Monday, April 17, 2006


A man went to his doctor for a checkup. The doctor finally emerged and told him the bad news. “You only have a short time to live.” “How long?” he asked. “Ten…” replied the doctor. “Ten what?” The man said. “Ten years? Ten months? Ten weeks? Ten days?” “….nine, eight, seven….”

All joking aside – the clock is ticking. In a Deliberately Simple church, there is a sense that time is short. There’s a feeling of necessity to act. It comes back to this: Hell is hot, and forever is a long, long time. There is a responsibility we have to reach as many people as we possibly can, as quickly as we possibly can. The church is a place of salvation. The church does not save you. Only the gospel saves you. But the church plays a vital role. We carry this “good news” as a sacred trust. It is our duty to disseminate this truth far and wide. To this end we are intentional and aggressive in our strategies. Time is precious. There is an urgency about our work. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants as many people as possible to accept His offer of salvation. The Lord is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

“I’m ok, you’re ok” complacency produces terminal inaction for churches. We have to get urgency up, fear down, complacency down. We have to get predisposed to go anywhere, to anyone, and to go now. As Samuel Johsnon said, “Imminent execution does concentrate the mind wonderfully.”

There’s an image in the novel “The Catcher In the Rye” where Holden Caulfield, the hero of the novel, dreams that thousands of children are wandering through a field of rye that has grown so high they can’t see they are heading for cliff. They can’t hear Caulfield as he screams to warn them. All he can think to do is run for the cliff’s edge and try to catch as many as he can before they fall.

As an outreach church, there’s an urgency about our message. If there is no hell there is no reason for us to exist. But if there is a hell, then we have a responsibility to others. The church holds the hope of the world in its hands. The church is a conduit for the life-changing power of God. What is going on in my church is the most important thing happening in the community.

When John Sculley was CEO of Pepsi, he was approached by Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs about coming to Apple. When Sculley resisted, Jobs challenged him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” The question led Sculley to give the next chapter of his life to the computer industry. Yet, as revolutionary as computers have been, nothing can impact our world for time and eternity like the saving grace of Christ.

The power of God is in the gospel (Romans 1). To remain viable, we must stay focused on the life-changing message of Jesus Christ: that God loves us and wants us in His family.

Matthew 25 recounts a story Jesus told of an oriental master, and three servants. The generous master gives the servants varying levels of finances (5,2,1 talents) and then leaves on an extended trip. Because of the context in which this story is told (the return of Christ and how we are to live in light of his return) it’s clear that the master represents Christ. The three servants represent His disciples. But it is in the details that Jesus really makes his points. First, the master gave the servants a lot of money. A talent, translated across cultures, with inflation, could represent as much as $200,000. Second, the master gave the trust without restrictions. He basically says, “Here’s the money, I’ll be back.” He doesn’t put limitations on the funds. He doesn’t even make suggestions for the money’s use. But the master does have some assumptions. While he didn’t tell them what to do with the money, he assumes they’ll do something.

The bottom line of the story is that God wants us to be adventurous. He charges us to be entrepreneurs. He challenges us to be creative. He calls us to be aggressive. He invites us to take risks. Jesus’ answer to how we are to live in light of his return is: “Go for it!” We’re not to wait around. We’re to get busy. We’re not to wait for instructions. We’re to take initiative. We’re not to live in fear. We’re to proceed in faith.

How does this apply to a Deliberately Simple church? We are the servants who are blessed by a generous Master. We are the ones in a position to do something. You know what we are going to do? We’re not going to play it safe. We’re going to try to get the greatest return possible. We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to stay flexible. We’re going to try to reach as many people as we possibly can as fast as we possibly can. We are going to put whatever has been put at our disposal “in motion” for the salvation of others.

I occasionally enjoy watching poker tournaments on television. I don’t yet understand all of the nuances of the game, but one thing has become apparent to me: The best of the best, when they get the right hand, bet big. Setting aside the morality of gambling (this may be hard for some to do, I understand), the game of poker is a great analogy for church ministry. We all are dealt a hand to play. We have choices that we can make about how to play that hand. We long for “the thrill of victory.” We loath “the agony of defeat.” And in both poker and ministry, to be successful you have to be willing to go “all in.” Jesus says, “I’ve dealt you a great hand. Now go and play it. I’ll be back to pick up my winnings.” Jim Collins said, “The most effective investment strategy is a highly undiversified portfolio when you are right.”

Oskar Schindler, popularized in the movie Schindler’s List, ran a factory that was a haven for Jews. At the end of the movie, with the defeat of the Nazis, Schindler walks to his car, and the Jews whom he has saved, line both sides of the street. As he makes his way, he walks by row after row of faces. He is given a letter of thanks, signed by each person and a ring, on which is carved a verse from the Talmud: "He who saves a single life, saves the world." He takes the ring and leans toward Isaac Stern, the factory foreman, and in a voice so low, he has to be asked to say it again, says, "I could have done more." He points to his car and his lapel pin (both of which could have been sold to bribe German officials) and breaks down in tears: "I could have done more."

In 2001, the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk had a catastrophic accident 350 feet below the Barents Sea. The enormous vessel – over three football fields long – lay immobilized at the bottom of the ocean. It was five days until the Russian government asked for help for its stranded sailors. When ships finally arrived in the region their sonar picked up the sounds of sailors banging on the inside of the hull of the Kursk. Unfortunately, there was no contingency plan to rescue sailors from a sunken submarine. Slowly the oxygen supplies ran out. The crew was left to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Their breathing became more rapid, they started gasping for air, started to feel severe pain and then fell unconscious. It was a sad ending. Angry relatives could not understand why the Russian government had not prepared to respond to such an emergency.

What if? What if someone had planned an effective strategy ahead of time? What if they were ready to go? What if they responded quickly? What if, instead of the entire crew being lost, the crew was saved? What if, instead of a funeral filled with mourning, there was a celebration filled with joy? I don’t know. Church? What if?

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