Sometimes life doesn't live up to our expectations. We experience broken promises, hardships, and heartaches. Every year countless people make promises to themselves, and the world around them, that they fail to live up to - be it exercising more often, healthier eating, saving more money, or just being a better person - resolutions are made and quickly broken.
Way back in 2004, you know, the ancient days when iPhones didn't exist I set off on a prestigious missions trip to West Africa. I was a pretty new minister, so this was a big honor. Not only was I ministering overseas, I was preaching to pastors and church leaders.
To make a long story short, from the moment I arrived at the airport with the other ministers, I realized this was not going to go the way I planned. Seated in economy on the aircraft we had no room for our legs, arms, anything. I ended up having to sit separated from the person I planned to ride with in a cramped middle seat. It was not a pleasant flight.
After enduring the plane ride I arrived at was I was expecting to be a 5 star hotel. You've probably guessed it, not 5 stars, at least not by our American standards. My companion and I check into our room, and are pleasantly surprised. It's no Mandarin Orient, but it is large and pretty nice, all things considered.
Shortly after we begin unpacking, there's a knock on the door. It's one of the other ministers asking to switch rooms so that they don't have to climb the three flights of stairs. Reluctantly we agreed and we go into their room - a much, much smaller space.
Can you see how this prestigious honor is going south very quickly? I was expecting a couple thousand pastors, a couple hundred showed up. I expected comfortable accommodation and travel, but I got a small room with a giant tarantula. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Well, that was my first trip missions trip. Many good things happened as well, don't get me wrong. Good things often come out of a bad situation. One of those good things was connecting with an eager pastor who wanted to come under our leadership. I'll have to tell you more about this another time. I continued working with this pastor and returned to do ministry several times. I still work with him to this day.
On my most recent trip the most amazing thing occurred. As I waited to board the plane, I heard my name called over the loud speaker telling me report to the ticket counter. I knew this was a very full flight and was praying that I wasn't about to be booted off which would completely destroy the planned schedule.
When I reach the counter I'm greeted very warmly. The attendant asks for my ticket and as I hand it to her I ask was something wrong. She assured me that everything was okay and proceeded to type on her computer. After a few moments, which felt like an eternity, she handed me a new boarding pass with a new seat assignment.
I had been upgraded from economy to first class! This was my first time in first class, ever. I had no idea what to expect. In fact, it took me about 6 hours in the air to even figure out all that was available to me in my first class seat. There was flavored tea, gourmet meals, reclining cocoon chairs, blankets, comfortable headphones, and a power outlet for my laptop. This was luxury like I had never experienced; certainly, a far cry from the cramped middle seat of my first trip almost 10 years earlier.
In this scenario, I had two options for my response. I could have accepted the upgrade and acted as though I was still in economy, or coach or I could take full advantage of my upgrade and enjoy the perks of a first class traveler. Candidly, I didn't know how to behave in First Class. I'd never flown that way before, in coach you know they charge you for pretty much everything except pop and peanuts. In first class, it's all included.
Technically, there was a third option. I could have rejected the upgrade completely. Think about this, what do most people do? They follow the crowd, right. If a large group is going one direction and only a handful is going the other, which way are you most likely to go? We are trained to act this way from a very young age. Even our government does this in a sense. Whichever candidate or bill gets the most votes is considered the best choice, right. We all know how often that is true.
Well, if I had followed that type of thinking I would not have moved into first class. In economy there were hundreds of people. That section of plane was much larger. There was far more excitement happening. The "energy" was electric. If I had chosen what was popular, I certainly would not have upgraded. There were only a dozen or so of us in the "unpopular" section.
Did you happen to catch the subplot? We can learn valuable lessons from this story. There are a few key points I want to highlight here.
First, if I had let my first experience be my only experience, then I would have missed out on how amazing flying can truly be. Not only was my flight much, much better on my most recent trip, but my hotel accommodations were better than before as well. The entire experience was upgraded.
"Never allow a bad experience, a failure, a shortcoming, or a mishap to stop you from trying again. Just because it doesn't work the first time doesn't mean it won't work the next time."
Second, there is always a blessing to be found in a bad experience, in any experience really. The blessing can be harder to identify in bad experiences, but it's there. In my case, though my first trip was a nightmare, the connection I made during the trip led to far greater opportunities down the road. A single pastor out of a couple hundred was bold enough to approach me and ask for what he wanted. Because of his courage I was given the opportunity to use my gifts. There's another great lesson. Going after your dream always either fulfills or makes possible someone else's dream. Let me keep moving, but that's a lesson I'm throwing in for free.
The last lesson I want you to catch is what this blog is focused on. Congratulations, you've been selected for an upgrade. If you accept this opportunity, you will find that your life is significantly improved - in every area.
Understand that there is a reason that there were only 12 seats in first class. If you think about it, there's no reason the entire aircraft couldn't have been "first class." However, not everyone is willing to do what is required to be able to sit in that section. Out of several hundred people, only 12, well 11, paid the premium required for the better experience.
I'm trying to stay on track here, but there is so much in this. You've got to get this.
As a pastor, I would love for all 3 million plus residents of Las Vegas to connect with my church. In spite of my sincere desire, I know that there will only be a small percentage that joins our movement. I'm not misled by the size of the crowd. Quantity, I have learned, is definitely not a measure of quality. I'm all about quality.
I don't write to tell you what to think, necessarily. I'll certainly give you my perspective and present you with facts about important issues, but my goal is to give you the tools to reach your own conclusions. To embrace you own spirituality in the way that best fits you. Let me ask another question: What's the difference between a master and a novice? About 10,000 hours.
Why do I ask that question? I want to give you permission to give yourself permission to say, "I don't know." I have the 10,000 plus hours of study in the area of spirituality - in the Bible and religion, but guess what? I still say, "I don't know," on a regular basis.
If you want to live an upgraded life you've got to be willing to be in a different place than the crowd. You've got to be willing to let the hundreds walk by you while you sit with the twelve. You can't allow the way you think to give in to the popular vote all of the time. Groupthink is a real thing (a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome). Guess what? That means you and your closest friends may actually disagree on certain things.
Have you ever noticed how everyone has something to say about things they know nothing about on Facebook? It's crazy, and that share button is dangerous. "Mark Zuckerberg is giving away a Unicorn that lays golden eggs to the first 1,000 people to share this post." You've probably also seen the posts that say "God will bless you if you type Amen" that gain 10,000 likes and comments.
What's my point here? Just because a lot of other people are doing it doesn't make it right. Just because someone believes it doesn't make it true. I believed in Santa until I was 8. There was "evidence" he existed. Heck, I sat on his lap and have pictures with the guy. Now, my thinking has been upgraded. I still love the idea of Santa but I got ahold of some new information and now I have a new way of thinking about him.
The Bible has a lot to say about our thinking. One of my most favorite verses is found in the Book of Romans, coincidentally, one of my favorite books. Romans 12:2 reads, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." I want to hone in on the last part of the sentence. Changing your thinking actually transforms you.
Wow. How cool is that? The Bible writer actually says to use your brain. What if we did that a little more often? Do not conform to the pattern of this world. The word world is translated from a Greek word that literally means "age," such as the computer age or the information age. In other words - the age is the equivalent of the prevailing culture.
I give Paul a hearty "Amen" for that one. The way the world works in our time is not the way we should work. Let's not miss what the Scripture is teaching. "Be transformed (progressively changed) by renewing your mind." He's advocating that we act as nonconformist and change the way we think.
That's my primary job as a pastor is to change the way people think. Everything you've read so far you've interpreted based on your past experiences and the way you currently think. What you take away from what I write may not be the message I am intending to convey. Instead, the message you received is based on the way you've been taught to think up to this very moment. Reality is, your thinking has brought you to where you are in life today.
If you want something different, if you want an upgrade, you've got to adopt upgraded thinking. Your mind doesn't renew itself. You've got to get connected, and stay connected to people who are also being transformed.
Many pastors and most motivational speakers will tell you to be an eagle. They'll say things like "leave those pigeons behind." Well, I've got news for them. You're not an eagle and your friends aren't pigeons. You are all humans. You don't have to leave anyone behind for you to advance. Here's what I didn't just say, I did not say people wouldn't walk past you.
Literally hundreds of people walked past me as I sat in first class. I did not leave them behind; they screened themselves out by their decisions. I didn't do anything earn my upgrade; I don't want to give you that impression. I bought a coach ticket like everyone else, but someone else extended me an invitation to upgrade. All I did was take hold of the invitation.
I'm inviting you to take an upgrade today. It's up to you to accept it. This invitation is open to everyone, but not everyone will take it. Some people will call us a cult. They'll say were are fanatical. Others may say we aren't "Christian" enough and other still will say we are too "Christian." That's all fine. Don't let the crowd influence your decision.
Your circle will shrink naturally because you will be transforming. When you pick a major in college, you tend to hang out with people in that same major, right? The law students hang with the law students, the fine arts folks with the fine arts folks. It happens naturally. I can't stress this enough. Don't finish this blog then go delete 500 of your Facebook friends. Remember, stepping away from the crowd isn't the same as cutting people out of your life.
It's easier to just leave people, I know it is, but that's not the upgrade I'm advocating. Yes, it's necessary to leave in cases such as abuse. I get that, however, your 500 friends who are voting for Mark Rubio and you're voting for Donald Trump are not abusing you.
(Go ahead and read the rest of Romans 12._
I told you I'm inviting you to take an upgrade today. Did you know the Bible said to be willing to associate with people of low position? "Gasp!" This kind of contradicts the whole eagles and pigeons philosophy, doesn't it? In order for someone in a low position to rise, there needs to be hand helping to lift him or her up. Now that's an upgrade!
Be devoted to one another in LOVE - love is patient, love is kind, it doesn't envy or boast or keep a record of wrong. Honor OTHERS above yourself. Share. Be hospitable.
Have you ever heard of a pyramid scheme? Basically, it's tons of people at the bottom and the person at the top gets everything. Sadly, many churches today are structured just like most corporations, like pyramids. Steve Wynn makes the hundreds of millions and the housekeepers make the hundred of hundreds. In some churches (religious organizations), only the pastor has the access to God and everyone else has to pay up for a "word."
That's the way of the world, the way of this age, but the upgrade gives everyone equal opportunity. Where there is no top, no hierarchy. The church should not be anything like a pyramid scheme. Yet, for it to work differently, everyone must play his or her part. The reason that corporations and churches are like pyramids boils down to the way people think.
Instead of a handout mentality, we need a hand up way of thinking. We need to take responsibility for our own growth. Your thoughts determine your words. Those words determine your actions. Actions turn into habits. Habits become your character, and your character is what gets you to your dream.
We've got to flatten out this pyramid and the way to do that is ownership. With ownership comes responsibility. Everyone wants to be rich but very few are willing to do what it takes. That's why there were 12 seats in first class and hundreds behind. I'm no longer content with being in coach. And guess what else? I'm not content with YOU being in coach either.
When we look at spirituality, coach is showing up at church once a week, blending into the crowd, and going about your everyday life. This is actually a very sustainable model because people depend on the pastor for their food, but they never develop a real personal faith.
I could preach and tell you "my way is the only way," threaten you will burn forever tortured in hell, and I would build a huge audience. I've seen it, and been a part of it in the past. The other option is I can place the responsibility on you for your own faith, your own spirituality. You can own it. I encourage you to own it. I can give you the tools. You can leverage my 10,000 hours and build upon it - the ownership model is like a net.
A net has every piece connected. If one strand is cut the net is no longer as effective. A net is only as strong as it's weakest link, yet it's also as strong as it's strongest link. We are one; we are connected, even if we don't know it.
The better the "best" becomes, the bigger we are able to dream. The bigger we dream, the more we can do. The more we do, the more that becomes possible. Imagine if the carriage was never invented? We wouldn't have the car.
Think about this. If all people knew was the horse and carriage, and you asked the question "would you like to be able to travel faster?" what thought would enter their minds? They would likely just ask for faster horses, right?
In fact, if you presented the car to people with a horse mindset, they would find a million reasons why they should keep using their horses. That's why you can't allow other people to limit your dreams. They need your dream to become reality so that they can grow, so that they can have a broader outlook on what is possible.
Now what if the Wright brothers never invented the airplane? How would we get to have a rover on Mars? What about electricity? Without electricity there would be no iPhones. Scary, right?
What I'm trying to communicate is in order for you to actually achieve transformation and have your mind renewed; you've got to hear about what's possible. Earlier in Romans (10:17), Paul explains that faith - the power to believe - comes from hearing. In other words, to believe you've got to be exposed. Transforming the pyramid into a net comes from renewing the mind. Not only do you have to be exposed, you've got to make a decision to accept the upgrade.
I know this isn't a "believe in God and all your problems disappear" blog. It is a challenge to make 2016 the best year you've ever had blog. When you help someone else, you are ultimately helping yourself. Upgrade your thinking in 2016.
We've only got 2 options. We can accept things as they are or we can accept the responsibility for changing them. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.