Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Survive the Waiting Game

I have reproduced this article from here (I want to acknowledge the link and the source) - I have had the privilege of hearing John Paul Jackson speak a number of times, the last being a couple of weeks ago, and he always offer such wise counsel with a prophetic edge - how we need that!

How to Survive The Waiting Game

Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (Ps. 27:14, NASB).

No matter what God has called us to do, one of the most difficult things we will face is the in-between time. In the beginning, He prepares our hearts for the calling. He gives us a glimpse of His plans for us, and it births great hope within us.

The difficulty is that there is always a time lag between the initial preparation and the outcome. The beginning often carries a great emotional surge. We know what God said, and we know we will see it happen, no matter what the enemy may throw at us in the process. Our faith is as tall as the mountains. We feel invincible in God’s promise. We take the initial steps and are excited to see the fruit of our labors.

But then comes the waiting.

The days become weeks and months, and we have to wait for what God has promised us. Many of us don’t handle the waiting very well. Our hope begins to waver. We begin to forget the glorious promises God gave us and how it felt when we heard His voice. So many of us lose heart during the time lag.

What can we do to instead gain heart during this waiting period?

1. Be willing to rest.

Hearing God’s voice is like finding a well in the desert. We do not survive on our own thoughts or strength or goodness, and as we discover this we discover reality and true freedom in Christ. His presence is our lifeblood, and He is our peace, which is the foundation for hearing His voice. It will be very difficult for us to stir up our hearts and keep them passionate and alive without being willing to rest in His presence.

So in the midst of waiting for change, we need to be willing to rest. In the New American Standard translation of Psalm 24:17, it reads, “Let your heart take courage” (emphasis added). If we are worrying and striving and trying to make things happen, it will be very difficult for us to find our peace in God. It will be difficult for us to remember Him.

Today, if you find yourself brought low by anxiety, despair or the apparent lack of movement in your life, let your heart take courage by being quiet in His presence. This is the starting point for everything we do. There, God will prepare us for the change He is bringing and for the next step in the promise He has given us.

2. Be captivated.


Paul wrote in Romans 10 that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The level of “hearing” that Paul talked about means to be enraptured, to be captivated, to be totally consumed, to be focused on the Word—that is what increases our faith.

What has God told you? Be like the persistent widow in Luke 18 who would not allow the judge to forget her case.

If it has been awhile since you have actively remembered the promise God gave you, change that. Think about it. Remember it. Write it on a note card and tape it to your bathroom mirror.

Be captivated by God. Open your heart to hearing His quiet voice in the area of His promise.

3. Be willing to take risks.

Finally, we need to consider taking steps we have never taken before. Perhaps God has already set up everything we need, and the only thing left for us to do now is take the risk that He’s calling us to take at the time he’s calling us to take it.

Peter took a lot of risks. The New Testament is filled with wild stories about him. Something daring and unorthodox was in him from the beginning. He didn’t always take the right risks, yet God never chastised him for being zealous.

If you do these three things—rest in God, be captivated by Him, and be willing to take the risks He sets before you to take—then you are guaranteed to see change because you are seeking God. You are holding on to His promises, and you are remembering His voice. You are honoring Him, and that is no small thing.

Today, be strong and let your heart take courage.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Martin Luther WTG!



Martin Luther - way to go!!!:
When I preach I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, of whom I have above forty in the congregation, I have all my eyes on the maidservants and on the children. If the learned men are not well pleased with what they hear, well, the door is open".

Friday, June 24, 2011

Here's a wee excerpt....


Here's a wee excerpt from the book. I am sharing it because this week I have become more convinced than ever about the final point (3) at the foot of the post - love sullen teens in you church as much as the cutest baby and you will play such a key part in loving them through their periods of doubt, questioning and stubborn-ness.

John Westerhoff’s Theory of Faith Development

The four types of faith outlined below are helpful when thinking not just about children, but about people of all ages who make up our congregations. Westerhoff describes faith as a verb i.e. a way of behaving. He points out that these are generalizations and not meant to box children or adults into distinct categories.

Stage (1) begins with an “experienced faith” – children first learn about Christ not by what we say or teach theologically but by the experiences they have connected with those around them. They sense, explore, observe and copy the stimuli around them, and experience through interaction.

This stage is where children form their impressions of God from their experiences of Christians and church. This means that I would like to do all I can to ensure that the child’s experience of church is marked by love, trust and care. The volunteers who look after him/her need to be taught about the importance of these early days. The church crèche/nursery therefore becomes a hothouse environment for demonstrating the love and faithfulness of God. The physical space becomes very important – clean, warm, well resourced. The very best volunteers who want to be in crèche (not hard pressed parents!) serve the youngest members of the congregation. Loving grandparents, aunties and uncles become the voice and touch of Jesus to the babes they cradle. The community can help faith to grow - belief that children possess spirituality which we expect will grow to personal faith in a loving God.

Stage (2) “affiliative faith”.
This follows naturally on from Stage 1, assuming the needs of experienced faith have been met during childhood/early adolescence. Belonging is key - membership of an accepting community of faith is important. A clear sense of identity is formed – for example, this is my church, we sing these songs as we gather together. The children join in with the activities of the community, such as story-telling or singing, and share something of the awe and mystery that holds the community together. The child needs to be accepted and to feel a sense of togetherness and will take on board much that a significant and trusted leader gives to them.

So I would, as a pastor/team leader, make sure that I was visible and consistent in my love for and time with the children and young people. I ask my volunteers to give a regular and sustained commitment to the children so that relationship was built up and a group identity was formed. Again, physical space is important – for young people to have a place that is “theirs”. Story cushions, rhythm and routine are all things that help – although with teenagers a degree of flexibility (exhibited by skilled leaders) within a routine is preferable.

Westerhoff points out that the church must be constantly aware of its story and tell it often . Therefore Christmas and Easter all age services and celebrations are of immense significance to growing faith not just in the young but to adults as well. The church celebrates her shared story.

Stage (3) Providing the needs of affiliative faith have been met, the child/young person/adult then enters a “searching faith” phase, where s/he will question, experiment, look at other points of view and finally arrive at a faith that works because it makes sense to them, rather than because someone else has taught them to believe it. This is a necessary part of gaining identity and a strengthened ability to trust in God.

This is a time where young people’s leaders need to tolerate – and dare I say, welcome, questions and comments that express doubt or fear. Here, in my personal view, is one of the most important quotes from Westerhoff’s seminal book, written in 1976 but with deep prophetic significance for church leaders today:

“It appears, regretfully, that many adults in the church have never had the benefit of an environment that encouraged searching faith. And so they are often frightened or disturbed by adolescents who are struggling to enlarge their affiliative faith to include searching faith. Some persons are forced out of the church during this state and, sadly, some never return; others remain in searching faith for the rest of their lives….we must remember that persons with searching faith still need to have all the needs of experienced and dependent faith met, even though they may appear to have cast them aside. And surely they need to be encouraged to remain within the faith community during their intellectual struggle, experimentation and first endeavours at commitment ”.

Key here is the word “community”. The community must be awash with the love of God that accepts the fragile newborn as much as the cute toddler as much as the difficult, moody teenager. And also important is consistency. People who will stick around young people and exhibit love. Who have some flexibility in the way they teach and model Christian living and who are experienced too in the supernatural; to be a gateway into the experiential side of faith so that it does not become a dry set of rules, an inappropriately cerebral bible study or a collection of oft-told stories (did you know that can happen in your teenage groups too?)

Stage (4) Once the needs of searching faith has been met, “owned faith” should follow. This is a mature holding together of things that have been taught so far along and alongside a demonstrated change in behaviour and attitudes. The person with owned faith tries to show it by both word and deed. At this stage the Christian is prepared to make a stand for their faith in the face of opposition.


What can we learn from Westerhoff?


1.Faith is growing and dynamic.
It is tempting to put an age of each of these stages but that isn’t always possible. I know young people who demonstrate all of the hallmarks of owned faith and live for Jesus with a passion that is firey and infectious. Many adults have not progressed in their faith past the first couple of stages, preferring the “warm fuzzy” stage of belonging and not yet appreciating the lifelong cost of following Jesus.

Note that in Westerhoff’s categories, the conditions for one stage have to be met before advancement to the next. These conditions are vitally important for lifelong discipleship to occur: everything from the warmth and furnishing of the rooms to the love and care shown by the adults to the very young plays a part. The “whole package” is needed – lovely rooms on their own won’t do it if the faith community just manages to tolerate children (knowing that a “good” church should have children in it) but neither will lots of loving adults working alongside children in cold and bare rooms give a consistent message. Think of the gardening metaphor – we want the optimum growing conditions for the seedlings to flourish.

And is it possible that the simple love and trust exhibited by a child who loves Jesus because they have been taught that he loves them, is – in God’s eyes – faith in him? Trust has been exhibited at the cognitive level of development appropriate to that young child.

Westerhoff uses the analogy of a tree to describe the growth of faith in developing human persons. He says “a tree with one ring is as much a tree as a tree with four rings” , in other words experienced faith is as valuable for a person to possess as owned faith.

However he makes it clear that faith is a journey and the goal should be to move towards owned faith; which is the point at which one would lay their life down for their faith. I want to make it clear that repentance – saying sorry – for the things the child does wrong is a vital part of this journey, which leads neatly into further points to pick up from Westerhoff.



2. Children and young people need to make the faith and belief their own – just the same as adults!

The searching faith phase indicates that a period of questioning is natural and normal and may in fact be necessary for young people to fully commit to the Christian faith. It is therefore helpful for a child/teenager to have experiences of God as well as lots of information – head knowledge - about him. This helps him weigh up whether he wants to know more about him!

It is possibly at this stage that a lot of youngsters give up on the church, as they weigh up and test what they have been told. We as leaders must not be afraid of letting young people try things out, ask (what seems to be) antagonistic questions and disagree with our theology. Patiently loving them through this time is not an option if we are to retain our children.

I think it’s really important not to walk in expectation of rebellion. There is a difference between asking questions because the young person sees a disconnect between what they are being told and what they see, and outright rejection and rebellion.

Because we suspect that the end result might be rebellion, we (parents/leaders) may tend to “crack down” on questions or attitudes on display that we feel we have already answered or should not see, and become impatient, intolerant and perhaps even angry with the young person. Consider the following, which seems entirely logical to me:
How do I know he is with me if I don’t feel he is near?
Am I just to believe without substance?
How do I know God still does things today like the amazing things in the Bible?


Is this rebellious talk? Or are these not genuine questions from a child or adolescent at the “searching phase” of faith development?

The role of the pastor/parents/adults involved with young people at this point of their faith development is one of loving acceptance, not rebuking. Instruction IS needed, but only after we have exhibited:
(a) patient listening to the things that young person have to say as this allows them to draw their own conclusions
(b) good modelling of the truth of Jesus’ words as lived out by us as adults and
(c) opportunities to experience (practice) the things read about in the pages of the New Testament

I am absolutely convinced that if these three things are determined and sustained practices by the church community, the haemorrhage of children, teenagers and young adults from the church will be arrested and we will end up with confident, secure adults who have “owed faith”. The church community I grew up in exhibited those three things in abundance.

Here is a concrete example. At the time of writing, I have a pre-teen daughter exhibiting sophistication and maturity (in some ways) far beyond her genetic age. She has loved Jesus for as long as she can remember. She has been taught about repentance, about how sin separates us from God and how confessing the things we do wrong and our own selfish attitudes regularly keep the relationship between us and God close. Yet, she has times where she doubts her beliefs. She has moments, regularly at the moment, where she will sit with me and say: “what if I’m wrong, you’re wrong? What is heaven doesn’t exist? What if it is all a fairytale?”

My reaction could be one of deep disappointment, or even anger. Does she not know after all these years of being taught, that God is faithful and true? Is she rejecting the faith of our family outright? What if she says these things in her young people’s group? Woe is me, I am a pastor after all!

But we listen patiently. As parents we reassure her of our love for her and tell her that it is entirely natural to have these thoughts. We let her express them in whatever way she wants to – sometimes this is with tears. We share with her that we have doubts sometimes and when she is ready to listen, we tell her stories of the perseverance of saints who have gone before us. We chew over some Bible passages with her, such as 1 Peter 1:6-9 and talk together (not lecture or teach) about what it means to have testing times, and what reward there is ahead for those who love Jesus even though they haven’t seen him. We tell her how Jesus poured out his heart for us in John 17:20ff and how he lives now to intercede for us.

In short, we offer instruction without loving her any less, nor worrying unduly, nor being disappointed nor angry and we share honestly about our walk with Jesus and testify as often as we can in daily conversation about God’s interaction in our lives. We love her through each and every episode of negative outpourings and deep questioning. I am confident she will continue to walk through this stage into owned faith – the mature holding together of all things. This demonstrates just how necessary it is throughout the teenage years that people love youngsters deeply and listen wisely.

I have become even more convinced than ever before that a much more joined up approach to children and young people is required, because we manage the demonstrated love and affection thing much more with the youngest.


3. An accepting and nurturing community is needed. Love like we might have never shown before.

I've said already that the church community must exhibit deep love towards children and young people. They are to be places where children AND teenagers are valued, can make mistakes, can try things out and most of all can be loved and accepted as individuals who are very special to God.

My observation is that young children, babies and toddlers are easy to love. They are smiled at, passed around and cooed at. We want to have them in our church as “signs of life”. Children who tear around, fidget and make noise during quiet moments of our church services are not quite so easy for some of us to love, particularly if they pick their noses or emit smells. Pre-teens who question everything and might have rather a lot to say can be quite annoying. And insolent, sullen, undemonstrative teenagers are best left to their own devices at the back of the church!

My point from this unflattering and hopefully (!) in accurate pen portrait is that we can tend not to be consistent in our love towards the younger generations. Maybe we are only getting what we deserve when suddenly the younger generations appear to have left the church? Are they a chief consideration in the plans of your church? Is every decision we make loving the young people well? Ignore the need to love on your under-18s and you risk losing a chunk of your church’s future.

Look for staff and volunteers with a heart to love on your children and young people and encourage parents and the whole congregation to love well.


Paul writes:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
[I Corinthians 1:1-7]


Westerhoff source: Will Our Children Have Faith? (Revised Edition)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Is it possible???


I've been having deep, deep thoughts whilst hanging the washing out.
This is just a series of questions for reflection.

Is it possible to love the institution of the church too much?
Is it possible to be so caught up with what we do to make our church, church, that we actually engage in an act of idolatry by exalting the church to a place above that which it was intended to have?

"I love my church" something I know I have said in the past - a statement that can be difficult to interpret - "I love my fellow called out, chosen ones" - "I love the ones who stand alongside me, marked as different in the community they find themselves" would be more theologically accurate but do we sometimes mean: "I love the experience I have being part of my church"?

There is no doubt that belonging, making "church happen" is incredibly fulfiling - I know this for myself! - but is there not even the tiny potential that worshipping this fact can creep in?

And it is also incredibly possible that we fall in love more with the feeling that comes with being part of the church more than passionately loving the one who is the Head of the church; who loved not his own life but gave it away for those who had no hope of fullness of life.

And for me that is the difficult walk. To know that when guitars cease playing, when shouts of joy tail off, when the last person has been prayed for, outside the doors of our experience of church there are broken, broken people who are loved by no-one. People so low in depression they don't know whether to keep on breathing tonight. Children who are routinely abused. Business people with loads of money but an empty ache.

In the potential that there undoubtedly is for "glam and show" at conferences and churches today, are we growing disciples who have at the absolute front of their thoughts every night and day, burning love for the Father and a heart for the lost? Every extra day before the point that Jesus returns is an opportunity for more and more people to hear about him. He's longing for people to come to love him (1 Tim 2:4). Maybe some people might not have thought of that.

As a wise man once said: the flow of the river of God is out - to love your experience of church but be unanchored in the community outside the church is not the Jesus way.

The most worrying trend that I have ever observed is Christians caught in the ghetto of lunch/coffee/nights out with Christians/meetings all the time/Christian-church stuff all the time (even if its under the guise of "we're doing it for the people not in our church") - well, get living life with the people not in the church! Join a club, volunteer at the local hospice, be a Brownie leader, start a book group with people from work, get a part-time job pulling pints - oh, and read David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon's book: UNchristian........

I can write about this because I have recognised the pull of loving the experience of church too much in my own life. Back in University days one of our wise friends decreed that the 30 or so of us who were studying there should all only get together on Wednesdays for lunch instead of being in and out of each other's flats/social calendars all the time - he said: hang out with your class ALL THE TIME apart from Wednesday lunchtime. We met to eat and spent 2 to 3 hours worshippng and praying for our classmates each and every Wednesday. We didn't see each other again apart from on a Sunday. That was a 1980s missional community (except we didn't call it as such). I remember it was really hard because I loved the warmth and ease of being part of such a vibrant, worshipful, on fire church. But we grew deeper and faster and saw huge inroads in our influence in our classes and faculties.

Hey, heavy thoughts but on a sabbaticalling time you get to see a few churches and these have been my thoughts from some travelling about just now. Hope they are helpful questions, not meant to be condemning ones, just my honest reflections.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dreams


My days just now are spent either writing or dreaming at the moment, which seem to be in direct opposition to one another, except that in a way they aren't, as one is feeding into another.

In my last job I sometimes felt guilty about dreaming; things I believed I might see or do, help shape or make happen. I think the guilt came in mainly because I was drowning under the pressure of current things needing my time and attention; i.e. how could I dare to think of taking or something more or something bigger? Surely that was me just grabbing opportunities for more responsibility? ....or....was it possibly me beginning to feel that what I was doing in some ways didn't fit "me"? That I needed some kind of a slight shift? I still love the church's vision, the passion of many of those around me and the young people and the parents I served. I still feel deeply that my time was cut short; that I hadn't finished what I was to do but I really had no alternative to go as I had to obey what God was saying to me to do.(chronicled elsewhere on this blog). I miss people terribly and that hasn't lessened at all, because I see folks round and about in the school/local community, it seems like moving away may be the only option. But at the same time we feel a strong pull to remain here. How can thatwork out in practice? Is that us just being lazy about the whole house pack up/move again?But we have a few more weeks to wait before making any decision.

Careful counsel in this interim period has helped me to see that it is permissable to have dreams of what you might see happening in the kingdom of God and even to call them out - "say what you see". Amongst other things, it gives hope and excitement for the future.

I wrote before about some of the dreams I have been having, a lot to do with bringing older generations together with the young, seniors and parents, and to see intentional discipleship get to another level; discipleship that releases us into the community under authority and with real power.

I read a journal entry last week from 2009 that I had completely forgotten about - the retreat leader asked us to ask the Holy Spirit to show us what we were created to do and I wrote the following: (short excerpt!)
I've created you to break down partitions - they are not barriers because barriers are more sold, more permanent. Partitions are moveable, temporary and often left in place because of convenience; they have always been there so why bother moving them? Yet there is one who can show a different way; that it is possible and will indeed be necessary as we approach the final days. "All hands on deck" will be the phrase of the day; advance the kingdom in signs and wonders using children, teenagers, families, singles, adults of more mature years, EVERYONE!.........The army of God rising up like the terracotta soldiers [in China], each one different, unique. Long buried underground, not known about till that discovery. Each soldier has a set of weapons and is in battle formation.

You will (and have already) encounter great opposition, even from those who carry a revivalist anointing because partitions equal comfort. Partitions mean each need can be catered for comfortably. There has been a time and a place for this but in these days dismantling is necessary as I want to teach the revivalists that great power is exhibited by the weak; the small; the inexperienced; the young. Adults will walk in even greater power when they partner with the young.


I am reading the most remarkable book called: Launching Missional Communities - A Field Guide. So well laid out, (its won an award for it layout), addictive to read (bring on the case studies), theologically sound, all age inclusive and utterly committed to Holy Spirit ministry. I just feel that my experiences thus far, the things in this book, and the call I feel on my life, are all connected. But I'm waiting for God's help to see how these connections are to spark into life together. I think now I have had to come out, come away to allow that to happen. It's so hard though! I've found some studies on Sunday mornings from the book of Samuel to be really helpful, more about that another time perhaps.

Regarding changing the way we do church - it's OK to ask questions. It's OK to have concerns. It's good to experiment, try things out - and even fail! I have ideas that are probably rubbish ones but it could be so much fun working this out together,if we are in a loving community; if we are secure in who we are and in how great God is! One thing I am sure of is this: God places a very high priority on the place of young people and their families in his kingdom purposes. They are natural missionaries, even as preschoolers, or those in school/college, on the threshold of so much, so open to discipleship, so easy to love. I love them.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Perseverance


I've been away from this blog as I have had loads on my mind that I haven't wanted to blog about.

I am deep in writing the book, awaiting the publisher's feedback to the first section, and have been digging in with the family to be close with God, So many rough corners are being worked on; we feel like we are being sandpapered all over but at the same time are being released from some nasty memories. Am very grateful for the significant conversations and prayers with loving friends from past years and with some pastors looking out for us because they see God all over this period of time, both for us personally and for the book project and whatever comes next. That's reassuring as we feel a bit like nomads.

This week we absolutely cried out for this period to move to a close; so that we can settle children in new schools if necessary after the summer and sort out financial stuff. I love that the people of God can cry out to God. I mean, REALLY cry out to God - it's such a releasing thing to do; if you find it hard, try praying in the dark - a darkened room, when we lose our inhibitions more, wowee, it's quite powerful. We have his ear.

Remembering a prophetic word from March (when no-one knew what was swirling around our heads) - there will be contraction of relationships for a short time. The word went on to say: this is because of the rightness of the decision you are making. So we must persevere in holding firm to promises in Scripture and promises whispered to us by Father God by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives every single day.

So my passage from today to meditate on is encouraging me to keep my heart submitted to God and to dig in and persevere with what He said; to come away with him and rest, to write, to wait and to keep loving and blessing the things I was once part of. It's from Hebrews 10.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,

“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay."

38 And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”

39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.