Monday, December 23, 2013

Rejoice with sober-mindedness.

In the words of Solomon, during this season, I commend joy. I don't care if the 25th December is not exactly the date of Jesus' birth,  if Christmas has been hi-jacked by commercialism or if Santa is a myth. The truth is that we have a solid month in which people are more willing than normal to hear of the extraordinary miracle of the incarnation, and to announce this good news of great joy. The question is how to be incarnational at Christmas? How do we engage our culture thoughtfully and fruitfully as Jesus would have, at this time? Let's enjoy a season of family, rest and gift giving, but lets make the most of this season for the sake of the Gospel. Our Christmas services have so far been a wonderful part of that.

Against this backdrop of joy, I want also, to commend sober-mindedness. Peter concludes his first epistle with these instructions. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that he might lift you up in due time, casting all your cares upon Him because He cares for you. Be sober minded and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood around the world.1 Peter 5: 6-9

This past week I had a dream that reminded me of this passage, and which has galvanized us as elders to pray earnestly for the people of Southlands to be humble, sober-minded and alert. It is strange in some ways, because really, we have had a great year of growth, life and unity as a church. I ma not conscious of any one situation that is serious enough to make a corporate call for watchfulness. However, I have felt a warning for us all to be aware that we have an enemy who would love to rob from us what God has done among us, this past year.

Sober mindedness is actually very appropriate at a time of celebration. It is often in celebration after a season of progress, that we can lose a sense of sobriety. After the flood was over and he had begun to be fruitful as God had promised, Noah drank of the fruit of his vineyard, got drunk, exposed himself to his sons, and brought judgment on his family. It's all too common at this time to let our guard down, over-indulge either in food, alcohol or spending,  and over-expose ourselves. The devil does not rest because we are resting. He still prowls around looking for someone to devour.  So in our resting and rejoicing lets be self-controlled. Let's guard unity in our marriages and families, in our friendships and community. Lets maintain intimacy with Jesus, who has disarmed every dark power at the cross, triumphing over the devil by his blood.

Finally, I want to commend this message, Maintaining Unity by Nick Saltas as a help to us in this regard. I believe it is a key message for both Brea and Fullerton communities, for maintaining unity, sobriety, and positioning us for a year of great Gospel fruit together in 2014.

Monday, December 2, 2013

"It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit."

One more word on maturity. A mark of maturity is how a person discerns God's will.
You know those Russian wooden dolls that fit inside one another? For me, discerning God's will for my life is a little bit like starting with the biggest Russian doll first, and then fitting the smaller ones into that. Henry Blackaby said it like this; "Don't start by asking what God's will is for you. Just ask what God's will is and begin with that." That's maturity.

There is enough in God's revealed will to keep us busy for the rest of our lives. Begin with God's overarching will, which I would suggest is to reconcile all things to Himself through His Son and to restore His rule upon earth. Ask Him to help you to order your life according to His will rather than try and get His blessing for your will for your life.

Within that overarching will, there are also some clear and  practical instructions on how to live in a way that pleases God. We don' t have to ask God about them because He's revealed His will in His Word. For instance, we know that it's God's will for us to worship Him, to love our neighbor, to serve our church,  to give generously, to work diligently, to forgive, to pray, to witness and many more. The wrestle is not in finding His will. It's in being willing to do His will. It's the doll within the doll.

There are times though, that within God's clearly revealed will, we need to discern God's specific will for us. Romans 12 talks about knowing the 'good, pleasing and perfect' will of God. We may be within His good and pleasing will, but we are needing to know His perfect, or specific will. We all want to know God's will for our lives.  For instance, the Bible tells us how to live, but not where to live. It tells us how to be married, but not whom to marry. This requires that we discern God's will by the Spirit's wisdom. Paul said that those who are children of God are led by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. So how did this work out in Paul's life? To be honest, it often seemed quite messy.

In Acts 16:6 he wanted to go to the province of Asia Minor to preach the Gospel but he said that the Holy Spirit forbade him. Paul saw the peace of God as a means of discerning God's will. A 'check' in his heart was reason enough not to go in. In the same chapter, Paul had a dream of a man from Macedonia calling him. He concluded that it was the Lord and left the next day for Macedonia.
So he saw the prophetic as a means of discerning God's will too, but it was by no means an exact science. When he arrived in Macedonia it wasn't a man, but a woman called Lydia who welcomed him. God saved her and she opened up her home to Paul and a church was started. Paul had to be flexible with the prophetic. In Acts 21 a proven prophet called Agabus did a prophetic drama, tying Paul's hands with his belt, and warned him not to go to Jerusalem or he would be imprisoned. Paul did not deny the prophecy, but went to Jerusalem anyway, saying that the Holy Spirit had already warned him that in every city trouble and hardship awaited him. So the prophetic did not bind him on this occasion. He weighed it according to God's overarching will of preaching the Gospel, and decided the 'doll would fit inside the doll.'

In 2 Timothy 2:12, Paul says that he went to Troas to preach the gospel, because the Spirit opened a door for him, but because he did not find Titus there, his spirit could not find rest. For Paul, healthy partnership was important enough that he was willing to walk away from a door that the Spirit had opened. He was certainly no lone ranger. God's will is to work through team, and healthy partnerships are vital to Gospel fruit.  I have seen plenty of great open doors slammed shut because of toxic teams.

Probably my favorite Pauline saying on discerning God's will is, "It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit."Acts 15:28 It says two powerful things. Firstly, it seemed, says that Paul sees himself as fallible in hearing God's voice. It allows for the mystery, the seeing through a glass darkly. Second, it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit is a statement of prophetic accountability. Paul was not a solo sky pilot.
He valued the perspective of others and he valued consensus even though he wasn't a yes man, as is clear in Acts 11.

Let's aim for this sentiment as we seek to discern God's will. I believe it is one of the most significant marks of Christian maturity.


Earlobe on the Doorpost

Yesterday I preached the last message in our series in Colossians, Paul's magnificent letter about the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. One of it's primary themes is maturity;  growing up into Christ who is Head over all. In Paul's final greetings he commends Epaphras, the man who planted the church. He describes him as a bond slave who wrestles in prayer for the church that they might stand fully mature. (4:12) Not only is Epaphras working and praying for their maturity.
He's a model of maturity.

His maturity is deeper than his prayer and hard work for the church, or that he travelled 1000 miles from Colossae to Rome out of concern for the saints.  His maturity springs from his identity as a bond slave. A bond slave was a term taken from Exodus, in which a slave who was allowed to go free after  six years of service, willingly covenanted himself to his master forever. "But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever." Exodus 21:6

Paul is playing with the grand redemptive theme of Exodus, and in fact, the whole story of God.
Israel was redeemed, and released from slavery to Egypt by the blood of a lamb smeared on their doorposts. God's intention was for them to respond to His kindness and power by covenanting with Him, and by willingly coming under His government. But Israel resisted God's government for 40 painful years. They were happy to have the blood of redemption smeared on their doorposts. Putting their earlobe on the God's doorpost was another thing altogether. They wanted release not only  from bondage, but release from any leadership at all. So they resisted the covenant of the bond slave, and
in their resistance they circled around the desert in immaturity for 40 years, slaves now to their own freedom.

Epaphras understood that he could not earn his own freedom. It was Jesus' blood on the doorpost of his life that set him free from slavery to sin. Responding in gratitude for Jesus' redemption, he willingly presented himself to God as a bond slave. This is the reason he was willing to work hard for the saints in Colossae, wrestling in prayer for them, traveling 1000 miles out of concern for them.
He understood that he had been bought with a price and was therefore not his own.

All of us wrestle with the sovereignty of self to some degree. We relish the idea of the blood of redemption on the doorposts of our lives. But we wrestle with the thought of putting our earlobes on God's doorpost as willing bond slaves. For our master to bore our ear through with an awl, sounds painful. But it is ultimately the pain of freedom. Being God's bond slave does not means bondage.
In fact, it is the very thing that keeps us free from the stunting tyranny of self.
Let's put our earlobes on God's doorpost.

Friday, November 15, 2013

To whom much is given.

I was standing next to Kennedy, a graduate from Destiny Seminary in Yangon when I took this photo. Kennedy is now a teacher in Destiny's orphanage. He and I and the team were serving up a feast for the children in the orphanage. Pork, beef, chicken, vegetables, soda, cake and ice cream!
Their normal diet is rice and a little bit of gravy.

It was obviously deeply moving to see the excitement and gratitude amongst the children. It was like Christmas in November. I was also thankful that one of our team bought a year's supply of Unicef vitamin supplements for the Orphanage the next day. We want to help to bring sustained and sustainable change not just one night of feasting and then back to famine.

Even more moving though, was hearing Kennedy tell the story of their new-found freedom to worship Jesus and preach His Gospel. As we stood looking on at the feast, he told me of a night just two years ago when local army officials tried to force David, the principal of the seminary, to stop preaching. He asked the police to give them one more night to preach and worship. They begrudgingly allowed the meeting to continue but returned the next day to put a stop to it. The students and orphans continued like this for some time. Meeting to worship meant the risk of being arrested. Two years later the political climate has dramatically changed. They worship and preach without fear, and are making the most of every opportunity they have. There is no sense of entitlement here. Instead, there is a deep sense of gratitude and fervor to use their freedom to further the Gospel. Kennedy smiles as he sweats through an afternoon lecture on Colossians in 95F heat. He wants to plant a church. He feels that to whom much is given much is required. 

 These are the words Jesus said to His disciples about serving faithfully while they wait  for His return. The metaphor was of royal servants, entrusted with the royal palace, waiting up at night for their Master to return from a party. "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning."(Luke 12:35)  Jesus was calling His disciples to be watchful and useful beyond the normal call of duty. He was saying that servants of Jesus will often feel stretched, because much will be required from a King of infinite worth, whose Gospel is free but whose kingdom is costly.

Most of us would not think that Kennedy has been given much. But Kennedy is aware of  the profound riches of grace, of training and of freedom. He feels rich even though we might not call him rich. And he is willing to be stretched in order to steward these riches well.

I know it's normal for people to come back from the mission field and remind their churches that "we don't know how rich we are." Forgive me for repeating the mantra, but we don't know how rich we are! We are rich in resources, skills, people. We are rich in the knowledge of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. We don't need to feel guilty about what we have been given. We simply need to resolve not to spend it all on ourselves. We need to resolve to steward it for God and for the benefit of others. This is why we give,  go, pray and send. Because to whom much is given much is required.

Thank you for giving towards the people of Myanmar and Vietnam, for sending the team in prayer, and for staying faithful on mission at home. Let's be dressed, ready for service with our lamps burning. May the Master find us all faithful and entrust us with more.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Are you happening to mission or is mission happening to you?

This Sunday will be 8 weeks since we launched Southlands Fullerton. God has been exceedingly good to us, and it is so satisfying to see the fruition of almost two years of prayer and planning.

There has been early traction in the Sunday gatherings, with an energetic buzz of volunteers,
a full house in Laguna theatre, clear preaching of message and mission, and a wonderful sense of God's presence as we've worshipped and prayed for one another.Visitor quotient has been good too. Perhaps even more important vital signs of life, have been the after-service community gatherings, and the launch of six life groups, who are already finding creative ways to be a faithful presence in the city. Nick and Kari and the lead team have done a remarkable  job of planting a community on mission,
not just a meeting.

Southlands Brea has risen to the challenge of the new season with energy, generosity and composure. Obviously it is feeling the effects of sending out  many high quality people; leaders, musicians, volunteers and just all-round great disciples. But that's the way it should be in these seasons. Of course it means a season of re-building for Brea, and that means new people playing new roles on the building site. Let's dig in deep here, trusting God for increased traction, momentum and life. We are not left behind. We are staying behind on mission with great Gospel intent!

Rynelle said to me a few days ago, "You know, it is one thing when you happen to mission. It is another thing when mission happens to you." I would say that is a profound way to describe the dynamics of the two communities. In Fullerton, because people are going ready on mission, they are happening to mission. They are expecting the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable and the new. In some ways, that is easier because you count the cost of  moving to a new place. At Brea, mission is happening to us. We have not moved physically, but we feel the effects of mission - less people, more work and no sense of the novelty of a new adventure. But actually, it is a brand new adventure for us. It is just happening in the same geography! There is new risk and new reward.

 In 1 Samuel 30, when David left with soldiers to plunder the Amalekites,  some people stayed behind with the baggage. On returning with the plunder after victory, he insisted that those who stayed behind  would share in the plunder of battle. This is an insight into Gospel mission. Whether we go or stay, we share in the risks and rewards of the Gospel. It is so important as a church for us all to count the cost of this mission, being ready to share in it's  risk because we all share in it's reward.

God is faithful. He is already sending great new people our way. On Sunday we welcome in 22 new members in at Brea. There are new members about to be prayed in at Fullerton too. Financial giving has also increased to meet the needs of the new season, and we are grateful for that. As well as that, this weekend Erik and Celeste take 20 people away fro the Alpha Holy Spirit Weekend. Most of these are people exploring the Christian faith. This is magnificent, and requires our prayer.

What a joy to be under the pressure of Gospel multiplication. May Jesus, who commissioned us to make disciples, empower us,  unite us, and cause us to walk boldly in His peaceful authority.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Teams and Truth-in-Tension.

Most leaders know and love the promise in Isaiah 54 where God says, ‘Enlarge the place of your dwelling, for you will spread out to the right and the left.’ It speaks of expansion, growth, and multiplication. However, many ignore the little precursor to the promise, in which God counsels, “Lengthen your chords, strengthen your stakes. ” Using the metaphor of a tent, God is saying that for enlargement  to take place in a sustainable way, we will need longer tent chords and  stronger stakes.
In other words,  greater growth will require greater tension.

Andy Stanley, alludes to this in his book Deep and Wide.
“Most situations in church are not problems to solve. They are tensions to manage.”
When leaders and teams have an aversion to tension, they tend towards simplistic solutions to any situation that challenges the status quo. They try and resolve that which is not meant to be resolved. This invariably means that they have a smaller tent or sphere of influence. The idea of healthy tension can apply to finance, vision, relationships and administration. Growth places a healthy tension upon all of these. But I want to look specifically at managing  truth in tension as a precursor to expansion.

As I said, not all truth is truth in tension.
There should be some non-negotiable truths which are like stakes in the ground.
But most truth is truth in tension.  It is managing the tension between too seemingly opposing truths.
As we manage this tension, we create a safe and sane space in which people can live with freedom and conviction. This is a key to expansion and mission. I have already blogged about this as it pertains to a community, but what about a leadership team specifically?

Here 5 truths in tension which we are trying to manage well as a leadership team in our community and some questions you could be asking in your team.

1. Pleasure and Pain.
We see this in Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. He is full of gratitude for what God has done in the church,(1:3)  but he never ceases praying for them. (1:9) He struggles for them (2:1) and rejoices in them (2:5) This is a great description of the highs and lows of leadership. Our season brings with it the pleasure of a new community gaining traction, the fresh response of volunteers, some wonderful God encounters, seekers in our relational nets, the possibility of new leaders filling new gaps, the provision of finance, and the arrival of new visitors. The pain we feel, may include fatigue from an extra meeting load, pastoral stress over unhappy people, the increased complexity of teams within a team, the frustration with volunteers, the sense of the unknown in terms of how your new ministry role, the sacrifice of sending good people out and now having to fill the gaps left, the sense of being left ‘back at the ranch’ instead of being on a new journey. You don’t resolve pain in ministry. It just is. But we can learn healthy ways to deal with it. What’s you greatest pleasure and what’s your greatest pain in ministry right now?

2. Grace and Truth
Jesus came full of grace and truth. It wasn’t a little bit of both. It was full doses of both. In fact, grace makes no sense unless we have heard the truth that we have sinned and are in need of a Savior. We want to be kind and generous in the way we think and speak about others whether they agree or disagree with us, while also clearly communicating what we believe and why we believe it. Building around truth without grace leads to condemnation, and means we do not take people with us towards our vision. Building around grace without truth leads to license and laziness and means people may be with us, but are not going anywhere. Are you more of a grace giver or more of a truth teller? How can you grow? Who is the one person/couple that you most need to lead in grace and truth?

3.Continuity and Change
 We want to be faithful stewards of what God has done in the past in our community, guarding the good deposit left by our predecessor, while leaning courageously  into the new things that we see God is doing. Continuity acknowledges that God was at work before we were, and gives people a sense of His faithfulness. If we are handing off a ministry, it means that we finish the task entrusted to us through good mentoring and delegation. Colossians 4:17 “Say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry you have received in the Lord.” But if we are never courageous enough to make changes we become maintainers instead of ‘faithful stewards who give God a return.’ In what area are you needing to ensure continuity and in what area are you needing to bring change?

4. Structured and Organic
The Bible describes God as a Creator and a Designer. The Church is described as a field and a household. It is called to be rooted in love and grounded on Christ. So we manage the tension of being organic and structured. With growth comes complexity which requires more structure.
What is the area of structure to which I am giving myself?
How do we structure for organic life? Where does structure kill life?

5. Generalist and Specialist.
Tim Keller says that as a church grows, its staff moves from generalists to specialists. We have moved from ‘rugby’ to ‘football’ in many ways. This is necessary. But we cannot lose the New testament call to servanthood which means we will ‘fill the gap’ where there is a need. Epaphras was a ‘brother, worker, soldier, messenger, intercessor. What are the primary gaps that need filling in our season?

6. Unity and Diversity – we want to maintain the unity of the Spirit while we attain to the unity of the faith. While there are some truths which are foundational to the life of our community, there are others that are not unity breakers. Unity does not equal conformity. It simply requires that we remember that as embers of Christ , we belong to one another, and that we  can do more together than we can apart!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How is Jesus an anchor for my soul?

The  second verse of Edward Mote's hymn, 'On Christ the Solid rock I stand,"
 is one of my favorites.
When darkness seems to hide his face, I rest on His unchanging grace,
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
So vivid. So stirring. Christ is an anchor for our souls.

But what does that essentially mean? What is the basis of that promise?
It's taken from Hebrews 6:19-20. "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul, a hope that enters the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek."

I see 3 ways here in which Christ is an anchor for our souls.

Christ is an anchor for our souls because he is a High Priest who has made a way to God's presence for us. The veil that separated an unholy people from a holy God has been torn in His broken body.
We have access to God's presence through Jesus' body, to find grace and mercy in storms of need.

Christ is an anchor for our souls because he is a High Priest who sympathizes with us and strengthens us in our weakness, having been tempted in every way, yet being found without sin. He lives to pray for us at His Father's right hand with priestly power to present us faultless to His Father on that Day!

And finally, Christ is an anchor for our souls because he is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the priest who blessed Abraham, confirming God's promise to bless him and make him a blessing to all nations. So the promise that is an anchor for our souls is not just a personal priestly promise. It is a commissioning promise.
It is a promise that God will lead us on a multiplying mission to all nations!
It is a promise, that when believed upon and obeyed, often brings its own storm to our souls.
The storm of commission includes the pain of sending/leaving people you love, the cost of giving of your best, the insecurity of unchartered waters, the cold wind of stretched resources, the icy fear of possible failure or rejection.

God's promise is that as we obey Jesus the Great Commissioner, we experience Jesus The High Priest, who calms our fears, undergirds our insecurities and strengthens our frailties.
Christ is the forerunner. He has fulfilled His mission and can now help us on the same journey.
Christ is not only a forerunner who helps us in the storm of temptation.
He is a forerunner who strengthens us in the storm of mission!
This is a sure and steadfast anchor for our souls.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Terry Virgo: elder statesman

This week, from 3rd - 5th October, we host Terry and Wendy Virgo for our Spirit-Filled Church conference. I thought it would be good to give people bit of a background on this remarkable couple.

Terry and Wendy are the founders of New Frontiers, a worldwide family of churches on mission together. They are from the UK and are currently based at Kings Church in London, which is led by his son.  New Frontiers has planted nearly 700 churches across 60 countries.

Terry studied at London Bible College as a young man in the 60's , and during this time his spiritual journey 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.

He has become something of an elder statesman to us. Both Terry and Wendy's commitment to the scriptures, grasp of the Gospel, hunger for the Spirit and love for the Body of Christ are a rare gift. Because we are aware that their travel to the USA is not guaranteed into the future, we wanted to make their ministry available to as many as possible for free.

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.

The conference is free, but we are asking people to register online anyway for the sake of administration. You can do that at our facebook page at
An offering will be taken. Please join us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Why do the nations rage?"

Southlands has a long history of fasting and praying together as a church. I believe it has been a
key to God's grace on the community over the years. Twelve years ago to the day, the church was fasting when the tragedy of 911 began to unfold. That night was the biggest attendance at a prayer meeting since the church's inception. They knew that God had called them to cover the nation in prayer even before the events took place. Prayer and fasting is often personal, but God's incomparably great power is also at hand to ask God to change the destinies of nations.

Psalm 2 is one of my favorite Psalms when it comes to praying about the nations of the world.
1 Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
    and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 

A few nuggety truths for reflection and prayer.
1. The rulers of the earth plot in vain.
The conspiracy of the nations against God's purposes is in vain. He will ultimately have his way.
Amidst the tragedy of 911, the upheaval of the middle East crisis and the potential for a Syrian conflict, let's remember that God is enthroned above the nations, Sovereign Lord of all. He is able to bring to pass what He does want out of what He does not want. Let's pray for His kingdom of peace to increase at this time. Let's pray that God would comfort those families who have been torn apart by the ravages of war between nations, and for righteous leaders to come to the fore at this time.
2. The rulers of the earth band together against the Lord and His anointed saying, "Let us break off their shackles."
Much of the turmoil in our nation and the nations of the world is because of a rebellion against the Creator and His design for His creation. Let's pray for this nation to 'celebrate His rule with trembling.' This is not a political prayer. It is a prayer for humble submission to God and his ways.
3. Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance. 
This is God's offer to His Son, Jesus, and in turn, it is Jesus' offer to us. We are to ask God for the nations as our inheritance. We are to join Him in His mission to make disciples of all nations. We can 'speed his return' by preaching the Gospel to all nations. Let's pray for the Gospel to bear great fruit in the nations of the world today.
4. Come kiss the Son lest he be angry
This verse reveals the wonderful mystery of what it means to walk in intimacy with God but with reverence towards Him. Let's pray that a  mark of our community would be that we would walk in
the friendship and the fear of God.
See you for the feast at 630pm.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

God is Able

Yesterday we had a great time of worship and prayer around Jeremiah 2, as we turned from reliance on 'cracked cisterns that cannot hold water' and returned to God, our 'spring of living water'.

The Apostle Paul  prayed that the saints in Ephesus would know, "His incomparably great power to us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised Him from the dead and seated Him in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (1:19-21) He continued, "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!"(3:20-21)

We are not the saints in Ephesus. We are the saints in Orange County, but we share in the same status as saints because Jesus has justified us, and we enjoy the same access to His incomparably great power. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him to the highest place is at work in us. Surely this should breathe fresh confidence and imagination into the way we pray?

1. So with that in mind, can we focus on the exalted Christ today, to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, and from whom we receive our Commission? It is He who has commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. All the weight of His authority is behind that Great Commission. Lets pray for power upon each one of us to be obedient to Him in making disciples.
Let's pray big, imaginative prayers for His power to be at work in the Fullerton and Brea communities as we preach the Gospel, love our cities, pray for the sick and serve the poor.
Can we ask Him for the miraculous to be a normal occurrence in our communities?

2. Let's pray for God's power to shield us as a church, enabling us to be 'in the world but not of it.' Jn 17. Pray that his power would be at work in our weakness, overcoming sin and temptation and freeing us from the idols of our culture. He has called us to be a compelling 'city within the city' that lives distinctly for the glory of God. Matt 5

3. Let's pray for God's providing power for us in this season. As we multiply the mission let's ask Him to multiply the 'loaves and fish' in our hands so that the multitudes would be fed.

4. Let's pray for God's great power to be at work in marriages and families, healing, restoring and bringing about His glory in the church throughout all generations. Pray for the  baton of faith to be passed down well  to the next generations.

God is able. Let's lean on His incomparably great power today.
See you at 6:30pm.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Rend your hearts and not your garments."

My youngest son came through to the lounge this morning looking forlornly at his dry bowl of frosted flakes. "I'm not lucky," was his lament. You see, he has decided to give up what is most precious to him during our three day fast.  Milk. What followed was a little coaching conversation about remembering Jesus every time he craves milk. Fasting is not just denying ourselves what we enjoy. It's denying ourselves so that we remember and rely upon Jesus.
Fasting is feasting on Jesus.
I'm not sure he finished the conversation feeling any 'luckier' about his dry frosted flakes,
but hopefully he understood a little more about the reason for their dryness!

We are doing a liquid fast as a church from Monday to Wednesday. That means water, juice and soup. Even if our children cannot manage just liquids, I want to encourage you as parents to talk about fasting with your children, and to help them to find a meaningful way to join in. For some, it may be a media fast or fasting from snacks.

The point is not so much from what we turn, as it is to Whom we return.

The Prophet Joel said it so well.

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity Joel 2:13

Yesterday was such a great Commissioning Sunday, wasn't it? Our largest attendance ever on a Sunday in Brea, and such faith in the room, as both Brea and Fullerton communities were freshly commissioned by Jesus to Dwell on Mission. We spoke of God's call to love and serve our cities, seeking their peace and prosperity. As we pray today, can we ask God to break our hearts of apathy and criticism towards our cities, and  breathe a fresh willingness to dwell amongst them?

 I also spoke of repenting of the idols of our city and of boldness to call others to repent of them.
As we pray today, let's allow God to show us if there are idols of moralism, materialism, humanism, or hedonism that are causing us to forfeit the grace of God. Perhaps we need to repent of making community an obstacle to mission? Or have we made our gift or ministry an obstacle to simply serving the people of God?

God is a gracious God. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. He is doing great thing amongst us. He wants to meet with us powerfully at this critical moment in our community.
Revival begins as the people of God return to the Lord their God. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents when we repent and return to Him.
Look forward to seeing you tonight at 6:30pm.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Am I in a Job, Jonah or Joseph season?

As a pastor I talk every day with people who are asking what it  means to be faithful in their current season of life. Often times the season is a challenging one. More often it is more winter and fall than summer and spring. People very seldom ask to meet with you to tell you how well they are doing. So the nature of the job is to try and discern what kind of season they are in and to help them live  faithfully to God in that season.

This is why the famous  Ecclesiastes 3 passage that begins, There is a time for every season under heaven, is so powerful pastorally. As the philosopher Blaise Pascale said, "Our problem is that we so seldom live fully in the present." We either live in the past, in regret or nostalgia, hankering after the good old days. Or we plan, dream and worry for the future, believing that this will usher in better days. This essentially causes  us to waste God's precious time. If He is at work in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, surely that includes all times and seasons?

But if I am to be faithful to God in each season, how do I discern which season I am in and the appropriate way to live in it? Especially if it is a season I'd rather not be in, how do I get out of it?
The short answer is, that we need to get through it to get out of it. We need to ask God what He is wanting us to learn so that we can learn the lesson and hopefully move on.

With that in mind, I have found it helpful to ask whether a person's situation is more similar to that of Job, Jonah or Joseph. It may sound simplistic, but it's a helpful place to start. By the way, The J's are honestly not intentional!

Job was in his season of loss and pain because of his righteousness rather than his sin. There was a ruthless testing of his faith in and worship of, God, which began in the heart of satan but was allowed by the hand of God. Repentance was not the solution to the season. It was humble faith and worship. Sometimes the people of God suffer for no apparent reason. It makes no sense, but God is simply asking the question, "Will you still love me for me, if I remove the things I have given you for a time?" It is essentially a storm of righteousness.

Then there is Jonah. Jonah went through a storm of rebellion. He had refused God's commission to go and preach repentance to a city he hated. He ran in the opposite direction. So God sent a storm. Jonah tried to sleep the storm away, but to no avail. It got worse. What brought the storm to a whisper, was Jonah repenting by jumping off his ship of rebellion. Sometimes people find themselves in such a storm, and it requires gutsy honesty to admit that it is the result of sin, and requires radical repentance and obedience. The ensuing season change is often dramatic.

All to often though, I find that people's situations don't fit as neatly into one or the other extreme. They are not suffering simply because of righteousness, nor simply because of rebellion. They are neither like Job or Jonah. This is where I find the character of Joseph to be the most helpful one for understanding how God redeems difficult seasons. Joseph was a dreamer with a big future. But he was arrogant and enjoyed being his father's favorite son. His brothers resented him, and you can understand their resentment. But when their plan unfolds to kill him and he ends up getting left for dead and sold into slavery, one feels that the punishment doesn't match the crime. Sure he had some things to repent of, but there was something, or rather Someone greater at work in his being sent to Egypt. God was Sovereignly working, even through Joseph's arrogance and his brother's resentment, to fulfill His purposes. Joseph got it eventually and this is why he was able to forgive his brothers at the end of the story.  "Do not be distressed by what you have done to me. It was for saving lives that God sent me ahead of you... What you intended for harm God intended for good, for the saving of many lives." Gen 45, 50. Joseph acknowledged that although sin was involved, it was ultimately God who sent him to Egypt to fulfill His purposes.

So our job as pastors and leaders is to help people ask firstly,"What have I done to get me into this season, for which I can repent?"
And secondly, "How can I co-operate with what God is Sovereignly doing in this season, for the sake His grand purposes?"Often we seldom fully understand God's hand in a difficult season, we can help people to trust His heart behind His hand.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Keep Shosholoza. Lose the Vuvuzela

I love watching South African sport. Even though the USA is home for us, I remain an ardent supporter  of South Africa's rugby, cricket and soccer teams and keep a close track of their progress. S.A's sports teams  have always been known for their courage and passion. What they sometimes lack in clinical strategy, they make up for with their gutsy, do-or-die attitude and a high view of team over the individual. Often their best wins have been against-all-odds performances when their backs were against a wall.

Their supporters are some of the most passionate, colorful and vocal in the world. I still get chills when I hear them sing the National Anthem, and watch a whole stadium vibrate with the rhythm and tone of the great African folk song, Shosholoza. Simply unmatched, anywhere in the world.

The one phenomena that detracts from the enjoyment of watching South African sports for me though,  is a phenomena called  the Vuvuzela. It's a long plastic trumpet, that when blown by thousands, simply sounds like a swarm of bees. And when the monotonous drone is heard for a whole game through TV speakers, it becomes unbearable. Like nails scraping on a chalk board.

In fact, when South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2010, there were complaints from all around the world that viewers couldn't get through a whole match with the sound of the Vuvuzelas constantly droning in the background. Millions of people just pressed mute on their TV sets, and so the  festival atmosphere of the South African stadiums; the singing, chanting, cheering, dancing, was lost by the many spectators. Some stadiums banned the infamous Vuvuzela after the World Cup,  but watching the recent Springboks thumping of Argentina, the Vuvuzela is clearly back with a vengeance.

This is not the end of the world of course, but for me it may be a powerful metaphor when it comes to the South African diaspora of the last 20 years. While many 'Saffers may have moved to other nations out of fear or desire for comfort, countless others have moved because of a genuine desire to make a difference. From a Biblical point of view, many of my friends have left the comfort and convenience of home because of The Great Commission, and I've seen God do some remarkable things because of their obedience.

However, I've noticed at times that the best of the South African ethos can be obscured by cultural inflexibility. Kind of like a Vuvuzela drowning out Shosholoza . You may protest, "But that's our heritage." I would simply ask, "Is it helpful or harmful in exporting the essence of who we are?"

Having lived in the USA for 6 years now, I've seen it with numerous South Africans who have come to live here. I've also observed similar phenomena in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia  when I've visited there. The pioneering spirit, the gutsy faith, the sacrificial heart and warm hospitality sometimes get obscured by cultural sentiment. Why?

Because of our  unwillingness to give up expressions of Christianity that are culturally nuanced, but that we claim are  biblically universal. Attitudes towards authority, gender, race, conflict, and organization are most often the areas of cultural conflict. Our journey has been one of learning to be culturally flexible while remaining biblically faithful. It's not an exact science and we've made some pretty glaring errors at times. It's vital that we make the effort though.

I believe that for South Africans,  a willingness to add planning to passion, theology to faith,  diplomacy to integrity and humility to authority, are some keys to learning to thrive in 1st world environments. We have such a rich spiritual heritage, and some beautiful cultural customs to go with it. We need God's wisdom as we go though, so that the Vuvuzela doesn't drown out Shosholoza.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Truth in Tension.

Most leaders know and love the promise in Isaiah 54 where God says, ‘Enlarge the place of your dwelling, for you will spread out to the right and the left.’ It speaks of expansion, growth, and multiplication. However, many ignore the little precursor to the promise, in which God counsels, “Lengthen your chords, strengthen your stakes. ” Using the metaphor of a tent, God is saying that for enlargement  to take place in a sustainable way, we will need longer tent chords and  stronger stakes.
In other words,  greater growth will require greater tension.

Andy Stanley, alludes to this in his book Deep and Wide. “Most situations in church are not problems to solve. They are tensions to manage.” When leaders have an aversion to tension, they tend towards simplistic solutions to any situation that challenges the status quo. They try and resolve that which is not meant to be resolved. This invariably means that they have a smaller tent or sphere of influence. The idea of healthy tension can apply to finance, vision, relationships and administration. Growth places a healthy tension upon all of these. But I want to look specifically at managing  truth in tension as a precursor to expansion.

Not all truth is truth in tension. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are martyred every year for their faith in Jesus. There may not be many truths that are ‘hills to die on’, but there should be some that we are so deeply convicted about that we say like Martin Luther and countless others, “Here I stand I can do no other. The 5 Solas of the Reformation are a good place to start. Sola Fide. We are justified by faith alone. We do not hold faith in tension with good works when it comes to salvation. We are saved by faith for good works, not by good works. Sola Gracia. We are saved by grace alone. We do not hold grace in tension with the law. We treasure grace because we know that we are law breakers. Sola Scriptura. The Holy Scriptures are God’s inspired self- revelation. Although He also reveals Himself through nature, and culture and reason, the Scriptures tower over every other revelation as God’s final authority for all life and doctrine. Sola Christo. All of Scripture points ultimately to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.  He is not held in tension with any other philosophy or deity. He is all-sufficient and all-supreme. Sola Deo Gloria. Although God has crowned man with glory and honor, His glory is all-surpassing, and any glory that creation possesses, ultimately reflects the glory of the Creator.

As I said, not all truth is truth in tension.
There should be some truths which are hills to die on.

But most truth is truth in tension. It is not simply a stake we hammer into the ground. It is managing the tension between too seemingly opposing truths. As we manage this tension, we create a safe and sane space in which people can live with freedom and conviction. This is a key to expansion.
There are many leaders who are people of great conviction, but who refuse to manage truth in tension. This is ultimately an enemy to growth and expansion.

Here 7 truths in tension which we are trying to manage well as a community.

1. Grace and Truth
Jesus came full of grace and truth. It wasn’t a little bit of both. It was full doses of both. In fact, grace makes no sense unless we have heard the truth that we have sinned and are in need of a Savior.
We want to be kind and generous in the way we think and speak about others whether they agree or disagree with us, while also clearly communicating what we believe and why we believe it.
Building around truth without grace leads to condemnation. Building around grace without truth leads to license; what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace.
Grace and truth call people to repent, but allow them space and time to work out their repentance. Grace and Truth allow people to belong before they believe or know how to behave. They call everyone to enjoy the pleasure of God in Jesus Christ, even while they are in the process of becoming like Him. Living in Grace and Truth will mean less policies and more conversations.

2.Faithfulness and flexibility– we want to be faithful guardians of an unchanging message about the person and work of Jesus, and the need for personal salvation and sanctification, while also adapting ways of worship, teaching, being church and doing mission according to culture and context. We also want to be faithful stewards of what God has done in the past in our community, while leaning into the new things that God is doing.

3. Charismatic and Evangelistic
We want to be a community reliant on the power and leading of the Holy Spirit so that we can be bold witnesses of Jesus in order that people may be saved. Although we recognize that the Holy Spirit’s gifts are also for the encouragement of the Church, we will be will be watchful and willing to give up  cultural charismatic vocabulary and traditions that may in some way hinder the expansion of the Gospel.

4. Communal and Missional
We want to see the church become a missionary movement to love and reach the lost, to care for the poor and to bring justice to our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and nations, while also being a grace-filled community in which people can find relationship, healing, and hope. We do not want to neglect the gathering of the believers in our quest to reach the world. “After we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” Francis Schaeffer

5. Now and Not Yet - we want to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and to see that confirmed by miraculous signs and wonders, while also ministering grace to all, knowing that suffering will be part of life until
Christ returns.

6. Transcendence & Presence – We want to live lives that celebrate God’s awesome power, transcendent majesty and sovereign work, while at the same time experiencing his intimate presence and power. We also want to be in the world but not of it,  like Jesus, who ‘took on flesh and dwelt among us,’ but who was without sin. We know that true religion is to look after widows and orphans but also to avoid being stained by the world.

7. Unity and Diversity – we want to maintain the unity of the Spirit while we attain to the unity of the faith. While there are some truths which are foundational to the life of our community,  many are at different places on the continuum of these truths in tension. Unity does not equal conformity. It simply requires that we all keep learning, moving and growing in humility as we follow Christ together.

(Acknowledgement to New Wine Network and Andy Stanley’s ‘Deep and Wide’ for some of these.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

California Dreaming.

Well, it wasn't on such  a winter's day this time. It was on a summer's night. The Lord visited me in my sleep last night. I'm not sure why. Most nights I dream, but over the years I've got better at discerning between my dreams and God dreams. Still, it's hard to describe the sense of knowing that God was speaking.

I've been reading through the minor prophets recently.  Pretty bleak stuff really, but Joel 2:29 is a beautiful promise of God's  relief after Israel's judgment.  Afterwards I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. You sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. This is the sermon text that Peter used to explain the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 and the phenomena which followed.

Dreams and visions played an important role in the advancing of the Gospel in the early Church.
Think Paul's vision at his conversion, and his dream in Corinth telling him to stay and preach amidst opposition. Remember his dream during the shipwreck which assured those on board that they would be safe too? Think Peter's vision on the rooftop, before he visited Cornelius. Dreams and visions are an integral part of the Holy Spirit's indwelling and infilling of the believer. Visions come to us while we are awake, and my theory is that God communicates to me more in dreams than visions, because my mind and body rest long enough for Him to get a word in edgeways!

Of course, dream interpretation is not an exact science. It's more art than science. I'm wary of an exact  'dream code' approach which aims to decipher dreams. Although there may be some helpful principles of interpretation, we don't get given a secret code in scripture. What we need is the discernment of the Spirit, the wisdom of people who have walked with the Lord, and the authority of Scripture to bring clarity to our dreams.

One of the characteristics of dreams that have proved true and have significantly shaped my life, has been clarity rather than obscurity. And also,  I tend to remember them clearly in the morning. Generally when that happens, I will write down what I remember. Habakkuk 2:3 talks about this. Write the vision down, make it plain so that a herald may run with it. Though it waits it's appointed time, it will not delay.

Whether it be visions or dreams, the gap between revelation, interpretation and application requires wisdom and patience. Things tend to get clearer over time, but we also forget them over time, so being a faithful recorder of dreams and visions is just good stewardship of God's communication.

Finally, a recent example of how God can use dreams to add weight to what He is saying to a congregation through the preached Word.  Two Sundays ago, Nick Saltas preached a potent message from Ecclesiastes about Authority. The heart of his message was that one of the most counter-cultural
things we can do as Christ followers is to submit to flawed human authority. He called us to trust in a Sovereign God who would ultimately have his way, even through unjust authority. It was a difficult word for us in our culture of self-governenance, but one which was skilfuly given.

My wife, who very rarely claims to have God dreams, leans over to me during the second service, and says, "I had a vivid dream last night which is only making sense now that I'm hearing Nick's message."
She told me the gist of it, and I asked her to speak to the congregation after Nick finished, before we broke bread. This is the gist of what she said. "I dreamed that I went into an elevator, but it began to feel like it was getting smaller, like it was a trash compactor. I was terrified that the elevator was going to crush me but it didn't, it compacted and shaped me." She continued with her interpretation of the dream. "For some of us, we feel that submitting to authority, whether that be at work, marriage,  family or church, is going to crush us. It will shape us, but not crush us. And God's promise is that it will ultimately take us higher. Submit to God and he will lift you up in due time."

Rynelle's sane, humble clarity added huge weight to the Word that had just been preached. People's hearts were pierced. It's a helpful example of how dreams can work as the Spirit confirms the preaching of His Word. I also believe it's a pertinent message for us as a church, and one worth reflecting on as we embark on a season of enlarged mission.

So in the meantime, I will record and reflect on what I dreamed last night. And pray that we all remain attentive to the whispers of our God in the day and in the night.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The pain of numbness

This is a personal, confessional piece. My hope is that it will offer comfort and clarity to those who shepherd God's flock.

Being a pastor is not just spiritually intense. Whether it is our job, or something we do over and above our careers, it is a relationally and emotionally intense calling, often for prolonged periods of time. And one of the most serious consequences of living with this kind of intensity is that you can begin to feel numb after a while.

By numb, I do not mean that you cease to care. Hopefully not.
By numb, I mean that you are unable to feel with the appropriate depth of emotion in a particular situation. And it's not for lack of trying. Try as you may, feeling seems beyond your grasp.

You may find yourself listening to someone in your flock. They may be experiencing the agony of betrayal, the discouragement of hope deferred, the shame of their own unfaithfulness, or the grief of losing a loved one. Sometimes they are sitting there because they are disappointed with you. Other times it is someone telling you about the joy of answered prayer, the wonder of freshly-found freedom, or the mystery of a deep encounter with God.

And as they speak, you are attentive, trying to empathize, doing your best to say something helpful, and yet you are thinking at the same time, "I am not feeling what I should be for this person."

It is not that your heart is empty. If your heart were a cup, the cup is actually too full. Full of people's sorrow, frustration, shame, joy, wonder. There is no more room in the cup. You so desperately want to feel. But you feel, well, numb. Maybe another helpful metaphor is painting a picture. I remember learning to paint at pre-school. The more colors I used together, the less colorful the painting seemed to get. They smudged together for a generally gray hue. That may describe the emotional landscape of a numb pastor - just kind of gray.

This is serious if our ministry is priestly. Being priestly means that like Jesus, we sympathize with people's weaknesses, aiming to see them reconciled to God and people. If we are unable to sympathize we are really unable to reconcile. We will just regurgitate principles and remedies according to a prior situational template. And it will leave people feeling like projects.

The question to ask then is, "What is an  appropriate and sustainable way to feel?"

I have known some pastors that have been unable to reign in their emotions. They almost feel too much. They are empathetic in an unsustainable way. They blow out or burn out in some way.  That is for another blog. I am talking about drying out, I guess.

So how to come back from the pain of numbness?

Firstly, I would say avoid a Messianic complex. We are called to be priestly, but we are not the Priest. The Priest is Jesus, who feels more deeply than we could ever feel, and who ultimately mediates between God and  the people we are pastoring. We are not their Savior. We are not indispensible.

Second, we need to learn to empty our cup; to develop a prayer life that casts our cares upon Jesus because He cares for us and our people, who are actually His people. The Lord is our Shepherd as shepherds. When He promises that His yoke is easy and His burden light, it is a promise for those who have committed to plough with Him. It is a ministry promise. Jesus' yoke of ministry is not meant to crush us. When we empty our cup, we make room to feel for others.

Third, we need to learn to guard our heart for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23. Guarding our heart seems like a counter-intuitive way to recover form numbness. But it is not about shutting down our hearts. It is being vigilant so that when someone throws trash down the well of your heart,  it is not left there. We cannot allow the trash of people's criticism, flattery, bitterness, disappointment or envy to to remain and poison our hearts. We need to filter what people say to us carefully, through prayerful discernment, sober reflection, a wise team around us and repentance if needed. This will keep our hearts from being puffed up or beaten down. Both are a poison to the heart.

The beautiful mystery is this. A guarded heart does not mean a closed, numb heart. When we live with guarded hearts, the spring is fresh and clear so that it can nourish and refresh many.
May God keep us from the pain of numbness.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Community Killers

There's the story of the guy with the big ol' handle-bar moustache who ate a block of stinky blue cheese. Some of it got lodged in his 'stache. So he walked around the house sniffing and asking who had left the stinky cheese lying around. What he was smelling was the cheese lodged in his big ol' stache. 

Often, being a part of of a Christian community is encouraging and compelling.
There've been countless  ways in which God has expressed His love to me through community.
Community is God's love with skin on. But there are times  when being in Christian community hurts, makes us feel awkward or even repels us. It can stink like stinky cheese!  At those times we need to check to see whether we have some stinky cheese on us rather than looking at everyone else to find the problem.

We were created for community.  When God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it, He said that it was good. When he created Adam he is that it was very good. The first time we hear God say that something is not good, it's because Adam is alone. It is not good for man to be alone. So God created Eve; for friendship, for partnership, for pleasure, to bear children and to more fully bear the image of God. It required community to reflect the image of the Tri-Une God, the perfect community.
As Ecclesiastes 4 says, Two are better than one...and a chord of three strands is not easily broken.

But what kills God's life in our communities?
Solomon, after describing the ideal community, goes on to describe 4 Community Killers in Ecclesiastes 4
a. Envy. Through envy of his neighbor the fool toils at his work. When we are unable to rejoice with those who rejoice because they are more popular, more wealthy, better looking, or have more profile than us, we are wrestling with envy. Most of the wars between us are because of the wars of envy within us. Jesus can empower us to take pride in our humble position, and  empty ourselves for others instead of living in envy towards them.
b. Self-centerdeness. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Many of us expect community to be laid on for us. We are waiting to be served, loved, mentored or given ministry opportunity. It is consumer-Christianity at its worst. CS Lewis described hell as a table laden with fine food where people's arms were in splints so they could only their neighbors. But they refused to feed their achother, because they were self-centered, so they starved. I have found that as we serve and love others we get fed and loved ourselves.
c. Work.  Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of striving. When we get too busy to waste time with people, community becomes distant and difficult. The Sabbath is a gift for us to rest from our toil and our play, and prioritize worship, eating and resting with our family and the people of God.
d. Refusal to take advice. Better is a wise and a poor youth than a rich and foolish king who cannot take advice.  The gift of community in helping us to see our blind spots and giving us counsel in decision-making, is profound . Paul the Apostle knew how to hear from God, yet he travelled to Jerusalem to hear from some leaders to check that he wasn't running his race in vain. Priscilla and Aquila  showed Apollos a more adequate way. We may have a good grasp of God's ways but we never have the whole picture alone.

So which Community Killer am I guilty of?
Repentance and turning to the God of grace empowers me to own the problem and change something that I can control, entrusting Him with others people's community killers that I cannot control.
It empowers me to remove the stinky cheese from my ol' handle-bar stache.
Did I hear someone say cheese? 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The best Father's Day gift. Ever.

I'm the kind of Dad who seems to be able to find all sorts of gifts I'd like for Father's Day throughout the year. But Come the actual holiday, I can't seem to remember any gift that I want, for the life of me. Everything they advertise seems like a gimmick. Unnecessary.
Maybe this strange gift amnesia is a gift itself?

I don't know, but I'm quite sure that a simple breakfast from Marco Antonio's surrounded by the satisfied murmurings of my kids enjoying his unrivaled Camarone Chipotle tacos, will do me just fine. Family enjoying good food together is gift aplenty.

Come to think of it though, I did receive one extraordinary Father's Day gift earlier this week. Only, I wasn't the father.
I was witness to a gift given from another daughter to her father.
"Strange," you're thinking, "that witnessing a gift given to another father can bring someone such pleasure?"

Quite understandable to wander.
Unless, of course, you knew the extent to which this daughter had suffered abuse at the hands of this father of hers.
Unless you'd been sitting where my wife and I were sitting that morning, listening soul-shattered to this daughter recount the horrors of her betrayal and violation at the hands of the one man she was born to trust.
Then you would not wander at all.
Then you would shake your head and cover your mouth with me in wonder.
These are the days of miracles and wonder.

father. abuser.
Those two words should never be uttered together. Ever.
But this daughter limped in and leaned upon her Heavenly Father.
In her crushed innocence and crippled shame she leaned.
What twisted demon always skews the blame and leaves the abused feeling shame?
But shame she felt, and lean she did.
Steadily, she leaned in upon her Father, learning to send her abuser away debt free.
Steadily her limp healed to a walk, then to a stride.
She felt heaven thaw the bars of her arctic prison and she began to stride.
Send your debtor away debt free.
And you get out of jail free. You get to stride.

Two years ago on Father's Day, she strode to see her father, now an old man.
She strode to give him a gift and tell him she loved him.
No counsellor would ever recommend this. But she insisted.
I think she had forgiven him more than I had.
I probably relented because I hoped the gesture would heap burning coals on his head.
Why should he ever have a happy father's day?

Her gift to him was a hat and a hug.
It may as well have been the moon.
Redeeming love spilled over from this daughter's brand new heart
and splashed her father's gnarled old soul.

This week she told me that she was sending her father another Father's Day gift.
This time it wasn't a hat. It was a photo. Of her as a little girl.
"God has restored my innocence. My Father in heaven redeemed what was stolen from me.
And my father on earth doesn't need to suffer shame anymore."

Father. Redeemer.
Those two words are glued together with the blood of God's own Son.
Those two words became her favorite words.
And her gifts to him have become my favorite Father's Day gifts.
An annual reminder of the scandalous beauty of the Father's gift of grace to us all.

"How could the abused become healer to the abuser?" you ask.
How could her father ever be redeemed?
I ask the same, shaking my head and covering my mouth in wonder.
These are the days of miracles and wonder.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ecclesiastes: Goad to Joy

Beethoven's 9th symphony, 'Ode to Joy,' borrows its original lyrics from Friedrich Schiller, the German poet who called his countrymen to hope and happiness with his patriotic poem in 1875.
It began,

"Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
Pleasing and more joyful sounds!"
All the world's creatures
Draw joy from nature's breast;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her rose-strewn path.

Beethoven's uplifting melody took the lyrics into the mainstream, and the classical genius made a proverbial top 20 hit out of Schillers' poem.

In 1907 Henry van Dyke wrote the lyrics of the hymn "Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee," to the self-same melody, which has now become a church standard around the world, and has in fact been refreshed in the hearts and minds of many Christians today with Brenton Brown's tasteful reworking of the hymn.
The opening stanza of 'Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee,' goes as follows:

"Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee,
God of Glory , Lord of light,
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away,
Giver of Immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day."

Although both Schiller's and Van Dyke's lyrics are celebratory in tone and tenor, their joy is drawn from contrasting sources. The former draws from nature's breast, the latter from the God of Glory. This is essentially the message of the book of Ecclesiastes. It contrasts the fate of those who chase after joy in created things rather than the Creator.

Solomon is like an actor in a one-man play, who plays two contrasting characters. The one is a secularist, who lives for the here and now, and who seeks joy in pleasure, wisdom, wealth, power and progress. He finds that the more he chases joy, the more illusive it is, like chasing the wind. He is miserable and regretful. I'd go so far as to say that he's morose.

If we stop there, Ecclesiastes will break our hearts, because there's a little (or a lot) of this character in each one of us. But if we see it as a goad given by One Shepherd, it will provoke us to joy. You see, Solomon's second character is a believer, who has eternity set in his heart, and who works, plays, eats, drinks and loves with eternity in mind. He finds ultimate joy in His Creator and can thus enjoy the good gifts of created things without allowing them to replace his true source of joy.

So many Christians are sure Jesus can save, but not so sure that He can satisfy.
Let's allow Ecclesiastes to goad us to repentance from the idols we chase after for joy, and let us return to Jesus, the Savior and Satisfier of our souls. As CS Lewis said, "We are halfhearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. We are like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased."

Let's allow Ecclesiastes to be a Goad to Joy.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ecclesiastes: The Double Bounce

I'm told that by the time I was 2 years old I had caught up to my older brother in height and weight.
Growing up as boys we used to love jumping on the trampoline at the together. He was smarter than I was, but I was heavier than he was, which meant that I could double bounce him. If I timed my bounce to be just after his I could make his legs buckle beneath him. If I timed it just before his I could get him to fly up in the air. I'm sure he could explain the physics to you, but I just remember a whole lot of joy and laughter.

Reading Ecclesiastes is a bit like getting double bounced by a heavier brother. At first read it is incredibly bleak. The melancholic lament of a cynic. Solomon, the writer of the book, uses the word vanity 38 times in 12 chapters. That's a lot of vanity right there. This is a man who was achieved what we all love and sacrifice for most: wealth, power, pleasure, relationships, progress, possessions, and yet at the end of his life he is reflecting on it saying, "Take my word for it. The view's not worth the climb." We feel our legs buckle beneath us.

But this is a book of profound joy if we dig a little deeper. The word profound comes from the latin word profundis which means deep. The wisdom in Ecclesiastes is deep wisdom. It is asking more questions than giving answers. The Teacher is more like a philosophy professor who challenges the happiness of the shallow fool who seeks meaning in what is temporary. Solomon explains his method at the end of the book. "The words of the wise are like goads, like firmly embedded nails given by one shepherd." He purposefully goads us, like a shepherd would goad stray sheep away from thorns or poison ivy. "That pursuit will make you sick. It will ensnare you."

The verse is not just explanatory. It is prophetic. It points us to the One Shepherd who laid down his life for His stray sheep, being nailed to a cross with firmly embedded nails. Jesus answers the great questions of life which Ecclesiastes poses."In Him was life and that life was the light of men."If there is nothing more than life under the sun everything is meaningless. But if we find our life through the God's own Son, then everything means everything! We can enjoy the parade of vanity that this world provides, knowing that our life does not depend upon it.

This is where the double bounce of Ecclesiastes begins to exert it's joyful upwards force upon us. As one someone said to me after Sunday's first message from the book, "My knees buckled but my heart soared."

Join us at Southlands Church this summer as we explore the wise joy of Ecclesiastes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Presenting our Kids and Ourselves.

I'm writing this while sitting in a planning meeting for the ladies getaway.
I'm with my wife and 8 other formidable women, who are planning to teach, lead, and serve 130 Southlands ladies this weekend in Malibu.

"Why am I here?"you ask. I'm asking the same question. Doctrinal sounding board, maybe?
Whatever the case, I'm happy to be party to the profundity.
These are remarkable, capable women, which is why I have one eye on the meeting and one on the blog! Don't breathe a word.

This past Sunday we honored our Moms. What would we do without the fierce, sacrificial love of our Moms? We looked at the most honored Mom in history; Mary, the mother of God. At Jesus' circumcision as an 8 day old baby, Mary and Joseph presented Him to God. Presentation in the temple was not just asking for God's blessing on a child. The word presentation is parastesai which means to place at God's disposal. It's used in a military sense, as the captain of an army would parastesai his troops to the Commander-in-Chief to use in battle. Joseph and Mary understood that they were stewards of Jesus, not owners. He was being raised to be placed at God's disposal. Disposal. A very strong word.

Simeon, the priest on duty in the temple that day prophesied that Jesus would cause the falling and rising of many, and that a sword would pierce Mary's soul. Glorious pain.
There would be an immense cost to raising their beautiful boy, only to watch him die brutally and unjustly in his prime. It would challenge every motherly instinct of nurture in Mary and every fatherly instinct of protection in Joseph. Disposal. A very strong word.

There were 8 children presented to God this Sunday at Southlands. What struck me was how many fathers wept as they prayed for their children. I think the lights were going on for them that the child in their arms belonged to God, entrusted to them to raise and to be placed at God's disposal.
Great glory in the giving of a child to great things. But not without great pain.
One father choked through tears, "God thank you for this gift. He's yours. He's yours."

Perhaps presentation is more for us parents than it is for our children?
Perhaps it's about presenting ourselves; our hopes, fears and dreams about our kids and praying that they would not hinder God's dreams for them. Perhaps it's about praying that we would remain steadfast in our stewardship of them when a sword pierces our soul.

This kind of gutsy parenting is going to need more than formidable Moms.
It's going to need men to stop being spiritual and emotional absentees.
So many kids seem to be saying, "What would we do without Moms? But what could we do with our Dads?"
Not to mention the huge phenomena of single parent families requiring that spiritual Dad's are needed to fill a gaping hole too.

If we are going to present our kids to God, it's going to require that we as Dads are present ourselves. And presented.

(With this in mind, we are going to do a "Gospel-centered parenting" course this Summer starting 11th July for 6 weeks. Details to follow shortly. To sign up email

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Apprentice Sunday.

Disciples of Jesus are not just learners. They are apprentices.
I think in trying to make disciples, we focus too much effort on giving people more information about Jesus and his teachings, when really disciple making is more about transformation and mission. Of course, right thinking about Jesus is vital to right living. But good thinking does not necessarily lead to good living.

The Greeks gave us the gift of great ideas, but they didn't always convert their wisdom into reality.
Socrates, one of their most famous philosophers, criticized his own discipline this way.
"You give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality." Are we too philosophical in our disciple making approach? How do we ensure that disciplemaking is not just wisdom, but reality?

Here at Southlands we've distilled disciplemaking down to three essentials from Jesus' call to His first disciples.' "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Mark 4:17
We want them to be simple, memorable and transferrable.

1. Submission to Jesus' leadership. Follow me.
2. Transformation into Jesus' likeness. I will make you.
3. Commission to join Jesus' mission.I will make you fishers of men.

So making disciples is essentially about calling people to Jesus' leadership, likeness and mission.

Mission is where we get to do the stuff Jesus' did, not just learn about it. That is risky business. But for Jesus, it meant that disciplemaking continued and multiplied after He left.
It's a risk we simply have to take too in order to keep making disciples.
That's the heart behind Apprentice Sunday.

We'll have people leading and serving in various roles this Sunday the 5th of May, for the first time. They have not just been thrust into action at the last minute because we are desperate for a gap to be filled. They have been intentionally trained and have faithfully served behind the scenes for a while now, some for years. We have a 25 year old preacher who has given his last four years to studying God's word, and teaching it in small groups. He has done great theological research for our preaching series this past year too. We also have two worship leaders, leading for the first time at Southlands. One is 59 years old. The other is 18. That's a 41 year gap! It speaks of our desire to train apprentices across generations. We have people greeting, ushering, doing announcements and teaching in Children's Ministry for the first time too.

It's going to be a memorable Sunday for sure, and I have no doubt that you'll be amazed at the high quality of people coming through the ranks. Join us as the mission moves onwards and upwards.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Two Prisons to Praise

As a young worship leader I read a classic old book by Merlin Carothers called 'Prison to Praise.' Merlin was a prison chaplain with a simple message to prisoners. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice."(Phil 4:4) He told staggering stories of prisoners who had learned to praise God despite their circumstances, and had experienced great personal breakthrough through praise.

The apostle Paul was the ultimate prison praiser. Acts 16 describes Silas and Paul singing hymns to God in the middle of the night while locked up in prison. They had been unjustly tried, beaten and chained, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, they raised their voices in hymns of praise to God. What followed was dramatic. An earthquake, their chains break, prison doors fly open, yet none of the prisoners escape, which in and of itself was a miracle. The jailer and his whole household are saved and baptized and Paul and Silas are released. We love this story. It describes the great power in praising God.

However, when Paul wrote "Rejoice in the Lord always," he was in another prison. It was actually house arrest in Rome and he was chained, not to Silas, but now to a prison guard. There must have been times when Paul reminisced about how God had broken his chains as he praised before with Silas. Maybe he even tried to sing the same hymns they had sung before hoping for the same effect. Maybe it just wasn't the same without Silas's harmonies! Whatever the case, God didn't break Paul's chains in the Roman prison. God's power was to sustain Paul in prison this time, rather than get Him out like before. Paul could write "Rejoice in the Lord always" because he had learned to praise God for God, not for what God would do. And in actual fact, God has done more through the letters Paul wrote while in that prison, than Paul ever did while he was free.

This is such a vital lesson for us. Sometimes when we praise there is obvious, prison-shattering power. We find we are broken out of the confines of our situations immediately. Other times it seems like nothing changes at all. We praise God but our situation stays the same. It is then that we learn to praise less functionally ands more relationally. We learn to worship God for God, and remember that He is all too often at work behind our back more than before our eyes.
Lord, teach us to use every prison to praise You.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Asking better questions in Suffering.

There is no book in the Bible that deals with the subject of suffering like the Book of Job. Among many benefits, Job helps us to avoid a shallow response to suffering. We typically have one of two shallow responses to suffering. Either we respond with Moralism; you suffered because you are not good or Cynicism; you suffered because God is not God or good.

Job suffered because of his righteousness not because of his sin, which confronts our Moralism. God shows His "Godness" in suffering, permitting Job to suffer and limiting how much Satan could cause him to suffer. God also shows His goodness, by sustaining Job in suffering, so that He worships instead of cursing God, as Satan would have wanted. God works through suffering for the exact opposite of Satan's purposes. He gives Satan enough rope to hang Himself. God shows that He is God and He is good. This confronts our Cynicism.

Essentially Job's testing is around his love for God. Satan claims that Job loves God because of the things God has blessed him with. God claims that Job loves God for God. So God allows Satan to remove the things Job has been blessed with, to see whether he will curse or bless God.

I cannot imagine the intense anguish of Job's grief, having lost his sons and daughters, livestock and property all in one day. His lament comes with torn robe and shaved head, lying prostrate on the floor. But it is a lament of blessing not cursing.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I shall return.
The Lord gave the Lord has taken away, blessed be the Name of the Lord."

When the blessing was stripped away, Job is still found loving God for God.
I have been freshly convicted by this song. Am I loving God for God, or for His blessing?
How often do I come to God with no agenda other than to love Him for Himself?
How much do I feel entitled to the things he has blessed me with, forgetting that they are on loan to me by grace?

Too often, in the pain of suffering, we question God's character. Is God really loving? we ask. What happens in Job's life serves to provide another question for us to answer, and that is, Am I really loving? The Bible says that Job, although he lamented, Did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. He did not understand the why of his suffering, just like many of us, but he understood the what. What God was doing was testing Job's love for God. It was not God in the dock. It was Job. And by God's grace, Job was tried and found true. By God's grace, we can be tried and found true too.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Potter and the Clay - a Biblical response to suffering

It’s been two painful Monday’s of tragic loss, hasn’t it?
Rick and Kay Warren lost their youngest son, Matthew, who committed suicide on Monday 8th April after suffering with depression for years. Many have wept and prayed with empathy for this remarkable couple, their family and church.

Then Monday the 15th, the Boston Bombings claimed the lived of three people and injured 183, many of whom were maimed terribly. One father who was running in the marathon, lost his 8 year old son in the bombings, while his wife suffered brain damage, and his daughter lost her leg. Of course, those who ran towards the bomb victims risking their own lives to help others, gave us glimmers of hope in the horror, but we were still left with the bitter gall of horrific injustice, tragic loss of life, health and peace.

There are many people in our own community who have experienced terrible suffering and loss too. They have lost loved ones prematurely, lost health, jobs, houses, marriages, friends, businesses and more. Some may argue that we still have so much here in the OC compared to others, and that is true. Suffering is relative, but it is no less real or painful for those that experience it.

If there is one thing we are assured of in this life, it is to suffer in some way, or to witness others suffer. Suffering is a central theme of Scripture, because it is a central theme of life.
It is natural and understandable to respond to suffering by asking,"Why?" "Why me?" "Why them?"
"Why me and not them?!" Buy 'why' is often a question that ties us in knots.

Many of the Bible’s characters suffer terribly for extended periods of time for seemingly very little reason. Still, scripture doesn’t view suffering as senseless, even if it doesn’t make complete sense to people in the moment. It becomes clear that God is at work in it to fulfill His purposes and for people’s good. As Martin Luther King once said, "The Arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."

So then, how do we endure suffering with joy, and even more, learn from it with hope while we go through the long arc? Isaiah the prophet used the metaphor of the potter and the clay to describe the mysterious relationship between God’s purposes and His people’s experience of suffering. Yet oh Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. The metaphor has two big ideas.

First, God’s Sovereignty as Creator, to do as He pleases with us, His creation. That God is Sovereign in suffering may seem offensive to us, but do we really want a God who is not ultimately in control of everything? Surely, if we rob God of sovereignty in suffering, we rob God of God?
Second, that God our Father, is able to shape something of profound beauty and value out of suffering; something that can hold his glory. He makes all things beautiful in his time. Suffering is not senseless at all, even if we struggle to make sense of it at the time.

No book in the Bible, and perhaps even the world, handles the topic of suffering, especially the topic of suffering and loss, as deeply and profoundly as the book of Job. Job is an Epic poem, made up of three conversations. One between God and Satan, one between Job and his friends and one between Job and God. The first chapter gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of suffering - showing us that suffering is complex and cannot be solved by pat answers or cliché’s. It also shows us a healthy way to respond to suffering and the real reason behind suffering.

God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specifically armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain --C.S. Lewis "Letters of C.S. Lewis"

This Sunday at Southlands Church we will be looking at 'Job, suffering and loss.'I hope you will join us, either live or online.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Rumors of the Empty Tomb

Easter is the time that we celebrate the death of Death in the death of Christ.
Easter proves that Christmas was real. The cozy, warmth of the manger scene becomes the brutal horror of the crucifixion. The cross looked like defeat to all but God, but in truth, it was hidden victory. Jesus, the sinless God/man, became sin on our behalf to win us righteous standing before God. He disarmed Satan our accuser, cancelling the written code that condemned us. He won us uninterrupted life with His Father.

The cross looked like defeat, but it was victory concealed. The resurrection was victory revealed but the war had truly been won at the cross.
Jesus’ resurrection proved that death had no hold on him, and therefore no hold on those who would believe in him for salvation. It also proved that all authority had been given to him. There was no name in heaven or earth higher or stronger than Jesus’ name. Jesus spent 40 days appearing to his disciples, proving to them that he was fully alive, allowing them to touch him, eat with him, examine him. And he taught them about His Kingdom.

In the mean time, the chief priests had started a rumor, bribing the soldiers guarding the tomb to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body. Despite this, no anti-Christian writer in the first 2 Centuries AD denied that the tomb was empty. Amidst a conspiracy theory and intense persecution, the number of Christians grew from a little band of believers in AD33, to 27 million by 300AD. Why do you think that was? Certainly, one reason was the quality of the lives of those who followed Jesus. If this was a conspiracy, why were people willing to die for it? Why were their lives so unrecognizeable before and after faith in Jesus. Even those who persecuted the early disciples admitted that their lives were remarkable.

The disciples would be a ‘show and tell’ to the world. The rumors of the empty tomb were confirmed by the transformed lives of the disciples.

This Friday and Sunday, at Southlands Church, we are going to spread four rumors of the empty tomb. Four lives transformed by the power of the Gospel. Two rumors are ancient, and two are recent.
On Friday we will spread the rumors of Mary Magdalene and Kristen Roark.
On Sunday, we will spread the rumors of Peter the fisherman and Carl Tuttle.
They are sure to confirm your suspicion that Christ is indeed risen from the dead.
We would love it if you joined us.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Christian or Disciple?

In April 2012 I sat with a small group of mega-church pastors who lamented their inability to make disciples, admitting that their people were addicted to preachers and programs. The Multiply( curriculum was launched out of that meeting. It’s a call to make disciples who will make disciples through telling the story of God. This past week I met with this group again, this time in Austin. Some of those pastors have now have handed over mega-churches to lead house churches, others lead churches of 10 000 plus, but all face the same challenge – how do we make disciple makers? It’s not the size or form of church that is key – it is the quality of disciples.

One of the questions we wrestled around was, what really is a disciple?
We have up in our church lobby the ‘9 elements of a disciple.’ I loved being part of the wordsmith process of the definitions, and I love the way they look in our lobby. They are carefully chosen, and beautifully portrayed, but for the life of me I could not remember more than about 3 asd I sat in Austin. So I found myself thinking, "What definition is transferrable enough for everyone to remember and commit to?"

Jesus, when he called the disciples said, called them with clear, authoritative simplicity. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” His call was essentially to three things – to follow Him –not just believe, but accept him as their leader. To be changed by Him – I will make you. And to be on mission with him.” I will make you fishers of men.’ That is the essence of a disciple.

The word disciple is used over 258 times in the New Testament, whereas the word Christian is only used three times. Disciple does not just mean ‘student’, it means ‘apprentice’. We are learning to do the things that Jesus did. It is very active. Following Jesus does not just mean learning about him, but doing what he did – making disciples. It has multiplication in it’s dna.

Christian means 'little Christ' is more a statement of association than a statement of intent. In acts 11 in the church of Antioch, Luke says, ‘the disciples were first called Christians there.’ In other words, the way the disciples were following Jesus reminded people so much of Jesus that they called them ‘little Christ’s’ This may sound provocative, but maybe we should be calling ourselves disciples of Jesus, and leaving it to the city to say whether we remind them of Jesus or not? Maybe we need to give our unbelieving friends a ‘hunting license’ to call us out where we do not remind them of Jesus?

Whatever, the case, Jesus calls us to far more than just ‘association.’ He commissions us, as his apprentices, to learn from him, walk with him, and do what he did – to make disciples.