Monday, March 23, 2020

"Longing for the Gathering. Longing for the Day." A Guest Post by Kristine Nethers



There are things you grow up learning that you are sure to be true. As an American, you learn that this is the land of ‘milk and honey’, of ‘supersize me’ and ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’. However, much of these identifiers of American life which have always seemed true, seem to be proven false in the last week of the Covid-19 crisis. Stores are out of milk. Restaurants have closed down. There is little to be supersized and if you have a supersize pack of toilet paper, you might as well have won the lottery. There is much we cannot do even if we dream it. The ‘land of plenty’ now seems to be the ‘land of scarcity’.

We all feel that scarcity.

In a week’s time, so much has been taken away: routine, plans, human contact, social nearness, and a sense of normalcy. Sunday morning gatherings have also been taken away. With that comes an end of hearing my brothers and sisters sing in praise together to Jesus, an end to praying together in person, and end to responding to the preached word and partaking of communion, an end to many, many Sunday side hugs. I miss all of it.

I love the embodied gathering of the people of God. I love Sunday church services more than the average person. I go to both services by choice. When on vacation, I visit other churches and am inspired by what I learn. While in New York City at Redeemer Presbyterian, I learned a great way to introduce new members. While at a church in Nebraska, I learned how the church can host an art studio and outdoor garden for the benefit of its city. I realize my love for and fascination with church is outside of the norm. And while I may not be normal, my love of Sunday church gatherings is substantiated in the Bible.

Throughout the Old and New Testament, God affirms the need for His people to be gathered together around his Word. So, if God's desire is for us to gather, how can that desire be denied during this lockdown? It feels wrong because I thought it was wrong not to gather.

Yet, I have not had to look hard to see that longing in the Christian faith is not new, even if it is new to me. Throughout the New Testament, Paul longs to gather with the church. Paul writes to the church in Rome: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you - that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:9-12).


Longing fueled Paul's letter writing. God allowed Paul to long to be with the church of Rome so that he would write a powerful letter that would strengthen the hundred or so believers in Rome at the time and to strengthen millions of subsequent believers for Millenia to come. 

God works powerfully in longing. Paul’s longing for the churches in Rome, Colosse, Thessalonica, Phillipi, Ephesus, Corinth and Galatia resulted in enduring and eternal letters that would empower millions of Christians to know and follow Jesus, to access the power of the Spirit, to be fortified against opposition and to build his Church according to his design.

If Paul’s longing was used mightily by God, could he do something with my longing?

I ask that question as I sit on Sunday morning in my living room. I’m wearing leisurewear, streaming the sermon online and singing along to YouTube sets. My circumstances are sad, but it points me to the hope in his Word, which gives me faith and assurance that God will indeed use my longing.

In my longing, I feel God calling me to use this time to pray and dream. I have much more time to do that as I had before. I don’t want to miss the opportunity. My prayer and dream is for when the church can gather together again. I long to see, in person, the faces of my brothers and sisters. I dream of singing worship songs together with them, even if a few are off-key! I look forward to embracing many with tighter side hugs. I am dreaming that I will again be greeted at the door by our eldest member, who at 94, gives the best hugs in the church. There is much to look forward to as I long.

Already my one-week of longing for the gathered church has given me a greater longing for that Day, when Jesus will gather His Church to Himself. For on that Day, I will at last see Him face-to-face and be gathered into His eternal embrace. I will embrace the saints of all who have gone before. On that Day, all my longings will be no more and all my dreams will be superseded. For all eternity, I will enjoy the gathering of the saints without ceasing as we forever worship Jesus face-to-face. What a Day that will be.
Longing for that Day has fueled my prayers on this day. 
May longing fuel you too.



Friday, March 13, 2020

An Update for our Gatherings during the COVID-19 Pandemic


We wanted to continue to keep you updated in light of our gatherings and the Covid-19 virus. We messaged you yesterday afternoon letting you know that in view of the pandemic we would be gathering this Sunday the 15th March as a church at 9 and 11am as normal, and then moving to church in homes for Sundays 22nd and 29th March. This was in light of the California Dept. of Public heath’s guidelines discouraging mass gatherings in California. As you are well aware, the situation is incredibly fluid. After extensive consultation today with medical professionals, as well as the closure of all schools in Fullerton, Brea and Yorba Linda school districts in what is now understood to be a national state of emergency, we have decided to move our ‘church in homes’ strategy forward to this Sunday the 15th march and next Sunday 22nd march. 

This is not a fear-based decision. It is erring on the side of caution out of love for our neighbors. Because the COVID-19 virus is a-symptomatic and testing for it is very slow in the USA, most health experts agree that not waiting to cancel larger gatherings is key to stemming the tide of the virus, especially given what we know about how a large percentage of people are carrying the virus without knowing they are carrying it. So, we will not gather together as one congregation this Sunday, but will rather gather in homes for at least the next two Sundays, until we have further information. This has been a prayerful decision and we believe it is being done in faith, love and wisdom. We honestly believe that gathering in homes to worship and sit under the word and fellowship is a deeply meaningful way of being the Church and I am excited to see what God does among us in a very unusual situation. 

So, this Sunday 15th March and the next, we encourage you to gather in homes and watch a pre-recorded video of my message from Acts 27/28 on “Contagious Calm in a Time of Crisis.” We are working with leaders and hosts of these home gatherings to equip them to make them as edifying and encouraging as possible. There will be worship resources, resources for children to learn as well as questions for discussion of the sermon. We will be communicating those locations to you shortly via email as well as posting the locations at  www.southlands.net. These will include existing life group locations, but there will also be a few extra locations for those who are not currently in life groups. Obviously, if you are ill or have a compromised immune system you are welcome to watch the sermon on your own from our website or on Facebook, but we encourage you to make the most of this unique challenge by building community in homes if at all possible. Feel free to email joel@southlands.net for any logistical questions.

Thank you for your flexibility and co-operation as we take these unprecedented steps. May the Lord protect and strengthen us for His glory at this time. The Church has always been at its strongest in crisis and scattering, so let’s trust Jesus that he is powerfully at work among us during this time. We are not merely asking that the Lord would help us to survive this crisis. we are asking that he would use it to revive us and the people around us. Let’s be praying together to that end.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

What will Stop us from Outsourcing Prayer to the Pros?


Just about every church has them. If you don't I feel for you. I'm talking about that faithful group of prayer warriors who love to stand in the gap,  bringing the hopes and needs of the church before the throne of grace with dogged persistence and unquenchable faith. They are called the intercessors. I know, they can be intense, sometimes even a bit odd, but they've been an extraordinary gift to me as a pastor. Every week they are praying over the text to be preached that Sunday, fiercely contending for prophetic promises spoken over the church, wrestling for protection over our families and marriages. I've known intercessors to be a bit weird in times past. But not these ones. I wish you had intercessors like ours. They're a bit like the spiritual Green Berets, going behind enemy lines in prayer, like Paul's friend Epaphras who was always wrestling in prayer for the saints to stand firm in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12)

Still, as grateful as I am for our intercessors, I'm wary of our tendency to outsource prayer to the pros. I remember being stunned in my first year of leading a church when a guy came up to me and asked, "Won't you throw up a prayer to the Big Guy upstairs? I know He listens to you." Come to find out, most people really struggled to pray; with what to say, with distraction and doubt from unanswered prayers. Most of us struggle with prayer. It's why I've spent much time trying to teach people to pray for themselves. I've tried to convince them that God hears their prayers because of Jesus' righteousness, not theirs. I've also fought for a regular culture of gathered prayer, possibly more than any other culture in our church.

And this truth, perhaps more than any other, has been decisive in breaking the habit of outsourcing prayer to the pros. It is that every person who belongs to Christ already has two Intercessors!

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."(Romans 8:26) 

The Spirit intercedes by making petitions for us according to God's will with groaning because of our weakness. What a mysterious gift of empathy.

And as if that weren't remarkable enough, Romans 8:33 tells us that Jesus also intercedes for us.

"It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."

The sense here is not so much of empathy as it is of interception; of someone going up against an enemy to intercept their attack. We know that Satan is an accuser, who accuses us night and day. Jesus' intercepts Satan's accusations because His blood speaks a better word than any word of condemnation. (Hebrews 12:24)

As the hymn goes,

 "When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of my guilt within, 
  Upwards I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin, 
  Because my sinless Savior died, My sinful soul is counted free, 
  For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me."
                   
Here's the thing. When I pray, I become the 4th member of the most dynamic prayer meeting imaginable. God, the Son and God, the Spirit are interceding for me to God, the Father!
Dwell on that.
Why would I want to outsource such a personal, magnificent reality to someone else?
Now imagine how unstoppable we'd be if as a Church we stepped in to that Prayer Meeting together?

This Wednesday at 6:30pm we join to pray at Southlands Chino. It's our all-church prayer meeting called 133. Pre-prayer dinner begins at 5:30pm. 5559 Park Place, Chino, 91710












Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Winning Home and Away Games as a Church: Hard Lessons from the Colonel

I recently saw a twitter thread about KFC. A friend who travels a lot on business noted that KFC tasted better in China. The options and the quality were apparently on a whole new level to what he experienced in America. Another guy who had visited the UK chimed in saying KFC in Britain was also so much better than in the USA. I felt bad for KFC, but I had to concur. I had a fantastic KFC burger in Bangkok airport recently with a Thai take on the sides. Also, KFC in South Africa is absolutely delicious. So delicious in fact, that in 2017, when we first broke the news to our children that we were  moving to America, we we did it in a KFC!  To us at least, KFC was so quintessentially American and we considered it a real treat.(don't laugh!)  In fact,  when Rynelle and I first got married and were both still studying and working part-time, our monthly treat was, wait for it...KFC. Nothing like  finger lickin' good chicken for a date night. Come to find that when we arrived here,  KFC in its home country was somewhat underwhelming. None of our new American friends wanted to go with us to get the golden deliciousness when we suggested it. (I know, it's not the healthiest) But they told us that the stores were grimy and that the the chicken lacked quality, even though it was cheap, and that, well,  El Pollo Loco was better. 

Don't get me wrong, I think it's remarkable that this great company has become an international brand,  able to innovate by contextualizing in each culture while remaining true to it's signature fried chicken.  I still enjoy it occasionally at home too. When I break a fast, I always do it with a bucket of KFC, still craving the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices from time to time! But I think the KFC story carries a warning for us. No franchise will succeed in the long term if it wins away but loses at home. Same goes for a sports team. Come to think of it, same goes for a church.

This has been something of a mantra for me as a leader at Southlands the past decade. We must be a team that wins both home games and away games. We want to be sure we are pastorally, missionally and financially healthy so that we know we are exporting something that's working at home. Ask me what I'm most excited about? It's what God is doing at Southlands Brea; the baptisms, the traction on high school and university campuses, the growing momentum in our children and youth ministries, the mercy initiatives, the flickering fires of promised revival. But we are a multiplying church with a connection to a global family of churches. God has called us into a multiplying story, which means we are sending teams to plant and strengthen other churches more than the average church. Having a strong away game has been part of our DNA for decades now, and by God's grace we will continue to "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations."  

For me personally, this means balancing my time between pastoring at Brea, providing oversight to our other Southlands congregation leaders, being involved with our Manna churches, as well as playing a leadership role in our growing Advance family of churches. As you will know, this takes me away from Brea for a certain amount of days a year.

How does this work, you ask?  

The short answer is, "The grace of God and team." Because of the call of God upon us and me to be fruitful both home and away, there is a corresponding grace that has enabled us to keep taking ground on both fronts. Part of that grace has been building a strong and gifted team who continue to lead the church forward when I am away. They are not holding the fort. They are advancing the mission. The team also speaks freely into my travel schedule, helping me to discern what to say 'yes' and 'no' to, so that I am not away to the detriment of my family, my health and our church. (For instance, just this week, I  said no to three invitations. because my 2020 travel planner is maxed out)

I also love to send teams out without me to help strengthen churches. This is happening more and more.  I have tried to say yes to more mid-week invitations than weekend ones. I am out 8 weekends  in total this year. This has been a fairly standard number over the years.  For those of you who care to know about my travel and other ministry that is hosted at Southlands, I have included them below. Please pray for Rynelle and I as we travel and pray for Southlands, that through God's grace and wisdom, we would continue to win at home and away as a church. Thank you for your grace extended to us as you carry the cost of this call with us. Our worlds are all larger because we have aligned our lives to our true and better Colonel and His Great Commission.

Frow Travel and Other Ministry Dates
January 17th-19th Jubilee Church, St. Louis  
February 2nd  Mercy Commons, Fullerton, Elder Installation
Feb 21st Imago Dei Conference, Downey
Feb 25 Manna Intensive at Southlands Brea
March 8th Preach at Southlands Whittier 
March 15th  Manna Intensive Overnight Big Bear 
April 19th Preach at Southlands Chino
April 26th – May 1st  Advance Team Meeting/ Lead Couples Retreat Nashville
May 21st  – June 3nd UK/ France (Cornerstone Newcastle/Advance Global Team Meeting)
June 15th  Manna Forum at Southlands Brea 
July 15-19th Advance Church Planters hosted at Southlands Brea 
August 28th- 31st Monument Church Washington D.C
September 14th  Manna Forum L.A. 
October 5th Southlands Whittier leader team 
October 8-10 BIOLA Ablaze Conference
November 5th-7th Advance West Hub Gathering hosted at Southlands Brea
November 9th-12th Advance Global Team Meeting UK and One Light Church Thailand