During our first family vacation to the Jersey shore, when I was about seven, I discovered waves. Watching them fascinated me, but after a little while I ventured in. Having those little foamy wavelets gently wash over my feet and ankles was a surprisingly good feeling, so I ventured in a little farther. There I found myself lifted, then gently lowered again with the rhythm of the constant wave action, I knew how to doggie paddle, so I drifted out a little farther yet.

Then I saw my first BIG ONE! It probably wasn’t that big, but it looked as tall as a skyscraper to me. In a panic, I used all my strength to escape, flailing my arms and legs to move as fast as possible toward the shore. Of course, the BIG ONE was faster and more powerful than I was. It flipped me like a rag doll, upside-down and backwards. I gulped a brew of salt water and sand. When my feet finally made contact with the ground, I was surprised to find that I was standing in only about eight inches of water, and gentle wavelets were once again caressing my feet.

I was still alive. So, after a little time to recover, I cautiously ventured in again. Once more I was lured by the gentle wavelets to deeper water, until I was confronted with another BIG ONE. Predictably, I was tossed around again. This happened to me two or three more times before I learned one of the more important lessons of my life:

DON’T TRY TO ESCAPE A BIG ONE; DIVE INTO IT!

Yup, it worked. When a BIG ONE was at its highest, I dove into it, rather than making a frantic effort toward shore. To my surprise, I came out on the backside of the wave and just sort of floated on top of it.

* * *

A few weeks back, Pastor Connie, Worship Coordinator Loren Roberts and I were having our Tuesday morning staff meeting, and it was a downer. We reviewed the previous Sunday: the low attendance at worship, the small numbers of children who are in our current congregation, our inadequate attempts to meet their needs, some interpersonal pettiness we had seen between individual ABCers. Going over these negatives, we were just making each other feel worse and worse. Clearly, we were being confronted by a BIG ONE.

Suddenly, I thought about my childhood wave discoveries, and I shared my memories with them. This helped our conversation to turn around. We began to see positives among the negatives: some new leaders were becoming more committed to the church, the kitchen remodeling project was coming together, the dip in attendance was not reflected in giving through tithes and offerings, there was progress toward joining a Fuller Youth Institute cohort working toward moving the church toward a more youth-oriented ministry. We realized that ABC was confronted with a BIG ONE, and that we were in the process of diving into it, rather than flailing in an effort to escape.

There’s more. You know that feeling I had when, as a child, I dove through and found myself floating on the backside of the BIG ONE? Well a lot of people in Southern California have learned to ride those large waves on surf boards. I’ve only been able to get up there once laying on a paddle board, but I’ve sensed a little of the thrill surfer dudes live for. Once you’ve made the BIG ONE your friend, you no longer hear “SURF’S UP!”¬†as a threat, but as a call to a thrilling ride.

It’s with this attitude that we’ve approached the new budget the congregation adopted at our March 31 Annual Business Meeting. The budget is a stretch over last year’s. We are seeing this as a moment when God is challenging us to dive into ABC’s future.

I’ll write more about this in next week’s Messenger. I’ll share the opportunity for all of us to reevaluate our giving through ABC so that we can make the difference God wants us to make.

Meanwhile, “SURF’s UP!”

— Pastor George Van Alstine