Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jubilee Campaign Giving Day

Southlands is a family with a mission to glorify our Father in the power of His Spirit by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of Jesus. 

Every church in every generation is called to align itself with the Great Commission, but each church family fleshes out the mission in unique ways. We have been called to focus our efforts on planting healthy, gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered communities living on mission together. This is not the only way to make disciples, but we believe it is a vital way. Over the years, many people have gone, given, prayed, served, and led, making this church planting mission a reality. Countless lives have been transformed as people have gone to set up churches as colonies of heaven in towns and cities. Over the last 18 years Southlands has multiplied 14 times, with our next church plant taking place in Chiang Rai, Thailand in the Fall of 2016. As leaders, our desire has been to find a wise and sustainable way of multiplying as God leads us.  

With this in mind, we embarked on a 3 in 3 vision in 2014, aiming to multiply 3 times in 3 years. Southlands Whittier was the 1st of 3, and the Chiang Rai, Thailand plant will be the 2nd of 3 multiplying initiatives. As you can imagine, these two plants require very different kinds of training and resources. 3 in 3 is not about expansionism. We believe it is a way of remaining faithful to the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. Obviously, all of this costs money, and God has provided for us in remarkable ways as we've sought to obey Him. As a church, we set aside money every month to go specifically towards church multiplication which has enabled us to save towards resourcing the Chiang Rai plant. However, we believe that God is calling us to develop something of a multiplication war chest that enables us to do more than just budget for the next initiative. 

We do have an obstacle standing in the way of our desire to build this church planting war chest though. Thankfully we owe nothing on our property. However, we do pay around $10,000 a month towards a lawyers debt that was incurred in 2010 when we had to take legal measures to defend our church by-laws. By God's kindness we've been able to pay the lawyer's debt down from $830,000 in 2010 to $130,000 today. While the debt repayment represents good financial stewardship, it is increasingly difficult to do that, raise funds for church planting as well as run our local mission effectively. 

We have another incentive for paying off our debt rapidly. Next year Southlands Church will be 50 years old! She is a testament to the faithful promise of Jesus to build His church.  With our 50th birthday in mind, I began to look at the Biblical idea of the Jubilee. The Jubilee took place in Israel every 49 years. (Leviticus 25:8-10) Christopher Wright, in his book The Mission of God, explains that every 50th year, slaves would be released, debt would be cancelled, and people who had given up property because of poverty would be returned to their land. When Jesus  began his ministry with Isaiah's description of the Jubilee, he said that it was fulfilled in Him. Jesus himself, is our Jubilee, having paid our debt and released us from the prison of sin. Jesus interpreted the Jubilee not so much as reclaiming land as much as reclaiming mission. He spoke of a year of favor in which the Spirit of the Lord would anoint the people of God to preach good news to the poor and bind up the broken hearted and set prisoners free. The Church continues Jesus' mission in the power of His Spirit. (Isaiah 61, Luke 4)  

At the beginning of this year as we prayed about our 50th year, the elders sensed God speak to us about our Jubilee year being a year of cancelling our financial debt. This was not just to be for the sake of building improvements or staff hires, but primarily for the sake of reclaiming mission. We believe that God is leading us into a year of removing debt and reclaiming mission. 

Over the past month we have cast the vision of the Jubilee Campaign to various forums in the church,  asking people to prayerfully consider giving towards it, over above their normal tithes and offerings. We spoke of a giving day on Sunday the 1st of May, when we would all either pledge or give towards the Jubilee Campaign. Our aim is to raise $250,000 over the next year, enabling us to remove our debt and raise enough money for the 3rd plant in our 3 in 3 vision. 

My family has personally committed to give 2% of our annual income, over and above our normal tithes and offering, towards the Jubilee Campaign in the coming year. I know of a number of people who have committed similar percentages, and more. What we are asking is for each person to commit to an amount or percentage according to their means. We are looking to share the giving load. Let's trust God for an outpouring of generosity this Sunday as we seek to remove debt and reclaim mission to the Glory of God. 

To view a short video explaining the campaign click on Jubilee Campaign vimeo

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Hallowed Be Thy Name" : a theme for our prayer and fasting

I love the image of prayer being like a vine growing on a trellis. By itself, a vine will take a default path of growth, but if it is threaded through a trellis it spreads more evenly, prevents too much density, and ultimately results in greater health for the vine. A good vine dresser trains a vine to grow along the trellis for the sake of greater fruitfulness. 

Each of us have default paths in our vine of prayer, and also deficits of direction, which we tend to avoid.  The prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, commonly known as The Lord's Prayer, is to our prayer life what a trellis is to a vine. While its familiarity to us can cause it to lose meaning, 
I've found that it is a powerful trellis for the vine of my own prayer life, helping me to grow in areas where I have a prayer deficit. My default is to pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread, or  'Forgive us our sins,' kinds of prayer, but the trellis of the Lord's Prayer trains me to begin praying relationally rather than functionally as I'm reminded that He is my Father and I am His adopted son. It also reminds me that He is in heaven which is my true home, giving me more of an eternal perspective as I pray. It rescues me from the tyranny of the urgent.

And then there is that strange old phrase, Hallowed be Thy Name. It reminds me of some historic Ivy League University or something, walking down those hallowed halls. But very simply, the term hallowed means to be made holy. This is a strange concept, because we know that God cannot be made holy. He is holy. But to pray that God's name be hallowed is really to pray that God's name is revered and treasured and adored as it ought to be. This is an area of prayer that is absolutely vital, and yet often overlooked. This is what we will focus upon as we fast tomorrow and gather to pray at 133 at 6:30pm.

To pray, "Hallowed be Thy Name" is at its most basic, worshipful trust in our Father. It is to acknowledge that He is the Father of heavenly lights in Whom there is no shadow of turning, who does not tempt His children but gives good and perfect gifts to them. We cannot pray, "Thy will be done,"or "Give us this day our daily bread," unless we trust that He is holy. Let's spend time worshipping Him, trusting in His heart before his hands.

To pray, "Hallowed be thy Name is also about mission. It is to ask that God's name be treasured where it is not treasured. It is to pray that the gospel would awaken people to the glory of God so that they would worship Him. Let's be praying for The Alpha Course in that regard, as we kick it off this Sunday at all three campuses. Pray that many would come and explore faith and that people would come to hallow God's name as they put their faith in Jesus. Pray too for the team going to plant a church in Chiang Rai, Thailand, that God's name would be hallowed in a nation where there are very few believers. Let's pray into our work to eradicate human trafficking and our work with orphans in Mexico, that people who have been abused and abandoned by fathers would be introduced to and restored by our Perfect Father in heaven. Let's pray for our students in educational institutions, where God's name is not hallowed. Let's pray that God would empower them to stand boldly for His Name.  

To pray, Hallowed be Thy name is also to pray that our own lives would not obscure His holiness. It is to pray that God would sanctify us so that we represent his holiness well. Let's pray for our work lives particularly, as we've launched the God at Work series, that God would empower us by His Holy Spirit to live lives of courage, integrity, creativity and excellence in the work place, so that that His Name would be hallowed. Let's spend time repenting where our lives have not represented his holiness well.  Let's trust God for a revival of prayer  in our work places that brings many to treasure the name of Jesus. 

Tomorrow, let's allow the trellis of the Lord's Prayer to train us to pray in new ways. 
And let's gather with hearts full of reverence and expectation for His Name to be hallowed anew. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Gossiping the Gospel

Marvin Gaye's 1968 Motown classic, "I heard it through the Grapevine,"tells a story about a man who finds out from someone else that his woman is cheating on him. That's how hearing it through the grapevine works. We hear something about someone through gossip. Bad news travels fast, and in no time a rumor bears the fruit of fractured relationships. 

I've been thinking though, that the gospel often bears fruit a lot like gossip. The gospel is news too. Good news. The best news. We were fighting a losing battle against sin. Jesus won the battle that we could not win, bearing our sin, absorbing our death and conquering our enemy. And he sent us to be heralds of this good news with the promise that his gospel will bear the fruit of restored relationship with God. Of course, some people are gifted enough to stand on street corners and soap boxes and stadium platforms and herald the gospel loudly. But most of the time the gospel travels less spectacularly, along the grapevine of relationship. We gossip the gospel, from person to person. In our age of skepticism, the gospel is mostly heard and believed by people who trust us enough to listen, because they've seen it at work in our lives in tangible ways.  We hear it through the grapevine.

I love that verse in Paul's second letter to Timothy, in which he commends the way in which the gospel has come to his young prodigy. This is Paul the Apostle, dramatically converted with a blinding vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul who boldly preached wherever he went. And yet he commends the understated way in which the gospel came to bear fruit in Timothy's life. "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." 2 Timothy 1:5 The gospel was passed down through the generations in a seemingly undramatic manner, and yet it dwells sincerely in Timothy. This is a picture of the grapevine of the gospel. Of course we trust God for Damascus Road conversions, but those are God's prerogative. Our prerogative is to gossip the gospel and ask Him to cause it to bear fruit as it travels along the grapevine of relationship. 

This Sunday I was freshly reminded of how the gospel travels from person to person down the grapevine of relationship in Cindy, who baptized her two children, aged 9 and 11. Cindy was a top flight soccer player, who had shattered her knee playing soccer and had since become a soccer mom. She was invited to our church a couple of years ago by a fellow soccer mom as they stood along the side lines, watching their kids play soccer. Cindy arrived at church as an atheist with a boat load of questions and a fair amount of apprehension about Christians. She attended our *Alpha course twice, and found people very open to dialogue with her about her questions. To her surprise, she also discovered that even Christians still had questions about faith. Imagine that. One day at church someone asked her if they could pray for her damaged knee. She said yes, and experienced significant healing. (We played soccer last week with Cindy, and she is now very mobile, whereas before she could not play at all.) Cindy continues to be a voracious questioner, but over time the cumulative effect of being invited, befriended, listened to, answered, prayed for and taught, caused the gospel to bear fruit in her life. She was baptized as a Christ follower about a year ago. 

She is now a questioner with faith, rather than a questioner of faith. Not surprisingly, her children did not automatically adopt her faith. But she has patiently prayed, and answered their questions, gossiping the gospel to them like it was gossiped to her. Obviously they have seen significant change in her life, which has helped them to believe that the gospel really is real. This year both of her children put their faith in Christ and asked Cindy to baptize them. Cindy's children's father attended their baptism and remarked afterwards that he felt overwhelmed by how loving the community was. Cindy's own father was also at his grandchildrens' baptism. He has a similar approach to faith as his daughters' prior skepticism, but after coming to church, he has agreed to attend the Alpha course. 

This is just one example of how the gospel undramatically yet unmistakably travels down the grapevine of relationship,  bearing  fruit in God's time. 
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. 
Jesus saves people. But we connect people. 
What we are called to do is to abide in Him and gossip His gospel. 

*Alpha is an 8 week introductory course to Christian faith. The next Alpha course at Southlands starts on April 17th.