Monday, February 15, 2016

"Receiving a Prophet's Reward: Unpacking our last few days as a church with Layne Reading."

There's that mysterious saying of Jesus'  in  Matthew's Gospel, "Anyone who receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the One who sent me." Jesus is talking to his apostles before He sends them out, reassuring them that kindness done to them would be seen as kindness done to Him and would be rewarded by Him. I think there's more to it than that though. Barry Corey, in his book Love Kindness, explains the power of this mystery with the proposal that while many will reject us, when people receive us, they are unknowingly taking their first steps to experiencing and receiving Jesus Himself. All the more reason to live receivable lives, I suppose.

Jesus continues his line of reasoning with, "Anyone who receives a prophet receives a prophet's reward." (Matt 10:41)  Matthew Henry explains the curious little verse as follows. "The blessings conferred on prophets shall distill upon their friends. Prophets rewards are spiritual blessings in heavenly things, and if we know how to value them, we shall reckon them good payment." 

While we are all commanded to pursue love, and early desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy, (1 Cor 14:1) there is a difference between the gift of prophecy and the gift of a prophet. Someone wise once told me that the difference between the two is about 20 years, depending on how submitted and accountable the prophet is! I would suggest that a prophet is shown by his or her accuracy, authority and maturity. I'm very slow to say, "That person is a prophet." But I do know a few, and while they usually come with their fair share of quirky intensity, when properly received,  they come with their own unique reward. 

This is how I would describe our past few days as a church with a man called Layne Reading, who came to join us with a team from his church in Colorado for our 3-day fast. Layne and his wife Sheila and their daughters were part of Southlands until 2008, when business took them away to Colorado. We reconnected again last year. Here's how God got my attention. Layne sent me a message to say he'd been praying for our church. he asked if we had an Asian-American couple coming on to our eldership team, and did the country Thailand mean anything to me? He had no way of knowing that we were about to set in our very first Asian-American elder named  Daniel Yu,  and that he and his wife Marcia were planning to plant a church in Thailand in 2016. We had not announced any of this publicly to the church at that time. Layne and I met a few months later and without having visited our church for around 5 years, he read the mail of numerous people in the church that he'd been praying for. I left after a very intense two hours with him simply knowing that I had met with God. Because of his sincere love for the church, his humility and co-operation with our eldership team and ministry philosophy, and of course the level of prophetic accuracy he displayed, I spoke to our team of elders about bringing him out to be with us during our fast. It was a risk of course, but it was one that came with at least 7 very tangible rewards.

Firstly, and most importantly,  he equipped people to grow in the prophetic themselves. It was not the Layne show. Each afternoon he explained,  modeled with his team and workshopped the prophetic in a safe, sane environment. The result was that in all three of our Southlands communities, people are boldly prophesying like never before, with real humility and specificity. That's a win, for sure.

Secondly, he emphasized the need for love more than the need for power. I heard him say on multiple occasions, "Gifts of the Spirit are given, fruit of the Spirit is cultivated. We should not choose between gifts and fruit." This emphasis was mighty. 

Thirdly, he and his team modeled an earnest pursuit of the presence of God by arriving hours before our evening meetings, to worshiping and pray for God to meet with His people. This was earnestness was contagious. On the last night of our fast, people just would not go home, worshipping Jesus and praying for revival. Exquisite.

Fourthly, he was able to articulate some things I was feeling intuitively about some key leaders on our team. It was like he had been sitting in conversations I had had with them over the last year, repeating certain phrases that had been said almost verbatim. Reward, indeed.

Fifthly, and I know this is very subjective, but I just feel different. I feel like God has put a new mantle of authority and discernment on me, and I have spoken to numerous people who feel the same. More than 'receiving a word,' the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.  Prophets should leave people more in love with, aware of, and submitted to Jesus. That happened.

Sixthly, while he was bold enough to speak truth to power, Layne also modeled real submission to the biblical authority of our elders. He brought prophetic direction, but he was also directable. And did I mention that he was understated and didn't use super-spiritual vocabulary? That, right there, is gold. 

Finally, Layne warned people not to swallow everything that was being prophesied, but to test it with Scripture, holding fast to what was good and rejecting what was not. (1 Thessalonians 5) Despising prophecy will put out the Spirit's fire, but gullibly accepting every word will produce 'strange fire.' We are to wisely weigh what we sense God saying, with Scripture and in community. What a gift.

Of course, Layne will be the first to tell you that he's not a perfect prophet. But the gift of prophecy and of the prophet has been much maligned, so I want to celebrate the genuine when I see it, and encourage you to take the risk of receiving a gift like this, that comes with  its own very real reward.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Relational Bravery: Day 3 of our February Fast

He made my feet like the feet of a dear and set me secure on the heights. Psalm 18:33

It was about 10 years between David's anointing to be king and his actual coronation as king. For the best part of that decade he was a fugitive, on the run from a mad king who hurled a spear at him in a fit of rage and hunted him down out of jealousy and insecurity. On two occasions, David could have retaliated against Saul, killing him with his own spear. But each time, even though his friends urged him to do it, he resisted, trusting the Lord for His vindication and salvation. David displayed remarkable relational bravery. 

In Psalm 18, his imagery of a deer standing on the heights is very different from 'advancing against a troop' or 'leaping over a wall.' It speaks of the ability to stand on the tricky terrain
of relational tension that will not resolve as quickly as we'd like it to. All of us have some of those relationships in our lives. We would love to escape them, or for them just to be completely peaceful, but they take enormous grace and real patience on our part. and often we blow it out of insecurity, and hurl the spear back at the person instead of being secure on the heights.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus about the kinds of relationships that require ongoing effort. "Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, (4:3)
warning them and us, that when we allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us, harboring anger and malice, we grieve the Spirit and give the devil a foothold. (4:26) The only way we can be thick-skinned yet tender-hearted in relationally tricky situations is through Jesus, who forgave and loved those who betrayed and denied him. 

On the last day of our fast, let's ask God to help us to be relationally brave. Perhaps you need to have a conversation with someone where you repent of anger or bitterness towards them. Let them know that you are committed to working through relational tension with them. Honest, loving communication requires bravery. Perhaps you have been tempted to hurl back the spear at a Saul-like person in you life. Resolve, with the help of the Spirit, to be like David. Forgive and wait for the vindication of God. Let's beware of relegating relationships to the material realm. Relationships are deeply spiritual. They are the very fabric of the body of Christ that holds the glory of Christ. "For where the brothers dwell in unity, there God commands his blessing." (Psalm 133)

See you tonight at 6:30pm for a feast and a final session of worship and prayer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"With my God I can leap over a wall: a call to Missional Bravery"

The image of a wall in Scripture usually refers to the division between Jews and Gentiles. For instance, when Joseph found himself in Egypt administrating Pharaoh's dreams, his father said, "Joseph is a fruitful vine whose branches climbed over a wall." It was always God's plan for His gospel to leap over the wall of Jewish nationhood and bear fruit amongst the Gentiles. This verse in Psalm 18 reinforces the same theme with David's conclusion, "I will sing of your name among the Gentiles." (v. 49)  News of God's rescue of David would travel beyond Israel so that God would be worshipped by the Gentiles. Paul reaffirms this theme by quoting verse 49 in Romans 15, concluding, "That the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." David is so grateful to God for rescuing him, that no obstacle will get in the way of him telling everyone.

What am I saying? I'm saying that this verse is not just about getting over personal obstacles that hinder our spiritual progress, although it may include  that. It's really about leaping over obstacles that get in the way of the advance of the gospel; obstacles like fear, pride, prejudice and comfort. This is a Psalm about missional bravery! And today we will focus our prayer on the advance of the gospel to nations and neighborhoods through bold, grateful, saved people like you and me!   

We should be comforted by Jesus' first disciples' fears and failure in mission. They remind us of us. But the challenge is how brave they became once they had been empowered by the Spirit at Pentecost. We have all received the same Great Commission and have access to the same Spirit of mission that they received.  

This will be our focus today as we pray; that the Spirit would make us brave missionaries in a world increasingly hostile to the gospel of Christ. We are praying for bravery in our own lives, to leap over our own walls of fear, pride, prejudice and comfort, so that the gospel would bear fruit in new territories and new hearts.  

Here are some practical ways to pray about missional bravery today. 

1. For specific people in your life who need Jesus. Opportunities to serve them, talk to them and pray for them. 
2. For our Alpha Course which starts in April, for boldness to invite seekers, and for many to meet Jesus.
3. For gospel fruit from our 'Love Brea,' 'Love Fullerton' 'Love Whittier' initiatives in April, as we serve our cities. 
4. For mercy and justice initiatives like Free OC, Orphan Care in Mexico, Prison Ministry, Villa Plumosa, and Solidarity. 
5. For Daniel and Marcia and the team going to plant a church in Chang Rai, Thailand  this year.
6. For PJ and Ashleigh Smyth, who lead Advance* as they apply for visas to move to Washington D.C, to lead Covenant Life Church. 
7. We are going to be praying for Barry Corey, the president of Biola University tonight. We are going to pray that God would strengthen him to lead Biola in faithfulness to the gospel, kindness towards its detractors, and courage in their stand for religious freedom. I would ask all Southlanders in the Biola fraternity to make  it a priority to be there tonight to pray for him.  

Lord make us brave! 

See you at 5pm for prophetic equipping with Layne Reading, and at 6:30 pm for worship and prayer.

*  Advance is a movement of churches planting churches, with whom we have a primary partnership.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Spiritual Bravery Fast Day 1

"With my God I can advance against a troop...He trains my hands for war, my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me. Your gentleness made me great." 
Psalm 18: 29-35

Fasting is an act of spiritual bravery. It is a denial of the things we can see, feel and taste, in pursuit of that which is invisible and often intangible. At times it may feel fruitless, like nothing more than a hunger strike. But make no mistake, fasting results in the advance of God's Kingdom against the kingdom of darkness.

In Psalm 18, David reflects on how God rescued him from the hand of Saul, and he describes God as a mighty fortress in which he took refuge. This is a potent image for us of Christ, who is a refuge for us from God's wrath, death's sting and the devil's accusation. As the Psalm progresses, David describes God as his shield, which was not so much for hiding behind as it was for advancing. The shield is a picture of the faith Jesus gives us as we fight a spiritual battle against the devil and his demons who war against God's people.

Jesus described the devil as an illegal tenant who will take any little piece of territory in the Christian's life that he can get, even though he has no legal right to be there. (Matt 12:44) He gains an access or a foothold, through strategies like condemnation, intimidation, tempting us towards bitterness and malice,  patterns of generational sin and engagement in the occult. (Ephesians 4:26)
By recognizing these strategies as the devil's temptation, repenting of them and submitting to Jesus' loving authority, we give the devil a legal notice of eviction. Because of Jesus' humble death and powerful resurrection, we can advance against a troop. Now is not the time to retreat!

It was Jesus who said to his disciples, when they could not set a boy free from epilepsy brought on by demonic posession, "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting." (Matt 17) For us, the foothold of the devil might not be as dramatic as the boy with epilepsy. Nevertheless, fasting still remains a means of grace that allows God to reveal and deal with obstinate areas of brokenness and bondage in our lives. Today as we fast and pray, let's bring those very places to God, asking Jesus to search us, convict us by his Holy Spirit, and free us by His power.

A reminder that we will be meeting at 5pm upstairs in the Lights Room for an hour of equipping in the prophetic with Layne Reading, and then gathering together in the Studio at 6:30pm for an hour of  worship and prayer.