Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Ezra Fast : Seeking God for Families and Revival

 As I made my morning cappuccino yesterday, my daughter popped her head out of her bedroom to ask me to be more quiet in the kitchen because she was 'in session'  on a school Zoom call and couldn't hear for all the noise. Please do not disturb! 

The irony. This is exactly what I've been asking from my kids these last 5 months! But this is their strange, new normal and they are understandably on edge as they navigate the start of an on-line school semester. Truth be told, we're all a bit on edge. Rynelle and I never put up our hands to be home-school parents and our kids feel sad about missing normal rhythms, friends and sports seasons. In Texas, Asher has begun his senior college year on-line while doing 10 hour-a-day football practices with the real likelihood that his football season will be cancelled. It's all quite unsettling, isn't it?

 Those of us who don't have children of our own can still feel the wear and tear of this season on our marriages, or with our house-mates and closest relationships. Our families and households desperately need the grace and peace of God in the midst of anxiety, uncertainty and frustration. 

There is much that is not clear to me about this current season. But of this I am absolutely certain. God is teaching us to pray with greater urgency and dependence. He is teaching us what it means to reach the end of our own resources, to declare utter dependance upon Him and to find a new atmosphere of grace amidst our current circumstances. That is why we are fasting and praying as a Church today and gathering both in-person and on-line tonight at 6:30pm. Sign up here to join in person.

Ezra was a priest in the Bible who called a day of fasting and prayer for families, and we are going to take our cue from his prayer.  It was Ezra and Nehemiah who led the Jewish people back from exile in Babylon to rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem. Before they left on their journey, Ezra called for a fast.

 "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, 'The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake Him.' So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty." (Ezra 8:21-23)

As we seek the Lord in prayer and fasting today let's pray in these ways:

1. For Humble Dependence upon God for our good, rather than depending on ourselves or others  "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of horsemen to protect us, for the hand of the Lord is for good on all who seek him." King Cyrus had actually been very generous to the returning exiles, but Ezra recognized the limits of human authority in the protection of God's people. Of course, we should pray for good leadership in government at this time. But let's not put too much stock in them. Our good does not ultimately come from any person's hand. Our good ultimately comes from the hand of the Lord who is over all, and who responds to the entreaty of His people.

2. For Protection and Peace on our marriages, our children, our families and our properties as we navigate this season. "That we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods." Let's pray that God's peace would flow into our anxiety and conflict, that He would protect our marriages, our parent/child relationships and our closest household friendships giving us a safe journey.  Let's pray that our families would be beacons of health and mission where the lonely could find safety and community. 

3. For Revival rather than mere Survival.  I know that this can sound trite, but it's here in the prayer of Ezra. After praying for protection for families, he prays, "That our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves, but God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of God"(Ezra 9:8-9)

 Revival has historically begun at the lowest ebb of church and culture. That's why I love the description of revival as a brightening of our eyes, as in, a change in the way we see our circumstances. Prayer doesn't always change our circumstances immediately. But it changes the atmosphere of those circumstances. It injects the resurrection  hope of Jesus into the most hopeless of circumstances, so that we are not crushed by our confinement. I believe God wants to brighten our eyes today by His Spirit. I believe Jesus wants to change the atmosphere of our circumstances. He wants to give us fresh vision to see that He is at work in quiet miracles.  Revival may not look like a stadium jam-packed with thousands of worshippers in our day. It may look like a son coming to his father and asking him to pray that Jesus would break his addiction to drugs. It may look like a sceptic coming to faith because his neighbor invited him to watch his church's sermons on-line. It may look like a home school mom doing daily devotions for the kids on her street. (I've seen all these things happen recently

In our seeking for peace and protection for ourselves and our families, let's not go passive or inward looking. Let's keep asking that God would brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving so that we would be able to see his gospel spreading steadily and surely.

See you and your children tonight in-person on the Southlands Brea patio or online on Facebook Live.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

These Precedented Times Part 2: Learning from the Innovation and Protest of the Church in the Spanish Flu

Calvary Episcopal Church of Pittsburgh operates as hospital
Last week I wrote that while we face some unique challenges during this COVID-19 season, these are not completely unprecedented times. We are given precedents that are needed navigating tools. The Scriptures teach us the precedent of God's ways with His people during crisis, and also the precedent of people's responses to crisis. Specifically, when we learn from the precedent of pandemic history, the most recent being the Spanish flu from 1918-1919, we find that there is nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon said.  Here are some of things we learned.

One of the characteristics of the Church's response to the Spanish flu was innovation. Pastors and congregations used new technologies like the telephone as a pastoral tool and published sermons in newspapers to maintain contact with their congregants. Many churches, like Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh above, embraced medical technology to convert to make-shift hospitals to serve their cities.  (It has been wonderful for Southlands to host multiple blood drives with the Red Cross these last few months too.  We have a great opportunity to innovate, not only to care for our churches, but to care for our cities. 

Southlands Brea hosts Red Cross blood drive

The other precedent was the Church's protest against the governments' limitations placed on worship amidst the perception of double standards, as some states kept saloons and gambling houses open while schools and churches were closed. Many church leaders went to court to argue that the First Amendment right to ‘peacefully assemble’ was violated. Research suggests that courts by-in-large upheld the government’s right to ban public gatherings for health reasons to reasonably enforce those bans. While we have had a moment of civil disobedience as we took the decision to sing from behind our masks as a reasonable defense of our freedom to worship, we do not want to expend all our energy on protest when there are still many ways in which we can still worship as the Church. 

Both the use of technology and protest over the freedom of worship have become dominant themes in our pandemic of course, and I wrote the following letter to our church yesterday to try and speak to both of these issues. Perhaps it may be of help to you in your church context? 

 Dear Southlands Brea, 

 The stunning Psalm 84 was my devotional reading this morning. “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, they are ever praising You. As they go through the valley of tears they make it a place of springs…they go from strength to strength.” What a promise for us today. God gives us an oasis in the valley of tears. More pointedly, the Psalmist was reminding God’s people that dwelling in God’s temple came with the blessing of strength and comfort in a season of sadness. Of course, we know that in the New Covenant, God’s people are the temple and that God dwells in each of us by His Spirit. It’s so wonderful that God’s presence is not limited to one physical place. 

Still, the New Testament exhorts God’s people repeatedly to gather together regularly in different places to encounter Him in special ways. “You yourselves are being built together into God’s temple in which God dwells by His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22) Here the emphasis is not on a certain place, but rather on the togetherness of a people. In other words, while the Spirit dwells in us as individuals, there is an aspect of God that we only experience as we allow ourselves to be built together. There is much-needed strength and comfort from being built together. I must say that our expressions of togetherness have been greatly enlarged these past five months. Exploring being the church in back yards, on curbsides and on Zoom calls has been challenging, but fantastic. We continue to acknowledge that many who are elderly, immuno-compromised, pregnant, working in the medical fraternity or serving as caregivers will continue to express togetherness online from their homes. If you are in this group, please be assured that you are not a B-class member of Southlands! However, I have seen that the longer people remain physically separate from others in the church, the harder it is to feel like you are better together. Loneliness, apathy and offense can so easily creep in. 

To combat this, we are looking at new ways of helping you to feel built together, but we need you to help us serve you by leaning in. This Sunday at 9:45am, before our live stream, Bulus and Rose Galadima who are on our deacon team, will be leading an online pre-service prayer time. This will help you to prepare your hearts and pray for others to encounter Jesus during the service. Brett McCracken, one of our elders, will also be hosting the live chat during the sermon and then leading a Zoom discussion after the sermon.  I encourage you to lean into this growing online community by joining us at 10am at or 

 On the other hand, there are those who need no convincing that gathering together in-person to worship is important. In fact, I have had numerous people who have asked why we are not defying the governor's limitations on worship and simply meeting together on Sundays inside and in-person as normal. I appreciate these sentiments and can understand the frustration at what can appear as double-standards  at times. As you know, we have been willing and are still willing, to have moments of civil disobedience should they seem necessary, but we want civil disobedience to be a last resort rather than a first response. 

So, we have 4 Biblical lenses through which we make decisions about gathering:
 1. The importance of Worship (Hebrews 10:25)  
2. Love for our Neighbors (Mark 12:31) 
3. Obedience to Government (Romans 13:1-7) 
4. Maintaining a Good witness (Col 4:5-6) 

 These are tensions we must be able to hold as God’s people. While we place a high value on the importance of gathered worship, many seem to pursue value 1 while ignoring values 2,3 and 4! We cannot do that! At this stage, we feel that gathering in-person, outside on our patio is actually preferable to gathering inside, because it enables families to gather safely, is still within the government’s guidelines and is actually proclaiming the gospel to our city in a fun, family carnival atmosphere. We’ve loved seeing this patio gathering grow every week, and we encourage you to join us at 8:30am tomorrow by signing up here. 

 As ever, I am so grateful to God for your flexible faithfulness for Jesus’ sake.

Onwards and Upwards,