Wednesday, September 13, 2017

'Grant us a little Reviving' : A Prayer for Revival that doesn't Freak me out.

I once took part in a week long fast during which people prayed day and night for revival up in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. All I can remember of the time was feeling really hungry and a little freaked out. Because of that, the idea of praying for revival conjures up images of many loud prayers and many loud preachers, waving big black bibles and making big promises in a dusty tent, and a hollow sense of anti-climax, because nothing really happened. Because of those memories, I generally steer clear of praying for revival for fear of hyping people into a kind of  expectation that inevitably ends in jadedness.

I'm nervous of the Pentecostal approach to prayer that expects God to change everything in one sudden, cataclysmic moment. Truth be told, I've found much of the life of prayer is about inheriting the promises of God little by little through faith and patience.  However, I'm equally nervous of the more popular Contemplative approach to prayer that insists all change must be slow and gradual. Biblically and in Church history, we have to acknowledge that there were times when God did in fact come and dramatically change everything for His people in an instant. These times were described as Revivals, and God wants us to persist in praying for a suddenly;  a dramatic in-breaking of His power and mercy, even while we labor in the slowlies. God is the God of slowlies and suddenlies.

Today in the book of Ezra, I found a prayer for revival I can pray without nervousness. It is so beautifully understated. Twice, Ezra uses the phrase, "Grant us a little reviving." He is not asking for God to come down and build the temple all by Himself. There is not an ounce of abdication in Ezra's prayer.  It is prayed before Israel return from exile to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and they know that it will not be done over-night. So they are asking to be revived so that they can re-build. 

Ezra prayed that God would revive His people by satisfaction, for mission and for re-building.  

1.  Revived by Satisfaction 'That our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery" 9:8  This  request comes off the back of Israel's repentance from idolatry. It is a prayer for personal revival. When Saul's son Jonathan ate from honeycomb after battle in 1 Samuel 14, he said, "See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of that honey." Ezra borrows from this idea, praying that Israel would not only be cleansed from their sin, but that they would turn to God and be revived by Him as they feast on the honey of His goodness. Revival begins as God's people are broken out of  slavery to sin and find satisfaction in Jesus.  

2.  Revived for Mission 'Our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia.' v 9 Can we see how God is taking His people's eyes off their own slavery and has started to set it on doing a work in their city? This is a key in revival, where our satisfaction in Jesus turns to a desire for transformation in our cities.  This desire was met with  favor from 'the kings of Persia.' Note that favor with those in authority does not mean we automatically get a Christian government. The Babylonian empire did not become Jewish, but their king looked favorably upon the Jewish exiles and granted them finance and permission to carry out their mission. This is something we can be praying for the Church, not necessarily that we would be in positions of power, but that we would experience favor with authorities rather than persecution.  "Pray for those in authority that we may have  live quiet and godly lives. This is pleasing to God who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:3-4)   It could be argued that revival begins when the Church is free to get on with the job of being the Church, proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel in all sectors of society, re-building the cities ruins. This includes a harvest of salvation, the upholding of godly values throughout society, and a rise of mercy and justice in the face of corruption and oppression. 

3. Revived for Re-building "Grant us some reviving to set up the house of God and to repair it's ruins."

The returning exiles not only re-built the city walls, they also rebuilt the House of God. This parallels God's purpose for His Church to be restored to a place of His glory. A glorious church experiences a restoration of robust gospel proclamation and a demonstration of the Spirit's power that results in a harvest. Worship is restored to reverent passion and community becomes authentic, sacrificial and bold. Revival must include a revival of the builders of the church.  Let's ask that God would energize us to be builders.    

This prayer is so faith-filled, yet so responsible. No freak show here. Just an earnest plea for revival.
Let's pray it together. 



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Southlands' Ezra Fast: Rebuilding, Repentance and Revival.

As a church we've embraced a rhythm of fasting for three days each Fall and while this rhythm always feels inconvenient when it comes around, God has never failed to meet us in His mercy and power as we've sought Him. Fasting together has become for us a sacred rhythm. 

This particular fast, from 9/11 to 9/13, we've felt prompted to fast around the themes we find in the Book of Ezra, when Israel implored God for protection on their return journey from exile in Babylon. What drew my attention to the passage was the sense of a fast for a people on the move. 

"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods." 8:21

While Israel's context was unique, I resonate deeply with the desire for safe journey for our church as we multiply again to launch Southlands Chino, not to mention the recent church plant in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Just this week, we sent one team to build the orphanage in Mexico and another to re-build houses after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Jesus has called us to be a people on the move and we need His provision and protection for us, our children and our goods on this God-orchestrated journey. 

Moreover, on the anniversary of 9/11 with continued threats to national security and with Hurricane Irma bringing untold devastation in its path, this fast is an appropriate time to implore God for His protection and intervention in extremely volatile times for our nation as a whole.

Brett McCracken, one of our pastors, has written a brilliant devotional guide for our Ezra  fast, with practical wisdom for fasting and a daily theme to pray through personally in the mornings and evenings as we gather to pray. The themes are re-building, repentance and revival. If you did not get a hard copy this morning at one of our four communities, you can download it online from our website at www.southlands.net. We would love you to join us on this journey of seeking God together.

Finally, I love the humble confidence expressed by Ezra as he calls Israel to fast. "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers to protect us...for the hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath against all who forsake Him. So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty." 

The Lord listens to the entreaties of His people and His hand is for good on all who seek Him. So then, let's seek Him.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sabbatical Rest and Return

It's been ten weeks since I began my social media detox. That's meant no blogging,  photos or pithy quotes for over 80 days. I know because I get sulky updates from Facebook every few days reminding me of my neglectful ways. Instead, I've read a lot, underlined my Bible  plenty and filled a couple of journals with prayers and musings. It's been delightful to be able to withdraw and reflect without feeling any pressure to produce. That's been the theme of our sabbatical. We are profoundly thankful to God for the generosity of our team and church who have sacrificed much to give us space to be without having to do

The word sabbatical comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, which means to stop, to rest and to celebrate. It's where we get the Biblical idea of sabbath, which first occurred when  God rested from his work on the 7th day of creation and reflected on all He had made declaring, "It is good." God stopped and rejoiced in His work, and calls us as his image bearers to do the same for our own good. A sabbatical then, is really an extended sabbath intended for rest, joyful reflection on a past season of work, and restoration for the next season of  work. So how has that been then?

Sabbatical Re-centering

It's been a gift to be able to do a fair amount of travel, taking our kids to visit One Light Church in Thailand, vacation in South East Asia, drop our oldest son, Asher at college in Chicago and vacation in Santa Barbara. We've made some amazing family memories in some beautiful places and now have my parents with us for seven weeks, all of which we treasure with gratitude. Speaking of travel though, when you're driving in foreign cities, google maps becomes a vital travel companion. Truth be told, in an otherwise peaceful sabbatical our most unpeaceful moments have been trying to navigate with google maps! That said, there's this button on google maps called re-center that is extremely helpful. It's when your car icon has moved off the screen so you're looking at a map and following a voice command but you can't actually see where you are on the map. When you press re-center you suddenly see yourself in right perspective with your surroundings. That's what Sabbatical has felt like for Rynelle and I; a blessed re-centering of our souls that has produced clarity and peace on the journey marked out for us.

Sabbatical struggle

I know, you're probably thinking, "Struggle? Yeah right, the struggle is real, I bet. Ten weeks of vacation!" But honestly, while Sabbatical has been a profound gift, it's also been a struggle for me, because I'm not that good at stopping to rest and rejoice. I, like many of you, feel the need to keep producing because my identity tends to be quite wrapped up in what I do. Judith Shulevitz refers to this as "the soul's inner murmur of self-reproach." This means that even after my body has rested, my soul is still murmuring with a need to justify itself through producing, making deep rest of the soul quite illusive. What we need is a rest beneath the rest and I found that this deep rest; a kind of REM of the soul, didn't come so much through vacationing in exotic places, as fun as that was. It came through some sacred home rhythms. In fact, six of the ten weeks have been spent hiding out at home in a  rhythm of soul care, making every effort to enter His rest. (Heb 4:11 ) Such a conundrum, isn't it, that entering into Christ's rest requires effort? But it does. 

A real keep for us was having a sabbatical team of friends made up of the Barrs, the Saltas's and the Santiago's, who've provided wise care and counsel for us leading up to and during the time. We've been greatly helped by going for prayer every week with our friends, the Sappingtons. We've each had a spiritual director who has prepared us for our own personal solitary retreat. We've spent some time doing some personality testing and coaching for our marriage. We've visited other churches on Sundays and re-worked our devotional disciplines. All of these rhythms have been a means of grace to us. Jesus has been very kind, decisive and near as we've sought Him through them. As Augustine wrote, "Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." 

Sabbatical return  

So what now? Well, we return this Sunday, ready to get back into a more realistic rhythm of work and rest. We've so missed our Southlands family. I've missed preaching, leading and pastoring. We're eager to catch up on all God has been doing through the summer at Southlands, and excited for the launch of the new academic year which includes the launch of Southlands Chino. But we want to make every effort to translate some of our new rhythms of rest into our current rhythms of work. I'm not wanting to go back to business as usual as much as I'm wanting us all to learn to work with Christ, whose yoke is easy. This is why my first message this Sunday at Southlands Brea will be on The Sacred Rhythm of Sabbath. Can't wait to see you there.