Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Big River Baptist Church, Big River

If you drive twelve hours to go to a worship service, you don't want to be late. It's especially frustrating when you were really there in time; you just didn't know it was time. This last weekend we were going to the furthest east church we could find, and that was part of the reason we were late.

When I thought about "east" in Scripture, my first thought was Genesis 4:16, "So Cain left the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden." Steinbeck used that verse to name a novel, of course. It makes one think of "East" as being away from paradise and away from God. Some travelers in the Mojave Desert of the eastern edge of California might have thought that was appropriate, but it's not the case when one reaches Big River -- not an incorporated city, but a beautiful resort spot on the Colorado River.

Anyway, again, the Big River Baptist Church being east is really why we were late for church. During the week, Mindy called the church and left a message asking about the worship time. And the pastor of the church kindly returned her call and let her know that Sunday School started at 9:00 am and the worship service started at 10:00 am.

We spent Saturday night in Needles, about an hour away from Big River, because the only motel in Big River was closed for renovations. We enjoyed the drive through the desert and arrived to see people pulling up to the church at 9:00 am (we assumed for Sunday School, and were happy and impressed that so many were in attendance). We decided to walk around the town and look at the river before church. We should have gotten a clue from a sign for a community event that posted the time of the event with the words "Arizona Time" in parentheses.

We went back to the church at quarter to ten and heard music inside. "Oh, they sing during Sunday School," I thought. But we went down to the sanctuary and looked inside. The pastor was approaching the pulpit to preach. We snuck into the back row of the reasonably full sanctuary, and it became obvious to us it was the worship service, not Sunday School, especially when the man next to Mindy offered us his bulletin.

After the service, we learned that even though the church is in California, it goes by Arizona time (which, in the winter, is one hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time). The Colorado River, which is the border, is almost within sight of the church, and driving to the bridge which crosses the state line takes about five minutes. The 10:00 am starting time was 9:00 am California time.

According to the bulletin, we missed opening prayer, the welcome, announcements, two hymns, prayer time and the tithes and offerings. Since that all took 45 minutes, my guess is (partly based on the many requests listed on the back of the bulletin) they spend a good deal of time in prayer.

Since we were there for the sermon, I'll talk about that, though. The title was "Ashamed of the Gospel" with Romans 1: 16 & 17 as the opening text. The pastor argued that being hesitant to share the Gospel is equivalent to being ashamed of the Gospel. He said we must present the true Gospel, not one of the false Gospels floating around these days. He mentioned the false Gospels of Religion, Materialism and Liberalism. (Talking about the Gospel of Liberalism, he described it as the Gospel of "I'm okay; you're okay, so God must love me. But He doesn't - God hates us as we are. Our sin turns His stomach." I think I understand what he was getting at, but that's not how I'd phrase it.)

He presented the true Gospel as being through faith in Christ's death on the cross. And the sermon ended with an altar call, either to trust in Christ or commit to the church. We sang the first verse of "Trust and Obey" during the call, but no one came forward.

We had a very nice time talking with the pastor and his wife after the service. After discussing Pacific Standard vs. Mountain Standard Time, we discussed the demographics of the congregation. Many of those who attend during this season are "snow birds" (retirees who come down for the warm climate during the winter.) A different crowd populates the area for river recreation during the summer, and attendance usually suffers, often dropping by half (but the pastor said it is getting better).

The pastor and his wife said they'd like us to visit again. That is one tough thing about this current gig we've undertaken. Whenever we're invited to return, we know it won't happen for a couple of years -- though we would like to be there for a whole service.

Service length:                          1 hour 30 minutes
Sermon length:                          35 minutes
Visitor treatment:                      We were greeted warmly after the service, but we, of course, don't know how guests might be treated during the service because we missed much of it.
Our rough count:                       45
Probable ushers' count:             50 
Snacks:                                      None that we knew of
Songs:                                        "Our God Reigns" (choir)
                                                   "Send the Light"
                                                   "Sweet, Sweet Spirit"
                                                   "He Touched Me" (solo)
                                                   "Trust and Obey" 
                                                   "The Bond of Love"
Miles from home to church:          690
Total California miles in 2015:   3137   

-- Dean