Monday, June 11, 2012

Persistence is Totally Not Futile

"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." -Luke 18:1

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." -Galatians 6:9

Here's a little background information you need to know for this story:  I am a member of a small but mighty Baptist church in Raleigh.  We're about 60 or so people strong, our picturesque, historic sanctuary sitting on a corner right off of one of Raleigh's major highways.  The church building has been there since the 1800's.  We're close-knit, loving, supportive, and though we're not perfect, with God's help, we work together well in ministry and faith to reach out to the community and strengthen each other in the Holy Spirit.

When God called me to Raleigh in 2007, He made it very clear to my best friends and me that we were to go to this church.  Right around that same time, the church got a new pastor who was determined to stick with us for the long haul.  Pretty much ever since then, we've all been praying and believing that we'll be able to build a new, multi-purpose building, as the church building we have is lovely but not nearly big enough to contain all the ministries we want to see flourish.  We need more space, more room, more amenities, just more, really, in order to fulfill God's will for our church.

A year and a half ago, made possible by the very generous donation from two of our longtime members, we broke ground with gold-painted shovels at our Homecoming service and believed in Jesus' name we would be watching our new building being built within a year.  After many a long, trying rigmarole with the city to get permits and approvals and all such legal things about which I'm vastly ignorant, we finally were able to move forward with the building this spring.  It has been a tangible, touchable proof of God fulfilling His promises.  The old parsonage was torn down, the ground across the parking lot from the church was leveled, and our new building began to take shape.

But then, at a business meeting in April, when the ground was leveled and the framework of the building was already starting to be put up, we learned that we were somehow $18,000 short of the mark.

That might not seem like a lot, but $18,000 to a church of less than 100 active members, many of which are by no means flush with extra finances, was huge.

It was like watching a train - a purposeful, God-driven, Holy-Spirit-filled train - screech to a halt right in front of us.

$18,000?  It might as well have been a million.  

I felt the defeat in the room as I sat in the sanctuary during the meeting.  I felt the disappointment.  The confusion.  The sadness.  How could this happen?  This doesn't make sense!  What does God want?  How is this even possible?

It felt like the rug was pulled out from under us at just the moment we were getting comfortable on it.

From April until early May, we fidgeted about in an awkward, uncomfortable feeling of confusion and unknowing.  The funds weren't there.  The silence was deafening.  What were we going to do?

For all intents and purposes, that was it.  It was impossible.  It couldn't be done.  We were short.  We weren't enough.  We couldn't do it.  The framework of the building was up, but we didn't have what it took to finish it.

But God.  But God.

At the Cinco de Mayo dinner I prepared for my boyfriend and my married best friends, the wife of the couple (also the music director at the church) shared with me an idea she'd been given straight from God about how we could raise the extra money we needed.  I admit, I tried to share in her excitement, but it was hard for me to believe that it could be done.  It really did seem impossible.  How could we raise that much money?  I honestly doubted if we'd ever see the building come to fruition.  We'd been waiting for so long, and there was probably a lot longer to wait.  I mean, there always had been before.  Why would now be any different?  It would be sometime in the future, maybe, that we'd actually see the building completed.  Maybe.  We'll see.

The framework was up, but whether or not we'd ever see the rest of it flushed out was totally up in the air.

That was a little over a month ago.  Sitting in church this past Sunday, I watched the announcements flash on the projector screen and my eyes focused on what I read about the building.  We'd started with a need of raising $18,000...and in just a little over a month, now we only have about $3,000 left.

$15,000 in a month.  In a church that's been waiting for funds for a new building for five years.

What?  That happened??

We could have given up.  We could have accepted defeat.  We could have said, "It's too hard, it's too much work, it can't be done."  That honestly would have probably been easier.

But God.  Instead of giving up, we all just had to give a little bit more.  Put in a little more extra effort, extra work, extra sacrifice.  Lay down on the altar just a little more of ourselves.  Say and mean, "I'm in this for the long haul.  I know this is the real deal.  I believe in what we're doing and I'm going to show that by stepping up and giving what's needed."

We're not finished.  We still have quite a ways to go.  But because of our Lord and His gift of persistence, we will see our building finished and see all our ministries flourish and see our God being glorified as a result.  It's God's will, and because it is, it will happen.

Walking around in the so-very-close-to-finished building this Sunday afternoon, I heard the Holy Spirit whispering, "Look what happens when you don't give up."

It was just what I needed to hear.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


This is the first of what I'm sure will be a several-part series I'm going to call "BUT GOD."  You see, I find there are so many set ideas and glib, deadpanned one-liners of "good advice" that the secular world lives by and likes to try to give to me. They're easy to believe, because they're so deeply ingrained into our society and the way we treat each other and think about ourselves.  However, I find they're often the opposite of the way the Bible and our Lord, through it, tells me I should act.  For me, those two little words, but God, are game-changers.

Now, whenever I'm going through a situation and I'm getting advice from all around from well-meaning friends and family members, I often get overwhelmed to the point where I have to stop and sift through it like I'm straining sand for gold.  When that happens, I take a moment to stop and listen to what Daddy says, I hear those words, but God...and then take everything anyone else is saying through the filter of what God says I should do.

For example:

The world tells me whenever someone hurts me, I have every right to be angry and I should make that person suffer whatever consequences I choose.  They deserve what they get and good for me for doling it out. That'll teach 'em they can't treat me that way!

BUT GOD says no!  It's not my job to punish others.  I'm to treat anyone who hurts me with love and grace. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." -Ephesians 4:31-32

The world tells me I should stand up for myself, be prideful, have a backbone.  Don't let anyone see me cry.  Be a strong woman and don't let anyone walk all over me.

BUT GOD says to humble myself before Him and before others, that it takes a stronger woman to be humble than it does to be self-righteous, and that He will give me the grace I need to do it.  "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" -1 Peter 5:5

The world tells me that when someone can't give me "what I want," I should ditch them and find someone else who can, because I "deserve better."

BUT GOD says, instead, to have patience, show graciousness, and pray.  It's not about what others can give me, but how much of God's grace I can show them. " Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love." -Ephesians 4:2

The world tells me that when something goes wrong, that's it.  No second chances.  You had your chance and you blew it.  Sorry 'bout your luck, but we're through.

BUT GOD says, of course, to be forgiving - every single time, time and time again.  "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." -Colossians 3:12-13

The world tells me (this one's my favorite) to give up, to quit being a silly little girl with crazy ideas, to stop believing for the impossible and stop expecting things from God or from others.  She who expects nothing will never be disappointed, right?

BUT GOD says to ask, seek, and knock, to approach Him with confidence, and to use the power of Jesus' name to boldly step out in faith for what He's put in my heart and expect to see miracles! "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.'” -Mark 10:27

BUT GOD.  Two little words that change the entire conversation.