If you have ever been a pastor or paid local church employee or just a really good church-type person or the offspring of one of the above and have cut your teeth on the back of a pew and know every song in the hymnal by number and have a perfect-attendance Sunday School pin or church softball league trophy on your dresser, you are probably reeeeeeeeeally irritated at those people who rarely attend church.
And they probably reeeeeeeeeally tick you off when they tell you they can feel close to God while they are in the mountains fly-fishing or hiking a trail or sitting in a meadow watching elk.
I know I have been bothered by that in the past, you know, as a girl whose very first full sentence was, “I’m gonna go to church!” And boy, did I!
And while I sometimes (often?) smugly sighed at people who said things like that (“God is in the trees, God is in the sunshine”), making a facial contortion that read: well, you just don’t have revelation about the local church-you are uncommitted, I can admit that I felt a little jealous that they got to sit by a lake while I handed out bulletins or filled in for a missing nursery worker or tried to unjam the copier for a Sunday School teacher who should-have-been-prepared-before-Sunday-morning-for-crying-out-loud!
God must find us all so amusing.
I love the local church because she is a crack-up. But we have got so far to go in understanding how our local gatherings could serve the Bride and the Church (big “C”) and bring joy to the heart of God. We have the Bride scrubbing the floors of our Temples of Religiosity when she should be served and made ready by Friends of the Bridegroom. We have just gotten this so backwards.
The question today.
So, I am reading this book by the poetic and dazzling-wordsmith, Frank Viola, From Eternity to Here, and today, in reading Chapter 14, “God’s Quest from Moses to Solomon,” as he parallels the Tabernacle of Moses with that of the Tabernacle of David during the 40 years when they were both “up and running” just 6 miles apart, but actual Presence of God was resting in the ark of the covenant in David’s little tent, I am hit between the eyes with this question:
Where MAY God go to FREELY express Himself?
Because that is where we are going to find Him, where He is able to freely express His heart, His plan, everything about who He is.
And, O God, may it be when your people gather, wherever they gather to worship You. May our local churches be places where the people can rejoice and sing and dance and enjoy Your smile and Your favor and Your Presence. May it be where they can serve You and bring You glory and be part, with many many people, of building You a home.
But sadly, in looking back over even (or especially) my own life as a bona-fide, militant church attender, I can see so much of it was a practice equal to the worship at Gibeon when the ark wasn’t even there (from the book):
“Over in Gibeon, the Tabernacle of Moses stood. On Mount Zion the Tabernacle of David stood…[At the Tabernacle of Moses] the priesthood of Israel is fully active. The priests are sacrificing animals and slinging blood at the brazen altar. They are marching through the religious program, passing out the bulletin, lighting the candles, ringing the bells, and following the liturgy. But there’s one problem: there’s no ark. God is not there. Does this bother them? Apparently not. They continue on with the ritual.”
I wanna be where He is.
And He is in the stars and the moon and the sun. He is in the air I breathe. I hear Him in the rushing river on the mountainside. He walks with me in my own little garden in the cool of the day. And I want to be in Him and Him in me. And when I gather with His people on the streets or in our homes or in the hallways of a building on a Sunday morning, may we collectively BE a place where God may freely and creatively and joyously express Himself.
It’s time to walk the 6 miles, even if that is out of a time-honored, traditional institution like, say, Sunday School (this is NOT an anti-Sunday School post, btw) to be where the Presence is. It really is. How fruitless and sad to go through the motions without Him there…
NOTE TO SELF: David’s, humble, canvas tent: create the same welcome…
*Song, “Everybody Oughta Go to Sunday School.” I actually grew up singing that both at home during our “family Altar time” and in Sunday School. The second verse was “Everybody oughta stay for church.” There were about 5 or 6 verses designed to help me know how to sling my bloody sacrifices around.