Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Golden Patina: Tribute to my Parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

There are days when the miles between us and the rest of our family seem unbearably far. Today is one of those days. Today, family and friends from all over South Africa will gather to celebrate my parents' Golden Wedding anniversary on their patio that overlooks the lush Emberton Nature Reserve of Durban, South Africa. And my heart longs to be there with them.

Fifty years of steadfast covenant-keeping fueled by their covenant-keeping God, means their marriage has been refined like gold in the crucible. Theirs is not just a faithful marriage, though. It's an intimate marriage. They've cherished each other like you'd cherish a precious piece of antique jewelry. Long after their marriage lost the unblemished shine of newly-wedded bliss, it developed the  golden patina of a priceless antique because they cherished it. This doesn't just happen automatically. A marriage that has a golden patina requires elbow grease. Constant communication, tireless forgiveness, fervent prayer and a bold sense of adventure. And did I mention faithful sex? Yes, that's a thing. 
Patina is what their marriage has developed over fifty years of steadfast cherishing. 

As the Old Bard so aptly put it in his Sonnet

Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds, 
Or bends with the remover to remove. 
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 
It is the star to every wandering bark.

Mom and Dad have lived in the same house that Dad built when I was just a year old. That's forty-three years, if I'm not mistaken. Over the years, my inventive Dad has never stopped adding wings and lofts to the now sprawling brick dwelling, which bears my mom's imaginative decor touches. If ever a house was a home, it is the house at 17 Edward Drive. It's no exaggeration that literally hundreds of people have found family, wisdom and solace in that home over the years. I've heard countless people trace their Jesus-story back to some holy moment in Mom and Dad's lounge, as they dunked one of  Mom's home-made rusks into their hand-made coffee mugs. I wonder how many angels they've entertained with their extraordinary gift of hospitality? 

They've served as leaders in the same church for as long as they've lived in their home. The church behind the butcher shop, as it's affectionately called. Long after the butcher shop closed though, Mom and Dad continued to be like Priscilla and Aquila* to that church. If you want to know how to love a church faithfully through thick and thin, ask my folks. If you want to know how to speak truth to power while still remaining submitted to that power, ask my folks. My Dad has admitted that at times he may have been a pebble in the shoe of the numerous pastors at KMC, because he's such a stickler for truth. That may be the case, but I don't know if you could wish for a more supportive couple to have on your team, who fear God, tremble at His Word and love His people tirelessly. I wish they were on the team we lead!  

People are often shocked when they hear that Rynelle and I did our pre-marriage counseling with my parents. "That must have been so embarrassing!" they say. "Especially the session on sex!" they say. It's true. There were some cringe-worthy moments. But honestly, we could not think of a more worthy fixed-mark to look to as we tried to navigate our wandering bark towards faithful covenant. Their marriage has been a more influential model to us than any other. These days we're inclined to value shiny new things above vintage patina, because patina requires great patienceBut Rynelle and I are so grateful for the authentic treasure of Mom and Dad's marriage in our lives, because it reflects the steadfast grace of God for us in such tangible ways, reminding us that patina is not only preferable

It is possible

*a married couple in the book of Acts who had a tent-making business, travelled with and supported the Apostle Paul, and had a church that met in their house.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a more Compelling Complementarianism part 2

Last week I posted the first in a 2 part blog here. I suggested that husbands and wives were created to complement eachother in marriage and ministry, which should liberate us because equality of dignity does not come from equality of role. Having written about the liberation that should come from this view, I want to explore the motivation that should come from this view. 

Motivation: Putting the Complementary back into Complementarian

My main concern here is not to try and convert Egalitarians into Complementarians. Kathy Keller does a much better job of that than I could ever hope to do in her book, Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles.  My real concern though,  is to motivate my Complementarian brothers and sisters to put the complementary back into Complementarian ministry. With this in mind, Gavin Ortlund writes a very insightful article entitled 4 Dangers for Complementarians, in which he warns against trying to live this view out faithfully but not beautifully, among other dangers.  

When God created male and female in His image, he envisaged that Adam and Eve would be like two complementary colors creating a more compelling and beautiful image together than apart. When God said that Eve would be Adam’s helper, (Genesis 2:18) the word is ezer, which carries no connotations of weakness or inferiority at all. In fact, God uses the same word to describe how He helps His creation when they cannot help themselves. (Psalm 46:1) The term means complementary strength. The essence of our Complementarian conviction is that Adam needed Eve’s complementary strength in order to fulfill the call to be an image bearer of God in every sphere of life.

When it comes to the family, we know that having an absent mother or father makes the raising of children a very difficult task, and that a husband and wife who parent as a united, yet diverse team, create parenting synergy in the home that is beneficial for children. They’re better together. Yet when it comes to the family of God, we seem to downplay this principle of synergy because of our conviction that men and women play different roles. Many elder’s wives in Complementarian churches seem absent in the name of having distinct roles. It seems to me that when it comes to ministry in the family of God, we Complementarians are more prone to have conversations about what women can’t do than what they can do.

I realize that for many wives, investment in ministry with their husband is expressed in a myriad meaningful, yet invisible ways. Prayer, encouragement, hospitality and keeping the homes fires burning are all vital ways of providing complementary help. It seems that the Apostle Peter's wife was this kind of pastor's wife. We know that she traveled with Peter, which must have been very costly to their family, but we don't hear anything more of her except that Peter saw her as a 'co-heir in the gracious gift of life.' ( 1 Pet 3:7) She might have been invisible but she was certainly invested. 

However, there was another pastor's wife called Priscilla in the early church. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had a church that met in their house. (1 Cor 16:19) They also owned a business together that employed Paul during his tent-making years and were ministry companions with him on his apostolic travels. When Paul left them to care for the church in Corinth, both Priscilla and Aquila brought the young preacher Apollos into their home and taught him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 19) They were a formidable team, but Priscilla was more visible and vocal than Peter's wife. 

A spacious Complementarianism avoids gender stereo-typing, making room for both Peter's wife and Aquila's wife on a team. Some wives are happier playing a supporting role behind the scenes and they should be honored as such. Other wives may have more visible gifts of leadership, administration, speaking, worship leading or prophecy, and they should be celebrated rather than held at arms length in case their gifting makes men feel insecure. We need to avoid a patriarchal view of women that caricatures women as weak and resists their strength as un-submissive.  

The key though, is to find how husbands and wives can complement each other as a team. Again, Lewis speaks of the mutual submission and synergy between him and his wife in vivid terms. "For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was Joy not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more. If we had never fallen in love we should have none the less been always together, and created a scandal."

Complementary Rhythms

A shift towards greater synergy cannot be done out of obligation. It must be done out of conviction and felt need, because it is costly to all parties involved. However, if there is sufficient motivation, here is how we have pursued it as a team at Southlands. This is by no means prescriptive to any church or eldership team. It is how we function at this point in time with our wives and may be a good place for you to start.

a. Prayer together for the church. Finding a regular opportunity to share and pray for people and situations that are praise-worthy or burdensome is a great place to start for husbands and wives.  Although a wife may not necessarily feel burdened for the church in the same way as her husband, she can empathize and help with the burden in the same way that a husband can empathize with and help his pregnant wife while not carrying the baby himself. Prayer together halves our burdens and doubles our joy, honestly.   

 b. Counseling married couples together. In some ways this is obvious. An elder counseling married couples by himself may be able to offer wisdom but will not be nearly as effective as when he is with his wife. The ability to share their own personal challenges and lessons in their marriage as well as have a wife’s unique perspective will generally serve to untangle difficult marriage situations much more effectively.

c. Providing perspective on major decisions. Our elders meet together every week to discuss and pray for pastoral, operational and visionary matters in the life of the church. Every second week our wives meet together with us. This is costly, especially for those with young families or busy careers, but proves effective in maintaining team chemistry and building a culture of shared ownership within the church. Beyond this it has proved invaluable in hearing our wives perspective, often intuitive and sometimes strategic, as we seek God on significant decisions we face as elders. Our wives have never assumed the role of governing the church, but we are aware that on many occasions they have had wisdom from God that has greatly enhanced our ability to make wise decisions for the sake of the church.

d. Public Mothering moments in a meeting. At times there are moments in a gathering that seem more appropriate for a mother’s voice than a father’s voice, just like some songs are better led by a woman than a man. Giving room for an elder’s wife to speak on marriage and parenting from a women’s point of view, do a call to worship, or to share on an aspect of God’s character like selflessness, faithfulness, or kindness. This may include prayer or prophecy or a word of encouragement that causes the church to feel the wisdom and tenderness of a mother.

 The proof of the pudding is in the eating

We are in the process of adopting a church that comes from an Egalitarian denomination to become a Southlands community. Our Complementarian position was one of their sticking points until they met our elder's wives, saw how strongly invested they were in the church and observed how their voices and ministries were celebrated as an integral part of our leadership team. I was saddened to hear their impression of Complementarian churches was that women were kept as silent servants in the background, rather than empowered to be vital ministers in the life of God's family. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A Complementarian view of men and women should give dignity to both men and women and produce synergy as they work together as a team.   

Let's ask God for his help to move us from together alone to better together. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a More Compelling Complementarianism Part 1

Together Alone

While I still have much to learn as a leader, one of the joys of my current role is coaching and caring for other pastors. I schedule monthly calls on Wednesdays to connect with them. Sometimes my wife and I speak to the couples together. Other times husbands and wives will talk separately, but suffice to say that Rynelle is very engaged with this coaching privilege and responsibility. Yesterday, I spoke to four pastors. One was in England, one in Thailand, and two were in the USA. My wife followed up with two of their wives. Skype and face-time are amazing coaching technologies, no matter what your line of work.

Two of the four husbands spoke of their wives hitting the wall physically and emotionally. They were finding the burden of mothering young kids, home making, pastoring women in the church and carrying out practical duties in the church overwhelming. To make matters worse, they felt disconnected from their husbands as they worked side-by-side in isolation. Together Alone. The stats tell a dreadful story. In a recent Barna Group study of pastors and their wives in the USA, 90% of pastors' wives wished their husbands had a different occupation.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about valid grounds for divorce, he replied, "What God has joined let no man separate."(Matt 19:6) I know the context here is the breaking of the actual marriage covenant. However, Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of the marriage covenant rests on the Biblical mystery that a husband and wife are 'no longer two, but one flesh.In the first marriage in Eden, Adam and Eve’s one flesh intimacy extended beyond the bedroom into the garden. Eve was a suitable helper, not just as companion, lover and mother, but also as a worker. It was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it is still not good for a man to be alone as he cultivates the field of the church.

PJ Smyth in his book, The World needs more Elders, suggests that "Complementarian theology should liberate us because we do not equate equal value with equal role. However, It should also motivate us towards team because the Bible sees a husband and wife as one flesh." (2017:146) 

So what does it mean for pastors and wives to be both liberated by and motivated toward complementary ministry?

1. Liberation: "Let us wear equality but let us undress at night." 

Many believe the fundamental problem is that wives need equal roles to their husbands in ministry in order to feel equally valued. This is a hotly debated issue for which I feel real empathy. It is tragic that for many centuries, the Church did not let the Scripture lead it away from the general oppression of women conducted by society. The church should have seen that the Bible does not teach the inferiority of women. Equality in terms of dignity, freedom and exercise of gifting are Biblical values. The gospel brought about a democratization of the Spirit to the church. “In the last days will pour our my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17) “In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave not free, male nor female.” (Gal 3: 28)  I believe every church should be intentional in empowering women to be active ministers in every sphere of the life of the church, save that of an elder. (1 Tim 3) However, when we make equality our highest value, we begin to tamper with God’s created order of government in marriage and ministry and get confused between gifting and government.

C.S. Lewis wrote a collection of essays in 1943 called "Present Concerns', in which he spoke of the need on the one hand to address the historic oppression of women, and yet maintain a Biblical pattern of government in the home and the church on the other. 

 “Husbands have so horribly abused their power over women that to women, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an absolute ideal. This whole question is of immense practical importance. Every intrusion of the spirit that says, ‘I’m as good as you’ into our family and spiritual life is to be resisted as jealously as every intrusion of bureaucracy or privilege into our politics. Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night.”  (1943:192)

When we reduce equality of value to mean equality of role, we miss the very mystery of the united diversity that lies at the heart of the Trinity. Unity is less compelling when it is reduced to uniformity, in the same way that two people singing exactly the same melody is less compelling than two people singing different melodies together in harmony.   

Tapping into the Mystery

At it’s best, a Complementarian understanding of marriage and ministry taps into the mystery of the Trinity. Men and Women are created as image bearers of the Godhead; united in their diversity, recognizing authority, yet living in constant mutual honor towards one another. It celebrates the distinct roles of men and women in ministry as necessary and beautiful rather than being demeaning. It evokes a more compelling picture of the Godhead with  complementary colors rather than competing ones.  If the Biblical distinctions between husbands and wives, or elders and elder's wives are viewed as demeaning to women, then surely Jesus’ submission to His Father should demean Him? There is also fluidity in the Trinity. Christ submits to the Father and yet He has been honored with a Name above every name. Husbands and elders lead through sacrifice and through honoring others, not through seeking their own honor. Let’s tap into the beautiful Trinitarian mystery of diverse unity rather than uniformity.

Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night. (to be continued) 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Roots and Wings: same name with a new face

I started blogging in 2009 as a way to distill my thinking into bite-sized reads for our church. At times I asked people to bite off more than they could chew! I realize that my shorter posts are easier to digest. That said, whether it's short stories or more lengthy essays, the blog seems to have helped to give us a greater sense of cohesion and vision as a church.

While I am an idealist and love to talk about ideas, the most popular posts by far have been tributes to people who have either passed away or reached major milestones. Ideas are plentiful today. Legacy is rare. People are hungry for stories of those who have lived out their ideas with integrity.  So while I cannot promise that I won't post on ideas, I know that behind every idea, people are rightfully asking, "How's that working for you?" I'd love to hear from you about what you have found most helpful.

Though I've repented of slavishly following stats on the blog, I've been delighted to see that it is read by many people in many cities and nations beyond our church. This has resulted in new connections around the nation and nations which has been an added bonus.

So when it came time to put a fresh face on the blog, I asked Brett McCracken and Rob Scott to help me with ideas and feel. They both liked the name Roots and Wings because it spoke of our desire to be a church rooted in the Scriptures, the gospel and the sovereignty of God, yet elevated by the wind of the Holy Spirit. This will remain a passion and a focus.

However, since 2009, 'Roots and Wings' has taken on broader significance for us. It evokes an image of a church 'rooted' in the Southland. This is the geographic term for Southern California. Our church is called Southlands because we feel called to 'multiply points of light all over the Southland." By God's gracious hand we have begun to see real glimpses of that dream becoming reality.  The next ten years will see us lean into that calling with new vigor and focus, to see the light of Christ bring life to the 26 million people who live in the Southland.

While we remain 'rooted' in the Southland, we continue to live in Jesus' grand call to make disciples of all nations. This requires not just Roots but Wings! We're part of a global family of called Advance and we will continue to partner with them in planting and strengthening churches in the nations, like One Light in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

So the blog will increasingly look at what it means to be rooted in the Southland, with a heart to reach all nations for Jesus, through planting gospel-centred, Spirit-empowered, communities on mission.

Thanks to Rob Scott for applying his genius designer's touch to express a new idea behind an old name.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Our New, Dual and True Citizenship.

After 9 years of living in California, I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I sang the Star-Spangled Banner with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat and felt the honor of calling the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, our home. We did not come here to pursue the American dream. We came here for the fame of Jesus' Name and the building of His Church. But we have been welcomed and profoundly blessed by America's largeness of heart and horizon on the way. We've also been stretched beyond imagination by her intensity. It's true. You do have to be brave to call America home. It can be gut-wrenching one moment, breath-taking the next. America is a miracle. Political partisanship and racial tension run like a poison river through the canyon of her soul, alongside the golden vein of inspiration, bravery and philanthropy. With all her complexity, America is home, and today we count it a longing fulfilled to be called fellow Americans.   

Of course, pledging allegiance to a new nation means giving up allegiance to another. We've not done this lightly. It has been a 26 year journey of gradual leaving and cleaving, beginning with a defining God-encounter in Muir Woods, California when I was just 17. South Africa, the land of our birth is etched so deeply on our souls. Our family is still there, along with so many dear friends. We still carry her fiercely hopeful gees* and her unrelenting ubuntu*. For South African friends and family who have struggled with our decision to pledge allegiance to America, we've tried to explain it through the example of Jesus who became flesh and dwelt among a people, took on a nationality, learned a language and embraced a culture. The best missionaries burned their boats and called their new land home. We have given up allegiance to South Africa, but we have not given up hope for her. On the contrary, we still hope for what Alan Payton envisioned all those years ago in Cry the Beloved Country, that she would be "a great and peaceful land in which the world would take pride, a nation in which each of many different groups will be making its own creative contribution." She too has her own miraculous story. In light of that, we've thought it wise to maintain dual-citizenship to enable us to visit regularly and maintain meaningful connection with South Africa our dear land.  So we will hold on to our green passports with gratitude and pride.

All this talk about citizenship has had me thinking about the idea that every Christian holds dual-citizenship. We are all ultimately Citizens of Heaven living as ambassadors on earth, pledging first allegiance to Christ our King. The Church is an embassy of heaven living for the peace and prosperity of the nation in which it dwells, longing for a glimpse of its heavenly country to appear in its earthly one.  While honor towards human government is the order of the day, our allegiance to Jesus' government  will at times bring us into conflict with the powers that be as we live for His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. The Hebrews 11 heroes of faith all acknowledged that they were "strangers and exiles on earth, desiring a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be their God, for He has prepared for them a city." 

In the midst of our earthly citizenship, may a new patriotism for heaven grip our souls.  

*gees - Afrikaans for 'fighting spirit'

*ubuntu - Zulu for 'communal generosity and hospitality'

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tribute to Darrel Ballman: A Floral to Flannel Legacy

Last night we gathered at the Anaheim Vineyard to celebrate the life of Darrel Ballman. I have had the privilege of being a pastor to Darrel and Evie for the last four years, but they are a couple whose heritage is vintage Vineyard, having spent most of their marriage doing life and ministry there. 

One of the things I loved most about Darrel was that he never took himself too seriously. I used to tease him a bit about the hippie-style floral shirts and relaxed approach of the Vineyard and he would agree and laugh and still keep arriving at church in those floral shirts.  He had such an endearing, self-effacing humor and was very comfortable in his own skin. It was one of the repeated themes last night from family, friends, work colleagues from the school where he taught. His mischievous sense of humor and contagious joy endured through the trial of his fight against cancer. Cancer was never in charge of Darrel's joy. That this joy is now no longer with us leaves a gaping hole in many lives. 

The thing is though, that when it came to making disciples of Jesus and teaching them the ways of the Spirit, Darrel was deadly serious. I'm not sure I've ever met a couple with such a natural way of discipling young believers as Darrel and Evie. They lived with an open home and would sometimes have up to 100 flannel-wearing millennials crowded in their lounge for life group. They would often worship, pray and prophesy for hours on end spilling out into the kitchen and onto their famous deck, completely caught up in the presence of God. They were a passionate, intimate family and his unassuming persona was like a trojan horse enabling him to get the love of Jesus into the hearts of   these young disciples.

While Darrel was a powerful spiritual father in his own right, he was a man under authority. He and Evi loved the local church. I remember him asking me to come and speak to his life group a couple of years ago because some people were worried it was turing into a house church.  Before I spoke, Darrel opened up the evening before I spoke by saying, "I know that many of you see me as your pastor. But I want you to know that this man is my pastor. I am on his team." It was a masterful moment that acknowledged the role he had in his disciples lives, but placed it within the context of the local church. No independence whatsoever. Darrel was larger because of that moment, not smaller. 

And so for me, Darrell's most powerful legacy could be described in Psalm 145: 4. "One generation will commend Your works to the next." That is what he did with startling effectiveness. He was passionate about his rich spiritual heritage. But because his passion was without one ounce of nostalgia or ego, he passed it on effortlessly to the next generation. 

Darrel might have been comfortable in floral. But he passed the gift of faith and passion for Jesus to a generation who wore flannel. He had what might be called a floral to flannel kingdom legacy. Which means that Darrel is rejoicing in the presence of the Savior he loved and longed for while his legacy is multiplied in the hands of the next generation. And that, my friends, is reason to rejoice. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Reward of Fasting: Why and How?

We generally call our church to fast  12 times per year; Ten 1-day fasts and two 3-day fasts. As I've chatted to folk in the church, they often find the 1 day fasts more difficult because they take people by surprise. Being that today is our 1st 1-day fast of the year I want to remind us why and how we fast. I have to admit that I normally go in to fasts asking, "So, why are we doing this, again? "but always come out going, "Oh, now I remember why we did this!" As I reflect on 2016, God has done so many great things in our midst, and I am persuaded that there is a strong link between His work in our midst and our earnestly seeking Him through prayer and fasting. 

So why do we fast as a church?
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus speaks very clearly about fasting.  "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast anoint your head and wash you face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father, who sees what is done in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you."  
1) We fast because Jesus commanded it. He said, "When you fast," not if.
A few practical helps:
a. Be prepared for some dizziness, caffeine headaches, or nausea in the early stages. Most of our bodies have never gone without food for longer than a few hours.
b. Lead up to and break your fast gradually with meals that are light and easy to digest. Trying to gorge yourself following a fast will only make you sick and will leave you with an unpleasant memory of fasting.
d. Sometime during your fast, mix your fast with prayer, time in Scripture reading, singing, or devotional reading. Remember: fasting is not an end in itself. Seek the Lord, not the experience of fasting. Keep checking your motives concerning your fasts. Hypocrisy and spiritual pride can easily creep in. There is a reward for fasting, but only fasting done with the right motives (Matthew 23:28).

He also said that while He was with His disciples they would not fast, but when He left they would fast. (Mark 2)
2) We do not fast to win the approval of people. "Do not look gloomy like the Hypocrites, they have received their reward." Neither do we fast to earn God's approval. We already have God's approval through Jesus. Nothing we do could make Him love us more!
3) We fast because there is a great reward in drawing close to Jesus. "Your Father in heaven sees in secret and rewards you."Though few people enjoy fasting, there is a very real reward and that reward is Jesus himself. In fasting, we deny ourselves food in order to feast on the Bread of Life and the  Living Water. Fasting is ultimately feasting on Jesus. Time and time again, people come out of a fast saying, "I may be hungry for food, but Jesus has satisfied and sustained me in a way that no food could."
4) We fast because it is a source of  victory in spiritual warfare. When Jesus was tempted by the devil he fasted.  When Jesus' disciples struggled to deliver a boy of demons, he said, "This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting." Matt 17:21 So fasting is also a powerful way of praying for others in desperate situations. 
5) We fast because it is a catalyst for mission Acts13:2 "They were worshipping and fasting and the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.'"  
6) We fast to deny ourselves food as a way of resisting our culture of gluttony. Fasting is saying to our stomachs, "You are not GOD!." Say no more.

c. We fast on liquids. For some that is just water, for others it is juice or thin soup. It is not blended steak and potatoes! The issue is not who is more of a fasting extremist. The issue is that all of us feel the pain of hunger and denial, and use that to press into feasting on Jesus' word and presence. Whatever the case, drink lots of water. 

e. Avoid strenuous work or exercise. You will feel more weak and it will make you more hungry. If your job involved strenuous work then drink a smoothie or have soup for energy. 

e. Don't see it as a hunger strike, or a way to lose weight. That doesn't work. Fasting without prayer is fruitless. Be sure to join us at 6:30pm tonight at Southlands Brea as we seek the Lord in worship and prayer together. That is what makes a fast feel worthwhile.
I anticipate a deeply rewarding time as we seek the Lord together this year! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Re-Vitalizing Vision

At this time of year we typically think about vision, whether it be personal, for our family, company or church. Vision is more comprehensive than goal setting, although it should contain goals. Vision might be described as an ideal picture of our future that informs the way we act within our present reality. I've been reflecting on how vital vision has been for me and our church the last few years, and how much God has done by His grace as we've responded to that vision. If it's true that without vision people perish, then the converse is true that with vision, people come alive

But how do we craft, cast and follow through with vision?

Here are 7 brief insights from the Apostle Paul as he describes his vision.

"Not that I have already attained these things or have been made perfect. But I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward  the goal for prize of the upward call of of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will make that clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:12-16)

1. Vision is upward before it's onward

Paul's ultimate vision is the prize of the upward call of God, that is, his resurrection and reward after the return of Christ. His ultimate goal is to please Jesus, not himself, which enables him to endure hardship, isolation and even the seeming frustration of his vision in prison. If our vision is ultimately an upward call we will remain faithful when the onward call is delayed. 

2. Vision is call before it's craft. 

While imagination is a factor in vision-crafting, Paul's vision was in response to Jesus' call. I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. It wasn't his grand idea. It was God's. Discerning God's unique call can be tough, but laying hold of that begins by aligning our lives to Jesus' Great Commission.  That should frame every Christian's vision. 

3. Vision is discontented

Paul had attained so much in his life, but he refused to rest on his laurels. He pursued vision by forgetting his past accomplishments and by acknowledging what had not yet been attained. He had a holy discontentment with what he'd attained.  If we begin to glorify what we've already attained we will never press on. In the words of that old U2 song, "We glorify the past when the future dries up.

4. Vision is defiant  

Paul is in prison. He's old and his eye sight is failing. While he acknowledges the confinement of his circumstances - he's writing a letter because he cannot get to them in person - his confinement doesn't dampen his enthusiasm or slow him down in any way.  Straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal. Paul's vision of seeing the gospel advance to new regions through the planting of new churches defied his circumstances. He had to change his approach by writing letters and raising up other leaders rather than visiting churches himself. But ponder for a moment what God did with those letters! I have settled that whatever God calls us to, it will always seem beyond what we can humanly resource ourselves. Faith defies current circumstance as it trusts the faithfulness of the One who calls.

5. Vision is progressive. 

This is a counter-point to the previous one. Paul's apparent forgetfulness is not complete amnesia. He's aware of what he and this church have attained. "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." In essence he's saying, "Don't rest on your past achievements. Build on them!" I've found that people's faith for a vision grows as it becomes more visible. People bless what they see God already blessing. There's a difference between a big vision and an unrealistic one. Start with something quantifiable and attainable and build on that. This past year we cast vision for the Jubilee Campaign, which was intended to get rid of our debt and  build a war chest for church planting. I think one of the reasons people blew us away with their generosity is that they saw we had a track record of investing significantly into church panting.  Ask God for a vision track-record to build upon. 

6. Vision is specific  

In the following chapter Paul thanks the church for their financial generosity to his vision. Their vision had concrete outcomes. I often see leaders cast such vague vision that they cannot be held accountable for whether they achieved it or not. While mission is less quantifiable, vision should be for a set period of time with quantifiable goals that you either hit or miss. 

Just under 3 years ago we cast a vision called 3 in 3 at Southlands Church. We had a vision to multiply 3 times in 3 years. The idea was for one multi-site in Southern California, one church amongst an un-reached people group, and one autonomous church plant in North America. The end point was April 2017.  By God's amazing grace, we have been able to plant a multi-site congregation in Whittier, and a church plant in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and we are now busy with our 3rd of 3 - the adoption and re-birth of a church in Chino that will become Southlands Chino in the Fall of 2017. The sticklers may say, "Well, you missed it. That's two multi-sites and you didn't do it by April 2017." To which I will respond, "You're right. We missed it. But because we aimed at something, we have never had this many people praying, training, giving and going. I'll gladly miss the next vision again like we missed this one.A quantifiable vision need not be a gun to our head. But it can be a much needed spur in our side.

7. Vision is prophetic. 

While rooted in our unchanging Biblical call, it does take imagination to craft vision. 
If you are a leader, gather some of your creatives to help you craft compelling vision.  But be open to the whispers of God through the prophetic! Look at the way the prophetic informed Paul's vision in Acts 16. God has spoken to us with astonishing specificity  as we've continued to follow His Spirit in the pursuit of His vision. Here are a few examples of this.

Southlands, when I woke up on New Year's Day the Spirit prompted me to go to the above passage. As I sat with it, I sensed Him whisper just two words. "Kick on." Kick on is a coaching term used for an athlete who is in the final stretch of a race and is running well. It's the encouragement to pick up the pace and turn advantage into victory. God has been so kind to us. But He is calling us all to "kick on" in 2017 in the final stretch of this 3 in 3 vision. Let's not rest on our laurels. The always previous God has gone before us. We've prayed, given, trained and gone. But the race is not yet won.