Last year my wife and I took a long-awaited pilgrimage of sorts to the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. On our first morning there, I rose early for a walk, some of that desert stillness, and an exploration of my new surroundings.
The Schnebly Hill Formation, that red sandstone that gives Sedona its beauty, was glowing like a furnace as the sun began to rise. The sky was as blue as the turquoise mined from the local soil, and the wind was howling like mad across the desert. It was perfect.
As I walked and uncoiled my mind with coffee in hand, I saw a small church in the distance. It sat there, steeple splitting the sky, nestled in the rocks. It was Sunday, and I thought, “I’ll go over there, sit down in the quiet and enjoy the sanctuary.” There was only one problem: I couldn’t get there.
I tried to walk in a straight line toward the little church but only met concrete and adobe walls, security fences and the like. I took to the local sidewalks. They led to no where. I walked down the road. Nothing but dead ends.
Finally, I gave up, refilled my coffee cup in the hotel lobby, and sat down outside to enjoy God’s perfectly built house of worship. My inability to get to church got me thinking, though. Our communities – our world – is filled with people who desperately long to commune with God.
They hunger and thirst for a spiritual relationship. They are wasting away, alone in their homes, with no real connection with God or even other human beings. They need faith. They need hope. They need good news. But they can’t get to it.
There are just too many barriers. Too many fences. Too many dead ends. And most of these are human-made. So, these seekers just go home, drink their coffee or Scotch or whatever, and try to relate to God alone, with varied levels of success.
But I wonder what would happen if our churches and communities of faith became places that seekers of God could actually get to? Rather than shouting at and condemning people, what if we instead developed the skills of spiritual navigation – pointing people toward faith, not pointing at their faults, and helping those trying to connect with God, actually find him?
What if we began to recognize that Christianity can offer the world more than strong-armed morality or a list of dos and don’ts? Instead, what if we rediscovered the ambition of tearing down the barriers that keep people from God? What if we learned to invite people into the life-changing, life-forming story of what it means to be spiritually alive?
I did an interview recently where the interviewer asked me questions for nearly an hour about what it means to be the church in today’s world. I spoke about my Sunday morning walk in Sedona and said, “I’m not very interested in being a part of a church or a religious organization per se; but I am interested in following a distinct way of life, the way of Christ.”
She had a hard time understanding this. So I told her about my uncle Lamar. Uncle Lamar has been a Baptist preacher for forty years. And he is the best carpenter in all of Gordon County, Georgia. Now in his mid-70s, he continues to build several homes a year. He has a waiting list longer than the years he will likely live.
I spent many of my summers working for my uncle, on his farm and on his worksites. I am not a master builder, but everything I have ever learned about building came not from a classroom or a book, but at his hands – watching, learning, listening, imitating.
This is my hope for the church: To become a place where we can learn to watch, listen, imitate and live like Jesus – the Jesus who tore down all barriers and paved a highway to his Father.
I believe the good news found in the way of Christ is more powerful than the corruption, crises and disasters of this present world. I believe it is ultimately more powerful than the walls and barriers built by human hands. If it’s not, then it would not be worth believing, for it would not be the good news we and this world needs.