Thursday, May 31, 2012

Renovating Space

It’s really exciting thinking about updating a bathroom. Imagining clean new tile, fresh paint, a beautiful new sink (countertop vessel kind!) and fixtures, a much-needed ceiling fan—all color coordinated—really got me excited. My old bathroom had cracks in the floor tile, mold in the shower, peeling paint, and a countertop that drove me crazy—too much grout to keep clean! Warning! You may have noticed the word “thinking” in italics above. That is because the thinking about and the doing are very different.

Have you ever had a moderately old home? Anytime you imagine renovating an old home you must understand that unimaginable things lurk behind the walls and under the floors. And because homes used to be made “out of iron,” they do not come apart as easy as newly constructed homes do. No tap, tap, tap to remove the shower tiles. It takes a renovator in a hazmat suite with an industrial-strength jack hammer to remove them. The tiles on our shower were attached with an inch and a half of concrete in chicken-wire meshing! Who knew? So instead of simply having a few shower tiles to discard, we had tons of concrete to dispose of! I could go on and on. I will not. Suffice it to say that what we thought would be a week of demolition turned into six weeks! Sheesh! What was I thinking!

Having been in ministry almost twenty years I realize quickly when everyday life reveals spiritual realities. This is where life and ministry meet. Between 2006 and 2008 the congregation I now serve renovated the sanctuary. Ay caramba! Changing light fixtures and moving furniture (especially the pulpit!) surfaced passions and beliefs that threatened to tear people apart not just physical space. The renovation of the sanctuary became a metaphor and a catalyst for the renovation of hearts and minds spiritually. The pain and agony of the hard work and cost of updating our facility was matched and exceeded by the same for spiritual work that needed to be done. By God’s grace both ended up bringing glory to God and new vitality to the ministry and mission of the church. But the renovation of the hearts and minds were the primary work. God simply used the physical renovation as a vehicle for his greater purpose to renew us spiritually.

As I sit in my office today I am facing some very serious spiritual work that needs to be done in the hearts of God’s people, mine included. And we are facing major facility costs--old elevator and old air conditioning! Interesting that at this very same time the elders of the congregation have committed to a new period of discerning the shape of our future ministry and mission—more renovation of our life together—organizational and spiritual. I am tempted to fear and thus try to avoid the pain and agony and the cost that confronting spiritual work will require. But today I will choose to trust the love and power of God for his people and that he is totally capable of a repeat performance in both the renovation of our mission and of our hearts so that the end result will be his glory and fresh vitality for our ministry and mission. Between 2006 and 2008 we hung a sign outside that read, “Caution: Master Carpenter at Work.” Guess we need to hang it again.

In your life or ministry what everyday circumstances have been used by God to do spiritual renovation?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Doors to Nowhere

They are doors to nowhere and they are everywhere. During a recent visit to northern Minnesota I saw them. I grew up in this part of the country and vaguely remember seeing them, but on this recent visit their prevalence caught my attention. They are doors, sometimes front doors, that are installed several feet off the ground. But no stoop (or steps) were ever built to make them functional. They are doors to nowhere.

Clearly, some were planned as an entrance when the house was built sixty or more years ago. Either the builder or homeowner never got around to building the stoop, or, over time they realized they did not want to use the door. Perhaps a side or back door proved more practical. However, I wonder why the door was not then removed. But some appear to be newer construction, giving the appearance that these elevated, unusable doors are actually desirable! Either way, it’s odd to see a door with no way of using it, and this is also potentially dangerous when you think about it.

These doors to nowhere got me thinking. In life we often do this same thing. We go to great lengths expending a lot of time and energy and even dollars to build "doors” to things we think will  “lead somewhere” but they don’t. We hear a pitch on how to get rich on TV or at a seminar and we open our pocket books and adjust our time to go through this ”door.” It rarely leads to the promised outcome. We meet someone and are taken in by their charisma or glitz and immediately begin creating ”doors” to the relationship, often closing other doors in the process. These may be potential friends or lovers, but the impulsive nature of such social decisions can end up leaving us with, at best, superficial and short-lived relationships, and, at worse, dangerous entanglements. In either case important personal resources have been wasted, and often other relationships are diminished or even destroyed. 

When we are tempted to get drawn into constructing these ”doors to nowhere,” there are FOUR  STEPS to take in order to avoid the wasteful and dangerous consequences.

ONE, do not act quickly either in laying out money or time. If a person or concept promises life-changing results for your life, go home and sleep on it ... for at least a week. Often, what seems so convincing and compelling up-close-and-personal fades substantially when given some distance.

TWO,pray and ask trusted friends to pray also. Ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance. Praying yourself at least potentially submits your thinking to the Spirit of God. Asking others to pray holds you accountable to perspectives you desperately need when taken up in the excitement of a new concept or relationship. I wonder how much heartache and brokenness--relational and financial--could be averted if we did this?

THREE, look down the road ten-to-fifteen years and play out ALL the possible scenarios. Be honest and balance what you are hoping to gain with what you know you could or will lose. Be realistic in the face of forceful idealism, especially when it is emotionally rooted.

FOUR, and finally, recommit yourself to make even better use of the “doors” already functioning well in your life. Whether it is a relationship or a job or something else, recommitting your time and energies to it can give new life and greater significance to your doors that are leading somewhere for sure!

There are plenty of times when life slams us with closed doors or tragic circumstances prevent us from completing the entrance to doors we have installed. We cannot avoid these. But by taking these simple steps we can eliminate many doors that lead to nowhere. The great news is that the great God of mercy and grace is able to take our doors to nowhere and transform them.  But that is another blog. Stay tuned!

Can you identify a time when you almost built a door to nowhere but realized it and avoided the consequences? How were you able to do that?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cedric and Jesus

It was a long flight and a long day. We all have them. I had a 7:30 am meeting and then worked until noon. I finished my last-minute packing and headed to the airport at noon for my flight from LA to Atlanta with a stopover in Vegas.

I worked on the plane, so the time actually went by pretty fast. But I did not arrive in Atlanta until a almost midnight and then I had too pick up a rental car and head about 45 minutes north to my hotel. I am a penny pincher, so I reserved a car through Hotwire--much cheaper. I was on a week of business and then a week of vacation so I was bagged to the max. Thank goodness for Southwest's check-two-bags-free policy. But now I had to schlepp all these bags...a lot farther than I anticipated. When I finally made it to the rental car garage it was almost 1 a.m. I showed a young man my rental document with ”HOTWIRE” clearly displayed across the top. He pointed and said, ”There are only two cars left. The keys are in them you can take either one.”

I schlepped my bags a little farther and threw them into the car. I climbed in and and quickly surveyed the car to see where all the controls were situated. After what seemed a very long time at this hour I pulled out and headed for the exit with rental doc and ID in hand.

I greeted the gentleman at the gate and handed him my stuff. He took one look and said, ”I’m sorry but this is a Hotwire rental. I cannot help you. You need to go back to the rental counter." Now, remember, I had schlepped all these bags a very long way and had passed the rental counter hours ago (at least it seemed that way). I was a about ready to light into this guy when I remembered a recent sermon I preached (I hate it when this happens) and I saw the name tag--his name was Cedric. He was a person not a company. I decided to practice what I preach and treat this man as a valued person made in the image of a God and not as the company that was about to try and send me on a wild goose chase because I had rented on the cheap.

I said, ”Cedric, your my man. I have been traveling all day and I still have a long way to go. The other employee saw my reservations and directed me here, so I am not going back to the rental counter.” He said he could not process this rental at the booth, so he would have to call a supervisor. I thanked him and said, ”Cedric, we can do this. I am just asking you to try. I know you can help me. There’s got to be a way. Cedric,I am going to do what I can do. I am going to pray to the Lord Jesus to find favor for me, and you make that phone call.”

The supervisor put Cedric on hold.  After just a few minutes Cedric hung up and asked me to give him my credit card and ID. He was going to try to process it. I prayed some more. I don’t like driving in the dark any time, but especially not in a totally unknown city in the wee hours of the morning. I am not one to pray for things like parking spaces and green lights, but this felt potentially life threatening. I prayed.

All a of a sudden Cedric shouted, ”It went through!” I, though not charismatic, shouted ”Hallelujah!” Cedric laughed. I prayed again, giving thanks. I thanked him again (Cedric,that is) and said ”Cedric, don’t ever underestimate what you and Jesus can do!”

As I drove away I reflected on how close I had come to losing my cool and an opportunity to bear witness to the simple goodness of God--even in Atlanta at a car rental garage in the middle of the night. And the Spirit of God gently nudged ME that night a little closer to the sweet spot where life and ministry meet.
What helps you to treat people with respect and kindness when you are in stressful situations? What do you do when others disrespect or treat you poorly?