20 years ago I read an excellent book that I still reread every two or three years – Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians by Eugene Peterson. At the tail end of a chapter on the friendship between David and Jonathan Peterson writes:
It’s not unusual for any of us to begin something wonderful, and it’s not unusual for any of us to do things that are quite good. But it is unusual to continue and persevere. The difficulties aren’t for the most part external but internal—finding the energy and vision to keep the effort going. Being good and doing good are seldom adequately rewarded: more often they get us into trouble. The world, the flesh, and the devil are in fierce opposition to the Christian way and wreck many lives that start off beautifully….
There are many barriers, obstacles, and distractions that seek to discourage and derail us from a well-lived life of “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Good beginnings in the Christian life are a dime a dozen, but good endings are far less common.
Over the past six months I have sat through two Celebration of Life/Memorial Services for friends who I would say finished well – with a legacy of changed lives in their wake. As I have pondered the significance of Randy and Kris’ lives, I have been struck by the reality that finishing well as a person is a beautiful, beautiful thing to behold. But I have also been challenged by the thought that finishing well is not simply a matter of course or an inevitability. Spiritual maturity is not like getting on a train just before it leaves the station and expecting to make it to the final stop or destination (a C. S. Lewis metaphor). More than just showing up in one’s seat is required. A deep and trusting engagement with the Spirit’s ongoing work in us and through us is required.
Like many of you, I’ve worked through The Journey a few times with groups of wonderful people. I’m in my fifth go round, still learning, still working through my personal journey, this time with a new group of friends.
Today I read something I’ve read before (at least four times, anyway), and it spoke to me again. These are Frederick Buechner’s words in the session titled, “Participating in God’s General Call.”
“The church is always more than a school…
but the church cannot be less than a school.”
Historian Jaroslav Pelikan included these critical words on the first page of his five-volume history of Christian doctrine. Around VantagePoint3 circles, we would tweak Pelikan’s language a little bit by saying—the church is always more than a learning community, but the church must never be less than a learning community. We are formed to worship, to fellowship, to be sent out into the world in Jesus’ name—all essential tasks of the church. But we must recognize that the church is also essentially a place of ongoing education. From the crib to the grave, a church community must be a place where we learn to make sense of our lives and of the world, where we explore with a fresh imagination what our lives could really become, where we learn together to follow Jesus and his way of life in the world. The church is always more than a learning community, but never less.
Sadly it seems that many adults are simply surviving, hoping to get by with what they already know; learning is for children and teenagers, or so they think. There is often very little expectation of further movement and development in their adult lives. We desperately need communities whose life together challenges such notions; we need churches where the cultivation of a lifelong learning posture is Discipleship 101.
A learning posture of the heart and the mind does not discriminate between Sunday morning sermons and Tuesday night dishwashing, between classroom lectures and dinner table conversation, between sunsets and supermarkets. It is a cultivated paying attention, which operates within the everydayness and everywhereness of life. And when practiced over the long haul it is what the ancients called the way of wisdom. Or as Christian educator Steve Garber states, “we understand that the deepest lessons are not learned in text books, but instead are discovered as learning meets life.”
Things were very different just 500 years ago. The Bible was available in Latin – ordinary people like you and me did not have access to the Scriptures.
That didn’t seem right to William Tyndale. We all recognize his name – the man who defied the King of England to translate the Scriptures into English. His efforts changed England and changed the world.
But do you recognize the name Humphrey Monmouth? I didn’t until I recently read the book, “Gospel Patrons,” by John Rinehart.
Monmouth supported William Tyndale – his life and his work – and his zeal to get the Bible into the hands of people like you and me. The activities of Monmouth and Tyndale were illegal and eventually both were imprisoned. Tyndale was hanged and burned at the stake. God used their passion and sacrifice to change the course of history and the Church. Today, we can thank these two faithful visionary men every time we open our Bibles.
Think about the life change God brought about through your time in The Journey. What if that “change” was replicated in even more lives and churches across North America? What if more church attenders became even more dedicated followers of Jesus, considering first His way instead of our own? What could be the strength of God’s Church in Canada and the US if that happened?
An important question we all need to be asking ourselves is, “How deeply rooted am I with God?”
How blessed is the man
Who does not walk in the counsel
of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates
day and night.
He will be like a tree
Firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
From my perspective, there can (basically) be three possibilities. Since this is about being “deeply rooted,” lets look at trees as the example…
Short thought this time…
A few weeks ago I was leading two Facilitator Retreats; one in Olympia, Washington and two days later in Warwick, New York. I found myself emphasizing to both groups of pastors and lay-leaders the importance of caring for themselves,
“Taking care of yourself is not selfish. In fact, as a person who is leading others, it is one of the least selfish things you can do because you cannot care for others well if you have not taken proper care of yourself. Not for very long, at least.”
It didn’t hit me the first time I said it. It took me hearing myself say it to others a second time before I stopped myself and I took notice. Then, when I got home from that week of two Facilitator Retreats, my pastor preached on Psalm 90:12. Two days later, during our VP3 Team Meeting, Pam’s focusing thought revolved around Psalm 90:12…
I think God is reminding me to pay attention to something. I guess I better take my own advice and clear some space so I can better perceive what He is saying!
Perhaps you do too…
It is quite a deal when you discover something new from something familiar. You may have driven by that section of the forest a 110 times, and yet this time you noticed that one particular tree slightly hidden but somehow on this one day more obvious than all the others. The unique color and type set it apart from the rest. It is so obvious. Makes you wonder why you had not really seen it before. Your perspective of that familiar bush is slightly and refreshingly different because of the one very obvious tree that caught your attention.
It is helpful from time to time to take a closer look in order to see the tree in the forest. And when we do it often has the capacity to change the way we see the forest, making it seem refreshingly new.
The Journey takes time. That issue makes some of us hesitate because we are always looking for quick fixes. But what are the results of “quick fixes?” Seldom are they long lasting. The Journey sets the bar pretty high. That’s what sets it apart, I believe.
We need time for growth. True discipleship doesn’t take place in a microwave environment. We need time for relationships. Our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with people all take time.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Ecc. 3:1-8
I would like to have a dollar for every conversation I have with a friend, a facilitator of one of the VP3 processes, a pastor or leader, and even with myself, around “what are you thinking about for next steps?”
Deep in the DNA of my spiritual life, and therefore the lens I see others’ personal spiritual DNA, and also the “BIG C” life of the church, is that we ought to be thinking about our next steps for growth. There are always next steps. Jesus talks about things that grow all the time. There is an expectation that we, too, will grow. And in my language, I’ve adopted the words, “What are your next steps?”
To a friend it may sound like, “So, what’s your next move?”
To a facilitator of The Journey process, “Are you helping each of your group participants think about their next steps after The Journey concludes?”
To a Pastor and church leader, “Are you thinking about your church’s next steps for adult spiritual growth? Do you find yourself thinking about some kind of pathway for that growth?”
Let me pull back the curtain on ways we may find our selves thinking about next step conversations.
One definition of the word “catalyst” is “a stimulus to change.”
What happens when someone becomes a catalyst for any type of change? Maybe you’re the catalyst in your home for a change to healthier eating. Or maybe you’re the catalyst in your church for a move toward more intentional discipleship.
I recently made a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana where I met with pastors, facilitators, and financial partners of VantagePoint3. Quickly I found a common denominator in what I was hearing. One name, Beth Booram. Almost all of the people I met had been pointed to VP3 through the influence of this one woman who believes in the impact God is making on lives.