AND SOME APOSTLES …

A call to recognise God’s master-builders in the Simple-church movement.

Man on construction site.
Man on construction site.

We are just about to have a much needed multi-story car-park open near the beachfront of our town of Yeppoon. It’s suddenly starting to take shape and is looking great. However, the spurt of obvious progress was no doubt preceded but a couple of much longer hidden stages.

Starting with the planners and engineers, who probably laboured over this for longer than the build. Then there was the clearing of the old site and the laying of sufficient foundations to support the visible, usable finished form.

The apostle Paul saw the Church taking a similar journey. Starting with the prophets labouring over the picture of what Jesus saw. This community in the earth that he would build, that “the gates (councils) of Hell will not prevail against.”

Then walking together with the apostles (the Master-Builders – 1 Cor 3:10), those with the gifting to actually see the thing come together, adding substance to the vision. Starting with the clearing away of the old and the laying of true foundations. Servants of Christ, gifted with patience and perseverance.

Both of these foundational gifts of Christ to his Church are “big picture” ministries (unlike the pastor and teacher and, to some extent, the evangelist, who are much more locally inclined) and Paul seemed to think that without them we would look in vain for the thing that Jesus was after. And in fact history has shown that without the big picture we finish up building short-term structures that the gates of Hell have a field-day with.

All of these gifts have been given to the Church until we rise to the fullness of Christ’s intent for his church. Without the whole five, and especially the first two, we are doomed to keep building structures that will never fully reflect Jesus nor hold the multitudes that are yet to come in.

SO WHY, IN THE SIMPLE-CHURCH SCENE, AREN’T WE TALKING MORE ABOUT THEM?

Especially when there are so many working among us!

Three reason’s I can think of:

  1. They are already among us – we just don’t often acknowledge them as such. Indeed most of those that I know don’t feel a need to use that terminology. They are not into titles and are much more focused on doing what they are gifted to do. Making disciples for Jesus and motivating and teaching the rest of us how to do the same. They shun unhelpful publicity and prefer to work in the background. That doesn’t mean, though, that their gifting is not recognised and sought after. They are simply not followed for their name or preaching skills but for the fruit they produce. We need, however, to up the game as far as our support for them because they are not meant to come begging and we owe it to them as unto Christ.
  2. There are elements of the simple-church movement who have a hard time with leadership. Having moved away from front-led church some are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Especially if they (i) have an underlying independence that has not been dealt with or (ii) have sat under the kind of controlling leadership that was stifling and needed to be escaped from anyway. The problem, however, is not “leadership” in itself. Leaders will and need to rise in every group. Indeed Christ has gifted them to us. Without them there is no movement but just an encamping around grievances, pet doctrines and “fellowship”. True servant leadership is to be embraced, honoured and walked with.
  3. A third reason is the perception that anyone who claims to be an apostle is self-serving and false. And the truth is that, as Paul discovered, some are. Some indeed seem to need titles (Reverend, Father, Pastor, Apostle, etc) in order to maintain respect for their ministry. To many though, such titles, though they may carry them, are unimportant.  They see such references as merely job descriptions and are more interested in the job. Which they are carrying out to the best of their ability, answerable first to Christ and then (if they are wise) to those they work among. They deserve to be recognised and appreciated.

Simple-church is for many a part of God’s movement of the church back to the simple, relationship-centred and easily multipliable model that Jesus birthed. However, unless Jesus is allowed to build, with the team of his choosing, it will be far from simple and we will end up frustrated and disillusioned. Paul wrote that “God was kind and let me become an expert builder. I laid a foundation on which others have built. But we must each be careful how we build, because Christ is the only foundation. (1 Cor 3:10)”  We need to have the same “kindness” toward the “expert builders” that God has placed among us. We will never rise to the fullness of Christ’s vision for his Church on earth without those that he has appointed to help us do so.

He has give “Some to be apostles…”  Let us acknowledge them, receive them, love them, feed them, and honour them. For the sake of Jesus and his Church.

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A BETTER GOVERNMENT IS ON ITS WAY!

stephenmichell-flickrIn all the political dramas going on I’m so glad that my first priority is to another Kingdom; and as much as I love Australia it is not my first priority and its Parliament will NEVER produce the kind of society that many of its citizens long for.
I’m looking forward to a Kingdom that will not have to get laws through a divided and verbally abusive upper house or lower house because it will not be based on the constant and continual enacting of loop-hole mending laws.
I’m looking forward to a Kingdom whose citizens will love each other, not because a law has been passed requiring us to treat each other with respect and dignity but because such attitudes are written in our hearts.
I’m looking forward to a Kingdom whose ruler does not have to guard his back or make deals with vested interests or hide his past or put down his opponents or feather his nest or look to the next election.
I’m looking forward to a Kingdom whose leader has proved himself by happily walking among us as a publicity-shunning servant, giving the outcast a future, embracing the lepers of society, giving women a voice and men a goal worth living for and their children a great destiny.
A leader whose back-the-front values were rejected by the leaders of the current system, a system that has not changed over the centuries and never will. A leader who did not recoil from death at their hands but who, by facing death, defeated it – and with it this world’s failed systems.
His Kingdom is growing in the hearts of millions across the planet, hidden and opposed (because it is counter this world’s culture) but ready to spring forth in its time.
And though to many it may sound like a pipe dream, it is, I believe, what we are longing for.
God is not finished with Planet Earth and will not allow His creation to go down the tube. He has a plan. We need to get with the plan. Whether we do or not it will (and is) happening.
Let your will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven. Amen!

THE GOOD WINE

‘And no one after drinking old wine desires the new, for he says, “The old is good”‘ – Luke 5:37-39

One of the joys I’ve had at the end of 2015 has been that of knowing that my kids, having outgrown the church fellowship that Esther and I pioneered 25 years ago, have each become part of fine_red_wine_picture_2_167120vibrant, outgoing churches in their own right. And as I’ve attended some of the Christmas celebrations of my kids’ churches over the past month, I’ve thought to myself, “Why wouldn’t you want to be part of something like this?” And I’m reminded of Jesus words (above) concerning old wine.

I never could understand that add-on. Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who want to contain everything in old lifeless religious patterns, old wineskins. And here he is seemingly complimenting the product of those wineskins. And of course he is right. If the fruit of the vine has been good and the wine maker and wineskins have done their job then the product will be ‘good’. That’s the aim of the good vintner.

It didn’t, however, start out that way. At one stage it was new wine in a new skin. And not necessarily very appealing to the taste buds. But, through a process of heat and fermentation and age, under the care of wise vintners, it matured and turned into a highly desirable product, one that you’d want to let linger on the palate and then come back for more.

However… no winemaker, having produced such a vintage, then proceeds to simply increase his product by adding new wine to it. That’s not how it’s done. What he does is start a new wineskin. With fresh grapes that will not necessarily produce the same tasting wine (the same hints of mulberry and subtle notes of grapefruit and old boot leather).

And it seems to me that no matter how ‘good’ a church fellowship is it will not get better by simply adding new people. Someone has to go off and start a new wineskin. And stick with the new wine through its unpalatable fermentation stages.

This is surely why Jesus’ church planting strategy centred on finding a new wineskin, a new ‘person of peace’, and kicking off something fresh in his home (Luke 10:5-9). With a disciple-making, apostolic type person checking in to see how the maturing process is going, making adjustments here and there, but allowing the new fellowship to find it’s own flavour and characteristics (hints of their own ethnicity and background and subtle notes of their housing estate). And in the end becoming so ‘good’ why would you want to leave? Why would you want to go back to immaturity?

Unless of course you’d caught the bug of wanting to create more wineskins and more wine.

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE STORM

There are thomalcolmwells.flickrse who would see the judgement of God behind every storm and flood but I tend to agree with Jesus – these things are often just a part of our fallen world.

That doesn’t mean that when Cyclone Marcia hit Yeppoon on the Central Queensland coast in February, carving a trail of destruction through the community, there were not lessons that could be learned. Jesus found lessons in the events and rhythms of life, and in the days that followed the storm, as I prepared for the Oikos Gathering that we were hosting in a few weeks’ time, a few lessons grabbed my attention as well. Here are three.

IN A STORM BIG THINGS COME DOWN!
Even things that have been a part of the scenery for a long time and that seem immoveable and permanent – they come down. Driving into or out of town in the hours and days that followed Marcia we marvelled at and lamented the power of a wind that was able to bring down huge trees and whole forests, root systems ripped out and trunks snapped in two. And looking over our fallen trees we felt sad that much that we have loved and appreciated had come down.

However looking over the structures that make up much of modern western church and political life we often feel sad and frustrated that they are still standing, seemingly entrenched in our culture, their root systems often drawing more from the world’s systems and culture than from the Spirit of God. We struggle to bless expressions of the church that we feel are actually a hindrance to the Gospel and to the emergence of true Kingdom life in our communities.

And sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that it’s actually our job to try to bring them down. So, instead of giving our attention to the establishing of new plantations we huff and we puff, with our Facebook comments, our prophecies and prayers and online petitions, with the hope that we’ll expend enough wind to bring it all down. And in the process often finish up breathing out the very spirit that we oppose.

A cursory read of the Book of Acts, however, should be enough to show us that there is a wind from heaven that even the most entrenched religious and secular systems of man cannot withstand. Rome fell once and its legacy, found in much of our church structures, will fall again. The Temple was destroyed and its lingering legalism will come down as well. The wind that blew so powerfully in Luther’s day will blow again.

Let’s quit our huffing and puffing and use our breath to breathe blessing over the plantings of the Lord that will rise up in place of the old, their roots deep down into Christ, their branches a gathering place for the world.

WHEN THE LEAVES HAVE GONE YOU CAN SEE FOREVER!
One of the most common comments after the cyclone was that, with so much of the foliage gone, you could see neighbours that you never could see before! Indeed, from our rear balcony we can see a prominent mountain that previously had been hidden from our view. And I was reminded of Jesus looking for figs on a very leafy fig tree and finding none. It was all show – lovely but fruitless.

I tend to feel that the days of a fresh wind of the Spirit will be days of exposure. They will be days when our façade will be stripped back and the affections our hearts made bare. In Psalm 84 the psalmist speaks of eternity running through our hearts. In other words, when our outer show is removed and our hearts made bare people should be able to see straight through to Jesus, unhindered by the foliage of our own shallow and short-term ambitions and plans. Under the leaves they should find fruit, the fruit of the Spirit of God, which is nothing less than a reflection of the life of the future and of the One who is to come.

And there is a mountain, the one that Ezekiel spoke of, that will rise in the earth and to which the people will stream. Right now it is hidden, certainly here in the West. Lord, send a wind. Strip us of our foliage. Let the world see Jesus. Let them see a wonderful forever.

YOU CAN LIVE SIMPLY AND ENJOY IT!
Five days without electricity forces you to live more inventively and more simply. That’s not to say that we were not glad to have the electricity back (as evidenced by my wife Esther’s embarrassing yahoos from the front lawn), but the culinary delights and dining experiences that emanated from the combination of our one-burner gas canister camping stove and our Christmas solar lights are a lovely memory. Of course those people who enjoy camping would have had no problems and already have many of those kind of ‘around-the-fire’ memories.

We live in the day of switched on, entertainment church. Professional high powered worship is a flick of a switch away. PowerPoint sermons mean you don’t have to open your bible – it’s up there, verse by verse, with a lovely sunset background. Or streamed onto your iPhone if you didn’t manage to get out of bed in time. And after a while it’s the easiest and most sophisticated way to go. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad but like all good things we can finish up so hooked that when the electricity crashes so do we.
Unless, like father Abraham, we’ve learned to love camping. Unless, by choice, we have supplemented the above with a love for the simple and the unsophisticated. The acoustic guitar and the hand drum. Or the silence. The “everyone has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation…”, the two or three gathered, with Jesus in the midst.
And it may be that in the days ahead, as the Lord strips the church back – whether by storm or otherwise – from its dependence on mode and method, and brings us back to Jesus only, we will discover a joy, an inventiveness and a quality of Kingdom life such as we have striven for but not known.

No-one wants a storm. And I don’t really believe it is the Father’s favourite way of bringing change. But the Lord is on a mission. One way or another He WILL shake those things that can be shaken. He WILL flood the earth with the glory of Jesus. The Church is his instrument for bringing in the Kingdom and therefore judgement begins with us.

Let us not wait for a storm but let us embrace the simple. Let us give people a clear view of the eternal. Let us give our labours, not to bringing trees down, but to raising up new ones, rooted in Christ, their glory – His glory – covering the earth.

Thank you Marcia.

BEYOND TITHING (2)

THE WHERE AND HOW

In my last posting on tithing I set out to show that, far from tithing being put forward in the New Testament as an example of how to give, the early Christians actually stepped up to a new way  of giving, the way of the Spirit.

No longer did they live by set routines, procedures and formulas but theylived in daily conversation with the indwelling Holy Spirit who took them past the letter of the law to the heart of the law, the heart of God.

This does not mean that we have been left with no written guidelines or instructions. The writers of the New Testament have given us some pretty clear directives concerning this ‘grace of giving’ but every one of them leads us to the Spirit to be fully ‘fleshed out’. For example we are commanded to support those who minister the word to us but are not given any instructions on ‘how’ to do that. For that we need to pray, discuss among ourselves and come up with a support method that ‘seems good to ourselves and to the Holy Spirit’.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this article I want to look at ‘where’ our giving should be directed. Let me first of all deal with a couple of passages that have relevance to the direction of our giving but which have been, I feel, fairly misused.

ABRAHAM AND MELCHIZEDEC

Over the past fifteen years or so a teaching has taken ground that suggests Continue reading “BEYOND TITHING (2)”

The Parable of the Two Motors

This a helpful parable from Robert Fitts about the role of leaders in the local church.

ENGINE 1In every car there are two motors – one runs on gasoline and the other on electricity. The gasoline motor is huge in comparison to the electric motor; but it is the tiny little electric motor that is designed to start the gasoline motor, and the gasoline motor is designed to provide the power to move the car. As soon as the big motor engages, the little motor disengages. If it did not, it would burn out in a matter of minutes.

The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are servants to the Body of Christ to act as initiators (starters) to get the body functioning. Just as the starter motor disengages as soon as the big motor starts, so it is with the wise leader. If he stays engaged he will burn out, just as a starter motor would do if it did not disengage after starting the big motor.

As long as the little starter motor is trying to move the car by the power of a single battery, the car will never function as it was designed to function. It is only the 350 horsepower motor that was designed to move the car, and it is only the Body of Christ that has been designed to build up the Body unto the measure of the fulness of Christ. Only as the Body of Christ is released to minister to itself will it ever attain unto the fullness of the maturity in Christ.

Robert Fitts – The Church in the House (a Return to Simplicity) www.robertfitts.com