Returning to Holy Ground

Returning to Holy Ground

This morning, I attended in-person services at church for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown back in March. I’ll confess, it’s not the longest time I’ve been away. There have been many consecutive Sunday mornings in the past where I just decided to sleep in. There have also been times during UK Basketball season where I’ve disappeared for a few months at a time. And oh yeah, there was that decade and a half in my 20s and 30s where I didn’t go at all. But by and large—at least for the past quarter of a century—going to church on Sundays and visiting with my Centenary church family has been a pretty big deal.

So, I was excited when Centenary announced their plans to restart their on-site Sunday services on Father’s Day. In fact, I was so pumped for the re-opening that I wanted to be first in line. Here’s what it was like returning to Holy Ground.

Okay, I’d be lying (and it’s never a good idea to lie, especially while in church) if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit hesitant about coming back so quickly. As much as I hate to admit it—morbidity wise—I’m approaching that vulnerable age group deemed by the CDC to be the most susceptible to the virus.

But I figured there’ll never be a safer time to return than right now. Strict sanitation standards will surely be implemented, social distancing requirements will be rigorously enforced, and everybody present will be on high alert against coughing, sneezing, or touching their face (or anybody else’s face for that matter). Everybody has their guard up. No one wants to be the church that screws it up for everyone else.

The single church service begins at 10:30, and we’ve been told to arrive about 30 minutes early. There’s minimal traffic this morning, so I pull into the noticeably-less-than-full parking lot at just after 10. Immediately, I sense that something’s just a bit off kilter—it’s eerily quiet and a bit awkward as we all march up towards the single front entrance. After such a long absence away, we’re not quite sure how to greet each other—especially behind the veil of our protective masks.

It’s a bit surreal (I promise I won’t use that word again) walking into the building. I grab a dollop of hand sanitizer, receive my pre-packaged communion elements, and resist the temptation to violate everyone’s 6-ft bubble by shaking hands and dispensing hugs as I usually would.

Entering the front doors, I notice the narthex has been completely transformed. Gone is the comfortable seating, the free coffee, and the lively conversational cliques we’re so used to seeing on Sunday mornings. There’s no handshaking, no backslapping, no bragging about the golf game or the recent trip to Alaska. The message has been received LOUD and CLEAR: Come, worship, leave—DO NOT CONGREGATE!

It’s even more sterile within the sanctuary. The abundance of plexiglass and the roped off pews gives off a definite public vibe—as if I’m waiting in line at the post office to mail a package. The hundred-plus worshippers this morning are seated every third pew, three to a pew, with much more than the required distance of separation in between them.

The choir is noticeably absent, as are the usual number of kids and youth milling about. In fact, I’m a bit surprised at the disproportionate number of older folks like me who are filling the pews. Don’t they realize their life is in danger? I take a moment to chit chat with some familiar faces, exchange pleasantries and wave to those making eye contact, and remain poised for the sermon ahead.

The sermon by Pastor James is a good one. He talks about how God’s plans for our life are often different from our own life plans. God has a road map lined out for you, but it’s often not placed directly in front of your face. Our continued obedience and faith in God will eventually draw us close enough to view the map clearly. In the meantime, stand firm and keep trusting.

After Communion in the pews and a poignant benediction, we’re punctually dismissed. Like good soldiers committed to following Governor Andy’s rules, we file directly out of the church, into our cars, and back to our pets waiting expectantly for us at home.

Reading this narrative, you might guess I was disappointed by my lack of a familiar church experience. I mean if you have to wear face coverings, can’t hug anybody, have to sit by yourself, can’t attend Sunday school classes, and are discouraged from congregating, drinking coffee, and socializing with friends—then why come at all? Sure, the sermon was fantastic, but I could have watched it online—naked and unmasked—from the comfort of my bed.

And yet, there was something ethereal about the entire experience. It wasn’t just the taking of Communion either. Honestly, there really is a heavenly power at work when like-minded believers gather together in worship.

In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul wrote, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

Paul was talking about the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the lives and bodies of the early Christians. For us present-day believers, as the world around us seems to be crumbling, it’s easy to forget the power that already resides within us—that same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. For me, being back together in worship this morning under one roof was a much-needed reminder of the sovereignty and dominion of God.

The good Lord designed us for relationships—affinity for Him, and connection with each other. Throughout my Christian walk, I’ve prayed until I’m blue in the face, I’ve memorized Scripture ad nauseum, I’ve listened to sermons galore. And yet, the greatest inspiration for my faith journey to date has always been the presence of other like-minded pilgrims on the same path as me. I know there’s more to genuine relationships than face-to-face interactions, but in our temporary world of quarantine and self-isolation, that presence together this morning rekindled a flickering flame.

It’s hard for me to describe the power of Christian community. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Even as I try to explain it to you, it’s a heck of a lot better if you experience it for yourself.

To God be the glory!

See you next Sunday!

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley just did something that has never been done. The Wildcats’ sophomore guard just won his second straight SEC Player of the Week award. Immanuel’s numbers on the court this season have been supremely impressive. But it’s his faith-based leadership among his teammates that will have far more eternal significance. Here’s a sneak preview of my upcoming column appearing in the Nolan Media Group newspapers later this week.

 

Immanuel Quickley prepares faith-driven Wildcat team for postseason success

By Dr. John Huang

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – When asked what he likes about this year’s team, Coach John Calipari was quick to point out his talented backcourt trio. “I like that we’re playing three point guards,” said Kentucky’s hall of fame coach.

Although Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey may eventually lead Calipari’s team to another coveted national championship, there’s another trio of Wildcats who will ultimately guide them into the sacred Promised Land.

When it comes to spirituality on Kentucky Wildcat basketball teams, I don’t recall a more outwardly vocal trinity than Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, and Keion Brooks. The three are part of eight scholarship players this year who are rapidly capturing the hearts of BBN.

We’re all familiar with Quickley’s story. The sophomore guard from Havre De Grace, Maryland has stated on numerous occasions how important his faith has been to him. A devout upbringing, an active church life, and studying God’s Word have been the hallmarks of his early life of piety.

“I started putting God first,” Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’—told us at a recent media session.

That means getting up early and starting off each day with a daily devotional. Having glided through the Psalms, the Gospel of Luke, and now on to the Book of Isaiah, the Wildcats’ most consistent player appears poised to finish out this season with some pretty God-sized biblical accomplishments.

“Honestly, I know why I read the Bible,” he explained. “I think just starting from the beginning and trying to read it to the end like it’s a regular book—it gives me something to look forward to. Instead of just reading random stuff, I keep building and having something to go back to.”

Immanuel’s dedication to God’s Word has not been lost on Nate Sestina, his traveling roommate on road trips. The two have developed a special bond, occasionally even delving into some deep spiritual discussions. Taking after Immanuel’s lead, the graduate transfer from Bucknell has faithfully relied on Scripture in his attempt to bolster confidence in himself.

“I follow this Bible verse very closely,” Nate shared with me after a recent practice session. “It’s Proverbs 16:3—’Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he shall establish your plans.’ I’ve actually talked to Immanuel about it. So, he likes it a lot too. But, just believing that whatever I do, that God’s got me.”

Keion Brooks is another Wildcat who’s not afraid to talk openly about his Christian faith.

“It’s extremely important to me,” the 6’7 freshman from Ft. Wayne, Indiana has admitted on several occasions. “It’s a big part of who I am.”

Brooks, when speaking to reporters, often appears reticent and shy. But he was bold and confident when talking about the gratitude and contentment stemming directly from his biblical beliefs.

“God has blessed me with being able to be here to wake up every day,” he said with an unmistakable look of serenity. “Being able to be a part of this great program. Being able to meet so many great people throughout this world. Just blessing me with the talent to play basketball. Basketball has taken me all over the place, all over the country. I just want to pay my dues back to Him because He’s just put me in a great place with a great family and support system to do some phenomenal things. So I just got to make sure I do my part to play hard and continue to believe in Him.”

When John Calipari tells us over and over that these are good kids, it’s not just coach speak. From what I’ve gleaned, this year’s crew consists of a bunch of really GREAT kids—kids that know their roles, kids that are fully aware of their exalted status as Kentucky Basketball players, and kids who will hopefully bring the Wildcats another national championship.

As Immanuel Quickley is learning in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them.”

I’m not sure whether God is necessarily a University of Kentucky Basketball fan or not. But it sure can’t hurt that Immanuel Quickley–whose Twitter handle just happens to be @IQ_GodSon–obviously has his priorities in the right place. Whether on the basketball court or in the arena of eternal life, you can be certain that @IQ_GodSon is getting everyone ready for the day of reckoning.

I’m ready. Are you?

Dr. John Huang is a regular columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs