I’m like you. I love to be outside. I love the trails and the rocks and the stars and the clouds. I love the smell of the forest, the sound of the river and the soft feeling of the wind in my hair. I’ve seen a bird’s nest hanging precariously over Yellowstone Canyon, a baby mountain goat asleep in the fog in the Badlands and a mama bear scratching her booty on a pine tree right off Skyline drive in Shenandoah National Park. Richard Rohr says that creation was God’s first Bible. I agree.
Recently, however, I found a passage in the written Bible. A letter to the little church in a place called Colossae tells us that not only did Jesus get His hands dirty at creation, He’s also part of creation’s on-going maintenance. And there’s more. The same Jesus instrumental in Yellowstone’s waterfalls, sleepy-faced goats and itchy bear booties is also in charge of our churches. Churches that God determined should be the premiere place that His heart and His ways are revealed to the world.
All that to say, I’m constantly looking for analogies. Since the same artist has His thumbprints on both, I look for things in the created world that can teach me about the church. Apparently this is an uncommon hobby.
Journeying down a Wikipedia wormhole the other day I found myself reading about cell biology. How do the cells that make up our bodies actually work? Certainly you’ve wondered the same thing! Anyway, I learned that our cells have membranes with selective permeability. Certain substances, like water, nutrients, CO2 and oxygen are allowed to pass in or out of the cell in order to keep it healthy. It’s an amazing process occurring constantly in our bodies and we hardly know it is happening. It is also an amazing analogy.
When I was a kid, my elementary school principal led us in a prayer at lunch time. And I was a Wiseman in the school Christmas pageant. And the cafeteria served fish every Friday. Christianity had tremendous access to the world around us, influencing laws, mores and holidays. The membrane between the church and society allowed the easy movement of our faith into the world around us. However, this openness has its risks. In many cases the membrane allowed easy movement – in both directions. What was practiced in the world around us was allowed into our churches because selective permeability was neglected. And the next thing you know gossip, bullying, consumerism and politicalism have all found a comfy seat in our pews. It’s no wonder churches across the country are rebooting into shopping centers and movie theaters.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing Chuck Gschwend, a church planter from Jonesboro. Chuck reminded me of an amazing Bible verse found in 2 Corinthians as Paul the apostle struggles with an unidentified personal problem: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in [your] weakness.” I’ll be the first to admit that I have weaknesses. And I’m happy to admit that anything worthwhile from my life does not originate in me but originates with God’s grace and power.
Here’s my point: God’s power is not the problem. It’s being weak enough to let His power find traction that is the problem. Our churches need to be extraordinarily safe, with selective permeability ferociously protected, so that we can give one another the opportunity to be weak. Because no matter what you are struggling with, you aren’t the first. And you aren’t the only one with struggles. So wouldn’t it be great if God would also create a safe place for us to let our guards down and help each other enjoy His grace and power? Fortunately for us, the same one who created galaxies and supernovas and mountain ranges also created bird’s nests, sleepy goats and safe, loving churches. And that is an analogy worth protecting.