I've copied the slides from our discussion session below along with the two video clips from The Bible Project that we used. Thanks team - look forward to the next one!
Hi everyone - really stimulating discussion about the theme of fire in the Bible and what the words heart, soul and spirit meant to the Hebrew people.
I've copied the slides from our discussion session below along with the two video clips from The Bible Project that we used. Thanks team - look forward to the next one!
God has a purpose in drawing His people closer to Him, not only to see healing and deliverance in our personal circumstances, but to see His own Kingdom brought into focus here and now. We are called to be “salt” to the places and people around us, to bring taste, flavour, and healing. But all too often the salt is hidden in the rubble of our lives and somehow we never quite deliver. Did God make a mistake? Never. The mistake is in thinking that because salvation is a gift, we don’t have to do anything else.
Just as precious metals like gold are refined by heat and purified to get rid of the rubbish, God has a process for refining us. 1 John 3 v 2-3 “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.” (NET Bible).
Purifying ourselves is just a fancy way of saying “getting rid of the stuff that gets in the way of loving God, and loving each other.” It’s easy enough to deal with the big things, the obvious things, but what about the rest?
Here’s what we explored today :
Imagine for a moment this pile of junk is your life. It’s a mix of bits of wood, sawdust, stones, sand, and somewhere in there is a good half cup of salt. Pretty hard to spot isn’t it?
This isn’t really something we would want to offer up to flavour anything at all. The overwhelming taste would be dust and dirt.
So how do we go about cleaning it up?
The big bits are pretty easy to pick out – they represent things like drugs, stealing, violence, adultery. Easy enough to spot, and when you get rid of them the difference is obvious.
But what about the rest?
We could try picking out the sawdust piece by piece, but it might take a while. An easier way is to filter it. We used a sieve, but God uses people, often our faith community who can help identify and pick out the things that need a bit more tidying up.
What is left in the bottom is a mixture of sand and salt. We can start to see the salt for the first time, but still wouldn’t want to add it to anything that was meant to be eaten. At this point trying to separate the two is practically impossible. We should give up. It can’t be done. It’s definitely too much work.
Under our own steam that’s certainly true, the task is overwhelming. This is where we really need God to step in and do the heavy lifting.
We added water to the grains, and poured the whole mucky mess through filter paper. The paper pulled out the sand, and the salt dissolved into the water, ending up in the bottom of the bowl.
In scripture water is a picture of the bible, the word of God. When we start measuring our lives up against God’s word and letting it “wash” over us suddenly things start to separate, the good and the not-so-good are no longer interwoven together.
The next bit is not very comfortable for us in our day to day life. The only way to separate the water and salt solution to get to the salt is to heat it. Apply some pressure, some difficult circumstances, get hot and really uncomfortable – that’s what serious refining looks like. It is never fun but the end result is something quite precious.
We have something that actually resembles salt – the life of God in us is finally revealed and starts to be able to bring life, flavour, healing.
God is calling us to be holy, not so we can be perfect, spotless and untouchable, but so that having been through a process of being refined and changed, we can be an example of how a life can really be turned around.
1 Peter 1 v 13-16 “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.”
Welcome to the first of our 3-part series on creation and evolution. It's a topic full of 'noise' and many misunderstandings. There's some big things to debate and disagree about between both perspectives, but there are many shared views to celebrate that are often missed as well - and there are some key aspects of Darwin's own work that shed wonderful light on God's genius in designing biology with the ability to adapt.
So, to get things off on the right footing we wanted to kick off by understanding Darwin's work and contribution properly. But first, a bit of fun. If you're not familiar with the Darwin Awards, click on the picture and it'll take you to a tongue-in-cheek ode to those who's foolishness has ultimately self-selected themselves permanently out of the human gene pool. There are some classic near-miss stories too (my favourites are often the burglars and other petty crime capers gone wrong). Enjoy...and then we'll get into it.
I was walking home from work recently and saw these monstrosities in a shop window. Who gives someone a 30,000 piece jigsaw? Surely that's the sort of gift you'd give someone you hate? Nevertheless, it did set me thinking about the origins debate.
We all have the same evidence before us, but the way we interpret it differs wildly. It's exactly the same as with a jigsaw - you assemble the pieces based on what you believe the picture on the box looks like. That picture becomes the mental model that defines how you assemble the pieces. The origins debate is much like that - our starting assumptions are key to how we approach the evidence.
One of the key assumptions that Darwin was wrestling with was the idea that everything around us - every flower and insect we see, every breed of dog, cow, fish, and bird we know - we specially created by God.
It's an idea that's referred to as the "Immutability of the Species" - basically, the idea that each individual species on the planet was specially created by God and could never fundamentally change.
Yet, on Darwin's voyage with the HMS Beagle, he began to notice tiny variations between species of birds (finches in particular) sharing the islands. Then he noticed similar minor variations in traits for other species on separate bodies of land and it became increasingly obvious to him that these species of birds were in fact related, not isolated 'special creations.' That was the catalyst that led to the formulation of his theories (it's worth acknowledging other scientists had developed the same essential idea as natural selection, but Darwin formulated in what was perhaps the most succinct and accessible way).
Check out these two youtube videos for a really great explanation and overview of his voyage and his work.
Three Key Ideas
Darwin proposed three essential ideas based on his research:
Up until then, it had been commonly held that everything that existed - every bump and every life-form was a hand-made specimen, specifically crafted by God. Suddenly that assumption could be called into question.
Darwin was, of course, absolutely correct. The best modern example we have to illustrate this is dogs. All dogs are related through their canine DNA to wolves. As canines were secured by humans as pets and working animals they followed their owners and a range of variations began to take shape as communities moved apart, isolated different clusters of canines who had a decreasing pool of genetic information to breed from.
After domestication, humans bred over 400 types of dog within a single century. This is natural selection at work, but it isn't evolution. You can see the links in the following charts.
And it was a fairly small leap from there to say that if God didn't create every single little variation, then what if he didn't create the big differences? Perhaps whole genus of animals developed one from the other through small variations over time. For those who would follow after Darwin, it led to the following questions:
Darwin & Racism
One of the other key charges that is often levelled against Darwin and Darwinian evolution by the Christian community is that it is inherently racist - with the implication that it was a racial prejudice of Darwin's own that informed his work.
While Darwin's theories have certainly been (mis?)used to justify racial agendas, it might not be entirely fair to place this charge entirely on Darwin's shoulders. Let's explore.
Darwin’s work reflects the prejudices of the time
It's correct that Darwin saw slavery as an inherent part of Natural Selection, but found it abhorrent when he came into personal contact with it. Darwin writes in his follow-up text, The Descent of Man:
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes [Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Orangatans] will no doubt be exterminated.
The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”
– The Descent of Man, Chapter 6.
However, anti-racism critiques of Darwin are more a critique of the worldview of his culture and time, than they are of Darwin himself.
Most of those who criticise Darwin for racism aren't aware that Darwin’s family helped fund and support William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery work. Darwin himself was opposed to slavery and found it repulsive, yet he also saw it as an inherent part of natural selection.
“Slavery, although in some ways beneficial during ancient times, is a great crime; yet it was not so regarded until quite recently, even by the most civilized nations.
And this was especially the case, because the slaves belonged in general to a race different from that of their masters. As barbarians do not regard the opinion of their women, wives are commonly treated like slaves.”
- Descent of Man, Chapter 3
The real tragedy is what others did with Darwin's work - and the atrocities they used it to justify.
“Bravery, cunning and competition are virtues…
Darwin must become the new religion of Germany…
the racial struggle is necessary for mankind.”
– Otto Ammon, Author of "Natural Selection among Humans" (1883)
Darwin's work was used to horrendous purpose to justify the Nazi regime as they worked to exterminate the lesser races. Which brings us to a critical question:
Is it fair to hold someone accountable for what others do with their ideas/work?
I believe we're going to have to agree that it isn’t fair to judge someone for the way others misuse what they created.
Otherwise the same criticism must be leveled at God on an even grander scale.
Darwin's Own Closing Challenges
Darwin's work really was insightful and on the theory of natural selection - variation within species as a result of increasing isolation in the gene pool - he saw something that many others of his time could not.
In reality, Darwin highlighted God's genius by placing sufficient genetic information within the cellular structure of each species that they could survive, adapt, and thrive as the ecology and physical and social environment around his creations changed. It's brilliant; but it's not evolution.
The fact that there is change and adaptation within species is a fact we all agree on. We can quickly breed different forms of dogs by manipulating the breeding pairs. The same thing happens in nature as animals become dispersed over team and draw on smaller breeding pools, with different traits being more inclined to thrive in different environmental conditions. However you can't turn dogs into fish that way; you can't cross the boundary between animal kinds (the word the Bible uses).
Darwin didn't have the same insight into the research into genetic mutations that we do, which we'll talk about in a future thread. As he was wrestling with the problem of providing credibility to the possibility of evolution across species, he described what he saw as the two biggest problems for his theories:
Lack of ‘transitional forms’
“Why if species have descended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see inumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being well defined?”
– Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, Ch 6, p102 (1982).
“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances, for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration could have been formed by natural selections seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.
But when it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned around, the commonsense of mankind declared the doctrine false.”
– Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, Ch 6, p111 (1982).
Darwin acknowledged these problems as incredibly significant, but had faith that science and more extensive research would resolve them in time to come.
The majority of the world believes this is exactly what has happened since.
Others feel the opposite is true and the broader theory of evolution is less credible than it's ever been.
What do you think?
It's been a while between posts while we've been setting up the cafe - with that now growing momentum like a firestorm it's a good time to get these back on track. We'll get a summary of our 3 week Creation Evolution discussion next, but first let's close off the final part of our Live-Work-Play series...seeing the Kingdom come where we live. Read on...
As you'll see in the slides below, we kicked this session off by asking what 'Home' means to each of us - do we see it as a fortress to retreat to, an oasis that rejuvenates us, or something else? Biblically, we see that home is depicted as a place of blessing (slides 3-7).
Thinking of the ideas of home and family, it becomes interesting when you look at how God introduces himself in scripture. The Bible opens by introducing God as plural being who is a Creator first and foremost, and then we meet the mind-boggling concept of "I Am" in God's introduction to Moses - introducing himself as someone who always IS, always will be, and never wasn't...God is life itself, the very essence of BEING (as in a literal personification of the verb TO BE).
It's mind-numbing stuff for us created ones. More on that another time perhaps.
And from there God introduces himself consistently as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the God of three generations of family. From there God increasingly reiterates his promises to the Israelites based on his history/credibility as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (slides 8-12).
God inescapably works generationally - he works in and across families. In our individualism we unwittingly focus on our own lives and ask God to bless our endeavours. It seems it's frequently his pleasure to do just that but ...he has a much bigger story and a much bigger game at play that he's inviting us into. He is working across generations, across families, calling us into a larger destiny and inviting us to leave a legacy behind us as we go, giving a head-start to those that follow.
Why? The answer to that is the same as the reason why I hate tomatoes...it just is...it's who I am. This is just who God is...it's part of His being I AM. He works in families. He is family. And if you have somehow lost family or had it taken from you, he'll set you in family again:
"God sets the lonely in families" - Psalm 68:6
It's beyond us to fathom why God is the way He is but given that He is the very essence of life itself, when we live in line with His character increased qualities and experiences of life are the result. When you live, work and build generationally, you build enormous momentum across time. It's the difference between the speed our best runners can set doing a 100m sprint from a standing start, and the way they totally blitz those times again when it's a relay race where the runners hit the track running.
God is inviting us into a generational relay race that will set unstoppable momentum and increasing resource behind our lives.
This has the potential to create enormous freedom so, obviously, the kingdom of darkness is desperately trying to undermine it.
Things like divorce have an obvious effect - dividing the inheritance and splitting the wealth of a family, let alone the emotional trauma for all parties, but where does it begin? Could it be the modern dating culture that draws us to experiment with relationships in isolation and then flick them off when something goes wrong? Modern dating offers intimacy without commitment and essentially trains us for divorce by leading us to dump and change partners rather than work through conflicts together (an essential ingredient for a healthy marriage).
How are parents and elderly people typically presented in Hollywood? We're so seldom given images of parents who have the backs of their kids no matter what, or kids who seek advice and support from their parents. Authority is almost never to be trusted in Hollywood's gospel. We're left swimming in imagery and themes that do anything but support a link or a partnership between generations.
The western world's portrayal of sex as simply another expected part of any relationship at any age beyond puberty is perhaps the most powerful way of attacking the link between family, generational momentum and legacy.
What is meant to be the unique glue that holds a lifelong oath together through fun, adventure, longing, frustration, highs and lows, just becomes another shortlived moment of hormonal pleasure devoid of real intimacy. As casual relationships inevitably break the scarring on our hearts build up until we can share our bodies with each other but are no longer able to share our souls. It's a brief moment of physical intimacy that's robbed of the full pleasure of emotional, spiritual intimacy. What God designed as a 3D experience becomes reduced to 1D and we wonder why it's not all we thought it was cracked up to be. Ironically, our so-called sexual freedom actually leaves us impoverished. And the pattern is set...
God is inviting us to a radically different, much more powerful way of living across generations. Their is a massive legacy flowing through your veins just waiting for you to get in touch with...and there's a torch in your hand for you to pass on to others (whether their in your bloodline or not).
What might your generational inheritance look like? It could be any of the following and more:
Continuing our ongoing dialogue, this time we’ll take a look at the importance of play in the life of the kingdom. So first up, how often are the words play, joke, game, laugh in the Bible?
Joy & Play in Scripture
Almost not at all actually, depending on your translation the word game appears about ten times but it refers to wild animals – as in game that you hunt. Play turns up quite a bit more – mainly in reference to playing the lyre (which I like to think of as the heavy metal guitar of the ancient world, but that’s just me).
Laugh and laughter appear a similar amount of times – interesting laughter is mostly used as a blessing (something God’s blessing brings back to people), and laugh mostly appears in reference to people who laughed in disbelief at God’s promises.
Despite these limited references, when you look at the word joy in scripture – the very thing that play is both a product and a manifestation of – we see a much fuller picture beginning to emerge. In the NIV, the word joy appears over 200 times. It includes phrases such as ‘making our joy complete’ and ‘celebrate with joy.’
Play & Community
The concept of joy and play (a key cause, and result, of joy) is so central to community that God frequently commanded his people to celebrate.
There are approximately 50 versus commanding Israel to ‘do no regular work’ and celebrate.
Here’s a really small selection (and check out the passage in numbers where not celebrating is a sin).
Interestingly in Malachi, one of God’s promised blessings to his people is that they would "frolic like well fed calves,” (Malachi 4:2).
In Genesis 21, Sarah celebrates God’s blessing when she conceives Isaac by saying, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me,” (Genesis 21:6).
In Job 8:21, one of Job’s friends speaks an encouraging prophecy over him by saying, “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”
And speaking about two gigantic dinosaur-style beasts he seems especially proud of creating, God observes the safety and security the Behemoth brings to the other wild animals around it, “The hills bring it their produce and all the wild animals play nearby,” (Job 40:20).
What becomes clear through all of these scriptures is that joy is a blessing from God, it is expressed in play, laughter and celebration and God expects (and often commands) us to share in regular moments of play, joy and celebration together. In fact, not doing so is a sin in his eyes!
Was God himself not playing when he made these weird and wonderful creatures?
So, what is the role of play in the ecology of the Kingdom?
Ever been angry and then someone makes you laugh somehow? The anger just melts away. In the same way that you can’t laugh, really laugh, and be angry or stressed at the same time, play works as an antidote against myriad other ills that plague our lives and society. Here’s some of the effects of play:
These are just some of the characteristics of play. As you read through the list, do you notice how quickly it’s starting to resemble Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness…etc)? Pretty cool huh.
Play as worship
This great clip from the classic movie Chariots of Fire also highlights how play can be an offering of worship as well. In taking a moment to express the talents and abilities we have been given - or have developed - in play, it can be a powerful gift of thanks to our creator and a powerful expression of faith and a reassertion of the pure joy of life in the midst of a pain-filled world.
Chariots of Fire follows the story of Eric Liddel (there’s a great summary on Wikipedia here), who captured the world’s headlines in the 1924 OIympics for refusing to run on Sundays because of his specific Christian convictions. He takes heat from the world for not running on his church day, and he takes heat from his church friends and family for skipping church meetings on other days to focus on his running. In this scene, he sister sets out to chide him for putting running before religion, and he does a brilliant job of describing his running as worship, saying:
“God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."
It’s a powerful scene.
There’s a purity in play where it’s often something that’s done for its own sake – a rare and precious moment in life where there’s no agenda but fun.
It’s also been identified as a critical part of adolescent develop, helping children to establish a healthy sense of boundaries, risk, creativity, problem solving and negotiation.
Another extremely healthy aspect of play is that it’s a way humans can entertain themselves – it reinforces our self-sufficiency as friends, families, neighbourhoods. When we learn to make our own fun we step out of the dependence on professional entertainment our consumerist society wants to cultivate in us. Play is a form of defiance and collective independence or collective self-determination (apologies if that seems like an oxy-moron, but it really isn’t!).
Here’s what a handful of our researchers and artists have observed about play:
Play is war on death!
One final aspect I’d like to emphasise is that because play is inherently creative, that makes it inherently about life. It’s a life-giving, life-filled activity. And anything that is inherently creative is inherently at war with death.
God takes play seriously. He commands his people to celebrate. At other times he tells people they’ve mourned for long enough – the time for mourning is over and now the community need to play and celebrate.
Let’s take play as seriously as God does and grab it as war against the curse of death.
Let’s use moments of play to invite and draw others in and create moments of freedom, inclusion, joy and peace for those around us. As we do so, we are driving back the curse.
We need to make sure we are all prioritising moments of fun amongst the tyranny of duty and obligation.
For, as we play, we are doing the work of the kingdom.
Play is inherently creative.
Creativity is war against death.
In the economy of the kingdom, play is a weapon. Let's use it.
Depending on the translation you use, the word ‘job’ (as in employment, not the book of Job) is hardly in the bible at all. In the NIV, it appears only twice:
The first is in 2 Chronicles 34:1-13 which describes Josiah coming into his reign as King and undoing the sins of his fathers, going on to begin the rebuilding of the temple, and charging the Levites to oversee this and having them “supervise all of the workers from job to job.”
The second is Luke 16:1-13, known as the parable of the shrewd manager, who we are told realises that “My master is taking away my job,” so he devises a clever scheme to create goodwill with those who owe his master money and make himself indispensable.
The word ‘work’ however, appears just slightly less than 400 times. What should we take from this? Just that, biblically, work has a really important role in the kingdom and it is intended to be so much more than just ‘a job’.
That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with having a job – Paul the Apostle made and mended tents as a job, and Jesus was a carpenter for a job (Mark 6:3). It’s just that somehow in our modern world where we all have jobs, we seem to have lost the vision of work that’s implied in scripture. Let’s try and get something of that back…
Filled with the Spirit…for work!
Check out Exodus 31:3 below, this is the first reference in the Bible to anyone being specifically filled with the Spirit of God:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See I have chosen Bezalel, son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of craft.’”
Think about the way we relate to the idea of being filled with the spirit of God and the way we pray for fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit. In today’s climate it’s typically something we associate with a Pentecostal church service and times of healing.
The Bible doesn’t talk about church services, it talks about life. In scripture the spirit comes to inspire and being filled with the spirit inspires creativity and productivity – it inspires contribution, innovation, social change…it inspires work, in the Biblical sense.
So what is work in the kingdom, and how does that differ from the idea of a job?
At its core, a job is a task or service we provide for money. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all – it’s a transaction.
Work in the kingdom though is related to the idea of ‘calling’ – that we are each designed and called into being with a unique personality, unique gifting, and - as a result - unique ways of contributing to life and society. Our work is meant to be an extension and expression of who we are. A job is a fine and useful thing to have, but finding the work we are called to and designed for is something bigger.
Here’s some comparisons that might help…
When we talked about this we used the example of guitars...all guitars have in common the fact that they are musical instruments, designed to create music with. However, there is endless variation in the details of guitars and each is suited to a different type of music - depending on what style you're into, you need to pick a guitar to suit. The poster below helps make the point...
It's the same with us. So if you were a guitar, what style of music would you be designed for? When the answer to that question is revealed, it brings enormous freedom - freedom to pursue what you're made for (and will naturally love) and, equally, free to ignore all the things that aren't what you're designed for.
Here's another example: Jackie Chan. He's a legend who totally redefined the martial arts genre by introducing humour and slapstick comedy sequences into what was traditionally a very stoic, macho world. What most people don't know is that Jackie Chan has starred in over 100 movies (he filmed his 100th movie in 2011 actually - a historical war epic called 1911 as it happens).
However, most people have only heard of about 30 of his films - those he's done over the last 25 years. Why? When Jackie Chan first set out in Hong Kong cinema he was being groomed as the next Bruce Lee. With Bruce Lee's death, the film industry desperately wanted to find someone else to step into those shoes. Jackie did that for a while in a bundle of movies most people have never heard of, but he didn't find fame until he gained enough credibility for the movie producers to allow him to step out of Bruce Lee's shadow and direct his own film - the world's first slapstick martial arts movie called Half A Loaf of Kung Fu. From there the rest was history and kung fu comedy was born.
In the poster below, the images on the left hand side are films from his early career that you've probably never heard of. The middle and right hand side are just some of the films he's created since stepping into his voice, his signature, his calling. See the difference?
There is warfare at work to prevent us stepping into our calling. Why? Because when you find your true work, you are no longer just performing a function or set of tasks defined by someone else as a transaction - you are beginning to create.
Work in the kingdom is inherently creative - it improves life, adds new dimensions of quality, beauty and efficiency to society. Anything that promotes or increases life is the work of the kingdom - and anything that promotes life is inherently at war with the curse that promotes death.
In the Bible, God sends craftspeople as weapons against the kingdom of darkness. Check it out.
The closing section of Zechariah 1 describes the way four 'horns' (a metaphor in the Bible for kings, kingdoms, nations) have been brutalising the Israelites and have "scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem." God decides it is time to act and speaks this promise to Zechariah about how He will now oppose these 'horns':
"Then the Lord showed me four craftsman. I asked, 'What are these coming to do?' He answered, 'These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no-one could raise his head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people" (vs 20-21).
Creative work is warfare in the kingdom of God. Find your work and you'll find where you can go to war. There's already war around you to prevent you finding your fulfilment, your voice, your calling - so why not fight back and make the kingdom of darkness suffer. Find your real work and you'll find where and how you do that.
And, the world will start to notice...
"Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings, not obscure men" (Proverbs 22:29).
For an awesome book on this topic, check out The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield (he is also the author of the Will Smith movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Both are well worth your time).
See you next time when we take a look at the role of Play in the kingdom.
We kicked off a really important conversation together last year looking at what it means to see the kingdom come right where we live our lives – and to see each aspect of our lives through the lens of the kingdom.
We’ll pick this conversation up again throughout the year. It had quite an impact on many of us so let’s capture where we got up to and invite the Holy Spirit to deepen its work in us.
What is the kingdom and what does it look like when it comes through our life?
We described the kingdom really simply as God’s way of life. Jesus told us he came so that we could "have life – and have it to the fullest” (John 10:10) and is himself described as “the author of life” (Acts 3:15).
So when he tells us his kingdom has come among us, he is telling us his life – his way of life and the quality of life he inhabits – has come among us and is available to us.
The kingdom is typically described as the rule and reign of God – but that misses the point. It focuses on who is in charge and, although significant, the essence of God’s kingdom is so much more than who the boss is. The essence of God’s kingdom is love and life.
As the disciples began to grasp this fully and spent their lives for it, they began trying to share what they could see. Paul contrasts the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world powerfully for us in Galatians 5. In describing the ‘fruits of the Spirit,’ Paul gives us a lovely roadmap of what it looks like when the Kingdom of God emerges in our life – we begin to see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and restraint.
So as you think about where you currently live, work, and play – do you see these things in the midst? If so, the kingdom is being formed there. If not, may it come!
Finally, before we take a closer look at each area, let’s revisit Genesis 3 briefly and see how the curse that was released from Eden’s Pandora’s Box directly affects where we live, work, and play (…excuse the extreme mixing of metaphors and mythologies there).
Genesis 3: The Reach of the Curse
In Genesis 3, as Adam, Eve and the Serpent are each confronted with the full impact of what they have done, God describes the way the selfishness and pride they have unleashed in what was an innocent world will now infect everything they know. Here’s the description:
To the Serpent: “I will put enmity (war) between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15)
To Eve: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)
To Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-20)
So in the description God gives to Adam, we see the curse bringing ‘death’ to where we work. For Eve, it brings pain right to the heart of where we live – bringing physical pain into childbirth and dysfunction into our relationships with the birth of inequality between men and woman.
And for all of us, the curse to the serpent means we are now born into an always present war with the kingdom of darkness – bringing resistance, pain, danger, and death to the world that was designed as a place where we could freely play. (Check out Cat Steven’s Where Do The Children Play for a great way of picking up this lament).
Through this lens, we can see that the curse of sin and selfishness hits right at the heart of our lives – bringing death, pain and disruption right where we live, work and play.
The Kingdom of God then must have the opposite effect. So what does it look like for us to see it turning back the effects of the curse as the fruits of the Spirit begin emerging where we live, work, and play.
We’ll pick that up in part two as we look at work.
Heya team, just a short update inviting you to think about cafe names with us as we work towards our new adventures. Our last update mentioned the Small Change Cafe idea a few of us have been playing with - some of the team really love it and others not as much, which is all absolutely as it should be.
The Holy Spirit will lead us to the right name when we need it. I wanted to throw in the mix a conversation with Kelvin and Veronica this week that raised some really good alternative points I'd like to encourage us to give some real thought to as well. Here's the key things from that discussion:
We've spent a lot of time building up recognition and rapport in the neighbourhood as The Local, so why go away from that? We also have a perfect, ready-made slogan for this next venture in the tagline on many of the t-shirts several of us already wear: Feeding Body & Soul. Why not use that?
The difference between something like Small Change Cafe and something like The Local Cafe is how we position ourselves and the cafe. The first idea separates the cafe from us - it's something we do in the community, but it's not who we are. It would end up being presented as The Small Change Cafe and also the home of The Local community church.
If we run with The Local Cafe - Feeding Body & Soul, we're stepping up quite strongly and saying that this venture is itself an extension of who we are. If you are blessed by your experience visiting the cafe, it's not just because you had a nice cup of coffee, it's hopefully also because the presence of God and the hospitality he seems to manifest through us has flowed into you as well. That's pretty cool.
Speaking personally, I'd unconsciously assumed it was important to separate the two things (The Local and the cafe), but I really liked the points Kelvin and Veronica made and felt I could see a lot of God's way in it. So...let's throw that into the mix of our thoughts and prayers too.
Would love you to consider it with us and share your thoughts when we next catch up.
We'll keep sharing thoughts and ideas as we go, but the equal assumption is that we all each give ourselves and each other an open invitation to agree, disagree, refine and add to the picture along the way. If we keep doing that in an open, humble spirit, the Holy Spirit should be able to lead us towards the path he wants to set.
So over to you all.
Bless you team :)
And thanks Kelvin & Veronica!
Heya team, this year is going to be really different for us. Setting up and running a café, exploring evening meetings instead of mornings, and shifting from being seen as a charity in the neighbourhood to becoming a catalyst for those wanting to create change in their life.
It’s really important that we see the bigger picture though before we head into our new adventures. If we don’t understand together how the vision behind what we do fits into the kingdom, we’ll miss the opportunity to flow in the power of the Holy Spirit together and partner in what God is doing in the neighbourhood.
If we miss that, The Local risks becoming a church that simply aims to be different from the mainstream, perhaps a more creative or postmodern way of doing church. Different for the sake of being different (and vulnerable to pride if that becomes our identity).
However, if we can grasp this together, we become so much more than that – we have the opportunity be one local expression of God’s advancing kingdom in this world. A part – no more, or less, important than any other part – of His awesome church in this world as we all work together to invade the kingdom of darkness and revoke the hold it thinks it has on this world. Let’s aim for that together…here’s the foundations I’d like us to hold on to as we head down this next adventure:
Everything is about the kingdom
We’ll spend the rest of the year on this in one way or another, so I’ll stay brief: everything is about God’s kingdom. His presence. His way of life. He created this world to fill it with His presence and his infinite quality of life. He created us to share, celebrate and extend that life with him.
It’s not about sin. It’s not about avoiding hell. It’s not about bringing God’s judgement. It’s about life: God’s life!
To quote Reggie McNeal:
Religion says, “The end is nigh!”
Jesus said, “The kingdom is nigh!”
Once you get this you see that anything that promotes life, real life, is the work of the kingdom. Anyone can set up a café but in the kingdom a café gets transformed into something that adds life – connection, nutrition, employment opportunity, work experience, and fun – to a community.
It’s not about getting people to come to church, to convert to a religion. It’s about using the creative talents and gifts and abilities God gave each of us and working alongside Him as he continues to extend His life to this world.
Whatever we do this year, it must be about the kingdom.
To quote Metallica, and paraphrase scripture: Nothing Else Matters!
(Matt 6:33 & Metallica's Black Album).
The café idea
With the sale of the community house, we needed to think about operating from somewhere else this year…Carl and Maureen in particular kept coming back to the idea of the empty restaurant that sits between the Merton St dairy and fish and chip shop. As we talked about that Kelvin, Veronica and Karla picked up the idea and kept adding more legs to it and it grabbed hold of all of us. “It seemed good to the Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) so we decided to put the wheels in motion.
The simple idea is to establish a community co-op style café that serves affordable and healthy lunches and drinks, inviting (and hopefully even employing as funding grows) members of the community to be trained to serve in the café – gaining real-life work experience as they learn to prepare the meals, serve customers and run the cafe with us.
Initially, we plan for the café being open for lunch Monday to Friday (10am for coffee, 11-1pm for lunch), with other events and activities (boardgames, quiz events, cooking classes) added as best suits those who wish to attend. We may extending the meals to other times depending on demand and the availability of volunteers as the venture grows, but let’s start small.
We also intend to run cooking classes, teaching people how to cook the meals we serve themselves – ie: “if you liked the meal you had today, come back tomorrow and we’ll teach you how to make it.” Promoting better nutrition and dissolving the lie that you need to be rich to eat well.
We also anticipate using the venue for regular activities such as boardgame afternoons, quiz evenings, and other small scale social events that might be suggested by members of the community. As well as our own regular gatherings as The Local.
We’re toying with a working title of “The Small Change Café” as a play on words – promoting meals that you can afford with ‘small change’ but also the idea that small changes have big impacts in your life. We’re still thinking about the name and also how to clearly represent The Local in there as well – perhaps with an additional line that says “And the home of The Local” or something like that. Alternately we could also just call it “The Local Café.” Something to pray about – we welcome any thoughts!
It feels exciting. We’re hoping it will have a number of impacts - including changing what it looks like for us when we gather as The Local…
What ‘being church’ might look like for us this year
It’s been on my mind for a few months that we need to make a shift again in how we allow the community to perceive us and interact with us. It’ll be an ongoing battle of course as there is war involved in this and I think the kingdom of darkness is constantly at work to misrepresent Christ’s bride – both to others and itself.
Having said that, for many we have become another charity in their life – a place you can go for free food (did you notice our numbers tended to double just before lunchtime last year?) and free baby sitting. I don’t regret any of that – we served the community as we knew best then, but I believe God is after something more.
Reggie McNeal who I quoted from earlier gives a wonderful description of church (again from his book Kingdom Come). It reads like this:
“Jesus did not establish the church to start a new religion called Christianity. He established the church as an expression of the kingdom for the people of God as they partner with him in his redemptive mission in the world,” (p83).
Collectively, we are meant to be evidence of the kingdom.
Coming back to work this week, one of the leaders where I work has been circulating some inspiring clips and quotes to kick the year off. He made this passing comment in his discussion of Martin Luther King that really caught my attention:
“Martin Luther King appealed not to the discontented and disgruntled but to a hopeful brother- and sister-hood.”
Rather than providing sympathy to those who have disengaged and given up, he called to those who still had an ember of hope that things could change and helped provide a catalyst for them to act on that growing hope. That’s what I feel we’re called to do in the community.
We always need to care for the poor and downtrodden, but I feel we need to shift our emphasis more towards those who really want change but feel alone or trapped or don’t know where to start. That’s what the café idea is about.
To reset things and disrupt the patterns and perceptions a bit, when we kick off again this year we’re planning to do so with evening meetings – a bit more like the Demonstrate environment for those who were part of that. We’ll keep all the interative elements that have become a core part of who we are – creating shared meals together, interactive reflections, interactive prayer, scripture wrestling, and interactive dialogue sessions. That’s part of our DNA now.
Sunday School & Children’s Church
One of the main things our new venue will change is that we will keep the children in with us – we won’t be doing a ‘kids’ programme or ‘children’s church’ this year. Partly, the venue doesn’t facilitate this, but we also suspect the Holy Spirit is leading us in this too.
Here’s a handful of thoughts to consider – it’s a significant change, and yet another move away from conventional church, so give it some thought and let’s discuss it together when we meet. Here’s some food for thought:
The history of ‘Sunday school’ is fascinating. Sunday School began around 1750 AD as a literacy campaign for kids who were forced to in the industrial-era factories. You can read more about this on Wikipedia here, and on the Christianity Today site here.
Before our modern labour laws were established, and before education was compulsory for children, the heart of the industrial revolution saw thousands of children working in the factories every workday. This would be illegal today, but it wasn’t then.
Concerned for the future generation, one factory owner (William King) and several, primarily Anglican church members (Robert Raikes is the most well known) started running schools on Sunday to teach children to basic literacy – later going on to involve sport as well.
The Bible was their main text to learn from, but it was about passing on literacy, not religion. Sunday School began as a service to the community and the common generation – not as a way of reinforcing religious instruction.
As later labour laws and compulsory education were introduced, Sunday School was no longer necessary and it evolved (devolved?) into what we commonly see today.
Wayne Jacobsen, author of So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore? and one of the collaborators of The Shack, picks up the question of whether children need Sunday School half way down his blog here. He writes:
“I’d suggest that what children need most is to be integrated into God’s life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of children who grow up in Sunday schools with all the puppets and high-powered entertainment, leave ‘church’ when they leave their parents’ home. Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need to demonstrate how to live in God’s life together.
Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal friendships with nonrelative adults. No Sunday school can fill that role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of sharing God’s life together as families could say that they had not lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood....it is far more important that our children experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick children’s program.”
It’s a big issue so let’s keep talking about it, but the last thought that’s been on my mind is how different we treat the legacy of Jesus from the legacy of our ancestors.
Most of us have great grandparents who fought in the war. Think about how those stories have been passed down to you. My Great Grandfather fought and was shot twice – he did some really heroic things, but he described how he became incredibly callous about life too. The point is, none of these tales – or the life lessons they held – were watered down when they were passed on to me. I grew up hearing the gritty stories of my ancestry – good, bad, funny, and sad.
Yet somehow when it comes to Jesus, we make it cute. There’s a tendency to "cute-ify" everything, essentially boiling the grittiness of the King and his kingdom down to quaint fairy tales that then, understandably, become harder and harder to believe or relate as our kids grow up. Let’s not do that.
Exactly what it looks like in stead we need to work out together. We don’t know of course, but I somehow doubt the first century disciples ran cute Sunday schools for their kids. I suspect they passed down the gritty stories much like we’ve heard about our ancestors, and then modelled their active faith for their children to catch.
But we really welcome thoughts on this one – let’s keep chatting about it together. Do give it some thought and prayer. In the meantime, hopefully this gives you a sense of what we’re about this year and the sort of adventure the Holy Spirit seems to be leading us all into.
Looking forward to riding the roller coaster with you all :)
Every blessing team!
As part of our end of year Christmas celebration, Natasha put together a slideshow capturing a number of our various adventures and highlights from the year.
For those who were keen for another look, you can download the slideshow below.
Natasha attached the recent Bon Jovi song Come On Up To Our House to the slides as well which isn't included with the file but you can find on YouTube here.
Faith, laughter, food, community & dialogue in place of religion, dogma & hierarchy.