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.