Transformation

Important Invitations

I’m an introvert. Like a lot.

When I receive a party invite for the kids - immediately following comes a big sigh. Another one? Do we need to go to this? What other kids are going to be there? Any parents I know? What is my day going to look like? Will I have the energy and people reserve to do this? In fact, selfishly and unashamedly admit that whether the kids want to go is at the bottom of my list.

As Christians, we use the terminology of calling. God calls me into this - God leads me into this. That’s fine.

However, in the last several years there has been a new phrase in my Spirit, and it’s “God invites me”. It gives me the reminder that He is hosting the party, and it’s happening whether I come or not. Yet, I have the privilege of being invited. 

What I do with that invitation is up to me. I want to be at His party. Who wouldn’t? Yet, I size it up just like those birthday invites. What will it be like? Will I be accepted? Will it be comfortable? Do I have what it takes? Who will come? 

Which makes sense in our humanity that so desires to resist unknown and uncertainty. We like control. We want to know what to expect.

More often than not, God extends an invitation but gives us very little more - He asks us to step forward in faith. And, as we take each step forward, He will lead us to the next.

Unfortunately, that is NOT our preferred method - at least not mine.

The problem arises because what I want and how I want it often rages against His way, His purpose, His process. There may be similarities and then it just detours from a certain point. I can stand at the place of the detour, cross my arms, and say nope I want to do it my way. OR, I surrender - breathe deeply and trust that His path is better and right. God’s purposes will be prevail, and I want to be a part of them.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps - Proverbs 16:9

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. - Proverbs 19:21

God promises to give me courage to accept these invitations in His purposes that seem more than I can handle.

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6

He assures me that His strength will empower me, and I can walk in that strength bravely even in the midst of a little fear or uncertainty. That eventually, fear will give way to a courage that comes from the power of Christ within me.

There are little invitations God gives us every day. What are we going to do with them? And are we too busy and scheduled to even see and hear the invite? Are we wrapped up in our own efforts and systems to hear and receive the invitation? Can we receive the courage He offers and accept that invitation into His work and plan even when we are walking into the unknown?

eye-for-ebony-344844-unsplash.jpg

Let’s Play Pretend - Part I

As a child, I loved to create stories in my mind. I was typically the main character running the plot, the story always ending on my side as the heroine. 

They say pretend play is one of the best ways a child can learn. After having three children go through different preschool environments, I would have to say that the play-based classroom had the most long-term impact.

My children create the most elaborate pretend games and stories. Anything from superheroes, puppies, family, cops and robbers, “city” (not sure what that is), and more. In fact, they pretend play more than they ever play with actual “hands-on” toys.

As a child, it is cute, a sign of intelligence and creativity. There is a point, though, when pretend play is no longer cute and it’s time to grow up.

We live in a world of pretenders. We all can find ourselves at fault of pretending. In a world where social media has become a prominent way of communicating and connecting, editing out what we would rather not others see - it seems to make a bit of sense that we would become so good at pretending.

The truth is, we can blame social media, but the desire to wear a mask, live a divided life of pretense started at the fall when this broken world was created. We have been battling the lure of division since the beginning of time.

As leaders, we are terribly susceptible. I believe the enemy specializes in the deceptive nature of pretense and divided leaders. For it is in the division of a leaders life that integrity is most at stake and usually broken.

We talk a lot about integrity in leadership. I often hear it referenced or defined in relation to external behavior or honorable actions. Making good behavioral choices, avoiding temptation, and making effort to live honest lives are all incredibly important to our integrity as a leader. And, yet, I think we are still missing it when we talk integrity as a leader.

I have adopted and began studying this concept of integrity defined by Peter Scazzero- “Integrity is when who I am on-stage is the same as who I am backstage. It is when there is no separation between what is going on inside of me and what I am expressing outside of me. There is no separation of my inner and outer life.”

Ouch. That is much easier said than done. And we have to truly reflect on what that really means. I think it means that it goes much farther than behavior modification or external action. It goes farther than simply how we act or perform on stage, in relationships with others, and in ministry.

You and I both know that there can be a war going on in our soul, a fight for survival - and we will continue along with a smile on our face - preaching joy all the while. And, if that is the case, is what’s happening on the outside congruent with what’s inside?

Parker Palmer says it like this: “As we become more obsessed with succeeding, or at least surviving, in that world, we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles.”

We focus our efforts on the external both personally and in leadership activity so much that we ignore we might be losing our souls in the process. If we are burnt out, harboring unforgiveness and resentment, if we are angry and scared, wrestling with doubt and confusion...if we pretend to go along to get along...if we keep believing the end justifies the means...if we harm and hurt others through manipulation and passive aggression because we don’t want to face what’s hard and uncomfortable...if we avoid and ignore...if we talk about Jesus and never spend time with Jesus...when we preach things that don’t even align with our own beliefs or expression of faith...the list goes on.

The greatest ways we pretend can often be found in our temperament. I remember in my early years as a young leader. I thought my introverted and melancholy ways would be unacceptable, so I insisted on creating an extroverted self which would please others. Unfortunately, this created more anxiety within me. Something as simple as a church potluck could set me on edge and leave me feeling shame if I spoke with just a few people rather than hopping around the crowd - connecting with every individual. That anxiety and shame would then turn to resentment or even anger towards those under my leadership. It was misdirected and misguided and yet, it influenced my attitude and decisions as a leader. It took multiple years of counseling and self-discovery to learn who I was - was not only acceptable but purposeful in how God called me. It was necessary that I no longer pretend for God to use me the way He desired.

It’s not simply temperament or personality, though. We can be experiencing struggles in mental or physical health, grief, loss, pain of any kind and when we refuse to share even a bit of that vulnerability - we lose a beautiful moment where our community sees us as human and in need of grace and love just as they are. And, when that occurs, Jesus moves beautifully to bind community together.

We are living divided lives. Our efforts to pretend, whether intentional or unintentional, not only disrupts Christ work in us - we inevitably harm others in our leadership.

Countless individuals are harmed and even abused by leaders who live divided lives. The reality is all that lies within us that doesn’t align with what’s on the outside, in whatever way it exposes itself, it will push through our carefully planned portrayal of something else. What lies beneath will lurk around, leak out and potentially - at any point - completely boil over.

Another complexity and severely harmful occurrence that is prevalent today is a lack of vulnerability and transparency as a leader and it not only disrupts accountability. It sets leaders up as heroes, saviors of the world. Inadvertently, a hero complex is developed and we have somehow found ourselves first when we're meant to be second.

Leaders (pastors included) were never meant to be the total authority in a person’s life and we were never meant to save. When we don’t allow others to see our humanity, we set up an environment of pretense for the communities we lead in.

Living with intentional Christ-like vulnerability becomes so important as a leader and in community. Yes, it takes risk and intentionality, but it is vital for healthy leadership and communities.

Living a whole life, undivided, real and authentic is countercultural in many ways due to the risks present. I believe this is what Jesus calls us to as leaders and this is what creates a healthy and safe community. 

Living an undivided life as a leader creates accountability. It tells others this is a safe place, one where you can true to who you are and I will true to who I am and we will experience Christ’s transformation together. It encourages truth and honesty. It builds true community. It is one of the best representations and expressions of Christ’s vulnerable and sacrificial love.

It takes work, risk, effort, and sacrifice. Are we willing as leaders? And, if so, what steps will we take to intentionally seek an undivided life?

...written by Christan Causey

...written by Christan Causey

Darkness into Light - Conference Thoughts

The leaves are falling, there is a slight chill in the air, and we are right about ONE MONTH away from our annual Women's Conference. I can hardly believe how this year has flown by.

In one month, we will have the opportunity to gather together in sisterhood from all over Southern New England even reaching into Northern New England.

Can you imagine hundreds of New England women gathered together in community under one name, Jesus Christ? It will be powerful. I have this growing anticipation. God has incredible plans. I know it deep down in my heart.

The fight has been real, though. Ironically enough, I have had identity battles this year like I haven't in a long time. I have been hit on every side of my insecurities and my weaknesses. The word "unraveled" runs through my mind like a bad song on repeat. 

God is unraveling me this year. String by string, I am coming undone. And it hurts. At times, it feels like my insides are being torn and stretched. I feel as though I have been shoved onto a stage - completely laid bare for all to see. It's uncomfortable, to say the least.

I have had to ask myself the question, "Who Am I?" and "Whose Am I?" over and over again. As I have prepared for the conference message, despite every obstacle that tries to detour, God is speaking powerfully.

Here is one thing I am sure of at this point. The Bible reminds us we have an enemy that has come to steal, kill, and destroy. Our Father came that we may have life and have it abundantly. The life abundantly part happens when our identity is founded and rooted in truth. Many of us know this. And, yet, we don't live like it. Or we strive for it in all the wrong ways, through all the wrong things.

I know, within my Spirit, God desires to break these walls of false identity, misconceptions, and broken truth. Lies and patterns of thought that have defined our identities for years. The confusion that colors our ability to declare confidently of who we are. Or, maybe, it's our own accomplishments and pride that better characterize our identity than Christ who graciously empowered us.

Whatever it is that confuses and discolors our identity and the roots of that identity, God longs to tenderly cut through the noise, tear down the walls, and lovingly unravel us so that we stand free and confident in Christ. Do you sense it? Do you believe it?

Oh, I do, there is a rising faith in my soul - a stirring in my Spirit. He is saying, I will do great things for you and among you.

It's essential that who we are - who God says we are - aligns with who we believe we are. If the enemy can destroy this truth - he can tear away the freedom and abundant life that is promised in Christ. 

In 1 Peter 2:9, it states that we are chosen. We are special. And we are His. That He so graciously pulled us from the pit of darkness into a marvelous light.

And, yet, it's not enough to simply declare positive statements of belief: I am Strong, I am Brave, I am Hopeful, etc. It requires a lifelong deep inner work of transformation where we allow Christ to reach into the darkness of our existence and shed light on mistruths, lies, pain, mistakes, and more. Often we desire to leave the light off. No one WANTS to face their own darkness - their pain. And, yet, we cannot value the light without the darkness. 

But why not? Why not stare our darkness in the face and allow the light of Jesus Christ to come flooding in. By the act of one man - freedom has been offered - grace has been offered. By the act of Jesus Christ - righteousness no longer has to be earned. We accept our imperfections knowing that we don't earn anything, but that we are justified by faith and by grace. And we can come out of hiding-come out of darkness into glorious light. If we live our lives through Christ, it is Christ living in us that gives us the strength and courage to live outside of the darkness and in the light. To live free, to transform, to grow, to bear fruit and impact a world for Him.

I can't wait to continue to explore these themes of identity with you. The Women of Influence team and the network leadership team is praying for you. And we hope you will come. I pray God will remove all obstacles for you to be there the weekend of the conference. We all need a good, strong reminder of WHO we are and WHOSE we are. I hope to see you there!

You can register here: snemnwomenofinfluence/events

...by Christan Causey

...by Christan Causey