Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Lighthouse

In late 2004, the church I founded and served as Senior Pastor for nearly a decade dedicated a Family Missions Center called The Lighthouse. The name was chosen from a congregational survey and vote. I’ll admit it was not my favorite, but the congregation loved it.

The name meant to convey the purpose of the facility, built by the congregation to minister to the under-resourced of the community through a food pantry, clothes closet, life skills programs and various other ministries that meant to give dignity, hope, healing, and a new direction while navigating the jagged rocks of life.

Today, The Lighthouse literarily provides food and services to hundreds of families per week and has become a powerful standard for hope in the small community I served. With all we accomplished over that decade together, I am most proud of how the people loved each other and, especially, how they loved the least of these, their neighbors, brothers and sisters.

However, as with so many entities, with The Lighthouse, there was a story behind the story. The land where the Lighthouse sits was donated by a family who were new to the congregation. When we made the announcement that we were looking for a site to host our new “Serving Center”, this particular family approached me and offered to donate the little more than an acre lot, which happened to sit in one of the most under-resourced areas of the community. It was a perfect location for our mission.

The lot was not much to look at. Trees and brush had overgrown the front of the property, and at the back sat a concrete slab, long ago the family’s old home place.

It was also the site of a tragedy. The eldest daughter of the family, who was charged to make arrangements for transferring the property to the church, told me of the story of how their father, an abrupt, abusive man, had repeatedly beat and tortured their mother, until their mother had found the strength to leave, taking the children with her.

But, these were different times, and the father kept the house. Over the years, he would slip back and forth between drunken rages and short periods of lucid, sobriety. The children did their best to care for him, but he would ultimately hurt them and would, with words and actions, do everything in his power to push them away. But, days later, as the pattern unfolded, he would beg them back into his life.

This pattern continued until the children were in college, where they found their own lives apart from their father’s desperate, broken cycles.

The daughter remembered one morning receiving a call from her father asking her to come by after she got out of class. At first, she protested, but, after much pleading from her father, she eventually promised to be at the house around noon.

Little did she know that her father was asking her home for more than a visit but to witness an unspeakable horror. Standing in the doorway of the house, the father had soaked himself as well as the porch and rest of the home in gasoline. When his daughter arrived and she began walking from her car to the porch, she watched her father light a match and set himself on fire. The house exploded into flames and, in an instance, her father and the house were gone. The house was demolished days later.

Literally, for nearly two and a half decades, the family left the property alone, as it grew up in the debris of foliage, legend and bad memories. They refused to do ANYTHING with it, never agreeing to sale it or rebuild it. It simply sat their for nearly 25 years as a symbol of horror, pain, suffering and hopelessness.

Thus, it was all the more remarkable that the family, hearing our need for a site for our new Missions Center would discuss among themselves and agree that God was moving them to give the property to the church. As the eldest daughter signed over the deed to the church, she said, “We agree that the Devil has had this property long enough. It is now time for God to do something beautiful with it.”

Later that afternoon, several of us from the Missions Center Team gathered with the family and took a picture on the newly mowed property and held our shovels to break ground for a place that would ignite a new kind of fire, born from the heart and grace of God.

That evening, after the festivities, the mother of the family came by my house with a gift. It was a large square box that one could tell had been stored away for many years. She left it at the door with a note taped to the side.

It read: “In this box, is the only thing we were able to save from the rubble of the house after the fire. I have had it my attic all of these years waiting to see what God would do next. We have prayed that God would transform our pain into something that could be helpful for those whose lives have been battered and beaten by life. I hope you enjoy it.”

I took the box and placed it on the dining room table and opened it. What I pulled out was a worn, but beautiful oil painting, still in a gold leaf frame but with black soot marks along the edges. As I turned the painting around to look at the front, the image caused me to literally lose my breath. It was a picture of…. a lighthouse.

There are no coincidences in Christ or in God’s plan.

This week, a friend of mine and I met to dream about what God could do in our own Gulf Breeze community to meet the needs of the under-resourced and to consider what could be our “lighthouse” for the least of these, our brothers and sisters. The “dream time” had little to do with our campus facilities, thousands of people in worship, or even the many, wonderful programs that we faithfully lead.

No, our dream time focused on developing a place where people could come from all walks of life to have their needs met--- medical, physical, emotional, and spiritual.

What does this place look like? What programs do we offer? How is it organized? Well, we are not sure. We haven’t gotten to that part of the dream yet. We are waiting for others to join in with their versions and dreams, too.

But, we know that God is planting a seed for such a place in many of us. And, of course, who knows how long God has been working to push forward his grace that on THAT DAY to unveil His plan.

Personally, having witnessed His work in dreams like this before, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next.

On that note, I would like to invite you to a Compassion “Dream Session” and Forum about reaching the needs of the under-resourced in our community. The “Dream Time” is scheduled for Thursday, August 27th at 5:30pm at GBUMC Fairpoint.

This is not a committee meeting, a strategy session, a planning meeting or even a task group… this is simply a conversation among likeminded folks who Love God, who love God’s people and who want to dream “out loud” about the next places we see God leading us.

Remember what we learned at the Leadership Summit. It is the creation of our “Red Hot Kingdom Visions” that mark our place in God’s season for making a difference in our world. I want to be there. I believe you do, too.

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5: 13-16) You matter.

Our Vision and “Good Morning”

This past week, I received word from someone who was concerned that I had not said “Good Morning” when I first addressed the congregation this past Sunday morning. At first, my pride got in the way and I couldn’t believe that, with all that I had said on Sunday, that someone would be upset over those two words. I asked what others thought was behind the sentiment or concern and a friend said that it was symptomatic that folks want to know where my heart is in reference to the congregation, to Gulf Breeze and to the future.

In other words, as my friend put it, “they are looking for signs that ‘you love them’…

One of the first elements that drew me to GBUMC was our mission statement… A Place of Hospitality, Hope and Healing. Goodness knows each of these have meant a great deal to me personally and in the life of my ministry.

Hospitality in the Christian tradition means to “offer Christ” and to put a person “at ease” as though they were “home”. Hope in our tradition means to “offer Christ” and to provide a new way of looking at our world, our circumstances and our struggles. To know there is something better in store or around the corner. Healing in our faith means to “offer Christ” and to insist and claim the wholeness that only comes from Jesus and that can only manifest itself in our brokenness and pain. We do more than worship God… We NEED Him.

I love these elements of our mission statement. I love being on this journey with you. I love being your pastor. I love getting to know you and making new friends. I love the struggle of our misunderstandings because even they point to the joy of what it means to find God together. I love grace and forgiveness even when they are not offered because I know that God offers them for us. I love getting things right and making you proud. I love learning from our mistakes and claiming, together again, that we will not let them happen the same way twice. I love the moments when we sing in one voice. And, I love the moments when our voices catch different tunes in different seasons and places, because we still sing for the same God.

But, more than anything… I love you. You are my brothers and sisters in the faith. I don’t know you all. But, I love you. I don’t understand you all (as you don’t me), but I love you. I don’t always appreciate the ways we talk to one another and allow our anxieties to push us apart, but, even then, I love you. And, I hope you love me.

We are more than the sum of what we can say. Our story is bigger than that, and God has only finished the first paragraph. I look forward to what happens when the whole text comes together and when people see clearly, through glass that is dim no more. Praise God for our journey. Praise God for you.

We love you all.

Be Salt and Light… You Matter!

1 Corinthians 15: 58

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