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SOUL CARE – Especially for Leaders

Watch my video presentation based on these notes.

“They made me keeper of the vineyards, BUT my own vineyard I have not kept…
Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyard which is trying to bloom”  
(Song of Songs 1:6, 2:15)

WHAT  is “Soul Care”?

A modern term with various meanings, mainly describing personal wellbeing and spiritual formation. We define it in Hebrew ‘wholism’, not Greek ‘compartmentalism’. In the Hebrew Bible, soul (nephesh) means YOU, not only your ‘inner self’ compared to your ‘outer body’ and relationships. Nephesh and ruach (spirit) and levav (heart) can be used interchangeably, meaning both the core AND the whole of who you are. ‘Heart’ is more commonly used (and sometimes ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’) for the seat of the mind, the emotions and the will, from which we live; in other words, one’s spiritual formation (moral character) from which all of life flows (Proverbs 4:23). 

Thus, the Shema Israel says God is One, so we must love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; i.e. with our whole being (Mark 12:29-30). Paul teaches the same wholism – using Greek language and categories – in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: The God of Shalom (wholeness, order, harmony, abundance) sanctify you wholly, in your entire spirit, soul and body. Hence, “soul care” is biblical “self-care”, not in selfishness, in self-serving of our desires and appetites. But in prioritising our ‘shalom’ of healing and growth into wholeness, to love God and neighbour as you love yourself.

As I understand it, biblical godly self-care has three aspects/dimensions that interweave in one journey of life for the glory of God: personal healing, personal growth, spiritual formation.

Healing:  Take responsibility for your unresolved “issues”, wounds, brokenness – to work with them, get help and healing, for your own sake and all those around you.

Growth:  Take responsibility for your personal development in knowledge, in theological training, leadership equipping and life skills.

Spiritual Formation:  Take responsibility for your spirituality – your (trans)formation of moral character to become more Christlike.

The more we prioritize and take time for self-care (in the above sense), the more aware we become of what needs healing and growth and development within us… and therefore, how much we need to become more and more like Jesus. 

WHY  do self-care?

For God’s sake. For your own sake. For the sake of those around you. For the sake of your calling and ministry in God’s Kingdom, among God’s people, for God’s world. If you do well, those around you (tend to) do well. Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:15-16).

Therefore, “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life(Proverbs 4:23).Your highest priority is to guard your heart. The Hebrew “guard” has two meanings. Negatively, to keep and protect your heart (soul/spirit) from what forms you the wrong way. And positively, to cultivate and nurture it in God and his Word, which forms you the right way – in God’s character. The reason is: your “heart” is the source of your life, physically and metaphorically. We all live from our heart, whether we know it or not. We are all formed one way or another, for better or worse. That is the root character that determines and is seen in the fruit of our attitudes, words and behaviour. This is clearly Jesus’ root–fruit and heart–mouth theology that describes, and helps us to discern and identify essentially good or bad persons (Matthew 7:15-20, 12:33-37, 15:17-20).

The wind one brilliant day called to my soul,
With an odour of jasmine – 
And the wind said, in return for the odour of my jasmine
I’d like all the odour of your roses.
But I said I have no roses –
All the flowers of my garden are dead.
And then the wind said,
Well, I’ll take the withered petals
And the yellow leaves.
And the wind left.
And I wept.
And I said to myself,
“What have you done with the garden
that was entrusted to you?”

(Poem by Antonio Machado)

What have YOU done with the garden of your heart that God entrusted to you? 

Rabbis say that the Garden of Eden (‘Delight’ in Hebrew) is an outward picture of the Garden Temple of the human heart, which God gives to each person. God will hold us accountable for what we have done with it. We are responsible to cultivate God’s garden of our heart. To plant and grow… and yes, to pull up the weeds… as a sacred place of God’s delight. Where God not only meets and walks with us, but actually dwells. And takes pleasure in all its brilliant colours, evocative fragrances, rich textures and soft sounds – the beauty of who we are in his image and likeness.

HOW  do we self-care?

The most important answer I have learnt from my life experience with Jesus, in leadership and ministry, is this: Arrange your life, your months, weeks and days, to live in the unforced rhythms of grace in the easy yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30). How do you do this? 

Jesus’s easy yoke is to take on and live in his life practices. Then you learn to live in/from rest, not from urgency, demand, deadline, ambition, pressure to perform, to succeed. Live the unhurried life by arranging your life – and keep rearranging it whenever intrusions overwhelm – to live in the rhythm of regular withdrawal and engagement. This is the easy yoke of Jesus, seen in his self-care with Father. This conditions us to live in and from God’s rest (Shalom) as Jesus did. He constantly engaged with people and ministry and then withdrew, then re-engaged, and withdrew. At times he even withdrew from doing ministry and healing: “crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16). 

Consider this poem (unknown author):

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
You will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
You will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry about budgets and offerings
The pains in your chest and ache in your shoulders will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations of those around you
You will forever be their slave.
Work a modest day
Then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God
And well in your soul.

The daily planner reveals volumes about the leader’s character formation, about your spiritual condition, values, priorities, fears, ambitions. It tells you who your bosses are, who your lover is, and how much value and care you place on your soul. Take a long prayerful look at your (daily) calendar. Who are you trying to impress? God? The church? Other leaders? Yourself? As C.S. Lewis observed, if you are overly busy, you are actually lazy! Because you allow others to determine and demand your time, rather than doing your own planned appointments as per your values and priorities. 

Plan and take time for God and yourself, for family and friends, for rest and meditation, for walks to enjoy God’s creation. Then you will be more sensitive to God’s presence and ways, and you will be healthy in your soul. There is much to say about the “how to” of good self-care, but let me simply highlight these five, as part of the unforced rhythms of grace:

Daily devotions:  a planned intentional daily time to be alone with God, in prayer and scripture mediation, listening to God in the silence of your heart (Matthew 6:6, Psalm 1:2-3).

Making margins in your day:  plan gaps between appointments to check where you are at, to refocus on God, to pace yourself… to be present to each moment as a sacrament of grace.

Keeping Sabbath rest:  not in the legalistic Orthodox Jewish way, but taking a day off for yourself and God, for family and friends, for rest and recreation.

Periodic retreats:  planning a whole morning, or a day, once a month, to be out in nature or at a Retreat Centre, alone in solitude with God. And plan to go on a led retreat for a weekend or longer, once or twice a year. Formal led retreats are truly enriching.

Spiritual companionship and guidance:  I recommend two kinds of regular meetings, at least once a month, for accountability and healthy self-care. First, a spiritual companion for mutual disclosure, care and prayer. Second, an older spiritual guide/director, one who is wise in the ways of God and the human soul, for discernment and guidance in your self-care.

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UK Ministry Report & Observations

I’m resting up after returning home from a wonderful ministry trip in Vineyard Churches in the UK. I was honored to minister in Plymouth, Truro & Falmouth, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, and Yoevil. My essential message was the four irreducible missional dimensions of the Kingdom of God (the message & ministry of Jesus that defines how we do church).

  1. Power encounter: Spirit-ministry of  healing & deliverance, signs & wonders.
  2. Personal Transformation: Spiritual Formation of discipleship to Jesus.
  3. Social Transformation: Holistic engagement in society, as in mercy relief, justice advocacy, community development, ecological ethics.
  4. World missions: Evangelism & church planting to advance God’s Kingdom to all nations that The End will come (Matt 24:14).

In teaching Jesus’ basic Kingdom framework and explaining the four implications, I focused mainly on the first two – though I emphasized it is a ‘package deal’ and we cannot engage in ‘selective obedience’ (we do all four at the same time). After doing the conferences & seminars in these cities and being with all the leaders and people, I summarise my overall sense in the following seven points:

  1. Vineyard churches in the UK are on the cusp of a further and new season of growth and expansion. 
  2. There is a feel of vitality and expectation in the face of serious spiritual opposition, dark secularism and divisive social uncertainty. I sense the UK is ripening for a real move of God.
  3. There’s a need for stronger grounding in a clearer biblical understanding of Jesus’ worldview and praxis of The Kingdom for the health and longevity of what God is doing.
  4. There is also the need to do succession well by focussing on the younger generation of leaders to train and mentor and hand over authority and power as Jesus did to his apostles and disciples.
  5. The deliberate turn toward deepening the  psycho-emotional health and spiritual formation of the pastors and leaders is very encouraging. Pacing oneself in the easy yoke of Jesus, in what GOD is doing, is key for good sustainability and growth.
  6.  The call of God is to seek first  Jesus and HIS Kingdom, then Jesus will build HIS Church. If we focus on building the church it subtlety becomes our kingdom, and we stop pursuing GOD’s Kingdom. If we truly fall in love with Jesus and stay in love with Jesus, it will change everything. This is discipleship to Jesus in the spiritual formation of GOD’s LOVE for us and his world.
       
  7.  Jesus is coming to his Church in the misty wind and waves of all our years of rowing against the storm of evil and social turmoil. The clearer we see Jesus for who he really is, the more we will step out of our boat of security, of what we’ve known and worked with for so long, and we will  walk on water. Fix your eyes on Jesus in the midst of all that’s going on. It’s time to exercise assertive faith and push into the unknown of ‘the  already’ of the Kingdom.  It’s time to walk on water! Even if the ‘not yet’ overwhelms us and we sink – taking our eyes off Jesus – he is beside us. He reaches out his hand and pull us up to stand with him in faith, in the dynamic reality of his Kingdom come.
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Forming (in) Community: The Practice of Equipping

For the audio teaching of these notes, click on:
http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-equipping-the-saints-forming-in-community-part-32/

Intro: Equipping is the fourth priority and practice in forming – and being formed in – Christ’s covenant community. The practices follow on from each other: relationship leads to healing, and healing leads to discovering and practicing servant gifts in the Body, which leads to ongoing equipping and training for life and ministry in Christ. We look at what is ‘equipping’ and then how we practice it.

WHAT is the practice of equipping?

John Wimber made Paul’s words, “Equipping the Saints” (Eph 4:12, King James Version), a ‘mantra’ in Vineyard Churches. This is what he wanted to be known – the phrase is on his tombstone! It’s meaning was reduced to ‘equipping the saints’ for healing ministry: that all believers can lay hands on the sick, not just leaders. But Paul meant that the gift ministries of Christ are to equip the saints for LIFE and ALL kinds of ministry. This priority & practice of equipping/preparation for life and ministry is part of spiritual warfare: God’s Church is his ARMY that enforces evil’s defeat, already suffered at the hands of Jesus.

What does this equipping mean? Paul’s word katartizo in Eph 4:12 is used in Mark 1:19, to “prepare” fishing nets as in knotting the strands. To equip means to prepare people by joining them in right relationships – God’s big fishing net – that the saints can serve in their gifts, to “do works of ministry so that the Body of Christ may be built up.” So, this equipping for all kinds of ministry is about developing one’s gifting, lifting the level of skill and excellence in doing ministry, to best serve God’s people – for his glory! Continue reading Forming (in) Community: The Practice of Equipping

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Forming (in) Community – The Practice of Servant Gifts (1)

Listen to the audio teaching of these notes:
http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-servant-gifts-1-part-28/

Recap Forming (in) community: its Four Practices. The second core value in following Jesus daily, both individually and corporately as church, is forming – and being formed in – Jesus’ local community. This value becomes real and is lived out to the extent we practice four priorities, what we call spiritual skills and disciplines:

  • Relationship: church is God’s family, not a social club for paying members
  • Healing: church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints
  • Servant Gifts: church is the organic Body of Christ, not a franchising organisation
  • Equipping: church is a school of life, of spiritual formation to live God’s kind of life, not a place of entertainment or spectator sport.

Servant Gifts

Over the next weeks I will teach on the what? and how? of servant gifts. The essential message is: we must see Jesus’ family, the local church, as the organic Body of Christ, as Paul discovered (in Acts 9:4-18) and taught (e.g. 1Cor 12:12-31). That simply means – the first key point – church operates organically via God’s enabling gifts functioning in and through each member of Christ’s (local) Body. Church is not an organisation or business operating by appointments, titles, position, power, hire and fire. This does not mean we don’t need certain kinds or levels of organisation and structure to facilitate organic life: the skeleton enables the body-life; the wineskin enables the wine-flow (Mark 4:22). But even these are gifts… of “leadership” (Rom 8:8), “helps and administrations” (1 Cor 11:28). Paul’s Greek word for gift is charisma, God’s enabling grace”. Grace (charis) is pure gift, not merited, nor deserved. The grace-gifts (charismata) are not for ourselves, but for each other. They flow through us to each other as we make ourselves available to serve… graciously! Continue reading Forming (in) Community – The Practice of Servant Gifts (1)

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Forming (in) Community by Practicing Relationship – Part Two

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes click on: http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-the-practice-of-family-relationships-part-24/

Recap on Church as Family – The Practice of Relationship

While I was away for the past two Sundays Waynne Pienaar and Lerato Moselane taught on Church as family, and Jo Robolakis taught on how to resolve conflict for relational health. We have said that the first practice of forming – and being formed in – community, is being family. That essentially is about relationships. We’re a relational church: God’s family, a home from home. What does this mean? How do we practice this?

Relationship with God (“Come, Follow Me”, following Jesus) is the basis of all relationships: “How can you say you love God whom you haven’t seen when you don’t love your brother and sister whom you do see?” (1Jn 4:20). The vertical relationship with God is the source and means and measurement of our relationships with one another. And the quality of our relationships with one another is the test of the authenticity of our relationship with God.

Therefore, the NT teaches “church” as a “relational happening” at various levels of gathering – because of Christ’s relational presence – beginning with 1) the two’s & three’s who meet in Jesus’ name (Matt 18:20). This is like the nuclear family on which all human society is built, but sadly is now falling apart. Then 2) the home group is the next level of “Church Relational Happening” (Rom 16:1f). That’s why we’re a ‘Home Group Church’ (they’re the place of real belonging and growth), rather than a ‘Church with home groups’ (where home groups are an optional extra program in the church). Then 3) when the home groups gather in the town or suburb it’s the local congregation (see 1 Cor 14:26f). Then 4) there is the church in the city, the nation, and the universe – we’re all relationally connected in Christ! Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as belonging to the universal church of Jesus Christ without concretely belonging in committed relationship in the local (house) church. Continue reading Forming (in) Community by Practicing Relationship – Part Two

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Forming (in) Community by Practicing Family (Relationship)

To listen to the audio teaching click http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-forming-community-by-practicing-family-part-23/

Recap: Being the Beloved – The Basic Framework

Jesus of Nazareth came proclaiming and inaugurating God’s Kingdom. To enter and experience God’s Kingdom we must “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). How do you do that? By obeying Jesus’ call: “Come, follow me, and I will make (form) you, into people who fish others for the Kingdom” (Mark 1:16-18). Hence Jesus’ three core Kingdom values: Following Jesus, Forming (in) Community, Fishing World. We’re following Jesus… in community… for the world. These values are centered in God’s personalized love for us in Jesus, “The Beloved” (Mark 1:11). In him we’re accepted and given a new identity, “God’s Beloved”, to live a life of love just as Jesus loved us (Eph 1:6, 5:1-2). We live these core values, centered in Freeing Love, as Fits our particular Context.

To live these Kingdom values and become The Beloved, we must prioritize four key practices for each value. For four months I taught on what it means to be The Beloved, then another four months on the four priorities and practices that enable us to live our highest value: Following Jesus in relational intimacy and co-working by the daily discipline of The Word, Worship, Prayer and Holy Spirit Administration.

Remember, I also taught on support and accountability in our daily disciplines: Using the circled triangle to ask the five basic questions of spiritual formation. Are YOU in an accountability group of 2 or 3 or 4 spiritual companions? How is it going? I now begin to teach on the second core value, Forming Community – Being Formed in Community, and the four priorities and practices that make it a reality: Family-Relationships, Healing, Servant Gifts and Equipping. Next year I will teach on Fishing the World. Continue reading Forming (in) Community by Practicing Family (Relationship)

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Following Jesus by Practicing WORSHIP

Recap and Intro

Our identity in Christ is “Beloved” of the Father. We become who we are in Christ by a life-long spiritual (trans)formation, learning to live a life of love… as God is love, imitating our Father… as we see in Jesus in his sacrificial life of love, following our elder brother.

Our core values that make this identity and spiritual formation real are: 1) following Jesus, 2) forming (in) community, 3) fishing the world, 4) as fits our context, 5) to be free to love.

Our key priorities enabling us to daily practice our highest value of following Jesus (intimate relationship with God) are: The Word, Worship, Prayer, and Holy Spirit Ministry. 

The Word is our 1st priority and practice because it’s God’s self-revelation to us. We come to know God/Jesus by the daily reading, study, meditation and memorization of his Word.

Worship is our 2nd priority and practice because it is our response to God’s self-revelation.

WHY worship of God? WHAT is worship?

The only adequate response to God’s Word to us – God’s self-revelation as sheer beauty, glory, love and mercy, in Christ and creation – is awe and adoration. Paul says in Ephesians 3:14, the more we see who God is and what God has done for us, we cannot help but fall to our knees in total surrender and pay homage… this is worship… the (returned) gift of who we are and all we have, because of who God is and all God has done. Continue reading Following Jesus by Practicing WORSHIP

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Community Accountability and Support in Spiritual Practices

Recap and Introduction

How does God change us into being his Beloved? By his Spirit-Life in us (God’s grace) that works with our faith responses – itself a work of grace – via spiritual practices (our effort). The regular practice of spiritual disciplines is not easy. The devil tricks and traps us to stop us doing them. Our own biggest ‘enemy’ is lifestyle. WE choose our lifestyles, no matter how we explain or excuse it. We are as busy as WE choose! The bottom line is: WE are responsible for our own spiritual growth, no one else. But we can’t do it on our own. We need each other in supportive accountability. Remember “The Golden Triangle of Transformation”? I added “community accountability” to Dallas Willard’s diagram: the Spirit transforms us into Christ’s mind and character via our planned and unplanned disciplines, as we experience and practice them in supportive community.

Proposal for Support & Accountability

I want to cite two examples of being very intentional about one’s spiritual formation and growth. John Wesley and his “Holy Clubs” met weekly for prayer and self-examination, bible study and charity work – up to 15 people per group, later called “Classes”. When they met they asked each other: “how is it with your soul?” They kept each other accountable to the “methods”(spiritual practices) of growth. That is why they became “Methodists”. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox developed the practice of “spiritual direction”, and also “spiritual companions”. The latter was for mutual care and accountability in their spiritual formation. Continue reading Community Accountability and Support in Spiritual Practices

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Transformation 2 – How God Changes Us

Introduction to Transformation

This is talk 10 in Being the Beloved series of teachings. Last week I introduced how God changes us into becoming who we really are: his BE-LOVED. The process of how God changes us is called spiritual formation. Paul says it in three ways: “My dear children, I am in pains of child-birth till Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19); “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom 8:29); “We are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

The last verse clearly says that it is GOD who changes/transforms us by his Spirit. BUT, it doesn’t happen automatically. It happens via our faith responses; i.e. with our co-operation. Our part, our participation in transformation, is through priorities and practices, also called spiritual disciplines/ exercises. Salvation is God’s eternal life in us. It “relates & assimilates”: interacting with God to imbibe his Being, via our practices. This is how God’s life grows and develops in us, progressively (trans)forming us from inside out into Christ’s likeness. I first discuss the “The Golden Triangle of Transformation” (see the diagram adapted from Dallas Willard), and then comment on grace, disciplines and effort.

Triangle of Transformation colour

Take time to study this diagram by reading and meditating on the texts. The action of the Holy Spirit that progressively transforms us into Christ’s mind and character is pure grace, which is God’s gift that enables change. The Spirit works through two “means of grace” (sacraments): our planned spiritual disciplines and God’s disciplines in ordinary daily life – unplanned events that happen to us. God uses these to grow and transform us, IF or AS we respond to him with faith and obedience in each event, in each trial and temptation. We practice our planned disciplines and learn to respond to God in unplanned disciplines in the context of community belonging, support and accountability: our spiritual family in home groups and church. Spiritual (trans)formation is a community journey. An unaccountable individual life, in the name of privacy, busyness or unavailability, is lonely, isolating and self-defeating. Note: planned and unplanned disciplines are not a telephone booth instantly changing us into a super-christian! Rather, it’s a long obedience in the same direction! Continue reading Transformation 2 – How God Changes Us

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TRANSFORMATION 1 – HOW GOD CHANGES US

This is my 9th teaching in the series “Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation”.

Being God’s Beloved: For three months I’ve taught on Being and Becoming God’s Beloved. To Be-Loved and to Love is our new nature and identity in Jesus Christ. We are “accepted in The Beloved” (God’s Son, Eph 1:6), thus “born again” by God’s Spirit/Life (John 3:3-5), with his nature in us as his beloved children – to imitate him and learn to live a life of love (Eph 5:1-2). I recap both the language and the overall Framework that I use, and then I introduce how God changes us into being Beloved.

The Language of VVPP: I use the language of vision, values, priorities and practices. But it starts with mission.

Mission is our sense of being, our identity and calling – answers WHO we are.
Vision is our sense of becoming, our future oriented goal – answers WHERE we’re going.
Values are our core beliefs, our non-negotiable guiding principles, measured in what we give our time, energy and money to – answers WHY we do what we do.
Priorities are the most important things we do first before (or prior to) doing other things – answers WHAT we do.
Practices are the HOW we do our priorities – also called disciplines, exercises, or skills.

See my diagram of the overall Framework, showing our vision and values. Continue reading TRANSFORMATION 1 – HOW GOD CHANGES US