me wants to re-create the church I grew up in. I want to go home again. The evangelist in me rejoices that there are new churches, and the gospel is being preached all over the area now, instead of in just one place. I understand my childhood church is slightly smaller now because people are spreading out to other churches to share the gospel beyond my little neighborhood.

Now my mind looks  back to those empty Sabbath School classrooms in the middle of nowhere in  Western Oklahoma. Is it really sad that the kids grew up and moved on to bigger places where they could find jobs? Not if moving gave them more opportunities to share Jesus with those in need! Now I look back at those empty classrooms in a different way. Maybe the primary Sabbath School teacher did not realize it at the time, but she was doing a lot more than teaching the children in her small town about Jesus. She was training them to be missionaries and take the Gospel from those little rooms and spread it all over the world! The historian in me looks into those vacant rooms and sees a church that died. The evangelist in me looks into those hollow rooms and sees scores of children leaving those sacred halls to share the Gospel in new places, meeting people around the world who need Jesus.

The church is a movement, not a history museum. The church is a people and not an old building standing out in a field where there used to be a town. While reality tells me that many of the kids probably left the church, I am sure many stayed in the church. Many of the children who  filled those old Sabbath School classrooms in western Oklahoma took the church with them when they moved away! The Sabbath School class did not die in those classrooms in western Oklahoma; the class just outgrew its walls! They grew all over the world! I look back now and realize children with whom I sat in Primary Sabbath School class in my home church are now scattered from the South Pacific Islands to New England and beyond. And you know what’s cool? We left four walls we used to meet in, but we never left the church. We took it with us! Just as importantly, we never left each other. We are in touch on Facebook and Sabbath School Net, where we still share ideas from theology to evangelism strategies. And of course we still get together personally when we can. A couple years ago, a former classmate, now a teacher, helped me put my Bible curriculum together while living 1200 miles away. You see, our little Sabbath School classroom did not die. Just the opposite. We grew so big we exceeded the boundaries of our four little walls.

I believe it to be the same with the little classrooms in a small town in Western Oklahoma. If I ever get a chance to return, and I hope I do, I will go downstairs and look into those empty classrooms again. This time instead of trying to imagine a class that once was, I will see a class that still is and even more. I will see a classroom that has grown into something much bigger and greater than it ever was. I won’t see a class that died in a little room. I will see a class that grew all over the world to help people all over the world who need Jesus.

When I think of my experience in the church, I realize in one sense, I can never go home again. The building I worshiped in as a child will never be what it was. That’s just fine. It was never meant to stay what it was. It was meant to grow. It was meant to grow beyond those walls into the rest of the world where people need Jesus. My church is now all over the word. So in one sense, I can never go back to my home church  again. In an even more real sense, my home church is all over the world now and is everywhere I go. And the even greater reality is, that I’ve never been home and never will be until Jesus comes. While the historian in me wants to reminisce about the way the church used to be, the evangelist in me says to keep growing the church. It’s not finished yet!

You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

I’m In Love With Fenway!

I am writing today from beautiful and historic Boston.

This week I am in Connecticut, holding some evangelist meetings for a small church in Torrington. However, with no meetings yesterday, I drove up to Boston to visit Fenway park and cheer on my Tampa Bay Rays who were playing the Red Sox. I took the Subway from Braintree to Kenmore. When I went around the corner and saw Fenway, I was actually surprised that my first reaction was not one of awe, like when I saw Wrigley in Chicago. My first reaction was it reminded of me the first minor league ballpark I went to as a small child. The park was not intimidating. It was homey. Having seen it so many times on Television it was like I had already been there, so I thought. Later, I started to realize that I felt like I was at home, because this ballpark was more like a home than some of the newer bigger stadiums.

I did not realize, when I bought my ticket weeks earlier, that this would be the 8,000th game played at Fenway. They had a special ceremony honoring Fenway park and some of the best Red Sox players who had ever played there. Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastremski, and many others were there. Ortiz was honored as one of the best ever. As they introduced each former star player, and they came walking onto the field, again I was amazed, that instead of appearing as super stars, they seemed more like old friends. Sure I have never been a Red Sox fan, but you can’t follow baseball without being familiar with the Red Sox traditions and stars.

Even though I came by myself to a ballpark in a city I had never been to before, I never felt alone. The place is very friendly. Walking across the street from my hotel to a nearby restaurant, I was amazed how the cars all watched out for me and gave me the right of way when they saw I wanted to cross. The people at the hotel helped me find the subway I needed, and the people on the subway were very helpful and friendly. I was kind of confused, no really confused as I had never ridden a subway before, but the other riders were most helpful and friendly. At the game I met more friendly people. A lady from Japan sat near me and asked me all kinds of questions about the Red Sox, assuming I was a Red Sox fan. I did my best to answer all her questions. After all, like I said, you can’t be a baseball fan without knowing about the Red Sox.

I pray about everything, big or small. I have been praying about my meetings of course, wanting to win people to Christ. I also told God that it would be real nice if I could see a home run over the famous green monster. Sure enough Ben Francisco hit one for the Rays over the green monster right after Carlos Pena’s blast over the center field wall.

Oh, and that Citgo sign, you always see on TV that looks like it is right behind the green monster? It is actually a lot farther away than it looks. It was a couple blocks away, right across the street from the Subway station.

They still have the original gate to the grandstands before they added more seats. Fenway was built in 1912 and opened the same weekend the Titanic sank. One voyage for the Titanic and it was gone the same weekend it started. A hundred years and 8,000 games later Fenway is still going strong.

On its outside wall, Fenway has a sign recognizing the Red Sox 1918 World Series victory and then another sign recognizing their victory right after that in 2004.

They have shops selling souvenirs and food inside and outside the park. I was surprised how reasonable the prices were. Nachos were $4.50 here. I think in Tropicana Field in Florida, they are like $6.50 or $7.00 or something like that.

This is a statue of Ted Williams. The park is filled with statues. There is just so much history and tradition here. From the green monster, to hearing the crowd sing “Sweet Caroline” (watch the video I made of the crowd singing here.) in the middle of the 8th inning, it was one of the purest and richest baseball experiences I have ever had. Some may think I am crazy, but Fenway park reminded me of old Engel stadium, where the Chattanooga Lookouts used to play. Again, this is a major league ballpark with a small town, atmosphere that makes you feel at home. The first time I came through the gates, I felt at home and like I had always lived there! A friend told me once I visited Fenway I would be a Red Sox fan. Well almost Pastor Ken, almost. I will have to say. I loved every moment of it!