Posted on March 18, 2016
Patrick of Ireland (389 – 461)
At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock.
After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped to his native Britain. Because he believed that his captivity and deliverance were ordained by God, Patrick devoted his life to ministry.
While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.”
He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith.
Over the next thirty years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat
From COMMON PRAYER
This prayer is attributed to Patrick:
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Posted on March 15, 2016
Before you read this post, make sure you head back and read part one first here.
Practising the Presence
So what does it look like to train in the kingdom of God. It looks like developing practises, literally practising. Not because we are taking lightly but precisely because we are taking it as important. But again, just like an athlete in practise we learn from our failures and don’t take them overly seriously. We know if we pay attention to them and continue to practise that we will be able to ‘perform’ when the day comes. Again, not because somehow our inherent worth is in question in God’s eyes, but God saves us FOR some thing not just FROM something.God saves us FOR some thing not just FROM something Click To Tweet
Spiritual disciplines are about opening up space to become aware of God’s activity in our lives so that we will grow in our ability to receive and participate in God’s love and express it to others.
A most helpful and practical way in to practising spiritual disciplines is to consider one at a time. The tempation can be to create a dizzying list of disciplines and treat them like a check list, but practise of disciplines is not the goal, just the vehicle or means for us to be made to look more like Jesus.
Just pick one
So, how do you pick one? Well, I first heard this idea from John Ortberg, we think about the ways and habits in our lives that are hindering our particpation in the Kingdom of God (they are normally referred to as sins).
Those who have been wise in the ways of the inner life with God had traditionally separated these into two broad categories; Sins of Commission, and sins of Omission. Basically put, Things that we DO, and Things that we leave undone.
We are very used to thinking of things we DO that we think God is unhappy about but not so used to thinking about what are leaving undone. But when we think of our lives only in terms of NOT DOING, we create a Kingdom where the goal is simply to NOT DO. But normally the things we ought not to do are misshapen versions of things we ought to do. Re-ordering our desires and habits through the practises of disciplines is how we re-shape those misshapen desires.
So a sin of commission or a ‘doing sin’ would be something like acting out in an outburst of anger. Where a sin of omission or ‘not-doing sin’ would be something like withholding love or encouragement that would building others up.
Working the doing and not-doing muscles
We can apply another sport metaphor here, like weight training; Wherever we struggle with a sin of doing or a sin of not-doing, we can train the opposite muscle; for example –
Anger – Is a ‘DOING’ sin and an issue of self-control. What might help someone NOT DO? Practising a NOT-DOING discipline such as ‘Fasting’.
Gossip – Is a ‘DOING’ sin and an issue of tongue control and conviction. Practising a NOT-DOING discipline such as Silence might train the NOT-DOING muscle.
Withholding affirmation – Is a ‘NOT DOING’ sin and an issue of lacking thankfulness for the contribution and gift of God in others. Practise a DOING discipline such as Encouragement might train the ‘DOING’ muscle.
Pessimism – Is a ‘NOT DOING’ sin and an issue of believing the worst. Practising a DOING discipline like regular acts of celebration will help cultivate true joy.
The discipline of secret service
A while ago I found myself increasingly concerned with how others saw me. Or more clearly what others saw me do. I realised that at least half the time as I was doing something considered religious I was wondering what others thought of me as I did it. I had become far too interested in the opinion of others that it was threatening me hearing my worth from the Words of God. In that time I started a discipline that I called ‘secret service’. Every day I would challenge myself to do something secret with the Lord. Often secrecy is considered a negative thing, but I had decided that I would do something that would bless God, bless others and grow the kingdom and it would be our secret. I would commit to God, not to tell anyone else about it. Sometimes it was small, sometimes bigger, a couple of times I was found out and didn’t deny it. But it began to open up a space of intimacy and humility with God that I had never known before I began.
There are still things to this day that no other person than Me and God know, and they are like worship to Him. In this way disciplines can train us into freedom, into participating fully in the Kingdom in certain areas. Just like in a close friendships, or in a marriage, these shared experiences are the places where the life giving relational fabric of life becomes luminous, where our lives are fully lived.
Disciplines are not meant to be law, they are meant to be a venture into the wide and open space of joy and freedom that is God’s kingdom. In which areas of your life do you want to enjoy spontaneous holiness? Practising an awareness of God’s empowering presence makes it possible, real change possible, that’s the promise of our lives in God.
Dallas Willard puts it like this:
Authentic Transformation is possible if we are willing to do one thing…to arrange our lives around the kind of practises and life Jesus led to be constantly receiving power and love from the Father.
This is the simple yet difficult life long work of becoming like Jesus that we venture on by practising disciplines.
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“Let nothing disturb you, nothing dismay you. All [circumstances] are passing, God never changes. Patient endurance attains all things. God alone suffices.”
Posted on March 8, 2016
For much of my life I’ve both struggled with and enjoyed a slightly inflated sense of ability. That to say, I’ve often imagined myself capable of many things if only I would simply try them.
Realising you can’t run
As I was growing my family would take a holiday almost every year to the same beach town in the south west of england. It was a beautiful village tucked into a cove with high cliffs on either side. The Beach was extremely tidal. At high tide the water would leave only 10-20 feet of sand but at low tide the water would reveal a 2+ mile stretch of wet hard packed sand.
One day, after spending many hours in the water as I returned to the beach at low tide I realised a commotion was taking place in the shallows.
A Young boy had been knocked unconscious and had been in the water. His sister was frantically crying out for someone to find their parents. As the life guard was attending to the boy I decided I could go and find the boys parents and make them aware. I took a rough description and a rough location (somewhere in the far corner of the now extremely long beach). I turned and ran very much as if someone’s life depended on it. I took off at a sprint.
A mere 40 seconds into this flat out sprint I noticed something begin to happen. Although the desperation and sincerity within me to reach the end of the beach had not flagged, my body was urging me to slow down. About a mile later I had reached the corner of the beach, I was exhausted into a mild jog, but still frantically looking for these parents. Eventually I found them and in the end the boy was OK.
But what had happened had etched itself into my young teenage ego. I had failed, I had wanted to reach them with all that I could will, but my body let me down.
Our lives in God can be like this, suddenly a need arises, a situation comes up, and we feel inept, ill-equipped and poorly prepared. We wonder, how does anyone do this? After all, I’ve been listening to teachings, singing worship songs, my heart was full of desire to be a part of Kingdom activity, and yet I cannot do the things I need to do, when the unexpected opportunity comes.
Sincerity may not be enough
We are full of good intentions, the urgency of the need, the desperation and sincerity to effortlessly live out the kingdom, but somehow we fail our own expectations. There are things with all sincerity we want to do, but we will not do them without training. At some point in our lives we come to the awful realisation that with all the sincerity and desire in the world, if we have not prepared we will not have what it takes. Not that we won’t be saved, but we will not be able to participate to the full extent in what God is preparing for us.
The problem is we have been trying rather than training. Immediately when anyone encourages us to prepare, or to repeat something, we are reminded of a common accusation that makes it’s rounds in protestant circles; That we are somehow falling into religion or works. Lets put that to bed once and for all; the only way we are doing that is if we feel like we are earning favour from God in what we are doing.
Training with Spiritual Disciplines is not about changing God’s posture towards us, but about changing our openness to the grace of God to transform us.Disciplines aren't about changing God's posture towards us, but changing our openness to the grace of God Click To Tweet
A means of Grace
Grace is another word we have gotten mixed up with; it is used over 100 times in the new testament. It is often understood as one of the grand themes in Paul’s writings. But often it gets used as a synonym for mercy or forgiveness. But in the New testament the word grace is only used about 10% of those times to refer to the justification part of salvation. Grace, in the majority of the rest of the cases is referring to the empowering presence of God to live out our kingdom vocations.
Grace is not just the way IN to the Kingdom, it is the way ON in the kingdom. It is not simply the door or a ticket into the kingdom, is the very air we breathe on the inside of the kingdom of live. Life giving and life sustaining, and we really need to know how to breathe.
The rest of this post (part two that is) will be posted next week! Don’t miss it by subscribing for a free weekly email below (you can opt out at anytime)
Posted on March 3, 2016
A Theology of Joy with Jürgen Moltmann & Miroslav Volf
Posted on February 26, 2016
Nt Wright and Miroslav Volf on a Theology of Joy
A few days ago a friend emailed me asking what had been significant skills that I had sought to develop in Christian Leadership. I really considered it a privilege to be asked to input into this area and I actually appreciated the question itself.
I appreciated the question mostly because it was written with expectation that almost all the good things that God invites us to can be cultivated as skills rather than understood as gifts that some people have and some don’t.
I’m convinced much of our Christian growth is stifled by a fatalistic sense that some people just seem to have it and others don’t. In Ephesians 4 Paul invites believers to grow up into the full maturity of Christ. It is possible for us to grow into the likeness of Jesus, but we won’t fall into it, we must desire it. Desires are formed through practises, otherwise they become spontaneous and fleeting passions more akin to lust than desire. I wrote a post about this a while ago called “Practise makes spontaneous brilliance” which unpacks this idea a little more.
Many of us are growing older in faith but are we growing up? Are we entering into the promise of being men and women who increasingly look, lead and love like Jesus would if He were living our lives? I really believe the scriptures invite us into this lifelong journey of becoming and it will be the most fulfilling life we could live.
Skills are something which are difficult but become increasingly more natural. Many resources on developing skills using mechanistic language, 1+1=2, but I’ve found skill development is much more like gardening. If we do nothing things will fall apart, but even when we do the right things we are also reliant on some environmental factors which expediate, slow down, or hinder our growth. It might seem like pure semantics but I think the verb I’ve predominantly used of ‘cultivate’ helps us to imagine the process more organically which I think is a more helpful imaginative framework to apply to growth in skill.
Here’s the content of the email I sent to my friend, it focusses on leadership in the fairly narrow category of leading a group of people in a church or explicitly christian community even though Christian leadership can very legitimately be thought of in many other contexts. This list spontaneously came out, so it is certainly not exhaustive, but they represented the areas I have needed to cultivate skill in;
Here are some things that have been significant for me so far;
- Cultivating true thankfulness when receiving personal challenges (It takes people courage to risk relationship and I wanted develop the skill to immediately respond with gratitude not defensiveness – this took prayerful practise and I certainly don’t get it right still).
- Cultivating the sense that it is a privilege that we have in serving people and having influence in conversations that help shape our community life together (it is far too easy to respond with frustration, apathy or resentment in the midst of responsibility).
Saying Thank you / having gratitude for others service – a simple one, but often overlooked in leadership, especially if we have the victim mentality that we do more than everyone else.
Cultivating the ability to step out of my own shoes into someone else’s. Not to simply focus on how something affects me but how they might be experiencing it.
Cultivating an attentiveness to God’s presence with you. Too often we dichotomise that certain things are to be figured out with our intellect (or strategically) and others are to be prayed about and hear God in. This is a broken sacred/secular divide that stops us from both hearing God and using our God given wisdom and experience when making leadership decisions and processes. Too often we put our brains in a jar while we listen for God, or work things out in our own way without a thought towards God’s involvement.
Not letting small things become big things – At the end of our lives, we will be measured by love, not which organisational roles we took. In one sense every role God leads us into is to teach us to become a more faithful lover of God and others. In ministry as much as any other workplace, things can become petty, divisive, egotistical, and our chief goal must be to work in ways that consistently produce the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This practise is often called ‘practising the presence, mindfulness, attentiveness or abiding’ and I think it is the foundation of Godly works.
For a while I thought maybe the trick was to be able to project a sense of these things, but a far more rewarding (yet harder) journey is to cultivate true heart depths for these things. It will take longer than just learning to ‘Fake it’ but I feel assured we are contributing to our growth in ways that cause ourselves and those around us to flourish in God’s kingdom into eternity.
What does it look like to practically cultivate these skills;
- Identifying the skills you want to grow into intentionally.
Including them in prayer times to God for your own growth. Holy Spirit is the one who empowers these spontaneously holy responses.
Practising them when I have small opportunities and trusting God’s grace to pull them out of me when the big ones come.
Take up the practise of examen at the end of the day and ask God to show you places where you operated in the fruits of the Spirit and when you neglected to operate in them.
Share the areas of growth with people who are close enough to observe if you are growing in them. Give them permission to reflect to you when they are not being expressed in your life.
You may notice that I didn’t include many seemingly practical skills. Well, I certainly have picked up a few practical skills;
- How to have hard but fruitful conversations
- How to facilitate groups of people in processing new knowledge
- How to influence people rather than simply require of them
but most of the practical abilities are seriously dangerous and manipulative if the more foundational heart attitude skills are not in place.
Do you have some skills you want to develop? Leadership, interpersonal, fitness, discipline skills? Consider being clear about them, practising the, and inviting others on your journey, like my friend did.
What do you think the most important skills are in Christian leadership?
Worldview is something you see with rather that something you look at, as NT wright points out at the beginning of this video. Another person I heard once said, trying to change your worldview is like trying to push a double decker bus while on the inside of it.
That’s why I am always fascinated by explanations or accounts of a british worldview, maybe this video here (which is a preview of a lecture series available for purchase) might help.
Posted on February 19, 2016
At first glance, there is nothing striking about water. It makes up much of our planet and we need it to survive. Because of its ubiquitous nature, we are prone to think of it as normal and pedestrian in nature. Not least in our baptism, the most ordinary of things in one sense, making the most extraordinary claim. A dunking in water, allowing resurrection power to be signed and sealed. water plays out in a multitude of ways and even plays an important symbolic and sacramental part in the Christian story;
Think about water in the Old testament.
– It was the resting place for the Holy Spirit before creation. The place and symbol of un-curated creation.
– It was the judgement of the world in Noah’s time. Cleansing the earth, leaving only Noah’s family and the animals as God’s chosen people to whom the dove returns with a sign of peace from God.
– Moses staff (a tree of sorts) removed the bitterness from the waters of Marah.
– It was moved by God to make a way of salvation for Israel at the red sea and then returned to its origin as a dramatic sign of judgement for Pharaoh’s army.
and so we turn to water in the life of Jesus;
- In his baptism where he was drowning his identity to side with John the Baptists call to repent.
- As the dove symbolises God’s choseness and his peace. Echoing that Jesus, in fact may be some form of ark too?
- changes water into wine.
- invites all who are thirsty to drink of living water.
- encourages anyone who is willing to offer a cup of cold water to a disciple in need (Mt 10:42)
- recovers his strength at a samaritan well
- walks on water
- washes his disciples feet.
During the Passion;
- Pilate washes his hands with after surrendering Christ to the cross
- blood and water flow from Christ’s pierced side.
In the way that we call Jesus, the second Adam; many early church fathers looked to the baptised as the second eve. Eve was made from the side of Adam and the church is borne, they surmised, from the water and blood which poured from Jesus’ side. At once a literal and figurative, river of living water coming from His in most being.