The Incarnation demonstrated that our fear of God was a perception on our part, rather than what God wanted or deserved. Jesus was among humanity and no one ran away in terror. What God had lost in Eden, he was finding again—a home among his Creation.
The temples, cathedrals, and even our “church” buildings represent the opposite of that reality. They were designed to create a sacred space that would elevate God beyond human engagement, to leave us feeling insignificant in his eyes instead of empowering us to draw near to him in confidence. The Incarnation proved that God wanted to inhabit all of life with us and make our homes, workplaces, and recreation sacred because he would be with us in them.
That was Stephen’s point when he declared to the mob ready to kill him, “The Most High does not live in houses made by men.” (Acts 7:48) Perhaps nothing is more scandalous about the Incarnation than that the holy God could live joyfully among broken humanity, and nothing more amazing about the New Covenant than that God wanted to take up residence in the human heart. Jesus never wanted an opulent building to be the enduring image of his church. He wanted a living temple made up of men and women from all over the world who have abandoned their agendas to embrace his.
“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) This is no physical building that Paul describes; it’s just the metaphor. For the first three hundred years of the church’s existence, no one thought of the church as a building and no one thought to build one. His temple is alive, beginning in an individual’s heart and then knit into a worldwide network of interconnected lives whose very relationships put on display the glory of the Lord. There’s no way human effort can build that, and all our attempts have fallen woefully short.
This is a long-running theme in Scripture. God wants to invite us into his reality and we keep trying to create our own for him. It started in a garden with Adam and Eve’s desire for knowledge apart from their relationship with him. It continued when Israel wanted a king rather than to trust God to lead them. Whenever they were under threat they counted horses and chariots to measure their chances in battle, unable to believe that God with them was greater than all the resources they could muster. Now the focus is on the church, and whether or not we truly believe it is something only Jesus can build.
The above is taken from Chapter 12 of Finding Church: “Not Made With Hands.” This past weekend I spent time in Maryland with a larger group of people who had read and studied Finding Church and wanted to explore its themes with me. Over our two day together we meandered through some lovely discussions about God and his life among us. It was the final leg on an east-coast swing that began in Boston and ended in Baltimore. Over those 11 days I saw people from all over the spectrum of people learning to follow Jesus as a real person in the universe. Some were just starting, still questioning the religious obligation they had been raised to serve, others were much further down the road finding great freedom and joy in their life with him.
I find other people’s journey into this reality so inspirational. So many are navigating some painful and challenging circumstances with Jesus as a practical presence dwelling in them giving them hope and direction day by day. Some are attending more traditional congregations and others have long ago left them to find fellowship and mission in the world beyond them. Every time I travel I am deeply touched by the people God allows me to know in the world and the joy of helping people see a bit more clearly where Jesus might be leading them, rather than where religious rules and approval might drive them.
For all of us the joy of this journey is found in a growing trust in Jesus’ ability to work in us and to build his church in the world. Those who battle misery the most think they have to figure it all out and do by human effort what only he can do. Of course that will only lead to frustration and futility. The more we know we’re loved, the freer we will be to trust. These are not activities we have to find our way into. These are the realities he wants to win us into. As long as we’re stuck on trying to get God to do what we think best, trust will not grow in us. But where we begin to see that God is good and will do what is right, we can begin to recognize his whispers and fingerprints that draw us into so magnificent a love. And in that love, we know that God is for us and and is working in us even though we be walking through dark and uncertain circumstances.
It is my most passionate prayer for others. That they will stop looking at this life of Jesus as a religion they have to figure out, and learn to recognize him in the way he is working in and around them. Find that he you will be steadily won into his love, and into the trust that his ways are best even when we don’t understand them.
With him, there is nothing we can’t face, no challenge we can’t endure, and no circumstance that can destroy us.
Finding Church is available from Lifestream in printed form or by audio (with me reading) from iTunes and Audibles. It is also available in French, German, Dutch, and in Spanish as Encontrando a la Iglesia in free PDF Download.