When we lived in New Orleans, we had the perpetual problem of potholes. The local paper, The Times Picayune, even included a section on their website called, "Pothole Patrol" which was a place people could "discuss [their] area's countless cavernous street creatures."
The reason for the voluminous potholes is, of course, that the ground underneath the roadways continues to shift and sink. When road crews come along and simply fill in a pothole, inevitably another one appears further down. If you drive over a deep pothole, you know how jarring it can be to your car and your spine. But the real problem is not the pothole. The pothole is just an indicator that a deeper problem exists: eroding foundations.
Right down the street from where we used to live were a number of potholes, and it got to where I memorized their location in order to veer around them like an obstacle course. But every so often, a new pothole would appear, and I would get jarred once again.
I'm amazed at the number of people who experience potholes in life, but rather than deal with them--and, more importantly, the core issues causing them--they simply ignore them. They find ways to steer clear of the gaping holes for as long as they can, but then the issues become so colossal they take a nose dive in and can't find a way out. In a wrecked marriage, finances or job, they wonder how they got there in the first place.
A young couple early in their marriage might recognize they have some potholes, but rather than deal with them, they go around them or just apply a thin layer of asphalt and hope the cause of the pothole just goes away. If the core issues are left unattended, however, the surface of the marriage begins to give way, leaving deeper holes and problems.
A church might recognize it has some potholes, but if it does not deal with the systemic issues that caused the potholes in the first place, more potholes will begin to show up wreaking havoc on the spiritual spines of the church members.
Churches, like marriages, need to be built on a solid foundation. When things aren't going well on the surface, it's time to go below the surface and check on the condition of the core. And what is the core? According to the Apostle Paul, it is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Paul goes on and writes, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (2:6). We are to hold "fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (2:19). "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (3:2). In another letter, Paul lays out his goal to see Christ formed in the lives of others (Galatians 4:19). To the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, "For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Every time I make my marriage about me, I start finding more potholes. Every time I make our church about my wishes and desires, more potholes seem to surface out of nowhere. My primary calling is not to preach, teach, or lead. It is to become like Jesus Christ. Your primary calling is not to your job, your spouse or even your children. It is to have Christ formed in you. The Core comes first, and then we can start filling in the potholes and move on down the road. When you and I continue to be shaped by the Spirit of Christ into conformity with Christ, we will exemplify Christ in what we say and do. May St. Patrick's prayer be ours as well: "Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me." Amen.