Monday, June 15, 2015

Zacchaeus' Tree

One of my favorite texts in the entire Bible is the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.  It would not be an overstatement to say that I have preached this text over 50 times.  For me, the Jesus/Zacchaeus account is simply the most concrete example of God's love in the entire New Testament.  It is such a powerful demonstration of Jesus' compassion for a man who is far, far, far from all that is acceptable (the law, morality, ethics, religiousness, the heart of God).

Because I have preached this text so many times, it is actually hard for me to find any new angle with which to approach it.  However, this past weekend, I stumbled upon a very significant facet of this story that I had never explored before.  In short, it is:

Zacchaeus' Tree

The gospel of Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a, "tax collector."  But that is actually not entirely correct.  Zacchaeus was more of a customs agent than a "tax collector."  Zacchaeus is the one who who "taxed" or put "tariffs" on all goods and services that passed through the small town of Jericho.  And what was Jericho's first century cash crop?  It happens to have have been a tree.  The harvest and cultivation of the - Balsam tree - was the largest source of income in Jericho in the first century.  Balsam oils could be boiled down and made into perfumes and medicines.  Balsam was a valuable commodity which could only be cultivated in the region around Jericho.  Zacchaeus as the "chief tax collector" (PUBLICANUM - in Latin), taxed every single Balsam tree that came into and and went out of Jericho.  Zacchaeus literally made millions of dollars (in modern terms) from the taxation of the Balsam tree.

Zacchaeus was like the character the "Once-ler" in the fictional book by Dr. Seuss, "Last of the Lorax".  Once-ler made millions off of the cultivation of the Truffula tree seed.  Zacchaeus made millions off of the cultivation of the Balsam seed.

The part that you surely remember from Sunday school is that in order to see Jesus, who was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus; "climbed up in a Sycamore tree to see what he could see."  The actual quote is, "Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a Sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way." (Luke 19:3-4).

Now, because Zacchaeus earned all of his money on the black market taxing trees, it is very significant in this story that his fall back plan, so to speak, when he wants a quick answer, when he wants to quickly remedy his need to see Jesus is to - climb a tree.  It was, if you will:

Zacchaeus' Tree

Whenever we are in a challenging situation, you and I tend to do the same kind of thing.  We tend to fall back on our comfort zone.  For example, when I am stressed out, I tend to work too hard.  Working too hard is my "tree".  All of us do this in some way or another.  When we are faced with difficulty, we rely on "old tricks", "old customs", "tried and true habits", "customary sins", and "previously relied upon behaviors".

But what is even more significant is that upon encountering Jesus, the Son of God, Zacchaeus, in a moment of instantaneous transformation, comes down out of his tree.  But it isn't just a tree that Zacchaeus shimmies down, it is his entire previous way of being.  The tree for Zacchaeus represents so much more than simply a means by which to more easily see Jesus.  It becomes the central motif of his life.  And coming down out of the tree means that Zacchaeus is abandoning all of the illegitimate and corrupting behaviors which dominated his life up until that point.

So, here's my question for this week?  What is the tree of your life?  What is that previous behavior, or activity, sin, or central theme of your life which you have relied upon up until a certain point, but which upon examination no longer holds the value or power that it once did?  For everyone the "tree" is different.  For some it's money.  For others it's work.  For others it's control.  For still others it's a particular sinful activity, or a bad habit.  Like Zacchaeus we must come down out of that tree, in order for "salvation" to come into our house.

All For Now,


PS.  For the next two Mondays, my family and I will be taking a summer vacation in the San Juan islands of the Puget Sound in Washington, where there will be no internet service.  So, I will write my next blogpost on Monday, July 6th:-)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Just a Thing

One time, when I was a little boy, I broke a valued piece of china that occupied a sovereign space in the home of my Scottish grandmother (this is the same grandmother who many years before had been interned in a Japanese concentration camp in Borneo).  After the object broke there was a long pause of silence.  And then perhaps sadness.  And then she said, "Oh well, it's broken, but it doesn't matter, it's just a thing."

Just a Thing

This week the Baird family is packing up our apartment here in Camarillo, and moving to a rented house in Oxnard (15 minutes away).  This morning, as I was putting kitchen plates in boxes, and making newspaper sandwiches (plate, paper, plate paper), it occurred to me that I have moved a lot in my life.  Actually, in the past 14 years of our marriage, Star and I have moved a total of 12 times.  Indulge me for a moment as I run through the list:

*  From Princeton dorm to Michigan apartment
*  From Michigan apartment to Michigan house
*  From Michigan house to Texas house
*  From Texas house to Red Bluff, California house
*  From Red Bluff house to Paso Robles house
*  From Paso Robles house to Colorado Springs rented house
*  From Colorado Springs rented house to Colorado Springs owned house
*  From Colorado Springs to Camarillo apartment
*  From Camarillo apartment to Oxnard house

We have moved so many times that I can conjure the chemical smell of packing tape in my sleep.  We have moved so many times that I have stopped memorizing zip codes, and just write them in my calendar book.  We have moved so many times that we have boxes that we haven't unpacked from two previous moves.  It is a literal truth that I have packed and unpacked wedding china more times than we have actually used it.  But wedding china is:

Just A Thing

I have learned some deeper spiritual truths through each of these moves.

Moving or Movement, In General, Is Good For the Soul
Every time a person moves, there is a kind of spiritual inventory that takes place.  As you saunter through drawers of "stuff" that haven't been sauntered through in a while, you come across old pictures, old notes, old letters, old cards.  These old pictures, notes and cards have to be spiritually processed.  Where was I when that picture was taken?  How did I feel?  how has my life changed since that moment?  How have I grown?  How have I remained the same?  Should I save this picture?  Should I throw it away?  Does this thing still hold the value it once did?  Am I moving on?  Of course, a move is not a necessity for a personal life inventory, but it often helps.

Remember that sharks die of they are not in constant motion.  Human souls tend to die as well if they are not regular moving.  These moves do not have to be from house to house, but there must be movement in general.  I wonder if sharks have drawers of things.

Just Things

Moving Regularly Requires That One Accumulate Less "Stuff"
One of the best sermons I ever heard in my life was from Colleen Townsend Evans (the wife of Louis Evans Jr., founding pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church).  Colleen's talk was entitled, "Traveling Light".  In it, she talked about having to speak at a church once, and was late getting to the airport after that talk.  Totally "done up" in her Sunday pearls, heals and skirt-suite, she did a skirted scissor-run through the airport.  Getting to the gate just before the gate closed, the attendant told her, "The gate is now closing, too late."  She said, "But I just have this one carry on, I'm ready to go."  Colleen said that the gate agent said, "Go ahead, we wouldn't have allowed you on the plane if you had a big suite-case, but that is a small one, so run and get on."

Colleen then applied the "Traveling Light" image to our souls.  Souls that have a lot of baggage, a lot of things, a lot of life-long accoutrements sometimes have a harder time moving into the next kingdom.

Moving Regularly Helps To Keep Ones Priorities On the Right Things
Prior to moving from Colorado to California, Star and I gave away a lot of things.  The cost of moving extra furniture and boxes across the country was just not worth it.  So we gave some of our best things away: pianos, furniture, paintings, patio furniture.  I am not overstating the matter if I said that we gave away around $50,000 worth of things.  At the time, when we gave it away, there was a part of our hearts that said, "Wow, can we do without that?  That's really a nice object."

But here's the truth.  I can honestly say that I haven't missed any of the things that we gave away.  It isn't that the things we gave away aren't valuable, or weren't meaningful to us at the time, it's just that the absence of those things hasn't diminished our life one bit.  And actually, the thought of those things in another person's life has made our lives more joyful!

Just a Thing

Just a House Full of Things

Just a Life Full of Things

Jesus said, "Consider the ravens:  They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable are the birds?"

Now I'm off to Home Depot to get more boxes to pack up more...


All For now,

Monday, June 1, 2015

Multisite Churches Are the Future

This past weekend, Mission Street Church participated in it's first Multisite test site (wow that's a lot of "sites" in one sentence) worship experience.  While celebrating worship in Camarillo, at our usual time and place, at the Edwards Movie Theater at 9:30AM, at the very same time a totally separate congregation in Winters, California, 650 miles away, (Winters is a small city 40 miles west of Sacramento), were watching a pre-recorded video of our Mission Street worship service.  The results seem to be a success.  One congregant in Winters said, "Mission Street was a big hit in Winters."  Another said, "It was a great message."  Of course, more details and nuances need to be ironed out, but it might appear that Multisite worship is a thing of the future.

There are several specific aspects about this past weekend's Multisite venture by Mission Street that I  am excited about:

First, Mission Street is a brand new church in it's 32nd week of worship (just over 6 months), that is trying the Multisite approach.  Most Multisite churches are built from very large congregations that have been organized for years.  Mission Street seeks to build the concept of Multisite worship into the very DNA of our new church.

Second, the church that Mission Street connected with is actually in a different denomination.  Mission Street is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  The church we did a Multisite in is Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).  I believe that as denominationalism continues to diminish in America, that this kind of reaching across denominational isles "so to speak" is a goal that should be sought after whenever possible.

Third, in short, it was FUN!  Participating in this Multisite experience as a brand new church, helped Mission Street, in it's infancy, feel like it was a part of something much larger than itself.  It helped our new congregation feel like they were not just one group of believers meeting in one space, but that their worship actually stretched across many miles and cities - and mattered!

Multisite Church can, of course, mean many things.  In our research of the subject, we have found at least 5 different models of these churches (and there are many more):

One, a group of Christians meet in a living room to watch a video or "livestream" of a church service.

Two, a brand new congregation that meets at a separate location to watch a video or "livestream" of a
church service in another location.

Three, an existing congregation that doesn't have a pastor, or whose pastor doesn't want to focus on
preaching, watches a service from another location.

Four, a small group of believers watch a service, and then work on a study guide together.

Five, just one person sits at a computer screen and watches a service and is fed by the worship

The largest Multisite Church in America is a church called "", which is led by lead pastor Craig Groeschel, and is considered the second largest church in the United States.  "" has nineteen locations in five different states.  That church, with it's many sites around the country, has around 60,000 - 100,000 attendees each weekend who meet in movie theaters, school auditoriums, and community centers to worship.

Recently, in a talk about the future of Christianity in America, Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church talked extensively about Multisite churches.  He asserted that the era of megachurches is not, as some have suggested, over.  He said in his talk that the very first church in history, the so-called "Acts 2" church in Jerusalem went from around 120 attendees to around 100,000.  Rick went on to say that 100,000 members is ten times the size of Saddleback.  But, he said, the first megachurch began a kind of first century Multisite dynamic where they began to meet in "temple courts" as smaller groups.  "One church, multiple locations," said Warren, "One location, multiple venues."  The first church in history, the "Acts 2 church" was a Multisite church experience.

In my own experience as a New Church Developing Pastor, and having started three new churches in my ministry (two of which are still thriving), I have seen a vast evolution in the way that people associate with a new church.

*  In the 1960's, a pastor would knock on the door of a person's home, invite them to church, and that person would come to the church.
*  In the 1980's, innovative pastors would send out a postcard to a home and invite a person to church, and that person would come to church.
*  In the 1990's, cutting edge churches would send out a post card that would direct people to a hot website that would get people to come to church.
*  In 2015, leading churches send out a postcard that gets people to the website, and there a person can find video content, and that video content is what many people consider church today.

As we speak, Mission Street is in conversation with a Presbytery in Colorado about the possibility of expanding our Multisite worship experience to several communities there.  Please pray for this exciting possibility!

Multisite Churches Are the Future

All For Now,