The Table and Why We Gather

My friend Tim is a creative genius who writes, builds, makes good music and other stuff telling the story of God. When he was single, he spent many nights around our dinner table. The table we had at the time was an old traditional looking piece the previous homeowner left for us when we moved in. One night, after some good food and conversation, Tim declared he actually hated our table. The next day, he showed up with a stunning handcrafted table made out of reclaimed wood he had in his garage. It was indeed a labor of love I will never forget.

Several years later, that table wore out and another good friend, another mom of boys who knew we love to have people around our table,  gifted us their table. In the words of my five-year-old, it’s a “ginormous” white farm table that comfortably seats ten.

Some of my favorite moments around tables have been in my home with friends, talking about Jesus. What we think of Him, what He is teaching us in His word and how He is shaping us. For a couple of years, a group of sweet women would show up at my house on Monday mornings and together we studied and wrestled through the Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount and other places in Scripture that widened our view of God and what we think about Him.

I’m currently going through Beth Moore’s Entrusted, a Bible Study on 2 Timothy. At the end of the first week, her daughter Melissa writes about the value of intellectual community as we study the Bible, discuss theology and “join a collective struggle for truthful speech.”

She quotes Benjamin Myers:

“Theology… is not a private table for one but a rowdy banquet of those who gather, famished and thirsty, around Christ.”

Elsewhere she quotes from author Shauna Niequist:

“We don’t’ come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, ongoing longer and faster, on going without, on power through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.”

We live in a time where we have more access to information and resources than we ever have before. And yet, our literacy of the Bible is dipping and our value of its truth and relevancy is largely debated. Many churches are trying to figure out how to disciple their people, how to remain relevant, and how to draw people in. There are varying opinions about whether or not we should have men’s ministries, women’s ministries, groups, and programs. Many people have given up going to church or come reluctantly. Their walls are up because they have been hurt by their past experiences with leaders and church people.

Think through the above quote. How can this simple, age-old tradition of being together around a table be rekindled in our purposes for gathering in Spiritual settings no matter how we go about them?

People come to a table expecting a feast. Give them Jesus. 

They come prepared for a conversation. Let us create safe spaces where it’s okay to voice doubts, cynicism, and fears along with hopes, dreams, and experiences of the goodness of God.

There is power at our tables to bring nourishment, comfort, stimulating conversation and the ability to build relationships.

In order to revive the beauty of a table, we serve without expectation. Invite people to lean in and feast. Create meals that are unforgettable and cause them to accept subsequent invitations. Leave them with a nourishing and satisfying taste.

Too often people come to the table feeling like they have to leave their masks on. Or they can’t say what they really think because it might be wrong or offensive. Manners, behaviors, and traditional thoughts trump authenticity. What if we who host and lead, created spaces where all those anxieties could be left at the door. Gathering spaces that are not only sacred but also safe and fully welcoming. 

Safe and welcoming enough to receive you the way you are but not leave you there.

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Oh Hey There Friday Favorites!

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Oh hey, Friday! I am so happy Friday is here because it means a little less driving and little slowing down for the next couple of days. Here’s where grace and thanksgiving was found this week from the frivolous to the very much non-frivolous.

First for the very frivolous. I found a new favorite t-shirt.

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I have not mastered the art of the self-timer on my iphone so forgive the selfie (and the mess behind me). This is a Tresics brand t-shirt I found at Marshalls. I orignially got it in grey for 9.99 and like it so much I went back and bought it in another shade of grey and this blue. It’s soft, flowy and super comfortable and cute while hiding everything it needs to hide.

My new favorite Twitter account to follow is @manwhohasitall. It’s a parody of all the things that are said to women who spend their lives “juggling” motherhood, families and career. If you want to go the extra mile you can get a good laugh with this video from Buzzfeed featuring presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

All a great segue to the not so frivolous Jen Wilkin who has an tendency to say everything I wish I would have said only better. She has a brilliant mind and is a great leader and teacher of the Word. In her post this week she comments on an open letter written by Jared Mauldin, a senior in mechanical engineering at Eastern Washington University. He talks about the importance of men speaking up for women in ministry. In my own personal experience, few things have been more encouraging than when a man has spoken up for women in leadership. Everyone calm down…we’re not trying to take over, we just want to do our God given part.

We’re getting increasingly less frivolous here friends. My friend Dan Parkins has gone through more trials than many people experience in a lifetime. He has the best way of writing grace and when I read his posts it literally feels like my soul is being watered. Read this post and be moved by his ability to find grace in the daily and go hunt for your own.

Jen Hatmaker wrote this post on the freedom Christ has set us free for, and here I am, finding myself outside of a gate, wondering how I got here and what kept me inside for so long. Things like my ability to really trust God and my view of His greatness compared to my own fears and worries about life come to mind.

Finally, my favorite quote this week is from Ann Voskamp‘s 1000 Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces.

“Life is so urgent in necessitates living slow.”

Let’s go into the weekend remembering weekends were originally designed for selah between weeks of laboring. This time, let us not be trapped by the over workings of our own minds but walk in the freedom already unleashed for us at Calvary and find our rest in the slow savoring of Jesus and those he has around us. I’m praying this as much for me as I am for you. Amen.

What were some of your favorite things this week?

Oh Hey Friday! | Friday Favorites

Collaboration is My Love Language

The Spring 2014 issue of Leadership Journal magazine is subtitled “Redeeming Failure.” There are all kinds of really interesting articles about lessons learned through failure and how failure is preparation for the next great thing God has in store for us.  One article lists the statistics of the “hard calling” of pastoral leadership. Here are just a few of the encouraging…{cough}… I mean cold hard facts*:

80% of pastors are discouraged in their role as pastors

40% of pastors seriously considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months

For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry

70% of pastors say they do not have a single close friend, and the same percentage say they have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry.

Denominational health insurance agencies report that medical costs for clergy are higher than the average professional group

I’m sure if they surveyed leaders in other areas of the church as well, both vocational and volunteer, the stats would also be staggering. I’m a believer that lead pastors experience life, work and all the pressures that come in a completely unique way than any other person in the local church. However many people who lead also share experiences that are euphoric as well as devastating to their spiritual, emotional and mental well-being. I’m sure it’s safe to say that many people who have “left the church” have done so because either they or someone close to them has had a negative experience with or in leadership.

As an only child who never played organized sports, effective collaboration is something I’ve had to learn over time. It’s helpful that one of my strengths is “connectedness” so I’m constantly looking for the big picture and consistently sure it’s always bigger than me. In my years in ministry, I have found collaborating and finding community with other like minded leaders to be an important part of how God sustains me, encourages me and sharpens me for the work and people I’m called to.

That’s why I was super excited to join this community of women on Pinterest dedicated to encouraging and sharing ideas with women’s ministry leaders.  We are just getting started so I’m sure there is more great stuff to come.  In the meantime, I’m grateful because this group is encouraging me to take more time to post on this blog about the many things I’m learning along the way as part of a collective group of people aiming to love and lead others well.

If you are a leader of women in any capacity, I think you’ll find this board helpful and would encourage you to check it out!

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*statistics provided by J.R. Briggs from Fail: Finding Hope and Failure in the Midst of Ministry Failure (IVP, 2014)

The Practice of Spiritual Friendships {The LIFT Project}

In week 3 of the LIFT Course on The Leader’s Soul, Mindy Caliguire gave us 6 spiritual practices leaders must consider in terms of soul care:

Prayer {Central to everything, the language of our relationship with God, the most direct and obvious way our soul opens up to God – His person, His grace, His healing}

Use of Scripture {Not one particular but all… study, memorization, meditation, praying scriptures, etc.}

Spiritual Friendship {One that often gets left off the charts because we want to protect ourselves.  People in ministry tend to isolate themselves.}

Solitude {connecting to the idea of silence to exempt ourselves from the demands of life where we can hear from God}

Soul Searching {Examining your heart in the spirit of Psalm 139: “Search me Oh God and know my heart…”}

Simplicity {NOT about making your life more manageable but a focused life on Jesus, living with integrity and faithfulness to the life He has called you to}

Mindy says the biggest enemy to simplicity is actually duplicity.  Where we are one person in one environment {church, small group, Bible study} and another person in a different environment {school, work, at home}.    It occurred to me that in order to live a life of Biblical simplicity, one cannot avoid the call to live in and through Spiritual Friendships.  Sometimes called “fellowship,” spiritual friends are those who you can be your authentic self with, who you can go to when you need prayer for the deepest, darkest parts of your life, those who you have invited to hold you accountable to walking in the way of Jesus and those who spur you on to love and good deeds, who encourage you, who help you maximize your strengths but are not afraid to walk alongside you in your weakness.

It is through spiritual friendships that we can come face to face with the living God, when we can actually touch, see and feel the work of Jesus in this broken world.  Through spiritual friendship we learn, are stretched and are even broken by community. 

Authentic spiritual friendships are where the temptation to live in duplicity is broken down and the joy of living in simplicity is ushered in.

We were asked at the end of this session to discuss two questions:

1. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a leader in engaging in spiritual practices?

2. What is one spiritual practice that you most depend on these days?

My answers… number 1… prayer and silence.  A mom of 4 has little time for silence and I see now why it’s called a discipline.  Discipline is difficult and it requires a will with intention and perseverance.  Honestly, I’m tired most of the time and when it’s silent I tend to fall asleep.  On a good day I will wake up early and take a few moments to myself that include silence and prayer.  This requires the discipline of setting the alarm and not being distracted by housework, emails, Facebook etc.  But the practice of prayer… really consistently going to the face down with own life and the lives of those I love and shepherd is one that I need to set aside time for.  Sure, I pray all day long…quick popcorn prayers that I believe whole heartedly God hears, loves and answers.  But the kind of prayer you take a considerable time for, the kind that nurtures your soul is one I crave.

Secondly the discipline I rely most on is that of spiritual friendships.  For me as a leader, I’m thankful that I’ve never been tempted to isolate from the few who I know love me despite all my shortcomings.  Without these friends, first and foremost my husband, I don’t think I could survive.  Yet the fear of disappointment, the fear of of not measuring up, the balance of loving my family as much as I love my friends are all distractions that have their way of creeping in.

Practice makes perfect they say.  So spiritual practices or disciplines if you will, are a necessary part of sanctification that God so desires for us.

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ~ James 1:4

What about you?

1. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a leader in engaging in spiritual practices?

2. What is one spiritual practice that you most depend on these days?

It Only Takes One

The days following a big event, a weekend of preaching, a conference of speaking, a worship set of leading… it’s not exclusive to one person or vein of service to God… there is a let down.

The let down comes in rejoicing but it also comes with a slew of “What if’s,”  “I should haves,”  or “I could haves…” 

Doubts.  Concerns.  Too much or not enough.

Last weekend at our women’s retreat, I had the honor of seeing God move in only the ways He can.  Setting captives free. Releasing women from shame and condemnation.  It is the stuff the Scriptures are made of. Women falling into puddles of tears and other women scooping them up to cover them in love and prayer.  There were women who carried their friend to Jesus like those four guys who brought their friend through the roof because they knew Jesus could save him.

Yet there were those things I had in mind that did not come to pass… my plans.  Not necessarily His.

Yesterday as the thoughts entered into my mind, I went to battle with this…

One person put their trust in Jesus.

One person got baptized.

At least one was set free.

This is not to boast but to give glory God because it only takes one.  If all our labor is for just one… the Bible is clear, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” {Luke 15:7}

Heaven rejoices.

If you are a pastor, leader, worshiper, intercessor, usher, greeter, steward, tech director, Sunday school teacher and you experience the let down… trust in Jesus that it is He who is at work in the seen and the unseen.

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

It’s more about Him than it is about us.

And it only takes One to make us feel it’s worth it.

Do you experience the Monday let down?

If so, how do you battle it?