Monday, September 22, 2008

The Church has to Accommodate Earthly Requirements

Last night our church had its second meeting in a few weeks, in order to recreate our bylaws to keep them up to date and adequate. At one point one of the women was grieved that we had to use such things in order to accomplish the business of the church--she would so much rather that we just do things biblically, and leave these other means to the business world (or at least, that's what I understood her to say). And ideally, I think she is right. If we were all continually living according to the biblical standards, it seems that we would never even have to consult this document of human origin. Still, there are a few reasons why we need the document.
The first is that we live in the world and the world requires (by law) that we set our church business up according to certain standards, such as how to deal with designated giving. Jesus acknowledged at least twice that we have to accommodate the world's requirements: first in Mt 17:24-27 Jesus said that the sons are exempt from taxes, but that Peter should take the coin from the mouth of the fish to pay the tax so that they would not offend the tax collectors; then when He said in Mt 22:21 to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." I find it delightful that in finding the coin in the mouth of the fish, Peter received God's provision for the world's requirements of His people, and God provides for us in that regard as well.
For that matter, one of the elders last night pointed out that though we live in the world and not of the world, and God is our true and ultimate authority, He has established earthly authority over us: authority in government, in business, in families, and in church. These people are there entirely by His hand; He establishes leaders and deposes them (Daniel 2:21; Romans 13:1). The Scriptures tell of elders being selected, but leave out the exact method by which we are to choose them except that they fit certain qualifications. This leaves it up to the church to determine the further details, and if these details are recorded in the bylaws, then the church can continue to operate in an orderly manner and avoid strife and confusion; since God is a God of order, this is in line with His will. This is just one of the areas where the bylaws become helpful.
At one point I tried to articulate in the meeting (and I did a poor job of it; I was thankful for our elder and what he said that I related above) was that if we all were continually living according to the Scriptures, we wouldn't need bylaws for our own purposes; we would all be functioning according to God's will and everything would get done that He wanted. Not only that, it would be done well and without conflict or confusion. The fact is, we don't continually live very attuned to His will, and so we need an earthly framework to work out the details that aren't fully prescribed in the Scriptures. It isn't that we'd all be doing all the functions of the church, but God provides the giftedness that we need and ideally, we would each know what we individually need to do and would do it.
So we live in the world and not of the world; so our church, a living organism as our pastor points out, has to operate in this world as a business. We don't operate that business in worldly ways, suing and declaring bankruptcy and such, but we have a constitution and bylaws that help us to live peaceful and orderly lives and operate to the glory of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Paint, Paint and More Paint! A Testimony of God's Provision

For months I have been working, when the opportunity is given, on the appearance of our church. This is somewhat at odds with my original feelings upon becoming part of the congregation there...I was glad in a way that the church was old and shabby, because it sifted out those who care more about those things than about hearing the truth, about hearing good preaching, about the things that matter more. Still, it was sad to think that we've attended churches where the pastors had a wrong focus, a more external one, and their buildings were beautiful or at least sturdy and adequate and their ministries were financially profitable. Then we find a pastor whose every word and action shows that he cares about the internal, eternal things...and his church building is dismally in need of care. It didn't seem right to me, though often, from what I've seen, the way God's kingdom manifests itself on earth seems ironic in human terms.

So I've been painting, and loving every bit of it. I'm kind of glad it was so shabby, because every stroke of the brush or roller changed things so much, so it was very gratifying work. Paint, a very external and temporal application, has a place in God's kingdom. If one person comes to the church because it is prettier than it was, and they hear the gospel and trust in Jesus Christ as a result, there is no better reward I could want. I should be a fisher of men, and if paint is my bait, so be it!

Much of the inside has been painted. The outside, the initial approach of the casual viewer, was still in need of care. And it was more than I could ever do on my own, so I sought the help of the congregation. I sent out some e-mails. It is amazing what a little e-mailing can do. I type 15 minutes or so and a very powerful response comes! Armando has a sprayer and was willing to spray the building. We had just enough of the congregation volunteer to help.
God has been involved in this. He has provided paint free from a paint-recycling place in Everett, and whenever I was down there I would pore through the paint and pick up whatever I needed, both for the inside and outside. For the outside, I'd found about 22 gallons of cream color and 15 gallons of a taupe-tan color. God also provided all the people with all the right tools. One even had the scaffolding that made part of the job so much easier; one provided all the plastic to cover the windows, and he'd gotten that for free.
The night before the job, I thought I would add a bucket of the taupe-tan to the cream and combine them, straining them to remove anything that would clog the sprayer. After a couple of hours, much spilling, much washing my slippery hands, and some very worn muscles from all the lifting of the huge buckets, I was done. I put the mixed paint in the center of the floor, cleaned up the mess, and went home that night excited for the job that would happen the next day.

Saturday morning, three of us pulled the paint from the downstairs where I'd left it. I failed to make sure that they only brought up the mixed and strained paint. Without my realizing it, the first paint to be sprayed on the back outside wall of the church was the darker, unmixed, unstrained paint. I should have seen that it was darker than I'd intended, that it was the wrong paint, but I guess I was tired and had seen so much paint that it didn't register. Also, I was busy with covering windows with plastic and trimming back shrubbery, so I wasn't as observant as I should have been. One whole wall got covered before Armando said that the buckets didn't match. I suddenly realized what had happened.
We only had two buckets of the darker color left. We needed much more to cover the building. I had picked that paint up the Wednesday before, and there seemed very little likelihood that any exact or even close match would be available. I didn't know the name of the place, only the location--and since it's a government operation, I didn't know if it would be open on Saturday. I tried calling the friend who had told us of the place, but his wife Cheryl would have to run him down at work--he didn't have any phone handy where he was. She wasn't far and was willing to do it, but she wouldn't be able to get me an answer for a while. Our pastor looked up the place on the internet and finally found it. It was open.
I went off to Everett, praying that there would be some paint that would work. Otherwise we would have to buy some, at about $100 per bucket. While God's blessing had been on this job up to this point, I wondered that He might have withdrawn His favor from it. Cheryl called to tell me the place was open, and I asked her to pray that they'd have the right color. I knew she would. When I got there, there were two buckets that I knew would be at least a very close match, and three more that looked similar. I took them all, about $500 worth of paint, all for free, and loaded them in my van and took off to return to the church. It was much faster than if I had bought it.

While Armando started up using the new buckets of paint, we got the lunch ready. We ate together in Pastor's beautiful back yard, and got back to work. After a few hours, the work was done. Armando had sprayed the whole building in a matter of hours, standing in some very precarious places to reach the more difficult spots. It looked so much better! We had the main part done, and now we just have some touching up and some trim work to do, and the place will be transformed. It already looks so much better.
One couple had come that morning with a 5-gallon bucket of some Valspar paint for the trim; they'd gotten it as a markdown for $10. They had thought that we were going to paint the church a creamy yellow (which I had noted hadn't been their preference), but the yellow hadn't turned out to be very good paint, so the taupe-tan was what we used instead. While their trim wouldn't have complemented the yellow but would have clashed, it went perfectly with the paint that ended up being used. This was remarkable, because they had no advance knowledge of the switch of plans regarding the color.
I am so thankful for God's grace, for His abundant provision of people, materials, direction, and color matches. I had planned one color, but God made it clear that the other was His preference. It seemed like a chancy situation, but God provided all that we needed. The cream paint that remains will go to use as well. One man has been waiting to paint his house but couldn't afford the paint. If his wife doesn't like that paint, they at least know where they can get some other choices. One has rentals, too, and could use it. I'm sure the paint won't go to waste. It's also pretty neat that this was paint that someone else had bought and didn't need, that almost all of it was paint that would have been disposed of in some way but was recycled instead.
The verse that has continually come to me in regard to how all of this transpired was Proverbs 16:9: The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Beautiful Night, a Bond of Friendship

Yesterday we took Tim over to my friend LeAnna's house who had invited him not only to go to an event at a nearby church for the night, but also to stay overnight with their twin boys. Their family attended our church for a season, and now they're attending a home church with another least I think that's what they're doing. When they started attending our church, it was a God-send, because our Pastor Ken and some others were planning a missions trip to the Ukraine. LeAnna's Armenian-born, and was able to help the team with some of the language, and with the translation of the gospel message for some bracelets. I really think that for that while, they attended our church in great part for that purpose, truly a God-send.
They have the twin boys and four girls, all slight of build. The youngest is a baby just weeks old. I went to visit them with a meal when their little baby was born, and came in the midst of the overwhelmedness that seems to invariably wave over a family with such a new addition. It always strikes me funny, how a tiny person unable to speak or walk or crawl can create such a whirlwind of confusion and human inadequacy. My visit brought back vivid memories of when we had just had Tim. I needed some nursing clothes and was making a dress for the purpose. The house was a mess, the fabric and patterns were all spread out on the floor, and being newly nursing and all, my physical state was all out of balance and I felt pretty unattractive. Just then a woman I knew from a Bible study came to visit unexpectedly. I don't remember if she had called and I'd forgotten or perhaps she came unannounced. At any rate my whole life was unpresentable. She was a person of exacting requirements, and I knew I made no good impression. To my relief she never came back--her son had always pained my daughter anyway, and the lack of their companionship felt like no great loss. So when I went to visit LeAnna, the confusion and all just brought back those memories and made me feel all the more for her.
I know I had thought of her often just after that visit. Since they no longer attend our church and we don't live very close to each other, we don't see each other very regularly. But we both attended a gathering recently, and she asked if I had prayed for her later that day of my visit, because from that point on the day seemed so much better for her. I looked back and couldn't be sure, but it was pretty likely. When someone is that much on my mind I can't imagine that I don't bring them up in conversation with God. The frustrating thing about that continual or incidental manner of prayer is that it's so incidental that later you might not specifically be able to say one way or the other just how much you prayed, it's just part of your day and you go on, and if you're asked later, what do you say? I could only say I thought so. Still, her question has brought me to realize just how much I ought to be keeping her in prayer, and just how many good things might go on because of all the prayers we put up, and might never hear about...such an encouragement to pray more!
So yesterday, when we dropped Tim off, we stayed quite a while. After John her husband took their older kids to the church event, we walked with her and her two youngest down to the river nearby. While we were on our way down, Katie called to ask if it was okay for her to go on an outreach from their college to a Skid-Road area nearby. I told her to go, that we'd pray for her. I told LeAnna about it so she would keep her in prayer as well. LeAnna told us that at one point in their life they were living in Alaska, and had to live in a tent for a period of time. So it was believable that Katie could minister to someone in similar circumstances in her outreach. I imagine that LeAnna was inclined all the more to pray for Katie because of that memory.
It was a stunningly beautiful night. There was an eagle flying overhead at the river. LeAnna pointed out that it was where she had met our mutual friend Amy, who had brought them to our church. LeAnna had approached her to share the gospel with her, which was funny, because Amy is just the type of person to have shared it with LeAnna if she had not done so first.
On the way home, we drove by the little church that was having the event where John had taken the kids. There were only a few cars there, but I peeked around the building as we drove past, and there was a small group of people who were enjoying an outdoor fire together. The sun was setting, the sky was on fire with orange and red, and the color of it bounced off of the hills, the beauty of which had never seemed so elegant to me until that moment. Though I have never dwelt in the country, I could imagine wanting to live in that area, it was so stunningly beautiful.