Friendship does not grow naturally out of the fast-paced, competitive, and isolated lives so many of us live. In reality, our work priorities and our household busy-ness most often stand against the cultivation of deep friendship. Yet it is friendship that most often describes an essential condition for Christian maturity. As we make space for a common sharing, honoring, and enjoying of life, something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us.
It is Eugene Peterson’s words on the importance of friendship that has been resonating with me again over the past ten days. In his book Leap Over A Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, Peterson insightfully describes our deep need for fellow travelers along the way of following Jesus. He writes,
Each of us has contact with hundreds of people who never look beyond our surface appearance. We have dealings with hundreds of people who the moment they set eyes on us begin calculating what use we can be to them, what they can get out of us. We meet hundreds of people who take one look at us, make a snap judgment, and then slot us into a category so that they won’t have to deal with us as persons. They treat us as something less than we are; and if we’re in constant association with them, we become less.
And then someone enters into our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what is deepest within us. A friend (54-55).
Intentionally walking with others, helping them grow deeper in their faith, becomes transformative when we make space to notice others particularly. For it is in the conditions of lives shared, honored, noticed, and enjoyed—that is, friendship—that something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us and through us to others. This noticing involves expecting God to work in the lives of those around us. In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson points out that we must cultivate a sense of expectancy when it comes to helping our community mature and grow. Peterson writes,
I have a friend who recently completed The Journey. She grew up in church and has a strong legacy of faith. Yet in the midst of The Journey, something happened – she began to see things from a new vantage point . . .
Just this week I grabbed a swanky paintbrush along with trendy milk paint and moved mountains on my outdoor patio. This life-changing milk paint requires no furniture prepping, no matter what foundational shape it is in. With each stroke and glide of the brush, the foamy and runny paint covered nicely and adequately over the dark, unfinished wood coating my Adirondack chairs. I was enthralled at how nicely the paint set, leaving no streaks or drips behind.
As a hurried, restless, somewhat overscheduled woman who would typically prefer to purchase a prefinished furniture piece, I was surrendering my past ways of laziness and stepping into a delightful journey of DIY initiatives. The tedious hours spent painting and creating stirred something in my soul to come up for some air and bask in the glory of completing a project.
So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God but also our own selves,
because you have become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
Regent College’s James Houston once commented that within the evangelical Christian world we have spiritual maps and mapmakers, ad nausea, when what we really need is a few mountain guides who have been there before us on the journey. Walking with Others is for those who have ears to hear what Houston is noticing in the church. Developmental theories and maps serve a vital purpose, but what we desperately need more of today are wise men and women who have the humility, courage, and patience to walk faithfully alongside others, helping them explore the real places in their lives that the map may describe.
So much of what passes for discipleship and leadership development today lacks interpersonal investment, life upon life. Simply telling others to grow up into Christ will not cut it, no matter how articulately or creatively or loudly we state it. The journey toward growth and maturity must be shared and explored from the inside out.
There are a lot of Toms in my family. My father’s name is Tom, my pop-pop was a Tom, and even my middle name is Thomas. I also have a Tom for a second cousin. But there was only one Uncle Tom in my world growing up. He was my dad’s uncle, one of my grandma’s four brothers.
Uncle Tom was quite a humorous character. In our family, the stories abound. He was the sort of person who when told not to touch the chocolate fudge cooling in the kitchen was known not just to brush aside such cautions by taking a finger full but he was known to take the whole tray with him to work. As a butcher he was known to cause a couple of unsuspecting women to all but pass out by his sharp chop of the cleaver followed by yelling and writhing as if he just chopped off a finger or two.
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
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.
Money is always a touchy subject. We all have some and we have decisions to make on what we do with the amount God has given us. It’s always easy to look at those who have more, and figure it’s their responsibility to carry the biggest load. Then we’re challenged with “the widow’s mite,” and wonder where that leaves us – often someplace in the middle.
We have family members with needs, we have mortgages and car payments, our churches have building programs, and many of us have a cause or two. They’re all good and worthy projects.
I met a man recently who is bothered about the giving of people living in the Western world. His research shows on average we give about one percent, sometimes two. He is challenging his friends to look back over their tax returns and set a goal of giving at least five percent. How would our world be different if we all gave five percent? Would all the ministry needs be met?
I would guess that percentage jumps a bit for us “church folks.” If you’ve spent time in the Church, then the ten percent figure gets tossed around. (Our “tithe” has been described as 1/10th in Leviticus 27:32).
So we give as we hear needs, and then some extra at the end of the year. And sometimes my giving is stretched when I hear about an urgent need and I want to respond.
Then I read something like this . . .
“God doesn’t need our cash. He doesn’t come to us, hat in hand, sheepishly asking for funding for His mission. We don’t give because God needs it, but because in giving we declare His value to us and our love for Him. Jesus told us that if we want to know what a person really loves, we should follow the trail of his [or her] money… The world, of course, finds it absurd to be this open-handed with our resources (I earned it, I deserve to benefit from it!)…When was the last time your generosity made someone question your sanity?”
J.D. Greear in “Three Ways the Gospel Changes our Generosity” blogpost on 19 November 2014
That last question has stuck with me. When was the last time my generosity made someone question my sanity?
VantagePoint3 is looking for financial partners. We have a few. But if we are to respond to the growing need for this work, then we’ll need more. If God has used this ministry to make a difference in your life, will you consider joining us? We’re especially looking for people I call “sustainers,” those who share with us monthly. Even a small monthly gift will make a difference.
But if you want us to “question your sanity,” well that would be fine, too.
To give on our secure web site, go to: http://vantagepoint3.org/donate
And if you’d like to set up a monthly recurring gift, please fill out this form and return it to our office…
And for considering joining us, thank you!
How many times have you heard yourself saying, or thinking,
“I don’t think I’m going to go to (fill in the blank).”
And then, you summon the energy, obedience, or heart to show up.
Later you hear yourself saying, or thinking, “I’m glad I went.”
What’s that all about?
I think I know the answer.
I’ve been reading comments included in The Journey assessments we have received at VP3.
Here’s a few that stood out:
“Once again I am faced with the fact that I cannot make this earthly journey alone.
I see saints all around me and know that they have a story that would shock me and yet a story that God wrote, is writing, and is totally IN!!!
Understanding that each of us has a unique story makes me so much more accepting of all people….everyone has some kind of battle.”
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.
Years ago I would have convinced myself that I could mastermind my sanctification and create a growth plan on my own time. But this Lone Ranger approach would skim the surface of what God intended and what I need.
This reminds me of my angst with a mandated seat belt law when I was a teen-ager. I thought it was an abuse of power by the State at the time. Only a few years later I realized that this mandate was put in place for my good because I was not mature enough to know what was in my best interest.
As I have matured as a Christ follower, I have learned a similar lesson. There is simply nothing better than a small learning and praying community stretched by reading and conversations that I did not even know were for my good. These experiences will protect me and grow me up to influence and serve beyond what I imagine and as God desires.
I have been particularly grabbed by three experiences during my Way of Life year that have been for my good.
1) The Way of Life material teed up crucial conversations about prayer, scripture reading and living truthfully that tore away my veil of performance anxiety and self consciousness and made these practices real and easier to discuss.
2) The session on Spiritual Gifts was the deepest and most meaningful dive I’ve taken into that subject. We were led through a beautiful process where I gained clarity on my gifts in the company of friends. Their encouragement will sharpen my “yes” and my “no” in serving well.
3) My absolute favorite experience during this Way of Life year has been the focus on our work as a place of mission. Our class split into small groups of three or four and we actually visited each other’s place of work. The host gave us a short tour, shared the challenges and highlights of their work, we asked questions, and prayed. To a person, every report on “how I see God-at-work in your life” was sacred ground. I even dare to say, this was as paradigm shifting and Kingdom enhancing as the sharing of our life stories during The Journey year. I was taken by surprise at how this impacted all of us.
If you, or your church is interested in more information on the Way Of Life process, please contact us. A Way of Life picks up where The Journey ends…deepening and empowering the life of the believer so that we might better participate and model this life of faith and finish well.