Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Stronger: milestones, running repairs and finding our stride in 2018

For our church, 2017 was a year of some significant milestones. For starters, we celebrated our 50th birthday with a grateful gathering of friends from across the miles and the decades. What a memorable weekend celebrating the faithfulness of God! Our birthday was marked most notably by the adoption of Park Christian Fellowship into our family, and the subsequent re-launch of Southlands Chino in September. I still smile when I think about the ways in which our Father orchestrated this adoption. He is so kind, and the good people of Park have been one of His best gifts to us as an integral part of this thriving community. 

The Southlands Chino launch crowned an intense season of multiplication during which we were able to achieve our 3 in 3 vision of multiplying 3 times in 3 years. This vision was strongly supported by a capital campaign called the Jubilee Campaign, aimed at getting rid of our debt and building a church planting war chest. Yet again, God moved powerfully and the church responded with massive faith and generosity, enabling us to complete the campaign with a surplus. God's hand has been so clearly on this multiplication journey that 3 in 3, is in actual fact 4 in 4. From being one church in one location four years ago, we now exist as one church in four communities, as well as having planted One Light Church in Chiang Rai, Thailand, which is flourishing. These milestones are cause for great celebration. Heartfelt gratitude to our great God! He is so good.

The thing is though, that whether you're running, driving or journeying as a church,  milestones mean you've done some mileage, which means you have some wear and tear. Milestones are therefore not just cause for celebration. They're also cause for some running repairs. They're cause to catch your breath and ask, what needs to be strengthened for the next leg of the journey? 

Our team of elders took some time out in the Fall of '17 to pray and plan for the coming year and sensed the Lord speak to us about a season of strengthening from this well worn passage in Isaiah 40.

 “Do you not know, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." 

The everlasting God never faints, but rather gives power to those who are fainting, renewing their strength. The prophet Isaiah points to at least 4 ways in which God wants to make  His people stronger  and this is what we will give ourselves to in 2018.

1.  Biblical Devotion “The grass withers and flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever.” V 8

Amidst the withering fads of our post-truth worldwe want to build a people who confide in God's forever Word. We want to strengthen our knowledge of the Word, but most of all we want to encounter Jesus, the Living Word, in the pages of God's written Word. This is the heart of biblical devotion. There's been an overwhelming response to the launch of our CBRjournal groups across the church to strengthen our community Bible reading. So far, we've sold almost 700 journals and launched around 50 CBR online communities.  Of course the numbers are encouraging, but we are trusting God for a growing culture of faith and obedience to His Word. 

2.   Evangelistic Boldness “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength.” v 9

Isaiah was foretelling the bold ministry of John the Baptist who would prepare the way of the Lord by preaching repentance. There is a call to all God's people to lift up our voices with strength as heralds of the good news. God saves, but how will people know unless they have heard? Over the past few years we've strengthened our missional muscle - that is, our practice of hospitality, mercy and justice initiatives and  relational rhythms with those who are not yet believers. This has borne significant fruit. However, we've realized that building missional bridges still requires us to open our mouths at some point and speak about the gospel. We are not as strong in evangelistic boldness and practicing spiritual gifts outside the church walls as we are at missional rhythms. We want to give ourselves to the former this year without neglecting the latter. We've made a point of inviting evangelists in from outside Southlands this year to equip us for evangelistic boldness and skill. We'll also continue with our Alpha course, trusting the Spirit for his empowering on this proven evangelism forum.

3. Pastoral Care “He will tend his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are young.” V 11

By its nature, multiplication is disruptive to a family. Have you ever met any parents who've had 4 children in 4 years? Their family may have grown wonderfully, but it'll never be the same! We're not trying to return to what we were, but we do want to give ourselves to strengthen our culture of pastoral care through training new leaders, launching new life groups, and investing in the quality of our pastoral forums. We want to draw people into community in both formal and informal ways. We want our community to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. 

4.   Reverent Worship “To whom then will you liken God, or what will you compare to Him? An idol!...But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength they will rise up on wings as eagles. v 18

Worshipping a transcendent God who sits enthroned above the nations strengthens us in a time of turbulence and uncertainty. It also calls us to repent of worshipping idols, reminding ourselves that we are in the world but not of it. I believe we are in for a season of reverence in worship, where we recognize again the incomparable goodness of our God and gaze upon His holiness. Reverence is not hiding in fear. It is humble intimacy with the Creator, exchanging our strength for His, repenting of self-reliance. It is waiting for the updrafts of His Spirit's as we mount on wings like eagles. It's learning to fly without too much flapping!  

These are four areas in which we are asking, "Lord, Please renew our strength so that we can run and not grow weary." Let's trust Him to help us find our stride after a year of great milestones. 

Tonight we will gather for Community Prayer at Southlands Brea to pray along these lines. Join us at 6:30pm in the Loft.  

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