Upon my arrival in Florida, my family vowed that this time we would spend time and go to church. I harboured hesitance and ambivalence towards going to church because if we found a church that fit with our spiritual walk, then it would be a bittersweet farewell for when we would have to leave. Of course, having a wonderful church that not only allowed us to grow but gives us opportunities we wouldn't otherwise have is a sad thing to adieu when it is a full country away. To be perfectly honest, when we first went to HOPE Church in Sarasota, Florida, I was flummoxed! Why? Because finally there was a church that believed in what we live daily. For once, we wouldn't be labelled as crazy radical Christians because we believe that Jesus is Healer or that His plan for us is prosperity. A church taught what Creflo emphasizes daily and is a confirmation that such a church exists and no one can tell me that such an aspiration is non-existent, since obviously it exists and flourishes. There are certain things I'd like to point out that really stick with me and, well, should be in Barrie too. So if my peers from back home are reading this, you might as well take note because there are certain important things that are lacking that shouldn't be...Although I will mostly digest the youth life in the church, I will attest to the church as a whole.
1. Aside from its multi-million dollar value, expensive equipment, and large lot, HOPE is a church that preaches the Word of God and believes wholeheartedly in Jesus. How is that any different that the churches in Barrie? For instance, HOPE church has life. It's alive. It's not a stagnant church, that sees going to church and reading the Word as a religious obligation but rather a joy. I sensed it in worship, in the pastor's teaching, and the way the church members live. I can feel life, true life, that is manifested in actions, rather than words. One colossal difference is that people live in God's blessing and The Blessing. The church believes that healing is part of God's plan for our lives, which is why at the end of every service, there is a healing service, laying hands on people who need physical healing based on the biblical principle of Mark 16:18; it believes that the Word of God is higher than any situation; they put more trust in Jesus than in doctors, bank advisors, or so-called friends; they refute the wickedness of the enemy, not allowing his attacks to prevail upon us; and, (although many will frown upon this) they dress nicely. Why would anyone care how people show up to church? Well unfortunately, people judge people based on their looks. It's something everyone wants to disregard but it's true. When the pastor talks about prosperity and how God desires for us to be rich and have abundance so that we can reach more people, it seems to be truthful when they own a nice home, dress in suits, and drive a nice car. Moreover, the church parking lot is always filled with BMW's, Mercedes, Jaguars, Escalades, and several Porsches. I've seen more than just my mom's Louis Vuitton; I've seen Chanel bags and even a Balenciaga. It's true that it's not the most important thing, but it does count. The teachings at HOPE brings life to your soul, encouraging you to rise above the situation and look to the Word of God regarding your problem. It's too late to preach about if Jesus really is the Son of God or God's judgement on us or sin. It's too late in the game to talk about it, what with people sitting in church, people leaving the church, and people departing from their faith because the church has nothing to offer with its redundant, mundane, boring messages. It's time to explain and describe the power and authority and what we have in Christ. It's time to be, live, and get real. Finally, HOPE delivers just that and it brought food to my soul. People want more than just talking about Jesus, talking about what He did (and skimming over it, reading it without actually paying attention to what He did and emulating it today); people want to see Jesus in action, practising what He did and doing it. It's not enough to say that "I love Jesus" or even minister to people with ulterior motives (such as having this attitude: "oh, I've lead/ministered someone to Christ; I've done my duty"). You have to love Christ in your actions. For example, going to parties, getting high, getting jacked up on alcohol, or fornicate and then exclaim your love for Christ will probably be followed with laughter and then, "are you serious?" You have to walk the talk. You're not perfect (no one is), but hey, you're pursuing a life of holiness--a life one with God.
2. It's been a while since I've been to a youth group. I attended one for a year but then my season was over so I subsequently left; the next one I went strictly for a guy (bad, bad choice); and the last didn't meet my spiritual needs and was ostracized for having "crazy" ideas such as believing Jesus is Healer, not the doctors [as a healer]. I've missed that atmosphere, where a hundred teenagers (the youth attendance is there, more or less) gather and bask in Christ's glory, admiring His love and professing His beauty. I've missed that, where people gather and have pure, clean, genuine fun. When I attended ReAL Sarasota, the youth group of HOPE, I felt at home. Not only is the youth room the size of most churches and congregations back home (that is both a complement and a sad reality), but these teenagers truly live a life for Christ. They are not sissy Christians, cowering at the moment to proclaim one's faith in front of your peers and in uncomfortable surroundings. They boldly take their place and lift their face, knowing their identity in Christ. They have several Bible groups; extend their hands, asking anyone if they need prayer (even when they're not saved); and they are not afraid to let the world know that Jesus saves. At Sarasota High, people lined up to receive prayer for healing (as people line up for food in the cafeteria), to have people lay their hands on them and guess what? They got healed. People lined up, asked for healing, and they saw the manifestation. I think it's safe to say that most of them received Jesus. Why? Because they saw Christ behind the actions, seeing the power of Jesus. Instead of hiding with the "Christian" clique, they emulate Christ's character and they go and healed people!!! The next time you wander down the hallways and you laugh with your friends, if you decided to go that bold, would they still be your friend? Or would they laugh at your ludicrous, preposterous beliefs? But what happens when what you say comes to pass? Mhmm...different story...For the weekly sermons, they talked about not being a sissy, cowardly Christian, living life in The Blessing instead of in fear, living your life saturated in Christ (instead of little sprinkles or a dip), explaining the power we have in Christ, and they believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Did you know that half of the youth group can speak in tongues and when the baptism of the Holy Spirit fell upon the place, more than 75% of people received it (myself included)? There is power, power, wonder working power in the precious Blood of the Lamb...yes, there is! I have an enormous amount of gratitude for being a part of a youth group that is not afraid of speaking their faith in their classrooms or hallways. There was a beauty pageant for the school (Sarasota High) a while ago and one of the contestants (a Christian) was asked, "What is your greatest passion?" And her response was "Jesus". Naturally she was kicked out of the competition but everyone knew her greatest passion and was not afraid to share it. Some people may not have liked it, but others applauded her and approached her, inquiring of her Jesus, thus receiving Him and living his or her life for Him. You never know the impact you have when you live your life completely sold out to Him, living what the world sees as abnormal but what God sees as obedience and seeing Christ as your Healer, Provider, Source, etc. When you are unrepentantly go out in the world with such an attitude, people will want it. They may not verbally declare it, but they certainly want it and because what you do clearly works, it will be easy to get to their hearts because you have what they want. Boldness gives birth power.
I am so blessed and profusely grateful to have found a place that believes that Christ is Healer, there is absolute victory in the Blood, we are created to live a life of blessing, and that Jesus loves us more than He loved His own life. While it is bittersweet to leave, this experience will not depart from my heart. Now no one can tell me that such a youth group doesn't exist. It does. And people flood in week by week by week. And it's not about youth attendance; it's about people growing.