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5.21.17 Practice Family Announcement

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Last night was a very emotional night as we announced June 25th will be the final Practice Gathering. This decision was not reached easily. For months we have been looking for the strategic place of The Practice within Willow Creek. After countless hours of conversation, tears, and prayer, we could not find a space that was both available and made sense for our gathering. So we came to the sad conclusion that we could not keep The Practice service going.

As we move into the future, we will be experimenting with ways to bring the spirit of The Practice to the larger Willow community in retreats, cohorts, and other experiences. We will also continue Practice Tables as a way of building and supporting practice-based community.

Have a listen to the full announcement on the podcast.

Please note that the Q&A portion of the night was primarily “family business” and not appropriate to include on the podcast. If you typically attend The Practice in person, were not able to attend, and would like to hear the Q&A, please email Jason  for a copy. 

Kingdom Practice 
In this season, we are all swimming in deep emotion. I am comforted as I remember the prophet Isaiah called Jesus a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) The one we follow is not only familiar with the emotions we are feeling, but he is with us in it. As we live through these coming weeks, can we all commit to lean into Jesus?

Embracing the Mothering Images of God

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What a beautiful night! From the liturgy to Meredith’s teaching and the playful practice, it was such a moving evening. Our opening liturgy gave me something I really need in this season, to know the comforting, nurturing presence of God. Then Meredith lead us through the story of God using a number of passages highlighting God’s feminine attributes. She helped us explore the beginning of our story in belovedness, the breath of God that gives us life, and the invitation to stop striving and rest in God.

Then we looked at God’s invitation to rest. Sabbath, of course, is a commandment, but it is also an invitation to release our striving to find our value in anything other than our identity as God’s beloved children and embrace joy. So we took an opportunity to engage in some childlike play as we walked around the room blowing bubbles. It was a beautiful, tangible picture of embracing God’s invitation to joy.

Have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our Kingdom Practice this week is to explore how we can more intentionally respond to God’s invitation to enter Sabbath rest. What productive activities tend to define you or give you a sense of worth? What must you do to cease these for one day a week? And what brings you joy? Can you embrace joy and play on Sabbath? You may find it helpful to use this worksheet to craft or refine your Sabbath practice.

4.30.17 Listening on the Emmaus Road

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As always, it was a joy to gather in the chapel with our community last night. Our opening liturgy led us through the lectionary to another imaginative reading of the Gospel text, Luke 24:13-35. Lori guided us as we put ourselves in the story of the disciples walking the road to Emmaus with Jesus.

Then we welcomed the brilliant David Fitch to unpack the Gospel reading. How does the invitation of Jesus and a posture of thanksgiving lead to reconciliation and participation in the presence of God’s kingdom in our everyday lives? When we gather at the table, David taught, space is opened, Jesus is present, and the kingdom happens. Have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our first kingdom practice for the week is to continue tending to God’s presence in the people around us. How can we be present with the people we interact with this week? How can we be present to them and to the presence of Christ in them?

The second kingdom practice brings the last two weeks together. Next week, we will be gathering around tables to share a small part of our stories. We will take five minutes to share one experience or relationship that has impacted our growth as a Christ follower. As we listen, we will tend to the presence of Christ in one another, and the kingdom of God will be present.

Additional Resources:
Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission by David Fitch is a deeper look at what we learned this week and so much more.

4.23.17 Listening to our Stories

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It is always a blessing to have Sibyl Towner at The Practice, and last night was no exception. We opened with a beautiful liturgy celebrating the risen Christ and entering into the story of Thomas (John 20:19-29) with the Ignatian practice of imaginative prayer.

Then, Sibyl led us into an examination of our stories. “Telling our stories is to the spirit,” Sibyl said, “what the flow of blood is to your body.” We long to live in our stories aware of God’s presence. Sibyl modeled and led us in a practice exploring some of the most influential experiences in our lives.

 

Because it is impossible to summarize Sibyl, have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our kingdom practice for the week is to continue listening to your story. Make some time to sit with the final question, “What could have helped you grow even more?” Continue to listen for the presence of God in these moments.

If you would like to go deeper listening for the presence of God in your story, Sibyl has some incredible resources at www.onelifemaps.com.

There is also a four-week class called Learning to Steward Your Story beginning this Wednesday night. It will be led by two members of our community (Joan Kelley and Sharon Swing). In this class with your story in mind, you will learn fresh insights, questions, and direction about how to live a life that is a more full expression of who God created you to be.
You can register for the class at https://portal.willowcreek.org/page/439?EventOccurrenceId=858.

Finally, last night was the start of a three-week build to our next Practice Table. Sibyl helped us learn to listen to our own stories. Next week, David Fitch will teach us how participation in the Eucharist helps us listen well to others, and we will put it all together on May 7th as we share a part of our story around tables and listen well to one another. I hope you’ll join us on the journey.

4.9.17 Palms and Promises

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What a beautiful and glorious night! We began in the chapel with our family liturgy. What a gift it was it to worship with two-year-olds, 70-year-olds, and everyone in between. Then Meredith led us into the story of Palm Sunday with palms, parades, and the promise of redemption.

We came to the communion table and then gathered around tables downstairs for our third annual Palm Sunday Potluck of Glory. If I only had eight words to describe it, I would have to choose “Aaron unconscious under piles of green bean casserole.” I love when we gather as a whole community to enjoy fellowship! In the last three years I have come to love this community so deeply. Thank you all for your beautiful presence.

As we begin holy week, can we all agree to lean into the story? Let’s not push too quickly to the cross and empty tomb, but let’s sit in the events of this week. What does God have for you in these days? How can you walk with Jesus in the events of this week?

Lori did some phenomenal work gathering a list of Holy Week services throughout the area. You can also read some beautiful wonderful poems for Holy Week from Malcolm Guite. May your Holy Week be rich with the presence of Christ.

4.2.17 Turning from Fear to Sacrificial Love

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It was wonderful to come back together in the chapel after a week of gathering in community around one another’s tables. Our opening liturgy brought us through Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones and the raising of Lazarus. We sang “Take us, shape us, break us, may your kingdom come in us and through us.” We shared the peace of Christ with one another and heard a story of meaningful connections at last week’s Practice Tables from Erin Lonard.

Then Curtis helped us explore how we can turn away from fear as a motivation for engaging the world and embrace our calling to move into the world with sacrificial love. As Curtis highlighted, fear is natural. Let’s not feel shame over our fear, but let’s also not stay there. We have a supernatural calling to engage the world, like Jesus, with sacrificial love. Of course, replacing fear with love is a journey of opening ourselves to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. We practiced this last night when Erin Feffer led us in the discipline of Lectio Divina and we came in the communion table.

Please take a moment to listen to the podcast if you missed last night.

Kingdom Practices
We have two kingdom practices this week. The first is to begin examining our fear. When are we tempted to act from a motivation of fear? Where has fear taken root in such a way that it drives our decisions, our beliefs, and how we see others? You may consider journaling about it. You may think about it throughout the day and notice when you feel fearful, or you could use a daily Examen to consider when you acted from a place of fear and when you acted from a place of love in the presence of God.

Our second kingdom practice is to continue engaging Lectio Divina. (The movements of Lectio are outlined below.) You may continue to practice this divine reading with 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 (the passage from last night) or you could also practice it with one of the following: Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calming the storm) or 1 John 4:7-21 (perfect love casts out fear).

Four movements of Lectio Divina:

Read the passage gently and slowly several times. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to you.

Reflect on the text and think about how it applies to your own life. This is considered to be a very personal reading of the Scripture and a personal application.

Respond to the passage by opening your heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but it is the beginning of a conversation with God.

Listen to God. Let go of your own thoughts—both mundane and holy—and let God speak to you. Humbly open your mind, heart, and soul to the influence of God.

Finally, next week is genuinely one of my favorite gatherings of the year, our Palm Sunday Service and Potluck of Glory™. All ages are welcome! If you have never experienced a Practice Palm Sunday service, you are in for a treat. Meredith Miller will bring a message that will involve the kids. After sharing in the Eucharist, we will head downstairs for our potluck feast. Please email Curtis with what you plan to bring. I’ve got $100 that says Aaron can’t eat the weight of his sons in green bean casserole. Hope to see you there!

3.19.17 Knowing our True Selves

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Sunday night was a wonderful gift in the middle of our Lenten journey. We started the evening weaving “Take us, Lord” throughout our opening liturgy. I have been sitting with and praying the lyrics this morning asking God to take us, shape us, send us, and use us.

Then, what a joy it was to have Ashlee Eiland with us! Ashlee helped us reframe a core question in our lives. What if we stopped focusing on how we are doing and instead explored our proximity to God in relationship? Ashlee taught us that our false selves focus on what we do, the ways we attempt to earn or prove the love of God in our lives, but our true selves rest in loving relationship with our creator.

Ashlee then shared a helpful framework for dying to the false self in order to truly live. We start with knowing. How can we live in close proximity to our creator so that we can continually know who we have been created to be? Then we inspect. We ask if our lives are arranged in a way that God can truly form us. Finally, we submit to our loving creator for pruning. Pruning is not punishment, it is a clearing out of the false in order to allow the fullness of our true selves to bloom and produce kingdom fruit.

Aaron then led us in a beautifully pastoral practice of the Examen. The Examen is a deeply formational discipline that helps us know and live in proximity to God. It helps us inspect how God is working in our lives and surrender to his pruning. Our practice led us to God’s presence in the holy sacrament of communion.

If you missed this week, please make some space to listen. You won’t regret it.

Because Sunday is not the main event, we have two Kingdom Practices this week. The first is to continue crafting, living, and refining the simple rhythm of life we each created two weeks ago. (If you haven’t crafted a simple rhythm yet, you can use this handout.) How might the description of your rhythm be refined by this week’s practice? As you practice the spiritual disciplines you identified for your rhythm, is there anything you sense God leading you to adjust or refine? Our second kingdom practice is to make time for the practice of the Examen. Will you commit with me to practicing the Examen daily this week?

Finally, The Practice is meeting next week, but we will not be in the chapel. We will be meeting in homes throughout the area to build community and share this journey together at our second ever Practice Table. If you would like help finding a table to attend, please let me know (jfeffer@willowcreek.org). We would love to help get you connected.

Additional Resources:
Coming Home to Your True Self by Father Albert Haase is a simple exploration of our true self using the story of the prodigal son.
The Gift of Being Yourselfby David Benner is another helpful book that explores Christian identity and the concepts of true self and false self.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.

3.12.15 Tuning our minds to God’s presence

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What a gift it was to have Frederica Mathewes-Green with us last night! After a powerful opening liturgy, Frederica guided us in an exploration of God’s holy presence from an Eastern Orthodox persepctive. God is present in all things, and we must tune our minds like an inner radio to perceive God’s presence with us and in the world.

Frederica then led us in the Jesus Prayer. This prayer is a foundational practice in the Orthodox tradition. It helps us to put into practice Saint Paul’s teaching to pray continually, and it is an exercise for tuning our minds to the presence of God at all times. Our practice of the Jesus Prayer then led us into Christ’s presence at the communion table. Have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our first kingdom practice for the week is to make time to practice the Jesus Prayer every day. Live in this prayer and see how the Holy Spirit might shape you through it.

Let’s also continue crafting our rhythm of life. At our gathering on March 5th, we zeroed in on the desires God is leading us toward in this season of life. Did Frederica’s teaching impact those desires? Were they challenged or pushed or refined last night? We also began the work of identifying some key disciplines that open us to the Holy Spirit to be transformed. How are your practices going? If you are struggling to identify a discipline, might the Jesus Prayer be one? If you were not with us on March 5th, this worksheet will be a helpful guide to craft your simple rhythm of life.

Additional Resources:
The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green is a helpful resource for further exploring the Jesus Prayer.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.

3.5.17 Crafting a Rhythm of Life

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It was so wonderful to come together with our whole community last night after gathering around tables in one another’s homes last weekend. Throughout our opening liturgy we sang of God’s greatness, and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer with both our words and our bodies. Then, Shari Voyda shared with us the story of her Practice Table experience.

One of my highlights last night was the buzz in the room as we spoke about Practice Tables. We just might be onto something here, meeting together and sharing our lives with one another. 🙂 I am so thankful for our community’s willingness to engage with one another in such a meaningful way.

Then we began the work of crafting a simple rhythm of life. We spent time identifying our deepest desires. Because the life we desire in our relationships with God, self, others, and the world is lived from the inside out (Matthew 7:18, 15:11, John 4:14), we spoke about the role of the spiritual disciplines in our rhythm of life. The disciplines are practices that open us up to God. The disciplines themselves don’t transform us, but they open us to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. We identified spiritual disciplines that align with the desires God is directing us toward in this season of our lives and crafted a rhythm for the next three months. (Download the handout here.)

If you struggle to connect with your desires or identify a discipline that aligns with your desires, a spiritual director is a valuable practice to help us listen to God. If you are interested, here are three resources to help you find a director: Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association, Sustainable Faith, or The Transforming Center.

Our kingdom practice this week is to begin practicing our rhythm. As we practice, we will want to pause regularly to reflect and explore the practice of our rhythms with God and with trusted community. What comes easily in your rhythm? Where are you experiencing resistance? What are you learning about yourself and God in the practice? Is there anything in your rhythm that needs to be changed or modified? One way to reflect on your rhythm in community is Practice Tables. If you are interested in hosting a table or getting connected to one, please let me know (jfeffer@willowcreek.org).

Additional Resources:
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.

2.20.17 Loved to be a Blessing

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This year as we each do the work of crafting a personal rhythm of life, we will continue to explore our deepest desires in our relationship with God, self, others, and the world. Last night, Kellye Fabian brought us into the fourth relationship, our relationship with the world.

Kellye began with a powerful statement: “God’s response to the sinfulness and rebellion and brokenness of humanity was blessing.” The heart of the Gospel is that we have been loved so that we can be a blessing to the world. To be a blessing we must be willing to see, to speak well of, and to sacrifice in order to love our neighbor. Blessing is more than being nice. True blessing requires giving a part of ourselves for one another.

Kellye continued, “What we need most to carry out and participate in God’s mission is to be transformed. We need God’s eyes and God’s heart to be people out of whom the love of Christ flows naturally.” This happens when we actually practice loving and blessing, and when we practice disciplines that open our hearts and open our eyes. Kellye then led us in a practice of seeing and praying for the world in images.

This week, will you continue to practice this discipline? What images do you see on a regular basis, in the newspaper, on websites, or on Facebook? Will you make time to pray using the images you see? Will you also choose to be intentional about blessing someone? How will you see, speak well of, and sacrifice to love someone this week?

Let’s also continue to craft a description of the life we long for in our relationships with God, self, others, and the world. This handout will help you write a description of the life you desire. You can also find additional information on this journey including some examples of descriptions from the Practice Team here.

Our descriptions will be important this coming weekend as we launch Practice Tables. We will not be gathering in the chapel but will be meeting in homes throughout the area to share a meal and our personal descriptions of the lives we desire. If you are planning to gather some people together for a table, please let me know. I would love to support you in any way I can and learn from your experience. Also let me know if you would like some help getting connected to a table. We don’t want anyone to be left out, so we would love to help you get connected. If you are hosting or want help getting connected, please send me an email.

Have a blessed week!

Additional Resources:
Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser is a spiritual formation book that includes a chapter on blessing (seeing, speaking well of, and sacrificing).
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.