Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer fun. Not Summer slide.

Crowd engrossed in a hard fought 3-3 draw that went to Golden Goal, and then to Penalty Kicks.

Yesterday's Southlands Brea vs. Southlands Fullerton soccer match was about as much fun as I can ever recall having at a Southlands sporting event. Played in a hard-fought, but excellent spirit with a great crowd of supporters, the game went down to the wire with PK's.  It was compelling community at it's best. Who won was of little consequence. We live in Orange County, remember?  Everyone wins in Orange County! But let's just say the victory dinner at Brea's Best was significantly sweet.

Seriously though, Fullerton and Brea are two communities whom God has united around a common creed, in a common bond with a common mission, and although there was healthy competition, an event like yesterday was a reminder of just how much community chemistry there is between us. We simply love being together, and there is that old saying about the family that plays together staying together.

It's also a reminder that we are quite new on our multi-site journey together. Last summer we were one church in an underground pre-launch phase into one church two communities. God has blessed us and provided for us. We are gaining traction in our mission to make disciples in this County. Our serving, giving and attendance has grown as a whole. I want to thank all of you who have served faithfully during the last six month's multiplication. It is God who builds his church, but you have been remarkable living stones in His hands.

But there is a certain fragility to the progress we've made. If I can change the metaphor, Fullerton is like a toddler taking wobbly, but significant strides forwards. She requires a steadiness throughout the Summer months. Brea, having many students gone and having recently sown over a hundred solid citizens to Fullerton, is like a mother who has recently given birth. She is still gaining strength from her labor pains.

So, as fun as Summer can be in SoCal, we need to guard against sliding into missional slumber.  Students head home, families take much needed vacation, people take part in summer missions.
It's all good stuff! But in the midst of the scattering, the local church can begin to slide back from the ground she has taken if we're not careful.

Forgive me if I maintain a certain intensity during summer. It's not the summer season that we need to fight. It's the pacific summer tone. In Paul's words to Timothy, let's be constant in and out of season!
Let's sustain and advance the mission this Summer by being a praying, serving, giving, worshipping, inviting, attending, believing people.

We need to bring the same energy, intensity, unity and strategy to the Mission of God that we did to yesterday's soccer game. Everyone a team member. Everyone a player. Everyone a cheerleader.
Christ our Captain. Christ our Champion.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Father's day in an Orphan world.

This Father's Day was especially poignant for me.

If I'm honest, it was partly selfish.  My children are more able to express themselves, and their cute little card scribbles are now becoming meaningful messages, which I treasure. I loved playing Play Station with my boys, and going for a run with my daughter on Sunday afternoon. When Fatherhood grows to encompass friendship, it is incredibly gratifying.

Three other moments added to the poignancy.

The first was being led by two men in worship on Sunday morning. One man lost his father to cancer when he was a young teenager. I know that every year, Father's day intensifies the sense of loss and longing for him and his family. And yet he led with a joy and vigor  that were contagious as he sang, "Who makes the orphan a son and daughter? The King of Glory, the King above all Kings."
The other man, the son of a pastor,  suffered through the deep disappointment of his parent's divorce.  He spoke with honor towards his earthly father, but echoed the sentiment of countless millions with the words, "Nobody's father is perfect. I had to find healing from the only perfect Father who is in heaven." The powerful beauty of the Gospel of adoption was so vividly on display in these men.

A Father to the fatherless is God in His holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5

The second was being given a Father's Day card and gift  from a couple in the church with whom we live and work closely. He never met his Dad. She lost hers to cancer three years ago. They thanked me for playing a fatherly role in their lives. I do not assume to be their father in a Darth Vader, "Luke I am your father," sort of manner. We are the same age. Plus, they're a spiritual mother and father in their own right.  But the truth is that God the Father does provide spiritual fathers to his family to fill the gaps left by absent fathers.

The crowning moment took place the day after Father's Day, when a few of us visited Drew and Tammy Davis and their children who are from our church, and who play a leadership role in an orphanage near Tecate, Mexico. The orphans here are mostly adult, and most live with severe physical and mental disabilities stemming from being abandoned or abused by their parents.
Drew and Tammy introduced each person by name with deep affection, dignity and a fair bit of humor. They have known some of the people here for 20 years. They call Drew and Tammy, Mama and Papa, which is not just a term of respect. It is a term of rescue from an orphan world into family.
I think we use this term too easily in the church, but this visit wrecked me.
It translated the concept of adoption from being only a heavenly thing.
Adoption was earthed so vividly for me in that orphanage.

God is not only a Father to the fatherless. God sets the lonely in families. Psalm 68:6

When Jesus said to his disciples, "I will not leave you as orphans," He was making a sacred promise about the coming Holy Spirit, who would baptize the disciples into the love of His Father.
It is this same Spirit who witnesses with our spirits that we are adopted as sons and daughters by the Father.  As J.I Packer said, "To be pardoned by God the judge is great. To be loved by God the Father is greater still. Adoption is the crown jewel of Gospel."

So, who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
Ultimately Jesus, who was forsaken by His Father so that we could be be adopted.
But, if we are willing walk out this glorious Gospel of adoption, the Father will make us
fathers and mothers who provide family to His adopted sons and daughters.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Guarding the Good Deposit." a debrief from Terry and Wendy Virgo's visit.


What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Tim 1:13-14 

I regularly get requests from gifted speakers and musicians to do a 'guest slot' at Southlands. While I'm not against that from time to time,  we have a much higher value  of ministry coming from a foundation of authentic relationship and recognized gifting. There is something so healthy about someone who is known, who knows us, and whose apostolic track record is known too.It ends up being more than the sum of it's parts, more than just an anointed worship set or message. It ends up, in the words of Paul, as a good deposit. We continue to enjoy this kind of ministry from couples like the Wienands, the Martinez's and the Proctors who live closer by geographically, and we're hugely grateful for that.

But when I felt prompted in a dream to invite Terry and Wendy Virgo from the UK to be with us for a whole month in this way, it meant a bit more of a logistical challenge. After discussion with the elders and the Virgos, we landed on a month around May. I'm so grateful to the Holy Spirit for His leadership, and for a team that is wise, yet willing to risk with some of my unusual impressions and impulses.

We've been enriched in so many ways this last month, and I'm aware that we are called to guard this good deposit that has been entrusted to us with the help of the Holy Spirit. Guarding it means remembering, keeping, and putting into practice what we've seen and heard.

So how would I describe the deposit that they've left with us?

Firstly, they've made a deposit of apostolic affection. Their genuine care, attentiveness, and willingness to relate beyond meetings was remarkable. It cuts so powerfully across a Christian culture  fixated with celebrity. I chuckled to hear that one night when Terry was preaching at a large church midweek, Wendy decided she would rather stay home and attend Josh and Jess Fowler's life group! Their willingness to spend hours after meetings praying for people individually was also phenomenal. One couple they prayed for told me, "We had a conversation with them two weeks prior to them praying, and they referenced this conversation in detail, which meant they had listened and remembered what we'd said, and were able to pray and prophesy into that. I also enjoyed the fact that they were completely unreligious. Their sense of fun and enjoying life was contagious. Their affection leaves us with a fresh resolve to be a people of God, distinguished by our love for one another.

Secondly, their commitment over 50 years to preaching sound doctrine, has produced incredible freedom and health in hundreds of churches around the world. Their gracious, yet unwavering commitment to Biblical truth has kept them from building sentimentally or pragmatically, and has given us fresh confidence to take God at His Word, believe Him for His promises and rest assured in His amazing grace. In a culture that is increasingly intolerant of any claim to objective truth,  and a church context which tends to edit unpopular passages in the Bible, lets contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Faith is a fight and they have imparted courage to fight with grace.

Thirdly, their engaged faith means they are not just contending for the faith, they are actively trusting God to move powerfully through them by His Spirit. Although sound doctrine is vital, our aim should't be perfect theology. It should be faith working itself out through love. The numerous physical healings we have witnessed have given many an increased sense of expectancy that God wants to work through His people by His Spirit. I have loved that people have not merely been spectators of prayer, but have been equipped to pray. We learn by doing not by watching! Their prayer lives are quite inspiring,  particularly when it comes to praying though the prophetic promises God has spoken over them. I've been stirred to do the same for myself, for my family and for my church. Quite simply, we would all do well to talk a little less and pray a little more!

Fourthly, Terry spoke repeatedly of living with a clear conscience, reminding us of how often Paul spoke about serving the Lord with a clear conscience. One of the more memorable points he made from his series on Moses was that Moses refused the pleasures of Egypt by faith. Faith is not only about inheriting what God wants for us, it is also about refusing what He doesn't want for us. He talked about conscience as something to be obeyed not reasoned with, and that the more we reason with it, the more dull it becomes until after a time we have seared it. I would say a key to their fruitfulness over 50 years is that they have enjoyed God's grace, but maintained a sensitive conscience. Like sorbet cleanses the pallet at a 5 course dinner, so the blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from becoming dull!

Finally, Terry has really encouraged us as elders to  establish a more clearly defined partnership with the churches we work with. At present, we care for about 15 churches in different ways and at different levels. It has been my joy to see Southlands continue in this call to be a resourcing church, but I am fairly thinly spread in this regard and am needing to find priority within our relationships, in terms of churches we care for and those for whom we are responsible. This is key if we are to remain on mission locally and in regions beyond us  with our 3 in 3 vision.

So let's guard this good deposit with the Holy Spirit's help, and trust that it pays big dividends is the days to come!