We bought a home last July that we absolutely love, but there is one thing about it that I have grown to ardently hate, pipes. Four times in less than a year we have had a total drainage lock-down. Some might attribute our demise to great cereal, but I am telling you, the problem is bad pipes.
Everything is going great, flowing freely. There is little to no thought of the importance of what is taking place below the floor until I hear that dreaded gurgle. The gurgle is the final warning that what is supposed to be leaving your home is about to reverse and make a nasty return. This may be TMI territory, but you need to know. It stinks.
I have seen the same thing happen to marriages, friendships, businesses, churches, and teams. Things are going great, flowing freely, and then there is a gurgle followed by a sudden reversal of progress that brings with it an unwelcome stench. What was once going good is now markedly bad.
Paul had a series of communications with a gifted church that started well but had long since gurgled, reversed, and now sat in a stagnant stench. There was definite tension in their relationship. So he writes:
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” 2 Corinthians 6:11-13
Do you see the problem? Restricted affections. The heart must be widened for things to flow freely again. There was a clog in the pipes. As I said before. This could apply to organizational pipes, relational pipes, marital pipes, ecclesiastical (church) pipes . . . whatever the situation the remedy is the same.
Locate the problem.
By trial and error we finally located the source of our issue. The entire system failed at one joint. Instead of a Y that would cooperate with gravity, the brilliant plumber who did the original work on the house decided that a T would work. Let me tell you, T’s do not work well with gravity. I have learned that all that happens within a T joint is horrible things we should not mention.
In our culture we are conditioned that when you hear the gurgle in the relationship, marriage, church, business, etc. the problem is solved by pointing a finger. Blame does little to unclog restricted affections, but humility will go a long way.
Instead of immediately pointing the finger of blame toward the Corinthians, Paul humbly checked himself to see if there were restricted affections in him. If you read the preceding paragraph (2 Cor. 6:1-10), you will see that Paul examined several points of accountability – his joints if you will! He examined his record of service to Christ, his maturity, his purity, his preaching, his attitude, and his character. You get a sense that if there was cause for blame, he would gladly accept it, but he stood before them blameless. “Our heart is wide open.” No restrictions or clogs of which to speak.
Perhaps you are attending a church that when you first began, the preaching was amazing and the music stirring. But now it is little more than ho-hum. The characters are all the same. What has changed? Before you point a finger at the preacher or a leader, first examine yourself. Check the essential joints; prayer, Bible reading, curiosity, preparation, discipline. Be careful to point a finger at others when in reality you are the clog. Be humble.
Humility goes a long way when it is necessary to deliver a hard word. “You are restricted in your own affections.” Clog located. Now we can go to work.
Use the clean-outs.
Through our trial I have learned that in drainage systems there are several strategically placed clean-outs. I believe clean-outs are a plumbers way of leaving you little clues that certain areas of your home could become problematic. “Here is a clean-out beneath your children’s bathroom. It is here so that you can more conveniently retrieve GI Joe after he has been flushed.” Hint. Hint.
Let me give you more wisdom about clean-outs. Once you unscrew them, you will learn that there is nothing clean about clean-outs. If the clean-out is above you, whatever is ready to be cleaned out, will immediately be upon you – and you will not be clean. I’m telling you this from experience.
God has provided the soul with clean-outs. It is called repentance and confession. Nasty as it is. Unclean as it may sound. Confession is essential for cleansing and healing restricted affection.
Call for help.
I am an only child – male version. I am the T joint of stubborn stupidity. I determined that I, who had 0 plumbing experience, and a stellar track record of failed home improvement blunders, could somehow fix our issue. Think long and hard about this train of reasoning and see if you can discern the fallacy. A preacher would fix the plumber’s mistake.
So I fixed it. The end result was three cut pipes, PVC and water all over the floor. It only took me five hours to completely destroy my home, my marriage, and any respect my children had for me. Added to the emotional turmoil I caused came the even better news that no one could use the bathroom, shower, or use a sink for the rest of the weekend. Its Saturday! But Monday’s comin’ – until then, there are no plumbers, only wet, very aggravated and defeated preachers.
On Monday I called a wonderful man in our church that my wife had counseled me to call when the project began. He came and fixed what I had taken 5 hours to destroy in what seemed like 15 minutes.
There is a plumbing facility on I-59 south in Trussville, AL that has the perfect marketing slogan. John’s Plumbing – “We repair what your husband fixed.” I now know exactly what that means. It means, call for help.
When you try to do things on your own, it usually ends up a greater mess. God designed us for community, not self-sufficiency. Criticism at a distance seems much easier than confrontation at close range, but in the end, when done rightly leaves far less mess. Pointing out clogs is less of a hassle than dealing with them. And to deal with them, most of the time you will need some help. Trust me, before you go cutting pipe, make the call. It will cost you less in the end.
Widening the openings of the heart is hard work, especially when there are clogged, hurt feelings and affections. Seek counsel. Don’t be afraid of the difficult conversations. When the hard work is done and things begging flowing freely again the stench almost immediately disappears. The hope of the gospel is that we are left with a productive and effective way toward reconciliation. Make the call before you make the mess.
Yesterday was the 3 year anniversary of a life changing day for me, my family, and for almost everyone in the community where I lived at the time. Ironically, tonight we are preparing for a new set of storms. I felt compelled to re-post this article today that I posted orignially on April 29, 2011. I hope you find it helpful.
On Wednesday afternoon our youth pastor and I took a generator to the home of a family in our church that had been hit by a tornado that morning. They were scrambling to try repair their home to the point that it would be secure. We all knew there were more storms coming and they would be worse. I am not a carpenter. In moments of urgent carpentry all I am is in the way. When I go on a missions trip my job is to carry stuff in Jesus’ name. So we did not stay long and I was home by early afternoon settling in for a long night of wild weatherman radar watching.
Some people may think tower-cams are cool, I think they are nearly useless. Anytime there is a storm we get a tower-cam image of a sleepy wet town. Most of the time you can see little to nothing because the camera is drenched and shaking. The weather man then discloses what the rest of us didn’t know, that it is windy and raining in Podunk. Wednesday was different. On the Tuscaloosa tower-cam entered a dark cloud that reached to the ground. As it got closer you could tell it was circulating. In a few moments it revealed itself to be a perfectly formed tornado, grey and sinister. My wife and I watched in stunned shock knowing that property was being destroyed, lives were changing, people were dying. As the camera panned to include a shot of Bryant Denny Stadium with a massive tornado in the background the screen went green; disconnect. I have lived in Alabama long enough to know how these storms track. I looked at my wife and said, “That thing is headed straight for us.”
Within the hour we were hunkered down in the basement. My daughters were crying. We were praying knowing full well that the words, “It is all going to be O.K.” may not be within the realm of possibility. I have seen hundreds of disasters on television. Never have I had one headed for me. The awful part of it all was that there was no evacuation, nowhere to go, there was no escape. All you could do is wait and wonder if this would be the last time you would know your home as it is. You wondered if you may be hurt or if you may die. I tried to convey none of these ideas to my family, but I didn’t have to. Though we didn’t verbalize what we felt each of us were easy enough to read. We prayed and prayed and prayed. I tweeted, “Praying for all our people. Serious situation here. May God be merciful to us.” After the obvious questions we were left with only one, “Would God answer our prayers?”
The tornado that destroyed Tuscaloosa and West Jefferson County tracked 180 miles across Alabama. We live in a span of about the only 30 miles in which it did not touch down. As it passed our home the air was still, then green, then violent, then black as night, then light as day. For about 30 minutes before and after it passed roof shingles, sheet metal, splintered wood, insulation, and paper fell from the sky. My wife found a $6,000 check in our driveway. The moment was surreal. I had no doubt that God had done something for us, but as I picked up the pieces of other people’s lives raining down on my yard I wondered, “What had God done for them?”
I know thousands of people across that 180 mile stretch of death prayed as hard as we did and believed just as much as we did. Some of them are dead. Some of them lost everything. Some of them, like us, rejoiced that we were spared. Situations like this foster questions from both believers and skeptics. My wife heard a woman on the radio crying asking why God didn’t answer the prayers of the people who died? As she ripped through her list of questions she rattled off, “Did they not have enough faith?” Some people call tornados an act of God. Insurance companies do. Some people see them as so random and unforgiving that they conclude there cannot possibly be a God.
How do we make sense of a storm?
For some it may be way too early to read this. For others it may be too late. Yet I write this so that you may “Feel my Faith” and perhaps to help those of you who find this on time to sort through what you feel, and perhaps find some Biblical basis for it all. If the Bible promised us what many preachers have tried, that if you have enough faith, do right, and believe God then all things will be wonderful – then Wednesday would have made me an atheist. Yet the Bible is more honest about life and its storms than many Bible Belt preachers have been over the last few decades. The Bible is full of storms and God. In fact, Jesus used the illustration of a devastating storm as the concluding illustration of what many regard to be His most famous teaching, The Sermon on the Mount.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27
The Bible is honest enough to tell us that there will be storms and we are candidates to be materially devastated no matter what we believe or how much or how little faith we have. In 180 miles atheists, agnostics, preachers, babies, mothers, Christians, and otherwise all died in the storm. We live in a world that was devastated by sin long before it was devastated by storms. These moments are a part of our story. Because we live so small we fail to realize there is evil everyday. There are pockets of the world in which people are swept away by the hundreds and we simply sleep, or watch football, or eat burgers. It could be argued that our daily indifference is evil. At the very least storms reveal to us that we are unaware and bank too much on what is totally insecure. Jesus interprets the true power of the storm. Storms have nothing to do with what buildings are made of. We have yet to build one strong enough to withstand the storm. Storms are about what we are made of. Storms make us question what we believe. That is what we are doing. Storms are also a litmus test to tell us whether what we believe is strong enough to help us make sense of reality and survive.
The Bible is honest about the reality of storms. We live in a sin scarred world. The Bible is also honest in telling us that none of us have ever suffered from the evil in this planet like God has. God lost His Son in an incredibly unjust storm. The storm of the crucifixion had nothing to do with weather, but people. The wrath of man that Jesus suffered was unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving. Yet in the midst of the storm, He forgave us (Luke 23:34). That moment changed everything for us. Then the meaning of that moment was secured when Jesus rose from the dead. The honesty of the Bible is that everything about this life and the planet that hosts us has gone wrong due to sin. There will be storms. The honesty of the gospel is that there is coming a day when everything will be made right in Jesus. When this happens, there will never be another storm. The hope of the gospel is that everything we experience in this life is temporary. Storms prove that the size of your home is inconsequential. Yet, the decisions we make, the way we respond, the things we believe are eternally consequential. The gospel gives us hope that there is eternal life; immune from pandemic, safe from the storm, victorious over death, Hell, and the grave. What was taken from us on Wednesday, in Christ, can be returned, raised, and redeemed. If we die in Him, we will live again.
What did God do for us in the storm? There is no accurate way to use the storm to prove or honestly question whether there is a God, though many will try. The crucifixion settled the question of theodicy. We constantly resurrect it. The news media will continue to flash before us the death toll. Has anyone taken the time to count the miracles? Those stories will emerge, but will they be reported? Yet none of this will help us make sense of the storm. We will never be able to adequately calculate the ways of God. So how do we make sense of this? We realize that sin has devastated the world. The storm is only symptomatic of a greater problem. As long as this world continues as it is, we will rebuild, and other storms will come and destroy what we have done. We will never engineer something eternal and we will never become immortal. Storms are not about stuff, storms are about people. They reveal whether we believe in something strong enough to endure, that give us hope beyond the grave, that places our values in something greater than things that can be easily blown away. Storms teach us that ultimately nothing in this life is secure.
So I stood there praying, looking at my family, wondering if this would be the last time I would see them on this side of the storm. When I saw the tornado hit Tuscaloosa I knew that no matter who I was, or how I prayed, the reality was that I too was a candidate to suffer great loss. In that moment all I had was the gospel. I knew that if we lost everything, our home, our church building . . . that everything would be fine. I knew that if I lost my family, I would be devastated, but they would be fine. I knew that if I died, they would be devastated, but they would know that I was fine. Whether we lived or died, with our lives hanging in the balance we too could say with confidence as Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” That is how we made sense of the storm and will continue to do so.
May the people of God rise up and help one another recover and to make sense of the storm. And may the days ahead be filled with love, recovery, healing, and the gospel.
Where you are headed? If you continue with your current set of habits, routines, and attitudes where will you be next year, in five years, in ten years? What are your goals, ambitions, dreams? If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.
There is a pattern characteristic to many Psalms. The Psalmist voices a prayer or a concern as in Psalm 43, “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against ungodly people . . .” There is an expression of frustration and confusion as God does not seem to act quickly enough, “For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me?” Even though He is discouraged, the Psalmist makes a request of God knowing full well what God can do, “Send our your light and your truth; let them lead me.” The writer then ends the Psalm with a note of hope that encourages him in the trial, “Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
During the good seasons of our lives it is important to harvest hope.
It is not difficult to call life to a halt and wrestle with God when we do not like the current circumstances. When we need vindication. When we need defense. When we are falsely accused or people have faulty perceptions of who we are. When our accounts are low. When health fails . . .we know exactly how darkness feels. We are well acquainted with these seasons and we feel incredibly free to go to God with the solemn prayer, “WHAT’S THE DEAL?”
God pauses. Nothing is said in return. The dark season continues. Why, God?
Unfortunately for us the Psalmist never figures out why God pauses, but he does something that is critically important to our faithfulness. The Psalmist pulls from harvested hope. Even though life is difficult, he always has a memory of something he has held onto that encourages his faithfulness. In Psalm 43 his harvested hope appears in verse 4, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” Because he has experienced God’s blessings in the past he can pray with confidence, “Send our your light . . .let them bring me to your holy hill.” He has been there before. He harvested the experience and so now even in discouragement and frustration he is able to pray with confidence and stay faithful.
When life is good, harvest hope. Can it. Preserve it. Put it on the shelf. Save it for later!
Acquaint yourself well with the blessings of God. Praise Him for what He has done for you. PULL OUT YOUR LYRE (or your banjo, the latest Passion CD, an old Petra album, whichever is convenient) AND PLAY BABY PLAY! Harvest a song. Harvest a feeling. Harvest a memory. Harvest TRUTH! Memorize a verse. You will need it. Discouraging times will come again and inexplicably God will pause even though we fervently pray. Yet you can remain faithful because you can sustain yourself from harvested hope, knowing what God has done, He will do again.