Leaving The Comfort Zone-Revisited!

It is September 2016 and I have just returned from a long, tough walk in Corsica. Life is a challenge right now and I know that so much that is familiar is about to change…..just as it was 8 years ago! Exactly 8 years ago to the date, I was on a long tough walk in Corsica with a series of challenges and life changes ahead. During that walk,  I wrote this journal entry. My plan is to let my journal of 8 years ago challenge me afresh today. corsica

Leaving The Comfort Zone – September 2008

During the climbing of the first day, the prospect of 14-16 days tough-mountain walking seemed like forever. Body and mind were not yet conditioned to the physical and mental challenges and the way ahead both excited and daunted. I knew that it would be beautiful but I knew that it would be tough. I had a goal; I had prepared for situations that might arise, but there were so many variables over which I would have no control!

Someone said to me that the GR20 is 40% physical fitness; 60% mental determination. Whilst walkers undoubtedly need to be relatively fit, even the fittest person will fail without steely mental determination, because this walk takes a person right out of their comfort zones and into the wilderness.

The first days walk was a relentless climb. From the top of the pass, I gained a much fuller understanding of the geography of the area and how it all fitted together. As I looked down at the beautiful seaside town of Calvi, I was reminded that we were leaving civilisation, leaving opportunities for comfort and pleasure and exchanging them for the unpredictability of the mountains. There was great resonance with our lives ‘off the trail’.

Into my solitude, I sensed a voice whispering,

‘Are you prepared to leave your comforts and move to the places where I am in control? Follow me to the wild places and you will see things from a new perspective; increasingly as I see them, not from the eye level view of the comfortable places. From here, you get a much wider perspective and you can see how everything relates. It will be wild, exciting and scary. Have you Lindsay got what it takes?’

I accepted the challenge, but couldn’t help thinking that this would serve to make me feel even more out of kilter with the surrounding cultures…even that of the church. It is what anthropologist Victor Hugo would call ‘liminality’ which is defined by Alan Hirsch as ‘an in-between marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger, but not necessarily so’

God clearly wants me to look only to Him for approval and identity. I still found myself praying that He would give a few wise companions for the journey who will encourage and hold me to account. That will be important, particularly if God is wanting to show me things from an increasingly different perspective because I’ll be picking my way through lesser known territory where danger of error is greatest.

The 3rd morning whilst climbing, my mind turned to negative thoughts about the past. Cutting across these, I sensed God asking me,

‘Are you prepared to do anything for me?’

One by one, I went through all the potential things that could inhibit God’s work in and through my life. It reminded me of a period in 2005 when I felt God calling me to re-submit absolutely every area of my life to his will and purposes, so that nothing at all could come before bringing him glory. No relationships, no possessions, no desires or ambitions, no fears….nothing! Theologian Paul Minear writes that

‘The sole sovereignty of God is realized only by stern struggle with other gods, with all the forces that oppose his will’.

For me that episode in 2005 was the culmination of that stern struggle…a struggle that brought me to the place I am today-a place where many of life’s comforts and securities are being stripped away.

Over the course of the trek, I read the story of Elijah and found that it really resonated with me. Elijah had been taken aside to Kerith after being used by God to speak to Ahab. In that place of obscurity, he learned dependence on God and was fed by Him.

My life has seen so many changes over the past few years that it has been quite disorientating at times. I have become increasingly defined by ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I do’ because so much else has been stripped away. It has however been the Kerith that God had prepared for me. It has been isolating and without significant encouragement from many Christians, yet God has fed me, quenched my thirst for Him and enabled me to serve him in ways that I had never before been able. My dependence upon Him, my faith and trust in Him and my desire to serve Him alone have grown significantly. I am now confident that I do not need the limelight to survive.

I must now ensure that I maintain a disciplined life; a life that leaves no room for anything that would challenge God’s sovereignty in any area of my life. I must therefore frequently ask myself ‘am I still prepared to leave my comfort zone for the sake of the gospel’ and ‘is there anything in my life inhibiting God’s purposes for my life?’

In the afternoon of day 3, there was a long, difficult downhill section. Andrew asked me to wait for him part way down the mountainside en-route to Haute D’Asco, a disused ski station and our stop for the night. I sat and waited for Andrew on a large granite promontory. I got out my mobile phone which I had brought for the sole purpose of receiving a text from a church that was considering calling me as their minister. Did the church want to progress to the next stage or not? I turned the phone on with a mix of apprehension and excitement. There was a signal, the text came through and YES….they wanted me to come and preach with a view…the Sunday after I was due to arrive back in England.

I knew that if they subsequently called me, Andrew and I would have to leave our beautiful house in the New Forest and move to a town where we wouldn’t know anybody. It would mean starting Bible College whilst finishing the M.A in Missional Leadership. It would mean leaving family and friends and the church where I was serving. It would mean the challenges of being a sole, part-time pastor. It would mean Andrew leaving his job. It would mean leaving the remaining ties to our comfort zone and having no idea where it will lead!

Yet, as God has grown me out of my comfort zone, I have learned increasingly to ‘hold lightly’ to everything as I increase my reliance on Him. I have discovered what an incredibly isolating journey the journey of true submission can be (especially and surprisingly in relation to fellow Christians). I have however also learned how gentle, yet powerful His love can be.

 

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The Stranger & The Outcast

Sheep blog

Do you want to be more like Jesus? Part of being more like Jesus means extending the same treatment, the same hospitality to the ‘alien’, the stranger and the outcast that Jesus would extend towards them. That’s a big challenge when you realise how Jesus treated them! (If you don’t know, have a rummage through the Gospel of John Chapter 9 or take a look at Luke 4:18-19)

Some of the religious leaders of the time were scandalised by Jesus and pointed to their books of rules saying ‘this is not how it should be done.’ I wonder whether we ever get so hung up on dotting every doctrinal ‘i’ and crossing every religious ’t’ that we actually miss out on becoming more like Jesus…and miss out on the whole point of what it means to be church?

When we look at people, do we see them simply as they are and have been, or do we see them with the eyes of Christ…..as those to whom Jesus offers a hope and a future?

I’ve always been interested in words, what they mean and where they come from. One of the words I looked up a while ago was “hostility.” I found out that the Latin root of that word is hostis which means “enemy.” Our Christian task is to turn the stranger (the hostis) who is perceived as an enemy into a hospes, which is the Latin word for “guest” (and from which our English word “hospitality” is derived.)

Our Christian task it to turn the hostis into a hospes….the stranger into a guest.

Biblical hospitality doesn’t just mean sharing food with someone…though food is definitely good. I like food.

Rather, Biblical hospitality involves an enounter with God as we encounter the stranger. 

I have had the privilege of meeting a very wide range of people through my work life ….whether they be homeless people, prostitutes, addicts, refugees, younger people, older people, poorer people, richer people, people with disabilities, gay people, people of other nationalities, cultures and faiths. I have grown so much through people who are not like me…..through “the other!” What’s more, I have found that I don’t necessarily have to condone their actions or beliefs in order to learn from them.

In fact, I think that the stranger can be sent by God to open up new windows in our thinking that help move us towards a greater wholeness as human beings. Maybe God wants to challenge our perceptions…perhaps he wants us to grow in grace ? Maybe He wants to lead us to prayerful intercession? Maybe it is something else?

Just a final thought….for years the church has prayed for chances to evangelise and disciple the nations. For years God’s response has been to send people overseas to do just that. Today, that prayer is being answered in a new way….

the nations are coming to us. What a massive God given Gospel opportunity!

One that should certainly affect our church prayer life!

So….how can we become a people who look for the image of God in one another; people who look for what they can affirm in one another, not what they can disagree on or tear down; people who seek to offer the stranger and outcast a hope and future because of Jesus Christ?

How can we become people who turn the hostis into the hospes…the enemy to the guest?
How can we become a people who in welcoming the stranger, find that we just might have a fresh encounter with the risen Lord Jesus? – An encounter that will help us become more like Jesus.

And we do want to become more like Jesus don’t we?

 

*Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Jibing At Sea…

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Monique is an accomplished sailor from Brittany. She set out from the Canary Islands over 2 years ago and has since been sailing around the world. She has called in at various ports along the way and during this time has, amongst other things, learned to surf, skateboard and sledge.

The world has too few well known female rôle models, so I am pleased to be able to say that I am in awe of Monique.

I am particularly in awe of her because people said that it wouldn’t work out. After all, she started her journey as an inexperienced sailor on a 39 foot yacht heading out into the vast unknown! People said that she just wasn’t cut out for that sort of journey or that sort of life. They said that she would find it far too stressful and that she would be much better off spending her life doing something ‘normal’ and more in line with her natural talents and abilities.

I know they say that you should never meet your heroes, but I would like to meet Monique…..

because Monique is a chicken…a hero chicken….

….a hero chicken who has been travelling round the world with a human called Guirée Soudée. Soudée has found, contrary to many peoples expectations, that Monique has been the ideal sailor companion for him. Whilst only eating rice and corn (plus the odd fish) she actually provides him with freshly laid eggs at sea. In addition to this, Monique provides him with company, entertainment and, says Soudée, ‘Compared with people, she doesn’t complain at all.’

Sometimes, we box ourselves in. We tell God that he can’t use us in this or that way because we are just not cut out for it. Perhaps we think that we are not experienced enough, gifted enough, eloquent enough, knowledgeable enough, old enough, young enough or whatever. Maybe we think that we are just too shy or perhaps too mouthy!

God can work in and through anyone in any way he likes!

God may assign us a task that is far beyond our power or resources to accomplish. Perhaps only then will we turn to him for the power, the knowledge, the skill and the resources that we need. Let’s stop focusing on our talents, abilities and interests to determine God’s will. Instead, why not seek God himself and just watch and wait as he equips us for whatever assignment He is wanting to accomplish in and through us.

When we tell God what we can’t do, we are actually saying more about our faith in God (or lack of it) than we are about our own abilities. Either God is all powerful or he isn’t. If He is all powerful, then we do not need to question our ability, strength or resources to complete His assignments. He will equip us to accomplish all He calls us to do.

Be like Monique…….I’m sure she never questions the call on her life or her abilities to fulfil the task.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36475672

*Tacking more than 180 degrees to avoid a jibe (usually in harsh conditions) is sometimes referred to as a ‘chicken jibe.’

Part 2- Scribbles from my journal way back when…

Photo on 07-06-2016 at 14.37

In my last blog, I explained that I would be posting some thoughts from some old journals that predated my training as a Baptist minister. The journals were written at a time when God was turning my understanding of what faith was, what ministry could be and who I was upside down. They are nothing particularly clever or even original, but just thoughts that seemed worth thinking at the time, that challenge me afresh every time I read them and that might be helpful pondering fuel for someone else.

So, here is the second set of musings, this time from my old red journal. And yes, I am currently imbibing another lovely cup of coffee!

  • ‘A missionary model of church calls us to move from understanding church as institution to movement, from structures that invite people into sacred space to a contagious spirituality that ‘invades secular space.’

How can we cultivate such a contagious spirituality? What will that mean for us in terms of our discipleship, holiness and ethics? Why do we so often separate disciplehip/holiness and mission…and at what cost?

  • How might church leaders (and how might I) develop a deeper understanding of society so that we can better develop skills that will enable us to develop a genuinely missional engagement with society?’ 

 

Scribbles from my journal way back when…

 

Photo on 31-05-2016 at 10.50

I was imbibing a lovely cup of tea on Mersea Island yesterday whilst browsing through an old personal journal. The journal predated ministerial training and at the time that I wrote my musings I had no idea that one day I would end up as a Baptist Minister. As a woman in an F.I.E.C church at the time, no one had ever suggested it, or most probably even thought about it! As I read these journal ramblings with hindsight however, they remind me precisely why some form of church related ministry was perhaps inevitable and why being a faithful minister was never going to be an easy ride….

I plan to post a few more quotes from old journals over the next week or so. These will primarily be a reminder to myself of the way I sense that God has been leading me over the years and remind me why I do what I do. If they are helpful ‘pondering fuel’ for anyone else, then that’s great too. They are nothing particularly clever or even original, but just thoughts that seemed worth thinking at the time.

So, here are the first three of my musings from just a couple of pages from a journal way back when….

  • ‘What could God do if all who occupied leadership positions empowered others as their primary calling rather than simply exercising their own gifts?’ (If I were writing this today, I would write exactly the same, except that I would stress that a leaders primary calling, even before empowering others, is to worship God!’

 

  •  ‘I want to be a permission giver. Permission givers are ambitious for those working around them and are not intimidated by those more able than themselves. What will that require of me?’

 

  • ‘How can I empower emerging leaders and be ambitious for them? Can mentoring play a rôle? What does that look like in my secular context? What might that look like in a church context? 

The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind

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And the question???

How should God’s people understand mission?

If we are going to be serious as God’s people about being who is calling us to be and doing what he is calling us to do (which we are aren’t we?), we must get our heads around this question! It is not something just for the academics.  It is for practitioners like you and me!

The Brazilian missiologist Steuernagel (1993) tells us that the answer is ‘blowing in the wind’……..Well actually, he says it somewhat more academically. He says that mission should be understood pneumatologically. (Pneuma is Ancient Greek for breath, wind or spirit.) Steuernagel writes…

‘It is first to perceive the blowing of the Spirit and the direction from which it comes. And then it is to run in the same direction to which the Spirit is blowing.’

My concern is that whilst local, national and international Church structures do many good things, they can also serve to hinder responsiveness to the Spirit.

Men like John Wesley and Count Zinzendorf were prepared to let go of old church structures and adopt new structures for mission precisely because they were better suited to supporting the movement of the Spirit.

If a church is going to be more open to the work of the Holy Spirit, it needs to be shaped around mission. This means that its’ ecclesiology, structures and rules must all serve to support, rather than potentially to hinder the missionary nature and purpose of the church.

Ecclesiology is to missiology a bit like scaffolding is to a building. The scaffolding is there to support what is being built, but it must not determine what can be built. That’s not what scaffolding is for! As soon as the scaffolding starts to hinder progress on the building, the scaffolding must be quickly dismantled and reconfigured so that it can continue to support the ongoing building project. I hope that you get my drift….

To address this controversial issue within our churches will however require courageous, innovative thinking and effective leadership. Many both within and outside our congregations/denominations will not understand and of course we must be sensitive, wise and discerning, but ways must be found to ensure that churches ‘shape up’ for God’s mission. If this ‘nettle is not grasped,’ the consequences will be enormous – the church will be denied from being true to her sent out nature and she (like ancient Israel) may find herself inadvertently hindering God’s purposes to bless all nations.

If the local church is to be faithful to her calling, church leaders and congregations clearly have important decisions to make…

Please Lord, give us wisdom, discernment, sensitivity, the hide of a rhinoceros, courage and tenacity! Help us to keep step with your Spirit so that as this generation of believers we can be ‘your people’ for this generation.  

Just So Irresponsible..

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I’ve upped and left….got into the car and driven off into the sunset…no laptop, no iPad. It’s all very irresponsible (or is it?) but I did it anyway….and I’m glad that I did.

Sometimes life gets in the way of spending quality time with my closest, most amazing friend. I don’t skip time with him intentionally-it sort of just happens. So I consciously try to make time for us to have a chat and spend time together. It feels naughty-as if I’m sneaking away with an illicit boyfriend or something, but how did it ever become that way??!

Society tells me that ‘busy, busy, busy’ is what it’s all about. The often conflicting demands of ministry makes me feel that if I’m not ‘there’ that something bad will happen…and to be honest it often does….but even so, does that make it right to deny ‘The Lord and Saviour’ of my time?

He doesn’t actually need me in order to survive, (as if?!) but nonetheless he wants me to ‘hang out’ with him 100% of the time.

Conversely, I can’t actually survive without Him, but do I actually want to hang out with him 100% of the time? I like to think that I do, but an honest assessment of my ‘to do’ list suggests that may not always be the case.

Quoting from a conversation I had with my friend earlier today…

‘I’m sorry Lord. I know that we don’t get enough time alone together. I guess I’m coping OK with the externals, but my interior life is in perpetual danger of crumbling! Without your breath, I am nothing. Enthuse, inspire and enliven every part of me with your Holy Sprit – so that I rise or fall to be no more and no less than you have created me to be.’

I’ll leave the rest of the day’s events between me and my friend. Too much self-disclosure on-line is seldom a pretty thing! However, it maybe that my words to my friend might offer you the words that you need to say to him today.

Written whilst on retreat April 2016…