When I was in Guatemala, I worked with a team of 25 teenagers and six adults to build a Casas por Cristo house in two and a half days. In the next couple of days, I’ll go into some detail about this experience. Today, I start with the foundation.
I was part of the site preparation and foundation team. From the start of work until lunch time on day one, our team worked diligently on clearing the location of the house, setting up the forms for the foundation, and making sure the forms were completely square and firmly set in place. We also leveled the location of the slab, and we installed rebar strategically along the perimeter of the slab to sure up and strengthen the foundation. Finally, before we mixed and dumped one load of concrete, we installed a wire mesh across the surface of the entire slab. Again, this would be used to firm up the concrete.
After lunch, we setup two concrete mixing stations. With the teamwork of two groups bringing sand, concrete, rocks, and water. We mixed many, many loads of concrete which were dumped inside the forms and smoothed out to form the foundation and slab of the house we built. (The slab was 16 feet by 18 feet which would form the base for a three room house. I’ll give more details in a future post.)
When we finished the house, the foundation and slab were the least visible piece of the house. It was completely covered by a brand new house. The foundation however was the key element in building a house that will last a long time in Guatemala where most homes are built with dirt floors. 40% of the time required to build the entire house was spent making sure the foundation was just right. If we didn’t get this part right, the house wouldn’t go together correctly – it would be crooked, and it would eventually fall down. Those of us who worked on the foundation wanted to get onto the more glamorous work of hammering nails and putting up walls, but we had an important part to play in building a house that will last.
Our lives and our spiritual growth are like this as well. We want to get onto the glamorous parts of our spiritual growth curve without making sure things are structurally sound in the fundamental things. This is one of the reasons that I’ve been excited to teach a class at our church called Foundations. It’s a class designed to help people establish some foundational elements to their spiritual toolbox.
I learned many things about construction while we built this house, but I was also reminded of some life-truths that will stick with me for a while.
What areas of your life have thrived because you put the work in for a good foundation? In what areas of your life do you need to go back and firm up your foundation?
Today, I’m leading a Foundations Class at church. We’ll be talking about using our gifts as part of living a transformed Christlike life of servanthood. As I thought about this topic, I thought of puzzle (see my picture below).
Each of us along with our spiritual gifts represent of piece of the puzzle. Our piece is an important part of the whole puzzle. When we show up and use our gifts in the right place, the puzzle becomes more complete and beautiful. When one of the pieces is missing, the puzzle isn’t complete. When we put the puzzle together incorrectly (like when we try to plug into the puzzle in a spot that doesn’t match our gifting), the puzzle doesn’t work out so well.
Do you know your spiritual gifts? How are you using your gifts?
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. I Corinthians 12:1-31
This past Sunday, I led our third Foundations Class based on Fully Devoted by John Ortberg. Our first class was on Grace. Our second class was about Growth. And our third class focused on Groups. As you may imagine, I was pretty excited about this week. I’m a huge grouplife fan, and I have a passion for seeing people connected in community through groups.
The lesson for this week reminded me that being in a group is more than just about connection. Being in a group is about experiencing the life transforming power of truth and grace. You see, we all need truth and grace in our lives. If we have too much grace and not enough truth, we will miss out on growth. We will fail to face up to things in our lives that need change and transformation. On the other hand, if we have too much truth in our lives and not enough grace, we will get bogged down in the sin that entangles all of us. We need both truth and grace in equal amounts.
When it comes to dispensing truth and grace to those around us, we also need to be balanced. We need to speak both truth and grace into those around us. When we fail to do this, we miss out on showing love. My friend, Diane, showed me a great chart that helps to demonstrate this principle. I’ll do my best to explain it.
Looking at the chart above, Grace is plotted along the x or horizontal axis and Truth is plotted along the y or vertical axis (I love this kind of talk!). If we fail to show grace and we fail to show truth, it shows are lack of involvement in the lives of others (this is the RED area of the chart). When we show truth and we fail to show grace, we are graceless (the YELLOW area of the chart). On the other side of the spectrum, when we show grace and we fail to show truth, we are lying (the GREEN area of the chart). Where we hit our sweet spot, we show both truth and grace (the BLUE area of the chart). This is how we truly exhibit love towards one another.
Christian community isn’t always perfect. Over the years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that can sometimes happen even amongst groups that call themselves Christian. We need to strive for the best. We need to be marked as people who love. Love happens when truth and grace coexist. And I believe that small groups are a perfect place to flesh this out.
Do you have a relationship where grace and truth exist? Are you in a small group? Why or why not?
Yesterday morning, I led week two of a Foundations Class at my church. If you remember from my post last week, we talked about grace during the first class. This week, we continued along with the five Gs outlined in Fully Devoted, a study guide by John Ortberg, with the topic of growth.
Growth is an interesting topic. When I think of growth these days, I think about growth in my running, in my writing, and in my engineering management career path. In each of these areas, growth doesn’t just happens. It takes work. If I want to run a marathon, I have to go into strict training. If I want to become a better writer and maybe someday write a book, I have to keep practicing and learning. If I want to keep up with the ever-changing engineering and leadership fields, I have to stay in training so I can learn about new technologies and about new leadership techniques.
Spiritual growth is somewhat similar. It doesn’t just happen. It takes time, experience, and some effort on our parts if we’re serious about growing spiritually. Sure, God could just zap us with spiritual maturity, but we would then miss out on all the experience and training.
So, what does this kind of training look like?
That’s a good question.
I think it includes an attitude of learning – we need to learn God’s Word. We need to develop a heart for prayer. And we need to listen for God. Listening to God can happen in a corporate setting of worship and small groups, but it also happens in solitude where the distractions of this world are put aside for a brief period of time. Honestly, this is the area where I struggle with now. I feel so often that I’m running from one thing to the next. I even wrote about this last week. How can I hear God’s calling when I’m typically too busy even to hear myself think?
As we walked through our discussion, we talked about a few verses that encourage us to be intentional in our spiritual training. I would encourage you to read these verses and see how they relate to the topic of growth and spiritual transformation.
It’s funny how God hits you on the head with a message when you’re in the spotlight leading. This is a message that I need to hear over and over again. It should be a fun week. Leanne and I are leading a discussion on discipline at the week’s MOPS meeting at our church. Sounds like another blog post and some more challenging lessons.
What does your spiritual training look like right now? What steps do you need to take to grow spiritually?
We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.
– Will Campbell
I found this quote in Phil Yancey‘s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace. In this book, Yancey shares a story (A Home For Bastards) about Will Campbell’s conversation with P. D. East, anti-Christian newspaper editor. Campbell’s quote ties in to the topic of a class I’ll be leading over the next several weeks. In the Foundations Class, we’ll be using John Ortberg‘s book, Fully Devoted, to discuss spiritual transformation. Each week, we’ll talk about one of the five Gs (Grace, Growth, Groups, Gifts, and Giving).
This week, we’ll be talking about Grace. As the quote above implies, grace is undeserved by all, but God gives it anyway. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a wonderful story of grace. In this parable, the younger son of a rich ruler decides to cash in his inheritance early. He completely squanders the money, and he is eventually left to live with the pigs.
In a stroke of awakening, he decides to crawl back to his father to request a job as a servant. In the story, the father sees the son comes back from a distance, and he runs to him with open arms. The father welcomes his son back as a son and not as a servant. The father extends grace to the son.
Meanwhile, the older, loyal son sees what is happening and becomes jealous of the grace extended to his brother. He misses out on the loving grace already extended to him by the father. This can be an easy place to find myself as a long time Christian – and a first-born son. The story is a good lesson that God’s grace is open to all who chose to accept it and to return home to a loving Father.
If you’re interested in getting in on the conversation, come join us at the Foundations Class. We’re meeting Sunday mornings at 10:15am at Christ’s Church of the Valley. There are also other Foundations Classes being offered if this time slot doesn’t work for you.
How have you experienced grace?