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Faith Environments

(from Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony)

These environments are not just for parents. They are for all of us, as we live out of the communities we find ourselves in - our neighbourhood, school, work, leisure and church. These have been split into five weeks, two environments each week, as shared in the church newsletter over five weeks.

The Ten Environments

  1. Storytelling
  2. Identity
  3. Faith Community
  4. Serving
  5. Out of the Comfort Zone
  6. Responsibility
  7. Course Correction
  8. Love and Respect
  9. Knowing
  10. Modelling

Week One

Over the next few weeks, I will present ten different environments where we can encounter Jesus. They are environments that come out of a children's ministry project, but they are not just for families with young children. We can all encounter Jesus as we build these environments into life's routines. May you find the Holy Spirit at work in you and through you as you enter these environments.

 1. Storytelling - “GOD has a big story, and I can be a part of it!” We are part of God's narrative, HisStory. This inspiring story has threaded its way through human existence, from creation to salvation to living in God's Kingdom and it is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Not only is this a story of grace and redemption as described in the Biblical narrative, it also lives on through our own story as we become part of God's story that gives Him glory.

Let us share our stories with one another. We can re-tell God's story from the Bible and we can tell our story of how God has woven us into this Big God Story. The next time you are talking with someone, share some of your story. Let the life of your story bring them closer to Jesus.

 2. Identity - “I belong to God, and he loves me!” As our story intertwines with God's story, we discover our identity is in Jesus Christ and him alone. Ephesians 1 shows us a picture of the Christ follower: chosen, adopted, redeemed, sealed and given an inheritance. With a clear picture of who I am in Christ, I can stand against the world's counter offers of identity, which are hollow and deceitful. Identifying with Christ means we choose the identity He gives us. We can know this identity as we delve into scripture and as we listen to God's voice telling us who we are. Listen to some of these scriptures:

'Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in hiis name, he gave the right to become children of God.' John 1:12

'So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them' Genesis 1:27

'Now you are the body o Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.' 1 Corinthians 12:27

'But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.' 1 Peter 2:9

Where do you choose to find your identity, in what the world says about you, or in what God says about you?


Week Two

Last week, we examined the first two environments (Storytelling and Identity) that we create to work alongside the Spirit of God as He enables us to walk with Christ. Today, I introduce the next two: faith community and serving. As you read through these, ask the Spirit of God to reveal how these environments could be lived out in your routines and how you might even alter your routines to fit into His routine. May you find the Holy Spirit at work in you and through you as you enter these environments.

 3. Faith Community - “God's family cares for each other and worships God together.” Being made in the image of God means we are made to live in community. Recently, I heard a Ted Talk by Brené Brown. She spoke about the power of vulnerability. From years of research, Brown discovered our greatest need is for human connection – we might call it a faith community. A faith community is more than a group of people meeting together weekly to talk about the weather. It is a group of people who are not afraid to be vulnerable. What do I mean? I mean that we don't hide behind the 'I'm good, I've got it together, I'm happy, I'm fine' exterior, while inside we are falling apart, drowning in pain and shame. Brown says the belief that vulnerability is weakness is a myth, yet so many believe it and live out of it. Jesus calls for us to live differently. He calls for us to be vulnerable, to be humble and to live in a community that holds no judgement over others, that honours the Spirit of Christ in each believer and that can hear someone say 'Today, I'm not Okay' and respond out of love and care rather than judgement and gossip. This does come with one warning: vulnerability must also have boundaries. Allow the Spirit of God to reveal when and with whom you are to be vulnerable with about deep issues.

 4. Serving - “Asks the question: What needs to be done?”. When we live in a community that cares, we begin to identify needs in that community. In the simplest form, it might mean walking into a room and asking “What needs to be done?” and then doing it! This question could be asked when we enter a room, meet someone, read something or hear of a need. It may be as simple as emptying the dishwasher, phoning a friend, ministering healing with someone, picking up a hitchhiker. Or it could be as big as organising an event to raise money to support displaced Syrian children, having a hard conversation, going on a mission trip, talking to a group about your own life journey. Serving has at its heart a desire to love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and a passion to let the Holy Spirit cultivate a sensitivity to the needs of others so that I become a generous giver. Perhaps if we ask this question, rosters would become a thing of the past...

 Storytelling, identity, faith community and serving are the first four environments that we develop, with the Holy Spirit, to connect us to God and to each other. So this week, will you show vulnerability as you live in community and will you ask the question: “What needs to be done?”


Week Three

So far, we have looked at the environments of Storytelling, Identity, Faith Community and Serving. These four lay the foundation for the next two environments: Out Of The Comfort Zone and Responsibility. As we look around at the needs in our communities, we begin to see the bigger picture. Our desire becomes more about being led by Jesus into His desires, which can take us out of our comfort zone and across the chicken line.

 5. Out of the Comfort Zone - “God transforms me when I step out in faith.” We talk a lot about faith. But faith does not grow in isolation. It grows as we use it. How often do you step out of what is comfortable and push yourself across the chicken line – you know the one, that line that means I am doing something that is uncomfortable, that is challenging, that extends my level of faith and transforms me. The experience of stepping out of the comfort zone engages “a dependence on the Holy Spirit to equip and strengthen [me] beyond [my] natural abilities and desires” (Spiritual Parenting, Michelle Anthony). For most of us, our natural instinct is to seek comfort. We are happier talking with those we know, going places we know, doing tasks we are trained for. But the radical life of faith that Jesus calls us to live would have us step out of the boat, speak healing over the cripple or feed 5000 with a couple fish and half a dozen loaves. When was the last time you crossed the chicken line?

 6. Responsibility – “God has entrusted me with the things and people He created around me.” Our responsibility lies not only in how we use our resources and time, but how we care for others and our environment. As we begin to step out of the comfort zone and into radical faith, we are challenged by this responsibility. God has entrusted His world and His people to us and we hold them both in an open hand – showing care and love for both. “We love because God loved us first.” 1 John 4:19. The gifts and resources we have been given by God are to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. The 'bearing fruit' metaphor is used at least four times in the New Testament. They are: 1. Christian character (Gal 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:5-8), 2. A life characterised by good works (Col 1:10, Phil 1:22), 3. A faithful witness (Rom 1:13, Col 1:6), 4. Praising God with our lips (Heb 13:15).

 Let us consider again how we might love Christ and His body, by stepping out of our comfort zones and taking responsibility for the people and world around us. May God bless you as you seek to develop these environments.


Week Four
We are up to numbers 7 and 8. If you are anything like me, when you see a list of things to do, you complete the first one or two, or you look for the ones you enjoy the most and do those so you can at least feel good about completing some of the list. This 'list' of ten environments might seem like a list of things to do as well, and I guess it is, in a way. But they are also a list of ways we see the Holy Spirit of God interacting with us, his sons and daughters. As you read these next two environments, ask yourself these questions: Where am I now? Where does God want me to be? How does God want me to get there? May the Spirit of God lead you into a fresh revelation of Jesus.

7. Course Correction - "when I get off track, God offers me a path of healing." Hebrews 12:11-13 reminds us that life is not a breeze. It also reminds us of what a true father does - he disciplines when we run aground. But discipline is not punishment. Discipline has a few rewards - righteousness, peace and healing. Who doesn't need healing? The truth is, we have no trouble pointing the finger at someone else, but the truth is that God wants us to examine ourselves and leave everyone else in his hands.

8. Love and Respect - "God fills me with His love so I can give it away." Love and respect are not things we earn through good behaviour. I know this might come as a surprise to some, but let me explain. God loves and therefore we love. God does not withhold His love because our behaviour is poor. In fact, God loves while we (and anyone else) were still sinners, enemies of God. So love is not conditional on our behaviour. I suggest that respect is also independent of behaviour. We show respect because men and women and children are made in the image of God, Imago Dei. His image has been implanted in us, humans are more than just another animal on earth, we are the very image of God, and His image demands respect.

May you discover Jesus in your environments this week.


Week Five

The final two environments are Knowing and Modeling. Sometimes, our desire is that people behave then believe and finally belong. But in the Body of Christ, just like so many things in the Christian faith, these are to be flipped. We need to allow people to belong first, then believe and finally behave as Jesus begins to change each of us from the inside. Up to this point in our environments, there has been no formal recognition of knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour, eventhough we have told the story, become part of a faith community, served and shown love and respect. We need to be willing to allow people to belong first, to become part of us, to establish relationships and serve together. This, then is how they will know we are Christians - by our love for one another. We must be willing to walk alongside others, even though they may not behave the way we would like, offering them grace, as Jesus does. Here are the last two environments.

 9. Knowing - "God knows me and I can know Him." In April of 2013, our family travelled to Bangladesh. To a foreigner, the streets are chaotic at best. One day we were taken through the streets by a local boy. He knew where to go, how to get there, and even more important, how to get back! We knew we were in safe hands and we trusted him to lead the way. Knowing Jesus is very similar. We put our trust in Him and allow Him to lead us, knowing that He knows best, He knows the wise way to go. In Bangladesh, if we had taken over and said "We can find our own way back." we would have gotten lost. The same thing happens to us in our relationship with Christ when we decide to take back the reins. Knowing Jesus is listening to Jesus, through His Holy Spirit. And even though God is holy and mighty and awesome, He has chosen to make Himself known to us so we can know Him and love Him deeply.

 10. Modelling - "I see Christ in others and they can see Him in me." Have you ever taken a good look at yourself in the mirror? Have you ever looked at the shape of your head, the colours in your hair and eyes, every spot and wrinkle? Have you looked beyond the facial features and examined your soul, and asked: "Am I displaying You, Jesus? When people look at me and see Jesus, do I truly reflect You?" They are hard questions to ask, but perhaps sometimes we need to ask them of ourselves. Or even better, ask Jesus to examine us, as David did at the end of Psalm 139. Read this Psalm this week and listen to God's response. In our maturity, we model Christ, to children, to new believers, to those who do not yet know Christ.

 There we have it, ten environments that give opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to us and work through us, so that we experience the love of Jesus, so that we are changed as the Holy Spirit puts His finger on us, and so that the world will know that Jesus loves them.

 Will you allow God to work through you in these environments? He has an exciting adventure for us and desires for us all to be walking in relationship with Him. Come on a journey with the God of wonder!