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.