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Honoring an Expert Builder

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I recently had the delightful privilege of attending the 25th anniversary celebration of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Canton, Michigan. Pastored from its inception by my father-in-law, Reverend Bill Moore, the church was founded in 1979 and has enjoyed tremendous blessings from God of growth and ministry throughout the past quarter-century.

As a special treat for my wife’s parents, the celebration committee flew my entire family in from Washington (all seven of us), housed us lavishly at a nearby hotel, and whisked us out from a storage closet at the proper moment in the program. It was a glorious surprise, especially considering how many people were “in the know” — Kathy’s parents were overjoyed.

The congregation was unstinting in their enthusiastic desire to heap honors on Pastor Moore and Cindy — indeed, they presented them with a series of gifts and accolades that awoke a deep sense of “holy envy” in my heart. As I considered the ministry of that church over the past 25 years and all the spiritual “bricks” that built it, I was filled with a yearning that my life would be shown to have produced this kind of eternal fruit.

What are the bricks that make up a church? I’m not talking about the physical building, or even the individual members that exercise their spiritual gifts during a particular time slice in the life of a church. I’m referring to an N-dimensional church — one that occupies the usual three physical dimensions to be sure, but that extends across time and a number of spiritual dimensions as well.

Imagine a church that is measured in “length” in Biblical teaching, perhaps in “width” in fellowship; “tall” in terms of evangelical outreach. Viewing the slideshow of pictures assembled from the last 25 years, I was struck, even stunned, by the large number of lives that have been dramatically changed by the ministry of this church. Marriages saved, relationships restored, griefs comforted, families bound together. Men and women, boys and girls have found meaning, freedom and purpose in an intimate relationship with their Creator.

I think that a church, at least a thriving church, has a distinct vision or driving purpose specific to that particular body of Christ. It will possess a continuous history and often a connection to a larger organization. It may have scars and blemishes. Some churches acquire a disfiguring handicap that can transcend a particular time or membership and stunts growth for generations. Others develop policy and procedural “muscles” that help it to remain vital and to avoid falling into error or apathy.

One of the tributes for Pastor Moore involved a skit along the lines of “what if Bill Moore had not been our pastor?” The parodied Pastor Howitzer and his “my-way-or-the-highway” organizational philosophy threw Bill’s gentle style into sharp relief. Here Howitzer displays the organizational chart for his “Church of the Army of God”:

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A few minutes later, the spoof pastor has his secretary do pushups for failing to remember creamer in a cup of coffee — it really helped me to reflect (by dramatic contrast) on the type of influence that this particular pastor has had on this particular church, through patience, peace and kindness.

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I fear that if I were a pastor, I would tend toward the Howitzer model, particularly the camouflage vestments. This could be one among many reasons why God has not called me to be a pastor. :)

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes:

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”

In my mind’s eye, I can picture Pastor Moore walking around the construction site with a set of plans, correcting a crooked wall here, arguing about windows with a foreman there, bringing cold soda-pop to a group of roofers in the hot sun, talking on the phone with material suppliers and generally overseeing the construction of God’s church over the years.

I think of my own life, and the things that I have built and am building that have eternal value. How much hay and straw and wood am I using in my day-to-day activities, as I serve my church, raise my children, build my business? And where can I lay my hands on some gold, silver, or costly stones?

It seems evident that my father-in-law, along with many others, has built with gold, silver and costly stones. Trinity EPC is a vibrant church with a large number of members actively using their spiritual gifts in the ministry of the church. Truly it is an honor and a privilege to be a part of God’s work and to see the result of our labors become so much larger than the sum of individual contributions.

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Slug’s prank

Dear readers –

What my dad doesn’t know is, when I first saw him drink “tar” I thought, “wouldn’t it be funny if he was allergic to that ground hay, also!” So one day when my friend F.D. (Fiendish Dog) came over he, my brother Slug, and I went out and collected pollen. When we had collected about two ounces of it we substituted it for his barley grass. I borowed his camera and took a picture of him while he drank it.

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Apparently my dad can put two and two together; after he saw me with the camera, and Fiendish Dog’s green-stained hands, he pretty much figured out what happened. This is what he looks like right now … AAAAHHHH! HELLLLLPPPPP!!!

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Desperate Measures

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It is a sad thing to see a man brought to his knees by the trials and vicissitudes of life. In cases of extreme physical discomfort, even the most rational of men may set aside his education and experience, engaging in the most superstitious of rituals, hoping for some relief. I am ashamed to admit that I have fallen prey to such unscientific methodology, in the midst of allergy season.

I live in a forest, and I seem to be allergic to tree pollen. Rudely, the trees around here continue to pollinate each Spring, year after year, with no apparent concern for my troubles. A kindly neighbor has given me Green Magma Organic Dietary Supplement with Essential Nutrients, Active Enzymes, Antioxidants and Chlorophyll (ground hay), which I consume daily, much to the amusement of my children. As it is entirely unpalatable, I mix it with tomato juice:

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Mixed, it closely resembles tar, or at least it no longer looks like tomato juice. Nevertheless, I drink it down faithfully, hoping against hope that my allergic reaction to tree pollen will somehow be diminished by um, er, consuming minced barley grass.

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I suppose, even if eating hay does not help at all, it does not seem to do me any harm; I do try to resist the impulse to trot around the house neighing like a horse. Nobody seems to mind — during allergy season my family has come to expect a lot of weird noises and even weirder behavior from me.

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Spring!

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While I hear of snow flurries in other parts of the world, we enjoyed sunshine and temperatures in the upper 60′s (I even used the seventy word in one phone call boast). I happened to be out on the road on Saturday, and saw many trees just bursting forth in bloom, several captured here. God sure did a nice job creating this earth, didn’t He?

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Arguing with God

Last Sunday we continued our study of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. I was intrigued by a claim made by Warren (page 93, if you have the book):

“In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing, and arguing with their Creator. God, however, didn’t seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it.”

Warren went on to give examples from the Old Testament, including Abraham’s shrewd haggling over the destruction of Sodom, Job’s forthright speech to God, and Moses argument with God in the aftermath of the golden calf fiasco.

I’ve got nothing against honesty. Indeed, if you can’t be honest with God, you have serious issues in your understanding of His power and His goodness.

We all do a considerable amount of second-guessing of God, particularly when we don’t know His will or understand His plan. And, given the examples Warren cites, I can’t really find fault with some limited and respectful arguing with God, especially as we grapple with God’s attributes, (like mercy and justice). I myself have dared to question God regarding His management of our church.

But I get a little uneasy with the idea of accusing God (wasn’t that Satan’s role, in Job?) and complaining (or murmuring) against God. This seems to be a quick way to acquire a non-stop, one-way ticket to 40 years’ wandering in the wilderness. I wonder if we can become a little too enamoured with the idea of God as our best friend, and fall into error in understating God’s role as our Lord?

As I considered the examples Warren listed, I flipped back to Exodus 32 and 33, reading some of the context of Moses’ argument with God.

God was telling Moses to go on up to the promised land. He was graciously sending His angel ahead of them to keep His side of the covenant and deliver the land into their hands, even though they had broken their side of the covenant before the figurative ink was dry. (Read Exodus 32 — it was like a newlywed jumping into an adulterous affair while still on the honeymoon — a pretty sad story.) But God Himself would not go with them, as He said, “I might destroy you if I go with you even a single step.” (Tim’s paraphrase.)

On the surface, Moses seems to be asking God not to remove the validation of His Presence, perhaps out of fear that his position as leader would be vulnerable without God to back him up. But a closer reading of chapter 33 helps to clear that up; it reveals something very obvious and yet profound:

Moses was arguing for God Himself — he wouldn’t settle for God’s gift (the promised land) but wanted God’s actual presence. He correctly recognized that God’s gift was worthless when compared to God Himself. “If you won’t go with us, we don’t want to go!” Moses told God. (Another Tim paraphrase — I’m just not in Eugene Peterson’s league, I guess.)

I think that this is why God allows us to argue with Him — He wants to bring us up to the next level of faith by revealing Himself through a dialogue. In each of the examples Warren cites, the parties involved learned more about the character of God, and adjusted their faith accordingly.

There are plenty who chase after God’s gifts. The “Health and Wealth Gospel” folks would have you believe that God wants you to be rich, and your appropriate faith response is to enjoy those riches (after tithing, of course). The Prophecy types are eager to acquire the secret knowledge of God with regard to future events, although I’ve never been clear exactly why. Many Christians put their faith in God as fire insurance, correctly reasoning that there are no other options.

My understanding, however, is that God desires fellowship and friendship with us — He wants us to want Him, not His gifts. Like a parent, sometimes He lavishes gifts on us, and other times He withholds things that would harm us — but always, He desires a deeper and more satisfying relationship with us.

I’ve been unemployed and self-employed for a long time now, and one of the things I desire most of all from God is a steady source of earned income. Yet God continues to deny that to me. Perhaps He is teaching me to want Him, not His gift.

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