Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand. Zechariah 4:10
I can get discouraged at the beginning of any big project. When I was a kid I decided I wanted to build a model. So my dad took me to the local hobby store and I chose a firetruck because my dad was a firefighter. The picture on the box was just like my dad’s firetruck. But when I opened the box, there were hundreds of pieces and pages of directions. I was immediately discouraged. It was actually too big of a project for me to accomplish on my own at my age. Fortunately, my dad recognized this fact and helped me work on it. Simply his presence helped more than I can describe. Knowing he was there, that I was not alone, made an impossible project possible. It took weeks, even months, but I completed the firetruck. Let me rephrase that statement. My dad and I completed the firetruck. I would not have been able to do it alone.
When I became a pastor 10 years ago, I felt much like I did as a kid in the hobby store. Leading a church looked like so much fun. I could see the finished product. But once I arrived at the Richland Church, the box was opened and I realized it was an impossible task. But just like I did as a kid with the firetruck model, I tried to build this church on my own. The more I worked, the less I accomplished. But then I read Zechariah 4:10. I realized experientially what I had known intellectually for years, God just wants me to open the box and get started. He will build the church. In fact, any project God calls us to build cannot be built by our effort, but by His might and by His power.
And so I realized that all the strategic planning, organizing and effort in the world will not accomplish anything unless God is the One directing it, leading it, and building it. It doesn’t work to build the model myself and then ask God to bless it. Oh, the model might get built, but only Mr Rogers would say it was worth anything. If you want a model to change the world, to change YOUR world, simply open the box and let God build it through your hands.
The definition of an excuse (noun) is: “a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.”
When my children were younger and living at home, I found their excuses tedious at best and often downright maddening. They had excuses for every situation that did not meet my expectations. These situations ranged from unfinished chores to unfinished homework. Excuses were also abundant anytime they knowingly disobeyed the rules of the house. The more common excuses included (not in any particular order): a) I don’t have a watch so I didn’t know the time. b) I didn’t know that rule would apply in this situation. c) The teacher didn’t tell us there would be a test today. d) I didn’t hear you.
I could list dozens of excuses that not only my kids offered to me, but that we offer to God. However, of all the excuses I’ve heard over the years, by far the most common one offered by kids and adults alike is, “I don’t know.” We don’t know why we broke the rule because we haven’t taken the time to know ourselves. When I don’t know why I am not obedient to God, then I’m not even taking His command serious enough to give an acceptable excuse! Perhaps the most common expectation or command from God is the one to serve.
God calls each of us to His mission of service to Him and others. And yet many Christians I know have no idea as to their calling in life. What’s more distressing is that they are not wrestling with God to know their calling. We read throughout the Bible of God’s expectation for His followers to serve others. Do you have an excuse? Or do you have a story to tell of your adventure with God? Over the years I’ve had plenty of excuses to offer to God. I have found that life is better when I offer Him my service rather than my excuses. I have discovered that God transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary when I transform my excuses into obedience. What are you offering to God?
I have perhaps found more life lessons and harder rides in the Appalachian Mountains than anywhere so far. I have climbed more than 5,000 ft each of the last two days with climbs as steep as Missouri. Like most of us, I have my own preconceived ideas about Appalachia even though I have never been here. While taking lots of pictures of the area I realized today that pictures aren’t enough. A picture might be worth a 1000 words, but you’ve got to mingle with the people if you really want to know the true meaning of the picture.
Some observations from snapshots of Appalachia while on my bike include the following: 1) Lots of people go to church because there’s a church around every corner. 2) They’ve got guns here because many of the street signs are used for target practice. 3) They are wary of strangers because there are “No Trespassing” signs on literally every house. 4) The economy is supported by coal and all the other businesses have have “We Are Coal Friendly” signs.
But it wasn’t until I completed my ride today and arrived at the RV that I was able to mingle with people from Appalachia. Tonight our RV is parked next to a soccer field where a local high school team was running a scrimmage. The coach saw our RV and asked if I would talk with the girls about my ride and give a short devotional thought. So I walked over to the soccer field with Pam, Dorothy, and Bill to talk with the girls. After speaking with the girls we gave them each a Ride 4 Diapers business card. One girl, Frankie, came to talk with me after I had finished speaking. She wanted information on how she could do something for her community. We talked for a few minutes and she plans to have diaper drives at WalMart and her high school to distribute to the local pregnancy center.
We took a picture of Frankie with me, the only picture of real substance of Appalachia because it’s a picture of mingling. I now realize that though the people of Appalachia may have a different subculture than me, they respond to someone caring about their needs just like I do. The basic needs Jesus describes in Matthew 25 cuts across every culture. I have never seen Matthew 25 in that light before today. We all need food, water, clothing, and a friend to the stranger, the sick, and the imprisoned. This is the place to begin in any community anywhere in the world.
Ride Stats: Total Miles- 87.7 Elevation Gain- 5,164 ft Avg Speed- 11.1 mph Max Temp- 102.2 with 90% humidity
And here’s Frankie who is inspired to do diaper drives…
In the Richland Seventh-day Adventist church two years ago, we would prayerfully make plans to service God & ask Him to join us. We experienced His blessings in many ways as we earnestly sought to do His will. But 18 months ago, we began asking a different question. Rather than deciding what to do & then asking God to join us, we asked ourselves where is God active in our church & community. And then we asked for the courage & wisdom to join HIM in HIS activity.
This change in focus has dramatically changed the way we do church! We now gather annually to pray for insight to know where He is active. We pray for wisdom to join Him. We pray for courage to join Him. And we pray for His eyes to see the needs in our community & in our church as He sees them. What we have learned is that God is active! As a result of joining Him, we have a reading program for 2nd & 3rd grade students at the public school across the street. We provide food boxes to children in need every Friday. We provide Thanksgiving food baskets, Christmas food baskets, a Christmas dinner, & Christmas present to those in need. We would never have thought such a thing possible or even attempted this in our own wisdom.
This is the power of asking the right question! As we enter 2011, the prayer request of this church is how can we give? God has given us the vision in 2011 to be the year of “Caring & Sharing.” We are asking God to give us courage & wisdom as we seek to give to others.