Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fill your stocking. Stir your soul. Start a conversation.

Morning everyone. The Roots and Wings book arrived last night from the printers.
Essentially, its the story of a community living out the Gospel together.
Its a collection of blogposts over the last 3 years, in 6 sections. Testimonies, Travels, Seasons, Church Life, Ethics and Theology.
Whether it's the simple story of a life changed, or an attempt to wrestle with ethics or theology, there is no disconnected theory here. It's a book rooted in an imperfect, authentic community. A journal of an unfinished story.

It's on sale at the Southlands church office for $8, and available at all three Christmas services.
I hope it's a nice stocking filler for friends and family.
I hope even more that it'll stir your soul, and start a conversation with someone around the Christmas table about Jesus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sow in Famine. Then Sow your Fruit.

Earlier this year, God spoke to us as a community about being an Isaac-spirited community; a community that sowed in famine like Isaac did in Genesis 26. After sowing seed, Isaac opened up some blocked wells that his father had previously dug. He was more governed by well than weather-system. And God caused gave him a hundred-fold yield. We felt that God was calling us beyond survival, but to thrive and even provide in famine.

So as a community we resolved to sow irrespective of the season; to sow financially, to sow in time and service, to sow in prayer. We wanted to liberally scatter Gospel seed in both word and deed, knowing that an All-Sufficient God was a well of resource as we scattered.

And by God's goodness and grace it has been a year of visible and tangible fruit. Its a complicated thing to try and measure 'yield' in a church - so much of what God does is qualitative not just quantitative, but there are a few clear indicators
that include both.

We have welcomed in around 100 people into membership this year. That is crowd becoming community. We have baptized around 30 believers too. This means believers becoming disciples. We have seen a large increase in percentage of people volunteering and attending life groups too. Around 25% increase in percentage attendance. That means consumers are becoming partners. We launched our Porterbrook training course too, which is training 30 people from 3 churches with a view to church planting. This indicates that leaders are becoming planters. We also began our Thrive mentoring initiative where around 25 college age Christians have been intensively mentored by some of our more seasoned saints. This means disciples are making disciples. We also set in 25 deacons, and are about to launch another 5 life groups. This means disciples are becoming leaders.

Financially there has been significant fruit too. By cutting back on spending and an increasing in giving in the community, we have not only been able to pay off the majority of a significant lawyers debt, we have also managed a surplus in our monthly budget the last year. In a year where we have been paying off debt, we have also increased our giving and activity among the needy and in the city. We have not just survived. By God's grace we have provided.

Then there are the less measurable but still tangible evidences of fruit, like people putting their faith in Christ, repenting of sin, getting healed of sickness, marriages being reconciled, the oppressed and addicted finding freedom, people encountering the presence of God and the prophetic, the lonely and broken finding family.

Numerous ministry initiatives have also been started this year that are bearing early fruit already. These include 133, 'laugh your way to a better marriage, lights jnr. high, mommy co, a sexual redemption group, lose to gain, mobile closet, near east/far east and 'men's meat night'. All these are the result of people who have sowed with vision, faith and fervor.

We are an imperfect church, stumbling forwards. But we are a church that has been richly resourced by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we are filled with praise and awe at God's goodness. My point is partly that we recognize with gratitude how much God has done, but also that we understand the seed contained in some of this fruit is seed that needs to be sown again for greater yield, instead of consumed.

A good farmer always leaves some of his crop as seed for the next crop expecting an increase Jesus said, "Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit." He was talking about Himself. He was talking about us.
So let's not eat our seed, but rather expect a larger Gospel yield in 2012 as we sow more Gospel seed in both word and deed.
Here we sow again.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Roots and Wings Book

Enough people have suggested that I consider compiling some of my blogs into a book, for me to take the plunge and pull the trigger.
Design, compiling and editing are underway and it will go to print next week and be ready the week before Christmas.
It will comprise 52 of the more popular posts, and will read as a kind of devotional. Nice as a stocking filler for Christmas, maybe a helpful gift to open a conversation about Jesus around the Christmas dinner table? The first three posts will be about Christmas.

Some of my more earthy friends say the posts take as long to read as it takes them to go to the bathroom, so that's where it may end up!I'm okay with that. In fact it will be printed to fit neatly on top of the cistern. ;-)
Pricing to follow but it will be less than 10 bucks.
Above is the design for the cover. Brady Tuazon is a design genius, wouldn't you say?
To order contact

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Battle hands and War fingers part 2 - the force and finesse of setting people free

I've written about preaching and writing as a weapon to set people free, but what about prayer? Scripture is clear that prayer and the spiritual battle go hand in hand. "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities...put on the full armor of God..and pray in the Spirit on all occasions." (Eph 6:1-6)

I began with preaching, because we have often made setting people free a very mystical issue, whereas scripturally, freedom is a more legal issue. I recently preached on Jesus' teaching on the 'unforgivable sin,' concluding by saying that this teaching was not directed to the disciples but to the scribes who rejected Jesus as Messiah, saying he was of Satan. My point was that the only sin that God could not forgive was the refusal to trust in Jesus as the forgiver of sins. A Christ follower came up to me afterwards saying that he had been kept in 'slavery' for years thinking he had somehow committed the unforgivable sin,and had realized this was not true. He asked if I could pray for him, and I found myself saying, 'No, God has set you free through preached truth. I don't have to pray for you this time." I wanted him to see that faith in the truth is what ultimately sets a person free. Interesting that in the Gospels Jesus didn't pray for people to get set free from demons. His mere presence was enough for them to release people. This mostly happened while he was preaching.

However, prayer is a powerful weapon if it is not seen as the 'silver bullet,'but rather helping a person once they have repented of sin and submitted to Jesus as Lord.

In Mark 3:20-30, Jesus talks about Satan as the strong man who has occupation of a house and possession of its goods. Jesus talks about himself as the robber who will bind the strong man and plunder his goods. The issue here is not us trying to 'bind the strong man ourselves,' but ultimately under whose possession we agree to be.

Jesus is the Stronger Man, who can bind Satan,the strong man and plunder his goods, because of his sinless life, substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection, but he cannot do this unless we agree to come under his possession. The point is, we will never live free unless we hand over ownership of our lives to Jesus, through repentance and submission.

Praying for people to be set free is like being a janitor in the house of their lives, but we cannot repent and submit for them. That is something they have to do themselves. And if they refuse to repent and submit, we can spring clean in prayer all we like, but the house will end up worse in the end if they do not settle it that Jesus has both occupation and possession of their lives. (Matt 12:44)But once they do, the renovation of the house can begin!

This is why I say freedom is more legal than mystical. As James said, "Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you."(James 4:7)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Battle hands and war fingers - the force and finesse of setting people free pt. 1

When Jesus commissioned the 12, he gave them authority to preach the Gospel, to drive out demons. The authority of the believer is either much maligned or ignored these days, and yet it's intrinsic to process of disciples-making-disciples. "All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey.."

While we have some understanding of authority to preach the Gospel, and authority to teach people to obey God, many of us do a wide berth around authority to drive out demons? Does that even apply today? In Africa certainly, I have encountered the demonic, but here in the West the demons seem, well, better camouflaged. And yet people are no less oppressed. In many ways more so. But in a culture generally skeptical about the demonic, spiritual warfare requires a comb ination of force and finesse. "It is God who trains my arms for battle and my fingers for war." Ps 114

The understanding of Tim Keller on idol worship in the West, has been enormously helpful to me in this regard. Here it is not so much a carved or welded image of a god,(although there is that) but often a good thing that has become an ultimate thing. Satan is as happy to keep a person bound in worship of a car or career as he is in worship of a Buddha. Martin Luther said, 'The heart is an idol factory. That which our heart treasures and confides in, that is an idol."

Much spiritual warfare is in the area of the mind, and must be addressed with authoritative writing and preaching. When Paul talked about, "the weapons of our warfare being mighty for the pulling down of strongholds,"(2 Cor 10:4) he was not talking about a prayer meeting. He was talking about his letters and his preaching. 'He demolished every argument that raised itself up against the knowledge of Christ to make it obedient to Christ." (10:5) Setting people free then, should include the exposing of the idols of the heart and mind, and the authoritative calling to treasure and confide in Jesus, the Ultimate One.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Altar the Call?" Why I still call for a Gospel response after I preach

In the last few years there seems to have been a move away from calling for a response to the Gospel after preaching amongst my friends and peers. This has largely been due to a rediscovery of the theology of the Sovereignty of God in salvation - a realization that it is God who gives a person faith to believe and repent, not the preacher. This has meant a reluctance on preachers' behalf to meddle with God's work in people, trying to give them space to respond as God regenerates and convicts, rather than attempt to move people towards a decision.

I have appreciated aspects of this attitude in the sense that it is reverential towards God and His Gospel, and respectful towards people. Many of us have sat in meetings where Charles Finney -style evangelistic techniques have been used to manipulate people into a decision. I was in a funeral a few months ago where the preacher stood next to the coffin after his preach and said, "If you want to see this person in heaven one day, then give your life to Jesus today." I too, want nothing to do with this kind of approach. It is both heartless and faithless.

However, I do see much biblical evidence of preachers calling for a decisive response from their hearers. Jesus' first words recorded in the Gospel of Mark were,
"The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe the Gospel." His next words to Peter and his fishing companions were, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Essentially his message came with a call, "Repent. believe. Follow." And they did.

Paul too, was not merely an explainer of Gospel truth. He was a proclaimer, calling for a response. "Therefore, I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 6)He explained, proclaimed and pleaded!

I think this is the nub of the issue. Many who have rediscovered reformed theology tend towards explaining the Gospel, which leads to clarity, but avoid proclaiming it, which leads to response. They are worried that imploring can get in the way of God's sovereign work. Paul however, didn't seem to see a conflict between the two, understanding that a Sovereign God graciously uses the foolishness of preaching as He Sovereignly awakens people to faith. "For it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who would believe." (1 Cor 1:21)

This is why I have resisted the pressure from some of my friends to stop calling for a Gospel response at the end of a message, because it is now 'out of vogue.' I know there will be those who respond insincerely, some even out of a wrong understanding of the Gospel. We need to be open to changing the way we call for a response so that there is no confusion or manipulation. But there will always be those whom God has awakened to faith in the Gospel by His Spirit. They require the preacher to impress upon them the decisive urgency of the moment. "Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart. Today is the day of salvation."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Singapore Slinger

Yes, this is the name of a popular Singapore cocktail, and no I didn't try one while I was there. It was our fourth visit to this remarkable city/state/nation, and from the moment we touched down we hit the ground running, which meant espresso was the drink of choice. The pace was no surprise to us though. We knew from our visit two years prior that Redemption Hill was a church with an intensity that belied its age - a happy community, on a serious mission.

And the Gospel fruit is plain to see, hanging heavy from the branches of the tree called RHC. Its a church that started literally with four people; Simon and Tarryn, a twenty-something couple relocating from South Africa, and a couple they met on the plane on the way over who they invited to their first service. Its grown to over 400 adults in three years since then; a church colorful with culture, ripe with faith, and fragrant with redemption stories. Very sweet to the taste.

So what's the secret? Is there anything worth emulating, or is this simply a happy freak of super-nature? I suspect it's a bit of mix. A cocktail of sorts if you'll pardon the term.

For those looking, the tell-tale secrets of grace in a community are often in its favorite words.

'Gospel' is one. For them its not a buzz word. Not an overworked cliche'. For them its a priceless pearl to treasure, a lens to look at the world through and a hill to die on. It is explicit, not implicit. Gospel centrality has perhaps fashioned them more than any other one thing.

Then there is 'Sovereign.' There is a settled confidence in its twenty-something year-young leadership team, that this community is the work of a Sovereign God. That what has come to pass has been established by the will and the hand of a Sovereign God. This has saved them from the swagger that I often detect in those with early success. Sovereignty is humility and sanity to them, amidst the obvious rush of God's favor.

And finally there is the word 'intentional.' I heard them use it often. Nothing is left to chance. No stone left unturned. Careful thought and diligent attention given to every aspect of their life together. This is not some climate-controlled science lab of a church. They are earnest charismatics. They love to worship and are hungry for the presence of God. But they are faithful stewards, something too often overlooked by us charismatics. They know that 'to whom much is given much is required,'and so they steward gratefully and give tirelessly.

This is not a perfect church, but no doubt its a compelling one. In some ways a complete miracle, and in others, no mystery at all at what God has done. May this colorful cocktail of God's sovereignty and Gospel stewardship be poured out for His glory and the joy of the multitudes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vietnam - nothing normal happens here!

12 years ago Rynelle and I were tourists in San Francisco with one more night and $20 left in our pockets before we headed home to South Africa. We decided to go to a Vietnamese restaurant thinking that our last few dollars would go a long way, sure that at least there would be an abundance of rice to fill up on. How wrong we were! That night we left broke, hungry and feeling cheated. Having spent all our money on some tasteless, colorless wafer thin rice paper with shavings of beef and bean sprouts, the waiter looked grumpy that we only drank water so that we could afford his tip!

12 years later our visit to the real Vietnam couldn't have been more different from our faux-Vietnamese experience in San Francisco. From the verdant greens of it's vegetation, to its ever-present throng of delicately loaded 'bikes of burden,' to the unique French - Asian architecture and cuisine - all of it was a sensory overload. A taste, sight and sound sensation amidst cheerful and welcoming people.Not to mention, $20 goes a long, long way here.

My host's final word of advice before we embarked on our first scooter ride in a city with no road rules to speak of and 4 million other scooters was, "remember, nothing normal happens here." For me, that statement carries broader truth than traffic. It is a nation that has crept into our hearts with abnormal swiftness, leaving a surprising affection.

The church we were with has grown rapidly under government suspicion and police scrutiny.Two weeks ago as the pastor got up to preach someone in the congregation took a photo of him and left the building immediately. The local church whose building they use, have twice had their building demolished by the government.But they have persevered, and built a larger church centre where numerous churches now worship.They are thriving in uncertainty, leaning on what cannot be shaken.

The sense of volatile fruitfulness has left us with a desire to invest in this church and nation. We are planning on returning and are asking some big questions about how best we can partner with them in the gospel, in a nation where 20 bucks goes a long way, remembering that nothing normal happens here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

South of China

This past week at C2C you could hear a pin drop as Terry Virgo spoke of what God is doing in China. These days there are more Christians who gather to worship on Sundays in China than in all the churches in Europe put together - and those are the official stats. The underground church in China is immense and impossible to measure. There's an impending sense that the Gospel is about to explode in China in spite of severe persecution.

For the next week Rynelle and I will be in a country just South of China. The brutal history of this country has not robbed it of its mystical beauty, nor stripped its people of their hope. It is an innovative nation with an emerging economy. It is also resistant to the Gospel and incredibly suspicious of churches led by foreigners. We will be with one such church there who have asked to remain anonymous because they are being monitored carefully by police. Please join us in prayer for protection, and for the Holy Spirit to empower us to encourage and equip this church to grow in Christ and advance His kingdom.

After that we go further South to Singapore to be with Redemption Hill Church. Simon and Tarryn who planted the church three years ago are close friends of ours, and this will be the second time we visit them. This is the church we partnered with on our last mission trip to Cambodia. It's a remarkable church which has grown very rapidly and is poised to become one of the most influential churches in the nation, and a springboard for the Gospel into Asia. Pray that our time with them would be strategic please, and that God would do a quick work in them so that the Gospel would be able to be preached in regions beyond them.
Perhaps even as far North as China.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sacrament or Ritual? part 2

In my last post, I submitted to you that living sacramentally rather than ritualistically, was central to growing in grace and discipline.

The word 'Sacrament' was first used by the early Church father Tertullian, which was the Latin translation of the Greek word 'mystery.'It is defined as a. an outward sign of an inward reality, and b. a means of grace. The Protestant Church recognizes only two sacraments - that of baptism and breaking of bread. The Catholic Church recognizes seven; confirmation, penance, ordination, marriage, last rites, baptism and the Eucharist. I do believe that the only two Sacraments which are foundational to the church are those of communion and baptism, but do not wish to enter a debate which has not been resolved in almost 20 centuries!

I simply want to submit to you, that living sacramentally is vital in growing in grace and discipline. What do I mean? Let me use the example of the sacrament of marriage.When a new husband and wife have sexual intimacy after they have made their vows and exchanged rings, we understand that they are 'consummating' their marriage. Their union is not attained in sexual union. Sexual union is an outward sign of an inward reality that 'the two have become one.'It is not 'in order to be one,' but 'because they are already one.'It is not a ritual(hopefully!) as much as it is a sacrament. And it is a means of grace to them too.

I believe we can pray, meditate on scripture and fast, either sacramentally or ritualistically. The latter approach is spiritual discipline in order to get right, or get close to God. The former is spiritual discipline because we have been made right and been united with Christ.

Spiritual discipline as an overflow of the believer's justification by and reconciliation with God, is not really discipline at all. Do we think Jesus went off
to solitary places to pray because he thought that His Father would be displeased with Him if he didn't? Not at all! He knew that He and the Father were one, and He simply needed an appropriate place to express that union and a fresh means of grace
to be resourced by his Source.

I believe we can also give and serve either sacramentally or ritualistically. The former will be a grateful response to an inward reality, the latter an outward activity in the hope that we will be blessed and served ourselves.

So how do you and I live more sacramentally and less ritualistically, growing in both discipline and grace? Would love your thoughts.

Sacrament or Ritual? A re-look at spiritual discipline

To be a disciple of Jesus infers discipline. It's the root of the word.
There have been many classics written about the spiritual disciplines of a disciple, probably the best known being Thomas A' Kempis's "Imitation of Christ." More recently Roger Foster's book, "Celebration of Discipline" has challenged many believers to walk in the ways of Jesus in areas like prayer, meditation and fasting.

Discipline is a good word. But it's a word which needs careful navigation, because it can so easily turn into legalistic ritual. That's the dance we have with discipleship. How do we call people, and respond ourselves, to Jesus call to imitate Him, without losing sight of Gospel of Grace? If Jesus' first call is to repent and believe the Gospel, how do we keep the Gospel central as we follow Him, rather than our own efforts? How do we walk in the finished work of the cross, when we are clearly still on a journey?

A wise man recently framed it like this for me. "Discipleship is learning to live up to who we already are because of the Gospel. It is not trying to attain to something.It is living up to what we have already obtained in Christ."
Subtle difference, you say? I say, significant difference. It's not trying to 'raise our game' as much as it is living up to the fact that Jesus has already 'raised our game'.

With that in mind, I want to introduce a helpful word. It is a controversial word, because it has 'high church' connotations, but it is a word worth redeeming. It is the word Sacrament. Meriam Webster's theological dictionary defines 'Sacrament' as a. "an outward sign of an inward reality", and b. a means of grace. The two recognized sacraments that make a church a church, are the Lord's Supper and Baptism.

We break bread not because we think a piece of cracker bread and a little sip of grape juice will save us, but because we are remembering and celebrating the
inner saving work of the body and blood of Jesus. It is an outward sacred sign of an inward reality. And through taking the sacraments, we somehow mysteriously are able to enjoy and experience that inward reality again and again. It is a means of grace.

It is the same with the sacrament of Baptism. We do not get baptized because we think it will cleanse us. But it is a sacred sign of the cleansing that has already taken place on the inside through the substitutionary death of Jesus. Plus, through the sacrament of Baptism, we celebrate Jesus' resurrection power over sin, and gain access to new life through His life.

My question though is this."Are these the only two sacraments that God gives us?"
I want to suggest that though they are more foundational to the church, the key to growing in discipline while staying in grace, is to live more sacramentally and less ritualistically.
More on this in my next blog.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crisis and the Crowd

I'm fascinated by Jesus' relationship with the crowd. He taught the crowd, healed the crowd, fed the crowd, was moved with compassion by the crowd. The crowd loved his miracles and would not leave him alone, so much so that he did not have time to eat, and his mother thought he was losing his mind.

But Jesus wasn't enamored with the crowd. He didn't play to the crowd. Sometimes he hid from the crowd. From time to time he even said things that made the crowd scatter.

After the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand he took the bread that had just been multiplied and said, "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you can have no part of me." It is a probing statement that touches a raw nerve. Essentially, "If you are only here for my miracles but aren't interested in me, then rather leave."It is a crisis for the crowd. The crowd is fickle. The crowd is purged from 5000 to 12.
12 disciples.

This piece of the Gospels is deeply challenging for any pastor or preacher. Who doesn't want a crowd? Who doesn't want their church to grow? Who doesn't preach with the question in the back of their minds, "Will preaching this truth empty the church?"

From time to time, it is important to bring the crowd to a crisis. Even if that means the crowd shrinks a little. I believe there is a way to bring tough truth skilfully. Better a scalpel than a blunt butter knife! I believe we are to preach the blessings of the Gospel more than we preach its demands.I believe we are to preach and pastor with patient respect for people in process.

However, if we do not bring the crowd to a crisis from time to time, the crowd may grow, but it will not be growing with disciples.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mercy and Fuel

This past week I received some shattering news. A close friend of mine admitted to his wife that he'd been having an affair with another woman. They are a high profile ministry couple who are loved and respected by many churches around the world.
In the wake of the shock, the grief for his wife, family and church, the sense of deep loss, the disappointment that I wasn't able to see it and stop it, and the attempts to be a help, I find a mixed residue in my soul.

First, I want to be merciful to a friend who has fallen, putting down rocks of accusation or speculation that could be thrown at the vulnerable.
There has been sin, no doubt. Sin has its own consequences though, and we do not need to put our own spin on what that looks like. Jesus response to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is a powerful model of grace and truth. We cannot be less gracious than Jesus was.

So I find that I'm left with my own soul audit. I am not immune.
I need to examine myself instead of pointing fingers.
The news has been a catalyst for some honest conversations between my wife and I, and also amongst our eldership team and church. One friend said to me,"I guess we are all one step away from something like this." I don't think we have to be only one step away. I think we can put ourselves maybe 20 steps away. And then we can seek out friendships in which we are honest enough to send off a smoke alarm before there's a fire.

I also find a fresh resolve.
Some friends have been honest enough to voice their fears."If their marriage and ministry didn't make it, what chance has my marriage and ministry got?" Well firstly, it is not over for them. We are trusting God for redemption. With moral failure in ministry, the gap between repentance, reconciliation and restoration is usually years, probably closer to a decade.But I've seen it happen up close, so I am a prisoner of hope.

So I have found myself saying, especially to younger couples in ministry, "Please do not allow satan to get more mileage out of this than God wants."
He would love this to cause many to give up the race, believing that marriage and ministry is an impossible mix . Let's not allow introspection to turn into insecurity, cynicism or despair.

"When satan tempts me to despair,
and tells me of my guilt within,
upward I look and see Him there,
Who made an end of all my sin"

There are many who have, and are still running that race with joy and endurance. We can take courage and learn from them.

So we do not simply look inward, we look upward to Jesus, Restorer and Sustainer of all things, who gives fuel to the runner, and mercy to the fallen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

6 ships tavern

We've been talking about the wells that God wants us to live around and drink from in these days of famine. This is not just for our refreshing, but so that we can be a people who sow well-watered seed in the soil of our cities for a great harvest.

Tonight at 133, we will be praying around 5 wells that God is opening up for us to drink from and draw from.This is true for every church , not just Southlands, I believe.

I call them the 6 ships of a healthy church. Or, if you like, the '6 ships tavern'.

The well of fellowship is vital to healthy communities, where we do life together, in an authentic, transparent,family style. With life groups kicking off we are going to be praying into fellowship.

The well of partnership is crucial too, both in serving, giving and in mission. We want to pray for a people who are invested and active in the body, and see themselves as Gospel partners on mission together.

The well of worship is one which God is opening up in fresh ways for us as a community. We are praying that each person grows as a worshiper - the very reason we were created, the longing of our hearts is to glorify and enjoy God. W are praying for greater presence, freedom and purity in worship.

We are also praying for the well of stewardship. Every believer living with a growing realizing that hey are renters,. rather than owners of all God has entrusted to them. Time, treasures and talents used for Gd's glory and others good. A fresh sacrificial generosity in our community. An Isaac spirit, to sow in famine.

The well of discipleship is our war cry right now, as we embark on our Gospel of Mark series. Every believer an ardent follower of Jesus, growing in maturity, perseverance and wisdom.We will cover the launch of our Thrive mentorship programm in prayer along these lines.

And finally, the well of leadership. We are training deacons this month, and launching Porterbrook, our two year church planters course, which will giuve birth to a fresh crop of planters and pastors.

Astonishing times, full of the weight of God's favor. Let's all come out to cover this season in prayer. See you at 6:30 at 133!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where there's a well there's a Way. Part 2.

Well, we're gearing up for our new series launch of 'Celebrity Servant' this weekend.
Its a journey through the Gospel of Mark, essentially looking at what it means to follow Jesus, the humble and true Celebrity, in a culture obsessed with celebrity.

But before we go there, please allow me to give some final thoughts on Genesis 26, the passage I've spent the last three weeks looking at on Sundays. I believe it's a timely, prophetic passage for us as a church, and calls for a timely response from each of us.

It tells of Isaac, the son of Abraham who stays and plants crops in a time of famine, instead of running to Egypt like his father did during the famine of his time. God promises to bless him where he is and so he unstops the wells that his father had dug, digging some new wells of his own too. These wells sustain Isaac and his family in famine, enabling them to become providers not survivors, and God increases what they sow 100 fold.

As a leader of a community intent on sowing the seed of the gospel into the soil of our city, I want to call each one of us to gather around three wells which can resource us on mission.

The first is the well of fellowship in the form of life groups. Like in Acts 2, as a church grows, its ability to 'break bread from house to house' is crucial in maintaining authentic community. I am persuaded that a regular, intimate connection around the scriptures and preferably good food, is the primary way in which we mature as followers of Jesus. Circles are better than rows!

The second is the well of partnership in the form of serving. It's probably the most visible Christ-like quality of a disciple, that we live not as consumers but as servants. You might say,"Isn't serving where we pour ourselves out for people? That doesn't sound like a well to me." Well yes, serving is for others, but scripture is clear that serving others is for our benefit too. "He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." Jesus said, 'My food is to do the will of my Father."Serving others nourished him. Paul said, 'the body is built up as each member does its work."
(Eph 4) A working body is a healthy body.

Finally, I want to call you to the well of prayer. At the end of Genesis 26, Isaac builds an altar and calls on the name of the Lord, after which he pitches his tent and digs a well. Prayer, family, work. In that order. Prayer is the humble acknowledgement that apart from God we can do nothing. Prayer is the faith statement that we can sow, but only God can grow. Prayer is an insistence upon having the presence of God with us in all He has called us to.

This week we have signups for life groups, serve teams, plus it is our first 133 gathering - the whole church united in vision and prayer on the 2nd wednesday of each month. Let's all gather around these wells of fellowship, partnership and prayer for the sake of well-watered seed in the soil of our city.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Where there's a Well there's a way

The last three weeks we've stayed around Genesis 26, the account of Isaac planting crops in a land of famine. Instead of running down to Egypt where the Nile meant a sure source of water, God called him to stay and open wells. Old wells had to be unstopped, new one's had to be dug.

God's will for Isaac was to be governed by well not weather, which meant that he was able to flourish in famine. This is God's will for us too. Where there's a well there's a way. It means that we must re-open old wells and dig new one's, finding our resources from Jesus, in whatever area of famine we find ourselves. That's the gift of famine. Need. We reach the end of our own wells, realizing they are cracked cisterns, and return to Jesus, the true well of living water.

One of the wells God wants us to unstop in order to move us from survivor to provider in famine, is peace. Isaac kept on moving on from wells he'd opened because there was quarreling. He eventually arrived at a well where there was no quarelling saying,"Now the Lord has given us space to flourish." A church will never flourish without peace. Peace requires that we guard our community well, choosing our battles wisely, refusing to quarrel and dispute over disputable issues.

Peace also requires wisdom in our attitude to the world. The chapter ends with a peace treaty between Isaac and the Philistine king because he recognizes God is with Isaac. Fascinating that God causes Isaac to flourish in a land governed by an unbeliever. It seems that many Christians are waiting for a Christian government, or more traditional Christian values before they believe they can flourish. While this is an understandable desire, church history does not bear this out as being pre-requisite for flourishing. In fact, the church has flourished more under adverse socio-political conditions than when it has been favored by those in power. There is a time for protest, of course. But I believe God calls us to invest in our world more than protest against it. Grumpy Christians seldom plant or reap anything.

So what made Isaac willing to give himself away in famine? We have a clue to that question at the chapter's end, when Isaac builds an altar and calls on the name of the Lord. "Altar?"you might ask. Surely he must have been plagued by memories of the altar when he was offered back to God by his father as a boy? (chapter 22)
Surely he was haunted by the horror of the knife in his father's hand?
There is mystery in that chapter of course, but Isaac would have carried two truths down that mountain. Firstly, he knew the Lord provided in the crisis of sacrifice, and secondly, he knew that he existed for God's greater purposes, not his own. Perhaps the altar on which he was given to God as a boy, was the very altar that empowered him to give himself away again as a man.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Learning to blush.

I read an article today about an academic conference that hopes to normalize pedophilia.
Absolutely shocking, but should we really be surprised, when the idea of any moral absolute is now largely taboo? Isn't this simply the seed of post-modern relativism in full bloom? The inevitable fruit of the root of thought which views any claim to moral absolutes as an imposition upon freedom?

Homosexuality, which was considered deviant two decades ago, is now a fiercely guarded freedom, as long as it is between two consenting adults. Could it be that the right for an adult to have sex with a consenting minor will soon also be a 'freedom' fiercely guarded by a culture whose conscience is quickly becoming seared? Unthinkable? I think not.

We've lost our collective blush. We need to learn blush with discomfort again. And in holy indignation too. We have learned to condone and excuse almost every human impulse as normal, as long as it does not encroach upon freedom. Freedom has become our culture's highest value. Our only absolute. And we spend our moral efforts on hunting down any encroachment on freedom. In many ways these efforts are noble and necessary. But has freedom become an idol? If we are not able to say no to our animal instinct, are we really free at all? Isn't resisting instinct what makes us human?

Elevating freedom without acknowledging the corruption of the human condition, is like setting a rabid dog loose and expecting nobody to get bitten. We are all sexually dysfunctional because we are sons and daughters of Adam. The dysfunction manifests itself in different ways but it is always destructive. Every one of us need rescuing from our own corrupt instincts. Only Jesus can free us to live as God intended. Which includes learning to blush again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A New kind of Crisis

Drama. There's always some of it in a church. It's the nature of an imperfect family.
But as a church perseveres by grace, God changes the grand metaphor of the season from drama to peace. It's not that there is a complete absence of drama. Its just that you find yourself lighting more fires than you are fighting them. Fires of vision, intimacy and courage.

This is what happened to the church in Acts 9 after Paul was converted.
God turned the chief persecutor of the church into its chief spokesman. Many turned to Christ. The Holy Spirit strengthened them. The fear of the Lord gripped them. Drama made way for peace.

"Then the Church enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, living in the fear of the Lord, it multiplied." (Acts 9:31)

What is most profound to me though, is what the church did with their new found peace. In terms of new converts it was like a post-war baby boom. They didn't allow peace time to pacify them. They allowed it to activate and multiply them. They found a new kind of crisis. It was not external. It was the internal crisis of the Gospel itself.

My question is how we as a church respond to a season in which the grand metaphor has changed from crisis to peace? Again, not the total absence of drama, simply a new metaphor for a new season. The evidences of grace are everywhere.

Well, first of all, we guard peace like a rare treasure. We battle vigilantly against that which disturbs it, putting away gossip and divisiveness as war-time weapons. We learn to beat our verbal swords into plows of grace and truth. We guard peace not just because it is pleasant but because peace and the gospel are powerful allies. When Paul called the church to pray for its political leaders, it was so that 'we may enjoy peaceful quiet lives." But he didn't leave it at that. He continued, "this pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved..." (1 Tim 2:1-2)

Peace-time in a community really can result in a post-war baby-boom of new converts, and not simply converts, but a multiplication of Gospel communities. Church planting and re-planting. This is something of what God has called us to as a church. Crisis comes and goes, but we are not waiting for the next crisis to get us multiplying.
We are preparing steadily for this next chapter with prayerful strategy, the launch of a 2 year church planters course called the 'Porterbrook Institute' in the Fall, and the establishment of other partner churches who would join us on our planting journey.

So let's guard the gift of peace, enjoy and engage the season God has us in, and use it for the unfolding Drama of God's Gospel story together.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Redeeming Patina - the antique shine of the seasoned saint

Here at Southlands people describe someone with a recent conversion story as a 'trophy of grace.' I'm not sure who first coined the phrase, but its become a value statement of our community. These last two months, we've literally gasped at the wonder and glimmer of numerous 'trophies' on display in our Red Thread series. The redeeming power of the bloodied cross and the empty grave is still magnificent when people entrust their lives to Jesus.

This last month of summer we're carrying on with Red Thread, but the trophy cabinet is going antique. We'll be looking at people who have done some mileage following Jesus. Their trophy of grace no longer has a brand-new-out-of-the-box shimmer. It has what the antique dealers call 'patina'. A far more mottled, handled, and ultimately expensive shine that comes from decades of use and care.

Dudley Daniel often said that "What we are saved into is far more important than what we are saved out of." This bears itself out in the story of Abraham. God's call to leave his household, and go to a new land came at age 75. The conversion story was fairly ordinary, but what came after that was absolutely epic, and required remarkable, persistent courage. Radical is not a past tense word and it has no age restriction.

The gap between God's promise of a child, and Isaac's arrival, is 24 years. And this was only the start of their call to parent a family of faith. God is faithful but not always punctual. Abraham and Sarah's patina was being cultivated with not just faith, but patience in the 24 year gap. There were numerous failures, setbacks and delays, followed by altar moments of consecration, which brought fresh faith for God's unfolding story in their lives.

Theirs was more a story of God's grace than their faithfulness. God was patient with them in their failures. It was not, 'one strike and you're out.'It was, 'I will keep testing you until you pass.' He seemed to measure them on their average, which was not perfect, but good. This too is patina.

There are a number of seasoned saints in our community with similar such patina.
As the average age of our community seems to get younger, these saints become more, not less vital to us. Their faith, obedience and patience over decades, has had a powerful domino effect on the generations after them. Their stories give us courage to keep journeying, keep building altars, keep believing. Their gift is vision to live now for those who will outlive us. To leave a faith legacy for God's glory.

Join us this Sunday, for the first trophy with patina. Or upload the message by Tuesday after the weekend at

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Abraham Conundrum

It's mystifying and encouraging to me how Abraham was called the father of our faith and yet faltered in faith in significant ways.

With that in mind, I posted this thought on Facebook recently.
"The story of Abraham, our faith father, seems more to be a story of God's faithfulness than Abraham's."

Below is a response to that thought from someone, and in turn, my response to him. Thought you'd find it helpful.(no use speculating who it is! I have lots of friends on Facebook!)

"Agree, God is always faithful. In simple thinking though, faithfulness of God means good stuff happens to me, which of course isn't the truth. Even in judgement and wrath, God is faithful. In my mind though, if someone is living in sin and ignoring the tugging of God on their heart, then it's hard for them to see God's faithfulness - whether that is good or bad. Our acceptance of Christ as our savior and faith in God as our father makes it possible for us to recognize that spectrum of faithfulness - I've been living in that season - very clearly seeing where God is faithful in his correction over my life and fathering over me. Hopefully that makes a bit more sense. I still might be way off...which really just makes it all the better that I have wise elders to learn from :-). Re: your tweet though, I wonder, if Abraham had not been faithful to God in his time of suffering, would God still have rewarded Abraham?

Hope some of this makes sense. I guess your tweet is timely because I have been struggling with this in my own walk. Feeling like I've blown it with regards to finding a wife that God would have for me so now I'm destined to be alone. I guess it's my struggle in my faithfulness that God is with me so I am never alone and trusting in the desires of my heart that come from God and not my flesh. Make any sense at all?

My response:
"Great thoughts.
Abraham certainly knew what it was to trust God for salvation, to respond to God with obedience, to lay down his only son in sacrifice. He passed some important tests, but also failed some pretty spectacularly.
For instance, he lied twice about his wife being his sister, out of fear for his own safety and prosperity. He grew impatient about the promise of God of a son to his wife, and so made a slave girl pregnant. He blew it.
And yet he was called the father of our faith. The father of many nations. He was applauded in Hebrews for his 'faith and patience.'

How come? Some ideas.
I would say firstly, because he understood his righteousness was found in God's faithfulness, not his own.The first covenant God made with him in Gen 15 was an unconditional covenant, resting completely on God's faithfulness and not on Abraham's obedience at all. 'I will surely bless you and make you a blessing.' Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. I believe that like Abraham, our eternal life is based on Jesus'
performance not ours. Ultimately, when we are faithless he is still faithful.

Secondly, because he was quick to repent and obey when he sinned.
Although the lying about his wife thing was a besetting sin, Abraham didn't settle in it. He remained sensitive to the conviction of God. This introduces the second kind of covenant that God made with him. It was a conditional covenant of circumcision. It had to do with consecration. Sensitivity to God. Literally! There was an aspect of Abraham's call that was conditional on his obedience, for sure. He had to admit he had sinned and repent. Its the same with us. But it was not a 'one strike and you're out' condition. God kept on with him until he passed the test.

Thirdly, God seemed to measure him on his average. Like any heavy hitter in baseball he struck out a few times, and that had serious consequences, but it didn't disqualify him. His average was good. I'm not talking eternal life here. I am talking abundant life - rewards, promises, authority(like being entrusted to husband a wife). These require a good average. faith and patience, dealing with selfishness.

So we rest on the faithfulness of God and respond with our lives to this faithfulness too, knowing He is good and gracious.
Hope that clarifies more than confuses

Friday, July 15, 2011

From Towers to Altars

The account of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 screams arrogance. "Let us build a tower to heaven,' was the architect's brief. God judges it,scattering the builders into different tribes and dialects.

Enter Abraham in Genesis 12, his call the polar opposite to Babel. It starts with God calling Abraham by name, saying, "I will bless you and make you a blessing." God takes the initiative, and Abraham simply responds with ignorant obedience. He doesn't know much, but he acts decisively on what he does know. He builds an altar there as a reminder that He has responded to a God who has revealed Himself.

Scripture says that Abraham saw the Gospel in advance, he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He knew that he was morally bankrupt; that he needed God to reach down to him and credit him with righteousness. He believed the impossible. His life was marked by repeated, ready obedience to God's initiative. His faith was feeble at times. He lapsed back into self-reliance, but his lapses didn't last long. God measured him on his average and called him the father of our faith. He somehow kept the gospel in focus. Just look what God did with him.

Often our faith begins with an altar but turns into a tower. We think we have to move past the gospel to something else. Discipleship. The Kingdom. Maturity. Signs and wonders. We fail to recognize that all these things take place under the shadow of God's initiative in the cross. Let's stay away from towers. Let's stay around altars. Let's connect the kingdom back to the gospel so that our faith doesn't turn into a white-knuckled, self-determined tower.Let's see what our great God will do with his people who respond to Him with faith at the altar of obedience.

"The kingdom of heaven is at hand: repent and believe the gospel"(Mark 1:15)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vision and Vacation

So we just returned from a week in magnificent Carmel-by-the Sea.It has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have a new appreciation for California, and am grateful to call this remarkable nation home. Happy Independence Day, America.

Its been a fabulous three weeks for me.
I've had the privilege of two full weeks vacation with my family, which has been rejuvenating in so many ways.

I've also had a chance to get around and see some of what God is doing in other places. A mix of vacation and vision, I guess. I'm acutely aware of the privilege of being able to do this, and deeply grateful to some friends whose generosity made it possible.

Todd Proctor, one of the men to whom we are accountable as a church eldership team, and someone who has become a vital voice of wisdom, has been speaking to me for a while about 'swimming upstream.' What he means by 'swimming upstream', is the ability as a leader to get out of town from time to time, not simply to rest, but also to to hear from God in fresh ways and learn from what He is doing in other parts of the world.

So I've done that with some of our other elders, which has been so clarifying and helpful. Kirk and I went to Mexico in June to be with three churches in Ensenada, with whom we have a friendship. Always stirred by the faith, passion and initiative of the churches in Mexico, I was particularly impacted by a couple called Adrianne and Lourdes, who lead a community of around 2000 people in Ensenada called Accion. Adrianne is a medical doctor, who runs his own ear, nose a throat practice. His son, who is also a doctor, translated for me when I preached. Both came straight to the meeting from hospital. Over dinner, I asked Adrianne how he managed to juggle work, family and ministry. He simply replied,'God never asked me to choose between the three, so he gives me grace for all three. We only have two employees in the church. The rest of us serve as volunteers." An extraordinary man leading an extraordinary community. God give us all that same sort of joyful servanthood.

I also spent two days in Chicago with Donnie Griggs. He and his wife lead One Harbor church in Morehead City. Donnie and Jill planted from Southlands about two years ago, where they were part of our eldership team. One Harbor is simply exploding. They have grown to around 600 people in two years. They started with 6, I think. More importantly, they have seen many people come to faith,some of them the town's most notorious sinners. Donnie and I spent two days trying out some of Chicago's deep dish pizza while talking theology, life and leadership. It was a stirring reminder to me of what God can do when we as a community are willing to say gospel good-byes to leaders we love. Church planting is a part of DNA. It is a costly part. But a vital part which we cannot afford to lose.

Tomorrow morning, Brenden and I head off to Denver for the last part of my 'vision break.' We will spend three days at the New Covenant Ministries International annual get together, where we still maintain many meaningful friendships. God has given us some beautiful new gospel partnerships which we are enjoying, but NCMI has been an integral part of the Southlands story for more than a decade, and we desire to honor this history and walk with them as friends and allies in the Gospel.

In the meantime, I've loved hearing how well the team has done at the base, the amazing response to the Red Thread series, as well as the different missional strands going on. I heard we have 70 people signed up for 'Laugh your way to a better marriage' and that 'Rockhart' is picking up some serious steam too. I can't wait to be back in the pulpit this Sunday as we look at a story of how God turned a 'prodigal' into a radical follower of Christ.

Thank you all for being compelling communitas - friends together on mission.

Friday, June 24, 2011

father adam or father abraham - consuming vs. tithing

I have a little ritual here in Ensenada, Mexico while on vacation. In the mornings, while the family is still asleep I get up and go across the street from where we are staying to a little pavement cafe' for a cappuccino, the scriptures, some prayer. Okay, I also check twitter and facebook, I admit. But I've been blogging what I've been reading and thinking from the Cafe'Tu Taozo. All before my family surfaces!

Jesus redeemed us from the curse of our first father Adam by becoming a curse in our place. He was forsaken by His Father so that we could be adopted by Him. And he left us a better earthly model of a father in Genesis. Abraham, the father of our faith.

Abraham has feet of clay for sure, but the contrast between the two is stark. Yesterday we looked at Adam's doubt and disobedience versus Abe's faith and obedience. Here's another one. Adam took and consumed what was not his, while Abraham gave back what was not his. That Adam consumed the forbidden fruit is iconic. Abraham's generosity is less renown.

In Genesis 13 Abraham and Lot his nephew have a business disagreement.Their flocks and herds have prospered and there's not enough room in town for the both of them. Abraham ignored seniority, and lets Lot take the choice pasture. He takes whatever his nephew leaves. Lot considers the goodness of the land but ignores the wickedness of the Sodomites who kidnap him.His uncle has to go and rescue him and win back the stolen goods.

It is here that a mysterious figure named 'Melchizedek' appears to him, and breaks bread with him. Abraham gives him a tenth of the spoils of victory. It is from here that we get the idea of the tithe. In Hebrews 7, Jesus is called a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. It makes sense. We break bread with Jesus, and we still give him a tenth of what we earn. People have tried to disregard the tithe as law, but this was pre-law. Even Jesus affirms the tithe in Matt 26, adding that we are to keep our hearts in it, not allowing ritual to creep in.

But can I tell you a story that has brought the tithe alive in me? My wife and I have been married for almost 18 years. As far as I can remember, we have never missed a month of tithing. We simply settled it as a biblical conviction at the start. It is both stewardship and worship for us. This last month for the first time ever, though, I think I was tempted not to tithe.

Our elders had insisted we take two weeks vacation, which I appreciated, but we had nowhere to go, and no money to pay for a place. I honestly asked the Lord if he would let me off the tithe for once so that could have a nice vacation. I wrestled with God, asking him to prove Himself to me show Himself faithful. So we tithed. A few days later we were given 7 days at a house on the beach in Northern California. On the morning that we were to leave, someone came and gave us a financial gift that paid for another week of accommodation, plus spending money. The total value of what we received was about 4 times what we tithed. A powerful reminder that God is faithful. I am sitting typing this in a place I did not pay for. Not even the coffee!

Adam is such a common figure of consuming what does not belong to him. Abraham gives us a model of generosity that flies in the face of the rampant individualism and unbridalled consumerism of our day and age. Jesus empowers us to follow the model of our second father, not our first.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

father adam or father abraham?

So we established that we all have four fathers. Potentially anyway. We have our biological father and our first father, Adam, just by being born. We find our Father in heaven by being born again through faith in Jesus. In fact the bible calls Jesus the second Adam, who redeemed us from the curse of our first father by becoming a curse for us. Its here that we are empowered to follow the example of Abraham the father of our faith instead of Adam the father of our fallenness. There is no perfect father like God our Father, but God does give us a good, earthly example in Abraham.

A quick contrast between father Adam and father Abraham reveals one stark difference.
Where Adam's doubt led to disobedience, Abraham's faith led to obedience. This is essentially how we differentiate the two. In Genesis 12, God appears to Abraham and calls him to leave his father's house and 'go to a land that I will show you.'God's covenant was that He would bless him, make him into a great nation, and that all the people's on earth would be blessed by him. The condition is to go not knowing where he would end up. That was the kicker.

The nature of this covenant was very similar to God's intention for Adam and Eve' - 'be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.' They also had a condition. 'Do not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden.'That was their kicker.

Sometimes God keeps things off limits for us. Other times he keeps things mysteriously unclear. Essentially, He is testing our trust in Him and our willingness to submit to him as God, instead of asserting ourselves as our own god.

Will we echo Adam, like the poet in Invictus?
"My head is bloody but unbowed,
I am the captain of my soul,
I am the master of my destiny"

Or will we humbly echo Abraham? It's far less profoundly poetic than Invictus.
Obedient faith's potency is in its uncontentious simplicity.
"So Abraham left, as the Lord told him."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Living with our Four Fathers.

Scripture says that we have four fathers, you know.

Of course we all have a biological father, who gave us our direct DNA. For some, that's all they got from him. The relationship with their human father has been difficult, distant, or even non-existent. Others were fortunate enough to receive the gift of loving discipline, affirmation and provision from their human father.

However, through our biological fathers, we also all have the DNA of Adam, our first father, who gave us the gift of original sin. Thanks Adam. His disobedience was like poison poured into the source of the river called humanity, and it has polluted every part of the human condition, corrupting our ability to reflect God's image accurately, like rust on a copper coin. Our first father's gift to us was not simply bringing sin into the world, it was that we inherited a sinful condition. We find ourselves in a state of disintegration from God and other people, and of moral and emotional disorientation.

But God our Father is a Redeemer. Straight after Adam and Eve tried to sew themselves skirts out of fig leaves to hide the shame of their sinfulness, God clothed them with animal skins. This was the first time an animal was killed. (animals were not killed for food at that time.) It was a glimpse of the Gospel.The Proto Evangelon. Something had to die to deal with our shame. Or Someone. There is only one perfect Father. And He spent the only Son he had on us to redeem us from the sin of our first father. The death of Jesus, the Son enables us to find our real Father.

There is a fourth father, though. His name is Abraham,and the scriptures call him the father of our faith. In Genesis, he is contrasted with Adam, our first father. Where Adam doubted God and it caused him to disobey Him, Abraham believed God and it caused him to obey Him.

He was not religious. He was born into a culture that worshiped false gods. But God the Father sought him out, and revealed Himself to Abraham in sovereign grace. He did not know any moral law. Abraham simply believed God and was made righteous through faith. He saw the Gospel in advance. But his faith was active not passive. It moved him to obey, to sacrifice, to journey with God.

The next few blogs, I want to contrast Adam and Abraham as two very different fathers. One a model of doubt and disobedience. The other a model of faith and obedience. Irrespective of how our human father was towards us, God the father has left us with two models and one choice. He has redeemed us from the curse of Adam so that we can walk like Abraham.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bromance personified

This is an article in Christianity Today on a documentary about male heterosexual friendships. Its directed by Erik Santiago, one of the pastors on our team at Southlands Church. Of course, I'm biased because Erik is a close friend of mine and I also play a small role in the documentary, but I recommend the film highly for men's groups, both church and other. Check it out!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Art of Tacking

The doldrums. The fear of every sailor. In some ways even worse than a storm. In a storm at least you get blown somewhere. The doldrums is the absence of wind, and ships sometimes sit motionless for days waiting for the right wind to pick up. A skilful sailor learns how to tack out of the doldrums. It doesn't matter if the wind isn't blowing in the right direction. Any wind will do. Tacking is the ability to take a cross wind and zig-zag gradually in the desired direction.

Life is sometimes like that, isn't it? Leading a church can sometimes be like that too, although you'd swear from some of my pastor friends' twitter and facebook posts, every Sunday in their church may as well be Pentecost! In all honesty though, not every season in our lives, or the life of our churches is a season where the wind is blowing strongly at our backs. At times like these you have to learn to tack. Be faithful with the wind that is blowing even if it is less powerful and more inconsistent.

We've come out of a season of intensity and momentum as a church, with the launch of two services, and our Urban Renewal gathering. We have run hard and God has been good. We have seen salvations, baptisms, some healings,the launch of some great new ministries, and many new people engage with our community. We have felt the fresh wind of the Spirit blow upon us.

Now we find ourselves in a slightly different season, with the spaciousness of summer upon us, as well the sadness of saying good-bye to some families headed to go and help some partner churches in other cities and states. It is easy to slump into the doldrums at these times, but God is a God of seasons, and he supplies us with the strength to bear fruit in and out of season. In fact, although there are slightly less people around, there continues to be a fresh wind of repentance and prophecy blowing on our community.

We begin the first redemption story of our 'Red Thread' series this Sunday. It's the story of someone that Jesus has redeemed out of a life of same-sex attraction. It's a story worth telling, and one well-worth hearing. We also have our 5 missional initiatives that we are calling every person in the community to engage in.

So let's not let down our sails in this season. Let's be all hands on deck, learning to tack, trusting God for the fresh wind of His Spirit, and for the cargo of the Gospel to be carried to new people and new shores.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Red Summer!

Rynelle and I have just returned from three magnificent days in San Diego, where we celebrated her 40th birthday together. After a helter skelter few weeks around Urban Renewal, it was a rare luxury to rest up, soak in the beauty of the West Coast, and reconnect without interruption.

I bet many of us are similarly dreaming of long lazy days stretched out on bright colored beach towels taking slow sips from exotic glasses...unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case your dream may be more about great coffee around a roaring fire. Whatever the case, here in California, you can't fight the endless summer. It is what it is. Its as much a part of life here as tacos and 6 - lane freeways. You have to roll with it. Even better, leverage it for the sake of the gospel.

While many students go home, and families tend to come and go, those who stay around do tend to have more time. Life slows down.

So we are taking 8 weeks to tell 8 stories of God's redemption in our community. Real people with real, radical accounts of the transforming power of the Gospel. From convicted criminals, to people coming out of same sex attraction, to drug addicts, to respectable but miserable marriages. And God has redeemed them all. And keeps on redeeming them. We will tell the stories in interview format and preach around some biblical stories of redemption.

And then we have 5 fun, creative, missional impulses to engage in. An art school for kids and teenagers, a weight loss campaign, a homeless outreach, an inner city mission and a marriage course. Practical, helpful ways to love our city.

Its a whole community on mission, trusting that our summer beach towel has God's redemptive thread running right through it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Gift or Grace?" Exploring the Spirit's expressions.

There are not many today who would argue that the Holy Spirit no longer speaks or acts through His people. Although Cessationism thrived towards the end of the last century, many of the most conservative theologians and churches have begun to shift their position, admitting their need for a Gospel that is not simply proclaimed but also demonstrated with power.

Perhaps the larger enemy of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the church is more subtle in our time. It is less antagonism and more abdication. "If God wants to act He will," we say."It's not up to me. God is Sovereign."

Paul's answer to this attitude was fairly simple. "Eagerly desire the spiritual gifts." 1 Cor 14:1 Eager desire is not a description of passivity. It is a description of a child at the gates of Disneyland. Many of our approaches to spiritual gifts are more like parents at the gates of Disneyland - We are a bit jaded from our last experience, and if you are anything like me, very reluctant to enter again. Or we feel that we need to be completely rational, hiding all emotion in order to be used by the Spirit. It's okay to be zealous. In fact when Paul talked about prophecy he encouraged people not put out the Spirit's fire, and not to be lacking in zeal. The trick is to be zealous with wisdom and a lack of hype, so that people don't leave our meetings saying,"they are out of their minds."Sensationalism may be almost as dangerous as Cessationism.

I went around the room this week, after an incredibly stirring time at Urban Renewal, and asked each of our elders which spiritual gift they most desired. It was interesting how many said they had once operated in an aspect of spiritual power but that it had grown dormant. We spent time in prayer fanning into flame the Spirit's fire after asking God eagerly to restore His Spirit's power to us.

I suppose if passivity is the weakness of Conservative theology, then presumption is the weakness of Charismatic theology. The word 'gift' in 1 Corinthians 12 is possibly a poor translation, and it may be more true to say, 'expression of grace'. It is also "as the Spirit determines," not as I demand. A 'my gift' mentality and has left many people with a sense of inflexibility, and also of ownership of something that is ultimately God's. It's here that the danger of spiritual identity forming around 'my gift' can become incredibly self-serving. People lose sight of the fact that whatever gift they have been entrusted with is not for them but for the building up of others. They also forget that God may want to have them use another gift for another situation. Perhaps it is better to think of them as 'tools for a task'.God has given us a toolbox with more than just one tool in it. We can become skilful at more than just one tool.

Ultimately, whether you see them as gifts or graces, the expressions of the Spirit are there for the sake of the Gospel. They are not just for the building up of believers, but also for the bowing down of unbelievers. "The secret's of their hearts will be laid bare and they will fall down and proclaim, God is surely among you!" 1 Cor 4:27 Let's be zealous in eagerly desiring his gifts, and humble enough to use them as stewards for His glory and other's good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Plumber's Prophecy

With just a few days to go until Urban Renewal, registrations and faith expectations are climbing. It's so important to realize we are just a part of what God is doing, but also a part of the fulfillment of what God has been saying for many years. I thought I'd give a a bit of history on a gathering which seeks a convergence of Word and Spirit for the Gospel's sake.

Smith Wigglesworth, the simple Welsh plumber known as 'the apostle of faith,' prophesied the following before he died in 1947.
"During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it, and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches.
In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say, 'This is a great revival.' But the Lord says, 'No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.'
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidence in the churches of something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit. When the word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed, the world has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the United Kingdom to mainland Europe, and from there, will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth."

Our hope as a leadership team at Southlands, is that Urban Renewal would be a 'pebble in the pond' of this 'Word and Spirit' movement which spread outwards for the Gospel's sake to the glory of God.
See you Thursday! Register at

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Will we Tarry?" A call to community prayer

'Tarry.' Strange word. Forgotten word. The word Jesus used to describe what his disciples should have done with him in the Garden of Gethsemane and didn't.
Essentially, it means to pray watchfully. "Could you not tarry with me for one hour?" was Jesus' rhetorical question to them.

Like most of us, the disciples' spirits were willing but their flesh was weak. In their case it was because they were sleepy. More accurately, they were 'exhausted from sorrow.'Ironic, but so true, that when we are exhausted, discouraged or depressed, the very thing that cures our condition seems so hard to do.

Prayerlessness seems to me to be one of the epidemics of our culture and time. 'I'm too busy to pray!' is the excuse so many give. John Wesley's response to that excuse was, "I'm too busy not to pray."I have found that prayer brings space to my day, and when I neglect it, things seem more frenetic.

I remember another John; John Wimber, speaking about prayerlessness to his congregation not long before he died. They had become a large, high profile church and he felt they had become passive in prayer. "We are charging on someone else's credit card!" he warned. "We are living in the fruit of the prayers of those that have gone before us instead of investing in prayer for the next generation." An extremely sobering statement.

Of course prayer is inconvenient. But being a Christ -follower, means that the full and inconvenient gift of the Cross, calls for a full response from us. And in the inconvenience of it all, we discover the rare privilege of partnering with the Lord of All, fueling the shaping of history one prayer at a time.

My prayer for the community I lead, is that we would rediscover the power of 'Tarrying Together.' 2nd Friday prayer is the one hour every month that we express that most powerfully."No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who wait for Him" Is 64. Let's see you there Southlands.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Carrot, Stick or Cross?" Thoughts on leading God's people

As far as I can see, there are essentially three ways of leading God's people.
You either lead them by shaking a stick at them, or dangling a carrot in front of them, or by helping them to respond to the cross.

The first two are much easier ways to lead. They get good results but produce bad Christians.

When you lead by shaking a stick, you lead through the negative consequences of disobedience. So you paint a picture of how God will feel, or what He will or won't do if they do not do what you are calling them to do. People often respond very well to this kind of leadership. Initially anyway. They respond out of fear. But fear has a way of draining people after a while. So most people will either leave or become very resentful towards both you and God.

When you lead by dangling a carrot, you tell people of the positive reward they will get if they obey. You paint a compelling picture of how God will be pleased and how they will be rewarded by recognition,responsibility or prosperity. While this is a better way of leading than shaking a stick, and there is much biblical basis for God rewarding faithfulness, it is very easy to manipulate people through carrot dangling. It can just be a more polite way of stick shaking.Carrot dangling does also get results for a while, until people realize that reward is not always cause and effect in the kingdom. Sometimes the rewards don't come straight away. Sometimes they get given to others before them. Sometimes they only get given after you die. So after a while people just get a little bit jaded by carrot dangling.

The third way is certainly the most difficult way to lead. But I believe it is the most effective, and long lasting way to lead. It's by urging people to respond fully to the full gift of Jesus at the cross. Paul led this way. "I urge you, brethren, in view of His mercy, to present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice, which is your acceptable service of worship." Romans 12:1-2.

Leading people, in view of God's mercy, keeps them free from responding out of fear. They are responding to God's kindness. They are not responding in order to get God's mercy, but because they have it. Yet it also keeps them mindful of the greatest example of Someone who gave themselves away - God spent absolutely everything on us in Jesus - and so people are held responsible before the cross if they are holding themselves back. The cross also inspires them to hang in there in times when they do not feel rewarded or recognized, because Christ endured the cross for the joy set before him. Leading through the cross sometimes gets worse results initially, but it produces better Christians for sure, and in time does produce results if you persist in it.

I know this sounds simple, but whether it is a call to pray, to serve, to give or to forgive, I urge you to motivate God's people through the cross. I don't think there is really any other way.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sacred Sex

So I preached on sex this past Sunday as part of our 'Love Re-Imagined' series. I called it 'loving the temple.' Talking about sex in church is a bit like borrowing someone else's baseball mit. A bit awkward. A bit too close for comfort. But better than playing with no mit at all. After all, if preachers stay silent about sex, they simply have to accept that comedians and talk show hosts will fill the vacuum. Or the glove. Thing is, I want to carry on next week with it, but it's Mother's day and I am not sure how that will go down with all the moms.

Paul talked pretty straight about sex in 1 Corinthians. Fascinating that Paul used the idea of our bodies being temples. The temple was seen as sacred by the Corinthians. It was also ridiculously expensive; An Estimated $500 million to build an ancient Greek temple. The Corinthians saw their bodies as amusement parks - John Mayer's, "Your body is a wonderland" would have described their attitude towards sex real well; just a place of cheap thrills with no consequences, but Paul was intent on them seeing their bodies as valuable and sacred in God's eyes.

Our bodies are temples because of the price Jesus paid to redeem us. Our value doesn't come from what we've done with our bodies. We might have cheapened them by our sexual choices, but their value comes from the priceless blood of Jesus which bought us from slavery. We are expensive whether we feel it or not.
And the blood that redeemed us,keeps on redeeming us, setting us free from the chains of sexual brokenness. I've seen it work countless times. It is still potent to redeem today.

Redemption works both ways though. In Corinth, slaves who were redeemed by a generous master, were set free from a life of forced labor. Often though, out of gratitude, that slave would become a willing bond-servant to that master, saying in effect,"You have set me free but I will willingly serve you the rest of my days because of your kindness.'That is what Paul was saying. If we understand God's kindness in setting us free, we willingly give ourselves back to Him. 'You are not your own, You were bought with a price. Honor God with your body."

Our bodies are temples not just because of the price paid for them, but also because the Holy Spirit owns them and resides in them.

After one of our meetings, a mom with three teenage/college age daughters in the church came up to me and said, 'I love that my daughters get to hear this stuff. Hearing it again on Mother's day would be fantastic."
So I guess I'll be sticking my hand inside that baseball mit again this Sunday.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ballast below and Sails above

God is a wave maker. The wind and the waves obey Him. He who can bring a storm to a whisper with one word, also stirs the currents of His Kingdom, propelling the next wave of His purposes onward. As Christians, we aren't called to make waves. We are called to position the vessel of the church so that it can be propelled forward on the wave of God's making.

In these days, I am convinced that positioning the vessel of the Church for God's wave requires that we run a tight ship. That we have secured our primary cargo.That we have agreed that we carry the message of the Gospel of first importance.(1 Cor 15:1) A vessel with one message, Christ and Him crucified.

The tight ship doesn't stop there though. He wants the Church to ensure that it is wise in the Word and powerful in the Spirit for the sake of the Gospel. The vessel of the church must have the ballast of the Word secured below, and the sails of Holy Spirit obedience fully opened above, in order to cope with the magnitude of the next wave of God's purposes.The two are not in conflict. The Author of the Word would never contradict His own book.

There seems to be this stirring world-wide. I think it is becoming a movement of God's Spirit that will wash over streams, flows and denominations, bringing convergence to a fragmented church. I believe this movement will propel the vessel of God's church onward with the message of the Gospel.

Urban Renewal is a part of this movement. It exists to equip believers to grow in both Word and Spirit, for the sake of the Gospel. We have believers from 7 nations converging upon Brea, Orange County for three days with this aim. We would love you to join us.

Speakers include Mike Pilavachi(UK), Jon Daniel(Australia),Ger Jones (UK), Jonny Hughes(UK),Todd Proctor (USA), Tim Chaddick (USA)and Chris Wienand (USA/South Africa).

To register, go to

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Umzimkulu mud between my toes

Its 2:50am PST.I've been awake for about an hour.The Melatonin tabs aren't working.
So I'm musing about our trip. A three week feast of family, friends and ministry - right now a bit of a blurr. In three weeks we didn't spend more than three nights in the same bed. So I'm squelching through the moments and memories like a slow walk along the muddy banks of the Umzimkulu River, before I throw myself back into life in the city that never slows down.

Honestly, that was one of the simple pleasures for my family during the few days we stayed on the Drakensberg farm that once belonged to my Great-Uncle. Walking barefoot again. Even though my kids got thorns in their feet, they refused to put their shoes on, preferring to risk pain for the sensation of grass, mud, wood and water on their feet.

Our family motto for the trip was 'great memories, good meetings.'In that order. That meant that between ministry, we made quality time for memorable reconnections on both sides of our family. I loved watching all the cousins mix - particularly the older ones - where the teenage intersection of personality, puberty and faith-journey is fascinating. The younger cousins seemed to simply pick up where they left off three years ago. We have an incredibly rich heritage of family, and I am firmly 'forgetting not God's benefits' of quality time with them.

The thing is though, that in our world, its impossible to separate family, friends and ministry neatly. We often had all three together at once! And that's probably how it should be - where the blood-lines are blurred because of the blood of Christ.

Again, very sweet reconnections in the four churches we were with, all unique communities which we deeply love and respect. Here are a few common threads I noticed.

All of them are on a sincere journey of transitioning from having Community at the center, to being Communities with the Gospel at the center.

All are facing the reality that a 'Biblical Model' and 'Apostolic Partnership', are no longer enough to grow a strong church. It requires first and foremost that we are good stewards of a Message.

All are facing some sort of pressure to polarize, either towards a conservative reformed journey, or to a hyper-charismatic expression. Most are wrestling to find their own radical Word/Spirit blend around Mission. Churches unable to guard sound doctrine are generally losing people.

Most are around 30% down in their income, which means honest assessment of staff productivity, less travel, and increased volunteer efforts to keep doing the work of ministry.

I loved our time with each one. I felt like we were able to encourage them on each of their journeys, at a time that is crying out for clear, courageous leadership. Again, it is a mystery to me how easy it is to give altar calls in South Africa!
But I have come home more convinced than ever of our calling to the U.S, and that this nation is more ripe for the gospel than it has been in the last 30 years, and is longing for a Church on Mission, strong in both Word and Spirit.

A confession. I purposefully left a bit of dried Umzimkulu mud between my toes as a memoir. I know,I know, the customs people wouldn't love that. But hey, a bit of clean African mud never hurt anyone.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lingue Franca'

Culture is a beautiful and mystifying thing. Being back in South Africa is a stark reminder of how the unique flow and force of culture requires its own unique approach as we preach the unchanging message of the cross.

It requires as visitors that we listen more than we speak. It calls for a certain humility and agility as we find how our story connects with theirs. It requires more than simply offloading our story on to theirs. It requires some finesse, I guess.

It has been a blurr of people so far - precious people who mean so much to us, and whom we feel, deserve more of our time than we have been able to give. We live with an incredibly rich inheritance when it comes to friends, family and churches.

The Corinthians series we have been preaching through as a church has been immensely helpful to me on this trip. Firstly,that irrespective of culture, we have been called to be a one-message people - 'Christ and Him crucified. If the Gospel is at the center of our life together, we get the whole package with it. Christ the power of God, and Christ the Wisdom of God. Where so many churches here seem to have divided along these lines, when the Gospel is the deepest seat of our unity we do not have to choose between power and wisdom.

Secondly, that Love honestly is the 'Lingue Franca' - the universal language of every culture. Some churches we have been with are flourishing, others are taking tender, tentative steps forward, others who were once seemingly impregnable powerhouses are now fragile and limping forward from the fray. No matter the season,every church needs love. Not the sentimental, slap -on the- back, glorify - the - past kind of love. But a tender, firm, practical, persevering, truthful love which will call forth that which God entrusted to it. A love which will draw attention to the gold which has been refined by the fires of trial. A love which will lift heads to see the Father in whom there is no shifting shadow.

Thirdly, that all around the world there seems to be a hunger for a more sane, mission-orientated expression of the life of the Spirit. Not just a happy hour for the church. But a happy hour for the world, where sinners repent because of the present power of God.

Who is equal to such a task? It has me running back to our Father asking for the kind of love Paul had for the church in Corinth. And it has me praying furiously for Southlands, the community we love and miss, that we would be a people who give others courage as we follow the way of love, and give ourselves to the fullness of His Gospel.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Glorious Mess or Messy Glory?

I have no official role at Biola. I happen to be a pastor of a church that many Biola students and some faculty call home, and so I do my best to serve a College I love in any way I can, whether that means speaking at Chapel, doing bible study in the dorms, or drinking coffee at Common Grounds on Wednesdays. Last night, my role was leading Communion after the guest speaker had talked, while the Southlands band led worship. The context was Student Mission's Week, the College's annual catalyst for the Great Commission.

The guest speaker was a flamboyant, disarming, and likeable Kiwi from YWAM called Mark Parker.He spoke on 'true salvation.' I left last night feeling that what had taken place was significant in the broader scheme of Biola's journey, but would definitely need some processing.I suppose I feel partly responsible too, because after Mark finished preaching and began praying for students, I was by default left holding the microphone and hosting the remaining hour of a meeting, that I guess, would be about as 'charismatic' a meeting as any in the history of Biola.

In a packed gymnasium, students confessed their sins publicly, worshipped passionately, some wept or laughed, others were set free of demonic oppression. Some even spoke in tongues! This in many ways was a radical and remarkable step forward in the ministry of the Holy Spirit for a college which 100 years ago, publicly condemned the Azusa Street Revival down the road as a 'work of man.'

Last night felt like revival, which thrilled me, but I also left a little concerned at the same time. As a pastor and bible teacher, I have a great desire to journey with cautious conservatives towards a greater encounter with God, the Holy Spirit. I recognize that this is best done in reverence for the Scriptures and with sane humility. I felt that at times these elements were, shall we say, illusive, leaving what happened last night as fair game for conservative critics. Was it just emotionalism? What about the absence of biblical exposition? Was he trying to force people to fall down?

I do not want to leap to Mark's defense or point a criticising finger. I do not know him, but I am thankful for his courageous, in-your-face ministry, which is a little like triple-shot-espresso to the spiritually sleepy. God will often use people like this as a catalyst gift for a short time. We then have a responsibility to keep aflame what God has sparked. God seldom uses the same gift to maintain a flame as the gift he uses to create a spark.

R.T Kendall, successor to Martin Lloyd Jones, in writing about his journey from cautious conservativism to an openness to the Holy Spirit, said that
"the anointing almost always has a stigma attached to it." Using biblical prophets as his example, he noted that they almost always came with a certain 'yuck factor,'and I have found this to be true in most significant moves of God which I have experienced. God's life is often a bit messy, and our culture has tried to tame and sanitize God, making him into some benign therapeutic English country gentleman, who would never upset the apple cart. His love is more wild than that. We cannot tame Him. But in maintaining the flame of revival, we can tame ourselves, to make sure that our ministry and meetings are helping more than harming. I believe that people need to be shepherded through the unfamiliar with a lack of hype and a heap of wisdom.

I do believe that there is a Gospel-Centred sanity in Holy Spirit ministry which many have not experienced. If they did, it would cause them to be more open and less critical of the gift of the Third Person of the Trinity. He is not an optional extra. He is the absolutely vital, yet often missing element of our Gospel Mission.

So, was last night a glorious mess or some messy glory? In my view it was the latter.
My appeal though, is for zeal to be tempered by wisdom, and for the Biola community to channel the Spirit's ministry towards the Spirit's mission.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Join the Symphony.

Tom Wright said that if history is a symphony, in the death and resurrection of Christ the symphony changes from a minor key to a major key.

God's redemption is a moment in our lives. It is the moment we believe in the blood of Christ to save us from the wrath of God and slavery to sin. But redemption is also a movement. It is a continuous restoring of all things back to their intended order.

I am always astounded(I supposes I shouldn't be) at the 'allness' of the atonement. The vocab for God's redemption at the cross touches every part of our lives and every part of our world. To redeem is an economic word. To justify is a legal word. To reconcile is a family word. To expiate is a religious word. And the list goes on, but the point is that God is still redeeming every part of us and of our world.

The major scale still has some minors. The symphony is certainly not completely resolved. Injustice,abuse, poverty, sickness and brokenness still prevail in a myriad ways. But the overall theme of our symphony is hopeful because God overcame sin at the cross, and is including us in his redemptive symphony to His world.

Many Christians do not recognize that salvation is not just being redeemed from something,and given a ticket to heaven, but also being included in God's redemptive movement.

When we read in 1 Corinthians, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him," we often think it is talking about going to heaven one day. Actually it is quoting Isaih 64, "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down...for no eye has seen, no ear has heard..."

It is a prayer for the breaking in of God's redemptive movement on earth. It is a prayer for the symphony to crescendo into a hopeful anthem of Jesus' redeeming power.
This is why we pray. We believe that the symphony is not done yet. We believe there is so much more that God wants redeem in His world. And we want to be a part of it. Will you join the symphony?

And if you live in the L.A/O.C. area, we invite you to join us this Friday at 7pm at Southlands Church as we pray that God would 'rend the heavens and come down."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Gospel according to Nacho Libre'

One of my favorite movies is 'Nacho Libre.'Its the only movie in which ive memorized the lines! In it, Jack Black plays a monk turned wrestler and falls in love with a nun called 'Incarnacio', the Spanish word for 'Incarnation.'This is the theological term for Jesus becoming human. It means 'to take on flesh.'Incarnacio is an image of beauty and purity, intended to be an icon of 'God in the flesh' herself. The irony is that she is hidden away in a monastery, isolated from her world. Nacho, on the other hand, though fat and clumsy engages his world with great courage, for a great cause and to great effect.

This past weekend Brenden preached a compelling message on 'Loving Christ's world' as part of our "Love-Re -Imagined" series. His appeal was for the church to be morally distinct from, yet relationally engaged with their culture. We cannot be monastic in order to remain untainted by the world.

Paul says it like this."I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and the swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you'd have to leave this world." (1 Cor 5:9-11)

Holiness is not absence from the world. It is remaining distinct, while engaged with the world. Jesus, the sinless friend of sinners is our model. Leaving the culture of heaven and embracing fully the culture of earth, he was carried in a womb, born through a birth canal,grew up in Galilee, learned obedience from his parents, learned a language, learned a trade. His incarnation, the act of 'taking on flesh and dwelling among us', was inconvenient, humiliating,and time consuming.It was expensive!

When Paul talks about 'becoming all things to all men that he might win some' in 1 Corinthians 9, he is calling us to follow him as he follows the example of Christ. In fact, when he sends Gentile Timothy to preach the Gospel to the Jews he has him circumcised. Timothy paid the price of incarnation with his own foreskin! It must have been painful, humiliating and expensive too.

How willing are we to be inconvenienced by engaging our culture with compassion, friendship and humility?
Are we able to be 'in the world but not of it?'
Once we have engaged our world, do we have the boldness of Jesus, and of Paul, to share our grace story at the right time?

These are three huge questions for all of us if we are to answer the call live for the cause of Gospel. Surely we need the power and wisdom of the Spirit of Mission to say yes to all three?

We may feel fat and clumsy like Nacho, but Christ wants to empower and use every one of us for His mission.