Think of all the moments in your life that have had the most personal impact. If you isolate just one, what would it be? Where were you? Who were you with? What were you talking about? What decisions did you make in that moment that had a “course correction” effect on your life from that point forward?
I am struck by the variety of places and spaces where God chose to intervene in the Scriptures to provide course corrections for his people. Moses was tending sheep when God spoke from a bush that was on fire but not burning. Gideon was doing farmwork in a barn. Jesus was born in a stable. Ordinary, common, unspectacular places that became spectacular by the presence and intervention of God.
Only they didn’t. They remained as they were. Many believe it’s not the space that is spectacular but the moment in time. But we can’t capture moments in time and recreate them. But we can venerate space! We can hold a piece of earth, brick or mortar and worship it for the moment in time that it shared with us. I think this is the foundation of what the Bible calls idolatry. We cannot time travel literally so we attempt to do so figuratively by honouring places and spaces where the miraculous took place hoping it will happen again believing in part (unconsciously?) that a commitment to the space is a demonstration of our commitment to the event and our commitment to watershed moments in our history that the event gave birth to.
Idolatry then is man’s attempt to control the mysterious. Or at the very least, give it a nudge every now and then.
But historically, acts and movements of God are not restricted to spaces and places nor are they contained and localized in this way. I wonder if this is because of our tendancy towards idolatry or in spite of it. Peter spoke the way we all speak when we have experiences such as he did at the mount of transfiguration, “It is good for us to be here!” Peter went on to suggest that they erect tents and camp out; build a cathedral and hang out right there.
But Peter was wrong; the here didn’t matter. It was the who that mattered. The transfiguration of Jesus didn’t happen because of where they were; it happened because of who they were with. We get this wrong a lot. We think churches don’t grow or congregations don’t thrive for stupid reasons: “We don’t have enough parking; our chairs are uncomfortable; the sound system needs an upgrade.” It’s all location, esthetics and atmosphere. Stop it.
If we aren’t (through our words and actions) fostering an environment where it is believed that the spirit of God is every where and he intends to encounter us anywhere then we are not equipping people to serve the God of the Bible.
And if we overemphasize the importance of encountering God in a facility once a week designated for that purpose, could we be leading them into idolatry (“It is good for us to be here!”)?
Either way, it’s not where you are; it’s who you know.