Playing the Long Game - Jordan Hageman

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Playing the Long Game - Jordan Hageman

My daughter came home from school the other day completely devastated. She was participating in a speech competition and round one was giving a speech in class. My daughter’s speech received the highest mark, but the teacher chose to have the class vote on the top three speeches to see who would move on to the next level.

The class voted on someone else.

I could only imagine the feelings flowing through her as she hugged me and cried: rejection from her classmates; the unfairness of the situation—she had the highest mark and deserved to move on; why work so hard if it’s not going to pan out the way she thinks it should. It was a difficult few days in our house as we navigated all these emotions with her. At one point she turned her baby blues on me and said, “Can you tell the teacher that this isn’t fair, and I should be the one to go to the next level.”

Oh boy.

Parents and leaders face these situations all the time—having to choose between fixing the immediate felt need or playing the long game.

It’s always about the long game.

Paul knew this when he wrote in Romans 8:18: “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”

A lot happens in our lives and in the lives of the people we lead where we need reminding that the finish line of this race we are running is not set in the here and now, but the goal and prize is in what is to come. And we need reminding that joyous hope comes in knowing that the Spirit of the living God is working in us, helping us in our weakness and disappointment and is working everything together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:23-28).

So, I looked right into my daughter’s baby blues and said: “No, I’m not going to talk to your teacher. It’s his class and he makes the rules. You’re right, it seems unfair. But this speech competition is not going to dictate your future. The vote does not reflect your worth. I know you worked so hard and I am proud of you. Keep doing that.”

Because I know that the process of writing a speech will not be wasted, the practice of speaking in front of her class will not be wasted, the wrestling of disappointment and the sense of unfairness will not be wasted—in fact, all of this is probably laying foundations in her life that will blow her away when God works it all out in her future. That’s what God does!

There will be many disappointments as we lead. There will be many times where the hard work we put it doesn’t give us the outcome we desire. But we’re playing the long game and we’re playing on God’s team. We run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). For His glory. For His kingdom.

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The Wrong Leadership Question - Tricia Gibb

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The Wrong Leadership Question - Tricia Gibb

I love personality tests.  It started when I was a teenager and used my babysitting money to buy Seventeen magazines.  “Are you Rachel or Monica? What do your favorite scents tell you about your future?  If your life were a movie what would it be called?  Take this simple quiz to find out!” Oh Seventeen magazine pulled me in every time as I desperately tried to discover who I was and what I would become.

 

Now as an adult, well into my journey of “becoming” I am still searching for those answers.  Seventeen magazines have been traded for books and online assessments as I try to discover what kind of a leader I am, where my shortfalls are and how I can develop my strengths.

I love it, this journey of discovering and becoming, and I find it so incredibly helpful.  But I am also learning that this is a lifelong process and sometimes I ask the wrong questions.

 

Moses struggled with this too.  Fresh off the field, having settled into a life that he was quite comfortable with, God interrupts his plans with a leadership calling.  And Moses first question in the moment of becoming is: “Who am I?”

 

“Who am I?  Who am I to lead?  Who am I to speak?  Who am I to influence?  Who am I to take on this job, this role, this position?”  Ever asked those questions?  (Both of my hands just went up in the air... that’s a double yes for this girl).

 

“Who am I?”  Moses asks God.  I imagine Moses frantically pulling out the Old Testament version of Seventeen magazine quizzes and showing the results to the voice in the Burning Bush.  “See here, it told me my ideal career path is shepherding.  It says I’m best suited for a quiet life in the country.  My brother Aaron’s skills assessment test said ‘leader’ not mine.  Who am I God to do this?  Who am I?”

 

Now if I was God (everyone exhale, thank goodness that’s not the case) I would respond back to Moses with a resounding speech, the kind coaches makes before the team plays the big game.  I would tell Moses exactly who he is.  “Moses you’re a leader!  Moses you were born for greatness!  Moses you are the man for the hour!”

 

But God saves that speech for another day.  Instead He responds to Moses’ profound question of “who am I?” with a strong, emphatic answer of: “I will be with you.”

 

That is not the answer Moses was looking for.  In fact, it appears like that is not an answer to his question at all.  “Who am I?”  “I will be with you.”

 

Maybe God misheard Moses’ question.  Or maybe God knew that it was more important for Moses to know who God was and where God was, than for Moses to know who he was.

 

All these personality tests that I’ve taken over my life (and will continue to take) have been so helpful.  But at the end of the day, what I’m called to still feels daunting to me.  I still look at the tasks on my day planner, the dreams in my heart, the people I am called to lead and think: “who am I to do this?”

 

And then I remember: who God is.  And I hold onto the promise that He is with me.  And that knowledge is more empowering to me than any other truth I know about myself.

 

Who am I?  Who are you?  We are leaders.  We are women of influence.  We are women with a calling and a holy destiny.  But greater than that... God is our Provider.  He is All Sufficient.  He is the Miracle Worker.  He is More than Enough.  He is the Great I Am.  And He is with us.

 

Thanks Seventeen magazine for all your assessments and predictions.  But on days when I’m uncertain, I know the answer that I need, is found only in who Jesus is.  And His promise that He is with me.

On days when leadership feels like it is beyond what you can handle, I pray that you my friend, will know your answer to “who am I?” is that He is.  And that alone should make us lace up our shoes and get back to work.  There’s a calling to fulfill.

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Follow the Leader - Rachel McAlister

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Follow the Leader - Rachel McAlister

Over the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on a thought that, at first glance, seems a little out of place in leadership conversations.

Let me backtrack a little.

A few months ago, as I was talking with the Lord and asking Him about leadership, He said to me very clearly, “In order to be a good leader, you need to be a better follower.” This wasn’t a reprimand, it was graciously matter-of-fact. To be a good leader, you need to be great at following the person, values, and / or mission you esteem. You are motivated by their vision and cause. Whether you like it or not, their voice is the trump card.

The more I reflected on this concept, the more I sensed the Holy Spirit’s gentle invitation to slow down, un-hurry my spirit, and allow my heart to grasp the basic truth the Father was speaking to me in that moment: true leadership comes down to following Jesus well.

As I sought to respond to the Holy Spirit’s invitation, I grabbed my journal and pen, and started listening. With that in mind, here are a few lessons learned on leadership that stem from following Jesus:

 

  • Leadership is followership

    • When you compare the Kingdom of God to the world we live in, the “currency” of leadership is very different. God’s standards have nothing to do with making a name for ourselves, belittling others to get ahead, or working ourselves into the ground. When James and John argue about position in the Kingdom of God, Jesus says, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:26). In fact, God-ideas and God-strategies can look and feel crazy to the outside world. Is it any wonder that the Kingdom of God is upside down when we examine leadership through followership? Our leadership “wins” are based on a rubric that make little sense to a world that doesn’t adhere to heaven’s economy. Our job, as followers of Jesus, is to ask God to strengthen our faith backbone and lean into a language, culture and currency that is not native to us.

  •  We are fueled by a mission and vision that is outside of ourselves

    • John 10:27 -28 gives an account of Jesus using the illustration of the Good Shepherd: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We are the sheep, Jesus is our Good Shepherd; we can trust that what our Good Shepherd says innately reflects who He is. Our ability to successfully move forward as leaders depends on our ability to recognize and respond to His voice in obedience. And, because we know that what He says reflects who He is, we can move forward with confidence in a mission and vision that is outside of ourselves, trusting the very nature of God. As we grow and mature, our rhythms and habits evolve to reflect our spiritual maturation. There is an immense amount of self-control, sacrifice, and surrender that is brought before the throne of grace so that we can be the spiritually fit leaders God has called us to be. As we grow, and our relationship with the Lord deepens, so does our confidence. We can hang our hat on the fact that God is faithful and that He is who He says He is. So don’t lose hope. Keep your eyes on Jesus and move forward in confidence. 

  •  Faith is sometimes spelled R – I – S – K

    • There’s an element of risk associated in following anyone, since we are trusting something outside of ourselves – this is true of our relationship with God. As followers of Jesus, we can fall back to His nature when we feel the prompting to take a risk: Look at how faithful He’s been! Look at how He made a way for me! God is who He says He is. He is my Father, and I am His child – I can trust Him. Lean back into the truth of who God is when you feel “the nudge.” Declare those truths confidently over your life and lean in! What do you have to lose? And more than that, there is so much more to gain! Our limitless, powerful God is inviting YOU to partner with Him in His Story. Let’s allow the supernatural to become so very natural in our lives so that we can be confident disciples of Jesus who make Christ known to the world around us.

 

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! (Romans 8:15 – 17 MSG)

That’s great, Rachel, you may be thinking, but what does this look like every day?

Here are a few suggestions for us:

  • Take stock of who and what you follow:

    • Who are you following?

    • Are they good for you?

    • Do they cheer you on in Christ’s mission?

    • Do they have more influence over you than Jesus does?

For me, this has meant inviting the Holy Spirit into my social media portals. I’ve asked Him to speak to me about who I should and shouldn’t be following. Maybe this sounds “extra,” but at the end of the day, I want to walk with Jesus and follow Him well; I’ve learned that when you invite Him to speak into an area of your life, He’ll do it. And, I have to admit: I am so much better off for it.

  • Ask God for a spiritual bowel movement. Yes, I went there. Have you ever noticed that sometimes we, as Christians, look and feel constipated? We’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders and are owning things that are not ours to own in the first place. It’s caused a “back-up” in our own system. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). We want to become like the person we’re following. We want to become like Jesus. And he is LIFE. And JOY. This chorus keeps coming back to me: “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me, it makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Opens prison doors, sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up, oh wells!”

It's ironic, isn’t it, the idea that leadership depends on followership – namely, following Jesus well. Our ability to follow Jesus and say “yes” to him influences and impacts our ability to influence others. Here’s what floors me: Abraham’s “yes” blessed an entire nation. As you follow Jesus’ voice and step out in courage, not only will that obedience bless your life, it has the power to bring breakthrough and freedom to the lives of those around you. All it takes is one moment of insane courage as we turn our eyes toward Jesus and put one foot in front of the other.

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Strengthening Our Mind - Leanne McAlister

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Strengthening Our Mind - Leanne McAlister

What happens when we are not grounded in our faith intellectually, and instead rely solely on our feelings?

 

It feels like a big question. An important question.

 

This fall I read again through Paul’s letters to the churches.  One of the greatest pitfalls of the early church was false teaching. False prophets would blow through towns with new fads, watering down the gospel. This grieved Paul and he  continually reminded the believers of the original and potent gospel of Jesus. The gospel that had not and would not change.  

 

We live in challenging times where we are experiencing cultural shifts at a speed that is unprecedented. (Can anyone say whiplash?!?) Like in Paul’s day, there are teachers who are re-writing the gospel, re-packaging it for a new generation, watering it down to make it more palatable. Culture is working hard to “shape us” into its own image.

 

A few years ago I was invited into an academic setting to share my experience of being an ordained woman in pastoral ministry. I agreed to go, but said I would not enter into a debate and instead would simply share my story. After the presentation the professor gave me some unexpected feedback. He noted that I was approaching the subject with a “hermeneutic of feeling.” Now hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of scripture and this prof was observing that my understanding of being free to minister as a woman was not based on solid scriptural support, but rather on my “feelings” on the subject. I am not going to lie, it was a hard moment in my life and frankly felt a bit unfair, but I learned something valuable:

 

I needed to strengthen my mind. I needed to strengthen my thinking around what scripture says. I believed that as a woman I was free to minister, but had I done the rigorous intellectual work around it?

 

In Mark 12:29-30, in an encounter with the religious leaders Jesus said this:

 

 ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’

 

Have you ever thought about loving God with your mind? To not just emotionally respond to Him but to work to understand who He is and how He operates.  

 

We have all been given the incredible gift of our mind. We are able to think, reason and judge and in this we are fashioned after our creator. It is a part of how we bear God’s image and because of this, each of us bears responsibility to develop our mental capacities to their fullest. Not all of us will be academics, but all of us are called to love God with our minds.

 

But how?

 

We need to stretch ourselves. I love the example of Elizabeth, who is a part of my church community. Even though she has been retired for many years, she continues to take courses in order to “keep fresh.”  She stretches herself. (I want to be like Elizabeth when I grow up!)

 

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Take a class at a local college, university or seminary in a subject of interest. Too intimidating? Consider auditing the class.

  • Join a bible study that’s central focus is diving deep into the Word. Do your homework!

  • Download podcasts of reputable teachers. You can use your commute in the morning to learn. If your commute is 45 min long, that translates to 367.5 hours yearly. Imagine what you could learn in that time?  

  • Take one topic a year to explore. Choose from the traditional branches of theological study

    • Church history – We are a product of “the church” that is 2000 years old, and as my professor Dr. Van Johnson said, you can’t really know who you are unless you understand where you come from!  

    • Biblical studies – This concerns the interpretation of scripture where the goal is to understand the meaning of the text as it was written for the original audience and then (and only then) drawing out conclusions from it for our use today.

    • Systematic theology – The study of Christian doctrines

    • Ethics – Based on what we understand about God’s words and His works, how then shall we live? What a great question! Based on what we understand about God:

      • What is our relationship with money? 

      • How do we operate in a consumer world?

      • What is marriage? 

      • Are we free to have any kind of sex we want?

      • These are BIG QUESTIONS and they cannot be answered with our “feelings.”

    • Apologetics – This is not “apologizing” for our faith.  Rather, it is this: How do we rationally explain and defend our faith today in this age of unbelief? I Peter 3:15 says, “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. The “Hermeneutic of Feeling” doesn’t cut it with our friends and neighbours.

 

Why does this matter?

 

As I said before, we are in an unprecedented season of change and all of us are susceptible to the winds that will blow. We are vulnerable to false teaching that tries to pass itself as the gospel. It reminds me of the picture in James 1:6, where the believer is blown and tossed by the wind, being unstable in everything they do. They have no confidence and the results are devastating.

 

Now, more than ever, we need to be grounded in our faith and strengthening our minds grounds us.

 

You are being shaped each and every day through every conversation, every random blog, every viral video and every social media post. Therefore, it is imperative that you ground yourself in the truth and use the Gospel to shape who you are and how you live.

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Fresh Start - Leanne McAlister

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Fresh Start - Leanne McAlister

I LOVE January! Besides being my birthday month, (which tends to perk up the dreariest month of the year), it is a time of dreaming and re-imagining for my life. Like many of us, for me, it symbolizes a fresh start and a clean page… with no mistakes. Yet.

Did you know that God loves fresh starts too?

In Isaiah 43:18-19, Isaiah (speaking for God) says,

 

“But forget all that—
    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.

For I am about to do something new.

    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

 

Isaiah wrote these words at a time when Israel was in captivity in Babylon. The Israelites had made some bad choices (again) and I imagine them sitting in a foreign country feeling discouraged, maybe even thinking that God had given up on them.

 

Through this prophecy, God says, “Listen… that stuff that happened, that was in the past… but this, this is now!” Essentially, God points Israel to hope, explaining that they were getting a fresh start. It was like God was taking them by the shoulders, shaking them a bit, saying “don’t get stuck here in captivity… this cannot be your focus… this is not who you are… I am doing something new!”

 

It is so easy to get stuck.

 

In my early 30’s I went through a “serious-ish” depression. (Is that an actual clinical term? I am quite sure it is.) I had essentially burned myself out trying to accomplish “great things for God.” I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that I was focused on doing things for God, instead of pursuing intimacy with Him. It was a very difficult time for me and I felt like I had been put in the penalty box. I was sure that God could no longer use me. I couldn’t be trusted. My proverbial ship had sailed and I got stuck there… for a few years.

 

Have you ever been there?

 

Are you there now?

 

Are you discouraged because a long-held dream seems to be elusive? Have you had a failure that you just aren’t sure you can recover from?

 

Here is the thing: Holding on to the past keeps us from moving forward.

 

The “God of the fresh starts” is coming towards you TODAY. Today he is saying to you, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?”

 

Do you see it?

 

It is difficult to see God at work in us when we are discouraged. But just like germination happens in the dark, in the quiet, God is doing new things within you and preparing you for a season of great fruitfulness. There is something fresh on the way and all we need to do is stay in step with the Spirit and pray to see where He is at work in and through us.

 

This is a posture of faith and anticipation! Can you see it?

 

The path to freedom for the Israelites required crossing hundreds of miles of wilderness. Anticipating this journey God said:

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

 

What a promise! If you are anything like me, when I am in the wilderness, I see nothing but DIRT. I see the obstacles. I see why this could never happen. But God is clear when He says “I will make a pathway.” All we need to do is follow his leading as he removes the obstacles and opens a path before us.

 

So in this season of a fresh start and a clean page, with no mistakes (yet), we have a choice. Will we remain stuck in the past or will we look to the future with great faith as we embrace “the God of the Fresh Starts?”

 

Lord, I come to you at the beginning of a New Year. Thank you that you are the God of the Fresh Starts. Open my eyes to see you at work in my life. I want to see it. With faith I look for the pathway through the wilderness. I look for the rivers that will appear in the dry wasteland. You have created me for purpose and promise and I walk forward today in faith towards you and your purposes.

Amen.

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Conversations With Mary | Advent 2018

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Conversations With Mary | Advent 2018

We’ve asked guest writer and friend of ZOE, Laurel Archer, to bring us an advent message for you this year. Conversations With Mary is a four-week narrative about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Read through and take in these thoughts Laurel shares with us what we can learn from Mary, woman to woman, about her profound faith and sacrificial obedience to her God and King.

Introduction…

Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been depicted endlessly: painted in oils, carved in wood and stone, woven into tapestries, drawn, doodled, dramatized and still she inspires us.

Famous people attract our attention and sometimes earn our admiration. Athletes, activists, actors and also everyday heroes gain access to our hearts, and so they influence our dreams, desires and our calling.  Would you like to meet your hero in person?

Mary may be not be on your top ten list, but if you could, would you like to meet her – maybe while standing in line ordering your morning coffees? Would your heart begin to race?  Would all the well-crafted questions about choices, sacrifice and acceptance that you wondered about, evaporate as she thanks the barista and turns to look at you –

her eyes like a window

inviting you to see yourself

in this new season.

For Advent this year, let’s set aside some time to sit down with Mary, as two women would sit over coffee, face to face, defenses down, companionable and with anticipation for a good conversation.

Week 1 “I am”

As I listened to her speak, I played a tape in my head: I am a woman, a worker, a wife and a mother; a friend, a cheerleader and a companion.

I am a wanderer and a watcher, a worrier and an over-committer. I am a failure – sometimes, even when I try my best. I am a cook and a cleaner, an over-comer, except of course when I am overcome.

I am eloquent, energetic, insightful in moments and inarticulate, slothful and ordinary in others.

I am hesitant, guarded and suspicious (I admit), but on Tuesday last week, I was inspired, maybe even anointed.

I am forgiving, gracious, well-meaning but occasionally easily wounded, defeated and deflated.

Mary! Of all of the statements describing yourself, how was this: I am the LORD’s servant, the first one out of your mouth?

Like a container

holding everything you were,

everything you offered.

You gave your whole self for God’s good will, to use for whatever God needed – we needed. Was it because God loved you Mary, not just the shiny virgin parts, but all the pieces, that you understood who you were in that moment and could say yes?

What did that freedom feel like?

Week 2 “Let it be”

The angel’s message must have blown you away. Luke says you were ‘greatly troubled’ just by the Angel’s greeting, as if some intuition-red light began flashing in your mind – Something’s coming… ‘might be good or bad…but it’s something!

By the time the angel got through the thicker bits: you’re going to have a baby boy, he’ll be God’s son and a king and reign eternally, you had just one question: How can this be?! The explanation led you around a sharp abrupt turn. You had to decide how you would navigate this new route.

I too have negotiated sharp turns, dead stops, reversals, holding patterns and I’ve struggled, trying to discern God’s call, wanting to be faithful; it isn’t as easy as the few words you spoke made it sound:

Simply, Let it be –

according to your word,

the words…wording me.

Being led by the Spirit can’t be just one moment in time. It must be faith in motion, moving around the corners, beyond the stops, enduring the holding patterns, renegotiating the reversals.

Did you know you’d be changed, Mary?

Did you know you’d be transformed?

Week 3 “Together”

How kind it was, Mary, for God to give you Elizabeth, knowing your heart would be full and maybe a little frightened about what was to come.  

A woman, older than you, trusted, faithful, not made cynical by her experiences and willing to welcome you.  Willing to spill her own unexpected joy over you with deeply affirming words of life.

Unselfishly, she let her own miraculous experience be used as a launch site for your incredible spirit-infused adventure.

Friendship is the fruit;

Community is the womb,

where life first flutters.

My community is complex; my relationships take work.

Sometimes, I’m hesitant to trust that collaboration will be more fruitful than it would be doing it by myself.

Affirmation and confirmation declared in the strength and safety of relationship allowed not just prophecy, but poetry to spill out of you, Mary, in your hymn of praise.

Did that surprise you, Mary?

Did you know there was so much within you to give?

Week 4 “Treasure”

I see you Mary with open hands, stretched down and toward others, even as your son Jesus’ hands were spread up and outward on the cross – both gestures of generosity.  Did he learn this heart habit from you, as you practiced releasing Jesus, your treasure, over and over to the destiny that awaited him?

At the stable, you opened what should have been a private, sacred space to working men, rough and ragged from the fields, who clumsily filled it with awe and worship.

Freely you received

and gave freely to others -

gifting your treasure.

My reflex is often to grasp, hold onto, withhold, block and protect. I can trick myself into thinking these reflexes are necessary, even nurturing to the ideals to which they are attached.

But God keeps asking me to open my hands, in the demands, in my duties, in my devotions.

I see Mary, how you opened your hands, again and again: presented Jesus at the temple, released him to learn with the elders, stood vigil at the cross, mourned at the tomb and rejoiced at the resurrection.

Did you know what living this generously would mean?

Did you know that sacrificial generosity could spread such joy to the world?


Conclusion: “Ready”

We don’t’ give you as much attention Mary, as our Catholic brothers and sisters do. I’m not sure why that is, except we have this sense that you aren’t much different than we are, a woman of flesh and blood and breath.

But I do know this, it was never you who exalted yourself. You never craved the spotlight, you never grasped at a larger role. You slipped silently from the scene as Jesus stepped into it.

You are extraordinary because your soul magnified the Lord, not yourself. You understood that strength and mercy flowed to you from God, for the task given you to do.

It wasn’t about you, Mary.

It never was, and you knew it

in your heart.

Jesus, today again, help me to look outside myself and my own self-absorbed issues. I want to. Mary’s example shows me it’s possible to remember it’s about You.

As I celebrate Christmas, the sacred remembering of your incarnation, I give you all of me – again. I am your servant, let it be unto me, according to your word. I’m ready to share my treasures, my giftings, put feet to my calling, open my hands and say yes.

Amen.

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Spiritual Friendship - Kirsten Anonby

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Spiritual Friendship - Kirsten Anonby

I love mentoring. It’s probably the pastoral skill I’ve honed most in my life. I love going deep with someone—discerning together what’s really going on in their heart. Why are they stuck? Where are they angry? Why does God seem absent? What is God doing with today’s mess to redeem it into beauty? It’s vigorous and exciting, and sometimes I glimpse the Spirit at work. I hold it lightly, though, and remember that it’s not a mentor that God most uses to transform a life.

It’s a friend.

I discovered this from my own story. I felt like a bit of a traitor when I realized that even though I’d been mentored, the real people I thought of who helped me grow were the friends with whom I had processed my life over many years: who had spoken truth, who had listened and asked questions. They were the friends who cared about my life with Jesus—who were vulnerable when they were afraid, or angry, or distant from God—and let me do the same. They were friends who cried with and for me. They were friends who spent time with me, and who prayed.

I like to call these kinds of relationships spiritual friendships. They may be your longtime friend or your spouse; they may be your sister, brother, daughter, or mom. But what they have in common is that they know you deeply, they are committed to you, and their heart is to encourage you towards the Greatest Good.

It makes sense, actually, that these kinds of friendships have been the real places of growth for me. I’ve spent so much more time in these relationships, and they have been my places of deepest vulnerability, where I have shared my joys & hopes, but also exposed my ugliness, pain and fears. And in those painfully vulnerable moments it has been these friends who have either spoken words of life or have been brave enough to say nothing at all, but simply be the presence of Jesus beside me. To put it simply—it is those who are closest to our hearts whom God uses the most, if they, and we, are willing.

I have determined that a major role for me as a mentor is to help people learn to be both givers and receivers in these kinds of relationships. I think we often assume a mentoring relationship centers on the question: “How can I help you grow in your relationship with God?”  We forget, in our excessively individualized world, that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of relationships, and that almost every command in Scripture involves how we relate to others. To grow in our love for Jesus is to grow in our capacity to love and be loved by another. 

_____________________________

So how do we facilitate these kinds of relationships in the lives of those we mentor?

1. We help them to learn to share about their relationship with God.

These days I spend most of my time meeting with young campus pastors, and I often reflect on how EASY it is, because they’ve already learned this skill. Many Christians, though, don’t know how to listen to, let alone share, what’s in their heart. As mentors we can teach people to build solitude in their life, to hear God’s voice, to be attentive to what their emotions are saying, to reflect on what God’s Spirit is saying to them through Scripture and prayer. And then we can ask them thoughtful questions to help them share what they are learning about God, their relationships and themselves. Many people have never had anyone ask about these deep places in their heart—I know that I hadn’t before I met with a mentor. This process of sharing with us will give them a hunger to cultivate these kinds of relationships in other places of their lives. 

2. We help them to cultivate healthy relationships in their lives.

I have a list of mentoring questions that I go back to time and time again. On that list are questions that involve every significant relationship people might have: siblings, parents, friends, romantic relationships. As I get to know a person I want to know their relational landscape—because I know that the quality of their relationships matters just as much as how much they pray.

3. We encourage them to mentor others.

Whether this occurs in a formal or informal capacity, the people who grow the most are those who are helping others to grow. I have found that it is people who have taken this step who really end up building relationships of depth and quality. As they help someone share about their relationship with God, they learn how to integrate this deep kind of heart sharing in their most intimate relationships.

When I go to weddings or other events, one of my greatest joys is seeing women I have mentored with their closest friends (some of whom are also women I have mentored). When I see these kinds of relationships form in a person’s life, I know that they have anchors to hold them close to Jesus—through whatever life may hold.

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Kirsten Anonby is the Assistant District Director for University Christian Ministries (UCM), the arm of the PAOC that reaches out to secular university campuses in BC. Her life as a mentor began in 1993 during her third year at university. Kirsten works for UCM half-time to make space for homeschooling (and mentoring!) her 3 young kids. She loves reading to her kids, escaping from her kids with her husband David, and moments in a comfy chair with her journal and coffee.

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Trusting God to Lead - Dayna Slusar

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Trusting God to Lead - Dayna Slusar

Ever wonder if it’s a prerequisite for a leader to feel like she’s not cut out for the task?

Maybe people have said that leadership comes naturally to you. You might deny it, you might take it as a genuine compliment, or you might wear it as a crown. If you’re like me, you like to take the lead on things. You like control. You like to set an example for people to follow. Rules and following them are one of your strengths.

But leadership is about more than just making and following rules, right? For one thing, leadership is about leading yourself—something God has taught me in a very real way this season.

Our capacity is limited; God’s capacity is not.

Stress is a part of life.

Everyone gets overwhelmed; it’s unavoidable.

It shouldn’t be a big deal.

It will pass.

These are excuses we tell ourselves as leaders when we feel burdened by our commitments. We can’t be honest with anyone about how much we can handle, so we give our yes because we can’t trust anyone else to do it right. We sacrifice rest because it makes us feel guilty— “if I have time to rest, I have time to work.” We work harder because it feeds our sense of accomplishment. And when we reach a point of breakdown, we complain and blame ourselves for taking on too much. We should have known better. Our pride comes from having it all together all the time, no matter how many hats we wear.

Perhaps you’re thinking “Oh, have pity on the overachievers,” but if you’re anything like me you’re thinking “I hope I never become like that.” That’s what I was thinking when I reached this point.

It's a hard truth to face when we realize we aren’t leading ourselves well. Our commitments slip out of control faster than we can make plans to keep up with them. People count on us to be prepared, to be one step ahead of them, and we aren’t. When we don’t lead ourselves, our leadership is compromised for anyone else.

So, how do you decide what’s important? Which roles are really worth your time and attention? If the typical answer to this is all of them, then you’re right where I was earlier this year.

Let’s reevaluate together.

Often, it’s a matter of bringing it back to the basics. One day and one task at a time. It’s humbling because we might think we’re better than this. Has your status or level of experience in a role or season of life ever made you feel self-conscious about how you have to handle stress sometimes? Writing lists and setting timers just to get the simplest of tasks completed? It’s not easy.

If you’re doubting your capacity for the task (or tasks) you’re facing, know that you have a limit.

Ultimately, our capacity has a limit. Maybe you came up on it about three yeses ago, but didn’t notice until you were on the verge of a breakdown. That’s not unusual, but it’s also not necessary.

The truth is, God’s capacity has no limits (and all the overachievers said “Amen!”). God will do what we physically and humanly can’t. It’s not our responsibility—even our capability—to save people. Only God can do that. Our responsibility is to be obedient in our service to His Kingdom and a big part of that is learning to lead ourselves in a wise and healthy way.

When our responsibilities pile up, when we feel overwhelmed by our leadership, it’s a sign of our priorities not being in order. We’re then working out of haste, not rest. Leading out of guilt, not calling. And working out of pride, not intentionality.

Proverbs 11:14 reads “Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances” (MSG). As a leader, direction and wise counsel are very scary to lose.

It comes down to trust. When we trust that God has a much clearer view of everything than we do, we can trust that He knows the people we’re influencing and can reach them in a way that we can’t. When we don’t trust God can do that, we panic because we feel it’s up to us. But it’s not. Trusting God is the a key part of leading well. When we know He’s in control, we don’t have to put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all.

The verse I keep going back to in all of this is “keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts” (Prov 4:23 MSG). When my heart is unprotected it leads me to allow self-doubt and pride to keep me from facing the fact that I needed to get my balance back. We need to surrender the details to God and prioritize properly the leadership roles we hold in life. We can trust God to lead, trust that He has control, trust that we are cut out for the task, because our rest is just as important to Him as our work.

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God in the Deep - Leanne McAlister

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God in the Deep - Leanne McAlister

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

The Spring of 2017 brought some very difficult circumstances for me. My brother Randy was shot and killed on the morning of April 26th in Penticton, BC.  Randy struggled with addiction and homelessness for many years, and in some ways I had expected what I felt like was the inevitable, but nothing prepares a person to receive that kind of devastating news. 

I was unexpectedly thrown into pain just as I was entering into a season of joy.

Let me explain.

Randy died three days before four members in our family graduated with various degrees from thee different institutions.  Ten days after his death my youngest son Benjamin married Annie.  Four days after the wedding we held a funeral.  After Randy’s death, my mother had a significant and rapid health crisis that had me running to appointments several times a week in neighbouring Abbotsford.  (We live in Langley.) Our daughter Robyn would go on to marry Dylan in early July. 

I have never had life pile up on me so dramatically and I was constantly shifting between grief and joy. 

Paul says to be thankful in all circumstances.  Was I supposed to thank God for this tragedy?  No.  Scripture does not say be thankful for all things… it says be thankful in all things.

Thankfulness is about perspective.  It is a posture that says whatever comes towards us in our relationships, circumstances and responsibilities, two truths remain:

God is sovereign and God is Good!

God sovereignty means that absolutely nothing that happens in the universe is outside of God’s influence and authority.  John Piper says, “There are no limits to God’s rule.  This is part of what it means to be God.  He is sovereign over the whole world, and everything that happens in it.  He is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss.  And in Christ, God’s awesome, sovereign providence is the place we feel most reverent, most secure, most free.”  I may not “get it” and I may rail against it, but I ultimately rest in the assurance that that He is indeed in control.  He is working out His plan and purposes in my life.

When we face difficulties, it can be hard to see the goodness of God.  I realize that I often attached His goodness to “pleasant outcomes.”  I saw God as good when things were working out in my life.  But is He still good when things are falling apart?

What I am learning is this:

God is not good because we have a pain free life; God is good because whatever we walk through, He comes near us.

I have the craziest stories of “God coming near” after Randy’s death.  Friends rallied around me and helped me in so many practical ways.  When I felt like I was walking through mud, my best friend came alongside and helped me pull off a beautiful wedding for my daughter.  I had supernatural “God moments” where it was like He “flipped a switch” and I was able to experience incredible joy.

While I would never wish my experience on anyone else, these past 18 months have been filled with unexpected gifts.  I have been brought to a place of gratefulness and it is not because I am “super-spiritual” (believe me) but because I have experienced God in amazing ways.  I have had a fresh revelation of His grace, His joy and His peace.  When I came to the end of myself, I discovered that he was there in all His strength and fullness and He was enough.

What are you facing today?

Have you received a diagnosis that is completely messing up your plan?    Maybe you are facing uncertainty at work, wondering how you will support yourself… or perhaps you are grieving a loved one.  (I am so sorry.)

As someone who has walked some deep waters, let me say this to you:

Don’t focus on the circumstances you face, but focus rather on God…  Look for His promises and lean into His character.  Watch to see how He comes near to you because coming near is what He does!

He is sovereign and He is good.  

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Lead Bravely - Megan Wylie

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Lead Bravely - Megan Wylie

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” – Nelson Mandela

Think of something you’ve always wanted to accomplish. So why haven’t you done it yet? Not enough time, not enough money, too lazy, no one to do it with, too fearful?  

 

As a young adult, I was quick to take risks, to follow my heart, to try new things and to step outside my comfort zone. If I wanted to accomplish or experience something, I just did it.  I made the necessary changes, set up accountability, cast aside my nervousness and walked bravely.  But I’ve noticed that as I’ve aged, my ability and desire to take risks has declined.  I’m not as willing to sacrifice, to get uncomfortable and to be brave. 

 

When we remain comfortable, when we resist change, when we don’t follow the will of God, when we are unable to trust God, what kind of example are we being to those that follow us?  We all have people following us, whether it’s in ministry, at work where we lead 100’s of employees or at home where we are under the watchful eye of our children. Are we showing our followers that it’s okay to take chances even when we’re terrified?

 

I’m not talking about risky behaviour that will negatively affect you or someone else.  I’m talking about doing what you’re called to do, getting out of your comfort zone, following your heart and doing these things with courage! Taking risks is about pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and growing into your full potential.

 

There are many reasons why we fear taking risks: possibility of failure, scared because of past failures, negative self-talk, fear of succeeding and then not knowing what to do, comfortability with the current situation, fear of losing friends or followers, or too many unknowns.  Maybe you struggle with one or all of these. 

 

My daughter just recently learned how to ride her bike.  It was an extremely exciting moment for her (and for me).  She was terrified of riding alone, of falling and of failing, and she was terrified of what others would think.  And you know what motivated her to continue trying?  Her best friend (who is a year older and a confident rider) and myself, getting on our own bikes and riding alongside her.  

 

I share this example because I believe it’s a very normal way that people learn.  Learning by example, having friends or leaders walking (or in this case, riding) alongside us and having leaders cheering and encouraging from in front, beside and behind.

A great example of this comes from Joshua 1:9. God is affirming Joshua in his leadership of the Israelites after the death of Moses.  He tells Joshua, ‘Be strong and courageous.  Do you not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’  God desires for us to be strong leaders and to follow Him in the ‘risks’ He calls us to.  God gave us a ‘spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control’ (2 Timothy 1:7).

 

So what kind of ‘risks’ are we being called to?  Are we willing to step out of our comfort zone?  Do we lead bravely and with courage as God has empowered us to do?  If so, then we will inspire those around us to do the same. 

 

As we grow older, let’s lead by example, let’s continue to push out our boundaries, let’s follow God’s calling and let’s continue to lead bravely!

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Megan Wylie is a global worker in Bangkok, Thailand.  She is a wife and a mother to three little ones and has worked as a running coach, exercise therapist with seniors, birth doula/coach and currently is the director of health and wellness with Imagine Thailand.  She is passionate about: teaching others to be brave, going on adventures, holistic health and Canadian waffles.

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