“I’ll drop a pod in your parking lot,” said Andy, “You can fill it up on Saturday, and I’ll pick it up on Monday.”

“It’s free?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “We sell the stuff you put in the pod in our store.”

“Will you take old carpet?” I asked.

“Sure, if it’s in decent shape,” he said.

I was good with that; FB Church needed more purging.

The old carpet we had pulled out of the worship center had been sitting behind the classroom building, and I had a classroom at the church had been full of old furniture since I had come there five years ago, and it needed to go — old desks, chairs, tables, file cabinets, cribs, benches, books.

What’s interesting to me is that I didn’t know about Andy on Wednesday. I did on Thursday, through a friend. He dropped off the truck pod in the church parking lot on Friday night. We filled it Saturday morning. It was gone on Monday. I had been wondering how I would get rid of that junk. It happened.

In retrospect, if someone hadn’t given me Andy’s info, I would have paid $80 to get rid of the carpet, and would have had no way to get rid of the furniture. Our plan was to put all the furniture in the parking lot, mark it free and see if someone would take it. We did that on Saturday morning; no one took it, and so the pod was the ticket to get the junk off the church property.

Chance, circumstance, luck, good fortune, good timing  — I suspect Andy was more to do with providence!

What is providence?

Providence is a timely preparation for future eventualities. It was providential that I came into contact with Andy when I did. Providence is getting a pod the day before you need it, but getting it in a unexpectected, delightful, surprising way, a way you didn’t orchestrate.

The idea behind providence is that the preparation for a good future isn’t done by us. Providence — it is that timely, helpful, progressive, protective care that happens outside of human volition, by nature, circumstance or say, by God.

Things happen, that aren’t planned by us. How do they happen? We can think of them as random, chance or naturally caused, or we can think of them as guided, by the divine.

What are the proofs of divine providence? To the some, there are none. “Stuff happens,” they might say, “and sometimes it’s just what we want to happen, or need to happen, but that it happens by chance or cause and effect.”

I don’t think so.

There is something curious about the universe to me, an intentional, elegant simplicity, a particularly gorgeous continuity, a quirky dalliance, an unexpected helpfulness, a proclivity for connection that goes some place. And it is my observation that this helpfulness is not vague, Hegelian or mystical, but that this outside movement, this timely provision, this directed motion is personal and intentional. The belief in providence isn’t, for me, a leap of faith off a cliff of rationality. It is the clear and obvious presence of God himself.

Providence isn’t freaky, paranormal or weirdly supernatural at all  — it’s rational, normal, commonplace, visible, discernible, practical. It’s a pod driven into your parking lot on a truck by a driver that you did little to arrange and feel extremely grateful for when it is plopped down in front of you.

Take FB Church. When I arrived five years ago the place was in disarray. I remember my first Sunday. I went and found a broom and swept the front porch — too much dirt and leaves and trash for a self-respecting place of worship. “It shouldn’t be this way,” I thought. “It can’t be this way.” One of the leaders in the church saw me doing this and he came and took the broom from me and helped. He is still there, helping. His name is Mike Shaw.

The next week I went around collecting the pots with dead plants in them from the front yard of the church and throwing them away. Why would someone leave out front, empty, broken pots with dead plants in them. Were we advertizing this as a place to come and die, or come and live? Ever since then,  with a motivated passion, I’ve led a purging at the church, a house cleaning, a temple cleansing, a comprehensive renewal, and I have been helped, by people, and by more than that.

The professionals, friends with skills, have shown up in droves. On one particular church work day an electrician showed up and replaced the timers that ran the parking lot lights. He just appeared on the work day, invited by someone in the church, and asked if he could do any electrical work. Providence.

Another electrician, Tom Roach, came when asked and over several months put up eight thousand dollars in new decorative and canned lighting in the worship center. Tom brought a lift from his company, at no cost to us, and did all the labor, at no cost. We only paid for parts. I asked, he responded. So how is this providence? It is providential that I knew him, and that he had time right then, and that he was willing. Willingness is providential. So is passion.

I believe that God works through people, that God is the mover inside the people to bring them to the skill level, the place, the time and the willingness to help. God put me there, with an extreme passion to lead a renewal, and he has brought many other people since “for such a time as this.”

Recently we added up the young people, youth and children in the church, in our effort to adopt children for Christmas. When I first came to the church we had only a handful of children, almost none. Now there are 10 times a handful, enough for children’s choirs, a children’s church, children’s events. The children, have been provided — providentially. People are God’s primary forms of providence, because he can move and motivate and act through people of all sizes. Some of our best stories in the church are stories of children bringing their parents to church.

There are more stories, many more best stories, people stories. Tasia Copeland and Brenda Smith led our beautification team. Gary Redmond came and painted our worship center. Hugo created new banner holders for us. Tasia designed them. Tom sprayed ceiling texture on our balcony. Martin helped finish our wood floors. Donna was the first to lead our food ministy. Jeanie came at just the right time to keep it going. Aryn and Delfina got our children’s ministry started. Aryn joined our youth ministry staff. Glee became our first female elder and board chair. Debi Mauricio started a children’s choir for us. Danielle Levy joined us from the Center For Enriching Relationiships as our onsite therapist. Tim McConnell became one of elders and a kind of social-guru in the church. Samantha became our key worship leader. Nate teamed with her to make it happen.

Providence exists in people.

A family I once did a funeral for has an awning business. When asked, they replaced the huge awnings on the front of the church, giving us the best deal in town. This is providential, in my mind because it is part of a pattern that is very obvious at the church. The church has a need; something that had been overlooked for several years, a relationship comes about, a person meets the need.

A room in one of our church buildings developed a leak four years ago.  I got an estimate from a roofer, $5,000. The whole roof needed replacing. A short time later, after a Sunday service, a woman handed my a check, $5,000. She didn’t really attend  much, but she had recently come into some money as a result of a retirement package, and she wanted to give that. She didn’t know about the roof, or the estimate.

We use the phrase sometimes, “on a roll.” We’ve been on a five-year roll at the church, one good, unexpected financial gift and helpful relationship after another.

Is it coincidence or providence? Well, we now have five years of crazy-good, future-making “coincidences” under our belts.

We took on a pastoral intern, Summer. She turned out to be exactly the kind of person we needed to added to our staff, and we eventually permanently hired her as one of our pastors. She is making a huge difference.

We had a house on the property we decided we wanted to sell, but we would need the seller to move it off the property. I consulted a realtor friend. She introduced my to a house mover, but he had no investors interested in moving small, run-down properties. Nothing happened. People told me that it would be tough, getting someone to haul off an old, two-bedroom California bungalow during the recession. We prayed about it.  It happened, a year later. The house mover stopped by, seeing me out front watering our new bushes. “I think I might have a developer interested in the house,” he said. He did, and only a short time later we pocketed cash for the house, and it flew off down the street on a truck, and we are now building a beautiful courtyard where it sat.

And that the courtyard has a story too, several of them.  I needed a courtyard plan. An architect friend, Janet Ward, donated it free. I needed a safety exit plan. A man began attending the church who had significant skill in construction. His name is Josh Kottas. He came to me saying he would work on this, and use architects he knew to guide him. He did just that, it worked, and a beautiful exit plan took shape.

We went to the city about this. They were not very helpful. We went back. We met a fire inspector who was just the opposite. He laid out in perfect detail the final things needed in our plan. We walked out smiling. We had hit the city planning office on the right day this time.

We aren’t done with the courtyard, just getting started. One thing that has given me some stress on this project is the awareness of how much this will cost, a bunch! A few months ago a family who doesn’t attend our church called me to their house. They presented me with a check for $18,000. “For whatever you need,” they said.

Phone calls, people stopping by, referrals, friends, financial gifts, donated labor, a site renewal, a bevy of children, a new vision, renewed passion, inspired direction, a pattern of being helped, a forward tendency toward something better — something more than coincidence is at work in me and others.  Many of the 50 plus rooms at the church have been repurposed, remodeled or re-beautified. And beautiful, old, oak floors that lay under old, stained carpet for years, have seen the light of day. And people, discouraged, beaten-down, hurting people have found a safe place for themselves and their children.

And this is the most providential thing of all. People and their children, who were ready for something new, have shown up and become new. Eighty percent of the people who now attend are new to the church, and a good deal of them are new Christians. A church that didn’t grow, for years and years, has grown. It has grown by at least four hundred per cent!

Call it what you want, timely preparation for future eventualities, proclivity for connection, a set of quirky surprises, a happy tilting in a good direction, unexpected gifts, success building on success, a surprising network of growing relationships, you can call it these things, but you have to call it one more thing, and you would call it this if you were there to see it.

You have to call it good.

I call it God.

.

Comments
  1. Steve says:

    HI BRO
    Thanks for your thought-filled reflection. I praise God with you for all the renewal at FBCCV. Trust you had a good Thanksgiving and got a bit of rest.
    s

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