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How Many Elephants?

While ferrying workers back and forth from an offshore oil rig, a helicopter lost power and went down. Fortunately, it landed safely in a lake. Struggling to get out of the chopper, one man tore off his seat belt, inflated his life vest and jerked open the exit door.

"Don't jump!" the pilot called out. "This thing is supposed to float!"

As the man jumped from the helicopter, he yelled back, "Yeah, and it's supposed to fly too!"

Sometimes things don’t live up to expectations. We buy things that aren’t as advertised or don’t last like we hoped. And people let us down, too. It’s easy to get frustrated, even angry, when people don’t meet our expectations.

But it is also possible for the expectations to be too high. It’s reasonable to expect a helicopter to fly, but it’s asking too much to expect it to fly with more of a load than it was designed to carry. If we expect too much of people, we frustrate both them and ourselves.

Jesus once warned that religious leaders may expect too much. “They (the teachers of the law and the Pharisees who ruled from Moses’ chair) tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders,” he said (Matthew 23:4).

I wonder what those “heavy loads” were. More importantly, I wonder what “heavy loads” we place on people these days.

Maybe we expect too much from the very beginning. In the first century, people heard one sermon or one conversation with a believer and immediately became followers of Jesus. No long study courses or confirmations.

Early Christians seem to have been expected to continue “meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25), but the evidence suggests that it may have been for one relatively brief, simple time per week instead of the multiple meetings we expect “faithful” Christians to attend.

Some teach that Christians should give a tenth of income to the church. Yet, the Jewish tithe was also the Jew’s “federal” tax. Perhaps churches expect too much money because we spend too much on elaborate buildings and salaries (yes, like mine) that place unreasonable expectations on people.

A helicopter should fly. But a helicopter designed to carry four people should not be expected to carry ten elephants. Maybe, just maybe, the church of the 21st century is struggling to stay aloft because we “tie up heavy loads” that God never meant for his kingdom to carry.


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