Thursday, December 23, 2010

Valid or Invalid?

I love thinking about words.I think the word 'invalid' is a horrible word. Used to describe someone who is too sick to get around by themselves, it seems to attack the very core of their identity. If you are not healthy you are an in-valid. You are not valid.

But its a good insight into our value system. Most of us are validated by what we do, and invalidated by what we have failed to do, don't you think?

A friend of mine who leads a large and innovative church said publicly a couple of weeks ago, that for him, the need for validation from ministry grew over time. That he got more insecure, not less insecure as things progressed.That he still wrestles with identity coming from who he is in Christ rather than what he's doing for Christ.

I had coffee with him yesterday and we talked about it more. I appreciated his honesty. But honestly, his comments were disturbing. Whether we sing songs, sell houses, own companies or lead churches, most of us have a milestone in mind, that will one day validate us when we reach it. The problem is we then become milestone addicts. The next milestone becomes a millstone around our necks.

I walked away from that coffee with fresh resolve. I will not be validated or invalidated by the size or profile of the church I lead. Or how many people read my blog. Or the car I drive. The list is endless but the lesson is the same.
If I do not get secure now that I am God's son before I am his servant then nothing I achieve for God will ever make me secure.

The Father's pleasure, the Son's sacrifice and the Spirit's witness must be our validation.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Joseph the Just

I'm really enjoying Kenneth Bailey's book, 'Jesus through Middle-Eastern eyes.'
In it, he shines the light of context upon Scripture's description of Joseph as a 'just man.'(Matt 1:19)

Joseph was a royal from the house of David and from Bethlehem, the City of David. In many ways he would have had the keys of the city because of his lineage. When he discovers Mary is pregnant, he knows he has every right to stone her as an adulterer by law. Understandably he feels betrayed by his pregnant bride. When scripture says he 'pondered' these things, a more accurate translation would be he 'fumed.'

Nevertheless, he does not give her what she 'deserves by law'. Bailey suggests that he knew the Isaiah 42 prophetic text about Messiah bringing a new kind of justice. "a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out until he establishes justice.." In many ways Mary was a bruised reed and a smoldering wick and Joseph ensured that she was not broken or snuffed out.

After the angelic confrontation, he not only spares her, but decides to identify himself as her husband, facing the risk of social rejection. It appears that Joseph was in fact rejected by his home town - no room in the inn for the royal.

That's why Joseph was called just. Often portrayed as a passive, almost invisible character, he played a decisive part in the salvation story,going beyond the law to establish a prophetic justice. A Jesus kind of justice.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Herod the Great

Many churches in America go all out with their Christmas pageants. Some do 'living nativities,' with live donkeys and camels. I saw a recent video of one church's pageant where a stubborn camel fell over onto a pew full of people which was pretty dramatic and ruined the 'silent night, all is calm all is bright' scene.

I don't think I've ever been to a Christmas pageant which dramatized the Matthew 2 scene where Herod slaughtered the innocent children though. Now that would disrupt the most peaceful nativity scene for sure, and I think trying to depict it dramatically would be well, just plain inappropriate. But I would encourage every preacher to wrestle with it, because it sheds some stark light on the brutal world into which Jesus was born.It also calls us to make a stark contrast of two kings, both with a claim to be 'king of the Jews'. King Herod and King Jesus.

Herod was a complex man. By race he was an Arab, by religion a Jew, by language and culture a Greek, and by political affiliation a Roman, crowned to rule over the Jews for the Roman Empire. And rule he did. Good looking and well built, he led his army to victory in ten different wars. He was politically ambitious. He conspired with Anthony and Cleopatra to overthrow Octavius, the Roman Emporer, and when this failed he went and bowed before Octavius with no crown, admitting that he had been faithful to Anthony until the end, saying, “Consider me not for whose friend I was, but for the kind of friend I was.” Octavius reinstated him as king of the Jews and his kingdom was even more secure than before.

But he was an exceptionally insecure man. He had ten wives. He became suspicious of the political loyalty of his favorite wife, Marianne, and murdered her. He also felt threatened politically by two of his sons and ordered them to be to be strangled to death. Just prior to his death he had the crown prince locked in the palace prison, and because of the pain of his illness attempted suicide. The crown prince heard the commotion, and thinking that Herod was dead, asked to be released. Herod survived the attempt however, and had the crown Prince killed.

He died five days later. The last command before he died was to have his soldiers arrest thousands of notable Jewish citizens and have them locked in the stadium at Jericho. He ordered them all to be executed upon his death to ensure there would be mourning, because he knew that nobody would mourn his death.

Herod was a completely self-absorbed, threatened, brutal, counterfeit king. Compare him to the humility, security and utter self-denial of King Jesus in the incarnation.He felt no pressure to guard his crown, but emptied himself as a servant, laying His his life down. Who is the true King? The comparison begs a choice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Santa Monica Chronicles chapter 2

I feel like I just gave my daughter's hand in marriage. Its been 8 months since we started the Santa Monica Gathering. God has gathered a good, gifted, tight knit group of people whom we've come to love deeply. He has met with many of them profoundly.

Our question has been, "What is the most viable way forward for this community to become a church?" After all, there's a limit to how much we can do traveling an hour across the city every second Sunday night to meet with them.

Enter Ger Jones, a vicar from Holy Trinity Brompton, the London church which produced Alpha. God has led him to plant a church here, and we crossed paths in remarkable ways. There has been a quick knitting of hearts. Their new church plant, Vintage, has a similar vision to gather an authentic community around the centrality of the Gospel, with a strong Word and Spirit convergence. They are well resourced but have really needed a core of people to partner with them.

Over the last three months we've spoken and prayed about a merging of our people with Ger's vision. This has been bittersweet. We love these people dearly. Although we will continue to partner with them, we are persuaded that the most viable way for this group to gain real gospel traction in their city is to join Ger and become the engine room of Vintage.

Last night was an unexpected evening of honor and affection towards the Southlands team who labored with great love these last 8 months. I am deeply grateful to them too. Its been an honor to serve alongside people of such quality as the Santiago, Ramirez, Ed Meyer, the Lamonts and others from Southlands, who have given their hearts and hands to establish this community.

Amidst the joy and celebration of the evening, it was clear to me as a father to this community, that the young bride was already looking to her new groom, longing for her honeymoon. This is good. A father needs to know how to step out of the way at his daughters wedding, otherwise he may forfeit an ongoing role in the new couples life. A father needs to celebrate at times like these with a lump in his throat.

One can not afford to become sentimentally driven in matters of the kingdom. One must ask, "What is best for the bride?" After all, these are not our people. They are God's people for God's purposes. It is already clear that they are beginning to burn with the passion and vision which Ger and Lizzie carry to make a profound gospel impression upon Santa Monica.

From God's perspective, a church has been planted. Jesus has established a lamp stand which, I trust, will burn hot and bright until He returns. This, in every way then, is a Kingdom win.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Coach John Wooden's prized possession

Coach John Wooden, who passed away in June this year, won more College basketball titles than anyone in the history of the game. But his greatest legacy was surely the number of future basketball stars he personally mentored during his long and illustrious career as coach of UCLA.

I have a friend who's brother graduated from UCLA.A colleague of his who played for Coach Wooden as a student called in a favor on the night. He asked the coach to surprise his friend by arriving unannounced at his graduation dinner. Not only did Coach do this, but he invited the whole family home to his condo for coffee after the meal. Obviously the whole evening was unforgettable, but what left the greatest impression on my friend was the Coach's request to show the family his most prized possession. Leading them past the many trophies, awards and accolades on his walls, he came to a little book of hand drawings done by his little grand daughter, and showing them every picture with delighted affection, remarked, "This is my most prized possession."

Our Advent series,"Isaiah's Messiah," draws from this metaphor in many ways. It's intention is to lead people past the glamor and glitter of the Christmas 'trophies' to find the prized possession of the Child born to be King.

I love this season for so many reasons.In fact I'm about to go out and get our Christmas Tree. California is a glorious place to be a this time of the year. Nothing wrong with enjoying the Christmas cheer, just as I am sure Coach Wooden enjoyed glancing at his trophies from time to time. However, he knew what he prized.

John's gospel says of Isaiah that "he saw Jesus' glory and spoke of Him." More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would one day be born of a virgin. Who could ever have dreamed up such a thing? It certainly wasn't Isaiah's over -active imagination. It was the same Holy Spirit who would overshadow Mary, foretelling what he would do. Simply astonishing.

You see, the prophetic weight of this moment reveals its history splitting significance. This wasn't 'away in a manger,no crying he makes' baby Jesus. That's a seasonal Jesus. 'Easy to dismiss when things become inconvenient' baby Jesus. 'No room in the inn' baby Jesus. We can put him away with the Christmas lights and missletoe before we make our New Years resolutions.

The child born be King requires more of us. His birth calls us to attention.
His life and death demands that we re-arrange our affections. Isaiah's Messiah causes us to sigh in grace-filled relief and bow our knee in awe-struck allegiance.
Isaiah's Messiah can become your Messiah too.