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. 

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.