I love mountains, my wife loves the ocean. This year we went to the mountains in southwestern Colorado and came across a beach-like setting near Alamosa.
Behind me in the pic above are the gigantic sand dunes of the Great Sand Dunes National Park that are over 600 feet high. Here’s how the Lincoln-Mercury Times described them in 1954:
“You see something that is half mirage, half illusion . . . it bears no relation to the landscape, no kinship with the green fields of the San Luis Valley, the red cliffs or the snow-capped peaks that rise above it. It is sand, more sand than you ever saw in your life, sand hundreds of miles from any lake or sea, rising eight hundred feet above the valley floor. . . a gigantic incongruity in the Colorado mountainscape.”
As my wife and I walked toward the dunes, we came across a very wide, shallow river flowing across the sand. Individuals and families were playing in it like they do at a beach. It flowed in waves, varying in depth from an inch to a foot or so.
We took our shoes off and began to wade across the very wide river as the waves rolled over our feet. A spirit of playfulness and joy fell on us as we frolicked in the waves. The river was full of people having fun in the water and sand.
Here’s how The Rocky Mountain News described the river in 1932:
“The Medano is one of the unexpected mysteries of the dunes. Its cold and shallow waters flow with a definitely perceptible motion, wave-like and reminiscent of tidal waters.
As my wife and I played in the beech-like setting, we felt a wonderful awareness of God’s love, beauty, and presence. We were so moved that water even flowed from our eyes. We felt like the Medano was an illustration of how God wants to flow in and through His people.
Maybe God doesn’t want to be contained and controlled in a narrow church meeting. Perhaps He wants the flow of His Spirit to be wide and uncontained–free flowing–spontaneously releasing joy, celebration, and even playfulness. Just maybe God doesn’t want people to sit as spectators, passively watching someone talk about the Spirit. Perhaps He wants people to take their shoes (man-made protocol and tradition) off and to wade out into His free-flowing Spirit celebrating as they go.
When Christ-followers gather to worship, perhaps there should be “a gigantic incongruity” in the way we meet together verses the way society holds meetings. Running though the New Testament there is a free-flow like the Medano River. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit and you see it in the book of Acts, in the 50+ “one another” commandments, in the interactive worship style commanded in 1 Corinthians 14:26.
In the New Testament, church meetings were not anything like a stagnant swamp. Instead they were unprogrammed, unpredictable, and Spirit-prompted. Rather than silently sitting through a service, the early Christians splashed together in the stream of God!
Did God lead us to the dunes? It was the last day of our trip and my wife and I almost didn’t go to the sand dunes. They were a bit out of our way and we were both tired. We could have easily driven by. However, stopping at a store, I thought I would at least ask directions to the dunes. The clerk looked at me dumbfounded, as if she had never heard of them. However, the customer in front of me turned around and said; “I’m going right by the turn-off to the dunes, follow me and I’ll lead you there.” As he neared the turn-off, he flashed his lights so that we couldn’t miss it.
When we arrived at the Visitor Center Gift Shop, we saw a T-shirt with the image below on it. It read “Soak up the sunshine (I read it Sonshine), Stay loose, Keep moving, Embrace winds of change, Make positive ripples, Don’t get carried away (with routine), Show your true grit.”
Those words match our vision of participatory church at The Salvation Army Berry Street in Nashville, Tennessee, where for more than 7 years we have been holding “unprogrammed, unpredictable, and Spirit-prompted” meetings every Sunday morning at 10:45 at 225 Berry St., 37207. If you are a resident or a tourist in Nashville, come jump in the beach-like waters with us!