Practice

An ODC Story: Anthony Machi on our Comfort Fast

As a part of our Lent Project, we invited our community to set aside either their beds or hot showers for the week in an effort to both create unique space for the Spirit of Jesus to rise up in our lives as well as to stand in solidarity with majority world.  Anthony and Paulina experienced the Comfort Fast from within the Dominican Republic.  Here is Anthony's reflection... Two weeks ago, Paulina and I took off for the Dominican Republic leading a group of 23 college students & young working professionals from U.C. Berkeley, UCLA, U.C. Santa Barbara, U.C. Davis, San Jose State, and St. Marys. The trip included an active marine, a youth pastor, youth coaches and trainers, and many students smack in the middle of their college experience.

The choice during this week of comfort fast: was to give up the bed, or to give up hot showers. I chose to give up hot showers: there was no hot water where we landed.

Our team visited the orphanage under the care of the worldwide organization Kid’s Alive, in Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic. Here were the main limitations (“strippings”) in the scene we entered in to: Running water is limited & rationed based on a pump system that takes the water out of a nearby river.

We had electricity for 3 to 4 hours every day: usually 7:30pm to 11pm. (by generator) Only showers available were cold showers from a drip system from the water reserve. We had twin bunk beds in open cabins with screen walls and bug nets around our bed, 10 people to a room.

No cell phone service + No media availability. Our first van ride = 30 people in a 20 passenger van & 2300 lbs of donations for the kids (Dominican style = cramped & cozy). Average amount of mosquito bites on our bodies by day three: 40 to 50 (with bug spray).

For me personally, I have grown up for most, if not all, of my life as an introverted young man, with most of my time spent as individual-time on the golf course, with my own room to go home to, quiet when I wanted it, privacy when I wanted it, a hot shower when I wanted it, and a good sandwich when I wanted it. For this winter and spring I have been sharing a room in a house of 10 men. And this trip to the Dominican was trip #2 of 3 week-long service trips in a matter of 6 weeks for Paulina and I this Spring (each leading 15 - 23 college students).

Here is where Jesus is getting my attention: For me, for whatever reason, comfort is not the end that I most struggle with. Comfort, for me, has served as the means to… here’s the key… perform. This, for much of my life, took the form of performance in athletics and academics. But my performance was ultimately a means to: try to earn the approval of others, for them to see me as a person worthy of acceptance and praise.

All the bullet points of limitations for this week in the Dominican combined with this season of living, contributed to a culmination of the stripping of my most prized comfort: my ‘own’ space.

Here’s what I watched Jesus do in me this past week:

Disruption to comfort => Disruption to my own spiritual “performance” => Revealing of the true me to those around me.

God has been breaking, and broke the cycle of comfort => performance => approval. Only through this fast of comfort was I then even able to see this equation clearly. The “equation” was broken down to disruption of comfort => not able to perform => worship Him. In this process He has pointed me to the river of life which involves no equation, but rather stands as one word, short, and very tall, Jesus. In stripping the comfort He revealed the worship of the approval of others (a false god) which my comfort was a slave to. He revealed me sitting in the middle of ocean dying of thirst, as this pursuit has never been satisfied.

It took experiencing deep feelings of claustrophobia for weeks, culminating in me having to stop an entire van of 23 on the way to church one day in the DR, for me to get out and walk.

Symbolically, the claustrophobia brought me to start walking.

And so after years and years of tried convincing that the answer was “back to my room to recharge, listen to that next song, just put on the right inspirational video, so I could clean myself up and ‘head back out there to the world’ to perform...” it was the never-ending search of the approval of others… He showed me:

He has been there the whole time…longing for me to stop dying of thirst… so I turned to Him.

No need to exit to re-enter. I’m in. Thank You Jesus.

In Him, He brings quiet, rest, and comfort in love: In the cold shower, in the top bunk bed... in the hot shower, and in the queen size bed back home.

My alone time with God is a beautiful gift, the approval & acceptance of others is a gift, a hot shower is a gift, a good meal is a gift, the ability to worship is a gift. All of these good and perfect gifts coming from our Father of lights.

An ODC Story: Jen Farrar on Learning to Listen

If you haven't heard, there was a workshop hosted by Melissa & Zach Anderson a couple of weeks ago that focused on equipping us to truly listen for the voice of the Father.  I knew it was going to be a huge moment for those who participated, but I couldn't have anticipated the seismic activity that is rippling in and through Open Door as a result.  Below, Jen Farrar reflects on the experience of the workshop and what shifted (and continues to shift) in her life as a result.  For those of you who missed the first one or who want to freshen up on your listening tools, Melissa is hosting one-day workshop Listening Workshop this Sunday, March 30.  Contact Melissa (melissabelleanderson (at) gmail.com) to register.  Here's Jen's reflection: Several months ago I received an email from Open Door asking if they could use my house for a workshop.  It was easy to reply “yes” to the email, however, I had no idea what I was replying yes to.

More emails arrived in my inbox to prepare those signed up for the workshop.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t fully read them, as I wasn’t committed to attending the training.  With three small kids and a husband who was going to be away for part of the weekend, what more of an excuse did I need to not engage?  I find myself entering into this type of excuse often, when I’m tired and the laundry is piled high, “I don’t have time for you God, there’s too much to do and I didn’t get enough sleep last night.” 

God had a different plan for the weekend.  Melissa & Zach Anderson and a crew of folks came in Saturday morning and took over my house, in a good way.  They had baby sitters, coffee brewing, snacks, and months worth of prayer and preparation to get folks like me to pay attention to what God was trying to say, no matter how “busy” we think our lives are.  

35 people came into our home that weekend for prayer, worship and to really learn to listen. 

The focus of the workshop was on listening to the voice of God.  My 7 year old often asks this question, “How do you hear God?”  It’s such an important question, one worth spending time learning and listening whether you are an adult or a child.  The workshop gave me tangible opportunities to listen to God speak.   One thing I’ve always longed to hear God say are the words, “You are my daughter, my precious little girl.”  My earthly father has never said those words to me, rather he’s told me how I never measured up to his expectations.  

Spoken, sung, prayed, whispered, I kept hearing I was loved and precious from God.  I felt God wrap his arms around me.  I saw the sky open up with doves flying and heard God say, "You are my beloved and precious daughter, whom I am well pleased."  My heart is still overflowing with joy from the singing that took place in our dining room.  It truly felt like a choir of angels singing together.  

The biggest shift for me was to feel God’s love.  Simply put, I know I am loved.

Over the past month, I have heard God speaking to me more clearly.  Not words of condemnation, but of acceptance and Love. 

Several weeks have now passed since the “high” of the weekend workshop.  Like any retreat I have ever been on, entering back in to reality is always a little difficult.  There’s often a little doubt that it all could have been true.  Could God really love me?  Is it really His voice I heard and hear on a daily basis, telling me I am precious?

I am on a quest now to keep hearing God and to find ways to hear I am loved. 

I have a strong desire to hear His voice and for it to replace Satan’s lies in my mind.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, frustrated, unworthy, I have heard God say to me, “I have given you the task of caring for 3 children and serving your husband.  Do this with joy and gratitude in your heart and in return, I will give you joy!”

The change that occurred in my heart was directly related to my connection and intimacy with God.  The ability to listen to Him speak to me is a tremendous gift.  I feel empowered and I feel like I have the authority to dispel the lies from Satan.  

In no way do I feel as if I have arrived or have become the confident, strong and faithful Proverbs 31 woman God created me to be.  I have made a small shift, however, in how I look at my life.  I am grateful for God’s love. I am grateful for all His blessings. 

I am His daughter and I hear Him whisper, “you are precious and loved, no matter what.”  

The Lent Project :: Descriptions & Details

Lent is a 40-day journey in which we practice denial in an effort to recognize the distance between who we are and who we’re becoming in Christ.  It’s an ancient practice designed to help us embrace our humanity, recognize our ongoing need for a Savior, and encounter grace in refreshing ways.

This year, Open Door will practice Lent in a unique, communal, and experiential kind of way:

The Lent Project: Six Practices of Intentional Denial.

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Throughout this journey, we will engage in six different practices of denial and, in so doing, create margin to commune with Jesus in silence and solitude, community with others, and solidarity with the majority world.

Here’s how it’ll work:

At each Gathering during the Lent Season (March 9 – April 20), we will initiate that particular week’s practice.  Then, for the next 7 days, we’ll live it out (Sunday evening to the following Saturday evening).  For those of us in Circles, we’ll meet together to process, storytell, and learn from each other throughout the week.

If you’re not currently in a Circle but would like to join one to journey through the Lent Project with others, contact Heidi & Clint.

Here are the 6 Practices of Intentional Denial:

  1. Media Fast :: Turn off all media (Computers, TV’s, iPads, iPhones) from 8pm-8am.  Replace the time that would normally be spent engaging media with silence, rest, and community.  This first experience will prepare you well for the next five. Media Fast will be launched on Sunday, March 9th.
  2. Essentials Only :: Reduce your spending to the essentials: bills, toiletries, and 3 simple meals/day.  Simple meals should be prepared and eaten at home (brown-bag @ work) rather than out and should include pot-luck style shared tables with others.  This experience will help us face our consumerism and convenience spending while also helping us to consider budgeted and generous living.  What will you do with the money that you didn’t spend?  How could you pool it together with your Circle to invest in the flourishing of others? Essentials Only will be launched on Sunday, March 16th.
  3. Majority World Diet :: Eat on $3/day by utilizing Trade As One’s majority world diet kit.  Each kit contains enough rice and beans (& preparation instructions) for one person for five days.  This experience of intentionally simplifying your diet will help you stand in solidarity with the majority world and will help you understand how much money you actually spend on food every week.  Note: the average savings per person will be $75-$100. What will you do with the money that you didn’t spend?  How could you pool it together with your Circle to invest in the flourishing of others? Majority World Diet will be launched on Sunday, March 23rd.
  4. Comfort Fast :: Give up either your bed (sleep on the floor) or warm showers (cold showers are acceptable) for the week.  As we stand in solidarity with the majority world, allow Jesus to awaken us to our preferences for convenience and luxury.  If you’re really up for a challenge, give up both! Comfort Fast will be launched on Sunday, March 30th.
  5. Environment Fast :: Make decisions to reduce your gasoline consumption by at least half.  This could include utilizing public transportation or the casual carpool and/or walking and biking rather than driving.  This may include tele-commuting rather than heading into the office and turning down your water-heater. No doubt, this experience will continue to help us confront our convenience and should reduce our commitments for the week.  What will you do with the money that you didn’t spend?  How could you pool it together with your Circle to invest in the flourishing of others? Environment Fast will be launched on Sunday, April 6th.
  6. Extras Purge :: Take an inventory of all of your belongings.  How many extra coats, shoes, appliances, electronics, shirts, pants, dishes & pans, etc. do you have?  Face your excess and live generously as you purge your extras.  Perhaps you could initiate an exchange with other friends, donate your extras or give them away.  Perhaps you could pool your extras together with those in our Circle and host a garage sale.  Perhaps we could take an inventory of the surplus of Open Door’s extras so that we could meet tangible needs of those within Open Door as well as those we’re connected with.  If money is raised, what will you do with it?  How could you pool it together with your Circle to invest in the flourishing of others? Extras Purge will be launched on Sunday, April 13th.

As you engage this pilgrimage as an individual and in community with others, here are some questions to take you deeper into the experience and into intimacy with God, self, and others:

  1. What challenge am I / are we experiencing?
  2. What does this practice expose about me / us?
  3. What is helpful about this practice?
  4. What is one highlight from this week?
  5. What is Jesus saying to me / us?
  6. What am I / are we going to do about it?
  7. What will our Circle do with the excess $$$?

 

Listening: The Gateway to Identity & Mission

How are we to know who God is, who we are, and who others are if we're not familiar with the voice of the Father?  How are we to understand how to join Him in His reconciling work here and now if we don't know what He's saying to us?  In a new Circle launching on Feb. 15 & 16 and guided by Melissa Anderson & Alison Knox, we'll explore these questions and others and be equipped with a practical tool to help us listen for the Father's voice.  Below, Melissa reflects a bit on her own journey of listening.

As a little girl, we had an exchange. I’d sing to Him as I looked into the sky and I’d feel Him smiling back through the warmth of the sun on my face. I honestly remember feeling Him, knowing Him, hearing Him, loving Him as young as four. What I had with Jesus was sweet, it was simple and it was true.

By the time I was ten, I had endured years of shame, fear, control and abuse in a household that claimed Jesus as their Lord. We would dress in our best for church every Sunday and after a morning of violence, in we would file. My parents would teach, lead and serve as elders and my siblings and I learned to play the part of, ‘happy family’. I was bitter. I was angry and I was done singing.

 Religion was a game I played. I knew all the rules, asked no questions, knew who was in charge and how to look just fine, all the time. No one knew the dark, angry girl I was. I laughed at the existance of God and hated the church. By the age of fifteen, I had already decided that I wanted to take my own life. I still hid very well and not a soul knew.

The summer before I turned sixteen, waiting for the right time to go through with my plan, I was forced to go to a summer camp with a group of teens and Youth Pastor I did not even know. This was not your typical summer camp. They didn’t have normal campfire, or ‘cabin’ time to share a bible verse or, two. We had church! The Pastor would preach and the kids would worship, really worship; hands raised and all! They spoke in tongues and answered altar calls! This was all a bit overwhelming as at this point I did not even acknowledge God’s existence. However, each night I experienced things as I clung to my seat, that I could not explain. After several nights of this, I was clinging particularly hard as I tried to resist walking up to the front of the room where the Youth Pastor stood. It was in vain. I remember not knowing how I had gotten up there as I looked into the Pastor’s eyes. He began to recite my life story and he told me that God did not want me to go through with my plan to end my life. He somehow knew all that I was ashamed of and yet, he also knew that Jesus just wanted to be close to ME. It was then that the words reached my heart and washed over me like nothing I had ever known before. I saw my first vision that night. It was simple and sweet and true. I saw Jesus and I, hand in hand, skipping rocks on the lake, walking and talking together as friends.  

Walking out of the room that night, I knew two things; someone who was able to hear God’s voice saved my life and that that same God loved ME. Those two things changed the course of my life forever.

I was absolutely enchanted by the thought of being as intimate with Jesus as He suggested in that vision and I wanted to be able to touch someone as I had been and possibly save a life.  I immediately began a journey of learning to listen. I studied, I was mentored, taught, and challenged in this practice and I was given tremendous tools. I am passionate about promoting Intimacy with Jesus and sharing what I have learned with anyone who asks.

The tool that has been by far, the simplest, most tangible and easy to replicate has been the one I will be sharing on February 15th and 16th. I continue to experience God's transformative Love through this regular practice. The first day of the workshop, I will share with you a bit more of my listening journey and help activate you in this practice. On day two, using this practice, we will begin to dip our toes into capturing His heart for the ones around us and sharing what we receive with the utmost honor, Love and respect.

A Circle Story: The Practice of Listening

Circles are Open Door's way of tangibly training people in the Way of Jesus.  These are the primary spaces in which we become equipped & mobilized into God's reconciling mission of Restoration.  Our Circles take on myriad forms and themes, but a few of things remain the same in each: (1) they are all oriented around the life and teachings of Jesus; (2) they create space for shared life and belonging to occur; and (3) their impact is beyond those who are a part of the Circle.  Learn more about Circles and/or find a Circle by clicking here.

Deborah Benzuly is in a Circle of dynamic women who have chosen to enter into an extended journey with God, each other, and others.  In this guest post, Deborah reflects on one tool that has been especially transformational for her and for those in her Circle.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) I haven’t completely understood or internalized this verse until I entered into a Circle with some amazing women a few years ago.  My original intention was simply getting to know a few other women believers...I had no idea what was in store for me. We've been on a journey through life together: relationships, children, jobs and school. We’ve experienced God’s amazing healing and cultivation in each woman, a true testament to God’s work in us all.

Transformation is what we're about. We have all assumed a posture of growth, to be accountable to one another, and to speak truth and encouragement to one another.  This has not come about naturally, but with intention and purpose from everyone in the group.

It is because of this that I have personally experienced a closeness with these women that I could say I’ve never experienced before with friends.  Each woman brings a unique gifting to the group that I benefit from on a regular basis.  With Kelly, I learn the power of empathy and compassion for myself and for others. Kate has taught me the importance of rest and tangibly incorporating a Sabbath on a weekly basis.  Ashley constantly shows me to embrace God’s love and joy through daily life.  And I have challenged the group to bring learning and ideas into tangible action. Lastly, I have learned how to hear God’s voice and the presence of the Holy Spirit from Melissa.

Melissa has always been the one in the group that seemed to naturally channel the Holy Spirit in forms of encouragement, prayer, images; you name it.  We often joke that she has a direct line to God. She quickly debunked the myth that she was the only one God was speaking to. She normalized her ability to clearly hear God’s voice and speak truth and grace into each one of us into something that we could do too. She framed it as a skill, rather than a gift, as it is something she has learned and has practiced on a regular basis.  It was then that we all had to experience this for ourselves.

We asked Melissa to lead a night of teaching us how to hear for God’s voice. It may sound silly, but the thought of sitting still and silent for more than 2 minutes hoping to hear something was anxiety provoking.  My relationship with God had to this point been one of prayer, however not a conversation. It was during this night that Melissa taught us how to listen for the Holy Spirit.  She walked us through a process of prayer, of breaking any agreements we may have with the Enemy, and asking God what He wants us to hear from Him.  She encouraged us to write anything we heard, saw, or felt, with no censor and no scripting. Then she cut us loose.  In the next 30 minutes, I couldn’t stop writing.  I can only best explain it as an outpouring of love, encouragement, and challenge from God in the form of images, reference to specific scripture, and an audible voice that sounded so much like a loving and tender Father.  When we circled back as a group, I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, and crying.  It was as if I finally listened and God couldn’t stop talking. I had a direct line too, just like Melissa, and that was worthy of celebration, laughter, and tears.  For it was there all along, I just needed to learn how to listen.

 I am so thankful for Melissa having shared this experience with us and tangibly showing and walking us through listening for God’s voice. This has become a regular practice for me and continues to deepen my relationship with the Father. I am so grateful to be in a group that learns from one another, sharpens one another, and loves one another.

Guest Blogger :: Kate Schwass on Gratitude

Last Week, we explored grumbling and how toxic it is our Oneness and, therefore, our Witness.  To continue the teaching, I've invited some friends from Open Door whom I've watched experiment with thankfulness and in whom I've seen the fruit of joy being produced to reflect on their thankfulness practices & experiments. Here's what Kate writes:

“All unhappiness is derived from comparison.”  I heard this quote for the first time when I was in a theatre camp before my junior year of high school and it has resonated with me deeply ever since.  Think about it...every possible scenario which could make you unhappy really boils down to either you comparing your current state to someone else’s or to what your life was or could have been.  But how do you not find yourself muddling through life unhappy, caught in comparison?  The only true antidote to unhappiness and grumbling is to cultivate a thankful spirit.  

I’ve been actively pursuing a discipline of thankfulness in my life since college.  I’ve intentionally tried to focus my prayer life around giving thanks to God and have held myself accountable to not being whiney or entitled (or at least sounding that way)- especially on social media.  It seemed like a natural step, therefore, to participate in the practice of noting my thankfulness on Facebook each day the month of November..  Reflecting on this time and this practice brings several observations.

1. A discipline of gratitude creates a deep inner shift in my soul.  When I spend my day tallying thanks instead of adding up my complaints, my soul shifts towards God.  My prayers change.  I turn from spouting off complaints and needs to calling out joy, hope, beauty in everyday moments.  I notice the lavender growing outside my office.  A co-worker’s kind words add to an already overflowing cup rather than a desperate need for attention and approval.  My baby nestled her body closely to me makes my eyes fill with happy tears.  My life feels deeper somehow...and yet also more fragile and delicate and filled with beautiful gifts.  Ann Voskamp writes “A million little things will happen this week — and there are always really only Two Choices:  You get to decide whether you want to Complain.  Or whether you want Communion.  Life’s complicated.  That’s clarity: Complain...or Communion.”  I get to choose communion through cultivating gratitude.  

2. Gratitude is for me and it’s for them.  When I tune my conversations towards thankfulness, when I talk about things that are wonderful with my staff, when I point out beauty….complaints die down.  Grumbling ceases.  Conversations start to become about what’s working instead of what isn’t….about solutions instead of problems.  I notice my friends and family chiming in, adding blessings to my list, sharing the beautiful moments from their day.  And I have to believe that something deep shifts in their souls too.  Gratitude is contagious.  

3.  Gratitude changes communities.  At my job, we give “props” or appreciations at the end of every meeting.  We believe in putting the people first, above the material or the task at hand, and so we take time to recognize each other.  And you know what?  Everyone leaves these meetings smiling and feeling a bit more committed to their jobs and our mission.  I leave meetings feeling like I was noticed, that I have value.  I watch faces light up when someone says “I want to give props to…” and they hear their name uttered.  The practice of giving props also changes the character of our meetings.  Because we know that we will be acknowledged at the end of the meeting for how we showed respect, or honored new ideas or advocated for our students, we carry ourselves differently in the meetings.  We hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We think about our core values and try to have them reflected in our behavior.  Our community interacts differently because of gratitude.  

November is over.  The Advent season has begun.  I’m hoping that this spirit of thanksgiving carries me through this special time of year.  I pray that as I continue to tune my heart toward praise that I would find a new level of intimacy in the mystery of a God who came down.