After a long dry spell, the rain was welcome. My family and I watched the huge drops fall on our thirsty lawn and the struggling dogwood trees I had planted earlier in the spring. We listened to the song the raindrops were playing on our roof. It was like experiencing nature’s musical ensemble.
The soothing rhythm of the rain-drop melody was rudely interrupted by a cacophonous, off-beat, out of sync crash. It was as if the kettle drummer or cymbalist in a symphony had stuck his instrument at the wrong time. With this single clap of thunder, the house lights went out.
It was late in the evening when the power company arrived to restore the electricity. A 1.5-million-volt lightning bolt had melted our transformer, and the three-man crew and their equipment would need access through our yard to replace it.
It was nearly 10 p.m. when the crew moved their equipment into the work area in our yard. They told me that the three of them had worked together on the same crew for almost 30 years. I asked if I could hang out and watch them work.
I spent the next five hours fascinated by how well the crew worked together. These three men knew each other so well that they sometimes seemed to function as one person. They gave me a small sense of how the Father, Son, and Spirit relate. They even drew me into their relationship. I loaned them a shovel and helped them take down a part of a fence that was blocking access to the work site.
They were three close friends and they were just enjoying being themselves and sharing the joy of their friendship with me.
They finished at 3 a.m. As I helped them load up their tools, one of the men asked me the question I had hoped all night would not be asked.
“What do you do for a living?” Cornered and on the spot, I said, “I’m a pastor.” With those words everything we had shared that night ended. All three men stiffened, and one even corrected his posture, as if he were not standing straight enough to be in the presence of a “minister.” In a flash the conversation turned superficially religious. They became nervous and not at all like the comfortable, relational people with whom I was interacting earlier. It was as if they had gone from real people to plastic and fake robots. Instantly and automatically I had been excluded from their circle of friendship.
Religion does that to people. It makes them think that being real, being really human, is either wrong or not good enough. It teaches us to be ashamed of or embarrassed about who we are. It teaches us that God is around only when we’re acting or thinking “religiously.”
This is all wrong. The gospel is not religion; it is good news. It teaches us that God is always present with us in all the “everyday” things we do, and that he loves being with us. The Son of God became flesh, one of us, Jesus, because God values us in every detail. In Jesus, who is our life (Colossians 3:4), we are redeemed, made righteous and brought into the love and the joy of life he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
We are no more or less in the presence of God at church than we are at any other time in our lives — working, enjoying life and in our interactions with loved ones, friends, co-workers and people we have just met. If we truly live and move and have our being in Jesus (Acts 22:17), then are we not always in his company?
That means we are free to be ourselves everywhere and anywhere, all the time. We can be ourselves when we’re fixing transformers. We can be ourselves when we’re cracking jokes and making new friends. And we can be ourselves in the company of pastors.
We can even be ourselves with God.
Bill Winn is the pastor of the Richmond Grace Fellowship church in Richmond, Virginia.
Author: Bill Winn