Friday, May 30, 2008

The Great Outdoor Adventure

Summer is an amazing season in Colorado. The sky is breath-taking all day long, from the sunrise, to the crisp mid-day blue sky with spectacular white cloud formations, to the sunsets and vast starlit nights. The colors of trees and other plant life seem more vivid. The appearances and sounds of wildlife are everywhere. One of my colleagues on staff showed me a photo yesterday of two mountain lions drinking water out of a neighbor’s baby pool in their backyard. Blue heron, hawk and eagle regularly fly over our house. The nearby mountains beckon with all their beauty, majesty and grandeur. The air has a crisp freshness. The sun is warm and feels a mile closer than anywhere we have ever lived. All of it calls me outdoors. There are great adventures to experience and discover!

It is hard for me to be inside in the summer. Given the choice, I find someplace outside to study, read, prepare sermons and even to write a blog. (As I write this on my back patio, a hawk is circling overhead. Amazing!) When driving to an appointment, my windows are down. BBQs, afternoon hikes, bike rides, golf outings, camping and other excursions are on the rise. If I have to be inside, the outside door is often open. It is almost like all creation outside declares the glory of God and shouts “how can you stay inside at a moment like this?”

It is a question hard to argue with. I suppose one could try by saying it is safer inside. There are mountain lions out there! The intensity of the sun’s rays pose a constant threat. The altitude presents its hydration, respiratory and cardio challenges. You also never know who or what you might encounter “out there.” Maybe it’s better to stay inside and turn on the Nature or National Geographic channel. It’s amazing what you can discover in high definition from the comfort and safety of our own living rooms!

My cheek is beginning to hurt from the pressure of my tongue in it. Real threats need to be recognized and addressed. For most, however, they are no reason to stay inside. Two dimensional images even with high definition three-dimensional appearances are no match for the view, touch, smells and personal encounters of reality.

(There are obviously good and appropriate times to be inside. Privacy, access to necessary facilities and other reasons make times of being inside also important. For example, what can match the feeling of a family around the Thanksgiving dinner table or the romance of indoor intimacy with a spouse? There are wonderful times to be inside.)

There is something inside us made to be outside. We can get distracted by all the demands around us and miss the surrounding beauty that beckons us. I once met a guy who worked for the National Park Service who worked inside every day. It had the irony of a gas truck sputtering to a stop on the side of a road because its own gas tank ran out of fuel. God’s first command to Adam was to enjoy and take care of His creation (Genesis 2:15). All he knew was being outside.

Beyond the environmental implications, all of this makes me wonder what it means to be God’s people in the world. From the very beginning, God called Abram and his clan to have a special relationship with God.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. …All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

At the very heart of what it meant to be God’s special people was to be out-going (not to be confused with extroversion). Ironically, for Israel in the Old Testament and for God’s people today, there has been a preoccupation with being “inside.” For example, many “religious” people have gone to great lengths to define who is on the “inside” and who is not. Sabbath and dietary laws were an example in the Old Testament. They became visual determinants for who was in and who was not by whether or not the laws were observed. Jesus kept getting heat for breaking the insider rules by going outside to connect with people on the Sabbath. We have our own insider versions today.

Doctrinal and other clarifiers are important. However, the church’s preoccupation with inside language, definers and battles has kept us from our primary calling to get outside. This has been true for congregations and denominations. I wonder if we sometimes hide behind our insider issues as an excuse to keep us from the more difficult and important task of getting outside. Like a park service employee who spends all of his time inside, we miss the primacy of the very reason we exist. Meanwhile, the yearnings, languages and needs of the world around us have changed. The church’s previous maps and languages no longer relate. We stand inside trying to get others to come in. Their understandable question is: why? Two dimensional spirituality even with high definition three-dimensional appearances doesn’t compare with the view, touch, smells and personal encounters of reality.

It can be scary for insiders to go outside. That’s why we sometimes call our worship places sanctuaries, right? There are mountain lions outside (1 Peter 5:8-9)! The intensity of resistance can be a constant threat. You never know who or what you might encounter “out there.” Maybe it’s better to stay inside. Certainly we can control things more, even if what we control becomes irrelevant to the world Jesus died for. It’s amazing what we can experience in the comfort and safety of our own living rooms!

Again, my cheek is experiencing the pressure of my tongue. Real threats need to be recognized and addressed. For most, however, they are not only a reason not to stay inside – but the very reason God sends His people out. It is who we are and why we exist. Jesus relates to people where they live "out there." Jesus’ life relates to the deepest yearnings of the human heart! There is a marvelous inspirational challenge in the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order that reminds us that:

The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.

Book of Order, 3.0400

There is something inside us made to be outside. It is where we discover our identity, our faith, our life, our purpose and the power of God. Most of what churches do inside need little help from above. As mentioned, there are obviously good and important times to be inside. The book of Acts however tells us that even the “inside” life of the church is to have a profound impact on those outside – Acts 2:42-47.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the central event of human history. Through it, God not only redeemed the world from sin, but redeemed God’s people for their purpose. The resurrected Jesus reinstituted his defining call on God’s people when He said:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20.

It is almost like all creation declares the glory of God and shouts “how can you stay inside at a moment like this?” There are great outdoor adventures to discover and experience.

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