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In May 2016, my wife and I were privileged to have a few days to drive around the Olympic Peninsula on the ocean side of the state of Washington. Olympic National Park is there and it is the location of a unique temperate rainforest which has an unusual ecology. Equally interesting is the rugged Washington coast. Over long periods of time, the ocean has carved out unique features on that coast. One of these can be easily seen at Ruby Beach where there are some features called “haystacks.”
Haystacks are caused when rock layers have soft rock under hard rock, and the ocean erodes the soft rock. Eventually, the undercut area will collapse leaving a cliff. Sometimes a geologic disturbance such as a lava flow or a compression fracture will isolate a section leaving a small island which looks like a Nebraska haystack. Originally these islands were very much like the mainland, but through the years a whole new ecology has developed on the haystacks.
As I studied the haystacks at Ruby Beach, I could see that the flora and fauna were very different from what was present on the mainland. Dogs, cats, foxes, wolves and humans found it virtually impossible to get on top of the islands due to the cliffs and rough weather. The steep walls protected the island from human pollution, graffiti, vandalism, and interference. I have since read studies showing that insect populations on the haystacks are unique.
The blessing of isolation appeals to me and reflects what I believe God had in mind for the church. When I am in the presence of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am free from the predators that I face at work or on the street. I am also free from the pollution of sin and all the material things that come at me when I am struggling with life in the secular world. God intended for the worship hour to be a time when his children could focus on things that give separation from the stress and strain of daily life. Material things, politics, sexual issues, power struggles, family issues, financial concerns, medical needs, etc., are all left behind. They are replaced with focusing on the things we have to be thankful for as well as the blessing of being promised something better in the future.
For most of us, this idealized discussion is not reality. Congregations have allowed the challenges of the world and daily living to invade the worship hour. We saw one haystack where someone had built a walkway to the top of the haystack, so there was a path from the mainland to the haystack summit. This haystack looked just like the mainland. It had very few birds, and lots of beer cans, waste paper and plastic were everywhere. I could see a cat stalking a seagull and a dog chasing a ground squirrel. The haystack had lost its isolation and the world flooded in. There was even a sign nailed to a tree advertising a local restaurant. Once a congregation loses its focus on Christ and his teachings, the benefit of worship is severely reduced. The world floods in, issues cause division, and conflict arises. Worship is no longer a time of retreat and a place of freedom from the pressures of the world. Sermons dealing with the issues of the modern world dominate.
The above discussion is not to say that issues of human needs and the struggles of life have no place in the church. What we are discussing is the object of the worship assembly. Benevolence, church discipline, resolving personal conflicts, how to deal with sexual temptation, and developing families that bring stability and right living to all family members are all things to study and teach; but it is important to have a refuge to flee to when life gets rough. In the first century church, there were times for teaching and correcting — usually in a small group setting. When Paul wrote to Timothy he dealt with the challenges that come to us in evangelism. He concludes the letter by telling Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). All Christians need to read and act on the things Paul wrote about in his letter to Timothy. Still, we need a place we can go to where we do not have to deal with Satan’s pollution. Hebrews 10:23 – 25 tells us “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Top and cover photos: © Tobinakehurst. Image from bigstockphoto.com
© staceyb. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Andrushko Galyna. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© Kris Wiktor. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Kris Wiktor. Image from BigStockPhoto.com