WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?

Years ago when we were beginning to transition from standard church into home church I came across the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson, not a Christian book but widely used in business to help move people out of old mindsets into new ways of thinking. The book is an amusing and enlightening story of two mice-sized characters, Hem and Haw, who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. In the story Hem and Haw find a cheese station that seems to satisfy all their needs. “This is great”, Hem says, “There’s enough cheese here to last us for ever”. They felt happy and successful and began to regard the cheese as their cheese. It was such a large store of cheese that they eventually move their homes to be close to it and build a social life around it. One day however they arrive to find that the cheese has moved and the story revolves around their reaction to change. From Hem – “Who moved my cheese? I’m not going anywhere until they put it back the way it was!” – to Haw – “Maybe it won’t come back the way it was. Perhaps we should venture out into the maze and find a different supply”.

We are all creatures of habit and the Bible is full of examples of the new becoming old but a reluctance to move on. One example is the reaction to Zechariah, the father of John, when asked what the name of his son was to be. Zechariah had just been through a nine-month lockdown, a learning curve in preparation to be the father who would speak into the life of a son who would prepare the way for a huge change and point to One who would initiate those changes. Zechariah’s job as a priest was to disappear, the temple was to become a table, the Sabbath was to become an everyday Presence. When Zechariah announces that his son is to be called John, the reaction of his relatives and friends is, “But we’ve never had a John, this is outside the norm. Stick to what we’ve always done, Zech“. Perhaps Zechariah’s nine months of being shut up in silence was so that he would listen. And come out of the lockdown with a new paradigm, a new vision, able now to nurture and prepare his child of destiny.

We too are starting to come out of a lockdown. We are just starting to come out of a huge change that has affected the way Christians meet all around the globe. The church world-wide has had to not only learn new ways to connect, with Zoom and YouTube becoming second nature, but has been given an oppor-tunity to think hard about the future. The cheese we were so comfortable with has moved. Even the Maze has changed. How we come out of this will depend on whether we simply go back to the way we were, or we discover new ways to be the church in a new environment.

One example is Nicky Gumbel, the founder of Alpha, who in a recent interview shared the change that he has gone through in his thinking regarding online church. Recently he launched Alpha Online alongside the normal Alpha meetings. What he discovered was that some churches that ran Alpha Online gathered a larger participation than those who were gathering around meals. (see Josh Daffern’s article on page 4 of Oikos Australia Magazine)

Other churches have discovered that connecting over Zoom has given their members an opportunity to have an input that the front-led Sunday service didn’t allow, opportunity to throw out questions, share experiences. Many have discovered that though their building has shut down, their church has not! That indeed the saints can connect and have done so in refreshingly new ways. Prayer-walking in twos, reaching out on the phone, connecting with people they haven’t talked to for a while. Not all have retreated into, “This is the end of the world. We need Jesus to come back tonight!”

There is no doubt though that we are all looking forward to getting back to meeting face to face, not just with our fellow Christians but also with people who need a hug (or at least an elbow bump). The question is do we just go back to the norm, having learned little in lockdown or do we come out like Zechariah, with a new vision. Or like Haw, ready to explore some different ways?

The church has often had a crisis that move them out and on. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread to Samaria and beyond. Persecution in Europe caused the Pilgrims to move to America. The Maoist persecution of the church in China caused them to go underground and grow. The Church of Jesus cannot be shut down, even by a pandemic. Who knows how this pandemic will be used by God for his good and for a new thrust of the gospel? Maybe before we rush out to put the chairs back as they were it’s not too late to do some listening. 

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.

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.

 

 

OUR RON HAS GONE TO WEIPA…

This is a poem I wrote for my good mate Ron Watson, who this week leaves Yeppoon to eventually take up an itinerant job pastoring among the homesteads and communities out of Weipa, North Queensland. As the local Uniting Church pastor and as a regular prayer partner we have shared a journey and I’ll miss him.
______________________________
Our Ron has gone to Weipa
He’s gone there with his wife
He’s had enough of playing church
He wants to get a life!
He’s sick of surface living
Of trying to please the flock
He wants to go in deeper
Till he gets down to the Rock!

The rock of true discipleship
Of dying to yerself
Of looking out for others
Not sitting on the shelf
And waiting till the pastor
Comes and has a cup of tea
So I can whinge about the church
And talk of only me

NO! That’s not the way of Jesus
Not the path the Master trod
The way of true discipleship
That brings us to a God
Who wants to mobilise His people
And, what ere it cost,
Get them out of church and pew
To help him reach the lost

Mind you, he’d seen revival
Over there in Emu Park
The Great Carpet Revival
That grew out of a spark
Of life among the oldies
When suddenly they saw
That faith combined with works
Could do wonders to the floor

Then, as they gathered on new carpet
New ventures came to mind
What about the folk out west
You know, the hurting kind
Then faith turned into vision
Into projects and, you know,
Those Parkies got a passion
To see the Kingdom grow

And back there in Taranganbah
Our Ronnie’s thoughts went back
To a calling deep within his bones
To leave familiar tracks
And find again the paths of faith
The ancient paths of old
The ones that Abraham had trod
That Paul and Silas told.

That took the gospel to the world
And spread the news abroad
The story of God’s favour
And the goodness of the Lord
The story of a Saviours love
The outback needs to hear
We’re off to Weipa, Heather
Do not fear, my dear

For we will tread on scorpions
And pick up snakes that bite
By faith we’ll face the darkness and
Turn back the outback’s night
The homesteads will be Jesus homes
And camp fires all will ring
As praises fill the ancient skies
To Jesus Christ the King

And back here on the Keppel Coast
Our faith is also stirred
We face the darkness also
But our faith is not deterred
For even though our friends move on
There’s One who does not leave
He’ll build his church in this great land
From outback to the sea

But Ron moves on, to Weipa
Goes to Weipa with his wife
Goes to find the ancient pathways
Goes to bring the west new life
Goes to walk alongside Abraham
And Peter, Paul and John
Goes to find what Jesus has in store
For Heather and for Ron

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

The Sunday Morning Obsession

Worship bandThis is an excerpt from Lance Ford. Sadly Sunday Morning ‘church’ seems to be the highlight of many a Christian’s spiritual experience. I can’t imagine that Jesus intended this to be so. That the best expression of our faith should happen inside a religious building?  I’m not sure that the average Australian is remotely interested in Sunday Morning Church no matter how we jazz it up. But many Christians love a slick, well oiled Sunday event – and would be offended by me describing it as such.

A couple of nights ago I was channel flipping and caught a talk being given at a church planter’s conference. First of all, I was surprised to see a church planting conference being shown on TV. I was soon cringing though as the (well known) speaker said, “The first priority you have is to present a great Sunday morning service.” The camera quickly scanned the audience, as a sea of goateed future planters scribbled down this “critical” learning point.

I literally yelled at the television, “No!” This is one of the biggest problems we have with attractional churches today. Pastors and church staffs are obsessed with Sunday mornings. The vast majority of time, resources, and energy go into creating and sustaining Sunday mornings. Jesus’ commission to make disciples gets the leftovers.

Lance Ford   shapevine@christianitytoday.com

John Fischer: Being Around Not-Yet Christians

This is an excellent article by John Fischer which should help us relax and be more confident in our quest to share Jesus.

Coming Alongside

I am normally not a fan of ten steps to this or five ways to do that. But for one of my recent talks I came up with these six things to remember about being around those who may not yet be Christians, and thought some of you might find it useful.

1) Assume everyone is searching for God. Why? Because everyone is. We were created this way. God has purposely frustrated humanity by creating us with eternity in our hearts, yet with an inability to fathom what that is or what it means (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11). He has done this so that we might reach out for him and find him though He is not far from any of us for in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:27-28).

2) Come alongside. This is really the crux of it all. Just walk alongside people and enter into their lives. Listen. Talk. Laugh. Cry. Find out where you can contribute and what you can learn. There’s something to give and something to receive in every relationship.

3) Point. You don’t tell someone what the truth is; you point to it. “There it is over there,” or “Here it is in my life.” This is why we need to learn to identify truth in the context of the world around us. Truth isn’t religious. You don’t have to get into a certain posture to see it. It’s not something that hasn’t been there all along.

4) Find out what people already know before you set out to tell them anything. Don’t ever think you have to clear the table and start over. This is why it’s so important to listen first. Find out what’s already on the table that you can use.

5) You don’t have to tell everything you know. Just the next thing.

6) You don’t have to correct everything someone says that is wrong. You are not the protector and defender of truth. You don’t have to decide where to draw the line. You don’t even have to be concerned if someone may be walking away with the wrong idea. You are not that smart anyway because you don’t know what’s in someone’s head. As long as they have something to think about, that’s a good thing.

And now here’s the one final thing that makes all this possible. It is the most important of all. (This is the one thing that makes all six of these make sense.) We don’t save anybody, convince anybody, “win” anybody to Christ or close the deal. All that is God’s business. The Holy Spirit is doing this all on His own terms and timetable. We are not salesmen, marketing reps, counselors or prosecutors. We are just friends who come alongside.

John’s Fischtank is found here.