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!

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

Steve Apirana at Palmfest ’09

For the past 2 months I’ve been busy preparing for this year’s PALMFEST – the Yeppoon Palm Sunday Festival. It’s on April 5 starting at 2.30pm at the Yeppoon Beachfront stage. If anyone wants to find out more about it they can go to www.yeppoonpalmfest.wordpress.com

Here’s a preview of one of the main artists on stage this year, Steve Apirana.