Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bye For Now

I'm taking a break from updating this blog, though I will leave past posts on file.  I am writing a weekly e-newsletter, "Gracelets", that is available to those who ask by emailing me at: bill@mypastoralcounselor.com.

Thanks for stopping by!

Bill Faris

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rebuilding After Loss - Part Four - It Pays to Celebrate

"Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8: 10

A new friend of mine recently quit smoking cigarettes.  It has not been easy.  In fact, it has been very, very difficult.  Nevertheless she is succeeding in her inspired effort to remain free of the cigarette habit.  As a part of her recovery, she has joined Nicotine Anonymous - a 12 Step program for recovering smokers.  In N.A., a "chip" is presented as the member hits milestones in their recovery so they can mark and celebrate each one. There is, for example a "30 Day Chip" and so on.  

The other day, my friend was showing some of us a necklace she had made out of the chips she has earned so far.  In this way, she was literally wearing the signs of her victory over cigarettes.  The necklace was clever and attractive.  She told us that some of the people who had taken notice of her necklace had been drawn to it as an accessory.  They did not know what the chips represented.  But she understands the meaning of each chip quite thoroughly.  Show knows that, together, they signify victories God has helped her achieve.  She knows that it really does pay to celebrate.

Celebrating one's victories is an important part of rebuilding after loss. It is not only appropriate to do so, it actually important. That's because celebrations have a way of consolidating gains, building faith and adding value to the sometimes considerable efforts we put into our return from destruction.

Nehemiah understood the value of celebration.  He called the people to embrace joy: "Do not grieve," he told them, "for the joy of the Lord is your strength".  Let me pause to point out that grief is an appropriate response to loss and allowing ones self to grieve well is key to the healing and restoration process. Nevertheless, there is a time (Nehemiah reminds us) when we must stop grieving loss and begin celebrating gains.  It is important to do so, he declares to the people, because the Lord's joy brings further strength -- strength that will be needed as we seek to take our rebuilding process to the next level.

There are many ways to celebrate our restoration milestones. Some deserve to be public and noisy while other are better conducted in a private and intimate manner.  As we approach Thanksgiving, it is an ideal time to pause and consider what it is that God has done or is doing to help you rebuild after loss.  As you take note of these things, you might want to signify or symbolize certain milestones in ways that are meaningful to you. As you do, you will no doubt find that it gives you life, increases your joy and strengthens your grip on future progress.  

"How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord" 
(Psalm 116:12, 13).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rebuilding After Loss, Part Two - Assessment

"I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on" (Nehemiah 2: 12) NIV

The Wisdom of Assessment

A fellow pastor I know enjoys rock climbing with his son.  After getting valuable experience, they decided to tackle a particularly difficult climb -- their biggest challenge yet.  They decided to obtain an expert guide to assist them.  

Before they actually attempted the climb, the guide took them to a nearby vantage point so they could assess their challenge one piece at a time before engaging it. "The first segment of the climb will be hard", the expert told them as he drew their attention to the lower parts of the mountain.  "But we'll rest there and get ready for the next part", he added as he identified a small resting place.

The guide then pointed out the next segment of the climb. It would be much more difficult.  He went through it with them bit-by-bit until they all understood the strategy they would use to complete it.  Another resting point was identified. 
The third segment was very, very hard.  My friend later reported that he was pretty sure he would not be able to complete it.  Their guide assured them that they were up to the task but it would take everything they had.  Once again, they reviewed each part of that final climb in detail before they struck out to begin.

Taking Time to Assess

In our hurry to escape the pain, anxiety, or discouragement that follows grief, loss and major reversals; we may be tempted to skip the assessment phase of the rebuilding process. This can actually delay our progress.  Both Nehemiah and the rock climbing expert model the importance of first making a good assessment of the challenges we are facing before diving in.

A good assessment is holistic and includes the spiritual, emotional, physical and relational aspects of rebuilding after loss.  We need to look carefully at what it will take to restore our sense of spiritual balance.  Nothing is more fundamental to a good recovery than a clear sense of the presence of God and His promises to us in Christ.

A thorough assessment of our emotions is also in order. Are we emotionally over or under reacting?  Are we managing stress, anxiety and grief reasonably well?

Physically, we need to pay attention to our sleeping and eating habits.  If these have changed much in either direction (noticeably more eating or sleeping or noticeably less), we would do well to take note.  We will need our best physical resources to manage the overall task ahead.

Finally, we must properly assess our relationships.  Who do we have who can be present to our process with us in a helpful way? Who do we need to add to that list?

Once we have undergone a good assessment of the rebuilding process, the overall advances will be much greater than if we rush to rebuild too quickly.  
  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  
"Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work” (Nehemiah 2:17, 18)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rebuilding After Loss, Part One

Nehemiah, one of the Hebrews who had been living in exile in Babylon finally got news from home.  But it wasn't good:

"Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire".

Nehemiah was heartbroken: "When I heard these things, I wept..."(Neh.1:3,4).

Loss.  Reversal.  Bereavement.  These experiences have the power to stun us - to "knock the wind" out of us - and to even shut us completely down with sorrow.  Many of the people living in our own times are experiencing reversal and loss due to our country's economy as well as other factors. For many, these are trying times, indeed.

Do you know someone who is seeking to rebuild after grief or loss?  Perhaps you have friends, family members and neighbors who have lost jobs.  So many Americans have lost homes and other prized possessions as the financial pressures have taken their toll. And there are other kinds of losses, too. These include the loss of one's dignity, ability to trust, and sense of personal identity or safety. Perhaps you are going through such a time.

Life sometimes includes "mega-losses" such as when people lose important friends, a spouse, or a child.  Enduring such reversals puts us on the receiving end of some of life's heaviest possible blows. And so, all of this begs the question: can people successfully recover from such devastating circumstances? I believe the answer is "yes".  But restoration is not a quick or easy process.

Rebuilding Again - Beginning in Prayer

After expressing his initial sorrow and grief, Nehemiah began to engage the Lord in prayer. Prayer is certainly "Job One" in the rebuilding process for we cannot come back from powerful losses well without the wisdom, comfort, grace and empowering presence of God.

Nehemiah's prayer life remained rich throughout the daunting project of restoration he led the people to begin.  Along the way he faced stiff resistance from enemies, the need to keep a large team of workers motivated and other logistical and personal challenges.

Wise Nehemiah knew that this re-building would require more than what human hands and resources could provide.  Again and again, he called on God for help.  As he did, he shared each challenge and victory with the Lord as if He was right beside him in the process (He was!).

Just as prayer played a major role in Nehemiah's rebuilding effort, so must it play a key role in your own loss recovery story.  Many testify that prayers of many kinds - from gutsy, intensive prayers of praise and petition to deeply reflective prayers of Christ-centered meditation - have been their lifeline while in restoration and rebuilding mode.

"
Then I (Nehemiah) said: "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before You day and night for your servants, the people of Israel ..." (Neh. 1:5, 6a)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beyond Love - It Takes Respect

"Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage" crooned Frank Sinatra, "The Chairman of the Board".  Well, Mr. Chairman, true enough. But while love may lead a couple to begin a marriage, it is respect that will enable them to sustain it through thick and thin.

So what are some of the things that can engender the all-important commodity of respect between spouses?  One such factor must certainly be the keeping of promises.

Promise Keeper - Promise Breaker

Some years ago, a friend found himself embroiled in a long period of conflict with his wife. "She expects me to be PERFECT", he complained.  A wise advisor issued him a surprising challenge: "I'll give you until sundown to make a list of all the promises you have made to her and then broken".

At first, my friend was stumped.  But, after awhile, his mental logjam broke and by the next day (he asked for an extension!) he had come up with over 100 broken promises - large and small. This simple exercise helped him to reinterpret the breakdown in his relationship. Maybe his wife didn't expect him to be perfect. Maybe she just wanted him to be reliable.

Respect Squared

Another way to encourage respect from your spouse is to show it.  I'll be the first to say that most of us males are magnetically drawn toward those who show us respect.  So, whether you are a husband or a wife, let me ask you: is there anyone on Planet Earth who should deliver a message of respect to your spouse more than you?

Showing respect invites respect to be shown. This has certainly been true of Robin and me. She is one of my heroes and I enjoy communicating my respect for her to her, and to others as well.  I love it when I observe my married children enjoy a mutually respectful relationship with their spouses, too.  My hope is that the respect I have communicated for them - and for their mother - have contributed to the strength of their own partnerships.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Aretha Franklin, "The Queen of Soul" made a fortune singing a song about the desire to feel respect from their partner.  "Find out what it means to me" she urges again and again in that solid gold voice.  Perhaps if we found out a little more about what r-e-s-p-e-c-t means to love and marriage, we would find new vitality in this relationship and in the other important relationships in our life as well.

 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Makes You Strong, Part Three

What is it that -- according to studies -- improves mood, relieves anxiety, maximizes health, sparks creativity and engenders feelings of love? Giving back.

It turns out that one of the best things you can do for your self is to do something for others.  That's right: giving makes you strong. But of course, Jesus indicated this very thing when He said:

"If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving--large or small--it will be used to measure what is given back to you."(Luke 6:38, NLT)

Love in a Teapot

Sometimes we may thinking that giving back or sharing ourselves with others needs to be a grand affair but this need not be the case.  The key to giving is to find ways and means that are uniquely your own and which communicate true care and concern.

One of my favorite examples of simple and creative giving involves a friend's mother who has a well-documented knack for acquiring inexpensive teapots at garage sales and the like. When she becomes aware of a neighbor or friend who is going through a tough time, or who is ailing or who could just use a lift; she springs to action.

Before long, a small plant or flower is planted into a teapot planter and the simple-yet-elegant gift is ready to be presented. Imagine what a delightful surprise this simple kindness provides to the person on the receiving end. And, of course, this thoughtful woman's gift comes with an offer of prayer, too!

This Grace of Giving

In 2 Corinthians 8:7, the Apostle Paul urges us to excel in what he describes as "this grace of giving". How wonderful when our giving is not a chore, but a "grace"! How life-giving it is when we discover that our tired, depleted, crowded souls can come to life again as we give to someone else. It is as if the overflow of the "grace of giving" comes back to us and strengthens us again.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3: 17).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What Makes You Strong, Part Two

"Why weren't you all the Bill Faris I made you to be?" 

I have a friend who believes God will ask me that question (among others) when I stand before Him to give an account for my life. Whether or not my friend is right, I do believe that it matters to God that I live in an authentic manner. When we are real, we are strong.  When we hide, we weaken ourselves, give less glory to God, and minimize our contribution to others. 

Hiding Places
"God is light," the Scriptures tell us, "and in Him is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5).  God does not live in shadows.  He is fully and perfectly self-aware -- 100% actualized in the blazing light of His own perfect knowledge.

I, on the other hand, am practiced at maintaining certain hiding places in my life. This represents a foolish attempt to conceal my true self from God, the world, and even my own awareness.  The more I hide, the more of my strength I deal away.  So why do I do it?

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!

Fear.  Shame.  Risk.  Doubts.  Sin.  These are some of the things I figure into the risk/reward calculation of whether or not I will try to remain in hiding.  Stacking up these kinds of things in the dark only load me down with burdens and illusions that weaken me.

The Apostle John reminds us that: 
"if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1: 7). 

When I step out of my shadows into the light, I find God waiting for me there.  I find forgiveness and cleansing, connection with others and true knowledge of my self.  This is where my real contribution can begin.  This is where my real strength lies.

So, let me ask you: are you all the __
_(your name here)___ God has made you to be?  If not, pray that the Spirit we lead you out of the shadows and into the light where your strength can truly be found.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What Makes You Strong, Part One



Žydrūnas Savickas.  The name of this Lithuanian competitor may not mean much to you, but according to some he is the world's strongest man. After suffering a serious knee injury, Mr.Savickas returned to competition and eventually earned the strongman title, which he currently holds for the second consecutive year. 
But, as we all know, there is more than one way to be strong in this life.  In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul urges us to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10).

While I have no intention of challenging Mr.Savickas for his physical Strongman title any time soon; I am continuing to pursue my desire to become "strong in the Lord".  Doing so is central to my desire to "finish well" in this life.
 

How about you?  What is it that makes you strong?

Pursuing interior strength - strength of faith, strength of character, strength of heart - is a lifelong endeavor.  So it might help us to pause and consider just what those things are that can truly make us strong.  In the next three issues of
 Gracelets, I will be identifying three things that give us strength beginning with PURPOSE.

Strength Through Purpose

The famous evangelist Billy Sunday observed that "more men fail through lack of purpose than through lack of talent". How true! Knowing our purpose is Job One in living a life of meaning, influence, satisfaction and spiritual strength.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that our purpose is tied inexorably to the purposes of God.  Once we understand that our fundamental sense of purpose is hidden in God and His wise Master Plan, we can begin to make strides in our spiritual strength and development.
 "All things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

It makes me sad to think of how many people, especially younger people, are being raised without any sense of purpose.  It seems that a good many of our institutions of higher education propagate the falsehood that human existence is a matter of happenstance - as if each of us are mere bundles of consciousness randomly burped up by an indifferent universe. No wonder why so many people are poisoned by nihilism.  No wonder why so many are led to become
 "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:4).

But, by contrast, we become "strong in the Lord", and strong within ourselves, when we understand that God created us for a purpose. I believe that the unique nature of every human fingerprint is God's way of reminding us that we are creatures of His sovereign design.

The more you believe your life has purpose and meaning beyond your own survival, the more you will live into a Higher Plan and the stronger you will become.  You may never be the next Žydrūnas Savickas
 when it comes to lifting weights, but living from a God-given sense of purpose can make you a moral and spiritual champion within!




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Old Man "Can't"


Old Man "Can't"

The little girl was frustrated and in tears when her grandfather came upon her outside by the well. The family had no running water in their Carolina home and mother had sent the young child to the well on a hot day to fetch a couple buckets full of water.

(pictured: My wife Robin and Dr. Williams at Robin's graduation from Azusa Pacific)

It was a difficult task for an eight year to draw the water into those empty buckets and then lug the heavy load back uphill to the house. She was understandably struggling to complete such a challenging task.

"What's the matter, baby girl?" the grandpa asked the upset child. "Oh, Grandpa" she sighed, "it's so hot and these buckets are so heavy. I'm too little to do this kind of work. I can't cart these heavy buckets all the way back uphill to the house. I just can't..."
"Now wait just a minute," the wise old man replied. "Old man "Can't" died about two thousand years ago. You can do all things through Christ who gives you the strength."
Those words, taken from Scripture, (Philippians 4:13) found their way deep into the heart of the child. Over the decades that followed, her belief that "I can do all things through Christ" fueled her progress.

Although she began life as a poor girl in a sharecropper's family, Helen Easterling -Williams was forever changed by her Grandfather's words. His confident assertion that "Old Man Can't" passed away for good on the day Christ rose from the dead fueled her considerable accomplishments. She reasoned that, as a believer, His power in her could make all things possible - and she acted on that faith.

She continued her education and began her rise to positions of influence and impact. Not only did she complete high school but she went on to earn her undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees.

Today, Dr. Williams is the Dean of Education at Azusa Pacific University - the institution of higher education where my wife, Robin, became acquainted with her during her own studies there. On the several occasions I have met Dr. Williams, I found myself in awe of her radiant spirit, deep faith, and affirming, empowering presence.

It's amazing to think that it all began for this most remarkable woman on that hot day by the well when a faith-filled man shared the good news that "Old Man Can't" would never keep her from her God-given course if she would simply believe that she could "do all things through Christ" - and never stop.

I wonder what stories you will tell as you apply those wise and timeless words to your challenges and opportunities?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Sinkhole and the Mountain Part four

"You have to think differently".

That's the theme we've been mining in my Gracelets weekly e-newsletter over the past several issues.

Thinking differently requires ALL FOUR of the following:

* Grace
* Mental Discipline
* A Compelling Vision or Purpose
* Close Relationships With "Mountaineers"
(those who organize themselves around God-given vision, purpose and imagination)

A Compelling Vision or Purpose

The "sanctified imagination" is one of the most powerful engines of transformation on earth. Put simply, we will "be" what we "see".

Our preferred future begins as a seed of thought and imagination inside of us. At that point it either languishes unnurtured, undeveloped and unacknowledged within or it begins to take shape as we invite grace to give it life.

This is not merely a matter of changing roles or jobs while remaining the same inside. It is better understood as a "metamorphosis."

The Greek word "metamorphasis" literally means: a comprehensive change in form. It is a distinctive sort of "extreme makeover" that is driven by forces within the person or thing that is being changed. At some point, these forces are powerful enough to alter outward appearance and influence.

The Apostle Paul contrasts "metamorphosis" (transformation from within) to the exterior remolding that a given object undergoes when exposed to powerful external forces of heat and pressure. These forces may succeed in outwardly "conforming" the object to a predetermined mold but, for Paul, this is not how believers are to be changed. Instead, he writes, we are to be "transformed" by "the renewing of your mind."

The Strong's Lexicon describes the word for "renewing" in this text as a: "renewal, renovation, complete change for the better".
We will change as we renovate the way we think until it completely changes for the better.
While this is undeniably a work of grace, it is a process with which we are called to engage, cooperate, and actively fuel.

Glory to Glory

The word metamorphosis appears again in Second Corinthians, chapter three. Here, it is used to describe a transformation process that is rooted in a visionary way of seeing ourselves anew (see II Cor. 3:18).

This new way of seeing is energized as we gaze deeply into the "glory of the Lord" in a manner similar to the way we look at ourselves in a mirror.

The longer we behold His glory and the more intently we concentrate on its features, the more we began to resemble what we see. In this way our own self image moves "from one degree of glory to another" (RSV) as the Spirit propels this continuous process of change.

Gazing into the Sinkhole

How sad, then, that we spend so much time gazing intently into our sinkholes.

Sad because the longer and more intently we gaze into our faults, fears, limitations and anxieties the more we become our faults, fears, limitations and anxieties. "You are what you eat" it used to be commonly said. Well, in fact, you are what eats you.

You have to think differently.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sinkhole and the Mountain, Part Two

You have to think differently.

"Sinkhole Thinking" (organizing yourself around your anxieties) is consuming your time, cloaking your options, and limiting your availability to God's highest and best. It harnesses you to a fear-based life and limits your imagination.

You have to think differently. But how?

Four things are required if you want to change the way you think:

* Grace
* Mental Discipline
* A Compelling Vision or Purpose
* Close Relationships With "Mountaineers"
(those who organize themselves around God-given vision, purpose and imagination)

The problem with many would-be mountaineers is that they have only taken on one, two or three of these required components when all four are actually necessary.

Beginning with this e-newsletter, we will examine these four components more closely.

Grace:

In my book, "How Healed Do You Want to Be?", I describe grace as "holy electricity". This is so you can remember that grace is an active power that surges through your life through faith in Christ. It is the divine power to create change in anything it touches. It is the "juice" we need to scale mountains - and you cannot conjure it up yourself. You must get it through direct contact with God's Holy Spirit.

Often, the side of grace that represents God's mercy (His kindness and compassion) is presented as the whole picture. But grace is not only mercy, but power:

"But by the grace of God I am what I am," wrote the Apostle Paul, "and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them -- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (I Corinthians 15:10).

Praying Gracefully

Many of our prayers do not treat grace in this manner. "God give me the grace to get through this" is not a bad or wrong prayer, but if we think of grace only in terms of the power to "get through stuff" we betray the fact that we are still organized around avoiding what we fear.

When we tap into the electric side of grace, we find ourselves praying Mountaineer prayers:

"Lord, rock my world! Shatter the limits, O God, and fill my limbs, my heart and my mind with divine energy to grip the side of the mountain of my inspired imagination and PULL UP!"

(If you remember the sound of William Wallace's rag tag army shouting and shaking their ad hoc weapons right before they charge the fully-armored English soldiers in the movie "Braveheart", you might throw a similar shout or two in here).

Sinkhole Prayers, and I have prayed thousands of them, are usually not filled with zest or hope but with resignation and pleas for survival. Fine.
But how many such prayers have you prayed compared to Mountaineer prayers that are full of vision, purpose, energy and imagination? What does that tell you about how you see God? See yourself? Frame your possibilities? Approach your day?

You have to think differently.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Sinkhole and the Mountain, Part One









"We saw the Nephilim (giant-sized occupants of the Promised Land) there...
We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them." Numbers 13: 33

There, in front of you, is a sinkhole and a mountain.

The sinkhole represents your fears and anxieties. It is practically bottomless. You don't want to fall into it. It is dark. It is frightening. Thinking about the things that live in that sinkhole makes your heart race and your breath go shallow.

Over there is a mountain. It is majestic, rugged, challenging and inspiring. To climb it will take effort. It will take forethought and fortitude. But, man, the view from the top must be splendid!

The mountain represents your God-given hopes, your dreams, your vision and your purpose.

You have a limited amount of time. You have a limited amount of resources. You must organize your time, your resources, your ability and your energies around one of two central endeavors:

1. Avoid the sinkhole
2. Climb the mountain

Which are you organized around? One way to find out is to check your prayers.

Are they mostly "sinkhole" prayers - "Oh please, Oh please, Oh please don't let me fall into that sinkhole!! (Repeat)".

Or are they "mountain climbing" prayers - "Oh please, Oh please, Oh please let me climb that mountain by the strength and grace You provide!

Let me plant a banner at its peak that bears the words: "to the Glory of God" and let it snap in the wind as I survey the view and sing Your praise! (repeat)".

Mental Disciplines

I find that, left to myself, I can easily get focused on living an avoidant life. Sinkhole-focused, my prayers, interior conversation and daily approach to living can orbit my anxieties they way the planets orbit the sun. Bleah...

Or, by the grace of God, I can practice the mental disciplines required to re-orient myself around the mountain climb. This requires me to think differently about just about everything.

Sometimes, especially in the wee hours of the morning, I wake up, my mind racing around the sinkhole, my thoughts circling it like a ball circles a spinning roulette wheel. At those times, I have to discipline my thoughts with prayer, with Scripture, with recollections of the goodness of God and so on. Sometimes I lift my hand up into the air, fist clenched, and call on God.

I will fight "sinkhole thinking" by re-training my thoughts toward the mountain He has shown me is waiting there for me to climb:

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121: 1, 2).

to be continued...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Our New House Church Blog

If you haven't already seen it, you might enjoy a quick trip over to our new house church blog at: Vineyardathome.blogspot.com

We're coming up on our second year of life together as a microchurch and the blog is our place to share our perceptions and experiences as we go. I'm not the only one who will be contributing to this new blog and I look forward to hearing what others have to say.

House church / organic church / microchurch -- whatever you want to call it; there is no doubt that the appetite for alternatives to traditional church is growing. If you'd like to hear from some practitioners of alternative church who are not against "big church", give it a whirl.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Actually, Life is Like a Box of Kleenex


"There is a time for everything, and a season for every
activity under heaven..." (Ecclesiastes 3: 1)

Tom Morey (creator of the the Boogie Board) has a new invention.
His latest creation is a foam wheel that makes a surfboard easier to
transport. When reading an article about Morey and his invention
I was struck by the way he talked about his creative process. "My
inventions are like Kleenex in a box", he said. "I have to pull one
out to get to the one after that."

While Mr. Morey's description is a clever way to describe inventing
things, I believe it also paints a picture of our overall life experience.

Our lives, it seems, are not only "like a box of chocolates" (as
Forrest Gump would say). They are also like a box of Kleenex.
That's because reality has layers. Each layer consists of a
particular collection of experiences, discoveries,failures, successes, pains,
triumphs, relationships and questions that we must process. Like
Mr. Morey's Kleenex box of new ideas, each collection of
perceptions and experiences must deliver its challenges and gifts
to us before we can be thoroughly present to the next one.

This is one reason I am drawn to the biographical stories of the
Bible. Each one introduces us to the key seasons in the life of
Joseph, or Ruth, or David or Paul in a stream of mini-stories.
David, for example, has his period of herding sheep in the back
country of Judah. It is there that he learns to slay the lion and the
bear. How could he have ever guessed that those experiences would
prepare him to face Goliath at age twenty?

By applying this concept to our own lives, we might discern some
important "chapter breaks" in our own development. Each period
will somehow bear the fingerprints of God whether we were aware
of Him at the time or not. By seeking to be present to the themes,
life lessons and relationships we identify, we can better see how
the Lord used each season to prepare us for the next.

In my journal, I once noted that God had been teaching me
that everything in my life prior to any given day had the potential
to prepare me for that days challenges and opportunities. Not only
do I believe this to be true, but I also believe we cannot successfully
"skip ahead" if we are to truly grow spiritually. We will need today's
experiences to ready us for tomorrow. Understanding this not only
packs our lives with new meaning; it also helps us see why we must
pull out our experiential Kleenex tissues one at a time!

So thanks, Mr. Morey, for helping me better understand how God
is shaping my one layer at a time. And, oh yeah, thanks for
inventing the Boogie Board, too!

* * * * *
A Prayer:
"Father, life will always have its mysteries. Yet I know
that You waste none of my life experiences in working out of Your
Master Plan.

Help me to be teachable, open, humble, discerning
and available as I go through the various chapters and seasons of
my life. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done as each
layer of my life experience leads to the next one. And may all things
work to Your Greater Glory in Jesus Christ, Amen".

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Hidden Healing, Part Two

This is from my weekly newsletter "Gracelets". Enjoy!

* * * * * * * *

In Part One, I introduced the story of one of the most remarkable healings I have ever witnessed - even though I was not aware of it at the time it was taking place. The entire story can be found in my book, How Healed Do You Want to Be?

On the day this hidden healing took place, I was in charge of hosting a conference of Christian singles at our church. During the opening worship time, I had asked all of the conference participants to join me on the large step area in front of the platform on which the worship band was playing so that we could make up an ad hoc worship choir singing directly to the Lord as our only "audience".

After hearing one young woman's outstanding voice nearby me on the steps, I arranged to have her join the band and sing into the microphone. Tapping her on the shoulder, I made the invitation while the band played on. Confused at first, she eventually understood that she was being invited to join in and she did. It was beautiful.

After the morning session, she came to me and expressed deep appreciation for what I had asked her to do. At first, I did not understand that something powerful had taken place for her. As her eyes filled with tears, she told me the "story behind the story".

What I learned continues here:

"A few years ago," she said, "I was a worship leader in my church back home. At the time I was married and had a family. But I made a huge mistake. I had an affair with a married man who led worship at another church." She paused to regain her composure. "Once everything came to light, it broke up both of our families. Of course, we were each asked to step down from our roles by the leaders of our churches. From there things just got worse."

She paused again, then continued:

"I felt like my whole world was falling apart," she told me. "We soon broke off our relationship for good, and I tried to go back and make things right with God and with the people I had hurt. But it's been really hard. I haven't been able to forgive myself for what I did with all the blessings and gifts God has given me. I have pretty much
hated myself ever since."

As I listened, my heart went out to her. I wanted to respond but before I could she said something I will never forget:

"When you tapped me on the shoulder this morning, my first thought was that someone had told you about me and that you were going to ask me to sit down..."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Is that what she thought of me? Is that what she thought of herself -- a candidate for public shaming?

"Before today, I had concluded that God never wanted to hear my voice in church again," she sobbed. "But when you got my attention this morning, you didn't ask me to sit down. You told me my voice was beautiful and that I should go up and sing with the band into the microphone. You'll never know what you did for me today. God
used you to let me know I am truly forgiven. Now I know I can be restored. I will never be able to thank you enough"...

I am humbled when I recall how God used me (without my knowing it) to accomplish a "hidden healing". I wonder how many hidden healings you have been a part of?

* * * * *
Perhaps you need a safe place where you can invite God's healing life and light to transform you and turn your heartaches into hope? If I can help you as a counselor, don't hesitate to contact me by phone or email.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Hidden Healing, part one


A "Hidden Healing" Part One

By William T "Bill" Faris, MPC"
Reprinted from my “Gracelets” Newsletter

One of the most unforgettable healing experiences I ever witnessed happened without my knowing it - until it was revealed to me in a surprising interaction after the fact. I describe this healing event as a "hidden healing" in my book, How Healed Do You Want to Be?

On the day this hidden healing took place, I was in charge of hosting a conference of Christian singles at our church. About 100 of us
had come together to begin the first morning of the conference with a time of praise and worship. As the music swelled, I was soon
caught up in the atmosphere of music, devotion and celebration. There was liberty and joy in that room and, before long, it seemed
as if the line between heaven and earth had somehow blurred.

Suddenly, I was struck with an inspiration to try something I had never tried before. Between songs, I went to the microphone and
asked everyone in the room to please come to the front platform and stand on the steps that led up to the area where the band was
playing their instruments. In only a moment, we had moved from our seats "in the audience" to joining the band as a sort of ad hoc one hundred voice worship choir. We resumed with hearty praise as we sang to the Lord -- our "audience of One". It was awesome!

It wasn't long before I noticed a particularly wonderful female voice coming from somewhere nearby me. It was beautiful, strong
and striking indeed. "That voice needs to be on a microphone", I said to myself as I slipped over to quickly consult with the worship
leader. He pointed to the open mic and I returned to where I had been standing while the band continued playing and the voices
joined together on another song. I gently tapped the young woman with the outstanding voice on the shoulder and she turned to see
that it was me who wanted her attention. .

I pointed to the open mic and urged her to please sing into it. She looked a bit stunned at first. When I assured her that I was truly
urging her to go up and sing into the mic she made her way there and joined in with the band. As I expected, her rich voice added
even more to the beauty and power of that morning's experience.

After the morning session concluded, I was surprised to see the young lady singer making a bee line for me. "You'll never know
what this morning meant to me", she said. "Great", I replied in my best pastoral tone. "I'm glad to hear it.".

She looked at me again as tears filled up her eyes. "No, you don't understand.... A few years ago I was a worship leader in my church
back home. At the time I was married and had a family. But I made a huge mistake. I had an affair with a married man who led worship
at another church." She paused to regain her composure...

* * * * *

Friday, July 9, 2010

Spiritual Abuse (if the church hurt you, let it heal you - part three of three)

Spiritual abuse is a real phenomenon. According to authors David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen:

"It's possible to become so determined to defend a spiritual place of authority, a doctrine or a way of doing things that you wound and abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn't 'behave' spiritually the way you want them to. When your words and actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person's standing as a Christian - to gratify you, your position or your beliefs while at the same time weakening or harming another - that is spiritual abuse".
(From the book: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse).

Of course, spiritual abuse is easier to detect in kooky religious cults than it is in more mainstream churches. But that doesn't mean that this kind of abuse does not take place in a wide variety of faith communities. And, when you think about the intensity, vulnerability and transcendent nature of shared faith, it is not hard to understand how there could also be a potentially abusive "flip side" to the benefits of deep faith-oriented relationships.

What to Look For

There comes a time when those who are seeking freedom from the effects of spiritual abuse should find a healthy connection to a life-giving body of believers. There are a number of factors that distinguish healthy spiritual environments from unhealthy or abusive ones.

Three such factors are an accountable leadership, a commitment to scriptural orthodoxy and an atmosphere of grace and truth. No one particular size, style, "brand" or modality of church has the corner on these qualities. Therefore, a prospective new member of a church -especially someone who is recovering from a spiritually abusive situation -should be sure to personally interview church leaders and members about their faith community.

Accountable leaders understand themselves to be part of a larger leadership community and are accountable for their moral, spiritual and personal behavior not only in theory but in practice. When asked: "to whom, besides the Lord, are you accountable?" these leaders are able to name names. Those who are vague in their sense of accountability should be avoided. Those who revel in their "special calling" so that they are virtually entitled to a lack of personal accountability should be doubly avoided.

Scriptural orthodoxy
may seem like an obvious requirement but some churches or groups only appear to hold orthodox interpretations of Scripture when, in actuality, they emphasize pet beliefs or practices that depart from "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude, v.3). A quick review of a church's published Statement of Faith is probably not enough to tell you what you need to know about what a particular church "majors" and "minors" in. But if you observe how that church uses its time, talent and treasure you will see what is truly important to that particular community.

Finally, an atmosphere of grace and truth describes the overall environment of a particular body of believers. Where there is a commitment to truth; moral and personal standards remain high. Trust is earned, not demanded and the church's sense of mission reflects the priorities of Jesus. Grace, properly understood, is not another name for "sloppy agape". Rather it is seen as both God's provision of mercy for our shortcomings and His endowment of divine energy that transforms us more and more into the image of Christ.

Over the course of my ministry and personal spiritual development I have witnessed spiritual abuse AND recovery from spiritual abuse. If you, or someone you know, needs to speak confidentially with a counseling professional about these issues, feel free to contact me at bill@mypastoralcounselor.com

Monday, July 5, 2010


If the Church Hurt You, Let the Church Heal You (Part Two)
By William T "Bill" Faris, MPC"

NOTE: I'm reprinting this from my weekly "Gracelets" email newsletter. If you do not yet receive Gracelets and would like to, simply email me at: Bill@mypastoralcounselor.com
In the meantime, enjoy! ---
* * * * * * * *
I recently met up with old friends who shared with me their disappointments and hurts regarding their various church experiences. They confessed that they were now "mad at God". One of them told me that they had no immediate plans to seek further church involvement.

Only Option?

It's not that I don't understand my friend's inclination to back away from the church altogether. There are a host of people who have made the choice to stay away from the church rather that to risk further personal, emotional or spiritual injury. But is a church boycott the only option? I think not. In fact, I believe it is important for those who have experienced hurt in the church to find their healing there. The best case scenario for my friends would be for them to find a healthy, life-giving and wholesome connection to the Body of Christ.

If you, or someone you know, has experienced deep hurt in the church, I would like to offer a couple of pointers to help the restoration and recovery process move through the pain to a stronger, healthier, more fruitful place.

* Look at your own contribution to the hurt you have experienced

It is likely that you made at least some contribution to the wounding you have experienced. Personal immaturity, carryover from family issues, personal agendas for recognition, leftover pain from previous church hurts, idealistic expectations, unscriptural notions of church life and other factors may have set you up for the hurt you have known. Debriefing your church hurts with a trusted friend or counselor can help you to uncover some of these "setups". You probably won't see them on your own.

There was a time in my life when my own craving for affirmation and recognition made me blind to the serious brokenness of the leader I was following at the time (he was our church's founding pastor). When his downfall came, I was shocked and scandalized. Looking back, I can see that there were plenty of signs that he was nurturing unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. I had ignored them, however, for my own reasons. While his contribution to my pain was plain enough, I have to also admit that I had set myself up to be hurt. Recognizing our "setups" can help us grow from the painful experiences we undergo.

* Separate church hurt from God hurt.

"If you've been burned, here's what I've learned - the Lord's not the One to blame". These lyrics from CCM pioneer Keith Green point out the fact that we can sometimes confuse the church with the kingdom of God or even God Himself. However, the church is NOT the kingdom and the kingdom is NOT the church. And neither God's kingdom nor His church are Him. Separating these entities is more important than we might think.

God is the Master of the Universe and the Savior of our souls. He is the Perfect Lord of Life and the Head of the Church which stands apart from Him as His bride. Although blessed beyond measure with God's gifts, His graces, and His promises, the church is nevertheless a human institution. It does not exist as the Kingdom of God, but as the stewards of His kingdom. Therefore there will always be failures, shortcomings and even outright abuses within the context of church life (the New Testament epistles are filled with examples and warnings). This is because of the human factor.

I have often said that the greatest people I have every known, the ones who mean the most to me and who inspire me most are Christians. But it is also true that the people who have most hurt, disappointed and offended me are also Christians - church people! This is a sometimes confusing paradox.

I have most profoundly experienced the reality of God's kingdom - His rule, His reign and His manifested presence in His people - in the context of the church. But I have also experienced some of my deepest heartaches in the context of the church as well. It helps to be honest about these things!

It also helps to note that the sense of God's power and presence in a given church or church system is not necessarily God's wholesale endorsement of that church, leader, or church system. Nor can the power and presence of God be assumed to be a divine endorsement of the various methods, doctrines or church organization as such. Recognizing these things can help us avoid our tendency to confuse "church hurt" with "God hurt". .

* Keep it real.

Some of our church hurts are fueled by the more unfortunate aspects of the typical church subculture. For example, a church's efforts to be highly attractive to newcomers can sometimes result in a tendency to emphasize "window dressing" while avoiding or sugarcoating the nitty-gritty issues or needs that lie unaddressed behind the scenes.

A "powerhouse" church culture may wind up ignoring or devaluing some of the more mundane factors which will ultimately determine the emotional and spiritual health of both leaders and congregation. "Touchy-feely" churches, legalistic churches, personality-driven churches and other types of faith communities have their down sides. One way to minimize the downsides of each system is to strive to "keep it real" as believers.

I admire author Larry Crabbe's vision for the church as a "real" environment where tough issues can be worked out in an engaging atmosphere of grace and truth. He writes that
"a central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness. Only then can the power of connecting do it job. Only then can community be used of God to restore our souls." (Larry Crabbe, The Safest Place on Earth).

Bottom line: The more that a church can be both Spirit-filled and "real", the less it is likely to have painful booby-traps.
* * * * * * * *
One more installment in this series will be posted soon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

If Hurt by the Church, part one


This is the first part of a series published in my weekly newsletter Gracelets. If you wish to subscribe to the newsletter, simply email me at bill@mypastoralcounselor.com

If the Church Hurt You,
Let the Church Heal You (Part One)
By William T "Bill" Faris, MPC"

"I finally figured out what is wrong with the church," I once heard a Bible teacher say. "It's people. If it wasn't for people, the church would be perfect". .

Welcome to the (Dysfunctional) Family

The Bible makes it clear that the church is the family of God. The language of family abounds in Scripture. Fellow believers are referred to as "brothers" and "sisters" which, together, make up "the household of faith". This is one thing that I have always loved about being a believer. Over a lifetime, I have truly found "family" in the Body of Christ.

Like other households in human society, however, a given church will include its own unique set of social dysfunctions. Some of these quirks show up in ways that are rather humorous. Other times we find ourselves face-to-face with the fact that some of our brothers and sisters are capable of delivering some very deep wounds.

Some Categories of Church Hurt

Some church wounds are social in nature. We can feel shunned, bullied, misunderstood, ignored, or manipulated by our family members at various times. This is not always intentional, but that doesn't mean it is not painful.

Other church wounds are more intimate. These include the betrayal of trust, abandonment, false accusation, and the violation of personal and even sexual boundaries.

Some of the deepest wounds have to do with the brokenness of church leadership. Because we tend to place very high expectations on leaders, it is not uncommon for us to feel let down by them. But when leaders manipulate their followers, take advantage of their weaknesses, "fleece" the flock financially, fall morally, or otherwise violate the faith placed in them; very high levels of pain, grief and anger result.

Often enough, church members take sides in a leadership crisis and the resulting division of loyalties can end long friendships, split congregations and sidetrack - or even totally undermine -- the faith of weaker believers.
"If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:15).

Church Treacherous?

As a veteran of church family life and a church leader, I have both dished out and received my fair share of pain, dysfunction, mistakes, wounds and bruises. Nevertheless, I remain as committed as ever to the Body of Christ and continue to believe it to be one of the potentially richest environments for transformation, wholeness, healthy socialization, service, justice, truth and maturity on earth. Why? Because I have learned that - inasmuch as the church can hurt you - the church can heal you, too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Of Prisons and Escapes



The link to the website profiles 10 remarkable escapes from various prisons throughout the world, including the only successful flight from Alcatraz and the only successful escape from a prison camp during the Vietnam war.

http://www.oddee.com/item_96931.aspx

One man escaped from his confines by helicopter - on three different occasions!

One famous criminal (recently portrayed by Johnny Depp) used a fake gun made out of soap to bluff his way out of his captivity.

The common thread in all these stories was the unwillingness of the various prisoners to accept their confinement. What kind of imagination did it take for these men to overcome the seemingly impossible barriers of walls, barbed wire, armed guards, harsh conditions and chains in order to be free again? To be sure, these escapees may not have been the biggest, strongest, best educated or most experienced prisoners in their place of incarceration. But they did share the common conviction that it is better to be free than it is to remain otherwise and were willing to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Are you in a prison today? Is it a prison of debt? Depression? Reversal? Sickness? Spiritual crisis? Rejection? Inferiority? Fear or despair? Have you accepted your confinement as irreversible? These men did not. They took the risks that were required in order to find their freedom. Are you willing to do the same?

The mission statement of Jesus, as quoted in Luke chapter 4 (From the prophecy of Isaiah) includes the words: "...He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners". Will we choose the familiarity of our prison bonds or will we allow our sanctified imaginations to devise escape plans that will loosen us to become all that God has imagined for us to be from before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1: 4, 5) thanks to our adoption as His son or daughter.

Illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini is famous for claiming that "no prison can hold me, no hand or leg irons or steel locks can shackle me. No ropes or chains can keep me from my freedom". I wonder: have you gotten in touch with your inner Houdini?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bye, Bye T-Bird






"Down the road in the rain and snow
The man and his machine would go
Oh the secrets that old car would know
Sometimes I hear him sayin'...
Don't gimme no Buick
Son you must take my word
If there's a God in heaven
He's got a [...Silver...] Thunderbird
You can keep your Eldorados
And the foreign car's absurd
Me I wanna go down
In a [...Silver...] Thunderbird

Marc Cohn - "Silver Thunderbird" (thanks, Janiece Hudgins!)

Well, my 'bird wasn't silver. It was gloriously red and white. Still looked great in her paint after 10 years of time spent with the Faris Family (minus a small chip here or there).

Said goodbye to the T-bird today, heading from L.A. to Chicago. The new owner promises he will treat her well and attend to the growing list of things that need some attention. At fifty years old, who doesn't have such a list?

Parting with the 'Bird made me sob. Privately. Gushing out 10 years of memories.

Our Chris's wedding. Chris William's wedding. Johathan Knaup's wedding. Amy (Knaup) Noble's wedding. Andrew driving it to Saint Margarets. Me picking up Andrew, JeanneAnn and Matthew at Saint Margarets. Picking up Robin from the Hospital for her first ride home in nearly three months. Taking Robin to physical therapy. Taking JeanneAnn to the coast for a milkshake at Ruby's right on the bluff. Steve Lendzion and I driving her home to Orange County from Sacramento (where I bought her) - through the Central Valley, up the Grapevine (overheating, but not quitting) and on home even though the generator bearing went out in Costa Mesa.

Thumbs up. People walking up and having their friend take their picture standing next to my car. T-Bird shows. Awards. Repairs. Lots of them. Cruising to Silverado Canyon, cruising to San Clemente, cruising with my sister-in-law's relatives from England. Cruising through Live Oak Canyon - right past Cook's Corner - and turning Harley owner's heads. Cruising to Laguna. Cruising to Fuddrucker's with Tony and Patty Sweet to display her at the casual car show there. Cruising with my neighbor, John, (and his sweet red '63 Sports Roadster - T-Bird twins on the California roads)! Showing her at the little car show we had at Crown Valley Vineyard one year.

Memories? I got a boatload...

So, goodbye, T-bird. You made me smile. You made me cry. Isn't that just like a woman?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Organizing Your Interior World Around Christ


"For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him" (Col. 1: 16).

Organizing our lives, beginning with our interior world, around our anxieties is our natural "go to" - our default mode. Doing so leads to a life of resistance, avoidance and fear-based functioning. Organizing our lives around Jesus Christ as our Center gives us a very different interior state - a very different starting place from which to approach the challenges and opportunities we face. "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14: 17).

I have experienced this difference and yet I find that it still requires significant mental and spiritual discipline on my part to remain organized around Christ inside. When I am frightened by disturbing future projections or bogged down in past regrets, I can be thrown off a Christ-centered orientation and put some fear, regret, anxiety or depressing rumination on the throne. It's not that Jesus is absent from my interior world. I can still worship, pray, acknowledge Him in one hundred different ways, but He is no longer ruling within, that is, I am not organizing myself around Him. It makes me sad sometimes to see how quickly I revert.

The good news is that God has given us the gifts of prayer, worship, humility, reflection, His Word, natural beauty, and other tools of mental and spiritual discipline to help us refocus our center around Jesus. When we employ these things, we have fresh revelation of the excellence of Jesus and we also see more clearly our error in organizing around our anxious thoughts and feelings and basing our projected future and present assessment of ourselves on that point-of-view. Exalting Jesus with as the Center and organizing our state of mind, our future projections and our past perceptions around Him as Lord properly orients us to a future that can't help but extend the Kingdom of God within and without.

As the title of a book I once owned puts it: "He is the still point in the turning world".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Are You Organizing Around Your Anxieties?


Job One: do not organize yourself around your anxieties.

It is a deathly habit that will chain you to futility, limitation, doubts and depletion. Like a black hole in outer space, anxiety will pull you into its bottomless gravity until you altogether disappear. It may be tempting to think of avoiding your fears as real work, but don't take that bait. Remember that churning with anxiety - anxiously mulling things over in your mind - does not actually improve anything. It is not progress. It is not problem-solving. For all the time and energy you give to it, it gives you nothing you can use in return.

You have another choice: you can organize yourself around the Almighty God.

Rest assured that the gravitational pull of grace is more powerful than the gravitational pull of anxiety. And from where does this grace gravity emanate? From God Himself.

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you". In that biblical call we find an alternative to living in reactive response to our anxieties, fears, and imaginations of catastrophe. God's call is for us to organize ourselves around Him. Doing so is the primal, foundational act of faith.

Once settled into that all-important divine alignment, we still will have our challenges to face, decisions to make, and threats to manage. When anxiety was at the center, we found ourselves drifting either into total paralysis or staccato bursts of emotional thrashing. With Christ at the center we can see clearly, think clearly, assess resources and options clearly. "In this world you will have tribulation," Jesus said, "but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world."

Next time, Part Two of this discussion...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dave Nixon on House Church, Part Two



This continues the conversation Dave and I had while serving together on a pastoral retreat care team in Idaho in April.

Bill: What expectations does Vineyard Central place on people who attend the various house churches? Can you just come out and “hang with the family” indefinitely?

Dave: Our expectation is that everybody will have a role. You can’t just show up week after week as a non-participant. We want to help everyone get to the place where they are able to identify what their role will be to everyone else in the group. Each group helps to name and identify the gifts they see in people and call them to deploy them. By four months in, most people should know their role pretty clearly.

For example, at our house church my Mom – prepares and serves communion and my Dad is the treasurer. He stewards the funds we collect, processes everything through our central system and returns our checks back to house church. (Note: Half of the funds collected from a given house church as contributions are returned to the house church so they can be utilized missionally).

Bill: What are some of the other roles people might take in a house church?

Dave: There are musicians, an apprentice leader, another apprentice leader, outreach coordinator and so on. Everyone can do something.

Bill: Sounds like this depends on the ability to “know and be known” which must be a key value to your community over and above mere attendance.

Dave: For us it matters that we become a transparent community that has conversations of consequence. We don’t dance around the bush. We have a check-in time. “What’s going on, how is God moving in your life”. When I see transparency, I affirm and point-it-out. We want more of it.

Bill: What would a typical schedule look like at “Hearth” (name of the house church Dave leads)?

Dave: Typically, we meet from about 6:00 to 8:00 or 8:15 at the Speckled Bird Café. Some of our other house churches do a full blown dinner. Ours doesn’t yet. However, we do invite people to show up thirty minutes early and “brown bag” it before the official start. There is a check in time and then a time of worship in song. For our Biblical instruction, we have taught our people the technique of Lexio Divina as a way of helping them to strategically listen to the gospel.
In the four months we’ve been together we have gone through James, Colossians and Ephesians – one chapter per night. We help them to prepare for an encounter with God and His Word. Be still. Slow down your breathing. Listen for God’s voice. What lingers after you read the passage? What stirs in you? What stands out? What do you want to tell me?

Then, we’ll ask: “Does anyone have anything to share after sitting with this passage?”

In addition, we’ll add a 10 – 15 minute teaching every other week. These are vignettes on particular topics that are led by me or by others.

Of course, there is always a time to pray together. We’ll break up into groups and pray for one another. Often, our opening check in time will drive some of this.

To be continued…

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dave Nixon on House Church, Part One


“I’ve got to meet these people!” I said to myself after reading the old issue of the Cutting Edge Magazine online.

The theme of that particular issue of the Vineyard’s publication for church planters was “Out of the Box Churches”. The issue featured the church led by Dave Nixon and Kevin Raines and their team in Norwood (Cincinnati), Ohio. I was intrigued, to say the least!

Vineyard Central, the name of the church, was begun as a traditional church plant but quickly shifted to a house church network after the fire department condemned the space they were using for Sunday worship services. Now, many years later, the Vineyard Central community continues as a house church network – and more. Their very useful website is at: www.vineyardcentral.com.

You can imagine how excited I was to find that I would be spending 10 days with Dave Nixon as a partner in the Vineyard Pastoral Sabbath Retreat care team this month in Idaho. While there, we managed to carve out some time together to swap some favorite music (I turned him on to Fleet Foxes and he introduced me to recordings of his daughter, Kim, a wonderful singer/songwriter!). We also talked about house church – him being the veteran, and me being the starry-eyed beginner. Here are some excerpts from our discussion:

Bill: What is the current status of house churches at Vineyard Central?

Dave: When I resigned from leading the ministry in 2000 (to take on some other roles within the community), we had ten robust house churches. After eight years, we shrank back to three. Six are being reestablished. House churches live or die by their leadership. Without really good ongoing training and mentoring, they will not sustain. Leaders need to define the culture of the churches. This is critical.

Bill: How and when does everyone come together at once?

Dave: We have tried different rhythms, but currently we meet once a month (Vineyard Central owns St. Elizabeth’s, a historic former Catholic church structure in their neighborhood). Most people – 60% - will come to the monthly festival. We hope to see that number rise. These gatherings are called “festivals” and loosely correspond to the Christian calendar (Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc). Each month has a theme such as community, hospitality, neighborhood, and so on.

Bill: How important is it for the house church groups to know their purpose?

Dave: We expect each house church to be the church in all aspects and not just a Bible study or “kinship” group. We ask them to spell out and make explicit the purpose of their group. We are called together to worship, express the values of Christ’s new community – mutual care – and we are emphasizing the missional aspect of each group more. I have told the leaders of the groups: “If you cannot establish a mission as a home church, it questions the validity of its being”.

As a house church (their particular HC is called "Hearth"), we are committed to exploring, identifying, birthing and supporting expressions of hospitality in West Norwood. We might get behind something we didn’t start if it expresses the heart of the Kingdom of God.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Flavors of Forgiveness


Forgiveness, at first glance, may appear to be a one-size-fits all proposition. But I don't believe it is. In essence, For me, it helps to identify three types or "flavors" of forgiveness. All of these come down a considered decision to release a debtor from their debt or an offender from their offense. And yet, all three have unique features as well.

The Flavor of Generosity:

Generosity is "garden variety" forgiveness. I believe the scripture calls us to live a characteristically generous lifestyle of forgiveness towards those who have offended us without malice. If our "brother" (not enemy) sins against us 70 times 7 in a day - we are to generously forgive them. The scriptures lead us to this posture of generosity by reminding us of how we ourselves are regularly and repeatedly forgiven by our generous God. In light of our receiving so much generous kindness, we can afford to be generous in our forgiveness of those who do not seek us harm. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

The Flavor of Obedient Forgiveness

This type of forgiveness may be offered to friend OR foe. Someone may have intentionally or unintentionally done us some harm or disservice. We are called to offer them forgiveness because God simply commands us to do so. It is not as much a matter of generosity as it is of obedience to God's expressed will. Therefore, I forgive because I am commanded to do so - not because I "feel like it" or have sympathy for the offender or from any other core motive that originates with some sort of personal cost/benefit analysis. I choose to let the offense go and release the offender to God because I am told I must. Emotional reverberations will go up and down in the aftermath, but the forgiveness I am offering does not proceed from a feeling or an emotion. Rather, it is a decision and it results in appropriate actions.

The Flavor of Radical Forgiveness

There is a flavor of what we might call "aggressive" forgiveness. We see it in the Apostle Paul's admonition to not be overcome by evil but to "overcome evil with good". Radical, aggressive forgiveness opens room for God's justice as well as His mercy. Instead of giving us permission to take vengeance or to understandably dish out evil in return for the evil we have suffered, it offers our coat to the man who has just taken our cloak as a way of getting in God's "last word" on the subject or the incident. It does not bend to the pull of expressed darkness. Instead, it shines the brighter light -- one that points directly to God as both its source and its destination. "Father, forgive (the men who humiliate, torture and destroy me), for they do not know what they are doing". Think of Paul and Barnabas with the Philippian jailor. Think of Corrie ten Boom and the Nazis. Think of Immaculee' Ilibagiza and the fellow Rwandans who murdered her family and who would also have murdered her. Radical forgiveness is fueled by the inextinguishable flame of goodness, mercy and strength that burns in the heart of God.

Discerning different kinds of forgiveness enables us to better handle the implications of the different kinds of offenses we experience. It also better equips us to make decisions in regards to how we will treat those who have harmed or offended us. So whether from a posture of generosity, obedience or even spiritual warfare, forgiveness offered through the grace of Christ always gives God the last word in a matter and glorifies Him as the source of boundless mercy and saving grace.