Friday, December 12, 2014

Todd Proctor: A Rare Pebble in the Pond.

If Southern California church culture were a pond, I would describe it as big, beautiful and curiously shallow. Big and beautiful, because it has produced some of the great revivals and church movements of the last century. It's a vivid expanse of shimmering influence. Curiously shallow though, because despite the notoriety of its churches, seminaries and leaders, it has cultivated a convenient brand of Christianity that bears little resemblance to the blood and dust of historic Biblical faith. In this pond, the leader with the smartest facilities, slickest programs and biggest personality, usually wins. The shallowness of the pond enables the most possible people to paddle with the least possible risk to their comfort. Someone once called the pond a mile wide and an inch deep, which is unkind, but not altogether untrue.

Thankfully though, there are some notable exceptions in the pond; leaders with the courage to call people to wade in beyond the shallows into deeper waters. Todd Proctor, who has led Rock Harbor, a multi-site mega-church in Costa Mesa for the past 16 years, is one such exception. Although he could be considered a big fish in the pond, to me he is a more like a pebble that God has tossed into the pond causing a powerful kingdom ripple effect.

I was asked to write a tribute for Todd as he resigns from his role at the end of this year. That I am writing this tribute is ripple itself, I suppose. I am not a mega-church pastor myself, and there is an unwritten code in the pond that big fish do not swim with little fish, unless the big fish are offering the little fish a job, of course. By God's kindness, Todd ignored the code and befriended me. At times, as I've sought Todd's counsel, it's felt like the scene from Finding Nemo, where Dory is being pulled from the deadly school of jelly fish by Nemo. (Pardon the fish/pebble mix of metaphor) The point is, Todd has been willing to risk being stung himself in guiding me through some tricky waters. He's become part sage, part coach, part brother to me, which is almost too good to be true. He's given me courage to believe that you can still win without all of the classic trappings of success in the pond. This has been a remarkable gift to me and many.

For me, one word characterizes Todd more than any other. Humility. It's not that he's lacking in confidence or shy of the spotlight. He's a skillful communicator, gifted worship leader and all-star strategist. It's just that he's more enamored with the future than his own ego, and is therefore willing to take a step backwards himself, in order to catapult a people forward into a vision. His humility includes a reluctance to build around one gifted personality, a readiness to risk with young leaders, and an insistence that Jesus be center stage. Worship is the main reason people give for making Rock Harbor their home church. Not a preacher. Not a program. Worshipping Jesus. A kingdom ripple indeed.

Another mark on the pebble is uncommon generosity. Todd is one of the most strategic leaders I know, but I've watched him spend himself on others in a way that is recklessly un-strategic. Under his watch, Rock Harbor has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an Easter Together event they put on every year that is devoid of their name. No building the brand.  Just a massive celebration of Jesus. How beautifully wasteful? I've watched them give a small fortune to ministries beyond themselves, with nothing to gain except the well done of the Father and the advance of His Kingdom. No increasing our market share in the pond. Just a desire to bless out of blessing. I have heard him encourage his people to go and help another church being planted down the street by joining them. They listened and left. How wonderfully irresponsible? A few months ago he drove through 2 hours of traffic to speak to our church for 10 minutes as we ended a time of prayer and fasting. It was 10 of the most powerfully shaping minutes we have ever  experienced as a church. At least half of the power was in the fact that his drive to us was 12 times longer than his message to us. No big crowd or honorarium. He was like a wise coach giving his team a half-time pep-talk. Except it wasn't his team. How marvelously upside-down?

Which is why I want to honor a man who has humbled himself to serve Jesus and His church again and again, disturbing the shallow peace of the pond in most profound ways. I pray that Rock Harbor would hold on to Todd's legacy, and that God would cause the ripple effect of his pebble to be felt in the pond and beyond for generations to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When a field becomes a farmer.

Last week we baptized 14 Christ-followers, as our Fullerton and Brea communities gathered together to celebrate the Gospel. A woman who had explored different faiths and philosophies and had gradually become convinced of the claims of Christ over a period of 3 years, was baptized. This was glorious. A man who happened to be there on his way to a wedding, was convicted of his sin, repented and got baptized on the spur of the moment in his wedding clothes! Many more stories were buried and raised to life from that watery grave. Too many to tell of.

Perhaps my favorite story of the day though,  was a man who was baptized not last week, but last Easter, 9 months ago. A returning soldier from Iraq, he limped with some very real wounds from war. You could not notice them at first. He came across as a strong, composed and confident man, but inside he was an isolated and broken soul, struggling to let anybody into the pain of his interior world.  He told me one day how he would sit Sunday after Sunday in church, fighting God's grace and healing, unable to relinquish his pain and anger. He was turned in on himself. He told me that he would sit there clenching his jaw, resisting the call to repent, to forgive, to allow Jesus in. One Sunday he became weary of resisting God's irresistible grace and relented. God has renovated his life in remarkable ways.

On Sunday he stood watching the baptisms, tears streaming down his face. His heart had melted. This, however, was no sentimental moment of emotion. I saw him after the service mopping up around the baptismal font, where water had splashed all over the platform and onto the carpet. I asked if I could help. His reply. "Oh no, happy to do this, and by the way, you said there might be an opportunity to plant a church in Riverside. If that's the case, count us in. We're from Riverside."
The clenched jaw was now opened in grateful willingness.

The aim of baptism is to make disciples of Jesus who will make disciples of Jesus. In Christ, the field becomes the farmer. Those who lived for themselves, are saved from self-centred living, turn to live for Christ, and end up living for others.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflections on Advent - A Guest Post by Brett McCracken.

This Sunday we begin our Advent series at Southlands; "And He shall be called." To enhance this journey. we'll be walking through Biola's The Advent Project as a community devotional. I asked Brett McCracken, one of our members who is a writer and journalist and who works at Biola, to write a guest post on Advent and the Advent project. Let's Advent together.

Reflections on Advent by Brett McCracken

Endless parties, crowded malls, family drama, credit card debt, and more mistletoe and merriment than we know what to do with… Christmas in our culture has become an overstuffed monument to excess that often feels like more trouble than it’s worth.

But beneath all the gingerbread, glitter and chaos of the Christmas season is the simple, beautiful advent of Christ: His coming to earth, and His coming again.

The sacredness of this season may seem at odds with the peppermint-scented commercialism all around us, but in a way the jarring juxtaposition is appropriate.

Advent is a season that embraces tension and paradox. It’s about the now and the not yet. Contentedness and longing. Pain and hope. Darkness and light. What has come and what will come.

Advent celebrates the moment when true light entered our dark world. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is. 9:2). The baby in Bethlehem was hope, redemption, God with us: Present in the midst of our suffering; familiar with our struggle. Emmanuel.

The baby was a flicker of light that became a flame that swept across the world, illuminating the dark in all corners of creation. The traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service is a good image of this.

But the darkness persists. The weary world rejoices at Christ our hope. But the world is still weary. The beauty of Advent is that it accepts weariness, even embraces it. It is joy in the midst of weariness. Joy mixed with stress, struggle, pain, lament… As we wait for Jesus to return and right all wrongs.

This Advent, quiet your stressed self and nourish your weary soul by dwelling on the beauty of the incarnation of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our friends at the Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts have put together a great resource to help us focus our attention on what matters this season. It’s called The Advent Project.

Together as a church, we are going to be using the Advent Project during December as a community  devotional that incorporates Scripture, music, visual art and prayer. In the midst of the busyness of this season, the Advent Project is a great way to stay grounded in what it means to celebrate God’s first Advent even as we wait expectantly for His return. The rhythms of daily reflection during this season will help us adopt the proper posture as we look to Christmas and also as we look to the eschatological vision of the ultimate victory of light over dark: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

As Biola states in the introduction to the project:

“Advent calendars come in all shapes and sizes (who doesn’t love the ones with hidden chocolates inside the windows?) but what they have in common is a daily rhythm of anticipatory reflection. They remind us not only that Christmas is coming, but that the days between now and then—the waiting—matters too. Advent is as much about the solemn tension of “now and not yet” as it is about the joy and magnificence of our present gift: God in flesh, our hope divine.”

Indeed, God in flesh is our hope divine. Ponder that amazing truth this Christmas season.

You can read more of Brett McCracken's work at Still Searching

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tending Eden's Dustbowls

John  Eldredge, the author of Wild at Heart bases his book on the idea in Genesis that Adam was created outside the Garden of Eden, while Eve was created inside the Garden. His thesis is essentially that men have an outside the garden wild side and therefore need an adventure or a mountain to conquer, while women are created with more of a nurturing instinct because they were created inside the garden.

While I don't disagree with the Biblical principles of men and women having complementary qualities, it seems to me that Wild at Heart may have missed the point quite dangerously. Besides this, countless hours and dollars may have been wasted on hunting and fishing trips in the hopes of men discovering their wild side. The book could have been sponsored by Bass Pro Shop! I encourage men to pursue adventure together, but I'm not so sure that the antedote to porn-and-play-station -addicted-couch potato-men is necessarily becoming mountain-climbing-trout-fishing-men. Both kinds of men can abdicate their God-given callings equally, simply by using different selfish distractions.

The dangerous assumption for me then,  is that Adam was placed inside a beautiful garden to tend it, and men have felt hemmed in ever since, longing for the freedom of the wild. This is simply unbiblical.  Adam left the Garden because his sin expelled him from it, rather than some God-given impulse to explore.

The problem is this. It misunderstands what it was for Adam to tend to a garden. It assumes that Adam is some domesticated gardener with a lawnmower and a weed-whacker, when actually he was a farmer.

Wild at Heart describes man essentially as an explorer, and woman essentially as a nurturer. While there may be some truth in this, it overlooks the innate call of a man and a woman to be cultivators, nurturing life and bringing flourishing from barren places.

You see, Eden was not, at first, a luscious garden. Eden was a dustbowl. It was more Omaha than Oregon. More African high veld than Amazon rain forest.

"When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up  -  for the Lord God had not yet caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground.  Genesis 2:5 

This is how Moses described the order of Eden in Genesis.
God watered the face of the land with a mist. vs 6.
God formed the man out of the dust vs 7.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the man He had formed.  V8.

Eden was still a dustbowl. A dustbowl planted with garden life; a fertile one at that, but no plant or tree had yet sprung up.

Once God had put the man in the Garden, Genesis tells us that, "The Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." vs 9. 

Eden was a dustbowl until the Adam was there. God had planted it with life, but only after Adam was placed in the Garden, did God cause it to grow. Adam and Eve farmed Eden together as a team.

The essence of what it is to be a man, more than a mountaineer, may well be closer to a farmer; tending to a farm, tending with his wife as a united team, tending a farm of sons and daughters,  families,  marriages, communities, cities, companies, churches, nations. Nurturing life from  God-watered, God-planted dustbowls and bringing flourishing.  This is what it is to be God's man and God's woman. 

The idea of 'exploring a mountain' is a biblical one. So is the idea of 'nurturing a home'. 
But the essence of bearing God's image is cultivating a fertile field. 

There are countless dustbowls in this world, planted with Eden potential. 

God will water them if we will tend them.