Is Church too often like a shell on the beach?

Still thinking about church and how attractive or unattractive it is to so many people. Some have been abused by leaders, others have been bored out of their minds, more than a few have observed the gap between what is said and how Christianity is practiced…. there’s so much negative.

Then I pause and wonder what is consistent in these responses? And it seems like we’re talking about shells on a beach. A shell can look absolutely beautiful on the outside (I used to pick up all kinds of colored shells above the high tide mark on South African beaches) but inside it is empty and hollow. Something is missing – and obviously in the  case of shells it is the living creature that once called the little cavity I am holding in my hand – home.

If churches are buildings – or only about people and programs it won’t be long before their beauty and relevance fades and they become hollow places chasing the echo of ‘what once was’. If I look at people in churches I become disillusioned very quickly… and I speak from many years of experience living and working with others and with myself. We disappoint, we change our minds, we talk sweet and act ugly, we are unreliable, we say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’…. and we let each other down – repeatedly.

That’s why Jesus is the only person we can truly give our hearts and lives to and utterly depend upon. Jesus is the living, vibrant life inside the shell… who transforms empty shells into beautiful sea creatures that move and swim, burrow deep, and weave exquisite patterns in the sand. I have discovered that when I hang out with Jesus I am more likely to experience passion, purpose, and the presence of a real and relevant God right up close. It’s that daily reality that enables me to loosen my grip on the expectations I have for my friends and strangers. Then I’m more gracious and compassionate. I’m more willing to accept that we are all growing or dying, pressing in or running away… ebbing and flowing like the tide that carries the living creatures and the empty shells in the same wave up the beach.

Passion, power, and the presence of a living, joyful God – who is a friend as well as a mentor and coach, who is worthy of worship (my gut-deep emotional response) – who speaks today and heals sickness, opens eyes, empowers lame people to walk…. Who leaves me scratching my head asking, “How can this be?” Who bewilders and confuses me with mystery, who scares me with power, who embraces me with a love and acceptance I have found nowhere else, who tenderly speaks to me in my worst moments and who hoists me on his shoulders to see the view ahead….

When I am found by Jesus and I boast about him….. the stone gets rolled away and the empty shells of people and churches have a new hope of being filled with life again. I’m tired of complaining about empty shells…. that’s a no-brainer… I am excited about being part of the hope for the future to bring healing and encouragement that says…. Jesus is not dead, Christianity is not all corrupt and cynical. There is only one way, one truth, and one life….. in Jesus…. who loved us so much that he walked through disullusionment with me, died on a cross for all my negative stuff, and rose beyond death to breath into my empty shell a life that I could never have found or invented for myself. That’s good news….!

Empty shells echo the sound of an ocean that’s no longer there for them. Living shells move alive – with presence, power, and purpose.

John Cox

Christian Author

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