I mentioned in an earlier post that I like to visit different churches whenever I travel. It’s often eye-opening to sit in on Sunday services that are somewhat foreign to what you’re normally accustomed to back home. Today was no different as Katie and I are guests of Kardia United Methodist Church in West LA. We’re anticipating some good solid Wesleyan doctrine to counter balance much of the New Age vibe that permeates throughout much of this region of the left coast.
Why did we choose Kardia? I figured anything with “Methodist” in its name shouldn’t be too heretical to either of us. After all, you don’t want to take your daughter to some Branch Davidian or People’s Temple worship service by mistake. Upon arrival for the 11:00 service though, it immediately becomes apparent that Kardia bears little resemblance to our own Centenary Methodist church back in Kentucky. The sanctuary at Kardia is traditional as opposed to contemporary, cozy rather than capacious. Less than 100 worshippers fill the pews this morning–and the majority of them are Asian-looking, just like us. The congregation appears mostly youthful and vibrant, a good sign of a denomination supposedly in rapid decline. The pastor, an Asian-American named Stephen Kim, is dressed casually in a light blue shirt and dark slacks and speaks with a down-to-earth and disarming cadence, soothingly appropriate for the audience on hand. Katie and I blend right in as we slip clandestinely into the pews.
Pastor Kim’s sermon today is about raising godly children. You can’t force your kids to believe, he says. As a parent, you have to intentionally work at praying, modeling, teaching, conversing, and establishing the proper environment for them. I especially needed to hear this today because I often wonder about the recurring doubts I have about my own faith. Without an occasional dose of biblical truth, I could easily see myself drifting blindly away, losing touch with my Christian roots, and eventually ending up as some sort of pleasure-seeking Hare Krishna, indiscriminately passing out recruitment leaflets in airport terminals.
It shouldn’t be surprising to you then that I’m especially concerned about my daughter holding on to her faith while living out here in La La Land. After all, this isn’t the Bible Belt with nearly half the population claiming no religious affiliation or belief at all. If you factor out the Latino Catholics, then most of the worshippers consist of various cult like followings such as Tom Cruise and his Church of Scientology or Jack Nicholson and his Agnosticism. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also have a very strong influence here together with the numerous Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim immigrant populations. I’ll probably come across as an intolerant evangelical fundamentalist more than just a worried father, but how can anyone be expected to obediently live out their own Christian faith while swimming in the cauldron of so many other conflicting belief systems? I don’t think I could do it. But perhaps that’s a weakness on my part, brought out by–if I’m honest with myself–my aforementioned predilection for unbelief.
Here’s where God’s grace comes in. God watches over me even in spite of me. Partly due to my doubts, I’ve come to really appreciate the fellowship and the accountability within the Body of Christ. My men’s small group has been meeting weekly for nearly 15 years, supporting and encouraging me through my innumerable challenges and struggles. My Sunday school class has some of the most pious prayer warriors you can ever imagine praying for me on a daily basis. My closest friends comprise some of the most faithful servants of God you will ever meet. Those relationships have been responsible for keeping my faith on track just as much if not more than all the prayers I’ve prayed, bible verses I’ve memorized, and worship services I’ve attended over the years. I’ve come to cherish those relationships developed through genuine Christian community and pray daily for similar ones to sustain Katie during her own individual spiritual journey. I can’t profess to know God’s plan for those of different religions or degrees of faith different from my own, but I’m thankful for both Kardia and Centenary. They are distinctly different churches in appearance and worship style, but one thing is for certain. All who seek to become a part of the Body of Christ will know Him in ways which would otherwise be unfathomable to those who do not.