Monday, January 26, 2015

Some Missional Thoughts

Some of my thoughts on being ‘missional’:
  • The Gospel centrality has to be the hub around which every thing spins – that means:
      • Understanding the full width the 
        • Creation,
        • Rebellion,
        • Redemption,
        • Consummation,
      • Land all our preaching in the gospel – to provide meaning, clarity, liberty,
      • The key to our discipleship,
    • The Priesthood Priority - of all believers must find expression both inside and outside the community,
    • The Family Model – this mindset requires us to see healthy kingdom minded families as the foundation for all missional activities,
    • The Missionary Mindset - Every believer should see themselves as being both incarnational [to serve their community] as well as missional [to save their community]
    • The Zip code Ownership - Missional believers see that God has ‘ordained the time and places where they should live’ – this means that the perfect storm in their lives take place where talents, giftings, relationships, vocation, the gospel and context come together,
    • The Cobbler Connection - Every person’s spiritual journey is valid and essential. The attractional model empowers the superstars to great acts of faith. The missional revelation empowers all believers to do ‘good works God has prepared in advance for us to do’ Eph 2,
    • The Cultural Conversation - Exegeting culture is the second language of this missionary – there is an understanding that I must adjust to impact my world but never at the expense of scripture,
    • The Contextual Evolution - A missional mind is never stagnant. By its very foundation it is adjusting as the people, context and situation requires… the wineskin changes to accommodate the wine,
    • The Poor Partnership - They never forget the poor…it is a matter of continual kingdom focus,
    • The Prayer Passion – It is impossible to enter the world of missional impact without a weighty theology of prayer, matched with a sustained lifestyle of prayer and fasting with appropriate spiritual warfare,
    • The Ant Trail – we need both observer sharpness matched with revelatory edginess to discern where the flow trails of city life is,

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cultural Questions we must answer

As we step into the Mercy Town story tomorrow, [very excited ] I am busy reading much on the question of mission, culture, context and the sacred text.

Here is a summary that Ed Stetzer uses of the questions we have to ask stepping into a new cultural context:

Ed Stetzer quotes Steffen on the list of question that we need to ask when entering a culture:
  • What is the worldview of the target audience?
  • What is the culture’s decision-making pattern?
  • What does it cost a person in this culture to become a Christian?
  • What redemptive analogy is best for this culture?
  • How does the culture view Christianity?
  • What does the culture understand about the basic components of the gospel story?
  • Is this culture based on shame or guilt?
  • How will culture understand Christian rituals?
  • What is the best delivery system for exposing the people of this culture to the gospel?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mercy Town - The Church Plant

It was a most wonderful Sunday ministering to the Bridgetown Church in Portland. John Mark Comer and the crew are doing a truly remarkable job at engaging a very disinterested Pacific North West with the gospel of Jesus. Their ability to live in both the large crowd space as well as the small intimate, missional space, is a testimony of their tenacity to favor neither, over the other.

This Sunday M and I will be prayerfully released from Southlands Church - a community we led for 14 years and have loosely been based out of for the last 4 years. When we were flying over the Atlantic to come and lead her back in 1996, I felt the Lord say to me "It would be very hard to leave... when the time comes". I never knew what that meant until now.  For various reasons reasons it has been one of the most difficult things to do.

Then Sunday night we will be set in to Mercy Town church in the Pasadena area of LA. Choosing our language very wisely, we are joining the MT story, as we are added to the elder / pastoral team bringing our gifts and contributions  - leadership, vision casting, a global gospel story and teaching.

Jesus said: "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up" Matt 15:13.

I would love to blog you through our journey. This is a remarkable community, planted around 4 years ago. They have some huge muscle groups - like doing life together, a love for the sacred text, worship that fills my life, servant hearted, generosity. But they also lack some key ingredients to be a truly healthy New Testament church.

It is a huge privilege to come into this amazing family and to help "set in order that which is lacking" Tit 1:5. What they have is beautiful. We will add to the story without dispensing with what already exists.

Over the next months I will blog around the story. With Glenridge Church we planted back in the  80's, with a small group of friends. With Southlands Church we replanted, taking an existing but broken church on a journey back to health and multiplication. Now we are so privileged to listen, learn and lead as we help build Mercy Town into a growing, multiplying, mature, beautiful community.

She is planted by the Lord. Of that we are certain. Now the next chapter in the adventure begins.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How should I pray for Me?

I love the year starting off with a bang - and 2015 certainly has.

Pulling down the Christmas decorations is always kinda sad, another moment, rich in family and memories is over - with all that we have as the best of Christmas traditions. Spinning our eyes toward this new year, requires finding our new God-grace rhythm, matched with the big God ideas that we will discover with our communities over the next months.

Of course for us, we are stepping into the Mercy Town story, fully on the 25th of January, so that is like Christmas with a new baby - loads of excitement.

But preparing our hearts of the new adventure is essential. In fact, knowing how to pray for ourselves is possibly one of the least understood components of many a christian, especially leaders. We may be really good at presenting our petition lists to the Father. We may even be good at personal worship. But how do we pray for ourselves in a way that keeps our soul pure, clean, light, healed?

Using Psalm 51 as the matrix here are a few under-developed thoughts:

Intimacy vs Function
Our time with our Father is and must remain, a "date with Dad". He is neither our valet, always on standby to serve our needs, nor is he the harsh taskmaster, forever demanding more of us. When David cries out "Cast me not away from your presence", he is saying, 'please do not distance yourself from me - that is the thing I fear the most'. We so dearly need to find our identity in being sons and daughters of the most high, and not be defined by our position, title or role. The latter will certainly change, while the former should only deepen.

True North vs Drift
I remember seeing a movie when I was about 12, of a boy who is flying to meet his father when, the light aircraft he is flying in crashed in the Namib desert, killing the pilot. This young boy is left to survive in the desert against all odds. One of the final scenes in the movie, sees the boy, now somewhat delirious, pushing on whilst muttering to himself "My father will find me". As the camera pans out, the audience sees that the boy is pushing on, but his bias actually has him walking in circles.
We must orientate ourselves to "true north" daily. Our time of prayer draws us back to the anchor of our souls, so we are not drawn to walking in circles because of our propensity to build, erroneously around our strengths or because we are being blindsided by our weakness. The Father will speak to us.
David says "Let me hear joy and gladness [vs 8]... restore to me the joy of my salvation [vs12]. May I suggest, when the joy goes, we have probably left the trail of divine destiny.
Brokenness vs Bruising
Simply stated [in all its complexity, we are custodians of our souls, we simply cannot let our souls remain  butchered!.
"Let the bones you have broken, rejoice" [vs 8].
These early morning times require us to i) forgive ourselves for our own sins; ii) forgive others for the sins they have committed against us. This glorious assignment is called 'expiation'. Time and space does  not allow me to explore the wonder of this great grace gift, but we simply cannot move forward without perpetually settling that God breaks us to soar us to greater heights. We get bruised when we sin against ourselves and others sin against us. We cannot live with these bruisings without dealing with them. They will grow, deepen, develop into the cancer of anger, bitterness and resentment. That will eat us away.

Discerning vs Dismissing
We are a people at war. We simply cannot forget that - to use a military slogan "Carelessness costs lives". David should have been at war, but dismissed its relevance when he saw Bathsheba. We have an enemy. He knows both our vulnerable points and our vulnerable moments [he waits for an opportune time]. As Richard Forster wrote of so truthfully in "Money, Sex and Power", we are all vulnerable to at least one of these major collision forces where darkness and light meet in our frail humanity.
These personal prayer times act as thermometers for the condition of our soul and its vulnerability to the enemy's devices. We can discern it and find the great grace of the Father to stand strong in the face of the onslaught.

So, how can we respond to this matrix for personal prayer? Our exquisite soul does yearn for this kind of protection.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why do I still love Jesus and His Bride?

Yesterday we had loads of fun at Exploration [our monthly gathering of pastors and planters in So Cal, conversating around matters of common import]. Using the TEDtalk model of shorter discussions, we looked at how we can deepen our devotion times with Jesus -

Lisa Proctor did a fabulous job talking very honestly about preparing our soul privately so as to be publicly helpful;
Todd Proctor walked us into his private devotional world esp in worship; 
I stepped in for Ger Jones who was not able to be there, chatting around "How do I pray for me?"
Matt Larson journeyed us through "Meditation and the Sacred Text".

So stepping up to the plate a little late, I asked myself some very honest questions. The first was - "Why do I still love Jesus and His bride after all these years?" I can't say it has always been easy. There was a window of around 8 years that were excruciatingly painful. But in the light of 30 plus years of ministry there has been some very amazing God times of privilege as well.

Here are some of my honest thoughts as I sought to answer that question:

After around 30 years of ministry and around 35 years of walking with Jesus, I would have to say, the reasons I still love the Lord and his church are because:

  1. An incredible wife who has loved Jesus and me more than she has loved her dreams and desires - Meryl has been a most wonderful God-gift to me. Not trying to be disparaging, she has never been a light-weight cheerleader. She bought into the God journey with the same sacrifice and passion as I did.  With her deep love for the bride and her profound prophetic insight she has given herself away without reserve. Matching that with weighty wisdom, she has been a sublime co-laborer in the kingdom. She taught me much about that kind of love.
  2. My kids who have loved the Lord and his bride and seen our journey as theirs - They have been amazing as they have dived into this adventure where "we have no talent for certainty" [thanks Daena for the Jane Austen quote]. All of our major moves of obedience have come out of left field, where the pathway that the Father opened for us, was not one we wanted, imagined or even prayed for. The kids took the steps with us, without combat yet seeking to find their own faith for the vulnerabilities.
  3. My friends who have loved me for who I am, not for the gift I bring, when the ‘friendship’ is purely functional, it will come to an end when the assignments ends - We have all tried to build around and through a relational matrix. Sometimes we have done it well and way too many times, we have done it badly. Some of the most painful lessons we had to learn were those relationships that were really true and valuable but simply for that season of function. When the function changed, so the relationships drifted to the album of yesterday's memories. That was very difficult to understand initially. But then through the mists of heart ache come the true and authentic friendships, that were never created for a one off season only. These men and women who love us for who we are, without position or title. This exquisite love, deep and meaningful, has withstood the deepest and darkest days. I love Jesus and His bride in part, because these friends love me, warts and all. 
  4. My devotional life - when God called me to himself in the early hours of the morning, not in legalism but in love - I have no doubt that Jesus calling me to the early hours with him everyday has been my most sublime empowering moments. This was never a duty or an obligation. I wanted to have my daily 'dad' time! This was not Chris the vision-caster, or the ideator, or the apostolic-catalyst, pastor or teacher. This was the Father / son daily date. It is about Him and me. The conversation is richly documented in my journal, as each day's conversation unfolded. Here I could be honest - fully, completely without the slightest fear that he would dismiss my naked humanity, in despair. Rather, he would love me, correct me, listen to me and leave me with a fresh glimmer of hope and a new well from which to draw.
Thank you for reading this honest reflection. There is no time to let our light of love grow dim. The bride deserves rivers of living water that comes from our life and lips. He is worthy our praise and she is worthy of our love.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Mountain IV - Fight

There is a little story, often forgotten on the broader narrative of the Samson account. Found in Judges 14 it deals with a dual dimension - the works of men and the ways of darkness.

Whenever we embark on a new adventure, climbing a new divine mountain, we cannot expect a free 'hall pass' from the enemy. He is totally committed to our demise, seeking to disqualify us at least, at best to destroy us entirely.

The fresh mountain air and the adrenal pumping through our veins, gets us to throw the backpack on our back and get us marching off loaded with romantic idealism. However the creaking back, rubbed by the pack that was suppose to be our life source, creates in us a sense of wonder "What was I thinking?" - as these thoughts begin to infiltrate our deeper senses.

In this little story we get a peek into the strategy designed to get us to give up the fight:

1.   Entice - we are all vulnerable to money, sex or power. Which one will the enemy use to buckle our knee? Discerning this is a life saver. Dismissing this is a life destroyer;
2.   Intimidate - we have an enemy who wants to overwhelm us with impossibility. But that is the language of faith. He is not impressive. The cross looms over his efforts. It is simply our mandate to remind him of that;
3.   Impoverish -we all suffer from the fear of failure... none as great a fear as financial depravity. Many a great act of obedience has been stifled by the fear of poverty, that is a heart-pounding, throat-closing, palm-sweating fear;
4.   Emotion - we are living in a world increasingly governed by the anchor less foundation of feelings. Drifting from the moorings of the sacred text, the power of community and the conviction of obedience, all that is left is our emotions, and they are cataclysmic as a solid rock;
5.   Sustained pressure - we are vulnerable to persistence. Like the torture of dripping, the ceaseless, endless, continuous whispers, wear us down - sometimes to the point of surrender.

This is not a blog of defeat. Actually, it is a narrative of victory. Samson won! The gracious Father has put us on a new journey loaded with overwhelming odds against us. We have an enemy who wages war on this great kingdom advancing climb. But "if God is for us who can be against us?". This is a fight worth winning.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Mountain III - Forgiveness

This dramatic moment of a fig tree that dies, a temple that is turned upside down, a call to mountaineering as seen in Mark 11, is extraordinary at least.

We have seen so far that God is in the new adventure business. Bigger than Patagonia, more challenging than the Amazon, more captivating than Everest, God in his kindness, perpetually puts us on a journey of challenge - that can only be achieved in partnership with him.

But that is only part one. Jesus also sent the disciples out two by two. Our mountain will only be crested when we do it in community. That notion offends the rampant individualism that holds our western world in hostage. "It is not good for man to be alone" is still a trumpet call that resonates from heaven.

But to our conversation today.

The backpack needed for this new mountain has NO room for extras. As the movie Wild indicates, it is the amateur's mistake to take too much stuff on the trail. The backpack must only carry what is absolutely necessary for the task ahead. All other pieces must be left behind.

That is where forgiveness comes into play. We all end the fig tree season with hurts, pain, disappointments. It may be that we feel let down by those we expected more from. It may be the pain of broken promises, acts of betrayal or unkindness. It may have been intentional hurt or unintentional deeds that led to a broken heart. None of us are exempt from this.

However we will not make it to the top of the new mountain if our backpacks still try to carry these hurts up the hill. We simply will not make it. I know. I have had to empty my backpack of the same senses of betrayal, hurt, broken promises.

Miroslav Volf writes: "To forgive means to accuse wrongdoers, while at the same time freeing them of the charges against them, releasing them from guilt and eventually letting the wrongdoing slip into oblivion. The removal of guilt is a crucial element of forgiveness. If guilt remains, forgiveness hasn't happened...
From Christ, we receive the power and the willingness to forgive. Christ forgives through us and that is why we can forgive...
Just as Christ grieved more over our sin than over the injury our sin caused him, so we grieve for others if Christ lives in us...
To forgive is to give people more than their due, it's to release them from the debt they have incurred and that's bound to mess up the books...
Forgiving the unrepentant is not an optional extra in the Christian way of life; it's the heart of the thing..."

As I have been reading his book "Free of Charge" I have realized how shallow my personal grasp of this revelation truly is. Over the last years I have experienced such deep pain from "enemies", friends, co-laborers, sons... But I have had to face my own dismal grasp of forgiveness. It is shallow, light, easily thrown off course, slow to take root.

Yet I know, this new mountain can only be crested through my ability to find a deeper, truer and more honest space of forgiveness. It is impossible to climb a mountain when you are always looking back. Empty the backpack of all those pains. Throw them out - not in anger, resentment or bitterness. Do it through grace, liberty, freedom, life, even as Christ empowers us through his life of obedience.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Mountain II - Faith

Faith is not the language of a movement that straddled the globe around the 80's and 90's. It is the most exquisite dance that we are invited to join.

When Jesus points Peter to the mountain he precedes it with "Have faith in God". There are so many ways to look at this little verse. I simply want to draw you into one of these, that has been so helpful to me recently.

In the grand old days of pomp and circumstance, the dapper looking young man would walk across the dance floor to graciously invite a most beautiful young lady to dance with him. As the band beats out a piece of rhythmic music, they elegantly and smoothly move across the floor - head held right, hands in the appropriate posture, feet sliding as if reflecting the romance of walking on water. I am told, a good male dancer, can in those situations, make an ordinary woman dancer appear effortless as he guides her through her paces. She in turn, trusts his tender, nuanced touches, gently one way then the next. [And yes I am an incurable romantic]

God has invited us to join him on a most engaging dance. All to often faith is taught, with so much effort placed on us, on our believing, acting, doing. Yet Jesus does not draw us to that conclusion. His appeal is for the 'bride' to 'trust him'. He has asked her for the dance and now she must slip into his arms and dance this great adventure together.

When the Father places us on a new adventure, he is asking us to trust him. It was his idea. It will fulfill his will. It will be done his way - in his time and with his partnership. That does not place us in the posture of fate. Not at all. We step onto the dance floor and dance with him, gently led on by his intimate touches.

Faith says, " I am weak, but you are strong. I am incapable, but you have chosen me. I am out of my depth, but you will pick me up. I am nervous and overwhelmed, but you will dance me through. I will embarrass you and me, but you will empower me beyond my natural abilities..."

We please him when we engage our faith with his invitation, because we trust him and dance the night away.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Mountain I

On January 25th 2015, M and I will join the Mercy Town team adding vision-casting, leadership, teaching to this amazing group of people.

The call to join them came out of left field, but that is for another time. We planted and led Glenridge Church [in Durban South Africa]for around 13 years. Then replanted Southlands Church [in LA] for around 14 years. God our most wonderful heavenly Father has given us one more 'at bat' - one more great global gospel story.

God loves giving us new mountains to climb. None of us live our dreams. They are generally too light, selfish and small. These new mountains are huge, scary and impossible without God, and those he joins us to. If we can do it without Him and / or others, it is simply too small.

When Jesus curses the fig tree in Mark 11, Peter gently queries him about this most intriguing ecological happening. But Jesus totally ignores him. Instead Jesus goes all geological on him. Jesus says instead: "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you whoever says to this mountain 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass it will be done for him.'" [vs 22 + 23]

God is on about new gospel assignments. The fig tree represents the last season with much fruitfulness [possibly]. But that season is over. It is now about getting a new mountain assignment from the Father. Close the door on the old and getting going onto the new.

But this God-given mountain is going to be much larger that you imagined. It is going to intimidate you, overwhelm you, scare you, surprise you, even disorientate you.

So Jesus says speak to the mountain - don't let the mountain speak to you. He will say - "you can't climb me! You are too small, insignificant, unqualified, without resources. You will obviously fail!"

We have to speak to this new mountain. We cannot trust our emotions, feelings, even our history. This is about a God - entrusted chapter. It requires faith, a fight, forgiveness. But more of that in the next blog.

What is your new mountain? What does the Lord require of you? How radical is it? How deeply does it deviate from the normal, the old, the known? Where and how does it challenge you? How does the mountain seek to intimidate, scare and silence you? What will it take to climb it? Who is on the journey with you - you will not get to the top by yourself!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Small is the New Big

Seth Godin is an intriguing voice of prophetic observation and commentary for the unfolding story of our society.

In a book called "Small is the new big", he writes:
"Big used to matter...
Big meant power and profit and growth...
...then small happened...
Big computers are silly...
Today little companies often make more money than big companies. Little churches grow faster than worldwide ones...
Small is the new big because small gives you flexibility to change your business model when your competition changes theirs...
A small church has a minister with the time to visit you in the hospital when you are sick...
Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.
Don't wait. Get small. Think big."

There were many wondrous moments in the 90's when we celebrated church growth [many seminars], great voice and influence [or so we thought], huge budgets [large staff was seen as successful] and exquisite buildings [moments of huge financial faith, but also idols and pseudo sacred spaces].

But as the global economy has shifted and folks are simply giving less, it has forced us to re-evaluate the priorities of the 90's. The quest for large churches began to shift as the desire for community began to override the seeming success of a large audience to listen to the celebrity. The many wanted to be empowered again and not simply occupy a Sunday space.

Small is the new big! 

Define the story of your Community
Love healthy Marriages and Families
Build strong intimate Communities 
Create a culture of Discipleship
Empower every believer on their Mission
Multiply these Jesus Communities
Raise up and release many Leaders
Draw on and activate Marketplace Catalysts
Engage the prophetic voices of Gospel centered Entrepreneurs
Cut the Budgets
Maximise Mercy Giving
Watch the ego for large buildings 
Be Mobile and Flexible
Invest in People not stuff
Seek for Generous Social Justice

This is a conversation worth having.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Futurists Message

Welcome to 2015...

I have spent the last months incubating a few key markers that will define "urban forward mission". There is a fresh wind blowing - certainly here on the West Coast of the USA. It has been a privilege to have been parts of several divine visitations over the years, but I so dearly want to be part of at least one more. That is my prayer.

Reading about the arrival of John the Baptist as the first New Testament futurist, his bold, courageous proclamation is simple in its profundity: [Matt 3]

1.  "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" This gospel laden pronouncement is not just a call to salvation [repent] but also announces that there will be a new kingdom that will invade the lives of the hearers, that will empower and enlarge the responders to a uniquely different life and story. This futurist announcement is about to change their narrative.

2.  "Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight." Whenever Jesus visits [either by his incarnation or by his Spirit], he simply does not arrive in a way that we expect - with the voices of the last visitation most often significantly resistant to the new Jesus moment. How will he come this time? Are we desirous of this manager born, donkey riding, fame avoiding messiah ?

3. "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance". This is a simple but very confrontational message. The quest to be culturally correct and contextually relevant has silenced this message. A fragile 'grace' message has erased repentance from her vocabulary whilst the reformed trumpeters have become theological inspectors rather than call folks to transformed, Spirit empowered lives. The futurist calls the church to both.

4. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire". The futurist points to Jesus - always. The futurist knows that there can be no impact without empowerment. The futurist finds fire. Jeremiah, an Old Covenant futurist said it this way: "there is fire, shut up in my bones, I am weary with holding it in and I cannot" Jer 20:9. 

The way forward will be led by the futurist. This is not an age thing [like we need the young or don't forget the old]. It is always led by those who are more captivated by discovering the future than by protecting the past. The futurist is loaded with love, but will not let sentiment stand in the way of the unknown. So many churches who found their story from the last major visitation, may not transition when he visits this next time. They fear they have too much to lose. But, as the disciples learnt, when we leave our boats immediately we will be on a great, grand, global gospel adventure.

Welcome to 2015 - are you ready?