Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vol 3: 19 Missional Living: What’s Important? – Living in the Leading of the Spirit

“What’s important?” is an important question in discerning how we are to participate with God in God’s mission.  A corollary question is asking, “how do I know what I should be doing in participating with God in God’s mission?”

In other blogs I have talked about being open to sense what the Spirit is doing in forming a community, in discovering the vision the Spirit is making visible through whom the Spirit is bringing into our communities, and yet, I think there is another clue to knowing what is important.

Jesus, as recorded by Matthew in Matthew 28:19, expresses, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Often in understanding this command of Jesus’ we place the emphasis on “Go!” and then ask “where we are to go?”  Trying to answer the question of “where to go?” can sometimes be anxiety producing.

However, “Go!” is not an imperative, it is a participle – “as you go . . .” – and that changes our understanding of discovering what is important in discerning how we are led by the Spirit in participating with God wherever God is active.

In following Jesus in an attitude of “as you go . . .” I have come to realize that the Spirit is leading us in the midst of the ordinary moments of our days.  “As we go about doing our normal everything things; as we go about doing what we end up doing everyday; as we go about living our lives – taking the kids to their activities, working, shopping, and whatever else we do in our days” – in these normal times of our lives, we are to be engaged in making disciples (which is the imperative here). 

So to answer the question of “what’s important?” – what does the Spirit of God want us to be involved in as we partner with God, we need to become aware of the stuff of our daily living.  We do not need to add another agenda to our lives, another set of activities, but infuse the normalcy of our days with missional participation.  In realizing that the normal living of our days is the stuff of our missional participation with God, we begin to realize that “what’s important?” is what we do day in and day out in our lives.  All of our living makes up what is important for our participating with God – because God wants to touch people in the ordinary times of their lives.

As we take notice of our ordinary activities, may we offer them prayerfully to the leading of the Spirit in our lives – pray saying: “Lord, give me your eyes to see what and who you want me to see, give me ears to hear your voice, give me a heart that is sensitive to your compassion – as I do what I am about doing today.”  As we pray this way, we will begin to see the ordinary stuff of our days is infused with the leading of the Spirit, guiding us in our participating with God in God’s mission of bringing hope, peace, joy, and life through Jesus Christ into the lives of others whom we encounter in our days.

Often times we make mission and ministry way too difficult – participating with God in God’s mission is meant to happen in the everyday ordinariness of our living.  All of life becomes important because all of our life is infused with the leading of the Spirit, and the lives around us are important because the Spirit is reaching out to transform their lives.

So “what’s important?”  All of life is!  All of our ordinary days are! As we live out our ordinary days in the presence and power of the Spirit of God.  May we live our days in such an openness – because then we will discover that nothing is ordinary to God, but everyone and each situation is infused with God’s attention.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vol 3: 18 Missional Living: Not “OverThinking” – Living in the Leading of the Spirit

In a recent The Economist, I read about how we tend to “overthink” in critical situations.  I do not have the issue with me so I am recollecting what I read and offer some comments that relate to our living missionally.

The article expressed that when we get into tough or critical situations, the difference between succeeding or failing has much to do with our overthinking what we should do.  What often happens – also associated with “performance anxiety,” when we overthink is that we second guess what we might do that we end up falling short or failing. 

I have found this to be true in numerous situations in life.  In taking tests in school, for example – rather than going with my first choice in taking a question at face value, I may tend to overthink what is behind the question and make another choice – only to discover that overthinking led me to making an incorrect choice.

Athletes also are familiar with this as well – when in a tough spot, rather than relying on muscle memory and their training they may overthink what they should do and end up choking. 

This happens with financial analysts as well.  The Economist article cited how people interviewed on the street picked a better portfolio of stocks on average, than brokers who were paid to make investors money on their portfolios. 

However, one important facet in all this is that thinking had taken place before one got into an overthinking situation.  With the example of choosing stocks, the person on the street chose companies that they were familiar with, knew something about – they relied upon what they had come to know about these companies. 

The article did not express that we should not be thinking, but rather in critical times we ought not to second-guess ourselves so often, diverting ourselves from the conclusions and directions our previous thinking has led us to.  So, rather than relying on what we have come to know, we doubt our past conclusions and in the midst of a critical situation, fraught with performance anxiety we find ourselves overthinking and making an inopportune decision – often leading to some form of failure.

What does this have to do with missional living? 

For me it has to do with trusting the leading of the Spirit in situations where we may not have been before, where we may find ourselves uncomfortable. 

In being a people open to participating with God in what God is doing in the world, we will often find ourselves in situations what we have not encountered before – and we are apt to try to think (and perhaps “overthink”) how we ought to respond.  It might be in that moment, rather than relying on the serendipities the Spirit has led us in, the circumstances the Spirit has opened up – and continuing to go with the “flow of the Spirit,” we seek to take control, to give shape to the experience in light of the “anxiety” we are experiencing in wondering what to do, that we begin to overthink and then act accordingly. 

I have found in my own life, that when I have acted in this way – the opportunity ends up being a missed opportunity – especially as I reflect upon it later.

So, if we are not to “overthink” but to rely on the leading of the Spirit – and yield ourselves to that leading, even in the midst of a situation in which we feel we are not in control, how can we prepare ourselves not to overthink?

The clue from The Economist article is that we need to be thinking ahead of time – train and develop muscle memory, spiritual memory – so as not to overthink in a given situation, but to respond in who we are and what we have been doing in being the people of God – to go with the flow of our discipleship and not to second-guess our actions.

For me that entails, being immersed in God’s Story and Vision, being immersed in seeking to notice what and whom God notices, and being immersed in the community of the Spirit,. 

It is in seeking to live our days engaging God’s Story and Vision in Scripture – becoming familiar with the rhythms of God throughout human history, God engaging humanity in our brokenness and our penchant for power and disenfranchising others, and seeing how God engages us, being with us in order to bring life out of death – to realize that this is a narrative that gives us life. 

It is being in dialogue with God through prayer seeking to notice whom and what God is noticing and being touched by the heart of God to have the same kind of heart (compassion) that God has for every human being whom God deeply loves, becoming sensitive to where and how God is active in the world. 

And it is engaging in spiritual conversation with the people of God in the community of God – that we are being formed, shaped and transformed by the Spirit – giving accounts of how God is presently active all around us, making all things new – not just in the future, but acting in this way in the present. 

As we learn to live our life in and by the Spirit in the ordinary times of our days, practicing our Spirit-led living in the ordinary times, that in times when we come face to face with a new or crisis situation – rather than trying something new by overthinking – trust the Spirit to continue leading us in that situation.  Live and do as we have been doing, being open, being led – and then be open to observe how our response in that critical moment is endowed with the leading of the Spirit, rather than it being usurped by our overthinking or second-guessing.

It is true we have a tendency to want to take control when we feel out of control, but in those moments, when we do not know what to do, rather than relying on ourselves, we need to trust our reliance on the Spirit who has been leading and shaping us.  Paul’s statement to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:7) speaks to this, when he encourages us “to live by faith, not by sight.” 

I used to wonder how Jesus, when confronted by religious leaders with an either/or situation always seemed to come up with a third way, a third option – Cf. Mark 12: 14-17 – Should we pay or not pay imperial taxes to Caesar?  Jesus’ response: Bring me a coin; whose face is on it?  Caesars was the response – to which Jesus proclaimed:  “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Jesus immersed in God’s Story and Vision, Jesus immersed in daily communication with God, Jesus immersed in conversation about the life of God with his community of disciples, enabled Jesus to respond in ways that expressed the way of God in such critical moments – he did not need to “overthink.”

The Spirit of God is trustworthy in forming us as a people who are a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign as we participate with God in God’s mission.  And so our challenge is to learn to trust the Spirit even when we want to take-back the trust we have given, when we feel we are in a situation we cannot control.

Acting to take control reveals more about our brokenness than our abilities, but acting to act and live under the leading of the Spirit reveals that we are a people learning to move and flow with the Spirit of God, who is continually active in our lives transforming us in the image of Jesus Christ.

May we yield ourselves to the leading of the Spirit every day, so that when we find ourselves in a “non-everyday” moment, we discover that the Spirit is still with us to guide us in responding in the way of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vol 3: 17 Missional Living: Ministry as “Exhaling” the Spirit

Last weekend I spoke at an Illinois Mennonite Conference sister congregation in central Illinois and a metaphor emerged as I was preaching that I want to explore deeper.

The text was John 20:19-23.  I focused upon the re-creative act of Jesus in which Jesus breathed upon his disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  I call this act of Jesus’ re-creative, because just as John 1 parallels Genesis 1 (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God . . . – John 1; In the beginning God . . . – Genesis 1), so John 20:22 parallels Genesis 2. 

In Genesis 2 God breathes into the man that God formed, breathing into his nostrils the breath of life so that the man became a living being (cf. Genesis 2:7).  In Jesus breathing the Spirit upon his disciples, this is an act of re-creation, the re-creation of a new humanity of becoming living beings who are not only filled with the breath of life, but also the breath of the Spirit.  We participate in the life that is God’s by inhaling the Spirit that is breathed upon us by Jesus.

In extending this metaphor of “inhaling” the Spirit, I realized in the middle of my message while I was preaching that we can’t hold our breath forever, at some point we have to exhale if we are to remain alive.  Just as breathing involves a rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, so perhaps also living in the Spirit involves such a rhythm. 

Inhaling the Spirit: opening ourselves to God, to the Spirit’s leading, being guided by the Spirit, aware of the Spirit shaping us, transforming us, walking alongside with us, opening us to the ways of God and noticing what and whom God is noticing. 

What then would entail “exhaling the Spirit?”  I like to think of exhaling the Spirit in a similar fashion to Jesus breathing on his disciples – as we go about living our lives, in the ordinariness of our days (how I think the “Go” of Matthew 28:9 ought to be translated since it is a participle rather than an imperative), as we encounter people in many different situations, as we walk in and by the Spirit among those whom the Spirit has led us alongside, we exhale the living presence of the Spirit in their midst – i.e., the Spirit engages us with them in relational contact.  And what is this relational contact as we participate with God in God’s mission but ministry – Exhaling the Spirit is a metaphor for me of ministry.

As we go about inhaling the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, in our exhaling, we are involved in Spirit-led ministry among those to whom the Spirit has connected us and us to them.  Ministry is not about what we do, but what the Spirit of God is accomplishing through us – through gifts, through the fruit of the Spirit – we are vessels through whom the Spirit is active in the world.  As we live in the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, we inhale the presence of God, and we exhale the ministering presence of the Spirit into the lives of others, so that in their inhaling they might be transformed, healed and brought into relationship with God and with others.

In realizing that ministry is not merely my exertion, but a sharing of the Spirit of God who is alive in me, I can be set free and empowered to minister freely as the Spirit leads – even in situations that are far beyond my capability.

So, I encourage you to inhale and exhale the Spirit in a breathing rhythm so that in our living we are making visible the living presence of God, of Christ Jesus, through the Spirit in the world.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vol 3: 16 Missional Living: The Chaos of Following the Spirit

Following the Spirit can only be described as chaotic when we sense we have lost or are losing control in knowing where we are being led.

We determine a situation is chaotic, when we cannot exert enough influence to ensure the outcomes we desire.  Exercising effective leadership has much to do with bringing order out of chaos – but I suspect it has little to do with being open to the leading of the Spirit.

Margaret Wheatley, a number of years ago in writing, Leadership and the New Science, remarked that leadership is all about control.

All this time, we have created trouble for ourselves in organizations by confusing control with order.  This is no surprise, given that for most of its written history, leadership has been defined in terms of its control functions.  Lenin spoke for many leaders when he said: ‘Freedom is good, but control is better.’  And our quest for control has been oftentimes as destructive as was his.
If people are machines, seeking to control us makes sense.  But if we live with the same forces intrinsic to all other life, then seeking to impose control through rigid structures is suicide.  If we believe that there is no order to human activity except that imposed by the leader, that there is no self-regulation except that dictated by policies, if we believe that responsible leaders must have their hands into everything, controlling every decision, person, and moment, then we cannot hope for anything except what we already have a treadmill of frantic efforts that end up destroying our individual and collective vitality.” (pp. 24-25)

Control and order are two different characteristics.  As leaders we often seek order shaped through our exercise of our control – but it is an order that is only orderly for us – for others all they experience is being controlled, a loss of freedom, a loss of their humanity, a being less than human. 

Yet, when we are not in control, we determine that a situation is chaotic, but control has little to do with order – the Spirit brings order, often times an order with which we are unfamiliar – and due to that unfamiliarity and our discomfort with that unfamiliarity, we may tend to conclude that the way of the Spirit is chaotic.

But Paul expresses in his first letter to the church in Corinth – “For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).

Missional living, I contend, is a way of living that learns to become comfortable with us not having control or being in control, but learning to be open to the guiding of the Spirit in our lives.  When I am willing to surrender my having control in order to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit, then I am open to see ministry that is not shaped by my agenda, but instead, as being ordered and shaped by the Spirit.  I am learning, as someone described, to live with a non-anxious presence being open to the serendipities of the Spirit encountering and engaging others in order to witness and participate in the reconciling and re-creating of lives. 

To relinquish control is to relinquish the fantasy that I know how to order the world, and to submit myself to the moving of the Spirit is to be set free to explore ways of being human with others that I never thought possible through me – it is amazing what the Spirit is set free to do through me when I do not erect barriers of “control” or “how things have to be.”  To live missionally, to be open to the Spirit’s leading, may seem to be chaotic to my sense of order and direction, but I am discovering that to seek to insert my control into relationships and situations is to bring chaos to the way of peace in which the Spirit is at work in the world in making all things new. 

O, Lord, help me each and every day be open to be shaped by the non-anxious presence of your Spirit to participate with you in reconciling and recreating human lives and in making all creation new.