How much have your priorities changed over the past twenty years?
In answering that question I think I have to say the priorities haven’t really changed. The way I go about them has for sure. The main thing is still the main thing. But the way I live out the main thing…that has changed tremendously.
In the “old-timey” days an appropriate farewell as you sent loved ones on their way was “Godspeed” or “Godspeed your journey”. In the ears of a younger J that phrase actually sounded like “May God help you to get things done quickly. May God speed you along and help you get lots done.”
I am guessing that I am not alone in that inaccurate transliteration of the Victorian Good-bye. It actually means “May God prosper you along your way.”
The problem with my interpretation of the phrase is that God doesn’t speed. He’s not fast as some consider fastness and He is not slow as some consider slowness. Speed….for that matter time…. doesn’t really figure into His equations. It’s not that He is not conscious of time. It’s that He is in control of it and so it really doesn’t mean much to Him. What does mean something to Him is purpose. God’s speed is determined by what He needs to accomplish not by how much time He has to do something in.
Twenty years ago I was a young pastor. I had a lot of “ideas”. I was pretty sure that God wanted me to do all of them. It’s not that I actually asked Him about my ideas. It’s just that I was sure my ideas were good ideas and so they must assuredly be God ideas. So I set about serving Him out of my ideas and for good measure I even added in a bunch of ideas other people had (even though they really hadn’t talked to God about their ideas anymore than I had). I loved God so, I got busy. I got distracted. I got lost in the shuffle of good ideas and eventually life hit me with a giant pause button.
Twenty…plus years out from that young whippersnapper I am older and hopefully wiser. I have learned to wait in prayer over my “good ideas” realizing that most of them are not God ideas. I still love God. I am still busy just with fewer things. I have learned or am learning to clear my plate. I am learning to live by a rhythm of prayer, rest and work. I am learning I can’t do everything. And I am learning that God’s speed is about His purpose not about how fast something gets done.
I am learning that, like our project at The Vicarage: The delays in life are just as important as the forward momentum because in them, we delayed individuals learn how to be human beings rather than human doings; Everything is about seasons that bring change and completion; And that if I wait long enough beauty begins to emerge from the mess, not all at once but piece by piece.
I have also learned that sometimes serving God is as much about taking a small dog on a walk through the leaves as it is about building a house. God speed is about God’s plan not mine, about God’s pace changing mine.
If you have been following along, you know that we have been planning a big home renovation project for the Vicarage for the last several months.
The supplies for the shingle project, the gutter project and the painting project all arrived a few weeks ago.
The windows are 4-5 weeks out…I imagine they are stuck on some boat off the Pacific coast right about now along with so many other folks stuff. Supply chain problems…Yay!
We were stuck waiting for a building permit for two weeks and then of course there was the rain.
Things were supposed to start on Monday, and then Tuesday and then Wednesday…but RAIN! The rain stopped yesterday and so the construction team was finally ready to go for today and of course this was my day of big meetings. Then I got a call from a pastor I went to dinner with on Monday and found out…yep I have been exposed to COVID….No symptoms, but my doctor suggested that because of the closeness of the contact I self quarantine until I can get a test. That cannot happen until Friday afternoon
Here’s the thing God knew in advance that all this would happen. The product delivery….the permit delays….the rain delays…and the COVID exposure. As I look at it these next two to three days are perfect days for me to be forcibly stuck inside to help Mom as the construction crew tears the outside of our house off.
THIS WHOLE THING is God simplifying my choices.
Here’s the question I have to ask myself. Why does God not trust me to simplify things for myself? OUCH!
These last several weeks have been full of living. The Vicarage project has been delayed by permits and weather, but that is probably a good thing. I have been so busy with God’s work these last weeks I am not sure how I would have handled the pace if we had the house project in full swing.
God really does know what He is doing! I am coming to accept that His timing is perfect and waiting is a good thing
There are lots of irons in the fire…..lots of pots on burners….and yet the peace of God is what is controlling me these days. I guess I have come to the realization I am not supposed to put all the irons in the fire at once. I am not responsible for all the pots on all the burners. I am one guy. I am one part of the body of Christ here in little Winchendon MA. The body is responsible for the irons and the pots. I am responsible to equip the body to handle all those irons and pots (well maybe not all of them but the ones we are called to).
This week as I was in prayer God told me He was going to show me many things that were to go on in the world but that I needed to be careful not to allow what He showed me to distract me from what He had told me to do……otherwise……
He has called me to lead the church to Doing Life Together and to discover our gifts. He has promised that if we did those two things He would help us to reach the lost, send the found and change the world!
I have come to it over the last several weeks that there are several pots I have been trying to get on the burners….several irons I have been hoping to put in the fire that for the moment will just have to wait so that I can fulfill the current call of God.
My book is one of those irons or pots. I am realizing that I will not have the time to finish it and do the work set before me. So….for the moment I am putting this pot back in the fridge….this iron back beside the fireplace. Maybe someday, but not today.
I am also realizing that the delays in the Vicarage project are giving me a better pace. These projects have to happen, but the idea that I was going to get all the work done in these few short months….well that just doesn’t seem to be in the proverbial cards and maybe that is in keeping with the plans and purposes of God.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PLANS YOU HAVE THAT NEED TO BE TAKEN OFF THE BURNER AND PUT BACK IN THE FRIDGE FOR THE MOMENT?
Since I have nothing to report on the Vicarage building project I thought I would show you these mushrooms that have sprung up at the edge of Boat Garden.
Everything is in readiness for the project to begin but the town building inspector is on a two week vacation and so our building permit is stuck in committee somewhere until he returns on the 18th of October….Ah yes it is the double edged sword of living in a small town. It is easy to know all of the town officials if you want to, but that is because there are not a lot of them, and no one to replace them when they are gone. Delays and mushrooms that is what we have here right now, but that is how God works. There is purpose in all things. Yes even in delays…and yes even in mushrooms.
I am in the middle of two very full, very wonderful weeks. Two weeks ago. I peached a message on the call to ministry and five people from our congregation were touched by the call.
I have had the wonderful privilege of meeting with each of them personally and affirming the call and speaking with them about next steps.
I made reference last week to the fact that the Vicarage project had met its first snag. The outside budget was outstripping the inside project and it was looking like the inside project may not happen at all.
So Brenda and I asked a few questions and our contractors, wonderful men of God, got back to us with the answers and a detailed budget with the cost overruns included. Brenda and I took a night to pray about it and then had a Zoom conversation about what we were sensing from the Lord.
To us it made no sense to tackle the inside if the outside of the building was just going to fall down around our ears. Here is what I wrote to our contractors…
Good Afternoon Gentlemen,
Brenda and I met this morning by Messenger Call. After a night of prayer we have come to
* Honestly we cannot go above the $205,000.00 quotes at this time. That is our all in
budget so the price of 234,000.00 is out of our reach.
* Getting a new kitchen and a new downstairs bathroom while not fixing the leaks in the
upstairs bathroom is counterproductive (It would only destroy the new work).
* Redoing the inside of the house but not addressing the structural issues on the outside
is also counterproductive.
* We realize that the pricing for the outside projects absolutely needs "Uh-Oh"
money and that the quoted $68,000.00 may not actually be enough.
* So we have agreed that while all of the issues need addressing eventually and sooner
rather than later we need to prioritize now.
* We feel we need to fix the outside to keep the house from falling down. So we would
like to do the structural repairs and siding at this point.
Since then things have moved pretty quickly. It looks like the outside project will start next week and be done within the month of October. The port-a-potty arrived today (for the work crew).LAte this afternoon I signed the application for the construction permit.
I said yesterday that there was a lot of news to share about the Vicarage. To do that I am going take part in another challenge hosted by Cee. This is the CMMC CHALLENGE (CEE’S MIDWEEK MADNESS CHALLENGE). THIS PHOTO CHALLENGE REQUIRES ME TO POST PICTURES AROUND MY STORY THAT HAVE THE LETTER “O” IN THE MIDDLE.
The project at the Vicarage has hit its first snag. The cost of supplies has driven the price of the project beyond our budget, and so we are looking at what we can cut out.
We know that while all the work is important, keeping the house from falling down is the first priority. So we are going to focus on the outside and then see what we have left to give to the inside projects. I don’t know if this closet will ever become the new doorway to the kitchen. I don’t know if we will have money to refinish the bathrooms. By faith though, I am preparing these spaces for the work. I am emptying and cleaning these space to get ready for…something to happen.
But the Vicarage is not the only place where projects are happening. We just had an annual church clean up day out at Cornerstone. Amanda, Jody, Joe (pictured here), Ken and I lugged logs from trees our maintenance man, John, cut down in front of the church. Meanwhile others tended the garden beds which had not really been tended since last year.
We got a lot done in the three hours we had. But there is much more to do; So John is compiling a list of jobs and will farm that out to our DLT (Doing Life Together) groups to see if we can’t get some help with these jobs before winter sets in.
Tonight we have a ZOOM meeting to make some plans for the altar space repairs inside the church we are hoping to do in November.
Life is full! And I am finding that cleaning things out is clearing my head.
As I have considered this renovation project at The Vicarage I have had to ask myself why. We have had those offers that come from buy as is companies. We could sell and rent a condo or even buy a smaller house. So why do the renovation? I think a piece of it has to do with my past. I got thinking about that as I read fellow blogger
Dolly’s music always gets me nostalgic about what seems like simpler times . Cee asked us to create a photo post based around the song, and here is what the song made me think of.
These photos are all taken in houses that are within a mile of The Vicarage.
It is so strange to think that such a huge portion of my life has circled around this block I am living on, have lived on in every season of my existence.
This place is my memory, my coat of many colors.
But it is not just about my past. This is the place where my past, my present and my future meet in their own dazzle of color. This is as much about me putting a stake in the ground for myself and declaring what my future is going to be, as it is about me tipping my hat to the choices of my ancestors.
The Vicarage is our generation’s Coat of Many Colors Project that we will leave for the next generation to display the love that we have come to know in this life.
It’s fall. The summer is over and the seasons of work have begun….at least that is how I have always viewed fall and winter….seasons of work.
It’s back to school time and done with vacation time. It is also the time when people launch into their winter routines and the daily disciplines that help them make it through the darker seasons. I have a sense that this year the church is being called to some work which will call us all deeper into the presence of the Lord and into the spiritual harvest field that is our region.
The to do list for the ministers of the Vicarage is pretty big:
1. Facilitate the Execution of the mission God has given Cornerstone Church to…DO LIFE TOGETHER….TO REACH THE LOST….TO SEND THE FOUND….TO DISCOVER OUR GIFTS…..TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
2. Relaunch our children’s programming starting in September.
3. Launch the Bridge Artistic Network in Zaandam starting in September
4. The reconstruction project for the church altar begins in November.
5. And finally…The Vicarage reno project is heating up. This week we are choosing the tile and the countertops.
As full as my plate looks to be over the next few months I am finding myself oddly at peace. God keeps telling me that I can do this if I will just use the tools He has given me. Over the last decade I have been practicing disciplines under the Lord’s direction which I now understand are going to help me through this very full season. These disciplines are like tools in my tool management tool belt. What I know about them is that if I can use these tools successfully to help keep myself organized and sane then anyone can use them.
The tools in my tool belt are:
SCHEDULING ACCORDING TO MY ROLES….When I first started scheduling myself I thought it an unspiritual necessity. Over the many years of keeping a daily schedule I have learned scheduling is perhaps one of the most spiritual and fruitful habits I have developed. But I don’t schedule according to my tasks anymore. I schedule according to my roles. I am: a child of God, a family man, a lead pastor, a writer and a friend. These are my roles and my schedule has to reflect these roles. The things I allow to populate my schedule have to reflect these roles. When a task that does not reflect one of my roles keeps showing up in my schedule I need to either accept a new role or get rid of the activity. That leads to the next tool.
PRACTICE SAYING NO A LOT…. When something doesn’t fit in the schedule or when something gets in the way of me living out the roles God has given me I need to say no no matter who it disappoints, even if that someone is me. I also need to decide in advance the things I am not going to try and get done in this season. That requires me to…..
BE HUMBLE ENOUGH TO ADMIT I CANNOT DO EVERYTHING….I had forgotten how much work renovation projects were and I really am just doing prep work for this one. The heavy lifting is all going to be done by our contractors. That said there is a lot to do up front and during this project I am realizing Mom is going to need more help than I previously thought. Add the work being done at the church and I have to be realistic in saying that is about all I can handle. I think the book project I hoped to complete this fall before Christmas is going to have to wait.
CALL IN FRESH EYES… I have learned there is wisdom in calling in someone who can look at my situation from the outside to help me keep a well rounded perspective. I have asked a certified life coach if he would walk with me through this season to help keep me on track. My first session with him is this Thursday and we will be talking about prioritization.
PRIORITIZE SELF CARE…. For me this means a couple of things. Prayer. Exercise. Eating right. and immersing myself in nature. I love my wild forest gardens at the Vicarage. As the flowers fade I am already planning my winter of birdwatching and how I am going to set myself up for that.
THESE ARE THE TOOLS I HAVE IN MY TOOL BELT. WHAT AM I MISSING?
Last night, Brenda and I headed to Logan airport. We parked in the parking garage so I could help her in with her bags.
She didn’t take much considering she is going to be gone for months. Still it was more than she could carry to the gate on her own.
Airports always remind me that there is a big wide world beyond the Vicarage’s front porch.
When I began “Notes…” I kind of thought that this day, of Brenda’s leaving, would be the end of the story. I am beginning to see that while Brenda returning to the Netherlands is an end of sorts, in God’s estimation it is only the end of the beginning. In some ways I think the story that is about to unfold about the denizens of The Vicarage is the story He always meant to be told.
So…On Sept. 1st 2021 Missionary, Brenda Lillie, boarded her plane at Logan to fly to her mission field in Zaandam, The Netherlands. Her brother, Pastor J got back in his car on Level 7MM in the parking gargage, and after doing his on line devotional with his Digging Deeper DLT group, he pushed out into the remnants of Hurricane Ida to make his way home to The Vicarage.
It was a long rainy drive home during which he took one pastoral call about someone whom someone else thought had died, but that turned out to be a Facebook mistake…. another marvel of modern technology gone wrong. Anyway, two bluetooth calls later, the mystery had been solved and not too many people had been panicked.
“I’m home!” J called out as he entered the Vicarage after his rainy drive.
“Are you an axe murderer?” Pastor Amanda called out the customary greeting (another gift of Mom’s sharp wit and the Hallmark Mystery channel combined)
“No! I’m a poisoner!” Pastor J hollered back his customary answer as he thumbed through the mail on the table.
“Where is your sister?” Mom asked.
J realized, sadly, that Mom did not recall that Brenda had left for her new home in The Netherlands and would need to hear the whole story about Brenda’s work and future plans again because to her mind it would be the first time she was hearing it.
It took about an hour and a half to settle Mom into the story and the information, to the point where she was ready to go to bed. Finally the time came for bed and some much needed sleep. Even though so much remained to be done J shuffled off to bed. The rest of the day’s work would have to wait for morning.
As the sun rose on the new day the word of the Lord came into that space that exists between sleep and conscious thought….“I have work for all of you…The day of planning is past…..The day of preparation is gone….I have set you all to your separate labors….prepare for the hard work of harvest.”
Realizing the new day was dawning in more than one way, J got up and set about the work: Dog walking with an additional dog, breakfast and pills and papers for Mom….exercise (time to get rid of this spare tire)….and some early morning writing joined by another household friend who always seemed to show up when the tapping of the computer keys started.
The new day passed. Meetings were had. Conversations were spoken. Decisions were made, and Brenda reached home safely.