I was intrigued as I walked to lunch down our Main Street. I must have walked past this tree seventy to eighty times during this past year. This time, for some reason, I glanced up, instead of forward. There it was.
This tree has to be a hundred years old. It's massive. It's trunk is about 6 feet in diameter. It's solid. Think about the years its seen. When it was young, there was no pavement on main street and no concrete sidewalk running beside it. Back then, no one walked through its shadow talking on a cell phone. It's been growing through vinyl records, cassette tapes, compact discs, mp3's, and, now, streaming media. It preexisted old ,black and white, standard-definition television. It stood there through party lines, rotary phones, push-button phones, cell phones, and Skype. Gunfights took place right in front of it as dust from the old west settled on wooden planked boardwalks. Yes, its old. Its age is as massive as its size.
Yet, none of that impressed me. What arrested my attention was the eighteen inch satellite dish attached to the nub of a sizable limb that was lopped off some time in the past. It's a perfect mounting spot. Dishes need something stable on which to perch. Satellites fly 22,000 miles away. Once pointed, slight movements of the dish sever your signal connection and crater your data.
I pondered what I saw. Technology is great, but it's also fragile and finicky. A pipe set in the ground in concrete can still shift and settle. But, that old tree isn't moving. Think about how deep its roots penetrate. It won't budge. The nearby traffic likely doesn't cause any vibration, either. Technology needs something very old and stable to stand on. It needs a solid mount. Perhaps the approach of leaving the old behind to replace it with the new is short-sighted. Technology is more stable when attached to our immovable past. New approaches and new gadgets can function more consistently if they have a foundation that shares its ancient strength with innovative newbies.
I'll walk past that tree again and again, I'm sure. But, after pondering it, I'll have trouble not looking up. Likely, I'll think twice when I use my smartphone or tablet. Think about it, wasn't Johannes Gutenberg's press a sort of mass distribution technology for prepared messages, kind of like a really slow blog. Of course, life moved more slowly then, too.
Naturally, my pondering began with technology, because deep inside I'm a techie and Star Trek junkie. But, this idea goes deeper. Old ministry programs and philosophies have deep roots, too. In ministry, throwing out the old is a rough way to introduce the new. Where there is a way to attach new things to the foundation of the old, our improvements advance more smoothly. Launching new ideas, programs, and approaches, in such a manner, respects and appreciates the investment people have made for a church to exist, continue, and reach its current state. New concepts and ideas attached to them don't shift and sway dangerously and destructively. That's powerful.
I imagine that if a car ran into that tree, the dish wouldn't move much. But, the car would come away totaled. That can happen in ministry when we don't respect how entrenched and powerful the past can be. The art of change is using the strength of the past to help build the future. Change agents who master that task deserve the respect of a sage.
Anyway... That's how old meets new on Main Street.
Back on March 8th, I shared another quiet secret of my life. Though, I've attended (and been a member of) both large and small churches, I've never served at a church or been a member of a church that's baptized 50 people in a year that the church family won to Christ themselves. Some people haven't had my experience. They've enjoyed being part of passionately evangelistic churches with enthusiastically evangelistic pastors. I haven't. The whole thing seems foreign to me. It also seems very wrong. Churches that don't reach significant numbers of people and lead them to Jesus, just don't seem to match the picture God gives in the Bible. It doesn't take a big congregation to have a big impact. My current congregation isn't much bigger than the gathering in the upper room in Acts 1. God sure used them to produce Kingdom results far beyond their number. I believe God still works that way.
Back to March 8th. I challenged my congregation (my friends, brothers, and sisters and Christ) to reach, lead to Jesus, baptize, and connect to the church 50 people by the end of 2015. It made me a little uncomfortable to share my quiet secret. I crossed another line. I can't do it alone, but I'm the Pastor of an awesome church full of people who've received the Holy Spirit, who treasure God's Word, and who seek to fulfill God's commands. They're chasing the heart of God. So, I think we're good. But, the results will be God's work. We've never done it on our own.
This Sunday (March 15th) we prayed that God would take us into that challenge. We prayed that God would help us reach 50, then 51, then 52, and so on. It will take more than 50 baptisms to reach our goal. We're looking for 50 people that we lead to Jesus, our fruit. We'll have to be evangelistic. Here's our goal.
Our 2015 goal is to obey the Great Commission and baptize and connect to the church 50 people that we have led to Jesus.
We also started memorizing a Scripture together, the whole church. "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.'"
If we live out those words, we're on the way!
My personality is broken. I don't mean that I'm some kind of creepy person. Neither do I mean that I have some kind of awkward mental disease. Oh, I have a disease, but it's not mental. It's spiritual. I'm a sinner. And, I'm just guessing that you are, too. I have that on good authority.
Where's this going? It's simple. I've encountered many believers over the years that cite their personality as the guide to what they will do and won't do for God in the church and in His Kingdom. It's like they've accepted their personality as some kind of spiritual boundary that we need to remind God about every now and then... especially when He asks us to function outside of our comfort zone. That's what I think the whole personality conversation is about: comfort.
Yet, I believe that sin has corrupted more than my morals and my desires. I believe that Scripture describes me as completely broken, no realms of life excluded, including my personality. God made me unique, then Satan introduced sin and spilled coffee on the description of my personality. Then, that coffee-stained personality is what I ended up with.
I don't believe my personality limits God. I don't believe He consults my personality profile. He doesn't care if I'm a lion or a beaver, an introvert or an extrovert. He's not impressed that I'm an INTJ or an ENFP, or whatever. Scripture describes God at work within me. Scripture says that He's not finished with me. The Bible proclaims that God is at work perfecting me right now. So, He's evidently not settling for what my personality looks like today.
From a human standpoint, functioning outside of my personality is draining. It's exhausting. But, its not impossible. I just need to be careful that I don't go out there on my own. Functioning beyond our comfort zone should be a God thing. We should be trusting in Him and following Him out there. It should be a journey of faith, not one of experimentation or determination. Those are human activities. We're looking for "God-activities."
Here's the bottom line. If God calls you to cross a line that takes you outside your comfort zone, say, "Yes." He'll meet you there. The place to which He's calling you is still inside His comfort zone. So, you can trust him out there. Here's the big question, though: Do you trust Him? If you don't, you just might have found a place in your personality that's broken!
The Evangelism Conference of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico rattled my cage. I'm regarded by many as being very evangelistic, very focused on lost people. Yet, their opinions aren't my standard. I constantly ask, "What does God want." If you ask that question, prepare for answers.
I began a journey in 2012 of handing out at least one tract a week to someone I simply didn't know had a relationship with God through Jesus (of course, there's no other way!). I've exceeded my original goal. It's been personally inspiring. I accomplished something, with God, that I'd never done before. In fact, my life has changed. I think about impacting people everywhere I go.
But, back to the Conference. God is pleased, but not finished. Tracts weren't the end of the journey for me. Instead, they were a beginning. I've no idea where the end lies, hopefully at the foot of God's throne. I want to keep growing until then.
On March 8th, I shared with my church family that God was taking me a step further. It's good to make these things public, it provides a sense of accountability. God wanted me to; so, I did. I shared with my church family that God wants me to take the additional personal steps of engaging individuals in spiritual conversations that lead to the telling of God's story and to inviting them to follow Jesus. That's a big step for an introvert. Actually, handing out a tract every week to a stranger was a big step for an introvert.
I needed an invitation at the Conference, but there wasn't one. That day in front of my church family was set a benchmark for me. I crossed a line. I'm taking a public stand. I'm looking for conversations. I'm stepping outside of my comfort zone, outside my personality, and outside my abilities, into the realm of faith. I believe God is calling me forward. I also believe He's waiting for me out there where He's called. So, its safe.
Where's your line? Where is God calling you? It's safe there, too. Why not say, "Yes." One step makes all the difference.
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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