Seen on a church marquee:
If the shoe fits, you are not allowing enough room for growth.
Hmm. There is some truth to that.
Seen on a church marquee:
If the shoe fits, you are not allowing enough room for growth.
Hmm. There is some truth to that.
The more intense the sermon, the greater the spiritual warfare. The greater the warfare, the more energy–physical, emotional, spiritual–expended. The more energy expended, the greater the potential for victory. The greater the victory, the steeper the drop once the energy is gone. The steeper the drop, the more spectacular the crash. Spend and be spent.
Yesterday was one of those days where I ran out of gas. Like a race at Talladega, I hit the wall in the afternoon.
I began the weekend with an intense meeting on the future of the church. Divergent opinions, some positive, some negative. I was expected to give an instant answer but chose to think and pray before responding. My gas tank was now down a quarter.
The weekend continued with me attending a fundraising dinner for a short-term ministry team. I concluded the evening with some thoughts on how a short-term ministry team is like a NASCAR race. When I started, people had quizzical looks of “What is he talking about?” They turned to “Ah ha!” moments when they understood the parallels. It was a topic I feel passionate about. Consequently, more energy expended and less fuel remaining.
Prior to preaching on Sunday, I had a brief encounter that left me puzzled and drained. Asking a simple question, I received an answer filled with anger, bitterness, and resentment. “Where did that response come from?” I pondered. I felt like I needed a shower. More energy expended. The needle on my gauge was now dipping.
I preached on 1 John 3:4-10, “Does Practice Make Perfect?” John makes the case that a follower of Jesus Christ should avoid sin and practice righteousness. Not just avoid sin, but reject it outright. According to John, sin is totally incompatible with the Christian life. It is a criminal act against God. Sin’s source is the devil himself. Christ came to take away sin. Sin has no place in the life of a Christ follower.
I found myself pleading with people to listen to God’s Word, to repent, to reject a lifestyle of sin, and to choose to follow God. At the conclusion, I led people in making a commitment to practice righteousness. It was one of the most passionate and emotional sermons I have preached. One person responded afterwards, “Wow! Thank you for listening to God and telling us the truth. The Holy Spirit was at work today. Thank you for allowing him.” The warning light on my fuel gauge was now saying my resources were precipitously low.
Arriving home, my wife and I enjoyed a family phone call with our three children. Afterwards we ate lunch.
It was now mid-afternoon. As I sat and read the paper online, I could feel my remaining energy drain completely away. I was exhausted. Spent. There was a letter to write and people to contact. I still had to respond to Friday’s conversation. But I had nothing left to give.
The wisest decision of the day was heading for the couch. The second wisest was not making career decisions on Monday.
Father, what do you want me to learn today? Not my neighbor, but me? How do you want me to respond? Please open my ears and my heart to your word. Amen.
What do NASCAR races and short-term ministry teams have in common?
Left turns and bump drafting.
There are 36 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, 34 of which are on oval tracks. (2 of the races are on road courses, which while exciting, don’t fit my illustration.) ;-} The 34 races vary in distance from Martinsville, a half-mile short track, to Talladega, a 2.66 mile superspeedway. The speeds vary from 80 mph to upwards of 200 mph. The thing that doesn’t vary is the direction. The races all run in a counterclockwise direction where the drivers only make left turns. You either go forward and you go to the garage.
Short-term ministry teams are the NASCAR race of the church. They get everyone moving in the same direction. They focus people’s attention on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), making disciples of all the nations. They direct people’s vision towards Christ’s instruction, “Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
Race fans will put up with all kinds of inconvenience–standing for long periods; walking a long way from distant parking; crowded conditions; hot, muggy, and sometimes rainy weather; expensive food and souvenirs–all for the pleasure of cheering the winner as he gets the checkered flag. Short-term ministry teams help the church endure sacrifices and ignore petty issues in order to focus on what’s most important–seeing unbelievers put their faith in Jesus Christ and cross the finish line into the family of God. As a friend said yesterday, “If the angels aren’t rejoicing, it’s not a good short-term ministry trip.”
The church can also benefit from bump drafting. Drafting is a principle of physics and aerodynamics whereby two cars can race faster lined up end to end than one car can race alone. As the second car nears the first, it pushes high pressure air forward which in turn reduces drag on both cars, and allows faster speeds for both cars. One of the more dramatic manuevers is when the trailing car uses the lead car’s wake to gain speed and “slingshot” past the lead car.
A church can employ drafting to make the short-term missions team more effective. By joining together to support the team through prayer, finances, and encouragement, both the church and the team can move faster and go further. The church pushes the team forward and the team pulls the church along with them. When the team returns from the trip and shares their joy and excitement about what God did in and through them, they can “slingshot” the church even farther ahead. Their excitement for prayer and their commitment to evangelism becomes infectious and raises the spiritual temperature of the church body.
NASCAR and short-term ministry teams. Who knew they had so much in common?
E. M. Bounds offers some helpful thoughts on the importance of continuing in prayer until you receive an answer.
“Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” These are the ringing challenges of our Lord in regard to prayer, and his intimation that true praying must stay, and advance in effort and urgency, till the prayer is answered, and the blessing sought, received.
In the three words ask, seek, knock, in the order in which he places them, Jesus urges the necessity of importunity in prayer. Asking, seeking, knocking, are ascending rounds in the ladder of successful prayer. No principle is more definitely enforced by Christ than that prevailing prayer must have in it the quality which waits and perseveres, the courage that never surrenders, the patience which never grows tired, the resolution that never wavers.
In “Prayer and importunity,” in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer.
The home team had the ball on their own 40-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in the game. Down by 4 points, they needed to drive 60 yards for a touchdown to win the game. A field goal would not do them any good.
They lined up for the play. The quarterback and tight end connected on a 18-yard completion. The tight end stepped out of bounds with 5 seconds to play.
On the next play, the split end who had been covered all day suddenly broke free down the sideline when the cornerback slipped and fell to the turf. The quarterback delivered the ball and the receiver caught it at the 25 without breaking stride.
There was nothing between him and the goal line. It was hero time. He was at the 15, the 10, the 5 . . . he raised his hands in celebration . . . and lost control of the ball!
The ball squirted out of bounds as time expired. The stadium moaned a collective, “NO!” Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory and the home team lost the game.
As football teams watch game film to learn from their mistakes, so preachers dissect sermons. In reliving yesterday’s sermon, I realized with horror that I fumbled the ball on the goal line.
I preached on 1 John 2:28-3:3, “Is Fellowship With God That Important?” I explained what it meant to abide in Christ, to keep him at the center of our lives. I explained that those who abide in Christ will be prepared to meet him when he returns. I included a few illustrations and applications as to what it would look like in daily life.
But I never asked the congregation, “Will you abide? Will you make sure your lives are pure so that you can meet Jesus with confidence?” I did not invite people to make a change. I carried the ball to the 1-yard line, and promptly fumbled before crossing the goal line!
SIGH! I need to rewind the game film and learn from my mistakes. I don’t want to be satisfied with merely giving information. I want to pursue transformation. I want to teach for lifechange.
Reading The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, I am struck by two competing thoughts:
I was surprised and saddened to hear of a church in our city that gave up and quit its ministry recently. The official term is that it “closed independent operations and became part of _______.” But, essentially, it means the church was dying and the people were unwilling/unable to change. So, their best option, in their mind, was to die and be reborn as a video venue for a megachurch on the other side of town.
To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t know any of the details, discussion, and debate that went into making this decision. I heard about it second-hand and read a blurb on the megachurch’s blog. On the one hand I applaud the church for being willing to do whatever it takes to recast vision and become effective. On the other hand, I am saddened that they were unwilling to do whatever it took to recast vision and become effective and instead gave up.
I have studied the life cycle of too many churches and know what happens if you don’t renew your vision. Sometimes it is easier to die and start over than breath new life into old wineskins. I understand that tension. But I also see the promises of Scripture that Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). It is sad and disheartening when we get in the way and hinder Jesus from building his church.
I am not entirely convinced that being adopted by a seeker-oriented-reach-the-unchurched-megachurch is the best way to go either. Especially after Willow Creek Community Church admitted that while they won people to Christ and built a large church, they did not make fully devoted followers of Jesus.
So with a heavy heart and mixed emotions, here’s a moment of silence for another church that passed away.
Should I pray for today’s needs or tomorrow’s worries? Do I focus on what I need this moment or what I might need in the future? E. M. Bounds answers that question when he states,
True prayers are born of present trials and present needs. Bread, for today, is bread enough. Bread given for today is the strongest sort of pledge that there will be bread tomorrow. Victory today, is the assurance of victory tomorrow. Our prayers need to be focused upon the present. We must trust God today, and leave the morrow entirely with him. The present is ours; the future belongs to God. Prayer is the task and duty of each recurring day–daily prayer for daily needs.
From the essay, “Prayer and Faith,” in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer.
E. M. Bounds provides some helpful insights on the relationship of prayer and faith.
Yet faith is called upon, and that right often to wait in patience before God, and is prepared for God’s seeming delays in answering prayer. Faith does not grow disheartened because prayer is not immediately honored; it takes God at his Word, and lets him take what time he chooses in fulfilling his purposes, and in carrying on his work.
From the essay, “Prayer and Faith,” in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer