Saturday, September 13, 2014

Empty but Full: Some God Stories from our fast

Pounding caffeine headaches are probably my least favorite part of a fast, and I must say, it's good to be drinking coffee again. All of us have our own unique cravings I suppose, and these are amplified during a fast. What makes the feelings of physical emptiness worthwhile though, is a genuine sense of spiritual nourishment.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. 

I'm so thankful for the faith-filled response from the people of Southlands. What a sense of earnest anticipation there was as we gathered to pray each night and so many answered prayers that I thought, "Let me share just a few of them with you."

A woman who has had two ACL operations on her knees and lives in constant pain sensed God telling her to kneel during worship. When she got up the pain in her knees had completely disappeared.God healed as she knelt to worship Him.

Another lady prayed that during the fast that her son would become a Christian. On the last night of the fast, she went home and he asked her, "Mom, what must I do to be saved?" She explained the Gospel to him, and he responded that he was wanted to entrust his life to Jesus. She led her son to the Lord that night.

A couple who have been working with us into Myanmar (Burma) are returning there next month to train children's ministry workers. They have also been supporting an orphanage there and building relationships with Burmese pastors and had been praying for God to provide for their trip. During the past week they had a friend from outside the church contact them to say that he wanted to give a significant amount of money to their work with Burmese orphans, as well as a ministry contact them to say they would supply them with children's ministry resources in Burmese.

On the final day of the fast the Manager at a local branch of a major chain store asked one of her employees, who happens to be a leader at Southlands as well, "What  social justice cause does your church support?" What ensued was a conversation about our partnership with Love146 and our desire to help eradicate child sex trafficking. The manager responded by committing significant financial support to the cause.

These and other stories of God encountering His people cause the sacrifices of fasting to pale into
insignificance. We are so grateful to our Father for graciously meeting with us. He takes great delight when His people turn from their sin and return to Him in hopeful expectation for His Kingdom to come. Let's maintain the tone and tenor of this Kingdom momentum into our coming series.
On earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tribute to my father on his 70th birthday.

It's when you miss family milestones like this that you feel the miles between you most acutely. At times like these the gift of technology, which normally makes the world seem so much smaller, just comes up short. Gestures of affection and honor that are in the heart are somehow compressed and truncated in words over a phone line. With that in mind, I'd like to amplify the gratitude I have to God for my Dad, by sharing some of his rare qualities with more than just him.

Most fathers, even if they are bad fathers, have some attribute through which we can glimpse one of the attributes of God the Father. Learning to honor our fathers is learning to look for that attribute, even if there is only one, that is like God and focussing upon it, instead of those aspects that may not be like God. We only have one Holy Father. He is in heaven. He alone can fill the gaps and heal the wounds that our earthly fathers left.  However, there are some fathers who in their humanity, manage to give us a very full glimpse of what God the Father is really like. This, by God's profound grace, is what my Dad has been to me.

The most obvious God-attribute in my Dad's life is his faithfulness.  My father is literally, a faith patriarch because of his faithfulness. He was a first generation Christian, in a salt-of-the earth, pillar-of-society familyBorn again was what they called it in those days, just before the term Jesus Freak became a popular critique of those who were uncompromising in their faith. My father honored his parents wonderfully, but he made some very costly stands as a young teenager who had met his Savior, and now purposed to follow him as Lord. He was one who would not simply enjoy the grace of God. He also began to grow in the fear of God.  He has shown resolute faithfulness to his wife, to his call, and to God's truth for as long as I have known him. I believe it is in part due to this faithfulness that both his parents came to put their trust in Jesus too.

I know that Dad's faith convictions have ruffled some feathers amongst the family from time to time. At times he was criticized for being unreasonable, and for taking his faith too far. But my Dad's unwavering convictions set the course of a life of costly obedience and remarkable kingdom import. "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, praise the Lord!" could well be the theme song of my Dad's life. His resolute faithfulness to Jesus, setting his face like flint in the face of opposition, has likely been his most powerful example to me. I have watched him take on a whole denomination on the issue of believer's baptism at great cost to his own ministry and reputation, and more recently on the issue of homosexuality. His sharp mind and clear writing and speaking gift have helped him. But more than this is his fear of the Lord. He has honestly lived for an audience of One.

This faithful courage is held in beautiful tension with another Godly attributes. My Dad is not just a truth teller. He is a truth seeker. This combination is rarely found in the same person. Most truth tellers are so convinced of their truth that you feel they have nothing new to learn. Not my Dad! He is always listing and always learning, which is why he loves to have deep conversations. His language of love is the language of robust conversation! If you want to give him a gift for his birthday, have a robust, deep conversation with him. When you get into a conversation with him, sometimes it feels like getting into a boxing ring because he does not suffer fools gladly. You had better have your thoughts straight or you are going to take a logical/theological beating. But he is really listening and inviting you to challenge him. He is not trying to score points or win a fight. He genuinely believes he can grow from talking and listening. I love that about my Dad. I have been so sharpened and strengthened by sparring with him, and strangely enough, over they years we have come to see the world through a very similar lens. He is my Dad, but we are theological and philosophical brothers-in-arms. I pray that this will be the case with my children and I when they grow up.

There are so many more attributes, but this is a blog not a book. Maybe I could write a book about him one day. So the third and final God-attribute in my Dad, is that he has become a potent encourager to me. I think he has allowed God to grow this attribute in his life over the years, because he is by nature more prophetic than pastoral, which can mean that you correct more than encourage. My Dad will not flatter anyone, mind you. I remember him telling me one day that I had a good singing voice but not a great one, and that this meant that I may have more of a broad gift mix than just a worship leading one. See what I mean about his truth-telling?!  That stung a bit at first, but I am so thankful for his wise encouragement. He spurred me on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. Honestly, over the years he has championed me on in God's call. He has done the same for my wife, whom he loves like a daughter.  He is not just a sparring partner. He has been like the coach in my corner, sponging my bloodied nose, putting vaseline on my black eye, and offering steady assurance. "I believe in you. I delight in you. You are going to win this fight."

Thank you Dad for a live so well lived in the grace and the fear of God.
Thank you for giving me such a full glimpse of my Father in heaven.
May you too, feel His pleasure for you on your 70th birthday.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fast Theme Day 3: Finished work, unfinished work.

Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptizer's life. "A voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley will be raised up. Every mountain will be brought low." Isaiah 40:3

Isaiah used a road building metaphor that described John's ministry. Whenever there was royal visit to a city, the people of that city would go out and smooth the road, filling in potholes and removing stones so that the royal procession would have a dignified arrival to the city. John called people to prepare the road of their hearts for Jesus' arrival.

In many ways that's what we've been doing as we've fasted. We've been preparing the road of our hearts for God's kingdom to come in fresh ways in our midst. Christ has come and Christ will come again, but in between these times He has called us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The finished work of the Cross spurs us on to the unfinished work of the Kingdom. 

God calls us to be road builders preparing the way for the coming kingdom. A few things to consider in prayer on our final day of fasting in this regard:

1. Road builders embrace interruption
The people went out to the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. They embraced interruption. This fast has interrupted our schedules, our meal times and our family rhythms, but God's presence and work in our lives makes that so worth it. How can I set in place some ongoing rhythms of devotion beyond the fast, that continue to keep the road of my heart repentant and expectant?
Give God permission to interrupt you regularly.
2. Road builders engage in excavation.
If there were valleys and mountains in the road, it must have been a pretty rough road. God is in the business of filling in valleys of pessimism, cynicism and isolation. He is also in the business of leveling mountains of pride, self-sufficiency and addiction. Let's be honest about our valley/mountain tendencies and give him access to the road of our hearts. 
3. Road builders work with a common vision
Of course, there is a broad call to prepare the way for God's coming Kingdom. God has also given us a focussed vision of church multiplication through our 3in3 vision. We are trusting God to enable us to plant 1 multisite in SoCal, 1 autonomous church in north America and 1 church in a World A context. Pray for the provision of workers, finance and doors of opportunity for this vision to come to fruition. Ask God to make clear what part you are to play in 3in3and me? 
Is it to give, to pray, to train or to go? 
Let's be asking God to show us which way we are to prepare and make a commitment to that end.

See you tonight at 6:30pm for the feast and celebration with our friend Todd Proctor! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fast Theme Day 2: Kingdom Expectation

Such a great night of worship and prayer on the first day of our fast, with a fantastic turnout and a clear sense of God's presence as people repented and worshipped. I also appreciated the courageous and clear words of knowledge and exhortation. This is not a hunger strike. We fast to meet with God, trusting Him for increased Kingdom Momentum.

When John came preaching "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," Luke's Gospel says that the people were in expectation.  Although there was a great revival of repentance in John's ministry, He stirred their expectation for something and Someone much greater than him and his ministry.
"I baptize with water but One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. I am not worthy to untie his sandals."

Christ the Savior has come and Christ the King will one day return. In between these momentous events, He calls us to live with great anticipation for His Kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven. While Jesus' life, death and resurrection are unique and unrepeatable, He calls us to expect to do greater things than even He did in terms of kingdom exploit. This is because the kingdom which Christ inaugurated at His resurrection is advancing and expanding until His return.

Two questions we can be asking and praying through on Day 2 of our fast:
1) Have we fallen prey to the two enemies of Kingdom expectation, namely, nostalgia and pessimism?
Nostalgia keeps us from expecting greater things because we are longing for the good old days, and using them as a template for what God is doing next. In the words of Bono, "We glorify the past when the future dries up." Let's honor and learn from the past, but not glorify it. We don't know what God will do next, but it will not be exactly the same as what He did last, and it will offend many who enjoyed the last move of God.

Where nostalgia looks backwards with longing, pessimism looks forwards with panic, convinced that it's the end of the world and paralyzed by an impending sense of doom. While Jesus calls us to persevere through tribulation as Christians, He also describes a church that shines brightly in the darkness. "I will build my church  and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." He does not want what is happening in the world to dictate terms for His church, the fulness of Him who fills everything in every way. We are prisoners of hope in desperate times.

2) Do I have a kingdom 'wish list' that is beyond the meeting of my daily needs?
In Luke 11, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray he didn't just tell them to ask God for daily bread for their needs. He called them to ask for resources to meet other's needs. He told a parable of a man who had a friend arrive in the middle of the night unexpectedly. The man welcomed him in even though he had nothing to feed him. So he went to his neighbor next door and asked him for three loaves to feed his unexpected friend. The neighbor gave him the loaves because of his impudence, which means, shameless audacity. In short, God loves to be asked repeatedly for bread to feed our friends. This is something of a kingdom wish list. Who are the people and what are the situations of need for which God is calling you take kingdom responsibility? What resources do you need for these? Ask Him with shameless audacity, so that His kingdom might come.

See you on Tuesday night at 6:30pm.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fast Theme Day 1: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"

It's good to remember that the point of fasting is not to prove ourselves to God or to anyone else. We fast from God's approval, not for God's approval. The point of fasting is that as we deny our appetite for food, we find that our appetite for God increases. Fasting is not just a hunger strike. It's denying ourselves food in order to feast on Jesus."Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled."

The night before a fast I always feel a mix of anticipation and agitation. Anticipation, because I know God is going to do something great, and agitation, because I know it's going to be a bit of a fight. Jesus experienced this when he fasted in the wilderness, but He overcame the temptation of the devil,  returning in the power of the Spirit. When we are willing to wrestle in fasting and prayer, we do muscle up spiritually, and we do it with the help of Him who also wrestled and overcame.

One of the ways in which we wrestle during a fast, is with our own sin. John the Baptizer's message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Remember that John's message was to an oppressed people who probably thought the wicked King Herod and the corrupt Chief Priests were the one's who needed to repent. But John called them to stop looking outwards in blame, look inwards and own their own sin and look upwards to Jesus to take it away.

I wish I hated my own sin as much as I hated other people's sin, don't you? We very easily want mercy for ourselves and justice for everyone else. True repentance is pleading guilty myself, realizing that God is rich in mercy to me, and then extending that same mercy to others who have sinned against me. This is why Jesus told us to, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Tomorrow as we begin our fast, let's ask the Holy Spirit to show us if there is any sin that we need to confess to God. He is the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin to make us more like Jesus. Let's confess our sin to God, and if need be to others, trusting Jesus to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Unrighteousness can include any attitude or action that does not glorify God. It can even include good things we do that have become ultimate things and have taken the place of God as idols.  Let's also ask the Holy Spirit to show us if we are living as debt collectors, with unforgiveness towards those who have sinned against us, asking Jesus for grace to send our debtors away debt free. Psalm 51 may be a helpful Psalm to pray through on this theme.

Repentance is the dinner bell to the table of grace and when we feast on Jesus' mercy, His Kingdom breaks in with great freedom.

See you tomorrow night at 6:30 pm. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"On earth as it is in heaven." A call to prayer and fasting.

 When John the Baptizer came preaching "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare the way of the Lord," he was speaking into exceptionally dark times. Herod, the puppet king of Rome had slaughtered every male child in the region of Bethlehem out of fear for Jesus, the Jewish Chief priests were political puppets of Herod and the people generally lived in fear of Rome. It couldn't have seemed to God's people that He or his Kingdom were very near at all.

But in the fulness of time God sent His Son Jesus, to save His people.We know and rejoice that Jesus has come, and that He will come again. We live in between the birth and the fulfillment of His Kingdom. In between His First and Second Coming we live in hopeful expectation for His Kingdom to keep breaking in here on earth as it is in heaven. It is how Jesus taught us to pray.

We are not unaware of the  darkness of our times. We don't have simple answers for the horrors of Mosul, Uganda, Gaza or Ferguson. Here in Orange County making disciples of Jesus is a different, but no less real challenge, and this also requires the power of the Spirit in profound ways. God promises that where sin abounds, grace further abounds. God's kingdom is still at hand in all of these situations, and we sense with great anticipation that He is breaking in to our lives with kingdom momentum.  John's message to God's people is one that we can still take to heart at this time.
It provokes us to repentance. It stirs us to expectation. It calls us to preparation. 

We will pray around 1 of these 3 themes each day for our church fast, from Monday 8th September
to Wednesday 10th of September. It is a water, soup and fruit juice fast. (Any or all)
We will gather to pray for an hour each night at 6:30 pm  and will break our fast together on Wednesday night.  I appeal to the whole church to observe this time as God's holy interruption.
What God has called us to as a church requires a united front in the area of prayer.
We've seen the Lord do amazing things among us as we've gathered twice a year to pray and fast and we are trusting Him this year for an outpouring of unprecedented power and grace.

Yours in anticipation,