Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tribute to Darrel Ballman: A Floral to Flannel Legacy

Last night we gathered at the Anaheim Vineyard to celebrate the life of Darrel Ballman. I have had the privilege of being a pastor to Darrel and Evie for the last four years, but they are a couple whose heritage is vintage Vineyard, having spent most of their marriage doing life and ministry there. 

One of the things I loved most about Darrel was that he never took himself too seriously. I used to tease him a bit about the hippie-style floral shirts and relaxed approach of the Vineyard and he would agree and laugh and still keep arriving at church in those floral shirts.  He had such an endearing, self-effacing humor and was very comfortable in his own skin. It was one of the repeated themes last night from family, friends, work colleagues from the school where he taught. His mischievous sense of humor and contagious joy endured through the trial of his fight against cancer. Cancer was never in charge of Darrel's joy. That this joy is now no longer with us leaves a gaping hole in many lives. 

The thing is though, that when it came to making disciples of Jesus and teaching them the ways of the Spirit, Darrel was deadly serious. I'm not sure I've ever met a couple with such a natural way of discipling young believers as Darrel and Evie. They lived with an open home and would sometimes have up to 100 flannel-wearing millennials crowded in their lounge for life group. They would often worship, pray and prophesy for hours on end spilling out into the kitchen and onto their famous deck, completely caught up in the presence of God. They were a passionate, intimate family and his unassuming persona was like a trojan horse enabling him to get the love of Jesus into the hearts of   these young disciples.

While Darrel was a powerful spiritual father in his own right, he was a man under authority. He and Evi loved the local church. I remember him asking me to come and speak to his life group a couple of years ago because some people were worried it was turing into a house church.  Before I spoke, Darrel opened up the evening before I spoke by saying, "I know that many of you see me as your pastor. But I want you to know that this man is my pastor. I am on his team." It was a masterful moment that acknowledged the role he had in his disciples lives, but placed it within the context of the local church. No independence whatsoever. Darrel was larger because of that moment, not smaller. 

And so for me, Darrell's most powerful legacy could be described in Psalm 145: 4. "One generation will commend Your works to the next." That is what he did with startling effectiveness. He was passionate about his rich spiritual heritage. But because his passion was without one ounce of nostalgia or ego, he passed it on effortlessly to the next generation. 

Darrel might have been comfortable in floral. But he passed the gift of faith and passion for Jesus to a generation who wore flannel. He had what might be called a floral to flannel kingdom legacy. Which means that Darrel is rejoicing in the presence of the Savior he loved and longed for while his legacy is multiplied in the hands of the next generation. And that, my friends, is reason to rejoice. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Reward of Fasting: Why and How?

We generally call our church to fast  12 times per year; Ten 1-day fasts and two 3-day fasts. As I've chatted to folk in the church, they often find the 1 day fasts more difficult because they take people by surprise. Being that today is our 1st 1-day fast of the year I want to remind us why and how we fast. I have to admit that I normally go in to fasts asking, "So, why are we doing this, again? "but always come out going, "Oh, now I remember why we did this!" As I reflect on 2016, God has done so many great things in our midst, and I am persuaded that there is a strong link between His work in our midst and our earnestly seeking Him through prayer and fasting. 

So why do we fast as a church?
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus speaks very clearly about fasting.  "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast anoint your head and wash you face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father, who sees what is done in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you."  
1) We fast because Jesus commanded it. He said, "When you fast," not if.
A few practical helps:
a. Be prepared for some dizziness, caffeine headaches, or nausea in the early stages. Most of our bodies have never gone without food for longer than a few hours.
b. Lead up to and break your fast gradually with meals that are light and easy to digest. Trying to gorge yourself following a fast will only make you sick and will leave you with an unpleasant memory of fasting.
d. Sometime during your fast, mix your fast with prayer, time in Scripture reading, singing, or devotional reading. Remember: fasting is not an end in itself. Seek the Lord, not the experience of fasting. Keep checking your motives concerning your fasts. Hypocrisy and spiritual pride can easily creep in. There is a reward for fasting, but only fasting done with the right motives (Matthew 23:28).

He also said that while He was with His disciples they would not fast, but when He left they would fast. (Mark 2)
2) We do not fast to win the approval of people. "Do not look gloomy like the Hypocrites, they have received their reward." Neither do we fast to earn God's approval. We already have God's approval through Jesus. Nothing we do could make Him love us more!
3) We fast because there is a great reward in drawing close to Jesus. "Your Father in heaven sees in secret and rewards you."Though few people enjoy fasting, there is a very real reward and that reward is Jesus himself. In fasting, we deny ourselves food in order to feast on the Bread of Life and the  Living Water. Fasting is ultimately feasting on Jesus. Time and time again, people come out of a fast saying, "I may be hungry for food, but Jesus has satisfied and sustained me in a way that no food could."
4) We fast because it is a source of  victory in spiritual warfare. When Jesus was tempted by the devil he fasted.  When Jesus' disciples struggled to deliver a boy of demons, he said, "This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting." Matt 17:21 So fasting is also a powerful way of praying for others in desperate situations. 
5) We fast because it is a catalyst for mission Acts13:2 "They were worshipping and fasting and the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.'"  
6) We fast to deny ourselves food as a way of resisting our culture of gluttony. Fasting is saying to our stomachs, "You are not GOD!." Say no more.

c. We fast on liquids. For some that is just water, for others it is juice or thin soup. It is not blended steak and potatoes! The issue is not who is more of a fasting extremist. The issue is that all of us feel the pain of hunger and denial, and use that to press into feasting on Jesus' word and presence. Whatever the case, drink lots of water. 

e. Avoid strenuous work or exercise. You will feel more weak and it will make you more hungry. If your job involved strenuous work then drink a smoothie or have soup for energy. 

e. Don't see it as a hunger strike, or a way to lose weight. That doesn't work. Fasting without prayer is fruitless. Be sure to join us at 6:30pm tonight at Southlands Brea as we seek the Lord in worship and prayer together. That is what makes a fast feel worthwhile.
I anticipate a deeply rewarding time as we seek the Lord together this year! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Re-Vitalizing Vision

At this time of year we typically think about vision, whether it be personal, for our family, company or church. Vision is more comprehensive than goal setting, although it should contain goals. Vision might be described as an ideal picture of our future that informs the way we act within our present reality. I've been reflecting on how vital vision has been for me and our church the last few years, and how much God has done by His grace as we've responded to that vision. If it's true that without vision people perish, then the converse is true that with vision, people come alive

But how do we craft, cast and follow through with vision?

Here are 7 brief insights from the Apostle Paul as he describes his vision.

"Not that I have already attained these things or have been made perfect. But I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward  the goal for prize of the upward call of of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will make that clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:12-16)

1. Vision is upward before it's onward

Paul's ultimate vision is the prize of the upward call of God, that is, his resurrection and reward after the return of Christ. His ultimate goal is to please Jesus, not himself, which enables him to endure hardship, isolation and even the seeming frustration of his vision in prison. If our vision is ultimately an upward call we will remain faithful when the onward call is delayed. 

2. Vision is call before it's craft. 

While imagination is a factor in vision-crafting, Paul's vision was in response to Jesus' call. I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. It wasn't his grand idea. It was God's. Discerning God's unique call can be tough, but laying hold of that begins by aligning our lives to Jesus' Great Commission.  That should frame every Christian's vision. 

3. Vision is discontented

Paul had attained so much in his life, but he refused to rest on his laurels. He pursued vision by forgetting his past accomplishments and by acknowledging what had not yet been attained. He had a holy discontentment with what he'd attained.  If we begin to glorify what we've already attained we will never press on. In the words of that old U2 song, "We glorify the past when the future dries up.

4. Vision is defiant  

Paul is in prison. He's old and his eye sight is failing. While he acknowledges the confinement of his circumstances - he's writing a letter because he cannot get to them in person - his confinement doesn't dampen his enthusiasm or slow him down in any way.  Straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal. Paul's vision of seeing the gospel advance to new regions through the planting of new churches defied his circumstances. He had to change his approach by writing letters and raising up other leaders rather than visiting churches himself. But ponder for a moment what God did with those letters! I have settled that whatever God calls us to, it will always seem beyond what we can humanly resource ourselves. Faith defies current circumstance as it trusts the faithfulness of the One who calls.

5. Vision is progressive. 

This is a counter-point to the previous one. Paul's apparent forgetfulness is not complete amnesia. He's aware of what he and this church have attained. "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." In essence he's saying, "Don't rest on your past achievements. Build on them!" I've found that people's faith for a vision grows as it becomes more visible. People bless what they see God already blessing. There's a difference between a big vision and an unrealistic one. Start with something quantifiable and attainable and build on that. This past year we cast vision for the Jubilee Campaign, which was intended to get rid of our debt and  build a war chest for church planting. I think one of the reasons people blew us away with their generosity is that they saw we had a track record of investing significantly into church panting.  Ask God for a vision track-record to build upon. 

6. Vision is specific  

In the following chapter Paul thanks the church for their financial generosity to his vision. Their vision had concrete outcomes. I often see leaders cast such vague vision that they cannot be held accountable for whether they achieved it or not. While mission is less quantifiable, vision should be for a set period of time with quantifiable goals that you either hit or miss. 

Just under 3 years ago we cast a vision called 3 in 3 at Southlands Church. We had a vision to multiply 3 times in 3 years. The idea was for one multi-site in Southern California, one church amongst an un-reached people group, and one autonomous church plant in North America. The end point was April 2017.  By God's amazing grace, we have been able to plant a multi-site congregation in Whittier, and a church plant in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and we are now busy with our 3rd of 3 - the adoption and re-birth of a church in Chino that will become Southlands Chino in the Fall of 2017. The sticklers may say, "Well, you missed it. That's two multi-sites and you didn't do it by April 2017." To which I will respond, "You're right. We missed it. But because we aimed at something, we have never had this many people praying, training, giving and going. I'll gladly miss the next vision again like we missed this one.A quantifiable vision need not be a gun to our head. But it can be a much needed spur in our side.

7. Vision is prophetic. 

While rooted in our unchanging Biblical call, it does take imagination to craft vision. 
If you are a leader, gather some of your creatives to help you craft compelling vision.  But be open to the whispers of God through the prophetic! Look at the way the prophetic informed Paul's vision in Acts 16. God has spoken to us with astonishing specificity  as we've continued to follow His Spirit in the pursuit of His vision. Here are a few examples of this.

Southlands, when I woke up on New Year's Day the Spirit prompted me to go to the above passage. As I sat with it, I sensed Him whisper just two words. "Kick on." Kick on is a coaching term used for an athlete who is in the final stretch of a race and is running well. It's the encouragement to pick up the pace and turn advantage into victory. God has been so kind to us. But He is calling us all to "kick on" in 2017 in the final stretch of this 3 in 3 vision. Let's not rest on our laurels. The always previous God has gone before us. We've prayed, given, trained and gone. But the race is not yet won.