Monday, July 18, 2011

A Beacon or a Battlefield

I was driving to church yesterday morning, and as I rounded the corner I could see, like I can on most clear days, the top of the steeple over the tree line as I came around the bend, still a good half mile from the church itself.  And for some bizarre reason, it struck me...I get excited when I see the steeple.  I know what I will find when I get there.  A place to rest at Jesus' feet, to gather with others who also live busy lives but like me have found it important, necessary even, to spend the time away from all the hustle, bustle, and noise of life and to climb under the feathers of the wings of our God and just rest.  Now, I could find a way to do that alone at any time, but I relish doing it in a community of believers because somehow it helps to know I am not the only one, and that I am surrounded by others who need the refreshment and rest as much as I do.
But I started to wonder...what do other people who maybe haven't stepped foot in a church (other than for a wedding or funeral) for a long time or maybe ever, think of when they see the steeple.  Do they see a beacon, like that of a lighthouse, calling out to all the hearts adrift on the often stormy seas of life?  Or do they see a battleground, a gathering of people who are judgmental and cold and out to ruin all their fun or take away their "rights", or perhaps even worse a gathering of people who are so stuck in their rules and regulations that they are willing to fight each other too just to be right.  I wonder if the people who see the steeple see it as the symbol of a beacon or a battlefield?
At our church we recently finished a series called "The Hole in our Gospel".  It really challenged me along with everyone else that if we really believe what we say we do, then we are called to be God's hands and feet in very practical ways not only inside the walls of our church but in our communities and homes.  The message of the gospel was not meant just to be talked about in our sanctuaries, but to be lived out in reality in a world that is often desperate for the smallest piece of hope to cling to.
James 1:26-27 (msg translation) has this to say about the matter:
Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.  
I wonder what people see when they see us too.  If we are the body of Christ on earth, His living, breathing, "churches", then what do people think when they see our "steeples"?  It's a very sobering, though-provoking thing to consider.  But it's worth the effort.  The people we run across on a daily basis or even once in a lifetime do not need another person they have to battle with, be it intellectually or otherwise.  They, too, need a place of rest, a haven and a help in a world that offers far more questions than answers, conflict rather than piece, that can chew up even the best of us and spit us out.  So here's the question for today:  Are we a beacon, or a battlefield?