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  • Writer's pictureA Musing Pastor

Building Up or Tearing Down?

I've always admired carpenters who remodel bathrooms and do the difficult work of breaking a cast iron tub into pieces small enough to handle in order to remove it. In most settings, the tub was placed during the house construction and was easily installed. Remodeling post construction usually requires a sledge, goggles, and some sturdy gloves to do the smash and awe of destruction.

(Photo from

While the demo work seems difficult in this project, it isn't. One doesn't have to observe too many issues with tearing things apart and removing junk. However, the actual remodeling and building new things requires more thought and work. Special tools and expertise go hand in hand with these tasks. Tools that measure, level, plumb, and produce fine cutlines in mitered corners are a few of these specialty items.

Full transparency on my part when I say that I enjoy the demo work much more than the fine detailed rebuilding. That being said, I often use that same mindset when interacting with some people and for that I seek forgiveness from God and from those I tear down. The words I use can cut deeply and leave those I encounter a bit less confident. In this, I know God has much work to do in my heart and I'm allowing that godly work to unfold.

Conversely, though I am a work in progress, there are times when I must say difficult things to folks from a position of spiritual leader that don't always sound or feel uplifting to the one who hears it. I know I have a responsibility to lead with goodness, justice, and love and so the truth spoken in love is a staple for sanctification to grow within those for whom I am responsible. The delicate balance between building a person up in biblical transformation and tearing down in human weakness is a fine line to be recognized and protected with boundaries of humility. Do I keep those edges defined clearly all the time? No, I don't. Perhaps you have those moments of weakness in character as well. It seems to be a problem as old as humanity has been walking the earth.

"We are glad whenever we are weak, but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come, I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." (2 Corinthians 13:9-10, NIV)

The apostle Paul was addressing those in the church who were adept at sinning and using their positions of power to refute Paul's authority. Paul, not one to mince words, stood firm in his leadership role and adjured the church to repent of sin and realign with the focal point of the Gospel, that of Jesus.

Today, I was in a store at the checkout and the cashier was clearly agitated with their job, the long shift, and a few coworkers. As I approached, this cashier yelled to another young coworker (a subordinate) to assist the checkout line behind us. The exchange was one-sided and abrupt. They said, "Joey (not his real name) go back and price check such and such. Be useful for once in your life!" This was said loudly and in front of customers and other coworkers. I bit down hard on my tongue then remembered some of my ill-timed utterances similar to this cashier. Joey quickly hustled back through the store. He appeared to genuinely want to do the right thing.

The cashier uttered to me their frustration with the shift that was not over yet and the seemingly daft nature of Joey. I nodded my head shrugged my shoulders and tried to be cordial as they handed me the receipt and we parted company. As I walked to the truck, I was replaying this event in my mind and envisioning the easy work of diminishing a coworker into broken pieces. I was also imagining the difficult work of rebuilding and remodeling Joey to bring forth a new beautiful product of an effective employee.

It's easy to dismantle another person with words and authority and in the end one person is still frustrated and the other is a little more broken. As I drove home, I fabricated several responses the cashier might have employed to instruct Joey while not belittling him in front of many. Building up takes forethought, effort, and the proper tools of faith which include grace, mercy, forgiveness, and humility (All good things). Though not an audible voice, the Holy Spirit was reforming my own thoughts and motives as I drove home in silence.

The byproduct of rebuilding is something to admire and to take pride in knowing we had a hand in the finished product. Perhaps Joey has long forgotten the berating from today or maybe Joey is less confident in his ability to do anything right at this point. Regardless of where he is in his thought processes, his mind is muddled in doubt.

(Finished bathroom courtesy of

The finished product of remodeling a bathroom offers a shiny breath-taking image. In a parallel universe, I can imagine someone befriending Joey and investing time into building him up, training him in his job, and in general allowing Joey to make mistakes in the learning process. It will be time, energy, and grace well spent.

In a world consumed with pain, suffering, and destruction, we (I) can be builders of people and not creators of broken fragments of a once intact person created magnificently in God's image.

Now, I will pray for my own future grace-filled interactions with folks and for the cashier who needs the same.

"A Musing Pastor"

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