Posts Tagged ‘the REFINERY Church in Chula Vista’


I rounded the corner and stopped — tuffs of building insulation were blowing throughout the Refinery Church’s beautiful new wedding venue courtyard like little bits of yellow cotton candy, or maybe baby’s breath blown off the blushing bride’s veil.

My mind couldn’t make sense of it for a moment — as always happens when reality goes sideways — and I found myself looking at what I never expected to be looking at.

There is that pause —the stunned sentience before the implacable incomprehensible — the blank brain, then the neurons go to work, chug, chug, chug, and “Ahhhh! — I know what happened.”

Only a week before we had pulled a whole truck load of roof insulation out of the youth center, piled it alongside of the classroom building, and the coming rain storm — with its sweet, gusty, moist breath — had blown it around the corner, blown it into pieces along the backside of the building and was now coating our beautiful green lawn with it.

Yikes! Building insulation everywhere — you don’t want it!

I spent the next hour — as the wind picked up even more — chasing down insulation, stuffing it in the trash dumpsters, running back for more, and pining the rest of the pile down with some mobile fences. Little pieces covered my coat. I could feel my skin begin to itch. It wasn’t clear who was winning. A brawl with a crazed mob of building insulation in a winter storm — I was King Lear on the heath, all was lost, or not. Who would have thought?

But, that is how it has been. Over the last seven years we have brawled with the REFINERY Church buildings — all fifty plus rooms, in our effort to restore the site. The place has been blown apart by the winds of change, by the winds of the Holy Spirit of God himself, and we have put it back together again — better!

Bang, bang, bang — we have pounded the littered, dirty, broken, neglected status out of the church. We have beaten the ugly out of God’s house! Everything used to be blue, dirty blue carpet, filthy dirty blue pews, dirty blue walls, dirty gray tile floors, dirty blue dirt. Blue was once good. Then it wasn’t. Everything has it’s time. We banished blue — just in time.

With a divine passion for the gorgeous exquisite, with a burning and holy love for the consecrated excellent, with an adoration of the holy appealing, with a incurable addiction to the sacrosanct handsome, with beauty burning down our brains we have run down the supernatural good.

Our new courtyard, our new children’s play yard, our new landscaping (flowers and more flowers!), our new attractive name, our new sign, our new canopies, our new offices, new youth center, our new lights (everywhere — decorative lights and LED lights!), our new stucco, our new pavers, our new paint (fresh color, color, color), our new pews (not blue), our old-new oak floors, our new artwork, our new curtains, our new couches, even our new water-saving toilets.

Our new staff, our new leadership team, our new finance team, our new decor team, our new counseling ministry, our new Lifegroup team, our new children’s team, our new youth group team, our new food ministry, our new support group ministry, our new community outreach programs and then this — our new beautiful and generous and diverse congregation with its upcoming weddings and its on-the-way new babies!

New — for God — it’s good!

Zeal for your house has consumed me!

May zeal for God’s house consume you too!

I urge you — coming alongside of us — to brawl for God’s house to be beautiful! Chase down the good. Do whatever it takes.

God wants it, and in truth, it is God who does it.

How fun is that?

Really fun!

There are fewer flaneur days when you are on a mission that’s when you’re not. When you are ramped up and on the approach march to the big mountain, you should expect a few days marked by holy exhaustion. Yesterday was one of those for me — lots of holy, a bit of exhaustion.

That is because yesterday my team and I hosted around 325 people at the REFINERY Church for the opening of our new courtyard venue. We celebrated together with some rocking worship music, told stories of mighty deeds of generosity, then ate — carne asada, beans, rice, toasted peppers, green onions and radishes. That was some fun and tasty work.

Afterwards I was exhausted, so I went home and took a nap — in extremis; in excelsis; requiescat in pace. 

I’ve been noticing largely that not much good is accomplished by a group without a big effort  — and lots of good will. At the REFINERY we have had the good will, and we always do the necessary work, then it seems that we get more good will.  A few weeks ago, just when we were in need of some wood chips for a large area of landscape, just when I was about to order them from a local nursery for a good bit of money — 23 cubic yards! — a tree trimming company called me.

“Do you want some wood chips,” the voice on the phone asked. I was confused. Who was this and why were they calling me. Then it came out. Six months ago I had registered online for chips from this company and today they were in the area —  which they seldom were —  and they wanted to get rid of about 30 cubic yards of chips, “very clean, not many leaves or branches.”

I got my head around it, then said, “Yeah, bring  ’em over!” They were free! Then the work began, to wheel barrow them into place and rake them out. And it was like that, right up to the opening of the courtyard — favor and flavor, work and more work — no shirk. We worked hard and made final preparations: wood chips, white roses, green passion vines, jasmine, orange marmalade bushes, blue lobelia. It was our inspired effort at a garden of Eden pastiche.  We splashed on the color, then we added the chairs, the shade canopies, then the most beautiful thing of all — the people! And ah, how they graced the holy courtyard.

Toward the end of the preparation process, when I was running on fumes, a friend in the church approached me and said, ” I saw you didn’t get all the chips in the yard; would you like for me to come finish that?” I love people like that! The hardy ones, the willing grunts,  the glad-to-be-exhausted ones — they shine!

I’ve sometimes thought of how much work it takes to put on a play at a theater — writing the play, rewriting it , memorizing the lines, practicing, building the set, props, costumes, putting together the  music, the lighting. And yet, people do it, they put on plays, they overwork, push themselves, and produce amazing and inspiring performances.

I like that. I’m not good with sitting around. I want to put on the play, turn on the lights, set out the signs and celebrate the beauty and the goodness of life.

Monday morning, the day after our event, post-worn out, I received a text from someone who was at the REFINERY celebration but doesn’t usually go to church. It said, “My wife and I left feeling lighthearted and optimistic. When is your usual weekend celebration?”


One person’s holy exhaustion —  it can give another person a light heart.

That makes it all worth it!



I love planned spaces — rooms, gardens, arches, windows, wood floors, trellises, pavers, ceilings, all forms of sheltered light.

But developed spaces cost money, to create, to beautify, to maintain, to reimagine. That being reality, one must be sure to have a stash of cash when buying land, houses and investment properties or when taking charge of a business or a nonprofit.

Is it worth it — the stuggle to scratch from the dirt some small portion of civilized domesticity?  It’s worth it. Beautiful things happen in safe, beautiful and functional spaces. Space creates opportunity. Design creates possibility. The vertical-horizontal construct, with people inside, this is the good future.

Last week at the church I am tasked to reimagine, the HVAC system died. Warm and cool — gone. Gas furnaces, condensers, compressors,  coils, supply lines — done. So, I got a bid, then three more, to replace the units. I found out that HVAC systems for large buidings are expensive.

A day after I received the first bid  for a new HVAC system, a church member told me he wanted to give a large finanical gift to the church. The next day another member said that some money she had decided to give earlier in the year was now available and she too would be depositing a large check with us. Neither one knew of the costs the church was facing. They just knew they wanted to give large gifts. The total of the two gifts exceeded the bid for the new heating and air conditioning system.

Go figure.

Each one of us have a read on life, a take on reality, and we may draw different conclusions from the same evidence.

For me, I’ll make the following observations out of this experience.

Beautiful spaces are worth investing in.

Anxiety over resources may be short-lived.

Reality sometimes contains beautiful surprises.

People — they can be very generous.

And finally, God — I believe that God is very good.

It has been an avalanche — of generosity.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Yesterday the stucco went on the wall, beautifully textured over the pilasters and cap. Yum brown and perfect! The contractor discounted the price by $1,200.

Today the decorative lighting goes up. A friend paid for it all, and for the night-time flood lighting too, $3,200.

In a week or so our concrete contractor will be back to connect the underground drains to the street. He gave us a $5,000 when he built the wall and laid the base material for the walks.

A month ago the stone pavers went in. Now the large stage and walkways are gorgeous in warm browns and dark charcoal greys. The discount — it was close to $10,000.

Last night we hooked up the irrigation valves to the sprinkler system. A beautiful, green carpet of tall fescue will go in Saturday. The labor for the irrigation and sod installation — free.

It’s been like that at The REFINERY.

We set out three years ago — a relatively small church — to create an interior courtyard on our site, a sacred space for outdoor worship, for weddings, for picnics, for parties, for children, for everyone, for our community.

A few months from now we will dedicate this space with a huge celebration. It will need to go on for a week. There are that many people to thank!

The architectural plan — donated. The landscape plan — donated. All the funds spent — they were freely given over several year by many people, in huge and unexpected amounts, and in small regular amounts, a $20 gift here, $10,000 there, $9 here, $1,200, $50, $1, $18,000  — it poured in, it ran over the edge of the cup, it is still coming in, we are almost there, amazing!

What do we make of this?

Several things come to mind.

Despite all the difficulty of life, vision remains — art also, and beauty and hope. And we see that resources follow vision and are multiplied by generosity which is inspired by a new thing made lovely. Gorgeous dreams inspire people, and above all there is God — and he is good.

More could be said.

What seems appropriate is simply, “Thank you!”

All Solomon’s work was carried out, from the day the foundation of the temple of the LORD was laid until its completion. So the temple of the LORD was finished.

2 Chronicles 8:16

One of the privileges I have had over the last few years is to restore and build  the REFINERY Church in Chula Vista, California. It’s been a lot of team work, a lot of stress and a lot of fun. It has also provided me some interesting emotions.

I think that I have a  sense of what Solomon must have felt when he built the temple. My team and I are building the temple, and we are building a courtyard not so different in size from what Solomon and the Jewish people constructed.

Our stone layers recently finished putting down  pavers in the walkways in our new courtyard. For an outstanding price, given because this is a church, they laid down stone pavers and stone walls with stone caps in lovely earth tones of dark brown and charcoal gray.  It’s gorgeous work, fitting for a king. We paid about $13,000. The work is worth more like $18,000, but the contractor donated to the project. Afterall, it was for God. When I stand back and look at it, I feel satisfied.

At the front ot the courtyard are two beautiful iron gates, each worth over $4000. We paid $1250 for each. The metal worker made them far beyond our expectations and beyond his too. As he began the work, using some light iron pieces, he felt that God said to him, “This isn’t good enough. For my house the metal should be the best.”

And so he put asside the iron, and selected the best he had, and built out of that. Our God is a God who calls us to art and beauty and when we create he comes along side of us and inspires greatness. I stand back and look at the gates in our church courtyard. I am very pleasantly surprised.

A friend who sells electrical lighting came by to see our work in the courtyard recently. He was thrilled, so much so that the said he wanted to help light the courtyard. He asked us to pick out the decorative lighting we wanted. We have expensive tastes. It cost almost $1,000. He picked out the LED floodlights to light it at night. He selected the best for the applicaton, then he had all the lights installed. The bill for everything came to $3,200. He paid it. I feel grateful.

Satisfied, suprised, grateful — these are temple building emotions. Solomon must have felt them. I do. So also the builders who contributed to the poject. They are good feelings.

If you want to feel these things too, then I suggest that you go build something for God.