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!