Monthly Archives: August 2014

Iv’ry Tower

By: Steve Holt Sr.

When I was in my mid-teens, Dad decided to build a motel.  He had built houses before, but this was his first venture into a project of such magnitude. I watched as the Iv’ry Tower Inn took shape from the ground up to become the premier “motor hotel” in our small but growing town.

Since our family traveled a lot, my dad took notes at every motel we stayed in to record those amenities and features that stood out so that he could incorporate them to enhance a traveler’s stay.  For examples, the Iv’ry Tower was one of the first motels that featured an “endless loop” hot water system so that travelers would not have to wait for their bath water to warm up.  He selected the best mattresses he could find and replaced them at the first hint of sagging.  There was always free, fresh coffee in the lobby.  The motel’s restaurant was the first in the area to feature Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And the $3.99 all-you-could-eat Sunday brunch buffet was the best in town.

I started working at the motel when I was about fifteen years old doing a variety of odd jobs, one of the oddest being driving through the parking lot of our biggest competitor, the Holiday Inn down the street, counting the cars and reporting my findings to dad.

There were many nights when the Holiday Inn had twice as many cars as the Iv’ry Tower, and on other nights, we had a few more cars than the big “franchise” hotel.  I often wondered why anyone would want to stay anywhere other than the Iv’ry Tower.  We had the best service, the best amenities, the nicest swimming pool, and the best restaurant.  We cared for the traveler.  Our rates were better.  It was the traveler’s home away from home, offering all that anyone could possibly want and need while on the road.

I remember becoming quite angry when anyone suggested that the Holiday Inn was the best motel in town.  I mean just because the place had world-wide recognition, was part of the number one motel chain in the world at the time, was considered by some to be the only place to stay when on the road, was easily recognized by the “great sign” out front…none of that mattered.  Dad’s place was a better idea because it focused on the comfort of the individual traveler.  “If they only knew…” I would lament.

If they only knew.

My affections for the Iv’ry Tower Inn were, to a much lesser degree, pretty similar to my love for God’s church—greatest idea ever!  The church—the repository of the redeemed—was made to perfectly fulfill a human being in virtually every way, designed to nurture, encourage, guide, and protect.  It is a place of grace and latitude, receiving its charter from none other than the Loving Shepherd, Jesus, himself.  Among  fellow saints, weary travelers receive the strength and provisions to continue the journey.  With locations around the world, pilgrims are nudged forward, often carried the last mile or two when the going is too tough for some.

I envision a community that, when working as it should, enjoys the “favor of all the people,” as it did when first born. I imagine a community to which people flock—like the ark—for refuge and safety.

Why, then, are people settling for less in a traditional religious institution that calls itself “church”? If people only knew, they wouldn’t be lured away by the name recognition and familiar design of institutional churches with their fancy buildings, large congregations, elaborate music, hip preachers, and programs for every demographic. Rather, they would find what they seek—and so much more— within the comfortable confines of God’s purposed group.

It’s not that institutional churches are all that wrong, it’s that they are so far from being all that God wants for his community. In God’s family, every voice is heard, every gift is encouraged and used, every need fulfilled.  In God’s family, the direction for the group is determined by listening to the voice of the Father together and joining God in his work, together—no child is left behind.

There are wonderful, godly folks who choose the institutional brand of church. And they aren’t bad people for doing so. They’ve just settled for less, and I’m truly sorry for them. They’ve opted for the known, the safe, the secure, the familiar, and in most cases, the comfortable.  It’s like their attitude is “Oh well, we’re here; it’s not so bad.  So, let’s just stay with what we know.” And they never come to know what they are really missing.

Through his family, the multi-faceted wisdom of God is laid bare for all to see.  Here, the world gets a glimpse of how people, so different from one another, co-exist and move toward a common goal. Here, the world gets to see all the ways God does his work of loving, feeding, guiding, and nurturing human beings. Here, the wisdom of “little ones” is esteemed as highly as the “learned.” Here, scripture is not just talked about; it’s lived out. Here, the needs of those not yet in the community are tended to as purposefully as those in the community.

God’s design holds the possibility of a “vital family within easy access of every person on earth.” God’s group is easily reproducible. It is simple, transportable, and fluid. God’s church can function fully with as few as two and clearly demonstrates the maxim that “less is more.” It costs nothing but blood—his blood—to maintain. God’s church is the only great leveling presence on earth where human beings find equality, purpose and meaning.  Only God himself determines membership.

If only they knew…

Comfort Food for Thought

By: Janet Mendenhall

We are creatures of comfort. Our bodies want to be comfortable: air conditioning, beds and pillows that note and remember our sleep habits, fabrics that wick moisture away, cars with seats that massage and conform to our bodies, shoes filled with gel.

I remember when it became popular for young folks to exclaim, “Awkward!” at, well, awkward moments in their lives. Perhaps naming it before someone else could name it for them  took some of the sting out of the discomfort of the moment. We do not like awkward encounters, moments, or conversations, and generally go out of our way to avoid even the slightest chance of them. We do not like being uncomfortable.

We can purchase our way into complete physical comfort. And, unfortunately, it is almost as easy to ensure our social comfort. We do this by avoiding people who make us uncomfortable: people with different backgrounds, values, ideas, beliefs, even skin. We have become good at separating ourselves from folks not like us. We can move to the other side of town, not go to “those” schools, not play at that park, not go to that church, not shop at that store, not go to their party.

We have convinced ourselves we deserve to be comfortable. Advertisers have added their persuasive pitches. We have shared our secrets to coziness, lulling one another into a comfortable stupor. Even the church has often validated our quests for individual comfort: homogenous Sunday School classes, traditional or contemporary services, and separate outreach ministries.

I don’t see Jesus seeking comfort. Instead I see: catnaps in capsizing boats, tables of tax collectors, parties with prostitutes, challenges from church leaders.

And a well-side chat with a Samaritan woman.

His encounter knocks me out of my carefully constructed comfort zone.

Jews and Samaritans were not on cordial terms to say the least. There was much animosity and disagreement in religious thought. Jews, as the apostle states, had no dealings with Samaritans. None. And she was a woman. Jewish men did not speak to women in public.

And so Jesus greets this Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. Awkward. Perhaps. But we can learn three helpful hints from Jesus for finding comfort in an uncomfortable encounter

Potential discomfort one: He is tired and thirsty and has nothing with which to draw water and so he asks the woman for a drink.

Hint one: When encountering folks who are different from you, perhaps marginalized and maybe even skeptical of you, acknowledge your own weakness and appeal to their strengths. Jesus was thirsty and needed her help.

Potential discomfort two: After Jesus reveals what can only be supernatural knowledge of this woman’s past and current life, she supposes Jesus to be a prophet and poses a theological question regarding the distinction between the worship of the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus acknowledges the difference, but quickly moves toward language that is inclusive and inviting and focuses on a new reality regarding a unified worship.

Hint two: It is fine and even helpful to acknowledge differences, but it is better to move quickly to areas of common ground and the hope of a spirit of unity.

Potential discomfort three: The woman believed when Jesus revealed his identity as the anticipated Messiah and hurried to tell the folks in her town. They came to Jesus and asked him to stay with them. He stayed for two days and shared his heart with them. Many heard and believed in him.

Hint three: Don’t hit and run. Stay and arrange more conversations. Get to know them. Build a relationship. Share your heartfelt words of truth.

Are you a creature of comfort? Before you plump up your pillows and plop on your Posturepedic, take a water break and have an uncomfortable conversation or two. It might be the most refreshing thing you do.



Worth It

By: Laura Callarman

Just under a year ago, an opportunity arose for my husband Rosten and I to attend a house church conference. It was at no charge, I might add, because some already paid for spaces opened up at the last minute. So we went. But I in particular went only begrudgingly. You see, I was burnt out on ministry. Skeptical. Cynical. And oh so weary. Not at all in a good place spiritually. I’ll confess: my main motivation for going was a free trip to the mountains of Colorado to relax and escape the heat of the summer.

Not exactly a promising beginning.

As I entered into a weekend’s worth of putting up with a conference in order to take advantage of the scenery, I would never have envisioned what would happen over the course of those four days—and the many days that have followed.

You see, God showed up and changed our lives. (It’s probably more accurate to say that we finally showed up to God so that God could change our lives.) And the good work that God began in us that one weekend last summer has continued on, day by day, bringing us to some amazing places.

As I entered into that weekend, I would never have envisioned Rosten quitting his full time job as a result of what God was drawing us into. I would never have envisioned living for nearly a year on the minimal income that substitute teaching and a few other odd jobs could provide so that we could have the freedom to go where God called us, whenever God called us. I never would have envisioned us using that freedom to live in a small town in the rural Midwest for a summer. I never would have envisioned being encouraged and even commissioned by our community of believers at home to leave home—to leave them in the midst of some exciting times and some difficult times—so that we could pour ourselves into work half a continent away. And given some of the emotional baggage I’ve carried over the years, I certainly would never have envisioned myself working eagerly with leaders and members of a traditional church, much less a Church of Christ, to pursue Kingdom growth in their midst.

Yet here we are, in Sullivan, Indiana, all of those things having come to pass so that now we find ourselves concluding nine very formative weeks’ worth of time using our own gifts as we walk alongside the amazing body of believers at Westside Church of Christ. The Spirit has done some astounding things in our lives and theirs.

And all I have to say is this: God is good, and it was worth it.

It was worth submitting myself to the possibility that God might have something more in store for me in Colorado than I’d anticipated. It was worth the many times of prayer and conversation Rosten and I shared as we tried to decipher what God desired for us. It was worth every phone call we had to make to our sometimes bewildered parents to tell them about the next step of faith we were taking. It was worth the months of very frugal living and the way we had to humble ourselves with every seemingly meaningless job we had to take, draining as they were. It was worth submitting ourselves again and again to the process of discerning wisdom and God’s calling with our own faith community. It was worth the many challenges of life away from home for two months. It was worth every fear, doubt, and argument, though I’d venture to say there could’ve been far fewer of those if we’d consistently chosen faith and love rather than control and fear.

It was worth it despite these difficulties, for God has again and again shown compassion and kindness to us as we’ve been amply provided for, surrounded countless times by supportive and loving Christian community, and drawn further into Kingdom work that fits who we are. But it was also worth it because of these difficulties, for through them we came to see the reality of ourselves much more clearly and came to know our loving and gracious God so much better.

My testimony, then is this: when, despite seeming impediments and challenges, we have taken the risk of trusting God and going where God leads us, we’ve been blessed by the ways God uses us, grows us, and transforms us—sometimes through pleasure and sometimes through pain. It has all been worth it. And though I can safely say that I have no clue what the upcoming year will hold, I trust that my life and future are safe in the hands of the God who wisely knew I needed so much more than just a relaxing weekend in the mountains.