Monday, April 20, 2015

Fire fighters and Fire lighters.

On Saturday there was a dangerous bush fire in our suburb that burned to within a mile of our house. It took a few firetrucks and two helicopters to extinguish it. I am so thankful for firefighters. They are absolute heroes.

Seeing the out of control blaze moving towards our house was a harsh reminder of the destructive power of a fire when it is in an unhealthy context. And yet fire, when it's in a healthy context is one of the most vital, beautiful and helpful gifts known to man.

Rynelle and I have been leaders in 4 different churches over the last 20 years. Although each church has had notable strengths,  I would venture to say that the overriding leadership call for us has been to help lead those churches towards health. Using the fire metaphor, this means that you are often fighting unhealthy fires more than you are lighting healthy fires. There are any number of unhealthy fires that a leader has to fight in an unhealthy church; fires of  gossip, slander, accusation, division, favoritism, mistrust, debt, lawsuits, legalism, immorality, and heresy are just a few. The beauty is that Jesus can quench those fires over time and bring a church through a season like this into a new season of unity, faith, and vision. We have seen Jesus do that so faithfully.

The problem is though,  that often as leaders we struggle to change the way we lead after those unhealthy fires have died down. We struggle to take our firefighter gear off. In fact we can become consumed with running around putting out fires that we never get round to building anything constructive in our churches.  Of course, there will always be some fires to fight, even in healthy churches, but to lead a church from health to strength, requires an intentional change of gear.
It requires that we take our firefighter gear off(we may still need to carry a fire extinguisher with us) and put our Blacksmith apron on, as it were. We are called to light fires more than we fight them

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he encourages the young leader to guard the good deposit of faith handed down to Him from his grandmother, Lois, but then reminds him to, "Fan into flame the gift of God in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control." By encouraging this Timothy to fan into flame his gift, Paul is lighting fires of leadership, mission and devotion.  This has become my primary metaphor as a leader. I want to be a fire lighter, as God brings the church we lead from health to strength.

How are you doing with that as a leader, parent or friend? Are you fighting fires more than you are lighting them?

Talking of lighting healthy fires, we recently announced the next step in Southlands' One Church, Multiple Communities journey. We sense that God is leading us to light a fire of mission and community in the city of Whittier in 2016. We are so excited about what God is doing in that city,
and have already begun meeting with pastors in the city to foster honoring relationships with other churches there. We will begin meeting in May to pray and train towards the planting of this community. Please contact me or for more details if you feel led to be a part of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Beauty of Baptism

We've baptized 22 people over the last two weeks at Southlands. Of course, Easter Sunday is a classic Baptism moment, but the curious thing is that it spilled over (pun intended) into the next weekend, when we baptized another 5 people. There is something contagious about the power of a bold, decisive, declaration of faith.

Firstly, a brief theology of Baptism.  I explained it to my youngest son, Levi, who was baptized at Easter, like this. In the Book of Exodus, God saved His people in two ways. Firstly, he saved them from the angel of death by the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. This foreshadows the Cross, where the blood of Jesus saves us from the penalty of our sin, which is death. Secondly, He saved them from slavery to Egypt by opening up the Red Sea, and drowning the Egyptian army while Israel escaped on dry land. This mirrors the Resurrection of Christ, which defeats our enemies, sin, satan and death. Ultimately, the Cross deals with the penalty of sin, while the Resurrection deals with the power of sin.

Jesus gave His Church two primary Sacraments to celebrate: Communion, which remembers the Cross, and Baptism by full immersion in water,  which remembers the Resurrection. Practicing these Sacraments is what makes a Church a Church. While Jesus instructed his disciples to celebrate Communion as often as you gather, Baptism was to be a decisive, definitive, one-off death to sin, in order to rise again in the newness of Christ's resurrection life. It also signifies inclusion in Christ's Body the Church, but that's for another blog. Jesus commanded us to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them to obey Him. Baptism doesn't save us, but it empowers us to turn our back on sin and follow Jesus. It's why we call our baptismal font the coffin. I heard someone say, "I felt like I was dying as I went under the water, but I felt brand new as I came up."That's pretty much it.

We baptized a lady from Iran who has been studying here the last few months. She grew up Moslem, but on her arrival in the US, a lady in our church befriended her, began to speak to her about Jesus, and brought her to church. After a few weeks she put her faith in Jesus, and on Sunday she made a bold, public proclamation of that faith, that will no doubt come at great personal cost.  But she is unashamed of her Savior, and even insisted that we give her a certificate to prove that she is now a Christian.

We also baptized 3 people who have come through our Alpha course,  an introduction to the Christian faith. One man had never set foot in an actual church before Easter Sunday, besides a few funerals. But he became convinced of the Gospel during Alpha, and decided to make a public declaration of faith in Jesus on the spur of the moment on Sunday.Others have been more deliberate in their decisions. One lady crossed the line of faith a year ago in our church, but wanted to be sure she was counting the cost of a no turning back decision. Another man has walked with Christ for more than 10 years! Some children got baptized too, and each parent spent time making sure that they understood the Gospel, had repented and trusted Jesus for salvation, and were willing to follow Him the rest of their days. This is no less powerful!

The recent spate of Baptism show no signs of abating either. Just this week I have had conversations with people who have asked to be baptized. We will do this on the 3rd May.  I believe there are others whom God is stirring to be decisive and make a public declaration of faith in Jesus.  If that is you please reach out to me or Salvation belongs to the Lord.