Friday, August 31, 2012

Church Planter Coffee Conversations

Today I had a delightful coffee appointment. Of course the coffee shop was well chosen [all who see coffee making as an art know this is essential to supreme moments].

While in Australia, I was emailed asking if I would meet with some guys who are looking to plant in Costa Mesa. Now that is always interesting, this request was particularly intriguing. This was a plant from a church planting stable that dates back to the British Restoration move that found its expression in the 1980's. The founder of this part of the movement, Bryn Jones, I met in 1984. Their work around the world I have always watched with interest as it had parallels to our own story.

Our coffee was a delight. These are two remarkable men - Andrew is an older statesman. One of those who asks many questions yet you always feel that behind that inquisitiveness is an old kingdom veteran with many stories to tell, experiences to share. Carl, the young planter is hungry, eager and teachable.

The conversation drifted around church planting in Orange County. It was fun to be asked questions around what I would do, where I would do it and how I would approach it. Well here are some of the pointers from the conversation:

*   Although over 4000 churches are planted in the USA yearly most of them will fail - the reasons seem to be a lack of sufficient financial backing and the absence of true, intentional, in the trenches partnership with Ephesians 4 gifts - by way of calls, skypes, visits, listening, praying, befriending - the biblical way is not coaches and mentors but apostles and prophets;

*   Parachuting into a city requires doing the hard yards of getting street cred - with so many plants failing and a growing mistrust of churches and the clergy, there is no replacement for the value of the pre-launch. Here time is taken to establish a core team where vision and DNA are fashioned into a working narrative even before the plant is launched. This may take somewhere between 6 to 9 months...During this time trust is established in the community. I am here to stay. I love the city, her people and I want to lay my life down for her;

*   One must discover the "ant trails" [Ed Stetzer] - only time will allow us to find the rhythm of that city - where do folks go, what do they do, what drives them, how do their view their spirituality, where do they spend their money, who do they view their families and how do they recreate;

*   I was asked where I would plant - definitely near a university and a freeway... this is LA. Universities are a gathering place of folks coming in, they are disconnected from their old worlds, they are looking for new ideas and are looking for community in their new setting. In LA with the lack of public transport, one has to be within walking distance if possible or near a freeway for folks who drive in;

*   Connecting with other pastors and leaders in the city is a must. Planters are always standing on the shoulders of these who have labored in the paddock for many years. There is the integrity and humility of coming to town to respect and acknowledge those who have gone before. There is the teachability and collaboration of learning from those who have knocked on the doors of grace with their prayers. There is the kingdom mindedness of realizing we all need each other to get this glorious gospel out to all cities and countries;

*   We spoke of the notion of being weary of planting a brand rather than the gospel. It was so refreshing to hear of a plant that is passionate for the miraculous, signs and wonders, and healing. What a relief to taste such a hunger for the real, the authentic, the supernatural.

So that was a couple of hours in my life. Now you know why I love what I do. Jesus is so very kind.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Grace and The Narrow Gate

The trip from Perth to LA is long. Leaving behind the precious little tear filled eyes of those grandkids is never easy - never mind a pregnant daughter which adds weight to the final hugs and kisses.

This trip down under was particularly weighty. Meandering through the 3 centers of Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth restored in us the clear sense that the Father still has a role for us in the land of the 'diggers'. We have been going there since October 1990. Oz is buried deeply in our hearts.

Coming home always takes a few days to find our land legs. The sheer flight recovery alone takes a few days. Getting out on the road to run again is simply imperative to rediscover the new day time line, as well as wrestle off the extra pounds we accrued from people's generosity as well as the Ozzie treats - not just TimTams... oh my weakness, the Ozzie 1 meter licorice rolls - they kick my butt!

Then back to my daily conversations with my heavenly Father. These early morning musts are such a gift to a spent soul after so much ministry and love exchange.

This morning I found myself digging back into Matthew. And to crown it all - Matthew 7 to be specific. Reading this chapter through the lenses of the gospel and the grace lace, I found myself stirred by this most noble text.

It is amazing how some dismiss these teachings of Jesus as being of the old order of things as if Jesus could ever teach anything that was not empowering, liberating, transforming. This whole chapter is profoundly grace soaked. It is a most simple mirror to gage our true spiritual measure - not one fashioned by passing fads or even false prophets.

These texts are true reflections:
"First take the log out of your own eye and then you will clearly see to take the speck out of your brother's eye..."
"For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few..."
"So every healthy tree cannot bear good fruit nor can a a diseased tree bear good fruit..."
"... many will say to me: 'Lord, Lord did we not prophecy in your name and cast to demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them. 'I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness.' "

Where does grace fit into this? Simply grace empowers us to say 'no' to sin and all forms of ungodliness.... to find the log in our eye first. Grace is the most power evidence of the Father at work in us - the true evidence of humility.

Grace finds great joy in the unchartered adventures of the narrow gate - the journey where the Father's good pleasure is our highest call. Grace gifts us with health to produce good fruit. The easiest way to discern someone's grace evidence is to peep over their shoulder. Good fruit speaks of healthy trees.

Grace walks easily in the ways of the Father. Lawlessness is the evidence of the father of lies. He butchers, bleeds and breaks the great God story to self promote his brand of "spirituality". Prophecy, miracles and mighty works are not evidence of divine endorsement. Only fruit of doing the will of my Father is the lasting story.

I love grace, it is the ongoing evidence of a life under gospel transformation. It does not justify sin as true freedom, nor is it dismissive of glorious rich biblical texts. It is the very life empowerment offered through the work of the Spirit out of the truth of the text who is Jesus himself.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Home time

What a remarkable trip down under! For 3 weeks we have spent time with remarkable men and women [and children] who have poured their heart and soul into the land of the "diggers".

I do love this nation. Coming here since Oct 1990, we have seen this nation and our small role in it go through some amazing transitions.

Seeing the tenacity of our friends in Brisbane, the creative evangelistic punch of our friends in Adelaide, and the pioneering passion of our friends in  Perth has been truly inspiring.

We came here to serve Jesus' 'girl', but we have come away loved and refreshed more than we imagined.

Folks there are saints out there who will receive great rewards for remarkably difficult assignments. We may not think much of their "success" but the kingdom surges under their "little by little they took the land".

It is a huge privilege to be a trench digger - a foundation layer. No it is not very glamorous, but boy is it satisfying. M and I love working with church planters - what a unique breed. We love working with those who labor replanting churches. This recalibration is so essential to refuel them. Then we feel so honored to be helping large churches become movements.

Wow - back to LA tomorrow for a very important next stage of this story

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to make our kids 'gods'

I was preaching in a church last month when I heard my mouth say: "One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is that we love Jesus more than we love them". Well you can imagine how that went down. The placed hushed to a pregnant silence, as folks tried to process their revulsion at the thought that anything would be loved more than their kids and a vague recollection that maybe that is what Jesus spoke about somewhere in the sacred text.

So many decisions made by parents, however leave their children with the misperception that they are the center of the universe. The problem is that they are not. Then, when they engage this God of the gospel, he is certainly not placing them in the center of his universe and they end up in endless combat with the Ancient of Days as a result.

However, if you do with to make your child a 'god', here are some helpful tips:

1.   From when they are born, ensure that there is only ever silence in the house so as not to disrupt their sleep in anyway,

2.   Make bed time a set time that cannot be broken under any circumstances - of course that makes going to evening life groups and the like impossible,

3.   Never let them sleep anywhere but in their bed as that may be very inconvenient and disrupt their rhythm, - or in your bed, so that if you and the missus don't make love for weeks, it is not a problem as the 'little god' is not inconvenienced,

4.   Only let them eat what they like. The notion that they must 'eat what is set before them' is fiercely anti their rights to choose,

5.   Clean their rooms for them all the time. They must be served as they are royalty

6.   Always tell them they have done well - even if they haven't. These are not lies but pleasant encouragements. Honest debriefs and assessments are to be discouraged because they may reveal faults and flaws when what we really want to do is applaud all the time [surely that is what God does with us isn't it?]

7.   It is never their fault - I mean we know a poor grade is the teacher's fault, the distracting child in the other seat, or it may even simply be the school, so we need a new learning environment,

8.   They got drawn into the wrong crowd - of course they are never the wrong crowd, it is those other kids,

9.   We must certainly never give them chores nor even expect that they fulfill these duties - they are tired, [from late night TV or video games] and this has no bearing on how they will shift from job to job as adults,

10.  They must definitely never let them acknowledge wrong doing, apologize, make right, pay for the damage...

I am sorry if my humor is not very funny. However, my desire is not to poke fun at nor belittle - I simply want to take daily mistakes we all make inadvertently letting them believe that the universe spins around them. Then, when they come to faith or even simply have to deal with life, they are floored by the fact that neither God nor humanity are there to serve their needs and they spend their life, angry, grumpy and disillusioned. There is only one God - and it is not them.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


It is a delight to wake up to the sites and sounds of Queensland. My first trip to Oz was in October 1990. Since then, M and I have loved coming back to this remarkable country many, many times.

I love the raw, honesty of the Ozzies. They will say it as they see it, loving the notion of honest conversation. There is little affection for organized religion [as they see it]. Yet they are deeply fashioned by the notion of "mateship". Reading the account of the Ozzie soldiers in a book called "The Diggers", I was fascinated by the level of commitment that the Ozzie has towards his / her mates.This is a deep cornerstone in the culture down under.

Arriving in from LAX yesterday morning, I got T onto the flight to Perth [his first solo flight - I do wander what his future is in Christ] I know enough of my heavenly Father to know that this is not coincidental. His heavenly Father is building key components into his soul, that we will only understand looking back. The nations are in his soul.

Our dear friends Leon and Sonia, hosted a gathering of pastors and wives in their home for the afternoon, ending the evening with a delicious curry. There was not much room for jet lag. We had a most wonderful time chatting around how effective text management is essential to empowering people with a love for the word, reading it, studying it, applying it, living it, getting it.

Getting ready to teach in their community in a few hours. Oh God, give this remarkable nation a most powerful but unique visitation. So few love you on these shores yet a redeemed Ozzie is a great kingdom advancer.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Text Management

It is wonderful to see more and more churches empowering the pulpit and the people by being more and more committed to teaching through books in the bible.This focus and priority of text management is pivotal to developing healthy and ever maturing believers.

I love being part of the Rock Harbor teaching team who scrum down weekly, finding the key components as we wrestle our way through the intriguing book of James. With many of the teaching team being quite young, we are continually reminding ourselves of some of the essentials for accurate, yet Spirit empowered teaching. James is often poorly taught as a book of morals, ethics and marginal legalism. That is not the case. Here are some simple guidelines to effective verse administration:

1.   Author: It is essential to know who the author is, as it does fashion the understanding of the text significantly - try to find the story behind the story.

2.   Audience: In the same way, one does need to know who he is writing to, as it gives meaning to the angle of authorship as well as the use of metaphors, illustrations and OT references.

3.   Phone: Every letter is written as a response - this could be to questions being asked or issues being faced. The cell phone analogy is helpful as we are only hearing one side of the conversation and this does have significant implications. Having only half of the conversation is an important matter we have to remind ourselves about.

4.   God piece: Our eye has the tendency to look for the "I must do" piece first. This is not a good way to read the scripture. It is more important to see what the "God piece" is. As with James 3 the temptation is to rush off to my tongue management. But the God piece is "bless the Lord". Framing the chapter through worship does change the way we preach it.

5.   Bookends: The front end and backend frame of the verses, enables us to put the text into context so we do not become guilty of butchering the true meaning.

6.   Mirror: Finding a complimentary text elsewhere in scripture is very valuable to see how the apostles  or prophets were teaching  side by side.

7.   Story: Find the narrative piece. Scripture is the God story, not a book of principles. Like Jesus we are to be teaching far more in a story format than "10 principles of anything" - that is not good bible management.

8.   Pastoral prophecy: We do use good exegesis to understand and teach the text. Once we have been true to the meaning, we can then seek the application of the text in both a prophetic and pastoral way to truly minister to our people. Finding what God is saying to our congregation through this scripture now, is  imperative to effective pastoral care. Simply give the Holy Spirit words to work with...

Hope this helps. Anything you want to add?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Teaching Itinerary for August

Wow, we are into the second half of the year already.

Thought I would update you'll on the teaching story for August:

Sunday 5th: @ The Garden with Darren and Alex, in Long Beach, with the 2 morning gatherings and then lunch with there core leaders after;

Thursday 9th: Exploration @ Rock Harbor - our monthly gathering of pastors, wives and leaders for the LA / OC area;

Sunday 12th: @ Brisbane with Leon & Sonia's community,

Tuesday 14th: @ Gold Coast with Brad and crew,

Thursday16th - Monday 20th: @ Adelaide with Tony & Cath Rainbow and the Victory Church, with a full program; Lunch with Dudley & Anne as well;

Monday 20th - Thursday 29th: @Perth with Mark, Nas and the Kingscross community - obviously excited to see the family as well as 1 year after their reallocation from the suburbs to downtown Perth.

Would love your prayers for these communities.