Can’t Go Back To The Way Things Were

Someone asked me this week, “when things go back to normal, what church are you going to go to?” I felt guilty and ashamed that everything in me wanted to say “I don’t know if I will.” I felt this because I know what some people are probably thinking, “this is what we’ve been waiting for, Aaron’s let go of his faith”. When I say, “I don’t know if I will”, what I really wanted to say is, “You’re asking the wrong question”, but that felt rude. And to be honest, this question is probably something I would have asked if COVID-19 had happened a year ago when I was so immersed in one way of church life that I couldn’t see any other way – having been out of leading a church for three months. Having spent a lot of this time reading about church history, church structures, and the journey the western church has taken to arrive where we currently are. I have been inspired, and I have a deep longing to do life, faith and church a whole lot different.
I know that as humans, the majority of us are frightened and we repel from most change. But I sometimes think us Christians struggle with it on another level. I remember the uproar of moving the grand piano from one side of the stage to the other for a kids holiday program I was running. The Senior Pastor made the joke, “Aaron in the Baptist church you have to move it a cm a week, and by this time next year the people won’t have noticed it’s on the other side.” That’s a small glimpse of resisting a trivial change that really doesn’t matter. So any more significant changes within the way we do church, so steeped in tradition (some good and some negative) for centuries, will of course not be entertained easily by many.
But I just can’t bring myself go “back to normal”.
I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes. I don’t want to be so controlled by legalism to structure and processes that I lose the point of what it’s really all about. I’m over “playing church”, and being part of a structure that makes people feel they have to pretend to have it all together to belong. I’m done with a structure that tracks attendance to a Sunday Service as a reflection on the state of one’s heart rather than the fruit their life produces.
What I’ve heard in my limited conversations with people of faith recently, is that COVID-19 has stirred a longing for change within some people. We’ve had the opportunity to rethink and restructure, and it excites me that some have. But some pastors I’ve spoken with have said, “I can’t wait for services to go back to normal.” Because instead of taking this time to reevaluate and assess the health of the real community rather than attendance to a weekly event, many have taken the weekly event and made it an hour-long video where people watch disconnected on screens. Church should be about community and doing life with a diverse group of people – not something you “go” to. The church is not an event; it’s you and me. Don’t get me wrong – it’s essential to gather. But the church service should be about gathering together; celebrating Jesus and how we have seen Him growing, moving, shaping our everyday lives. It should be sharing communion and learning from each other. How can that be done effectively through something I watch alone?
I dream of a church not based around a suburb, location or building.
I dream of a church that goes beyond the human-made structures and traditions we’ve built but clings to the traditions God developed for us.
I dream of a church where people gather with others because they want to and they love each other, not because they found themselves in the same pews and pretend to like each other.
I dream of a church where those who belong are diverse, and there are no human-made barriers stopping people from coming right in.
I dream of a church that’s not centred around one Pastor/s, but instead is the priesthood of believers, owning this together.
I dream of a church that just because it’s done differently, doesn’t mean it’s weird, kooky or not done with excellence.
I dream of a church where we help each other move closer to Jesus and know Him better.
I dream of a church where people find freedom from shame, guilt, hopelessness, darkness and lifelessness.
I dream of a church where people bring the gold out in each other and champion the greatness and purpose in every individual.
I dream of a church who individually make a difference in their spheres, and together make a difference in their world.

If you know me, I don’t like to sit still. I’m a dreamer, a visionary, an entrepreneur, an innovator. But I need the body because too often these dreams stay in the dream phase. This time, I don’t want that to be the case. I feel there is too much at stake. Too many people who think they can’t be part of a church, because they don’t belong or have been forced out. Some people are tired of going through the motions of the way we do church but wouldn’t know where to start to bring change. Join me.

If you are stirred by this idea of brainstorming and developing a new way forward for the church. If you want to be part of something revolutionary. If you have been removed from the church or feel like you can’t belong but want to. If you have hope that we can do better – then PLEASE PRIVATE MESSAGE ME and let me know you are interested. I want to gather a group of people to start dreaming together all of the possibilities of how this thing could function and start. Please know this isn’t going to be based on a specific location, so if you are anywhere within Greater Melbourne (the city or the suburbs north, south, east or west), then you can be a part of this think tank. I have asked for private messages and not comments because I want to respect your privacy at this stage. I can only assume based on some conversations that some who are still in the traditional church would be nervous at this stage to say they want to be a part of this publicly.

Now I know some people out there will be annoyed that I’m doing this. They will think I’ve disqualified myself from pulling together a community in this nature. They will see this as something working against them and their attendance figures, somewhat of a threat. But in the words of Elphaba:
“I’m through accepting limits.
‘Cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love, I guess I’ve lost
Well if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost
I’d sooner buy defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye; I’m defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down!” – Elphaba (Wicked)

Let’s Start a Conversation, Not a War

I’ve often wondered why people tell me things. There were times I’d be sitting in my favourite cafe, Stones Throw, perched at the bar behind the coffee machine working at my laptop. Other regulars would also sit there next to me. Some of us would see each other’s faces regularly – but never more than a hello, or a smile of acknowledgment would come from us. Then on occasion, maybe once every fortnight, there’d be someone whose face seemed more desolate than other times I’d seen them, and all I would ask is – “How are you doing?” and this stranger would spill the beans and talk for a good 30minutes to an hour. I wondered, is it my face? Do I come across as approachable? Maybe so, but mostly I think it was that I was willing to listen. I would never really give much advice, but would always simply acknowledge their pain, their season, their circumstance, and let them know – they can find me here most days if they ever needed to chat again. This would not just happen at the cafe but most places and arenas I would be in. In this season of my life, sadly I have noticed, that that sort of listening ear isn’t as much a part of our society as I once thought it was.

We are living in very loud, unforgiving and unrelenting days. Politically, Publicly and Privately, one thing seems to be happening less and less – listening, listening to people who are different from us. We wave flags, chant chants and post slogans, engage in rhetoric, but to what end? Have we lost the art of the conversation? The quality of respect? The love for fellow humanity, no matter how different they seem? Many of us demand that it is our right to be heard and speak up, but is it not merely noise pollution if we are muting the voices of those who disagree with us?

Confession time. There have been moments in these past three months where I have shut down, silenced and even blocked people from having a conversation with me. Frequently their message would consist of something along the lines of; “Just needed to tell you that I love you. But I also need to tell you that I don’t agree with your choices or that you believe homosexuality is not a sin…” (Even as I write this, Grammarly has asked me, “Want to sound more diplomatic? Try: “I respect your point, but I don’t know if I agree.” A computer understands how poorly this language comes across!) This type of message was frequently, but not always, met with a “Thank you for your love. I don’t mind that you don’t agree. That’s what makes our world so diverse. Can I ask you one question? Have you actually studied this topic in any depth or have you just settled for what’s been told to you in your youth group days? If you haven’t looked into it, that’s ok, but I honestly don’t place any weight or concern on your disagreeing with me. If you have, I’d love to catch up and have a conversation and hear what each other have found.” I’ve never heard back from one person after writing something like that, not even the inflatable thumbs up in messenger.

Here’s the thing about good listening to those who hold a different view to you. It’s not one-sided; it’s active, and it’s educated. It’s a conversation. A conversation where you don’t seek to be heard more than you seek to hear. A conversation where you don’t seek to persuade more than you seek to grow. A conversation where you give the topic prior thought and logical thinking and not just rely on hearsay or tradition. A conversation where you share your views in response to rather than forcing your views in reaction to.

Often we are willing to uneducatedly share that post on Facebook, of which I’ve done a thousand times (even recently), or speak about something we don’t really know anything about, simply because the opposing view contradicts something we see as foundational to our value system, way of life or traditions. Because the topic presses buttons of fear, discomfort, or even makes us feel comforted or better about our foundation, we speak up without all the facts. It just adds to the noise, doesn’t help ourselves grow and learn, and doesn’t do anything for the cause we are fighting for anyway.

This is why I wasn’t interested in conversation with people I thought were uneducated fools (don’t throw your pearls to pigs) or blind sheep (who follow people without investigation). It’s a waste of both of our time. I’ve heard their views on why what I’m doing is a sin, because, without study, it’s the basic argument, that even I used to carry and share. And they feel that it’s both their obligation to tell me this “truth in love” and also to persuade me to rethink and hopefully repent, both of which aren’t going to happen without deep thought and healthy conversation, but may never happen. I have, however, jumped at the invites from people who have approached me with – “Aaron, I’d love to meet and hear about your journey this past little while.” Even when I’ve known, or at least assumed, that they don’t agree with anything that has happened. This sort of message shows an openness to dialogue that can be respectful and see the two of us grow. Not just have me feel like the wicked little sinner who needs to change his ways and learn from the holy and upright hypocrite.

I know that the above example is my personal experience, and may sound harsh, but I believe that it translates to most topics for most issues where individuals disagree. We either go in uneducated, because our foundations feel threatened, so we speak up, only to be met with someone who has given the topic a substantial amount of thought and we know little to nothing. Or, we go in with an attitude of wanting a win, only to be met by someone else who also wants to win.

Going into win is a dangerous pursuit. Sadly it’s what we see all around the world and is taking us to the brink of disaster. As society becomes increasingly polarised and each side of any of the current loud issues (race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, abortion, euthanasia etc.) only want to win, we become more polarised from each other, and neither side truly knows or understands the other side as individuals or people of value at all. This sort of behaviour turns us into animals, beasts who care little about the person opposite us, and more about making a meal of them and their opinions.

Rather than going into win, a great alternative is going in to ask “why?” You could be shocked as you encounter real people behind the argument. People who have painful reasons as to “why” they hold their view. People who have legitimate and logical reasons to be standing where they are. People who have done their homework and have just as much evidence to be standing on that side of the fence as you do standing on yours. People who value different things to you, none of them wrong, that you would come to see if instead of seeking a win you sought the why. Humanity would be far better off right now if we went in with the question “Why?” and were actually willing to listen and hear out the answer, searching for the person behind the propaganda.

It takes a courageous and humble person to do the latter. It takes a genuinely good human being to listen with the intent to see the person rather than argue. Especially when we think that we don’t want to hear their point of view, or that we know they will come with a “want to win” mindset. Know this; if you went in with the right heart, you might be the person who breaks down the walls and defences in the other person and help them to want to hear you in return.

Let’s start a conversation, not a war.

From Nowhere to Now Here

Have you ever caught up with someone who you haven’t seen in years, and it seems like there hasn’t been any time or distance between when you were last together and that moment? Like it just picked up where it left off? Yesterday was a day of this for me. I had a video call with an old American friend, had coffee with some others I’d seen more recently, then dinner with two people I hadn’t significantly engaged with in over 15 years. The day was great, and just what this extrovert needed, but dinner truly refreshed me.

Over wine, and of course spiced rum for me, we laughed, shed small tears, had goosebumps, remembered the old days, talked of the present and encouraged each other of the future. It was indeed what church should be. One of the friends shared with me something which gave me hope and shone a light into my world right now.

Often, especially as a visionary leader, you spend most of your time dreaming and looking forward. You continually know precisely where you are and where you want to be. You always have an answer to every question that arises because you’re the sort of person who needs to know. You’re confident of the here and now and the direction you want to take. But in life, unexpected things happen where that vision vanishes in you. Like a sucker-punch to the gut, you’re winded; you can’t catch your breath, and you don’t know where you are. It’s like you are lost in a dark, unfamiliar forest, where every tree looks the same, and you can’t see an end in sight, to a visionary that’s a daunting and unpleasant place to be.
As we were sharing, one of my friends shared this poem with me, which was the light I needed. Lost, by David Wagoner:

“Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.”
— David Wagoner (1999)

Too often, we spend so much time trying to find ourselves when we feel lost. We do this working ourselves up into a state of feeling more lost than before. We feel like we are in the middle of nowhere and that our life is heading nowhere. But sometimes all we need to do is stop, breathe, close our eyes, be ok not knowing the plans for the future, rest and realise that we are not nowhere, we just read it wrong, we are now here. And here is crucial.

Here is a place of purpose too. We are not now here by accident. The darkness of the moonlit trees which seem all too unfamiliar is a place of cover and protection from the external forces of nature. Here isn’t a dark hidden forest; Here is a wonderland of rest. Here is a place where once you give up searching for the way out, you can truly find the rest you need and catch your breath.

I’ve never been one to enjoy stopping and smelling the roses. Being still hasn’t ever been something my ADD self could do easily. But sometimes it’s forced upon you. All of my stuff recently really couldn’t have happened at a better time. When it all started, I was so anxious about seeing people who would be uncomfortable around me or disappointed in my discovery of truth, that I had severe panic attacks. I didn’t know who I still had by my side, who was merely being kind, and who now didn’t want me around. I was nervous about the questions I would, and have received when bumping into someone while walking through the supermarket. I was scared of the judgemental stares with no words and not even a smile to tell me I was overthinking. But quarantine and isolation came, and at first, it was a hated beast. I felt so alone and isolated. I felt stuck. I felt lost in the darkness of this new forest that seemed to grow darker and was, at times, all-consuming. But as I look back, I see it was a time to “Be Still, and know that I am God.” I didn’t have to worry about people, their thoughts, their reactions, their questions – they aren’t God. I didn’t have to have a plan. I don’t have to have all the answers. I have to be still and realise I’m right where I need to be, now here, not nowhere. And instead of working my way out of the forest, or trying to find myself, I’m going to let this place, now here, find me.

If you feel lost, unsure, overwhelmed by what’s going on around you, and you can’t see a way forward. I encourage you, stop. Breathe. Be Still. Look around you. The trees aren’t scary. The future isn’t dark; it’s just unknown. Don’t panic or try to find yourself; rest in the now here – you will be found. “So let the sun come streaming in, cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around. You will be found” because you’re Now Here. (You Will Be Found, Dear Evan Hansen)

Starting Over When All Seems Lost

For 14 years I’ve done one thing, church ministry. That is almost half of my life dedicated to something that truly gave me energy, joy and purpose. In a matter of weeks, I watched as that was taken from my hand’s piece by piece. Not only did I lose that, but I lost a large part of my community, family life and possessions. 3 months on and there is still an incredible heartache and grief over the loss. As I sit here in a quiet and dark room, alone, I feel the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes as I grieve what has been lost. It can be incredibly hard to see what you still have, and the meaning or purpose of your life when you experience a loss like this. But staying in this place was and is never going to be an option. I would die here if that were the case. No! Picking myself up and dusting myself off is the way forward.

Ahead, on the horizon, there is the light of hope. It’s not always easy to make out, but if I choose to, I can see it. The daunting and painful task now is venturing through this dark and rocky terrain that is directly before me and moving forward from the dark and rocky terrain that is behind me. Ahead is a journey of learning to love and believe in myself again, navigating decisions of what to do with my life, allowing myself to properly love (because man wasn’t created to be alone – and I ain’t getting any younger), and keeping my mind in a healthy place. Each of these are my next steps in starting over.

When the dream of Fresh Church began in my heart over 6 years ago, the mandate that kept coming up was “Everyone needs a Fresh Start”. I still believe that is true. I just never thought I’d be the one needing a Fresh Start like this. It’s still my heart’s cry though. I still believe this is my mission, both notes personally, but also to help others get to. But starting over means that while many meaningful tasks, people, events, moments and more are lost, there a new things to be found, new purpose to discover, new relationships to be formed, new memories to be made.

Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14 “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Pressing on doesn’t sound easy. It’s not light work. Pressing is hard. Pressing is effort. Pressing is sweat-inducing force. But keeping your eyes on the goal you will receive the prize.

The problem is when starting over, we look at the daunting path ahead and it becomes overwhelming. Most of the time the overwhelming part is people related too – either yourself or others. I mean I look at some of the things I know I need to do in this next season and my fears of the dark immediate future are all related to the dark immediate past. First I’ve got to deal with myself, and learn to love me and be proud of me. That’s a hard one and one that causes anxiety and panic attacks still. Second, I’ve got to navigate my future without care or concern about what others think. “What will people say if I start an independent faith community? They’ll think I’m unqualified. I’ll be criticised. Can I handle that?” Who cares!? Fix your eyes on the light ahead not the darkness. “What if I do begin a relationship, will more people leave me? How will that affect some people? Will people judge me?” Keep your eyes on the light ahead not on the immediate darkness. “If I start enjoying myself will people think that’s insensitive to the mess it seems I’ve left behind?” Look to the light, you need to get your mind to a healthy and thriving, joyful place.

So that’s my decision. I’m getting up, fixing my gaze to the light in the distance and walking there. I’ll venture the dark and daunting trials ahead filled with questions and worries and threats and traps and falls. But I’ll make it through.

My encouragement to you if you feel like all seems lost and you are in a season of starting over; you can make it through too! Don’t look back at what was, don’t look at the dark and rocky terrain ahead that you are going to have to press through. Look to the light off in the distance, make a list of the things you are scared to face but that you know you need to, and start walking. Let the knowledge that a new and brighter day is coming be the thing that gives you the energy to press on and start over when all seems lost.

Let’s Be Real

Recently I’ve been receiving messages from people thanking me for my vulnerability and honesty which most say, “I know it mustn’t be easy sharing so publicly”. To be honest, I haven’t found it hard at all, and neither should you. I’ve always been the guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, sometimes too much so. The guy who was willing to say he didn’t understand even if it made him look stupid. The guy who was happy to own up to his weaknesses, of which there are many. The guy who refused to write that he thought tongues WAS INITIAL evidence of Baptism of the Holy Spirit on his pastoral credentials application just to receive a title. The adult Aaron (post 24y/o after my frontal lobe had set in), has never known different. Just be me. Just be real. Apart from one huge side of me that I forced to the back and never did anything about, everything else was, ‘what you see is what you get’.

What surprises me, and probably shouldn’t, is that this isn’t default setting for most, especially within the church. Sadly there is a felt need to hide away or put up a front in order to impress or seem like we have life together in order to stay within the “flock”. If the church found out that you still watched porn, or they found out you spoke to your spouse with resentment behind closed doors, or that you weren’t tithing because you can’t afford the bills this month, or that you were sleeping with your boyfriend while still wearing that purity ring, or that you drank a little bit too much last Saturday night – the fear would be that you would be immediately stepped down as youth leader or keyboard player or the backup singer who doesn’t even have their mic switched on (you’re just there to fill out the stage). Or maybe you fear that people would look at you differently, or that you would be hung out with less. Up until recently I would have said: “that’s not true, the church is bigger than that, we love people.” Now I’d probably say, “some people within the church are bigger than that, and you’re fears are very valid”. Maybe I and a few others were an anomaly.

Shame is a huge problem within the church. One that is causing people to hide behind pretty facades and not be real with each other within the church. I saw it all the time. People who would have coffee with me and tell me that everything in their life was so much better than it really was, just because they wanted a position or title or even just my approval. All I really wanted was their honesty, I didn’t care how messed up things were. I mean I knew anyway, their mum, dad, sister, brother, boyfriend, girlfriend, would tell me out of concern before if even met them.

We are scared to be vulnerable. We are scared to confess the reality of our broken lives.

The problem with confession in the Protestant church is, we’ve lost it. We felt the Catholic church took it too far one way, with penance and the little confessional booth, so we swang the pendulum in the complete other direction and have lost the art of true brotherly and sisterly Christian confession and vulnerability. Instead, we’ve built shiny, plastic churches filled with plastic people. We come in smiling after having just fought with our spouse and children in the car, we are met by strategically placed happy people, who lead us to the cafe where good churches will give you real coffee for free, then we rush to the same seat we sit in every week, clap our hands, sing our songs about our “Zeal” for God when we forget about Him when we drive off the property. We listen and laugh at the preacher but give up halfway through and scroll social media, go back to the foyer have some surface-level conversations, then get back in the car where we peel off the plastic again, undo the button of our pants, breathe out and become the real us.

I know this is a generalisation, and some may get offended. You’re either offended for one of two reasons, I’ve just called you and your church out, or secondly, you didn’t realise this was a thing and you can’t believe this is happening. You’re saying, “that doesn’t happen in my church”. But no one’s going to tell you if it is anyway, they’re too scared to. But honestly, there are some who are genuine and vulnerable, and there are also some who won’t turn their back on you when you are.

But we need to get better at this. If we are ever going to rid the church and our world of this shame problem, we’ve got to do better. Better at confessing and better and hearing the confessions of others and rather than judging saying “me too!” Because we are all fallen short of God’s glory in some way or another.

Anyway, here’s my invitation to join me in vulnerability. It’s a truly Christian way of life that should never have been lost. It’s the most liberating thing you will experience. The Bible says “confess your sins to one another and you will be saved.” I’ve never been a fan of the way youth pastors have interpreted that verse. Because it’s not just saying to air all your dirty laundry to everyone. There are some things you need to be wise who you offload and share things with. Some things just shouldn’t be shared to protect others. But other things don’t matter so much, and vulnerability publicly is so freeing.

So I would love to invite you to join me in the comments in getting something off your chest and see the freedom that comes. Maybe even write how you are working on changing this if you feel it is a problem that needs changing. See how you will be saved. Maybe even share something stupid that you’ve always been too embarrassed to share as a fun experiment to find how liberating this actually is.

Oh and if you get asked to step off a church team, or people push you away, treat you differently or stop talking to you, you don’t need them in your life anyway. In fact, come join me in starting a community where that won’t happen. Where the forgiveness, love, mercy and grace of Jesus reign supreme and where we see the gold in each other and push people toward Christ rather than forcing them away from pursuing Him and being all that they were created to be.

I’ll kick us off:

– in the past three months, I’ve struggled more with unforgiveness than ever before. I kind of like the feeling and there are some people I don’t want to forgive.
– I carry resentment toward people I gave so much time, energy, love, help to (for a wage that struggled to support my family, so it was definitely for love and not money) who have just gone silent.
– in the past three months, there have been nights where I’ve been very lonely and very sad and drinking my misery away was sadly the option I chose.
– this week I have enjoyed laughing at the misfortune of someone who caused me pain recently. I immediately regretted it, and am saddened I went there.
– I have allowed the pain to control my decisions far too much recently but am working on changing my mindset with my psychologist.

You Do You

I saw a meme which got me this week. It said “If 2020 were a slide…” and the image was a metal slide with a young boy coming down, but someone had photoshopped a cheese grater onto the flat part of the slide at the bottom. I started to think about how this year has felt like hell on earth to so many people, myself included. Yet, we don’t make it easy on ourselves, do we?

Today a friend and I were chatting around how when things are already hard, often we make them harder. We both started to rattle off areas in which, even though we’ve been socially distancing, we’ve been comparing ourselves to others. Go figure, in a season where you don’t have to see anyone, we still somehow compare our lives with the lives of others. We compare ourselves with; that person who lost all that weight during the lockdown, or that mum whose baby sleeps the whole night through, or the sister who got engaged while you haven’t been on a date, or the guy who found a new job while you’ve been hunting for years. We get caught up in the things that others seem to have done easier than us when we have no idea of their journey. We also don’t consider that we are comparing ourselves to people who are very different, and their scenarios aren’t a carbon copy of ours.

We don’t just compare ourselves with others. No, we also place expectations on other people unfairly by comparing them to others as well. ‘Why isn’t my son getting the grades that boy is?’ ‘Why isn’t my husband spending more time with the kids like that dad does?’ ‘Last years hosts were more formal, why does this year’s host speak like that?’ ‘Most women her shape would wear an outfit different to that.’ I could go on for days! We need to come to a greater acceptance of ourselves and others, and stop falling into the comparison trap. The comparison trap is a horrible virus that infects so many of us. It’s like the cheese grater slide, you don’t notice it’s potential harm until you’re halfway down, and then there’s no stopping it.

The Bible is full of examples, in Genesis, the snake compared humanity with God, and they bought into the lie. They started to think they should be just like God. That was never theirs or our destiny, yet comparison took them there, and all hell broke loose – literally. Imagine not just comparing yourself with your neighbour or colleague, but with the God of creation! In the New Testament, Paul falls victim to other’s expectations when they force comparison on him in 2 Corinthians 10:10. “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Here they are comparing Paul with Apollos. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a book written by Apollos in the Bible. He may have been a great public speaker, but Paul had different gifts, and that’s ok. Just like it’s ok that Apollos didn’t write a book of the Bible. It seems they expected Paul to be perfect at everything?

Jesus didn’t compare himself to others or compare others. He didn’t even meet the expectations or take notice of comparison when the people of His time expected a Saviour of a different kind. They just wouldn’t accept Him. He was a carpenter’s son. He had dinner with “unclean sinners”. He performed miracles on the Sabbath. He had friends who weren’t in the “cool group”. These friends denied knowing Him and betrayed Him. He died a sinners death on the cross. He rose from the grave. But the people wanted a different type of Saviour. If I were Jesus, I would have had an identity crisis and questioned my purpose. But He knew what He was purposed for, and followed that purpose every single day. He also empowered people to be the people He had created them to be, without expecting them to be like any other. The only people he ever rebuked were the religious leaders of the day who placed massive expectations on their people.

These last two weeks have been hard for me. I’ve watched on as the church I dreamed of and planted is potentially going to appoint a fantastic individual into my previous role of Senior Pastor. Immediately I did the stalking thing; I listened to his sermons, I read his posts and allowed the comparison trap to swallow me completely; I began to feel sorry for myself, I threw myself a pity party, I cried, I tried to talk negatively about the process. Then I reached the stage where I needed to snap out of it. I thought to myself, “Aaron, you’re ridiculous. You want this. You want this church to thrive. You want them to find someone great. You want them to flourish, and in turn, you want to flourish. So stop comparing. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop wallowing. And start moving forward without care of the expectations of others, especially not Christians. Just focus on your purpose, focus on who God created you to be. Focus on God, His love and run toward Him. Don’t live for the praise of man. Don’t try to impress people. Don’t try and do. Just try and be. Try and be you.”

So, that’s my encouragement to you if you are struggling with comparison in your journey right now.

Don’t try and do. Try and be. Try and be you!

Have you seen any good quarantine or COVID-19 meme’s? Put them in the comments below.

Saying Nothing is Actually Saying Everything

Humanity suffers when people have to self defend. When the ones who are downtrodden and left to be second class citizens are forgotten. When there are people whose voice isn’t heard no matter how loud they try to be on their own. Humanity thrives when we empower each other when we champion each other and see the light and goodness in everyone. When we speak up for injustice, speak out against hate and speak love to all we expose darkness and shine light. We raise our voice so the voice of the mute can be amplified.

There are people groups all over the world, who if you and I, in our privilege (we are all privileged in some way) really considered the way they were treated because of who they are, there is no way we would want to be in their shoes. But the real question is, knowing that, will we let them keep being treated that way.

I watched a lecture given by Jane Elliot where she opened with:
“I want every white person in this room, who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our citizens, our black citizens. If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society – please stand! – You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society – stand! – Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.*

Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” And Proverbs 31:8 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.” These are two verses among many others which offer us a timeless principle that we need now more than ever. It’s time to not stay silent, and open our mouths for the rights of all people. Staying silent only shouts negatively of your character. Because saying nothing is actually saying everything.

The Deafening Sound of Silence

Have you ever heard the phrase “the silence was deafening”? Silence is silence. Unlike noise, which can be different tones, pitches, volumes, one silence cannot in nature be different from other silence. But this term describes a state we often find ourselves mentally, emotionally or spiritually. The thing I’ve found about the deafening silence is that it is based on a sudden change from noise that is blearing one second to an immediate change to nothing. We haven’t had time to adapt. There hasn’t been a gradual turning down the dial from full volume to nothing, instead where there was an lengthy period of intense noise all of a sudden sound was muted and we haven’t had the time to adapt. So, the sound of silence all of a sudden is deafening.

Three months ago my phone just wouldn’t stop. No matter the day of the week calls, texts, tags on social media, and emails came in at every moment of the day. This was my normal level of noise for as long as I can remember. There were times I would say – I just wish it would stop – I want to live in the moment with the person across from me in the café, I want to spend time with my family without the distraction of noise.

That wish came true.

There have been moments the past three months where I have enjoyed this new silence. My times with my kids are now uninterrupted by church or people’s pressing needs (or seemingly pressing – you’d be surprised how much in your life can actually just wait :P). But there are moments where the silence now is excruciatingly painful. Silence from people who I once called friend. Silence from purpose. Silence from joy. Silence from hope. Silence while I’m lying alone in bed. Silence while I’m doing a nightshift alone, darkness all around and no one nearby to talk to. Silence. Painful, Deafening Silence.

This silence has caused me to go deaf in some way – deaf to the noise that is present. Because while I say there has been silence, there have been a faithful few who are constant. A faithful few people (some I never expected) who have consistently called out to see how I’m going. But like so often in other areas, the negatives, the darkness, the mess can seem so much more apparent and real than that which is good and present.

This morning I was reminded while reading in Mark that Jesus works best with deaf ears. Mark 7:37 – “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear…” I’m choosing to silence the deafening silence, and embrace the noise that’s present. I’m choosing to allow Jesus to cause me to hear who and what He wants me to hear in His love.

To those who have reached out who I haven’t replied to, thank you. It has meant a lot. To those who haven’t because you are waiting for me to or because you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything that you wouldn’t have said in the past. I’m still the same guy. Our conversations can be the same as they were before. I’m happy to live with tension of disagreement in my relationships – if that’s what you are concerned about. But out of respect and a desire not to make people uncomfortable I won’t initiate a conversation.

If you are experiencing deafening silence from people, work, God, in Covid-19, know you aren’t alone and if you need to hear words of encouragement, compassion and love of Jesus – I am more than happy for you to reach out to me and let’s catch up to quiet the deafening noise of silence in each other’s lives.

Be The Miracle

Have you ever been frustrated that some people thank God for everything that’s good in the world and blame the devil for everything that’s bad? Have you ever thought that potentially the miracle we’re seeking isn’t the miracle we are needing? Have you ever thought that God in His goodness and power filled humanity with everything we need to bring about good or evil in the world, and that often the good and the bad has nothing to do with either God or the devil but a lot to do with you and me?

One of the most frustrating things I often saw in ministry as a pastor was people’s extreme desires to see the “big” miracles yet have no recognition of the everyday miracles . You know, the blind receiving sight, gold dust falling, miraculous healing, so much emphasis was put on the impossible that the real, everyday miracles of life and life-change were disregarded as normal and not noteworthy. If someone could poetically give you a vision, or interpret the weird pizza dream you had, if someone could tell you that God provided them a carpark at the shopping centre when it was peak hour somehow that was awe inspiring.

But to me those things didn’t speak of Jesus. They were often boastful, power or control seeking things that people who wanted to be seen as “super spiritual” would share to somehow elevate their spirituality in other people’s minds.

Jesus’ miracles were never a gimmick. They weren’t a sideshow to entertain us. They were never about him controlling others. They were never to show how spiritual he was. They should never have been the thing that people’s faith relied upon. They were always simply an act of powerful and merciful love. In fact, Jesus opening that carpark space closest to the door sounds like the least miraculous and Christlike miracle of all. Why would a true Christian even want to pray for something like this? Maybe this is less a miracle to thank God for and more a natural result of transient shoppers leaving the centre after having finished their shopping. Logically carparks will always have people coming and going. The miracle I see Jesus performing in the carpark is changing our hearts to be more like Him. That carpark furthest from the door, that allows others to be closer and others to go before us, that’s the carpark I see Jesus opening up. But funnily enough, never the carpark we seek or the story we hear.

“Parting your soup is not a miracle Bruce. It’s a magic trick. A single mum who’s working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says ‘no’ to drugs and ‘yes’ to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them, but what they don’t realise is they have the power. You want to see a miracle son? Be the miracle.” – God (Bruce Almighty)

Let’s not be people who chase the wrong thing. Everything Jesus did was about love. Loving God and loving others. Remember that Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ You can celebrate your miracles as flashy as they might seem, but if you don’t have love, you are just a sideshow lacking the true power of God.

In my last season of ministry many people who pray diligently gave me and Jacqui some very specific “words from God”. These people had no idea that these words they were giving actually were speaking into the decision we were just about to make. They actually shared God’s love for me and the things He was doing in my heart and life through this difficult season. Those same people when everything came out were the first to say I was “demon possessed” or controlled by a “spirit”. They seemed to forget the miracle they were celebrating a few weeks earlier and the words that God had spoken to them. All because they lost their love, or maybe lost His love.

Choose love. That’s the miracle our world needs.
Be the miracle.

Harmony – The Sound of Unity within the Difference

Where are all my tenors at? If you don’t know how to answer that question. Then welcome to my world. A couple of years ago I got into musical theatre. I remember auditioning and having the musical director tell me that I was “Tenor 1”. Out of fear of looking stupid I didn’t ask “what’s a tenor one?” at that moment. I waited until I was outside and googled it instead. I found out that a “Tenor” is the highest of the ordinary adult male range vocal parts. In the first rehearsal, it was very important that I knew this information. As we began the Music Director said, “Tenors I want you sitting here, Baritones here, Basses here, Altos here, Sopranos here”. Each person had a specific place within the wider group and each group had a part they learned which was different from the other. The result was something beautiful. Oftentimes listening to one part on its own, especially when that part wasn’t singing the melody line, would sound wrong, ugly, harsh or boring. But when all parts sang together the harmony was truly something special. When we put together all the parts and sang through our first song, the room was filled in a way that our lone tenor group could never have achieved on our own.

Harmony doesn’t work alone. It is the combination of different elements which present a whole and complete structure. It’s when the differences come together and make a glorious sound. Harmony is the sound of unity within difference. It’s the result of something that is only possible when people who are different from one another unite together. When this happens it’s always breathtaking.

So often the church sells a lie about unity. One of the most misquoted verses, in the Pentecostal world especially, is found in Psalm 133. The paraphrased quote that is often used by leaders is, “Where there is unity, God commands a blessing.” It’s this beautiful fridge magnet worthy quote. The sort of thing a leader says to inspire teams to work together. It is often quoted in order to have people within the team all have “one thinking” on a topic. This topic is generally the vision or words of a single “God appointed man and woman” who everyone should agree with on every topic for the church to be blessed and grow. Now, there is nothing wrong with this concept, in fact, it’s true, it’s a great leadership technique. But it’s not so spiritual as it is natural.

Unity, a common goal or target, can bring success for the good. But it can also bring success for what is evil. There are several times throughout history where I just don’t think God blessed humanity’s unity, but it still saw degrees of success which could be interpreted as a blessing by some. Take the Nazi regime under Hitler. Their catchcry was “A United Germany”. The newspaper headline on Aug 4, 1934, read: “Today Hitler is all of Germany”. The Nazi regime saw great success for quite some time in their evil efforts because they were great at unity. Another moment in history is found in the Bible. The story is known as the “Tower of Babel”. A story of a united people who wanted to show their power off to the rest of the known world. These people wanted to build a tower that would reach the heavens and make them “like God”. Their oneness, their unity, saw them succeeding greatly. That is until God destroys their tower and divides the people by confusing their language because united, they could achieve much with an evil and corrupt agenda.

God didn’t bless those things, and I dare say it, I don’t think he blesses every united attempt made by humanity, or by the church. The inspirational quote, “Where there is unity God commands a blessing”, is true, but we must understand it in its greater context. Because it’s safe to say that all unity can build something significant and do so with momentum, whether it be good or evil. The strength and the blessing aren’t found in all being the same. It’s not in having the same thinking, the same abilities, the same look, the same everything. No. The melody alone is beautiful. But the strength, the blessing is found in the harmony. It’s the unity within the difference, not the unity around the similar, which is strongest.

Psalm 133 starts with “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Our first glimpse into this overly misrepresented bible passage is about the unity within difference. It’s good when DIFFERENT people, brothers, can dwell or live together in unity. If you have siblings you know, we’re different. I have two sisters and the three of us couldn’t be more different if we wanted to be. But we come together so beautifully under the “Kelly” name. Well, now that we are adults that is. There were times growing up where we just wanted to kill each other. But the writer of the Psalm doesn’t say that it is people who are all the same, who think the same, who talk the same, who look the same, who live the same who God blesses. No, it starts with the difference.

In verse 2, it goes on to say, “It is (when different people unite) like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” This is where many would give up on critically analysing the leadership quote because what does this even mean? Well, it still focuses on the different people being together. Aaron was the High Priest. When he entered the temple, he would wear a robe. On the collar of that robe were 12 different stones which symbolised 12 brothers or 12 tribes. Different people groups who formed the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament, oil is used to anoint people as chosen by God, to mark them as clean. Aaron in this passage symbolises Jesus. The 12 stones on the collar symbolise people coming together under Jesus. The Oil symbolises Jesus choosing them as His own. The church has become a box-ticking enterprise. If you tick the right boxes, you can be in. If you look, feel, smell, walk and talk like us then you’re welcome – if you fit within the box. But Jesus says if you’re centred around Him, and you are moving towards Him, you have put your faith in Him and believe He is Lord, then you are chosen. Then you belong. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to have all the correct theology, because none of us ever will. It’s all about Jesus. Just Jesus.

So, God is saying what He throws His blessing at, what He truly loves, is when diverse, unique, different people can live together beautifully. It’s like the oil running down the beard and onto the collar. That’s what Jesus chooses to bless. We can have differences in so many areas of belief within the church and should be able to live together, with Jesus – Love, Light and Life – being the central focus. This thought alone should empower people. Peter in his letter writes of stones too. He says in 1 Peter 2:5, “you are like living stones, being built up as a spiritual house…” This whole unity found in the difference is all about building each other up. Too often if you’re different, it means you can’t fit, it means you are out. But Jesus takes all the different stones and builds them up. He embraces the diverse and sees strength in the difference. He loved the WHOLE WORLD so much that He came. He gives each person a part to play in his story. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, what baggage you bring to the table, what sexuality you are, what clothes you wear, what’s in your bank account, what mental health issues you suffer from, what gender you are. Everybody fits and should be welcome.

Unity is enhanced when different and diverse people all have a part, and all know their part. If people are excluded from playing a part because they are different, then true unity cannot be achieved. In an orchestra, each instrument is quite different, but each instrument knows their part and makes a sound that is beautiful. In the army, each soldier can carry a different title or function, but if they know their role and can play their part they work effectively. In our bodies, each part is very different, but each is vital for health and functioning in day to day life. Unity empowers the difference in individuals to see humanity be built up and filled with life.

The Psalm finishes with, “It’s like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded a blessing, life forevermore.” This picture is beautiful. The dew from one mountain provided a much-needed life-giving source to another. These mountains were different. They were far from each other. But Mount Zion needed the waters from Mount Hermon. The unity that God loves and desires are about different people who are far from each other on thinking, practice, knowledge, skills, values, coming together and giving life to each other. It’s always about building each other up. Encouraging each other. Where self-motivation falls to the wayside for the interests and concerns of all people to rise. Where everyone is welcome, everyone belongs, and everyone has a part to play. That’s what God blesses, and He blesses it with life, life forevermore.