Adobe or Stucco

If you asked for terms to describe me, it’s a long-shot to come across the word “builder.” It’s not who I am (at least not in the most literal sense). I’m not especially knowledgeable in such things.

I was recently out in Arizona at a beautiful spot (on the way to the Grand Canyon) where I thought I was taking pictures of this elegant adobe building.

Again, I’m no expert. I just assumed when I saw something like this that I was looking at a solid example of a classic adobe construction. It is a cool building. We weren’t able to go inside, but it looked cool.

It has all of the outward appearance of a traditional adobe building. It’s a time-honored tradition that is a painstaking and deliberate process with very few real shortcuts (as I understand it). It’s something that one might expect to see in a desert.

However… as we were walking around the place we noticed a small hole in one of the walls. Through this small hole we could see the wire mesh that is necessary to coat a building with stucco. Stucco is a different thing entirely. It’s a coating that is often applied in order to provide a relatively durable and unique texture to a building. It’s also pretty common, in these days of convenience, to build structures that look an awful lot like adobe but are much more simply and easily constructed.

That’s fine. But it’s not adobe.

Now, to be clear, there were no signs that indicated to us that this structure was a genuine adobe building. There was no representation of anything different than what we observed. It’s just not what I expected.

As I walked away from this (still very cool-looking) building, it dawned on me that I’ve observed a great number of folks over the years that claimed to be followers of Jesus, but when they began to be cracked by the circumstances of life, the shallow stucco-like veneer of their faith seemed to crumble and fall away. The emptiness underneath seemed to betray the substance of their profession.

I’ve learned a little more since then about the traditional adobe building practices. The sun-baked bricks do, over time, begin to break down and have to be maintained and eventually replaced just as our faith is intended to grow and renew and transform along our journey. But, even when the coating begins to crack and crumble, the solid substance beneath is real.

I wonder what people see of our faith when the inevitable bumps and cracks of life come along. Do they see a veneer that crumbles away or a solid though vulnerable substance beneath?

The apostle Peter wrote of his hope that the believers he was addressing would even rejoice in those cracking and crumbling blows of life “so that the tested genuineness of your faith” would give praise and glory to God on that day when Christ is fully revealed. He said that this genuine faith was “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.” (1 Peter 1.6-7)

So… the question is this: is your Christianity a stucco veneer or an enduring adobe work in progress?

If you’d like to talk about how to know the difference, send me an email (mike@calvaryduncan.com) and let’s talk.

This is Not That Day

I’m not much of a runner, but I did run another half marathon last weekend. It was long and sweaty and all the usual stuff. But we did it.

Around mile 8 or a little after we passed a sign that looked just like this:

yard sign

I teared up.

I know, I know, there’s nothing particular special about me having tears in my eyes. But this was a powerful message of encouragement to me in that moment. I know that I won’t always be able to do such a thing. But that day I was fully capable.

As I’ve reflected on that sign and the powerful reminder therein, I was reminded of the very common theological sentiment that God will never give you anything you cannot handle. That’s a very comforting thought, perhaps, but there is one small detail about it that bothers me: it’s absolutely untrue.

Hear me out.

Everything about our human condition is utterly beyond our own ability to overcome. We are all born broken and full of selfishness (which God calls sin). We cannot overcome that.

But there is a much more accurate and much more important truth: what God requires, God provides.

Did you catch that?

What God requires, God provides.

It’s like that great hymn said it, “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided – great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

That means that, whatever challenge or issue is in our path today, God has provided what we need to endure and even grow through it.

So let me take this sign in a different context. The day that I cannot run the race set before me will never come simply because God will faithfully provide what each day requires when it is needed… but seldom before.

What difference does it make?

Well… it changes how I see the race. It changes how I see that monstrous hill rising in front of me or the rocky path ahead. It doesn’t make the bumps go away or even really take away the sting of weary muscles, but it does give me a comforting assurance that the struggle and the difficulty is temporary.

But there is something deeper, more powerful that I see. It means that the pain of the struggle—and there is always pain in the struggle—will not be wasted.

One of the most misunderstood assurances in the Bible is found in Romans 8 where we read this important truth:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8.28)

Paul goes on to explain that God’s purpose for all those who believe is to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus. I think what he is getting at is that God is using all of the hardness of this life to accomplish His transforming work.

I want to encourage you today by simply reminding you that, no matter what this day requires, God will provide it. In fact, He most like already has done so.

Run your race. You can do it.

You can do it because you can trust Him to give you every ounce of strength required.

You can do it because He is faithful.

You can do it because He promised.

And His promises are true.

Family Ties

It was a very long day.

Almost nothing was crossed off of the list.

There were a few hours on the road. There were a few hours in waiting rooms. There were a couple of meals shared with family. There were painful phone calls and some heavy wrestling with reality.

We had breakfast with son #3 and our soon-to-be daughter-in-law to celebrate her birthday this weekend. It was an early but sweet time of talking with them as they wade through what promises to be a heavy semester as they both approach the end of their college journey in the next year and a half. We’re blessed by the way they love and look after one another and we eagerly await their marriage in just a few months. That’s the plan. But nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

My mom had a fourth neck surgery to re-do a previous one that just didn’t take. We were there to cut up with the various surgical folks before they took her in and got the usual strange looks in the waiting room as we dealt with things the way we usually do in stressful time – through random absurdities and oddball memories.

The surgery was smooth and successful… but that’s never a guarantee, is it?

We enjoyed a late lunch with my dad and my sister before we got to see mom back in her room. She did seem to come through with both her sense of humor and ability to roll her eyes well preserved—both of which are naturally put to the test when we are together.

We left mom in good hands and went on to see Tori’s grandfather in the Veteran’s Center. He volunteered to join the Navy late in World War II and received a Medal of Victory. This dear man, despite his flaws and mistakes and deep regrets, has been yet another example of God’s grace to use broken tools. Even in his frailty and waning health, he was an encouragement to me to press on—asking about my ministry, my education, my family. It would not be any surprise if that were the last time we were to see him.

As we turned back toward home, we soon received word that my most memorable and earliest childhood playmate, my cousin Molly, had passed away after a long, miserable struggle. She was 48 years old—just two months younger than me. She left a loving husband and four kids behind and big extended family as well.

Molly and I were the first of Grandma’s brood of grandkids. I was the oldest by just a bit (and, of course, always Grandma’s favorite—there’s really not anything to debate there).  Our biggest feuds back in the day came when I found her perched in my spot on the right arm of Grandaddy’s chair. The audacity of this usurper knew no bounds!

There on the wooden arms of that red, rough-upholstered rocking chair, Grandaddy would read to us from the “smoke-a-pipe book” until Grandma’s “bowl-a-soup” was ready to eat. And we’d race for the stool at the corner of the dinner table. “That’s my seat, Chichael!” Molly would point out to me. (For some reason Michael came out of her mouth with a k sound as small children sometimes do.)

Last night I called and talked our Grandma, now 96 years of age, who is so heartbroken to hear of the passing of her oldest granddaughter, the one named after her. My heart hurts.

In the midst of all of these family ties, I realize something of great importance. I am so very rich to have family. And the thing that makes them so much richer is the fact that our ties are not just genetic—they’re spiritual. My cousin Molly, flawed and broken as all of us are, had placed her trust and hope and confidence in Jesus Christ who transformed the grave into a dark doorway to something far greater. Death is no longer a dead end.

I am forever grateful for family ties that go beyond this world. 

While we do not know what will happen today or tomorrow, we have our family meeting place appointed. What a great family reunion awaits all of us who have simply believed.

Will you be there?