(With my wife’s upcoming hip replacement getting nearer, I’m in the midst of making preparations for taking a week off in order to help her with the recuperation after her surgery. There’s a lot to get done, so with your kind indulgence I’m going to repeat an article from 2014. It still expresses my desire for our church here in our town.)
While visiting our son recently, we had the chance to sail on a tall ship out into Lake Michigan, and got a closer look at a lighthouse, one of many that are scattered around the lake.
We also got to attend Sunday morning worship at the Moody Memorial Church, which stands like a spiritual lighthouse in Chicago’s Olde Towne. And what a wonderful experience that was!
We parked in the first-time visitor’s lot just across the street from the church, and we were greeted by dapper parking lot “attendants” in coats and ties. I asked, “How do we prove to you that we’re first-time visitors?” He smiled a million-dollar smile and said, “Just tell us ya are!”
When we got out of the car and stepped onto the sidewalk, we joined a throng of people streaming to the church from all points of the compass. And that’s when we started to feel the excitement. People were smiling and greeting one another with “Good morning!” (I think that’s the first time that’s happened to me in Chicago!) We immediately felt that we were surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ.
Crossing the street with the stream of people, we flowed smoothly through the open doors and into the church (after being greeted yet again with smiles and “Welcome to Moody Church!” by the greeters at the door. Don’t ever underestimate how important that is. It sure made us feel good!)
We got our first glimpse of the grand sanctuary from the side, through brick archways. I led us around to the back of the auditorium so that we got the wide-angle view as we entered. The main floor is surmounted by a wrap-around, “horse-shoe” balcony, with a vaulted ceiling arching high overhead. The whole effect is grand, but not ostentatious: mostly, you see red bricks, with the occasional brass plaque here and there. It is beautiful, but functional. It was obviously built to be used for worship; you felt reverent and excited just being there. But it was also a place where anybody could feel comfortable. Whether you had on a suit or blue jeans, you knew you were welcome and you knew you were there to worship God.
The congregation gave off a “holy hubbub” as they entered, greeted one another, and took their seats. We sat front and center, about seven rows back. I wanted to be able to count the hairs in Pastor Lutzer’s moustache! At 9:50 AM, Pastor Erwin Lutzer and two other staff members walked onto the platform and took their seats. Another young man stepped onto the platform and proceeded to lead the congregation in one of the most perfectly “blended” music services we’ve ever been in. There was a band, and there was a man playing a great pipe organ. They were playing together and led the congregation in singing old hymns and new worship songs in an exuberant, yet tasteful way.
I had to laugh to myself as they made an appeal for more Vacation Bible School workers. Even a church of 2000+ has the same problems we do! A new training program was announced, and a deacon came to the platform and gave a testimony. Pastor Lutzer knelt on the platform to lead the congregation in prayer (an action that seemed neither unnatural nor “showy”). Interestingly, there was no special music (though it was all pretty special!).
Then Pastor Lutzer stood up to preach. He spoke for half an hour on “The Quest for Greatness” from Matthew 20. (By the way, they have the same ESV Bibles in their pews that we give away at our Welcome Center. And Pastor Lutzer announced the page number, too.) It was a wonderful message, and it was over before you knew it. Pastor Lutzer made an appeal for people wanting someone to pray with them to come to the front to be escorted to a prayer room. We sang a final hymn, and the congregation was dismissed.
What I saw next made me sad, and glad. Thinking to make a beeline for the foyer (I heard they were giving away free stuff), I walked to the front and tried to cut across to a side aisle. But Pastor Lutzer had come down from the platform just in front of me to greet people who wanted to talk to him. I have spoken to him a couple of times at Moody Bible Institute’s Pastors Conference (I’m sure he doesn’t remember!), so it was not my intention to talk to him after the service. It warmed my heart to see him talking with little old ladies and couples and children, much as any pastor would after a service. That made me smile
But then I noticed three serious-faced men in white shirts and functional black vests, standing around Pastor Lutzer, watching everyone who approached him like a hawk. These were his security guards. Pastor Lutzer ignored them and talked to everyone who sought him out. But those three men never took their eyes off him: they moved as he moved, keeping him in their center, each of them only a step away in case the unthinkable happened. It made me sad that they had to do that. But I was also very glad they were there, protecting him.
The security guards were a reminder of the “perilous times” we live in. But otherwise, the whole experience was a lot like what I’ve read about people going to Sunday worship at one of the great downtown churches of the 1940s and 1950s: sidewalks filling with crowds of people walking to a morning or evening service at London’s Westminster Chapel, or Dallas’ First Baptist Church. It was an experience I won’t soon forget, and I am so grateful for that wonderful congregation, Moody Memorial Church, standing for God’s Word and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus in the midst of downtown Chicago.
God never intended us to be cloistered and removed from the world. He put Israel at the crossroads of the ancient world. He sent His Son, Jesus, right down into the middle of the strife and upheaval of first-century Judea. He led D. L. Moody to start a Sunday School for urchin boys on the streets of the frontier town known as Chicago (that Sunday School eventually became the church which now bears his name). And God put you and me right where we are, to be a testimony to Him in the midst of an increasingly dark and violent society. He told us, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) We’re supposed to light our candles, and together be a spiritual lighthouse for others trying to find their way out of the stormy dark and into the light.
If Moody Church can be a lighthouse in Chicago, surely we can be a lighthouse in Linton! At least here, the pastor doesn’t need security guards (…so far! Though I must say, some of those little old ladies can be very intimidating!).
Soli Deo Gloria!