One of the hardest parts about moving to a new place is finding a church home. I’ve once been taught that I should take time going “church shopping” with a rubric of requirements – “Church A gets 9/10 gets biblical teaching, 8.5/10 on community but only 6.5/10 on outreach….” All too often finally ending up months later with a church that feels like a compromise.
However, I was only (pre-covid supposedly) going to be in NYC for 5 months. Rather than drifting from church to church, and have my faith drift along with it, my discipler advised me to quickly find a church with good theology and stick to it. Having stayed in Austin my entire life, I’ve never had to go through the trouble of church shopping. But for the first couple weeks in NYC, I got a glimpse of the struggle it entails.
Too charismatic? Too much money talk? Too woke? Not that any is inherently bad – perhaps my naive Southern Christian mind couldn’t see that in a different spiritual battlefield like NYC there needs to be different spiritual training. Nevertheless, by the end of January, I had checked off most of the churches I’d heard about. I ended up complaining the next Sunday morning to my roommates about the difficulties of finding a church in NYC. They told me to try out a church next door called the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
Down the street from Brooklyn Tabernacle – Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, NY – April 28, 2020
I was skeptical at first since I’ve never heard of it – it’s not an international name like Hillsong. But thanks to MTA construction delays, I was far too late to make it into Manhattan for any other church service.
So assuming I was going to some local hole-in-the-wall, I took the subway one stop down the street to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. One Sunday service and Thursday men’s ministry later, I decided to make Brooklyn Tabernacle my church home in NYC. During my time there, I learned of the power of prayer, gift of cross-cultural ministry, and Christ-reflecting image of brotherhood.
Men’s ministry at the Brooklyn Tabernacle – February 20, 2020
Afterwards, I mentioned it to a couple friends back in Austin, and they all remarked that they’d read a book written by its senior pastor Jim Cymbala – Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire – that had been a formative part of their faith journey. I was indeed a naive southerner living under a rock. But at least reflecting on my time in New York City, I realized how God’s been so good to me in so many ways that I took for granted while I was there.
Still working on finishing Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire – Central Park, NY – March 26, 2020
I was reminded of all this when I was reading Psalms 27. It’s a beautiful psalm about the Lord being our light and our salvation, so we don’t need to fear anything else. But as I read through it this time, verse 4 stood out to me:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
That I will seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life…
It sounded awfully familiar, and I realized that at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we ended almost every service with the choir’s rendition of Psalm 23, concluding with verse 6:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Learned the value of getting to church early when we got front row seats to the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir – February 2, 2020
Why does David repeat the same lyric of “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever” in both Psalm 23 and 27? And what does it mean?
Witness Lee writes that “the ultimate goal of the Lord’s shepherding of us is the house of the Lord.” God leads us from one green pasture to another still waters not merely for the sake of eating and drinking. He leads us with the destination in mind, the house of the Lord. It is in this house where goodness and mercy are with us all the days of our lives. Yet in yearning for the future we are not to detach ourselves in the present. Lee elaborates that “today the house of the Lord is the church,” wherein we can glimpse our eternal home in Heaven that is promised to us tomorrow.
In the American church we often associate this house of the Lord with its visible and physical manifestation. However, the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said that “wherever we meet with true hearts reverently to worship God, that place becomes for the time being God’s house.” We see this on Sundays, as we worship together, in small groups as we pray together, with sisters and brothers as we fellowship together. But even these times and places eventually empty out, and along with it, the tenants of the house. David seeks not for temporary inhabitation, but to dwell in the house of the Lord, “all the days of my life” and “forever.” Merely seeking Christian community in a church is a stepping stone, but it cannot be the cornerstone.
This is what led people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian in Nazi Germany during World War II, to build his life on the cornerstone of Christ. Despite the physical stones of the German church undermined and whittled away by the Nazi regime, he ran underground seminaries to continue teaching scriptural truth. He was eventually forced to flee to NYC, yet even in the comforts of the NYC church, he lamented that “Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” He returned to Germany on the last steamer to cross the Atlantic, knowing he’d face certain persecution and death. He sought not after earthly security, but after his heavenly home.
Words as simple as seeking to “dwell in the house of the Lord” seem so innocent, even comforting. But in understanding the true implication, they should discomfort us from our earthly domiciles, riling us up from our bums, to follow our Shepherd as He leads us home.
- Pray for Brazil. As the country lurches into political divisiveness, Covid cases have spiked beyond the capacity of tests, ambulances, and hospital beds. Pray for peace and wisdom to soften the hardened hearts of the political leaders. Pray for support and safety for doctors and nurses on the front lines. Pray for comfort for the families of those dying of the virus.
- Pray for trust. Pray that we trust the Lord’s promises to us. As the tumultuous tides of the present rise and fall with time, God’s promises remain strong. Pray that like David, we hold onto His promise for goodness and mercy all the days of our life.