Monday, August 25, 2003

One Thousand Marbles

One of those things that crossed my email that is worth passing on!

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings.  Perhaps it's the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it's the unbounded joy of not having to be at work.  Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the kitchen with a steaming cup of hot chocolate in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time.  Let me tell you about it.

I turned the volume up on my radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning talk show.  I heard an older sounding chap with a golden voiceĊ  You know the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business himself.  He was talking about "a thousand marbles" to someone named "Tom." I was intrigued and sat down to listen to what he had to say.

"Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much.  Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet.  Too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital."

He continued, "Let me tell you something Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities."  And that's when he began to explain his theory of a "thousand marbles."

"You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic.  The average person lives about seventy-five years.  I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years."

"Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I'm getting to the important part."

"It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail," he went on, "and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays.  I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy."

"So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to roundup 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in my workshop next to the radio. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away."

"I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life.  There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight."

"Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast.  This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container.  I figure if I make it until next Saturday then God has blessed me with a little extra time to be with my loved ones......

"It was nice to talk to you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your loved ones, and I hope to meet you again someday.  Have a good morning!"

You could have heard a pin drop when he finished.  Even the show's moderator didn't have anything to say for a few moments.  I guess he gave us all a lot to think about.  I had planned to do some work that morning, and then go to the gym.  Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. "C'mon honey, I'm taking you and the kids to breakfast."

"What brought this on?" she asked with a smile.

"Oh, nothing special," I said.  "It has just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? ... I need to buy some marbles."

This intrigued me so I wrote a life calculator... try it here

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Worship Note

You would not usually expect a pastor to go "into the spirit" to seek and deliver a message from God on Sunday morning. You would expect him to seek and pray and get in the spirit during the week so that he could deliver a message from God under an anointing, but one that was thought out and well prepared. Yet worship leaders tend to rebel against that very same model. Worship leaders should seek God and get into the spirit during the week in preparation so that they are able to deliver a well thought out and prepared worship experience under the anointing on Sunday... not "zoning out" in the spirit and detaching from the congregation.

Small Church Mentality

ok... I'm digging in the archives... but I found this article I wrote for the Vineyard National Magazine in 1996 and thought I'd recycle it.

(John 4:35 NIV) Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

This past summer I was seeking a fresh vision for our fellowship here in Northwest Arkansas. I had received a clear vision before I even took the church as Pastor but over time that picture had grown stale with lack of attention and any faith I had that it was going to come about had long since passed away. The church had dwindled in number to under 50 people and although the core families were still very committed there seemed to be a current of unrest. I was even questioning my own call to the ministry.

As I sought after this new vision I sensed the Spirit saying, "I gave you vision already, you're the one who keeps trying to change it." I began to realize that I had programmed myself into 'small-church' thinking. By that I mean that I had fallen into the habit of answering nearly every new ministry opportunity with "we're not quite ready for that yet." I applied this to street ministry, food distribution, evangelistic functions, church planting, concerts in the park... almost anything outside of the safety of the church building or home groups. Logically I could justify this reluctance with issues such as finances or leadership but it usually could be boiled down to one thing... lack of faith. If God gave the vision and I know that its in His will then why would I not proceed? Because I don't really believe His word is true!

How long will it be before we are "ready" to do the works of Jesus? I felt like the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to pursue the vision as if it were fact. I was reminded just last month that Isaiah 54:1 exhorts the childless woman to "Sing... Shout for joy" before she ever conceives. If God tells me to plan for 100 converts then I need to figure out how to accommodate and disciple 100 people NOW! If He says we will feed 200 people a week then I need to be finding room to store and prepare food NOW! This was a true revelation to this young Pastor. I have begun to understand that we are in a partnership with God; the vision he gives is true to the extent that we have faith to act on it.

In the ensuing months our body has taken on things I would not have thought possible a year ago. We have been out in the community more in the last 6 months than ever before. Our food pantry has become very active feeding well over 100 people each month. As a result of the food ministry God has allowed us to begin a Spanish service which we hope to see evolve into a Hispanic Vineyard church plant. The church has also been conducting quarterly worship celebrations which have been well attended by other area churches and our worship team is currently in a studio recording their first worship album. During this period I have had two of the leaders in the church acknowledge the call of God on their life to church planting and we are currently seeking direction on this.

Even more wonderful than the enthusiastic activity, though, is that there has been a simultaneous call to prayer. Terry Teykl says that if you use the same Christmas tree stand each year but you keep getting bigger and bigger trees eventually your tree is going to fall over. You have to increase the size of the tree stand to where it will support the tree. We have discovered this to be true of prayer and ministry. As the various ministries have been released and have grown we have found ourselves driven more and more to prayer. Our ministry tree can't stand on the same old prayer stand we used to use. The foundation of prayer has got to grow with it. We now have people meeting for formal corporate prayer 5 times a week outside of regular church and kinship meetings. God is beginning to release a fresh anointing on the body. We have seen a great recovery with just under 100 people attending either Sunday services or kinships. The joy is back! We are learning to speak the "language of faith".

Duke Lancaster
Pastor, VCF Northwest Arkansas, Rogers, AR

Friday, August 8, 2003

What about all these methods and models?

Over the years I have been a part of many churches. I have identified with multiple denominations and movements, many of them having as many different worship styles as they had churches. I have been on staff at larger seeker churches and I have pastored small church plants. I have worshipped in cathedrals, warehouses, "brush arbors" and living rooms. Why do I lay out these credentials? Simply to say that I have no idea what constitutes the "right" way to worship.

As long as I have been in ministry I have listened to many great minds defend or promote one worship style over another. As a young pastor these men would have great influence over me causing me to change directions many times trying to catch the "wave" of what God was doing. I remember moving our small church from a hotel ballroom to a vacant Lutheran church building a few blocks away. While in the hotel we were thriving. There were new faces every week and there was an excitement to all that was going on. But in order to "legitimize" our young church we wanted a "real" church building. Almost immediately upon moving the enthusiasm we had experienced seemed to dry up. We struggled on for some time before moving out of that building back into a more non-traditional facility... one that fit our style.

What is the "right" style?. What constitutes church?
I have heard it said of this or that church that it is a dead church What the person who declares a church as dead thinks they are saying is that the Spirit of God is not evident in that church's services. What the person likely means however is that they didn't feel what they want to feel when they go to that church. There are very few things that grieve me more than to hear someone call a curse on a church by declaring it as 'dead'. Or, even worse, declaring an entire denomination or movement as such.

There is a tremendous spiritual arrogance that is rampant in this country. There are pockets of house churches declaring that the established church is ineffective and dead. There are Pastors and leaders in large established churches that do not consider any church under 100 people as legitimate. Both of these groups are grieving the heart of God and are damaging the cause of Christ with their attitudes and declarations.

In all of my experiences I have found very few people in ministry at any level that did not have a true heart for God. In almost every case they were pursuing to the best of their understanding the vision and the task set before them. I haven't always agreed with their methods or ideas, but I have almost always had to concede that their motives were sincere. This is even more true when applied to an entire movement or denomination. Every Christian denomination on the planet began with a legitimate move of God... Something happened that drew people to God and out of that drawing was born a church or a movement.

This brings up a point... at some point we have to allow leaders to be people... to let them pursue their vision the way they believe it is to be pursued. It is my belief that constantly second guessing our Pastors is, at its core, a pride issue within the followers. We may test for ourselves what our response to our leaders decisions should be, and to pray for them, but there is no place for us to criticize them to others.