ENLARGE OUR FRAME OF REFERENCE
This is (to me) a revolutionary phrase--“enlarge your frame of reference.” Doesn’t sound mind-boggling? There was a place and time when this concept incited a group to attempt murder.
In Luke 4 we read the account of Jesus’ first sermon in His hometown of Nazareth. He reads from the scroll containing Is. 61, a famous Messianic passage. (what a “coincidence”) After He sits down (proper rabbinical pose) He begins with the bombshell statement, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Perhaps the hometown folks were a) still basking in the glow of Jesus’ oratorical reading, b) had no clue He was claiming Messiahship or c) the delayed effect of this statement had not quite sunk in. They spoke in positive terms about the statement (v. 22). Yet 45 seconds later in v. 29 the home folks were taking Him to a cliff to dash His blasphemous head against the rocks below. Why? Because Jesus was trying to enlarge their frame of reference.
In vs. 25-27 Jesus (at first for notification and a second time for reinforcement) says that God’s mercy and salvation are for all men, not just for Jews (who had a simple classification for mankind, Jews and everybody else). Jesus repeats this throughout His ministry; He often has the ½ Jew, ½ Gentile Samaritan as the protagonist (Luke 10.33, 17.6) or main subject of His teaching (John 4.9). It is the ongoing theme of His Great Commission (make disciples of ALL nations), the great post-resurrection miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2), the apostles’ dispersal by persecution to preach to other people groups, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and throughout Paul’s epistles (Gal. 3.28, Col. 3.11). People were not only to accept the Gospel of Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection for their own salvation but needed to enlarge their frame of reference to allow for others as rightful heirs to that salvation.
What does this say to southern WV/VA churches? Take a look around you. Our new WV governor says address the budget deficit or the state will die (his words). Several of our churches are losing members as members seek jobs out of state; this affects both the budget and the ministry of the individual church and eventually the association. Our own national convention, the SBC, has seen baptisms plateau and decline. We can pull up the drawbridge, hunker down in the corner of the fortress, and pray till Jesus comes back; or we can enlarge our frame of reference, pray for God to reveal what He is up to, and ask how He wishes us to proactively respond. More than likely it will call for different budgets, strategies, makeup of staff, and little of it will be comfortable or pleasant. It is not abnormal, rather it is the normal course of life for things to alter, be it the life span of a church, shifting composition of a church’s membership, rearranged demographics of a community, or 1001 other factors.
The IMB & NAMB have altered their ministries tumultuous and traumatic fashion in the last decade dictated by changes in donations and vision. Our state convention (WVCSB) is going forward with a newly configured staff and priorities borne of changes in donations and vision. Your association is in the midst of preparing to do the same and will make recommendations at the June Executive Board. From Elisha’s servant (2 Kgs. 6.17) to Christ speaking through Paul as his defense in Agrippa’s court (Acts 26.18) we are admonished to open our eyes to what God is up to and adjust accordingly. Let’s allow God to enlarge our frame of reference.
Let’s examine this concept a bit more thoroughly than a one page newsletter article. When I take time to review others’ lives and events that intersect my life and events, I am amazed how pervasive this concept is. Recently I spoke with a dear friend whose world changed instantly and drastically when he bore the full destructive force of an exploding propane tank. Months of surgeries, treatment, therapy, and healing (most of it occurring hundreds of miles from his Alaska home at a Seattle hospital) have transformed him and his family. His outlook on life, priorities, limitations, and the grace of God have undergone as much change as his body in an excruciatingly slow and painful recovery process. He eschewed the choice to retreat into dark bitterness, of losing all will to persevere, or discovering new dimensions of love, of kindness, of how precious life and loved ones are. His faith (and his family’s faith his wavered) in Christ remained strong because he chose to enlarge his frame of reference.
On a more mundane level, recently I visited all three of our Kingdom Advance seminary extension classes that meet on Thursday nights. What a tremendous pleasure it is to watch frames of reference being enlarged in front of my eyes. The students are learning at a rapid pace and finding out how to properly study the Word of God as a priceless treasure trove. Likewise the facilitators are learning at an equal or greater rate. Two of them just finished their Masters of Divinity from seminary. Listening to them teach was a joy; not just about their acquisition of knowledge, but a realized joy that they can never go back to their pre-studies existence. Their teaching is with enthusiasm and the delight of discovery as they pass on newfound truths to others (sounds like Paul and his disciple in 2 Tim. 2.2).
Once a person is exposed to and embraces a new truth, his frame of reference is forever enlarged.
I’m currently reading Adam Grant’s newest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (Penguin Books, NY, 2016), an engaging look into the topic of how frames of reference are enlarged. So far he has explored how one asks questions that venture outside one’s expertise; what roles experience, intuition, and collegial feedback play in formulating ideas; and creating an environment for those things to occur. My habit when reading a book is to put the letters ‘TS’ by a sentence or paragraph I deem a seminal thought. They stand for ‘Thesis Statement,’ something the author brings to the reader’s attention as a propositional truth he then tries to prove or disprove. In light of our subject today, here is the first one I noted: “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” (Grant, p. 7) He does not say to reject the concept, reject the institution, or reject the work that has gone on before in the organization; rather he points to the person who refuses to take the status quo as the way it has always been and therefore how we should presently function.
Want an historical example? Take a journey through the history of astronomy to see how vital our understanding of the size of the universe has been to our understanding of humanity’s place in it. For centuries we thought the earth was the center of a rather limited celestial sphere. When Copernicus and others showed us we orbited around a sun, not vice versa, it shook mankind to think we were not the spatial epicenter of creation. Until the early 20th century man thought the known universe was basically the size of our Milky Way galaxy, because we possessed neither the instruments, techniques, nor the will to imagine otherwise. Edwin Hubble and others showed us the immeasurable vastness of the expanding universe when we found ways to identify whole galaxies hurtling at nearly the speed of light away from us. At the same time Einstein came along and with the theories of relativity showed us our Newtonian concepts of gravity, space, and time needed radical revision. A century later our world still grapples with the results of his discoveries. Our frame of reference about our very sphere of existence has forever changed.
Another area Adam Grant explores is underscored in my own life. He speaks to the value of not only living overseas but working in a previously unknown environment (Grant, p. 49). We lived for six years in then West Germany as missionaries for the then Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention under the auspices of the Heimatmission (Home Mission Board) of the Evangelische Freikirchliche Gemeinde (German Baptists). We lived in German neighborhoods, did our ministry in German, wore German clothes, and ate German meals (we still miss good Brötchen). Meeting other Christians from different European countries, reading the Word of God in another language, and worshipping in another language greatly enlarged our frame of reference about how the Kingdom of God looked and operated. It also taught us to reexamine our own native American culture and made us more selective in our daily customs (for an armchair cinematic equivalent of this, I suggest viewing Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner or the newly released Arrival starring Amy Adams).
The very act of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is perhaps the ultimate enlargement of one’s frame of reference as a person comes to understand the full ramification of his/her decision. Salvation is not merely “fire insurance” or a “ticket through the pearly gates.” The person renounces one worldview and accepts another. Salvation is an all-encompassing, life-transforming point in time (regeneration), a life-transforming process spanning a lifetime (sanctification) and a life beyond our current ability to measure or comprehend (glorification). When properly understood (and, might I add, properly taught by the discipler), salvation not only enlarges a frame of reference, it obliterates the former and gives the believer a brand new frame of reference for everything in life (2 Cor. 5.17; Romans 8; Colossians 3). For a believer the enlargement of his life’s frame of reference begins and ends with the simple confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then walking in Him (Col. 2.7, Gal. 5.25, Ro. 8.4).
One final thought for now: the more proactive a person is in seeking to enlarge their frame of reference, the better. The active seeking of knowledge and insight is much better than change being thrust upon a person through loss, tragedy, and 1001 other circumstantial/external changes in a person’s earthly pilgrimage. I could expand further on this but prefer a dialogue than a diatribe. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-742-1616); I’m happy to buy the coffee and learn from you; enlarge my frame of reference.