Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why are we fasting next week?

This Sunday evening, after having gulped down one last slice of Super Bowl pizza, and having washed it down with one last Super Bowl beverage of choice, the Southlands community will embark on a fast. Not that a slice of pizza is a wise final food choice before fasting, but I can't see to many having vegetable broth at their Super Bowl Parties. That said, we will do a liquid fast - water, juice and thin soup if needed (did I say 'thin'?) from the evening of the 3rd of February until the evening of the 6th February. For the Spartans among us, we are doing it like this to get maximum community participation. If you would prefer to fast on water, be our guest!

We'll meet together Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 630pm at the Gallery for an hour to worship and pray. On Wednesday night at 630pm we will break the fast with a community feast and then worship together afterwards. I want to call each one of you who call Southlands home, to join us for this catalytic moment in God.

You may be asking, "But why fasting?" Is it a guilty purge after a Christmas binge? Or maybe an attempt to please God so that He blesses us in 2013?

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

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

Here's the thing though. Although Jesus has come to us and given His life in payment for us, he has in fact been 'taken away.' He has ascended to heaven and has not yet returned to make all things right.

This is why we fast.

We long for a tangible sense of His presence.
When we fast we're denying ourselves of food so that we can feast on Jesus.
We're asking for the Father to communicate the presence of Jesus to us in new and fresh ways by His Holy Spirit.
We are not satisfied knowing about Jesus. We want to Know Him.
We want to abide in Him and for His words to abide in us.
We want to remember that apart from Him we can do nothing.
We also fast and pray for a progressive advance of His rule and reign here on earth. We live between the inauguration of His Kingdom and it's fulfillment. Between the now and the not yet. We do not yet see all things under His feet, and yet we know that He will one day fully rule. Fasting mysteriously moves the hand of a Sovereign King. He extends the scepter of His rule over sin, sickness, demonic oppression, and humanity's general brokenness. His light shines in dark places.
Fasting also precedes Gospel Multiplication, and as a church on the cusp of starting another community, we want to underpin our plans with prayer and fasting. (Acts 13)

We ultimately fast longing for the day when He returns for us once and for all.
Jesus Himself is longing and fasting for that day.(Luke 22:18)
The day when we will never fast again.
The day when the unending feast can finally begin.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Southlands: why one church multiple communities?

The past week I've been looking at what it means to dwell with the Tabernacle God.
Moses understood that Israel were a people on pilgrimage. They were gathered around a transient tabernacle rather than a temple, which meant they lived perpetually on mission. Their mission was to put God's glory and grace on display to the surrounding nations. Dwelling with the Tabernacle God meant they kept moving on.

Every community has seasons of camping out and seasons where God calls us to break camp and advance. Miss the call to break camp and you risk settling into pleasant presence-lessness.

For Southlands, it's a 'break camp' kind of season as we move on towards becoming "One church multiple communities." I realize this is not a unique phenomenon, but I want to give some reasons for why we have felt this is God's way forward for us at this time.

1) Dwelling in diversity
A wise friend once said to me, "LA/OC is not a melting pot. It's a TV dinner."
There are over 50 cities which exist in separate pockets of feel, mood and culture. Multiple communities allow us to go and flesh out the timeless message of Jesus in timely ways that suit a distinct context. When John 1 talks about Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the word there is literally 'tabernacle'. "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." Jesus pitched His tent in a particular body, family, trade, culture and town - what we call the Incarnation. He calls us to do the same, as His body the church, for the sake of the Gospel.

2) Together we can do more
There are ways of administrating the grace of God which are more economical than others. 'One church, multiple communities' allows us to share the resources of a common name, track record, staff, ministry team, administrative system, sermon series and website. We believe that we can do more together than apart.

3) Common DNA
We are invested in building unity between different churches in our region, honoring the diverse expressions of the Body of Christ, while at the same time carrying a conviction that there is a great need for more communities on mission with a Gospel-Centered, Spirit-Empowered DNA.

4) Engaging the Priesthood.
We recognize the richness of ministry gifting that God has entrusted us with, and new communities present opportunities for new people to serve in new ways. In short, it is probably the most effective way of engaging the priesthood of all believers - galvanizing all of God's people to live on mission together whether they go or stay.

This is not something we are rushing into. We will more than likely start our first community in the Fall. I am as committed as ever to building a strong base here in Brea. We need to be a people who win home games as well as away games, of this I am convinced. But what a privilege to be a part of God's unfolding story of sending workers into a ripe harvest! Let's be willing workers.

My next blog will deal with more specifics, but I wanted to start with some broad brush strokes initially. I've loved hearing people's responses to the news - both questions, perspectives and enthusiasm. Keep them coming!

Onwards and Upwards.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When Settlers become Pilgrims

Moses' solitary song in the Book of Psalms is a melancholic history of Israel's 40 year journey through the wilderness. It's the tale of a grumbling, unbelieving people who knew God's care and provision, but also felt His heavy hand upon a them as they resisted His leadership. Moses famous prayer, "Teach us to number our days that we might apply ourselves to wisdom," ring out with the gravity of a man who has led a 40 year journey that could have taken a few weeks. "Don't resist God! It's a waste of a short life!" would be my paraphrase of his plea.

The Psalm opens with a more hopeful declaration though. "Oh Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations." There is great comfort in this declaration. God's presence was Moses' one condition for leading Israel."Unless your presence goes with us do not send us up out of here." It was like Moses was saying, "God you've remained true to your promise to us. Even though your people resisted you, we never journeyed alone." This is a profound portrait of God's grace to us in Jesus. "I will never leave you or forsake you."

But there is also a sense of discomfort in Moses' words. God's dwelling place was not a permanent fixture. God dwelt in a tabernacle, not a temple. He directed them to pitch the tent and break camp through a moving cloud and fire. This meant the people of God lived more like gypsies than suburban settlers. Dwelling with a tabernacle God meant moving on.

The tabernacle was also a feature of King David's leadership. At the end of his reign when he wanted to build a temple for the Ark, God said to him, "Since the day I led my people out of Egypt I have not stopped moving from place to place." It's like God is saying, "I'm fine in my tent right now. You need to be too." The temple would be built under his son, Solomon. But David needed to know God's dwelling place as a temporal place.

It gives context to David's famous pilgrim Psalm which begins, "How lovely is your dwelling place, Oh Lord God Almighty."(Psalm 84)Like Moses, he knew that dwelling with God was not staying in one place, which is why he could say, "Blessed are those whose strength is in you who have set their heart on pilgrimage. As they go from strength to strength they make it a place of springs, they go from strength to strength."

There is a difference between a drifter and a pilgrim, as I described in my last blog. A drifter is lonely, self-centered and unable to commit to others. Pilgrims are dwellers with God and people, but they are not settlers.They are able to break camp, together with others, when the tabernacle God moves on.
God is calling drifters and settlers to become pilgrims.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How the Boss turned Pilgrim

I devoured Bruce Springsteen's biography over the Christmas break in front of a cozy cabin fire up in the snowy San Bernadino mountains. It was all the more vivid for me because I've had the pleasure of seeing Springsteen and his E-Street Band perform live. I don't know if I've ever witnessed as powerful a performer, and the chemistry he shared with his band was palpable the night I saw them.

It was a surprise then, to read how many times the Boss, as he's affectionately known, and the his band drifted apart and back together during their 40 year stellar career. The truth is that Springsteen lived like a nomad for much of his life, drifting from city to city, house to house and lover to lover. His first real hit, 'Born to Run,' was his epitaph, and his gypsy spirit spilled acid into the band's chemistry.

"In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway american dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines...
Cos' baby we were born to run."

It was only after his marriage to his backup singer Patti Scialfa that the Boss managed finally to subject his fierce gypsy spirit to the caravan of community. It wasn't that the wild poet settled into middle-aged pleasantville. He would always be nomadic, but his marriage to Patti gradually exorcized the drifter and fashioned the pilgrim. More rock and less roll.

Bruce and Patti have raised three children. They are still married after two decades, a rare gem in the music industry especially when you play in the same band every night. Multiple platinum albums, sold out world tours, a slew of grammy and humanitarian awards later, and the Boss and his band are as tight as ever.

The thing about pilgrimage is that it's intentional and communal.
It's not just somebody with wanderlust.
Pilgrims are a tribe of travelers on an intentional mission for better or worse.

King David described it in the Psalms, "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they go through the valley of tears they make it a place of springs. They go from strength to strength." Ps 84

Pilgrims don't drift away in a valley of tears. They go through it together trusting God for the strength to make it a place of springs. Pilgrims are not just together for the ride either. They are together because of a common hope.

Springsteen echoes the Psalmists sentiment,
"You'll need a good companion for this part of the ride,
Leave behind your sorrows, lay aside your pride,
Meet me in the land of hope and dreams."

This year, I pray that God would turn our solitude into community
and our wanderlust into pilgrimage.