A Faith Journey of a Branch
In my recent travels through England and Ireland I was blessed to participate in an event that was well beyond what I expected. As part of my journey of discernment in which I am seeking to discover God’s will for my life I assisted in facilitating a seminar with Inspire and One Mission Society. The seminar was taught by the Inspire team to help One Mission Society missionaries understand how to build bands and missional communities as well as how bands can help build the Kingdom. In just four days I witnessed some amazing moments and even saw the Holy Spirit move. Indeed, it was a great four days spent in true journeying fellowship.
I think that no matter how much we look forward to an event there is always a bit of anxiety before we start. Indeed, this is especially true of people in ministry. The fact that we have to pack a bag travel by plane and/ or motor vehicle to our destination many many miles from the people and place we know increases that anxiety. Add on top of that not really being energized because your work is being resisted or there is major trouble back home and things just are not as smooth as we would like. Traveling to a new place to hear anyone speak on any topic can seem like the last thing you want to do. I can admit that in some small way that was my emotional and mental state Monday 8 May 2017.
Our first day of the seminar really got going in the best possible way. It is always good to worship the Lord together when we are strangers to realize that we are actually brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, the Lord was in that place. We praised God and then we broke bread together at the Lord’s table. Singing and breaking bread are at the heart of Christian fellowship. It reminds us that despite our personal issues or language barriers we are all children of the King.
But, even as we worshipped in Christian community there was still the heaviness and weariness from ministry in a broken world upon many several hearts. Our first night also included another important element and that is prayer. I had the great privilege of praying for and anointing several individuals. The thing that struck my heart the most was that each one of these people I prayed for was so worn out and ready to leave their ministry field. I could see and feel their exhaustion and it was not just from traveling to be at this seminar. Indeed, their exhaustion came across as both physical and spiritual. There was a dying heart of faith and love.
So I came to England as a pilgrim rather than a tourist. I came to England to see a glimpse into the heart and soul of Europe and England. I can say that though there is much to be downcast about all over this world the heart of Jesus beats vibrantly still in England and Europe. Why? Because I have seen the hearts of about twenty-four missionaries passionately seeking to do the Lord’s will in Europe and other parts of the world.
The beauty of fellowship bands is that they are not another formulated plan driven ministry initiative. Rather it is a commitment to discipleship which nurtures one another. It is setting aside our leadership and other ministry hats to do fellowship and discipleship together with trust and intimacy. We who journey together in these small bands bring us to deeper faith and love. Because we grow deeper into faith and love we are then able to live more into our inheritance now with our brother Jesus Christ. For sure, we are able to shine brighter because we do discipleship which starts and ends with abiding in Jesus Christ.
One phrase or statement sticks out more in my mind than any other from those four days. Phil Meadows said, “Instead of planting churches to grow disciples why not grow disciples to plant churches.” You see the subtle but important shift there? Making disciples is actually what is important. John Wesley was not the first to use the bands neither were the Moravians whom inspired Wesley. This goes all the way back to the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. How many churches did Jesus plant? How many disciples did Jesus teach? We need to think carefully about the correlation between discipleship and the ministry of the universal church.
On the last day of the seminar I watched in total amazement as this small group of people began a three and a half hour long prayer session. Everyone in the group was prayed over while hands were laid and oil placed on their heads. It was a beautiful moment that lasted three and half hours. Truly the Lord was in that place and continues to be in our hearts and minds.
I would say that at the end of this seminar a shift of hearts and minds occurred. The physical and spiritual exhaustion I saw at the first of this seminar had faded away. Not because of an emotionally charged experience but because of bands. Not because of a perfect system or plan but because people allowed themselves to participate in intimate discipleship. Indeed, when we approach God with true humbleness then we find the Kingdom is truly at hand. We see small miracles. We see the Kingdom unfold before and within us. We come to better love God and neighbor.
The work of ministry is abiding in Christ. The Christian life is abiding in Christ. Discipleship is thus also abiding in Christ as Christ abides in the Father. When we do this abiding then we are in the Kingdom as disciples and friends of Christ. When we abide in Christ as Christ abides in the Father an ever amazing and miraculous life happens. Indeed, as Christ followers we are to seek out more than the ordinary life. We should always seek and encourage the life miraculous that comes from abiding in the presence of God. Jesus Christ is the vine and we are the branches.
The Sign of the Cross
Making the sign of the cross is a very old practice used by Christians in different ways. It is sometimes used to mark the forehead with oil or ashes. Some people use as a ritual blessing as they cross themselves. Whether it is your practice or not, the symbolism can be powerful and the following devotion provides a helpful focus for us to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will‘ (Romans 12:2)
In the Name of the FATHER, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
At the start of the Sign of the Cross, we touch our foreheads and say “In the name of the Father.” This focuses our minds on God as our Father. It is one of the simplest statements of our faith and yet is truly mind-blowing when we consider its implications. He is our Creator, the Creator of all things, and so much more.
The word “Father” defines a relationship; our relationship with God. If He is our Father, then we can trust the words of Julian of Norwich: “All will be well, all things will be well, all manner of things will be well in the Lord.” When I trust that God truly is my Father, I can trust in his love and provision for me. I can sleep soundly knowing that he is watching over me. I can explore life, safe in the knowledge that he is with me. I can risk failing, trusting that he will help me get back on my feet. I can breathe my last breath in peace, knowing that when my eyes open again they shall see His face.
Touching our foreheads also reminds us that we are free to make a conscious choice in what we believe. Our Christian faith encourages us to explore and to think for ourselves; is robust enough to withstand challenge and exploration; is brave enough to ask the big questions of life. God longs for us to explore these questions with Him and is keen to show us where to find life’s answers.
When I touch my forehead at the start of the ‘Sign of the Cross’, I am acknowledging that I choose this faith freely and consciously; I recognise my place in my relationship with God, the creator of all.
Prayer: O my loving Father, thank you that you call me your child. Grant me the humility to submit to you and to recognise that you know what’s best for me. I love you, Father. I long for the day when I can say that face to face with you. Please help me to share the love you have for me with others, and to help them to see how much you love them too. Amen
In the Name of the Father, and of the SON, and of the Holy Spirit
As we bring our hand down from our forehead to our chest, we say ‘and of the Son’. We turn our focus on Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, and we consider two truths.
Firstly, we recall the incarnation, the amazing action of God, humbling himself to become human. Fully God and fully human, Jesus stands among us, walks with us, teaches us, touches us, cries and laughs with us. The purpose of the incarnation was to become the saviour of the world. He lives under the law and sheds his blood as the sacrifice to enable our forgiveness. The simple action of drawing our hand down in a vertical direction simply reinforces our acceptance of Jesus coming down from heaven.
The second truth that we consider is the nature of Jesus as Son of the Father. The title Son gives us a glimpse into the profound nature of our loving God. It is beyond our fullest understanding to completely grasp the nature of this relationship, but we see moments of it in our Bible. We see this, perhaps most profoundly, in Luke’s account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, although fully God, still takes time to explore, wrestle with and confirm the will of his loving Father. In choosing to follow the will of his father, he not only shows us the true nature of being a child of God but also enables God’s saving plan to be fulfilled. How amazing that his personal sacrifice should set us all free and by entrusting his spirit into the safe hands of His father, He is resurrected.
Prayer: O my beautiful Jesus, my best friend, my brother, my savior. You are the way to our Father, You are the way I choose to go, You are the one I choose to follow. When I think of what you did for me, the words of my response are simply, “Thank you”. Help my life to be lived in gratitude and service. Amen.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the HOLY SPIRIT
The final part of making the Sign of the Cross consists of a line being drawn from the left shoulder to the right whilst saying “and of the Holy Spirit.” By drawing the cross beam onto our own shoulders, we recall the words of Jesus to his disciples about taking up our own cross and also his comforting words about how the burden he invites us to carry is light.
By naming the Holy Spirit as we draw this cross beam, we recall that it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to carry our load and to follow our Lord. Thinking about Jesus as Son enables us to consider the nature of the relationship within the Trinity. In a similar way, thinking about the Holy Spirit enables us to consider another aspect of the nature of God. When we consider Jesus, we have an image of God in the most tangible form. He walked, talked and lived amongst us. We could touch him and listen to him. When we consider the Holy Spirit, we have nothing tangible. We have only titles that highlight what the Holy Spirit does and metaphors such as water, fire, wind and breath trying to grasp something unfathomable.
The fact that God is both understandable like Jesus and unfathomable like the Holy Spirit draws us ever deeper into the mystery of who God is. The beauty of God’s mystery is found in the fact that it is the person of the Trinity, most unknowable who breathes in us, guiding us ever closer in our relationship with the Father and the Son.
Prayer: Source of wisdom, breath of Life, comforter and guide. I love you and need you.Come breathe anew in me, please. As I breathe, open my eyes to see the world, to see your presence in the world, and to play my part in your creative life. Amen.
Catholic Bible School www.catholic-bible-school.org/youversion
The April e-news went out today. You can see it here: April e-News
This month’s Real Life Story is from Helena whose life was saved in more ways than one by her neighbours. There is also a report from Central Christian College in Kansas where Phil Meadows was speaking in March. And you can see the pictures of two of our Learning Communities in Ireland. There is news of Inspire events in April and a call for help so that we can continue to grow what God is doing.
And you can subscribe to receive your own edition of the e-News every month by clicking here: http://inspiremovement.org/explore/newsletter/
The latest edition of the Inspire Prayer Bowl is now available: http://eepurl.com/cFJ6u5. It includes encouragement for searching the scripture; a reflection for ‘Faith Sharing Lent’; update on previous prayers and pointers for keeping you praying!
(this post continues the testimony from Lorna Koskela, Missioner in Finland, about VIRTUAL BANDS. You can read the rest in the December e-News. Click here to subscribe: subscribe to the e-News)
1) TRUST is important and so the golden rule in the virtual band, as in any band, is what is shared in band stays in band.
2) The Inspire RHYTHM of discipleship really helps! Click here to read more: http://inspiremovement.org/movement/vision/rhythm-of-discipleship/ Our band has chosen to have a two weekly rhythm. We reflect on a question for a week on our own, where we are. Then over the second week we relate to the others what we have observed by ourselves. This is then unpacked more by the others in the band. Finally we resolve to do something in response and our band members remind us of this in different ways.
3) GOOD QUESTIONS really help. Asking and answering Inspire-type questions helps us to reflect more deeply. In the past six weeks each of us has shared one question each, which we have reflected on for a a week or two beforehand. We will then take the fruits of our reflection into band – and see where God takes us!
4) Being intentional about our COMMITMENT to be in band together is vital. In practice this means: i) Taking time to reflect on the question on our own and writing down our thoughts, feelings and questions that are raised. Journaling is a really important tool; ii) Sharing succinctly. Limiting ourselves to the one thing that really jumps out from our reflection helps focus both our sharing in band, and also our ability to ‘listen well’; iii) Being open, both in the asking of questions and in the answering. Sometimes our reflection is that we aren’t yet ready to open up more and that’s ok because it can take time to process thoughts and emotions and then relate them to others. However being in band means that we will come back to that question sooner or later – in other words you aren’t off the hook forever! This accountability to each other for our behaviour, our thinking and our relationship with God, others and the wider world, is the key to band helping God’s transforming work in us to stick!
5) BEING HONEST. The virtual world is no different to the natural world, in so far as God is God, and we are who we are. At every stage of the discipleship journey we have to be on our guard against our desire to put on masks and pretend things are different to what they really are! Being in band challenges us to the core because we are committed to sharing life as it is, as it really is! Whether it’s our relationship with God, our relationship with others or the wider world, or indeed our relationship with the spiritual practices that have been given to us to help us as disciples, we need to be open and honest with each other.
If you would like help forming a band, and/or would like to know more about Inspire Virtual Bands, do get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org
The December edition of the Inspire eNews is going out by email this weekend. With up to date news, testimony and details of events, as well as points for prayer, don’t miss it. You can subscribe here: Subscribe to Inspire eNews
Today we launched our monthly Prayer Bulletin. We call it the ‘Inspire Prayer Bowl’ – like the bowls of incense in the book of Revelation: “they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelation 5:8). You can subscribe to receive the Inspire Prayer Bowl using this link: http://eepurl.com/ch85xP
Brian Yeich and I will be co-presenting an introduction to the Inspire Movement at the World Methodist Conference in Houston this Friday afternoon. As of a couple of weeks ago, we had over 70 people already registered for the seminar. Please pray that the event will go well, that our different parts of the presentation will work well together, that there will be time for good conversation, and that people will leave encouraged to find out more.