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.