Building Bricks

BRICK BY BRICK

Do you remember the story of the three little pigs?  Each building a home for his future. One of straw, one of wood, and one of brick.  In this story, from the beginning we know what the pigs are building.  As outsiders, we can even use our collective knowledge to predict which of these houses will stand against the attack of the big bad wolf.

There are occasions where we will come upon a building a project and we have no idea what is happening.  We may formulate some guesses, but we don’t truly know until the identifying signs are in place.  So, we watch.  We wait.   My family and I have been experiencing a similar wait, in that we are anticipating a building.  We know that a new Chikfila is being built in our community.  However, there had never been any identifying information on exactly where it would be built.  We waited.  We watched for signs to go up, and any sudden appearance of construction equipment.  Eager anticipation for what we knew was to come, even when we didn’t know where or when.

Building something new can’t be rushed.  I find that in the occasions where I know what the building will be, I am far less patient with the process.  Particularly true when whatever the building is to become is something I want, enjoy, or will benefit my family.  Yet, when I don’t know what is being built… I have a patient curiosity.  It become almost a game of guessing what it could be.  Will I like it?  Love it?  Wish it was something else?  I don’t quite mind how long the project takes, because I am blissfully unaware at what I am missing out on.

There have been moments in my life, where God has placed me like an outsider reading a children’s story.  I can surmise how I expect the story to end.  Warning signs are clearly visible, experience tells me where the story will go, and I know enough about the characters to expect their response.

Sometimes, God gives me part of the story.  I may see where God is building something, but have no clarity on what it is, why we need it, or when it will be ready.  Or, I may know what needs to happen… without any other details.  In those moments, I watch as God lays each part of the plan into place, like bricks.  It is only when the work is complete that I can see the full scope of God’s handiwork.

Just like with building projects around our community, the more I know about them… the more eager and anxious I get for the project to be completed.  I’ve learned that a rushed blessing is hardly ever a full blessing.  Yet, when I’ve been patient and waited on God to show me, layer by layer… brick by brick… the end result is something far sweeter than I could have ever imagined.

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The lights are on, someone is home.

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My home is a modest sized house.  We have a detached garage, and a cement patio that sets between them.  Because of the location of our sliding glass doors on the house, and the outdoor laundry room doors from the garage, it barely has enough room to set up a seating area.  When our children were little, it was great for setting up little water tables, small slides, sandbox, or even putting out a small folding table for them to paint and craft on.

As the children got older, we would set up the small kiddie pools on the patio so they could have fun without my needing to be on top of them every moment.  Ages grew… and the patio became a vacant space that was home to plants and lizards.  Each morning, I would open up the sliding glass door to let the dog out… and the lizards would scatter like a stampede scene from Jurassic Park.

We covered the patio with a solar shade, in order to keep the temperature down in the house.  And, in the last 2 years we have set up a larger above ground pool on the patio for the family to enjoy.  In order to keep a clear passage through the doors we are limited on how large of a pool we can set up.  We make do.  Evenings can be quite warm, and it isn’t uncommon to find one of us out there are night begins to fall.  We added citronella candles to keep the mosquitos at bay.  This year, we added a string of edison bulb out door lights.

Honestly, the light it casts at night off the reflective blue pool is stunning.  It gives me such joy to see, and hopeful for the day we actually put a pool in the ground.  One morning, I stepped out side to prepare the pool for the day’s swim sessions.  As I was stepping toward our skimmer pole net, I heard a crunch below my feet.  At first, it appeared to be ice on the ground.  I knew that was not possible, and as I took a closer glance… it was glass.  Shattered glass all over the patio.

Upon further investigation we found one of the edison bulbs had shattered.  We didn’t quite know how it happened, but assumed that a gust of wind must have slammed the bulb into the gutters or soffits and cause it to break off.  Then, once it hit the concrete ground, it shattered into more pieces. Meticulously, we made sure all of the glass was swept up.  The bulb was replaced.  Light was restored.

A few days later, I was returning home from the store and the wind had picked up ahead of a storm.  I could hear the sound of something slamming on the patio and my first instincts were to check bulbs.  Sure enough, as I opened the gate to the patio, I could see that the wind had caught the solar shade causing it to slam up and down against the soffits of the house. In between the solar shade and the soffit?  The edison bulbs. 

We installed the solar shade to bring relief from the heat of the day.

We installed the edison bulbs to bring light into the darkness.

Each item, on it’s own was helpful and a good idea.  However, together, they were creating havoc and danger.  If a piece of glass punctured the pool, we’d lose all of the water.  The pool chemicals would probably hurt the grass.  If a bulb shattered, what about my children?  Would glass come flying at them?  Would it be on the ground unnoticed and stepped on by bare feet?  If the bulbs shattered and the shade kept slamming into them, would it shred the shade?  Could the shade catch on fire?  So many possibilities ran through my mind.

It reminds me of the scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:23:

Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible but not everything is edifying.

Something that this situation enlightened for me, is that independently some things (or people) may be good but when brought together it is not beneficial.  I can be friends with anyone, but that doesn’t mean I need to be friends with everyone.  Some personalities clash and can create a toxic environment.  It is ok to recognize that two good things don’t always belong together.

I remember speaking with a nutrionist.  I shared that every time I ate a certain dish, regardless of who made it, I felt ill.  Yet, I could eat all of the ingredients of that dish independently and I felt fine.  I asked her if it was possible that the combination of the items was making me ill.  She said, YES!  She reminded me of how some medications can’t be taken with certain foods.  It isn’t that food is bad, or that you can’t ever eat it.  However, you just can’t eat it while on this certain medication or within a certain time frame of taking the medication. 

This is just a reminder to be mindful of not just what you do, what you say, or who you spend your time with.  Also be aware that certain combinations of good things don’t always have pleasing results.  Learn what those bad combinations are, avoid them, and you’ll have a lot more peace in your life.

Proverbs 4

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Some mornings, I have much to say.  Other mornings, I have nothing to say but much to hear.  This morning, the Lord spoke to me through His Word…  a good chapter to meditate on…

Proverbs 4

1Listen, my sons, to the instruction of a father;

pay attention and gain understanding.

2For I give you sound teaching;

do not abandon my instruction.

3When I was a son to my father,

tender and the only child of my mother,

4he taught me and said,

“Let your heart lay hold of my words;

keep my commandments and you will live.

5Get wisdom, get understanding;

do not forget my words or turn from them.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will preserve you;

love her, and she will guard you.

7Wisdom is supreme; therefore acquire wisdom.

And whatever else you obtain, gain understanding.

8Prize her, and she will exalt you;

if you embrace her, she will honor you.

9She will set a garland of grace on your head;

she will present you with a crown of beauty.”

10Listen, my son, and receive my words,

and the years of your life will be many.

11I will guide you in the way of wisdom;

I will lead you on straight paths.

12When you walk, your steps will not be impeded;

when you run, you will not stumble.

13Hold on to instruction; do not let go.

Guard it, for it is your life.

14Do not set foot on the path of the wicked

or walk in the way of evil men.

15Avoid it; do not travel on it.

Turn from it and pass on by.

16For they cannot sleep

unless they do evil,

they are deprived of slumber

until they make someone fall,

17since they eat the bread of wickedness

and drink the wine of violence.

18The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

shining brighter and brighter until midday.

19But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom;

they do not know what makes them stumble.

20My son, pay attention to my words;

incline your ear to my sayings.

21Do not lose sight of them;

keep them within your heart.

22For they are life to those who find them,

and health to the whole body.

23Guard your heart with all diligence,

for from it flow springs of life.

24Put away deception from your mouth;

keep your lips from perverse speech.

25Let your eyes look forward;

fix your gaze straight ahead.

26Make level pathsa for your feet,

and all your ways will be sure.

27Do not swerve to the right or to the left;

turn your feet away from evil.

Tension

Tension

Tension is an amazing concept.  When running cables, you need tension.  But, not too much tension or too little.  If you have too much tension, the cable will snap.  Too little tension, and the cable will sag.  When you have just the right amount of tension, you will have strength and support.

Right now, if you are paying even the slightest attention, we are in a political diatribe that is full of tension.  Some sides are giving too much slack, other sides are pulling too taught of a line.  When you give too much slack on a topic, your arguments appear weak and unsubstantiated.  But, when you are too tight and taught, your argument isn’t going to hold under the pressure and will snap.

The truth is that whether you are sagging or too taught… you are being irresponsible.  If a team building a suspension bridge leaves too much sag, the bridge is not safe to cross.  If a person tightens the cables too much, the weight of the cars and pedestrians will cause it to snap and give way.  It’s not just irresponsible, it is dangerous.

When you are irresponsible and dangerous with your words, you are no longer credible.

So what is the RIGHT tension for conversation?  Especially on controversial subjects?

Someone once told me that compromise is when you come to an agreement and no one leaves happy.  I believe the right tension in conversation, especially about hot button topics, is when we don’t let emotions bring us to over react nor let defensiveness lead us to down play.  We look at facts as they are, and then have a good discourse on what the right options or actions would be.

However, our political climate as of late (and I’m talking the last several elections) has put us on extremes.  Everyone is quick to defend their candidate (almost at any cost),  quick to lambast the opponent (almost with reckless abandon).  One is sagged and lacking any tension, the other too taught.  Neither can support the weight of the real issue, and it becomes irresponsible dialogue.  You lose your credibility when you are unwilling to call a spade a spade and can’t admit wrongdoing.  You lose your credibility when you become so critical that a person can literally do nothing right without you finding a way to spin fault.   Without credibility, who is going to listen to you?  How are you going to make headway?

Since 1995, I’ve been a third party voter.  Every election I have voted outside the R & D lines.  I have yet to ever see one of my candidates in office.  Yet, I make a choice to have integrity in political conversations.  I choose to recognize the good, when it happens.  I choose to point out the bad, when it happens.  I can celebrate a POTUS’ actions, even when I didn’t vote for him, just as much as I can condemn them when necessary.

This is the RIGHT tension.

Empty Halls

Empty Halls

I have found myself on more than one occasion meandering through empty halls and empty buildings.  When I was in high school, I had a summer job working at a public school that was preparing to open in the fall.  I assisted the principal by taking documents from other schools and rewriting them with the information for the new school.  I would walk with him among the empty corridors as he listed off notes for me to take.  His voice would echo in the emptiness of the school, void of students.  Not only did it feel cold and empty, but the school seemed enormous.  In just a few months it would be teeming with life, as middle school students filled these empty halls and classrooms with energy and excitement. 

A few years later, I was assigned to help open up a brand new flagship store for the company I worked for.  This massive building set in an vast empty parking lot, was a blank slate.  White walls, white floor tiles, white shelves.  It was new, clean, and almost antiseptic feeling.  You could smell the fumes of the fresh paint and the cleaners we used to wipe down the surfaces.   Voices carried across the building only stopped by the few walls that portioned off the management offices, restroom, and breakroom.  In a matter of weeks, this building was filled with color and movement.  New employees being trained and prepared for opening day, products filling the shelves, and boxes of employee shirts being distributed brought color and vibrancy to the static white walls.  Opening day would unleash a tidal wave of customers ready to undo all of our hard work as they filled their carts with merchandise.

When our second daughter was born, our church was in the midst of a building project.  We had outgrown the small chapel on the church grounds and it was time to build a new sanctuary.  As a member of the ministry leadership, I had the opportunity to tour the building throughout the process.  A brilliant new stage, gorgeous stadium seating, warm inviting colors, and an architecturally beautiful building were just the by-product of the building’s purpose.  For years we had broken our body into four services to fit everyone and yet we were still growing.  We needed the space.  But, even more so, it was the desire of the Pastors to bring the body back into ONE congregation.  Spanning four services in a single morning, we found that few people from the first service knew the people from fourth service.  We were a church family that could only know one fourth of it’s members.  It was time to unite the body.  As leadership, we would walk through that building filled with hope.

We hoped that the new children’s ministry rooms would be able to hold all of the babies that were being born into our church.  We prayed that the classrooms would serve our study groups well.  We talked about new ministry opportunities that the building would allow us to meet.  We dreamed about the future of this seventy five year old church, and the new generations that would call it home and family.  Our dreams were that of a church so indwelled in our community, that our church would be like a home to the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the stranger.  Providing more seats at the table, and doors that welcomed them in to become part of our church family. 

I remember lunches on the church lawn after service, fall festivals, Christmas musicals, and Easter egg hunts on the grounds.  We offered our old chapel to a local Haitian Church, and occasionally they would invite our church to fellowship meals after their services.  Family dinners, Women’s brunches, Men’s breakfasts, recovery groups, youth group nights, Awanas, etc. filled our church calendar.  We built a wonderful community that has left a pivotal mark on my mind and heart on what a church should be and should feel like.  In fact, when we moved it became the litmus to my heart. 

This is what church family is, this is what our hearts long for when we come together and corporately worship.  Not a fast food injection of a momentary handshake, quick side hug, or kind words shared at the coffee station.  Rather, deep conversations over a dinner table while breaking bread.  Laughter and tears shed, as we gathered for studies and fellowship with our family of faith.  There is something in our bodies that craves the community of the early church that has been lost as we pop in and out for our quick nibble off the Bread of Life.  We show up on Sunday morning, take in the Word, and head home for our football games and midday nap sessions.  Quick to rush home versus taking the time to linger and chat.  However, there are times were we attempt to linger but are ushered out of the doors as the lights are turned off and the doors locked.  You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

I’ve witnessed people standing in the heat of the Florida summer sun, talking in the parking lot long after the church doors have been locked.  They are having a conversation that should be able to happen in the safe space of the church.  Too fragile of a conversation to be moved to the local coffee shop or lunch spot.  Instead, when the heat finally overcomes them, they slip into a car and put on the air conditioner to finish out their thoughts.  Why is this so?  Why have we locked our doors so quickly?  Why do we flip over the welcome mat at the front doors, and put up the closed for business signs on our doors?

I’ve watched movies, where in big cities, people would pour into the neighborhood church at all hours.  It could be one in the morning, and the doors were open for the wayward and the lost.  Welcome.  You are safe here.  How can we serve you?  We don’t tend to our sheep like that anymore.  Sure, you can call the Pastor at his home, or someone from the prayer chain… but will they answer?  I remember once struggling in the middle the of the night, and I wanted nothing more than to walk into a church and just sit in the sanctuary… in His house.  But, the doors were locked.  No one was home.  Our churches have business hours, you’ll need to make an appointment.

I’ve been told to cancel a small group because enough participants didn’t sign up to make it worth opening up the church.  Jesus went out of his way for the one, and we can’t open the doors for the five.   I’ve been told that we can’t have “too many” activities on the calendar.  What is “too many” activities for a body that craves community, and desires to spend time with one another?  I’ve driven by churches that sit empty 4-5 days of the week, and wondered is this how we are supposed to be stewarding the House of the Lord?  Are the doors supposed to be locked?  We put so much money into huge beautiful buildings that are never used to their fullest capacity, and I admit I wrestle with why.

Should it not be erupting with the squeals and giggles of children?  Echoing with the sobs of the broken?  Shaking with the songs of those who praise Him?  Rooms filled with men and women studying the Scriptures?  Testimonies and healing in rooms full of those who are recovering?  The hushed murmuring from the prayers of our warriors going to battle on their knees?  A building full of life versus desolate, empty halls…

Don’t Neglect the Bridges

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If you drive along the coastline, especially after a rather busy hurricane season, you will see docks that have been damaged by the storm or by time.  Keep driving that route and eventually some of the docks are repaired and yet others continue to fall apart.  I’ve never understood how someone would let their dock completely fall apart.  It seems easy enough to repair, and better to repair them fast before the damage grows.  There is one in particular that has been so forgotten about that the walkway is completely gone and the posts look like nothing more than stumps peeking over the water.

Why am I so bothered by these dilapidated docks?  Because they are bridges between the land and sea.  I can walk out to a depth that I couldn’t reach otherwise.  They allow me to take in the smell of the salt air, dip my toes in the water, gather with friends, or get into a boat and set sail.  Since I don’t live on the water, I have an outsiders perspective.  I don’t take the dock for granted, because I just know that if I could live there… I’d be out there every day.  I know this because I remember spending summers on a lake and doing just that.  In fact, any time I get a chance to walk a dock or boardwalk, I’ll take it.  There is such beauty to be found.

However, to the person that owns the property, there may be a difference of opinion.  Maybe they never cared about or used the dock in the first place.  Perhaps it came with the property, but since they didn’t own a boat and didn’t like to fish, the dock didn’t have much purpose or reason for them.  It could be that the cost of upkeep on the dock was just more than they could afford or not high on their priority list.   So the dock is left to rot, the bridge between land and see falls away.

If you spend any time speaking with me about ministries within the church, you will find that I often refer to them as bridges.  Ministries are the docks that are anchored to the church and reach out into the sea of our communities.  Our leaders, volunteers, and members can step out onto the dock and walk toward a sea where they can be fishers of men.  This bridge between church and community, is a pathway that connects the two in a very specific way.

Such ministries (or bridges) are recovery groups, youth groups, children’s ministries, food pantries, women’s ministries, and so on.   Imagine the church is a fortress on an island, a refuge from the storms in the world.  From this island fortress, are several docks that work as bridges to the sea of people who are in need of Christ, in need of a safe community.  There will be those who come running for help, hopping in boats and chartering their way to the docks, rushing in the doors.  But, what about the ones who are stranded on the distant shore?  They need someone who is willing to get in the boat and come for them.  What about the person who was tossed into the sea of circumstance, they can no longer see the shore and they are eyeing the horizon for something to grab onto?

There is a tension between those who are in the body and the leadership about “programs”.  A desire from the leadership to not have a church that is “program” driven, where the people come for the message and connect into small groups.  However, this concept really works best among those who already have a concept of what church is and how it works.  They know the protocol.  Visit the church.  Become a member.  Join a Small Group.  It doens’t work nearly as well for the person who comes from an unreached community, where the safe fortress looks overwhelming and intimidating. They are not ready to be swooped up by fishing nets and cast into the throws of the community.  Instead, they need a bridge to cross.

On the flip side, we can throw all of our money, time, and resources at programs just because that is what the people want.  That is not being a good steward.  What we need is balance between having the correct bridges that lead people in the right direction.  What good is a dock or a bridge that leads a person down a path that goes nowhere and serves no purpose?  Therefore, we can not afford to have programs for the sake of programs, to look busy, or meet every person’s request.  Instead, we have programs that serve as a bridge from the community to the church, and the church to the community.

Just as I am saddened to see broken down docks along the coastline, I am equally saddened to see the neglected bridges of the church.  Huge, beautiful buildings, where we under utilize the space that God has given us.  Rooms that are left to degrade because no one uses them, turned into storage, covered in dust.  Those are rooms that should be teeming with life.  Bible studies, men’s groups, women’s groups, support groups, etc.  What a terrible waste of the gift God has given us, a building, when we let it sit empty and unused. 

Then there are the leaders who have been given gifts and talents, but forgotten about and left to wane in the waters.  They feel the call to lead, they feel the need in the waters that surround them.  Instead of being bolstered up, they are forgotten about and discarded.  Eventually wearing down to a point where they are no longer of any use, given up to the sea.  Desperately wanting to reach those who are looking for a solid place to land, but lacking the support to do so.

We can not afford to neglect our bridges.

We can not afford to let our buildings go to waste, nor our leaders.  We are in a time where generations are falling away from the church.  It is a time where the “Dones” are leaving the church in mass exodus.  We are desperately seeking how to bring in new members and hold onto our existing ones, but relying on worshiptainment to be the answer.  And, completely unaware that as we throw our money and resources into the superficial draw, we are letting our bridges burn to the ground.  We create a single pathway into the door, and sadly it is only going to appeal to a certain type of person, with a certain type of need. 

When a church embraces the smaller ministries within it, seeing them for what they are… bridges to the community… then we create multiple pathways for different types of people, with different types of needs to cross. 

Today, we know that depression is on the rise.  People are reporting in startling numbers that they feel alone in this world, disconnected.  It seems so impossible, with social media and text messaging keeping us just a key stroke away.  Yet, the statistics support that despite our virtual connectedness… we feel alone, we feel lonely, we feel disconnected, and we desperately are seeking to fill that void.

The correct response for the church, in my opinion, is that we need to create more bridges that welcome in different people and meet their needs.  Which now, more than ever, includes a need of community and connection.  Stop neglecting the bridges and instead give them support, financial backing, and opportunity.  Use the buildings we have been blessed with, embrace the leaders that God has gifted with talents and placed in your pews.

Let’s face it, when it comes to Biblical knowledge, we have never had so many resources available to us.  I can sit in front of my computer at any time of day and queue up an infinite number of Pastors sermon’s to read or watch.  I can learn from the Pastor in my home town, and across the world.  I have unlimited access to praise and worship music, online lyrics to follow, and I can even pick and chose the rendition that I prefer.  I can customize my playlist to my hymnal preferences, contemporary leanings, or a peppering of the two.  Between printed books, ebooks, articles, and resources I can read the Bible, study it in depth, and find the answer to any question I have with just a few key strokes and Google.

However, what none of these things can provide for me is the community that comes with a congregational family.  A sense of belonging, community, and family.  A connection that has to be fostered beyond the Sunday morning “shake your neighbor’s hand”.  In the few minutes before and after service, I don’t have a chance to make real connections with people to turn a church building into my church home.  I need opportunities that allow me to get to know others better, and deeper.  Places where are not just learning together, but serving together. 

It is a hand and hand approach, ministries and the church.  So perhaps, it is time we take better care of them.