There’s nothing like the first Sunday morning after salvation.
T and I walked into this church of around 400 first thing in the morning. It was like the clouds had parted. For the first time I was walking into a church knowing why I was there. Everyone was smiling, happy, joyful, and so very friendly. It was a taste of heaven, a place I was finally assured I would be going someday, as would my beloved T. We were saved, and we were home.
I didn’t know any of the songs, but I stumbled along, streaming tears throughout the worship service. I was blown away by how powerful an emotional impact that gathering had on me. I knew this church had the truth, the truth I had just discovered the night before, the truth I had browbeat out of T a year or so earlier, the truth that I had got very near, but had somehow missed a few years before that at Advent Christian.
No matter. I had it now.
The service was led by Senior Pastor C. A diminutive, engaging speaker, he worked without a pulpit, a bible in one hand, the other used to elaborate and punctuate his sermon. He was captivating and, at the time, in his prime. I don’t remember what he said that morning. I don’t remember what he said most mornings, honestly, but I was captivated nonetheless. I was certain that this man had tapped into a holy artery and was pumping out pure truth from the Spirit.
One specific detail I remember from that first service was the end. For a long while, the Blue family (lovely people) ended the service with the same song. All joined hands across the aisle and we sang:
We are one in the bond of love,
We are one in the bond of love,
We have joined our spirits with the Spirit of God,
We are one in the bond of love.
The message was clear. They had truth, they had love, and having been saved, we were all one. Sign me up.
T, always being sensitive to style vs. substance, wasn’t wholly convinced. She enjoyed it. She was on board. She believed. But there was that small part of her that remembered the quieter, more reverent joy she had at the Episcopal church. The boisterous atmosphere of Santa Cruz Christian was not really her style.
For the first few weeks we attended SCCC, and if I recall correctly, we did go to Calvary Episcopal (the beautiful little red church in downtown Santa Cruz. It was used for the church scene in the TV miniseries remake of East of Eden. T’s parents were extras!) If she’d had her way, that would have become our church home. And if I’d listened, I think we’d have gone on to a more benign and gentle version of Christianity, perhaps giving way to reason much sooner.
But I had found the Truth with a capital T. After a few weeks of “discipleship” with Duane, I realized that Calvary was a dead church. The spirit was not alive and moving there. Churches like Calvary Episcopal watered down the gospel so as not to challenge or offend their congregation. They preferred comfort over cold, hard truth.
Do you hear the “cult-speak” sinking in?
T was (rightly) offended by my attitude, but the relationship won over any church loyalties, and we became members of SCCC. The next step was getting baptized by immersion, which we did. T still followed along, although she still thought it was mildly stupid, as she had already been baptized. I think you’ll find it a common thread that T indulged me in a lot of stupid decisions out of love for me. After the response I got when I was fifteen, we got baptized without telling anyone in our family. It was a little irrational, and later they said they would like to have come support us.
That first Sunday I bought a six-dollar NIV bible. Now this was a bible I could read and understand. Modern English, what a wonder. And I devoured the bible. I had three or four different highlighter colors and I made a mosaic out of it. One evening I was at the library at the local community college, waiting for T to get out of her class that evening. I sat in a lounge chair in the open reading area and was reading through I Corinthians. I was somewhere in the midst of chapter 9, marveling at all of the things that suddenly seemed so obvious to me. Clearly it was true what they had said at church – the unsaved heart is impervious to the word, but I now had the Spirit to make the meaning clear, so I thought. I gradually became aware that there were two people off to my right trying to speak to me.
“Where do you fellowship?”
I was so wrapped up in reading my bible that they had sat there for over a minute trying to get my attention. I waxed on about how I was newly saved and how amazing it all was, and we had a nice conversation.
I discovered Christians had their own music. This was long before Jars of Clay, Skillet, and Switchfoot brought at least a modicum of quality to the genre. These were the days of The Imperials, Steve Taylor, DeGarmo & Key, Steve Camp, Amy Grant, and (OMG) Stryper. If you take the time to watch through those videos, I’ll have brought you the weirdest 30 minutes of your week, I promise. Anyway, I bought my first tape (yes, cassette tape – yes, I’m old – shaddap) The Imperials – Stand by the Power.
What should become clear by now is that I was systematically, and quickly, inundating myself with the Evangelical Christian Culture of the day. I have a tendency, when I get into something, to go all the way in a big way. I read, listen to, and watch everything I can get my hands on. And boy did I show it here.
As T and I got into more of the teaching, taking classes, taking notes in church, buying past sermon tapes to listen to at home, we started transitioning from learning to doing. This meant making changes in our lives.
No more cussing. No more secular music. No more Dungeons & Dragons. No more R-rated movies (well, that depended on who you talked to.)
No more sex.