Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Where Was the Zoning Board?

Luke 6:46-48 
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Jama and I were looking at houses a few weeks ago because we have a vision for providing a place for pastors and other ministry workers in need of retreat and refreshment.  Not that we have the money to purchase such a place.  We just wanted to dream for a bit.  

One of the houses we looked at was a 200 year old place in tragic condition.  The agent suggested to us that for the price (just about $200,000) you were really buying the 17.5 acres, not the house.  Most people would probably tear the house down and start over.  I asked him if there was a possibility of subdividing the property and building two or more houses there.  The answer floored me.  The house had just 100 feet of frontage on the street and there wasn't enough space to cut a second driveway through.  Not only that.  Most of the rest of the acreage was behind a swamp (the nice word is "wetland") that began about 100 yards in back of the house.  The reason for the huge acreage was that no one would want this land.  It simply couldn't be accessed from where this particular house stood, and you can't build a house on a wetland.

Topographically speaking, most of Israel is semi-arid.   For purposes of our discussion, let's assume that Jesus was speaking to people from Northern Israel, which has the greatest possibility for rain, and experiences a sub-tropical rainy season between November and March.  If you live near a body of water, such as the Lake of Gannesaret (what we today call the Sea of Galilee), you might also live near the principal river that feeds the lake: the Jordan River.   While the lake is also fed from many underground springs, the river flows down from the north, feeds the lake (which continues as a strong current through the center of it), and the flows out again at the southern end of the lake.  These two, the river and the lake, are the main bodies of water associated with Israel.  

Why is this important?  Because Jesus' teaching in Luke 6 has to do with zoning in Israel and the advisability of building your house too close to the river.  Is it safe to build just above the river bank?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  You would have a great location from which to utilize the assets of the river for everything from a fresh water source to the abundant ecosystem that a river provides (food, etc.)  But you have to be careful.  In the rainy season that river will swell, and could completely swamp your house.  

When I was 15 the youth group from our church went to South Hampton, Long Island (NY) for a retreat.  We were staying at one of those summer cottages that tend to cluster about 5 feet from each other in desirable beach communities.  The house had three small bedrooms off a central living/dining area.  Like all of the houses near it, it was one story tall with a shallow roofline.  Clearly it had been put up quickly and at not much cost.  The "foundation" was cinderblocks placed on the ground every six feet or so, with the cottage sitting right on top.  All of the houses in the area were just like that, except for one.  

Clearly visible from any other house on the point, there stood an enormous mid-19th century victorian with wrap around porches and a wonderful turret at one side.  Our host pointed out to us that until September 21, 1938 this point had included many such houses, and not a single cottage like ours.  That was the day that THE hurricane came roaring up the east coast and devastated The Hamptons, as well as much of Rhode Island beyond.   With top sustained winds of 121 mph and a top recorded gust of over 180 mph, this storm packed a whallop.  But it wasn't the winds that did most of the damage.  It was the storm surge flooding that made such a mess in most of New England.  Still, the south shore of Long Island took the full impact of the wind.  Why was this one house still there?  Because of placement (it was back from the water's edge just far enough), strong building (It was build like a brick outhouse), and a good foundation (deep, with large stones).  As I looked at the old victorian I winced.  What were the builders of these mid-1950s cottages thinking?  Doesn't anyone learn from experience?

Spiritually speaking, most of us are like the builders of the little cottages.  We know a great storm could come at any time, but we like the little cottage we have built on the sand and set on a few well-placed cinderblocks.  We believe it is our right to have this comfy little place with God.  I say "with God", but actually what we're comfy with is all the "nice" parts of God -- the sunny summer days and warm breezy nights.  I daresay there aren't too many of us that have prepared for what Paul calls "the evil day".  When (not if) that day comes, there will be very few of our houses left.  Very few indeed.


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