Throughout the past fall and winter I felt nudged by the Lord to start a new Journey group. Amidst the many challenges I was facing personally and we were facing organizationally, I was searching for a way to be more intentional with my own life with the Lord, and with others. How could I cultivate a greater attention and prayerfulness with the things that matter most in my life? How could I find a space and a place to bring some of those important things, which I have been placing on the backburner of my attention, to the front burner.
So I started a Journey group in late March, meeting at noon on Fridays, about twice a month. There are seven of us, all guys, each of us from different contexts and churches. It has been timely for us all. It is such a privilege to get a front row seat on others’ development in Christ. I am prayerfully looking forward to the places the Spirit is going to lead.
This past Friday we finished up Stage 1 and what grabbed me in particular was the prayer at the end of the Personal Biblical Mandate session. I would encourage you to read this one out loud a few times, seeing what grabs you, finding those particular phrases or images you need to reflect further upon and pray more intently. In reading and reflecting upon Jeremiah 1-2, Walter Brueggemann writes/prays,
You are the God who makes extravagant promises.
We relish your great promises of fidelity
and presence and solidarity,
and we exude in them.
Only to find out, always too late, that your promise always comes
in the midst of a hard, deep call to obedience.
You are the God who calls people like us,
and the long list of mothers and fathers before us,
who trusted the promise enough to keep the call.
So we give you thanks that you are a calling God,
who calls always to dangerous new places.
We pray enough of your grace and mercy among us that we may be among those
who believe your promises enough to respond to your call.
We pray in the one who embodied your promise and enacted your call, even Jesus.
The other night we were out for a walk in our neighborhood and noticed the early signs of the fall season. The grass felt stiffer with a few more rusted leaves to kick around, the air was cooler and smelled fresher, the horses in the pasture across the road seemed a bit more mischievous, and Wall Lake had a growing number of a certain type of sea gull choiring their noise before continuing their journey somewhere south. I was trying to explain to Liam (now 13) how the fall is often a time for remembering favorite times, places, people, new beginnings and stuff that seems more central.
“I wonder how you would sum up the Christian situation in the world today. For me, it’s a strange, rather tragic, and disturbing paradox. On the one hand, in many parts of the world the church is growing by leaps and bounds. But on the other hand, throughout the church, superficiality is everywhere. That’s the paradox. Growth without depth. No doubt God is not pleased with superficial discipleship. The apostolic writers of the New Testament declare with one voice that God wants us to grow up and grow into maturity in Christ.”
John Stott (1999)
It has been almost 15 years since Randy and I heard John Stott speak those words in his keynote address to the International Consultation on Discipleship in Eastbourne, England. We continue to be gripped by Stott’s call to be a deepening influence in the life of the Church.
One is hard pressed to find a time in history when the Church has gone more places, has activated more efforts, has provided more resources, and has proclaimed the gospel more widely than the Church in North America over the past several decades.
Susan (my wife) and I decided to tag team leading a Journey group in our church. Seven strong women (Judy, Jayme, Carla, Hannah, Rebekah, Andrea, Susan) as well as Seth and myself (we felt much less strong at times) made up our group. Everyone who leads a VP3 group believes they have the best one, and that would be true in my case. We quickly became a trusted community, learning more fully who we were as persons in the good company of each other.
Something shifts during the narrative sharing time. And it shifted for us. A level of honesty surfaced from the fathoms of our lives…an honesty that brought with it stories of visions and broken dreams, accomplishments and failures, cozy places and harsh desserts, influential heroes and painful abusers. All of it somehow used as tailored curriculum by the Spirit of God to etch out who we really are, and to prepare us for what is yet to come.
What caught my attention when Hannah shared her story was her written prayer–a prayer that reflected her courage to question and to confess. Hannah agreed to share a part of her story and her prayer. May both be a reminder of the One who draws near in those vulnerable moments of honesty.
Your love puts no condition and knows no limits.
It embraces and envelops us totally, like the air we breathe.
It is life-giving in the most profound sense of the word.
Grant us grace to believe with all our hearts.
May this faith shape and permeate our personalities
and may it bear rich fruit in self-acceptance and love of our neighbor.
Let us become living witnesses of your love and truth and give you honor and glory.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, in whom all your love was revealed.
-Peter van Breeman
The God of Our Deepest Longings: Seven Biblical Meditations (Ave Maria Press, 2009), 46.
The Reeses decided our vacation time this summer would include time spent in one of the most beautiful parts of the homeland of Canada, Banff National Park. Just before you get into the park along the #1 Highway you come to Canmore, Alberta. An impressive little town with ginormous sentinel mountains surrounding the town.
One of those mountains is called Ha-Ling Peak, named after a Chinese cook for the Canadian National Railway who in 1896 was double-dog-dared for fifty bucks to plant a flag at the top of the mountain. Those wagering the fifty bucks said he couldn’t do it in less than ten hours. He started at 7am and was back in time for lunch, planting a large enough flag for the doubters at the local watering hole to see. That was before any paths were cut to make it “easier” to get to the top.
I have been re-reading the Bible. It’s been a while since I’ve read it from ding to dong. Usually my intake of the Word is guided by a bit of a gut check to be honest with what book of the Bible or passage I need to land on for a bit. And I have never been disappointed in the Spirit’s way of timing what I read with the particulars of my life. Maybe that’s part of the “living and active” thing.
I’ve been making my way through Genesis over the past several weeks. There have been many foundational blocks laid in Genesis that our faith has been built upon, held together by the mortar of God’s Spirit. Quite frankly, I have found myself saying to myself many times on this read through, “Holy moly. Talk about your crazy narratives and timelines!”
Last week twenty-seven of us gathered together in Sioux Falls for a retreat. By the end of our two days together we realized we were no ordinary group of twenty-seven people. We became a remarkable community of brothers and sisters in need of some space, perspective, words, silence and friendship. The theme for our gathering was “A Sacred Heart.” The hope for the gathering can be heard in David’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me (Ps 51:10).
There are no shortage of things that get us entangled and snared along the way of this deal we call ministry. This unusual gathering of saints had plenty of tangles and snares to share, but more so plenty of presence, experience and from time to time a word or two to offer.
We recently had a VP3 staff team day, complete with Christmas party. One of the things we did was share stories about the people we have encountered this past year through the ministry of VP3…people who have been gifts to us. They have given to us the gift of knowing a little more of their story of change toward becoming the person God has intended them to be…a person with new hope to live more incarnationally…becoming a gift to others in Jesus’ name.
Sometimes we sit back in amazement at how the Lord has used what seems like our “two-fish-and-five-loaves” to help deepen and empower so many good people in various communities across North America.
I loved going to the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk as a kid. The stores and amusement rides, the pizza places and popcorn shops, the balloons and cotton candy were all wonderful. Sundays on the boardwalk, however, were something less than wonderful. When I was growing up there were the Blue laws in Ocean City. These New Jersey laws restricted a number of economic activities from taking place on Sundays. These laws meant one thing to me—all the shops on the boardwalk were closed every Sunday. And because of it, going to the boardwalk on Sundays was not so enchanting to me. It meant walking by one closed shop or ride after another.I can recall on a number of occasions taking long walks with my family on ‘the boards’, exercising off the flounder and shrimp and crab and fries we had for Sunday dinner. (Sunday on the boards was actually my dad’s favorite day to ‘go shopping’ since one began and ended the excursion with the same amount of money in one’s pocket. On more than one occasion he stood up from Sunday dinner and teased with a smile, “Anyone want to go shopping on the boards? ” The older I got the funnier this little scene became. But as a young kid I did not find it so funny.)