This may well be the last article that I write for a while. There are several reasons for that. One of those reasons should be clear by the time you finish reading this. Another is that theorising, whilst an important part of any process, is just that. I could spend the rest of my life postulating about what God wants from His church. However, I think He has been clear what He wants from us already. I can feel the wind of change blowing through me at the moment – all that I have learned in my life feels like it needs putting into practice. Only this time, it will be God’s way, not Phil’s way.
Before I explain myself any further and give the punch line away, a question. I am not the first to pose this question. I certainly won’t be the last either. But, I ask you now because I have asked myself, and asked others and, until very recently, the answers were only theoretical. Readers of this blog will know that I like to deal will the practical issues. The theory is only ever the plan. The plan can only be realised when you put it into practice. Here’s the question:
Imagine that you are one of the 120 there in the Upper Room on the eve of Pentecost. Imagine that you, somehow, just know inside of you that God wants you to spread His message – to tell people about the deliverance that He has granted to everyone through only believing in His son, Y’shua. Imagine, if you can, that you have no knowledge whatsoever of any kind of organisation or collection of people or building, which we call ‘church‘. Can you do that? If you can’t, ask the Holy Spirit to help you. If you can, then imagine knowing that Y’shua had commissioned you to be witnesses to Him to all men; first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Samaria and then to the ends of the earth, making disciples as you go. All you had at your disposal for this mammoth commission was your knowledge of Scripture (at this point, that is Genesis through Malachi), just your knowledge mind – the scrolls were kept by the scribes and the priests; and the lessons that your master Y’shua had taught you in the previous three years before His ascension – the practical day to day stuff; and the knowledge that He had left behind His Holy Spirit to guide and counsel you. And that’s it. Nothing tangible. No Bible; no smart phone app; no iPad; no books; no theology; no doctrines; no idea. (And, here’s the question) What would you build?
Before we explore the possible answers to that question (and even the question itself), let me tell you a story. I say story, I mean a true story. The word story suggests that it is made up. This isn’t made up. I only tell you because I want you to understand how God has taught me over the years, even when I haven’t been attending church regularly (Yes, I know you’ve been taught that He doesn’t teach those outside the church – but that’s a blatant lie. He does. He is trying to teach all of us, all of the time).
In the late 1990s, before I began fixing computers and installing servers and networks for a living, I worked in the print industry. To be exact, I worked in pharmaceutical printing. That is to say, that I worked for a company who printed the cardboard boxes for the manufacturers of drugs. This particular company I worked for at the time printed boxes for many household names that will be familiar to you. But, from its £20,000,000 per year turnover, around £11,000,000 came from a single customer, Boots PLC. One big egg in a medium sized basket. The Boots account was mine. I was the Account Manager who took their orders, listened to their whining, was bullied by their buyers, and was always available to them, even if I was on holiday in France. They were much too big of a deal to ever upset.
Now Boots used to have their own printing division, which they sold. The company they sold that business to were our main competitors, although they had a much bigger share of the Boots overall print spend than we. Of course, for those who know how big business works, our competitors worked on the model known as buying the competition – there is no point in trying to put your competitors out of business; the best thing to do was to buy them. If you carry on with this methodology, you eventually own the entire global business market. Now, our competitors subscribed to this goal of global domination. So they bought us, lock, stock, and barrel, as they say. For a while, nothing changed. In fact, the only noticeable change was that the reference on your bank statement for where you wages came from was different. That was it.
The factory in which I worked was a state of the art affair. Because of the nature of the matter which was printed, it had to be. Once the board was loaded into the back of the printing presses, it never touched the ground again. Everything was automated. And clean too. We were able to print in six colour hexichrome which, unlike conventional offset-litho printing that was limited to four colours plus a ‘special’, hexichrome was able to print any colour or tint with any loss of down time. Conventional printing mean that hours were lost between jobs for ‘clean down’ and ‘set up’. But, despite all this advantageous technology on the factory floor, our new masters didn’t like the way in which the factory was run. All buy-outs or takeovers like this are subject to the new master stamping their methodology upon the business.
One day, the new masters sent some people to look at what we were doing and to study the way we did it. We were told to work as normal so that they could get an accurate picture of our working practices. During the process, which lasted about two weeks, I noticed that they spent a great deal of time getting to know all of the managers – the junior managers, that is. As a junior manager myself, I noted that they were particularly interested in how people got on with each other. They spent a lot of time asking what was wrong with the way things were done, and how improvements could be made. They lulled each of us into a false sense of security because they let us believe that what we suggested would be implemented. In truth, what they were doing was weeding out the trouble-makers form the innovators; the leaders from those who were happy to be led by others.
Then one day they called all of what was known as Pre-Press (that is Sales, Origination & Artwork, and Production Planning) and took us into the main factory. On the floor, alongside Press No 1, was a very large roll of brown packing paper – the sort people used to wrap parcels in. And, starting at one end, they rolled out this brown paper to reveal a great many pieces of paper stuck to it in a linear fashion. This they told us was the workflow of the company. On the left hand end was an Initial Enquiry Form, which was used by the Sales Team when a customer first approached us about a new product or a change to an existing one. On the right hand end was a Despatch Note, which triggered a delivery of finished product to the customer and raised an Invoice for that product. In all there was well over one hundred different forms stuck to the roll of the brown paper. We stood there, aghast. To see it spread out like that right down the length of the factory was remarkable. To comprehend that it took over one hundred different pieces of paper to get a single product ordered by the customer to being delivered to them was tough to face. We had been under the impression that we were efficient. Here was the proof just how inefficient our system was. And what is more, the new masters had determined that our company was ‘Production Driven‘ – that is to say that the factory floor Production Office determined what work was done and when. The new masters wanted to change that philosophy from Production Driven to Sales Led. This sounded good to us. I was sick to death of coming into work in the morning to find out that the job which should have been delivered to Boots that morning, hadn’t even been printed because the Production Office decided to print something else. With Boots, their Delivery Tolerance Policy (at that time) was you can be 3 days early with a delivery, but zero days late. If you were even one day late, they would fine you up to 50% of the overall cost of the job itself!
There was a buzz around the Pre-Press office. The new masters were suddenly seen as our saviours. They were going to come in and shake things up and we would be in charge. What actually happened was not that. Not anything like that.
The first thing they did was to install a new piece of software that was able to plan every job in sequence into the weekly timetable. This was usually done by the Production Office. Instead they employed a specialist in come in and do it…in the Pre-Press Office, giving us control. Then they removed the antiquated software we were using for orders and along with all the forms which simply showed the problems with the order handling software. Suddenly, there was a vacuum. No one knew what to do. We had no system except for the production planning system. During the week leading up to this dramatic change, they had installed database software on the network and had tested individuals on how much they understood about it. Of the ten or so junior managers I did have a grasp of it, but only a very basic one.
Then something very strange happened. All of the junior managers reported directly to the Commercial Director, who reported to the Managing Director. On the last day there, the new masters suddenly announced that they were going to put someone in charge of implementing the changes needed to take the company from Production Driven to Sales Led. They said that that person would only answer to the Commercial Director and would have the power to do whatever they deemed necessary to make the new system work. Great, we thought. But, hold on, you haven’t told us what the new system is – you’ve only removed the old one. What’s the new system? They said that’s up to the person in charge of making the change happen. And then they announced that the person who was to make this all happen was me. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I didn’t want the role. Nor did anyone else for that matter. Talk about a poisoned chalice. I had only been with the company a few months after being head-hunted from elsewhere just to run the Boots account. And they had put me in charge of the rest of the junior managers who had all been there much longer than me and who already thought I was after their jobs.
But, that’s what they did. They packed up their stuff and they left, leaving me to pick up the pieces and figure out how to make things happen. Before they left I asked the main guy, the one who had spent the most time with me, why they chose me. He said because they saw me as an agent of change – a catalyst.
The new remuneration package they had offered me persuaded me that it was worth the hassle. But it failed to comfort the growing sense of unease in me with regard to just how I was going to change a company whose working practices had been evolving over its one hundred year history. It was clear that revolution rather than evolution was required. I spent the weekend thinking about how any of this could be achieved. By Monday morning I was a complete wreck. I simply had no idea where to even start. The newly installed morning meeting was a disaster. I tried to chair it but was shouted down by everyone. I went to the Commercial Director and he said he couldn’t help because he didn’t know how to. Thankfully, Production had enough work to keep them going for a few days, but the rest of the Pre-Press department were just sitting around criticising me. I called our new masters and they told me to just get on with it. By the following morning I had started to formulate a plan but was once more shouted down by most departments – they showed me why what I what to implement wouldn’t work. This went on until Thursday. No one could agree on anything I suggested. I went home Thursday evening exhausted and ready to quit. I felt like a complete failure. I could see no way in which I could implement a new system to fit the constraints I had been given which would also unite everyone. I was always going to be the bad guy.
Now, I should say that, at this particular point in time, I wasn’t really talking to God. I certainly wasn’t going to church or leading a particularly ‘Christian’ lifestyle. I did, however, still believe. I still prayed and occasionally would read the Bible. My prayers were usually along the lines of Oh God please help me. And that night, I simply asked God for His help. I asked Him to show me what to do. And He did.
I had a large flip chart in my study and, sometime after dinner, I when up to the study and started to draw out the things, the basic things, which were required for each stage of the process. It took a while, but I could see it clearly in my mind. I hadn’t seen it before, so I had to give credit to God for the inspiration. By morning (I had been up all night), I had a system that I believed could work within the constraints placed upon me. I drew it out neatly on a fresh sheet. I went and showered and put on my best suit and went to work.
I was there early and commandeered the meeting room. As they trudged in I could sense the anger of my co-workers. By now they had heard of my pay rise and this added to their dislike of me. I asked for quiet and told them that I had a workable system to show they. Their scepticism was tangible. But, as I drew out the workflow system on the white board in the room, instead of the heckles of ‘you can’t do it that way’ or ‘what about this or that?‘, there was silence. I looked around the room at the main antagonists to see their faces looking quizzically at the board. When I got to the end, there were no complaints, no objections. There were a couple of questions which were easily answered. But then there was consensus. Agreement. Harmony. With God’s help, I had managed to get the work flow of the entire company down from well over one hundred pieces of paper to just three. I had managed to create a system to fit in with our new master’s constraints, and it was one that only worked from a Sales Led basis. Throughout the day, as I went around the departments to check with people that we hadn’t missed anything, even from the most aggressive critics, I received acknowledgement that the new system was better and more efficient than the old. By Monday, it was in place and working. There were a few issues early on with setting up the database, but once that was resolved, the thing worked smoothly. I believe it still is today.
Now, I tell you all this, not to blow my own trumpet but to give glory to God. He showed me that even when I wasn’t following Him, He was following me. Even when I wasn’t prepared to submit and surrender myself to Him, He was still ready to help me. That’s how He truly is with every single one of us – ready to help when we call.
When I was contemplating writing this piece, I felt I should share that with you as an example of how He works. Don’t let yourself be deceived by modern church teaching that says that God only speaks to those who are obedient to Him – He is speaking, through His Holy Spirit, to all of us, all of the time. The sad thing is that most of the time we fail to recognise it is Him speaking and pat ourselves on the back for good ideas, or we ignore His voice completely and go our own way. I will pick this up a little later on. But first, a lesson in Hebrew.
The House That God Built
The Hebrew language is like no other language on earth. I say on earth, because there is probably another language spoken in the heavenlies which is something like Hebrew. If you ask a Hebrew scholar to describe another language similar to Hebrew, they will probably say that the closest thing to Hebrew is the chemical element symbols. Using chemical element symbols as an example of how it can be likened to Hebrew is useful. With water, for example, we know that the chemical symbol is H2O – which means that water is composed of two atoms of hydrogen (H) and one atom of oxygen (O). Hebrew works in a very similar way. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, instead of having just a sound like the letters from our own alphabet, have a name and several meanings, as well as a numeric value. For example, the very first word in the Bible, in Hebrew, is b’resheet (or bereshit). In English translations of the Bible, this word is rendered as In the beginning. But, when you break down the individual Hebrew letters, they add up to the true meaning of the word. The letters used basically mean, individually, house, son, God, first-fruits. So, the true meaning of the word b’resheet is actually something like this: Out of the House of God comes His Son, who is the first fruit. What I find fascinating is that the very first word written down in the Bible tells the entire story of all of the words that follow – Out of God’s house comes His Son , who is the first fruits of everything. What you will find very strange when you start to examine Hebrew words is that, in one way or another, each word is made up of letters that when added together tell the true meaning of the word they spell. Just like with chemical elements. I won’t bore you with anymore appetisers – not that they are boring, but I will move onto the main course. The word house.
Sadly, although Hebrew fonts are readily available for computers, the free WordPress site I use for this blog doesn’t recognise the characters, so I will have to do this without the excellent visual aid of the Hebrew language.
The Hebrew word for house is beit or bayith (this is what it looks like in English). It is made up of three Hebrew letters – bet, yud, and tau (or tav). Bet is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I say alphabet but it is actually the Aleph Bet not alphabet. Aleph is the first letter and Bet is the second. We get ours from the Greek where Alpha is the first letter and Beta is the second. But bet is more than just a letter. In Hebrew, the letter itself means house or tent but is used to provide the meanings of home, family, and into. Yud, which comes next, means closed right hand or arm, and is used to give the meaning of to work, or to make, or a deed. Then we have tau, or tav, which means a sign or a cross, and is given to mean a covenant or sign. So, when you add the three individual letters’ meanings together, you get something along the lines of ‘a household or family who work together to reveal the sign of the covenant’. But, as you dig deeper, you discover that the root word from which beit or bayith comes from is banah. Banah means to build. Banah is also the root word in Hebrew for stone. We can see that Peter draws upon this in his first letter when describing the believers to whom he was writing when he said:
“Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house…” [1st Peter 2:4-5a NKJV]
So, the house to which Peter refers is, in fact, the house of God. The house that God built. Each of us who believe, were chosen by God before the very creation of the world, to be living stones in the house which He alone can build. It is true that we are gifted enough, as men, to build houses of stone, but God alone can build a house out of living stones.
The truth is that God, from the very beginning, right from the word b’resheet, has been showing us what He is building – a house out of which His Son will be revealed as the first fruits of the harvest that is to come. And the house from which His son will be revealed is to be a household, or a family, who work together to reveal the sign of God’s covenant. Right back then, right at the beginning when the Hebrew language was created by God, each word in its DNA had the entire story all along. So there is no excuse when it comes to the great and dreadful Day of the Lord.
And, it is this concept of house which I find myself returning over and over again. God’s plan has always been to reveal His Son through His household. We appear to have lost sight of that notion. Go back to the question I asked earlier about what you would build given the constraints I placed upon you. If you were one of the 120 in the Upper Room, what would you build?
Would you build a building big enough for 5000 believers over three services on a Sunday? If you would, you might as well stop reading now. There’s nothing here for you. God doesn’t need any more cathedrals. He didn’t need any to start with. He just needed people to follow the example he set down, first in writing, and then in the person of Y’shua.
The 120 were all in one place and of one accord on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1 – don’t read this in the NIV as it is very misleading and poorly translated). All they had to go on was their knowledge of scripture, what Y’shua had taught them, and the Holy Spirit. Nothing else. But, what they also had from their Hebrew culture, was a true meaning of what a house or household should look like. Right from the days of the patriarchs, the Hebrews knew how to do household – they knew exactly what the role was. We can see it in the lives of Abraham and Job. They were both the heads of their respective household. They were in charge of everything and responsible for everyone beneath them. Next in the hierarchy were their immediate family – the blood and marriage relatives, who each had the authority of the patriarch. Then came the hired servants. And under that was only the livestock. But, the patriarch was both in charge and responsible for everyone. The Hebrew household wasn’t made of stones, but of people. For the main, they lived in tents and travelled together as an entire household. Even when they were in the desert, the commands given to Moses for each household was guidance for even the alien living among them – in other words, the slaves and servants were covered under the covenant.
It was this model that Y’shua brought forward when He called first the twelve and then the seventy to Him. He was showing them that this is what God wants – a household where everyone in that household had a role and mattered; was fed and cared for; and came directly under His authority. When you go back and read about Abraham and Job, it is clear that each household was self-sufficient – they produced goods to use or to trade from what they grew or looked after. The livestock both fed them and clothed them. Any surplus could be traded or sold. The same with the crops they grew.
Y’shua and His followers lived exactly like that – moving from town to town as a household, a family, all working together for the very same purpose. And when it came to His ascension, Y’shua had left them with all they needed to know to make disciples of every one and be a part of His spiritual household.
In God’s household, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the family. If the Son or the Holy Spirit speak, they speak on God’s behalf and with His authority. The angels, and the prophets, and the apostles are the hired hands. The servants, the slaves, were all part of the household, considered as equals and able to inherit from the head of the house. And everyone else, those not called to a specific role, are the livestock and the crops. Y’shua refers to us as sheep and wheat and fruit.
That is what God is building – a household that is currently invisible to the world, from whom the Son will be revealed (through the church) to both Hebrew and Gentile alike. He has no need for us to build anything for Him. He is the builder. We are the stones, the living stones.
Please don’t take my word for this. Start praying right now and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the nature of what God wants from us. He doesn’t want us to build real buildings that we expect Him to fill. He wants us to be a part of His household; His family, and to know our place and function in that household. He wants us to understand that He is in charge and that He has given authority to His Son to be the Head of His household and to the Holy Spirit to help us understand and conform to that. We are not to be leaders, but servants. We have been bought at a very high price and we belong to Him in the same way that livestock belonged to Abraham. He doesn’t need us to do anything but to be like-minded to Him; to understand what role He wants us to perform; to be obedient to His every command, and faithful to the entire household. He wants us to work together for the benefit of all, not just the few, as we do now.
The house that God built is invisible. If you believe, you are already a part of it. To function as He designed and chose you to, means to come under the headship of Christ. Not the pastor or priest you might submit to, but to Him. And, in return for your faithfulness and your obedience, you are called His children and will share in the promised inheritance.
Change your perspective. Try to be like the 120. You already know enough to be getting on with it. Theory is for the classroom and you have already spent too much time there. Learn to live a life led by His Spirit. That is what He has said is the way. The Way. You could spend the rest of your life listening to sermons or reading books or articles like this. But, you have already been given all that you need to go into the whole world and make disciples of all men. Just like it meant for the disciples, the call to be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria and then the ends of the earth, it means that we are to be witnesses to Y’shua first where we live, then into the surrounding areas, then into a place of opposition, and then to the very end of the world. All you need is the right idea of what He is building, and has already built, and a heart ready to hear what He says.
I said at the start that this might be the last article I write for a while. It’s time for me to stop theorising and start doing. He will continue to train me along the way, just as He has done all of my life. I can finally see what He is building. It’s funny, but I now realise that He has been trying to show me this all of my life. I was simply too caught up in my own self-importance to see it. I haven’t got to do anything except to be a part, a very small part, of His household. There is no point in me trying to do anything under my own strength, it won’t work. Just read Haggai to know that. It’s God’s household. He is in charge. He is doing the building and taking responsibility for my wellbeing. All I have to do is to trust Him.