Open-Air Worship

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As Independence Day approaches I can’t help but think about how much freedom I have. I come and go as I please. I have a hearty garden full of vegetables to cook or I can choose to dine out. Sometimes I listen to the radio, other times I flip through a couple of hundred different channels on the television. I can travel in a car, by plane, and train, ride a bike, or walk. I have the freedom to bear arms if I so choose and speak my mind. Or, I can pen about anything I want to in this blog. We take so much for granted, such as having the freedom to attend church and worship God.

What is church anyway, a fine brick building, a huge circus style tent?  I go to church outside under a picnic shelter when I’m camping at New River. People are what make a church, not the structure it’s held in. Larry Atwood, a retired minister who is a regular camper at the campground leads our worship service at 9am every Sunday morning from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Sometimes as I sit under the picnic shelter and listen to Larry, I hear the noises of the campground. Children spinning and laughing at the playground, people breaking camp getting ready to go home, and the creek gurgling beside me. As I sit there I ponder on the reasons people don’t exert their God given right to attend church. What could be more important than accessing our freedom of religion?

Preacher Larry is a walking miracle. He almost died a few years back after suffering a heart attack. He lay hooked up to life support, in a coma for two weeks. The doctors told his family that he was brain dead and that they should make the decision to un-hook him. His wife would not allow it and days later Larry woke up. He is now on oxygen full time, but that is the only hindrance we notice as he stands before us and preaches the word of God boldly, yet humbly. He doesn’t let his health issues stand in the way of sharing the word of the Lord with a few weary campers.

Larry started his campground ministry four years ago. Every Saturday evening he goes down the road through the campground and hands out flyers inviting people to come to his outside church. Most Sunday’s you’ll find the regulars like us who camp all the time under the shelter. Occasionally a few campers from out of town mosey in. Sometimes there are fifteen people, other times close to fifty. Last Sunday we had a lady volunteer to play the piano because we didn’t have one for that day. Another Sunday, on a whim a man came up to the keyboard and played and sang beautifully. Yet another day a little girl about eight or nine came forward and took the microphone telling us the story of Lot, or Loot as she call him. We never know what will happen from one Sunday until the next in our open-air church, but we know if we show up there will be a blessing waiting for us.

Larry has special singers lined up each Sunday to sing God’s praises. One family in particular touches my heart every time they come to sing for us. The man sings alone sometimes, other times his wife joins him, then there are times when his daughter and two sons help. One son is severely handicapped and can’t walk or talk but that doesn’t stop him from making a joyful noise into the Lord. You may not be able to understand the words he’s saying, but you sure can feel the spirit.

I am so blessed to have such a wonderful church family at the river. As I sit writing this blog I’m gazing out over the calm waters on the New. Just a few hours ago a strong wind rolled through and the waters churned up white caps. The wind blew tree limbs out of trees and it was a real mess. Almost forty campers pulled together and loaded two pickups and one trailer full of brush and hauled it away. One man said how great it was that all of us had come together to help the campground owner. He said it made him think of old times when people pitched in and helped one another. I had to agree.

Even though the United States of America isn’t a perfect place, I believe it is still the best spot in the world to live. We take so much for granted. Such simple things to wake up on Sunday morning and walk down the road to our open-air church by the river. There are so many people in this world who have to worship in secret. What a shame that out of a couple of hundred campers on the weekend, barely five percent feel the need to join us in worship.

Our forefathers knew from whence their blessings flowed. Too bad most men today think they can do all things within themselves. What a shame we don’t give credit where credit is due, God. On this July 4th let us remember that not all can profess the Lord as their Savior out in the open without fear of punishment. Let us also not forget the men and women who fight to preserve these freedoms we have. And, most importantly, let us thank God for giving his only begotten Son so that we can eternally be free from the grave.

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