Today, I was blessed. I finally took the time to get to church at Canyon Ridge.
For three months, I've been working day and night to get my soil prepared and my seeds planted for my new career in online entrepreneurship. Working round the clock and barely sleeping for almost 90 days made getting to church hard.
Early this morning, though, I wasn't quite sure making it to the Ridge was in my future.
I was up all night blogging, commenting and replying in a tennis-like verbal match between myself and about 60 atheists. I posted a rather terse and harsh commentary on one blog, voicing my displeasure with the minutia that atheists like to quibble over. Responses came fast and hard. I was returning volleys all night with both hands on my keyboard.
At 5:50 am, I decided to retire my troops from the battle and get some rest. Within ten minutes, I was sleeping. When the alarm rang at 9:15 am, my body whimpered, "Do we have to go to church today?" My mind said, "Yes. It's important." The feeling I had about returning to the Ridge was compelling. In slow motion I began to prepare my second grade daughter and myself for a trip to church.
There have been a number of times where I missed a Sunday or two at the Ridge. After a few absences, I'd get the same compelling feeling, "You BETTER GO today!" Today was one of those days.
My daughter and I arrived late, missing all of the opening worship songs. Announcements were being concluded. I spotted one of the Pastors, Mitch Harrison, in the large open entrance area and shook his hand, introducing myself, "Hi, I'm Roger Blazic from Facebook." There is a growing community of Canyon Ridge friends on Facebook. It's an excellent way to get connected. I have identified about 60 people out of my 270 friends who attend Canyon Ridge. I think there are more.
Natalie and I found a seat in the upper section, right in front of one of the large video screens. Executive Pastor, Kevin Odor was being introduced. Our timing was perfect.
If you're not familiar with Canyon Ridge Christian Community, the weekend services feature a central theme or topic, which is presented for two to six weeks. Each service starts with Praise and Worship music from probably the best P&W singers and musicians in the country. I've seen a lot of church bands, this crew should have their own show on The Strip, they're that good. Music is followed by annoucements. Then, there is usually a short drama performed on stage by members of the church, which play out the week's topic that is part of the overall theme. The scripts and acting are as good as any you'd see at an auditorium with a $50+ entrance fee. But this is church, it's FREE. Dramatic skits lead into the pastor's sermon. Following the sermon, the P&W crew comes back out and never fails to perform an emotionally moving song that solidifies everything presented prior in the service. Communion and a collection follow. A final song sends us to the outside world, where hopefully, we'll put the message of the day into use.
In the wake of my after-hours battle with the godless, today's message could not have been any more poinient. Pastor Odor, in his gentile yet engaging delivery began the topic of the day, "Live at Peace." Today's message was the second in the Series: Wii in it together.
Kevin told us of a meltdown he had with his wife years ago and how they worked toward reconciliation. I had a similar meltdown when I made my first comment on the atheists' criticism of The Bible's genealogy of Jesus. I wasn't very nice. I was angry and frustrated, insulted and offended by the constant barrage of mocking and inaccuracies perpetrated by the godless free thinkers that I had seen for over two years.
The nine years I spent on the road in rough towns performing stand-up comedy came to the surface. I let loose an expeletive filled rant on the non-god fearing author's blog post - not directed at him, but at atheists in general. The author, with the screen name on Xanga.com, GodlessLiberal, did not deserve what I unleashed. He just happened to be the spark that set off the fumes of a 26 month journey I'd taken into the world of atheism. Each week over the last two years, I've spent a dozen hours or so in atheist chat rooms, forums and on blogs. I haven't been treated very decently by those without God. And I've seen some sites and pictures depicting Jesus, the Pope and other Christian icons in vile and revolting positions and acts. The sheer classlessness of each of those, Jokes, as they like to call them would make any decent person's skin crawl. GodlessLiberal's piece was actually well researched and written. But its tiny spark proved incendiary. I exploded. Comments and replies seemed to focus more on my cussing than the message. Pastor Odor's sermon convicted me. I was wrong.
As Kevin wove his way through lessons from Roman 12:18-21, Matthew 5:9, Romans 13:2-4, Deuteronomy 32:35, and Proverbs 25:21-22, I felt the egg hardening and cracking on my face. I felt ashamed. Not at what I said, because I still believe in my position about atheisms' hollow voice, but about how I said it.
The final message from Pastor Odor, "Live at peace with everyone by showing them kindness," punctuated my thoughts and left me with a lot to consider. Communion was a very moving experience for me.
At the conclusion of the service, I made a point to drag Natalie all the way down to the front of the stage. I wanted to introduce myself to the P&W Ministry Leader, Tom Engelhardt. Tom is a an accomplished singer, guitar player and piano player. I think I saw him playing another instrument once before. He's a talented guy, I don't see much limit to his abilities.
Standing at the front edge of the stage, I called out, "Tom!" and caught his attention. He came over and I said, "Hi, I'm Roger Blazic from Facebook." I had just complimented him a day or so earlier online and he recognized me. "Funny how you can actually meet people on Facebook," he said to me. I agreed. I shot him another compliment and headed up the long stairs toward the courtyard where people gather, linger and chat after the service.
I tracked down my buddy John, head of security, who I met in my Small Group. John's been an incredible friend. I developed several good friends from the six months or so I was able to attend Small Group.
Limping across the courtyard with the assistance of a cain was a man I'd had a brief conversation with six or seven month's prior. He was considering making Canyon Ridge his home, leaving a Baptist church where his wife was ensconced. I'd spotted him almost every week since that first meeting. I introduced myself to him; Ron was glad to chat. I gave him my card after a few minutes and we parted ways.
Natalie was parched, with the temperature climbing above 100. We snuck into the café and grabbed some cold sodas. Sam, one of my best friends in the world, was volunteering in the café. His shift was nearly over. While I was waiting for Sam to complete his final tasks, I saw through the windows Pastor Odor walk by. I jumped up, raced around tables, bolted out the door and tracked him down.
I told him about how his sermon hit me hard. We chatted and prayed. It was a moving moment. He concluded our chat with, "Thanks for downloading." After the night I'd had online, he could not have chosen more appropriate words.
Sam, Natalie and I headed off for lunch. Leaving the Canyon Ridge parking lot, I was a different person than when I arrived. And that's why I keep going back. Each week that I attend, I come away with something that is applicable in my life. During the last 33 months I've been attending services at Canyon Ridge, I've never left and thought, "Well, that wasn't worth it." Every single service has moved me, taught me, inspired me. It's like the library, you can get so much, you just have to make the choice to be there.
Canyon Ridge produces podcasts of their sermons. They are available a few days to a week after presented. For podcasts and more information on Canyon Ridge Christian Community, click here to visit canyonridge.org. If you are not in the Las Vegas area, I still highly recommend the podcasts. Subscribe today.
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