Finding my way, sharing my finds
Recently, a blog reader suggested that I visit RFA Church in Raleigh for my occasional series, Church Impressions. Coincidentally, shortly before I received her message, I had purchased tickets for a Christian concert at this church. Talk about timing!
When I visited the church a couple of Thursdays ago for the concert, I really liked the ambiance of the church. Although it looked like it was built in some sort of business/industrial park, the inside was warm and inviting and even included a waterfall (which I later learned was used for their baptisms). And I really liked how there were plenty of spaces for people to mingle, sit and enjoy a cup of coffee together or just quietly sit and read a book.
(The concert, which included Plush, Jordan Feliz and Big Daddy Weave, was awesome by the way).
The Sunday after the concert, I returned for a church service. I liked the set-up, which is divided by a front section and a back section that has stadium seating. I was surprised, however, to see that half of the sanctuary was empty for the 9 a.m. service. I know the early services is usually more sparsely attended than later services at any church but this seemed like a lot of people missing to me.
Pastor Chad Harvey opened his sermon (which you can watch here) with a disclaimer: “My sermon today is not really profound but it’s powerful.” He then told us that he would be sharing with us the three ways we can fight our battles: Through people, Through prayer and through praise.
He was definitely right: Although the message seemed simple enough, it also seemed highly applicable and relevant.
He said we could use these three weapons for a variety of battles: We just lost our job. We just received a cancer diagnosis. We’re fighting with a loved one.
“If you’re a follower of Jesus, this is how you fight your battles,” he told attendants. “We’re human but we don’t fight our battles like others do.”
He referenced Exodus Chapter 17:8-15 to show how people in the Old Testament (specifically, Moses) used the first weapon to fight their battle.
In this chapter, there was a great battle going on. But so long as Moses held up his hands, his side was winning. After a while, however, he grew tired. So Aaron and Hur come to his side to hold up his hands for him. And their people ultimately won the battle.
“Christian life was never meant to be in isolation,” said Pastor Chad.
At this point, Pastor Chad admitted that he doesn’t really like “the touchy feely stuff where you get together and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on in my life.'”
Well, that didn’t necessarily surprise me. To me, Pastor Chad definitely came off as a guy’s guy with no shortage of testosterone running through his veins. Admittedly, I tend to be a little harder on pastors who give me that impression because I worry there’s an insensitive/brash/macho side to them – which to me is the opposite of Jesus. I like to follow a pastor who is overflowing with humility.
In Pastor Chad’s case – I’ve definitely seen humbler pastors but I’ve also seen less humble pastors.
So Pastor Chad continued by saying that he’s had to force himself to be more of an extrovert because he realizes that he, like everyone else, needs the body of Christ to keep holding up his own hands during his own personal battles.
He illustrated the need for community by describing a documentary he watched in which lions would try to attack water buffalo in Africa.
“As long as the water buffalo are in a herd, they’re pretty much invincible,” he said. “But once they get separated, it’s all over.”
He made a side comment about how some people might be tempted to leave the body of Christ because they don’t like what he has to say about HB2 (look it up: We’re in North Carolina) and Hillary. But ultimately, he said, we still need the body of Christ and if we leave out of resentment, we’re making ourselves vulnerable to the enemy.
My stomach turned at his comments because in that moment, Pastor Chad revealed his politics. And I really feel like allowing that to happen can be quite alienating to attendees, especially to newcomers like me. I just feel like the risks outweigh the rewards when a pastor chooses to pick a side in a contentious debate and to talk politics from the pulpit.
Of course I understand the need to teach, preach and practice what the Bible says. But when you start name-dropping such hot topics like HB2 or Hillary, you’re just creating a divisive environment and frankly, it DOES cause people to shut down. After all, I don’t want to hear what the pastor has to say about certain politicians or certain bills. Teach me what the Bible says and trust that I can make my own informed decision on politics or any other public arena from there. Otherwise, you just look like you’re pushing your agenda which, by the way, might not necessarily be God’s agenda. And that makes you come off arrogant at best and manipulative at worst.
(To demonstrate I’m an equal opportunity opponent to turning the pulpit into a political machine — regardless of whether that agenda happens to be left- or right-leaning — see my previous blog on the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte)
Luckily, Pastor Chad didn’t stew on those issues for too long. He moved on to the second tool for fighting our battles: Prayer.
Pastor Chad qualified this portion of his sermon by emphasizing that he was not saying that you shouldn’t call the lawyer when you’re having legal trouble or that you shouldn’t call the doctor when you’re having medical trouble.
But he did say, “If your first response is to pick up the phone, don’t. First, pray to God and say, ‘God, I give you this battle in the name of Jesus. This is your battle.’ Before you call anyone else, you pray and surrender the battle to God.
“It’s amazing how many of us, when the battle comes, our first response is to panic and get upset.”
That definitely resonated with me. I do that so much. There are so many battles in my life that I just want to take control of and solve for myself. I hardly ever hand the battle over to God at the onslaught. I usually only hand it over after I’ve exhausted all of my other options. And even then, the battle has claw marks on it from me not wanting to let go.
And he pointed to 1 Peter 5:7, which says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
He said Peter really did practice what he preached too. After all, the night before he was supposed to die, Peter prayed and was able to hand that battle over to God. This gave him so much peace, he ended up sleeping very soundly on that last night. So soundly, in fact, that an angel had to come kick him in the side to wake him up.
That’s the kind of peace that comes over us when we hand our battles over to God, Pastor Chad said.
He then referenced the story of a former consultant in Manhattan to further illustrate the power of prayer. When CEOs would come to him worried about a situation, he would ask them if they were a Christian.
If they said Yes, he would take them to 5th Avenue where there’s a statue of Atlas, a Greek God. He’s got the whole world on his back and you can see his veins popping out as he exerts all of his effort to keep holding up the world.
And then, Pastor Chad said, the consultant would walk the CEOs over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where Jesus is holding the entire world calmly in his hand.
Pastor Chad said the consultant would then say to these CEOs: “You can live your like like it’s your world, your weight, your battle. Or you can live your life like Jesus is holding it calmly in his hands.”
It really was an awesome illustration.
Pastor Chad concluded his sermon by talking about the final tool we can use in battle: Praise.
He referenced a story in 2 Chronicles 20, where another great battle is going on and the leaders of one side send out the praise team to lead the army.
Pastor Chad described how the enemies of God were so thrown into confusion by the songs of God’s people that it turned out to be a very effective weapon against them.
And it can be just as effective of a weapon when we praise God in times of great difficulty, said Pastor Chad.
“The demons will say, ‘We don’t understand. Most people fall apart with a cancer diagnosis. But they’re singing.’ It gets the enemy frustrated and confused,” said Pastor Chad. “We know to the devil, music is both distasteful and insufferable.”
Pastor Chad even pulled a modern day example. Evidently, Willie Myrick, a 10-year-old from Atlanta, was lured into a van and kidnapped. But he was able to get away from his abductor by singing a praise song for three straight hours.
“The kidnapper said, ‘I can’t take this anymore. Get out of my truck.’ So he gets out of his truck and the kidnapper takes off,” said Pastor Chad.
That really was an awesome illustration too and a remarkable news story I hadn’t heard about before.
Afterward, Pastor Chad asked people fighting a great battle in their own lives to come up to the front so people could pray for them. I was impressed by how many people came up to the front and really seemed to get into the worship music as they lifted their hands in the air.
But perhaps the coolest part was at the end of the service when Pastor Chad spoke briefly in Hebrew. It was completely unexpected but it did seem to add some reverence to the atmosphere.
I’m pretty sure he translated everything afterward. But the only part I remember is “Be strong and courageous for the Lord is with you.”
With that, he sent us forth, encouraging us to “keep fighting the battle and go claim your victory in the name of Jesus.”
Afterward, I wondered around the atrium a little bit and, after some effort, found the information booth. It really wasn’t as obvious as other churches I’ve visited. But the woman I spoke to was really helpful and provided some useful information on the church and its doctrine.
Evidently, the church’s full name is Raleigh First Assembly, which means they follow the 16 doctrines of the Assemblies of God.
I found that dichotomy within RFA very interesting: It’s got all the trappings of a modern-day non-denominational church and yet it has the kind of strict doctrine you’d find in the Catholic Church.
I didn’t really have too many encounters with attendants themselves but everyone seemed nice enough. And some definitely got into the service by raising their hands during praise songs and even saying out loud “Praise you, Jesus Christ” while the pastor preached.
The way I felt toward RFA really resembled how I felt toward Summit Church last year.
(Ironic side note: RFA Church just purchased its new building from Summit Church)
As you might recall, I started out optimistic enough about Summit Church, despite having some trepidation about the pastor’s borderline arrogance during his sermons. I thought there was value in the early sermons I heard and even attended for a few weeks. Then the pastor delivered an epic fail of a sermon and I was turned off completely and didn’t go back.
(The pastor then reached out to me on this blog and said he’d appreciated my feedback and wanted to meet with me in person over dinner. But then he stopped communicating suddenly, effectively reneging on his offer.)
Clearly, I got burned by Summit Church in a way I haven’t experienced since I came back into the church.
There’s something about RFA Church that reminds me of Summit. So if I were staying in the area (which I’m not. I’m moving at the end of the summer), I might attending RFA Church on a trial basis but I would likely start out a little wary at first. I would certainly be hyper vigilant about how much the pastor chooses to bring his conservative politics into his sermons.
Having said that, I did enjoy the simple yet profound message that Pastor Chad delivered because it was so exceptionally applicable to life. And I love the illustrations he used because they really have continued to resonate with me weeks after his sermon.
To give it my full seal of approval, I would just need to attend more sermons to determine the church’s (and the pastor’s) true colors. So for now I’ll say: I’m cautiously optimistic about the worship happening at RFA Church.