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Advent Week 4 Reflection

Christmas is in 3 days 🙂

We have come to the last Sunday of Advent. This week’s reflection focuses on the unique purpose of Jesus…. and you! In the “Respond” section, there is an opportunity for you to send your input. Please add your thoughts as a comment on this post!

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Advent Week 3 Reflection

I’ve been waiting all of Advent to share this one 🙂

What does Jesus’ name say about him? What does your name say about you?

Click on the image below to download this weeks’ reflection.

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Advent Week 2 Reflection

This week’s reflection focuses on how family shapes our identity. True of Jesus, true of us!

Click on the image below to download this week’s reflection.

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Advent Week 1 Reflection

Click on the image to view/download the first week of my 2014 Advent reflection

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This week, I am excited to be helping my friends over at Micah Challenge South Africa . They are part of a global coalition of Christians holding governments accountable for the Millennium Development Goals to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Each year there is a focus on a specific area and this year’s campaign – Exposed2013 – is about shining a light on corruption. This is a huge problem in our world. But we can do something about it and this campaign gives us ways to be involved in making a difference. Go to the MCSA facebook page for lots more info and opportunities.

I am excited to be running the Shine a Light blog for Micah Challenge South Africa, as well as writing and tweeting on their behalf @Exposed2013SA. I encourage you to follow both of those right now (as well as liking the fb page).

How often have you sought the Lord’s will with others?
While many of us have ways we seek God’s guidance in our personal lives, we have little experience doing this with others. I believe this is partially because most of us have grown up in churches where the emphasis is on our personal/individual relationship with Jesus. What is God saying to me? I am not really part of an US that needs to hear from God for US. I find this to be a huge lost opportunity to be the people of God as described in the Bible.
This is particularly unfortunate in cultural contexts with a strong sense of community (like South Africa where I live). Here, the paradigm by which people live – consciously or not – is that I am born into a people. Therefore, when Christianity is understood to be a personal relationship only, it is actually a foreign/western/northern/white concept. How tragic that we are not allowing the communal nature of Christianity to build on our existing understanding of life in a supernatural way. We all long to be part of something/someone – how can we possibly miss the opportunity to share this part of the Good News?
Another reason we struggle to seek God together is that many have never been part of church where the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously enough to enable (require?) active participation using one’s gifts and discernment as part of the larger congregation. I am not suggesting that we must all take part in every decision or discussion per se. And I recognize that we can all use our gifts and play our unique parts in the body. But what I am saying is that we sometimes use “we all play different roles” as an excuse for either un-Biblical passivity on the one hand or un-Christlike control on the other. IF we believe God speaks through us collectively, how are we actually attempting to hear and discern together?
Finally, in many cases we tragically separate worship/connecting with God from decision-making. When it comes time for business, we put the Bibles away. Now of course we pray to start and may even pull in some Bible verses. But too often we aren’t really even attempting to seek the mind of Christ together. We don’t expect to agree. We fight for our way. We talk to people outside the meeting to get them on our side. We don’t trust God to speak or one another to hear. And until we at least give it a go, we never will.

Today, I was reminded that our identity – the core of who we are – looks different over time. This came up in the context of women, many of whom experience very different expressions of themselves over the course of their life due to phases of life.

Several years ago, when our youngest child was a few years old, Melissa felt it was time for her to take a break from work to give more time to the kids. We agreed that in order to love them (and me) well, she needed to shift her time and focus for a while. A leader in our organization just didn’t get it. He felt she was giving up on her calling – quitting living out who she is.

What he didn’t understand is that we live out who we are differently over time. When we are young, we live as ourselves at the time. We are still us, expressed appropriately for our age and situation. Are we all that we will ever be? No. Does that make us an less of who we are? No. An immature and developing me is still me!

It is true for all our lives. We are always becoming us. That doesn’t necessarily mean radical change (though I believe many of us have experienced some significant moments of shift). Rather, it is more about aligning and realigning ourselves to the person God has created us to be throughout our lives. With all the changes we experience, it makes sense that the real me appears differently (just as our physical appearance varies) over time.

I think of my mom, recently retired. She finally has time for some things in her life that are different – time, relationships, etc.. She is beginning some new hobbies and endeavors – some she will enjoy, others she may not. Is she becoming a different person? No. Was she untrue to herself all the years up until now? No. Because of her stage of life she is re-aligning herself to the true person she is for now.

I believe we are all made in God’s image, and God has gifted us each with a unique way of living that out. I suppose it is more obvious when we know someone their whole life. We know the PERSON and we see the ebb and flow of their various traits over time. Unfortunately, most of us are more hard on ourselves than we are on others.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly if you are not yet all you believe you can or should be. Don’t stress too much when you are in the process of changing something about yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do something now that you once did. You are still you! Ask God who you are and believe it. You might not see all of the real you at the moment. Of course not, you can’t be your whole life’s you right now! But God sees your heart – the person inside – all of you. And God loves you so much.

God snuck up on me today…

As part of the last day of The Warehouse’s Winter School for church and ministry leaders, I was leading several people through a time of personal retreat. I had challenged each of us to spend some time considering one thing God had brought to our attention over the past few days of the training – use this opportunity to go deep. I had also encouraged us to not move too quickly to “what am I going to do?” Instead, allow God to speak to who we ARE… and after that we can consider what actions this may lead to. And so we began into some time of solitude.

But then there was a tea break (not so well suited for the middle of retreats, but other participants were doing other electives. And, well. 10:30 is tea time, no matter what, right?). I was chatting briefly with a woman who is part of a local church I have good relationships with and had done a retreat for some of their team (including this woman) last year. This woman has recently taken on a new role, basically leading the team I had worked with last year. Interestingly, another person on that team had called me a while back and suggested that I apply for this job. I considered it, but decided it wasn’t the best fit for me. So this woman today says, “xxx told me she had called you and thought you might apply for the job. Why didn’t you?”

And while this could have been potentially quite awkward, I answered her straight away: “Because to do my best work, I can’t just work for one church. I need to be able to work across churches.” I love helping other people figure out how they can be who God wants them to be and I am much more of a catalyst and designer than one to run a system over time. I can create an amazing box, just don’t ask me to get in it!  It felt really good to say that. There was no apologizing or word smithing. She didn’t look down on me for not being something I am not. In fact, our conversation continued about all sorts of ministry I love and some of my questions about how to make it happen best.

So then we moved back into our time of solitude and it hit me – we just had a conversation about identity. I am a catalyst. I am an explorer. I am a designer. I am a dreamer. Yes, I am a priest – but more like Melchizedek than Aaron (that’ll need to be another blog post). What and where and how I express who I am can change – certainly has changed over time. And while the core of who I am – who God has designed me to BE has always been in there – I am continuing to discover and embrace this identity. What a journey! It’s not always easy – there is so much that works against us being our true selves. But the more I connect with this God who passionately loves me and has done everything to set me free, the more I am able to truly live.

The irony is, when I talk about how I am discovering who I really am, most people’s response is: of course! We already knew that. Why don’t you? This identity seems to be more hidden from me than anyone else. My not so secret identity.

Do you believe you can hear/understand God? If so, how comfortable are you hearing with others what God is saying to you collectively? My experience is that many who feel they can discern God’s will really struggle to do that with others. I suppose part of the reason for this is that most of us are programmed to be individuals first and part of a community second (if at all). Also, many of us have been saturated in theologies and experiences which say that God has chosen someone else to hear on our behalf.

At The Warehouse, we’ve been looking at the way(s) we understand and practice corporate discernment. In other words, how does God speak to US? Here is our working set of principles. What do you think?

  • God speaks and we can hear. Discerning is making sense of what God is saying to us.
  • God has given his Spirit to all believers to enable us to serve as priests. We discern as a body using our many gifts together.
  • Corporate discernment is spiritual. We are seeking the mind of Christ together. Therefore, sin, unforgiveness, and the enemy can oppose this process.
  • There are a number of ways we hear God’s voice and know what is true that we weigh together when discerning. We must always test what we are saying and hearing.
  • Revelation, Interpretation, and Application all require and are part of discernment
  • In corporate discernment, we are seeking what God is saying to us together. We expect there to be a variety of applications, including personal. We distinguish between what God is saying to and for the individual from what is for all of us together.
  • We believe agreement is necessary in corporate discernment for carrying spiritual authority and requires we all take individual responsibility for carrying what is discerned.
  • We trust God speaking through all involved, particularly the God-guided voice of dissent
  • At times, we choose to delegate authority to individuals, teams, groups, etc. to discern on our behalf.

What is your understanding, experience, and hope for hearing God with others?

The grand finale in a short series of questions on what God is stirring related to our faith life with others. You will find the first question of this series here, and the second one here. Please read/think/respond to these before giving your thoughts on today’s questions.

Reminder of the one rule –  you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

Question 3:

If there is something/anything of faith life with others you are longing for (your response to Question 1), something different from all of your other friendships (your response to Question 2), why haven’t you found this with an already existing congregation/community in your city? Assuming there are good groupings of people following Jesus together around town, what are you still looking for?

Note: I am not looking for anyone’s complaints about a particular church. In fact, I believe there are lots of gatherings to allow for many different expressions of our following God together. This question is really intended for those who, for whatever reason, have NOT found what they are looking for.

Another note: I am truly asking those who aren’t simply looking for somewhere with bigger music or comfortable and accommodating versions of the Gospel. I am asking those who have a DEEP desire for God and being part of a people who are centering their lives around Jesus and is honestly SEARCHING.

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.