Nice work if you can get it!

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Sitting on the beach going through some edits with a colleague last week: ‘I don’t feel like this is work, it feels more like a holiday.’ ‘hmmm, it is work, we are working right now.’ ‘yes but we are on the beach!’ Nice work if you can get it! So last week the European leaders […]

God’s not schizoid….

Its nice to be back to blogging. In the break  I have moved house, relocated office, been to Rome, viewed my Mother’s prospective new home and attended 4 different churches. From all that and much more I have plenty to reflect on and share with you!

One of the things I appreciate about the movement that I am part of is that there are very few decisions of importance and wide reaching consequence that anyone gets to make on their own. Over the last few weeks I have been involved in a number of important decision making processes, many of which will have consequences that will be felt right across the international movement.

As a Christian mission movement we believe that God has an opinion and a say in our life and the decisions we make. In a discussion recently I found myself saying ‘God’s not schizophrenic’. My statement was a reflection on the current complexity we were facing brought about by the fact that not only do we believe that God has a say in what we do, but we do NOT believe that any one person or group has the monopoly on revelation from God as to what he wants; but rather that ‘together we have the mind of Christ’. So what happens when different ones seem to have opposing notions (equally felt to be of God by the respective proponents) of the right way forward?

In this situation, in our movement’s context, we would have one of three main options; the first and easiest is to assume that one person or group does have the monopoly on ‘God’s truth’ after all – they’re the more spiritual ones or they prayed longest and hardest, or they know the bible really well or … whatever. The second is that God is in fact ‘schizophrenic’, and in one setting he said one thing and in another he said something quite different; so really it doesn’t matter which we choose, opt for the one we like best, its all just a game of roulette anyway. The third is that God has indeed spoken to each of his children who have asked and listened, what each have shared is a complex mixture of personal agenda and divine inspiration, but the joyous task is for us together in grace and mercy, with Holy Spirit’s continued help, to discern the whole of what God is saying as we piece together the different parts… separating out the stuff that we threw into the mix of ourselves.

If I am honest, I reckon we go for the first two options more often than we would like to admit! However when we do go for the third, I reckon heaven celebrates and the powers of darkness are stricken with terror. Because I believe that the third option is an expression of Trinitarian unity in action, it is humble disciples with their master, seeking first his Kingdom. The third option is extremely ‘unnatural’, it requires all those concerned to yield to the others, it asks for an unusual level of humility, it demands an acknowledgment that God is as much at work in others as he is in you (and vise versa), it relies on each party articulating what they see and demands that the group take the necessary time and action to create the environment where all these things are in fact possible.

Its easy to see that there are no end of factors that make that third option so difficult to achieve. For me with my back ground in Soul Survivor and Vineyard, one of the most important things I learnt was to say ‘I could be wrong, or only partly right, but I think God might be saying ….’. this not only acknowledges my fallibility as a human being, but it also welcomes fellowship in discerning God’s voice. (it was a bit of a breath of fresh air from the more classic Pentecostal style I had grown up with!) The down side is that I now react when people say things like ‘God said… ‘ or ‘God’s spoken very clearly and therefore we should ….’, the closedness that communicates to me then becomes a hurdle to me stopping and hearing what God might in fact be saying in what they bring.

As a movement we have chosen the hard rout in this area and one that not all Christian organisations would choose they choose the harder routs in other areas. It’s not a superiority thing, it’s simply about staying true to your organisation’s mandate and mode of operation. As we do the work to go for option three even when its really tough and time is short, we experience his favour and blessing because I believe that when all the things that make that option possible are in place, we are much more in line with God’s nature which means that his kingdom is able to emerge a little more in us and through us.

‘The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure (uncontaminated). It is also peace loving (shalom) and gentle at all times and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere.’ (James 3v17) I think that’s what we’re talking about!

three things l love to do

 

During my recent trip abroad we covered three different countries and I got to connect significantly with four different teams. It was great! That time was almost a cameo of the things I love the most in life.

In South Africa we were a team of five with an impossible task to accomplish – the number of things to achieve and journeys to facilitate was almost ridiculous – but it was all for a huge, godly, kingdom dream… So we went for it and together we saw it all come together; we had mountains of fun, worked our butts off and in the process got to know and love God, the community and each other more.

In Greece, although sick and exhausted from the South African job, it was exhilarating and fascinating to help facilitate a process that helped us move forward as individuals, teams and as an international group. I really enjoy being part of that tie up between the big picture and the individual, the task and the life between us.

And from there I headed to Albania with Erion, Lysiena and Besi. It was a four hour road trip north-west from Thessaloniki through the hill country of northern Greece. Then across the boarder into Albania where the countryside feels like you have entered some bygone era when we got around on horses and donkeys, using carts to carry our loads to market. When we farmed small holdings of land in our families, together ploughing, planting and then harvesting in the heat of the day. It’s a different life and a different pace.

Besi, Lorena, Erion, Lino and Lysiena at another cafe!

Besi, Lorena, Erion, Lino and Lysiena at another cafe!

That evening I was dropped off at Lorena’s home where I was to stay for the weekend, and I slept! The next 48 hours were so different to the previous 3 weeks. This part of the trip was centred around cafes and shared meals! It was about doing life together, hanging out, spending time sharing together. It is something I love but I don’t get to do that often, there was no great task to achieve, no burning agenda items to cover, it was just about being present. Not just physically present but fully present. I learnt so much about what life was like for these guys individually and as a team and I was nourished and energised in the process. Sometimes it was just me and one other person, other times it was a whole group of us, or just three.

Lysi, Lorena, Mattia and Myself

Lysi, Lorena, Mattia and Myself

The café stops weren’t in my honour, its just how the team function, they simply enjoy each other’s company and ministry takes place as they do life together. In fact in between the café stops was a youth meeting, a Sunday service and a festival – there were other things that they did, those were just the three things I took part in.

Besi and Lino - beards thanks to Fiddler on the Roof!

Besi and Lino – beards thanks to Fiddler on the Roof!

I remember many years ago when I first started traveling, reflecting on how God shows up in the person of a stranger, but we often miss out because we are so preoccupied with something busy. My time in Albania reminded me how I really love just being present with no particular agenda but to care and not be indifferent.

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Rowing Blind

 

Just over a week ago I was in Leptocorea, a small coastal town just an hour’s drive south of Thessaloniki, Greece. After a day in transit in London enroot from South Africa we had landed in Thessaloniki where we were met by two team mates who had arrived earlier and hired a car. We boldly headed out, Andy driving on the right hand side of the road for the first time, only to find after an hour that we were heading north towards Albania. By this time it was around midnight! Two hours later and after a short break at a road side café where we watched a group of men racing from car to car looking for a working fire extinguisher to deal with the source of smoke that was pouring forth from the back wheels of a large lorry… we arrived in Leptocorea!

About twenty of us all told had gathered for three days. It was the first time in 3 and half years that we had gathered, the majority had not been present at the last meeting. This was to be a very significant time together. We will not know for sure for many years what exactly was set in motion by God’s spirit amongst us during those days but there was one thing that I noticed in particular.

Most of those present were Fusion team and many were staff members, committed to a life of full time ministry on no salary, trusting to God for his direction and provision in our lives. That statement though easy to write in reality describes a daily wrestle, a lifelong training, a constant temptation to look to sources other than God for sustenance and direction. That statement represents adventure and joy, life and deep fulfilment, but it also represents times of anguish, bewilderment and confusion. And so it is when God calls frail human beings to walk together and with him, to live by faith and not by sight.

As leaders in this setting it is easy to become weighed down under the burden of caring for others on this incredible but difficult road, often there is the burden of carrying our spouses and children as well; we become preoccupied and exhausted. This weight can become unbearable at times – mainly because it wasn’t designed to be born by us in the first place (although we give it a jolly good go!) but by God himself as we walk with him.

Here is what I saw beginning to happen over those three days.

Each of us with ears plugged and blind folded, holding an oar and rowing with all our might. It was a struggle and no one felt like they were making much progress; each was getting wetter and wetter, and more exhausted. Then one person decided to unplug their ears, suddenly they could hear all that was happening around them. One by one others did the same. People stopped rowing and struggling and started to listen, taking in the new reality around them. Each became aware of others close by them, one or two even reached out and touched each other. It was these ones who first took off their blind folds, they gasped and then with a laugh of recognition realised what they had been doing. One by one others did the same and eventually everyone had their eyes open and their ears unplugged. They realised that they were all in the same boat, with the same leader, heading for the same destination. Once the laughter had died down, knowing what needed to be done, they quickly arranged themselves and amidst jokes and laughter, keeping their eyes on the cox, they settled into a rhythm of rowing and sliced with ease through the water.

We are not all fully hearing and seeing yet, but with time we will and its going to be exciting what happens from that point on!

Brokenness, fellowship and growth

This morning I was thinking about how uncomfortable living and working with others can be! Its like the person who said ‘I have no problem being holy when I am on my own!’. Doing life with others, at least authentically, is kind of like living life under a massive magnifying glass so that all your blemishes and brokenness are made clear for all to see. It doesn’t stop there, in that place I then have a choice, I can protest, deny and defend out of my brokenness, and remain in my dysfunctionality, or I can surrender to the light and to the fellowship and hopefully find grace and healing.

Each week I meet up with two amazing women, one is in Tasmania and the other is in Perth Australia, we connect over skype for about an hour. In that context we can each share what life is like. In the light and love of fellowship I can share my frailties and how I rail against them. The interesting thing is that in the sharing and receiving we also minister grace and truth and life to one another. Sometimes things are explicitly said that call us back to the cross, other times we just talk, cry, laugh and pray, but every time I leave more aware of God’s love and forgiveness and more aware of how he continues to grow me, never giving up or leaving me.

When we have a physical wound we usually need to expose it to some extent so that it can take the journey of healing; it needs to be rubbed or kissed, cleaned, strapped or splinted, stitched or left open to the air. Sometimes for our inner brokenness to be healed, it needs to be deliberately exposed to the blood of Jesus. It appears that the way God meant that to happen was in fellowship with others.

 ‘If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we will have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness’. I have been pondering those words for a couple of years and I think I am understanding them better, slowly!

Rail, road, steam boat, river or canal?

Team UK had our first team day of the year yesterday. It was a very special time. Most of the day we were eight plus the puppy; a small group of highly diverse personalities with an eclectic array of gifts and strengths –  really quite special. We did some work on our purpose, objectives and strategy, when it’s a bit more refined I might share it with you. For some of us this sort of big picture work is natural and exciting whilst for others it is a little bewildering and hard work; but even so we got to some really good outcomes.IMG_0835

I have been mulling over how best to help others differentiate between strategy, tactics and goals…

If your goal is to get to Edinburgh, there are many strategies to choose from – you could go by plane, train, car, foot or even teleportation! Which you choose will depend on who you are, the things that matter to you, who else is or should be involved, what resources you have, what other outcomes you are after. A business person on a tight schedule might choose to fly, however if he has a son he hasn’t spent time with recently, he might choose to head up by train or car. He will have a range of tactics to choose from in implementing his strategy, who makes the booking and how? What rout does he take? Does he go business class or economy? Which service providers does he use?

In our line of work where we partner with others to reach their communities and young people, we have a strategy that has been developed in our movement over the last 50 years. Its a process of mission with 8 components. Our particular approach to authority, leadership and membership gives us a values and practice framework that guides us in the implementation of the strategy, so the culture should be pretty similar from place to place. In each community however, the particular tactics and programs we use to role out the strategy can vary widely from place to place.

Some years ago a well meaning church leader asked me if I had any plans to settle down and marry. I was a little surprised at his question and with what I am certain was a quizzical expression I replied ‘well I am open to the possibility but, no, I haven’t worked out a strategy and 5 year plan as such!’. My friends and I had a good laugh afterwards!

We all need Sam

As Frodo and Sam emerge from the Orc’s tower, finally within the boarders of Mordor, they survey the vast expanse of rocky terrain between them and Mount Doom, their chosen destination. It would have been several days of treacherous travel were the terrain not heaving with thousands upon thousands of Orcs and other evil creatures – the massed armies of the dark lord, Sauron. You can almost see the last drops of hope drain away from Frodo beneath his Orc-ish attire; there is no way they will make it to Mount Doom alive, the ring will doubtless find its way to Sauron and all will have been lost, he will have failed his companions, the Shire and middle Earth will be lost.

Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s friend and companion, looks at Mount Doom, looks at the land filled with Orc armies, looks at Frodo and then says; ‘Well, lets get to the bottom of this hill for starters.’ And putting one foot in front of the other, they set out.

Not long after Sam and Frodo start to make their way forward, the armies start to empty out of Mordor clearing their way towards Mount Doom. Unbeknown to Sam and Frodo, way out West in Gondor after an incredible victory, the remainder of the Fellowship put into action a plan. They have no news of Frodo’s whereabouts or even if he is still alive. Still they know that the battle for middle earth is not yet over and the ring has not yet been destroyed, the two objectives that have shaped their every move for the last year. They know that Mordor is full of Orc armies and if Frodo and Sam are still live and anywhere near, they will never reach Mount Doom as long as Sauron regroups his strength in Mordor. They plan a diversion to draw Sauron’s attention away from his own land and to empty Mordor of his armies… just in case Frodo is there and trying to get through. They challenge Sauron to battle, certain to lose their lives in the process, and with no guarantee that their actions will be of any use to Frodo at all.

I love that every member of the fellowship knew that together they had a single purpose – to save middle earth by destroying the ring of power. However far away from each other they were, the purpose was still the same. Though things never seemed to go according to plan, at every twist and turn they had their North Star, would the choice before them help them move closer to or away from their ultimate end? I appreciate the role of people like Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel and Gandalf who help everyone keep the big picture in view and can see how all the dots join up, when I am at my best I am most comfortable functioning like this. But there are times when like Frodo, all my strength is spent, all hope seems to have taken flight and the big dream brings despair not excitement; in those times I am glad to have a ‘Sam’ near by who’ll say, ‘well, lets get to the bottom of this hill for starters.’

Every team on a mission needs to have a clear North Star to follow, but they also need to know where to put their next step. Most of us with enough of the right kind of mentoring can find our own way if the North Star is clear, but all of us will from time to time need that friend behind us saying ‘its OK, this is the way, walk in it.’.  To provide effective leadership I need to know when to be a Lady Galadriel, remind the team of its mission, its North Star so bringing courage, commitment  and clarity; and when to be a Sam and give only the next step so as not to snuff out a smouldering wick. For me, to be a Sam is harder than to be a Gandalf, but I know that God’s heart in me will help me be patient and give me the wisdom to know what’s needed.

This is some of the beauty and complexity of working in teams and living in fellowship.