In the country song "The House that Built Me," Miranda Lambert sings of returning to visit her childhood home built by her father. The song begins with her addressing the lady who now resides in the home.
I know they say you can't go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma'am I know you don't know me from Adam.
But these hand prints on the front steps are mine.
From the hand prints in the front step concrete, she moves on to reflect in the song on the memories of how the home shaped her.
This weekend I returned to my home congregation of Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. Many of us enjoyed a delicious meal Saturday night, highlighted by lessons learned through the years by elder Tom Dinkledine. We were then joined on the Lord's Day by many other friends and former members of the church as we worshiped the Lord. Being back in the church building, certainly memories were stirred in being in the sanctuary and rooms where so much of my life, ministry, and family were shaped "by the house that built me." Sitting in the curved wooden pews, resting my hands on the familiar pulpit, enjoying a meal in the fellowship hall where I had experienced hundreds, stepping into my former study - all this opened up the album book in my mind, flashing its old photos across it.
Yet, as I explained to the congregation at the end of my message, it's not the church building but the temple that is the church that truly shaped me. My experience is not quite the same as in the song,
You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am.
Seeing the precious faces of people who have taught me, laughed with me, cried with me, worshiped Christ with me, received God's Word from me, and ministered to and with me reminds me of who I am. For it is the church, God's holy house, that builds, shapes, and defines us as His people. My students in my pastoral classes at RPTS can testify that the lessons I share with them and the person I am before them is in large measure defined by my time and experiences at Sycamore. The painting of the Sycamore building in my RPTS office, one I like to pause and smile upon on occasion, is just a symbol of the family and soul-shaping experience I had there.
However, as the song goes on, she explains why she came back home,
I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it's like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself...
For in the world that is the academy, one has to be diligent to not drift away from the value and importance of the local church, for which Christ shed His blood (Acts 20:28). The headiness of the attention, of being honored, of being called Doctor or President too much, can make you feel sometimes like you are "someone else", at least in the eyes of others. Going back home to Indiana, to those decades of time there, helps me remember who I am. A sinner saved. A servant to Christ. A brother to many.
As I told the congregation, what people need in this lost generation are not fancy buildings or yet another program. They need the gospel call to come home, to know the joy and love of belonging to the family of Christ, to have the assurance of life everlasting with God and one another.
The singer concludes,
Won't take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.
As I drove away, exchanging the open fields and skies of Indiana for the rolling hills of Pennsylvania once again, I took a memory. But I took away much more. The knowledge that the house that built me is itself just a picture, a glimpse, of that eternal house I'll one day never have to leave.
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