My beautiful wife and I had the pleasure recently of leading a couple’s retreat on an island just off British Columbia’s mainland. It was a glorious weekend—sans kids for us—with glorious blue skies and majestic panoramic views of the coastal mountains. Precious memories.
Nine other couples participated in the weekend. Some, like us, have been married for several years, with grey hair to show for it. Others, however, have been married less than a year. Cynics among us might wonder why they already needed a retreat—they haven’t even come up against reality yet!
You might be surprised to know they were deeply inspiring. There was a joy, a wonder, a refreshing spark that they brought to our gathering. In fact, one of the big takeaways for me was a renewed sense of the glorious mystery that drives us from our fathers and mothers into the arms of someone so different in every way. We left renewed by what we witnessed of the way of young man and his maiden.
The experience left me pondering something else, though. I’m struck by how many North American Christians—particularly those who grew up “churchified”—have lost their sense of the glorious mystery of salvation. One begins to wonder if we ever grasped it deeply enough in the first place.
A few months ago our church hosted our city’s biker church. Tatooed, mustachioed, bicep-bulging former “tough-guys”—and “tough girls”—worshipped God in full voice, confessing their joy in salvation. One middle-aged man, once feared when he went riding by, cried like a baby describing how surrendering his life to Jesus gave him the joy of knowing how to love. His family was there, all equally weepy, as they embraced shamelessly in light of the mystery of the love of God for sinners. The long-time “churchified” in the room were moved, but struggled to find a similar frame of reference. There was something so beautiful about young love.
We are sinners without hope in the world apart from the grace and mercy of God. It seems we have forgotten this. It seems we are so determined to solve every problem that we have forgotten in all our churchiness what it is to be the bride who is loved and who loves. Jesus’ trinity of piercing questions to Peter should trouble us deeply: “Do you love me?” (John 21:15, 16, 17). Do we love him? Or are we just playing organizational politics and religious roulette? Peter was ashamed because of his betrayal, but Jesus calls to his heart. He is still calling.
The church of Ephesus sounds awfully familiar in this light. Hard-working, persevering, always testing the pervading voices and surviving great hardship. Jesus says they’re a commendable lot. However, not all is well: they have forsaken love. Not love for the marginalized, or love for those who have no voice, or love for justice or love for a pet-project or religious observance. The Ephesians have forsaken the main thing: love for Jesus. They had developed amnesia regarding the mystery of grace and mercy that first overwhelmed them like a warm flood (Revelation 2:4). It was this love-forsakenness that required repentance. This love-forsakenness risked snuffing them out.
Are we, the “good-deeds-churchified,” in the same peril? Do we love him? Are we known for our love of God? Are we star-struck lovers still? If not, it seems repentance is required.
Phil Wagler (email@example.com) lives in Surrey, B.C., home of Solid Rock Biker Church. He is yearning for that first love to stay warm.