A few weeks ago at a training meeting for our Small Group Leaders we had a time of prayer.
I joined up with two of our leaders who were headed to the parking lot to pray and it hit me:
The parking lots of our churches and ministry sites are part of the battle ground in our spiritual warfare.
This might just be another crazy theory I have, but I’m biased and would beg to differ, obviously.
Think about it.
Think about all the times you have come to church rushed, angry, upset, frazzled, tired, worn out, distracted or distraught.
Some of us come into the parking lot with all of those emotions rumbling around in us at once.
We get out of our cars and put on a facade that we have it all together.
I’m not saying that everyone does this, but I am saying a lot of us can fake it really well.
We fake it because church is the place where we are supposed to be at our “christian best”, where our faith is all spit polished and ready for inspection.
Parking lots then become our dumping ground. A place to check our sins and bad habits, leaving them in our glove boxes and trunks.
Walking in with only our gold star achievements of the Christian life.
When I worked at the boarding school I was blessed with the opportunity to take the boys to church.
Nothing opens your eyes to the idiosyncrasies in a church like when you bring a guest, let alone a whole crew of them.
One idiosyncrasy in particular that came up was appropriate language one should use when inside a church.
Now we all know there are things you just don’t do at church, just like we all know that there are
things that ladies don’t say or do especially when you are in a dress, like spitting.
I have to give the kids credit because their reply was something along the lines of “Why is church any different? We shouldn’t cuss no matter where we are, not just in church.”
They understood that they needed to be authentic all the time and that character is not defined by mere location.
Deep for middle school kids, right?
There are certain behaviors that we modify when we are in church, because we think that the church building is a sacred and hollowed place.
And part of that is good.
It is good that Church is a place where we enter into corporate worship, where two or three are gathered in God’s name and He is there also.
Church should be respected and held in reverence, but not the building.
It isn’t about the location, it is about the Body of Christ coming together.
We often forget this and compartmentalize our faith to being at its best inside the four walls of our local place of worship.
Once we are outside those doors though, everything is fair game.
When we head back to our cars those same struggles, worries, distractions, frustrations, temptations, hurts and wounds are still there, sitting and waiting ever so patiently for us to pick them back up.
And we do!
We put them back on as a burden that we alone have to carry.
We take off the mask that tells people everything is o.k.
We continue the argument we had on the way to church.
We sometimes act as if we never walked in the building at all.
We let our guard down because what could happen in the parking lot?
It is a place of no significance.
We unwisely remove any and all spiritual armor.
After all it is just the parking lot.
It isn’t sacred.
God isn’t present.
The parking lot is key.
It is here that we enter into the spiritual battlefield.
It is the place where we first face the world and all its woes after leaving a place of fellowship, communion and encouragement.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that God isn’t present in the parking lot.
If He was present in the manger, why not here?
Frederick Buechner tells us that we are never safe from God:
Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully. (Buechner, The Hungering Dark p.13-14)
I know I quote this particular passage of Buechner’s work quite often, but there is just something I can’t shake in this depiction of God. It is something so wonderfully awful and so shockingly real about a God I all too often tend to compartmentalize in the mystic, vaporish section of the world. The thought that I will never, can never be safe from His presence and His love is overwhelmingly redemptive and shames me to my core when I get the strange notion that I am unknown and looked over. The truth that God Almighty not only knows me but never, ever is far from me and that I can never escape Him is powerful. It is on this that the foundation of my faith is built. It is on this fact of His love and in Him that I move and breath and have my being (Acts 17:28) . There is no place too unholy, too undignified, too insignificant, too far from His presence where we can be rescued.
He showed up in the desert, in a bush of no significance and His presence burned, but did not consume the bush.
He makes the mundane significant.
He makes the ugly and unimpressive, fantastically fascinating.
He shows up in bathrooms, parking lots, whale bellies, back alleyways, shanties and drug houses.
He comes into undignified places and makes them sacred.
He has no limits and no place is out of his reach.
So why on earth do I not expect Him to be present in the parking lot?
It is time to be authentic.
Time to walk into fellowship as we are, but not content to stay that way.
Fellowship needs to be real but it cannot be static.
We need to grow and be challenged.
This requires vulnerability, not complacency.
So empty out the glove boxes and by all means relieve your emotional car trunks of all that junk (yep, I went there).
Walk into your churches as you are and demand true community, real accountability.
Then brace yourselves because once those flood gates are open there is no telling what God will unearth in your life.
You will never be safe from Him again, but the good thing is you will never want to be safe from Him again.
It is time to take an inventory of the places I have seemingly closed off from God.
Time to bulldoze those walls and silos I have sectioned off from Him.
Everything is laid bare and nothing will be overlooked.
The very best Seeker is far from done with seeking me out and saving me in the midst of my disgrace.
When all is lost, He isn’t.
So now is the day when defenses fall and parking lots become centers for worshipping the God who is present especially in the hopelessness of this weary world.