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.