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."