Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Church in Amsterdam

It was like walking into a big living room, but with all the furniture turned the same direction. There were couches, bistro tables, pitchers of coffee and water—the necessary elements of family life—all warmly presented. I was an ocean and a continent away from home, and here was the body of Christ very much alive, very much in love with Jesus, very much attuned to the Word of God. The Dutch name for the church was Zolder—attic—but it was meeting in a basement! The church had started in the attic of a narrow canal-side Dutch house, but had outgrown that space and was now meeting in a basement.

We sang worship songs—many the same ones I was familiar with. We heard a report of recent mission activity. We had a greeting time and since we were clearly visitors, we were pounced on with smiling faces and firm handshakes and lots of questions. We gathered in small groups and prayed for some of the needs of the Body as listed on a PowerPoint slide. This was the church, conducted in English, in the heart of Amsterdam.

The sermon was presented by a young man who was interning as a pastor. His text was Philippians 2:1-11. He was visibly humbled to be preaching on a text that teaches humility, and he was clearly an incarnation of the truth of the passage. He was so real, so humble, so gentle. The character of shepherd was evidenced in every word he spoke.

I was reminded that the gospel goes to the entire world, that the church is a multi-cultural expression of Christ’s ingathering of His followers, that there are so many common elements when the same Lord is worshiped. Yet each culture, each people group, each area of the country or the world, stamps its uniqueness on the timeless Bride. I suppose it is like attending weddings in different cultures: many common themes, but with a unique twist.

The family living room feel was genuine. The Body of Christ was real. These were our brothers and sisters in Christ, worshiping the same God, the same Bridegroom. It was a privilege to worship together with this Zolder church!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Family Reunion

This felt comfortable, like the churches I was most familiar with. It seemed to fit like a favorite pair of slippers. People were friendly, greeted us with that look of “I don’t recognize you so you must be new here.” It reminded me of a family reunion, where everybody belongs there, and is related, but that doesn’t mean you know everybody. We were treated like long lost cousins or uncles and aunts.

There were probably 80 people in the worship service. They loved being together, worshipping God with enthusiasm. It just felt good. The pastor preached without notes, near as I could tell, and that impressed me (because I can’t do it!). He challenged the Body to live for eternity, not the fading things of this world. Don’t lay up treasures on earth, don’t live for all the stuff you can get here, but live in light of the home God is preparing for us above. Good stuff, and all the more significant realizing that this church is a stone’s throw from Hollywood, and all that goes with that culture.

The bulletin and announcements indicated something else about this church: they believed in prayer. In the course of a week, there were several different kinds of prayer gatherings. They were serious about communicating with their God. It didn’t seem like they were busy about playing church, but serious about being the church.

I waited around after service to talk with the pastor, but he was deeply engaged with one of his congregants. He spent a long time talking to this person, and I ended up leaving without chatting. I later learned that he stayed for well over an hour talking to people. This shepherd cared enough about his sheep to enter their lives and hear their stories. I was impressed and encouraged.

God was present in this place. These people loved to sing and worship. Their pastor loved them. The Word was presented accurately and without apology. Size of congregation matters not. Jesus inhabits His bride wherever she is, whatever size she is, wherever she honors and exalts Him as her Groom and King and Lord and Savior. I really did feel like a long lost cousin, part of the family, but unknown, and now welcomed home.