Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Heal our Land: Praying and fasting through an old passage with new lenses

Today we are praying and fasting for 24-hours as a church, and joining with a number of other churches who partner with us in the Advance Movement Western Hub. I want to invite you to join with us today.  There will be two opportunities for gathered prayer, one at 9am on Southlands' Facebook live and one on a Zoom call at 5pm tonight. You can contact for the Zoom ID.

"Fast?" you may protest. "But, my whole life feels like a forced fast!" It's true. We have been forced to fast from community, freedom, restaurants, gym, from work and gathered worship these past five weeks. Why add to the pain?  In the words of C.S. Lewis, because, "Pain is God's megaphone. God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain."(The Problem of Pain)  Essentially, we are fasting because God has our attention. We know He is speaking to us and working among us through this trial. In the words of my friend, Carl Tuttle, we don't want to waste the pain.

Our theme for prayer will be the well-worn, oft-quoted verse from 2 Chronicles 7: 11 "If my people who are called by Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my faced turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 

A quick context of chapter 7 shows us that King Solomon had completed the temple and the palace, and was now dedicating the temple to the Lord. At the dedication, the fire of God’s presence filled the temple so that the priests were overwhelmed and fell on their faces, singing, “He is Good, His faithful love endures forever.” One night after the dedication of the temple, the Lord appeared to Solomon saying that if there was drought or plague and God’s people humbled themselves, turned from their sins and sought His grace, he would hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land. Then God warned Solomon that if he turned to worship other god’s, God would uproot His people and reject the temple. So, this passage carries a wonderful  promise, but it is given with a condition and a warning. Tragically, Solomon’s palace, which was even more grand than the temple, was the place in which Solomon amassed wealth and many wives and concubines, turning to worship the gods of his foreign wives. There was a tug-of-war between Solomon’s temple and his palace, between the glory of God’s name and the glory of Solomon’s name. Tragically, the palace won out. Solomon did not heed God’s warning about idolatry and so his kingdom was uprooted and the temple destroyed. We have this as a warning even as we trust God for better things for our lives. 

Here are some ways we can pray though the passage:

1. CONFIDENCE  "If my People who are called by my Name…seek my face....I will hear from heaven.” This passage, when read through a New Testament lens is for the Church, God’s people called and saved by Jesus’ name. His is the Name above all names, above sickness, above fear, above death, loneliness and lack. When we pray, we pray with confidence in His Name, knowing that the Father always hears his Son. God is attentive to our prayers, as this passage promises. He will hear from heaven. So let’s pray with confidence. 

2. LAMENT: God gives a vivid description of drought, famine and pestilence in the nation in verse 13. “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence.” We can easily sense the economic, social and spiritual famine in our state and nation at this time, with the enemy devouring faith, community, family and peace like a locust devours a crop. Think of how addiction is destroying people. Think of how a life of frenetic busyness is destroying community. Think of how political tribalism is destroying a sense of, ‘One Nation under God, Indivisible….” Think of how secularism and consumerism are destroying the priority of Sabbath worship and rest.  Something has to change! It is a healthy thing to lament that our nation has lost its way and is far from God and His presence.

 3. REPENTANCE : This prayer though, perhaps more than any in Scripture, calls God’s people to look inward, and say, “Something has to change in us!” If we humble ourselves and turn  from our wicked ways, God will hear from heaven, forgive our sins and heal our land. God wants to heal us so from idolatry and compromise  so the we can be a healing agent in the land. 

As Francis Schaeffer wrote in his prophetic book, “No Little People,” in 1972, “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the threat of communism or rationalism [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or  consumerism or sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” [1]

 In every one of our lives there is a tug-of-war between the temple and the palace, between building for God's glory and building for our glory God is using this crisis to expose idolatry in our lives, Very often, the good things that have become ultimate - idols like productivity, control, security and comfort. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and see if there is any wicked way in us and lead us to repentance.

 4. CONTENDING:  This passage comes with three powerful promises on condition of God’s people humbling themselves and turning from their wicked ways. God says He will  hear from heaven,  forgive our sin and heal our land. Let’s contend for healing from this virus across our land, for a vaccine, and for a wise return from isolation. Let’s also pray for a healing in our land of the family unit, a healing from addiction, consumerism, individualism, sexual brokenness, racism, and political tribalism.  

 Finally, the passage is also a reminder that God’s presence no longer dwells in the temple in Jerusalem but in God’s people. The Apostle Paul writes, “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” God dwells in His people, The Church, by His Holy Spirit. The same glory that filled the temple in this passage, now dwells in each and every one of us! (1 Corinthians 6:19) We are a fulfillment of God’s promise to cover the earth with his glory as the water covers the sea.  Begin by contending that God would be glorified in His people; that His presence would be tangible as His people gather and scatter  and that they would recognize that they carry His presence wherever they go.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Crisis of Opportunity

Zoom is now a verb, and while many of us are suffering from Zoom-fatigue as we connect,  I experienced a bit of Zoom-inspiration last week. It was a call between a group of pastors from Orange County and an Aussie pastor called Mark Sayers. I would peg Mark as a kind of prophetic social commentator - a quirky, brilliant, much-needed voice for these strange days. (In fact, he's written a book of the same title.) Mark's podcast, This Cultural Moment and his more recent book on revival, Reappearing Church , have shaped me profoundly this last year. Many of us who embarked on a new decade with an expectation for revival are now wondering whether this Coronavirus crisis is going to cancel or catalyze it. (The Lord knows, it's cancelled just about every thing else.) I was very keen to hear what Sayers would say about that.

On the call, he insisted that crisis was always the seedbed of revival, citing in particular the example of the new York Lunch Time Revival that was catalyzed by the New York Stock Exchange Crash in 1857. During that economic and social crisis, Jeremiah Lanphier's lunch time prayer meeting in New York  grew from 6 people to 2000. Lunch time prayer meetings began to spring up all over the nation and by the end of 1958 it was estimated that a million people had converted to Christ in the America. (About one-thirtieth of the entire population at that time!) As he cited this and other examples of revival out of crisis, he had this one throw away line. "We've all heard that the Chinese word for crisis is the same as opportunity." Upon  further linguistic research, it turns out that the Chinese word for crisis is actually made up of two characters, which mean danger and opportunity. 

This echoes the Biblical truth of a Sovereign God who is able to bend evil for His glory, our good and the good of many, as Joseph said at the end of his life, "What man intended for harm, God intended for good, for the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)  Of course, we know that this crisis is dangerous. It is dangerous for our health, our relationships, our finances, our businesses and our churches. Good grief! It's turned our lives on their heads and we're unlikely simply to boomerang back to normal again. The repercussions will be deeply and painfully felt for some time, of that I have no doubt. 

But, being a prisoner of hope, I want to ask, 'How has this been a crisis of opportunity?
In a myriad ways, I'm sure, but here are nine that I can see.  

1. It's forced us to invest in our most important relationships. I've been saying for some time that our ultra-connected, frenetic lives have made our relational worlds a mile wide and an inch deep. This past month we've  had no choice but to re-connect with those in our family or household. As we worship, pray and sit under the Word, we are likely doing it with these people. Sometimes that has been painful and volatile, but what can we do? We have nowhere to run, so here we are. What if revival began with the Lord healing the breakdown of the family unit during this shelter in place time?  We are starting a few  Zoom  small groups that go through Paul Tripp's course on The Gospel-Shaped Family together, if you would like to seize this opportunity to invest in your family or marriage. Contact me at for more info. 

2. It's given us solidarity as we fight a common enemy.  Despite the conspiracy theories that abound, this virus is no respecter of people. It is not an attack from one nation, class, party or culture against another. While I'm mystified by the refusal of some to acknowledge  the origin of the virus, and even more dismayed by others who weaponize its origin for their racist ends, by-and-large, this virus has provided an opportunity for solidarity across traditional battle lines. We all have a deadly common enemy, which means we are desperate enough to reach across those lines for the common good. As a pastor, I've enjoyed unprecedented unity with other pastors in our city and county during the crisis as we have prayed together, shared best practices on a weekly basis, and essentially just cheered one another on. We need each other!

3. It's made us realize the gifts and limits of technology. If this virus had swept across our world ten years ago we would have been ill-equipped as families, businesses and  churches to remain connected. But I've been amazed at the capacity of people to pause and pivot with technology and am personally encouraged by the staggering increase of the gospel's reach as we have used various social media platforms. That said, as thankful as I am for technology, we are tired of seeing people through a screen. We long for the gift of human touch, for the nuance of body language in our interactions, for the swell of voices raised in song together, for the reassuring murmur of an amen to the preached Word. Screens have made us long for the embodied presence of community, coffee shop and church. Absence has made the heart grow fonder.

4. It's driven us to pray as a first response not as a last resort. There is something about realizing that you are not in control that makes you pray. Very often, in the Western Church, prayer was a last resort when all our best efforts had failed.  Prayer as a first response is now on the rise, both inside and outside the Church, as we realize that our best efforts fall sadly short. Sayers mentioned Exodus 24, where Moses delegated leadership as he and Joshua went up the mountain into the cloud of God's presence for forty  days, as an opportunity for all of us to leverage leadership from a place of prayer.  Whatever we are leading, there is only so much we can do right now in terms of responsible delegation. We are not in control, but He is installed upon His holy throne. Jesus and the Spirit are interceding for us according to God's will. (Romans 8) If we come out on the other side of this more prayerful than before,  revival may be well on its way. 

5. It's provided a forum for evangelism as people search for answers.  If a loss of control doesn't lead everyone to pray, it does provoke most everyone to ask questions about mortality, suffering and why life seems unfair and disappointing. Many have seen the frailty of placing their hopes in career, finances, grades, and sporting achievement. They feel anxious, alone and in need of a  Savior. This Coronavirus has caused a serious hang-over from so much of the self-help Kool-aid that we've drunk. People are asking if there's a cure. A posture of  service, hope and care is resulting in some great gospel conversations. For example, we've been watching and discussing our beamed sermons with a family who are not in the church, and there is a real openness to the gospel. Because of this openness we are beginning a Zoom Alpha Course that explores the major questions about the Christian faith. Contact for more info.

6. It's been a seed-bed for creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention. I've seldom seen people so inventive as they find new ways to connect, to earn money and problem solve. Maybe this needed agility will keep us from getting stale in the long run? Certainly as a church we have needed to innovate on every level and the crisis has created new voices, new solutions, new songs, new forums and new leaders for such a time as this. One song that my daughter and I wrote  out of the time is from Psalm 91, called Shelter in Place. You can watch it here. Shelter in Place.  

7. It's been an opportunity to recognize our true heroes are servants not celebrities. 
In a celebrity fixated culture, we have become aware of how little most of them can actually do to help us in crisis. The real heroes in this crisis are those who willingly place themselves in harms' way in order  to serve and heal; nurses, doctors, paramedics, law enforcement, grocery staff and other essential services. What an opportunity to honor these servants and to gain a more sober view of those celebrities we've placed upon pedestals. 

8. The Myth of Radical Individualism is being exposed The popular saying, "You do You," is a dangerous idea right now. Those who refuse to isolate, wash their hands or practice social distancing, who refuse to cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough are basically dangerous to the common good. (I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of mask wearing) But you get the idea, the popular myth of radical individualism has been exposed as dangerous.

9. The Household is becoming the primary forum for Christian discipleship More than mere family unity, church at home is becoming the primary place for worships prayer and reading Scripture. This has always been God's intention, but we have tended to outsource discipleship to pastoral professionals,  the result being that we tend to live two distinct  lives - a public religious life and a private secular life. The home is now being redeemed as a place to encounter Jesus and learn about Him. 

10. We've moved from a life of wants to a life of needs. In America we have an absolutely dizzying amount of choices. Rampant consumerism does its utmost to turn our wants into needs and the result is debt and discontentment.   For the first time in many of our lives we have faced a shortage of  basic needs in empty shelves on shops, and it has helped us to recognize many of things we think are needs are not. 

I never want to be immune or unsympathetic towards the real danger and loss brought on by this crisis. But this is a crisis of opportunity. Let us make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. (Ephesians 5:16)  If we do, perhaps we will one day look back on this crisis as the time that God used the Corona Virus to spark the Corona Revival.