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.

_____________________________

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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A Letter to My Niece - Patti Miller

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A Letter to My Niece (and other young women, followers of Jesus, called to be leaders)

Dear Jenni -

So you’re a young Christian woman, and you’re a leader. Young women like you make me SO excited.

You’ve come so far already. You’ve privately dreamed about possibilities no one else knows about. You’ve imagined a future, and then thought, a little embarrassed, “There’s no way that could happen.” But the thought is still there, in the back of your imagination. You’ve come to more than one crossroads, and taken the path that is just a little riskier, just a little different from everyone else. You’re already a “go-to” person that people know can be relied on to get the job done. It’s just what you do.

You’re a leader.

You were created to lead, to cast vision, to break new trails or clear forgotten ones, to bring others with you as you follow Jesus. You may not know it yet, but there are already people who have noticed your gifts, your heart, your passion. They can see God’s call on your life. They are praying for you. And they’re watching you.

Can I offer you a few thoughts as you find your way forward?

Find leaders you admire, and learn from them. Female or male, in your field or another one, current or past. If they’re near you, invite them for coffee. If they’re at a distance, listen to their podcasts. If they’re no longer living, read their biographies. Figure out what it is you admire about them. And when, over time, you notice their weaknesses (and you will) gently take them off the pedestal on which you placed them. They are human too. Give honour where it’s due. Thoughtfully consider how you would live or lead differently, given the opportunity. The point is - intentionally, intelligently choose the kind of leader you will be.

Be wary of cynicism. Leaders are idealistic and optimistic, especially at the beginning. We see solutions as simple, ideals as norms, complications as needless. We wonder why those in charge aren’t just “doing something” … why they seem to be “playing politics” … what the point is of the slow-moving processes. It’s easy to smirk, to withdraw or even to despair, believing you are the only one who sees what needs to be done. It’s easy to become a cynic. In those moments, hold tightly to humility. Guard your heart. Pray for those most visible, carrying the heaviest responsibilities. Don’t abandon your ideals; but do let them mature with wisdom, as you yourself learn to navigate increasingly complex situations, praying that you make the right decisions, accepting that not everyone will understand or agree. And don’t trash Jesus’ Bride. The Church was God’s idea. It still is.

Deal with your issues. We’ve all got some. I know - you don’t - you’re fine. No hidden pain, no unresolved triggers, no lingering unforgiveness. Except, well, that’s probably not entirely the case. Don’t go digging for stuff, but when something pops up to the surface, don’t bury it. Work it through. Acknowledge pain. Confess. Repent. Forgive. Seek healing. Ask for help. Grow. You will come through it stronger, wiser, and more compassionate. And listen: God has not called you because you are perfect. He has called you because He chose you (and isn’t THAT a crazy thought?!). God is not surprised by your struggles. He knows exactly who you are right now; He also knows who He is going to help you become.

Laugh easily. Laugh at your own jokes, because come on - you’re hilarious! There is relief in a good belly laugh. And there is something healthy about being able to chuckle at the things we take too seriously. We live in a world that is outraged and offended all the time. It’s exhausting. Sometimes the only form of amusement seems to be sourced in sarcasm. It makes us hard. Don’t live there. Live joyfully. Smile often. Express appreciation. Refuse to be offended.

Listen, Jenni, you are so much more than you know. You are strong. You are smart. You are creative. You are principled. You are passionate. You are joyful. You’re a dreamer. You’re pragmatic. Idealistic. Courageous, even when you’re afraid. Determined. You are an influencer of people.

You’re a leader.

BE all of that, unapologetically, unreservedly, unashamedly. Don’t hold back. A whole lot of us are cheering wildly for you. We can’t wait to see what you become.

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A Queen Among Women - Tina Mews

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To me, she is a queen among women.  She has no royal blood in her veins, though her name has a sort of regal ring to it.  She stands above the rest, with her calm confidence, godly strength, and humble spirit.  She does not boast of a high education yet walks in wisdom.  Life’s experiences have taught her much.  She has no great earthly riches, but lives a contented life, rich with joy and a deep love for God and her family.  Her hospitality is known to all who know her — opening her home and life to many, young and old, even students like me, for many years.

I was a young, insecure and very vulnerable 17-year-old when I showed up at her door almost three decades ago.  Lonely and uncertain, I grew to love and respect this lady and her family, as they welcomed me into their lives.

I remember many dark nights, sitting in her quiet living room, looking out over the lights of the city, as I poured out my heart.  Some things must have seemed trivial to her, and I’m sure some things may have confounded her, yet she sat and listened to my mixture of shattered dreams and prompted me to move to new and bigger dreams.

She has no credentials as a professional counselor, no degrees, just an ordinary lady used by God to influence the young life of another.  She had a listening ear, a calming word, a non-judgmental heart, and a simple but powerful prayer.  She made time to just be there.  A queen among women, that had a lasting influence on a young girl trying to find God’s will and way at a crucial point in her life.

I grew up in a wonderful Christian home.  When I moved away from that safe haven, I felt lost.  It was as if I were setting sail on a vast ocean, except I couldn’t quite figure out how to use the sails.  God placed this special lady in my life at just the right time!  She gently nudged and encouraged me — more than she ever realized.

In recent days, I have had much time to reflect on this special relationship.  I realize that I am now nearing the age that she was when we first met.

Am I a lady of such influence?  Who am I influencing?  We are all people of influence — good or bad.  Who needs me today, to just be there?  Who is in my circle of influence?

I may not have much, if you look at me through the eyes of the educator... or the wealthy... or even through my own eyes.  However, I have been called by God to serve, to lead, to influence.  Am I living my life to influence the next generation?  I am called to “be there” for another who has lost her way.  No big ado, no planned mentorship meeting, just a listening ear, to share the Word of God, to pray, to encourage, to build up, to help some young lady see the good even in a bad day, to guide her to the Truth and be a friend.

We never know how or why God uses us, we just have to be available and “tuned into” His heart and His voice.  Isaiah 45:3 states, “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” (NIV)

God indeed gave me a hidden treasure at a very dark time in my life.  I knew He had called me, I knew He had a plan, but He used an ordinary lady to keep reminding me, in tangible ways, that I was not forgotten.  Now, I can be that lady for someone else.

Lord, help me be that kind of person to someone today.  Let me not be too busy with my own life that I miss significant opportunities and God-moments.  Help me not miss or take for granted the special friendships that you have blessed me with, or the young ladies that you have allowed on the path of my journey of life, as I follow You.”

It’s been over twenty-five years and even though life’s events separated us for some time, we have since been able to reconnect.  God has allowed me to be a part of her life in a very remarkable way and that friendship has deepened.  She is now a widow, mourning the loss of a wonderful man of God, whom I loved and highly respected.  Our paths intersected at around this same time of loss.  Now, I sit with her on long dark lonely nights, as we reminisce and she shares her wonderful memories.  Again, a year later, when tragedy came to their family, I could mourn with them and be there to share the sorrow and help out in practical ways when their world fell apart.

Our friendship is unique and rich.  God has blessed her with good health, a wonderful sense of humor, an adventurous spirit, and a continued zeal for life and living it for God.  I am honored to share many special moments with her.

God has enriched my life with many special “older” friends, many women of influence.  It has been said that, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”  Thank you, Mrs. D, for believing that I could.

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Silence and Solitude: An Aid to Endurance - Joanne Knight

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I used to be a long-distance runner before injury got the better of me and I was forced to hang up my running shoes. When I first started out at the ripe old age of 40, I learned very quickly that it wasn’t about being the fastest out of the gate, rather it was about enduring the race and finishing stronger than you started.

I was blessed to have an excellent coach who tamed my instinct to run too fast at the start; she must have told me a hundred times, “distance running isn’t a race, it’s endurance.” So, I learned how to find my pace, the rhythm that worked for me. I had to allow other runners to pass me and not get too concerned. Invariably I would eventually pass them further along the line. It was about keeping my eye on the goal, the finish line, and doing what I needed to do to finish strong.

There were certain things we could do to improve our endurance, one of them was to keep well hydrated - all the time not just on race day. I was never one to drink much water, so it took a while for me to get with the program. However, once I did I found that I acquired a real taste for it, in fact I still do. My lime green S’well water bottle goes with me everywhere!

I am just entering my tenth year of vocational ministry. Like running, I came to it rather late. When I graduated Bible College I was excited to get out there and get going. I poured my heart and soul into everything I was asked to do. I had no boundaries and my answer to every request was yes!

However, I quickly found that I couldn’t do it all and my “saviour” complex was really getting a battering. What I didn’t know was how to slow down, how to pace myself. I looked around me and most of my fellow ministers were much like me – running hard and running fast.

I entered the cycle of do, do, do… crash; do, do, do… crash. Let’s be honest, we all know that well.

Then I heard from a young adult in our church, who takes herself off three times a year for a silent retreat. As she was telling me about her journey, my spirit leapt within me. The thought of having 48 hours of silence and solitude appealed to me like water to a thirsty runner. I wasn’t sure if I could keep quiet that long, but I was so desperate to slow down and hear from God I was willing to try it.

Our world is so loud, so busy and so distracting. I was finding it hard to keep up the pace and hear from God. Yes, I spent time with him every day, but not extended time, not time in silence just listening.

So earlier this year I headed over to a small island retreat just a short ferry ride away from Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver. I spent 48 hours in complete silence and solitude. I rested, I walked, I read, I prayed, but most of all I listened! And boy did God speak to me. It was the most wonderfully refreshing time I have ever had, just me and Papa. I had the freedom to simply: “Be still and know that I am God.”

I determined to make this a regular practice and part of the rhythm of my life and returned in May. I was not disappointed and was met by the Lord at the core of my being.

An interesting side effect is that I now crave silence and solitude when things are getting full. Just like I got a taste for water, I now have a taste for silence and solitude. I have even turned off my car radio so that when I am driving I get some silence. My car has actually become a sacred space.

My hope is that as I incorporate silence and solitude into my life they will help me go the distance in ministry and leadership. That I will endure the race set before me and finish stronger than I started!

The world will confuse you. Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a life time. Find silence. Find solitude – and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.

Frances J. Roberts (Come Away My Beloved, Barbour Publishing, 2002)

 

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