The following article is located at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/fall/fireworks-or-candle.html
Jose Luis Navajo pastors the Iglesia Evangelica Salem in Madrid, Spain. In his book Mondays with My Old Pastor (Nelson, 2012), Navajo recounts the formative conversations he had during his weekly visits with his own pastor. As Jose says, "Sometimes all we need is a reminder from someone who has walked before us." This excerpt begins with the old pastor telling a story.
"Rachel and I used to spend our summers in a small fishing village on the Alicante coastland. It's a peaceful place that still maintains the traditions of the fisherman from years ago. We loved going down to the harbor in the late afternoon to watch the ships come in that had been out working since early in the morning. A number of times we went to the traditional fish market, where the different businesses and restaurant owners bid to take home the best fish at the best price. But one of the most special times of our vacations happened one night in July.
"It was when they lit up what they called 'the castle of fireworks' on the beach. The same event happened each year. When it would start to get dark, the crowd would get as close to the sea as possible. At midnight, they would turn off the lights on the boardwalk, and everything would be plunged in total darkness.
"Suddenly, the first firework would streak up into the air and explode high above, turning into a million flashes of different colors. That was just the beginning.
"From that moment the night sky became a canvas on which the most beautiful pictures of light were painted with fire and gunpowder. For the next fifteen minutes, the sky was filled with the sound of explosions, mixed with exclamations of admiration and amazement from those of us who had come to see that impressive pyrotechnical demonstration. Every-thing had been planned to achieve fifteen minutes of amazement and admiration. The last explosions, which made the ground shake where we were seated, announced that the show was over, and then silence returned along with the darkness."
"That must have been beautiful," I replied. "You've described it with such detail that I can almost see the lights in the sky and hear the sounds of the explosions."
"In fact it was," my old pastor admitted. "It really was beautiful, but after that night each year I would do the same thing: I'd get up early after the next morning and walk on the same beach where only hours before we had stood with our mouths open in amazement, and you know what I would find?"
Without waiting for my answer, he opened up the box on his lap and from the inside took out pieces of burned card-board, wires, and burned matches,
"This is what was scattered on the sand."
He held it up, and I noticed that his hands had gotten dirty with the leftover powder and burned cardboard.
"They're the broken pieces of those fireworks that left us all wonderstruck. The fuses and wires that made up a short-lived show." He looked at me meaningfully. "Fifteen minutes of glory and then burned cardboard.
"It could cause us to laugh if it wasn't so sad, my son. These burned pieces of cardboard reminded me of too many people who were amazing or a short time but then ended up as burned-up cinders. Charismatic people, lofty preachers, men and women who sing like angels or make music worthy of the stars … but after being amazing, they disappear or blacken with soot those who came looking for more from them.
"Yes"—he repeated with a growing tone of sadness—"there are too many who from a distance amaze people, but up close they only tarnish."
My old pastor once again stuck his hand inside the wooden box, and this time he took out a simple white candle.
"Would you turn the light off, please?"
I flicked the switch, and the room went dark. My old pastor lit a match and lit the candle with it, whose flame stood straight up.
"This is better," he said. "Do you see it? This little flame … this orange point that can't even be seen during the day becomes a beacon for seafarers so they can make course corrections when it's dark out. Can you appreciate how this simple light has overcome the darkness? It will not amaze anyone, but it will be able to push back the darkness."
I realized the candle represents the hundreds of men and women who by simple, subtle, and inconspicuous acts bring about change and turn on lights in their community.
Don't focus on what astonishes, but rather what transforms. Don't let yourself be impressed by fireworks that amaze people for 15 minutes and then leave them tarnished. Look for something deeper. Don't make it your goal to amaze your audience. Don't rest until you are sure that your ministry crosses the frontier of the soul and touches the spirit, the place where change is accomplished.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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