Tag Archive: church


Poem: To Church

Just got back from an incredibly insane week with Creekside Church youth on Houseboats on Lake Shasta and had some time while i was there to stick some words together:

To Church

why run after what you can simply choose to be?

oasis of mirage in a sun-drenched desert

dessert of list-filled proportions

served to you on an already full to bursting stomach.

teasing…

trying to slip the mask of your face over your face

to get you to somehow believe that you can become

what you already are

what the very D.N.A. in your

newly formed person declares you to be

week after week

marching your way to your box

[one size does not fit all]

reserving your spot with the glare in your eyes

before settling in comfortably to enjoy the show

the pretty puppet man with the dancing strings

seems particularly impressed by his exe… exo… skeleton today

outside, in the middle of town

a recovering drug addict is seen helping an old lady to cross the street…

[For some of the other poems i have come up with in 2015, click here] 

In Acts 7 in the bible, we read about the stoning of Stephen.

Does anyone know what role Stephen had in the early church?

Let me give you a clue: In Acts 6.5 we see him described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”.

So what did he do? Are we thinking pastor? Elder? Worship leader?

Let me give you another clue: In Acts 6.8 we read that Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power”.

If you think of someone like that in your church, what is their role? Any closer to figuring out Stephen’s?

stephen

STEPHEN WAS THE FOOD GUY

So at the beginning of Acts chapter 6 we read how the twelve disciples chose seven men ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’ to take over the work of the daily distribution of food [a move that was done because a certain group of widows was being neglected and they wanted to make sure it wasn’t so].

And Stephen, who went on to be martyred, and who saw heaven opened and witnessed the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand side of God [Acts 7.56] was one of those seven. His role in the church was to make sure that food was handed out.

BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH

As i have been having intimate book launches and creating space for people to ask any questions they might have about church and God and following Jesus, i am becoming more and more convinced that the church is meant to be so much more of an identity than it is an experience.

This does not appear to be the most popular of opinions. There is a loud and insistent clamouring for church to need to be identified as ‘local church’ and a strong focus on the meeting at the particular place with that certain group of people.

i’m not suggesting for a second that local church is wrong, or bad, or should be stopped or left or run away from. At all.

But we are called the bride of Christ. We are described as the body of Christ. Both identity labels. Sure there is doing attached to both of those, but more importantly there is being. Who we are. Not just on Sundays, in the building. But always, everywhere.

It’s not even as if Sunday is the most authentic picture of who we are – we tend to dress up in a way we seldom dress during the week – portray a persona unlike the reality of what is really going on in our lives [So we don’t get to see people struggling with life or relationships or work or issues – every marriage looks perfect, every individual looks like they have it together] – and go through the religious ritual singing words of songs we often either don’t believe or pay attention to, prayers which sound nice and sermons which are too often comfortable and confirming of where we are rather than challenging where we should be being.

Jesus

i’m kinda tired of feeling like i have to defend my position on this. It feels like too many people have settled for the image of Jesus on the left and far too few are broken before the much closer image on the right.

i believe that being a part of the church means being infused with the D.N.A. of Jesus through the very fact of having His Holy Spirit in us and that it was always meant to be a description of who we are seven days a week, not just one.

It should rally us to social and societal justice, cause us to be more genuinely loving and affected people, move us to use our time, money and skills in the pursuit of the kingdom [not just 10% of them], help us to be more real in our relationships, challenge us towards forgiveness [of EVERYONE who has hurt us in any way] and spur us on to be salt and light and the fragrance of Christ amidst those who are perishing.

While local church is not a bad thing, what i am talking about feels so much bigger. It can be ‘Local Church Plus…’ for sure. And the benefits of community and accountability and teaching and combined worship and sharing of resources should be obvious.

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12]

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[Matthew 28]

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

[Amos 5]

So today, don’t give up on gathering, but let it be real. Let it be transformative. Let it be spirit-enthusing. And above all let it inform the rest of your week as you leave the building and continue to be the church day in and day out.

legchurch

[To read some more about the book i wrote on church, called ‘i, church’, and how to get hold of it, click here]

This year, the book i wrote, ‘i, church’ was published and you can read more about that over here.

But being Sunday where many people around the world will be using that somewhat confusing statement of ‘going to church’ i thought it would be a good idea to post an extract from my book, particularly one aimed at all of the people who think church may be dying or already dead.

IMG_2893

SEARCHING FOR THE PULSE OF THE CHURCH

There are many people who believe that the church is dead. Or at
their most optimistic, that it is dying.

Instead of trying to convince you that it is not, let me share
something that should inject some hope into that scenario. In many
ways, a little bit of death in some cases is not the worst thing if it
means that there will be space created for new life to emerge. When
we have been caught up in doing things in unhelpful and even at
times harmful ways in the church, then maybe death is just what we
need to be inviting.

Sexism in the church. Racism in the church. Classism or
wealthism where those who have are given preferential treatment
over those who do not have as much. These are just some examples
of things in the church that need to die.

But if the church itself, the worldwide institution and family, the
body of Christ, was ever to be pronounced dead, then instead of
fear and panic, this stunningly powerful image in Ezekiel 37 would
be a good one to keep in mind.

37 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the
Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of
bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many
bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me,
“Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know”.

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry
bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to
these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I
will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you
with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will
know that I am the LORD”.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there
was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I
looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but
there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man,
and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from
the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live’. 10 So I
prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to
life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel.
They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut
off’. 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the
Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and
bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of
Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open
your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you
and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will
know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD”.

So, if you are someone who has lost hope in the current state of
the church in any way, know that this God who we serve is able to
breathe life into even the deadest of things and spark them into
life. Yes, deadest!

To those of you who believe the church may be dead or dying,
let me remind you of this: Resurrection from the dead just happens
to be God’s speciality.

[For a brief teaser of an overall idea of what the book is more about, click here]

This morning i went to hang out and church with the friendly people at Common Ground Wynberg.

i have visited them a bunch of times since coming back from americaland because they have a vibe i really enjoy: very diverse congregation, black pastor [who i really like], some people i know and a whole bunch i don’t, and usually just an exciting lifeness happening with children movement and French translations and people who move as they sing, and there is just a lot of stuff there i really enjoy.

i was sitting waiting for the service to begin and i looked around and was just stunned by the beauty around me. Not the hugest amount of white people, a lot of African folks who are clearly from other more Northern parts of Africa and a bit of a mixed bunch of everyone else: a mesmerisingly messy mosaic made up of people who love Jesus and want to follow Him well together.

And i thought to myself, ‘I want to get to know these people. i want to hear their stories. i want to know how they ended up in South Africa. And i want to know what it has been like for them as the horrification of xenophobia has raised its ugly head in various parts of the country once more.

i imagine, if they had all been white people, that i would not have cared as much. Not because [like some of my favourite commentors on the blog would have us believe] i hate white people, because i really don’t. But because if i was in a church congregation of white people, then i would imagine the stories would be largely similar – in theme, or context, or content or general vibe at least. And while that’s okay, i guess, it’s not very interesting to me.

And so in that moment, for a moment, while i waited for ‘church to start’ i celebrated the church that was already going on. i drank in the diversity and thanked God for the hope of what this country can become. i didn’t understand racism just a little bit more than normal.

What a travesty to continue to live life surrounded by people who all look like us and largely think and live and celebrate and entertain and eat and church like us. i’m excited about some of the creative ways Val and i are embracing to ensure that our circles, in this regard, are getting gradually bigger…

[i didn’t get a chance to properly meet anyone cos they made an announcement that someone had left their car lights on and i strongly suspected it was me, but i was trapped in the middle of my row and hoped the battery would survive one service, so i left immediately afterwards… turns out it wasn’t me, but i will be back, and next time i hope to get to hear one or more of those stories]

divers

For those of you who have been following the book launch tour we have now had four different launches: one at Vovo Telo and one at the Warehouse in Cape Town, one out Stellenbosch way and recently another in Durban.

 

What i have discovered along the way is that my favourite part at every single launch was the Q & A time we scheduled in the middle of it. Opportunities for people to ask questions about church. Absolutely any questions without fear of judgement – in fact for the Durban launch, Barry who was MC gave out his phone number and people could ask questions live or text them in anonymously. Such great conversation and engagement.

And that has got me pretty excited to do more, which is where you may come in.

i realised in conversation last night with some mates that for the most part, those of you who bought the book because you know me are largely going to be in the metaphorical choir and while the book hopefully has some good stuff for you, there are likely people you know who it would be much more helpful for.

What about considering the opportunity of hosting a Q & A time of your own at your own home [or somewhere else that might be fun] where you bring the crowd [or roomful of people] that you feel may be wanting to ask questions about church and not have many places to do so – friends who are struggling with what church is about, people you know who attend regularly but don’t live it out, generally curious folk – and i come along and we create a space to ask some questions and wrestle with some things and then at the end give people an opportunity to get hold of a copy of the book if they would like.

If this sounds like something that might be interesting to you, get hold of me and we can chat.

We are going to have some books in Oakland, CA in June and are hoping to visit Pretoria/Joburg side of the country some time after that so if you are in any of those places, that would also be fun.

realbooks

If you’re looking to get hold of this on Amazon in the meantime, you can do so here. And if you are on Goodreads you can find it over there.

hey there church of South Africa,

how you doing? just thought i’d take this opportunity to catch up a little…

my wife, tbV and i have been back in South Africa after three years working with non-profits in Americaland and it’s been fun and interesting taking some time to visit different sunday congregations and see and hear about some of the stuff God is going around Cape Town. i have really enjoyed the diversity in a number of congregations that we visited. that feels like a good direction we have been heading into and hopefully we will see more of that and dive much more deeply into this race-reconciliation-united South Africa thing, which i’m guessing might be a lot more of a spiritual activity than some of you think.

on Saturday we attended a small gathering called un-Fence that happened at the Warehouse in Wetton and as tired and non-amped as we were to go after another crazy event-filled day, we decided that it sounded like it fit in with our vision and our heart and included some of our favourite people and so we decided to suck it in and go. i’m so glad we did.

it was nothing huge or dramatic or flashy, but it really had a deep impact on me, just being there with those people in that place sharing thoughts and impressions and pictures we felt were from God and worshipping and dreaming together.

i wanted to share one particular one that i had with you and i hope that if you feel it is significant, you will pass it on as well.

The picture i had was of the Israelites and two scenarios they were involved in:

[1] The Israelites in Egypt where, as far as i can imagine, the best they could dream about was that tomorrow would be a better day than today – ‘Maybe i’ll find the material to make the bricks a little bit faster today so that i will be done a bit earlier.’ ‘Maybe i won’t be whipped quite as much.’ With no sense of a greater picture or anything to aspire to [it didn’t seem like those Egyptians were going away any time soon] it would have been a focus on today and just doing my best and trying not to cause trouble and making it through the day.

[2] Jump forward to the Israelites in the desert and suddenly there is a picture and a vision and call to this thing known as ‘The Promised Land’. They had been given some descriptions of it – ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ and been told that God had prepared it just for then. And it motivated them to be able to walk around in the desert for 40 years and to keep on going – because of the thing that was ahead.

For me that feels like a picture of South Africa. In some ways it feels like a lot of South Africans are in Egypt – read comments sections on any race-related posts, or my blog. People just trying to get by without too much trouble and hoping to be kept safe from violence and not to be around when the impending violent revolution happens [which many people seem to fear].

But every now and then, you come across a South African who has managed to escape from Egypt, a small group of them who have made it into the desert and when you stop them and ask them why they seem to have hope and life despite wandering around in the middle of what looks like a desert, they will tell you they have been given a dream, a vision, of what might be.

And that, dear church, is what i want to share with you today.

If you have fallen into a place of focusing on teaching people to avoid being bad, then i want to encourage you to direct them towards a way of thriving in the area of living well.

i literally just read this on Facebook and it sums it up:The Gospel isn’t about escaping the world, it’s about transforming it.

church

i wrote this on my song sheet on Saturday night as i was in a place of just listening and trying to connect with God:

i don’t know if i’m interested in a church that doesn’t have any kind of active involvement in/pursuit of racial reconciliation and unity in this country.

in some ways i imagine it must have been easier during apartheid times to see where the line was drawn in terms of being a church that engaged with the societal evil that was taking place all around it, or if as a body of people it was easier to bury your head under the metaphorical sand and just go about the business of sunday meetings.

i could be wrong on this, but i feel it so strongly. Something about ‘Love God, love your neighbour.’ Even love God, love your enemy for some of you who may feel like your neighbour is your enemy. It doesn’t seem like there is an easy way to escape this. And this was the number one Jesus command, right?

So what i want to invite you to do as a local church congregation that is part of a broader church body in South Africa – the hands and feet of Jesus – is to start [if you haven’t already, and many of you have!] praying and preaching for a dream to be in the hearts of your people – for that vision and picture of the promised land – we already know the geographic location of it, now we just need to see it take place.

Speak about it. If they see and hear you doing it from the front, then they will know it’s okay for them to do it as well. Don’t relegate this to the ‘Religion and Politics should be kept separate closet’ – this is kingdom vibe right here.

There are many, many people in this country who are not living a ‘good news’ kind of life [and let’s be honest for a second, most of them are black, and it is not because of Zuma and Nkandla! It is not helped by them perhaps, but the majority of it is remnants of the apartheid legacy] and we are meant to be a ‘good news’ kind of people.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2

Come on church, let’s take those words off the screen and start really living them:

‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’

‘May our homes be filled with dancing, may our streets be filled with joy, may injustice bow to Jess, as your people turn and pray’

‘May we be a shining light to the nations’

‘i want to take Your word and shine it all around, but first help me just to live it, Lord’ 

‘May we be a healing balm to the nations’

What words did you sing yesterday?

This is not a criticism, by the way. It is a call to action. Some of you are doing this stuff so very well and we need you to show the rest of us how we can be better at it. Up til now, i have mostly been trying to create space on my blog for other voices to give us some of their ideas on what first steps towards this unified country might look like. Soon we hope to host some dinners and get people face to face around the table for more idea sharing. And hopefully soon there will be action to speak of.

But in the meantime we must dream. Of a land that is possible. Where we embrace the notion that ‘Freedom is not freedom until it’s freedom for all.’ A tough one to embrace when i look to my right as i drive to the airport.

This will not be easy. There will be a cost and that cos may involve comfort and privilege. It may really involve stepping back from the microphone so that other voices can lead and direct and just showing up. Or by handing over mantles of leadership to those who we have built relationship with over the last few years that we can see are ready to lead. It will likely be messy. But it feels important. It feels crucial. And this is not a church-only thing by any means. But with our name and our mission and the calling that has been placed upon us, we really should be found in the front lines of what is to come.

So how about it, church of South Africa? Are you willing to dream of what might be and rally your troops together to being moving towards that picture of promised land?

There is going to be a revolution, some day soon. It is just the nature of it that we may have some influence over.

love brett fish

roundbubble

So by now you may have heard that we had three Cape Town book launches and one in Durban [with one coming up in Oakland, Americaland in June and then hopefully at a later stage one in Pretoria ad Johannesburg], but what exactly is it all about?

Besides church…

To give you an idea, i thought i would drop a little bit of a teaser so you can get an idea.

In many ways this is a book written for people who love Jesus but have been hurt by the church somewhere along the way and so are a little wary of being associated with one any more… trying to be ‘christians without church’…

In other ways this is a book written for those who attend a church service once a week and yet are not necessarily seeing the transformation in their lives and in the lives of those around them and so on some senses might have slipped into a kind of ‘going through the motions’…

And for everyone in between, this is hopefully a challenge or an encouragement or a breath of fresh air or some inspiration towards some ways you can get your creativity on in terms of life to the full and seeing the kingdom of God grow itself here on earth as it is in heaven.

Not all of it is for everyone, but if you are a follower of Jesus, then i’m pretty sure there is at least something in here for you, hopefully of a significant nature.

Here is a short taste from early on in the book.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

‘That is maybe how it is with the church sometimes. That it is not always intentional. Sometimes it is just through not saying it as opposed to deliberately holding it back. Usually it is because the church is made up of messy, broken people who have been hurt and who hurt, all the while trying to get it right, for the most part.

And so we end up at a place that, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, looks a lot like Augustine might have suggested when he said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother”.  One of the biggest problems we face, I think, is that some people get way too hung up on “the church is a whore” part while others get way too protective  of  the “church is my mother” bit. So we are left with a ‘them’ and an ‘us’ no matter which side we stand:

# The church is the best thing in the world, ever.

# The church is the worst thing in the world, ever.

Both sides are right. And both sides are wrong.

The purpose of this book is to hopefully invite each side to take a few steps close to “the other” so that we can move away from that kind of language and mindset altogether. There are enough people both inside and outside the church, who  are  quick to throw  stones  at it. Whether we see it  as the building   or   the   people   or   the   meeting   or   the   tradition,   it   has become an easy target.

What is going to be more helpful is if we can take a step back from the muck, put any kind of frustrations or anger or resentment or bitterness aside,  and start to look a little harder, listen a little more closely and return to the One who this church thing is all about. Maybe then we’ll truly be able to kiss hating [or just really, really, really not liking] the church goodbye.

You see, it was never meant to be a concept… or an organisation… or a meeting… it was meant to be an organism – living,   breathing, causing revolution, pointing people towards Jesus, and turning the world on its head.

Maybe you don’t see it like that. Maybe you’ve never seen it like that. I urge you to read this book with an open mind. Head back with me to scripture and see what God says about the church – His plan and idea and mission for it.

Because maybe once you’ve really seen that, you will find a whole host of new reasons to love being an active engaging community­transforming member of this living Church.’

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

i would love to see you at one of the Book Launches… and if you’re in Oakland, USA, or Joburg/Pretoria, get hold of me, cos we are hoping to be dropping in there for a book share of your own…

[To find out how you can host your own Church Q & A with me and some of your friends, click here]

[For an excellent post on the idea of your church map possibly being wrong, take a read of this one]

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