Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hazell Frow and the joy of being interruptible

My dear Gran, Hazell Frow, went home to be with Jesus last night. She was 94, had lived a full and active life, but had struggled physically after a fall earlier this year. When I saw her for the last time in June she said she was ready to go and was looking forward to heaven.

One of the things I loved about Gran was her honesty. She was nothing if not candid. She told it like she saw it. When I was about 20, and experimenting with long hair, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was not impressed with the experiment. "What's the long term plan for your hair, Alan?" She was completely right. It didn't look good at all. I think Gran began the Frow tradition of 'clearing the air' which has made for the telling of some inconvenient truth over the years, but I'm grateful to her for that legacy.

I also admired Gran's buoyant, matter-of-fact approach to life. She was thoughtful and generous, but completely unsentimental. She knew how to move on from dissapointment and pain in practical ways. One of her favorite sayings was, "at any rate.." It was a philosophical kind of "oh well, let's not dwell on that," sort of saying that set us all up to look ahead and keep walking. She was not one to indulge in self-pity or regretful melancholy. Her faith in Jesus fortified and propelled her in visible ways.

Knowing it was the last time that I would see her in June this year, I prepared a few 'big life questions' for Gran. I asked them at the dinner table in front of the whole family. Essentially, her secret to a happy life was true to form, given with candid brevity. "Your Grandad and I loved eachother so much but he insisted that I enjoy life after he died. So I listened. I travelled a lot, I got involved in serving my church and had an active social life." Her only regret was not visiting Alaska.
When talking about how to build a happy marriage, she had only two pieces of advice. "We had breakfast together every morning," and then with a twinkle in her eye, "I know it's not meant to be said, but we had a really good sex life." Unforgettable wisdom.

My favorite thing of all about Gran was her Skype calls. They were always brief. In fact Rynelle and I would have a secret competition to see how long we could keep her on the line, because she tended to end them so abruptly after hearing how our family was. So we'd keep firing questions at her so as not to give her space to say, "At any rate, I should go now..." The calls were often at the strangest of times, because Gran didn't really understand time zones, or otherwise just didn't feel the need to adhere to them. For some reason she often skyped me during staff meetings. It was a running joke amongst my staff. "It's Gran!" I would exclaim, and they would always respond with a joyful, "Hi Gran!" We would pass the laptop around so she could say hello to the staff, and we would all have a quick chat. It was a joyful interruption, and I suspect, a powerful application of a strongly held team value. "Have a clear mission but be interruptible."

After all, the mission is about people. Be interruptible like the Good Samaritan. Be interruptible like Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood. Like Paul and the prophetic drama by Agabus. After all, the interruptions of people are often the interruptions of God.

The last Skype conversation I had with Gran was not during staff meeting. It was 11pm at home. I was tired, about to head for bed, and I almost didn't accept the call. I am glad I did. Gran was in an uncommonly chatty mood. I cannot repeat what she said, but in her own unsentimental way, she pronounced a sort of 'Gran's blessing' on me. For once it was me who had no words and wanted to end the conversation abruptly in awkward gratitude. But I treasure those words.

Gran, I am so glad that you are home with Jesus. But I will miss your uncomplicated honesty, your straight forward bouyancy, and your staff meeting interruptions. At any rate.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Carol Wimber and a Century of faith

Most of us suffer from attention deficit syndrome when it comes to God's voice and presence. We're so overstimulated, that even the most profound moment is stifled and forgotten under the layers of our helter-skelter lives, leaving a foggy numbness in our souls. Every now and then though, there are those defining moments when God arrests our attention with compelling clarity. I had one of those moments last week and I've not been able to shake it. I've not known how to write about it either, because it's a sensitive story, which can do more harm than good if clumsily told. Careful wisdom is needed.

I had the privilege of having coffee with Carol Wong, who was married to John Wimber and founded the Fellowship of Vineyard churches towards the end of the 1970's. John died towards the end of the 90's but by then, God's work in the Vineyard had left an indelible mark on the church worldwide - in worship, in healing and the prophetic.

Carol re-married a close family friend who had also been widowed, a number of years after John died. She and her husband Ken live in Yorba Linda. They had recently been invited to Yorba Linda Friends Church's 100th year anniversary. It's a remarkable thing to be able to celebrate a century of Gospel impact. YL Friends has an amazing record of faithfulness, extending as far as India, where they are the largest builder of schools among the Dalit caste in that nation. Like any church though, their tapestry has a few dark strands woven into the stunning pattern of their story. One of those strands was their request at the end of the 70's, that the 12 families holding a bible study in Carl Tuttle's mom's lounge best leave the church. It was a group led by John and Carol Wimber who'd begun to explore intimate worship, saturated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. (more details in Carol's book, "The way it was") It was an intoxicating time for these folks, and uncomfortable for a church more cautious about the charismatic. And so the Vineyard was planted out in fertile soil, but rather messy circumstances.

Sitting in their lounge, Ken and Carol told me how delighted they were, more than 30 years later, to be invited to YL Friends' centenary celebrations,and to be publicly honored as a movement that God had birthed and multiplied. I believe this kingdom gesture will have immense redemptive ripple effects in time to come.

But here's the comment that arrested me. Carol pauses and says,"You know, we had all the miracles but they must have done something right. They've raised amazing sons and daughters, who love and serve God."

It was a statement of honor towards YL Friends, and a humble admission that as people hungry for the power of the Spirit, we've often been guilty of valuing anointing over character. Of suddenlies over slowlies. Of converts over disciples. Of revival now over heritage next.

I don't believe we are called to ignore one at the expense of the other. An expectation of the power of God breaking in now is vital to capture the imagination of the next generation. But I wonder how differently we would live and lead if we thought, "What would this mean in a century's time?" And I wonder how differently our churches would look if we placed as much value on a lifetime of faithful plodding as we did upon one moment of power?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bliss and Thistles

I read a hymn a day as part of my devotions. I learn the history of the author, the motivation behind the hymn and some helpful ways to pray and worship through it. I love the crafting of the lyrics, the richness of the theology, and the connection to the vitality of a historic faith.

Around this season of Thanksgiving the theme has appropriately been around giving thanks.

Towards the end of the 19th Century Adelaide Proctor wrote;
"I thank Thee, God, that all our joy is touched with pain,
that shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain,
So that earth's bliss may be our guide and not our chain."

All too often, the writers of the hymns went through horrific trials. Their praise rose up from valleys of such intense distress and suffering that my struggles seem brief and insipid by comparison. Still, the treasures forged in their crucibles can be ours, no matter the intensity of trials.

They seemed to be able to tell that the difference between shallow happiness and deep sustaining joy, was sorrow. Pure joy was not the absence of sorrow, it was being able to rejoice in the presence of sorrow. It was a sober admission that there may never be a perfect season to praise. That though God was redeeming the bliss of Eden, our fallen world would always contain some thistles. That this was a gift that caused to long for our true home in heaven, which meant that every season could be a good season to praise.

It's an amazing irony that Thanksgiving and Black Friday stand only hours apart.Have you noticed how the grateful thanksgiving around the table turns into a mad rush just a few hours later to grab the things we simply cannot live without.

Horatio Spafford wrote 'It is well with my soul' as his ship passed the place where his wife and daughters had drowned in a previous shipwreck.
"When sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
it is well it is well with my soul."

Lord teach us to be thankful in loss, and joyful in sorrow.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Disciplemaking is patient pursuit

This past Sunday my neighbor and his wife came to church for the first time. I can tell you this here because he insists he does not do facebook, twitter or blogs.

We have known each other for around 9 months. They've been amazing neighbors.
The first time he came over to our house we were hosting a southlands@home bbq. He met some of our friends but didn't hang around too long, so we invited his family back for a bbq a month later. He said we were the first people on the street to invite them over.

We discovered that both he and I shared an ambition to cook a whole pig underground. It's called a Luau. We started planning one, and tried a practice run a month later with two big chunks of meat in a hole. They were tasty. I suggested we do the Luau with some friends in our back yard to raise money to fight sex slave trafficking. He was all up for it. A month later we had 60 people in our backyard with a pig, which he cooked, and raised almost $1000 for Love 146.

When I asked him to come to church so that we could honor him and his wife for their part in the evening, he wasn't enthusiastic. "We're not into church and God. Something will fall on our heads if we come!" he protested.
So I confess. I bribed him. I said that I would buy him a crate of his favorite beer if he came to church and hated it. So he came.

Funnily enough, he actually loved church. He said there was an amazing sense of warmth and love in the room, great energy and he enjoyed the sermon. He does not believe in Jesus. Not yet. He says he believes in love and peace. But he wants to talk more and wants to know if it would be okay that he came back to church to listen more. I think that's okay with me!

I think sometimes we are impatient to close the deal with our friends and family when it comes to faith in Jesus. The fact is that Jesus called his disciples to follow Him and be with Him before they fully believed. His calling included patient relational investment. It was around two years before Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ.

It was three bbq's before my neighbor came to church. He is still not a Christian, but our relationship has moved from food and friendship, to working together on a common cause, to a shared Christian gathering, to intentional conversations about Jesus. It's not always this slow, but I think often it is.

Tim Keller bears this out in his '10 tips for evangelism'. I'm not a big one on 'tips', but I think when it comes to making disciples we need all the help we can get.

1.Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
2.Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
3.Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
4.Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
5.Give them a book to read
6.Share your story
7.Answer objections and questions
8.Invite them to a church event
9.Offer to read the Bible with them
10.Take them to an explore course

What Keller also advises is that we (generally) start with 1-4. If people are interested and want to talk more you can move them to stages 5-7. If they’re still interested go on to stages 8-10. Sometimes people will want to go straight to 10, but often people start from way back and need some time to think and discuss things in a non-pressured way. We often think that only stages 8-10 count and invest all our energy there. TK suggests that to get people at stages 8,9,10 you have to put the work in at 1-4. Sometimes you’ll have to keep going round the loop multiple times.

Keller suggests to leaders that we should aim to get 20% of our folk doing this (of course it should be 100% but let’s be realistic). If we do, we’ll see a steady stream of conversions over the long term, and sustainable church growth.

I don't want to get too realistic. Let's all get disciple making!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The cost of coming home

One more night in Vietnam, and then another in transit in Singapore until we are back with the family and the familiar.

There is something about Vietnam that creeps under your skin and spills into your soul. I think it may be the sheer unfamiliarity of it all. The chaotic order, frenetic and tranquil all at once. Beneath the sweat and heat and dust is an exotic treasure of color, taste, texture and design. It's like gorging yourself at a smorgasbord of the senses. It's the kind of place that you'd want to come to for a Sabbatical, or maybe to write a book. Just a completely different rhythm of life.

Anyway, that's for another time. There was not much Sabbatical in Saigon(HCMC) this time. We loved our reconnection with Thu Thiem Church, a community with 25 different nationalities, which has begun to grow rapidly since coming out of its former house church format. It's led by Steve and Jenny Murphy, a business couple who served on eldership with us in Johannesburg 10 years ago. They and their team are doing a remarkable job. It's a church coming of age, growing in missional traction, which is not easy considering the governments' watchful approach towards outsiders and their churches. God met with us in profound ways as we worshipped, preached, and prayed. My highlight was being there on the day that a young French-Vietnamese man called Chris, who lived in Los Angeles and has now returned to Vietnam, got baptized. The Gospel of the kingdom seems to be lurching forward like a hundred scooters from a Saigon traffic light.

Singapore is more familiar to us. More ordered, less overwhelmingly foreign and more classically urban. I would describe it as a world class city, and RHC, the church we have now returned to for the 3rd time in 4 years, takes after it's city in many ways; exceptional, intentional and warm.

We love going back to churches. Friendships are quickly rekindled and progress can be clearly seen. There were a number of poignant prophetic moments in meetings, and we also had a rich time with some of RHC's emerging leaders. Sometimes though, in God's economy, flying to a distant city to play a few games of Mario Brothers with a church leader's 4-year old son can be as valid as preaching to a packed auditorium at multiple meetings.(we did that too.) The Gospel is relational, and church planters and their families often need good friends more than they need good advice. It can seem costly at times to leave your kids and church and routine to do this. But Jesus left his home in heaven to bring us home to God, and following Jesus will involve leaving the family and the familiar for us too. (Mark 10) We count it a privilege to walk with Simon and Tarryn and the remarkable people of RHC.

I got lost on a run one day in Singapore. I didn't have Simon and Tarryn's address, just a few landmarks in my mind and like most guys, I didn't want to ask for directions. An hour and a half later, exhausted and confused, I hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to the hawkers market where there are four ice cream shops. I told him I only had $10 so if he could not find it by the time the money ran out I'd be in trouble. His reply was astonishing. "It's not about the cost. It's about getting you home." He left his normal route to get me home.

Could that be our heart in disciple making, wherever we find ourselves? In Singapore, Burma, or Brea. Let's be willing to leave family and the familiar for the sake of seeing people find Jesus, and find home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Mill and the Waterfall

I love waterfalls for their their sheer, gushing weight and wonder.
My first sighting of a serious waterfall was Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The locals call it "Amanza Adumayo," which translated means, the "smoke that thunders." Aptly named. The mighty deposit of Zambezi River water causes an immense cloud of mist to sit above the falls and engulf the onlookers.

No less majestic are the Niagra Falls, which can be viewed from either Canada or the United States. There is great contention as to whose view is more spectacular, but one thing is for sure, the view is greatly enhanced if you are simultaneously eating a pile of buffalo wings from Buffalo, New York, even if they have been smuggled over the border back to Canada, like my friend Mike Holmes did for us!

Some people, however, do not simply stare at the spectacle of a waterfall. They find ways to harness its power. I received a stunning water color painting of a waterfall by my friend Sean Barrett for my 40th birthday. To be precise, it was actually of a flour mill above a waterfall. The mill is more visible than the falls. It’s a mill that my father has restored in the last five years with the help of some of his engineer friends. some scuba divers and the South African Airforce.

The mill was built as part of the Reichenau mission by a trapist monk named Abbot Frances Pfanner in 1887. The turbines of the mill are under the waterfall, and the velocity of the tumbling cascades drive the turbines, which empower the mill to grind flour from wheat grown in the area. For many years the mill was the primary processor of wheat into flour, but over the past few decades, the turbines stopped working and the mill became a beautiful but broken relic – little more than a majestic room with a view. Until my father began dreaming and planning to restore the turbines. That required the help of an S.A. airforce helicopter, some dedicated engineers, and some intrepid scuba divers who dived down under the falls, unbolted the turbines, got them lift out of the water, flown away to a workshop, restored, flown back, and bolted back in place. On our last trip out to S.A. my dad took us to see the mill, which was beautiful, but more importantly, fully functional.

For me, this is a metaphor of what it means to receive apostolic ministry gifts into the life of the church, like we have received these last few weeks. It has been a weighty deposit of Jesus power, majesty and beauty. But can it be more to us than a 'two-week-wonder?'

Some of us have viewed outside ministry coming in to a church as informers to teach us something profound, or 'performers' to show us something spectacular. But Paul says they are imparters (Romans 1:11) - sharing spiritual gifts with us to make us strong and equippers (Ephesian 4:11) – training us for works of service.

No doubt we have had some amazing times as they have ministered. Many have understood the grace of God and the Father's heart in fresh ways. Numerous people have been physically healed. There have been stories of people being set healed of emotional scars they have carried for years, and others who have encountered the presence of God like never before.

But the job of Ephesians 4 ministry is only done when a church begins to walk in the gifts it has experienced. The waterfall is not just for admiring. It is meant to turn the turbines, which power the flour mill, which puts bread on the table of hungry people.

Can we ensure that the powerful deposit of apostolic ministry that we have enjoyed are not just impressing the saints with works of wonder, but that they are equipping the saints for works of service? The waterfall is for the flour mill. I pray that these past few weeks would empower us all to serve Jesus, his church and His mission.

p.s. Rynelle and I leave today for a two week trip to minister in two churches in the Far East. One is in Singapore and the other is in Vietnam. We have returned each year to encourage these churches for a few years now, and are loving seeing them walk with greater strength and vision each year. Please pray for us as we go, and keep the flour mill turning at home!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Who of Urban Renewal. Darren Rouanzoin.

5 days to go until Urban Renewal. People gathering from 3 continents, 4 nations and 5 states. If Texas is a state and not a nation, that is.

I've blogged the last few weeks about the speakers who are coming. In some ways it's been easier deciding on international speakers than local ones, partly because there is such a wealth of great speakers in our county. Our question has not been so much, Who is the best speaker?", but rather, "Who is living out a unique story and message that needs to be heard?"

The first time I met Darren Rouonzian I thought he was a model. Not the rugged, Levi jeans kind of model either. He looked to me like someone who'd stepped out of an Urban Outfitters commercial. Perfect hair. Fine, hipster features. To be honest, I thought he'd be better suited to planting a church in Santa Monica than Long Beach!

First impressions are often misleading. As I got to know Darren and his wife Alex, I discovered in them a razor-sharp vision and rugged commitment to living out the Gospel in the heart of Long Beach, the most culturally diverse city in the U.S.A.
From the get go, their church, the Garden, planted deep relational roots in the soil of the city, gathering on Sundays in a bar, and starting a literal community garden to serve the poor.

Unlike many missional expressions of church, they have remained faithful to the Gospel and fervent for the power of the Spirit to fuel them on mission to their city. Darren has quickly become a catalyst for unity among the churches in Long Beach, urging them towards a common mission. He's also begun to travel more broadly, speaking primarily on impacting our cities in the power of the Spirit.

Darren and Alex planted the Garden with a team from Rock Harbor about three years ago, as twenty-something newly-weds. Rock Harbor, in their typical servant-hearted generosity, set The Garden up extremely well for success. But with all the support in the world, church planting in a city like Long Beach is still a massive under-taking, littered with countless casualties. To have seen the growth, favor and impact God has given them as twenty-something, newly-weds is note-worthy.

Theirs is a story still unfolding.But one well worth hearing.

Darren will speak at Urban Renewal on Friday night on "Renewing the City," and will take part in one of the breakouts on 'Word, Spirit and the Post-Modern Mind."
To register go to

Monday, September 17, 2012

'The Who' of Urban Renewal. Rory Dyer.

We're just 10 days from the start of Urban Renewal and I feel real anticipation for what God is going to do when we gather from 3 continents, 4 countries and 5 States here in the U.S to seek Him.

The last few weeks I've tried to give you a glimpse of the people who are coming to speak at Urban Renewal - a rich and diverse mix of culture, experience, age and gifting. This week I want to let you know a bit about Rory Dyer, a good friend who is coming from South Africa to join us.

Chris and Meryl, who led Southlands for 14 years, handed Glenridge, the church they planted in South Africa, to Rory and Mel Dyer in 1996 before they came to the USA. Glenridge is a large church, but more importantly, it is the most generous church I know. Bar none. They have been overwhelmingly generous with their finances and their people over their almost 30 year history. I would guess that they have planted about 50 churches during that time, by training up leaders and sending them with some of their best people. In some cases they've sent up to 70 people with a leader to plant a new church just 10 minutes down the road! Remarkable open-handed generosity and subsequent Gospel impact.

Over the years Rory has become a unique and potent minister of the Gospel, moving very naturally between preaching, prophecy and praying for people. He loves to speak on God's Father heart, introducing people to the reality of a relational God who knows us by name.

He's also experienced amazing favor in the market place, where he sits on the boards of a top private school and a bank as a kind of spiritual consultant. He carries an urgent passion to see the Church make Kingdom inroads into the market place. And he is living his message. He will speak on 'Renewing Disciple making' and 'Renewing our call to the Work Place.'

I honestly would not want any of you to miss the gift that he will be to the church in this nation.

You can find out more about Urban Renewal at

Thursday, September 13, 2012

His Bride is an Army?

Around 15 years ago, a wise friend of mine sat with the leadership team of the church we were in at the time. He had come to help us take next steps as a a fairly young church, and was listening and observing before he gave counsel.His name was Ray Oliver.

Ray was never quick to speak. But when he did, it was always incisive. This time he simply said, "There are 4 main pictures of the Church in the book of Ephesians. Body, Family, Bride and Army. From listening and observing, it seems to me that this church is a great Family and Bride. But God wants to make you into a strong Body and Army too.

What did he mean? What he meant, was that we had very close relationships as a community, and we were also a worshipping community with a strong sense of God's presence with us. However, we were not as good at serving one another as a Body, or at being on Gospel mission together as an Army.

We responded to Ray's challenge as leaders, repenting and asking for God's help to lead this Family/Bride to be a Body/Army. During this season I wrote a worship song, which became something of a war cry for our church. "Great King, your Bride is an Army.." A comical picture perhaps, but it became an anthem for a season.

When I went to Brazil a few years later, someone had heard the song, translated it into Portuguese and recorded it, selling thousands of records. On getting hold of a copy, I asked my Brazilian friend to listen to the song and translate it back into English for me. After listening, his puzzled reply was, "The first line says, 'Great King your fiance' is a platoon!'"

Anyway, my point is that God's intent is for every local church to rise up to be a united Army with a common mission, advancing a common Kingdom against a common enemy. He also dreams that we would live as a Body, with each member actively playing it's part in sacrificially serving the rest of the Body.

Coincidentally, I would say that God is also working in Southlands at this time, in growing a compelling Family and Bride into a powerful Body and Army. My prayer is that we would all look to Jesus, the Head of our Body and Captain of our Army, and with one voice would declare, "Lord, Use us and Lead us."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

'The Who of Urban Renewal' part 2 - Terry Virgo

In the final weeks leading up to Urban Renewal (27th-29th September), I'm taking a few moments to highlight the different speakers. One of the things I've loved about the gathering is the diverse mix of culture and church background represented.

If you include the breakout speakers this year, we have people from South Africa, England, Canada and the USA involved, from a variety of church streams and flows - Vineyard, New Frontiers, Anglican, Acts 29, and independent - evangelical - all with the same heart to see Gospel-centered, Spirit -led churches equipped to be on God's mission. Very rich indeed.

One such man, is Terry Virgo. Terry is the founder of New Frontiers, a worldwide family of churches on mission together. He is from the UK and is currently based at Kings Church in London, which is led by his son. Terry and his team serve nearly 700 churches across 60 countries.

He studied at London Bible College as a young man, and during this time his spiritual journey was was deeply influenced by Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, whose quest to discover a sound theology of the Holy Spirit was almost unheard of in evangelical circles. Having been shaped by this experience, Terry became a fore-runner in the UK in planting churches with an empowered-evangelical ethos. More than three decades later, Terry has raised up and commissioned numerous younger apostolic leaders in his network, who are continuing the work of planting and establishing churches all over the world. His courageous, open-handed leadership has become a rare and remarkable model for many of us.

Terry speaks at conferences internationally and hosts the annual Together on a Mission conference in the UK, which draws thousands of delegates from around the world. Here in the USA, he has developed close links with the Acts 29 movement of churches.
Terry has written several books, including The Spirit Filled Church, God's Lavish Grace, God Knows You're Human, The Tide is Turning and No Well-Worn Paths which is his biography. Terry will be one of the key-note speakers at Urban Renewal.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Who of Urban Renewal

Over the last 3 years we've worked hard to articulate the 'Why' of Urban Renewal.
We put together a neat video to keep the vision of the gathering clear at

But what about the 'Who?' Who's going to be speaking? We've always tried not to make a big deal of big name speakers - I'm not against them, but I believe it's better to gather people around God and His mission than to gather around personality. That said, we do have some great people joining us from around the world and the nation - friends who we have come to love and respect. Kingdom collaborations, criss-crossing in a rich tapestry of experience and emphasis, all with a common quest - seeing the church find the radical middle of Word and Spirit for the sake of the Great Commission.

Talking of 'The Quest for the Radical Middle,'the book of the same name has become an amazing text book for me and many, in trying to understand recent church history in Southern California. It's essentially the history of the Vineyard Church, but is far broader than that - the different streams of God connect in mysterious ways. Bill Jackson, the author of the book and church historian extraordinaire has become a friend. He even allows me to call him by his nick-name. Jax!

Jax is still vitally engaged in raising up church planters in the Vineyard, and training churches across the board in proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom. This is no dry academic, although he is a fine theologian. He is an engaging speaker and practitioner, who has equipped churches for many years. It will be a delight to learn from him.

He and his friend Todd Volker have been involved in setting up 'Need Prayer?' booths in farmers markets and city centers with significant success. As a church we have enjoyed working with them. They have seen people healed, saved and set free. They are taking it to the street, literally. Bill will speak on 'Renewing our view of the Kingdom,' and Bill and Todd will do a breakout session on 'Word, Spirit and the Supernatural.

Not to be missed. You can register online at

Monday, August 13, 2012

Read your own Script

Rynelle and I enjoyed tag-teaming together with David and Linda Mushegan on'The Long Haul Marriage"yesterday at Southlands. (both interview and message will be up at by Tuesday.)

We've had numerous conversations with people, both married and single since then, who were impacted by what was said, and who were wrestling through how to respond to God's call to the noble covenant of marriage.

One couple we spoke to admitted their tendency to point out to each other where they were falling short in holding up 'their side of the bargain.'
We all have a tendency to do that. We are contractually wired. We are taught to be self-protective, and other-demanding.
Covenant turns it on it's head. It is other-protective and self-demanding.
It is based in Jesus' unconditional covenant of love with His Church,and I believe we are unable to fulfill it without His virtue.

So my encouragement to us all, is to try and avoid reading each other's script - looking over our husband's shoulder and saying, "The script says, 'lead by giving up your life for me.' Why are you being so selfish?" Or looking over your wife's shoulder and saying, "The script says, 'Be submissive.' Why are you being so willful?"

That just re-inforces a vicious cycle. The best way to introduce a virtuous cycle is to read our own script, repent for where we have not been to our spouse what Christ would want us to be, and pray that they in turn would do the same.

"Easier said that done," I hear you say. True story.
But let's read and act on our own script, and see what our gracious God will do.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Under the Orange Peel -the Baldy and the Bear

There is a bizarre passage in scripture where a group of young men start to taunt Elijah the prophet, for being bald. "Go on up, you old baldy!" they say. Elijah calls down curses on them and a big old bear comes out of the forest and mauls the youths to death. It's pretty horrific but the comedy is not lost on me. Every man who has ever been teased for losing his hair feels a smug sense of pleasure at Elijah's revenge.

While Elijah can teach us nothing about taking a joke, this passage does have something to say about God's values of dignity for the elderly and the aging process.

The point is that in a culture that obsesses with preserving our youth, we devalue the assets of character that appreciate with age. In so doing, we effectively disqualify
the elderly because their bodies aren't what they used to be.

Scripture describes a Christian as both a tent and a temple. The tent is the body which is wasting away, and the temple is the soul, bought by the priceless blood of Jesus, and renewed day by day by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Every tent, no matter how beautiful, begins to sag over time. It just does. And while we are called to look after our 'tents,' it's the eternal temple that we are to invest in.

C.S Lewis said it well. "You are not a body. You are a soul. You have a body."

Let's be careful that we don't get mauled by the bear of body worship, where we obsess about the tent and neglect the temple.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Under the Orange Peel - manic or melancholic?

1 in every 4 American adults will suffer from some diagnosed mental disorder this year. Mental illness is complex, and the church has often been too simplistic, telling people to ‘snap out of it’, pray more, and resist the devil. It took two suicides in the youth group that Rynelle and I led to force me to realize it wasn’t as simple as all that. The truth is that anxiety and depression is influenced by a toxic cocktail of circumstance, personality, the demonic, chemistry, patterns of thinking and living – even weather.

Washington natives blame their famous Seattle melancholy grunge ethic on the fact that they have so much rain – I think it also has to do with their tendency to wear the same plaid shirt for 5 days straight – but weather certainly plays it’s part in the soul of a place. Sunny Orange County is classically known for it’s fast paced, high stress, gulp-your-triple-shot-espresso as you navigate rush hour on the 57, 5 and then 55 on the way to your 60-hour-a-week job, right? Yes, we are a county which sits fair and square in the anxious seat. But strangely enough, the Government
state by state statistics for depression show sunny California running higher than dreary old Washington state at over 10%. It seems that under the sunny orange peel exterior, deep in the soul of this county it’s more acid than sweet.There seems to be a serious deficit of joy around here, despite all appearances.

I remember being berated by my personal assistant once for confusing schizophrenia with bipolar disorder. Having had a family member who suffered from bi-polar disorder and having seen it’s unique impact and treatment, she rightly told me off for being ignorant of the different mental diseases. While I cannot presume to give a silver bullet solution for all mental illness, and have regularly referred people suffering in these areas to professionals, I am also aware that we too often consult the professionals before we consult our Creator – we love to delegate responsibility for our joy to someone else. Before we dismiss Scripture as too primitive for our complex world and sophisticated souls, let’s look at what God has to say about stress, anxiety and depression.

Because I am no expert to speak to this broad and complex subject, we will interview Chris Williams, a marriage and family therapist in the church, and then I will speak more broadly on our county's seeming ‘deficit of joy’.

Whether it is anxiety, insomnia, mood-wings, baby-blues, grief over the loss of a loved one, or low-grade stress, the main symptom is a ‘deficit of joy’ and we may be surprised to see how much God has to say about it in the bible. As GK Chesterton once said, there are a lot of ways to fall down but only one way to stand up.

We'd love to have you join us at Southlands Church this Sunday at 9 or 11am.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Redeeming Eden

Creation and the fall began in a garden. So did redemption. The more I look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the more I see that he was re-enacting what happened in the Garden of Eden.

As God was betrayed by Adam and Eve, so Jesus was betrayed by humanity in Gethsemane. Denied by Peter three times, abandoned three times by his sleepy disciples, and eventually deserted by them all at his arrest, he experienced human relationships at their most fickle. His betrayal was particularly brutal. The 'Judas kiss' was the kiss of a disciple to his Rabbi - the so-called sign of affection and belonging from an apprentice to his mentor. Gethsemane reveals the dark underbelly of humanity. It has not evolved since Eden. Humanity is shown to be in moral decay.

Jesus' vision of the cup that He would drink at the cross literally brought him to his knees. Pleading with His Father to find another way of redeeming humanity, he sweats drops of blood as he sees what he will endure on our behalf. He is overcome with horror, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. The cup he will drink is the cup of the Father's holy wrath at humanity's revolt against God.

What stuns me about this passage is not only Jesus' willingness to endure the cup. It is his willingness to endure it on behalf of such a fickle, two-faced, sleepy, greedy creepy bunch of people. People like you and me. The bitter cup of redeeming humanity must have been made that much more bitter by his sense of betrayal by his closest friends. Those he had invested his life into. How tempted he must have been to harden his heart? To allow bitterness to take root? But that is the whole point isn't it? It is at our lowest, darkest, most unfaithful point that Jesus sees us and is faithful to stay, and pay for us with his own life.

He is not just the betrayed God, re-enacting Eden. He is the faithful second Adam, tempted to disobey God, but obeying instead, and therefore redeeming Eden! What an indescribably loving Savior!

He not only redeems us, tasting God's wrath on our behalf, He is able to empower us in moments of temptation because he was tempted but remained faithful - not only in areas like lust, greed, addiction - also in the area of relationships. A husband left you, a business partner cheated on you, a parent abandoned you, a best friend found a new best friend, a child rebelled. When we feel betrayed ourselves and are tempted towards bitterness and retaliation, He is the One who overcame the greatest betrayal and remained faithful. He is able to help us. We are not victims. he empowers us to say, like he said, "Not my will but Yours be done."

Gethsemane means 'Wine press of Olives.' In Gethsemane, Jesus was relationally and emotionally crushed like an olive, so that we would not be. In fact, because he was crushed, we can drink the oil of intimacy with His Father, experiencing his joy and healing when we feel relationally and emotionally crushed. Jesus sweated blood in the
dark night of the Gethsemane, so that we could walk with God again in the cool day of Eden.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Learning to Teach

Followers of Jesus are apprentices who've embraced a life of learning. We never leave school. Even when we feel we have something to teach, we want to remain teachable all our days. It's actually as we keep learning that we remain sharp as teachers.

That's how it is for us every time we travel. We go to learn as well as to teach, and although it seems like our visits to the different churches and times with numerous church leaders have been helpful to them, God always uses the time to give us fresh eyes on the community we love and lead at home too. Paul spoke of wanting to be with the church in Corinth so that they could be mutually encouraged. I think that's what I'm talking about.

So what have we learned from the churches in South Africa?
Well firstly, their gutsy, uncomplicated approach to following Jesus is inspiring. Their trust in His protection and provision, and sacrifice for others is always a reminder that it's not what you know, but what you do with what you know that counts. It's the reason the church is growing faster in the East than the West today, and as Christ -followers in the West, we simply need to learn live out the basics of our faith in the power of the Spirit without over-complicating things.

Second, and connected to this, South Africans are generally more communal in their faith. They understand the 'one-anothers' of the Christian faith, and generally have resisted individualism and consumerism. I was also deeply encouraged by the growth in cultural diversity I saw in each church we were with too, and especially the quality of emerging black leaders.

Another major shift that I saw in each church we were with was an intentional move from 'community' to 'community on mission' which was heartening. This
has been largely due to the influence of American writers and preachers who have helped the church recover the Gospel as central, and therefore mission as the primary expression of the church.

Much to be encouraged by and to take home and apply.
But what are some of the challenges we see - not in every church, but as a general trend?

The most obvious one; crime and political instability, is a factor of course, but at the risk of sounding unsympathetic I've always felt that South Africa's environment has been a kingdom gift if people can embrace it. It seems to forge a kind of Christianity that is heaven-minded and faith-fuelled. It's kept the church on it's toes and increasingly I see churches taking social and economic responsibility where governement is failing to do so. This is remarkable.

No, I would say a bigger challenge is that there is still a real polarization in most churches around Word or Spirit.You still have churches that have on the one hand focussed on preaching sound doctrine, or on the other hand focussed on demonstrating and enjoying the power of the Spirit. Churches tend either to be swimming in the river or running hard without water. All three churches we were with were aware of this polarization and working hard to find 'radical middle' within the fresh time constraints of multiple services. This is a fresh challenge. I am persuaded that there still remains a call for churches to emerge with a healthy tension between Word, Spirit and Mission.

Second, I've noticed over the last five years that the empahasis on husbands and wives doing ministry as a team seems a little less of a priority. While some wives have enjoyed the grace and space to be at home more, my sense is that in some quarters men have lost some of the benefit of perspective from and partnership with their wives. While I embrace a complimentarian approach to leadership, I believe "it is not good for man to be alone" applies beyond the home, extending into the church too. 'Team' has always been a key value of churches we have been connected with, and frankly, domestic help enables couples to walk that value out more easily than in other countries, so I would encourage churches to guard that value in a spirit of grace.

We love this country, and honestly treasure the friendships we have gained over the years.It's a delight to be able to come back and share in the journeys
of so many of these friends and partners. South Africa, you are still a stunning and unfolding story of God's redeeming power, that has modeling power to transform nations.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Making Disciplemakers

I'm sitting with Rynelle in LAX waiting to board a plane for South Africa. Airports are bitter-sweet for me. I hate leaving our kids, and I miss our community, home and city.I also have long legs and minor claustrophobia.That said, I'm well aware of the call to make disciples of all nations, and of the need to get a glimpse of what God is doing around the world too. It always gives me fresh eyes on what God is doing at home. So travel is a painful privilege.

Last week was a deeply confirming one for me. I traveled to Chicago with my friend Todd Proctor, and sat around a table with 8 leaders of large, high profile churches, to pray and plan for a shift in America's church culture. That may sound presumptuous to you, but honestly, there were some pretty heavy hitters in the room, and their combined lament at the status quo was palpable. These were successful church leaders, deeply dissatisfied with their own levels of disciple-making (mainly due to the busyness of 'running a church') and the lives of their congregations(mainly due to consumer tendencies.) We weren't just gathering to complain though. We were gathering to own the problem, and hopefully do something about it with intense intentionality.

You're probably asking, "So, why were you there?" Don't worry, I was asking myself the same question initially, but after a bit, I just accepted that I was, and decided to add my two cents worth to the conversation. The truth is, that big is not always healthy when it comes to both physical and spiritual bodies. As a medium-sized church by U.S. standards, Southlands has some very healthy disciple-making cultures, even though we have a ways to go. One of the things we have to offer, is our high relational quotient. The lament around the room was that people in very large churches are fixated with meetings and programmes but resist more organic, relational discipling. We do not, and need to keep the relational culture strong as a means to a disciple-making end.

So, a few reflections before I fly:

If we look at Jesus' style of disciple-making, he took three years with twelve guys. He taught, healed and fed the crowds, but discipled the few. You cannot mass-produce disciples. They are made in a slow, humble, sacrificial investment of one life into another. There is no silver-bullet curriculum, although there are some good ones. Disciple-making cannot only be carried by leaders either. Real multiplication happens when every follower of Christ takes responsibility to become a 'fisher of men.'

The one problem with a highly relational culture though, is the fear that I could lose my friendship with you if I get too serious, or call you out on an aspect of your life. That is a fear we are going to have to get over, not lording it over each other, but taking humble courage, as we spur one another on to love and good deeds. Our relationships can be nets that draw people in to a compelling faith where the current is towards following Jesus.

Second, disciple-making should not be limited only to believers. It is not simply spiritual formation, where we take believers and help them to become more like Christ and more intimate with Christ. It is that, but if you look at Jesus' life, it's not clear at what point the disciples got saved! And yet Jesus' approach to them was pretty consistent both before and after faith. We can and should disciple people towards faith. Disciple-making is not just spiritual formation, It should include relational evangelism.

Third, as leaders we should ask ourselves whether we are making disciples or disciple-makers? I feel I have been better at making disciples who are growing in Christ, than making disciple-makers who are living to see the life of Christ multiplied in others. I am intentionally applying myself to this, and am loving seeing some fruit in that regard.

Jonny Wilkinson, the world cup rugby winner from England had a strategy when it came to kicking the rugby ball between the goal-posts. He would aim at an imaginary lady in the crowd. I think he called her Aunty Edna. He found that if he aimed at her instead of at the posts, he would kick the ball through the posts more accurately. I think it's the same with aiming at making disciples. If we aim at building a church we may fall short of making disciples. But If we aim further at making disciples intentionally, we will find that we build strong churches accidentally.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Liquidity not Poverty

Last week we looked at the conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler - a man who'd found wealth, power and success early on, but still felt that something was missing. He viewed Jesus as a guru or life coach, and asked him how he could inherit eternal life.

Jesus looked at him and loved him, and then counseled him to, "Sell everything and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven."

Two interesting nuances. First, He doesn't say this will get him eternal life. He says it will give him treasure in heaven. In other words, Jesus is pointing out that the way he treasures his possessions makes the treasure of eternal life; knowing the Father, redundant. He's calling him to make space in his life for treasuring the Father. The man went away grieved because he was not ready to fall out of love with his wealth.

Second, he doesn't tell him to give everything away. Jesus wants him to change the nature of his relationship with his possessions, so that his possessions no longer possess him. He is calling him to liquidate! As a wise man in our church said to me, "Jesus' point here is not poverty, it's liquidity." It is only as we liquidate that we realize whether our possessions possess us or not. Possibly the most generous man I know said to me once, "Every six weeks I need to do something radical with my wealth in order to keep myself free from the love of money."

Sometimes it meant doing a trip into a poor community to serve and give. Other times it meant lending his car to someone, or opening his home to others in hospitality. Often it meant giving large sums of money away. I once borrowed his sports car for a ministry trip and blew a gasket on the way. I felt terrible. He was amazingly relaxed. His possessions did not possess him.

I have loved hearing the stories of 'liquidity' in our community recently. People selling, giving, lending, inviting. It's the way the kingdom moves forward - when we liquidate some of our frozen assets for Jesus' sake. And there is great reward for it - 100 fold reward in this life and the life to come. If poverty was Jesus aim there would be no reward.

I think I know why Jesus looked at this man and loved him. I think it was because he could identify with him. Jesus is the ultimate rich young ruler, who enjoyed the treasure of intimacy with the Godhead in heaven, the riches of being worshipped by the angels and living creatures, and of living in His Father's many-roomed mansion. He gave it all up to come to earth, and in the prime of his life, He was about to embrace the deepest poverty of the cross. Tim Keller sums up Jesus' exchange with the rich young ruler like this. "I gave up my big all. Will you give up your little all?"
Let's allow the Gospel to melt our hearts and our relationships with our possessions.
Jesus does not demand poverty. He demands liquidity.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The mystery of hospitality

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it."

This was the text from Hebrews 13 that Dr. Corey spoke from at the Brea Mayor's prayer breakfast yesterday.
It was an incisive word that stirred a lively conversation among our people.
It has direct application for how we relate to people outside of the church.
It may stir you to host a street party for your neighbors, start helping out in a homeless shelters, or take a work colleague out to lunch.
I believe though, that it also has an application for the way we interact within our church communities.

Let me illustrate. I recently had two conversations. One was with a friend who has been a part of Southlands for eight years. He was lamenting the change of dynamics within the community. His lament went something like this. "Some of my friends have moved on to other churches in other cities and there are so many new people I don't know. It's just not the community that it used to be." I told him that his discomfort was understandable, but reminded him that when I first met him he was lamenting that the church wasn't growing. Now that it was, he was lamenting the intrusion!

The other conversation was with a lady who has been part of the church for more than 20 years. She and her husband have offered to host a couple for a month, who arrive this weekend from New Zealand. They have never met this couple. Their house is not big. Neither is their budget. But their hearts are and she was talking with excitement about helping this couple to land in their new city. They are welcoming the intrusion of strangers with joy and anticipation.

Make no mistake, compelling community is a vital part of any healthy church. But it can easily become an idol.
The early church were devoted to fellowship, they broke bread together with gladness and sincerity. They loved each other deeply, caring for each other in practical ways. They did life together. However, it seems clear that the mixture of growth and persecution kept them from becoming a cozy, closed community. Community was not the center. The Gospel was.

God seems often to disrupt the coziness of our communities with Gospel multiplication which results in painful good-byes. He also disrupts with Gospel intrusion which results in uncomfortable hellos. Very few enjoy good-byes and that's understandable. I am amazed though, how many seem to resent 'hellos.'

And this is what the writer to the Hebrews was saying. Do not resent Gospel intrusion. Keep investing into new friendships through hospitality to strangers. You simply do not know what God might do through it.

I know. Long-standing, mature friendships are wonderful. Like putting on an old pair of slippers. They are warm, fuzzy and comfy. The new ones are far more costly. Like buying and wearing in a new pair of Chuck Taylors! It's a new investment, you have to walk more carefully, your feet may get a bit sore. But this is the way of the Gospel. Investing in new friendships enlarges us and often extends new Gospel frontiers.

Let's not lament that community is not forever static, or wait for someone to lay on community for us. Let's take initiative in showing hospitality to strangers, both within and without the church. We never know who we might be entertaining.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Family Matters

Today, in our community there are three rites of passage. Jesse Mason, who led this church with his wife Clare until 1996, went home to be with Jesus. He was a true worshiper of God, who left a remarkable legacy of love for God's presence and people. Jesse and Clare have remained strongly connected and deeply invested in the church they so lovingly led since they handed over to Chris and Meryl. The last time I visited him he said,"Alan, the greatest gift you can give Southlands is to be a worshiper of Jesus." I've taken his counsel to heart, and it's amazing to think that right now Jesse is worshiping Jesus, the longing of his heart, to his heart's content. Our love and prayers are with Clare and the Mason family who will obviously be grieving his absence, even in the joy of knowing he is present with Jesus. We will send details of Jesse's memorial service as soon as we know. It is sure to be a magnificent tribute to a life well lived to God's glory. At the other end of life's journey, a couple await the birth of their second child with great anticipation today. It's a strange thing when one longs for the pain of labor to come so that new birth can occur. Thirdly, a man and a woman will make a marriage covenant, and we will witness the miracle of God making one out of two. Death, birth and marriage. All rites of passage that impact family in significant ways. Family matters to God and Jesus had much to say about it. This Sunday at Southlands, I'm going to look at what Jesus said about marriage, children and wealth - all important family matters. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"It happened"

Ed Strong. Even the name conjures up images of some kind of super hero.
At least it did for me as a pre-adolescent pastor's kid when Ed moved into my parents' home as a 21 year old. His bulging biceps, Yamaha XT 500 and singer/songwriter skills clinched the deal for me. I had my very own super hero.

As if that weren't enough, Ed was a new Christian who had more spiritual fervor than anyone I'd ever known. Seriously.
He would come home from the building site where he worked as a plumber, close his bedroom door and pray and read the bible for what seemed like hours! He was probably the first guy who made being Christian seem cool. This, for me, at that age, was immense.

It was no surprise then, that after marrying his beautiful wife Heidi, they planted a church and it began to flourish. Ed made church planting seem fun. Appealing. Even possible. They were a model couple living a ministry dream.

He was the Master of Ceremonies at Rynelle and my wedding in 1994,
and it was in that same year that he told me over lunch that he'd had an affair.
I was not just surprised. I was devastated.
Devastated for Heidi, their children and the church, of course.
But devastated for me too, if I am completely honest.
My hero had failed me. He was tragically flawed.
Ed Strong was no longer strong.

Watching Ed walk through a process of repentance, discipline and restoration felt like watching Jacob wrestle with God. Except it wasn't just for a night.
It was more like a decade-long, dark night of the soul.
I only caught glimpses of it, but I knew enough to know that Ed was completely undone by what he’d done. Redemption from a broken covenant is seldom steady, sure-footed progress. It is normally a faltering forward stumble, weighed down by shame, consequence and regret, coaxed gradually onward by Grace. Ed will tell his story better than I could but from my vista, when he slowly emerged from his long dark night, he emerged with an utter brokenness that was somehow more whole than ever before. God had unmistakably restored him, his marriage, family and ministry but his gait was more limp than swagger. He had learned to lean upon God like Jacob leaned upon his staff.

I suppose God redefined 'strong' for me through Ed Strong.
I began to observe a strength in him that came from repentant, desperate dependence. I begrudgingly had to admit that this was probably a more true definition of ‘hero’ than the one I had before.

Someone wise once said, "Never trust a man without a limp."
I trust Ed. You don’t entrust the leadership of a church that you have loved, led and nurtured, to a man unless you trust him. Ed and his remarkable wife, Heidi, have led London Road Church since 2007. Their marriage and family are a trophy of God’s redeeming grace and under their watch, Jesus has grown the church from health to strength.

Knowing Ed and his journey though, it will never be a swaggering kind of strength. It will always be a strength that leans more on God's power than man’s ingenuity. For that, I’m deeply thankful.

If you’re looking for a book to make you feel better about yourself, I don’t suggest you read this one. But if you are desperate enough to wrestle with God like Ed did, I commend this book to you. I am persuaded that through it, Christ will redeem your weakness and redefine your strong.

("It Happened" Ed Strong's book will release later this year. contact for details.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Living Easter Saturday.

There is so much to be thankful for as I reflect on what God did among us this last weekend. We hosted over 1300 adults and many children too, from Wednesday night to Sunday. There were some glorious baptisms, ten churches united in prayer, an amazing 'taste experience' of the Gospel that led to a profound worship response, and many visitors encountering the grace of God for the first time. So much to be thankful for, and much new life to be nurtured.

Of course, with thankful hearts we also find ourselves asking,"How could we do it better next time around?" And more importantly, "What now?"
What does it mean to live in what we have preached and celebrated? How does the life of Christ invade our lives, and quicken our bodies in real ways?

On Friday night while standing at the back of our auditorium, waiting for our Good Friday meeting to begin, I had a short but profound conversation with a friend of mine. He is an ardent Christ follower, going through a trying time in his job. He said, "I love the reminder of the death of Christ today, and His resurrection on Sunday. But I feel like I am living on Saturday."

His life isn't terrible. It's just tough because it seems full of hope and potential still buried in the ground. He is surrounded by 'death' all day and is looking for ways to bring Christ's life in that place, but is finding it a draining ordeal. He is not satisfied. He longs and hopes for more.

Many live in this place. We encounter God in the justifying and reconciling work of the cross. We have accepted by faith that sin and death have been conquered in the empty tomb. But we feel somehow in limbo. A hopeful limbo,no doubt, but one which longs for more. We have the future hope of life after death, but endure present sufferings, yearning for more evidence of his resurrection power with us now.

I believe that the 'Saturday' longing is a constant condition of the Christ-follower. We are never longing-free. Even when we have amazing success, there is always some area of life that is undone. Paul affirms this. "Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory to that will be revealed to us... we groan inwardly as we eagerly await our redemption."

Essentially he calls us as Christians to expect glimpses of Sunday in the middle of Saturday. "The Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead lives in you and will quicken your mortal bodies. The Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness, with groans too deep to express." (Romans 8 excerpts)

None of us are immune from Saturday. But none of us are powerless either. We have access to Sunday's power while we live in Saturday. "Thanks be to God who gives us new birth into a living hope through His resurrection power."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

133 goes City-Wide @Easter

Easter 2009 marked the beginning of the Brea chapter for our community with the opening of our building on Imperial Avenue. It's been a full and fruitful three years since then, helped in no small part by a group of Brea pastors who opened a wide and warm door of friendship to us, even before we arrived.

There are two things that I find remarkable about the pastors in Brea. One is the number of them who've served their respective churches for twenty years or more. The result is a number of men who carry serious credibility in the city, which is rare and valuable as a collective Gospel witness. The other is that these men really love each other. This is even more rare and precious. A number of them have toiled faithfully as friends in the soil of this city for over two decades, and the fact that they've welcomed newer churches like us into their field and friendship circle is a tremendous gift.

I believe it takes a city-wide church to win a city-wide war. Our war is not against unbelievers or other churches. We stand shoulder to shoulder as a local churches in a common war against the god of this world who has blinded the eyes of people to the truth of the Gospel. We wage a ground war by living as faithful witnesses to Jesus in the power of the Spirit, but there is an air war which must be waged in prayer. This is what United@Easter is all about: 10 churches gathered on Wednesday the 4th of April for an hour and a half of worship and prayer before the Easter weekend.

Our simple intent is to exalt Jesus and ask Him to draw people to Him as we preach His Gospel at Easter. Every church is hungry for the empowering of the Spirit to be faithful witnesses to Jesus all-year-round, but Easter presents an especially ripe Gospel opportunity. That hunger will look, sound and feel different in each unique expression of Christian community, but the hunger is the same. We are desperate for God to move in power on our city, county and nation.

What a privilege to serve these 10 churches in Brea by hosting United@Easter as an expression of our normal 133 prayer time. I'm asking that we all show up in force as a community to host with humility and passion. I'm believing with you, that this gathering will be a significant catalyst for unity amongst the churches in Brea, bearing the lasting fruit of the Father's blessing on Brea and beyond.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Roots and Wings Book now available on Kindle at Amazon.

Although we released the paper back at Christmas in 2011, and it ships worldwide, a number of people have asked about when it becomes available as an ebook. Well, the answer is, today, on amazon as a kindle book. You can download it by clicking or cutting and pasting the link below. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Winning Home and Away Games

This has become one of our team war cries as a church. I think it could be for every local church. The call to win home and away, to be faithful witnesses to Jesus both in "Jerusalem" and beyond to the ends of the earth, is intrinsic to the Great Commission from our Great Commissioner.

The last couple years have seen us intentionally make an effort to be an Isaac -spirited church; (Gen 26) to 'stay and sow' here in the spiritual famine of Orange County. By His mercy we have seen some terrific fruit, and we are convinced that if we are not seeing fruit here, we have nothing to export beyond our borders. Or to change the metaphor, "a winning team builds it's season around winning home games."

So what is it to be a community on mission here in our own zip-code? What is it to peel back the sunny orange-peel facade of our county, to reach and love the last, the least and the lost? It is no easy task, because the lost are often blissfully unaware of their lostness! But we have fallen in love with our home field. It is a ripe harvest of God-fearers and Hedonists, whom God is redeeming from the idols of self-righteousness and self-realization. He is redeeming them to Himself!

Mind you, that's not the whole picture. This January during our church fast, God spoke to me very clearly through one of our students, who was fasting with us while on a study trip in Israel. He was in Beer-Sheba, and felt that God's word to Jacob at Beer-Sheba was very pertinent to us as a church for 2012. (Genesis 46) It was famine again, and God's word to Jacob was very different to the word to His father, Isaac. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt." It was in Egypt that God would turn Israel from a clan into a nation. Isaac had to stay. Jacob had to go.

This has been God's word in season to Southlands. There has been a weighted grace on
crossing geographical borders to partner with other churches for the sake of the Gospel this year. Palm Springs. Aspen. Newcastle, UK. Johannesburg, South Africa. This has not been due to strategic planning. The Gospel runs along relational lines more than strategic ones. We are busy training over 40 potential church planters through Porterbrook Network. There is a fresh wave of Jacob's coming.

And now we have begun dreaming about those who have never heard the Gospel. The missioliogists call them 'World A'. If 'World C' comprises Christians, 'World B' comprises evangelized non-Christians, then 'World A' comprises those that have never heard the Gospel. Of all the funding currently going to missions, only 0,1% goes to reaching World A! And of all the missions workers being sent out, only 0,4% go to "World A!' There is something horribly skewed with this picture! It may take 2-3 years, but we have begun dreaming about how to reach 'World A.' The majority of us will never go to World A. But that does not mean that we cannot prepare and partner with those who will.

Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel. May the Holy Spirit empower us to be an Isaac-spirited, Jacob-spirited community, who both 'stay and sow', and 'go and sow,' for God's glory and the joy of all people!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Giving what you got" : embracing the pleasure and price of travel

I love a good deal. My wife found a brand new pair of men's boots at Goodwill the other day for 16 bucks. Chocolate brown, suede, ankle length boots. 16 bucks. When she went back the next day to get them for me, the price tag had come off, so the shop attendant said she could have them for 8 bucks. When she went to the checkout to pay the lady said it was 50% off shoes that day. So I got a great pair of boots for 4 bucks. As I said, I love a good deal.

Since 1997, Rynelle and I have traveled together. At one stage airports felt like our second home. We remember those days with fondness and gratitude, but the gloss of globetrotting wore off long ago. We find the price of leaving kids, fighting jet lag, sleeping in strange beds and eating foreign food, somehow more costly these days. Travel is a huge privilege, don't get me wrong. Engaging in what God is doing around the world, making new friends and seeing new places is enriching. But it's certainly not a good deal. It's expensive all round; for the sending church, for the people who go, for the family who gets separated, and for those left behind to take care of the kids. So why do we do it?

Well, we go because as followers of Jesus, the Sent One, we are also sent ones. He left the comfort of His heavenly family to preach and embody the Gospel, and to make disciples, leaving them with the command, "As the Father sent Me so I am sending you." We understand our call to be witnesses of Jesus is not limited to our neighborhood. Christ's disciple-making commission was to all nations.

We also go because we believe the most effective way to make disciples is to plant and nurture healthy churches. When we go, that's what we're involved with. It's not a sight-seeing trip staying in nice hotels, or speaking at flashy conferences. It's staying with the people in the church you've gone to help, listening to their stories, struggles and dreams, answering their questions, and praying through their pains. There certainly is some preaching and worship leading, but that's really the minor part of it. It's more about climbing in the trenches with them. This is what we've spent the week doing in Newcastle, England, with a church called The House, which is in the throes of a leadership transition.

Which leads me to the final reason we go. We go because we have something to give. You don't go to get something. You go because you've got something to give. God has brought Southlands safely and strongly through a transition herself. He's been kind, patient and faithful to us. Although each church's journey is unique, it's been clear that the lessons we've learned have been helpful for this church in her own transition.

It's not always going to be Rynelle and I who go. We're committed to building a strong and compelling local church in Orange County, and equipping others to go too, but I feel we would be selfish and even disobedient not to share some of the treasure of our transition.

Let's not wheel and deal with God as He sends us, whether it's to our neighbors or the nations. Let's not try and get the best bargain. We've been given what we don't deserve in the Gospel, and therefore live to give it freely. As Jim Elliot, the missionary martyr once said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Looking forward to seeing you this Sunday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remember the loaves in the storm

What is the connection between Jesus calming the storm and feeding the 5000?
Mark's Gospel makes an insightful one. "The disciples were terrified, and amazed in the storm because they didn't understand about the loaves. Their hearts were hardened."

At this stage the feeding of the 5000 was just another spectacular display of Jesus power for them. Obviously, it must have been fantastic to be used in that way, and to see the fish and bread literally multiply in their hands.

It's only after the storm though, that Jesus gives significance to the miracle. "I am the Bread of Life. If anyone eats of me he shall have eternal life. If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you can have no part with me." The crowd that flocked to Jesus when he filled their stomachs fled from him when he offered to fill their souls. Only the 12 remained. But they understood about the loaves."Where else can we go, only you have the words of eternal life?" The miracle had become intensely personal for them.

The connection between the storm and the loaves is this. When we understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life broken for us, we are able to trust him to hold us together when the storms of life threaten to break us apart. Through the wind and the waves, we are able to hear him say, "Take courage. Do not be afraid. It is I."

Invading the Margins

The feeding of the 5000 is the flannel board story of stories: Jesus at a picnic, multiplying fish and bread from a little boy for the hungry crowds, in a field on the edge of a lake.

What's easy to miss is how costly this whole scene was, not just for the little boy, but for Jesus and his disciples.Mark's Gospel describes how the disciples are reporting back to Jesus about their first mission trip, but are interrupted by the crowd; so much so that they don;t even have time to eat. Jesus calls them away to a remote place to rest up and refuel. They are exhausted, hungry and mourning John's recent death at the hands of Herod.

The crowd sees them leave in the boat and runs to meet them on the other side. Jesus upon seeing them has compassion on them for they are 'like sheep without a shepherd,'and begins to teach them. His compassion causes him to surrender His margins. At the end of a day of teaching, the disciples, clearly frustrated at yet another meeting, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to get food. Their hope is for some peace and quiet and a good meal, at last. Jesus, completely unreasonably, tells the disciples to feed the crowds themselves.

In doing this Jesus completely invades the margins of their time, treasure and their talents. Everyone of us have margins in our lives. Areas that are invisibly, but definitely off limits to Jesus' demands.

The apostles who preached repentance, healed the sick and cast out demons were now asked to serve a crowd as waiters. Humbling? For sure. Are we willing for Jesus to invade the margins of our talents and ministries? The exhausted and starving disciples, were asked to serve others food. How are we with the margins of our time?
To feed the crowd would have cost 8 month's wages. How unreasonable of Jesus to expect the poor disciples to provide when they had gone without a meal for the whole day? How are we with the margins of our treasure?

Most of us want multiplication without the invasion of our margins. We want to see Jesus use us powerfully to help many multitudes. But before this miracle of multiplication, came division. The bread had to be placed in Jesus' hands and broken before the miracle took place. When the margins of our lives are surrendered and placed at His disposal we will see more of His power multiplied through us.
And that is no picnic.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Reluctant Missionary

Two Sundays ago I spoke about how Jesus began to send the twelve apostles out in 2's. They finally got to live up to their name as 'sent ones.'The list of pairs begins with the extrovert missional over achievers. Peter and Andrew, James and John, the front-footed fisherman brothers. Fishermen itching to fish for men.

Down near the bottom of the list are Thomas and Matthew. Probably not quite as eager. Thomas the cynical melancholic, still full of doubt about Jesus. Matthew the
tax collector, more than likely fearful of engaging a people who resent all he represents. I can't imagine that there was any real confidence or chemistry in this team. But Jesus sent them nonetheless with a clear mission. Preach repentance. Heal the sick. Cast out demons. It wasn't a complex mission. But it was mission impossible without Jesus' authority.

The simplicity of their mission informs ours. It is, "To Glorify the Father in the power of the Spirit by proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus."
It's simplicity is so that it can be owned and carried by a whole community.I am as concerned by the scope of the mission as I am it's simplicity. Every time the church allows the missional burden to be carried only by the experts; the Andrews and Peters, the James and Johns, the mission weakens and slows down.

But when the reluctant missionaries; the Thomas's and Matthews, begin to carry the missional burden, that's when something special begins to happen in a community. The introverts, the cynics and the doubters who go in reliance on Christ's authority and the Spirit's power, these are what make a community truly missional.

You know that doubting Thomas became the Apostle to India, don't you? He was martyred for his faith, but not before he saw many turn to Christ and the church established. Coincidentally, a man in our church has an Indian friend called George Thomas, who happens a Christian. In India there was a tradition among the first Christians, where a convert took on the name of the person who first preached the Gospel to him. This was the case with George's ancestors. It was Thomas, the reluctant apostle, whose message changed the course of this family by the power of the Gospel. And the seed of Thomas's faithful witness continues to bear fruit many centuries later. Doubting, reluctant, willing Thomas.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A living eulogy

Imagine if you could hear your eulogy while you were still alive? Imagine if you realized what people really appreciated in you before you were dead? Would it change
the way you lived?

We've been away in Idyll Wild for a few days with our elders and wives. A generous man gave us use of his home which has almost 360 degree views of this stunning part of the world. It's been a very rich time of comeraderie and clarity in the midst of ridiculous beauty. One of the questions we talked around was, "If culture is more caught than taught, then what cultures are being caught from this team?"
One of them we're wanting to grow, to the point of becoming contagious, is risk.

I'm aware of God's risky entrusting to us of a message, a people and a mission.
He's not satisfied with maintenance. He expects a return on His investment and there is great reward for our return. (Luke 19) This means very intentional, and risky investment on our part.

I've found that there is a great connection between a culture of risk and a culture of encouragement. This is not insincere flattery. Rather, it's faith-filled urging in areas where goodness could and should become greatness.

So we found ourselves doing an exercise along these lines, which may sound morbid to you, but was poignant and helpful to us. We wrote and read eulogies for each other. Random names pulled out of a hat meant you had to find ways to give a tribute to a person's life while they and everyone else got to listen. Although it was deeply emotional, it wasn't sentimental. It was profoundly empowering. These were the areas in which people saw God's grace at work in us. These were our areas of intentional investment for a greater return and reward.

I think it's worth giving tribute to people's lives before they die.
It empowers them to live with more risk and die with less regret.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fasting is for Mission (Day 3)

When Daniel and his three friends fasted on vegetables and water in the royal court of Babylon, God gave them great insight so that, "In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians in his whole kingdom."(1:20)

It gave Daniel opportunity to interpret the king's dreams and give glory to God. "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." After Daniel's interpretation of the dream, the king fell prostrate before him saying, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a Revealer of Mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery."(2:47) Daniel's fast was a catalyst for God's mission. A whole nation was impacted.

When the church in Antioch fasted there was also a catalyst for mission. 'While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them.So after they and fasted and prayed they placed their hands on them and sent them off."(Acts 13:3)

Today, we're on the home straight of our fast. Let's begin to focus our prayer outwards. Let's pray for those in authority in this nation. For wisdom and righteousness, and for God to raise up 'Daniels' into places of profile for His glory.
Let's pray for an empowering to fulfill both halves of Jesus' Great Commission - preaching the gospel and making disciples.
Let's pray for a community on mission that uses the nets of their friendships for the sake of the Gospel.
Let's Pray for an acceleration of our church planting and re-planting initiatives.
For an establishing of partnerships with churches across the world for the Gospel's sake.
For fruitfulness in our ministry to the poor.
For unity amongst the churches in our city for the sake of the Gospel.
For revival in our County.
And for the Revealer of Mysteries to visit us as he visited Daniel, so that we might give wise answers to the mysteries of our time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The blessing of 'Lame' (day 2)

'Lame'. It's a word we use to describe something or someone lacking humor, intelligence, agility or strength. 'Lame' is an all-encompassing insult.
I've never heard of anyone who felt that being called 'lame' was any blessing at all.
Except Jacob, of course.

Jacob was the son of Isaac, and his name meant 'trickster.'Right from the womb he had a knack of getting ahead of others through clever scheming, even tricking his father into giving him his brother's birthright.

One day Jacob reached the end of his own good ideas, and wrestled all night with God for a blessing. The blessing God gave him was to change his name and make him lame.
With a dislocated hip, Jacob limped and leaned upon a staff for the rest of his life. His name was now 'Israel' which means "he wrestles with God.' He learned to lean on God like he leaned upon his staff.

Fasting is willingly putting ourselves in a place of weakness so that we lean on God. It is taking away our 'staff,' whether that be food, coffee, candy or alcohol so that we lean on God's power. Sometimes our 'staff' is our own understanding or strength, and fasting reminds us that we are not as smart or as strong as we think we are. Fasting is the blessing of being lame and learning to lean.

Jesus began his ministry with by led by the Spirit into a 40 day fast. In his weakness from hunger he was tempted by Satan, but he withstood and returned in the power of the Spirit. Even Jesus learned to lean on the power of the Spirit in the desert.

Fasting may well put us into a battle of temptation, where we are confronted by our own sinfulness. God allows this so that we can overcome by His Spirit, returning in a greater measure of power over sin. The Holy Spirit also empowers us on Jesus' mission, with boldness to tell our grace story and faith for the miraculous.

So today, the second day of the fast, let's receive the blessing of being lame so we can learn to lean on God's power.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fasting is Feasting (Day 1)

This Wednesday we start a 3 day church fast. We'll meet each night to worship and pray and then we'll gather around a common theme for the next day.

Whether you're a part of Southlands or a blog reader from another community, you may be asking, "But why fasting?" Is it a guilty purge after a Christmas binge? Or maybe an attempt to please God so that He blesses us in 2012?

To be honest, both thoughts have crossed my mind, but really, it's none of the above. When the Pharisees asked Jesus why He and His disciples never fasted He replied, "When the bridegroom is here, the guests of the bridegroom do not fast.
But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away and then they will fast." (Mark 2:20) With these words He's showing us how and why we fast.

The fact is, that Jesus the Bridegroom has come to us. He loves us so much that He paid the bridal price for us with his own life. Here is the critical difference between fasting as ritual and fasting as sacrament.
We don't fast to try and win His presence or His pleasure. We fast with joyful confidence, knowing He has come to us and is well pleased with us.
This is how we fast.

Here's the thing though. Although Jesus has come to us and given His life in payment for us, he has in fact been 'taken away.' He has ascended to heaven.

This is why we fast.

We long for a tangible sense of His presence.
When we fast we're denying ourselves of food so that we can feast on Jesus.
We're asking for the Father to communicate the presence of Jesus to us in new and fresh ways by His Holy Spirit.
We are not satisfied knowing about Jesus. We want to Know Him.
We want to abide in Him and for His words to abide in us.
We want to remember that apart from Him we can do nothing.
And we want to fast longing for the day when He returns for us once and for all.
Jesus Himself is longing and fasting for that day.(Luke 22:18)
The day when we will never fast again.
The day when the unending feast can finally begin.