Seeing and Hearing God – Joyfully – Beyond Church Walls

Is God INSIDE the walls, or OUTSIDE?

One of the best parts of the Christmas story is when we encounter those two old folks named Simeon and Anna waiting, waiting, longing, looking for Jesus.  They’re the one’s who see him for who he is when Mary and Joseph bring him in for dedication, while the religious elite miss him entirely.  I’ve preached on this text more than once, always trying to make the point that we need to read our Bibles with a view towards looking for Christ and respond to his wooing call, pointing out that people who spend lots of time in church run the risk of knowing their Bibles, but not knowing in any intimate way, the Person to whom the text points.  We should be showing up, reading our Bibles, and looking for Christ in all that’s revealed there.  And yet – what if there’s more to the story?  

What if Simeon and Anna’s passion to see Christ isn’t just a call to develop some habits of spiritual formation in the areas of Bible study and prayer?  What if they’re also inviting us to look for hints of God’s glory everywhere?  What if we begin to walk through our days looking for God’s truth, beauty, longing, and glory in everything we see, so that Radiohead on Pandora, and Van Gogh, Sounders soccer and reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier are all sermons, texts God is using to preach to us?

If that were true, then the God of the Bible jumps off the pages of the book, and begins speaking to us in the midst of our daily lives, both through the arts we enjoy and the daily experiences of living at work, at the hospital, in the classroom.  We become Simeon’s and Anna’s, looking intently at the world in which we live, seeking to see what the living God can show us in all of life because we believe that God is speaking through all of life.  The world opens up to us, not as a scary place, but as a place where God is already at work, right in the midst of the beauty and brokenness.  Our scripture reading then, becomes a lens through which we’re able to look at our world and find what God is saying through “our own poets” even as Paul found God’s truth in the poets of his day.  Scripture informs life – AND life illuminates scripture, a concept my friend develops so wonderfully in this book I’ll be reviewing soon.

The sacred/secular division is one of the most damning heresies ever foisted on humankind by a weak church.  It’s what led John Muir’s preacher/father to write to him, after reading one of John’s articles about his encounters with God through the glories of nature in Yosemite, “You cannot warm the heart of the saint of God with your cold icy-topped mountains.  O, my dear son, come away from them to the Spirit of God and His holy word, and He will show our lively Jesus unto you….and the best and soonest way of getting quit of the writing and publishing your book is to burn it, and then it will do no more harm either to you or others.”  No wonder John Muir left the church while continuing to give glory to God as the source of all beauty, abundance, and provision in creation.  How many young people have been scared away from science because they came to a crossroads, having been taught that they had to make a choice between a 6000 year old “Biblical” earth, and a much older “secular” view of origins?

The church has often been afraid of “the world” because verses like this and this – afraid that somehow if we don’t preach about the evils of the world and call for withdrawal, Christ followers will be destroyed by the world.  This view, though, ignores Jesus words, Paul’s example, and the truth that mature believers aren’t hiding in isolationism, afraid of getting stained by going to a museum or a rock concert.  They’re called, instead, to look for the unseen in the seen, to look for the light of truth in the midst of our beautiful and broken world.  How do I know this?  

1. Because humans are God’s image bearers.  Though terribly marred, it remains true that we all humans have a capacity in them to represent the glory of God through their work and life.  “Unsaved” people go to dark places to serve, just like Christians do.  They donate kidneys, work to stop human trafficking, feel a tingling in their souls when they encounter nature’s beauty, and create art that can make you weep with joy.

2. Because God has placed eternity in our hearts.  This means that, in different ways, each of us have longings that point us to God.  The film “In a Better World” reveals the director’s and writer’s longing for a world where people treat each other with respect by revealing the darkness that’s woven into the whole world because the darkness is woven into all of us.  The movie preached a sermon to me about justice, and the power of loving one’s enemies, and the need for wisdom.  “As your own poets have said” says Paul.  They’re preaching to us – all the time.  We just need to wake up and pay attention.

I’m presently doing research for a sermon series whose working title is “Every Square Inch”.  We’ll look at various vocations, maybe a band or movie or two and look for God’s text in life and God’s text from His book.  The working title is based on this statement by Abraham Kuyper:  “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!‘”  

Indeed.  It’s all God’s.  Wherever you’re going after you read this post, God’s already there, revealing Himself though real life, flesh and blood, art and music, rivers and sunsets.  I hope we can learn together, in the coming days on this blog, how to read the two books together.  To start the conversation, I hope some of you will answer this question:

Where, recently, have you encountered God’s eternal truth outside of formal worship services and Bible study?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • donna

    Glacier Point 9/9/09 overlooking Yosemite Valley. The beauty of His handiwork was literally breathtaking and brought immediate tears to my eyes. If He could craft such beauty out of granite, how much more can He do through each of us?

  • Matthew

    I have started to regain my love of books and stories that I had in middle and high school; especially fantasy books, where stories that are “unreal” and can sometimes be seen as an escape from this world have a power to captivate me that compares to nothing else.

    I avoided them for a few years because they were variously not cool to be seen reading and a waste of time, too shallow to give my attention to. I have started to think that the elements of the book that act so powerfully on my imagination speak of truths and longings that God has put in me, that he has put in all of his creation. Archetype and allegory may be powerful not because they tie lots of things together from English class, but because they tie together the different “sectors” of life that we try to separate.

  • Rob Hager

    Hello Richard,

    well, actually … in listening to a certain avantgarde black metal band called Paysage d’Hiver. Not christians, but so beautifully intense … truly, we ALL are created after God’s own image, if we’ve recognized it personally yet or not. Live is strangely mysteric and beautiful and many people touch truth in some way. Man, I’d love to have Jesus come back right now and “take us all in”, explain, reconcile, be there.

    Anyway. It’s late, but one thing bugs me still. Rich, I love (to listen to) you, man. Be it once a year in Bodenseehof or over Bethany’s online sermons. You are our family’s pastor so to speak. ;) BUT, why do you also have to start coming down on those creationist folks. Yeah, I know it’s not the center of the world (or faith for that matter) but those folks are sincere and make sense (to me). Ah well … if you ever wanted to discuss over a glass of homemade wine at the camp fire, just ask Heinz for crazy Rob next time you come to Bodenseehof ;)

    Ok, for those who want to witness God’s beautiful creation in so-called-secular music check out Paysage d’Hiver, Sigur Ros and Lisa Gerrard (oops, she became a Christian over the years … :)

  • Megan

    This was a lovely essay. Thank you. I was in line at the grocery store behind a sleeping baby. I was thinking how angelic sleeping babies are. Then this little thing opened her eyes and smiled at me — a big toothless, open smile. I felt a moment of God love in that smile and, of course, I couldn’t help but smile too.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X