What do you do all day at Bethel?

So, I figured some of you might be curious to know what I actually do each day here at Bethel. The structure really is quite fascinating, considering there are 1,200 students in the first year. When we first arrived for registration, we were given our first three books to start reading, a binder with an outline of the entire bible reading plan for the year, assignment templates, deadlines, reading plans and descriptions of Bethel Church’s core values.

Before attending the school, we chose either a morning or afternoon schedule which effectively halves the student numbers and makes life a little more manageable for all. However, all 1,200 students meet together in the middle of the day for corporate worship and teaching, usually from either Kris Vallatton or Bill Johnson.

You are allocated a smaller group of 65 students who you meet up with weekly and do life with as a family for the year, under the facilitation of a pastor and 4 interns (who are 3rd year students). Within this framework, after a weekend away together as a group, the pastor and interns prayerfully place you into a small group whom you meet up with once a week. This helps you to be able to connect in effectively, be accountable, be challenged, be inspired, share the successes and failures of others and process your journey with a trusted group of people.

In addition to this, you are able to pursue workshops of your choice, based on your passions or giftings. In addition to this, you have the opportunity to actually invest in the local community of Redding, choosing one area of interest which you will participate in once a week. This begins later on in the year.

The core values of Bethel both challenge and inspire me. Assignments are not graded. The idea is, that you are not here to work for a grade. You simply get what you put in. You are not here to please your pastor through your wisdom, your assignment quality or your ability to articulate your thoughts clearly. You are here, for Him. How much you grow in intimacy with Him, is dependent upon you.

There is structure around lateness of homework and arrival to classes, simply because some of us need that type of motivation to keep on track, but the idea is that students who don’t keep up, arrive on time or complete work, will eventually “behave their way out of school”. I really love this concept.

You are not allowed to pray/prophesy/ etc over anyone outside of Bethel Church until 6 months into the course. People come from all walks of life to Bethel Church, and if a foundation is unsteady in a persons life, it could impact on a community in a negative way. The training ground for Bethel students within the first 6 months, are other bethel students.

In regards to church services, we are allocated a church service to attend, which is on an 8 weekly roster. Imagine 1,200 students inundating the popular 10am Sunday morning service at Bethel. Yeah. Enough said. Poor locals!

My biggest tension at the moment is juggling the practical with the theory. You are asked to read roughly 2 books per week in addition to 2/3 chapters of the Bible daily, and your head takes in a lot of teaching (Mon through to Thurs) as well. This is completely manageable, but more and more I want to keep the assignments and reading in their proper place. If completing them in a timely manner becomes merely a source of pride for me and my mind is consumed with trying to take in all I am learning from books and  the “up the front” teaching, I am missing the main point of being here at Bethel.

Being here, to me, is an invitation to become more aware of God and to partner with what He is doing, in and through my life. I could easily miss that, if I keep my nose continually in the books thinking they will build a relationship with the Lord for me as I read.

If I become wrapped up primarily in the culture here (which is amazing) and the day to day social networking I will have cultivated great relationships, which is important. But, to cultivate intimacy with my heavenly Father is my greatest delight and greatest honour. A culture may or may not come home with me, Father God does.

So, a few musings from me, having been a Bethel student for 3 weeks now. It continues to be challenging, sometimes frustrating but always rewarding as I intentionally walk into each day, very slowly becoming aware, in a way I can’t quite articulate yet, of this God who loves me more than I could ever love Him back.

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This was not what I expected…..

What an interesting rollercoaster of a week that was. Twelve hundred “die hard” students from seventy six different countries all in one place. Worship for an hour each day, speakers Bill Johnson, followed by Kris Vallotton delivering bomb after bomb all week long and expectation hanging in the air.

It was easy to get distracted; watching the artwork being created, the dancing being performed, the band, the lights and the crowd. It was easy to feel like you were somehow missing the point; watching the shaking, the crying, the contorted facial expressions, the falling to the ground, the shrieking, the laughing and raised hands.

It was easy to stand there and be critical, cynical, even judgmental about the behaviors of the crowds of people around me. To stand there, with my religious hat on and think, well that’s just fake and conjured up.

There were times this week, if I’m being honest (more than a few times, most of the time actually) that I was frustrated, angry, mystified, desperate, confused, empty and numb. It took a week for me to realize something vitally important. I came for Him, not them.

It took me a week, to close my eyes on the activity around me, to humble myself before God and acknowledge that I don’t know Him as well as I’d like. To stop caring about what expression should be on my face, how high my arms should be raised, what position I should assume and where I should be situated in the room. To stop focusing on my own perceived spiritual lack.

It took me some time to realise, none of that matters. It is my greatest privilege to build and strengthen my personal history with God. To rest in the fact that I am his daughter and cease dwelling on what that should look like. To let go of striving after Him desperately out of my lack of knowing Him, but to hunger after Him because of the abundance which can be found in Him. Who am I to judge the validity of someone else’s faith, or even to judge my own faith actually. I have had the wrong focus.

When I realised all this last night in church and let go, I felt instant peace and a sweetness in the room.

So this is my new challenge, to build and strengthen a personal history with God, trusting in His great abundance for me, His promises, His goodness, His great love for me…..rather than my lack.

West Side Story

To the untrained eye, the tiny park below appears ordinary and dry, dirty even. The usual clutter of iron seats and benches sit around the place. Trees trained around metal arches frame a walkway through for the weary walker, providing a brief reprieve from the otherwise graffiti and cigarette butt filled sidewalks and paving stones. The occasional grassy space breaks up the dull mix of blacks, greys and tans, attempting to brighten the bleak sun faded colours of the surrounding concrete jungle. Apartment blocks wrap their way around the periphery of the park, towering above, adding to the bleakness of the scene I see below me. Yet, as the sun sinks below the silhouetted landscapes of the city, surrendering to the cool of the evening, an unlikely scene unfolds. Life begins to emerge.

From the right, a shawl clad woman hobbles towards a nearby park bench, leaning heavily on her walker. Sinking slowly onto the seat, she pulls out a fag, lights it and takes in her surroundings. She takes a deep breath and sighs, coughing loudly. With one hand she wipes the sweat off her dirty forehead with an equally dirty palm. What has her day looked like, I wonder. Has anyone taken the time to talk to this woman with sad eyes.

Behind her, a man and son kick a ball back and forth, diving in and out of the shadows playfully, hiding from each other. Round and round the benches they run. Joy abounds.

A slight movement catches my eye and I observe a photo shoot in full swing. Nothing noteworthy to the casual onlooker, just a couple of older teenage sisters taking photo’s of their younger siblings. Ten year olds, entirely confident in themselves, moving this way and that, lavishing the praise heaped on them during the process.

Towards the back left hand corner of the park, the graceful swing of hands move in time to a chanted count. Six individuals learning a hip hop routine to the beat of “1, 2, 3, 4”. They bend and dip, pop and jive, improving all the more each time the sequence is repeated, undeterred by the amused expressions of passerby’s. It is creative expression, found in the most unlikely of places, with much encouragement abounding and patting on the back within the group.

From my apartment above, I take in my surroundings again. The hobbling woman, the man and his boy, the photo shoot, the dancers, the businessmen on their laptops and the fish and chip dinner which has just begun on a nearby patch of grass. It certainly doesn’t look or sound like a glamorous movie scene, with the profanities I can currently hear being shouted in the background, the cars and sirens screeching their way round the block periodically and the boom boxes beating their way loudly out of nearby car windows, but there is real beauty in what I am seeing just the same.

This park scene isn’t dignified, clean or pretty, but there is something very precious, which exists here. People from every race, on the same patch of land, freely expressing who they are, whether that be in dance, dress sense, hair style, skin colour, employment status or state of mind. It represents community, in all its glory, meshing together daily, normally, uncontrived, in a one big beautiful mess.

It me, it also represents an invitation. An invitation to express freely who I am without masking over those ugly bits I am afraid others might see. If those whom I have observed, having so little, can express who they are freely without fear of intimidation, ridicule or peer pressure, why can’t I as one to whom much has been given. Makes you think eh?

I sang in my first recording studio today…..and maybe my last. The pressure had been secretly building in me all day, a glorious array of emotions; ranging from nerves through to elation. A friend of mine had offered the use of his studio for my Bethel audition. No mic’s was the deal, good accoustics was the promise. Free of charge. I was one lucky girl.

Walking into the studio, I let out a deep breath and marvelled at my surroundings. Timber cladding blanketed the walls, large framed windows quietly boasted several breakout rooms and giant sound absorbers suspending in elegant arrangement, occupied the ceiling. In the centre of the room, a small camera complete with tripod, sat poised, ready to go. It was waiting for me. They were waiting for me. Guitar, lead vocals and “soundie” all present. I was in the hands of professionals……and I felt like an amateur.

I worked hard to shake off the nerves; laughing and joking my way through the inner awkwardness I felt. The first strums of the guitar rang out in the studio, bouncing off the walls. We began to sing. Forcing myself to ignore the camera, the lights, the microphones and the sound man through the window took some effort.

One run through later, I was re-positioned, closer to the mic, further away from the leading lady. “Your voice is blending in too much with the lead singer, you need to stand out”. I didn’t want to stand out. This was not the role of a backing vocal (BV). Of this I was adamant. How does one add to the dynamics of the song as a BV, being sensitive to its “feel”……… if they are lime lighting instead?

And how does one worship the Lord in a recording studio? With lights, with camera’s and recording gear designed to collect every sound you make, every motion of your hand, every expression in your face. It seemed fake to me, rehearsed and staged.

I came away from that experience perplexed, at war within myself. Was I pitchy? Had I drowned out the lead singer with my overused strained voice? A little voice…. a voice I thought had long ago been silenced, recycled itself quietly over and over again in my head. That age old question rearing its ugly head. Am I enough? What a surprise to find that question still tucked away in a secret corner of my mind. Am I enough.

YES. Yes is the answer, I realised upon reflection. Not because I’ll make the cut, or ever sing on a stage necessarily. That decision rests in my Fathers hand now, not my own (thank goodness). His plans for me are best. He alone knows the best fit for the talents in my hands, my head and my heart. And actually, without those talents, even then, I am enough. I am already enough. Period.

I will choose to trust Him. Because He is trustworthy.

Exposing Misbeliefs in the Studio

Walking Through a New Door

What awaits me around the corner I wonder. I am constantly torn between fear and a growing delight to walk towards what I feel I am being called to do. Will the prayers that people have prayed over me unfold in reality? Will those precious dreams tucked so deep inside of me ever come to fruition now that they have been realised, breathed on and given hope? Even those dreams I am too scared to utter….. for fear of being seen as foolish, prideful and unskilled?

What faith must it have taken Peter to step out of that safe boat onto water he knew he would drown in, if not for Jesus. If not for Jesus. He is my anchor, my growing comfort, my rock in stormy seasons of terror and doubt. He is my strength. In Him, I will trust. In Him, I will rest, for He alone has set my feet upon a rock. Let a season of singing, of writing and personal encounters with His love burst forth in me. Of listening to a voice which I desire to become more familiar to me than my mothers voice, more consistently recognisable in my life. He alone knows my heart’s desires. I choose to lean into Him and rely upon my own understanding less and less.

Creativity Unleashed

Trapped inside these four self imposed walls. How much of my life have I lived as a casual bystander, a jealous observer, a caged animal. I have lived as one bound by chains for too long, some of my own making. I have become a tamed lion, unable to recall the joys of freedom.

A cry of longing from my soul  rises up in me again, long ago pushed down by a greater desire to fit, to blend in, to be accepted. What a great lie; this view of social conformity. I was not designed by my Creator for this. Somewhere inside me, I know this.

I was made to dance in pure abandonment, to sing at the top of my lungs with words of bold declaration, to spread out my paints and blank canvases messily over the kitchen table and express what is so often kept hidden.

Where fear has cloaked creativity in the past, let Father take the veil off my eyes and awaken me to His intended design for my life.  Where fear has choked the life out of me, let His perfect love which casts out all fear, break every hold. Every hold. Every hold which threatens again to bind me.

Let creativity be silenced in me no longer. Let me strive no longer to fit a perceived mould that I was never designed to occupy. I am no longer that caged animal. Father broke that lie wide open when He took my place on that lonely cross.

Let me keep my eyes on Him, not on the ebs and flows of life, not on the successes and failures of others, not on my own insecurities, but in His overflowing neverending everlasting love for me.

I was designed to live wildly, joyfully, expressing His goodness. Let me never suppress again this good work that He is beginning in me.

A New Day

The world of blogging. My first encounter with the term, was of course from the movie “Julie and Julia”. What a neat tool to help pull oneself out of the depths and move through a journey of self discovery, purpose and identity.

I think this will be a neat way to motivate me to write, to pull all those ideas which whizz around in my head into some kind of order, even as David did in the Psalms. To pull out that broken thinking in me, submit them to God, my heavenly Father and to bring about change, to bring hope, not because I’m amazing, but because my Father is amazing. He is the pinnacle of love… This too, I am learning.

It does not matter to me if no one reads this. I wish to write first and foremost for an audience of one. Who knows though, maybe others will be blessed in the process.