Sunday, January 23, 2011

Growing in Love for One Another

I occasionally find myself listening to someone talk about their frustrations about the 'community dynamic' within their home church. Names are not usually shared but the experience often resonates with my own experiences after working with small group dynamics over the last 25 years. Lots of factors contribute towards this but when you 'boil it down', the consequence of genuine needs being neglected is always painful. It hurts and can lead to not just negative emotions but also faulty thinking and unproductive behavior.

We must learn to grow in love and to do so more and more as Paul says to the Christians in Thessalonica. I have come up with my own list of ways we can do this in our simple churches. Love is a choice, so why not take a look, reflect on those that 'hit home' and resolve to put some into practice more often, maybe even sharing that with another trusted friend who can give you feedback in a month or so as to how you're doing. Beware of trying to do too much though and then feeling self-condemned. Better to aim at 2 or 3 for a time.

Ok, so here's the list, in no particular order. Also, think about this in terms of your whole life, wherever and with whomever you find yourself;
  1. Respond to emails promptly about participation and contribution at the meeting

  2. Bring something to share of what is happening in your life

  3. Be more punctual - respect other people's time

  4. Take initiative to connect with others outside the group gathering so as to get to know them

  5. "Give first" - call people more, give a small meaningful gift, etc.

  6. Seek to become more accountable/vulnerable/real - remove the mask with some

  7. Listen well

  8. Be curious/dig deeper by asking open-ended questions and don't move on too quickly

  9. Don't be too quick to write yourself off as to the impact you may have on someone else

  10. Be ready to commit or at least explore with someone why that's hard for you

  11. Offer to help someone you see struggling - a little bit goes a long way

  12. Beware of triangulation - speaking badly about one person to another. If someone does that to you, interrupt and encourage them to address the person directly, offering to help if necessary

  13. Be a peacemaker

  14. Celebrate special occasions (birthdays and anniversaries) and other's achievements

  15. Pray for people - maybe just one a day or as at the Spirit leads you

  16. Offer to make/bring main dish at least once in a while -can be simple, maybe team up with another

  17. Offer to host

  18. Ask for help - shows you're real

Hope this helps us grow together and in the Lord. Let us not withhold the Spirit's life.

Comments and additions very welcome!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Train yourself for godliness

"Train yourself for godliness ... For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." [1 Tim 4:7 & 10]

At breakfast this morning with 2 friends and fellow Christ-followers we pondered this Scripture. One friend reminded us that when Paul talks about toiling and striving, it is not about "huffing and puffing" to make something happen, but ultimately about yielding to the Spirit and his work in us. This is meant to take the pressure off of us, especially as we increasingly rest in the knowledge that God is with us (Immanuel) and for us. He is willing as Jesus once said to the leper who said, "if you are willing, you can make me clean". Peter would also want to encourage us by reminding us that through the gospel we have been given everything we need for godliness ALREADY. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" [2 Pet 1:3]

The heart of the new covenant message of the gospel is 'Christ in us, the hope of glory'. So we always have hope, we are never totally at a loss, though there is still a part we play in the process of yielding. At Larry Crabb's School of Spiritual Direction we were reminded of this same truth in thinking about how we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. He puts it like this:

Brokenness --> Repentance --> Abandonment --> Revelation --> Confidence --> Release

Abandonment equates to yielding, a turning from a self-obsessed lifestyle to a God-obsessed one. Though we would like to think that this was all done at conversion, when we first turned to Christ as Savior and Lord, the reality is that spiritual formation is a lifetime of repeated repentance and abandonment as God reveals to us new areas of our lives that still need to be conformed. This is not easy 'work' nor something that is meant to be done alone. This is why the Lord sets us in families/communities - the primary place where our self-centredness gets exposed. Hopefully within these communities we will also foster the kind of closer, more intimate friendships where this work can be embraced.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Truth About Fitness

Friday morning, 7:30am at a certain Starbucks, is one of my favorite times of the week. For the past year or so I've been meeting with 2 guys who have become good friends. We are "Men of a Certain Age" as the title of the show goes. It's a time to catch up but also a time of spiritual reflection. This last Friday one of the guys talked about a secular article he had been reading in which people in their 50s (I think) talked about the things they regretted most as they looked back on life. Here's the top 3 answers:

(1) About 60% wished they had made wiser choices when it came to money so that at this stage of life they had less debt and more savings.

(2) The second most popular answer had to do with physical health. Today they were living with the regretful consequences of poor diet and lack of exercise.

(3) The third answer was to do with relationships and their regret at not investing themselves enough in building healthy, intimate relationships with family and friends.

It got me thinking about (and threatening to preach about!) the three foundational areas of the Christian life to which we should give significant attention and how they related directly to each of the points above;

(i) Stewardship - the strategic and faithful use of our time, treasure and talents in the service of God
(ii) Spiritual Formation - seeing our destiny as the conforming of our lives to the image of Christ Jesus and our need to be devoted to this process of transformation .... in ourselves as well as in the lives of others
(iii) The New Commandment - given to us by Jesus that we love one another as he loves us.

As we enter a new year, what better time to do some personal reflection on progress through 2010 but also prayerfully seeking a vision for what the Lord wants for you in each of these areas. Growth is a process, a long one for most of us, understanding that can be a liberating truth. But it is also a process to which God is committed and with which he is involved as a loving and compassionate Father.

This week I wanted to share some thoughts about Spiritual Formation or Health. Interestingly enough, later on Friday I went for my regular workout at 24 Hour and noticed that they had some new posters up that picked up the theme of physical health. They were highlighting "The Truth about Fitness" and there were three topics;

(a) Look Around We're All In This Together: working out with a friend will help keep you motivated
(b) At One Point, I Wanted To Throw In The Towel: establish a routine and stick with it, the results will follow
(c) No Matter How You Feel Walking In, You'll Feel Great Walking Out: regular exercise can help relieve stress and elevate your mood

When it comes to our own Spiritual Formation, the development of the inner life with God, where we grow in freedom to love and give ourselves to others, I thought about the importance of having close intimate friends. A saying of another friend of mine is 'you can't grow yourself by yourself'. We have too many blindspots and are easily prone to self-deception. I want to have a few people in my life to whom I can ask the question, 'when you are around me, what do you experience?' Scary though it is, I believe we need this kind of input and people who'll love us enough to be truthful.

There is also a place for spiritual discipline and ritual. We would all like to be spontaneous (well some of us), but daily/weekly/monthly rhythm is important also. For me this year, I would like some of that discipline to include more consistent times of quiet/aloneness/meditation and journaling. I enjoy and am energized by being with people but I also need time alone with God and my thoughts.

Just as physical exercise can make us feel better inside (once the aches and soreness subside), spiritual health and balance in our lives can also bring inner peace and joy. Which can in turn, impact us physically and relationally, giving us greater freedom to reach out and risk ourselves with others. Oftentimes I can sense in myself and others a tendency to withdraw or remain hidden, often motivated by fears within. This is one of the greatest hindrances to authentic community and friendships. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. I wonder if oftentimes our hiddenness is an indication of a certain hardness or 'emptiness' of heart, reflecting our aloneness in that no-one really knows us deep down, something which God says is not good.