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.