Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fast in the Fall Day 3: "Aslan is on the Move"

In C.S. Lewis's allegory, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is a Christ-type lion who dies to break the Witch's spell over the land of Narnia. Though the four children in the book are devastated by Aslan's death, Father Christmas comes to tell them of his unexpected resurrection. There is a beautiful passage in the book describing it. "They say Aslan is on the move - some say he has already landed," he said.  "At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer."  

To me this fast has been a little like hearing news that 'Aslan is on the move.' There have been many undramatic, yet definite rumors of Jesus and His kingdom landing in our midst. I personally have seen some clear answered prayers that I have been praying for a while. I've  heard news of someone becoming a Christian as we broke bread last night, of two young people deciding to be baptized, of numerous strained relationships getting healed, and many people receiving dreams and visions. Most of all, we've feasted on the fulness of his presence as we've gathered to pray and worship. 

The kingdom of God is at hand. "Some say He has already landed."

Today, before we break our fast tonight, I would like us to focus our prayer on our mission, impossible with man, yet possible with God. As the kingdom comes, it must extend beyond us to those who do not yet know Jesus. 

Firstly, can we pray for the Spirit's power to be personally brave and adventurous on mission at home? Can we own Jesus' words to the man who was delivered of demons in the Decapolis? "Go home and tell your own what God has done for you and how he has had mercy on you?" (Mark 5:19) Lets ask God to help us be good citizens of our cities, to own our daily rhythms of family, work and play for the gospel. Lets ask Him for ways to tell of his mercy naturally in our conversations. Having 6 baptisms on Sunday was a beautiful sign of how Jesus is jin the move to seek and to save what was lost. Let's pray for many more in the next few months.

Secondly, can we pray for the launch of Porterbrook in the next month? Porterbrook has been our primary training forum for a theology and life of mission over the last 5 years. It's been a powerful way of equipping folk to be part of our multiplication journey. Pray for many new signups, and for God to continue to use it to train missionaries to be sent from Southlands.

Thirdly, let's keep praying for our friends planting One Light Church in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Pray for unity within the team and favor  at work and school in building new relationships with locals. Pray for God's protection, patience and presence with them as they go about planting this church for His glory.   

Finally, let's be praying for God's clear leading in our next steps of 3 in 3, our church's multiplication vision. As elders, we are coming close to a decision about a potential opportunity to 're-plant' a church in the Inland Empire. We need God's guidance in this  regard and would appreciate the prayer. 

Thank you so much for journeying faithfully in fasting and prayer. 
Aslan is on the move! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fast in the Fall Day 2: A United Pursuit

Jesus' reminder that, "What is impossible with man is possible with God," is good reason to fast and pray. There are situations in our lives that are humanly impossible to manage or solve. In fasting and prayer we bring the impossible to the God of the impossible.

One of the things that seems humanly impossible to me, is unity in a church. There is such a growing diversity in generation, culture, personality, class and preference in our church. We support different political parties and sports teams, have different alumni and live in different cities. We meet in three different communities on Sundays.  Some of us are single and some are married. Some are wealthy and some are poor. We really have no business being a united family, but that is what we are, by God's grace. It's both delightful and just really hard work.

As difficult as it may be though, we know that unity is possible because Jesus asked the Father for it on our behalf. "I do not ask for my disciples only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me."(Jn 17:20-21) 

The unity that Jesus asked for has been given to us by the Spirit, but is maintained by us, through humility, gentleness, and bearing with one another in love.(Eph 4:1-12) Because the church is organic, unity is never achieved forever, just like any garden or body needs constant maintenance in order to remain healthy. When we neglect the maintenance of our unity, the Bible says that 'bitter roots spring up that defile many, giving the devil a foothold and grieving the Holy Spirit, who made us one.' (Eph 4:25-30) Neglecting unity is simply not an option! 

With this in mind, we drafted a Southlands Unity Charter in 2010 to help us maintain the unity of the Spirit and attain to the unity of the faith. This has helped us enormously, not only within our leadership team, but also between husbands and wives, life groups, business partners, and even between churches. I want to ask you to re-visit it today as you pray, and see if there is some way that you can give yourself to unity maintenance in the church.  Where can we repent, forgive, reconcile or overlook an offense? Where can we protect unity by refusing to gossip or by showing honor?  

You may think that this is not very spiritual, but remember Jesus' prayer, that when we are united, the world believes that the Father sent Him. Unity is our witness to a skeptical world that Jesus, the Reconciler, is real! The Scripture promises that when the brethren dwell together in unity, there the Lord commands His anointing and blessing.(Psalm 133) Unity is both intensely relational and incredibly spiritual.   

So let's pursue this God-possible gift together and see what God will do!
See you tonight. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fast in Fall day 1 : A Kingdom within Reach.

Twice a year we fast for 3 days as a church, coming together each evening  to seek God in worship and prayer. Although fasting is not always pleasant, it's always worth it. God has met with us in remarkable ways during these times, healing us, encouraging us, and leading us. Although He meets with each of us in unique ways, I usually blog each morning to provide a common theme around which to pray and prepare our hearts for our gathering that evening. So here we go, Day 1 of our Fast in the Fall.

After the launch of Jesus' ministry in His home-town synagogue, He travelled around with a very uncomplicated message. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) For Jesus, the kingdom was not something distant and remote. It was near. It was breaking in. It was within reach. All the prophets, culminating with John the Baptist, told of a Messiah who would deliver Israel as a suffering servant. And now He was finally here, the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. This is the gospel!  But see how Jesus didn’t just come preaching the gospel? He preached the ‘gospel of the kingdom.’ (Matt 4:23) In essence, He was saying, "Through my life, death and resurrection I will establish a new reign, a new administration that is within reach for those who receive me as their King."

For Jesus, entering the kingdom of heaven wasn’t just describing somewhere we go when we die. He was describing something we receive while we’re alive. Dallas Willard said it like this in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, “ Becoming a Christian is not about getting into heaven after you die. It’s about getting into heaven before you die. The treasure we have in heaven is also something very much available to us now. We can and should draw upon it as needed, for it is nothing less than God himself and the wonderful society of his kingdom even now interwoven in my life. This is not by-and-by, but now.”

Jesus' kingdom ministry was not only a proclamation of the gospel. It was marked by a dramatic demonstration of power through prayer. He healed all those afflicted with various sickness and pains, and set free those who were oppressed by demons. (4:23-24) His kingdom came from the outside-in, setting right God's created order. During this fast, can we ask God for greater expectation and boldness for God's kingdom to come in these ways? While all physical, mental and emotional healing will only be complete when King Jesus finally returns, healing is a normal mark of the kingdom and should be on the increase where God's people are praying for it with humble boldness. Fasting is also a key to bringing the kingdom into  particularly obstinate situations. "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting." (Matt 17:14) Let's present these situations to God as we fast. They are not out of reach of the King. 

But what of repentance? Why did Jesus preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?" We have to understand that His message of repentance was revolutionary to the Jewish people who viewed Israel as the Kingdom of God and its Roman oppressors as the enemies of the Kingdom. You don't tell an oppressed people to repent, do you? You tell their enemies to repent! But the kingdom stretches way beyond any political or cultural boundaries, calling everyone to give their ultimate allegiance  to King Jesus, in order to come under his loving reign. Repentance, viewed through  kingdom lens, is the acknowledgment that I have made someone or something else king in my life. Repentance is resisting the urge to blame someone else for my problems. Fascinating that the church in Acts 16 were accused of stirring up trouble in Thessalonica because they claimed that, "There is another King, one called Jesus!" Today, can we allow the kindness of God to lead us to repentance, as we turn from having other kings or shifting the blame, and re-pledge our allegiance to King Jesus who is able to save us in the most harsh and hopeless situations. It may  worth spending some time reading Matt 6:25-33 , and asking, "What things have I sought after that have distracted me form seeking first the Kingdom of God?" His kingdom comes from the inside-out as we repent and allow him to transform our affections and our shift focus.

Finally, let's rejoice in the fact that it is not because of our condition, but because of His grace, that the kingdom comes!  Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to bestow on you the Kingdom!  (Luke 12:32)  Happy Fasting!