Cockroach or the gospel?
So it’s Easter. You’ve brainstormed up your service plans. Added some new and hopefully risk-free creative elements that won’t go too pear-shaped. You’ve rallied the troops with enthusiastic fervour to pull off this event. It’s nearly ‘go’ time.
Musicians: check. Ushers: check. Newsletters (with a few swift kicks to the photocopier): hot off the press. Pleasant refreshments: sorted. Interpretive dancers: who authorised this? PowerPoint slides: locked and loaded. Message: ready to rumble. Out of the office on time… with a fairly empty inbox. #surprisedmyselfthere Home, even a few minutes early, to rest up for the weekend ahead. #ninjastatus That sense of satisfaction kicking in because every box has been ticked. Priceless.
Then that ‘something’ happens. The phone rings. Someone doesn’t show. Technology fails. There’s a relational spot fire that’s threatening to blow. The Tarago won’t start, despite being held together by the grace of God for the past 20 years. Add to that, the kids are channelling whole new levels of crazy.
That X-factor swagger you were effortlessly oozing no less than 24 hours ago has turned to a stage 3 chemical plant meltdown.
Been there? Currently there now? Preparing the life rafts?
All I can think of at moments like this is how much life would be better without this happening. Why? Why now? The plan was so perfect. This was not part of it. Unlike.
Little can comfort us in these moments of unbridled panic as we go into damage control trying to salvage what we can. They say it’s “character building”, but it seems more like a building just fell on us. This moment is not dissimilar to a migraine-inducing uprising I heard about, that threatened to unhinge the well-laid plans of some workhorses of faith.
Some “blow-ins” had been preaching lies and heresy (release the hounds now!) that undermined all the team had been working for. Everything was going so swimmingly until these people arrived. Not now. Why now? It literally threatened to tear the place apart. So what do you do? Fortunately Dr G, a man of extensive education, was there to throw flower garlands of wisdom on this potential train wreck.
His simple advice: “…leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39).
Gamaliel (aka Dr G) was Paul’s former Rabbi. The guy who taught him everything he knew, the guy whose teaching he then abandoned and then compared to dung. That’s got to hurt. Dr G had seen countless rodeo clowns come into town, kick up the dust and no sooner disappear before it settled. While the rest of the team wanted to squash these annoying, jail-escaping cockroaches – he’d seen the reality; that things only survive if it’s from God.
As a kid, I heard an urban myth that in a catastrophic event, cockroaches would be the only things that survived. They’d be the WWF apocalyptic world-champions rising out of the ash and rubble. Is there anything that could beat the cockroach?
And it recently dawned on me. It was the gospel.
OK, hardly a respectful comparison, I know; but it’s compelling to think of the gospel as this timeless juggernaut that has ducked and weaved its way through history. Surviving humanities best and worst endeavours to faithfully convey or ultimately destroy it.
Think of what the gospel has survived:
The ebbs and flows of empirical movements, across nations, across the centuries. Recession, depression, global financial crisis, communism. Consumerism, Y2K bug, up-sized servings of pop culture and hyper colour t-shirts. Institution, revolution, apathy, tele-evangelists and war.
Carried by unnamed individuals, of all walks of life, multiple cultures, varying understandings.
Equally, think of what the gospel has survived in our own lives:
The first moments we grasped the truth of it and took hold of its preciousness. The times when we trusted, with awkward new faith, the reality of it in specific areas of life. The mountain top 40 days of purpose, followed by the 37 days of I can’t be bothered. Those seasons we’ve been bent out of shape, caught in grief and bitterly disappointed.
More than any story of us persisting, it’s the gospel that’s stood the test of time.
It was the “message of life” the angel of the Lord told the apostles to go and give the people, after the get out of jail free card was played (Acts 5:17-20). It was the precious cargo that kept these new messengers afloat, but shipwrecked those who didn’t have it.
So my question: Gospel or the cockroach? I think the gospel has got it, hands down, no contest, no count-back required. And to put that early-learned urban myth to rest, watch this quick Mythbuster moment.
When you are in a glass case of emotion preparing for your Easter events, trying to wheel out the big guns, the show stopping pyrotechnic power point presentation and the “musical unicorn” that no-one’s ears hath ever laid hearing on before, give yourself a break. When we lack the pervading gospel power that everything we’re preparing for points to - we lose. When we can’t see it in our moments of desperation or as the wheels start falling off - we suffer.
In the curiously beneficial advice given by Gamaliel, if we are planning and doing these things merely on our own, it will soon be overthrown, but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow it. Not our most embarrassing failures, not the situations beyond our control, not even our most brilliantly composed symphony of ministry. The gospel is a bit tougher than that, wouldn’t you think?
As a leader, it reminds me to not get caught up in superfluous matters or materials that I think add any weight to what the gospel is. It’s stood the test of time, the perils of history – it alone is enough. I can rest entirely in the fact the gospel has got me at my worst, to bring me towards my best – as a child of God, as a leader and everything in between.
Let us rest entirely in God’s grace, that it’s his gospel, his plans, his movement. It’s the life-buoy we’re hanging on to, as opposed to us creating the life-buoy to put it in. It was set free amongst twelve riff-raff apostles and out run those early threats of death to send us this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”
A message we need to know when the overhead projector is blowing smoke, or the worship team just staged a mutiny. A message sent direct from the heavenly realms to inform us.
So the next time you see a cockroach fishtailing erratically across the floor. Or have one run across your face as you sleep peacefully (I’ve had it happen!), remember there’s a greater power that runs in your heart, in your leadership, in your ministry and across your lips. The one from God. The one thing that survives. The gospel. The message that: “Jesus is the Messiah”.
Jodene’s role is an Associate Pastor (Mission & Evangelism) at Gymea Baptist Church (NSW), the first female pastor in the church’s history. Prior to this, she pioneered the women’s movement in Christian Surfers for 10 years & worked in the corporate sector for 11 years. She has been part of the Arrow Leadership Program, studied at Flinders University, Morling College & is finishing her Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.