Tuesday, October 18, 2016

We Go to Church in Nebraska (twice)

Candlewood Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
The Rock, Candlewood Church Omaha and Candlewood Church, Lincoln
I don’t know how, but people at The Rock, somehow figured out that Mindy and I weren’t students at the University of Nebraska Omaha (or UNO, like the card game.) If anything, they seemed to they thought we were parents of students. That being said, students and leaders still greeted us cheerfully, making sure we felt welcome.

The Rock is Candlewood Church’s ministry to college students. Just as the church has congregations in Omaha and Lincoln, they have ministries to students on both the Lincoln and Omaha campuses. We attended the Rock’s 8:00 pm Wednesday service in Omaha and Candlewood’s 10:00 am Sunday worship service in Lincoln.

Mindy met Sarah just after entering the Thompson Alumni Center, where The Rock meets at UNO. They chatted for a few minutes, then she headed to her post as an official greeter.

Micah welcomed us as well. He’s a senior at UNO and has been attending the Rock since early in his college career.  There are other Christian groups on the campus, and he tried a couple of them. He said the various groups are good, but he saw the people of the Rock living out their faith. And he very much liked the music. He warned us the music would be loud “so people aren’t afraid to sing.”

We told him we would be going to the church service in Omaha that Sunday (We ended up going to the service in LIncoln because, well, plans change). He said he wouldn’t be at church on Sunday because he was going on an Autumn break trip, and that many of the students would be going on a Rock group trip to Minnesota to do service projects, discipleship, and sightseeing. So MIcah introduced us to Deante who would be at the Candlewood service in Omaha Sunday (but again, we weren’t. Sorry, Deante.) When he heard we were from California he asked, “What is it like in California where the people are so liberal?”

It was time for the meeting to begin with singing. There was an announcement time, with some discussion of the trip to Minnesota and a video about an upcoming conference. Everyone was invited to go together to Old Chicago after the service. It’s a local pizza place (“$2 a slice”). The guy doing announcements also said, “There will be a Candlewood football game.  Sorry, those are the only details I was given.”

There was also an announcement that the Rock would soon be meeting in another location. Candlewood Church had been meeting at a local high school, but they had just purchased their own building in Omaha near the campus. The church would soon be meeting there and the Rock would as well.

There was a greeting time in the midst of the service, and I talked with an young man named Zach. I asked him why he attended the Rock and he said, “I can feel the Spirit, I can feel God’s presence.” His family attended Candlewood Church when he was young, but quit going. When Zach began to attend UNO, he attended the Rock. He then began to attend Candlewood again. And now his family had begun to attend Candlewood again as well.

Mike Whitney, who’s Campus Director of the Rock Ministries and a Candlewood pastor, was speaking that evening. He was continuing a series on the Sermon on the Mount entitled “Jesus Uncut.” The focus of the message was Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge other people, then you will not be judged.” He called this the verse most commonly misquoted by college students. Mike said this verse didn’t refer to “moral judgements, but rather personal preferences.” He argued the context of this verse is believers living in community.

He said that living in community brings warmth, but it also brings friction. We need to learn to deal with that. Living in community means being transparent, but we must learn to not be judgemental of each other. He used the example of some of his Christian friends who don’t watch television. For Mike and his wife, television is a major means of entertainment and relaxation. Believers can differ on such things. (He also used alcohol as an example.)

Mike encouraged students to discuss these issues in their small groups. We were told that until a couple of years ago, the Rock’s small groups were divided into men’s and women’s groups. But now there are co-ed groups with both a male and female leader for each. Most groups average a dozen people.

The Candlewood Church in LIncoln began in 1983 as a Great Commission Church called Harvest Community Church. Four years ago, the church merged with people from Candlewood Church in Omaha who had come to plant a church in Lincoln. The combined group is now called Candlewood Lincoln. (Candlewood is also a Great Commission Church.)

Candlewood Sunday morning services start at 10:00 am, but their advertising and signage notes that coffee time begins at 9:30 am. I was happy to discover that along with the coffee, very good donuts were also served (I had a maple topped, cream-filled triangle; Mindy had a chocolate topped triangle. Yum.)

A young woman named Natalie was part of the team serving the treats. She’s been attending the church all her life. I asked what kept her at Candlewood, and she said she appreciates the depth of relationships in the church.

I also talked to Shane, a staff member who oversees ministry to young couples and single professionals. I asked him to tell me about his history. He became a Christian shortly before going off the school at UNO. His roommate was Mike Whitney, who introduced Shane to the Candlewood. (That’s the same Mike who spoke at the Rock when we attended and, it turned out,  preached in LIncoln that morning.) Shane, like Natalie, mentioned the depth of relationships as the greatest attraction at Candlewood.

There were quite a number of children running amuck before the service (safely and happily amuck, I should say). Children up through the age of eight stay in the worship service for the first few songs and then are dismissed to Sunday School during the greeting time.

MIke was preaching on John 17, the prayer of Jesus the night before he was crucified. He said the prayer was divided into three sections, Jesus’ prayer for Himself, for His disciples, and for those who would come later. The sermon was on that first section found in verses 1 - 8.

He spoke of Jesus’ submission to the Father, how everything He did was for His Father’s glory. “Jesus didn’t go rogue with one miracle, healing or teaching; everything went through the home office of Heaven.” Mike said said we, too, should be first concerned with glorifying God.

Mike said he had a book that would help people with that task. He asked ushers to hand out copies of the book Victory Assured to everyone in the congregation who wanted a copy. “Don’t worry about the price tag on the book,” Mike added. “This is a gift.”

There was no offering taken during the service. Instead, a box in the lobby labeled “Tithes” was available. The church is currently raising money to buy the church building where they’re meeting. Until recently, they had met in a local community center. A Methodist congregation offered their building to Candlewood at a greatly reduced price, but Candlewood must come up with the money by a certain date or the property will go on the general market. Mike is confident God will provide.

Before the worship service, a woman named Shirley had introduced herself. She’s had a connection with the church building since its Methodist days, when she was part of the church’s food distribution program, which Candlewood is carrying on. That is how Shirley learned about Candlewood and has been attending for the last year and a half. Shirley shared food with us, too, inviting us to lunch at her house.

Relationships are important at Candlewood, and both the church and the college ministry reach out to make sure people learn about the most important relationship: a relationship with Jesus.

The Rock UNO / Candlewood Lincoln
Service Length: 1 hour and 2 minutes / 51 minutes
Sermon Length: 30 minutes / 21 minutes
Visitor Treatment: at both, we were welcomed by people as we entered the building and during the greeting time in the worship service. There was no particular welcome for visitors and no record of attendance.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: Dean had sent a message to Mike, which Mike responded to immediately.
Our Rough Count: 51 / 90
Probable Ushers’ Count: 75 / 125
Snacks: none / donuts, coffee, decaf, hot water for tea or cocoa, ice water, lemonade
Musicians: The Rock
electric and acoustic guitar (man), keyboard (man), vocal (woman), drums (man)
Candlewood Church Lincoln
Vocal (woman), acoustic guitar (man)
Songs: The Rock
“As we Tremble”
“White as Snow”
“In Tenderness”
“Head to the Heart”
Candlewood Church Lincoln
“You’re Beautiful”
“Scandal of Grace”
“How Can it Be”
“Jesus I Come”
Miles to Church: 27 miles / 28 miles
Miles from Start: 38,855
Total 2016 Miles: 38,569
Church Website: candlewoodrock.com