I was reading Romans chapter 1 this morning and I noticed what I believe to be an intentional progression in the titles that Paul refers to himself by. Notice verse one of Romans chapter 1 where we read…
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. Romans 1:1 ESV
Do you see it as I did? Paul refers to himself first as a servant of Christ, then an apostle, and lastly a person who has been set apart for the gospel of God.
Often I reverse that order. As I contemplate all of the aspects of being a Christian I must confess that the ones I appreciate the most are those that speak to my rights, privileges, inheritance, etc.… I was once lost, but now I am found! I was once blind, but now I see! I was once an orphan, but now I am an heir of God and co-heir with Jesus! I’m headed to heaven where I will rule and reign with Him! Wow I love all of that! It’s wonderful being set apart for the Gospel. While I realize that this is certainly not the context that Paul had in mind when he said that he was set apart for the Gospel, it’s what I like thinking.
After being set apart I am a pastor! I’m the guy! I get to make the decisions! My name is on the stationary! People don’t call me by my first name because I’m the pastor! People hang on every word that I say. People buy CD’s of my sermons and read this blog! Wow, I must be important!
After all of that has been covered and I have been sufficiently appreciated, recognized, and edified… I am a servant?
I hope you see the humor in the above statements. However, it’s really not very funny is it? Service should always come first. Service is the predominate guiding principle of our Christianity and spirituality. None of us have a greater right to boast than did Paul. His education, experience, and reputation made him a truly great tool in God’s hands and yet he himself used servant as his first title.
Today I set as my goal to not be a better Pastor, but a better servant. I think working at the first will take care of all the rest.
Are you resistant to Change?
No one really likes for the things in their world to change. However, did you ever think about the consequences of not changing? While this is not original to me I thought it to be a great example of the ripple effect through time as we either decide not to change or simply don’t pursue it.
Consider this piece of history…
American railroad tracks are 56.5″ wide (the “gauge”) because the English built the first railroads in America and they used that width. Why did they use that width? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used. Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that were used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing. Why did wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Because older wagon ruts throughout England used that spacing, and if they changed it, wagon wheels would break by either falling into or being forced out of the old ruts, which were 56.5″ wide.
The old ruts were that size because the roads were built by the Romans, who arrived in England in 54 BC and left about 400 AD. Their wagons, and their chariots before their wagons, used that spacing, and that spacing was used all over Europe and wherever Rome conquered, because their wagons used the identical wheel base everywhere. So the modern railroad track width derives from the Roman chariot.
Why was the Roman chariot track width 56.5″? Because, that was the width of two “standard” Roman horses. Thus, wagon and horses would fit through the same narrow street.
The impact of these curious dimensions continue today. A space shuttle sitting on its launch pad has two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs, made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is just wide enough to accommodate a railroad car. Therefore, the width of the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle is equal to the width of two horses all because no one wanted to change!
What we end up with if we refuse to change are limitations on what we might become and accomplish. Like the SRBs we could be more powerful and more useful but due to limitations that we allow to be placed upon ourselves, for reasons that we probably don’t even remember, we restrict our own true potential.
Allow the Holy Spirit to mold, shape, remake, and form you into the person that God created you to be and refuse to allow anything to hold you static.
When I was in the military there was a term that we used a lot the concept of which I find very useful yet today. The term was “Hip Pocket Training.” The concept was that as a leader you needed to always have something ready that should you and your soldiers have a lull in a days activities you could pull this topic out and teach it to your subordinates. It was founded on the premise that each day would present you opportunities and situations from which you could base some point of learning. I still do that almost every day.
Here’s one from last night. As many of you are aware we just completed a very successful Family Fest with several thousand in attendance and hundreds of volunteers involved in the planning, execution, and the cleanup from the event. In my opinion it was a huge success! One of the crowd’s favorite activities each year is the fireworks show to close the day. Hundreds of people begin to show up just prior to the show and our back field is filled with families sitting on the grass watching the show. Drivers along Humbert Road pull over to watch. Literally and figuratively it’s a blast!
However, one aspect that we did not foresee is the impact that the exploding fireworks would have upon the dogs in the subdivision across the road from the church. I’m sure they thought that their neighborhood was being invaded as the blasts are loud and the show lasts about twenty minutes. In response to this one of the families affected posted a synopsis of their evening and their dog’s reaction to the fireworks on Facebook. The comments were neither abrasive nor accusatory, just a report of the reaction of their dogs.
The point of this story that I thought presented a great teachable moment was a short discussion of what an apology is and what it is not. It occurs to me that most people feel an apology is an admission of some sort of guilt or wrongdoing. However, the Latin word that our English word “apology” comes from infers the defense of a particular position. It is possible to be completely in the right and still offer an apology.
Take our fireworks show for instance. We were completely legal. We had secured the proper permissions, used a licensed and insured contractor, and even went beyond the required regulations and had two fire trucks on hand in the unlikely event that something went wrong. Legally we were right in every way. However, that does not preclude us being genuinely sorry that we scared these dogs and created discomfort for our neighbors who we care deeply about. Our apology does not mean that we will discontinue our fireworks display in the future, only that we will actively search for a way to alleviate any problem that we cause doing it and that we are sincerely sorry for their discomfort.
1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”
I believe that humility expresses itself in the ability to genuinely say, “I’m sorry,” regardless of the circumstances and regardless of your position.
Just for thought….
This past Sunday at our monthly board meeting we made an exciting decision. Beginning June 3 we will begin having two Sunday morning services.
One at 8:00 AM and one at 10:30 AM.
We aren’t doing this in order to try to bring a crowd, we are doing this because we cannot house the crowd that the Lord has already brought us! During the process of making this decision many people have expressed their concerns about the varied difficulties that come with the many different which we might structure these services. The bottom line is that we are totally out of space and we have no further options.
Thinking about all of this has renewed my commitment to a few principles that I thought might be helpful for everyone to remember.
1. Nothing Great Is Easy
Whether you search the scriptures or history one thing is clear, anything that touches the entire world is very difficult. Touching the entire world is exactly what we have stated our measure of success to be. Therefore, difficulty is part and parcel to that process.
We are growing in every measurable area of our church. Just this past Sunday we had TWO PAGES of guests! At our new-comers brunch this past Sunday we had 77 people who are now considering this their church home and this is in three months! We had 88 children in Children’s church! God is answering our prayers and our job is to make the difficult decisions and the sacrifices necessary to be good stewards of those blessings.
2. All Growth Requires Change
The addition of a second service is just the first of many changes we will be required to make in order to stay in step with all that God will do through us. Already we are looking into additional buildings in order to house the growth that has and will occur. None of this could have happened without change and in order for us to see it continue more change will occur.
Be assured that myself and all of the leaders of the church, will be diligently praying and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what change we should pursue and what we should avoid. As each of us remains flexible in the Spirit’s hands the necessary change will not only produce growth for the Kingdom of God but in us personally as well!
As many of you are aware we have just completed the first year of doing the Passion Play here at Abundant Life. We had 105 people involved in the production with five performances and about 2500 people in attendance. Hundreds of hours of work went into sets, soundtrack, props, acting, music, publicity and hospitality.
Many times during the years of working on this production I have asked why we do it and if it’s worth all the effort. That question is always answered at the first performance every year. If someone were to poise the question of why we do it to me I know exactly how I would answer. “I Like Seeing It.”
I’ve heard and told the story of the life of Jesus thousands of times. I’ve studied each of the gospel accounts to a degree that I think would put me in a fairly small fraternity. I’ve listened to these gospels many times over on my Ipod as I read along with the narrator. However, there is something about seeing it acted out. I realize that the actor that we have playing the part of Jesus probably does not look at all like Jesus and that our sets aren’t really that accurate to first-century Jerusalem but there is something in the effort. You see for me as the director to give direction on how I believe things looked and how people acted I have to imagine them real. I have to imagine how Jesus interacted with those the scriptures describe.
The magic for me is in construction of the characters. My process is that I take everything I know from the scriptures and everything that I believe the scriptures allude to and weave it together into gestures, attitudes, and priorities that get projected on to the character of Jesus in our play. Might we be missing it to some degree? Absolutely, but the real deal (in the words of Eric Hoffman) is bringing Jesus from the realm of story and fairy tale into the realm of reality in both my mind and the minds of those who see the play.
For me that’s a defining moment in a person’s walk towards eternity-saving faith, that moment when Jesus becomes a real person rather than a character in a story. How about you? Is Jesus real or just part of a story that you heard? Not sure which one describes you? Do a simple test. Do you talk to Jesus? Out loud? Do you go through your days thinking about what he thinks or feels? If not then perhaps He’s still just a part of a story.
He is real and alive and IS thinking about you.
Wow it has been a long time since I have posted something in this blog site. Sorry about the delay but we have been excitedly busy here at the church. We are in full swing passion play preparation mode with sets, props, lights, soundtracks, practices, animals, everything! Not only is the passion play going great but everything here is! Dozens of new families, powerful worship and altar times, amazing times of prayer on Sunday evenings, we are having an amazing time.
Two of the questions that we are constantly asking is why and how. Why are we being favored in this way and how do we not mess it up? It is with a daily sense of wonder that we see and hear the things that God is doing to bless us here at Abundant Life and I think we have discovered the answer to both of those questions as well as stumbling upon how and what we should always strive to be. Let me explain it this way.
Several weeks ago a member of our team related something that happened at their home. Her son who is three likes to crawl into bed with her and her husband. Recently when he did so he remarked in typical three-year-old fashion, “I love ‘da snuggle my family!” Can you feel the warmth and love in that statement? That statement exactly describes the atmosphere that prevails here at Abundant Life. This is a place where our Heavenly Father constantly communicates, “I love ‘da snuggle my family”! This is a place where we are allowed a small sample of what our eternity will be in full.
You see we were never meant to be away from God. In fact we were designed and created to experience the fullness of his presence. However, with the advent of sin mankind lost the blessing of being constantly in the glory and presence of God. Rather than being safe and warm like the parent’s bed of the little boy I referred to, this world became dangerous and hostile to that warmth and love that you and I were designed to always enjoy. It was a tragic loss.
However, Ephesians chapter 1 says that the Holy Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance”. Earnest used in this way is hardly ever used in our vocabulary today. The only place we use it is in relation to real estate transactions where you give earnest money to secure a future transaction. That’s exactly what’s going on around here.
God is sending the Holy Spirit to “snuggle” his children! This is just a tiny tidbit of what heaven will be in full and people love it! Why? Because they were created to love it! It’s designed into every human being’s emotional, spiritual, and physical DNA. Because people love it, they are drawn to this place where we are enjoying fellowship with our heavenly father as we were created to.
So let me ask you a very serious question. Have you snuggled God yet today?
Currently I am sitting in church on Sunday morning here in Panama. The speaker is from Panama and as such he is preaching in Spanish. While I understand some Spanish much of what he is saying is lost to me. I simply do not speak the same language that he does. While listening to him it occurred to me that perhaps much of what we do as the church is the same to those who are outside of the church. Much of what we do has no meaning to them. Perhaps even the language that we use means nothing to them. This is not because of a decision that they made but rather because of decisions that we made. Much of our church culture has no meaning to them. Because we have heard things like this before, this does not strike us as profound.
What does strikes me as profound is this question. When did it get to be this way? Jesus was absolutely and always relevant to his hearers. The things that he said did not have to be translated in order to be understood. While the full meaning of Jesus’ message took some time for many to realize, all of those that heard him speak were profoundly impacted in some way.
The New Testament church experienced the same impact. While not always accepted, these followers of Jesus were not irrelevant. They were speaking directly to the heart and consciousness of the people’s they were called to. It is precisely this same relevance that we are called to. I believe there is an ever-present need for us as the church to examine our methodologies to insure that we are actually communicating what we think we are communicating. The moment that our language or methods become foreign and as such incomprehensible to our target audience, we have a mandate to change. Should we refuse to do so because of the pain that this change causes us, we have forsaken our biblical mandate.
The challenge for me and you is to not make our meetings fit what we like, but rather seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct us to those methods and tools most able to communicate the eternal truth of God’s Word to today’s generations.