Vacation plans: joining with some long-lost relatives

July 10, 2013 — 8 Comments

It’s that time of the year when people go away on vacation. We pack up the car or our airline-approved suitcase, and head off to a cherished holiday spot or a new adventure.

Mainly I think we want to get away from it all, all the must-dos, and have-tos that weigh us down. But I confess that for me too often this getting away has included my relationship with God. In a flash, I find myself rolling through my vacation without a thought of who He is or what He’s done, or how I need Him.

a former Unitarian meeting house in Boston, now an Evangelical Covenant church

a former Unitarian meeting house in Boston, now an Evangelical Covenant church

I’m not the only one. I recently read the episode in Exodus 33 where the Israelites make a golden calf while Moses is up on the mountain having an intimate talk with the Lord. It’s stunning how quickly they abandon their pledge to ” do everything the Lord has said.” [Exodus 19:8]. Before you know it, they are handing over their gold jewelry to Aaron and sacrificing burnt offerings to a statue.

I know that pull of wanting something tangible to worship. How often I have desired to see a spectacular display of God’s power, or to see Him face to face, or to hear His voice? I want to be done with faith, and instead, I’m presented with new challenges to deal with. But God has given us ways to encounter Him through our physical senses and within a larger spiritual body, His church.

Sometimes there's a baptism or dedication to enjoy

Sometimes there’s a baptism or dedication to enjoy

As I gather with fellow pilgrims, I have a chance to come into His presence and experience the fullness of who He is. In a gym or a cathedral, in a homogeneous group or in a foreign country, in a village or a city, I have the opportunity to offer a sacrifice of praise. No matter how exotic the locale, once I step inside, I’m with my spiritual brothers and sisters.

a Jesuit mission church in predominantly Buddhist Thailand

a Jesuit mission church in predominantly Buddhist Thailand

That’s one reason why I started to make an effort to attend a worship service whenever I’m away from home. I need to join with others to praise God, and to remind myself of His path, and His love, and His provision. Otherwise, like the Israelites, I can easily forget.

Worshiping with French-speaking Africans, in an apartment on the coast of Morocco

Worshiping with French-speaking Africans, in an apartment on the coast of Morocco

It’s never easy. I have to go to the trouble of finding a church. I usually decide on very earthly grounds of convenience like when the service is, how close it is to where I’m staying, and how similar it is to my home church. Next, I have to enter a strange space, and sit down surrounded by strangers. Sometimes I’m greeted warmly. Sometimes I’m ignored. Sometimes the style of worship is so different, it’s hard for me to focus on God. Sometimes I discover a theological quirk that sets my teeth on edge. Sometimes I don’t even understand the language.

Attending the evening service of an Arabic congregation--in the United States

Attending the evening service of an Arabic congregation–in the United States

At the same time, I’ve found that these experiences are often the most memorable part of my trip. On my spiritual tour, I get a glimpse of what God is doing in other places. I’m reminded that His family is a lot bigger than my local congregation. I see the faithfulness of other believers as they show up for their weekly worship. I learn creative ways they are sharing the love of Jesus with the people around them.

a Box of Love to be filled for someone in Los Angeles

a Box of Love to be filled for someone in Los Angeles

And what about those vacation Sundays where I don’t take the trouble to gather with others and worship my gracious Father? I can take comfort in His never-ending desire to restore those who fall. The truly amazing part of the golden calf episode is how quickly God was willing to forgive the Israelites. By the next chapter, He’s renewing His covenant with them. It’s as if He wanted to model what true faithfulness looks like.

a storefront mission church in Ireland that felt amazingly like my home church in Morocco

a storefront mission church in Ireland that felt amazingly like my home church in Morocco

What about you? What’s the most memorable worship experience you’ve had away from home? I’d love to hear about it.

And if you have the pleasure of worshiping at your home church this Sunday, be on the look out for long-lost relatives to welcome!

a little country church in the hills of Virginia

a little country church in the hills of Virginia

8 responses to Vacation plans: joining with some long-lost relatives

  1. 
    Elaine Pierce July 10, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I really resonate with this post. Last week we were in London, headed to the countryside to celebrate our oldest child’s wedding to his lovely British bride. We were in jet lag sunday morning and found ourselves up very early. We checked online and found that the original Alpha church was about a half hour walk from our hotel. What a wonderful experience it was to worship there! The rest of the day passed in a blur, but it made a difference that we took time to center on the God who loves us and longs to give us good things.

  2. 

    Recently we were invited to come celebrate the opening of the church building our friends of the Ukrainian congregation had built by themselves over the course of many years. It was large, immaculate, and homey all at the same time, and filled with worshipping families, many speaking English through interpreters. It was a slice of internationalism right here in Idaho. Joyous!

    • 

      What a great example of how one doesn’t have A to travel far from home to encounter God in a different place. And a great example of the US melting pot. Who knew there were so many Ukrainians in Idaho.

  3. 
    Abigail Dahoud July 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

    It is great to know that when we open our hearts, where ever we find ourselves we are blessed to meet our Brothers and Sisters in Christ so much that we will end up longing for Heaven our home.
    One of my experiences in a French -speaking country and how excited it was always to go and fellowship with others with very little understanding of French Language!
    Thanks for posting this Annie.

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