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Kingdom Practices 4: Toward Forgiveness Together

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Kingdom Practice
Week 4


Last night we waded deeply into Jesus’ invitation to forgive our brother or sister from our heart.  Through the wonderful and difficult story of The Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:21-35), we asked God to show us (1) Who do I need to forgive?, and (2) What is my next right step of forgiveness?  And like God always does, He met us in our stumbling steps toward Him.  Hallelujah.

But we all know that forgiveness doesn’t often happen in an instant, but through a long, messy, Grace-powered process.  Jesus taught that we should forgive our neighbor 70 x 7 times, and that doesn’t happen in one Sunday night service.  So our practice this week is to begin to become people committed to a lifetime of forgiveness.  Let’s take the small, practical steps right now that align us with God’s Kingdom of grace, letting it go, and second chances.

Here is our specific practice for the week: Hearing from God through another person. “Friend, do you see any unforgiveness in my life? Who would you say I still need to forgive?”  And then taking the next right step toward forgiveness.

The Journey of Forgiving.

One time this week, get together with a trusted friend and ask the wide open questions:  “Friend, do you see any unforgiveness in my life? Who would you say I still need to forgive?”  And then listen humbly.  What is your friend reflecting back to you?  Is he/she seeing a pattern with someone that you haven’t seen?  What is God doing in your heart through this conversation?

The following day, bring the conversation to God in prayer and ask “God, what is the next right step of forgiveness you want me to take?”

Four steps we walked through on Sunday…
Feel. Do you simply need to let yourself feel the pain of being hurt/betrayed?  Is it time to stop running, avoiding, or denying that you were hurt, and honestly feel it.  Remember that you are not alone.
Stop. Or maybe you’ve been feeling the pain deeply and clearly, and it’s time to stop fighting and attacking the person who hurt you.  To commit to not say a single bad word about them…or to them?  Maybe it is time to pray “God, I officially lay down my right to revenge or justice, and place this person in your hands.”
Pray. As you feel the pain deeply and yet refuse to fight back, God may be inviting you into the next step:  Praying for your “enemy” (Matt 5:43-48), and blessing those who curse you (Luke 6:28).  Putting these words of Jesus into practice is one of the most difficult and freeing things we can do.
Serve. Finally, as Kellye suggested last night, what is one way we tangibly serve those we are forgiving?  This will look different for every person in every situation, but what is one thing you can do to bless and serve them?  (I talked to a couple friends last night who feel God inviting them to forgive someone who is no longer living. In this case, what is one tangible action you can take to remember and honor their life?)

Daily Scripture Readings

Monday: John 21:1-13
Tuesday: Mt 18:21-22
Wednesday: Col 3:12-14
Thursday: Luke 6:32-36
Friday: Mt 5:43-48
Saturday: Mt 6:9-15

Additional Resources

(1) Video: Shauna’s teaching at Willow on the unmerciful servant.

(2) Book: “The Art of Forgiving” by Lewis Smedes.

(3) Short video: Fr Richard Rohr about forgiveness.

Notes and quotes about Forgiveness

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Shauna's benediction

Shauna’s benediction

On Sunday (March 30th), we walked through the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:21-35) and Christ’s invitation to the freedom of forgiveness. In case you missed it or want to dig in a little deeper, here is the outline, with notes and quotes…

We are punished by our sin way more than we are punished for our sin.

Dallas Willard: Jesus’ teachings are not random commands that we must obey “or else”, but they are “simple observations for how life actually works.” (from Spirit of the Disciplines)

God doesn’t say “Do not gossip, or I will punish you.”
God says “Don’t gossip, because it will wreck your relationships!”
God doesn’t say “Don’t be greedy or I will smite you.”
God says “Don’t be greedy or it will whither your heart and suck the joy out of your life.”

What if God is NOT a traffic cop waiting in the bushes to bust you if you drive 1 MPH over the speed limit?
Instead, what if God is more like a loving parent calling out to His 16 yr old son “Please don’t drive too fast on these icy roads. It’s too dangerous. Please come home safe!”

Which brings us back to the parable of the Unmerciful Servant:
Maybe God is NOT saying “If you don’t forgive others I will get angry and have you tortured”, but instead “The Kingdom of God is about grace, forgiveness, and second chances. Don’t let unforgiveness cut you off from this flow of Grace, or you will live a tortured life.”

“We don’t come to God by insisting on some ideal worldly order or so-called perfection, but in fact we come “to knowledge of salvation by the experience of forgiveness” (Luke 1:77)—forgiveness of reality itself, of others, of ourselves—for being so ordinary, imperfect, and often disappointing. Many also have to forgive God for not being what they wanted or expected. One reason why I am so attracted to Jesus and then to St Francis is that they found God in disorder, in imperfection, in the ordinary, and in the real world—not in any idealized concepts. They were more into losing than winning. But the ego does not like that, so we rearranged much of Christianity to fit our egoic pattern of achievement and climbing.

Isn’t it strange that Christians worship a God figure, Jesus, who appears to be clearly losing by every criterion imaginable? And then we spend so much time trying to “win,” succeed, and perform. We even call Jesus’ “losing” the very redemption of the world—yet we run from it. I think Christians have yet to learn the pattern of redemption. It is evil undone much more than evil ever perfectly avoided. It is disorder reconfigured in our hearts and minds—much more than demanding any perfect order to our universe.

Much of the Christian religion has largely become “holding on” instead of letting go. But God, it seems to me, does the holding on (to us!), and we must learn the letting go (of everything else).”  (Father Richard Rohr)

Our prayer and practice for the night:  “God, who do I need to forgive from my heart?  What is the next right step I can take toward forgiveness?”

Four possible steps…

(1) For some of us, we need to begin by simply allowing ourselves to feel the pain of being wronged. Instead of running or avoiding and pretending, our first step toward forgiveness is to FEEL and ADMIT the pain in God’s presence. Maybe that’s as far as we can go right now.

(2) For some of us, this pain is quite clear and always present, but it’s been pushing us to fight and engage in some really unhelpful ways. And so we need to decide to stop fighting. Lay down our arms. Maybe it’s a decision to stop saying such terrible things about that person. Or maybe to stop saying hurtful things to that person. Maybe tonight all we can do is say “God, I’m done trying to get them back. I lay down my right to revenge. God, I will not fight them any longer.”

(3) For some of us, God is pulling us deeper. Not only will we stopping fighting them, but we’re ready to practice Jesus teaching and “pray for your enemy. Bless the one who curses you.” And so we want to begin actively praying for the person we need to forgive. Not that they would suffer or even change, but simply that God would bless them. And their family. And their lives. This is a very, very hard thing to do, but incredibly powerful.

(4) And finally, for some of us, the next step is to make them breakfast (Matt 21). To find a concrete, no strings-attached way to bless and serve them. This will look very different in every situation, but God will lead us to do the right thing if we ask Him.

A couple more quotes and thoughts:

• You have already seen our “Kingdom Practice” for the week (HERE at this blog), and our big encouragement is DON’T TRY TO DO THIS ALONE!  First, remember that God has invited you into this process and promises to be faithful to complete the work God has begun.  Second, it is absolutely critical to find a friend or tribe to walk with.  Brothers and sisters who love us are one of God’s primary ways to heal and guide us.  Please don’t try to do this journey alone.

• Forgiveness is a life-long journey.  All God is inviting you to do is take the next right step.

• The song that accompanied our silent prayer time was “O Magnum Mysterium” by the Nordic Chamber Choir.

• One more helpful quote from Father Richard Rohr…

“Forgiveness is always the refusing of power. When someone has hurt you, you are in charge for a while. When you refuse to forgive, you are holding onto a power you have over another person. Somehow it feels good, to put them down as an inferior person or to place yourself above them as a righteously aggrieved person. Forgiveness is impossible if power or control is your way of life. Maybe that is why Jesus almost uses forgiveness as the litmus test of whether you are a true disciple.”

Kingdom Practice 3: The Open Chair

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Kingdom Practice
Week 3


This week, we are engaging in the practice of “the open chair,” which is a way of understanding the process of spiritual transformation. In this practice, we arrange two chairs, one for us and one that will remain empty in a physical sense, but which we place next to or across from us as a tangible reminder of God’s role in the transformation of our soul. Between these chairs is our soul, a thing to be restored to Christ-likeness and wholeness in partnership with God. God offers us his grace, forgiveness, and power. But he never forces these on us; we must slow ourselves, sit down in his presence, and bring our brokenness and openness to him.

Sitting down in your quiet time with an open chair next to or across from you is a reminder that for transformation to occur, two people are required – you and God. God is inviting you to open your heart, surrender your control, and turn over your brokenness to his grace, power, and forgiveness.

The Open Chair.

Here is one way to engage in the practice of the open chair…
Arrange the Open Chair. In your time with God each day this week, pull up an open chair next to or across from the one you sit in. Quiet your body and take several deep breaths.
Pray. Offer this prayer with your palms open: I am here in your presence, Lord. In this moment, I open my heart to your healing grace. I offer my brokenness for your forgiveness and redemption. I surrender my desire to control and command.
Listen. Sit quietly and simply listen for what God is speaking to you. If your mind starts to run with thoughts of your day or to-do lists, take a couple breaths and pray the prayer above again to re-center yourself and try listening again.
Read. Read the Scripture passages listed below as a reminder of God’s promises to restore and transform you.

Daily Scripture Readings

Monday: Ephesians 4:7-13
Tuesday: James 1:2-4
Wednesday: 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Thursday: Hebrews 5:12-6:1
Friday: Hebrews 12:1-3
Saturday: Philippians 1:3-6

Additional Resources

Article: Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation, Dallas Willard

Book: Discovering Soul Care, Mindy Caliguire

Video: Two Chairs: The Process of Spiritual Formation

World class Artwork:  (Mindy’s drawing from Sunday night)…

Mindy's Spiritual Formation drawing

Mindy’s Spiritual Formation drawing

Kingdom Practice 2: Noticing the Kingdom

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Practice week 2

Practice week 2

Kingdom Practice
Week 2


This week, we are practicing noticing where the kingdom of God is manifest.  “To notice” means to perceive, become aware of, or acknowledge acquaintance with.  Noticing the kingdom of God is the first step to seeking the kingdom of God (Mt 6:33).  The kingdom of God can be sought after in our ordinary moments, daily routines, and day-to-day relationships.  But so often, in our busyness and constant movement, or in our sin and inattention, we fail to see it.

Starting each day with a prayer and then ending each day by writing down the ways in which you saw the kingdom of God in that particular day – whether in a person, a set of circumstances, a moment, or a place – allows you to become increasingly aware of the ways in which God’s kingdom is already apparent in our world, and the ways in which you can begin to participate in it.


As you practice noticing this week, remember Jesus’ promise:  “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Mt 7:7-8)

Here is one way to engage in the practice of noticing:

Pray.  Each morning when you first wake up, pray this simple prayer: God, please give me eyes to see and ears to hear Your Kingdom today.
Read.  Allow God to speak about the Kingdom through the Scripture listed below using the Lectio Divina practice – read once, then sit silently for a minute and listen for the words or phrases that stand out to you; read a second time, ask God what area of your life these words or phrases relate to, and listen for two minutes; read a third time, ask God if there is an invitation or next step related to the words or phrases, and listen for two minutes.
Write.  Each night before bed, take a few minutes to write down where you saw God’s kingdom during your day.  When you are done, express your gratitude to God for opening your eyes to his kingdom.

Daily Scripture Readings

Monday:  Matthew 13:33
Tuesday:  Matthew 13:44-46
Wednesday:  Matthew 13:47-52
Thursday:  Matthew 18:23-35
Friday:  Mark 4:26-29
Saturday:  Mark 4:30-32

Additional Resources

Book:  Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God, Dallas Willard,

Video:  The Kingdom of God, teaching by Dallas Willard

Videos: The Kingdom of God.  A compelling (and fun) 3 minute explanation…

Kingdom Practice 1: Lectio Divina

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Kingdom Practice
Week 1

Lectio handout

Lectio handout


This week, we are practicing Lectio Divina (pronounced lex-eo diveena), which means “divine reading.” This ancient practice stems from the belief that Scripture is alive and active (Heb. 4:12) and seeks to help us listen for what God’s word is saying to us in the present moment through the Holy Spirit.  Unlike other methods of reading Scripture, or our typical approach, in which we try to “figure out” a particular passage or understand it intellectually, Lectio is intended to open us to hearing what God is already saying to us.  Lectio is not a way to force or manipulate God to speak to us; we, of course, have no ability to do that.  It is simply one way we seek to be attentive.  Some days you may hear nothing but silence.

We have set forth below some suggestions about posture as you prepare to practice, the key elements of the process, a passage of Scripture to engage with each day this week, and some additional resources you might find helpful.


An important element of all spiritual practices is our posture.  This week, as you practice Lectio Divina, consider the posture of your body, your mind, and your heart.

Body.  Try to find a physical spot that is comfortable and relatively free from distraction.  Position your body in an open posture – uncrossed arms and legs, relaxed hands, and ability to breathe deeply.

Mind.  Set a timeframe on your practice so that your active mind can be at peace knowing that it need only set aside your daily responsibilities and duties for a defined period of time.  If this is your first time or first time in a while, start with 10 minutes.

Heart.  Express your willingness to be in God’s presence and to set aside any hurt or judgment you feel in the moment.  Try speaking this simple phrase, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  (1 Sam. 3:9)       
[colorbox color=”” border_color=”” background_color=”lightgrey” border_width=”” border_radius=”” padding=”20px 20px 20px 20px”]Lectio Divina

As you practice Lectio, try remembering these three words – Read, Listen, Repeat.
Here is one way to engage in this practice:

Read.  Read the passage slowly.
Listen.  Sit silently for one minute and pay attention to what words or phrases stand out to you. 

Read.  Read the passage a second time and intentionally pause between phrases and sentences.
Listen.  Prayerfully ask: To what area of my life does that word or phrase relate?  Sit silently for two minutes and listen.

Read.  Read the passage a third time, again slowly.
Listen.  Prayerfully ask: Is there an invitation or next step for me, related to this word or phrase?  Sit silently for two minutes, and without trying to figure out the invitation or next step, just listen.

When you have completed this process, feel the freedom to sit quietly for a minute or two, or write down the words or phrases that stood out to you, or the invitation you heard God opening to you.[/colorbox]

Daily Scripture Readings:

Monday: Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Tuesday: Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Wednesday: Mark 10:46-52

Thursday:  Mark 10:46-52

Friday: Matthew 14:22-33

Saturday:  Matthew 13:44-46


Additional Resources about Lectio Divina:

Article: Lectio Divina: Engaging the Scriptures for Spiritual Transformation, Ruth Haley Barton,

Book: Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene H. Peterson, 

Video:  Lectio Divina





Setting Up the Chapel

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The Chapel

The Willow Chapel

So excited.  We spent yesterday setting up the Willow chapel in preparation for our first gathering of The Practice this Sunday night.  I can’t possibly convey how much we’re looking forward to this new adventure.

Our goal for the chapel is to help it feel like a holy living room.  Simple, reverent, and human.  The chairs are set up in the round because we long to become a tribe together, and the Eucharist table is in the very center of the room because we know that Christ is the very center of everything.  It’s simple, but hopefully the room will preach louder than any words.

Becky and I even had the chance to run through some of the opening liturgy.  Friends, we can’t wait to dive into this with you.

T minus three days…

Preparing for The Practice

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A few ways to begin…

Hello everyone! As you know, we’re meeting for the first time on Sunday, March 9th. (More info here)  We’ll gather in the chapel to hear the heart behind this experiment, worship together, and begin practicing the way of Jesus. Please join us. Everyone is welcome! The only requirement is that you have a deep desire to engage with Jesus and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. We don’t exactly know where God will lead each of us, but it has the potential to change everything.

Before the 9th, please take a few minutes to read this chapter from Mark Scandrette’s “Practicing the Way of Jesus”.  Mark beautifully articulates why practice and prayerful action are central to the life of a Christ-follower, and he shares stories of how his community actually lives it out.  Our journey will look different here in Chicagoland, but the heart is the same.  You’ll LOVE his passion and creativity.

And then, if you’d like to go deeper, check out the two books below.

Really excited to go on this journey with you all,

Aaron and the Practice team


Living in Christ

Living in Christ

There is truly no one who has formed our understanding of spiritual formation and the Kingdom of God more than Dallas Willard.  And Living in Christ’s Presence is one of the final teachings Dallas gave at the end of his life with John Ortberg.  Absolutely brilliant.  If you’ve never read Willard, this is a great place to begin.

“Jesus is calling us to our part of seeking the Kingdom of God with all our heart.  That is our first priority: seeking the Kingdom of God.  Now, when you seek something, you look for it everywhere….  To seek the Kingdom of God is to look for it to be present and for it to be an action, and then identify yourself with that action.  (Matthew 6:33)  Find out what God is doing where you are and identify with it.” (Dallas Willard)

Practicing the Way

Practicing the Way

You’ve already read the first chapter, but I highly recommend picking up the whole book.  Not only does he offer a compelling vision of life with Christ, but Practicing the Way of Jesus is packed with stories and stories about how they actually, practically, experimentally, creatively, and courageously live it out.

“The invitation to follow the way of Jesus doesn’t help us cope with the busy lives we have or support our quest for the American dream. It does offer us a radical alternative to the ways of this world that are making us hurried, weary and tired.”“Practicing the way of Jesus begins with having an imagination for life in the kingdom of love, desiring that life, and then taking steps to live into that reality through tangible changes in how we live in our minds and bodies.” (Mark Scandrette)


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And so it begins…

Hello!  Thanks so much for being interested in The Practice.  We’re really excited to see what God does with a little tribe of people who humbly work to put Jesus’ words into practice.  Not just believe them in our heads, but to flesh them out into every area of our life…for the glory of God and the healing of the world.

As you may know, this is a grand experiment.  The Willow leadership has given us the freedom and blessing to try new things, explore new paths, learn from as many different perspectives as possible, and give God the space to lead us all into deeper partnership with Him.

We really hope you’ll join us.

But be warned:  it will be messy and unpolished.  We don’t exactly have a ten year plan.  Or a ten minute plan!  (Ha.)  But I can say with all my heart that God has already been leading and guiding the process in beautiful ways.  And He will not stop.  Ever.  All is grace.

So let’s begin gathering together on Sunday nights to see where God might lead us….

Sunday, March 9th
7-9pm in Willow’s Chapel

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll share some thoughts, resources, and ways for you to begin preparing to dive into all this. Please look for an email early next week. Thanks!

Learning the unforced rhythms of grace together,
Aaron and The Practice team