Monthly Archives: April 2011

ChurchSurfer @ St. Jude Catholic Church: The Experience Was The Experience

Church Experience #16 – April 24, 2011 – Easter Sunday

St. Jude Catholic Church

A Personal Challenge

First of all, let me take a moment and acknowledge and thank my Lord God for how much He has blessed me this year.  I’m amazed at how much increase God gives to your faith, wisdom, and love, when you find new ways to serve Him and dedicate more of your time and focus to His Word.  The ChurchSurfer project has already brought major blessings to my spiritual walk, and whether or not people read or like this blog, the benefits of holding myself to the commitment of visiting 50 different churches this year are mind-blowing.  God is good, all the time, amen.  So for Easter this year I decided to challenge myself a little bit by skipping (or should I say hopping?) the Easter church service that is so meaningful to us as (Protestant) Christians, and instead opt for a Catholic church service.  Why is this challenging?  Because going into the experience, I already know that as a non-Catholic I am not welcome to take Holy Communion at a Catholic church, nor do I agree with most of their doctrinal beliefs, which makes it particularly hard on such a significant day as Easter.  So why even go to a Catholic church?  Because I also know that like all Christian sects and denominations, there are true believers with a heart for Jesus inside the Catholic faith.  What will be the big challenge?  Trying to remain focused on the point of my blog, which is “Experiencing God through People”, and not falling into a rant session on the differences in doctrinal beliefs, which is so tempting with a subject matter that is at the core of your very being.  What will be the outcome?  Let’s find out (and I’m more than a little nervous)…

The Atmosphere

St Jude Catholic Church Chattanooga
St Jude Catholic Church Chattanooga

Laura and I pulled in to St. Jude Catholic Church about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time of the 10:30 AM mass service.  We knew it would be crowded on Easter, so we wanted to make sure we could get a seat close enough to the front where we could easily see all that was going on.  I snapped a couple of photos on the walk up to the building, which was a little longer than normal, considering I strategically parked close to the exit lane so that we could hopefully avoid the traffic leaving the service.  As we approached the entrance, we were enthusiastically greeted by an eccentric grey-haired man who was doing his best to say “hello’s” and “good morning’s” to each one of the increasing volume of people headed in to the building.  Upon entering the lobby area, we passed by the holy water bowl without taking part in whatever ritual it is used for, and headed on down the aisle of the sanctuary and into a pew, again without taking part in the Catholic ritual of bowing toward the altar (or crucifix?).  I scanned the ornate room, taking in all the various decorations and symbols.  There was a large crucifix on the front wall facing the congregation, bordered by floor-to-ceiling stained glass depictions of Jesus.  There were candles burning all around the room, fresh flowers all about the altar and stage area, and off to the left of the pulpit was a statue of Mary with the baby Jesus in her arms.  There were various tapestries and murals adorning the walls of the sanctuary, some appearing to be quite old, and most in the European Renaissance style.  My mind wandered in and out of focus on various internal tug-of-war issues I was having about bringing my wife to a Catholic Easter service rather than one where we could actually partake in the communion.

Easter Mass 

Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait

The low hum of all the muted conversations around the room lulled me into deeper contemplations, which were then interrupted by the sight of kids in white robes passing by in the aisle on their way to the front to light more candles.  They circled back to the rear of the room and joined a procession to the altar with the priests, who were holding a crucifer and a large gold-bound Bible.  The musicians, which surprisingly (probably just because of my ignorance of Catholic services) included a 12 string guitar player, bass player, and two keyboard players, started the worship music, which had to be one of the oddest (using what I would consider “normal” contemporary praise or traditional hymns as the basis for comparison) and most unique sounding church music I’ve ever heard.  We sang two songs, which I can only describe as “medieval synthpop hymn music” (you’d have to hear it to understand), and the priest then led the congregation in an opening prayer.  The service continued through a series of Scripture readings, responsive readings, and songs, and then on to a baptism ceremony for some young children, which consisted of the priest gesturing the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the children and their parents, and then pouring holy water from a glass pitcher over the heads of the children and into a small baptismal reservoir.  The children also received white bibs and candles as part of the ritual.  Later in the service, the priests circled up and down the aisles with pitchers of holy water, flinging it onto the congregation with wooden utensils.  As the water landed on each person they would quickly bow and motion the cross with their hand, starting from their forehead, down to their belly, and then side to side across their chest.  The priests seemed visibly delighted to take part in this portion of the ceremony, and many in the congregation grinned as the water splashed them in random points around the head and shoulders.  The service culminated with communion, with the priests either placing on the tongue or handing each member of the congregation a small wafer and then a sip from the chalice containing wine, after which the priest would methodically wipe the rim clean with a white cloth.  After a closing blessing from the priest, the congregation was dismissed and people quickly filed out of the room with some gathering in small groups of conversation.

Final Thoughts

 This church experience makes for a very difficult article to write.  I’m not interested in using this platform to delve into the differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine, even though I stared some of these issues directly in the eyes this week.  From the standpoint of attempting to stay true to the purpose of this blog, which as stated above, is to write about experiencing God through people…I’m completely at a loss and unable to successfully accomplish that this week.  At no point during this experience (other than being greeted by the man at the front entrance) did I really come into any kind of personal or meaningful contact with another human being (oh, I forgot about the segment of the service where you shake hands with people around you and say “peace be with you”, but that hardly qualifies as personal or meaningful contact in my mind).  So I realized, in the process of writing this article, that this week’s experience was exactly that…an experience.  It was a religious ceremony that simply served as a spectacle for me.  Since I am not Catholic, I was not allowed to partake in communion, the holy water that splashed on me really held no significance, nor did the baptism ceremony, which was obviously a baptism into the Catholic faith, not a baptism of death to self and life to Christ (these children were too young to make that decision with a complete understanding of its impact and requirements).  For the ChurchSurfer project and for my personal spiritual walk, this week served as a reminder to me (by absence, rather than presence) of what church is all about.  Along with all the traditions, rituals, symbols, songs, and atmospherics, I need real worship and fellowship with other believers.  My soul craves the kind of let-it-all-hang-out worship where you lose yourself in that place where nothing else around you enters your conscious thought because you are only focused on the presence of the Lord and offering your praise to Him.  But one thing I know is that people are all absolutely unique and different, and what quenches my spiritual thirst may be foreign and uncomfortable for many others.  To God be the glory.  He created us this way and therefore my only conclusion can be that He is satisfied with the result.  But as I read His Word and see examples of worship, such as the description of the various creatures and angels who worship him in heaven in the book of Revelation, I grow in my desire to worship with more passion and intent.  So although I know that I have brothers and sisters in Christ inside the Catholic church, I yearn for more of a full-contact Christian life that is less defined by rules and exclusivity and more open to freedom and acceptance.  I can’t imagine Jesus ever refusing someone the opportunity to partake of His body and blood, can you?  Everyone is welcome at His table, and if you have not experienced His total acceptance, which is the free gift of salvation and unimaginable love, I invite you to ask Him in to your life right now.  Simply kneel down and verbalize your desire to live for Him and I promise you that your life will never be the same.  Oh and by the way, Laura and I went home and had a communion of our own…

Easter communion 2011

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!

Josh Davis

ChurchSurfer @ First-Centenary United Methodist: Outreach to the Inside

Church Experience #15 – April 17, 2011

First-Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga

Desires, Hopes, and Goals

My desire for ChurchSurfer is to go in to each church that I visit and get blown away by God’s power and love, uniquely displayed by another group of Christians, and write about all the great things that I experienced.  My hope is that by being the person who goes to fifty different churches in a year, I might break down some of the barriers that exist between people of different denominations and open their eyes to the fact that there are true Christians engaging in true worship in every church.  I think this is a great tool to allow people who are happy in a church home to get a glimpse of what other churches in the area are doing, without having to physically go there and miss out on their own service.  My possibly naive goal is that somehow through this process I can begin a work in Chattanooga to bring churches and Christians together to focus on the many things that we have in common, the most important of which is serving our Lord Jesus, and inspire a culture of unity in the local Christian community.  It’s a big task, but I know all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me, and how would I ever live with myself knowing that God put this on my heart and I did nothing to accomplish it?  So here I am…going about it the best way I know how at the moment.  The prerequisite and challenge to this goal (that I mentioned in my opening sentence), is that at each church I attend I must be diligent in attempting to meet people, engage in conversation, and hopefully have a moving experience of God’s power and love.

To Be or Not To Be the Critic

This week was the week I knew I would eventually have, but dreaded experiencing.  You see, my goal with the ChurchSurfer project was never to be a “church critic”.  I do think that a potentially great benefit of this blog is for churches to reflect on what a visitor experiences at their church and make changes that may help them become more welcoming to strangers.  That’s why I try to include positive comments about some of the things churches are doing that I liked, such as the small group signup sheets at Metro Tab, the “hug friendly” congregation at New Covenant Fellowship, or the personal invitation to attend a small group at Signal Mountain Presbyterian.  I think those are simple things that other churches can emulate to help become more visitor-friendly.  I’ve been to many churches before where I have come in, sat through the service, and then exited the building without ever being spoken to.  I knew it would probably happen eventually during the ChurchSurfer project, and I was dreading it because I didn’t know what I should write.  Should I be honest and forthcoming about it when it happens, or not write about it and instead just pull from only the positives of my experience that week?  It’s a tough position to be in, because churches really struggle with this issue, and it can be a really hard for them to build an open environment that makes outsiders feel welcome.  The problem is that it’s not totally in control of the church leaders, and even though they may want to create a welcoming environment, it’s really in the hands of the congregation.  The individuals who make up the congregation are the ones who are going to come into contact with visitors each week, and if they aren’t aware of the people around them and prepared to react when they see someone who may be new, they will probably miss the opportunity to make a strong impression of love on someone who really needs it.  I’m sad to say that during my visit to First-Centenary United Methodist Church, I was the visitor who was overlooked by the congregation.

The Silent Service

First-Centenary United Methodist Church
First-Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga

I showed up at First-Centenary UMC about 20 minutes early for the 10:45 AM contemporary worship service, The Vine, that is held in the Oak Street Center, just across from the main building.  My wife was on an Emmaus Walk this weekend, so I was by myself, and looking forward to visiting a United Methodist church, which was the denomination in which my dad, Mark Davis, served as a pastor for many years.  I stopped on my way up to the building to take a couple of pictures, and stood in silence for a moment, enjoying the warm Spring air and morning sunshine.  As I entered the pale-colored building, I noticed lots of young people…college aged, high school and junior high, and small children accompanied by young parents.  I walked over to the coffee area and began to fill up a cup, and a gray haired gentleman said hello to me as he finished stirring in his sugar and then moved along.  That short “hello” would prove to be the only time I was spoken to outside of the worship service.  After filling my cup, I took a couple of sips and then approached some ladies who were sitting at a tall cafe-style table, having a conversation.  I smiled as I walked up, and I was hoping to meet a few people who could tell me about First-Centenary and their college ministry, but after standing awkwardly next to them for a moment without being greeted, I decided to explore a little.  I walked across the room, passing by some young men seated on a sofa, again failing to engage in eye contact or receive a greeting, so I kept moving along and went up the stairs that led to the elevated breezeway that crosses Oak Street to the main building.  As I meandered across the breezeway, I admired some very cool paintings and photographs on the walls, and then walked down the stairs on the other side into the main building.  In the lobby outside of the main sanctuary, I saw a bulletin board full of photographs of new members with printouts of their names, and thought that was a great idea for letting existing church members know who the new members are.  Time was approaching for the service to start, so I walked back across the Oak Street breezeway, finished my coffee, and then went in to the second sanctuary where they hold The Vine contemporary service.

Palm Sunday

The Vine stage at First-Centenary UMC
The Vine stage at First-Centenary UMC

I was handed a bulletin with a smile as I entered the room, and I walked across to the right side of the stage and took a seat on the third row back.  People continued to fill in the room and take seats, but unfortunately no one sat down within three seats of me on my row or in the row in front of me, again hindering my ability to engage in conversation.  After sitting and surveying the room for a few minutes, the praise band took the stage that was decorated with palms and peace lilies, and started playing a bubbly beat that turned out to be “I Can See Clearly Now”.  The band included acoustic guitar, keyboard, bass guitar, drums, and hand drums, and after a couple of praise songs, we sang “Hosanna in the Highest” as little children filed into the room and circled up and down the walkways waving palm branches.  It was definitely a joyful sight to watch these kids, many of them accompanied by parents, having a fun time while also blessing the service with their participation.  After the palm ceremony, pastor Brian Davis took the stage to deliver his sermon, based on the central idea that people tend to be bandwagon fans, wanting to be part of something big and associated with a winner.  This is why Jesus was cheered by the crowds as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  The people laid down their cloaks and tree branches in the road, a customary signal of their anticipation that He would become their King.  The problem was that the Jews were mostly bandwagon fans, cheering Jesus simply because He was their next great hope to free them from Rome, not because they desired to follow Him because of His message that He was the Christ, and the one way to be reconciled to God.  Pastor Brian also pointed out that Jesus was never recorded as teaching that Rome was the problem, but rather that their own hearts were.  His intention was not to free them from Rome, but from their own bondage, because as history had already proved, freedom from a situation is temporary, but the freedom that Christ offered was eternal.  I sincerely hope that if you are a bandwagon Christian, jumping in to be a part of something big with the shortsighted goal of becoming free from a single situation, that you will realize that you are missing the big picture.  Christ came to free your heart from the bondage that leads to destruction.  Even as a Christian you will still experience tough situations.  You will still have to deal with the “Romes” of the world…their laws, oppression, and cultures of greed and corruption.  The difference is, you will never again be subject to the consequences that the world is trying chain you to.  You will still be in the world, but you will never again be of the world.  It is when you understand the true freedom you have in Christ, that you’ll no longer have to look for the next bandwagon to jump on.


Although it was a difficult week for me, not making any connections or new friends during my visit to First-Centenary UMC, and wrestling with whether to write about it or not, I did receive a follow-up call from pastor Brian Davis and had a wonderful conversation.  I was glad to hear about the many outreach ministries and services that they are providing for Chattanooga, including after-school care and summer programs for inner city children and an awesome college ministry.  Even while writing this article, I began to realize the messages that God allowed me to receive at First-Centenary and the joy of seeing all the adorable little children taking part in the Palm Sunday celebration.  It will be my prayer that the members of First-Centenary begin to look outward from their established friendships, for opportunities to share their love with visitors and to make them feel welcome into their church.  I know God has and will continue to bless them for their service to the community and will increase their blessings that much more as they begin to look for opportunities to serve Him within their own walls on Sunday mornings.

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!

Josh Davis

ChurchSurfer @ Signal Mountain Presbyterian: Old Church, New Family

Church Experience #14 – April 10, 2011

Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church

Making the Denominational Rounds

One of my goals for the ChurchSurfer journey that I’m currently on, is to visit as many different Christian denominations as I can in the process of attending fifty different churches in 2011.  I’m now 14 weeks in and there are a few major denominations that I still haven’t visited, so this week I wanted to make sure to check one of those “majors” off the list.  I had been introduced by a mutual friend to Chris Ackerson recently because of his involvement in the Men’s Ministry Network.  I remembered Chris mentioning that he attended Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian was one of the “must visit” denominations that I hadn’t been to yet, so I decided I would drop in on him.  I looked up the Signal Mountain Presbyterian website and while browsing through Sunday School classes, I noticed that he was the leader of one of the classes.  I figured that going to Sunday School as well as the regular worship service would add an extra element to this week’s article.  We’ll see.

Signs of Spring

Signal Mtn Presbyterian spring garden
Signal Mtn Presbyterian spring garden

Laura and I showed up a little bit early for Sunday School so that we could snap a few pictures and explore a little bit.  The Signal Mountain Presbyterian building was a beautiful sight on this Spring Sunday morning, with meticulous landscaping and all the bushes, flowers, vines, and trees in full bloom.  We entered the building into the youth area, and asked someone for directions to Chris Ackerson’s class, which was called “The Experiment”…interestingly enough.  We were led around the building by the Youth Pastor, who was also named Chris, and looped all the way across the lower floor, up the stairs and across the second floor, and then back down the stairs and around again.  It turns out The Experiment didn’t meet in a classroom, but instead in a little lounge area in one of the breezeways.  So after a great guided tour around the entire building, we landed in the right spot and were ready to catch our breath (youth pastor Chris moves pretty quickly).

A Book Other Than the Bible

We filled up a coffee cup and then made our way through introductions with the group, as Chris and all the others in attendance welcomed us very warmly.  Someone came in with donuts, and as we indulged in a sugary treat, everyone settled in a circle of seats consisting of various sofas and chairs to begin the class.  Laura and I had no clue what topic of study The Experiment was focused on, and it turned out that they were currently going through the book “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, which I am embarrassed to say I have never read.  Each week they read a chapter of the book out loud and then discuss it.  This week’s chapter was “marriage”.  We were given a leading question to ponder while the chapter was being read, which was something like “Is it OK for non-Christians to be married inside a Christian church?”  The chapter was read by one of the men in the class and then an excellent discussion ensued.  I quickly learned that this group had a sense of humor, but also posed excellent questions and offered up some serious insights.  One of the main points that we touched on was the difference of “being in love” and “loving”.  Lewis rationalizes that the reason marriages fail is because they are entered into on the basis of the feeling of being in love with no concept of what it takes to actually love someone throughout the entirety of a Christian marriage.  When the initial excitement and thrills have gone away, one or both of the spouses are left to believe that they have fallen out of love and that the marriage has failed.  Sad but true.  I’ll definitely be reading “Mere Christianity” soon…I love the way C. S. Lewis basically talks through his points of focus in what seems like an intellectual conversation that he’s having in his own mind.

Traditional Magnificence

Signal Mountain Presbyterian rear of sanctuary
Signal Mountain Presbyterian rear of sanctuary

After Sunday School, Laura and I parted ways with the class members and spent a little time meandering our way to the main sanctuary.  It seemed like everyone we passed in the hallway had a warm smile and most offered a warm “hello” or “good morning” in passing.  We definitely felt welcome, and upon entering the sanctuary, a nostalgic feeling swept over me as I took in the massive room that was masterfully constructed from a combination of brick, custom woodwork, and stained glass.  There were fresh cut flowers at the altar and a large open Bible centered in the pulpit area, which was decorated with purple tapestries.  Rising majestically behind the pulpit were the enormous pipes from the pipe organ, which came alive with sound as the service began.  The pastor, Dr. Bill Dudley, opened the service with a Scripture reading from Hebrews, and then proceeded in a very structured procession through the announcement and recognition of new members to the instruction to pass around the “friendship pads” for a record of those in attendance.  I noticed the couple sitting beside us, Don and Jane, whom we had become acquainted with before the service, scanning the filled-out pad on its way back across the row, and smiling to each other as they pointed to a couple of visitor entries.  It was nice to see that they were sincerely interested in knowing who was in attendance and that they displayed excitement over the presence of visitors…I can think of way too many churches that I have attended where everyone seemed to be oblivious to anyone but their own circle of friends, and in total disregard to how visitors may feel by being ignored.

A Family Affair

Signal Mountain Presbyterian front entrance

Signal Mountain Presbyterian front entrance

Leading up to the sermon, the church leaders conducted the service through an efficient series of ceremonial practices, including a time where the pastor asked the members to greet and speak to visitors around them, an impressive celebratory procession of the choir led by a crucifer down the center aisle and up into the tiered seating behind the pulpit, announcements for the church, a personal testimony, and the tithe and offering collection accompanied by a choral performance of “Old Rugged Cross”.  One other act that I found particularly intriguing was the water baptism by sprinkling of new members to the church, during which they were asked to either commit their lives to Christ or reaffirm their faith if they were already believers.  The Church congregation was asked to respond with affirmation of their acceptance of the new members, which is what I really found to be a powerful sentiment.  It was like the church was operating  as a family, and as new members were being “married in”, the head of the family was asking for their blessing.  There is definitely something to be said for these traditional practices that are all too often being cut out of newer non-denominational churches, and also from contemporary services within many denominations.  I’m still not sure why churches wouldn’t want to account for who the members of their family are, and conduct their services and church functions as an inclusive family rather than as a group of spectators.

Left With A Good Feeling

Dr. Dudley delivered a challenging sermon, in which he discussed the problem of being a “crowd pleaser”, drawing from the actions of Pilate regarding the sentencing of Jesus and relating it to our lives and how we find it difficult to speak out against the majority when our stance is unpopular.  He also made a hard-nosed observation that our nation is no longer a Christian nation, which will create situations where our opinions and beliefs as Christians will be contrary to the majority, who are not believers.  Be prepared, my brothers and sisters, because it is almost certain that you will experience circumstances in your life where you will have to make the decision of whether to be a crowd pleaser or to speak out for what is right.  It’s not always easy to make the right choice…just ask Peter.  After service, Chris invited us back to their small group meeting that evening, and we decided to take them up on their offer.  The small group welcomed us in and fed us dinner and treated us like we were old friends.  They asked us to share our story about the ChurchSurfer journey, and listened with interest as we discussed what ChurchSurfer is about and why we are doing it.  They included us in their prayer requests, which can be a very intimate time, as people talk about very personal issues.  This group was very candid and open, which is what it takes to build real relationships and grow together in the faith.  It’s refreshing to see people letting down their guard with friends without fear of being judged.  Laura and I were blessed to have been invited to share in this personal time at Signal Mountain Presbyterian, considering that out of 14 different church visits this year, this is only the second time we’ve actually been invited to a specific gathering or group.  Most churches just expect that if you are interested in a group you will actively seek it out.  I personally think that it is much better for someone to take the initiative and invite you in to their personal space instead of making assumptions.  Thank you “small group” at Signal Mountain Presbyterian (you know who you are)…Laura and I truly appreciate your kindness and were definitely left with a good feeling after being treated so warmly.  Peace be with you.

Signal Mtn Presbyterian Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait

Signal Mtn Presbyterian Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!

Josh Davis

ChurchSurfer @ East Lake Salvation Army: The Ones Who Need The Most

Church Experience #13 – April 3, 2011

East Lake Salvation Army

A Chasm of Disparity

For this week’s church visit I decided I needed to get right into the trenches with what has become probably the most consistent topic/thought/issue of my ChurchSurfer journey so far this year.  The more I get into the Word, the more churches I visit, the more people I meet, the more time I spend in prayer…the more I get smacked in the face with the issue of money.  The haves and the have-nots, the good part of town and the bad part of town, the state-of-the-art megachurch complexes and the single-room bare bones church buildings.  The gaping chasm of financial disparity that exists in today’s society is unavoidable to some, yet all but ignored by others.  I’ve lived in the East Lake neighborhood of Chattanooga before, among other low-income areas, so I’ve always been aware of the substandard conditions that many people live in, but I’ve never regularly attended church in those areas, and I’ve never attended a Salvation Army church service before.  So in order to get a better understanding I decided to go to a worship service at East Lake Salvation Army, on the corner of 28th St and 4th Ave, just across from the East Lake housing projects.

Jesus Loves The Little Children

My wife Laura and I entered the sanctuary of East Lake Salvation Army not really knowing what to expect.  There were about twenty adults and twenty-five children seated in the pews of the clean and simple sanctuary.  The room was nicely kept and had traditional church pews, a basic wooden podium, a piano, and not much more.  There was no excess in this building…no fancy decorations, no electric instruments or high dollar sound system, but what they had was adequate for what they do, which seemed fitting.  Having a fancy church in this neighborhood would accomplish nothing but becoming a distraction and reminder to most of these people about what they go without on a daily basis.  Instead, the message that is sent by covering the basic needs and nothing more allows the Salvation Army to be an honorable example of humility.  As I surveyed the room and studied the people, an elderly lady behind us came over to greet us.  She asked us our names, and spoke to us for a few minutes, thanking us for attending their service and making sure we felt welcome.  While we talked, the continuous ruckus from the twenty-five kids all seated together in the front two rows followed by the constant correction from the lady leading the service, kept stealing my attention.  In addition, another elderly lady from a few rows back kept giving an amusing “amen” or “God love ’em” vocal encouragement every time the church leaders corrected the children.  There were so many kids in the service, I assumed that one of the ladies in the congregation probably went around the housing projects gathering up the children from households where the adults don’t attend church.  The worship leader called the congregation to stand and sing the morning’s hymns, and as we sang through “Love Lifted Me” and “I Love to Tell the Story”, the out-of-tune piano added a somewhat clumsy accompaniment to the sparse singing voices.  I joyfully sang along, knowing that although my vocal ability is not one of my strong points, the music we were making was a welcome blessing to our Lord, who I’m sure was listening with a smile.

Equality in Christ

After the singing came to an end, the congregation was asked to share testimonies.  This was obviously the favorite part of the service for some of the kids up front, as they offered up quips such as “I love the Lord” and “thanks God for Spider-Man and Mommy”.  Joyce, the “amen” lady from a few rows back, stood and offered thanks for the fact that in God’s eyes, no matter what our race or circumstance, everybody is equally loved.  After testimonies, the children were dismissed to attend children’s church and the main speaker came up to deliver the sermon for the day.  The regular church pastor was away at a camp, so the guest speaker for the week (whose name I forgot to write down) was the lady who serves as secretary for the Chattanooga Salvation Army.  Her uplifting message was aimed directly at the people of the East Lake community…that God sees more than what the world does.  She spoke with a nurturing voice and paused with a big smile each time she mentioned the name of Jesus or God’s grace, like just speaking the words brought joy to her heart.  She taught about the life of David and various symbolic aspects of it…about how he was the eighth son of Jesse and the number eight signifies new beginnings…about how David selected five smooth stones when he faced Goliath and the number five is symbolic of God’s grace.  She talked about the three main sources of sin in our lives, which are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – which she explained was the sense of entitlement (or deserving) among people.  As she spoke, the Lord gave me discernment that she has a powerful spirit and a deep wisdom of His love and grace.  I imagine she has developed this from her involvement in the Salvation Army.  God has blessed her because of her commitment to love and serve the less fortunate, overlooked, and often forgotten members of society.

Pain and Heart Ache

These are the exact people who Jesus was reaching out to in His ministry and the same message that He was sharing…the message that in Him there is no judgement according to the eyes of the world.  God sees more than the world does, right down to the core of your soul, and what characteristics actually reside there…the true essence and personality of your being.  It is according to this that you will be judged, according to the condition of your heart, and as I desire to become more like Christ through God’s sanctifying grace, it hurts deep within me to ponder on the injustices created by this world through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  It hurts to see how these sins become like parasites to society, even making their way into the church.  I pray right now and ask that you pray the same prayer, that our eyes and hearts be opened to those who are in need around us.  These discarded people and young children grow up and live in conditions that are worse than you can imagine.  They live in homes and neighborhoods that are filled with drug abuse, prostitution, broken families, physical violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition, inadequate education, hate, greed, anger, despair, depression, and many, many more evils.  They starve for affection, positive attention, a sense of self-worth, and Godly role models to be actively involved in their life.  As I sat in the East Lake Salvation Army, my heart ached thinking of all the resources that are available to the people in the churches in the rich communities, but remain separated from these people who need them the most.  These children need more than financial support.  They need our love, our time, and our attention.  They need us to be there sitting beside them in church.  They need us to be teaching them in Sunday school.  They need us to provide healthy activities, recreation, and educational programs.  The Salvation Army and other churches and organizations that are in these communities need your financial support, but the people and children of these communities need you.

Closing Prayer

Father God, please call your people, the church, to action on this issue.  Please begin a work in the Christians in Chattanooga through your Holy Spirit to overcome the sins created by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Please help us to no longer ignore those in our community who need You the most.  Please help those who are wealthy to no longer be distracted by riches and worldly possessions while others around us go without food, shelter, and clothing.  Please help those who are well educated share their knowledge with those who have no access to a good education.  Please help us to share Your love with those who starve for affection.  Lord, I ask these things in the name of your Son Jesus.  May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

I invite and challenge everyone reading this to get together with the people of your church and dedicate some of your time and resources to the less fortunate in our community.  If you need direction, please contact theSalvation Army, and I’m sure they will welcome your help and support.

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!

Josh Davis

ChurchSurfer @ Vineyard Chattanooga: Where Are Your Treasures?

Church Experience #12 – March 20, 2011

Vineyard Chattanooga

Dance Dance Revolution

About 10 or 12 years ago I went through a dancing phase in my Christian worship style.  I had been a fan of live music for a long time (bluegrass, jazz, funk, jambands, etc) and I always enjoyed dancing at the concerts I attended.  This kind of carried over into my Christian life and I would often migrate to the rear of whatever church or venue I was at and dance during the worship music.  I never thought it was all that out of the ordinary, but looking back, I’m sure other people did.  Then I visited a Vineyard church in Nashville and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were other dancers out there.  Not the whole congregation danced, but quite a few people did, as well as bang tambourines, wave banners, and engage in various other free-spirited worship activities.  I specifically remember a lady from the Vineyard service I attended who was a particularly fine dancer, and was probably the oldest person at the church that day, appearing to be well over 70.  Now that my dancing days are for the most part over (except for at home where I still regularly cut loose to the amusement of my wife and dog) I was curious to see whether the Vineyard church in Chattanooga was also a place of free-spirited worship, or if I had just happened across a congregation that held a little more closely to the denomination’s San Francisco roots.

Warm Welcome

Tyner Middle Academy

I searched online and found a local Vineyard church that holds services at Tyner Middle Academy, so my wife Laura and I decided to check it out.  As we pulled up to the school there were several parking lot attendants who enthusiastically directed us to a parking spot and then came up to greet us as we walked up to the building.  Once we got up to the entrance we were greeted at the door, and again just inside the door, and then again on our way down the hallway toward the cafeteria, which served as the worship area.  In fact, it was much like proceeding through a series of greeter checkpoints, where each person was attempting to be increasingly friendlier than the previous greeter (although I think Susan at the front door probably couldn’t be outdone).  I definitely felt welcome and had plenty of opportunities to shake hands and meet people on the way in.  Once inside the worship area, we were quite ecstatic when we laid eyes on the table stacked full of Krispy Kreme boxes, so we grabbed a chocolate glazed donut and cup of coffee and headed over to the information table to meet some Vineyard people.  The information table was at the back of the room, and as we approached the two twenty-somethings standing behind it lit up big smiles and greeted us.  Tyler and Rachel were extremely friendly and as we chatted for a few minutes, they continued handing us free stuff, including the book “Not the Religious Type” by Dave Schmelzer, and a CD of worship music from their church.  I thought the free book was a pretty cool gesture, and the young couple came across as very genuine during our conversation.  The real win was when Rachel said they were having a pot luck lunch after the service and that we were welcome to stay even though we hadn’t brought anything.  Free food…sweet!

Black Beard

Vineyard Chattanooga worship

The cafeteria was quite successfully transformed into a worship area by the strategic use of black pipe and drape extending out from the sides of the stage.  The seating was provided in the form of fold out chairs, and there was plenty of space.  As the worship music began, I noticed that Tyler from the information table was also the bass player in the worship band, and they launched into some Jars of Clay-ish modern worship music (which I expected after reading the “about us” page on their website).  There were various people who lifted hands as they sang and swayed to the music, but other than one particularly spunky elderly man directly in front of us (who despite having oxygen tubes was definitely the most lively worshiper), the atmosphere was more reserved and laid back than the Vineyard I had been to years earlier.  During the worship I retreated to the back of the room to snap a few photos (not dance), and was approached by a tall young man with crazy hair and a big bushy black beard, who I think was curious to find out what I was doing.  I mentioned that I just wanted to take a couple of pictures, and he seemed OK with that and moved along.  After the worship ended the Associate Pastor, Josh Gott, came up to begin the sermon…he was the big bushy black beard guy.  I never would have guessed he was a pastor.  In all the churches I’ve attended over the years, I have to say this is probably the first where I’ve seen a pastor who didn’t look like a pastor…if you know what I mean.  In those early dancing days of my Christian life, I also had a big bushy beard, and it was amazing how differently people treated me back then.  It was like I wasn’t taken seriously because of the way I looked, so I was glad to see a church where someone who didn’t look the part was still accepted in a pastoral role.

Recurring Topics

Vineyard sign

Pastor Josh began his sermon with a reference to Jesus’ sermon on the mount, introducing it as a point where Jesus was directing His people away from “religion”, and toward a spiritual relationship with God.  The topic of the sermon was to be something that I am now identifying as a recurring theme among many of my church visits this year…money.  Pastor Josh pointed out that money changes relationships when it comes into the picture, including our spiritual relationship with God.  After catching me off guard by telling a “crap” joke from the pulpit (he was quite unorthodox with his preaching…in a good way), he referenced Matthew 6:19-21, which establishes the truth that where your treasure is, your heart will be also.  Whether you realize it or not, your actions tell the true story of where your heart is no matter what your mouth may say.  Money, or treasure, is God’s biggest competition for your heart.  Have you ever bought a brand new car and then gotten a door ding or maybe even worse shortly thereafter?  How did that feel to you?  Have you ever purchased stock in a company that you had never been interested in, but then all of a sudden you cared and kept up with the company religiously because you were invested in it?  Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.  Think about that and read Matthew 6:22-24.  If your heart is in your possessions, then your focus becomes your possessions, and sooner or later your possessions become obsessions.  Now think about the opposite side of the coin.  What if you are generous with your treasure…a cheerful giver, as God calls us to be?  Does money become like a bridle for horseback riding…a tool for steering your heart?  If you are looking for a closer walk with God, how about investing in others rather than yourself.  Don’t you think your heart will then be focused on loving and serving others?  Where you treasure is, your heart will be also! Act your way into thinking differently.  Don’t wait on feeling like you have gotten to a certain place in your spiritual walk with God before you begin serving others, because then it will never happen.  Do first…the feeling will follow.  Thank you pastor Josh for an excellent sermon on a subject that is popping up all over Chattanooga.  Most people go to the same church every week and don’t have the perspective that I am gaining on recurring topics that are being preached all over our city right now.  Don’t you think that is God speaking to us?

Pot Luck-y

After the sermon, Laura and I helped fold up and hang all the chairs and transform the church worship area back into a lunchroom.  We were then led in prayer for the pot luck lunch we were about to partake in, and as we moved through the food line, we were amazed at all of the deliciousness that had been prepared by all the various church members.  Even though the people of Vineyard claimed to not do the pot luck thing very often, they brought it out like pro’s.  There was nothing lacking, and I was thankful that God had led me to Vineyard on this particular day to partake in this feast with such a welcoming congregation.  I sat and ate with Jeff Anderle, the head pastor of Vineyard, who explained that they chose to meet in a school because they like the fact that their rent money goes into the school system and they also feel that it is the best way to connect to and serve the community.  Their members have painted the inside the school and raised money to support various programs that otherwise would have been lost due to budget cuts.  Pastor Jeff and a few other people also listened with interest as I talked about the ChurchSurfer blog and some of the goals that God has laid on my heart to work on for the city of Chattanooga.  One of those goals that I’m currently working on is a website that will serve as a one-stop resource for people to search for and find a home church, opportunities to serve the community, and ways to connect to other ministries and organizations that need support.  My opinion is that if there is a better tool for getting connected to churches and service opportunities, that there will be more attendance in church and more people serving the community.  We just need to remove all the obstacles and make it simple and free for all churches and ministries around Chattanooga to be able to reach out through the internet.

If you would like to get involved in the project to provide a community website by either donating money or volunteering your web development skills, please contact me immediately at  ChurchSurfer is being established under New Decree, a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry directed by my dad, Mark Davis, who also currently hosts a call-in prayer request radio show called The Healing Touch.

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!


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