Children of the Western World







I’m old enough to remember Steve Grace as a legend of Aussie Christian rock music and one of his songs that struck a chord with me back then was ‘Children of the Western World’, a prophetic challenge to western lifestyles.

Currently at QBC we are looking at the New testament letters and considering some of the issues that faced the early church and some of the heresies that had infiltrated those first communities. Gnosticism , arianism and the like were all first century mutations of the original gospel, often tampering with Christology. They were not exactly blatant and obvious heresy, but they were usually believable enough to sit alongside, slowly become entwined with and eventually take the place of the true gospel. (I’d suggest that if you can upend Christology then eventually everything topples.)

Perhaps if you ignore something for long enough, or if you accept something for long enough it just becomes a part of your modus operandi.

It begs the question what are the heresies that infect and cripple us?

My guess is they are less overt and destructive and more sly and insidious. The chances of conservative evangelical western Christians denying the resurrection are fairly slim… but the chances of that same group of people being seduced by the dominant values of the culture are fairly high.

Its hard to acknowledge our heresies because in many ways they are our blind spots – and you simply can’t see your own blind spots (that’s why they are called that…) or they are our deepest desires and passions that we struggle to admit to – much stronger than our desires for the kingdom.

As I was teaching I mentioned again that in my view the ‘holy trinity of suburbia’ is career, house and family and Jesus is often invited to mold his call on our lives around those 3 priorities. These markers are set down before anything else and he can fit around them.

At face value it might seem like an extreme statement, but my hunch is that our ‘heresy’ is found in these areas. (And no – I’m not using ‘heresy’ in a technical sense) When career takes the place of vocation and our life is driven and shaped by our employment then we will struggle to hear the voice of God calling us to consider unconventional options. Surely the next move is upwards and will result in more $$?…

Or when we desire a certain kind of home so much that we are prepared to go into mega-debt for 30 years just to have it, then surely we have to ask what will our life now be shaped by? Of course it will be shaped by the need to repay a huge debt – and we will then be compelled to whatever that takes. I’m not a fan of big mortgages unless there is simply no other way to have a family home, but when monster mortgages are chosen over small mortgages I scratch my head.

Then there’s family… And this one is even more dangerous to critique, but for some the worship of family and all goes with it renders them useless to a God who is not so concerned for safety, security and comfort. I wonder how many times God’s call is ignored or  simply unheard because ‘it wouldn’t be good for my kids…’

Each of them alone are enough to wrench us away from the life God has for us, but when the whole package kicks in, then we see churches like we have in suburbia today. Busy, heavily in-debted people giving lots of time to their families, but churches that struggle to be more than a pitstop on the way to the next week of slog.

Instead of a beautiful picture of the kingdom we often end up with lame religious versions of everyone else’s life. We pay lip service to Jesus but all the time pursue the God’s of our culture wondering why we aren’t content.

Most church leaders seem to be equating regular church attendance to 1 Sunday in 3 these days. It seems an odd number to equate with the word ‘regular’, but busy, overworked people need to find time to be with family…  and Sunday becomes that… which wouldn’t matter a great deal if there were spaces for discipleship and formation outside of Sunday, but I’d suggest that for many these don’t exist either.

We are on a disturbing trajectory and the only way to respond to it is to choose to live differently – to choose a different path and to show people an alternative to the story that is told to them loud and clear.

I’d suggest this is the core of discipleship in western churches now – simply teaching people how to live. Jesus said ‘seek first the kingdom… and then the rest will be taken care of…’ Surely this is the start of life?

As a church leader I find myself wondering that means for how we lead a community, how we challenge people and nurture them towards the life of the kingdom rather than simply falling in line like lemmings and waiting for their turn to jump.

But of this I am convinced – to disciple is simply to ‘teach people how to live’…


(This blog post comes with all the usual disclaimers about wealth not being evil, home ownership not being bad, and family being a blessing… yada yada yada…)


This week we began a new teaching series at QBC looking at the letters in the New Testament. It won’t be an indepth verse/word study type of deal, but more of a ‘flyover’, a big picture look at the different types of letters and how they served the church in that time. (More here if you want to know…)

I decided to kick off with the letter from Jude. You know the one?… The little one just before Revelation that no one ever reads?… Except for the end bit which makes a really cool ‘benediction’ in a church service

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—  to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Those are well known and inspiring words, but reality is most people have very little clue what this little letter is about – or just how punchy it is.

Jude is just a page long, but its a grenade. It addresses people who had slipped into the church community and were living immorally and denying Jesus as Lord. He is speaking of those who knowingly, wilfully say ‘I don’t care. I will do as I please and ensure my own advantage is taken care of’

And his conclusion is that they ‘do not have the spirit’. Jude puts them outside the family of faith. Big call hey?…

His message is a hard one, but its one we need to get a hold of from time to time. If you think you can call yourself a disciple of Jesus, but can live a life that doesn’t hold to the things he calls you to then you are kidding yourself. Chances are you aren’t a disciple and you are going to be facing some pretty heavy judgement.


Not really the tone of this blog to get all direct and hard edged is it?

But what if there are still people around in the church today who fit the bill – people who slip in secretly, use others for their advantage and who live as they please while denying the authority of Christ, or more likely re-framing it suit their own ends.

The middle section of Jude’s letter is a series of warnings from Israel’s history describing those who had gone this way before and their fate. If we follow his thinking then what he is saying is ‘if you think you can act the part and fool God (you might fool people) then you are headed for disaster’.

Reality is the letters matter for us today because not much changes.

So Jude is a warning, a teaching and a challenge to the church today as it was back then. We have a strong tendency towards grace (perhaps a corrective to many years of legalism?) but in that we can see flagrant, repeated sin as ‘slip ups’ rather than as raw rebellion and evil. Knowing when to forgive and restore and when to call someone out is certainly a challenge, but one thing Jude reminds us of is that we can’t turn a blind eye.

Farewell Quitting Season

Since we came back from our around Oz trip in 2009 and I launched into retic as a serious business I’ve had a period every year called ‘quitting season’. Its that time of the year when the heat hasn’t quite ended, when I am back to working on my own and where I am totally exhausted and considering all other options as viable. It usually runs from around February thru to late April. I begin to question whether this is a waste of time… whether I should do something else… whether ‘God has called’ me to greater things…

Each year it strikes harder and I feel it more forcefully so I’m not sure how many years of retic and turf I have left in me, but thankfully this year’s ‘quitting season’ is over.

Now of course, I will worry that the phone doesn’t ring… that I don’t have work… and all those other complaints of the self employed. (Truthfully I am glad when the phone doesn’t ring and I am ready for a few weeks when no one wants any work done!)

I find it a challenge to keep running a business and be a church leader at the same time. Danelle and I are employed a total of two days between us by our church community  (and we are cool with that – no one is screwing us)  but by the same token it limits what is possible. This week’s sermon (as with all of mine for the last few years) is a result of 8 hours of work and no more. I just can’t sit around and polish a sermon (a turd?…) for longer than is necessary. If it isn’t done in 8 hrs then this is as good as it gets…I find hard but that’s just how it is…

I actually posted my business for sale on Gumtree this year – for the price of our mortgage… I didn’t have a ‘plan B’ to turn to. I just figured I’d work it out in the moment if it came to that. One call eventuated and since then I have relaxed a bit more and can face another year. The ad has been deleted…

I must admit that our Baptist pastor’s conference this year threw a spanner in my works. I found myself around a bunch of motivated people whose focus was on developing others to work in the kingdom of God and I was inspired again for my part in this. (Thanks to Mark Edwards and the crew who made this happen) but it also left me a little disoriented when it came to the life I live.

I have enjoyed being a ‘tradie’ for the last 6 years. I get to see what its like for the rest of the world to have to earn an income and do an ‘honest day’s work’. I also get to swear and no one bats an eyelid because they expect it of me… Just kidding – I don’t swear… if I don’t have to…

But I have also felt the tension of working in a job where the sense of meaning is rather low. I understand that for some people this is life and there is no option of anything more substantial… ouch… I sometimes feel like I have ‘more to give’ than running a retic business allows. Yet I also know that while I run a business I live in the same world most of our people do. I contend with the same issues of tiredness, distractedness and tedium that others also need to grapple with. I think this is helpful for a Christian leader.

I’m not sure how many years of retic fixing I have left in me, but I’m guessing I will play that one by ear. Already as things have slowed down I observe my ‘pastor’s gut’ starting to show. That isn’t something I ever want to see happen.

Each year seems to bring a new level of weariness in business, but I also like the autonomy and freedom it provides so I am wary of giving it up. In essence the business is the way I support myself to do what I am actually called to do, but the fact is that it drains me physically and emotionally means I have less energy to give to my sense of calling – Christian leadership and mission.

At this stage it seems to be that God has said ‘too bad how sad – suck it up and keep going’. So I guess that is what I will do. Press on with this mix of running a business and leading a church. I don’t call this ‘bi-vocational’ because I am clear on my vocation – it is in the area of Christian leadership and missiion – but at least for now one of the ingredients in that seems to be an involvement in my community via a business.

Of course I could explore the possibility of hiring people to run the business / expanding / restructuring etc, but I every time I move in this direction I see myself opening up a layer of complexity that I don’t want to attend to. I’m not lazy – its just not where I want to put my best energy. And I can see a black hole sucking me in if I head down this path.

So at this stage it looks like I will continue to be a retic bloke Tuesday-Thursday and a church leader at other times. I will continue to try and walk the balance of running a business and leading a church and see where it leads.



Just a Story for Monday Morning

I cam across this wonderful, yet disturbing story a few years back via an online ezine. As I was fossicking in some old files I found it again today.

If you want an inspirational story of how the Spirit of God works in spite of any of us then read this. If you want a challenge to consider how we can interact with what God is doing then this oughta spark some questons!

“The ‘E’ at the heart of emerging”
Paul Thomson

About 40 of us in late 70’s (all teens) found Christ IN our housing estate in Aberdeen, Scotland – we grew up in – this was completely outside known perameters of ‘mission’ at the time… BEFORE we ever came near a CHURCH.

No one ever told us about this incredible strange figure in that strange big book… WE stumbled on to him- it was OUR delicious secret – like finding ET in your kitchen, at the backside of the world -the estate was a terrifying place – many of us were beaten every week – day in day out by bullies at school or came through kids homes. Some of our chums – both boys and girls -were currently being abused by dads uncles. We were too young and scared to speak out (Aberdeen -70’s nuff said!) as we know now! no one would have listened to us – or believed us – anyway.

What did it look like … (church?) We would get together every day – we’d pack out our ma’s place – when she was at ‘yoga’ – 40 of us – some on ‘glue’ – bringing ghetto-blasters, biscuits, pocket money – to put in bowls to share we’d fill every room – kitchen, bedrooms, sitting room , hallway – outside in the back yard… when one of us said – they’re startin tae speak te God in the sitting room… everybody would squeeze in or join in thru the hatch (opens from kitchen)… sitting round – spikkin tae Goad … min… the heat in that room – I can still feel it (as well as the smell of glue and kids prefume and biscuits… the smell of God. I remeber that it gave us ‘guys’ permission to talk – really talk to each other… we even had a game – we would give each other all our wages – part time jobs – at the end of the week – or lay hands on our dog to see what would happen.

The words we used – our conversation with God – shocking even here among more refined – ’emerging church and mission’ sensibilities – (I count myself in here too now – so I’m not joshin you’all) the word ‘christian‘ – i don’t think – we…used or understood the word – yet – or church… NO ONE knew we even existed.. at this point – this is difficult to imagine, perhaps, but ‘I’ even wondered if any other of these ‘disciple’ types we read about to each other – in the gospels…existed in aberdeen??? until eventually I found a christian bookshop – I stammered – words to the guy behind the counter – ‘are yooz like in the bible… ‘ (I don’t think I even knew of the word: christian at this point – wasn’t in the gospels)

Now here is the really freaky bit.. I suddenly began to become ‘aware’ of ‘church buildings’ – It’s wierd but It was odd to me how I never noticed before.. their ‘existence’…. I’ve explained this to many people before – its like they were there – you kicked a ball against the wall of the thing – it made bell noises every sunday… but it WASN’T HERE…. it was an alien patch of ground from another place… where people had cars and came every week – (I was usually in my bed so I never saw them) and inside lived a mannie… with a funny soft voice… It’s odd but I had the distinct impression… that he looked so fragile – like he would break…something.. a sad soft posh person… I didn’t like him much… but thats all I remember. .

One day a man heard about us.. visited us and was blown away – he started using words like ‘revival’ etc… he was awfully happy … we were too… finally we made contact with the ‘outside’ and a real adult too to boot… he advised us to start ‘going to ‘church’ – very soon though… it died! They didn’t mean for it to… it just did. I now understand that – whatever lived in that soil or environment – was too fragile to be moved into an alien landscape – I remember watching it… the uprooted crew ….at church… slowly they got quieter less animated… less free and – ‘themselves’ … our language made people wince… our route into Christ completely alien… I was treated like a hero… they had me preach every 2 weeks – and got to ‘lead worship’ – with our own written stuff… that we had composed in the estate… It was all wrong – I felt it – but I was too young and scared – and we were all wowed by these al these bright talkative kind posh people with big faces, who knew better about church and God and a that! Now after being thru the – wimber alt worship/NOS to clubchurch now.. to the possibility of a wide luscious multicoloured valley – of tribes… linking out to the edges and beyond of the alternative and even – the anglosphere… altogether (O God i hope so)…. we come to Emerging church…. (with Big J nothing is lost and the best comes with us – NOS too).

without the E…. however, there is no E-merging anything … just good ol’ MERGING…. so here is my 2p (or whatever your currency is) worth …

E in E merging stands for (in the Uk anyway…) stands for ESTATES……

this time – for the first time, perhaps in 1500 years… i our aristocratic obsessed Country …the poor might just get back in…. from the cold…. the experience of the ‘absence of Christ’ – remarked by many in Europe since the before the world wars… is for a purpose… it induces the song of solomon phenomena – the search for him… in the wackiest places… but its, if you notice a story about the ‘king/prince’ choosing to hang out with the poorest… (dark)

….. if you miss the presence… spend a few years with/among/the outcasts…. be baptised among the religious poor… like the Jeruslamites and temple goers – immersing themselves among the cackling and rough tones and raw emotions of those at the jordan with John-the immerser…

if you are poor – for goodness sake don’t be ashamed of it – help the middle classes … let go.. their obsessive need to help you… and ‘communicate chunkily’ – with each other and God… from their heart… they’re so nervous of losing their ‘cool’ … of catching ‘ poverty’ and ‘neediness’ … oof protecting their masks… they are in great pain because of it.. help them let go a bit… aybe they can then go from letting God move their heart – to letting God move their butts! and dance…. something the poorest have always done….

can you imagine ‘NEDS’ leading … the emerging church… into her future …and heritage and promised land… why not? the benjaminites… (the smallest tribe) were asked to lead Israel across the jordan… I bet they were surprised….that must have been a sight…

or rough Galileans cluelessly leading the church into her future in Europe and Africa Century 1

ending up as stories from Egyptian traders among the tatoo’ed unwashed natives of Scotland and Ireland…

put ESTATES at the heart of the emrging church in the UK and enjoy the presence of Christ ….sup to yooz (ooh I’m gettin ma voice back min)