Saturday, October 20, 2018

Running with Perseverance towards the Turbulence: why we're still training leaders and planting churches 20 years on.

The first time Rynelle and I visited Southlands it was 1999. We were in our mid-twenties and our first-born son Asher, was just ten days old. Some people told us we were crazy to take him when he was that young, but in retrospect, we're glad we didn’t listen to them! The rookie parents and their son survived the trip. Asher loves the fact that his first visit from the hospital was to go and get his passport photo taken. The nations are in his heart and travel is in his blood. One day, a few years later when he was old enough to speak, he was buckled up in his car seat and I drove over a big speed bump. "Dad, we got turbulence!" was the seasoned little globe-trotters response from the back of the car. That trip set us on a trajectory to the nations that we will never regret.

But I digress. That first trip to Southlands in 1999 was for a Leaders Training Conference that emphasized the importance of churches planting churches. The atmosphere was intoxicating. Passionate worship, uncompromising preaching and a resolute call for churches to make healthy disciples by planting healthy churches. What we may have lacked in wisdom, we made up for in faith and sacrifice.  There was much good about those days.

But much has changed since '99. Our world has become more connected, less communal and more volatile. Western culture has become more fascinated with the spiritual yet more hostile to the gospel. The Western Church has become comfortable and nominal, in stark contrast to our culture's radical commitment to seek political and social change. We still have turbulence, Dad! I wonder whether we will run towards it or away from it?

Southlands has changed too. We moved from Diamond Bar to Brea in 2009. There was a leadership transition in 2010. We now gather in four cities and are part of a different church planting network. We've worked hard to preach the timeless gospel in timely ways to our changing culture.  We've not only wanted to win away games by planting churches in other cities and nations. We've also wanted to win home games by building healthy communities on mission that aim to make radical disciples of Jesus in Southern California. We've not arrived by any means. We feel completely inept at times, yet humbly grateful for every inch of ground that the Lord has given us. We feel thankful for the heroes who have gone before us, but we're trying to discern the times and respond to what the Spirit is saying in our day.

But the essence of those heady days of '99 remains the same. We are still passionate about making disciples of Jesus in  the nations of the world, amidst the turbulence. We still believe the Lord has called us, in the midst of 'the nations that rage,' to 'ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance." (Psalm 2) We  remain committed to training leaders and planting churches for the sake of the Great Commission. Perhaps we're looking for a more sustainable pace and approach, but we never want wisdom to equal playing it safe. And so, we are hosting another leadership conference almost 20 years later. The theme is, "Leaders that Last." I don't think it's coincidence that I find myself speaking on Building a Culture of Lasting Multiplication. I'm believing that what happens will help many to press on with faithful endurance. I'm also trusting that it so captivates other young leaders like myself back in '99, that it shapes the trajectory of their next 20 years.

It was amazing to kick things off  this past Sunday with my friend Tom Tapping speaking, who by the way, was in that conference back in '99! Tom and Una have been married 40 years, have two children who are both leading churches and have planted 3 churches on three continents. They epitomize the phrase, 'leaders that last!' I'd also love it if you would  consider joining the other 230 leaders who have flown in from around the nation and beyond next week from 24th-26th October. The Thursday night is free and open to all. 

Southlands, it's time to run towards the turbulence. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Our Longing for a Thin place.

 I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the term Thin Place? It sounds to me like a health club serving kale smoothies or a beach where skinny people hangout, but it’s not. The Celtic Christians had an ancient saying that, “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart but in thin places they are even closer together.” They spoke of remote, wind swept regions like the Isle of Iona as Thin Places. They were sacred spaces where the presence of God seemed nearer and they felt like they had come home. Have you ever been in a place like that? You might feel like Yosemite or the Santiago Trails or the Himalayas are thin places.  Perhaps it's somewhere closer to home like the Fullerton Trails or San Onofre Beach. For some mysterious reason the veil between heaven and earth seems more flimsy in these places. Until other tourists discover what we've discovered, that is, and then we have to find a new thin place. Perhaps at the heart of our wanderlust is our yearning for a thin place.

More than a place per se, we are hard wired with longing for the presence of God, which makes us restless creatures. It is not enough for us that God is generally present in the world. We want God to show up in His special presence. Augustine, the 1st Century Church father prayed, "Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You." The presence of God is our greatest need. It is the need beneath our felt needs. More than a better job, a bigger house, a healthier marriage or a fitter body, we need the presence of God. We yearn to walk with God in the cool of the day like our first parents did in Eden. 

The problem about our yearning is that our first parents were banished from the presence of God after the fall. 'He drove out the man, and at the East of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3:24) As sons and daughters of Adam and Eve we find ourselves East of Eden, exiled from the presence of God, restlessly trying to find our way back home. John Steinbeck who wrote the book East of Eden, often explored this theme of exile."As humans we have an incurable virus of restlessness, the urge to be Some Place Else."

This is why I love the building of the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus. The word tabernacle means dwelling place. God had redeemed and rescued His people out of Egypt. He'd given them his Law at Mount Sinai. But now He was coming to dwell with them in a ram skin tent. "Let them make me a tabernacle that I may dwell in their midst."(25:8) The God of Passover blood, Red Sea rescue and Mt. Sinai fire came to dwell with His people in the tent of meeting.  

The Tabernacle became Israel's thin place. After it was set up a cloud rested upon it that was visible to all of Israel.  At night the cloud had a fire within it. Whenever the fiery cloud moved on, Israel would break camp and follow it. Their thin place was not in one place.  God's presence dwelt with them and they moved wherever it led them. 

When Jesus came to earth, John's gospel proclaims, "The Word became flesh  and tabernacled among us." (Jn 1:1) God took up a tent, not of ram skin and purple yarn, but of flesh and blood, of bone and beard. He came to dwell among us, sharing in our weakness, temptations, limitations and grief. His body torn on the cross tore the curtain between the holy place and the holy of holies, so that everyone might come in to the presence of God. Jesus is our new sacrifice, our priest and our tabernacle, making the old ways obsolete. 

Because of Jesus, we will never again be exiled from the presence of God. But we will be sent with the presence of God. J.T. English said that the mission of God is the presence of God in all of creation. God wants his people to make thin places whenever they gather and wherever they go; places where the veil between heaven and earth is flimsy. Can Southlands be such a place and such a people? God is Re-Edening his world with his presence through us. "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations...and surely I will be with you to the very end of the age."

If you missed Sunday's message on the Tabernacle you can click below to view it.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Jacob, Esau and Acting like Men.

There's a true story about two brothers in the book of Genesis. The older brother was an Alpha male. He was a hunter with a big appetite for food and the outdoors. He was hairy.  He was his Dad's favorite son because he kept the pantry well stocked with game. His name was Esau. The younger brother was a more sensitive soul. His skin was smooth and he preferred hanging out with his Mama to hunting out in the fields. His Mama loved him because he was great in the kitchen. He was the proverbial metro-man. His name was Jacob and he was scary smart. 

One day Jacob was cooking when Esau came in famished after a day of hunting. He begged his younger brother for some of the stew he was cooking, and knowing that his older brother would get the whole family inheritance, Jacob decided to make an outrageous proposal. "Swear to me that you'll give me your inheritance for this bowl of stew." Esau was too starving to think straight, so he made a short-sighted promise and wolfed down the stew. Scary smart meets crazy stupid.  

Jacob never forgot that promise. Like a sleazy lawyer hanging around car crashes to build a business, he waited for his opportune time to cash in. His time came when he heard his father was on his death bed. Dressing himself in skins so that he felt and smelt like Esau, he brought in his father's his death bed meal, pretended to be Esau and stole his brother's birthright. What's more outrageous is that God verified the blessing. Isaac received Jacob's blessing and Esau's birthright from Isaac and ultimately became one of Israel's patriarchs.

Now if we were applying a purely cultural template here, we'd be forgiven for thinking this is the Biblical version of Revenge of the Nerds. Esau the strong, brave, dumb jock gets outsmarted by his weak, smart, nerd brother. Brains triumphs over brawn. Bill Gates wins and O.J. Simpson loses. 

At least that's how an older friend of mine sees things going down in American culture when it comes to masculinity. "Our culture has been feminized. We're raising weak, man-scaped, lisp-talking men who don't know how to work a jack hammer, shoot a gun or grow a beard. There's no place for  real men these days." I think he may have a point, but when I raise this with another younger friend who loves books, pour-over coffee, jazz and wears skinny jeans, he insists, "The playing field of power still slants towards classic definitions of masculinity. To be a man in our culture still means to be a jock and my generation is kicking against that narrow definition." 

So where do we go from here in our quest to act like men?

I suppose we start by admitting that the Jacob and Esau story is not firstly about becoming God's man. It's firstly about knowing God's grace. God sovereignly chose social outcasts to be in Jesus' lineage to  demonstrate that He came for the poor in spirit. God chose pagans, adulterers, prostitutes and immigrants to be in the lineage of His Son. Not to mention domesticated Mama's boys. His grace is not just for the the first born with the birthright. It's for the runt of the litter in this world. 

That said, I think we can learn something about masculinity from Jacob and Esau. We can learn that God's vision of manhood is not as narrow as ours. Esau's hunting skills and hairiness weren't enough to get him chosen. Jacob's lack of those qualities weren't enough to get him un-chosen. But each man had his own unique strengths with corresponding temptations, and part of acting like a man means that we need to be aware of these in ourselves. 

Esau was brave, strong, passionate and short-sighted. He sold his whole birthright for one meal. And it wasn't even meat stew! It was a bowl of lentils! Hebrews 12 warns us of the sin of Esau as sexual temptation. Some of us will be tempted to swap everything we have for one fleeting moment of pleasure. This is not limited to hunters and jocks, but if we have an Esau appetite we need to beware as men. Being an Esau kind of man is to celebrate having a strong, visceral approach to life, but to realize we could lose our inheritance because of it.

Jacob was too shrewd to fall into Esau's temptation. His temptation was relying on his own shrewdness to get ahead. His name meant trickster. And there was a moment when God dealt with his temptation. Jacob wrestled with God, who put his hip out of joint and gave him a limp. God changed his name from trickster to one who wrestles with God. Jacob didn't lose his street smarts. But he learned to lean on God like he leaned on his cane.   

Perhaps that's what we can learn from Jacob and Esau. God has made us men with resident strengths and corresponding temptations. All men are in common in this regard. Becoming aware of these strengths and corresponding temptations in order to resist them,  may be what it means to act like men by God's grace.  

*Southlands men go away on a retreat this coming weak to explore what it means to Act Like Men. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

At Home in Exile: rambling thoughts on a long flight home.

Sitting here in Dubai airport on the way home from Durban to Los Angeles, I realize this is the first time I've been alone in 2 weeks. I've left Rynelle in South Africa to spend some quality time with her Mom for a few more days as I fly home to our kiddos and church family. It's been a beautiful whirlwind traveling with Brett and Kira McCracken, but I'm savoring a moment of solitude. Between us, we spoke 20 times in 8 days in Cape Town and Johannesburg in various forums. The churches in our Advance family received us with such warmth and enthusiasm, it was a joy to invest in them. A few days in Durban catching up with family and friends crowned a rich trip and now I'm reflecting on what I come back with. 

Yesterday, on the day I said goodbye to my family, my CBR reading was the often-quoted Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans for a hope and for a future." God the Father conspires for the good of His people. His plans are not always apparent to us, but He knows what they are and assures us that they are always and only good no matter how dark our days become. I unashamedly own this anchoring promise as I fly home for myself,  my family and my church. You should too.

However, lest I become trigger happy with God's good promise, I notice that it comes with a context and a condition that means we should take careful aim. The context of the promise was to Israel in Babylonian exile. They would still be in exile for another 70 years, away from their temple, their king and their homeland. God is strong enough to send His people into exile and prosper them there. Those are not the plans I would have hatched to prosper a people, but then again, I am not God. The condition of the promise was that they were to "pray for and seek the peace and prosperity of their place of exile, for in that they too would prosper." This condition involved both enemy love and a break from living in limbo, stuck in their longing for their homeland. God's people were to be fully present in exile, building houses, planting vineyards, marrying and multiplying. They were to put down roots in order to thrive in exile. They were to treat their place of exile like a home away from home. These were God's good plans for His people in exile. 

Every Christian is called to live this way in the world. This world is not our true homeland. Heaven is our true country and from it we await our true King.  But we are called to practice permanence, seeking the peace and prosperity of the places we are sent even though we are not from here

There are at least two more layers of meaning in this passage for me though.

The first is that longing for our homeland can be about another era rather than about another place. I hanker after a more certain, more settled time, when I knew how to navigate my way around better. In our cultural moment it feels as though we are learning to drive in a new country on the other side of the road. So much feels disorientating and there is a temptation to turn the car around and high tail it back towards the border and familiarity. 

Many of us long for the days when Christians were in the moral majority, when this nation agreed upon a Biblical moral compass. Yet now we seem to be in the minority and the national compass points in another direction. This is highly regrettable, and I empathize with a longing for more familiar days.  Could it be though, that God is calling His people to be a prophetic minority in exile, like Daniel in Babylon, rather than a moral majority? Can He not still bless us as a prophetic minority?

At a local level, some of us long for the familiar days of one church, one community, yet now we are one church in four communities. This too, can feel like exile. Could it be that God is strong enough to make us thrive here in our unfamiliar new normal?  Could it be that he is warning us against nostalgia that sucks the life out of the present and hope out of the future? 

The second layer is more personal for me.  While America is my home, it is my adopted home. This means that it can feel exilic at times, even though my roots are gratefully dug down deep here.  I have loved and learned so much from America - its proud patriotism, it's strategic influence, its constant innovation, its lavish generosity, its ability to show compassion for the weak, to dream big, to execute a plan, to stand for individual conviction. These values have shaped me deeply and profoundly.

But I've also been shaped by some values I was raised with in South Africa that seem at times to cut across the very fabric of what America most values. Hospitality. Loyalty. Encouragement. The ability to sacrifice individual dreams for a collective dream. The ability to be flexible with personal boundaries. The ability to disagree, yet stick together. I must qualify. These qualities are not absent from America. They simply tend not to be dominant in my experience. No human culture represents God's values completely. South Africa certainly has some major cultural blind spots. But while these values seem to resonate with God's heart and mine, they seem to cut across the grain of the place I call home. Perhaps some of them are the cohesive threads that America needs lest its individualism causes the fabric to unravel? I return intent on cultivating these values where I am planted, even if they seem exotic - not because they are South African values - but because they are Kingdom values.

All of us have those moments when some person or some place lets us know, "You're not from here, are you?" What do we do in those exile moments? We train our souls on Jesus, who left his homeland in heaven to take up residence as an exile here on earth. He was cut off from his eternal home to secure ours. We turn to Him for wisdom and courage to be at home in exile.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Doheny Wave: A Parable of Church Sending and Leaving

I grew up in Durban, proudly known as Surf City South Africa, but only learned to surf when I was in my late 20’s. I brought two surf boards with me to the USA, and of course, everyone told me that Huntington Beach was the spot to surf. I had no way of anticipating the territorial agro of the locals, who guarded their wave like a gang guards their turf. I remember my friend Donnie having to break up a fight between two guys in their 50’s because one guy dropped in on the other guy’s wave. This was a far cry from Durban’s chill surfing scene. 

When I turned 40 my friends clubbed together and bought me a stand-up paddle board. I gradually learned to surf on it but realized it was better suited to a longer, slower wave. It took some humility to take the counsel of other stand up paddle boarders to go further south to Old Man’s(seriously!) near San Clemente, but in truth, that’s where I learned to ‘SUP,’ as they say. Later on I discovered an even better SUP wave just further North of Old Man’s called Doheny in a protected bay next door to Dana Point’s Yacht club. Doheny is a long, curling right, reef break and the hammer shaped pier separates surfers from paddle boarder’s in order to keep the peace. 

Peace was the order of the day at Doheny. It was such a far cry from the cussing and clawing of Huntington Beach, it was worth the extra 15 minute drive. Doheny has these iconic photos of multiple surfers riding the same wave from the 50’s . One guy has a lady on his shoulders, the other has his dog on the board with him, the other guy is hanging ten on the front end. It’s like something out of an old Beach Boys music video. In fact, I’m told they actually shot a beach Boy’s video at Doheny once. 

The thing is though, that while I prefer the communal peace vibe of the Doheny wave to the turf war of the HB wave, sometimes it can get in the way of universal surfing protocol, which goes as follows: the person closest to the inside of the wave, which if you are surfing right is the person on the left, has right of way. This is because they are closest to the pocket, which is the most powerful part of the wave. So, while it may be Doheny Protocol to have multiple surfers on a wave, the surfers should not drop in on the surfer on the inside. They need to be widely spaced enough so as not to impede the surfer who is travelling at higher velocity than they are because he or she took off from the pocket. I am neither territorial nor aggressive in the water. But I am focussed! I’ve had one too many entanglements with people who abuse the gracious Doheny wave by ignoring universal surf protocol, the last of which was a guy wearing a crash helmet while he paddled! 

There is a parable here for the medium-sized multiplying church, and it has to do with church sending versus church leaving. As a church, we try to be far more Doheny than HB with people when they want to leave the church. It’s certainly one of the most painful parts of leading a church, but it’s a part you have to embrace. For various reasons, from time to time, folk feel like they have to move on. Sometimes it’s simple reasons like moving city or state for a job or because houses are cheaper elsewhere. Other times it’s more complex, like we just feel our season is coming to an end here. This normally means there is some pain or disappointment under the surface that is hard to talk about. Other times it is more blatantly conflictual, when people tell you of their disagreement with a doctrine you preach or a direction the church is going in, or a real grievance with a leader or member.  

Whatever the case, one has to try and handle leaving graciously, listening and responding to people’s reasons, and realizing that Jesus is Lord of His Church, not you. People join and people leave church. I think they generally leave way too easily. But it is what it is. 

Where this hurts multiplication though, is in the timing of their leaving, and this is why I use the metaphor of a wave. When you send people out to start a new plant, it is like a wave of going flows through your church. You gear up to train and send a team of valuable servant-missionaries along with some of your most vital leaders, and this is costly. You are aware that they are going to leave significant gaps in the church but you know that others will rise up to fill those gaps. That is part of the pain and beauty of sending. 

But it never fails to surprise me that as you send this team out, gearing up to fill the serving/giving/leading gaps they leave, folk who felt left behind seem to feel the current of the wave too and they come and tell you that they also  feel like God is moving them on to another church. This happens every.single.time - sometimes just a week after you sent the team out to plant! At the same time as some are sent, others just went. And you have to be gracious, because well, we are the Doheny wave, not the HB wave. But the reality is, it impedes the momentum of the sending church. It’s like dropping in on a surfer taking off from the pocket. It’s not going to kill anyone, but it’s clumsy and frustrating. 

On one level I understand it. People have just said good-bye to some of their closest friend and some of their favorite leaders. They feel like they are part of the left behind series. They are now having to be part of a re-building effort at the sending base and some just feel, “This is not what I signed up for. Things just don’t feel the same as they used to. I'm exercising my freedom to go too.” 

And it may well be that they will go to another church and thrive. Jesus’ mission is greater than any one local church. But the fact is that it makes recovery from multiplication more painstaking. 

This is why I always take time to describe the kind of church we are to newcomers who are considering becoming members. I say, “Understand that you are coming to a multiplying church, which means both warm hellos and sad good-byes. Count the cost of being a community on mission before you join. And when we send, that is ideally the time for the rest of us to stay and re-build.”

There are times when the clumsiness of the Doheny wave makes me want to be more like a Huntington Beach surfer. But then I realize that my local church is not ultimately my turf to guard. It’s Jesus’ turf to guard. And also, that there are many more waves where that came from. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Reverence: the missing piece in our worship.

A few of our Southlands musicians were delighted to sing group vocals on Matt Redman's recent album, Glory Song. Singing some of those songs live a few months later with him and his band as a church at our Night of Grace was a longing fulfilled for me. Over the years, I've marveled at how God seems to have given Matt the gift of expressing His heart for the Church at a particular moment with such poignance. There is one such moment on his album that comes after a song called Simple Pursuit, where he breaks into a probing spontaneous song that asks, "Did we lose the awe of God? Where has all the reverence gone? There's a song of Majesty we've forgotten how to sing. Bring us back to your Glory Song."

In the Western church, at any rate, we've never had such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to musical worship resources. Great songs abound on countless albums. Musicians are more skillful than ever. Arrangements, instruments, acoustics, lighting, graphics, sound rigs and musicians are cooler than ever.  There's a wonderful mix of intimate songs and majestic hymnology, stripped down folksy meditations and catchy, wall-of-sound anthems. With a few notable exceptions, there's an increasing lyrical depth  and a creative diversity.  I'm no worship curmudgeon, nostalgic for the good old days when we only had our hymn books, Vineyard, Integrity and Maranatha to choose from. (Respect to them all). I remember the old days. Believe me, they weren't that good! But I think Matt's song touches a raw nerve that causes me to flinch a little, probing at something I intuitively feel may now be missing. 


Where has all the reverence gone? Perhaps it's been replaced by cool? Worship today seems fixated with cultural relevance. I, for one, am glad we've shrugged off some of the cultural cringe factor of being 10 years behind the times in musical style. But relevance   is a poor substitute for reverence. The former reaches outwards to our world in a language that is intelligible. It's  timely. The latter reaches  inwards to the holy realm of God's eternal throne. It's timeless. Reverence will never be satisfied with being merely timely.

Reverence is the unsandaled feet of Moses standing in the smoldering sand before the burning bush. It is, by its very nature, both intimate and awe-filled. "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews  12: 28)  

Reverence does not cower in fear. The blood of Christ speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. It bids us come to glorious Mount Zion, not the fire and smoke of Mount Sinai. But it stands there wide-eyed, hand over it's mouth without so much as a hint of blasé'.   

Reverent worship is the farthest thing from consumer worship. It does not do song-tasting. It understands that we bring a sacrifice that God consumes. It looks less like a song offered up and more like a life laid down. It will repent quickly. Obey fully. It's songs will be the soundtrack to a life of justice and mercy.

I would venture to say that reverent worship sounds less like something on a stage and more like something among a people. I would not think that reverent worship is only about singing old hymns and doing liturgy. But I think that reverent worship will be open to historic expressions of worship beyond the tyranny of our own moment. It may be loud one moment, quiet the next, but never luke-warm.

Reverent worship is in Spirit and Truth, anchored by the ballast of God's Word but with sails hoisted to catch the Wind that blows wherever it pleases. 

Did we lose the awe of God? Lord, Bring us back to reverence. 


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Night of Grace: Two legends re-unite for the benefit of others.

I couldn't honestly be sure if it was the Spirit's prompting or just nostalgia. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the two! But last, year I kept on thinking about a night of grace 15 years ago that left an indelible imprint on my soul. 

It was 2002 and I was a pastor at New Covenant Church Bryanston, in Johannesburg, South Africa. I'd traveled as a band member with Matt Redman around South Africa on a previous tour, so was looking forward to reconnecting with the prolific British worship leader whose songs were becoming worship standards in churches around the world. I'd heard of Terry Virgo, the elder-statesman and founder of New Frontiers, but had never met him, so I was intrigued by the idea of their 'Amazing Grace Tour,'  because I'd never seen a worship leader and preacher tour together with such intention. 

The night turned out to be unforgettable. To a packed house, Matt led worship and Terry preached around the theme of 'Amazing Grace.' I remember being offended one moment, liberated another moment, brought to tears the next, by the scandalous gift of grace that Terry preached from Galatians. I'd not heard it preached with such purity before, but it was the spark that began a fiery awakening to the gospel of God's grace in me. Matt's songs were powerful amplifiers of what was preached. The only response to theology on fire is doxology as John Stott once said.  It was a night of conviction, of liberation and celebration. Biblical Nitro met Holy Spirit Gylcerine in an explosion of gospel joy! It was basically Church as it should be!   

So, knowing that these two humble legends of the faith would be in Southern California around the same time in February, I took my courage in my hand and asked them consider re-uniting one more time for a Night of Grace. This wouldn't just  be getting the band back together for old-times sake though. I envisaged this gathering would be both a celebration and extension of the amazing grace we've received to others who are in a place of need. This would be specifically about extending grace in the area of orphan care, which is so close to God's heart and to our heart as a church. 

This will take the form of a short video and offering taken up  for the benefit of  the Rancho Hermosa Orphanage in Baja, Mexico. Southlands has been working with One Generation for the past few years to build the orphanage and get it up to meeting government standards. We are just a few months from it's official opening and we wanted to extend the grace that we have received to others in need through this offering. Matt and Terry and Southlands are willing to absorb the cost of the evening in order to pass on the proceeds to Rancho Hermosa. 

So, join us on the 15th of February as we celebrate and extend the amazing grace of God in Christ.  Tickets, although free, do need to be registered for at
But hurry, because space is limited. Look forward to seeing you there. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Cup of Quietness: What I learned about my wife from the Enneagram

One of the highlights of our Sabbatical last summer was being walked through our Enneagram profiles with our friends, Nick and Kim Bogardus. The Enneagram is a personality profile that has a particular interest in how people function relationally. Enneagram is quite the thing at the moment.  But I think it's a thing for a reason. It doesn't just analyze your personality. It shows you how you relate to people when you're under stress versus when you're not under stress. 

Nick and Kim use the Enneagram course with Cross Point, which focuses on how Christ can transform us to relate with health towards others within our unique personality design. They're close friends of ours, but they're also trained to coach married couples to be a more effective team through the Enneagram. We so appreciated their insight and skill as they coached us to understand ourselves and each other better. 

Now I don't want to bore you with our complex Enneagram profiles, but Rynelle is a high 9, which stands for The Peaceful Person. A high value for this person is maintaining an environment of peace. Among others, I am a high 3, which stands for The Effective Person.  A high value for this person is getting things done. We are both high 4's, which means we connect through a love for beauty and aesthetics. The problem is though, that my high 3 means that I don't savor beauty at the same place as my peaceful wife. For instance, we both love going to a beautiful restaurant to eat beautifully prepared food, but because I'm a 3, I'll gobble mine down in order to get on to the next course. Rynelle, rightfully so, will want to savor the ambience and every mouthful slowly,  repeatedly telling me to, 'Slow down, we've got nothing to rush to.' 

And as if that weren't bad enough, my high 3 generally has a bit of a  honey-do-list, especially when it comes to pastoral matters. "Have you called this person, love? Have you managed to see that person? How are things going for the ladies retreat? Would you mind doing the devotional at staff meeting tomorrow?" I also tend to invite people over spontaneously quite a bit, which means Rynelle has to scramble into hospitality mode at short notice. Because we are both 4's, we never want to host with paper plates and plastic cutlery either. It must be aesthetic. I didn't understand why my gracious and gentle wife was starting to dig in her heels. 

What I didn't realize was that in the quest to try and make her more effective, I was robbing her of the  thing she craved most: peace.  Nick and Kim's counsel to me was profound. "You take care of the environment of your home, making sure it's a place of peace, and Rynelle will be more effective than ever." This was one of my pledges to her coming back from sabbatical, and honestly it's proven to be true. Plus, we feel like we've found us again, not just functioning side -by-side, but connecting face-to-face. So thankful for wise friends and for Jesus who continues to renew us.  

So, on our 24th anniversary this week, I wrote her a short poem about my pledge to celebrate and honor her as an Enneagram 9.

                  A Cup of Quietness

A cup of quietness, is better than two cups full of toil,
Your hands of kindness, lifting me up from the thorn-choked soil, 
Poured the water over, when I got burned by the midnight oil,
A cup of quietness, is better than two cups full of toil. 

A cup of quietness, early in the morning through the porch window,
That’s the way I love you, sitting in the light of heaven’s glow,
A steadied beauty, ready with grace for the high and low,
Your cup of quietness, I’m fighting for the day that it overflows. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Stronger: milestones, running repairs and finding our stride in 2018

For our church, 2017 was a year of some significant milestones. For starters, we celebrated our 50th birthday with a grateful gathering of friends from across the miles and the decades. What a memorable weekend celebrating the faithfulness of God! Our birthday was marked most notably by the adoption of Park Christian Fellowship into our family, and the subsequent re-launch of Southlands Chino in September. I still smile when I think about the ways in which our Father orchestrated this adoption. He is so kind, and the good people of Park have been one of His best gifts to us as an integral part of this thriving community. 

The Southlands Chino launch crowned an intense season of multiplication during which we were able to achieve our 3 in 3 vision of multiplying 3 times in 3 years. This vision was strongly supported by a capital campaign called the Jubilee Campaign, aimed at getting rid of our debt and building a church planting war chest. Yet again, God moved powerfully and the church responded with massive faith and generosity, enabling us to complete the campaign with a surplus. God's hand has been so clearly on this multiplication journey that 3 in 3, is in actual fact 4 in 4. From being one church in one location four years ago, we now exist as one church in four communities, as well as having planted One Light Church in Chiang Rai, Thailand, which is flourishing. These milestones are cause for great celebration. Heartfelt gratitude to our great God! He is so good.

The thing is though, that whether you're running, driving or journeying as a church,  milestones mean you've done some mileage, which means you have some wear and tear. Milestones are therefore not just cause for celebration. They're also cause for some running repairs. They're cause to catch your breath and ask, what needs to be strengthened for the next leg of the journey? 

Our team of elders took some time out in the Fall of '17 to pray and plan for the coming year and sensed the Lord speak to us about a season of strengthening from this well worn passage in Isaiah 40.

 “Do you not know, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." 

The everlasting God never faints, but rather gives power to those who are fainting, renewing their strength. The prophet Isaiah points to at least 4 ways in which God wants to make  His people stronger  and this is what we will give ourselves to in 2018.

1.  Biblical Devotion “The grass withers and flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever.” V 8

Amidst the withering fads of our post-truth worldwe want to build a people who confide in God's forever Word. We want to strengthen our knowledge of the Word, but most of all we want to encounter Jesus, the Living Word, in the pages of God's written Word. This is the heart of biblical devotion. There's been an overwhelming response to the launch of our CBRjournal groups across the church to strengthen our community Bible reading. So far, we've sold almost 700 journals and launched around 50 CBR online communities.  Of course the numbers are encouraging, but we are trusting God for a growing culture of faith and obedience to His Word. 

2.   Evangelistic Boldness “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength.” v 9

Isaiah was foretelling the bold ministry of John the Baptist who would prepare the way of the Lord by preaching repentance. There is a call to all God's people to lift up our voices with strength as heralds of the good news. God saves, but how will people know unless they have heard? Over the past few years we've strengthened our missional muscle - that is, our practice of hospitality, mercy and justice initiatives and  relational rhythms with those who are not yet believers. This has borne significant fruit. However, we've realized that building missional bridges still requires us to open our mouths at some point and speak about the gospel. We are not as strong in evangelistic boldness and practicing spiritual gifts outside the church walls as we are at missional rhythms. We want to give ourselves to the former this year without neglecting the latter. We've made a point of inviting evangelists in from outside Southlands this year to equip us for evangelistic boldness and skill. We'll also continue with our Alpha course, trusting the Spirit for his empowering on this proven evangelism forum.

3. Pastoral Care “He will tend his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are young.” V 11

By its nature, multiplication is disruptive to a family. Have you ever met any parents who've had 4 children in 4 years? Their family may have grown wonderfully, but it'll never be the same! We're not trying to return to what we were, but we do want to give ourselves to strengthen our culture of pastoral care through training new leaders, launching new life groups, and investing in the quality of our pastoral forums. We want to draw people into community in both formal and informal ways. We want our community to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. 

4.   Reverent Worship “To whom then will you liken God, or what will you compare to Him? An idol!...But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength they will rise up on wings as eagles. v 18

Worshipping a transcendent God who sits enthroned above the nations strengthens us in a time of turbulence and uncertainty. It also calls us to repent of worshipping idols, reminding ourselves that we are in the world but not of it. I believe we are in for a season of reverence in worship, where we recognize again the incomparable goodness of our God and gaze upon His holiness. Reverence is not hiding in fear. It is humble intimacy with the Creator, exchanging our strength for His, repenting of self-reliance. It is waiting for the updrafts of His Spirit's as we mount on wings like eagles. It's learning to fly without too much flapping!  

These are four areas in which we are asking, "Lord, Please renew our strength so that we can run and not grow weary." Let's trust Him to help us find our stride after a year of great milestones. 

Tonight we will gather for Community Prayer at Southlands Brea to pray along these lines. Join us at 6:30pm in the Loft.