Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wim Brandhorst. A Eulogy.

When Rynelle and I came to pastor London Road in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was introduced to Wim as the man who had built the steel structure that held up the roof of the auditorium. The giant structure looked very sturdy, and when Wim shook my hand I understood why. I would describe his handshake as a bear hug with hands.

One of the pastors at the church during that time was Nick Saltas, who is one of the elders on my team now. Nick oversaw the whole building project, and told me that Wim and his crew were very good at their work, but that Wim was extremely harsh with his workers, swearing and shouting at them often. On the completion of the building, Wim and his crew came to the opening ceremony where they were honored for their work. As the Gospel was preached, the Holy Spirit took Wim's heart of stone and changed it into a heart of flesh. This massive bear of a man, with his baseball-mit hands and door-frame shoulders stood weeping like a new born baby. Wim was born again. He got baptized soon after that and he came up out of the water speaking in tongues, full of the Holy Spirit. The transformation was so stark, the next week Wim's crew of workers came to one of the pastors and asked, "What have you done to our boss? Why does he not shout and swear at us any more? Why is he so patient and kind? We do not recognize him."

A few years passed and although God did some remarkable things in Wim's life, some family and work struggles began to wear him down. He started coming to church less frequently and I began to worry about him. He seemed to have lost the early joy of his salvation. So I asked him for a coffee. Now I cannot remember exactly what I said to him over coffee that day. All I can remember is being rather nervous of speaking truth to Wim. His soft heart did not mean that he was any less formidable. He could have bent me like a paper clip.

Nevertheless, Wim, in recounting that coffee to me said that I told him to "get over himself" and come back to church, because God was not done with him. I'm not sure I was quite that bold,
but what I do remember is that Wim responded with humility and began to engage back into community, particularly in evangelism and praying for the sick. I felt very relieved, I must say. Wim could have rested back on his initial story of conversion, but he kept journeying with God. He finished stronger than he had begun because he kept on responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
He didn't allow his heart of flesh to become calloused by the trials of life, but kept his heart soft towards God and people. This is as noteworthy as the initial story of his salvation.

What a trophy of grace he was. And what an example of a man who kept walking with Jesus. I pray that His life would spur many people on to fix their eyes on Jesus today, not fixated with past victories or tragedies. Jesus is faithful to lead us on. Will we follow?
We will miss you, Wim Brandhorst. But God's legacy in your life remains.
May it be multiplied in many more men, who have your strong, willing hands and soft, faith-filled heart.
It was an honor to be your pastor and friend.


The Spirit of Jesus

I loved preaching about the Holy Spirit this past sunday, and enjoyed praying for people at the end of each meeting even more. There is simply nothing like witnessing the Holy Spirit revealing the love of the Father and empowering people on Jesus' mission.

I've found it helpful, when talking about the most misunderstood person of the Trinity, to begin with His work in Jesus' life, rather than in the early church's life. After all, it's Jesus that we are following. He is our ultimate model of life and mission, and He lived in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit. Luke's Gospel describes Jesus as being conceived by the Spirit, baptized by the Spirit, led, filled, empowered and anointed by the Spirit.

So many theologians have depicted Jesus as a kind of hybrid, almost like a Toyota Prius, swapping between gas and battery, or rather, humanity and deity depending on the need. When hanging with the disciples or teaching He was doing it in humanity, but when he needed a miracle he would dip into his deity. Although Luke's Gospel is clear that Jesus was fully God, it doesn't depict Jesus like a hybrid at all. Luke wants us to be clear that Jesus, in willing humanity, was reliant on the Holy Spirit for power even though He was fully God by nature. He was more like a fully battery-powered Ford F150! Luke re-affirms this in Acts 10 when he explains that "Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, went around doing good and healing all those who were under the power of the devil."

Why is this important? It's important, because if Jesus lived in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, then we as Christ followers cannot see the Holy Spirit as an optional extra. He is completely crucial to our life and mission as Christ's followers.

Here are four aspects of the Spirit's work in Jesus' life that we see in Luke, with vital parallels to His work in our lives.

The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and conceived Jesus. He was born of a virgin, born of the Spirit.(Luke 1:35) Although none of us were physically born of a virgin, we are born of the Spirit, our hearts regenerated from spiritual death so that we could believe and repent. At the point of regeneration, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us. We are born again.

The Holy Spirit baptized Jesus, descending on him like a dove, and covering Him with the love of His Father. Each of us need the Spirit to consciously bear witness with our Spirit's that we are children of God, deeply loved by our Father. This can take place at salvation, but often happens subsequent to it, as we see in Acts 2 and 19. Who does not need this?

The Holy Spirit then led Jesus into the wilderness. The dove becomes a war bird! The Holy Spirit has a sovereign will, and He sometimes leads us where we don't want to go. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness but overcame by the Word and the Spirit. His leading is not always to bigger houses, better schools, higher paying jobs and safer cities. Because He is the Holy Spirit, he is more concerned about our character than our comfort. Are we willing to be led to discomfort? As we follow His leading, resisting the comfortable option every time, that's when we experience the Comfort of the Comforter!

Jesus returned from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit. He said that He was empowered to preach the Gospel, heal the sick and set captives free. The Spirit's work is never merely personal. It is always missional. Jesus was unrecognizable to his hometown. "Isn't this the carpenter's son?' He walked with a new capacity, much greater than his natural ability. So can we. So must we. For our own sake and for the sake of the world.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Marks of a Missional Church

If Seeker-Sensitive was the bright young thing of the American Church in the '90's, then it's hipper young cousin, Missional, has elbowed it decisively from center stage, with it's plaid-sleeved, tattoed arm. Missional has become this decade's pass-word for pastoral street-cred. The Missional guys, of course, roll their eyes at the behemoth of the seeker-sensitive mega church, dismissing it with the now scandalous church status of Attractional!

I may sound cynical, but really, I believe that the Missional Movement has stumbled over God's heart for His church, for every believer to see themselves as commissioned by Jesus to make disciples. They have got the point that so many before have missed. However,I feel that many have labored the point, giving in to their deconstructionist tendencies. Their conversations tend to drift towards forms of church, rather than a re-orientation of disciples' hearts, minds and lives to live on mission with Jesus.

Let me give you an example. I know a man who was employed part time as a college pastor of a church in my city. He also worked part time as a manager in a health store. Frustrated with his inability to reach unchurched young adults, he resigned from the church, started a missional church in his house and took up a full-time job at the health store. He was applauded by many for leaving the establishment and embarking on a more missional journey. I remember him telling me at the start how exciting it was just to eat around a table, with no preaching or pressure, just come as you are and talk about life and perspectives about the bible. I saw him in his store yesterday, 3 years after he began. He is a good man, generous and kind. But after 3 years and much frustration he talked of calling it a day with his missional church. He said that the moment he called the people around his table to commit to some kind of mission they disappeared.

Now I don't want to dismiss that form, just because of his one story. My point is though, that there is no silver bullet when it comes to a form of church that will ensure people become missional. Whatever the form, it still remains for leaders to preach the Gospel to their people, lead them with vision and call them to mission. A dining-room table with good food, fare-trade coffee and mood-lighting may feel more missional, but it's not necessarily so.

So what are the Marks of a Missional Church irrespective of form?
Tim Keller in his book Center Church gives 6 very helpful marks, and I want to add one of mine.
1) A church that recognizes and repents of the idols of it's culture.
2) A church that communicates the Gospel in a language that it's culture can understand.
3) A church in which every believer is equipped to live as a missionary to their culture.
4) A church in which unbelievers can belong in some way before they believe or know how to behave.
5) A church that lives as an alternative community for the good of thew city
6) A church that practices unity with other churches in it's city
and mine:
7) A church in which every believer is expectant for Holy Spirit power encounters with unbelievers.

How would you mark your life and your church?

Day 3: Battle Hands and Baggage Handlers all share alike.

The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as the man who went down to battle. All will share alike. 1 Samuel 30:24

Obviously I'm looking forward to eating tonight. But honestly, there is a part of me that doesn't want this fast to end. God has drawn near, and I am loving watching a community quickened by His voice and presence.

Last night God spoke so clearly about justice, and the Holy Spirit's empowering to, "Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God."(Micah 6:8) This is a sobering and costly call. To stand up on behalf of those who have been mistreated does not always mean being applauded by the world. John Piper said prophetically in 1993, "We all dream now and then of suffering for righteousness' sake. We dream of suffering nobly—even heroically—for Jesus' sake. But what will you feel when the authorities and the crowds and the media distort your cause and tell the whole world not that you are a noble person with courage suffering for righteousness but that you are a deluded, extremist fanatic?" But stand and speak, we must.

Today, I'd like us to pray into our part in the mission of Southlands as a whole, which is, To glorify the Father in the power of the Spirit, by preaching the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus. Particularly as we move to becoming One Church, Multiple Communities, it is easy for those who are looking to take part in the launch of the Fullerton community to feel a sense of great mission, while those who stay at Brea can feel less vitally on mission. But this is not the case at all.

There is a passage in 1 Samuel where the Amalekites attack the Israelites and carry off their wives, children and possessions. David takes 400 men to take back what was stolen, but leaves 200 men who are too exhausted to fight, to look after the supplies. God gives Israel victory, but the men who go out to battle want to keep the plunder for themselves. David insists that the plunder be shared amongst those who fought in battle and those who handled the baggage.All will share alike!

This is the way God sees us as a church. We all have the same share in the risk and reward of the mission, even if our roles are different. Every role is vital, and every role is rewarded.
Let's each play our part in the mission of God. See you tonight.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unless the Lord builds the house

Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchmen stand guard in vain. Psalm 127

Today, serving as some focus our prayer, I want to ask you to be reading Psalm 127 and 128 together. They are two short Psalms that seek God in the area of family and finance. This touches every one of us in different ways, and we have seen God answer in a myriad ways as we've sought Him together.

Let's be praying for the rebuilding of broken or strained marriages and families, and for the establishing of our children on a firm foundation of faith so that they can be like arrows in the hands of a warrior, serving the purposes of our King. We know the Orange County divorce rate is over 70%, which wreaks havoc in families, but God wants the church to be a counter-culture for the good of the city. Let's also pray for family members who are far from God to come home. I've already heard of one this week who has turned back to the Lord as a result of prayer. Even if our families are not broken, let's pray for protection and unity and a greater sense of seeking God's kingdom together. Practically, let's pray that God would move powerfully in the Art of Marriage course that is going on at the moment, and at Lights Winter Camp this weekend. It would also be great to pray for those struggling to fall pregnant. Your wife will be like a fruiful vine within your house.

You will eat the fruit of your labor, blessings and prosperity will be yours Psalm 128
God calls us in this psalm to trust Him to watch over the city and to give us the fruit of our labor. In fact there is a warning against unbelieving toil that produces nothing except a broken family. In vain you rise up early and stay up late toiling for food to eat for he grants sleep to those he loves. Sons are a heritage from the Lord. One of God's attributes is a good work ethic, but He calls us to work in humble dependence upon Him as builder and watcher over our work. Let's pray that he blesses businesses, gives favor in the work place, and provides work for the unemployed. Let's pray too that we would be an Isaac-spirited community(Gen 26) sowing generously in a land of famine, because we know that God is our provider. Pray that our testimony in the work place would be good for the Gospel, and that our class "Gospel in the work place' would be fruitful.

God is the builder and guarder of household and city! Let's trust Him and build His way!

Grace and Grit as we seek Him together,

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fasting is turning and tasting

I sought the Lord and he answered me, he delivered me from my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Fear the Lord you His saints, for those who fear Him lack no good thing. Psalm 34

Today is the first day of our fast. You may be feeling a bit daunted by the prospect of three days without food and wondering how to make this more than just a three day diet. We are with you in this! We will gather around a broad theme each day that will help us to seek the Lord together, just as David sought the Lord in this Psalm. Of course God has his way of speaking individually to us, but here is what we will focus on as a community today and tonight as we gather to pray.

1. That seeking the Lord means developing a healthy fear of Him.
Interesting that David asks the Lord to deliver him from his fear, but then encourages us to 'fear the Lord.' There is even a promise attached to fearing the Lord. "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord." These are two different fears.
One is terror and foreboding of some created thing, the other is faith-filled reverence towards the Uncreated One. Do we fear the Lord? Or are our hearts full of other fears that rob us of trusting and obeying the Lord? When we fear the Lord, he delivers us from the fear of man, the fear of the future, the fear of financial loss, the fear of rejection etc. and empowers us to trust Him and obey Him. Let's repent from these fears and turn in reverence the Lord, for those who fear Him lack no good thing.

2.That seeking the Lord is feasting upon Him. "Taste and see that the Lord is good. The Lions may grow weak and hungry but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing."
As we've said, this is not simply denying ourselves food for the sake of it. It is to feast on the Lord. To taste and see that He is good. Today let's ask God to fill us with a clear sense of His tangible presence. He loves to draw near to us as we draw near to Him.
"The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Take time in your lunch break today to be silent before Him, to listen to Him, and take refuge in Him.

3. That seeking the Lord is trusting Him with our troubles. "This poor man called and the Lord saved Him out of His troubles."
Try not to start here. Fasting is more than asking God to sort out our troubles. He cares more about changing our hearts than our situations. But he does care about what troubles us. So bring your troubles to Him. Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you. Those who look to Him are radiant.
Enjoy the day, and we'll see you tonight.