Connecting with the One in the Building by Connection to the Ones in the Building

My family and I took a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving. From Germany, we visited Luxembourg, England, France and Austria. Planes, trains and automobiles took us to various sites including a few different cathedrals. These magnificent structures were centuries old, ornate and large.

We took a taxi to Notre Dame in Paris and I enjoyed a conversation with the taxi driver along the way. He asked where I was from and reacted consistently with other Europeans when I told him, “Texas.” Apparently, there is a perception of Texas that leads people to smile with familiarity from cowboy movies. There are gestures of riding horses and references to John Wayne.

We enjoyed talking about Texas, family, Paris and other little connection points along the ride. He asked where I work and I told him that I was a pastor, which required some discussion for clarity. As we pulled up to the huge and impressive Notre Dame cathedral, he presented it to me with a grin, “your church.”

What I found within me as we looked at these large churches was a bit of apathy. In fact, almost disregard. It wasn’t that they weren’t fantastic but instead that I wanted more. More connection, more interaction, more life. Less looking and admiring and more experiencing. More relationship and less religion. More taxi conversations and fewer lines to see stained glass.

I don’t mean this in any way to be disparaging about the structures. Instead, what I found was a deeper appreciation for church. I found a greater clarity for the value of people and recognition that the institution is for the sake of relationship. It’s there, by its original design, to connect those that are looking to connect. It’s intended for people to know God differently and they (we) know God differently by knowing each other.

Strip away stained glass, bulletins, programs, pews, etc. and what’s left is an opportunity. The opportunity is for connection to other people with similar questions, thoughts and beliefs as well as dissimilar questions, thoughts and beliefs. There you are, together in a building; work it out. Work it out together.

What I found at Notre Dame and Westminster and others was an appreciation for grace. Grace is necessary to live with people. No grace is required to sit in a building and participate in a service, but great grace is needed when relating to the flaws we find in each other. That realization of grace was stirred me and connected me to the One that the building was about in the first place.

Greatness Just Is

Several years ago, I was with my family at the airport trying to get on a flight that was oversold and it didn’t look like it was going to happen. They issued a boarding pass but then took it back. The way it played out left us literally standing at the gate with our luggage in hand ready to head down the ramp at a moment’s notice. My dad had dropped us off at the airport and was waiting in the baggage claim area outside of security, watching through the glass. I looked over at him as we waited at the gate and realized that his oversight was a great comfort.

There he was, standing patiently and watching to see if we were going to get on. Nothing particularly dramatic about it, but it was a great snapshot of what he has done for me my entire life. He’s been there, watching and waiting, ready to help if needed. There was nothing he could do about getting me on that flight so it wasn’t a matter of fixing things for me. It was his presence that was the offering which brought me comfort. He’s a great dad.

The power of presence is often underrated. Just being there offers confidence, security and support among other things and is the greatest gift we can often offer another. In fact, just being there and supporting when there is nothing else we can do to “fix” something is the kind of love that allows those that we love to work through things with the comfort of knowing that if they can’t work it out they still won’t be alone. It assures them of a place at the table of family and community which allows for living.

My Dad is always there. I can walk with the comfort of His presence even when He is letting me work through the details of my choices and the consequences of those choices from a safe observation point. The oversight and invite are an assurance of my place in the world during times when the world seems to offer no place. The consistency of His offering is that when I draw nearer, there is a peace in the middle of the questions of life. There is acceptance among rejection and strength for the next step. He’s a great Dad.

It Might Take Forever

As a practicing attorney, I once had a consult with a potential client. During our first meeting in my office, I realized that the task at hand for this particular client wasn’t as legal as it was something different. Her legal situation, while not particularly egregious, was grim. She had been convicted of a misdemeanor and was appealing the conviction as she wanted desperately to clear her record.

As she sat and poured out her problems, I eventually put my pen down and just listened. The facts surrounding the accusation were simple and the legal defense took just a minute to consider. The chances of winning were slim, at best. The facts surrounding the rest of her life were not nearly as simple. Without going into detail, she had taken some pretty tough hits in life and the result was financial stress, health problems and the challenge of raising two children on her own.

During that consultation, I told her how we would handle her case. As importantly, I tried to give her something to get a hold of for her to begin to handle her life, as well. Simple encouragement that brought hope and perspective. Just pointing out her positives and calling her vision to the truth of the hope of what could be.

We went to trial and lost. We tried – threw a legitimate legal argument at a legitimate legal problem. It was a long shot, though, and I was a little concerned about my client’s confidence and outlook as we left the courtroom.

I started to debrief her in the hallway and she interrupted me. She said, “Mr. Prickett, I am as full of hope right now as I have been in a long time. When I came to your office, I was scared and defeated but you were kind to me. Nobody has said the nice things that you said to me in my entire life. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.” I listened and watched as a single tear rolled down her cheek. She went on to share that she had signed up for college classes even though “it may take forever to get my degree, but I’m going to be moving forward with positive steps to keep my mind off of my problems.”

There is more to this thing we do, whatever it is we do, than the stuff that we do. Sometimes we just have to stop what we’re doing, put our pen down, and agree with the life that is barely hanging on in the soul of another. Our agreement with hope in the life of another won’t fix all of their immediate problems but it might just get things going the right direction.

Movement Affords Traction and Traction Facilitates Momentum

When I was in my mid-30’s, I was stuck in a corporate position that didn’t seem to matter at all. My salary and bonuses kept going up as I managed my career, but satisfaction with how I was spending 40+ hours per week kept going down. I increasingly focused on time out of the office in whatever form I could arrange it.

I began to shift my focus, bought and business and started a ride that has been wild, as well as satisfying. There is nothing easy about the choices my wife and I have made since 2005 regarding businesses, ministry, jobs, etc., but we have been living. We seek God and His direction, come into agreement with Him as a couple and offer our “yes” before we have it all figured out. We try to live on and for purpose. We believe in purpose over position and significance over success.

What I have seen lately is instances where others, particularly young people, are attempting to live in a similar manner but get stuck waiting for the next thing that offers purpose. In other words, they are driven by purpose and passion at the expense of the practical. They are frustrated and stuck, not to mention broke. It’s concerned me as I’ve counseled with them and often I’ll offer the following:

  • You can’t enjoy any momentum in the pursuit of your purpose/destiny without traction. Something in motion tends to stay in motion. Satisfaction of purpose comes with the ever-increasing unveiling, not a singular realization of accomplishment.
  • Traction only comes with action. Over the past 12 years as we’ve given our lives over to Greater purpose, we’ve had to make choices that were not our ultimate target, but provided traction (and money) for advancing. Action provides opportunities.

When I was training as a 2d Lieutenant, we would be encouraged, “You’d better do something, Lieutenant; do anything, but you have to do something!” We couldn’t develop a situation that wasn’t in motion, and waiting typically only produced defensive and/or negative scenarios.

Living a life grounded in purpose is good and right, but not at the cost of practical in most cases. One step leads to the next and provides along the way. Said another way; you have to work to eat. Those that ground their convictions in Biblical truth can’t forget that we are called to work; it is part of the blessing. Our hands have to stay on the plow even if it isn’t the field we will ultimately own.

The Pain of Sutherland Springs is Real

I have to admit that when I when I initially hear news like the news out of South Texas yesterday regarding the shooting at a church, I am numb. The scene, reality and ramifications are abstract when I begin to consider them. The hurt is hard to imagine from the distance of the circumstances.

To make it more challenging, the frequency of these stories has numbed the pain of the reality. Las Vegas was just a few weeks ago and now this. There seems to be one right after the other and it’s hard to get your head around, much less your heart.

Yesterday as I was considering the situation in South Texas, I heard that the pastor of that little church was in Oklahoma with his wife yesterday but heading home. I also read that the pastor and his wife confirmed that their 14-year old daughter was among the dead. That did it for me; the abstract was tangible and my heart broke.

I am a pastor and I have a 14-year old daughter. I wept as I considered their pain and felt the reality of this tragedy. I prayed differently as I processed the human processing of grief. Their lives will never be the same and hers was robbed.

Part of my initial distance was the distraction of gun rights advocates and anti-gun advocates posturing on social media; hijacking the need to connect to the human reality. Political reasons, blame, rallies and reactions make things a Power Point presentation for the purpose of supporting a position. The task at hand is compassion and comfort, not convincing.

In this world, there is going to be trouble. No matter what. We are in a dark world and our only hope is the Light within. That Light within does not have a political agenda, He has a people agenda. He hurts for people and we are invited to agree with Him at times where tragedy seems abstract and politics seem relevant.

Seeing Past the Labels

We are more complex than the labels we depend on to try to quantify our qualities. We call ourselves things and we call other people things in an effort to package and control the human variable. Most of the time, we look at the obvious and immediate at the expense of the hidden and eternal.

When I was practicing criminal defense law, I would not have been an effective advocate if I had decided to label each client with the crime they were accused of. Even if the labels were attached following a conviction or confession, I would be missing the opportunity to see the person and agree with their design. They weren’t designed to be a criminal; their intention was hijacked somewhere along the way.

Seeing the person afforded the opportunity to speak about the person in agreement with who they are; not based on what they had done. That was true of the accused and it is true of the less obvious accusations more common to day-to-day  life. There are people every day who, on the surface, are “wrong” in various forms. Yet, even if accurate assessments of justice, grace calls us to look beyond the flaws and into the design.

There is a character in Scripture that we have labeled as “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus was resurrected, Thomas says he won’t believe the resurrection of Jesus unless he is able to touch the wounds of the resurrected body of Jesus. So Jesus presents Himself in John 20 and meets Thomas right where his lack of had him stalled. That’s grace.

Interestingly, in John 11 the same man operated with a different label. He was traveling with Jesus as they heard of the death of Lazarus and Jesus decided to go to where Lazarus was. It was pointed out that this was the same place where people had tried to stone Jesus and would likely try again. This was dangerous and anyone with Jesus could lose their life, too.

The reaction of Thomas, however, was different from the label he gets in chapter 20. Thomas says, “let’s go with Him, so we can die, too.”

Maybe figuring Thomas out isn’t so easy. Is he doubting or courageous? Yes. Depends on the day; just like it does for any of us.

There are things we do that we are working out. Sometimes we are doubting and sometimes we are courageous. Neither necessarily affords us a title; both reflect the working out of our identity through a soul that wrestles with the eternal nature of God’s Spirit. Both require grace.