Archive for January, 2015

hensWe had our grandchildren staying with us over the holidays. One day we were out the front of our house and our neighbours drove up, stopped and wound down the window.

They acknowledged our three year old grandson and, as you’d expect, he was a little wary of this stranger stopping to talk to him. Instinctively he put out one arm, protecting his little sister who was just behind him.

I was amazed at this response of protection from a three year old. But I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Because we’ve all been made in the image of God, and it’s in God’s nature to be protective of those he loves.

The apostle Paul has a great description on love in one of his letters, and it says in part: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts,  always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Some people struggle with the idea of God as father because experiences with their own father hasn’t been good. If that’s the case you may find some comfort from verses like these that show the protective nature of God.

The prophet Isaiah quoted God as saying: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Isaiah also quoted God in this way: Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Here’s one that draws on the image of a mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32): In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. The Lord alone led him.

Jesus himself said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

What a great picture this is of a God who cares so much about those he loves. You can see the mother hen trying to get all her chickens together but some of them are running off in the opposite direction. How frustrating it is to try and keep them altogether.

And that’s just what Jesus is saying. His goal is to protect and draw people to himself, but more often than not, our independent nature comes into play and we resist God’s love.

If a three year old can protect his little sister, how much more will almighty God protect those he loves. And how crazy it is when we don’t accept that love and allow God to protect us.

There’s an article in today’s West entitled, “Is the Age of McDonald’s Over?“. The article says that McDonalds market share in the US has been shrinking over the last few years and stocks have fallen about 6% in the last six months.

“On every fundamental metric, things have been really bad for McDonald’s,” says Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke.

This could be because of temporary PR problems but “if you put it in the context of every other fast food operator and the price of gas, these are tailwinds that a fast food operation can’t afford to ignore.”

The article points says that in the US McDonald’s has unveiled a new marketing plan in an effort to address falling sales:

In order to appeal to those who want healthy, fresh food, McDonald’s will allow for an increase in local autonomy. That means that chain owners will be allowed to give menus more of a regional flair.

Nationally, McDonald’s will work to simplify its menu and introduce the “Create Your Taste” initiative, which allows customers to personalize their burgers.

A redesign is also in store for the fast-food behemoth. The company unveiled new minimalist bags and changed their slogan from “I’m lovin’ it” to “Lovin’ is Greater than Hating.”

Also in store? An ad campaign that focuses on transparency and an increase in customer interaction. “We’re moving from a philosophy of, ‘billions served’ to ‘billions heard,'” says an official McDonald’s statement.

indexI have just concluded reading “Slow Church” by C Christopher Smith and John Pattison where they address the “McDonaldisation” of the church, so the article about McDonald’s rang a bell for me, particularly in the light of the recent collapse of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. A year ago Mars Hill had an average weekly attendance of 12,329 in 15 locations and fitted Smith and Pattison’s description of a “McDonaldised” church.  Following controversy around their founding pastor, Mark Driscoll and a massive decline in attendances, the church merged three of its Seattle locations, cut 30–40% of its staff to deal with decreases in giving, then announced plans to dissolve the church’s 13 remaining campuses into autonomous entities, with the option of continuing, merging with other congregations, or disbanding.

Could it be, I ask myself, that the franchise-style megachurch is bumping up against the same issues that McDonalds itself is experiencing. Could it be that it’s time for us all to slow down and look at some different approaches to church? Smith and Pattison put it this way:

If McDonalised church makes the case for increased efficiency, calculability, predictability and control, Slow Church makes the case for taste – specifically the case for the taste of the place, and for taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps.34:8). Taste is the most intimate of the five senses.

It goes on…

Tasting God’s goodness and costly discipleship go hand in hand. As we follow Jesus we experience in new ways the complex palate of God’s goodness. Similarly, since the church is the body of Christ, it is partly through the church that the world tastes God. This is why Slow church refuses to sacrifice quality to quantity. When efficiency, calculability, predictability and control become the primary standards by which we evaluate our life in our churches, it’s easy to justify cookie-cutter approaches to disciple making. Churches churn out Christians notable not for their authentic peculiarity but for their bland sameness. The final standard needs to be faithfulness.

The latest news about McDonalds on top of the news about Mars Hill Church is a timely warning to the church to look seriously at what it is doing and slow down. Perhaps if we did that we may get to enjoy the ride. Check out this video:

les-miserables_1Last night Robyn and I went to see Les Miserables at the Crown Theatre in Perth. Unintentionally we found ourselves at the front seats, close enough to see the expressions on the conductor’s face as he led the amazing orchestra and cast. It was a wonderful production – much better than the movie adaptation, I have to say.

Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel that tells the story of a ticket-of-leave convict, John Valjean who finds himself treated as an outcast, and steals some silver from the Bishop who had given him shelter for the night. He is arrested by the police who take him back to the Bishop who, surprisingly, lies to the police in order to save the man. In fact, he gives him a couple of silver candlesticks and tells the man, in front of the police, that he had given these to him, but he must have forgotten to take them. After the police have gone, the Bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to make an honest life for himself.

The story that follows tells of the effect this act of grace has on his life as he seeks to protect and save the lives of others.

Reviewer Benedict Nightingale describes the impact of the story like this:

Our increasingly cynical world finds it near impossible to believe that goodness exists, let alone that it can be a compelling passion. But Les Mis take the opposite view, presenting us with a bitter, brutalised criminal who is converted by another man’s generosity in to someone who tends the weak, needy and outcast, is prepared to sacrifice his own safety and happiness to others, and refuses to hurt his most unforgiving foe when he has him in his clutches; the show has the imaginative thrust and the emotional authenticity to make you believe that this could be true. Perhaps that’s the reason that I don’t just like Les Mis, as I like the score of other great musicals. I love it.

While Nightingale simply describes Valjean’s change of heart as the effect of another man’s generosity, the grace of God is clearly evident in that act of generosity and in Valjean’s attitude thereafter. When he is faced with choice between revenge or forgiveness he says:

How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on.

The grace of God is so powerful and so restorative that, when received, can be paid forward in ways that are beyond our natural human capacity.

If you get the chance to see Les Miserables on stage, don’t just look out for great acting and amazing music, look out for a brilliant script that tells the story of grace-at-work.