13-Year-Old Napkin Notes

napkinnotes_1-copyIt was somewhat surreal, and a little surprising. Not that I had expected something really different, but it was still a reason to raise the eye-brows a bit.

That was my reaction to an email from Pastor Chris, one that contained a letter and some initial “napkin notes” I wrote back in 2003. The letter was to the elders at Grace West Church, and the napkin notes? Broad vision strokes for First Family Church. It seemed like just yesterday that I was jotting down those thoughts, yet here it was 13 years later, and much of what I was reading now had concrete names and places.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the overall themes of small groups, church planting/multiplication, a strong staff, and missions are woven all throughout the letter and penciled scratchings. You can see why my facial expression was one indicating pleasant surprise—God was growing this type of fruit right here within this local faith family! Frankly, a few chuckles accompanied the raised eyebrows as I remembered the times I wondered if what lay ahead was actually possible. For instance,

  • We started with seven Lighthouses. Could we recruit and train enough leaders year by year to keep up with our growth? Would our church respond well to this form of community and care?
  • We bought land, but then tabled our construction plans. Would we ever find a permanent place we could afford?
  • We noticed a core group in Bondurant as well as an excellent opportunity. Would 40 people really answer the call to go to Bondurant?
  • An open door existed in central Asia. And God gave us a potential planter. Would both merge in the right way? Could we really plant a church halfway around the world?
  • Cross-cultural missions continues to gain traction, and multiple people sense God leading them to live overseas as gospel “partners.” Can we send and support them appropriately? Can we mobilize everybody else for God’s passion here as well?

But little by little, through the ups and downs and the good and bad, God was—and still is— actually accomplishing his will right in the middle of our messy lives and young church. Those initial thoughts are becoming a humble and delightful reality by God’s grace and goodness.

By no means am I saying we have arrived. Not at all! There are many miles left to travel, much yet to learn. There are corrections to make and adjustments to aim for. But the call to keep on keepin’ on is always heard with a bit more clarity when you look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness. He has not been detoured by our mistakes, nor derailed by our missteps. Not our sin nor our success has thwarted his sure will. Seeing that truth in the rearview mirror always provides a more beautiful windshield vista.

I’m probably not alone. Raised eyebrows and under-the breath chuckles are things you’ve experienced as well, right? That’s often our reaction when we spot God’s sure but admittedly slow hand of divine providence. You see, God’s work crawls along at a pace few of us actually notice sometimes; we too many times fail to see his sovereign will being fleshed out in the midst of all our life’s intersections and connections. After all, God’s sovereignty moves ever so subtly. But moving it is. Confidently. Completely. Convincingly.

That’s why it’s always too early to quit. Though you may not see it, though you may be unaware of it, and though you can rarely pin down the specifics, rest assured God is working. He’s faithful to his Word, committed to seeing us—you—all the way through to the end. Galatians 6:9 is precisely spot-on: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

In a peculiar way, reading that email reminded me of what occurs when you see a wall tapestry. Ah, yes, the front is always beautiful. And makes visual sense! But turn it around and what do you see? A scrambled mess of threads that appears to have no order or purpose. But it actually does—to the designer!

So it is with our lives. Our church. Even this world.  God is weaving his purposes and accomplishing his plan, even in the times when you don’t think it looks right or makes sense. The Grand Designer is working. He’s active. He’s in control. And sometimes all it takes is a 13-year-old email to help us see it.

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