Sunday, November 9, 2014

Enamored by the Stones

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” - Mark 13:1-2 

In this passage, the disciples are awestruck by the magnificence of Herod's temple in Jerusalem. They were enamored by the stones, some of which were may have been as large as their small-town synagogue. Jesus brings them back to earth by foretelling the temple's demise.

I too have been caught up in the institution of the church: it's history,  it's personalities, and contemporary examples of large (mega) churches. It was hard not be enthusiastic when one is a member of a church with hundreds,  thousands, or even millions of members. It is easy to be caught up in the momentum of a growing church, expanding in numbers and facilities. But with large size comes structures of administration and power. If you attempt to follow Jesus and take Him at His word, sooner or later, you will find yourself in conflict with these power structures.

In my journey I have often heard the argument that an inability to find a place in the institutional church is due to a failure to get along with other believers. It is true that I am flawed as much as anyone else, inside or outside the Institution. The difference is that inside the institution people have places to hide. 

The institution provides many places to hide: the offices, structure, procedures, doctrines, and statements of faith.  These stones and pillars provide places of concealment. Therefore we can remain hidden and not truly known.

The institution also provides a motivation to conform. We ought to be conformed to the image of Christ and His love. Instead we are coerced by the group politic. We fear being rejected, so we play the game. We struggle to manage our appearance, not our heart. 

But Jesus is the temple. (John 2:21). He is our shelter. We find our security in His Kingdom, not in our reputation or office. If we truly believe we are justified in Him, we no longer have manage appearances. We are fully and mutually accepted by each other with all our sins, failures, and weaknesses. We have the courage to be who we really are, sinners whose hope is in Jesus. We no longer need to be pious or to posture. We are free to be, we are free to love, and we are free to be loved.

If in our corporate gathering we cannot or will not do these things, then we are still enamored by the stones. The edifice may look indestructible,  but remember that sand is just stones worn down over time. Let's make sure we don't build our houses on it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Reflections in the Desert

It's been over a year since I left the institutional church, so I have had time to look back and reflect on the journey. The road has been one of both disappointments and unexpected joys.

Like being in a desert, being outside the institutional church can be a "dry" experience in terms of meeting a large number of people every week. For a time I missed the small talk and coffee. So to keep the tradition of Sunday coffee, my wife and I decided to meet in a coffee shop every Sunday to do a Christian book study and.... drink coffee! Ironically, we've gotten to know the proprietors quite well. The expectation of our presence is at the point where we tell them of our vacations so they won't worry about us.  Other than serving us a confection and a good cup of coffee they don't seem to have any agenda. That's more refreshing than the coffee!

We have discovered that joy comes from encountering Jesus in unexpected places. My wife volunteers and substitute teaches at an at-risk school. I spend time with young men transitioning out of foster care. Over time I have discovered that my heart has become more open in ways that would have never happened in the institution. The change we both notice is that we can be fully present with who ever God places in our path. We can be fully present because we are not physically, emotionally, and financially spent from the demands and controversies of the institution.

We learned that Jesus was where He said he would be all along, among the "least of these". We don't have to look for a weekly religious experience. We can experience God by encountering and engaging people who are made in God's image. We let our light shine by making "invisible" people visible.

It turns out that the "desert" is not devoid of life after all.  It used to look that way as we whizzed by on the highway of packed agendas on the way to the next church meeting. I am so thankful that we have slowed down, gotten out of the car, and found the oasis in the desert!