Getting Dirty

I wrote the following article for our LCMC NW District newsletter that just came out (Aug 2019).

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I serve as the pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church in Puyallup, WA; a congregation that is known as “a church in a box”. That is just a fun way of saying that we have a large covered trailer that stores all our equipment; a trailer we unload and load every week for worship. You see, for 10 years, this congregation has been renting space; most of which has been at a county community center in a park. The building used to be a church building, so it is perfectly suited for us, except that it is not ours. So, for 10 years, this congregation has been searching for a home of their own. Well, our search may be over.

A 5-acre property with a church building, about 15 to 30 minutes away from our current location, has been presented to us. Currently, we are in a 60-day feasibility study phase to determine if this building will be “feasible” for us. It is nearly move-in ready (with some upgrades and minor repairs to be made) but eventually a sanctuary will need to be built. In the meantime, the fellowship hall will work. There are so many possibilities with this building along with many challenges. I admit, it has been hard to keep my emotions in check and resist the urge to mentally move into the building prematurely. The congregation is excited and believe me, I really want this for them, but I am still cautious, because this may be the worst thing for us.

What in the world are you talking about, pastor? We’ve been waiting for this for 10 years. (I can already hear my congregation asking that question).

There are many who think that if we get this building we will start to grow. They believe our stagnant numbers are due to us not being as visible. There may be some truth to the stagnant numbers theory, but we also must be careful. You see, a church cannot take a “Field of Dreams” approach when it comes to ministry in a community. There is no ghostly voice saying, If you build it, they will come. It worked in the movie but that’s not reality.

What needs to happen is the church needs to be the church. We need to live out our faith in our everyday lives. We need to be willing to get our hands dirty. Jesus never set up camp in one location for very long; he moved around and went to the people. Church buildings are great, but they can’t be home. Church buildings are a ministry launching pad not a clubhouse. Church buildings are a place to gather for corporate worship but then you must be sent out, and thus my prayers. I am not praying that God give us this building. (WHAT?!? — Just hang on a bit here). What I am praying for is that God prepare the hearts of this congregation to do the ministry that is required for HIS kingdom to grow. As a farmer needs to prepare the soil before planting so must our hearts be ready. Along with that, I am praying for what Solomon asked when God said to him, Ask what I shall give you. Solomon replied, …Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? (1 Kings 3:5 & 9) God help me.

Churches with large member numbers in large auditoriums can make a huge difference. Small, country churches can make a huge difference. Churches meeting in tiny downtown store fronts can make a huge difference. Churches meeting the living room of the pastor’s home can make a huge difference. Churches meeting in a tent with a dirt floor can make a huge difference. It is not the location or the building or the size or anything of this world that matters. What matters is the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the people. The church is the people, not a building made of bricks, mortar and wood.

This is not a popular notion with many, and some may even think I am turning my back on this congregation’s dream. Believe me, I am not. I am trying to see the bigger picture. And so, my prayer is for the hearts of the people here; that they may hear the clear voice of God leading them and empowering them to be the church. If this property is going to be ours, then we will need to get off our butts and do some serious Kingdom work, God help us. If people just want to build a clubhouse, then please, let’s abandon this process. Wherever we gather, wherever we worship, we will glorify God. The Church is not comprised of buildings. The Church is the people. So, be the Church, wherever God places You and bring glory to His holy name. Let us pray…

Oh God, give me wisdom to lead Your people rightly. Give Your church faith and courage to follow you wherever You lead. Prepare the hearts of Your people to do some serious Kingdom work for Your glory. Oh God, if it be Your will for Your church to exist in a building, then so be it. If Your church is to exist in a tent, then so be it. Wherever we are to exist, may Your Spirit be with us to guide, strengthen, encourage and to send us out. Oh God, it is all about Your glory. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Face seeking

Psalm 27:7–8 (ESV) ~ “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

I find myself doing a lot of face-seeking these days, but the seeking I’m doing is very specific. The congregation I serve is exploring the possibility of purchasing a property of our own. Currently we rent space in a county community center in a park. Do we purchase this property that is outside our original search area or do we stay put? So many questions. So much uncertainty.

So the “face” I am seeking is God’s. Not literally, of course, like Moses who was told that no one can see God face to face and live.
I am seeking God to listen and obey.
I am seeking God for peace and courage to go where He leads.
I am seeking God for reassurance and wisdom.
I am seeking God in order that I may lead this congregation rightly.
Many are seeking answers to questions – seeking to dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s”. Many are seeking definitive proof and evidence that we will not fail if we move. Many are seeking financial assurances. And granted, we have to do our due diligence to explore this property, but at some point we just need to stop and trust God – to seek His face; listening and obeying.

Without the face of God, fear creeps in to cloud our vision. Satan prowls in order to devour. We need to seek the face of God that we may be faithful but also to be reminded of the FACT that God our Father, through Jesus Christ, is our hope and refuge – our defender and shield.

And so my prayer is for hearts to be tuned in to God, that face-seeking be the goal and faithfulness abound, no matter how the vote turns out on Sept 8. Whatever it is in YOUR life that you are facing, seek the face of God – always – and be at peace in Him.

The Unknown

The congregation that I serve continues its discernment process concerning the potential purchase of a property in a neighboring town. There are still a lot of questions and fears about going forward with the purchase or remaining where we are at. Whatever the case, God will be with us. My prayer is that we cling to God no matter what the outcome of the vote is. After all, God is the one in control, not us.

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The unknown doesn’t have to be scary.
Nor do options that vary.
God is in complete control.
Therefore, fear is totally contrary.

My faith Satan always seeks to deflate.
My peace he seeks to negate.
I want to trust Jesus more.
Oh God, my spirit would you please elate.

May I walk with you into the unknown,
That I may not be alone.
I know that Your hand will guide.
I praise You that I am Your very own.

Oh God, please lead me so that I can see.
From You may I never flee.
It’s Your will that I’ll follow.
Oh God, In You I want to always be.

The Maze

I feel as though I am walking through a maze.
Walls and turns
Dead ends
Back-tracking
Trying to find a way.
Just when I think I am making progress, I have to turn back.
Try something new.
Find a new way.
But then I get lost,
again.
Now which way?
I need to get out of this maze.
But the more I try, the more lost I get.
I can’t see the whole picture.
I can’t see the way.
I need help.
Who will show me the way?
Who will be my guide?
Oh God, please show me the Way out of this maze.
Please show me the Way.

Falling Through

Two ways to go,
one of You
and one to forgo.
I want to follow You,
but I want my way too.
Oh God, I don’t want my plans to fall through.
I am tired of wandering.
I am tired of wondering.
When will rest come from You?
Oh God, I don’t want my plans to fall through.
This seems so right.
How can it be wrong?
It has to be the way from You.
Oh God, I don’t want my plans to fall through.
I’ve worked so hard.
I’ve been faithful.
This way has to honor You.
Oh God, I don’t want my plans to fall through.
But maybe this is not Your plan.
Maybe this is not Your way,
so if that be the case,
Oh God, let MY plans fall through,
So I can follow YOU.

A Prayer for a Discerning Church

Oh God, raise up a prophet in this congregation; one who clearly hears Your voice, and command them to faithfully proclaim that word to Your church. May we then have ears to hear and the faith to obey and follow wherever You lead. May we boldly go when You call and may we not look back; keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. This church does not belong to us. Oh God, to You be the glory in all that we do. In Jesus name, Amen.

We Will Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord ! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” [Psalm 111:1 ESV]

I pastor a congregation who can be described as a “church in a box”. What I mean by that is each and every Sunday a trailer is backed up to the building we rent at a county park. The trailer is then unloaded so we can set up for worship. Following our 9:00 AM worship, the take-down crew gets to work as we need to vacate the building by 11:30 AM. As long as this pastor doesn’t get too long winded, we still have plenty of time for Sunday school/Coffee fellowship time. For 10 years this congregation has had that routine. I’ve been part of that routine for the past 3 years.

Now, we are investigating a former church building that is up for sale. The location is a little farther away, but the size is great, the lot is big enough for expansion and the price is in our ballpark. There are still many questions that need to be answered, but the excitement is high. What is God up too? That is the question we are trying to discern. Is this God gift-wrapping a property for us that He may be glorified or is Satan presenting a stumbling block to trip and derail this congregation? Questions, questions and more questions. God help us.

Whatever the outcome I echo the psalmist in the verse above. Praise the Lord ! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Yes, Sundays are a challenge, especially considering this is an aging congregation. We don’t have the freedom to do certain things when we want to do them because the building is not ours (i.e. When funerals happen, we have to make phone calls to find a venue). But where ever God places us, we will worship and praise the Lord. We will praise the Lord in the company of the upright. The upright made that way through our common faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We will worship corporately as a congregation because we love the Lord and we love to be together:

– whether it is at a building in the park or in a school or in someone’s pole barn, we will praise the Lord.
– whether we have to meet in living rooms, basements or garages, we will praise the Lord.
– whether we have to share space in someone else’s fellowship hall, wander from place to place, or meet in a tent outside, we will praise the Lord.

With that said, my prayer is that we keep our eye on the ball and remember who we are and whose we are. We are not here to build our kingdom but we are here to advance THE Kingdom. I can not say that enough. If this place is being gift-wrapped by God for us, I will gladly unwrap it and give glory to God. If this is Satan putting a stumbling block in our way, then I say to him, “Go back to hell. We will worship the Lord where ever God places us.”

Praise the Lord where ever you are, for it is right to give God thanks and praise in all places and at all times. Praise the Lord, all you people – the upright, the congregation – praise the Lord.