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.

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BACK TO THE BUILDING!

Six years ago we did something that must have left many of my ministry friends scratching their heads. After spending ten years planning, building and paying off a new church centre … we walked away from it. And the reason? Well the reason is well documented in my blogging at the time but basically we came to the conclusion that the future for the church of Jesus in general was for it to get back to ‘how it was in the beginning’. Back to when the Holy Spirit breathed on the fledgling church and something unique sprung into view – an organic community that was fresh and simple and had in it the seeds for  growth and revival. There were no buildings, programs, hierarchical structures, distinctive church names or advertising gimmicks – just believers around a meal table sharing their lives in Christ.

Six years ago we were attracted by a vision to recapture that simplicity and, although we can’t say we are there yet (because it involves more than leaving a building), we know we did the right thing and aren’t looking back. However, following the vision did leave us with an interesting dilemma. What does a house church do with a building?

Well it actually didn’t turn out to be much of a dilemma since, as it turned out, there were many with a different vision that were happy to use it. In fact over the ensuing years four other churches, the local bridge club and our own successful playground were happy to call it home. And while they did so we wrestled with our own longer-term vision for the building.

And the result of our wrestling? We’re going back!

Let me explain …

When we stepped out of old style church I also stepped out of paid ministry, meaning I now needed a job. After various short time jobs, including driving a bread van and early morning cleaning the local Sailing Club, I was eventually snapped up by the local Salvation Army to manage their Red Shield Family Store (Op Shop). And although it turned out to be a God thing, re-employing my natural skills and putting me in touch with the community in a way that I never was before, the down side was that I inherited a shop building that was awkward, hot and very un-inviting. It didn’t take long before I knew we needed another building. And … well yes, you guessed it. After searching all over town for a more suitable place I found the keys to the perfect building hanging up in our kitchen.

And last week, after some months of arm-wrestling with beaurocracy and a couple of weeks of transforming a sparsely used meeting place into a potentially week-long meeting place, we moved back to the building! We now have the classiest looking Op Shop in town in a building that you would swear was designed exactly for that purpose.

Plus, we now have triple the rental income coming in to sow into local and overseas projects, such as the school we are helping Lhoy and Venus Edaniol build in the Philippines.

How wonderful and surprising is our God? Who would have thought that He would lead us back into something we thought we had no further use for? Or that I’d be pleased to be going back? And I am. The Op Shop represents a great opportunity to befriend a whole level of people, both shoppers and volunteer workers, who may never have stepped into the building for a church service but who may well be lined up by God to experience his love via a different and more inviting channel.

Thank God for the Salvos! And thank God for the building!

THE BARKADAS OF JESUS

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The third apostle we met on our trip to the Philippines was Molong Nacua (pronounced naquah). I met Molong on the internet whilst surfing for house churches in the Philippines. His writings connected with my spirit and we finished up spending 5 wonderful days with him and his wife Lisa and their extended family on the Central Philippines island of Cebu.

The story of Molong (or as he says, ‘Long’ for short) is one of a gradual journey through traditional style church (youth pastor, worship leader) to traditional style homechurch (doing the same but in a house) to a less structured homechurch (but still based on attending a weekly meeting), to his current passion, simply building a company of disciples for Jesus.  While we were with him he coined the phrase ‘The Barkadas of Jesus’ to describe them – a barkada being a wonderful Filipino word referring to a company of friends joined in a common bond of friendship and loyalty. No set meeting times or programs but what he refers to as a life of ‘intention – relational discipleship’, mainly based on reading the Bible, learning to listen to the Spirit and learning how to disciple a friend for Jesus. We did a lot of listening and talking while we were with him but the highlight of our visit was an unintentional demonstration of the ‘barkada’.

It happened when a young recently graduated high school student, Jommie, turned up with his friend Julian, who he had recently invited to become a disciple of Jesus. Jommie had been discipled two months earlier, beginning with the same invitation, by Albert, who had been discipled by Molong. Albert had baptised Jommie the Saturday before we arrived  and now Jommie was ready to baptise Julian.

So we headed down to the sea to baptise him. Two days later however, the three boys turn up at Molong’s house with a new friend, Louey Dan, a not-yet-believer who they were working on. Over lunch the Gospel was explained to Louey Dan and an invitation given to become a disciple of Jesus. He was ready, having observed his young friends for some time. An hour later Julian, baptised only two days earlier, was praying over his friend as he baptised him into Christ.

Later, as we celebrated over Dunkin Donuts, I took the opportunity to quiz the members of this growing Barkada of Jesus about what they had done and how deep was their grasp of the Gospel. Each man impressed me with his grasp of repentance and faith, one of the most articulate being Louey Dan.  We finished our donuts and the boys hung around for a meal with Molong and Lisa and then headed home.

And three days later we headed back home ourselves, back to our own nation of Australia with a whole new understanding of what Jesus meant when He simply said (my paraphrase),

“Go and preach the Gospel, making disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey me. And lo I am with you to the end … every day, not mainly on Sundays, not mainly in your meetings, not mainly via the Pastor, but moment by moment, day by day, until I come again.”

You can catch up with Molong’s writings at the new blogsite we are building together, The Barkadas of Jesus.  It’s still in in the building stage but you might like to bookmark it.  But be warned. It could change your thinking about the nature of church.

Here’s a Youtube of the new barkada.

STANDING AMONG THE ASHES

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A Salvo House Church is a Centre of Hope After the Fires

The following came from Les Smith, a Salvation Army house church guy that found himself heading up some of the Victorian bushfire relief effort. It’s an encouragement to those of us in house church that you don’t have to be big to be effective. Reprinted from www.oikos.org
 

 

Hey mate,

 

Sorry about my tardiness in getting back to you, been pretty busy here as you would imagine. Although things are still sometimes tough and extremely challenging we feel very much that we are engaged in the work God has for us to do.

 

Early on in the bushfires whilst the Salvation Army was still working out how best to respond, I almost accidentally (although we know it wasn’t really by accident) found myself representing the Salvos at the fire front and found things very tough indeed. It was both physically and emotionally draining and I was not entirely sure I would be able to continue to offer assistance; it was taking a toll on me. My brothers and sisters from house church rallied to support me (and the bushfire survivors) and they were just incredibly amazing.

 

House churches are like that – supportive, caring, flexible and easy to adapt.

 

The fire stopped only 10 minutes up the road from where and I live, one house church family was put on stand by to evacuate, another missed the fires by minutes (wind changed direction) and all of us saw the smoke – not realising just how close it actually was (we thought it was 100s KM away, but it wasn’t).

 

We felt very strongly that we had to make a response.

 

Together we setup a massive warehouse at Whittlesea which has become the main distribution centre for bushfire survivors in Whittlesea, Kinglake, Flowerdale and the surrounding areas. Whilst many other centres have already closed, The Salvation Army is planning to maintain services in this area (through this facility) for at least the next 12 months.

 

God has been good to us,

 

I keep meeting people that I know – affected by the fires – and the stories I have heard (many of us from housechurch have heard) are truly horrifying and impossible to imagine. Whilst the despair of the whole thing hit us in the first week, now we are blessed to be part of the healing and restorative process that has begun, we can see Gods spirit at work in spite of all the tragedy.

 

There is a way to go yet but the support we have received from other housechurches around Australia has been very humbling indeed. Please pass on my thanks to all those involved – I really just can’t express how inspiring and encouraging this support has been.

 

Please keep us in your prayers.

 

Thanks again mate

 

Peace to you

 

Les Smith

Salvo House Church

MY ‘HOPES’ FOR 2008

I was asked by Bessie Pereira of OIKOS  magazine to write a few lines on what are my ‘hopes’ for 2008 and found the question to be fairly focussing. In previous years I probably would have gone for ‘fruitfulness’, however our journey into simple church has changed my priorities somewhat. In the end I think my primary ‘hope’ for the coming days is simply that we will experience more of the presence of Christ among us.  

I have been challenged by David Orten’s insight into the difference between the ‘GOAL’ and the ‘PRIZE’ (Snakes in the Temple) and the need to not confuse the two in our longing for fruitfulness. Fruitfulness, revival, community, healing power etc (all the things I hope for) are prizes that come to us as we keep our eye on the goal, which is intimacy with Christ. I now am starting to realise our strivings after tangible, quantifiable (and braggable) results are best channeled into a striving after rest, quietness, less activity and more listening, a Mary priority rather than a Martha one. Fruitfulness is God’s business. Abiding in Christ is ours. 

May the Lord of the Harvest bless us all this year as we labour to know Him, whom to know is life and peace. And fruitfulness, revival, community, healing etc ……