Archive for June 2014

Gathered As In A Net

The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. […] And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love… Francis Howgill (1618-1669)

When Jesus called his first disciples, he recruited some of them from among the fishermen who made their living on the Sea of Galilee. He asked a few of these fishermen to follow him, promising to change their vocation forever. Rather than inheriting the family fishing business, they would become fishers of people.

When I first heard the story of Jesus calling the fishermen, I assumed that ancient Palestinian people fished in the same way that I do. I imagined these men sitting on their boats all day, with poles and string, hooks and lures in hand, catching individual fish and tossing them into a bucket. When I first heard the story where Jesus invites Simon and Andrew to fish for people, it sounded like a leisurely day of sport fishing.

I now realize that the first disciples weren’t fishing as a hobby. They didn’t spend their days with poles and hooks, capturing individual fish. Instead, they used wide nets in an attempt to draw large numbers of fish out of the depths. Simon and Andrew were not out catching fish one by one; they sought to bring many hundreds into their boats with one pull of the net.

The early Quaker movement described the work of the Holy Spirit as this kind of dragnet. They experienced being gathered together as in a net, united in God’s power as a people of God. Just as Jesus had called his disciples into an organic community that became the early church, Friends in the 1650s found themselves being gathered by the resurrected Jesus in their midst.

Having had this experience, these first Quakers also became fishers of people. They went into all the world, gathering seekers into communities where they could experience the unity and power of the Holy Spirit – the fullness of life in the body of Christ.

Living as we do in a society that is so focused on individual experience and transformation, how do we make sense of the biblical model of salvation in community? How would our lives be different if we lived as an organic whole – the body of Christ – rather than as individual believers with our fishing poles?

What implications would this way of living as a gathered people have on the way we reach out to the world with the love of the gospel? How might we participate in ministry that looks more like a drag net than fly fishing? What would it mean for us to be able to say that our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love?

 

Ready to Make an Impact?

I can remember the moment when I received a call from God to dedicate my life to ministry. I was attending the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, and I had a life-changing encounter with the living power of God. From this time on, there was no going back. The Spirit had laid a call on my life. I had a destiny to fulfill, even if I had scarcely any idea of what this might mean.

Within days of what in many ways was my spiritual birth as a minister, I thought I was ready to embark on a great ministry across the world. I felt the power of God with me, and I was ready to share my experience to the ends of the earth. I was so excited – and totally full of myself!

Things did not work out as I had imagined. Rather than sending me across the seas as a traveling missionary, God made me wait a good six months before giving me any clear instructions. And when clarity finally did come, it was to attend seminary in Richmond, Indiana – not exactly the exciting ministry I was hoping to do in Europe or Latin America! In the years following my experience in England, God steadily pulled me away from my own grandiose ideas of what my ministry could look like. Instead, he invited me deeper into humble, rooted ministry to real people.

Looking back, I can see that I have been following the pattern that J. Robert Clinton lays out in his book, The Making of a Leader. Clinton says that in the early phases of ministry, God’s primary objective is to develop the new minister, not primarily to make a dramatic impact on those ministered to. Though the ministry will usually be focused on meeting the needs of others, it is likely that the greatest beneficiary of the work will be the emerging leader herself.

As the young minister carries out the tasks given to her by God, she will be strengthened in her spiritual gifts and encouraged to exercise them faithfully. The outcome of these efforts may have a positive effect on others, but the most powerful change will likely occur in the life of the person who is learning to be faithful to God’s leading.

It’s not my place to say where I am at in my development as a minister. My efforts at faithfulness probably still have a lot to do with my own need to learn and grow. Yet, I am hopeful that as I continue to seek the purpose that God is calling me into, I am becoming increasingly fruitful in having a positive impact on those around me. Rather than being so full of myself and what I can accomplish, I hope that my attention is increasingly directed towards what God is able to do in the lives of those I seek to serve. As I work to energize and equip the emerging ministers all around me, I pray that the Spirit will give me a ministry that truly blesses others, building them up as they grow in Christ.

What is your own experience of growing in faithfulness and fruitfulness? How does the ministry you participate in impact your own life, and the lives of others? What are the ways that God is preparing you to have a positive impact on those around you, and how might you encourage others in their journey in the way of Jesus?

Faithfully Effective


I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5

There is a phrase that I’ve heard, probably hundreds of times in conversations with folks in the Quaker community: We are called to be faithful, not effective. Some version of this statement is frequently invoked after discussing the difficulties that we face in seeking to live out the kingdom of God in a fallen world. At its best, the phrase is recognition that each of us can only control our own choices, and that we ultimately must surrender outcomes to God.

For a long time, though, I’ve struggled with the idea that faithfulness is somehow separate from and more important than effectiveness. How can these two be separated? Surely we worship a God who is powerful enough to produce practical effectiveness from our faith!

Which is better, love or justice? What is more essential, works or faith? Are we called to be faithful, or effective? To each of these questions the Spirit answers with a resounding YES! The God of Abraham unites love and justice an inseparable bond. The Lord Jesus calls us to demonstrate our faith through good works. The Holy Spirit gathers us as a people to bear fruit, becoming effective precisely because we are faithful.

Life is mysterious, full of paradoxes that are hard to sit with. It often seems easier to just pick one side of the coin. I’ll do justice, but leave the loving to someone else. Some dedicate their lives to work for justice in the world, with little reference to the gospel foundation of that work. Others pray up a storm and say beautiful words, but act as if it were un-spiritual to measure results. Sometimes faithfulness seems like it might be within reach, but effectiveness is just too hard.

But we go wrong when we try to separate out faith from works, love from justice, faithfulness from effectiveness. God created the universe as a whole – body, mind, and spirit. If we want to experience the abundant life that God created us for, we must embrace this whole. To live as Christ’s body on earth, we’re going to need a whole lot of loving-justice, works of faith, and effective faithfulness.

How does this play out in real life? Have you seen someone living faithfully but ineffectively – or effectively but unfaithfully? What does it look like for works and faith to go together, for love to give birth to the practical work of justice? What would it mean for us to be faithfully effective?

God’s Scattered People

One of the things that impresses me most about the Quaker community is the sense of connection that Friends have across geographical boundaries. With very few exceptions, I have found that if show up at a Quaker meeting on Sunday morning and introduce myself as a visiting Friend, there will be warm-hearted people who are ready to show me around their city and provide me hospitality in their homes. Quakers have a sense of belonging that goes beyond the local; I find family wherever I roam.

Yet, there is also a shadow side to this tight-knit community that transcends local connections. In my travels, I have experienced Quakers as being ravenous. We are often starving for support, connection, teaching, and pastoral care. Many of us feel inadequate for the task that God has called us to, and we don’t know where to turn for guidance. Lots of our communities, even the larger ones, feel isolated and unsupported.

In this context, a visitor can seem like a lifeline, an opportunity to make a connection with the larger body. For some communities, especially smaller ones, visiting Friends represent a chance to receive the nurture and encouragement that they do not necessarily experience otherwise. Simply by being present and sharing news, visitors open a window into the wider community of Friends; they provide a sense of access to the gifts of the larger body.

Life in diaspora is hard, living as we do in scattered pockets. We are presented with the challenge of being alternative communities in the midst of a dominant culture that does not reinforce – and often undermines – our desire to be friends and followers of Jesus Christ. We are tempted to turn inward, to seek refuge from the world, to become a cliquish subculture that promotes an ingrown sense of identity, even as we fail to reach out to others. We may even become proud of the fact that our neighbors and co-workers do not understand our faith!

Superficially, the choice to close ourselves off promises security and a sense of identity; but in the long run this path leads to ever increasing isolation, fear, and spiritual pride. Fortunately, there is an alternative to this seige mentality. Rather than walling ourselves off, what if we threw open the gates? Rather than waiting for visiting Quakers to nurture us, what if we looked to our friends, neighbors, co-workers? What gifts are already present in them to build up the body of Christ?

What would our communities be like if we welcomed every visitor with the same degree of joy and hospitality that we welcome visiting ministers? What would happen if we sought out the gifts, insight and enthusiasm of the people we are most connected to, whether they currently belong to our meeting or not? How might we be changed by seeking partnership with our neighbors, inviting them to walk together with us in discipleship to Jesus?

In many ways, this kind of life-giving engagement with our local communities is more challenging than the aching isolation that so many Friends meetings experience. The trials of diaspora are many, but they do not require the same level of work, self-examination, and flexibility that we must embrace if we are to become salt and light in our neighborhoods, homes, and workplaces. Making the kingdom of God visible in our world will be a challenge, but one that is preferable to the numbed yearning and isolation that so many of our communities are experiencing today.

Have we hit rock bottom yet? Are we convinced that the hard struggle to bear fruit is more life-giving than the easy slide into despair? Are we as Friends willing to be broken open, to be a seed that dies so that we can yield a harvest many times what anyone would expect? Are we ready to embrace our scattered and feeble condition as an opportunity for Christ’s power to shine through?