What do you think of when you hear someone say, I’m going to Church? Probably the Sunday morning worship service you are most familiar with, or possibly they are stopping at the building to do something. That is how I grew up understanding what a church was, and to a degree, still is today. But since that time, I have come to understand it is much more than this. Especially when you consider the church as the whole accumulated body of believers throughout the world…past, present, and future. There are several instances where I visited a church for the first time and I felt a closer connection to some of these people I just met, than others I have known and seen for years. I remember arriving at a small mountain village in rural Bolivia and a group of 10 or so members from a local church wanted to pray with us. We all held hands and prayed for 15 minutes in the middle of no-where and felt just as connected to God and his other children as in any other place I have worshiped. How about you? Is the church more about the building, the people, or the experiences you have had with them?
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:17-18
If you visit a new church for the first time, what strikes you most? It may take you a minute to figure out which door to enter, where things are around the building, the order of worship, etc, but eventually you encounter the people who spend time in that place. These people may leave you feeling warm and welcome, or not, or somewhere in between. Is your first impression fairly accurate? One Summer while in college, I was working door to door in Southern Louisiana and encountered several people from a local church who were kind, outgoing, and even invited me to their service. In fact, as the Summer went on, when I encountered other bold, Spirit filled folks, I found that they were often members of this Church as well. This and other experiences left me with a the impression that it may be more important how a Church looks and acts away from the walls of the building than what goes on inside, even if it does influence who they are. In fact, whether a person has good experiences or not with people from a particular church may influence their attitude about the Church or Christians for years to come. I’ve met several people who had a bad experience when they were younger and resolved never to set foot in a church again. Though the more then interact with other believers, these attitudes may change.
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20
This past week, with the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, we are reminded that every physical thing in this world has limits to how long it may last. It may have been around for centuries, but it can be gone in a short amount of time, just as the temples in Jerusalem have come and gone. Back in 2005, I took my father on a trip to Europe, where we saw some new places where friends of mine lived and re-visited some sites my dad liked. He had been to Europe several times before and since a stroke a few years earlier, was not able to travel as independently as he once had. As it turned out, and I suspected at the time, this was the last trip we were able to take there before he passed away, years later. The last couple days we were in Paris and I happened to stop at Notre Dame as they were having a Palm Sunday service, which was the only time I visited. Often when traveling in Europe or Latin America, I liked to sit and rest in usually empty churches not only to take in the building, but also to re-connect with God in the midst of a busy day. An encounter with a church or its people can leave a lasting impression, no matter how brief or long it is.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
The Church is who we are and how we reflect God to our families, co-workers, and strangers we meet and interact each day on this earth. When we are invited to become children of God, we enter a large family with brothers and sisters all over the world who meet in homes, schools, fields, designated churches, and all kinds of other places where the Spirit of God dwells. Where once hundreds of people would come to a temple to meet with God, now hundreds of temples gather together to worship God. Since Christ came to this world and died for our sins, he removed the geographic barriers between us and God, since his Spirit dwells within us. We can worship God wherever we are. As we consider what He has done for us this Holy Week, remember that you are Ambassadors of Christ. We take him wherever we go this day, whether to Church or any other place around this great earth.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 1 Corinthians 3:16
Yours in Christ,