Monthly Archives: September 2012

Weakness

Repeat, weakness,
               weakness.
When God wants to get my attention he repeats himself.  I know this can sound a little bizarre, but through different avenues God keeps pointing to weakness.  He is pointing to my weakness and saying, “this is the basis for ministry.”  There is a temptation to present yourself as having it all together and letting people think the best of you.  Yet, as I’ve talked to a couple godly friends they have all spoken of ministering out of weakness.
   All of these guys are involved in starting churches and have gone through, to varying degrees, what we’re doing right now.  One of them spoke of his own insecurities being revealed and seeing how he had too much confidence in himself.  He had the wrong kind of swagger that was rooted in pride and self-sufficiency.  As God exposed this he began to learn in new ways of his own need of Jesus and found a greater ability to love and serve others.
   Another spoke of raising money and the feeling of dependency that arises when you are not in control.  You ask and some say “yes,” others, “no.”  It helps you not to take yourself to seriously and be okay with rejection.  Then when you aren’t sure where the money will come from God brings it together and you realize that God doesn’t really need you.
  Then in an additional conversation a guy who is at the beginning stages of starting a new church told me that raising money is a great opportunity to practice repentance.  Each day when you are anxious, overly burdened, or trying to cope through distractions you can go to Jesus again for forgiveness and renewal.  It is not about being a tough guy and making things happen, but  going to God again.  We all want to be an example of God making someone strong and successful, but instead he wants us to demonstrate the sufficiency of God’s mercy.
I’m still processing this as a write.  But here is a passage that has been essential for us these past few weeks:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:1,6-18

It stood out to me that the author, the apostle Paul, knew about losing heart.  He knows about fading away, feeling like he is coming apart and in this context God renews him and lifts his eyes to the heavens where another reality is present.  There is a strange dynamic in our lives in which we feel both weaker and stronger after a year plus of transition.  We are both learning about weakness and God’s use of it in our lives and for the sake of others.

As I wrote this last night, my head slumped onto my chest and then the computer.  I was exhausted on multiple levels, but then I woke this morning.  The bible says that God’s mercies are new each day and he continues to confirm that reality in our lives.  He helps me to live in both weakness and strength.


Pruning 101 and some reflections

In the landscaping industry these red handles are somewhat of a status marker.  These are Felco pruners and if you’re working regularly with plants (and know what you’re doing) you’ll generally have a pair of these on your hips.  Through working in the landscaping industry the past year and a half while we’ve been in transition there’s a lot that I’ve picked up.

This little bit about the pruners reminds me that every field has it’s own method of showing who belongs and who does not.  If you know the cues, the insiders and outsiders are very clear.  Just so you know, I finally bought my own pair of Felco pruners early in the summer after months of borrowing a pair from a friend.  They are completely worth it.

So here are three essential rules for pruning…
(if you have no interest in gardening bear with me, it comes together)

1.  The first reason you prune is for the health of the plant (shrub, tree, etc).  Proper pruning allows a more even amount of light to reach the whole plant and greater air movement through the plant.  Both of these are important for healthy, even growth, and decrease the likelihood of insect infestation and disease.
2.  The second reason you prune is for the future growth of the plant.  Each cut you make trains the plant to grow in a certain direction.  So, skilled pruning will help the plant grow towards the shape in which it will flourish.  Certain plants want to take on different shapes and pruning will work with the innate properties of the plant so that it as it grows it will do so in the right direction.
3.  The third reason you prune is for aesthetic value.   Due to uneven light, damage from a variety of sources, competing plants, and many other factors plants can grow in awkward shapes.  They  become too thick and bushy, too thing and scraggly, or seem to shoot off branches in the most odd directions.  Pruning for aesthetic value seeks to highlight the best features of the plant material and reign in it’s bad tendencies.
Often when you work with the plants these three principles will line up and as you prune for health you prune for the future and for aesthetics all at once.  But it is not always the case, and often you will need to prioritize, choosing a somewhat ugly plant that will be healthy and eventually beautiful.

Reflections:
Jesus lived in a primarily agrarian world and after working in a similar setting there is a lot that jumps out.  Jesus says to his inner circle of followers:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
(John 15:1-3 ESV)

Jesus describes his followers as a vine growing from him, the root.  And God, the Father, is the gardner who cares for the vine.  And he prunes.  God cuts pieces off the vine for it’s future health, growth, and maturity.  This is both comforting and challenging.  My temptation is to have God prune me simply for aesthetic purposes (#3) so that my life looks good, things are going well, and in the right shape.  But this is actually at the bottom of the list.  The goal of “bearing more fruit” is a combination of rules 1 and 2.  God cuts, nips, and reshapes for a healthy soul.  He does this, not as a punishment or act of retribution – because someone connected organically to Jesus is “already clean” – but for health, for growth.  As I look at my life right now, I think I see some of the things that God is cutting off for the health of my soul and for future growth.  I see him cutting away fear, indifference, a love of comfort so that love for people and increasingly wholehearted service to God grow.  It is strange for me to be both a gardener and the plant being pruned.


Raising Money

While raising money for the church planting fellowship I’m working around 32hrs a week landscaping with a local company.  Last week I was making phone calls during part of my lunch break and then then talking it over with my manager.  He was glad that I was calling people in other parts of the country, remarking that people here are cheap and impersonal so my odds of success wouldn’t be too high.  (Just so you know, this friend grew up in CT and has lived in New England most of his life).

I responded by telling of another friend in the area who oversees fundraising for a large non-profit.  His experience is that New Englanders are very tight fisted until they die, and then they give a lot away.  My manager and I agreed that this made perfect sense, due to the pragmatism of most people in this area.  If you compile these conversations you end up with a rather interesting fundraising strategy.

Fortunately, we don’t have to go down that road.  First because God’s hand is in this and all the money is his.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t need to be strategic or build a broad network as we look for financial support, it just points us to the ultimate source of funding.  This frees us up.  And second, we’ve seen incredible generosity from cheap/frugal, impersonal, and pragmatic New Englanders.  It is a surprising journey when God is the one making the path.

Here is a section of scripture that comes to mind as I think about our approach to raising money:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.  2 Corinthians 4:1-2


Pressed thin, feeling threadbare

There are images that help me understand and describe my life.  For Hillary and I the current pictures are threadbare jeans and thinly rolled play dough.

  I have a couple pairs of jeans that I really like and are in various stages of becoming threadbare.  Some are full of holes and almost ready for the rag pile while others are just looking thin in the knees.  These days we feel like we’re the jeans with some significant holes and then some patches that are even wearing through.  The friction that has come over the past year of transition keeps hitting at certain spots and we feel like we’re wearing through.

    Then there is the play dough.  Which you can roll thinner, then thinner, and thiner until it’s a fine film on the rolling surface.   We feel like we’re being pressed out, stretched out, and there is little holding us together.

Practically, this means our emotions are much closer to the surface.  Anger, sadness, and impatience more easily come out while stress, discouragement, and disappointment more easily penetrate our defenses.  This pattern is played out in different areas of life where our resources seem worn down and insufficient.

In the midst of feeling worn and stretched, there is also the work of God happening within us.  In different ways he continues to renew us and it shines through more clearly because there is less obscuring his work.  As I think about the tension of emptiness and being fill 2 Corinthians 4 comes to mind.  It says,

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

So, for those of you praying for us, ask God to renew us and help us look to the unseen.  We need patience, love, wisdom, and faith.  We also need God’s favor as we try to sell our home and raise money to begin the work in Providence.


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