Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lingue Franca'

Culture is a beautiful and mystifying thing. Being back in South Africa is a stark reminder of how the unique flow and force of culture requires its own unique approach as we preach the unchanging message of the cross.

It requires as visitors that we listen more than we speak. It calls for a certain humility and agility as we find how our story connects with theirs. It requires more than simply offloading our story on to theirs. It requires some finesse, I guess.

It has been a blurr of people so far - precious people who mean so much to us, and whom we feel, deserve more of our time than we have been able to give. We live with an incredibly rich inheritance when it comes to friends, family and churches.

The Corinthians series we have been preaching through as a church has been immensely helpful to me on this trip. Firstly,that irrespective of culture, we have been called to be a one-message people - 'Christ and Him crucified. If the Gospel is at the center of our life together, we get the whole package with it. Christ the power of God, and Christ the Wisdom of God. Where so many churches here seem to have divided along these lines, when the Gospel is the deepest seat of our unity we do not have to choose between power and wisdom.

Secondly, that Love honestly is the 'Lingue Franca' - the universal language of every culture. Some churches we have been with are flourishing, others are taking tender, tentative steps forward, others who were once seemingly impregnable powerhouses are now fragile and limping forward from the fray. No matter the season,every church needs love. Not the sentimental, slap -on the- back, glorify - the - past kind of love. But a tender, firm, practical, persevering, truthful love which will call forth that which God entrusted to it. A love which will draw attention to the gold which has been refined by the fires of trial. A love which will lift heads to see the Father in whom there is no shifting shadow.

Thirdly, that all around the world there seems to be a hunger for a more sane, mission-orientated expression of the life of the Spirit. Not just a happy hour for the church. But a happy hour for the world, where sinners repent because of the present power of God.

Who is equal to such a task? It has me running back to our Father asking for the kind of love Paul had for the church in Corinth. And it has me praying furiously for Southlands, the community we love and miss, that we would be a people who give others courage as we follow the way of love, and give ourselves to the fullness of His Gospel.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Glorious Mess or Messy Glory?

I have no official role at Biola. I happen to be a pastor of a church that many Biola students and some faculty call home, and so I do my best to serve a College I love in any way I can, whether that means speaking at Chapel, doing bible study in the dorms, or drinking coffee at Common Grounds on Wednesdays. Last night, my role was leading Communion after the guest speaker had talked, while the Southlands band led worship. The context was Student Mission's Week, the College's annual catalyst for the Great Commission.

The guest speaker was a flamboyant, disarming, and likeable Kiwi from YWAM called Mark Parker.He spoke on 'true salvation.' I left last night feeling that what had taken place was significant in the broader scheme of Biola's journey, but would definitely need some processing.I suppose I feel partly responsible too, because after Mark finished preaching and began praying for students, I was by default left holding the microphone and hosting the remaining hour of a meeting, that I guess, would be about as 'charismatic' a meeting as any in the history of Biola.

In a packed gymnasium, students confessed their sins publicly, worshipped passionately, some wept or laughed, others were set free of demonic oppression. Some even spoke in tongues! This in many ways was a radical and remarkable step forward in the ministry of the Holy Spirit for a college which 100 years ago, publicly condemned the Azusa Street Revival down the road as a 'work of man.'

Last night felt like revival, which thrilled me, but I also left a little concerned at the same time. As a pastor and bible teacher, I have a great desire to journey with cautious conservatives towards a greater encounter with God, the Holy Spirit. I recognize that this is best done in reverence for the Scriptures and with sane humility. I felt that at times these elements were, shall we say, illusive, leaving what happened last night as fair game for conservative critics. Was it just emotionalism? What about the absence of biblical exposition? Was he trying to force people to fall down?

I do not want to leap to Mark's defense or point a criticising finger. I do not know him, but I am thankful for his courageous, in-your-face ministry, which is a little like triple-shot-espresso to the spiritually sleepy. God will often use people like this as a catalyst gift for a short time. We then have a responsibility to keep aflame what God has sparked. God seldom uses the same gift to maintain a flame as the gift he uses to create a spark.

R.T Kendall, successor to Martin Lloyd Jones, in writing about his journey from cautious conservativism to an openness to the Holy Spirit, said that
"the anointing almost always has a stigma attached to it." Using biblical prophets as his example, he noted that they almost always came with a certain 'yuck factor,'and I have found this to be true in most significant moves of God which I have experienced. God's life is often a bit messy, and our culture has tried to tame and sanitize God, making him into some benign therapeutic English country gentleman, who would never upset the apple cart. His love is more wild than that. We cannot tame Him. But in maintaining the flame of revival, we can tame ourselves, to make sure that our ministry and meetings are helping more than harming. I believe that people need to be shepherded through the unfamiliar with a lack of hype and a heap of wisdom.

I do believe that there is a Gospel-Centred sanity in Holy Spirit ministry which many have not experienced. If they did, it would cause them to be more open and less critical of the gift of the Third Person of the Trinity. He is not an optional extra. He is the absolutely vital, yet often missing element of our Gospel Mission.

So, was last night a glorious mess or some messy glory? In my view it was the latter.
My appeal though, is for zeal to be tempered by wisdom, and for the Biola community to channel the Spirit's ministry towards the Spirit's mission.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Join the Symphony.

Tom Wright said that if history is a symphony, in the death and resurrection of Christ the symphony changes from a minor key to a major key.

God's redemption is a moment in our lives. It is the moment we believe in the blood of Christ to save us from the wrath of God and slavery to sin. But redemption is also a movement. It is a continuous restoring of all things back to their intended order.

I am always astounded(I supposes I shouldn't be) at the 'allness' of the atonement. The vocab for God's redemption at the cross touches every part of our lives and every part of our world. To redeem is an economic word. To justify is a legal word. To reconcile is a family word. To expiate is a religious word. And the list goes on, but the point is that God is still redeeming every part of us and of our world.

The major scale still has some minors. The symphony is certainly not completely resolved. Injustice,abuse, poverty, sickness and brokenness still prevail in a myriad ways. But the overall theme of our symphony is hopeful because God overcame sin at the cross, and is including us in his redemptive symphony to His world.

Many Christians do not recognize that salvation is not just being redeemed from something,and given a ticket to heaven, but also being included in God's redemptive movement.

When we read in 1 Corinthians, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him," we often think it is talking about going to heaven one day. Actually it is quoting Isaih 64, "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down...for no eye has seen, no ear has heard..."

It is a prayer for the breaking in of God's redemptive movement on earth. It is a prayer for the symphony to crescendo into a hopeful anthem of Jesus' redeeming power.
This is why we pray. We believe that the symphony is not done yet. We believe there is so much more that God wants redeem in His world. And we want to be a part of it. Will you join the symphony?

And if you live in the L.A/O.C. area, we invite you to join us this Friday at 7pm at Southlands Church as we pray that God would 'rend the heavens and come down."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Gospel according to Nacho Libre'

One of my favorite movies is 'Nacho Libre.'Its the only movie in which ive memorized the lines! In it, Jack Black plays a monk turned wrestler and falls in love with a nun called 'Incarnacio', the Spanish word for 'Incarnation.'This is the theological term for Jesus becoming human. It means 'to take on flesh.'Incarnacio is an image of beauty and purity, intended to be an icon of 'God in the flesh' herself. The irony is that she is hidden away in a monastery, isolated from her world. Nacho, on the other hand, though fat and clumsy engages his world with great courage, for a great cause and to great effect.

This past weekend Brenden preached a compelling message on 'Loving Christ's world' as part of our "Love-Re -Imagined" series. His appeal was for the church to be morally distinct from, yet relationally engaged with their culture. We cannot be monastic in order to remain untainted by the world.

Paul says it like this."I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and the swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you'd have to leave this world." (1 Cor 5:9-11)

Holiness is not absence from the world. It is remaining distinct, while engaged with the world. Jesus, the sinless friend of sinners is our model. Leaving the culture of heaven and embracing fully the culture of earth, he was carried in a womb, born through a birth canal,grew up in Galilee, learned obedience from his parents, learned a language, learned a trade. His incarnation, the act of 'taking on flesh and dwelling among us', was inconvenient, humiliating,and time consuming.It was expensive!

When Paul talks about 'becoming all things to all men that he might win some' in 1 Corinthians 9, he is calling us to follow him as he follows the example of Christ. In fact, when he sends Gentile Timothy to preach the Gospel to the Jews he has him circumcised. Timothy paid the price of incarnation with his own foreskin! It must have been painful, humiliating and expensive too.

How willing are we to be inconvenienced by engaging our culture with compassion, friendship and humility?
Are we able to be 'in the world but not of it?'
Once we have engaged our world, do we have the boldness of Jesus, and of Paul, to share our grace story at the right time?

These are three huge questions for all of us if we are to answer the call live for the cause of Gospel. Surely we need the power and wisdom of the Spirit of Mission to say yes to all three?

We may feel fat and clumsy like Nacho, but Christ wants to empower and use every one of us for His mission.