Can These Bones Live?

Since I work in a church, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn I love church buildings. I especially love old church sanctuaries, and honestly, the older the better. My wife is always surprised (although she’s growing used to it) when we go on vacation, and I want to walk through any churches we might be passing by. There is something about the craftsmanship in the old wood and the fire bright beauty of the sun coming through the stained glass windows that fills me with awe and worship.

So, again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I get really emotional when I see a church building with a “For Sale” sign in front of it. Now, I understand, all kinds of things happen. The growth patterns of cities change. Traffic patterns are rerouted and communities go through transition. I get it. I also understand that churches move. They sell one piece of property and relocate to another space. Brentwood Baptist did that back in 2002.

I understand life happens, but more and more in our nation, churches are just closing. They are going out of business. On any given day, it’s not unusual to see an article about how a developer has bought an old church building with plans to turn the once sacred facility into condos or a restaurant. Too many times, a small and struggling group of church members decides, for whatever reason, they can’t make a go of it, and they vote to close the doors of the church and sell the building.

Now, let me get this straight…the building is being sold by a group of people who are sure no one will come to their building, and it’s being bought by a group of people who are sure a lot of people will come to the building if there’s something new in the building.

Why can’t the church be that something new in the building?

There’s a reason Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream. Not everyone likes the same flavor. In the same way, not everyone likes the same style of worship, the same emphasis of service and mission, or the same process of discipleship. There are a lot of different kinds of people, and there needs to be a lot of different churches to meet the different needs of these people. One size doesn’t fit all. It never has.

Now, this may mean there’s a Caucasian church that’s now surrounded by a Hispanic community. An African-American church that finds itself in the middle of a Kurdish community—the variations and challenges are endless. If a church can be given the support and assistance to reevaluate its mission in light of its changing community, a lot of good things can happen. You may not be able to put new wine into old wineskins, but you can put a new church in an old building.

There are several advantages to this approach:

  1. The members of the original church can see their church thriving and effective. It’s a different future than they had once imagined, but it’s still a great future to be part of.
  2. The old building can be refurbished and remodeled for pennies on the dollar when compared to the cost of new construction.
  3. Most of the time, the new church can avoid politically charged issues with the surrounding communities, codes, and city hall.
  4. The neighborhood is genuinely interested to see something new going on in the church.

In the famous Bible story of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37), God asked the prophet Ezekiel if the dry bones could live. Of course, Ezekiel soon found out the bones could indeed live. It’s the story I think about every time I see a church building for sale. Can these bones live? I answer the same way Ezekiel did, “Yes, they can!”

Practice Makes Perfect

Most of us get up in the morning, look at our calendar and say, “I got this. I can handle this kind of day. This day doesn’t have any pressure.” And so you don’t spend as much time in prayer. You don’t spend as much time in the study of the Word.

And the storm comes unexpectedly. You never expect the phone call to come on Tuesday, do you? And all of a sudden your day changes. All of a sudden what you thought was routine isn’t routine. The winds pick up. Your little boat starts taking on water, and the first thing you want to know is, “Where’s Jesus? I can’t find Him when I need Him.” It’s because you’re out of practice.

You do those things in practice so they become so habitual, so habit, that you will do them without thinking. Remember, Jesus prepared in prayer. You and I have that same opportunity to spend the time we need to in prayer to be ready for when those moments come. You’re in one of three places in your life. You’re either in the storm, just out of the storm, or about to go into one.

That’s the three places where all of us live. And the moments when it is quiet, the moments when it is easy or routine—those are the moments we have to prepare. Those are the moments we have to practice—to practice the presence, to practice our listening, to practice our obedience—so that when the storm comes, we’re ready.

Marriage Takes 200%

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “Well you know, a good marriage is a 50-50 deal…”

Really? Think about that statement. Are we saying that a husband gives half and a wife gives half and that makes a good marriage?

Here’s a little secret that no one but me will tell you: No marriage is 50-50. Every marriage is 100-100. That is, the husband has to give all that he has to the marriage, and the wife has to give all that she has to the marriage. Both have to be “all in” or the marriage will gradually unravel in suspicion and doubt.

Now, here’s the other little secret no one but me will tell you. You always have to come up with 200%. That means sometimes you have to give more than your 100. There are times in our lives when life just becomes too hard, overwhelming, and even debilitating. During that time, you may only be able to give 60% to the marriage.That means your spouse will have to come up with the other 140%.

When Chris and Craig were little, Jeannie was a great mother, but twin boys took all of her time and energy. There wasn’t a whole lot left over for me. That meant whatever Jeannie couldn’t bring to the marriage, I had to carry. She couldn’t give any more. She didn’t have it. So, I had to give more.

In the same way, when I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I was a lousy husband. I wasn’t even a good patient. Jeannie carried our marriage. Every day, you have to come up with 200%.

In the ups and downs of life, everyone gets a turn. Sometimes, your spouse just doesn’t have it to give. You have to make up what’s lacking. At other times, your spouse will have to bring extra to the relationship. But no matter what, every day you have to come up with 200%. Anything less than that, and you’ll be coming up short.

Great marriages have never been 50-50. They’ve always been total commitments of husbands and wives who, every day, find a way to come up with 200%

Do the Little Things

Now that I’ve been doing what I do for as long as I have, people want to know about things that have surprised me. Well, that’s a hard one because I’m surprised every day by something. Every day I see something I never thought I would see. I’ve seen a human being walk on the moon and then, I watched as we got bored with going to the moon. Think about that. People got bored hearing about people going to the moon. The evening news doesn’t even cover it anymore.

But what has surprised me the most is how big of an impact little things make. Little things left unattended can add up to a big pile of trouble.

Take marriage for instance. Most marriages don’t fail because of an affair or some drastic, unforgiveable act. Most of the time love is frozen under layers and layers of anger that has built up over the years as small things have not been addressed.

A “thank you” goes unspoken, and a wife feels taken for granted.

An “I’m sorry” isn’t said, and a husband feels ignored.

None of these issues are insurmountable or even difficult to overcome in and of themselves. But, when thrown into a pile with all of the other unresolved issues, you have a big pile of pain before you know it. You can deal with this pile one incident at a time. It’s possible, but it takes a long time.

The other way is to recognize the power of each moment, no matter how small, and use each moment as an opportunity to bring your marriage closer together. Small kindnesses and gentle words are little knots that hold the whole thing together. Just like small things can add up to big problems, little acts of love add up to a very rich and satisfying marriage.

The truth is, it works both ways. Little things add up, and we get to choose whether they add up to something beautiful or painful.