“Making known to us the mystery of His will” Eph. 1:9
As I went to open this door of the restaurant we’d be eating at tonight, I paused. My youngest daughter must have sensed my hesitation and patted me on the shoulder with a reassuring hand. My son opened the door. I’d eaten here hundreds of times, over a 5-year period. This was a place we loved to be as a family and with friends. We ate well here. Truly feasted. However, I hadn’t stepped through these doors in almost two years. I was surprised by the lump in my throat and the emotion I was experiencing.
Inside, it was strikingly different yet eerily the same. The walls were painted but still bright. The welcome desk was larger, but in the same place, and the greeter was new, but equally as friendly. I had a momentary flashback of all the loitering around the welcome hub. It made me smile.
We headed through the double doors, doors we’d discovered in the upstairs of this old building back in 2010. I remember the excitement as they were cleaned up and hung at the entrance of the largest gathering room. Straight ahead was the stage, open wide and bare. That was different. In the past, it was usually cluttered and crowded. Musical instruments and sound equipment; cords and musicians. Many speakers, whose words struck the very heart of my soul, spoke from up there. I took a seat at one of the tall tables, soaking it all in.
I can’t begin to recall the hours spent in this place, but I’m sure it was 1000’s over those year. The tile floors were extraordinary clean tonight. I remember working on these very floors, they always seemed so ugly in the past, but tonight I saw the beauty in their uneven texture and color. I remember the folks who would sacrifice their time to come clean together, not for clean floors as much as we just liked to be together.
I studied the wall in front of me. Even with its new orange and brown color scheme, I could see the art that hung there in the past. Art that I helped hang from local artists or even some of our own folks creations. How many nail holes had this wall seen? The framed jerseys and TV’s along the wall seemed invisible compared to the vivid memory of the art that used to hang there. Over in the corner was what we’d affectionately called our “flex capacitor”. Standing boldly with all its glory, as if it was a famous sculpture. I loved this flex capacitor because it always reminded me of God’s provision as the needs of this building grew.
As we waited for our dinner, (that hasn’t changed a bit) I decided to check out the hallway that separated this new space from the previous. I tried to get my bearings, but this part had changed so much. A swinging door to the new expanded kitchen replaced the first room and the other rooms, where the finest of animal crackers and juice boxes were the favorite meal served, were sheet rocked off.
I am a puddle of emotions, and I cannot help but wonder why the best dry rub wings in town no longer delight my taste buds. This expanded restaurant was thrilling for its owner, a true sign of success. But for me, it was a sign of significant loss.
For over five years, this side of the building was a place where my gospel family met each week. This old downtown storefront was my local church. This was the place where I learned the most about the gospel in my 40 years of a regenerated heart. Don’t get me wrong; there were many tears, and difficulties. But I loved this place and the people who were a part of it. This was a place with broken, flawed and tattered (and tattooed) people. This was a place where God became bigger and more beautiful. This was a place that my hurts were greater and my sin was uglier. This was a place where I felt loved and safe and the place where I felt shame and despair. I cannot help but feel overwhelmed right now, not so much with sadness, although that is part of it. Right now, the flood of what has been a very hard recovery, filled with grief and loss; I am struck with this amazed and delighted soul of who HE is right now, in spite of this place. My heart is filled with gratitude over all that was done in me through this local body of believers. Right now I am sensing; He is glorious!
I don’t have the answers to why this church plant “failed”. (I’ve read more statistic and articles over these last few years than have been helpful.) The honest ugly truth is: there were casualties, there is fallout, this is a fallen world and God-loving men sin against one another. BUT, this is good news too! He is God! He is always redeeming! He is good! He is kind! He loves me! He is taking the ashes, and tears and failures and loss and turning them into beauty. He is drawing our eyes away from the things of this world and shaping us into His image. He is using all of this to make me more like Him.
“On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” Zechariah 9:16-17