Today’s Lectio Divina: Excerpts from Psalm 46. (MsgB)
Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God, above politics, above everything.
Back in 2008, after 10 years of successful church planting in Cedar Rapids, God began a complete renovation of my life and ministry focus. As the wheels began to come off my little red wagon called Vineyard Church of Cedar Rapids, Jesus invited me through Psalm 46 to “step out of the traffic and take a long, loving look at Him, my High God.” He beckoned me to return to my Vineyard roots and re-examine the ways I was doing ministry for Him. In the process He began talking to me about what I now call the 3-B Church Life, an addictive drug common to American church life where pastors and church leaders measure their success (or failure) by evaluating (B)uilding size, (B)ucks in the offering, and (B)utts in the seats.
In June 2009, Sandy & I took a vacation to our favorite spot in Florida (Lighthouse Cove in Pompano Beach) to get away from our troubles. We were both tired and frustrated. My church-growth skills had been challenged to the hilt. After 10 straight years of seeing our church in Cedar Rapids grow steadily, suddenly in 2008-2009, the crap started to hit the fan and the joy of pastoral ministry began to drain out of us. Our vacation was one way of recharging ourselves, hoping to hear from God on how we might go back home and gear up the troops to take back the ground we had lost over the last year or so.
And then, it happened. Sitting by the pool, I saw a picture in front of me. I was a busy air-traffic controller sitting intensely in front of my 3-B radar screen. The little TV was full of electronic blips, each one an important God-project or vital issue emanating from one of my 3-B problems (Building inadequacies, Bucks in low supply & decreased number of Butts in the seats). It was a pretty intense scene. My eyes were glued to the little black-and-white TV screen, my mind working overtime as I did my very best to keep all the blips from running into each other.
Suddenly Jesus came in, unannounced, walking right up to my air-traffic controller that was full of blinking lights and buzzing signals. He then leaned down and pulled the electrical plug right out of the wall socket! Suddenly the screen went blank and I was in total shock. I turned to the Lord and was amazed that He’d be so cruel to do such a thing. Didn’t He know that each of those little blips on the screen were vitally important to the ministry He had given me to oversee? Didn’t He realize that people’s lives were at stake here? Without me to guide these airplanes in and out, there would be sudden disaster. Jesus, are You crazy?
Then, the Lord beckoned me to come with Him. We walked together into a massive glassed-in projector room. It was huge. It reminded me of the pictures I’ve seen of the mission control center found at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston. As I stood there, marveling at the rows and rows of high-tech equipment, I suddenly realized that I was in heaven’s command center. Jesus asked me to look through the large glass partition that filled the massive wall in front of us. I looked out and saw a huge movie auditorium. As I scanned the scene before me, I noticed over in the corner, near the front of the stage, was my single-screen, black-and-white air-traffic console unit sitting there off to the side. The unit was plugged back in now, and though it was hard to make it out from the projection room, I could see the little 3-B blips blinking on my radar screen. The dots seemed so big and demanding when I was sitting there, glued to my unit. But now everything seemed so small when compared to the size of the movie auditorium and projection room we were standing in.
Then suddenly the lights dimmed and the massive movie curtain opened on the stage. For those of you old enough to remember Cinerama, the huge screen was just like that. The 50-foot high half-circle screen filled the entire front of the auditorium. I gasped as I saw how large the full-technicolor screen was in comparison to my little black-and-white console over in the corner. Interestingly enough, the same picture was showing on both screens. My little screen had just a handful of blips on it. But when I looked at the large screen, I saw literally thousands and thousands of blips, all under the sovereign command of the best air-traffic controller in the universe…
Jesus, that day sitting by the pool in Florida, showed me “life and ministry” from both my limited black-and-white 3-B Church Life perspective and then from His. He invited me to join Him in His projection room, forsaking my small, limited air-traffic console unit for His Cinerama view of the world. I said yes to that invitation back in 2009, and now several years later, here I am, once more, looking at that same Psalm 46 invitation that changed my life so drastically back then. As I see it, it still has the power to do even more, if I choose to respond. Let me rephrase it for you as I now read it…
“Step out of the traffic, Pastor Marty! Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God, beyond church growth, outside your 3-B Church Life, above everything else.”
Today, my wife and I are still learning how to respond to this invitation, becoming contemplative activists for the Kingdom cause of Christ. Two old folks who are learning to love Jesus with our whole lives, and learning to slow down just a bit so we can better respond to His Great Invitation found over in Matthew 11: 28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Wanna come along? There’s plenty of room for you on this journey. Just remember to turn off your air-traffic controller before you leave the room!
My prayer: Thank You, Lord for showing me the huge limitations in being my own 3-B Air-Traffic Controller. I choose to unplug my little unit today and trade it in for a seat in Your theatre where all you ask of me is to cooperate faithfully with the big plans You have in my world around me. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Where am I still addicted to the 3-B Church Life? How do I allow my perceived success or failure in these three areas of ministry (Buildings, Bucks & Butts in the seats) to manipulate me, pulling me away from my original Jesus-centered call to become a pastoral shepherd who simply does his or her very best at practicing the Kingdom presence of God and then going out in His power to love ‘the hell’ out of those He brings around me?
So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Psalms?
Over a 50-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Psalms: God’s Songbook of Prayers. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Psalms home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Sustainable Faith-Heartland network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
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