If you had the opportunity to swim in the ocean instead of a hotel pool, would you do it? Knowing that the ocean has sharks and seaweed and un-chlorinated water while the pool is a much cleaner and safer option.
Got your answer? Ok, read on! (and you can probably guess that this blog isn’t really about oceans vs. pools. 🙂 )
Last week Kellie and I were at the Vineyard’s “Great Lakes North” Regional Conference in Mishawaka, Indiana. This was our 3rd regional conference since planting The Eastside Vineyard Church. On the first night I felt like the Holy Spirit took me on a trip down memory lane to the very first Regional Conference we attended back in 2010. As you read my story of what I experienced back in May 2010, may God give you eyes to see how your story intersects with ours. Here goes…
Pastor Barry Long gave the first talk at the 2010 Regional Conference and it was one of those moments where felt like God was speaking through him directly to us. Here is an excerpt of what he said that day, paraphrased into my own words:
Decades ago, Barry’s parents bought an ocean-front condo down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Like many resorts in Florida, there is an in-ground pool right on the property, then an iron gate you pass through that leads to the sandy beach and the ocean. Barry and his family spend a week at the condo every year.
His family’s time share week coincides with a Jewish family’s week. So over the years Barry has struck up a friendship with the dad of that family, a man named Heschel (Hess for short).
Barry is a pool-swimmer and Hess is an ocean-swimmer.
One day Hess came up to Barry and asked, “Barry, for years now I have always seen you swim in this pool, but never in the ocean. You could swim in a pool anywhere in the country. But you can’t swim in the ocean in most places. And the ocean is right over there! Less than 50 yards away. And yet, you choose to swim in the pool. Why?”
Barry replied that he swims in the pool for a few reasons – in the ocean the water isn’t exactly clean, then there are the weeds . . . and the sharks. 🙂 In contrast, the pool is clean and chlorinated and safe.
So Barry turned the question around and asked, “Ok Hess, can I ask you, why do you always choose to swim in the ocean?”
His reply was simple and yet profound. He said, “I swim in the ocean because there is life in the ocean.”
Barry said he felt like God spoke to him through Hess’ words. They hit him like a sledgehammer.
Barry realized not only was he swimming in a swimming pool on vacation… he was swimming in a swimming pool in life. When he started as a pastor, he was in the ocean — where life was — but somewhere along the way, the ocean got transformed into a swimming pool. He was living a life that was safe and comfortable… and God doesn’t call us to be safe and comfortable. He calls us to live a life of impact.
So that is what Barry Long said at the Vineyard Regional Conference back in 2010. And just like he felt God spoke through Hess that day to him, I felt God was speaking to me through Barry.
When I joined Kensington Church’s staff back in 2002, I was swimming in the ocean. It was a 9-month contract position with no guarantees beyond that. I had no health insurance. I could have made more money working at McDonalds. I had a desk on the aisle and people used it as a storage area — I would come into work and find boxes piled on top of my desk! 🙂 I knew I was at the bottom of the pecking order. And even with all of those factors, I loved every minute of it!
As years went by, I received a number of pay increases. I had a good HMO… and a match on my retirement contributions… I moved into an air-conditioned office… and had a good title: “Director of Spiritual Formation”… and received tuition reimbursements as I pursued my doctorate.
While there is nothing bad about any of these things, I didn’t realize it but in the process I went from swimming in the ocean to swimming in a pool.
Let me be clear: Kensington is not a swimming pool for everyone… for some it is an ocean experience their entire lives. But it became a swimming pool for me. (And I mean no disrespect to Kensington by saying that). For me, being on staff at Kensington was safe and secure and comfortable. And Jesus doesn’t call me — and He doesn’t call you — to be safe and secure and comfortable. He calls us to follow Him.
So as I heard Barry preach back in 2010, it confirmed what Kellie and I felt we were hearing from God. He was calling us out of the swimming pool of Kensington and into the ocean of planting a church, where there would be “sharks” and “dirty water” and “weeds”
. . . but where there would also be life.
So in December 2010 I transitioned off of Kensington’s staff and Kellie (who was
9-month’s pregnant at the time!) and I jumped into the ocean that has become The Eastside Vineyard Church. And over the past 4 years we have experienced life again and again.
So that’s our story. What’s yours? Here are a couple questions for you: what is your swimming pool? And what is the ocean God is calling you to begin to swim in? May the Holy Spirit remove any fear that is keeping you in the pool.
*** “Doing What Jesus Did.” That’s the title of my sermon this Sunday as we are in Week 2 of our series on The Holy Spirit. Jesus said we’d do what He did… and even greater things than He did (see John 14:12). The question is: do we believe Him? And how exactly are we supposed to do what He did? June 29. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***