You can’t go home again….

 

cant go homeYou may know that phrase from the title of a novel that tells the story of George Webber,  who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town. The book was a national success but the residents of the town, unhappy with what they view as Webber’s distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats. Yes, it is an obscure reference, hopefully it will make sense as I conclude.

I’m writing this from a coffee bar in South Africa that, thankfully, serves good coffee but more importantly has free wi-fi, which I have come to realize is actually a commodity just as important as the right mixture of espresso and foamed milk.

I have just spent 3 days in an amazing game farm, taking in all the best Africa has to offer, exquisite sunrise game drives, sunset sun-downers on the savanna, met my nephews and nieces for the first time and reconnected with my brother whom I last saw 11 years ago briefly at my mom’s funeral. I have realized that you cant go home again, NOT for the same reasons as George Webber at all, I have great friendships, partnerships and family in South Africa. I enjoy being here, but its not home any more.

Today is Thanksgiving. It is my favorite Holiday as we (in the USA) set aside a day to spend with family, celebrate and count our blessings. A time to remember that we are simply stewards, of our bodies, families, material possessions. I have had much time to ponder what I am grateful for here, there is no Football to obsess over, no frantic cooking of a turkey, no pumpkin spice in the air, in fact today has been a very ordinary day. Ironically I find myself alone (the girls are in Cape Town while I wait for the team from the US to join me here) and recovering from an emergency dental procedure completed this morning. It has been a very Unthanksgiving kind of day.

So why can’t I go home again? I recognized that even though this trip has been an amazing gift, South Africa is not home any more, in fact she has not been home for many years. Today, I am quite uncharacteristically emotional, I am homesick. I find myself praying for the situations in Ferguson and in Cleveland. I am praying for our 2 communities gathering on Sunday to thank God for His faithfulness and His grace. I am a very thankful man. When I think of our 12 years in the States these are just a couple of the things that I am exceptionally grateful for:

  • A nation that has embraced me.
  • Southlands. A community of faith that loves Jesus and wants to be a blessing to their city.
  • Friendships that challenge, shape, encourage and motivate me and make me laugh.
  • Friends that have become my girls family, grandfathers, uncles and big sisters all without a blood connection.
  • A God that would trust me with the joy and privilege of shepherding His most prize possession, the Bride of His Son.

Maybe you can’t go home again, but I thank God that when we are on adventure with Him, we have the opportunity to experience many “homes.”

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Please excuse brevity, punctustion.and spelling

“Please excuse brevity, punctuation and spelling ” is the tagline or signature that is attached to all my emails. This, as I have come to discover, is a source of bemusement, frustration and fodder for jokes at my expense. I added that tag line about 2 years ago in an attempt to save time as I banged away at an inbox that never seemed to end. A year ago, I received this email: “Nick why do you have that “excuse” at the end of your emails …Why should people excuse brevity, punctuation and spelling? It seems to me to say that you’re in too much of a rush to communicate properly? You may be but why highlight it? Just my thought … use it, don’t use it.”

The irony of his grammatical and punctuation errors is intriguing and I don’t know if he did that on purpose or not. I guess he may have a point, but I simply want to communicate that the form or length of my emails in no way reflects my attitude toward the recipient, nor does it diminish the seriousness of the subject.
This reminds me of a group of men in the Bible that we refer to as the “Minor Prophets.” I wonder how these prophets would feel if they knew they were referred to as minor? They managed to challenge some pretty deep and important issues in a very brief way. We see that because all 12 of the “Minor Prophets” declare their message with less pages than it took Isaiah in his one book. I feel that the idea that these books are minor in importance has seeped into our sub-conscious.

As we approach the fall and the beginning of a new season, we will be studying some of the “Minor Prophets”. As one church, multiple communities we feel there are some key issues that the writings of these prophets remind us of , stir us in and challenge us to act. We won’t be studying all of the prophets but we will look specifically at:

Haggai – who had a burden for the rebuilding of the house of God after the people returned from exile. It’s a call to action.

Hosea –  who was burdened by Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, so much so, that in obedience to God, that he  married a prostitute as a sign of God’s faithfulness to an adulterous nation. It is a call to return.

Habakkuk – who was burdened by the injustice and prosperity of the wicked. He prophesied about a renewal of God’s fame. It’s a call to faith.

Jonah – who was burdened from God to go and preach repentance  to Nineveh. He fought this burden, but eventually obeyed. It’s a call to mission.

Does this mean that we are not building God’s house, that we are unfaithful, that we are depressed and immobilized by the injustice in the world, that we are disobedient to God’s call to mission? No, not in general, but I do believe that we need to be reminded and encouraged by these major truths through “Minor Prophets.”

Are you the janitor?

WP_20140729_11_55_48_ProSitting in a chair, left arm extended and actually excited to get my blood drawn as that means I am finally able to eat. I am a phlebotomist’s dream. Every time I give blood they complement me on my veins (like I have anything to do with that) as it makes their job of inserting the needle in much easier. She makes small talk while she readies the needle and specimen tubes. “Are you working today?” She asks, “Where do you work?” As I answer that I work at a church, I get the most curios question I have ever been asked.

She asks me, actually her question was more of a statement, are you the janitor? Perhaps it was the t-shirt I was wearing; you know, reduce, reuse and recycle or perhaps it was my less than traditional jeans and t-shirt work outfit, whatever it was the spurred this perspective, I was quite surprised. I politely informed her that I was a pastor, to which she responded quite apologetically.

I tried to convince myself that I was correcting a simple fact regarding vocation. But what I realized while sitting in my car, planning what I was now going to eat, was that I cared what she thought I did for a living. Try as I might to deflect the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I could not escape this fact; I felt slighted, undervalued, belittled. I then had to recognize and repent from the true reality. The reason I felt that way, was because deep in the ugly parts of my heart, I felt that I was better than a janitor and wanted a total stranger to know that. Yes, I know, none of you have ever felt that way.

As I repented from my pharisaical attitude towards people created in His glorious image I asked God for two things: (1) that my value, worth and dignity would be deeply rooted in the theological AND experiential reality that I am His son, and (2) that I would gift all other people with the same dignity. In the words of C.S. Lewis: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry snub and exploit….”

 

Confessions of an Apathetic Blogger

I have failed miserably. I set myself a goal of writing a blog a month, which, as I understand, is by no means a demanding goal. (It is at this portion of the blog where daily bloggers roll their eyes and humph, yes, I feel your derision). It’s been 3 months since my last blog and even that was a bit of a cheat as I had Karin write it. I had to ask myself the question, why am I suffering from blog apathy? Actually that’s a little unfair, I don’t feel like I have lost steam, I feel more like I have had a false start.

Unlike most people, putting things down on paper does not essentially help to clarify my thoughts. I am a verbal processor, I think aloud. Anyone that has spent any time talking with me is nodding their head vociferously right now.  So I pondered a potential solution.  A video blog! Hang on a second? People would have to look at my face while I sprout profundity? So not only am I being judged for what I say but how I look while I am saying it? No thank you. I then decided to speak to some friends who blog, some regularly, some not, I was hoping to find at least one thread of consistency in either intent or form. Again, no such luck. Nothing on which I could build, shape my immature blogging persona around, nothing!

I then did what every self respecting blogging noob would do, I Googled it. Top blogging mistakes, why bloggers fail, how to write a great blog etc etc. Well, needless to say, I was not at all encouraged by what seems to be an unending plethora of often conflicting ideas about what I should be doing, how I should do it and why.

Then the naked realization, my blog apathy had nothing to do with a lack of time, lack of subject matter or a lack of desire. My insecurities are the top reason why I haven’t kept up a regular blog schedule. I realized that I had unwittingly created yet another avenue for potential failure. I would obsess over how many people would read it, how many people liked it and that would gnaw at me. This crippled me and rather than post something that would be criticized, ridiculed or simply ignored. I would not do it at all.

Now, the bold step. I will continue to blog (please hold your applause) but while I continue to do so I am much more relaxed about it for the following reasons:

  • I want to have another forum to share what God is building at Southlands Fullerton, the community that is being gathered and the powerful stories of redemption, community and mission that are taking place.
  • My goal is not to pre preach or re preach my Sunday message.
  • Though I hope people will benefit and enjoy it, I am not going to obsess that.
  •  I will commit to blog more regularly, even if it is just two paragraphs.
  • I want it to add to people’s spiritual journey by sharing mine and being open, vulnerable and real
  • I am going to enjoy it.

And lastly, I am taking a page out of G.K. Chesterton’s book “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

Family worship. Guest post Karin Saltas

Karin and I have 3 beautiful girls (featured on a previous blog “the Lion and the Wardrobe”) we have seen mixed success in our journey to worship as a family, but one thing we do know for sure, is that regardless of age, sex or energy reserves, the answer is not to give up. Not to just acquiesce to the status quo of sending the children off so that the adults can worship in peace.  Here is Karin’s take on the subject:

The Fullerton campus is less that 2 months old, this gives us an amazing opportunity to set cultures rather than correct them. That means that we get to demonstrate and model lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors that we would like others to emulate. Our actions will represent our values and distinctives.

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One of our high values is our children and the incredible opportunity we have to raise them in the ways of the Lord. We get to call out in them what we believe God has put into them. God is clear that we are to be intentional and proactive in ensuring that we teach our children to love the Lord. In Gen 18:19 God called Abraham to be the father of many nations; and in doing so; he was chosen to command his children and his household to keep the ways of the Lord. We need to be sober regarding our responsibility as parents.

One of the ways that we get to disciple them is on the Sunday mornings when we worship together as families; currently this happens once a month for the little ones and twice a month for children over 5. We love having the children in the gathering to worship together with us as we believe that it provides them with a wonderful opportunity to worship the Lord in song. Children are largely creatures of imitation, copying what they see. They get to see their parents and other trusted adults being expressive and intentional in their love for God and will grow up in a household where this is regularly modeled, encouraged and fostered.

It is a wonderful teaching and training moment but it does require some intentionality and preparation on our part as parents. Here are a few ideas that might be helpful as we seek to equip and train up our children:

1)      Blankets work for some kids as they provide a friendly but clearly defined boundary. So when the songs are loud and conducive to dancing and clapping they can do so without ending up on the other side of the room. When there are quieter moments, the blanket gives them a spot to sit and draw or read quietly.

2)      Remind and redirect them throughout the morning. For instance, this is not time to visit our friends or play tag, or run up and down, this is a time where we choose to talk to Jesus and sing songs to remind us of how wonderful He is. There will be lots of time afterward to play and run around.

3)      If they are in a group with their friends singing and dancing, try to ensure that you are close by and available to ensure that it doesn’t become a play date. This is difficult enough to accomplish with adults!

untitled-384)      It is not realistic to expect little ones to be engaged the whole worship time, nor do we expect robotic compliance. But set a manageable goal, have them participate in 1 or 2 songs, ask them, as the song starts, to think of something good about God or something to be grateful for. Explain what words like “triumphant” mean.  Don’t give up.

5)      Practice this at home. Put on a C.D. and have them sing along to it at home. It trains them so that it becomes easier for them on a Sunday morning and it also helps them to understand that it’s not just something that we do at church, but it is a lifestyle.

It will take a little bit of preparation and organization but it is an investment worth making into the lives of our children. One last comment, I find that it helps greatly if I have made time to worship God myself during the week. Not only have I modeled what worship can look like to them, but then I avoid feelings of frustration in needing to “wrangle my children” because they are in the main gathering.

What a rich and profound opportunity we have to be entrusted with the lives of precious little people. I pray that you may know much grace and wisdom delight and joy as you parent your blessings.

 

Young man, there’s a place you can go.

village people

There are 23 days to go until January 5, 2014 when we move our weekly gathering to Sunday mornings; 9:30am at the Fullerton YMCA. There was talk of us dressing up as the Village People to celebrate our permanent venue. This, however, was enthusiastically rejected. I’m convinced it was because there was concern about emotionally scarring people with the lingering mental image of Chris Johnson dressed as a sailor, next to me dressed as the biker in chaps. We did, however, put a video together that will help those of you that are directionally challenged find the YMCA in Fullerton. https://vimeo.com/81757005

This change got me thinking about our very brief history, we started meeting in the Lemon Park Community Center once a month in March 2013, we gathered for times of worship, prayer and vision. On September 15, 2014 we started evening meetings on a weekly basis in the Laguna Road Elementary School. In addition to that, we have purposefully joined the rhythms of our city by spending time in laundromats, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, parks and the like. These have become times of intentionally living, working playing and loving our city. 

As I have studied the book of Titus over these last 3 months. I’ve identified 10 themes that are crucial if we are to create a Gospel Community that reflects the love of Christ, is compelling, purposeful and designed to facilitate the making of disciples. I am not going to comment on all of these as we have preached on all of them; this is simply by way of reminder. By the grace of God we want to be a community that:

1.       Dwells in a city.

Live, work, play has been a mantra of our community, in order to really BE good news in a city there has to be a reality to these factors. Halfway through our study, one of our family members added love as he instagrammed #liveworkplaylove. I was both pleased and embarrassed. How could I have overlooked the whole reason Jesus was sent by the Father? Love. Now we speak of Live, work, play and love Fullerton.

fullerton

2.       Develops genuine relationships.

Relationships are not emotional equity, relationship is both the reason God has called us and the method through which we operate. We develop healthy, Christ honoring relationships within our church family and the broader city.

3.       Recognizes and submits to qualified leadership.

We want to model a servant leadership that is sacrificial in its duty and respected by those we are serving.

4.       Challenges false gospels.

“Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” –Tertullian. These “thieves” or false gospels can be defined as moralism or legalism on the one hand, and hedonism or relativism on the other hand. “Moralism/religion” stresses truth without grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “relativists/irreligion” stresses grace without truth, for they say that we are all accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide for ourselves what is true. Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. We manage the tension that Tim Keller has identified, we are more sinful that we can imagine and at the same time more loved that we could ever hope for.

5.       Lives distinct lives that glorify God and

6.       Responds to the Spirit of Grace.

We have been purchased by God, we belong to Him. Our lives need to look different, not because we are better than others, but because the grace of God has appeared to us in Jesus, teaching us to say no to ungodliness. An active relationship with and reliance on the Holy Spirit is what makes this possible.

7.       Empowers through peer discipleship.

Our mission is to make disciples. This mission much more effective when all of the church, young or old, men or women, rich or poor are taking responsibility for the people God places in our sphere.

8.       Guards unity.

9.       Values the individual.

10.   Invests in gospel teams. These last three will be taught on this Sunday evening.

God has been so immensely kind and generous to us as a community. The quality of the people He has drawn, their sacrificial attitude and their desire to bring glory to God through service and making disciples is what give me great confidence that the Fullerton Community of Southlands will be one that lives purposefully and intentionally for the Glory of God and the joy of the city of Fullerton. If you are not part of a church community or you are examining the claims of Christ we invite you to join us or in the “immortal” words of the Village People……

“No man does it all by himself.

I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,

And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.

I’m sure they can help you today.”

Men in skirts and worship?

Men in skirts

Lessons from Yangon

1. We need a Myanmar restaurant downtown. Pickled green tea salad with peanuts and chilli is amazing washed down with freshly squeezed passion-papaya juice, which by the way only cost $1.75 total!

2. Men wearing skirts is not as weird as it sounds.

Last year I only wore the traditional “longhi” once. This time around I owned it. Once I got the knack of tying the knot in the right way so that it would not fall down at an inappropriate moment and shock the already curios locals.  I was much more comfortable and cooler. I may not have looked cooler but temperature wise I certainly was.

3. Kissing sounds have multiple uses.

In Yangon, if you are in the car and want to get a water from the sidewalk hawker, or if you want to get the waiter’s attention so he can bring you more amazing food you purse your lips and make a kissing sound. Never in my life have I had more fun with my lips other than actually kissing my wife. It was amazing. The minute someone hears a kissing sound they give you their attention.

4. Worship is simple

Yesterday I was honored to witness a friend brought to tears as he participated in musical worship. Now when I say that I witnessed an emotional response, I am not talking about a controlled, dignified, Hollywood style tear rolling down the cheek. I am talking about the deep sobbing of the soul. He was overwhelmed by the purity and simplicity of what was being proclaimed and how it was being proclaimed. A teenager on a kind of in tune guitar, a church populated by children, teenagers and adults all worshipping together. No sound system, no words on a screen, lighting, no air on, and for the most part no seats. All of us knew that we had just been part of something unique, powerful and very intimate. We also questioned why we seldomn seem to experience the same intensity back home in our various church contexts.

I realise that I have complicated this aspect of communal worship. As a leader I seem to be concerned about numerous peripheral things during musical worship. Why are the words appearing late on the screen, is it too loud, will visitors feel uncomfortable with this style of worship etc. I witnessed a profound truth yesterday. If Jesus is exalted through song, His person and word are clarified and his people are focussed on Him; worship becomes truly transcendent. I have made a determination to try and “stay in the moment” of worship, rather than trying to manage it. I need to make worship more about God than me, after all, it is for Him.