Tuesday, October 5, 2010

School of Spiritual Direction

This weekend I get to do something that has been on my heart for the last couple of years. It has previously been 'out of reach' due to scheduling conflicts or financial constraints. But at fairly short notice, God has opened the door for me to attend and to do so with Carol as well. We are both excited but also a little apprehensive as I sense that this will be as much about change in us and the preparation of our own hearts as it will be about learning news skills or techniques. The timing could not have been better and we both sense that this is something of a watershed moment in our lives and ministries.

Spiritual Direction or Spiritual Formation is not something with which most Christians are familiar. It was certainly not a part of the tradition in which Carol and I grew up as young believers. But we have come to increasingly see this as an important part of our spiritual growth and development. Our interest has also been piqued by reading some of Larry Crabb's books and reflecting upon his own spiritual journey. Some of these books include;
You can see a short video clip on Larry Crabb's approach to Spiritual Direction and Spiritual Formation by clicking on this image to the right. I like the idea that this is not just for the "professionals" but that it is something we can all learn to grow in and provide for others through deep spiritual friendships. It is our hope to impart these principles to others so that our Simple Church communities are increasingly places of healing and transformation for our lives.

This is what Larry Crabb says on his website; "As we conceive it, Spiritual Direction is the process of exploring and understanding the interior world of another, recognizing both the work of the flesh and the work of the Spirit, and following the Spirit's work in transforming the person's interior world to become more like Christ." It is really all about helping others develop a deeper and closer relationship with the Lord so that he becomes our chief delight and joy. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives and we're simply partnering with Him in the task with those whom God has put into our lives and communities.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Core Practice #7: Creative Expression

Our final Core Practice, "Creative Expression", was maybe for some a more difficult concept to grasp. This may be a reflection of how often in the church we have unwittingly stifled people's creativity by being too one-dimensional in our expression. This is not just about art - if so, I for one would consider myself part of the remedial class. Maybe not a bad idea in itself some might say!

The thoughts that came to me caused me to look to the book of Revelation at a part of the picture given to John of the assembled worshippers in heaven, before the Lamb;

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" [Rev 7:9]

When we think of the diversity that is within the church, something we are meant to celebrate and not be intimidated by. When we consider that the same creative Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis 1 is at work within each one of us, personally and collectively. When we grasp that the recreation of all things in, through and for, Jesus Christ has begun and that we are a part both of the product and the process. When we see the interplay of both "truth" and "beauty" - their respective importance and necessity in what God is doing through His Son.

We are a part of something much grander than we are often able to give God credit for. This also means that God has purpose and intent for each one of us in effecting his purposes upon the earth. We are to both take responsibility for this within ourselves but also draw this out of one another through the prophetic ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in our communities.

" the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation." [1 Corinthians 14:3]

During our time together, we were led to ponder the condition of our heart before the Lord and one another. Carol had helpfully laid out the display below (see photo) to help with our meditation and reflection so that we might express ourselves through word, picture, song, poem, etc. It led to some vulnerable sharing that become a holy moment of knowing one another more deeply and knowing the presence of the One who makes all things new.

Our conversation on this topic is to be continued next time, so this will hopefully be continued ...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Core Practice #6: Serving Others

"It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." [Matt 20:26-28]

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." [Matt 5:16]

"And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." [Matt 5:41]

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." [John 15:15]

In many ways these Scriptures speak for themselves. But as we reflected as a community, a number of conclusions were drawn;
  • service can be described as 'an act of helpful activity; help; aid'
  • though not the means by which we are saved, according to James, to call yourself a believer/follower of Christ and not to serve others, is to have a faith that is dead. Paul puts it another way in Ephesians, we are saved for good works
  • the world asks the question, 'what's in it for me?' This is not to be our primary motivation as Christ-followers.
  • there are over 2,000 references to the poor in the Scriptures reflecting God's special heart for those living on the fringes, in need of help
  • the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 amply describes Jesus' expectation that we will feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison.
  • service is good news, therefore a significant part of evangelism
  • the dynamic of our serving as a community does something to us also, it builds something among us, we are changed
  • we are not to wait until we feel ready or feel like serving, it is in the act of obedience to Jesus' command that our hearts ore touched with compassion and we are changed
We talked about and explored the different ways in which we have had opportunity in the past to serve others - whether as a larger community or as individuals. We wanted to commit as a community to make this a regular part of our rhythm of life, being open to needs as God brings them across our path.

What does being a disciple of Jesus and serving mean to you ... individually?

Where and how can we serve as a group, together?

How can we best maintain a balance of inward growth and outward service?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Core Practice #5: Grow Self, Grow Others

I was away for the discussion on growing ourselves and others but here are the notes that Steph kindly took:

Job Chapter 1 - 'Does God promise to protect us?' was how the conversation began. This is a difficult book, and a difficult passage, since it sets up the story as God bringing Job to Satan's attention and almost baiting him into testing Job. God praises Job and then allows Satan to take everything from him, with the exception that he may not touch Job himself.

Job did everything right, even God recognized this (Job 1:8). Yet God allowed Satan to test Job in a very harsh way. God refers to Job as his "servant". This was reflected on later in our discussion about how in the Scriptures, people like David, Jeremiah and Job cry out to God. Sometimes in anger and frustration, but also worshipping him in the midst of suffering, and calling themselves God's servants.

  • Cultural ideas of maturity vs. Biblical - the Biblical model is relying more and more on God in all circumstances
  • Maturity is driven by a hunger to draw closer to God, or pursue God (David given as an example). A relationship requires effort - commitment beyond our own immediate desires.
  • Being vulnerable/humble before God and allowing yourself to be open to correction/instruction/revelation.
  • Forming habits that give time and space to allow God to speak clearly into your life and to see this increase - prayer, solitude, devotional reading, etc. Classic disciplines.
  • Having accountability, prayer, worship, discipling within the Body of Christ, seeing this modeled by others
  • Getting out of your comfort zone and accepting that growth can often be (but not always) painful as you work out your salvation
  • Growth is not about replicating a method, but having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and requires you to be gentle and patient with others and yourself and to listen to the Holy Spirit

What does it mean to increase in the grace, knowledge and love of God in our daily lives?

When it comes to growth, it is important to recognize not just my responsibility to myself, but also to others. A popular refrain I use would be, 'you can't grow yourself by yourself'. A passage I instinctively go to is Ephesians 4:11-16. The ultimate goal is love because this is what God is [see 1 John 4:8]. Maturity is when we learn to live for the sake of others and intentionally look to meet their needs, trusting that in the same way, others will help meet our own. Other key ideas or words in this passage for me would be 'unity', (relational) knowledge of Jesus and the working together of the different roles - apostolic, evangelistic, prophetic, pastoral and teaching - of which we are all a part according to the grace given. It calls for "truthing" (speaking the truth) in love - a connection back to the place of mutual accountability. All this is to be worked out within the context of a loving, forgiving community (family) where we are known and affirmed.

Jesus also seemed to emphasize the importance of smaller, more intimate and focused sets of friendships (as seen with Peter, James and John). We would want to encourage everyone to foster these kinds of 'spiritual friends', threesomes where there is opportunity to share how we are doing (we like to ask the question, 'how are you feeling' as a way of promoting more intimate knowing of one another) and how we sense the Lord speaking to us through our devotional practices (see 'Listening').

In addition to such spiritual friends, there is a great need for father/mother figures in the community - those who fulfill more a role of mentor or spiritual director through their love and their experience of walking in the Spirit. Be encouraged to look for such people in your life. Paul says, "Even though you have ten thousand guardians (teachers) in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." [1 Cor 4:15]

We best facilitate personal growth and transformation through the following;

  1. Increased meeting of (Relational) Needs (provides MOTIVATION)
  2. Challenging Unhealthy Thinking and resolving Painful and Negative Emotions (bring FREEDOM)
  3. Initiating and learning New Behaviors (developing SKILLS)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Core Practice #4: Love One Another

"be imitators of God as dear children.
And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us,
an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
[Eph 5:1-2]

"walk in light ... walk circumspectly ...
be filled with the Spirit - submitting to one another
[Eph 5:8c, 15a, 18b, 21]

This past weekend we tackled the 'thorny' subject of accountability, in the context of loving one another. I say thorny because the word itself carries baggage for some of us. We have had bad, hurtful, even traumatic experiences. Surely it's safer to simply concern myself with being accountable to God but not to other people. I don't think the Scriptures, or love for that matter, allow us to get away with this. True committed relationships naturally imply and call for accountability. The problem has more to do with incomplete or badly applied accountability. So let's correct that (as best we're able), rather than "throw out the baby ...".

Accountability is a Relational Need we all have. If we love one another, we will be concerned for one another's well-being and growth. When we glimpse something of the significance of our unity in Christ, we will understand how much one person's choices affect us all to varying degrees. We must jettison our "independent" mentality as we now belong to one another. We define accountability in this way:-

"giving and receiving (mutual) feedback consistent with the keeping of commitments made"

We must run a mile from accountability without relationship, as expressed through loving commitment. Therefore it needs to happen as we;
  • Give First (take initiative to think of others and communicate care in some way)
  • Provide Encouragement (by being there and speaking words that build up - don't just think them)
  • Grow in 'Relational Courage' (to both give and receive to/from one another) - this is what is needed to do what we're told to do in Eph 4:15 ... "speak the truth in love"
Accountability is not to be imposed upon another but invited from another for ourselves. We are to seek to develop some relationships that provide this kind of security and support, trusting that it will be reciprocated. We are inviting people to hold us to what we are committing ourselves to become. We cannot grow ourselves by ourselves, we are not meant to. That is just a place we often find ourselves due to painful experiences in the past. Such 'aloneness' is not good for us, it never has been, it just may appear that way.

A couple of helpful questions to think about:
  1. What commitments are you making that require accountability/support?
  2. Who do we see as being key relationships in our lives that express this covenantal love?
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
[John 13:34-35]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Core Practice #3: Prayer

This past weekend we explored together our third Core Practice, that of prayer. We talked about our different experiences when it comes to prayer, both personal and collective. Jesus taught us both to close ourselves away in prayer ... "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" [Matt 6:6] - though this was said in contrast to the 'hypocrites' who love to be seen publicly praying - but also how important it is to pray with others "again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven" [Matt 18:19].

The picture of the chief 'practices' of the early church given to us by Luke, includes a devotion to prayer. "They devoted themselves to .... prayer" [Acts 2:42]. Here are some of the other comments (in no particular order) that came out of our conversation and that led us into a time of prayer:-
  • For some, nature/creation plays a significant part in inspiring us to pray - let's get outdoors, even in summer (editor's comment!)
  • prayer is the dynamic and expression of our relationship to the Father, through Jesus, and as such is to be without ceasing, throughout the day
  • it is valuable for us to pray aloud - especially when the emphasis is upon praise and spiritual warfare
  • prayer helps us to overcome through our connection to the reality of God and his power at work in our lives - so helpful and necessary when we are struggling
  • we must learn to trust God for who he is before what he does - is this reflected in the balance of our prayers (i.e. less about asking and more about thanking)?
  • prayer is communication and needs to be both ways
  • do we have a good balance of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving as well as Supplication (asking) in our prayer lives?
  • prayer is best when we come with an attitude of openness and surrender to God
  • remember the promise of Jesus when we agree together in prayer - AMEN!
  • our imagination, which is God-given, plays a great part in our prayers is helping us to see Christ ministering in and through us - as we lay on hands, effectively so does he
  • do we come with no preconceived agenda or expected outcome but are we learning to trust in God?
  • prayer is arguably the principal demonstration of faith - as Jesus taught about faithfulness and perseverance in prayer, he immediately goes on to ask, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" [Luke 18:8]
  • how we are with God in prayer will often be reflected in how we are with people - if we're not giving approval, appreciation or acknowledging mistakes with people around us, chances are we're not doing the same with God
  • for some, the use of music and songs can be real helpful in helping us to focus upon the Lord
  • the Spirit helps us in our weakness when we don't know how to pray - let us open ourselves up to this "Spirit-reality" - this may include prophetic prayers as we pray into the revelations given
  • when we are struggling to pray, this is when we need most the discipline of gathering with others (1 or more) to own the struggle and to invite them to pray with us - sadly all too often, these are times when we pull away from one another
I may have missed some things and I certainly invite others to comment. More importantly, unless this leads us to pray it is of no consequence. Jesus desires nothing less than that we become people of prayer who know their God and do great exploits. As a community we want to build patterns into our lives that lead us to pray with each other on a regular basis through the week.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Core Practice #2: Listening & Spiritual Contemplation

This past weekend we explored the practice of listening (to God and one another) and contemplation. 'One of the highest forms of prayer is listening' yet we often find ourselves all too ready to lay out the laundry list of needs before God, without taking time to contemplate his beauty and love, and simply listen for his voice. I loved that the 2 people leading, got us to experience this before talking about it. That reinforced the truth that learning and growth happen most through experience rather than intellectual study or discussion.

Here are some of the Scriptures we used to help us begin to focus upon the Lord:-
  • "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." [John 10:27]
  • "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!'' [Psalm 46:10]
  • "Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" [Psalm 27:14]
  • "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." [Rev 3:20]
(see also John 8:31-38,47)

Here are some of the comments/thoughts that were shared ...
  • will we seek to hear, recognize and follow?
  • do I take time to quiet my soul before the Lord so as to be ready?
  • I sense the Lord calling me back to a regular reading of the Scriptures
  • I want to make sure that I am abiding in Jesus
  • who am I loving, nurturing and growing out of his call to "feed my sheep"?
  • suffering can often preempt our call to kingdom ministry, even helping to define it because this can be the enemy's point of attack (Peter's denial of Jesus and subsequent restoration/invitation to feed/take care of Jesus' sheep)
  • beware the busyness of 'responsibility' (often in our thinking more than reality) that can take us away from being centered/with the Lord
  • do we risk placing productivity above relationship?
  • beware of unrealistic/legalistic expectations when it comes to listening - a time ot take up and a time to 'let go' of the discipline - don't 'beat ourselves up'
  • let us take time to contemplate the truth already revealed so as not to be overcome by the lies of the enemy
  • like a baby, who doesn't always ask to be held, do we trust the Father and his love?
I was encouraged to hear the hearts within our community and get a sense of the Spirit's working among us. In devoting our time to silence, song and sharing we experienced the Lord among us and there was encouragement and strengthening that came from this. It led to some opportunities to speak some words of truth and comfort to one another. It caused me to want to keep building a pattern of this in my life and to help others to do the same. It was powerful, thanks be to God!

"Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men" [Psalm 107:3]

The 'Church of Two' (CO2) is a helpful example of how some of this can be put into practice within our communities. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Constructive Conflict

Most of us don't like conflict, myself included, although I think that this is often tied to a perspective that is too narrow, not to mention our emotional 'memories' and levels of what I would call 'Relational Courage'. Conflict is an inevitable part of life - a consequence of our differences and inherent selfishness. Jesus recognized this inevitability and commended those who would engage in it's resolution when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" [Matt 5:9]. To be a peacemaker is to closely reflect the nature of our Father in heaven. Paul gave a different slant upon the same truth when he said that God had given us all a "ministry of reconciliation" [2 Cor 5:18].

Part of a more healthy perspective is to see that the experience of conflict (and the subsequent healthy resolution of such conflict) is essential for deeper, more intimate relationships and community. Some time ago, I read Scott Peck talking about the journey from 'pseudo-community' into more authentic community. The pathway will almost always take us through 'chaos' (or we might say 'conflict'). But in that moment we have a choice - to either go through the dark waters of chaos, by engaging the conflict with the anticipation of more authentic community, or we take for the 'easier' option of withdrawal or avoidance and settle for superficiality or worse still, aloneness.

So, what will help me (or you) to make the right choice so as to grow in my relationships - be they at home, at work, or with my friends? The 'Jesus' answer to this rather complex issue is to "love one another" [John 13:34]. But that in itself, is not too helpful. It needs some unpacking. So, here is my unpacking of 'love one another' as it relates to handling conflict.
  • Vision - we need a vision of where we want the relationship/community to get to (whilst acknowledging and celebrating our differences) and a fresh perspective of how healthy engagement of conflict can help us get there
  • Mutual Commitment - also known as 'covenant' whereby we communicate our commitment to each other's 'success', which can help to give us the relational courage (aka 'security') to be vulnerable
  • Humility - to recognize first and foremost where our actions and words have caused pain (knowingly or unknowingly) to others by listening, and then to confess and give comfort
  • Growth - a commitment to our own personal growth of hearts and hands (emotional freedom and learning new skills) so that we can reduce the risk of repeating the same mistakes and better know and support one another
For most of this to happen it will need the loving care and encouragement of others (a challenge for us 'self-reliant' types). All of this is available to us within the community of Christ. More importantly, Christ himself is with us and is on our side, but he won't do it for us.

In our work for the Center for Relational Leadership, we sometimes find ourselves helping people resolve conflict and strengthen relationships within teams in the workplace. We apply these principles in the following manner;
  1. First get each person to verbally express their commitment to the other person's success and invite the recipient to comment on how that feels/sounds to them
  2. Deal first with the past in the following manner. Each person prepares 2 lists. The first identifies everything they have done to contribute to the conflict. The second lists what they think the other person has done. One person (usually the more senior) starts by sharing his first list, dealing with each item with appropriate care and comfort, inviting the other person to express their forgiveness. They then ask, "is there anything else that I have missed?" This gives the other person the opportunity to share anything from their second list that has not already been covered. The process is then repeated with person #2 sharing from their first list.
  3. Deal with the present by getting each of them to talk about their (relational) needs and current growth areas so as to be able to provide support to one another and to better connect and give to one another
  4. Deal with the future by putting into words where they would like to get to in their relationship and also arranging a follow-up meeting to reflect on progress and adjust plans as necessary.
If this is possible in the workplace (and it has been a joy to see even long-standing conflict resolved), then our hopes and expectations for our Christ-centered communities, families and friendships should be even greater.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Core Practice #1 : Hospitality

This last Sunday we looked at the first of our Core Practices as Christ-followers, that of 'Hospitality'. Our desire in all this is that we grow personally and as a community in these practices such that they increasingly shape our lives and help us build a rhythm into our lives. The Scriptures explicitly command us to practice hospitality [Rom 12:13b]. Interestingly, Paul instructed that for the widows to receive assistance, they should have a reputation for showing hospitality [1 Tim 5:10].

But what is hospitality? We talked about "having your stuff available for others" but that it also carries the sense of "giving care and kindness to those in need". We usually think in terms of inviting people into our home, but it may also mean entering their home/world into order to know and care for them. We see this in the way Jesus entered Zacchaeus and Cornelius' homes.

Peter reminds us to "offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" [1 Pet 4:9] which implies that our attitude or motivation is important, that we should have genuine compassion for people. This does not always come naturally, particularly if we've not been used to receiving from others. This is an important part of our growth.

Our hospitality is an extension of and flows from the Lord's care for us as modeled in the incarnation. God left his 'home' and came to ours (earth) in order to share his love and make it possible for us to experience and participate in the community of the Godhead. As in all of life, Jesus is the one who helps us in this ministry - he's there, it's his 'fragrance' we share, his peace which is why we must keep receiving his offer of hospitality (see Rev 3:20).

It was most exciting to hear one of our group speak of how her experience of hospitality from our community in different forms had helped to draw her back to the Lord and had impacted not just her but her family also. When we demonstrate genuine acceptance and care in this way, it becomes a compelling hermeneutic for the gospel.

"Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." [Matt 5:16 The Message]

What might this look like?
  1. Not just eating alone always (even as a family) but inviting others to come join you
  2. For families to intentionally 'adopt' those who live alone and make space in their lives/at their tables for friendship
  3. Taking meals/other support to those facing particular pressures in life
  4. Going to where others eat or drink in order to be with them
  5. Invite the neighbors around
  6. Make a habit of taking a work colleague (of the same sex) you don't know too well out for lunch ... and buying
  7. Look for opportunities to party!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Core Practices

"As a Christ-follower, what are the core practices that give expression to your faith?" This was the question posed at our last Simple Church gathering. Behind the question was the understanding that the principle way in which we learn about God and his ways and grow as Christ-followers, is through experience. This seems to be the priority Jesus adopted with his disciples. Whereas the Church has tended to focus upon believing the right things, Jesus spoke a lot about living the right way. He not only spoke about it, he modeled it in his own life and expected his disciples to follow his example.

This is not to diminish the importance of orthodox faith but to also recognize the importance of what James was communicating when he said, 'I will show you my faith by my works' [James 2:18] Our plan over the coming weeks is to focus upon one item each week and prayerfully reflect upon what Jesus teaches and how we might seek to grow in this personally and as a community. Jesus gives a dire warning about those who hear his teaching but fail to put it into practice (see Matt 7:26-27). But then again to be doers of the word brings great wisdom and strength into our lives.

So, here's the list (in no particular order, just how they came out);
  1. Hospitality (connecting with people, even @ the pub)
  2. Listening & Contemplation (to God and one another)
  3. Prayer (through the day)
  4. Loving One Another (especially in the area of "accountability")
  5. Growing Self & Growing Others
  6. Serving Others ("no strings attached")
  7. Creative Expression (of our gifts & talents)
We also talked about Worship and felt that in a sense, all of the above represents our worship to God. Interestingly no-one mentioned "going to church". I was pleased about that. Looks like we are grasping the truth that 'Church' is more about who we are than what we do.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I love Simple Church because it means I don't need to give ... or does it?

Our transition away from a traditional church structure with buildings, budgets and staff to support financially has left some wondering about the place of giving and what it is that God requires of us. What happened to the pledge drive? Aren't we supposed to tithe (give 10% of our income)? Isn't this a chance for the church to prove it's not just after your money?

I have felt lately that in my reluctance to speak much about money, particularly as it relates to the support Carol and I rely upon, we have perhaps missed out on what seems to me to be a foundational aspect of kingdom living ... to excel in the grace of giving (see 2 Cor. 8:7) as a network. Money is a part of all of our lives, when it gets out of place then it becomes a problem. That happens a lot and is perhaps one reason Jesus spoke about money as much as anything.

The first thing I would say is that under the New Covenant, that is for those of us who belong to Jesus, our motivation for giving is to come from within rather than without. It is not meant to be an external rule to be obeyed, but we are to be inspired by the Spirit within who moves us to give generously, even sacrificially, and with a cheerful heart. There are no rules now, but there is loving relationship with a God who gives in this way. As others have said before me, let us be less preoccupied with the percentage we give away and more focused upon the amount we choose to keep and spend on ourselves.

Under the law of the Old Testament, the tithe was a portion of the crops given to support the Levitical priesthood. They were the tribe that received no portion of the land of Israel (unlike the other tribes), so they relied upon the other tribes sharing a tenth of their harvest. This system is now obsolete and so no longer applies. Ironically there were in fact 3 tithes one to support the Levites, one to fund the serious party celebrations that happened in Jerusalem around the Feast Days each year, and one for the sake of the poor (see Deut 14:22-27). I like this mix and believe it should guide us as we prayerfully consider the needs to which we can give.

As you read through the New Testament, again and again you see the priority of meeting each others' needs within the community and giving to the poor, the latter being the primary way we are to 'invest' in a way that lasts into eternity. We get to send it on ahead of us (see Luke 12:32-33). Though we are not bound by external rules as to how much to give, I think that we can benefit from the discipline of learning to give regularly and sacrificially. This is one 'weapon' we have to combat the worldly spirit (very prevalent in our culture) of selfish consumerism and ultimately idolatry, whereby we find ourselves putting our hope in financial security rather than in Christ. When we are honest with ourselves, we find that this often keeps us from the blessing of living in more daily dependence upon the Lord and from experiencing the sheer blessing of giving.

So, what might we conclude from all this? Some ideas that I seek to put into practice in my own life;
  1. Following the principle of "first fruit" (i.e. allocating to others/effectively the Lord - see Matt 25:40 - before ourselves) by setting aside money every time we get paid. This is what Paul would teach in his churches (1 Corinthians 16:2). 10% is not a bad target to aim for or to begin with.
  2. Invest yourself personally in the people, projects and needs you support
  3. Respond to opportunities to give to the three types of needs as identified above - supporting missional/ministry initiatives, relieving poverty and injustice and sharing within your community to meet needs (Acts 4:32,34) and facilitate parties (life is to be enjoyed and celebrated)!
  4. Resolve to grow in this grace of giving so that as the Lord may entrust you with more, you will have greater opportunity to give for the glory of God
My hope for us at BridgePoint, is that over the coming months we will make giving a real priority so that we might develop over time a reputation like the churches of Macedonia in Paul's day;

"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." [2 Cor 8:1-4]

The following article based upon 1 Cor 9:1-14 gives a helpful explanation of how the early church financed 'apostolic' ministry. Click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Burying "Gran"

Yesterday we buried Carol’s “mam” in the churchyard at Thornton-le-Moor alongside her late husband Vic, who died almost 14 years ago. So they are now reunited in the Lord and at rest. This is the church where Carol and I were married a little over 31 years ago, although the church building no longer remains, just an outline of the church foundations peeking out through the grass. Requiring too much money to be maintained, the ‘economic’ option was to pull the building down – Carol’s brother Brian was the one awarded the contract.

The funeral itself, though awash with the painful emotion of human grief at the loss of a loved one, was also strangely a wonderful family celebration of Lil’s life. It caused one of the pall bearers to comment that he had never seen a funeral like it, there seemed to be so much joy and happiness despite the sadness and tears. I am sure that Lil would have wanted it like this and that it brought a smile to her face as she ‘looked on’. The sight of her three daughters and one grand-daughter carrying the coffin into the church was a poignant moment that certainly added to the drama and that no doubt surprised many amongst the gathered mourners.

Lil’s life could be summarized in one word – “Family”. She was always surrounded by family, young and old alike, whether literally or just with the photographs, cards and knick-knacks that adorned her home. She exuded love and service. She lived ‘beyond herself’. She had lived her life ‘locally’, in villages that were surrounded by beautiful countryside. Gathered together in the small, old village church and then on to a neighboring village hall for mouth-watering array of sandwiches, pork pie, cheese rolls, cakes and the inevitable pots of tea, we were a long way from Austin, Texas!

It was fitting that some of her 12 grand-children got to play a direct role in the funeral as they paid tribute to her life through words (some recorded and “emailed” from TX and NC), poems, songs as well as a video montage of photographs set to music. It was a privilege to officiate at Lil’s funeral and lead her family and friends in remembering and commending her to God, much as I had done in part 14 years earlier with her husband. It was also emotionally and physically draining.

Despite coinciding with the start of Wimbledon, the weather was spectacular, almost a little too warm. In the late evening sunshine (and here it stays light well past bedtime!) we gathered again for barbecued sausages and burgers, and to celebrate Carol’s sister Lynn’s birthday which fell on the same day. Such is the nature of life.

Rest in peace Lily, knowing that you are truly loved and will be truly missed.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Forgotten Ways

In February of this year, I attended 2 conferences in consecutive weeks ... not for the faint of heart! I am out of practice when it comes to conferences, and generally out of desire, so 2 in 2 weeks was a bit of overload. However, they became occasions where I sensed the Lord speaking.

At the first, our AMiA Winter Conference in Greensboro, NC, the theme of Paul's 2nd missionary journey captured my imagination. We have been at this Simple Church thing for about 4 years now during which we have grown, learned some things, and seen God move. It now feels like time to build upon this and go further and deeper.

The second conference was here in Austin - Verge - and was built around Alan Hirsch's book, "The Forgotten Ways". I had read the book soon after it's publication, yet in reconnecting with it's contents, I again sensed that this was a part of the puzzle, and that it's message was important for us at BridgePoint. So, as a leadership community, we have begun a process of prayer, discernment and conversation around the themes raised in the book.

They are as follows:-
  1. Jesus is Lord
  2. Disciple Making
  3. Missional Incarnational Impulse
  4. Apostolic Environment
  5. Organic Systems
  6. 'Communitas' not 'Community'
More details on these to follow, but for now we're taking one topic a month, reading, hanging out, talking and praying about the implications of each subject. My hope through this process is that we will get to know each other better, hear God, grow, and develop some community practices or disciplines to help us become what God desires for us.

During our first get together to just introduce the process and set some ground rules, one of our (rather bright) guys who is working on his PhD in Biomedical Engineering, spoke about how he was looking at ways in which he could bridge the gaps that can emerge in people's nervous system that prevent the peripheral parts of their body communicating with the brain (or something like that!) It occurred to me that this is what 'The Forgotten Ways' is all about. Helping us to reconnect with the Church's original identity and purpose, and especially with it's Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are seeking to remember and reconnect with that which God has already placed within us through His Spirit. What Alan calls the "missional DNA or mDNA of the Church. I am excited about the journey and the people God has us with. I look forward to sharing our discoveries and experiences together.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are our gatherings characterized by more than words?

"For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." [1 Cor 4:20]

This Scripture has captivated me over the last couple of days as I reflect upon God's mission and how that impacts our personal lives and community experience within our Simple Churches. Earlier in his letter, Paul has spoken of coming to Corinth with "fear and trembling", humanly feeling very weak. Yet this was precisely so that their faith would not rest upon him and what was humanly possible, but would rest upon the power of God because of the tangible demonstration of the Spirit's power in their midst.

The consistent interplay of God's power being perfected in human weakness. We see this not only in Paul but also in Jesus of Nazareth. It is in the realm of our humility, our brokenness, our dependence through prayer, our willingness to take no glory or reputation to ourselves but simply to serve, that God's power is manifested and his Name is glorified. But let us beware of overly embracing what we cannot do that we lose sight (or faith) of what God is more than able and willing to do through his power. What does this mean for our Simple Church gatherings (amongst other things)?

Later in his letter, Paul will seek to redirect the community in Corinth to correctly understand the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit, and their application during the believers' time together. His emphasis is upon the importance of edification of the believers and the place of prophecy. "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy .. the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding (edification) and encouragement and consolation (comfort)." [1 Cor 14:1, 3] Our love is to be 'empowered' through the manifestation of the Spirit's power, in this case through words from God that have the power to build us up in the faith, to put courage in us to persevere in life and witness, and to heal/comfort us in our pain.

If we are faithfully following Christ, serving Him in the world, then we are engaged in a battle against forces that can overcome us - the world, the flesh and the devil. We are not meant to 'go it alone' but need the fellowship of one another so as to more fully experience the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are the army that marches on it's knees, knowing that it is only the power of God that enables us to overcome. So, we need to seek this power - not for our personal pleasure, but in order to remain engaged in the battle for God's renown. This will take some vulnerability and honesty in our gatherings. Honesty about our stumblings (without the fear of rejection), vulnerability about our pain, and acknowledgement of our fears.

But this is not that we should wallow here, but rather pray for the power of God expressed through his prophetic word ... that we should speak words of hope, healing, deliverance, forgiveness, anointing that have creative and re-creative power through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. "Jesus appointed twelve .. so that they might be with him and he might send them out .. to have authority to cast out demons." [Mark 3:14-15] There is here a rhythm of being together, but also being sent out to overcome the power of the enemy. Our Simple Churches are meant to be such 'powerhouses' where love is pursued and the Spirit's power/manifestation is eagerly desired.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Liturgy OR Liberty?

Why does it have to be either/or? What I find in conversation with people, is that they often assume that you have to have one or the other. What we are discovering as a simple church community, is that we definitely need both. There is often an irrational rejection of liturgy, more associated with people's previous (or perceived) experiences in more tradition church worship settings. But let us know make the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

In our times together as a community, we have been seeking to live into Paul's instructions in 1 Cor 14:26, "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." What we find though is that this does not come easily, even with the more Spirit-filled believers. We have been so used to allowing others to lead from the front that this is a huge change, and calls for a greater degree of security and intimacy (both with one another and with the Lord). This is where I believe that liturgy can really help us. After all, do we not even in our most informal simple church gatherings, still have a liturgy of sorts?

"Liturgy" carries the sense of the 'work of the people', the very thing we are seeking to encourage through corporate participation and contributions. We have begun the practice, beginning in the season of Advent, of putting together a short liturgical flow of prayers, readings and versicle/responses. We have been drawing from different liturgical sources (Common Worship, The Wee Worship Book, etc.) to keep it fresh and engaging, and have also sought to follow the lectionary readings for the day most of the time. We do allow ourselves to veer from this when appropriate, according to what we sense the Lord is saying to us as a community. Though we have some prescribed words, we also have open times for worship songs/prophecy, Scripture reflections (no sermons here) and more spontaneous prayers.

Here are some of the advantages I see from this approach;
  • We all get used to hearing the sound of our own voices in a more intimate setting and this can help when it comes to the more spontaneous times
  • We get the opportunity to draw from the witness of the whole Church and from some of the saints who have gone before us
  • We are more balanced in our time together - including helping us to hear Scripture together from both old and new testament
  • It helps keep us from honing in on favorite topics/ideas
  • We get to connect with God's story by following the Church's calendar and celebrating the major festivals
  • It gives us some vocabulary and concepts that help to feed the more spontaneous times
  • We also have a sheet that we can take away and use during the week inour more private devotions should we wish