Toward Becoming A Father or Mother in the Faith

What are some markers of a mother or father in the faith?
I take note of John’s descriptions of three generations of believers in his first epistle:

“I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.”                                                                                     
(1 John2:12-13 NIV).

I note that the spiritual children are marked by forgiveness, the young men are marked by aggressive activity (overcoming the enemy), and the elders are marked by a relational knowing.  An aspect of maturity is moving deeper into communion with God and others which will mandate less activity. 

Eugene Peterson taught me (in his many books) that shepherding work is not efficient work. Relationships, spiritual transformation, emotional maturation, and even organizational development is not about efficiency. It is about relationships and, boy, are relationships messy. Nurturing such organisms take enormous swaths of time. I know that you know this. Ah, the tensions of life….

What catches my attention from this brief passage in John, taken with the context of the book, is that the later stage of maturity is not marked by greater activity but rather deeper knowing – particularly of “him who is from the beginning.”

How does one go through such a transition from a stage of life marked by “overcoming the enemy” to one that is marked by “knowing him who is from the beginning?” I presume we are led through such a transition. I have no hope that I would find this Way on my own.

1 John 2:13b-14 is very similar, yet has some variances to it:

“I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.”

Forgivness for the children brings them into an adoptive relationship with God as Father. The young men (and women) are still out there overcoming, but we now see the source of their strength – the Word of God abides in them.IMG_2170

A Relational Influence
The Father’s ( and spiritual mothers) however are steady. No varying with them. Their life in the church, in the community, and in global impact – their very identity – is not marked by what they do for God, but that same relational knowing.

As I think of the elders in the faith, those spiritual mothers and fathers, that I have had the gift of getting to know, what strikes me about their life is not how much they get done but rather a presence, a weightiness of soul, a spiritual depth.

Where are you, not in age, but experientially in your walk with God?

  • Do you experience yourself before God as an adopted child, forgiven and God as your Father?  This is the core of our identity.
  • Do you see yourself as giving your life to overcoming the enemy as an outworking of your abiding in God and his word abiding in you? This marks a large chunk of our lifetime.
  • Are you growing in your relational knowing? Experience God’s beckoning in deeper and further to your communion with him? Responsiveness to this invitation is essential for maturing as an elder of the faith.

Each is valid. Each spiritual generation makes up the family of God.

Yet I see and hear little in our society and culture beckoning us onward into deeper, relational knowing, let alone giving place for those who are aged and “less productive.” The Spirit through the Word and lives of others offers a contrary message. We are constantly invited deeper into knowing the Father in Jesus by the Spirit.

The church and the missional enterprise simply cannot have enough of those ones being matured into mothers and father in the faith.

How are you responding to these invitations? What has been your experience?

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Resource: Godspeed Video

A couple of months ago I was encouraged to watch a short video entitled Godspeed. It is a lively, engaging reflection on “the pace of being known” in the context of life and ministry.   A favorite character is Alan Torrence, a monster of a man with long red hair. Others such as N. T. Wright and Eugene Peterson are interviewed throughout.
The message of this video invites me to take a long pause and consider how I go about the shepherding work God has given me to be about. I trust you will pause and reflect upon this as well.
Grab a cuppa, sit back, and enjoy!

Watch Godspeed

“Godspeed was shot in three days, in three villages, by three friends. What began as a five minute video ended as a half-hour portrait of the people and places who had taught Matt to repent & rest.”

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Real Time Hope Amidst Real Time Life

Ours is a Personal, Immediate God

We do not promote deism – the belief in a supreme being who wound up creation then let it go on its own; a god who is aloof, passive and distant. Ours is a Father-God who is not only present but pursuant; who is a powerful, loving Presence with us in our daily lives.

His actions amongst us are both specific and practical for he knows us each by name.

Psalm 62
Psalm 62 is a wonderful expression of this truth in real time amidst real life.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation. 62:1

James L. Mays (Interpretation Bible Commentary, John Knox Press 1994) is one of my favorite commentators on the Psalms. He clarifies that the translation “wait in silence” misses the Hebrew meaning. The Hebrew does not mean verbal silence. Nor is waiting implied. What the Psalmist is experiencing has already been completed. The meaning rather speaks of a quietness of soul, an inner stillness that comes from yielding fears and anxieties to God as an in-the-moment act of trust.

Verse 5 is extremely similar in verbiage:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.

This verse is spoken to self; a soliloquy to remind oneself of the truth; a trusting response amidst a world that is hostile and deceitful. A helpful rendition is: “Truly, O my soul, rest in God, for from him alone is your hope.”

Real Time Trust
There is no one and no thing in this world that will provide hope let alone a rested, still soul. Our world facilities the opposite.

We are dealt an onslaught of information that has a fear-formation upon us. The under IMG_5299pinnings of our true identities as known, rescued ones is eroded.
These dark messages depersonalize us. Our God always particularizes us. Note how personally David experienced our God:

  • My God
  • My rock
  • My fortress
  • My salvation
  • My glory
  • My refuge

So David encourages us:

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah (62:8)

We will experience troubles in this world. Dark forces will oppress us. Others will seek to “batter” us (v. 3). Lies from without and within will assail us. These are to expected.

There is a greater One still.  Psalm 62:11-12 is a strong theological summary about the Person of God:

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work.

God is powerful – he is able. God is loving – he is willing. These traits belong to God alone. Other forces will feign power over us, but it is a smoke screen. God will reward us according to our work – which is to say, whether we trust and hope in him or in our own devices to make life work on our own (Compare Isaiah 50:10-11).

As we trust him in real time amidst real life adversities, he offers to us his Presence IMG_5278which can bear within us a rested, still soul. Our daily practices of being immersed in his Presence and his Word are means of orientation as we head into a hostile and deceitful world.
May you know this rest and stillness from the One who is your Hope alone.

Shepherds: As you sit with others and hear their stories, may you
be bearers of this hope: “Truly my soul is at rest in God, for he alone is my salvation.”

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The Provisional Gift of Limitations

The God of LimitsIMG_3732
It is a truth that our infinite God made finitude such an essential aspect of all creation. Rivers flow where God deigns them and they flow to oceans that are bounded by land.
Our atmosphere eventually runs thin the higher one goes, as does our energies as we age. God has filled creation with limits.

Wisdom to Live Within
We know from Colossians 1 that all things were created by God, for God and are held together by God. He sustains everything we see. It is wise for everything created to remain utterly dependent and responsive to the Creator. To submit to God’s design for our lives is a wise response. God knows this – he knows it is for our own good to live within his wisely designed constraints.

Even Jesus lived within limits in his incarnation. He only did what his Father showed him to do (see John 5:19, 30 for example), he slept as he tired, he was only in one place at one time.

Foolish Determinations
In my youth I knew “no bounds.” Limits were there but I was determined in what I wanted to do and relentless about when I wanted to do it and how I wanted to do it. If I even smelled a limitation I doubled down. My life motto was “try harder.” That was (past-tense) a grace and mercy, all that unbridled zest for life allowed for a lot to get done – like work all day then parent three energetic boys into the night day after day after day. Now it makes me tired just thinking about it.

God knows it is not wisdom to live this way all our our life. God is inviting us to a wiser life motto than “just do more.”

Expanding Limitations
Why is that as we age our limitations increase? God is the sustaining God. He sustains the sun’s energy for thousands upon thousands of years so why does he not sustain our IMG_5779energy? Why do we bump into our limits more now than ever as we age? These are questions too great for us, but if we listen to the tenure of Scripture we’d note that output is never God’s ultimate concern. Relationship always is God’s deepest, first and foremost longing.

I have been made aware that despite diminished energies I can still have the most fruitful years ahead of me. How is that possible? God brings fruitfulness not by frenetic activity. Fruitfulness comes from deeper relationship.

Everyday Practice
This reflection on our limits and depency has innumerable applications. We grow in dependency along this “Via Limatiatio.” The sooner we allow God to move us from IMG_5388resistance to resignation to embracing our limits the sooner we can not only grow in wisdom but even in vitality and impact.  Kind of paradoxical, isn’t it?
Are you aware of your limits? Financially? Emotionally? Spiritually? Relationally? Professionally? Organizationally? Maybe these are not curses but blessings. What is God protecting you from with these limits?

How is the Spirit inviting you to live within these God-created realities? What would a wise and loving response to him be?

If you lived well within your limits over the long-haul, how could your personal and professional worlds demonstrated vibrancy?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

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Resiliency: Willingness to Sacrifice

Everyone suffers. We are invited to sacrifice.

When we add the layer of active service to others in the name of Jesus, then we must add the reality that we will experience pains in the act of that service.

Somehow we have an idealism that thinks that if we do what God asks us to do, then it will go well for us. That was not the case of Jesus nor the Apostles. They all were in some manner misunderstood and mistreated by the very ones they were seeking to help.

We will too.

“In this world you will have many troubles,” Jesus said plaining in John 16:33.

That is an iron-clad guarantee.

Expectations and Willingness
It is wise to prepare ourselves for that which Jesus has sought to prepare us for. We will experience all sorts of hurts in the act of serving others.

IMG_6192Expectations can be helpful here. Hurts will still hurt. But maybe there will be less of a whiplash effect when it happens. And maybe the gap between what we have experienced and our responding well to it can be shortened.

Personal Application
It is well documented that a theology of risk and suffering personally applied to one’s life increases resiliency and in turn retention. Have you wrestled through these topics for your own personal life and public ministry?

How have you appropriated the truth that you will suffer in this fallen world? That your friends, spouse, children, and teammates will too?

Are you willing to sacrifice, even suffer, as you care for others?

Are you willing to suffer at the hands of the ones you are caring for?

These questions invite a lingering, praying attention. Idealism and naiveté will let us down.

The goal in life is not to remove tensions and pain. That is impossible. The opportunity  is to walk well with God, others, and self amidst those tensions. God invites us to a noble life of trusting him in self-sacrificing service to others for Jesus.

I submit a brief story of how I was confronted with this recently.

 A Faith Challenge
My wife and I just returned home from a 5 week road trip. Leading up to that road trip I had been leaning in heavy on some writing projects (on suffering no less). The more I  pressed into these projects the more we were experiencing personal backlash physically, emotional and spiritually. As the departure for the trip drew closer, I found myself wondering if we should just cancel. The physical limitations I live with were really flaring. I did not feel well at all. The thought of lengthy international travel was not appealing. Its not a friendly world out there. I really wanted to just stay in my hobbit hole where it is warm, quiet and predictable.

Within me, however, I was aware of a very quiet yet firm invitation to faith. God was inviting me to once again trust him. Would I go? Would I be willing to serve whomever he brought my way no matter how poorly I felt? Would I be willing to risk it and venture out of this “safe” hobbit hole once again? Would I trust  him for daily provision?

We went. We both felt crummy at times. He provided daily.

Each of us will need to discern what God is inviting us to, where he is inviting us to lay our lives down, and how we can rely upon him as we do so.

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Resiliency: The Backlash Boogie

Backlash is a shocker when it happens the first couple of times. We show up with the intentions of helping in a situation and it backfires. People are not happy, in fact they resist. What’s more, what we sought to make better becomes worse.

Anticipating and responding to backlash is a key component to resiliency in life and ministry.

Moses’ Experience
Moses experienced a classic backlash at an international level. God sent him to Egypt to deliver God’s people from oppressive slavery. Shocker – Pharaoh was not keen on the idea. In fact, he made the Israelites’ lives more miserable by taking hay away from them (an essential ingredient to make bricks) and yet demanding no lessoning of their brick making quotas. That turned the Isrealites against Moses too.

Moses went where he was told to go and did what he was told to do and it all backfired. Both the Egyptians and his own people stood against him. This is a classic backlash. Ouch.

Cross-Cultural BacklashIMG_4745
Most of us doing cross-cultural ministry are not invited to the locations we show up at. There is no welcome committee and fanfare from those who do not know Christ. We come to give our lives away and people at best don’t care and at worst attack us. What’s more, spiritual forces will not be keen to give up their booty of souls.

Backlash is inevitable. Computers break, colleagues misunderstand, darkness resists.

The Backlash Boogie
So how do we respond?

One obvious response is to quit. Moses could have. He could have taken his hiking stick and headed back to the familiar flocks he had been tending. But God reminded Moses of who he (God) is and sent him back into the ring to fight for God’s causes.

When we experience backlash, questions will certainly arise. Did I hear right? Is this what God told me to do? Is there some sin in my life? Normal questions all, but often not helpful. Introspection will not get us very far.

These are days to tuck back into God for prolonged periods of time. We need to hear his word afresh. We need his Spirit to strengthen us for the fight that is before us. We need lingering time in the Word to be nourished and addressed. Perseverance is essential and that will not come from self-determination. We need God to show up and do his work in us.

Likely what will be changed is not the circumstnaces but us. The resistance will not go away, but neither will we. Our lives become a message of truth, of self-sacrificing love, and of resistance to the darkness we find ourselves in.

Fascinating how we show up to change a nation and we are the ones changed first and all along the way…..

What backlashes have you experienced in life? What did God teach you from those times? How does he invite you to lean into him? Who can be with you in those seasons of backlash?

As always, I’d love to hear what God has shown you last time you found yourself doing the Backlash Boogie.

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A Returned Gaze

“So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’                             for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.‘”                                                                              Hagar in response to God’s care for her (Genesis 16:3)

God is Always Gazing Upon Us
When we contemplate God, that is to say gaze upon God, we are gazing upon the one who is always gazing upon us. When we ponder God, he is already pondering us. He contemplates us perpetually.

Paul exhorts us to “fix our mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Colossians 3:1-4).”  When we do so, we are  reminded that his mind is already fixed upon us.

He is always the initiator, we are always the responder.

Its All About the Relationship
There is much todo about contemplative spirituality in the Evangelical world today. At times I find I get lost in all these practices I am encouraged to be about: lectio divina, silence, solitude,  contemplative prayer, etc.  Those are good practices certainly. I engage in many of them.

Yet, I am reminded that in the end it is not about the practice but about the relationship. These practices are a means to an end. They facilitate my being with God, open and receptive towards him.

A Resource
If you struggle with this whole contemplative topic, or if you would like a more solid biblical Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.41.46 PMorientation, then I strongly encourage you to purchase and download this article from The Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care. The article is $5 and can be downloaded as a pdf. The entire issue is worth the $15.  JSFSC is a pricey journal ($30/year) but I have benefited immensely from my subscription over the years.  But I digress…

Withholding Eye Contact
Witholding eye contact from someone can be a deliberate means of hurting another. It is generally a passive-aggressive way of relating. However, sometimes we are simply not aware that our attention is so adamatly desired.

Of course, God needs nothing from us. He is sufficient in himself. Yet, he opens himself up to us in relationship and invites us ever deeper in.

Imagine God always gazing upon us, eager for his gaze to be received and returned.

How are you responding to God’s gazing upon?

How are you returning his gaze?

What have your found helpful to facilitate your gazing upon God in your journey with him? Please share.

Posted in Personal Vitality, Resources, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, The Shepherd's Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wheaton College Resiliency Survey

Below is a copy of the Facebook entry for the Wheaton College Resiliency study that Dr. Pam Edwards posted.

Hope you’ll contribute. Please share it around, it would be great to have solid data on his study.  Thanks SS

Wheaton College is conducting a study on resilience of Cross-Cultural Workers. How does working overseas impact your mental and physical health? This study is open to all cross-cultural workers over age 18 and will take 30-40 minutes to complete. If you participate, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of twenty-five $100 gift cards!

From the data we collect, we hope to create the largest database of Cross-Cultural Worker information that has ever been gathered.

Please check out this website to learn more and take our survey:

Feel free to share this with others in your organization who may be interested!

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