Archive for August, 2011
“Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ When the jars had been filled, he said, ‘Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.’ So the servants followed his instructions. When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. ‘A host always serves the best wine first,’ he said. ‘Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!’”
The family’s expectation was to have just enough. But Jesus exceeded their expectation in two ways. First, he exceeded their expectation in terms of quantity. Six water pots each holding 20-30 gallons were filled to the brim. A little simple math would reveal a yield of 120-180 gallons of wine, which would have been ample supply for the remainder of the celebration. Jesus also exceeded their expectation in terms of quality. The testimony of the master of ceremonies was, “you have kept the best until now!”
It’s hard to imagine abundance in a scarcity economy. I believe that was true then and is true today. But Jesus does not operate out of scarcity. He is the abundant God. When we experience disappointment, our natural tendency is to lower the bar in an attempt to protect ourselves from further hurt. It stands to reason that the higher the expectation, the higher the risk of disappointment. So what is one to do? Play it safe? Or live by faith? I guess the answer depends on whether you prefer scarcity or abundance.
Tomorrow I’ll finish up this series of posts on disappointment with a final word from the beginning of the story.
Yesterday I began this series of posts by setting the back ground for Jesus first miracle: turning water into wine. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, you’ll want to take 3 minutes and review the setting of the story and the deep roots of disappointment the family must have felt. So what are some “take aways” from Jesus miracle in Cana?
The first thing I would point out is that Jesus was present in their moment of disappointment. Check this out:
“The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, ‘They have no more wine’” (John 2:1-3, NLT).
Jesus was present in the midst of their disappointment, even though they didn’t see him or recognize him as such. Just as Jesus was present then, he is present today in the disappointment that overwhelms you. You may not see him or sense him, but he is there. You are not alone.
But not only was Jesus present in their disappointment, he was at work in their disappointment. The story continues,
“’Dear woman, that’s not our problem,’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’ But his mother told the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ When the jars had been filled, he said, ‘Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.’ So the servants followed his instructions” (John 2:4-8, NLT).
Think about the groom and his father. They’re filled with worry, keeping one eye on the crowd and one eye on the punch bowl, paralyzed by the looming catastrophe. Their anxiety is compounded by self doubt, questions, blame, and fear. They are already rehearsing the inevitable announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is with deep regret that we share with you the news that we have run out of wine.”
What we have at work is personal disappointment: my wedding celebration is ruined; and corporate disappointment: we don’t measure up to the expectations of our guests…we are not what they think we are.
But look at what is happening in the back room!
“When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over” (John 2:9, NLT)
Jesus was present and at work. He wasn’t absent, he was just hanging out with the servants! He revealed his work to those servants, using them to conduct a simple miracle. The hosts were panicked, but the servants were not.
Jesus is present in your disappointment, whatever it is. What’s more, is that he is already at work in the midst of your disappointment, even though you may not see it or sense it. Check back tomorrow for part 3 of this series.
Unless you are highly unusual, you are all familiar with disappointment. The earliest instance I could recall of being disappointed happened in 8th grade when I auditioned to be the drum major for our junior high marching band. For two solid weeks I prepared for the try out, marching around my back yard twirling a broom stick which served as my makeshift baton. On the day of the audition I performed to the best of my ability. Following the audition the band director announced that he would share the results of the audition the next day. I hardly slept that night, fraught with anxiety over the outcome of process. The next day I went to band and the director called me into his office. He explained that I had a good audition as did the other contestant, but all things being equal, I was a brass player and he was a woodwind, and he needed “my horn” in the band. I was crushed.
Like me, I’m sure you’ve been disappointed with circumstances that didn’t pan out exactly like you’d hoped. And I’m equally sure you’ve been disappointed with people who you thought you could really rely on. You may have even experienced disappointment with God. According to Psychologists, disappointment is the result of some failed or unmet expectation. That may explain why we feel disappointment, but it doesn’t help the hurt.
Disappointment can be tricky, because if one is not careful they can end up living their life defined by their disappointment. Take, for example, the feel good movie Forest Gump. Forest had a difficult childhood, to say the least, but he persevered and began to experience some success. He was an All American football player, then a highly decorated war hero. He became successful in business to the degree that he became a philanthropist, donating millions of dollars to charitable causes. But none of the success he experienced in life mattered to him because the girl he loved from childhood didn’t love him in return.
John 2:1-11 tells a story of disappointment. The setting is a wedding that Jesus and the 12 disciples attended in a small berg called Cana. Mary was there, so it’s possible the wedding was for a family friend, or perhaps Mary had some catering responsibility. Who knows?
We do know that weddings in the first century were multi-day events, sometimes lasting a week or longer. The financial burden of the wedding was on the father of the groom. Like many modern cultures, it was a time for the family to display their wealth and blessings. And, like our modern cultures, they were quite lavish. The family would assume responsibility for hosting the guests for the entire week, providing food, lodging, entertainment, and of course, wine. During the celebration it became evident that they were running out of wine. This would have been cause for embarrassment and humiliation; a grave disappointment to the wedding party who lived in a “blame and shame” culture. In Jesus day, the groom’s family could have been sued for damages, for amounts up to half the value of the wedding presents.
Needless to say, running out of wine would have been a damper on the celebration. One cannot help but notice the irony. Wine in the Bible is a symbol of joy. The wine ran out, the joy also evaporated.
With that backdrop tomorrow I will enter the story and make some observations about belief in the face of disappointment.
As you know, Steve Jobs stepped down this week as CEO of Apple. I wasn’t too interested in Apple until I got my first iPhone and later a Mac Book Pro. To say that I’ve enjoyed these products would be an understatement! I found this tribute on Michael Hyatt’s blog. It’s well done, and worth three minutes of your time. Enjoy!
This morning I came across the new list of Southern Baptist Mega Churches provided by Thom Rainer on his blogsite. You can find the list by clicking here.
Rainer’s report reveals that the SBC now boasts 177 mega churches, which are churches that cite an average weekly attendance of 2,000 or more. As I looked at the list, a few observations came to mind. First, the multi-site movement has made a profound impact. Many of the churches on the list have espoused this strategy, providing multiple locations under the umbrella of one local body. Some of these locations are video venues, some have itinerant pastors who travel from location to location, some use a team teaching approach, while others have established pastors who routinely speak. The big benefit is that the church is able to grow larger by growing smaller, given that each venue can create a more intimate feel than trying to place thousands in one geographical location. The other feature that is compelling is the sheer economics. We live in a day when church construction averages in excess of $155 per square foot. By utilizing established facilities, such as public schools and movie theaters, these churches are financially unfettered to grow.
My second observation concerns the struggle of the historic, pulpit driven, larger than life personality churches of yester year. As I college student and a young pastor I looked up to churches like First Dallas and Bellevue in Memphis, dreaming of the day that I might grace one of those significant pulpits. As time passed and leaders passed, these historic churches, and others like them, have struggled to find their identity beyond their gifted leaders.
Finally, there are some churches that are absent from the list. Rainer passes this off as a failure to report, however it points to a deeper issue, which is the reluctance of many of these churches to publicly identify with the SBC. Some churches on the list are familiar to those who read bestsellers or attend conferences. But who knew those pastors and their churches were Southern Baptist? In some instances, their own publications and websites don’t even mention the affiliation. While I celebrate the kingdom success of those who made the list, it seems clear that the SBC has an identity crisis. Or at least a public relations problem.
This year I’ve become a huge fan of the work of James Bryan Smith. If you follow this blog, you’ll recall that I’ve already posted two reviews on Smith’s work from his previous two volumes. The Good and Beautiful series has been refreshing and has provided a needed boost to those who are either committed to mentoring believers or who just want to follow Christ more deeply.
The third book in the series is titled, The Good and Beautiful Community. Thankfully, Smith’s book on community is not another anemic “how to” on small group ministry. There are no strategies or processes about group life, so if you’re looking for that kind of help you’re going to need to keep on looking.
In this book, Smith deals with community as the relational value that believers find in their common membership of the Body of Christ. He has subtitled this book with the following description: following the Spirit, extending grace, and (sic) demonstrating love. In a nutshell, that’s his purpose for writing.
The author doesn’t deal with every single dimension of community. That indeed would have been a massive undertaking. But he does hit some important highlights, especially in the area of loving those who are difficult to love and how reconciliation works in broken relationships. His chapter on forgiveness is among the best you’ll read anywhere, as he describes a thoughtful, biblical approach to this very sensitive topic.
The other chapter that I felt was extraordinary contained his thoughtful insights on generosity. It can be a challenge to find someone who will tackle the subject of stewardship at face value, simply because many who write on this truth have an agenda in mind, namely the weekly collection. Smith is particularly strong in his appeal that believers develop a theology of “enough,” advocating simplicity which runs counter culture to our modern societies insatiable thirst for the “American dream.”
The book has many other valuable resources for the reader, but I’ll leave those for you to discover should you feel compelled to purchase a copy for personal study. Like his first two books, The Good and Beautiful Community is user friendly, formatted with the same suggested soul training exercises which makes this a valuable resource. I strongly recommend this book. If you haven’t invested in the series, your best bet is to begin with volume one and work forward. However, each book can stand alone on its own merit.
“The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name” (John 20:30-31, NLT).
The Gospel of John contains seven miracles, called signs. According to John, each of these miracles served a dual purpose: to reveal Jesus as the Son of God and to foster faith that results in life. Each miracle addresses a specific need that robs us of life. But rather than face our circumstances with passive resignation, we can make a different choice. We can choose to believe, even in the face of impossible odds. It’s our belief, not our courage, that produces life!
Beginning August 28 I’m going to do a seven week series that will show how Jesus confronted seven specific threats that rob people like us of life and how He demonstrated the pathway to life in the midst of those challenges.
August 28: Disappointment (John 2:1-11)
September 4: Helplessness (John 4:46-54)
September 11: Habitual Patterns of Sin (John 5:1-15)
September 18: Inadequacy (John 6:1-15)
September 25: Fear (John 6:16-21)
October 2: Lack of Direction (John 9:1-12)
October 9: Death (John 11:1-44)
If you’re in the Des Moines area, I’d like to invite you to visit us at Ashworth Road. You can find our location and service times by visiting our website by finding www.ashworthroad.com. If you’re not local, stay tuned to my blog. I’ll be posting follow ups to each weekend service. I think you’ll be encouraged and challenged by this series, and most important of all, find life!
One of the books on my summer reading list was Winning on Purpose by John Edmund Kaiser. Kaiser has spent his ministry career as a pastor, denominational executive, and church health consultant. His book is the product of his discoveries about how churches can transition from maintenance models to more productive missional models.
Using a clever sports analogy, Kaiser presents four critical questions that every congregation needs to ask: Do We Really Want to Win? Do We Understand the Game? Do We Know What Position to Play? and Do We Have the Right Equipment?
In part one, Kaiser suggests that in order for congregations to “win” they have to understand their purpose. This includes understanding the object of the game, knowing the rules of the game, and knowing how to keep score. These basic principles will help congregations stop defeating themselves and free them to function as Christ intended.
Part two focuses on the three basics that make a game worth playing. According to the author, the object of the game defines the responsibility of Christ in relationship to his disciples. It is Christ who provides the mission of the Church and the divine resources to accomplish that mission. Clarifying Christ’s relationship to the church is a liberating step and prevents churches from assuming responsibility for things she is not. The rules of the game create authority. Kaiser wisely points out that boundaries inform the church what is not right but creates a field of fair play where there is liberty. Good rules are not merely prohibitions, they serve to foster creativity and freedom. Accountability is the means by which the church keeps score. This section was particularly helpful because the writer helped clarify the difference between scoring goals and winning the game. Many of our church’s goals focus on padding statistics rather than winning the game. While scoring points is good, scoring is not the object. Scoring is the means to a larger end: winning. I believe that this distinction alone could revolutionize the way pastors, staff members, and churches think about goal setting.
Part three was also helpful. In this section, Kaiser clarified the four positions that are played within winning congregations. He did so as follows:
The Board Plays Governance
The Pastor Plays Leadership
The Staff Plays Management
The Congregation Plays Ministry.
While these chapters were clear and simple, pastors of churches that maintain a congregational form of polity may find them to be frustrating. In traditional Baptist churches, pastors face multiple committees that play governance. In addition, each month (or quarter, as the case may be) the congregation comes together to provide even more governance. These structures may be designed for support but quickly can be reduced to a culture of permission giving. Congregational churches as a whole need to evaluate their structure with the basic question, “Are we supporting? Or are we permission giving?” Supporting the ministry and the ministers is a function of management while the permission giving culture is the function of governance.
The fourth and final section is more technical, advancing the analogy even further to discuss the role of organizational documents, the church calendar, and denominational affiliations.
Overall this has been a good book. It’s written simply and clearly, and while it may not provide any new truth to an experienced pastor it certainly receives high marks for providing a different way to think about doing church. I’ve already highlighted the two most helpful sections. If I were to offer any constructive criticism it would be that at times the book comes across as more prescriptive than descriptive. But that’s a minor offering.
This book would be best used for training church leadership and membership about the organization and function of the congregation. The simplicity and clarity of this book will foster valuable conversations that cannot but help propel the church forward and to win on purpose.
A couple of weeks ago Rev. Joe Nelms, Pastor of Family Baptist Church, gained national attention by delivering a rousing invocation at the Nationwide Federated Auto Parts 300 NASCAR event in Nashville, TN. National media quickly picked up on the prayer and the video has since gone viral. While Rev. Nelms’ prayer may not make it into the core curriculum of any worship course at an accredited theological seminary, it does provide an opportunity for me to share a few suggestions on how to offer a public prayer.
1. Know the Purpose for the Prayer
Public prayers are often requested as a part of corporate worship or some public gathering. When asked to perform such a task, the first question you should ask is, What is the purpose of the prayer? What function does the prayer serve in the context of the event? For example, in times of corporate worship several public prayers may be utilized: an invocation to invite or acknowledge the presence of God; an offertory prayer to express gratitude for the faithful and gracious provision of God; or a benediction to ask God to depart with the people as they endeavor to fulfill His purposes in the world. Other times of prayer may be more pastoral in nature and share concern for personal needs and burdens within the congregation or request wisdom and discernment that is needed for a special decision the church is facing. Every public prayer is designed to serve a particular purpose in light of a larger function, and that is where you should begin.
2. Voice the Prayer of the Community
When asked to deliver a public prayer one should consider the audience or the congregation. What are their concerns? What would they pray if they were in your shoes? Part of what distinguishes corporate prayer from private prayer is that the person who offers the corporate prayer offers it on behalf of and for the larger group. If your audience is your regular congregation, you need not be as sensitive to biblical words and theological concepts as you would if you were at, say for example, a NASCAR event.
3. Prepare in Advance
Some religious traditions are comfortable with writing public prayers as a part of their preparation while others are reluctant to write their prayers out. Either way, it is thoroughly appropriate to give some consideration and thought to the prayer well in advance. A little advance preparation will prevent your prayer from coming across as wordy or redundant.
4. Remember your True Audience
At the end of the day, all prayer is directed to God. When you pray, either publicly or privately, you pray to God. The purpose of prayer is not entertainment and its not to make an impression. All genuine prayer is to God as though no one else exists, even when offered in public. I don’t think of God as a cosmic killjoy who doesn’t delight in His children at play. But in a world where 1 out of every 3 people live on $2 a day or less, I think its safe to say that there are larger concerns than high performance tires.