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. 

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.
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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

Letter to a Reluctant Prophet

By Chip Brogden www.theschoolofchrist.org

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Dear Friend,

It is with a certain fearfulness that I respond to your inquiry, for I am not an authority on such things. I can certainly relate to your reluctance at being identified among the company of the prophets when so many false apostles, prophets, and teachers abound. I wish I could point you in a proper direction, but I can only point you towards the Lord. It is He who selects His messengers, and I have nothing to offer you by way of what to do.

At most, perhaps you can look upon me as an example of what NOT to do, and take some word of counsel from a weak brother who has made many mistakes and endured many failures along the way. Perhaps you too will have to make even the same mistakes in order to learn, yet following my advice could perhaps help you to avoid the unnecessary heartache and cruelty inflicted upon yourself and others when thinking that you are doing God a service.

I would counsel you, first of all, to be a Christian. Do not spend too much time focused on that which is prophetic. Do not come to others as a prophet, but as a child. Let Christ be your obsession, not the prophetic word. For “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” There need not be turmoil in your heart about your calling; it is clear that you are among those that are “the Called, according to His purpose.” And what is His purpose? That you be “conformed to the image of His dear Son.” That, above all, is your first calling.

Many are eager to wear the Prophet’s mantle, but are reluctant to bear the Christian’s cross. This cannot be. Given the choice between Christian or Prophet, choose Christian. Serve God as the earthen vessel you are, in the place you find yourself to be. Perhaps the Lord will indeed use you in some prophetic way, but if not then at least you have been faithful with the “one talent” you have been given. God will not give five talents to those who cannot be faithful with one, and will not give ten to those who cannot be faithful with five.

If you are a Christian first you will remember that Continue reading “Letter to a Reluctant Prophet”

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 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

The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 1

nooseThis is a reprint of an excellent article by Maurice Smith of the Parousia Network. It’s a bit of a challenging read but worth it.

The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 1: Anatomy of A Collapse 

The English author Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once observed regarding the hangman’s noose, “It marvelously concentrates the mind”. Confrontation with our own mortality, whether at the point of a gun or the short end of a noose, tends to do that. There comes a point in every person’s life or the life of a community when, when confronted with the harsh facts of reality, they must decide whether or not “denial” is just a river in Egypt, or whether it represents a condition of the mind which they must overcome and move on if they are to survive. That, I believe, is where Evangelicalism as a biblically based Christian movement is at in the opening decade of the 21st Century. We stand at the short end of a noose. We are in need of a very searching self examination of who and where we are. Why? Because Evangelicalism as an identifiable movement of God’s people gives every evidence of both internal and external collapse; a collapse which will prove fatal to “church as we have known it” and is probably  irreversible apart from a divine intervention unlike anything we have witnessed or experienced in well over 100 years. 

Continue reading “The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 1”

COLGATE CHRISTIANS

” …though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to toothbrushteach you … all over again. ” (Hebrews 5:12)

I have often wondered what period of time the write to the Hebrews was referring to when he said ‘by this time’ you ought to be teachers. Was it 5 months, 5 years, 15 years or (for somechurch goers) 50 years? And was he seriously referring to all those he was addressing (as it seems he is) or just those ‘called’ to be teachers.

At the same time I have wondered whether there is a connect here with the Willow Creek discovery that the longer a person was attending the church the more disgruntled or dissatisfied many became with the church.

Could it be that there is a ‘use by’ date on what we absorb through our teachers and, if we don’t get out and teach it ourselves, we have to go through the same stuff  “… all over again.” (Hebrews 5:12), a process which puts many teachers and preachers (especially those that get a buzz out of the weekly delivery of  “a good word this week, Pastor”) into the position of being what I call ‘Colgate preachers’. Let me explain.

The basics of the Gospel, like a toothbrush, is really very simple. However in order to keep people buying toothbrushes Colgate have to cleverly reinventing the thing. Again, and again, and again. A new bump here or flexible twist there, new colours and bristle arrangements and new marketing techniques, all designed to keep customers coming and keep them happy.

And unfortunately many pastors are caught up in a similar pattern. A new twist here and a fresh revelation there, hang the message on Abraham this week then next month use Paul, all brought to a consumer driven congregation with a clever use of PowerPoint and the latest gadgetry. The same basic message but redesigned to keep them engaged and keep them coming. Even the Pastor can be fooled into thinking he has something new.

The writer to the Hebrews seems to suggest, however, that the teacher’s objective should be less about keeping them coming and more about getting them going! In fact he gives us a warning of what will happen if they do not become fruitful. In chapter 6 verse 7 he writes:

‘Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.’ (Hebrews 6:7-8)

What are the thorns and thistles other than the whinges and dissatisfactions that are often rife in our churches, usually coming from folk who have sat under a steady diet of  ‘colgate’ teaching for years. And the blessing of God? Perhaps the greater revelation of Christ that the writer longs to bring?

Unfortunately those of us in ‘ministry’ often only have ourselves to blame.

  1. We have fostered a preaching style and a meeting style that only makes room for a few rather gifted members to teach anyway. As opposed to the New Testament pattern of a proliferation of home based opportunities for every believer to receive ‘a word of instruction, a revelation… all …  for the strengthening of the church’. Offering the microphone to anyone who has something to say will never produce that kind of participation.
  2.  We have assumed and subliminally taught people that unless they sit under a weekly dose of ‘the word’ they will not grow. But, as I have suggested, there are many that would be better staying away on a Sunday morning and instead taking what they already have and sharing it with a friend over coffee or a fishing line. Rather than fall apart, every sermon they’ve ever heard would come to life as the Holy Spirit opened up opportunties for them to become teachers of the word themselves.
  3. We have failed to take note of the purpose of the the ‘five fold’ gifts of Christ to the church, which is to prepare God’s people for ministry. The church is meant to be a people movement with each believer equipped to give an account of the hope they have within them and experience the joy of walking with someone on their journey into faith.
  4. Perhaps a bit of a reality check might be in order as well. I don’t mind admitting that I get a buzz out of preaching and teaching. It was often the highlight of my week, especially if it received a bit of praise (see my previous post on preaching). This can however blind us to the danger of (1) making people reliant on us and (2) believing that we (and our gifting) are indispensable.

As Willow Creek discovered, sitting under a weekly dose of the word may be healthy for new believers but maintaining that healthy smile comes about by learning to brush daily with Jesus rather than waiting  for the weekly Colgate sermon. Walking in daily obedience to the promptings of His spirit will brighten anyone’s smile.