I absolutely love this time of the year. Not just because I was born in October :), but because I love the cooler weather, changing leaves, the colors, college football, pumpkin patches, trunk or treats, and the list goes on and on. And like most all churches in the Bible belt during this time of year, we are in the heat of planning our annual Trunk or Treat. Last week, we had one of our final planning meetings, which included last minute tasks and the counting of candy. We wrapped up with laying out where the trunks will go on our property, along with the games, food, and firetruck. And although I had been in such a fabulous mood planning this event that I love with new friends that I love, I could feel myself getting so frustrated. And why, you might ask, could I let myself get so frustrated in the midst of all that goodness? Well, I’ll tell you – it’s all because of a parking lot!
At our new church, GracePoint at Mt. Olive, we have been blessed with a very nice church building. It consists of a sanctuary and a family life center. The only issue is that it’s arranged somewhat awkwardly on our property. We have a long, skinny parking lot on one side, some parking in the back, and this one-way loop that goes from one side of the building then back in between the buildings to exit. And because of the layout, it makes it difficult to plan outside events. We’ll have trunks on one side of the driveway, with games and food on the other. The children will have to cross the driveway, but we want to keep the children safe, plus have plenty of room for parking. As we talked, it seemed like with every scenario we described, we found some sort of safety or logistical issue. Oh, how I yearned for just one large wide open parking lot!
We decided to grab dinner together after the meeting. So as I jumped onto I-65, I drove past one of the largest churches in northern Jefferson County. As I stared at that vast sea of asphalt (that church’s parking lot), I could just feel the jealousy creeping in. Why couldn’t we have a giant parking lot? That church has such a huge parking area. They could set up thousands of trunks, plus carnival rides and probably even port-a-potties! How easy it must be to set up their Halloween carnival. We, on the other hand, are trying to figure out the best way to set up and keep children safe, while still staying out in the front of the buildings for better visibility. Why couldn’t we have the perfect set up?
As I continued to let jealousy invade my spirit, my thoughts became more negative. I’m sure our trunk or treat will be the same night as this giant church’s event. How can we compete with a giant beast of a church with carnival rides? What if we get stuck with a ton of candy and no one comes? What if, what if, what if? God, is it even worth it? Are we too small? Is our property too awkward to plan an event like this? Am I a competent enough leader to even lead this event? I was rapidly heading in a downward spiral.
God didn’t allow me to flounder for long. I believe He quickly ran out of patience with my pity party, and spoke almost immediately to my heart. All He said was, “You don’t need a large parking lot to love people. And I don’t need a large parking lot to be present.” Once again, His truth steadied my anxious heart.
I was then reminded of when my family changed churches when I was 17 years old. We had gone to Huffman Assembly of God/Cathedral of the Cross since I was 5 or 6 years old. During that time, my dad became an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God. He was always involved in the music ministry and taught Sunday School at Cathedral, as well as preached at several churches as a guest speaker or interim. But as I grew older, his calling grew stronger. When I was a junior, we left Cathedral, and he took a position as associate pastor and music minister at Life and Praise Assembly of God in Hayden, AL. I was miserable.
I loved Cathedral. It was my life. I had gone to school there from kindergarten through 12th grade. I was there every time the doors were open. I met God there, I fell in love with Him there, I worshipped Him there, I talked to Him there. I just always felt that God was there. I know He was with me at all times, but there was just something super special about that place to me. And after a dozen or so years, I had to go somewhere else.
I didn’t mention this, but Cathedral was a large church. Large building, large congregation. It was in the city limits of Birmingham. But Life and Praise Assembly was not large… at all. It was a tiny cabin out in the country off of Skyline Road in Hayden. We maybe had about 50 people in that church. It was 20 something years ago, so I my numbers may be a little off 🙂 I went to this church with a gigantic chip on my shoulder. I remember Bro. Mark giving us some sort of ‘send-off’ prayer on our last Sunday at Cathedral and I BAWLED my eyes out. Needless to say, I was not fired up about this move.
It’s always amazing to me the lessons God teaches you when you are in the most uncomfortable spots. I guess when we are super comfortable, we end up growing quite content with how things are and our relationship with God can grow stagnant. While at the ‘cabin church’ as I called it, I struggled at first for sure. I missed Bro. Mark’s sermons; I missed the big choir and praise band; I missed my youth group and friends. I just felt that God couldn’t really move or even be present at the ‘cabin church’. It was just too small. It was just too country. It was just NOT Cathedral. And I was just too spiritually immature to see what God was trying to show me.
One night, we had a service, and I can’t truly remember all the details, but God was really moving. Enough so that I even noticed. Some little girl came to the altar, and God told me to go pray for her. At first, I was like, “Wait, hold up. I’m not investing into people here. I’m just waiting for our time here to pass so I can get back to Cathedral.” But the Holy Spirit was quite persuasive that night, and I went up and started praying for that girl, and as I prayed for her, I had a breakthrough. Once again, I started bawling. God shook me up that night. He took the blinders of pride and condescension off of my eyes and reminded me that He was not restricted to a building of any size. He could move in the Taj Mahal, or He could move in a shack. He moved even before the earth was created, so He definitely didn’t need anything man-made at all!
God changed me that night. And I honestly think that was the first step in preparation for life in itinerant Methodist ministry. That church taught me that God is not a respecter of buildings, social class, color, or education. They reminded me that God doesn’t need perfect places or even perfect people to share His love with the world. And even today, 20 years later, I’m still reminded that He doesn’t need perfect ‘anything’ to accomplish His will. Not even perfect parking lots!
I ended up falling in love with the people of Life and Praise Assembly of God. They were a blessing to my family, and were instrumental in teaching me a valuable spiritual lesson. Perfection is overrated. God doesn’t need perfect places or perfect people to do His will. Jesus often found Himself in very imperfect physical situations, but He still accomplished the supernatural. He spoke to thousands standing only in a field with no building or shelter or food, and ended up feeding their souls and their bellies. Another time He was teaching in a house, which was clearly too small for the crowds He was attracting, and was definitely not the perfect place for Jesus to be ministering. Some people actually tore a hole in the roof and dropped their friend right down to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t need a roof or a giant building to heal that man’s body or to heal his heart.
Not only does God not need perfect places, He doesn’t need perfect people. The Bible is full to the brim of imperfect people doing incredible things for God. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Corinthians 12:9 which drives this point home. It says, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” When I feel the most ill-prepared or least confident in something I’m about to do for Him, whether it’s singing a song, speaking to a group, leading worship, or even writing this blog, is when God seems to show out the most. His strength is made perfect in my weakness. He doesn’t require me to be perfect, He just needs me to be available to be used by Him. And in all of my cracks of imperfection, His perfectness oozes out and fills in all the gaps. I’ll take His perfect ooze over man’s perfect attempts any day!
So join me in dropping this pursuit of perfection. It’s unbelievingly tiresome, always frustrating, and never achievable. Just love God and love people. Be available for His use at all times. And if you find yourself around north Jefferson County this Friday night, we’d love to have you come visit our Trunk or Treat at GracePoint at Mt. Olive. It will be going on from 6:00 – 9:00pm. You’ll be able to recognize us by the trunks, fire truck, and our perfectly imperfect parking lot 🙂