Friday, March 30, 2012

The Journey: A VIneyard Community

In more ancient times, human societies had larger populations of nomads than today. Hunter-gatherers who followed the changing seasons and migration patterns. Pastoral nomads who tended flocks and moved them from one grazing spot and watering hole to another as the seasons and conditions changed. And, in more modern times, peripatetic nomads, moving among settled populations, doing odd jobs, like the Romani in Europe. Some estimate the modern world to still have about 30-40 million nomads.

My life verse, written about several times in my blogs, has been Heb. 11: 8-10. Abram (later Abraham) is the great "Father of Faith". And faith is exemplified in his leaving the security and comfort of home in Ur of the Chaldees. He is called to go on a journey with God. In leaving the familiar and safe, he becomes a nomad, living in tents and wandering through a land in which he was a foreigner and a sojourner.

John Wimber used to say, "Faith is spelled R-I-S-K."

Significantly for those of us who are called to follow Abraham, his entire life became nomadic. He never received the fulfillment of God's promise here--only tokens of it.

As we held our final services for the Walnut Valley Vineyard Church this last Sunday, it has been a major task to get rid of so much accumulated stuff and resume the nomadic journey, like Abraham, "searching for the city with the kind of permanent and solid foundations, whose architect and builder is God Himself" (Heb. 11: 10, my paraphrase).

And my last entry expressed the human grief involved in letting go of stuff.

But there is also joy that comes in obediently following God. I must say that I am excited and energized by the prospect of new beginnings.

And that is why the name of our new church will be "The Journey: A Vineyard Community."

A Final Note:
Thank you to those who read this blog regularly. I will continue to try to post weekly during this transition, although I will be making some changes to the shell as my time permits. As you can imagine, there are so many things to do and they all seem to need to be done right away. I'm just hanging on to His Hand and letting Him do the leading. If you are interested or know of someone in the Brea area who is interested in going on The Journey with us, contact me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Change and Grief

Change is difficult to go through. Even good change. Why? Because all change involves some kind of loss and all loss invokes some level of grief.

For instance, High School graduation is a major change. We celebrate it with great pomp and circumstance (I can't tell you how many times we played Elgar's piece all the way through during graduation ceremonies). Our relatives cheer when our name is announced. We throw a big party and people give cards and gifts to celebrate this major life passage.

Yet, for all the joyful feelings of accomplishment, we go through a tremendous amount of loss. We are no longer children, but are ready to launch out into the world. All of the relationships and rituals and regimentation of our lives are left behind. "Behold, I make all things new!"

We must grieve the loss of childhood in order to face the reality of adulthood. And reality bites.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me" (1 Cor. 13: 11).

This coming Sunday will be the final service for the Walnut Valley Vineyard Church. And no matter how wonderful I may feel about the prospects of planting a new church, I begin to feel sad as I contemplate the loss of all that WVVC has meant to me.

The memories of our early days of setting up in Ronald Reagan Park for a time of worship, teaching and going right into a picnic. Meeting dog owners, watching tennis players and baking in one of the warmest summers I can remember.

Then there were the unique lecture halls at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC). First, the cramped one in the language building with a poster of Cartagena over my right shoulder. Then the larger one in the Agriculture building with squeaking chairs and the display cabinet with bovine and swine trophies to my right.

Then, a week after praying for a new venue, being called by the Brethren church to see if we wanted to sub-lease from them. And going from there to becoming the primary leasers. And all of the changes and upgrades to the building. All of the meals and events. All of the joys and, yes, the conflicts.

People's faces, special events, difficult times, salvations. They all march through my mind in succession.

God has made us this way. We go through the predictable stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. I accept that. And so I look to the God of comfort to help me through the loss so that, coming to the place of acceptance, I have something with which to comfort others.

"Praise be to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Cor. 1: 3-4).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

There Be Waterfalls Ahead

Have you ever been on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at Disneyland?

The ride begins innocently enough. You are floating quietly through the bayou, listening to someone plucking a banjo, watching the fireflies and waving to the diners in "The Blue Bayou" restaurant. Then, suddenly you plunge down a waterfall once, then twice, and the ride has begun.

That's kind of like what the month of March has been for me. Suddenly, I have taken the initial plunge of announcing the changes to our church and, in two more Sundays, will be taking the second one as we close down the operations of Walnut Valley Vineyard Church (WVVC). I have had the continual feeling of "butterflies" in my stomach, like I do when I contemplate taking those plunges.

It is a reminder of what the Kingdom of God is often like. It seems like I am waiting and yearning and crying out for God to move. And then, when He does move, it comes suddenly and is outside of my control and I find myself crying out to Him again to stop so I can catch my breath.

I have to remind myself that I can't have it both ways: either I want God to be in control; or I want to be in control myself. And when I am sitting quietly and in my right mind, I know that I want God to be in control.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2: 20).

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" (Luke 9: 24).

So there's the rub. If I truly want to live the Jesus-life, I must die so that His resurrection life can be lived through me. So much for the illusion of control.

How about you? When you are sitting quietly, in your right mind, are you committed to dying to the self-determined life so that the Kingdom life of Jesus can be lived through you? It is better to make that decision now, while the banjo's are plunking and the fireflies are twinkling than when you go hurtling down the waterfalls that are sure to come.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joining in God's Mission

When the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus' healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (John 5: 17).

Did you know that God, the Father, is constantly doing HIS work in the lives of people all around us? But just what is the nature of that work?

By looking at the work of Jesus, who came to do the Father's work, we find the answer. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19: 10).

He came to bring salvation to those who are lost. Another way of saying this is that he came to reconcile men to God (2 Cor. 5: 19). That is, he came to pay the debt for us so that we no longer are separated from God by our sin. Jesus' sacrificial atonement is the ultimate work of God.

Even though Jesus has paid the debt for all sin, yet men and women remain separated from God. Reconciliation, to be complete, requires that humans do something to receive the benefits of that atoning work. It is as if God writes out a check for the full amount for each one of us--but we must receive and cash that check to enjoy the benefits.

Therefore, God has sent out every believer like an ambassador on his behalf with the message, "Be reconciled to God." Or to follow the analogy, "Take the check and cash it!"

"And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, [it's] as if God were making his appeal through us, 'We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God!'" (2 Cor. 5: 19b-20).

And so I come to the point of this blog entry: We are called to join in God's work, just as Jesus did. That is why the book of Acts begins by telling us that Luke's first book was about what Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach (Acts 1: 1). Now Luke will write about the continuation of God's work through the disciples.

We are all called to join in God's work--what theologians call the Missio Dei--God's mission. Each believer is to take seriously the call to participate in God's work.

And since I am powerless to actually do the work of God, I must be empowered by His Spirit. That is why, at the beginning of Acts, the Spirit is poured out on ALL the people of God, young and old, men and women. Everyone is empowered to do the work of God.

The Father is at work all around you. Have you decided to join Him in His work?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

When the Cloud Lifts

We're told at end of Exodus, and then again in Numbers that "Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped" (Num. 9: 17-18a).

Then, in Numbers 10, the LORD instructs Moses to make two trumpets that will be used as a signal to the whole camp for various things, one of which was to announce that "The cloud has lifted, time to move." Kind of a biblical version of a robo-call or group text.

Well, in the last months, it was apparent that God was doing something in our church and then, last week, He blew the trumpets and signaled for us to move.

I thought I was too old to plant a church when I did it at age 45. Now that I am approaching 57, I have decided that "He's God; and I'm not." God has called us to wrap up the activities of "Walnut Valley Vineyard Church" at the end of March and begin the preparations to move just 10 minutes away in North Orange County (probably Brea). We will be meeting in small groups during the preparation for a new church plant, hopefully to have a public launch in September.

Immediately after I had decided that this was indeed what God was speaking to me, and I spoke it out loud to my wife, things started to happen to confirm that this was indeed God's will.

First, a seemingly chance encounter with Pastor Kwan of the Vineyard of Harvest (a predominantly Chinese sister congregation about 3 blocks away) led to him telling me that they were looking for space for their new Cantonese congregation. I had been looking for someone to take over the lease--and now we can bless this growing Vineyard church as they reach the increasingly Asian community around us.

Second, a friend of mine who pastors a Vineyard church in Florida called me, seemingly out of the blue, but saying that God had laid me and our church on his heart. He was calling to find out what was going on. Early in his ministry career, I had called him twice at crisis moments. I guess there are people who are somehow linked in the Spirit (like some kind of spiritual Facebook friend) and God used him to confirm that it was indeed Him who was leading me.

And all of a sudden, I have a combination of energy and peace that comes from knowing God is moving and we are moving with Him. But I am also feeling the grief of loss, know that we will not just be leaving a building behind, but people who are not called to join us will begin saying goodbye.

How was it to walk for 40 years with Moses, not really being able to settle down anywhere? Not knowing if the encampment will last one day or ten years? That is what the Kingdom of God is like. We are "strangers and sojourners" here, living in tents and "looking forward to a city whose builder and architect is God" (Heb. 11:-10).

Are you settled in so much that you can't move when the trumpets blow and the cloud lifts? Be ready for His call when it comes.