Monday, February 8, 2021

California Calling: Reclaiming a Theology of Place for the Golden State

I'm told that U-Haul in California can't keep up with the demand from people hiring their trucks and trailers to pack up and leave for greener pastures. That trend hasn't been helped by two recent and very public departures of two very influential Californian residents; Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. Musk, the South African born  CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He's also one of the most vocal and was never going to leave quietly. In a series of tweets in May 2020, Musk  threatened to move the company's headquarters to Texas or Nevada, where shelter-in-place rules were less restrictive. "Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately," Musk tweeted. A few months later he sold two of his homes in Silicon Valley and announced he was moving to Texas and building a new plant in Austin.

 Popular podcaster Joe Rogan of “The Joe Rogan Experience” cited overpopulation, traffic, and “the need for freedom” as the reasons he has been persuaded to move from his current home of Los Angeles to Texas.I just want to go somewhere in the center of the country, somewhere it’s easier to travel to both places, and somewhere where you have a little bit more freedom,” he explained on his podcast.   

Officially, California added 21,200 people from July  2019, to July 2020, increasing the state’s population a paltry 0.05% to 39.78 million people — still by far the most of any state. But the bigger news is that 135,600 more people left the state than moved here in that period. It’s only the 12th time since 1900 the state has had a net migration loss, and the third largest ever recorded. * 

That's peculiar when you consider the many positive things California has going for it. Historically, people have flocked to the Golden State for its prosperity, its beauty, its creativity, its diversity and its weather. 

So, what are the primary factors people are giving for leaving the Golden State? I'm no expert, but I would suggest at least 5 Big factors.  

  • Cost of Living - the high price of housing and taxation is driving people to cheaper States
  • Progressive Politics - California has been a Blue State for years and that doesn't look like changing soon,  which makes Conservatives especially, feel controlled, labelled and claustrophobic. 
  • Erosion of Morality  - Many people have a fear that raising kids in a culture that has lost its moral compass is not worth all the beauty and opportunity that California has on offer.
  • De-Urbanization - Covid has swiftly reversed the pull that the urban centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco have had as major companies have allowed their employees to work remotely. Why live in expensive cities when you can earn the same and live in a small town in another State?
  • Zeitgeist - This one is harder to put your finger on because there's no stat you can point to. But it's in the air. It's where the mind tends to go and where the conversation tends to flow. It's a pervading mood. Basically, it's become fashionable to hate on the Golden State.  
I've written about this extensively before, but Californians by nature, tend to be less rooted and more transient than other people from other places. John Steinbeck, the California native, called it 'an incurable  virus of restlessness. The urge to be some place else.'  The five factors above have simply made our latent virus of restlessness more contagious and it seems like we are at some kind of tipping point. 

It's against this bleak backdrop that we find ourselves fasting through the Book of Joshua as a Church this week. There is a promise from God to his people before they cross the Jordan river into Canaan that, "Every place you set your foot I have given to you. Only, be Strong and Courageous." Of course, there are giants in this land flowing with milk and honey. They have already caused the ten spies' hearts to melt with fear. But God calls Joshua, Caleb, and the people to walk in a different spirit of faith and courage. 

There are significant parallels between Canaan and California. A land flowing with milk and honey and with many giants. There is a great need for the Church in California to recover a theology of place if we are to continue to make disciples of Jesus faithfully in the face of increasing hostility to the gospel. Our call is not to conquest, but to cultivation of gospel fruit in this revival-rich soil, even as the giants loom large. 

 Perhaps our State has lost some of its California Dreaming allure? What is needed then is for the people of God to recover a sense of California Calling. Jesus is still deadly serious about His people fulfilling His Great Commission in this place of promise.  

I see California Calling working itself out in a few different ways. 

  • It should involve people calling on the Lord in prayer to awaken and revive California again
  • It should  involve Californians consecrating themselves to God's calling on them to make disciples and to 'seek the peace and prosperity of the place where He has carried us into exile.' 
  •  It could involve calling people from other States and nations into the mission field of California. 
California Calling should be an ethic that operates in an opposite spirit to California pessimism.  
Why not amplify the beauty, diversity, prosperity and opportunity that is on offer in the Golden State while being discerning about the reality of spiritual and moral giants in the land? Why not change the narrative by speaking well of the place God has called us?
California Calling ultimately amplifies Jesus as the Golden hope of this Golden State.
There is no God forsaken place on the planet unless God’s people have forsaken it.
Who's with me?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Turning the Tide on Wednesdays: Revival in a Time of Upheaval

Someone should write a book called "The Four Wednesdays." 

That's what my wise friend, Jonathan Shrader said today. Jonathan is a church planter, but in his past life he was a press secretary on Capitol Hill during the Bush administration. That gave his words had a lot more weight. What he was referring to, of course, was the massive upheaval caused by four consecutive Wednesdays in January 2021. 

It began with insurrection on Capitol Hill on the first Wednesday, the impeachment of President Trump on the second, the inauguration of President Biden on the third and the Game Stop Stock Market Surge on the last. These four seismic Wednesdays sent shockwaves through America's political, economic and cultural landscape.  

I am not writing to make commentary on these four Wednesdays or to catastrophize these events.  There has already been enough of that. What I want to do though, is call out the sense of upheaval that they have brought to our already uneasy times.

They have caused a rising tide of fear among us. The sense of faith that God is at work seems to have drained from God's people. Many people are in survival mode just longing for some respite from the relentless wave after wave of bad news. Most pastors I talk to are also in survival mode. They are doing everything in their power to gather the scattered, comfort the grieving and piece together some semblance of unity in congregations that have been shredded by the ripe tide of Covid dissension and political tribalism. Churches are generally hanging on by the skin of their teeth and they expect that 1 in 4 will close in the USA because of these tides. 

So why call our church to study and pray through a 10-week Primer on Revival then when so many are fighting for survival? Isn't that insensitive? Isn't it expecting a bit much? 

I think it all depends on how you think about revival, really. Most Christians have been taught to think of revival as a kind of crescendo of spiritual fervor, in which the strength of the Church and the favor of the culture blend in perfect conditions to create the perfect wave. Yet, if we study the history of revivals we find that they generally occurred when the tide of God's presence was at at its lowest ebb and the tide of culture threatened to engulf the church. Think about it. The very word revival infers that something is about to die and needs to be resuscitated back to life.

Historically, revival starts when a remnant, finding their lives at this low ebb, begins to experience renewal as they cried out to God in desperate faith. This renewal then grows to become a contagious awakening to the presence of God. At some point, by God's mercy, the tide begins to turn and swells to become a tidal wave of God's presence that crashes into a world in upheaval bringing hope and healing.

In that sense, there's never been a better time than now to pray for revival.  

We have been gathering weekly around the Rend the Heavens revival primer in 24 groups humbly asking God to revive us and turn the tide through us. Our group meets in our back yard on Wednesdays. It wasn't planned that way, but it has been so encouraging to sense a rising tide of God's presence despite the waves of upheaval taking place every Wednesday in our world.


This primer is aimed to help small groups of people to pray for revival with both faith and wisdom. It explores ten examples of revival in the Bible and connects them with similar contemporary examples in history which will stir people to pray, "Do it again, in our day, Lord!" It is designed with practical prayer prompts and questions for group discussion. We encourage you to gather in any one of the 24 groups on different nights of the week, or perhaps to begin a revival primer group in your church.

We cannot manufacture revival. It is a sovereign act of God. But we can prepare the conditions of our hearts to be ready as the tide begins to turn. We believe that this primer will be a catalyst for a tidal wave of God's presence and healing to flow through the Church and into a world of upheaval.

Rend the Heavens: a primer for revival prayer is available now on Amazon.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Fresh Winds and False Winds : discerning when to go and when to stand.

Yesterday was the last Sunday of gathering to worship in the open air. By this coming Sunday we should be meeting under a big tent, which will protect us from the elements and allow us to put up a stage and TV screens.  But yesterday it was blazing hot and blowing a gale and we were exposed to it all; so much so that umbrellas were blown over and people had to stand at each corner of their easy-ups to keep them from blowing away. Meeting outside has definitely brought a new robust grit to our church, for which I'm thankful.  

It seemed appropriate, as we commissioned our Southlands Santa Ana launch team, to do it while these hot Santa Ana winds were blowing. In the midst of these forceful winds I thought of the ways in which the wind can be both disruptive and constructive. The same wind that picks up an umbrella and blows it over can also pick up a seed and carry it to fertile soil where it lands and grows into a tree. 

Jesus, when explaining to Nicodemus what life would be like for those who followed Him said, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. So it is with those born of the Spirit." (John 3:18)

When God blows with the wind of His Spirit, it is both disruptive and constructive. Among the Santa Ana launch team, people have allowed God to uproot them from one place to be planted in another for the sake of gospel. They have invited the disruption of moving house or changing jobs and saying gospel good-byes to friends they love. They've done this because they realize the disruption will be constructive as the wind carries the seeds of the gospel to grow and bear fruit in a new city. 

It's no use resenting the disruption when the wind blows. I mean, this is a crazy time to be planting a church. Most churches are fighting for survival and here we are sending valuable people out to start a new congregation! It's a risk, of course, but we have been praying and planning into this risk for over year now. And we sense the fresh wind of the Spirit blowing. So it seems best just to hoist our sails and  allow the wind to carry us along. If we are to allow God's wind to do constructive things at this time we have to allow it to be disruptive. In Acts 8, the winds of persecution caused a scattering of disciples which caused a spreading of the Word of God. The disruption was constructive. 

Of course, we should not be carried along by every wind. Some winds are not constructive at all. They  are destructive false winds. We must brace ourselves against them so that we are not 'tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.' (Ephesians 4:14)  There are destructive false gospels blowing across the Church in these days. We must discern them and stand against them. The winds of Progressive Liberalism will likely blow more strongly with the upcoming change of president and government.  We must find grace to honor and pray for our new President, whether we voted for him or not, to bring unity to a divided nation. We can do this while resisting the likely erosion of religious liberty, Biblical sexual ethics and the sanctity of marriage and life in the womb. On the other hand, we must also stand against the winds of Christian Nationalism that seek to co-opt Jesus for their political ends. This is a subtle but violent wind that is carrying many Christians away as they reduce Jesus' kingdom to their vision for the nation.  This article by PJ Smyth on a-newcomers-guide-to-christian-nationalism is helpful. We have to avoid both political extremes as Christ followers.  As C.S. Lewis wrote, "The devil always sends errors into the world in pairs--pairs of opposites...He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them." No doubt, we must also keep standing against the winds of Nominalism, with its false doctrine of cheap grace and vision of Jesus as Savior, but not Lord. These winds must not blow us off track. We must stand our ground against them as we 'contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.' (Jude 24) 

Finally, we must remember that the wind has the power either to extinguish or energize a fire. For many of us, the winds of adversity have almost extinguished the flame of faith and passion for Jesus. But God promises that 'a smoldering wick he will not snuff out until justice is led to victory.'(is 42:6) He is more than able to energize the flickering wick of our souls that once burned brightly with the fresh wind. God is mercifully on the move, reviving His Church when it is at it's most feeble! This is a time to allow the fresh wind of God's Spirit to 'fan into flame the gift of God that is within us through the laying on of hands.' ( 2 Tim 1:6) 

As Keith Green sang all those years ago, 

Oh Lord, please light the fire, That once burned bright and clear.

Replace the lamp of my first love, That burns with Holy fear

I also love this more recent song called Fresh Wind around the same theme.

As we begin our 9 week focus on praying for revival by signing up for a micro-revival group, let's pray together that God's fresh wind would help us to fan into flame the smoldering wick of our passion for Jesus that would lead to a blazing fire of revival. 

May His wind be a friend to our fire.