Friday, 7 December 2012



Geoff, Kim and I recently walked the Overland Track (from Dove Lake to Lake Saint Claire). On a walk like that you soon (re-)discover where your strengths and abilities lie. As I trudged along as Kim bounded along, I was glad to take any available opportunity for a break. Kimhowever was keen to not only do the Overland Track (again) but to take as many of the sidetracks as possible. This included climbing some of Tasmania's highest peaks. Geoff was invited to join in the mountaineering side-trips and declined each time. Out of sheer pastoral concern and sympathy for Geoff I agreed not to abandon him as Kim set off each time to clamber. As I observed Geoff resting with his baggage through the slits of my eyes, it reminded me of King David's early military career and just how relevant it is for today's church.

Before King David was King David, he was a type of mercenary army commander. But his "army" was a motley crew.
And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.  
First Samuel 22:2
Distressed, debted, discontented. Not exactly an army commander's first choice for his platoon! But this was what David had to work with. And it soon became obvious that despite their willingness to be in his army, not all of them were cut-out to be front-line soldiers.

On our 80km, 5 day hike, I witnessed many people thoroughly enjoying the experience. They seemed to soak in every sight, every sound, every smell. What ever inconvenienced them faded dimly into the background as they revelled in the joy of traipsing over rocks, up steep hills, through streams, down gullies, and across moors. Unlike me, these people were made for walking and walking and walking. In a church there a parallels to this. What is for some people with the gift of helps can be an utter delight, can be for those with the gift of giving a dreary drudge. What is an enriching experience for those with the gift of preaching can be a traumatic nightmare for those with the gift of mercy. 
David and his commandos had returned to their village to discover that the Amalekites had raided it.
¶ Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way.
First Samuel 30:1-2
Church Growth IdeasThe Bible tells us that David and his men wept till they had no more strength to weep. They were all overcome by exhaustion. Disappointment can have that physical affect on a soul. Disappointment plus exhaustion is a horrible chemical mix for a team. Soon, all the people were talking of stoning David! This was obviously not rational. They were blaming David for their setback! In their great distress (remember, these were already "distressed" and broken men when they joined with David) they now saw David (not the Amalekites!!!) as the source of their predicament. How would you have responded to a a situation like this?
And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.First Samuel 30:6
David sought strength from God. He was renewed mentally (he could now think clearly and wisely). He was renewed spiritually (his soul was now unsettled in the presence of the Almighty One). He was renewed physically (our bodies can be energized by non-physical means).
And David inquired of the LORD, "Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?" He answered him, "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue."
First Samuel 30:8
As I sat, somewhat exhausted, at the foot of Mount Pelion East, I was reflecting on David's daring course of action from this point, and the new set of problems it caused. It seems that every time in church-life we take a positive course of action that it is potentially creating an unforeseen problem for some others. For example, just before I left for my hike I was asked about how we are going to roster our Christmas Day Service. Afterall, who wants to be doing "extra-curricula" activity on such a holiday? By rostering some of our team on for Christmas Day we are running the risk of using already tired and perhaps distracted people becoming even more tired and distracted. And then there's Easter in around 120 days or so from now. We face similar problems as a leadership. Like David, the window of time to act is very small. Like David, most of our teams are already made of somewhat exhausted people. Like David, we hear God say "Pursue ... overtake... hurry" Like David found, not everyone on the team can contribute equally. 
The main delight I experience in doing a long bushwalk is knowing that Kim has thoroughly enjoyed herself. I carry in 20+ kg backpack, some of the food needed for the trek, the cooking implements, and a few other incidentals. By doing this, I am contributing in a small way to making it possible for Kim to do such walks. Not that it's entirely needed on these sort of tracks, but I also provide protection for our baggage when she sets off up short mountain side-track trails. But in King David's case, those who were carrying and guarding the baggage were fulfilling a vital role of preserving the whole army's assets.
So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed. But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.First Samuel 30:9-10
Swimming off the jetty at Narcissus Hut, Overland TrackAll of David's 600 men were exhausted but 200 of them were too exhausted to continue so they stopped pursuing and remained with the baggage. Sometime life gets like that doesn't it. We are at times exhausted or even too exhausted yet the need to pursueurgently certain tasks is ever present. On our recent bushwalk there were more times than my manly pride will allow me to admit that I wanted to take a rest rather than keep up with superKim. In those moments of aching weariness I had to keep focussed on keeping going - pursuing. 
David strengthened himself in God and was able to rise to the challenge of not pursuing but finishing the task. When he eventually caught up with the Amalakite raiders his mission was only half complete. Please forgive me but sometimes I only complete things within our church by halves. I preach a message and sometime err by thinking my mission is done as I fail to complete the mission through challenging, confronting, or inviting people to respond. Or even worse, I preach but then fail to pray that the preaching might linger and be effective in producing the kind of change God calls for. David caught up with the Amalakites. But he still didn't have his goods or his family back! We can build a nice building, prepare a great worship or outreach service, present wonderful music and messages, but allow our exhaustion to keep us from completing the task: summoning lost sinners to be reconciled to their God. 
Overland Track, TasmaniaAmalakite raids don't happen often. But when they do they are nearly always most inconvenient. The times when God calls us to especially step up and pursue a mission are often the times when we are most exhausted, distressed, disillussioned, disappointed or indebted. Such was the case when William Carey embarked on his great mission to India and when Hudson Taylor embarked on his mission to China and William Wilberforce embarked on his mission to reform England, and when Christ went to the Cross. Each Christmas and Easter, it is the case with many of us. But thank God that Carey went to India and laid a foundation for over 300,000,000 people to come to Christ. Thank God that Hudson Taylor went to China were he laid a foundation that today sees over 10,000 Chinese a week come to Christ. And thank God that Wilberforce went so that millions of souls have now had the freedom to come to Christ.
David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all.  David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, "This is David's spoil."
First Samuel 30:18-20
Now that I have completed another 5 day walk, I run the ever-present risk of bragging about my achievements and making those who have not done it feel inferior, or worse still, those who have attempted it - but not completed it - feel like failures. The reality is though, that I barelycompleted and most of the time I was struggling and glad of the opportunity to look after the baggage. In what might seem a surprising twist in the David story, those who did not go on with him to slay the Amalakites and recover what was their's, were not seen as slackers and in fact, some of those who actually did go with him and actually did fight were called wicked because of their attitude toward others less capable. These seemingly victorious yet apparently "wicked and worthless" warrirors felt that those who remained behind with the baggage did not contribute to their victory and should therefore not share in the spoils of victory.
Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, "Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart."
First Samuel 30:22
It's too easy in church-life to feel that those who aren't on the front-line of serving arenot contributing to the overall war-effort and desired victory. But this is dead wrong. At Legana we desperately need more baggage minders. Minding baggage can look like tweaking the sound, opening the door, distributing the communion, serving a cup of tea, washing up, weeding, sweeping, counting the offering, preparing a roster, and most especially praying. We need more people to celebrate the wonderful joy that God has given them to preserve our God-given resources (our "baggage") through serving others in what is non-front-line ways. And for the rest of us who can put on our boots and keep pursuing (though we are exhausted at the time), let us not think that our privileged roles are anymore important than those mind our baggage.
Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike." And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.First Samuel 30:24-25
David wasn't inventing a new principle. God had inscribed this principle in the Law (Numbers 31:27). It shows that God can call someone into "ministry" and yet that ministry may not involve the typical front-line activities of standing before a conregation and speaking or even directing them. The apostle Paul had something to say about this also. In Romans 12 he lists how God has comprised the church with people bearing different gifts, talents, ministries, and abilities. Some, he may as well have said, will be called by God mind the baggage while the rest race off to pursue a very small window of opportunity to redeem that which is rightfully God's. 
Yesterday as I was at the airport on my way to film some interviews for the F.W. Boreham documentary, the Melbourne Football Club was in the Virgin Airlines' Lounge. What was interesting was not just that the team comprised of the players - but that the team also included non-playing team members. They had massuers, statisticians, first-aiders, admin staff, a really fat guy, and a few others. Interestingly, they all wore exactly the same team uniform. Even Football Teams understand that there's more to a victory than just what happens on a football field. It's a healthy church that can apply this same principle. If you feel like you've been left out or left behind in the mission of our church, don't just sit with the baggage - mind the baggage by praying fervently, serving diligently, and giving generously so that our victory can be made possible.

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