Recently, I was honored to share in retreat settings with two groups of Nazarene pastors and spouses in the span of two weeks. The two venues couldn’t have been more different, but some striking similarities emerged.
The first was in Baton Rouge, LA and took place in Baton Rouge First Church of the Nazarene with attendees staying in a nearby Holiday Inn. The second was, of all places, on a cruise ship in the Atlantic between Port Canaveral, FL and Nassau, The Bahamas.
Aside from terrific times of fellowship and lots of tasty food shared with both groups, another more significant theme was evident. Although the surroundings were quite dissimilar in appearance and location, one thing kept grabbing my attention – the presence of God!
I was moved deeply in the neatly maintained traditional surroundings of Baton Rouge First. The symbols of the Church were a visual reminder of our faith. Songs were sung, scripture was read, and challenging, encouraging messages were shared. It was typical of what I hope happens every time I enter a sanctuary constructed for the purpose of worshiping God.
The very next week I was again moved to tears as we gathered. Only this time we met in a showroom on the cruise ship. There was a stage with a disco ball overhead. It was the room where wannabe singers did karaoke and would-be high rollers played bingo. There were none of the physical affectations of the church in Baton Rouge, but I was the same spirit of God at work.
As we sang “Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone,” I was as much in the presence of God as I’ve ever been in any church building. And the idea of redemption was brought home to me in resounding tones. God not only redeems our lives, but He is also in the business of redeeming the places we find ourselves.
Sometimes it’s easy to get so caught up in the machinery of the work of the Church and its institutions that the purpose for which we exist is sort of lost in the process. We were created for fellowship with, and the worship of, our Creator. Where and when it happens is not exclusively contingent on the perfect building or physical environment.
Both retreats closed their final corporate gatherings with Holy Communion. The Lord’s Table was arranged in a church building one week and a concert venue/bingo parlor the next. And both were equally beautiful and perfectly fitting because the presence of God is only bound by the borders of our own hearts and minds.
I love beautiful church buildings. I am often transfixed by the story of God displayed in the stained glass windows of Trevecca Community Church of the Nazarene, my home church for most of the last 30 years. But I am also amazed when I see the hand of God, and when I hear His voice, in places that many would think are anything but holy.
As disconcerting as it is sometimes, it is also quite comforting to know that God is always with us. He is forever redeeming and restoring us in preparation for that ultimate “heaven come to earth “ day.