I am writing this from Durham. There are Durhams in Canada, the United States and likely other countries, but there’s only one original, in the far north-eastern corner of England, just below a wall the Emperor Hadrian built to keep unwanted immigrants out.
Durham is notable for many things. It is one of the birthplaces of Christianity in this country, with an illustrious Christian history going back to the time of St Cuthbert in the seventh century, who is buried in the cathedral. The cathedral itself is almost a thousand years old and is one of the finest pieces of architecture in Britain, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. How they built it with nothing more than muscle power is beyond me. The castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Europe, and I lived in it myself for a year several eons ago.
And for me, Durham was the place where God encountered me, gave me a true understanding of what the church should be, and afforded me the privilege of leading a small but radical group of young people who planted a local congregation which did not look like any other church in town. It was the place where I made many lifelong friends, and most importantly, met my wife Elaine.
It was a place where I learned obedience, where I refused to compromise my faith no matter what the cost (and there was one), and the place where my heart was stirred to pursue the kingdom of God relentlessly.
For me, coming to Durham is like coming home. And this in spite of the fact I was born in Canada and lived there for only six years. Why is that?
I think the answer is this. Home for the Christian is often the place where God most radically encountered you. It’s the place where your life was set on course and where you developed convictions that have carried you through since. It’s way more than a sentimental liking for a place that has fond memories for you.
And for me, it is reinforced by the fact that God is still working in the church I originally started. In fact, it has grown beyond recognition both in its local expression and in the impact it has had in planting churches and in sending out people around the world.
Coming back this week to help encourage the latest church planted out from Durham takes me back to the same foundations so much of my life has been built on. And it’s a great joy.
Where is home for you? My wife Elaine occasionally makes the observation that some people are born and raised and live their whole lives in the very same place, and wonders what that would be like given our own different experience.
But for the Christian, home is very frequently that place on earth where God encountered and shaped us. In a deeper sense, this points us to the fact that in truth home is the place where we will live and dwell with him forever.
Peter tells us we are only sojourners on earth. We are “resident aliens,” just like the government document said I was when I was a Canadian living in Chicago attending seminary.
Our true home is not on this earth at all. The only reason why an earthly place feels like a spiritual home is that the same God who met us there is waiting for us at the end of our earthly journey.
Sometimes we feel that our whole life has been a journey moving ever farther away from home. In fact, our whole life is a journey in which we draw ever closer to home. And those places God has met us on the way become reminders of this.
It’s pointless to try to cling on to earthly securities and the home we have here. But along the way, it’s still comforting to know there are places on this earth that remind us of the great reward that is yet to come.