No Stranger Among Strangers

there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb…And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne , and to the Lamb”  Revelation 7:9, 10 NIV

This passage is a great encouragement as we think about the eternal gathering of God’s people, believers in Jesus Christ from all times and places, a great reunion of God’s family that never ends in the new heaven and new earth.

But how can it be a joyful reunion when I’ve never even met most of these people ever before?  I think I had a taste of what it will be like this past Sunday morning at First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee.

After a great breakfast with my daughter and two granddaughters at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg, I left the girls and headed up the road to Sevierville, In an area, where most churches seem tiny, First Baptist has two services, about 1750 present each of the past two Sundays. I walked in late, the 30 minute drive taking 45 in the Pigeon Forge traffic, I assume tourists headed for Dollywood or something else in what has to rank as one of the tackiest strips in America, a sort of permanent county fair carnival that stretches for several miles.

As I walked into First Baptist of Sevierville, I was warmly greeted by numerous people (in contrast to 4 different churches on successive Sundays in June during my study leave when my wife and I were scarcely greeted for 4 weeks).   There was a sense that everyone was glad to be there, entering into the singing and prayers, enjoying the children’s sermon, a warm spirit of fellowship, and a great and practical message from God’s Word.

The church wasn’t perfect.  I thought the announcements took too long.  The sermon notes had 2 Corinthians 20:1-3 at the top, a slight problem since 2 Corinthians has only 13 chapters. But who among us hasn’t made mistakes like that.  I once printed the bulletins upside down in my first pastorate. And you’ll probably find some mistakes in this post that you can point out to me.

The text was actually 2 Chronicles 20, a narrative passage about King Jehoshaphat facing a coalition of enemy nations.  The message title, “What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do,” was a great encouragement. Pastor Dan Spencer stayed with the passage, didn’t get lost in entertaining stories (though he did have a great sense of humor), helped me to understand nuances of the passage and brought home the main idea, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

I don’t remember who said it, I think it was Pastor Spencer, but something to the effect that if you need some loving, you came to the right place because First Baptist of Sevierville is a church that loves people. I felt that love on Sunday and hope people who visit our church in Indianapolis feel the same.

And I left happy. I didn’t know any of them, don’t remember a single name (I brought home a bulletin with the pastor’s name or I wouldn’t know it either), but I still felt like I was part of a family, the family that will one day meet eternally… because Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord, the one who  …with your blood … purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation… Revelation 5:9 NIV

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