Blog, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions

Purpose in Unexpected Seasons [Guest Post]

I haven’t had a guest writer on the website for a while, so it’s about time! Here’s my wonderful Kiwi friend, Kate Dugdale, sharing some thoughts about the reality of adult life being very different than our childhood expectations. May it encourage and challenge you in your own unexpected life…


[Photo Credit: Kate Dugdale original, author of post]

As I write this, I’m sitting at my small desk – to call it ‘organized’ would be generous. It’s covered in books, pens, highlighters, and a second computer monitor balanced rather precariously on the equally small bookshelf which rests between my desk and the wall. I am possibly breaking the fire code by having my backpack sit in front of the fire escape. The pile of books to go back to the postal library hasn’t moved in about a month and the wall is covered with lists and outlines and calendars. There are three other desks in this small enclosed balcony, all empty at the moment, but often filled by other students who come to study on campus. This is my life for most of the time, five days a week… and is not where the sixteen-year-old version of myself envisioned my twenty-five-year-old self being.

[Photo Credit: Ozyman via photopin cc  with edits by Alison Lam]
I spent most of my teenage years involved in ministry and mission. Almost every vacation period was spent on camps or mission trips, and by the time I was sixteen I had started homeschooling in order to facilitate doing a church internship. Growing up in a YWAM family meant that doing a DTS was a certainty in my own mind. I fully expected to be called into full-time missions in a country outside of where I’d grown up, that life would be full of crazy God-adventures in the nations, and that I’d get caught up in some epic revival or move of the Holy Spirit. I always assumed that the dramatic moment of calling was just around the corner. God had an AMAZING plan, and I was going to be right in the midst of it!

Little did I know what was coming…

Through a strange series of events, I found myself starting at Bible College in 2009, with the expectation that I’d do a single year… and then something else would open up. To my surprise, I’ve been a full-time university student for five years, with another two and a half years to go. I’ve spent the last half decade studying – my diploma turned into a bachelor degree in biblical studies, followed by another postgraduate diploma in theology, which resulted in my enrolment to start a PhD in Systematic Theology. In that time, I haven’t been on a single missions trip, or even left the country except to see family in Sydney. Instead, my focus has been on learning Greek, and exegetical studies, and my time spent reading theologians who rarely agree with each other. I used to denounce academic theologians as people who knew about God without knowing God… and yet as a student, I find myself required to participate in that world. This is far from the life I envisaged.

The fact that I’m still doing this both exhilarates and infuriates me, depending on the day… and yet here I am, still sitting at my desk, attempting to be faithful in my current calling.

As I read yet another book for my thesis, I am learning that God is just as present to me in these moments, as anywhere else. I understand that God is here with me as I struggle with concepts of epistemology and ontology, and what they mean for my understanding of who God is. The Holy Spirit is just as close as he would be if I was proclaiming the Gospel in a country hostile to the Gospel. Instead of preaching to crowds, I teach biblical studies to small classes of five students. I don’t see miracles on a weekly basis, but what I do have is the privilege of journeying alongside a small group of teenagers from my church, and seeing them continue to grow in their own journeys of faith and discipleship. I don’t see miracles of healing, and dramatic conversions, on any sort of regular basis, but I do encounter the goodness and kindness of God on a daily level.

So God is good… and I am slowly learning…

I am learning that God is with me, bringing life and growth and fruit where I least expect it. I continue to discover that regardless of where I worship and work, the Spirit is still present and active. I’m becoming more confident that God is at work in the unseen places of my heart, even when I don’t realize it. I’m still not a hundred percent sure why I have been called into my particular journey, but I do know this: God is working all things out for good, according to his plan, not to mine… and that position of quiet trust is all that is required from me.

 


About the Author:

Kate Dugdale Bio PicKate spends most of her time in Nelson as a PhD student and teaching theology. When not studying, she can most often be found either drinking a vanilla latte, dreaming about making a perfect cupcake, or trying not to fall off her mountain bike.


Blog, God + Spirituality, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness, Relationships

The Heart and Home of Missions

 

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The Heart and Home of Missions: Reproducing God’s Image in the Earth

What do you when you come face to face with the Father of Creation and you come in direct contact with His heart?

Well, I’ll tell you what I did.

I took a deep look at the state of my own heart and my foundations and motivations in ministry and

I

came

back

home.

About a year and a half ago, I had quite a life-altering encounter with God.’s father heart. It was a game-changer for me. It redirected the entire course of my life and my ministry and brought me back to my homeland. Since my return, I have had to ask myself a lot of honest, heart-wrenching questions.

And today, I’d like to share some of the emerging answers that have come out of this season of asking these life-altering questions.

You see, for any of us who identify ourselves as “ministers” or “missionaries”, our vocation is to share God’s heart with those who have not yet met Him. Our very “job”, so to speak, is to present God to this world. So, then, who is God? And who does He identify Himself as, primarily?

I would say that, primarily, God wants to be known as a Father. He is the very first Father and He is the Father of all creation.

God’s heart is one of a father. He lives and breathes fatherhood as His highest and greatest vocation. (Not that God actually sees it as a “vocation” since it is just “who He is”, but you get my point, I hope).

So, what is fatherhood all about? Well, it’s really simple. Fatherhood is all about family. And family is all about relationship. It’s all about a relational community lived out in the context of “real life”.

This begs the question: If God is primarily identifying Himself as a Father, then why do we tend to center our ministries around a public model of “services”, “meetings” and “events”? If we take our ministries outside of the context of family life, how do we think that we will somehow accurately portray God’s fathering heart?

I would challenge all of us (I’m preaching to myself as well) that the world is not fully seeing the display of our Heavenly Father’s heart because we continue to keep the doors of our hearts and the doors of our homes, closed to the world. We have taken ministry outside of the home, and brought it into the public place. This is not to say that we cannot minister in the streets or in public places, but I would say that this cannot and should not be the primary place of ministry. The home is where it’s at. Really at.

Radical missions and radical ministry is not a fiery service with great teaching and enthusiastic singing. I mean, that’s definitely an integral part of our Christian expression, as God loves to engage our minds in learning and to express our love and passion for life through music. But I would like to put it on the table and say that radical missions and radical ministry is a healthy, whole heart that thrives within a healthy, loving family and community.

Ministry and missions is all about the heart. Ministry and missions is all about the family.

If we separate our ministries from the heart of our personal life, our home life, our marriage life, our family life and our relational life, I would say we are separating ourselves from the very heart of God.

He is a Father and His heart is in the home.

We cannot reproduce His image as a Father across the globe without opening up our homes and our hearts and our families to a world that desperately need to experience the love of this good and wonderful Father.

Tragically, most of the world still thinks of God as a distant, angry task-master, totally disconnected from their real lives and completely irrelevant to all their genuine heartaches, pains and troubles. This false representation of God is such a far cry from His real heart as a Father.

The world must see our good and loving Father. They must.

The world desperately needs to see a re-presentation of our loving, relational Father. How will those who have never known our God to be relational and relevant to their personal lives, if we do not allow them into our personal lives for them to see God-in-the-flesh? How will they know that God loves to spend quality time with them, unless we spend quality time with them? How will they know that God loves to throw house parties and dinner feasts, unless we invite them over for for a meal? How will they know that God is a Father who adores His sons and daughters, unless we bring them into our hearts and love them as our own sons and daughters?

This paradigm-shift in the heart of our ministries begs us to ask the tough questions that hit close to home. If ministry is all about our hearts and our relationships, we must ask ourselves:

“How is my heart? I mean, really, how am I doing?

How is my family life?

How is my home life?

How is my marriage?

How is my relationship with my children?

How are my friendships?”

We cannot avoid these very personal questions. They are at the very core and heart of our ministry. We cannot sweep our relational difficulties under the carpet and think that we can go on with “business as usual” and continue on with our activities and think that everything’s going to be okay.

If our relationships are not okay, it’s not okay.

As ministers and missionaries, we cannot allow our relationships to be neglected. They are the central part, the very heart of 100% of our ministries. They determine what image of God will be reproduced in your little corner of the world, and eventually across the entire world.

We are not reproducing our words. We are reproducing our hearts. We are reproducing our relationships.

The world will see the state of your heart. The state of your relationships. The state of your marriage. The state of your family. The state of your home. And they will get their image of God through these core relationships. Now, I’m not saying this to bring any condemnation, whatsoever, to those who find themselves in difficult relationships despite all their prayers and genuine effort to develop a healthy home life. I’m only trying to emphasize the central importance of the heart and relationships.

If God’s image is to be reproduced accurately in every tribe, tongue and nation, we must come back to the heart of missions: our inner-life, our relational-life, our family-life, our home-life, our friendships and our community-life.

The world must see our good Father’s heart. They must.

 


 Photo credit: *sweetkendi

Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Life is an Unexpected Adventure [Check out my Alumni article]

As alumni of the Orillia Christian School, I was asked to write an article on what I’m up to and what God has done in my life, to share with other staff, students, parents and alumni. I thought I’d share about the unexpected adventure that God has taken me on and the beautiful experiences I have had traveling the globe seeing the beautiful nations and people of the world.

Click the link below to download the short PDF newsletter/article p.3:

Article: Life is an Unexpected Adventure [Alumni Article for OCS Mind & Soul Newsletter May 2013]

Here’s a little snapshot of the article below, but if you find that difficult (or impossible) to read (!), download the article link above to read it full size :)

full alumni article

Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 2

Here’s the second and final article in my 2-part series on the things I’ve learned on my sabbatical. I’d recommend it for anyone to read, whether you are in full-time Christian ministry or not. If you’re a human being, it’s good stuff. Basically, they are life lessons for humans.

(If you didn’t get a chance to read the 1st part, check it out here: Part 1)

candle_light

Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, check out The Intro, Lesson #1, Lesson #2

Today I’m continuing to share some of the things I’ve learned through my fumbling attempts at “being on a sabbatical” right smack dab in the middle of my prime years of ministry. So often the things that God brings into our lives seem like very, very inconvenient interruptions to our well-laid plans. In the end, though, He is proven very wise, indeed. I’m so glad I listened…

Lesson #3: Don’t expect to feel awesome. Expect to feel insignificant and unproductive.

Taking a sabbatical will press all your “significance” and “identity” buttons. If you’ve got issues with these things, which I discovered I did, you’ll have some “fun” times of kicking and screaming and throwing your fists up to Heaven.

When you’re not earning money, working a public job, or have no official ministry title or role, can you still accept yourself? Can you still think your life is okay? Can you still feel that you are ‘enough’?

Can you believe that you are significant just for being alive and being yourself, without anything else to cling to?

Do you feel that life is okay, if all you have to hold onto is God Himself?

These are the questions that hit you square in the face on a sabbatical. During this time, you won’t feel awesome about yourself and your contribution to society. You certainly won’t feel productive (but that’s the point of Sabbath rest… to take a break from your productive work!)

Oh, and to top it all off, you’ll feel totally out of control!

I think that’s the point God’s trying to make, though. You aren’t the Savior of the world. You are not the V.I.P. of the nations. You are not in control of the universe.

He is.

Yes, you are significant, but not that significant.

Taking a sabbatical gave me a more realistic perspective of my own life and opened my eyes to my own self-obsession, self-absorption and over-inflated sense of self-importance. The humbling that happens just by being taken out of the game (so to speak) is quite real and quite uncomfortable. But it’s actually a relief to come to this realization – it’s not about me! I’m not that important. Phew. What a relief!

And the sneaky thing about God is that He’ll push you past your breaking point, when you think you can’t do it any longer. He wants you to wrestle with the restlessness. Wrestle with the questions. Wrestle with that sense of insignificance and discomfort with being so unproductive. Wrestle with your fear of man and the fear of their opinion of you. Wrestle with the pain of not being seen or noticed. Wrestle with the winter season where some things must fall off the branches and some living creatures must go into hibernation – all to prepare for a greater fruitfulness come springtime.

That’s the great thing about a sabbatical season: if you invest yourself in it, eventually you will feel awesome again. That’s the point! You’ll come out the other side more firmly grounded in your secure identity in God – a security that has nothing to do with titles, roles or the applause of man.

Lesson #4: Investing in the heart-stuff will cost you, dearly.

You haven’t let God interrupt your entire life, just for you to stay the same! To me, that’s the most torturous thing in the world – to waste a tough season and not grow from it! Change requires much time, but it also requires expending much energy and effort and experiencing much pain. Change requires that you invest something that costs you something – something that will probably hurt to give it. Most often, it will require putting your wallet on the table and making its contents fully available.

You’ve got to settle it now: you’ll do whatever it takes to see lasting transformation in your heart and life because real change is always a worthwhile investment.

The heart doesn’t just change in a vacuum, and rarely does it change on freebies. At least, that’s how it’s been with me. Transformation has not come on a free-ride. It’s cost me, dearly.

So, don’t be afraid to spend the money. Don’t think that everyone else somehow magically changed in an instant, without the mess, and without the moola.

If you’re going to do this thing, why do it cheaply? You don’t know when you’ll ever have this time again in your life. If it was worth the time it took to stop your entire life, spend the money you need to make the stop worth it.

Most often, the money will be for investing in the time of other people. People are valuable and their time is precious. You’re going to need other people to help you through this time of change. You need to open up your schedule to people. You need to get them in your face so they can ask you good questions, poke you, prod you, challenge you and mess you up a little. You need to invite friends and mentors and new people into your life to give you wisdom. Spend the money to drive or fly or take a bus to get to them. Take them out for coffee. Have them over for a meal. Pay for their fuel to get them to drive up to see you, if they live far from you! Pay their phone bill so you can get in touch. All this costs money! You’ll also want to invest in some books (or check out others’ book collections and borrow some!), go to seminars, sign up for a course or two, or commit to going to a counselor or therapist over a significant length of time.

Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

Real change will cost you.

Lesson #5: Don’t isolate yourself on a sabbatical! Get dependent!

You can’t “do” a sabbatical on your own, as an island. You just won’t make it if you disconnect from the Vine and the Body. Yes, you may go on a few retreats in this time (which I highly recommend… silent retreat… no-technology retreat… no-food fast… etc), but “retreating” is not meant to be the majority of your time on a sabbatical. You may be backing off from certain types of ministry or work roles, but you are still one part of one Body. If you are a mouthpiece, you cannot find refreshment when you are disconnected from the lungs! In some ways, you may actually need to retreat less and engage more!

Get connected. Get in community. Don’t hermit yourself away. It’s a big mistake if you think you can “take a break” from close fellowship with the church and fellowship with God. If you are already connected, get connected in an even deeper way through greater levels of intimacy and vulnerability and relationship with others. I would say that this is most likely a time where you need to prioritize relationships over work. It’s more about depth of relationship vs. productiveness at work. If you are not connected currently, I urge you to take this time to become a part of the Body! Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what this looks like in your life and in this season. It will look different for all of us.

Find a mentor or spiritual father or mother or counselor to process things with. You are going to have many things going on inside of you and many things shifting. You can’t process this season alone. You need others. You need Jesus-with-skin-on.

And you need Jesus Himself like never before! You desperately need Him! He’s been trying to get your undivided attention and desires your wholehearted affection! I would say that the most significant reason for taking a sabbatical would be to simply return to your “first love”, Jesus Christ. In the busy-ness of ministry, we can often lose sight of the very One whom all of our ministry is for! One teaching that has gripped my heart and recaptured my “first love” for Jesus is this powerful teaching by Allen Hood. ( http://hopetauranga.org.nz/podcasts/?sermon_id=31 )

A sabbatical is not a vacation from God. It’s a time to “come away with God” into a greater interaction and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, your great Counselor, Companion and Comforter.

It’s only in the presence of God that you will find that rest, refreshment and newness of life that God has interrupted your entire life for! So, get in God’s face! Burrow yourself inside His beautiful heart! Don’t isolate! Don’t get independent! Get more dependent!

Your life depends upon it.


If you want a refresher, go back and check out Part 1

Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 1

I decided to reveal some of the hard-won lessons I’ve learned on my fumbling attempt at a ministry sabbatical. If you’re in full-time Christian ministry or missions, this is a must-read. If you are not “in ministry” but you are a human being, this is a must-read. I think that these are timeless lessons for all people in all walks of life.

on-beach

Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 1

So, I’ve been a missionary overseas for about 8 years. I had taken breaks here and there throughout the years, in between assignments, but nothing really intentional. I didn’t think I needed it.

Last year, I was rarin’ to go after a couple quiet years of ministry service. A sabbatical was the last thing on my mind. This was when God so lovingly disrupted all my “go-ye-into-the-world” plans and loudly said, “STOP!”

Say what, God?!

I was adamant in my resistance, at first, but finally accepted the call to stop and take a “sabbatical” from ministry, even though it did not make total sense to me. I just couldn’t ignore the voice of God. I had to heed His word.

I went back to my homeland of Canada. I royally freaked out, to be honest. I fumbled and fell my way through it in the early stages. Being on this sabbatical broke me, first, before it was able to bind me up and heal me.

A majority of the time, the impatient “gotta-produce-some-tangible-results” part of me felt like I was completely wasting my time. The “idealistic-and-perfectionistic” part of me often felt like a failure, as if I had this unattainable image of what “The Ideal Sabbaticalizer” would be doing on their sabbatical, and somehow, I was surely doing it all wrong. It’s funny to think back on this now, but at the time, it was not funny at all! It was like I was looking for some kind of “blueprint” to guide me through my sabbatical, when all God wanted was for me to put my hand in His and trust Him step by step, with no backup plan.

Sometimes you’ve got to have all your buttons pressed (and I mean EVERY button) in order to receive a greater insight and wisdom that will truly help and direct the rest of your life.

Sometimes you’ve got to be taken off the radar and brought into a place of complete obscurity, in order for God to get your attention, so He can show you what’s really going on inside of you, to produce some real, lasting transformation within you.

Sometimes you’ve got to be taken past the point of breaking, where you think you can’t take one more week of “feeling-like-you’re-wasting-your-life-away-in-the-prime-years-of-your-life!” (I may or may not have said this very thing about a million times on my sabbatical…)

Would God really shut you down and hide you away in the very years that Jesus came out of hiding and had His public ministry? Yes, yes, He can. And He does. And He did it with me. And maybe He wants to do it with you.

3 Reasons to Take a Sabbatical:

I strongly encourage any of you in long-term missions or ministry to take a sabbatical. It is wise and it is healthy to do so. “How” you do it is totally up to you and the counseling-nudges of the Holy Spirit, but I’ll give you a few reasons why I’d recommend it. None of my reasons are proven in “sabbatical textbooks” or backed up by any “sabbatical theologians”, so take it all with a grain of salt. Here’s what I personally think are the 3 main reasons (or purposes) for taking a sabbatical (and if you do it for only 1 of the 3 reasons, it will totally benefit and bless you):

  1. For rest and refreshment – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
  2. For real heart transformation, change and redirection
  3. For greater intimacy in relationships, first with God and then with the people God has given you.

If you can identify with one, two or all three of these reasons, maybe God is trying to get your attention. All I ask is that you consider it.

With that said, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned on my “so-far-from-perfect” sabbatical, and maybe you can get a nugget of gold from it. Maybe you’ll discover that it hasn’t been a waste of time at all, but rather, absolutely necessary and extremely fruitful.

Lesson #1: It is a labor to enter into the rest of God.

Does that sound like a contradiction? In a way it is! It is work to enter into rest. You don’t just sleep your way into rest. You have to make an effort to re-orient ways of thinking, and re-position ways you’ve lived your life, in order to make your life more restful. You have to make it more restful. You don’t just fall your way into a state of rest. There is a really significant line that I’ve heard Laura Hackett sing, a worship leader from IHOP-KC,

“I labor to believe Your word, that I might rest in You.”

I agree. You labor in faith to believe what God says, and this brings you into the rest of God. I have discovered that the most fruitful times on my sabbatical, where I experienced great peace and rest in my heart, were when I invested my time and my energy and labored to seek the face of God and experience His presence in the Word of God.

Lesson #2: If you break the Sabbath, it will break you.

God is serious about Sabbath. I didn’t know how serious, until He interrupted my whole life to tell me. I hadn’t realized that I was entering my seven-year mark in full-time missions and ministry. God’s biblical pattern of Sabbath is to work the land for six years and then rest it on the seventh.

It is never convenient to take a Sabbath (sabbatical). It is always an interruption. If it was convenient and easy to enter into Sabbath, everyone would do it. And sadly, most people have forsaken this all-important season of life. When you take a sabbatical (or a weekly Sabbath) you must trust God with all your unfinished work. Six days labor. Seventh day rest. You must leave your work undone until the next week begins. It takes trust to let God interrupt your work-flow and follow Him into a sabbatical. I certainly felt the weight of it. Right in the prime of my life, when I was so ready to “GO YE”, God said, “STOP” and “REST”. Majorly inconvenient, God! Not funny!

But God gives us the Sabbath because He loves us. God so seriously values the Sabbath for our own sake. It’s not just one more rule to keep. It exists to give us more life. He knows that if we break the Sabbath, it will break us. Meaning, we will eventually burn out and have a breakdown without it. Something “not-good” will happen to us if we don’t take the “good gift” of Sabbath that He is giving us.

We just won’t flourish or thrive long-term without rest. It’s as simple as that. We may look okay for a little while on the outside, but over the long haul, we’ll fizzle out (or be miserable). And if there’s anything I’ve learned on this sabbatical, it’s that we reproduce who we are and what we value. Why would we ever want to reproduce driven, miserable, burned-out workers for God? If God values rest, let us value it as well. We want to reproduce what He’s about. And He’s about Sabbath rest.

Then, out of our refreshed and restful heart, we will work and we will labor for Him.

(For the final 3 lessons, check out Part 2)

 * Photo by: idlphoto