Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Always Previous God: Stories of the God who goes before.

At Advent we treasure the breath-taking idea that God the Son willingly came to dwell with us as a man. Jesus is the only person in history who ever chose to be born. Ponder that. How would you choose to be born if you had the choice? I would choose to be born into wealth, status and peace, wouldn't you? Jesus chose to be born into poverty, scandal and danger. He was sent as the son of a suspect teenage mom and a blue-collar carpenter dad.  His family fled to Egypt as refugees to escape a murdering king. That's how God chose to be born. He chose to identify with every person who ever lived in poverty, scandal or danger. 

I've been thinking about Jesus' final words to his disciples though. "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you." (John 21) In that sense, His incarnation is both a gift and a stone in my shoe. I may not have been born into poverty, scandal or danger, but following Jesus means He will send me to people in difficult places to bring hope. You too. But He is the God who has gone before us, so we can take courage. As Tozer so beautifully put it, "Jesus is the always previous God." 

Of course, there are times when we have to take it on good faith that He is always previous,  but then there are those times when we glimpse that He has gone before us with such dazzling attention to detail that we gasp with awe at the fact that our future is really His present.  I want to tell you about 3 stories of our always previous God during the past season of our church. 

In the Summer of 2015 we were preparing to launch Southlands Whittier but couldn't find a venue for our Sunday gatherings due to start in the Fall. Kevin Meisch, Whittier's community leader had been pounding the pavement with no joy whatsoever.  Mandy Randolph, one of our elder's wives came to me at a leader's meeting and asked, "Does the road name Leffingwell mean anything to you?" I knew that there was a road called Leffingwell in Whittier, but called Kevin over to hear what Mandy was saying.

She proceeded, "I had a dream where I was driving through Whittier past all these auto-body shops and heard a voice in the dream say  'Set up shop left of Leffingwell.' Is there any venue that comes to mind left of Leffingwell?"  Kevin replied, "I know exactly what venue you're talking about. It's Parnell Park Community Center, and I passed it yesterday thinking it might be a good one." 

Kevin went to the community center the next day, booked their amazing space for a year with a massive discount, and it's served as a remarkable and strategic venue ever since.  God went before us and spoke to us in advance about what was to come. We've indeed set up shop left of Leffingwell! 

In April of 2016 we cast vision to Southlands for a Jubilee Campaign, aimed at removing all our remaining debt and building a war chest for church planting. The response from the congregation was remarkable and we were able to raise enough to pay off all our debt and save enough money for our next church plant. The only thing was that we didn't know where that church would be. On the same day that we were tallying up the pledges and money that had come in after our Jubilee Giving Day I got a call from my friend Scott Weatherill, who was pastoring a church in the Inland Empire. He'd been leading the church for 15 years but said that he felt like his tenure was over. He asked me if we would consider adopting the church as a community of Southlands. One of the reasons he felt like his time was up was that he was struggling to get his people to volunteer at the local food bank in their city and felt like they needed a fresh sense of mission to their city. I'll spare you the details, but took the request back to our elders. As we began to pray and talk about this possibility, I was reminded of a prophetic word that I'd received in February, some 3 months before the call. 
It was from Nick Fox, a friend with a strong prophetic gift who was living in Northern Ireland at the time. This is what he wrote on February 9th, 2016. 

"Hey Alan,

Great to hear from you. Funny that you replied as I was thinking I'd reach out to you.

Last night I had a dream that I was at Southlands and I remember absolutely nothing of it! But it did remind me to pray for you guys today.As I was praying I felt like the Lord was speaking so I took a few notes to send on. As you know I'm learning so test all of it!

One area I felt the Father really highlight to me is finances. I felt like there is a repositioning of resources coming(or maybe has), the sense I had was that there was almost a season where things will feel tight not because of lack but because of how much is on. I felt like the Father is saying that there is a new season of financial favor coming, for some reason April felt like the timeline on that. It seemed as though it'll start off in an unlikely manner but that it'll breed generosity in the greater Southlands Brea community.

I also sensed that the Father might begin speaking to someone on your team about the Inland Empire. I felt that there is a great grace for you guys there, surprisingly to me it might be the Rancho Cucamonga area where I grew up. I think there might be a unique partnership opening there, maybe possibly around a food bank(not completely sure on that)."

Financial favor in April? Partnership with a church with a food bank in the Inland Empire?   Needless to say, God was getting our attention and we began seriously considering the partnership which is now well on its way to becoming Southlands Chino.

Of course, these glimpses don't mean we just rush head long without planning. Wisdom and timing are vital. But again, the accuracy is uncanny, and God has got our attention. Yet again, we've glimpsed the always previous God. 

As the Father sent Jesus, so He sends us. 
But we can take courage. Jesus is the God who goes before.