Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain
Years ago, I drove past a home construction site where the foundation had been laid but the frame had yet to take shape. A small sign greeted everyone who came to the job site. It read: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” ~ Psalm 127:1
I marveled at that bold expression of faith! What courage it took for that builder to proclaim his faith, on the job, everyday. What a privilege it must have been to work for someone who gave such thanks and demonstrated such humility.
I didn’t have that kind of courage. It felt much safer to keep things of faith inside the church building, so I looked around to learn how to do this God-thing right. The options were a bit overwhelming. Should I try to preach like a pastor? teach like a Sunday school teacher? facilitate like a study group leader? serve meals like the outreach leader? donate more to the budget like the finance leader? How did a Christian behave?
I was all in for the Kingdom, and I wanted to fully invest myself in building God’s house. Let’s beef up this church; it’s the Body of Christ here on earth after all. Better get busy! So I did what newbie’s do; I imitated others in search of the “me” I was supposed to be. Hey, I’ve got lots of gifts! I’ll be the whole house. Bring it on!
But the verse on that sign, Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain, really nagged at me. Whoever placed it probably attended worship regularly, read the Bible, put money in the offering plate and maybe even taught Sunday school, but I didn’t see that. What I saw was this profession of faith on public display at the job site. So, what’s God building in me? If God isn’t building my house, then whatever I am doing to spiff it up is completely in vain.
Talk about vanity, I had been looking around my church wondering which project I was supposed to be in charge of. No, Wendy, I’ve hired the job foreman and contracted for the skilled labor. You’re construction material, just like the rest of these whom I dearly love.
Okay then. Well, a quality house needs quality construction material. So, am I a brick? a cinder block? maybe a board, a joint, a slab of sheet rock, a pail of plaster? Perhaps paint, wall paper, a lighting fixture? Certainly not a roof truss! Maybe I’m cabinetry, an electrical outlet, a shingle or a shutter? Or I could even be sod or a landscape planting. None better than the other, all essential, each an expression of the builder’s careful craftsmanship.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit like a brick. Well, okay then, if I’m a brick, then I’ll be the best brick I can be. Not a bad thing, to be a brick in the house God is building: strong, steady, stable, keeping the crumbling to a minimum.
But just when I thought I had this brick-thing figured out, God showed me that He didn’t just make me a brick on the inside wall of his church. My brick faces outside, too. I’m meant to be construction material in all the things I am doing so that others who see, hear, read, or otherwise meet me might see the brick I am and come to know my Builder.
We of the family and lineage of God are all just building materials, sifted, stacked, cemented and nailed, into the house where the very Christ is our cornerstone. That builder’s got a blueprint.
I’m just a brick in that wall.
Sometimes Mission is not so Far Afield
I made a wrong turn on my way to a training session. Darn that GPS, it proclaims “you have arrived!” just as you pass the turn. Thankfully, just up the road there was a big church parking lot where I could make a U-turn. On exiting the lot, I was greeted by this sign:
I let the car idle for a moment as I considered this. There, in my training shorts, shoes and sport shirt, was I really entering the mission field?
I have never actually been on a mission trip. Never stood with a group before the congregation to send me off to a distant land to build a church, or to a neighboring state that has experienced devastation, nor even to the inner city to lend a hand to those living in poverty. Could it be that right here, right now, with my little training business in my own community, I was knee deep in mission? Maybe I didn’t need to go on a trip after all.
I wasn’t exactly “called” to Fit2Finish. Not in a voice-from-heaven-that-insisted-I-go way. It’s been more of a constant contact kind of thing. On this day, I was meeting up with Emily, a 16 year old basketball player, who’d had ACL reconstructive surgery in February. We had already had several sessions, but this time we were meeting on the basketball court of a middle school near her home. She had been cleared to return to play, but it would be my first time to meet her father, Roy, who was bringing her. He wasn’t so sure she was ready. What’s so “missional” about this?
I have walked this road before, and it can get rocky in the space between a sporting kid delighted to have permission to return to play and the father who loves them so much it would absolutely kill them to see their child injured again. (Incidentally, the mothers tend to do much better; it’s more often the fathers who wince at the prospect.)
I put Emily through her paces. She runs, jumps, dribbles, and shoots. She stops and starts, pivots and hesitates, and drives the lane for a lay-up. Roy and I both shag balls as we watch, and I make a point to join him under the basket to hear what he’s thinking. His reflective sunglasses prevent my reading his face for cues.
“What do you see?” I ask him. After all, he is the expert. He has been watching this kid since she toddled with a ball.
“How does it feel?” I ask Emily when she jogs over. After all, it’s her body. She knows it inside and out.
I haven’t said a word. Not offered any observations, made any corrections, agreed or disagreed with any statements made. I have just created the circumstance to watch and listen, as father and daughter hear each other out to discover their common ground.
On this sunny day in August, with a cool breeze blowing across the playground, things go smoothly. It’s not always like this. Sometimes there are undertones and misgivings, ushered in with angst and fear. Parents don’t trust their kids. Kids are frustrated with their parents. Parents want to wait. Kids are in a hurry. Parents have expectations. Kids want to meet expectations but they can’t. Sometimes, it gets ugly.
I can’t ever be sure how things will go, but it seems where I’m meant to be. “You are now entering the mission field.” It’s not exactly a “sharing the faith” kind of thing, but I am convinced that somehow, when I put on those training sneakers, I am standing on holy ground.
Funny, as I prepare to shuttle my own 18 year old off to Virginia Tech this week, expanding the space between us and leaving the proverbial “empty nest,” I will especially miss her poignant observations about life. Often, just a few words captioning a drawing in a memory dusted off. In our cleaning out and packing, she has pulled out a book she made as a first grader. On the ‘Meet My Mom’ page, she has written, “(My mom) really likes to tech pepol to stresh.”
I do like to teach people to stretch. Guess I have been at this longer than I thought.
Teaching people to stretch… their limbs, their minds, their lives, toward their goals, their dreams, and toward each other. Now THAT is a mission field. Amazing how those wrong turns remind us.
Truth, Justice and the American Way
Superman comic books used to be all the craze when I was a kid. I read them. Okay, I looked at the pictures and followed the dialogue. I rooted for the good guy in the cape. The man of steel. Nothing could stop him, except kryptonite, and who has kryptonite? Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. And not just for show; our hero was keeping us safe from the bad guys out there. No need to worry when Superman was on the job.
All he needed was a phone booth to change in. The guy entered as mild mannered Clark Kent and emerged as Superman. Something changed when he put on the suit and the cape. Then he was ready to go fight bad guys. Waging a never-ending battle for “Truth, Justice and the American Way!”
Truth, justice and the American way…. now there’s an old-fashioned trio. Today we have more savvy. We don’t fall for comic book heroes.
- Truth? That’s malleable. I have mine; you have yours. Lets agree to disagree so we can get along.
- Justice? That’s negotiable. The ends justify the means, so let’s just skirt these rules; after all, I have good intentions.
- American way? That’s laughable. Everybody knows Americans are power-hungry and just out to make a fast buck; that’s no way to live.
What a bunch of propaganda those comic books were feeding me, an impressionable kid who didn’t know any better. But somehow this echoes in the back of my mind as I listen to the question posed to people who intend to join our church fellowship.
“Do you accept the power that God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever the forms they present themselves?”
We all say yes as a matter of course. It’s expected. But what if we said yes and really meant it? It’d be like stepping into the phone booth. We’d be face to face with…
Do I believe that God has the power to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all its forms?
Do I believe that God offers that power to me?
Do I believe that if I say yes, I have this power, too?
Is God crazy? Do I look like Clark Kent?
In fact, in many ways I do. Mild-mannered. Glasses. And ordinary… Blogger. Mom. Sports enthusiast. Coach. Christian. Ah, that last one. Perhaps that’s the cape. When I put it on, I can do things I never thought I could do.
I’m no Superhero. But I am meant to combat evil, injustice and oppression in all its forms. The power to do that, so it seems, is available if I accept it. But that’s dangerous. Because if it’s real, I am meant to do something with it. Not just admire the costume hanging in the closet, but put it on and venture out. I have to face the bad guys. Literally, wield the forces of good against the evil that is out there. Speak up and take action against injustices I see. Advocate for the oppressed, especially those without the resources to fight for themselves.
It comes with the job, with the cape, with the “yes.” In that moment, the God of the Universe ties his Superpowers in a bow around my neck. Can I really imagine such a God? One that wages a never-ending fight for truth and justice? And trusts us to wield His power?
What if that were the world’s way?