I had fully expected to end my wandering ways and settle down at one church this month, but circumstances have continued to find me visiting a different church every week. This morning I visited the last church on my list of places I wanted to try.
The church I visited this morning is Saratoga Federated Church. It’s the closest church to where I live, just on the other side of Saratoga Village. I have often driven by and wondered what a “Federated” church is, and from their web site I could see that it is a charismatic church, so I wanted to try it out.
Just before I left home, Mark kissed me and said, “Pray that God will let you hear something helpful today.”
Wow! It just so happened there was a guest speaker named Tim Reilly. When he was 11 months old, his parents divorced. When he was 3 years old, his mother absconded with him. He was one of the first milk carton kids, and he thinks he was the first to be found. His dad and the FBI spent months looking for him and when they found him, his mom was put in jail. When he was 8 years old, his mom developed breast cancer and died. He grew up feeling angry about what life had dealt him, and he was an atheist. At his high school prom, he met a Christian girl and started dating her. She invited him to her church where he sat in the back row every Sunday with his arms folded across his chest. One Sunday the pastor came up to him and said, “I know you don’t believe in the Bible, but would you like to learn what it is you don’t believe in?” So he started meeting with the pastor once a week and arguing with him about God.
I don’t remember what happened, but at some point he needed a place to stay, and his girlfriend’s father invited him to come and stay at their house. Every night after the dinner dishes were cleared off the table, the father would talk with him about what it means to be Christian; but more than that, he lived out his faith in front of Tim. Then Tim’s girlfriend broke up with him and he thought it would be awkward to live in the same house with her, so he started packing all of his belongings into his car with the intention of moving down south, living with his stepfather, and going to college. Just as he put his last box in the car, his phone rang. It was an insurance company he had applied to and they said they wanted to offer him a job. He said he was sorry and that he was moving away. They asked if he had moved yet, and he said no, so they asked him to come in and see them. He did, and they offered him a good salary, but he said, “You don’t understand, I don’t even have a place to stay here.” Just then his phone rang again, and it was a friend of his calling to say that he and his parents didn’t want to see him go and they were offering him a place to stay rent free. He took the job and stayed.
Even though he didn’t believe, and in spite of having broken up with his girlfriend, Tim continued to attend the same church, but at an earlier service. One morning he was sitting there in the back pew with his arms crossed, and he felt something warm around him, like God putting his arm around him and saying, “I’m here.” There was a “hot blonde” at the front of the church, and he went up and told her what had happened. She started crying, and he asked her why. She said, “You’ve just let Jesus into your heart!” He said, “I what?!” But he was converted, and he and the blonde got married and had kids.
He went through a period of time where he admits he was a lousy husband and a lousy father, but then one day he and his wife found one of their daughters having convulsions in her bed. She had a really high temperature and kept convulsing for about 45 minutes. The EMTs had to stabilize her before they could transport her to the hospital. In the hospital, she was unresponsive. He was sure she was brain dead. He left her room and prayed, “Lord, if You take her, please help me be OK with it.” After 24 hours in the hospital, she was released to go home, but she still wasn’t responsive. That first night he and his wife put her between them in bed and fell asleep. The next morning she woke up and started hopping on their bed. Then she ran out into the hall and saw balloons and cards and presents and she ran back in and said, “Is it my birthday?” She had no memory of being sick. Since then, he has been going around teaching people how to share their witness.
I was so moved by his story that I went up to talk with him afterwards and I started crying. We prayed together, and then I went to get myself some chamomile tea. I had just put the tea bag in the cup when a woman came up and said, “Denise? Are you Denise?” I said yes, and she asked if I’d like to talk. She told me her name is Sally and she’s one of the pastors at Saratoga Federated. I told her a little about myself and that I have prayed that God would be glorified through me, but I sometimes feel like God doesn’t answer my prayers. She said that the prayer I prayed is one that God always answers. Then she prayed with me, and she asked if I’d like to get together and talk with her again. I gave her my e-mail address and she said she’d contact me about getting together sometime this week.
She invited me to come to a class that was going to be discussing this morning’s service. When we walked into the room where there were 4 round tables set up with people sitting around them, a woman jumped up and came over to meet me. She sat me down at a table that had an opening, and it was a good table for me to be at. There was a man at that table named Jim who shared his story of seeing Jesus when he was a child. He said he’s always known that God has a plan for his life.
I can’t help but think that everyone I met this morning, and everything I heard, was an answer to Mark’s suggestion that I pray I would hear something helpful. I heard that whatever happens, I can ask God to help me be OK with it. I heard that God always answers my prayer when it’s asking God to be glorified in me. And I heard that God has a plan for my life. Sometimes I wish that I could know the future. It would be really helpful if God would tell me what to do and how to do it. You may see me as adventurous because I’m willing to pick up and go places and do things I’ve never tried before, but there is a part of me that dislikes uncertainty and I would like things to be stable and predictable. This morning left me thinking that maybe when everything is up in the air, the only stable thing is to put my trust in Christ. Lots to think about!