Thursday, December 23, 2010

Valid or Invalid?

I love thinking about words.I think the word 'invalid' is a horrible word. Used to describe someone who is too sick to get around by themselves, it seems to attack the very core of their identity. If you are not healthy you are an in-valid. You are not valid.

But its a good insight into our value system. Most of us are validated by what we do, and invalidated by what we have failed to do, don't you think?

A friend of mine who leads a large and innovative church said publicly a couple of weeks ago, that for him, the need for validation from ministry grew over time. That he got more insecure, not less insecure as things progressed.That he still wrestles with identity coming from who he is in Christ rather than what he's doing for Christ.

I had coffee with him yesterday and we talked about it more. I appreciated his honesty. But honestly, his comments were disturbing. Whether we sing songs, sell houses, own companies or lead churches, most of us have a milestone in mind, that will one day validate us when we reach it. The problem is we then become milestone addicts. The next milestone becomes a millstone around our necks.

I walked away from that coffee with fresh resolve. I will not be validated or invalidated by the size or profile of the church I lead. Or how many people read my blog. Or the car I drive. The list is endless but the lesson is the same.
If I do not get secure now that I am God's son before I am his servant then nothing I achieve for God will ever make me secure.

The Father's pleasure, the Son's sacrifice and the Spirit's witness must be our validation.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Joseph the Just

I'm really enjoying Kenneth Bailey's book, 'Jesus through Middle-Eastern eyes.'
In it, he shines the light of context upon Scripture's description of Joseph as a 'just man.'(Matt 1:19)

Joseph was a royal from the house of David and from Bethlehem, the City of David. In many ways he would have had the keys of the city because of his lineage. When he discovers Mary is pregnant, he knows he has every right to stone her as an adulterer by law. Understandably he feels betrayed by his pregnant bride. When scripture says he 'pondered' these things, a more accurate translation would be he 'fumed.'

Nevertheless, he does not give her what she 'deserves by law'. Bailey suggests that he knew the Isaiah 42 prophetic text about Messiah bringing a new kind of justice. "a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out until he establishes justice.." In many ways Mary was a bruised reed and a smoldering wick and Joseph ensured that she was not broken or snuffed out.

After the angelic confrontation, he not only spares her, but decides to identify himself as her husband, facing the risk of social rejection. It appears that Joseph was in fact rejected by his home town - no room in the inn for the royal.

That's why Joseph was called just. Often portrayed as a passive, almost invisible character, he played a decisive part in the salvation story,going beyond the law to establish a prophetic justice. A Jesus kind of justice.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Herod the Great

Many churches in America go all out with their Christmas pageants. Some do 'living nativities,' with live donkeys and camels. I saw a recent video of one church's pageant where a stubborn camel fell over onto a pew full of people which was pretty dramatic and ruined the 'silent night, all is calm all is bright' scene.

I don't think I've ever been to a Christmas pageant which dramatized the Matthew 2 scene where Herod slaughtered the innocent children though. Now that would disrupt the most peaceful nativity scene for sure, and I think trying to depict it dramatically would be well, just plain inappropriate. But I would encourage every preacher to wrestle with it, because it sheds some stark light on the brutal world into which Jesus was born.It also calls us to make a stark contrast of two kings, both with a claim to be 'king of the Jews'. King Herod and King Jesus.

Herod was a complex man. By race he was an Arab, by religion a Jew, by language and culture a Greek, and by political affiliation a Roman, crowned to rule over the Jews for the Roman Empire. And rule he did. Good looking and well built, he led his army to victory in ten different wars. He was politically ambitious. He conspired with Anthony and Cleopatra to overthrow Octavius, the Roman Emporer, and when this failed he went and bowed before Octavius with no crown, admitting that he had been faithful to Anthony until the end, saying, “Consider me not for whose friend I was, but for the kind of friend I was.” Octavius reinstated him as king of the Jews and his kingdom was even more secure than before.

But he was an exceptionally insecure man. He had ten wives. He became suspicious of the political loyalty of his favorite wife, Marianne, and murdered her. He also felt threatened politically by two of his sons and ordered them to be to be strangled to death. Just prior to his death he had the crown prince locked in the palace prison, and because of the pain of his illness attempted suicide. The crown prince heard the commotion, and thinking that Herod was dead, asked to be released. Herod survived the attempt however, and had the crown Prince killed.

He died five days later. The last command before he died was to have his soldiers arrest thousands of notable Jewish citizens and have them locked in the stadium at Jericho. He ordered them all to be executed upon his death to ensure there would be mourning, because he knew that nobody would mourn his death.

Herod was a completely self-absorbed, threatened, brutal, counterfeit king. Compare him to the humility, security and utter self-denial of King Jesus in the incarnation.He felt no pressure to guard his crown, but emptied himself as a servant, laying His his life down. Who is the true King? The comparison begs a choice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Santa Monica Chronicles chapter 2

I feel like I just gave my daughter's hand in marriage. Its been 8 months since we started the Santa Monica Gathering. God has gathered a good, gifted, tight knit group of people whom we've come to love deeply. He has met with many of them profoundly.

Our question has been, "What is the most viable way forward for this community to become a church?" After all, there's a limit to how much we can do traveling an hour across the city every second Sunday night to meet with them.

Enter Ger Jones, a vicar from Holy Trinity Brompton, the London church which produced Alpha. God has led him to plant a church here, and we crossed paths in remarkable ways. There has been a quick knitting of hearts. Their new church plant, Vintage, has a similar vision to gather an authentic community around the centrality of the Gospel, with a strong Word and Spirit convergence. They are well resourced but have really needed a core of people to partner with them.

Over the last three months we've spoken and prayed about a merging of our people with Ger's vision. This has been bittersweet. We love these people dearly. Although we will continue to partner with them, we are persuaded that the most viable way for this group to gain real gospel traction in their city is to join Ger and become the engine room of Vintage.

Last night was an unexpected evening of honor and affection towards the Southlands team who labored with great love these last 8 months. I am deeply grateful to them too. Its been an honor to serve alongside people of such quality as the Santiago, Ramirez, Ed Meyer, the Lamonts and others from Southlands, who have given their hearts and hands to establish this community.

Amidst the joy and celebration of the evening, it was clear to me as a father to this community, that the young bride was already looking to her new groom, longing for her honeymoon. This is good. A father needs to know how to step out of the way at his daughters wedding, otherwise he may forfeit an ongoing role in the new couples life. A father needs to celebrate at times like these with a lump in his throat.

One can not afford to become sentimentally driven in matters of the kingdom. One must ask, "What is best for the bride?" After all, these are not our people. They are God's people for God's purposes. It is already clear that they are beginning to burn with the passion and vision which Ger and Lizzie carry to make a profound gospel impression upon Santa Monica.

From God's perspective, a church has been planted. Jesus has established a lamp stand which, I trust, will burn hot and bright until He returns. This, in every way then, is a Kingdom win.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Coach John Wooden's prized possession

Coach John Wooden, who passed away in June this year, won more College basketball titles than anyone in the history of the game. But his greatest legacy was surely the number of future basketball stars he personally mentored during his long and illustrious career as coach of UCLA.

I have a friend who's brother graduated from UCLA.A colleague of his who played for Coach Wooden as a student called in a favor on the night. He asked the coach to surprise his friend by arriving unannounced at his graduation dinner. Not only did Coach do this, but he invited the whole family home to his condo for coffee after the meal. Obviously the whole evening was unforgettable, but what left the greatest impression on my friend was the Coach's request to show the family his most prized possession. Leading them past the many trophies, awards and accolades on his walls, he came to a little book of hand drawings done by his little grand daughter, and showing them every picture with delighted affection, remarked, "This is my most prized possession."

Our Advent series,"Isaiah's Messiah," draws from this metaphor in many ways. It's intention is to lead people past the glamor and glitter of the Christmas 'trophies' to find the prized possession of the Child born to be King.

I love this season for so many reasons.In fact I'm about to go out and get our Christmas Tree. California is a glorious place to be a this time of the year. Nothing wrong with enjoying the Christmas cheer, just as I am sure Coach Wooden enjoyed glancing at his trophies from time to time. However, he knew what he prized.

John's gospel says of Isaiah that "he saw Jesus' glory and spoke of Him." More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would one day be born of a virgin. Who could ever have dreamed up such a thing? It certainly wasn't Isaiah's over -active imagination. It was the same Holy Spirit who would overshadow Mary, foretelling what he would do. Simply astonishing.

You see, the prophetic weight of this moment reveals its history splitting significance. This wasn't 'away in a manger,no crying he makes' baby Jesus. That's a seasonal Jesus. 'Easy to dismiss when things become inconvenient' baby Jesus. 'No room in the inn' baby Jesus. We can put him away with the Christmas lights and missletoe before we make our New Years resolutions.

The child born be King requires more of us. His birth calls us to attention.
His life and death demands that we re-arrange our affections. Isaiah's Messiah causes us to sigh in grace-filled relief and bow our knee in awe-struck allegiance.
Isaiah's Messiah can become your Messiah too.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Don't fear the God-fearers.

God-fearers. Its a name that has captured my attention as I've taught through the book of Acts. In Acts 10 Cornelius the Roman centurion was called a God-fearer. "He and his family were devout and God-fearing, he gave to those who were in need and prayed regularly to the poor."(10:2) The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 displayed similar traits. Not to mention Lydia in Acts 16, although she was called a 'God-worshiper.'

They were all upright, moral, pillars of society, who sought God in prayer and worship, and were respected by their colleagues. They were seeking God but not yet saved. Some of us would write them off as legalists and conservatives, but in actual fact God seemed to like God-fearers. Their hearts were soft and their minds were open, even though they were still approaching God by their own efforts. This is why the gospel was such good news for them. They found that their religion did not save. Legalism did not work. Moralism did not satisfy. But when they heard the gospel God opened their hearts to the message. (16:15) Once that happened, God used them to open up new doors for new regions for the gospel.

I've come to appreciate some God-fearers in our city. It seems like a very ripe field for harvest. Some have been going to church for years. Many have a faith of sorts, and a strong sense of moral and ethical absolute.
They may be a bit stiff and starchy!
But don't fear them or dismiss them too easily.
Once God opens their hearts to embrace the scandalous message of His grace, and they repent of self-righteousness, they become high-impact players in the kingdom.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'Surely not, Lord?"

History was forever changed when Peter ate Italian food with a Gentile soldier. It was no small thing for him to do that. It took a vision of a sheet with all sorts delicious off-limits Gentile food, being lowered from heaven 3 times, with a command from Jesus 3 times, to get his attention. Peter did things in threes. He denied Jesus 3 times, was reinstated 3 times, and now refused Him 3 times. 'Surely not, Lord?" was the stubborn rhetorical question.

His Jewishness had become more important than the gospel to all nations. The leader of the church was essentially a racist, and was stubbornly resisting the command of his Lord, but Jesus wasn't having any of it. Three times he spoke, and three times Peter refused, but the breaker was the three Gentiles that interrupted the third vision with their knock at the door.

Peter was given the keys of the kingdom by Jesus as a major player in His church. This time the keys of the kingdom were nothing grandiose. They were simply for opening his front door to Gentiles, who he viewed as unclean because they ate unclean food. Peter made the connection between unclean food and 'unclean people'. "God has said that I should call no man unclean that he has made clean." So he let them inside, and later went to stay at Cornelius's home where the Gentiles had their own Pentecost. Peter had to resist getting them to clean up their act.It was a gospel of grace not of food laws.

Its a powerful call to deal with our own Gentiles. Who are they? Who are the 'surely not's' knocking at our doors? In the 70's here in California it was the Hippies in the Jesus People movement. God sovereignly moved among them. There were mass baptisms at Laguna Beach. But many in the church wanted them to clip their toe nails and cut their hair before they walked through their church doors. Thanks goodness for people like Chuck Smith who resisted the urge to get them to 'clean up their act' before they came to Christ.

Who are our Gentiles? Our Hippies? Are we ready for them or will we be repulsed? Is it the homosexual or the homeless community? Is it perhaps the Muslim community, or those involved in substance abuse? Perhaps the Millenials? Maybe all of the above? Will we try and make them clean up or will we introduce them to the gospel which forgives and cleanses. I hope the latter. I hope we are ready. Because our 'surely not's' have surely changed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Our Father." A call to communal prayer.

When Jesus told the disciples to watch and pray they took him literally.They were always watching Him pray. Eventually, exasperated, they asked "Teach US to pray!"
Jesus reply? "when you pray, say, Our Father in heaven, holy is your name..."

A few thoughts. Prayer is primarily relational.Its a connection between a child and a Father. It is intimate, informal and conversational.Through the gospel we were pardoned and adopted.We found forgiveness and we found a Father. He is a holy Father. Prayer is trusting in His good character, and enjoying His presence. His immanence.His willingness.I think we need prayer more than God needs it.

Prayer is also acknowledging His transcendence. He is in heaven.He created all, is above all, over all, and before all.He has a sovereign will.He is able.Prayer is asking God to do what only he can do. It is not commanding Him to do what we want, but it is expecting Him to do something great!

Prayer is communal. It is not purely personal. It is "our Father." We cannot say our Father by ourselves. We say "our Father" with other children of God. The early church was birthed in a ten day prayer meeting and sustained by it's daily devotion to prayer.

The size of our church is essentially the size of it's prayer meeting.
There is a fresh urgency and call to gather in communal prayer in our day. A call to be a people who keep asking, seeking , knocking with the shameless audacity of the widow who cried out day and night to the judge for justice. SO much to be thankful for, and such a need to bathe all we do in prayer.

southlands, lets see you at 2nd friday prayer tomorrow night at 7pm!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Anchormen and Revolving Doors

12 churches planted in 12 years. That's the story of Southlands Church. A couple no longer exist, some have grown faster and stronger than others, but still, for a medium size church, it is a remarkable number, and testament to Chris and Meryl's grace gift of raising up and releasing leaders for the sake of the gospel. With the church planters have gone many, many high quality saints. This remains our DNA - sacrificial giving of God's people to both halves of the Great Commission - preaching the gospel and making disciples in Judea,Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Its what happened in Acts at the persecution. The people proclaimed Christ as they fled for their lives, like seed scattered in whichever soil they found themselves. Thank goodness, they had learned to devote themselves to doctrine, prayer, fellowship and breaking bread, They had no leaders looking over their shoulders when they were scattered. they were self-disciplined. This is a culture of the 'revolving door'. People come in, get matured, trained up, and sent.Its the culture of scripture.

But what, you may ask, about our ongoing witness in Jerusalem? I have heard many say that it was ironic that the apostles, the 'sent ones' were the only ones who stayed, and that this was somehow wrong. Seriously? What about if they had run, and left everyone else to face the persecution? Don't you think staying required more guts and grit? Sure, some of them got into Jewish legalism, but that was a heart thing not a geography thing. Staying in Jerusalem is a noble calling. The church needs anchormen and women, with deep roots and strong, long testimonies of faithfulness to the gospel, the people of God and the city in which they are planted.Oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Anchormen and women need to be celebrated -those planted for the sake of the church and the sake of the city. Otherwise they leave for the wrong reasons without the grace to go, and they and we are all the poorer for it! Let's grow a culture that can celebrate the stayers as well as the goers!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Birthday Tattoo

Last week we celebrated the 23rd birthday of one of the incredible ladies in our church. She asked us all to chip in for her first tattoo. Sitting around the fire pit, we asked her what the design was going to be. Her reply? "Ex 14:14."

It's Moses encouragement to Israel as they're hemmed in by the Egyptian army behind and the Red Sea in front. "The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still." Great verse, and even greater miracle to follow.

Our birthday girl is a walking miracle too. Almost a year ago to the day, her brother goes to visit her in a little town in the Mid-West. She is living with her girlfriend, far from God, feeling trapped and helpless. Her brother offers to cancel his flight home and drive 2000 miles to L.A. with her if she will pack her stuff and leave the relationship. Two days later she arrives in L.A. with her brother and all her belongings in two big trash bags.

The first weekend here she visits our church and God meets with her powerfully. She tells me that she feels loved for the first time in years. She rediscovers a gift of tongues that has laid dormant since she was a six year old in her father's church.
God begins to lead her on the long walk to freedom.

A year later and she is barely recognizable from the lady who arrived desperate, carrying black trash bags. Of course there have been dark days and difficult decisions. But God has been a rescuing, transforming God. She is a daughter of Exodus, the blood of the Lamb smeared indelibly on the doorposts of her life.
All of us around that fire pit are children of Exodus. We are astounded at what God has done in one short year. The least we can do is chip in for a birthday tattoo.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

From Unity Musings to Unity Charter

Thanks for the comments on the musings. One of my friends has already used it with his leadership team and said it was very helpful. After another brainstorm with the elders, we have reworked our musings into a charter that we intend to model and teach to our community. Hope it can be helpful to yours too. Here goes.

1) Because we believe that Christ reconciled us firstly to God, but secondly to one another in his body the church, we will make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit both between local churches and within our local church. Unity does not mean complete agreement or conformity. Through the cross we can be united in diversity as we attain to the unity of the faith. (Eph 4:1-16)
2) We maintain unity primarily by speaking the truth in love to our neighbor, rather than speaking about them. We recognize that the tongue has the power of life and death, and acknowledge that the sinful nature has a tendency to avoid face to face communication and resort to gossip, malice and slander, which grieve the Spirit. (Eph 4: 16 -32)
3) We acknowledge that whether we take offense or cause offense, the initiative remains with us to go and seek peace. Forgiveness requires that we send our debtor away debt free, because we have been sent away debt free at the cross. (Matt 18:15-35, Matt 5:23-24)
4) We consider it a person’s glory to overlook a minor offense, and that one who covers over an offense promotes love. Christian maturity means at times that we deal with the offense alone with God. Overlooking an offense includes forgiveness, as well as resisting the urge to share the offense with others. (Proverbs 19:11, 17:9)
5) We also recognize that the gospel includes both pardon and a quest for reconciliation. While forgiveness may not ensure the restoration of a broken relationship to it's original state, we heed the scriptural encouragement to 'be reconciled to your brother' (Matt 5:24)
6)We intend to eliminate gossip in this community, by neither initiating, nor participating in it. We will instead devote ourselves to a culture of encouragement and honor, which is the culture of heaven. (Jn 3:22)
7)We may hold opinions that are different from what is taught, but we will not be divisive by actively spreading dissension on issues of theology leadership or decision making. We also honor the specific biblical warning not to entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. (1 Tim 5:19)
8) it is our conviction that initiating a lawsuit against a brother is unbiblical and against the interests of maintaining unity. Instead we will seek wise mediation within this church. (1 Cor 6:1-11, Matt 5:25,26))
9) While we embrace the use of social media in building church community, we will avoid the use of email, text messages, facebook or Twitter in resolving conflict, acknowledging that face to face communication is best in resolving conflict.
10) We believe that a church united in diversity reflects and glorifies the Triune God, and brings his commanded blessing. We also see that a united community is good for the gospel. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another." (Psalm 133, Jn13:35)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Unity Musings

We spent some time in the desert as elders and wives a couple of weeks ago. We found ourselves wrestling with the call to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit both in our team and our community. We are working towards some sort of 'unity charter' for our team and church. Still a work in progress.

1)Because we believe that Christ reconciled us firstly to God, but secondly to one another in his body the church, we will make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit both between churches and within our local church. Unity does not mean complete agreement or conformity. Through the cross we can be united in diversity and as we attain to the unity of the faith. (Acts 2, Eph 4)
2)We maintain unity primarily by speaking the truth in love to our neighbor, rather than about them, recognizing that the tongue has the power of life and death, and acknowledging that the sinful nature has a tendency to avoid face to face communication and pursue gossip, malice and slander, which grieves the Spirit.(Eph 4)
3)We acknowledge that whether offense is taken or caused, the initiative remains with us to go and seek peace. (Matt 18:15-19, Matt 5:24) Forgiveness means that we send our debtor away debt free, because we have been sent away debt free at the cross.
4) We see that it is a persons glory to overlook an offense, and that one who covers over an offense promotes love. (Prov 19:11) Maturity means at times that we deal with an offense internally, without bringing it up with the person at all. Overlooking an offense includes forgiveness, and also resisting the urge to share the offense with others.
5) We also recognize that the gospel includes both pardon and reconciliation. While forgiveness does not ensure a restoration of a broken relationship to it's original state, we heed the scriptural encouragement to 'be reconciled to our brother.(Matt 5:19)
6) We believe that a church united in diversity reflects and glorifies the Tri-Une God, and brings his commanded blessing.(Ps 133) We also see that a united community is good for the gospel. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another."(Jn 13:35)
7)While we embrace social networking in the building of community, we will not use email, texting, facebook or twitter to resolve conflict, but will endeavor to communicate face to face or by phone.

Comments welcome.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Beat your swords into Plow Blades

The promise to Israel of a season of harvest replacing a season of wartime is a recurring theme in Isaiah.

"He will settle disputes for many people.They will beat their swords into plow blades." Is 2:4
"Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp with many teeth."Is 41:12

It should be a recurring theme for churches too. When a community has unsettled disputes, the gosple always suffers. When its peaceful, the gospel is allowed to flourish. But that requires that leaders intentionally 'do the work of an evangelist,' not satisfied merely with a loving church, but wanting 'all men to know that you are my disciples.'

We must learn to leverage community peace for the gospel's sake.
We recently started four Alpha courses in four homes - partnering teachers with people who are great at hospitality. Most of the teachers are pastors doing the work
of an evangelist.We started last night with our neighbors, Cory and Crista, who became Christians less than a year ago. So, a room full of our neighbors, who are cautiously open to investigating the claims of Christ and I'm thinking, 'how do I put these people at ease.'

During my 10 minute talk about Jesus, a throw away quote from Bono, turns into an hour long discussion about U2. I discover a room full of U2 fans. One USC professor says he has attended 15 U2 concerts and his wife admits he plays air guitar to the Edge! I'm trying to imagine a USC prof doing air guitar. Anyway, its a common bridge, that will hopefully become a common bond, and I can hear God sharpening his plow blade.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Normal Christian Community

I've heard many people say that the Acts 2 account of the church is merely descriptive. "It is not prescriptive at all,"they say."Nover to be repeated. We've developed since then." I beg to differ. I think it is significant description. It is God showing what Normal Christianity community should be. It was God's 'law of first mention' on the church. The exact details may never be repeated in the same way, but God was describing His intent for the church.

Most big churches tend towards a lack of health and most young churches are immature. The acts 2 church was big, healthy, young and mature. It was a compelling community. The church at her best.

A friend of mine, who is the son of a well known leader of an apostolic network in the UK, spoke to me about how he became hurt and disillusioned by his experience of the church he was in. It became very handed, controlling, and as a law student, who loved Jesus, he walked away from the church. Wge one of his friends became interested in Jesus, he would drop them off at church and meet them in the pub afterwards.

He describes how one day it was as though Jesus met him in his bedroom. He fell to his knees in awe. He heard an inward audible voice asking, "Ger, will you join me in restoring my church?" Very soon afterwards he went back to church, became involved in leading God's people, and is now planting a church in Santa Monica.

I know many have been hurt and dissappointed by church and church leaders. Jesus of all people is aware of the shortcomings of His church. But He has not given up on her.Will you join Jesus in restoring His original intent for His church?

Friday, October 8, 2010


I'm not a big 'reading significant things into significant dates' guy, but I have to say that I am fascinated by the fact that, without any intentional planning, the Southland's leadership transition takes place at 10 am on the 10th of October, 2010.
If nothing else, it makes for an unforgettable date!

Talking of unforgettable, we have just returned from an exceptionally memorable two days in the desert with Chris and Meryl and the elders. The first day was really just to honor them for who they have been to us as leaders and friends. Too many profound and sacred words were spoken to attempt a summary, but I was left with the consistent thread of appreciation, not just for where they led the people of Southlands, but for how they led.

A wise man said recently that "today everyone has vision, but few have values."
Of course, Chris is a compelling visionary, but he and Meryl have been a couple who have led with values, not just vision. They have been mindful not just of a destination, but of God's way of journeying, and God's idea of the way he wants his people to arrive at that destination. This requires great courage, patience and honesty as a leader. It requires, at times, that you arrive more slowly at your destination.

It is this quality that was mentioned again and again around the dining room table in the desert. It was who they are, more than what they have done, that has left the deepest impression over the last 14 years. They have kept watch not just over the flock, but over their souls, their marriage and their family. Among the many marriage and family casualties littering the ministry landscape today, it is noteworthy that by God's grace, they have kept their marriage and family intact. It is even more remarkable that they have learned to thrive in this area - not without challenge or conflict, of course - but with a total absence of shadows, and an abundance of joy, vitality and romance. This has been a most astonishing gift to us a community. It is a jewel among the riches of God's grace through them to us as a community, that Rynelle and treasure and hope to continue.

And so 10/10/10/10 draws near with an unmistakable sense of God's strong hand of love upon this transition and this tribe. He is the God of continuity. The God of Old and the God of the future. The already previous God has gone before us, and we journey with Him, in reverence and awe.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grape -shaped lenses

I had a chat to one of my friends and fellow - elders last night. We were talking about the many good and glorious things that God was doing in the church, and a few fairly substantial challenges that we face too.

Musing on the passage where the 12 spies come back from the promised land with a giant bunch of grapes, and tel of a land flowing with milk and honey, but a land full of giants too, (Numbers 13) I commented that in our season, there were many grapes and a few giants. He responded with these words. "I guess what we need is grape-shaped lenses." Profound.

The story, very commonly told, but fairly uncommonly practiced, goes like this. All of the spies come back with the bunch of grapes so big that they have to be carried on a pole between two men. However, out of the 12 spies, only Joshua and Caleb focus on the grapes. The rest are fixated with the giants, and begin to spiral down into panic. All the people in turn begin to panic too. The spies brought a bad report, and it came with brutal honesty. It wasn't even how big the giants were. It was how small they felt.'We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we seemed the same to them."

It took Caleb, who's name means 'little dog', whose life displayed the courageous tenacity of a bull-terrier, to quiet the people. He shifted their focus from the giants, who were surely becoming monstrous in the people's imaginations, to the massive bunch of grapes right in front of them. He was giving them grape-shaped lenses.

Moses later described Caleb as a leader with an opposite spirit.
God help us to be Caleb - spirited as leaders. Not just leaders, but people who see the greatness of God, more than the greatness of giants. People with a humble,'can -do'spirit, because the'same Spirit which raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives in us.'
People with grape-shaped lenses.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Redlining on Reserve

Here in the Wild West, many of us, in our desire to serve God and His mission, are redlining on reserve. The needle of our rev counter is far right, while the needle of our gas tank is far left. Either we blow a gasket or run out of gas. One of the two.

Acts, by definition, is action-packed. The author, Luke the doctor, begins,"In my former book, Theopholis, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach." His former book was the the Gospel of Luke. Acts is a continuation of this Gospel, describing what the church, the spiritual body of Christ, continued to do and to teach after Christ ascended to heaven.

Acts 1:1 warns us that its going to be a busy book. But if we listen closely, the narrative has an ebb and flow to its rhythm. Its more waltz than techno. It begins with 40 days of convincing proof, mainly around the dinner table. Much eating, touching, and teaching about the kingdom. And a command to 'wait until the Holy Spirit comes." A book of action begins with a fish supper and a command to wait. Go figure.

And then at last some action. From waiting to walking. A 3/4 mile walk to be exact, to the Mount of Olives, for Jesus' astounding ascension, and then a question from two angels, "Why do you stand there looking into the sky? Go back to Jerusalem." Again, the ebb and flow of waiting and walking.

Followed, of course, by a 10 day prayer meeting if you do the math. 10 days of waiting in one place. Waiting for the promise of the Father. Waiting for power to witness. Excruciating. I sometimes wonder whether casting lots for the 13th apostle wasn't just because they were bored and had run out of words to pray.

When the Holy Spirit does come at Pentecost, it is dramatic and fantastic. Pentecost. Babel reversed. A church united in its diversity. The glorious destruction of self reliance. The church birthed out of the 'Let Us' of the Trinity.
A new-born church thrust into a world of witness and work. But empowered by the womb of waiting. The ebb and flow, the rhythm of waiting and working.

I am persuaded that the only way to sustain our work for the Lord, without blowing a gasket or running out of gas, is to find the rhythm of waiting on the Lord of the work.
So? Are we willing to wait?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Our picket fence dream part 2

Last week we talked about how Jesus stayed with the disciples 40 days, giving many convincing proofs that He was alive. Jesus was intent on his disciples being convinced eye-witnesses of his resurrection. This was the foundational truth on which the church was built – and it had two outworkings – it caused them to look back with confidence at the cross – Jesus really was their Savior. He really did pay the debt they could not pay. It really was finished. They really could stop trying to obey the Mosaic law which had been fulfilled. He really had been forsaken by His Father so that they could find Him. Like the Israelites in Egypt, the cross had dealt with their two problems - slavery and death. They were no longer slaves to sin, and no longer had the death penalty of God’s wrath hanging over them.

The Israelites smeared blood on the doorposts , the disciples drank wine and broke bread in remembrance of, and participation in the death of Jesus. We still do that today. This past week I witnessed two men settle a dispute like real men.
Not with fists, empty threats or broken bones, but with an empty cup and a broken loaf of bread. It was absolutely glorious.

Secondly, the fact that Jesus was alive meant that the disciples called Him not only savior, but Lord - a King, a Leader and a Bridegroom – who demanded their allegiance, challenged their idols, required their followership, and called for their their devotion. To profess "Jesus is Lord," was in effect high treason for the disciples, because Caesar demanded political and religious allegiance. In fact, a common Roman greeting was, "Caesar is Lord." To say that, "Jesus is Lord" was in effect to say,"Caesar is not Lord."

Today we have a weak understanding of Jesus' Lordship. We ask new believers, “Will you accept Jesus as Savior and Lord?" like he is some insecure freshman cowering in the corner of the cafeteria and you give him a seat at you table. Like we are hoping they will do Jesus a favor by accepting Him.

A recent Princeton survey (although I would have believed it more if it had come from Cal State Fullerton) on young evangelicals who professed to be Christians concluded that most were fake, possessing very little understanding of the gospel,the exclusive claims of Christ, or the call to discipleship - and termed them MTD’s. Moralist Therapeutic Deists. In other words young people thought that being a Christian meant you were moral, and had had some experience with Jesus – "Accept Jesus and he will make you a bit nicer, and a bit happier." I am sorry if we have sold you that story. It’s just not true. It‘s, “Jesus, thank you that You have accepted me, and because of your mercy I turn my life over to you, as King, leader, and Bridegroom.”

We looked at how today, professing Jesus as Lord gives him permission to rearrange our picket fence dream. That we reinstate Him as our ultimate desire, so that good things which have become ultimate, get placed in proper perspective. This is part of what it means to live distinctively and radically in Pleasantville.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our picket fence dream

So, we spent the summer looking at the epic of a dreamer called Joseph. One of the truths that we explored, was that God was shaping his dream to be less about him, and more about God and others.

This fall series is a call for us to share in God’s dream for the church as a whole, and the church in this city in particular. Stanley Hauerwas describes the church as being like "Resident Aliens" - distinct, yet not distant. Through history the church has often swung between being monastic on he one extreme, totally detached from the world and therefore innefective, to being syncretistic, possessing no real difference from the world at all. However, there must be another way of living, and we see this in the book of Acts.

In Acts 17, Paul tell the philosophers in Athens that God has determined the exact times and places for each of us. He is expressing a truth that many of us feel - it is no mistake that we are where we are. A theology of place gives us permission to enjoy where we live, engage our communities relationally with patience, and overlook aspects of our geography that we do not naturally like. Paul continues that God determines time and place "so that men might reach out for him though he is not far away."

We have been placed here in Pleasantville, Orange County, not just for our own peace and comfort. We are free to enjoy all that our city has to offer, but we are not to be lulled by the sunny orange peel exterior of OC. We have been planted here to offer the hope of the God who is not far away, to many who are reaching out to Him. God is not far away. He drew near to his creation through Jesus, and he is near to the world through Christ's body, the church.

So we love the people and place of the white picket fence dream, but we are a distinct people who dream a distinct dream. We have woken up from the dream of the house with great curb appeal, the 2,5 kids with $3000 smiles and $50 000 college trust funds. These dreams are not wrong in themselves. They are simply too small. We have begun to dream bigger, to share in God's dream of a city which reaches out to Him and finds that because of the cross, He is not far away.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Passports and possibilities

"Maybe we should just make absolutely sure your Canadian visa hasn't expired." This was the suggestion of a wife to her administratively challenged husband as we were drifting off to sleep around midnight.I am booked to fly to Vancouver Island tomorrow to speak at a young people's gathering called Live Alive, hosted by a church we've come to know and love deeply over the last 14 years. This would be my fifth visit to the church I think.I love going back to churches.I also love doing roadtrips with mates. This time I'm going with my friend Ryan, a guy with a fast-emerging, and profound worship leading gift. He has a brand new passport. He got his visa way in advance.It's his first trip out of his home country.He's going to get his first stamp for the gosple's sake. absolutely love it.

Problem is, my stuff is not as together as Ryan's.We discover with that sinking felling, that my multi-entry visa expired two months ago. So at 1am this morning we're gathering together all the required stuff for the visa - and a lot of stuff it is. Please can I not bore you with all the details.Anyway, between the amazing Kirk Randolph and my extraordinary wife, we got it done and submitted by 1030am,, and now I sit in a downtown L.A. coffee shop waiting to hear whether it gets granted at 230pm.

I've developed a healthy dislike for visas, embassies and rude airport security guys. I used to say to Rynelle that I felt like airports were my second home. They just about were at one stage. I loved the travelling muso tag. Loved all the different airline 'fragile' stickers on my guitar case.But the gloss of flying has worn off a bit for me. I'm more of a home boy in a kind of un-hip hop way.I miss my family more. I have less of a Messiah complex, realizing that I'm not indispensable, after all, and more conscious of the need to build a fruitful
local church that has something worth exporting.

Thing is though, I'm still absolutely sold on both halves of the great commission. Go into all the world and preach the gospel. Go into all the world and make disciples.I'm still sold on taking new friends with me to do it better.I love the wide-eyed wonder they bring to my jadedness.

A glossy new passport with a new stamp for the sake of the gospel still has huge gloss for Me. I'm pretty sure that Ryan's passport will get lots more stamps.And his guitar case will get lots more fragile stickers on it. And when the gloss of travel starts to wear off for him, I
bet he'll find fresh legs by finding another gifted, guitar slinging, Jesus loving, gospel
preaching muso with wild eyes and a glossy, empty passport.

P.s. Got the visa. Finishing off this blog from a downtown Nanaimo coffee shop. Loving being with the amazing Canadians.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spirit level

On the night that we handed over the leadership of London Road Church to Ed and Heidi Strong, Ed gave me a gift that has sat on my study desk ever since.It was a vintage spirit level; the kind brick layers use to make sure that bricks are being laid, well, level, I guess! It's old, worn and wooden,but beautifully oiled and cared for, like all of Ed's wooden antiques. It has the little bubble of mercury in the middle that bounces and glides around its metal casing until it comes to rest in what should be, dead center. I guess its called a spirit level because they used to use alcohol instead of mercury. It looks like its laid a brick or two in its time. Probably early 20th century.

He handed it to me on that unforgettable evening, with the words, "keep your head in all situations." He was quoting from Paul's parting words in his 2nd letter to Timothy. "They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."(2 Tim 4:5) He had in mind our move to Los Angeles, California, which we made a few weeks after we left the community we had come to love so dearly.

I've thanked God many times for the gift that would remind me of those words, as I've sat at my desk. It has summarized what has been the most unfamiliar season of our ministry life; bewildering and fascinating all at the same time.So many ideas and people that we assumed were constant, are no longer a part of our lives. The whirl-wind of a new culture discovered, our changing relationship with a church group that has absorbed the last 15 years of our lives, a nation reeling from economic recession,and a church beset by an internal law-suit. So little has not changed. And the whirl-wind of change became an emotional and visionary dust-storm.

Here in the arid, rugged beauty of Palm Desert, where we have retreated for a few days as a family, I have reflected on the past almost three years. The whirlwind that became a dust-storm has largely subsided, by God's grace. Emotion, exhaustion, and confusion have settled into a clear, tangible relief and a good glimpse of great things to come. Having come through the last two years' lawsuit,and having crossed over to our new building, we are beginning to enjoy growing favor as a church in the city where God has planted us. Although the financial storm is not yet over, we find ourselves dreaming again.

I am not just dreaming though.I am asking questions. Of myself and of this trial.
"Did I pass this trial?" "Did I learn what God wanted me to learn?" "Did I keep my head in this situation?""Did I continue steadfastly in the duties of my ministry in the midst of it." To be honest, I am not sure. I hope so. I am a man in process, but so grateful for some gold nuggets of wisdom that blew in with the whirlwind. Here are few.

Firstly, you cannot go through a season like this without a good team and a strong leader. We had that, although the team did begin to show signs of strain towards the end. The season does take its toll on family, who carry what you are carrying vicariously.It remains for you to intentionally restore family as a place of peace.

Secondly, a theology of God's Sovereignty is absolutely crucial for surviving a season of false-accusation, where God's hand is not yet clearly evident. The Scriptures, especially the Psalms become more real and a source of great stability and clarity.

Thirdly,the gospel is practically worked out in grace extended to those who have falsely accused, or misunderstood you. The battle against bitterness is sometimes protracted,and fought at the foot of the cross.

Fourthly, the temptation towards self-pity and self-justification is great. I have found that it is only dealt with in God's presence, and with God's future promises. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. In all this, the Holy Spirit quickens us in our mortality. The precious Holy Spirit, the Parakletos, the Counselor, the One who comes alongside, ultimately keeps us level.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

urban renewal promo Hi friends, click on the link to check out the urban renewal promo.
enjoy! love Alan

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The SanMo Chronicles

Don't despise the day of small beginnings.Enjoy them. Savor them. Those were my thoughts as we made our way west through Los Angeles to our first Santa Monica Gathering with the intrepid team. Jim and Maggie,Brenden and Sammy,Bart and Adele, Erik and Celeste. More like family than friends. Incredible team.

In traffic its an hour and a half,but it feels like another state altogether from Orange County. Certainly another state of mind. I'm still trying to get my head around it but it seems like its urban chic meets tragic hip meets movie mogul meets tourist on the promenade, meets body beautiful rollerblader.

Everybody knows somebody famous. Beautiful tree lined neighborhoods tucked away from boulevard and beach have more of a family feel, but it still all feels pretty transient. But I like it. It feels pregnant. It feels vital and connected.

Its also where God has led us to a small group of people who have asked us to gather with them, forge an authentic gospel community with a Southlands connection, and see what God does. Sunday is the first of four trial gatherings. We meet in the upper room of a Nazarene Church on the corner of 18th and Washington. Its quaint. Its ambient. Its a beautiful blank canvas on which God will splash His colors and shades of redemption. Its 24 adults and 8 kids, with one man and his dog who pops in off the street just for the coffee and crispy cremes. The buzz of brand new friendships mixed with the awkwardness of a first date. It is pregnant with unformed life. It is warm and happy.

It doesn't feel like a trial. Let's hope it will become home for many.Let's hope it will be a place where homesick sons and daughters find a Father and a family.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't lose your head.

So Epaphras hears the gospel from Paul, believes and returns to his home town in Colossae to tell his friends about Jesus. They believe. A church is born. He doesn't go to plant a church. He goes to preach the gospel. There's something in that, I think.

A friend of mine who planted a church a year ago sat with me in a cafe' before he left and told me what his first preaching series was going to be. He and his wife were going to three couples in North Carolina. He said,"You know there's that saying, 'which came first the chicken or the egg'?" Then drawing a simple stick figure of a church and a cross on a napkin, he said, "I'm going to preach on which came first, Jesus or the church." Needless to say the church has grown really quickly, mainly with notorious sinners, as my friend has sought to preach "nothing else but Christ and Him crucified."

So back to Epaphras. He leaves the church in Collossae to hook up with Paul in Ephesus, but later returns to see how they are doing. He is impressed by their faith, hope and love but worried about the dangerous influence of some false teachers. It seems like these guys are a lethal mix of Jewish legalism and Mystic Gnosticism. Gnosticism at its core is the denial that Jesus was fully man. Therefore matter is evil and spirit is good,and so what follows is a denial of the body and an unhealthy obsession with all things spiritual.

Here's how Paul warns against these Jewish Mystics at Colossae.
"Let no-one disqualify you insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason with his sensuous mind. They have lost contact with the Head...from whom the whole body grows.." ( Colossians 2:18)

I am nervous about the obsession with manifestations, angelic appearances, heavenly visions among some of my friends today. Not because I don't believe in them or have not experienced them. I have found gold dust and oil on my hands from time to time which is fascinating. But honestly, for me it holds no more relevance to the gospel than the gold fillings that people got in the '90's. I know it is part of the package, but it is certainly not the whole package!Oh that these things wold be converted into gospel fruit!

I am hungry for the presence and power of God. I want God to speak to and through us prophetically. I affirm the reality of angels who minister to God's people, but I don't want to lose contact with the Head. A church that loses vital contact with Christ her Head is a paralyzed body, with uncoordinated limbs. Atrophy has set in. It's stomach is bloated and its limbs lethargic.It is unproductive.

Let the church rediscover that her life is hid with Christ in God. Let her receive Jesus Christ as Lord, and so walk in Him through the power of the Spirit. And let many more crosses be sketched on many more cafe' napkins!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jesus is a tee-totaller... for now

A friend of mine says that the first thing he's going to ask Jesus when he gets to heaven is for a taste of the wine He made out of water at the wedding in Cana.
Not sure why he thinks there was any of it left, but hey. Jesus was a good guy to have around at a party. He wasn't so good at funerals. The Pharisees hated the fact that He ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes."The friend of sinners," they called him, and He wore the insult like a medal. "Guilty by association!" was their verdict,but He defended his actions with his mission. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

If you're given to legalism this blog has already got your blood boiling, and if you're given to licence, it's got you feeling smug. Let's be aware of our bent, and do what's good for the gospel without ignoring our conscience. That said, my aim in this blog is not to be contentious about alcohol.

It's actually something I saw this past few days in Luke's account of the Lord's Supper. A meal within a meal, Jesus explains how his death would fulfill all that the Jewish people celebrated in the Passover meal. He was the True Passover Lamb whose blood would be shed as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. His body would be broken so that we could be reconciled to God and made whole. And every time his disciples eat the bread and drink the wine they participate in the benefits of His broken body and shed blood. Common, earth-shattering and easily forgotten truths.

And then a less common truth. "I will not drink of this wine until I drink it with you in my Father's kingdom." What? The man accused of being a 'wine-bibber' abstaining from wine? So it seems. The Bridegroom fasting in heaven for the wedding feast with His bride. Has he lost His appetite because of His longing? Yearning for the night when His union with a sinless Bride will mean we enjoy a final intimacy much sweeter, more heady and intoxicating than wine itself?

For now we know a sweet and fleeting intimacy with Him. On that day we will finally abide in Him and feast with Him. What choice and vintage wine is He keeping in store for that indescribable night?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Letter to Anna

This is a reply to a friend of ours who wrote me asking whether she should learn to live with her sickness or keep asking for healing.

Hi Anna(not her real name)
Thanks for writing me about the physical challenges you've been having. I am very sorry you are walking with these ailments. They sound extremely difficult and you carry them with grace.
The subject of prayer for healing is obviously a big and contentious one, but its absolutely vital that we wrestle with it as Christ followers. Praying for the sick with success is described as an accompanying sign of believers in the gospels, and is commanded in the book of James. Every one of us carry some disappointment when it comes to praying for the sick, but from my point of view, that does not mean that we shrink back from it altogether. I have seen God heal enough times to keep praying earnestly and expectantly, even though the success rate is not all that high.

I find the Hebrews 11 passage on the heroes of the faith very helpful when it comes to prayer.
Faith at the beginning of the chapter is defined as "believing that God exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him" v 6
At bottom line, to pray in faith for anything means believing that God hears and rewards us.
That our prayers actually make a difference to God.
Then the passage seemingly contradicts itself by saying, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive what was promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance." v 13
And again, "All these were commended for such faith, yet none of them received what was promised." v39
It's not that they did not receive any of what was promised. Sarah, for instance, became pregnant and miraculously gave birth to Isaac. But they didn't receive all that was promised in their lifetime.
The Scripture is trying to teach us a few things here. Firstly, to keep trusting God and praying earnestly. This includes healing. It is part of what Christ purchased on the cross for us. (Is 53:4-5)
Secondly, that we live between the now and the not yet, like them. The kingdom is advancing, but is not fully come.We live somewhere between redemption and consummation. That is why we see some healing, but not complete healing everywhere.
We do not give up though. Sometimes healing is immediate, other times it is gradual, through faith and patience. (Heb 6:2)
Jesus' teaching on prayer often involved 'bothering' God. The person who wanted bread bothered his neighbor until he got it, (Lk 11)and the widow who wanted justice 'bothered' the judge until she got it.(lk 18)
In prayer, Jesus encourages us to bother God in prayer, knowing he is good and just.

Of course we have to remember that God is Sovereign. He is not our servant and we cannot dictate to Him. There is a precedent in Jesus' prayer life for prayer being an act of humble submission to God's Sovereign will, in the garden of Gethsemane. "Not my will but Yours be done, Father," and of course he taught us to pray like this in Luke 11.Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' was another such example of this - 'my grace is sufficient for you'. He wanted to get out of the situation and God said that He would not take him out of it but would give Him grace for it. However, in both Jesus' and Paul's situations God had made his will very clear to them - it involved suffering and they received grace to suffer according to God's will. God is sovereign and He has the right to take us through suffering, which in some cases includes physical sickness. However, this seems to be the exception to the rule and I believe we can ask God to make that clear to us. Many reformed theologians have taught it as the rule though- that prayer is more for the person praying than it is about asking God for something in faith - and have therefore robbed people of faith-filled prayer.

So my counsel would be to keep asking God for healing, for God's glory and your good, unless he makes it otherwise clear to you. Keep asking the elders to lay hands on you in faith too. Also, pray for grace to cope with the disability until you do get healed. And pray for the possibility of the common grace of good medical cure.
Hope this is helpful

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Urban Renewal - a re - quest for the radical middle

I am fascinated by a growing trend. On the one hand there seems to be a growing interest amongst more conservative churches in the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Francis Chan's book 'The Forgotten God - our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit' is just one of many attempts to address an embarrassment over the third Person of the trinity and a humble admission that good theology is not sufficient by itself to produce good Christians. They are slowly but surely wading into the waters of the Holy Spirit's presence and leading.

On the other hand there are many pentecostal/charismatic churches who seem to have something of a hangover from their heady days of holy rolling. They are not sure that the ever-pending revival that was prophesied ever really came, or whether the heights of Holy Spirit intoxication ever really produced tangible gospel fruit. They look longingly at the many mega-churches that line the ecclesiological landscape and wonder how they managed to grow to their size and influence without so much as a single tongue and interpretation! They are discovering the delight of preaching from the biblical text and the sanity of sound theology.

So what is God up to?
Is He scizophrenic?
Or could He be working in us a holy discontentment with the limits of our own church strengths and leanings?
Could He be forming in us a humble openness to glean from the richness of what He has taught others?
I suspect that in His wisdom and patience He is drawing us back to what John Wimber called 'the quest for the radical middle;' a church devoted to both the authority of the Scriptures and the leading of the Spirit, for the sake of the Gospel and His glory. We absolutely need both.

That's what Urban Renewal is all about. A re-quest for the radical middle. June 10th -12th. Early bird registration at

Thursday, February 4, 2010

friday is for fasting

So we begin our 3rd friday of fasting and prayer together as a church
tomorrow. We are asking God for faith, fortitude and provision in the
area of finance.
We have heard of many amazing God stories already. We have had people
receive surprise checks in the mail, get jobs and receive salary
raises. We keep asking God for 100% employment, 100% of our students to
obtain sufficient study loans, and for 100% tithing in the Southlands
community.Our faith is also out for our entrepreneurs to sign new contracts.
Here is one amazing recent answer to that prayer.
"About 4 weeks ago during a sunday meeting Aubrey Burge had a
picture of a girl standing at the edge of a cliff in a horrible,
tattered, old and torn wedding dress and as she jumped off the
cliff she landed into water and came up with this bright blood red
dress that then turned to this beautiful brilliant white wedding
dress.....the lady that came up for prayer that believed that
picture was of her is Elba. She was sharing with me last Sunday her
business has COMPLETELY turned around. She is a designer. She owns
her own business and has developed her own clothing line.The
business has been struggling now for the past 3 years and has
brought in little to no money. After we prayed for her , her
business has COMPLETELY turned around! Her clothing line is totally
running out in the stores that they are in and more production is
needed. She said she has made more in the past month than she has
in the past 3 years and that top designers are now interested in
her line of clothing...God is good!"

God is an incredible Provider. We can trust Him. David said at the
end of his life. "I once was young and now I am old, but I have never
seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." Ps 37:25

We are also asking that God would stir us in the area of radical
generosity. God wants us to smash the idol of Mammon. He wants us to
keep ourselves free from the love of money, uprooting the weeds of
'the deceitfulness of riches' that choke the Word and our faith-
filled response to it.(Mark 13)
Generosity is not always out of abundance. God gave the only Son He had.
Isaac sowed in famine and reaped a hundred fold in that same year.
(Gen 26) That required a faith in God that gave rise to radical
It was in the opposite spirit of the season, where saving
would have seemed more appropriate than sowing.
The Macedonian churches' "severe trial, overwhelming joy and extreme
poverty welled up in rich generosity...they gave beyond their ability"
2 Cor 8:2

Can we similarly, out of a faith-filled love for God, and a genuine
care for others, learn to live in radical generosity?
I guess we shouldn't just be expecting a surprise check in the mail.
We should be willing to send a couple too.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Who of Urban Renewal

If you bit the big apple today you'd break your teeth. Nevertheless, great to be in New York with our friends Deryck and Cathy and their church, even though its fereeezing.
Last week I tried to explain the Why of Urban Renewal. The ripeness of need for an Acts 13 moment. A chance to model healthy, sane Word and Spirit ministry for the sake of the gospel. The joy of partnership between theological prophets and Spirit-led teachers. The possibility of equipping people in this regard.
But what about the Who? (Not the band, although I can't honestly understand why The Who are playing the Superbowl half time show, other than the guys who run the show are all trying to relive their 60's nostalgia at our expense)
That said, I am particularly excited about the Who of Urban Renewal. This is no ordinary group of people.
First and foremost, they are friends who have spent themselves on serving and leading God's people in a given place for long enough to see tangible gospel fruit there. They are not globe trotting, one night wonders using Jesus as a cover up for their ego trip. They are lovers of their local church, and I love that about them.
Second, they live on three different continents. We love the color and contrast of different cultures, and anticipate a particular richness from this diversity.
Third, they spend a lot of time in airports. In other words, what God has done through them has created a demand for their time and talents. These are not novices. They are seasoned. uniquely gifted people. with something worthwhile to say.
Finally, they are all really funny. We prophetic types tend to take ourselves far too seriously, so I asked people to come who would help us laugh at ourselves. That's an added bonus.

So who are the Who?
JD and ReAnn Daniel from Adelaide, Australia lead Coastlands Church, one of the fastest growing multi-site churches in South Australia. Still in their 20's, I always say that they have jam packed two lives into their short one. They first met, married and ministered in Los Angeles, drawn together initially by their common love and gifting for worship. They moved to Australia from the US eight years ago where they are now pastoring their second church. Having written and recorded countless worship songs,as well as pioneered Thirsty Worship gatherings, they have a unique ability to lead people through preaching, worship and the prophetic with contagious passion and innovation.

Mike Pilavachi is the founder and pastor of Soul Survivor Church, Watford, outside London, which he planted in the early 1990's with friend and worship leader Matt Redman. He also leads Soul Survivor festivals, Britain's largest Christian youth festival. A self-effacing, hilarious communicator who is also a prolific writer, Mike's close connection with the Church of England has enabled him to introduce many traditional churches to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He supports Manchester United Soccer Club but we won't hold that against him.

Mike Erre is teaching pastor at Rock Harbor in Costa Mesa, California, which has grown to around 6000 in ten years. A graduate from Talbot University, Mike's theological depth is matched by his contextual savvy and compelling communication gift. With a conservative theological background, Mike has been on a journey of discovering the marriage between Word and Spirit preaching,and his journey is one well worth learning from.

Todd Proctor is lead pastor of Rock Harbor. Initially the worship pastor at this rapidly growing church, Todd's visionary gift found him playing a role that he never saw coming. His humility and innovation have enabled him to gather and lead an exceptionally strong ministry team, without feeling the need to be constantly in the spotlight. His mix of worship leading and visioneering make him a unique gift to the church.

So there's the low down for the Who of Urban Renewal.
Chris Wienand and I will be somewhere in the mix, I guess, but we are delighted to be hosting these incredible friends for the duration of the event.
Registration starts on this coming week.
You coming?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The low down on Urban Renewal pt. 1

My next couple of blogs will be giving you the low down on a gathering at Southlands@the Gallery from June 10th - 12th. It's called Urban Renewal - an Acts 13 moment. For some time now Chris and I have been chatting about the fact that most of our conference type events have been either Acts 20 events, where Paul gathered the Ephesians elders together for his last words on shepherding God's flock. These leadership training times have been very helpful, and in many ways are still fruitful where there is a genuine apostle, equipping pastors to be better pastors. More recently there have been some good Acts 15 type gatherings, where Paul and Barnabas met with the leaders in Jerusalem to discourse around theology - in particular the gospel to the Gentiles. We have loved the chance to sharpen one another theologically in these forums, and are needful of the emergence of genuine five-fold teachers to equip the saints to handle God's Word like faithful workmen.

What we have felt is missing though, is an Acts 13 type gathering. Here the church gathered together to worship, to pray, to fast(not so wild about that!) and to wait on the Holy Spirit's leading. The result was a new mission for Paul and Barnabas, which meant the gospel went further and wider, bearing fruit in virgin soil.
That's the heart of Urban Renewal.

So what would be some of the ingredients in the mix? Well firstly, it would be a partnership of prophets and teachers. Acts 13:1"In the church at Antioch were prophets and teachers." This means a rich and diverse gift mix in the team of friends who will partner together for a more fully - orbed expression of church.
Perhaps more important than that though, is a commitment in our gatherings to both the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit. A marriage of the two. This doesn't just mean that when a teacher gets up to teach they are biblically sound, and when a prophet gets up to prophesy they are Spirit -led. That's easy!
Our desire is for a gathering where prophets would be biblically sound and teachers would be Spirit-led. That's much harder! But its something that we believe God is wanting us to try and model at Urban Renewal. A theologically rich and prophetically weighty gathering.
The church has been far too divided along prophetic and teaching lines. We either have 'teaching churches' that are biblically solid but tending to be a bit sluggish in following the Spirit. Or we have 'prophetic churches' that are wonderfully Spirit-led but hazardous in their handling of scripture. God wants every one of us to have deeper biblical roots and deeper Holy Spirit wells.
So, Urban Renewal is about equipping the church to be biblically strong and prophetically sharp.
Early bird registration will be up and running on the Southlands website by February.
We would love it if you and your church could be there.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Epic of the Cobbler in Corinth

We've started the year here at Southlands with the over-arching theme of 'The Gospel of Multiplication.' "All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing just as it did among you when you first heard of God's grace in all its truth." Col 1:6

As part of this theme, Chris is preaching through the book of Colossians in the morning and I'm doing an evening series on spiritual formation called, 'Grow'. God's intention is that the gospel grows and bears fruit all around the world, and also right here among us. Spiritual formation is really just a clever term for becoming more like Christ and more useful to Him. All of us are called to both.

We can so easily miss the majesty of being used by God everyday, if we have an addiction to the spectacular and the remote. We end up stewarding poorly the good works that God prepared in advance for us to walk in everyday, right here. Scripture says that we are His workmanship. The Greek word is 'poeima'. An epic masterpiece. The thing is though, that our lives often do not feel very epic at all. They possess the rhythm of the all-too-ordinary. They lack the resolution of poetic rhyme or the elevated majesty of the heroic.

Larry Osborne in his book 'The Contrarian's guide to knowing God' brings incredible dignity and validity to what he calls the 'Cobbler in Corinth' - the kind of person who may never have been one of Paul's high impact leaders like Timothy or Titus, but who was transformed by the gospel that Paul preached, stopped visiting the temple prostitutes, began loving his wife in a way unheard of in that time and place, ran his business with scrupulous honesty and opened his house as a meeting place for the Corinthian church. By the grace of God, he grew to be more like Christ and more useful to Him. It may not have been spectacular but it was completely valid and absolutely vital gospel fruit. What makes the Cobbler in Corinth's life an Epic, is that ultimately his poiema plays out as part of God's great Poeima. He, and we, are a part of the unfolding of God's epic masterpiece.

This gives dignity to what may feel like the daily grind of paying mortgages, doing budgets, changing diapers and doing laundry. It gives significance to every decision we make to co-operate with God as He makes us more like Jesus. It strengthens our resolve to keep saying, "Lord, use me," even when we feel used.

John Wimber once said, "We are just change in God's pocket. He can spend us as he pleases."
Am I willing to be spent for God?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sitting in George Tyree's chair

I didn't know George Tyree all that well while he was alive, but I feel like I do now. His wife and family have become like family to me and mine. Miles Tyree, who turns 3 tomorrow, calls my youngest son 'Levi Tyree', and calls me 'Untle'. (his c's are t's).
He has a number of 'Untles' in the church, but I am delighted to be one of them.

I also feel like I know George because Southlanders are always talking about him. They talk about his vintage car, how he hated wearing shorts, and how he was always telling the other elders to iron their shirts.They remember his passionate sermons, and marvel at his gracious and courageous pastoring. Most of all they talk about his praying.
He prayed with relentless faith and unyielding fervor. He wrestled with God like Jacob did.
George's private and public prayer life was possibly the most powerful legacy he left to Southlands Church.

When my family and I came to join Southlands in 2007, I was given George's empty office. He had passed away a few months prior to us coming. The lady who showed me to my new space walked me to the door, showed me around, and then left me with these departing words. "You've sure got big shoes to fill."
It was one of those moments when I wish I had a quicker tongue. If I had, I would have said, "George Tyree has unfillable shoes." Who can even begin to replace the legacy he left to the family he so passionately loved, and the church on which he spent himself. Who would even want to try?

I have since moved offices, but I have kept George's chair. It's a beige, leather, retro one that swivels on a wooden base. Vintage. It probably reminded him of his car. It reminds me of him and his legacy of prayer.
In my journey of recovering a high view of God's Sovereignty, its a reminder to me that this does not mean settling into resigned passivity in prayer. I want to be like Elijah, Jacob and James who all talked about and modeled fervent, effective prayer.

The Hebrews 11 Heroes were commended for their faith, not their flawless theology.
They did seem to understand that God was Sovereign. They died not receiving all that God had promised. (v13)They knew that their ultimate reward was in heaven, and that God's promise to them would be fully realized in the coming generations.(v 39) You don't see them throwing a tantrum because they didn't get everything they believed for this side of heaven.
But they still believed God enough to obey him, saw much fruit here on earth, and were commended for it.
Submission to God certainly did not mean resignation or fatalism to them.
They believed that their faith made a difference to God and their situations, and it certainly did.

For me, prayer is faith with a voice. I want to pray like the Hebrews 11 heroes lived.
Pray with greater expectancy, urgency and tenacity. Pray like it really makes a difference to God.
I want to pray like George Tyree prayed.
I know I can never fill his shoes. No-one ever can. But at least I can sit in his chair.