“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.’

And how long is that going to take?’
I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.’
That could be a long time.’
I will tell you a further mystery,’ he said. ‘It may take longer.

- Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Sep 08

Heavenly Reverie, Pt. 3 – “Get Your Head in the Game”

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I played basketball in High School.  When I was a senior, our opening game was against a highly ranked team.  I was to play defense against an all-state point guard, and that week in practice my coach was particularly hard on me, trying to get

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I played basketball in High School.  When I was a senior, our opening game was against a highly ranked team.  I was to play defense against an all-state point guard, and that week in practice my coach was particularly hard on me, trying to get me prepared.  If he saw me losing focus even for a second he would blow his whistle and yell, “Smith, get your head in the game!!!”  It was a rough week being yelled at so much, but it did get my attention.  Come game time I was ready.

We played that first game at home, and we had a raucous crowd behind us.  The energy was flowing through the building.  I was trembling through the warm-up time.  Then something happened to me right at the tip-off, something that had never happened to me before, and never happened again.  It was as is if, in an instant, the crowd noise became silent.  I could hear the beating of my heart, and my breathing, and nothing else.  The game seemed to slow down.  I was fully present to the moment, and completely unaware of myself.  I was in what athletes call “the zone.”

Right away I anticipated a pass by my opponent, and jumped in for an interception, raced to the other end and scored.  We were ahead 2-0.  The next trip down the court I was all over my star opponent, and once again stole a pass and went down and scored again.  We were up 4-0.  The other team quit trying to pass to my opponent, and they stalled offensively.  With each trip down the court for us I scored—on six straight possessions.  They only managed one basket.  We were ahead 16-2, only ten minutes into the game, and I had scored all 16 of our points.

During a dead-ball near my bench, I ran over to throw the ball in to one of my teammates.  As I stood on the sideline, one of my teammates on bench swatted me on the rear (athletes do this to one another despite it being inappropriate in normal life) and said, “Smith, you’re playing awesome—keep it up!”  I turned and looked at him, and in that moment I realized something I had forgotten for the past ten minutes:  that I was playing basketball.  The crowd noise suddenly blared, like someone had just cranked up the stereo.  I nervously threw the ball in bounds, and tried to get back to that zone.  To no avail.  For the rest of the game I played terribly.  I never scored again, and made a lot of turnovers.  My star opponent soon caught on fire.  It was a nightmare, until the last few seconds of the game.

In the final seconds, down by a point, my teammate stole a pass and threw the ball to me and I raced down the court for a lay-up, only to be fouled (pretty hard) by my opponent.  With no time remaining on the clock, I was awarded two free-throws.  I made the first, tying the game.  With a chance to win the game, I let the ball fly, only to watch it clank off the back of the rim.  Now tied, we went into overtime.  We lost, by five points, and I never scored again.  I was crushed and felt defeated.  What had happened?

When I was in the “zone” I was in the flow of the moment.  I was completely concentrated on what was in front of me.  I had my “head in the game,” as my coach had barked at me all week.  In the zone, I played with a clear focus.  I played without self-awareness.   It was only later, in the locker room, that I learned I had scored 16 straight points.  I played without fear.   Every time I shot, I never thought of missing.  When my teammate swatted me on the rear, that all ended.  From that moment on I was self-aware (“Smith, you’re playing awesome”).  I played with pressure (“keep it up!”).  I played with fear.  My opponent, whom I had dominated, now intimidated me.  My head was no longer in the game, and I was awful.

I had not thought about that story for at least a decade until one morning in prayer I said to God, “Just tell me this—what is the one thing, the one thing I could do that would strengthen my life as an apprentice of Jesus?”  I heard the Spirit say, “Get your head in the game.”  It was the exact same phrase as my basketball coach, but said in a much more gentle tone.  In that time of prayer I asked the Lord to explain what that means.  God then brought this verse to my mind:  “Set your mind on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:2)

Set your mind.  That is the key.  In that verse, those three words “set your mind,” comes from one Greek word:  phroneo.  It is also translated as “savor” or “be mindful” or “think on.”  Bible scholars say it refers to “the seat of intellectual and spiritual activity.”  The ancient Greeks used the word to describe an inner disposition “oriented to the good and the beautiful.”[i]  One important verse where phroneo is used is in Matt. 16:23.  In that passage, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be killed, but raised again, on the third day.  Peter says, “Never, Lord, will this happen to you!”  And Jesus responds with the famous rebuke:  “Get behind me, Satan, you are an offense to me, because you set your mind (phroneo) not on the things of God, but the things of man.”

The “things of man” would refer to the kingdom of this world, and its values, such as power, pleasure, self-preservation and wealth.  Jesus is essentially telling Peter, “Get your head in the game, the real game, which is the Kingdom of God, and its values of self-sacrifice, beauty, goodness, truth, and love.”  To “set your mind” of the kingdom of this world is tempting, because we are constantly bombarded with its values.   Everywhere I turn I see it.  Buy more, be more, have more.  Yet seeking the kingdom of this world is fraught with frustration and fear.

Jesus tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his right ways, and you will have everything you need” (Matt. 6:33).  He says this in response to those who spend their life worrying about what they will eat, or drink, or wear.  To get your head in the worldly game is to live in anxiety and despair.  To get your head in the Kingdom of God game is find life and peace.  Paul says the same when he tells the Colossian Christ-followers, “Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above.  Set your mind (phroneo) on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1-2).  Christ-followers are united with Jesus and his new reign, and we are invited—urged even—to get our heads in that game.

That is what I most want right now.  To have the same kind of focus on the Kingdom of God that I had in that basketball game long ago.  To be utterly caught up on this game that is happening all around me, the with-God life to which I have been invited, is my aim and purpose.  To be so in the zone of Kingdom of God that I am completely unaware of anything else, not the least of all, of myself.  And when I get in that zone I pray that no one snaps me out of it.

[i]  Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 9, p. 222

Photo courtesy of  Chad Cooper – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.


Dr. James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notablyThe Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

Join Dr. Smith and other Christian Formation authors and speakers this October for The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – The Joy of Kingdom Living.  Learn more at www.apprenticegathering.org.

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Heavenly Reverie, Kingdom of God, Spiritural Growth | Tags: / / /

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Aug 24

Simply Trust – Part II

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share their experiments with simplicity.  Perhaps their stories will provide some motivation, inspiration or some insight as to how God is working in their lives as they journey through the Apprentice Experience.

Here are just a few entries:

Participant 1-

“One way I am ‘un-cluttering’ this week is cleaning out my Inbox so that I can see all of them on one page- only keeping the essentials ones that remind me that I need to respond in some way, and unsubscribing from some of the emails I was getting that only distract me (TravelZoo, Groupon, etc).  Life with Jesus is better than any ‘deal’ the internet has to offer!”

Participant 2-

“On page 8 of Jan’s book, Abundant Simplicity, she writes, ‘Simplicity is not a discipline itself but a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider normal. It is an “inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and God’s kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty.’

 Simple thus isn’t the goal. I know of people who live frugally and who are about as far from God as one can be. Frugal can be a symptom of faithlessness. Rather simple is a means, when appropriately employed, to enable us to remove the obstacles that keep us from that ‘inward reality of a single-hearted focus upon God.’ I find that when I remove the clutter whether of things and/or the mental clutter that congests my soul’s lungs then I can breathe more deeply of the Spirit and can consequently experience a fuller reality of God’s presence.

 The accumulation of things hasn’t really been so much of a problem for me as I grow older as much as the things that add to the mental clutter of my mind. When that happens then the things start to own me rather than me owning them. The thing that tries to own me the most and does the most to clutter up my mind is the television and in a close second are the social media devices.

 I confessed recently in a sermon to my congregation that I contemplated canceling my cable service. But, after further consideration, I thought that might be a rash decision. The cable television isn’t bad nor the social media devices. They are only harmful when they start to own us and redirect our focus farther from God. So my spiritual discipline for this month is to first become aware of the routines that own me e.g., plopping automatically down in front and the TV and allowing the ‘Sirens’ of the flat screen to draw me into the rocks of spiritual despair. Secondly, once I recognize the harmful routines, I will turn to listen to the Spirit’s call and allow God to own me so that my soul can breathe more deeply of God’s goodness. In my confession to my congregation, I promised to keep them update on my progress. I think there might be some others in my congregation practicing this spiritual discipline of abstinence as Jan calls it.”

Participant 3-

“Abstinence has been with ease as I have matured.  I have found I do not buy ‘things’ as when I was younger. Yes I lack the desire but God has given me much more to replace than having those things.  My taste in food has gotten simpler, fresher, colorful with less of it.  However, If you ask me to give up chocolate or wine then I will find a struggle and an obvious discipline for me to venture.  Living on a ranch can lend to a collection of nuts and bolts ‘just in case’ you need one.  My eyes appreciate simple lines and cleanliness.  It takes some work to keep a landscape free of clutter in your home or outside.   As I walk along a creek near our house I have the choice to see all the deadfall that needs cleaning up or how nature runs its course with decay.  There was a great horn owl on a dead tree along on drive just last night.  I stopped the car so we could watch as the bird took off in a swoosh.  My husband said ‘That is why I want to leave the dead tree there.’  Jim Smith said in our last gathering that some people actually prefer manmade beauty perhaps more than even nature.  I agreed for a while.  Nature does not always have the cleanest lines but the whole picture cannot be replicated.  The chaos and the simple lie side by side.  I can see the beauty in the chaos while watching the center of a storm.  I can see beauty in decay while watching the birds in dead trees.  It is an ongoing process to keep the clutter down and oh how sweet it is when I am finally there, in glimpses.”

Participant 4-

“One thing that stood out in chapter 2 was that one can LEARN to be content. That is a very encouraging thing.  I don’t have to just wait for contentment to wash over me or do without it.  It’s not a disposition that, if I’m not born with it, I’m out of luck.  If it is something that can be learned, then it is within my reach. All kinds of things can be learned.  In a psychology class, I heard about a study in which rats became more creative after researchers reinforced them when they tried novel behaviors.  They said the rats learned creativity.  I also heard that the secret to being patient was to find something else to do in the meantime, and voila, I learned patience.  I think learning contentment is similar.  Focusing on what I do have instead of what I don’t, focusing on what really matters instead of what is here today and gone tomorrow.  As with all learning, the more I practice the more it becomes an automatic habit.”

Participant 5-

“I have been a blacksmith in the past. I love it, the smell of the coal smoke, the way the steel glows in the heat of the fire, the way it moves when I hit it with a hammer.  Literally hundreds of fantastic memories of working in front of men and boys at Royal Rangers camps.  However, I have not had my forge lit in 5 or 6 years. I owned a 281lb anvil, a 150lb vise, a huge 24 by 26 tray forge and dozens of hammers, tongs and tools.  As God was changing my life and preparing me for ministry, one thing that He was really working on was my attachment to stuff.  Even without the physical stuff the memories were still with me.  So…I simplified, I kept a small forge and anvil to play with when I come back to that hobby.  I sold or gave away most of my big tools and grinders.  And you know what?  Life is simpler!”

As you can see, people in the Apprentice Experience have been grappling with the concept of simplicity and have experienced some major revelations.  It will be interesting to witness the ways they experience God in the midst of all of this as we prepare for our next gathering.

Experiments with Simplicity

I’d like to encourage you to experiment with simplicity this week.  Perhaps you can try one or all of these:

  1. Talk to someone who lives simply. Ask them what they’ve learned through simplicity.
  1. Ask someone you trust to suggest what “weights” you need to lay aside. Don’t answer that person immediately.  Think about what he or she said.
  1. Journal about this question: “What do you want?” First write down what you think you want.  Then, ask God to help you search yourself as you look at things such as your calendar and spending records.  Also, consider your thought energy – What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.

 

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Aug 11

Simply Trust

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the honor of leading people from all over the world in this 18-month journey in discipleship.  Our pilot group – Community 1 – is made up of twenty-five people.  They are pastors, church staff, para church workers and lay leaders.

As we prepare for our third Gathering in October, we are reading Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant SimplicitySimplicity is about intentionally choosing the engaging, relational life we were meant to live.  These choices allow God’s power to move through us and bless others as we have space to do good.  Suffice to say, it has been making an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.  Each week, we read two chapters, then attempt an experiment with simplicity.

One of the recent experiments asked us to talk with someone we know who lives simply.  I gave some thought to this and decided I was going to talk to a friend from Florida who recently simplified her wardrobe by doing a “clothing capsule.”  The concept is essentially a minimalist approach to clothing.  The idea is nothing new.  It actually dates back to the 70’s, but is making a comeback.  The basic idea is to build a wardrobe with a few high-quality, timeless pieces that mix and match.  You store seasonal clothing and only keep what you wear in your closet.  Each season, you switch to a new capsule, though some pieces will overlap.  The wardrobe is also intended to be built with ethical clothing.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a “clothes horse.” (Hey – everyone’s got their own vices, right?)  I decided to attempt the clothing capsule after much prayer and thought.  I took everything out of my closet and went through it all.  I hung up what I wear regularly, including shoes.  Then I went through what was left.  I either gave away of donated the rest.  I purged my closet again, only this time, it was really hard.  I picked a couple different items and said goodbye to the rest.  Versatility was the key to what I ended up keeping.

Part of having a capsule is not having all of your clothes in front of you, which can be overwhelming.  For example, my fall/winter wardrobe went in the spare bedroom’s closet, which included coats, sweaters, and long sleeve shirts.

The last step in my transition to simplicity was to stop shopping.  Which isn’t really hard for me since I hate to shop.  But when you get rid of 75% of your clothes, it’s easy to stroll into a store and pick up some new items.  Shopping should only occur when preparing to fill in the gaps for the next season’s capsule.  My summer wardrobe has exactly 40 items.

For me, this process was extremely spiritual.  While I was in seminary, my wife and I did not make very much money.  We were in a season of minimalistic living.  We hung on to what we accumulated in our previous lives because resources were limited.  This process of simplifying my wardrobe revealed something incredibly insightful.  I learned that, over the years, I hung on to clothes out of a lack of trust…with God.  I didn’t trust that I’d have clothes to wear, so I kept them – even though I didn’t wear a lot of it.  By purging my closet, it was an exercise in simplicity and trust.  The experience was very powerful!

Through this process, I also have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the wise words of Jesus, from Matthew 6 (v. 25-34)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I posted my experiment with simplicity in the online classroom for the Apprentice Experience.  Shortly afterwards, others from Community 1 began posting their experiments.  It was staggering to read how they are living in abundant simplicity.  I asked their permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.  Next week, I’ll post Part 2 of this blog so you can read their stories.


John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.

 

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Jul 23

Shaped by Story

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“We are creatures who live by our stories. From early on we are told stories by our parents, which help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be. We are naturally drawn to stories and must follow them to their conclusion because

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We are creatures who live by our stories. From early on we are told stories by our parents, which help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be. We are naturally drawn to stories and must follow them to their conclusion because stories are exciting. Jesus taught primarily in story form. One reason might be that stories are memorable. We may not be able to remember many (or any) of the Beatitudes, but we all can remember the story of the prodigal son.

When we have a significant experience—one that shapes us—we turn it into a story. For example, a powerful experience from childhood may have been a special birthday party where you got the gift you had been hoping for. You do not remember the event in exact detail. You remember it as a narrative—who was there, what was said, how you felt, what the cake looked like.

Narrative is “the central function . . . of the human mind.” We turn everything into a story in order to make sense of life. We “dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative.” In fact, we cannot avoid it. We are storied creatures. Our stories help us navigate our world, to understand right and wrong, and to provide meaning (“So the moral of the story is . . .”).

There are all kinds of narratives. Family narratives are the stories we learn from our immediate families. Our parents impart to us their worldview and their ethical system through stories. Key questions such as Who am I? Why am I here? Am I valuable? are answered early on in the form of narrative. There are cultural narratives that we learn from growing up in a particular region of the world. From our culture we learn values (what is important, who is successful) in the form of stories and images. Americans, for example, are taught the value of “rugged individualism” through the stories of our past (the Revolution, the pioneers). There are religious narratives— stories we hear from the pulpit, the classroom and religious books that help us understand who God is, what God wants of us and how we ought to live. Finally, there are Jesus’ narratives, the stories and images Jesus tells to reveal the character of God.

We are shaped by our stories. In fact, our stories, once in place, determine much of our behavior without regard to their accuracy or helpfulness. Once these stories are stored in our minds, they stay there largely unchallenged until we die. And here is the main point: these narratives are running (and often ruining) our lives. That is why it is crucial to get the right narratives.

Soul Training Exercises:

Read and reflect on Luke 7:36-50

Which character do you most identify with? Why?

If you are familiar with this passage, has the character you identify with changed over time?

How does this story impact the way you think about God?

 

Taken from The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2009 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com


Dr. James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notably The Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

Join Dr. Smith and other Christian Formation authors and speakers this October for The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – The Joy of Kingdom Living.  Learn more at www.apprenticegathering.org.

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Jul 07

Suburban Apprentice

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree. 

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree.  One of my professors was pleased to announce that the seminary would soon be establishing a “School of Urban Ministry.”  He explained the timeline and the reason for this new initiative.  Since Orlando is a fairly large city (especially compared to Asbury’s main campus in Wilmore, KY), there would be some tremendous opportunities for ministry.  My professor also said the School of Urban Ministry would be a terrific way for people to get solid training before heading off to participate in urban ministry throughout the country.

While the initiative is without question important if not necessary, I couldn’t help but get a little uneasy in my seat.  It had nothing to do with the seminary’s lukewarm coffee that was offered, either.  My mind was racing because I thought there was a large portion of our country’s population that was being overlooked.  Shortly after the professor left the classroom, I leaned over and told a classmate what I was thinking.  I said, “The seminary also needs to establish a School of Suburban Ministry.” My classmate gave me an odd look.  She wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking.  But I was dead serious.

I’ve visited several big, urban cities all over the country.  Sometimes it was on business.  Other times it was for pleasure.  I’ve also participated in inner city mission trips.  No matter the purpose for my visit, it was always very easy to spot the need.  Whether it was a run-down church with an eviction notice on the front doors or a homeless person on the corner with a cardboard sign in hand, you didn’t have to travel far into the city to see a source of pain or suffering.

Things are different in suburbia, a place removed from the city with neighborhoods full of manicured lawns and lovely patio furniture.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy living in the suburbs.  But there are some real challenges too.  Having lived in suburbia all my life, I have learned that the needs of my neighbors are easily hidden in the shrubs that help shape the landscaping.  Much of this, in my opinion, is done on purpose.  Suburbanites are supposed to have their act together.  So it’s not easy for people to reveal their “warts” when everyone else around them seems to have it so good.  News flash – we all have warts!

There has been a bit of a paradigm shift in neighborhoods over time.  Fifty years ago, people who lived in suburban neighborhoods knew each other.  They spent time out front talking about their lives, and sharing a cup of sugar or a few eggs for a recipe.  It was also easy to connect with each other because houses were designed differently.  Think about it.  Front porches were much bigger back then.  People placed an emphasis on being available for their neighbors, therefore they spent more time on the front porch.  In the 21st Century, our time and our money is spent on the back porch, where it’s harder to connect with our neighbors.  Contributing to the isolation is the habit of opening the garage door, pulling the car in, then promptly closing the garage door.  Our isolation has also bled into other areas of suburban life.

As a father of two young kids, I spend a lot of my time in the evenings at the soccer fields or in the dance studio or in a gymnasium.  It would be easier for me to find a seat and surf my social media accounts or return work emails.  By doing that, I would get to avoid everyone else.  After all, so many other parents are doing the same thing.  That’s life in the suburbs.  But the suburbs are my mission field – and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect with someone who might be suffering or going through a trial.  So I look people in the eyes, and ask about their day.  Some people are guarded with their answers.  Others are ready to unload a burden that’s weighing them down.  Financial stress, parental issues, relationship problems, spiritual crises – they are more prevalent than we realize.  Our neighborhoods and communities need us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of our everyday lives.

In Knowing Christ Today, Dallas Willard speaks to this when he says,

“The ‘love’ Jesus lived and taught is not limited to compassion for the suffering and the downtrodden.  Those were simple and obvious cases of love, to be sure: obvious because the needs of such people were so glaring, and because they were not the usual objects of love for ordinary people in ordinary life.  They tended to be passed by.  Helping people in dire need was recognized as a ‘big deal,’ something to make a show of, and as a praiseworthy thing for extraordinary people to do – rather as we today would describe someone as a ‘philanthropist.’  Unfortunately, people are not thought to be philanthropists because they are kind and thoughtful and on the lookout for the good of those around them and serve them.  But when Jesus spoke of love as the principle of life as it ought to be, he is referring mainly to the posture of benefiting others in the ordinary relations of ordinary life.” 1

Our calling as suburban apprentices of Jesus is to help re-shape the narratives that form and cause harm to our neighbors.  Going out of your way to connect with the people around us may seem radical to this world.  But these practices are ordinary to Jesus because they flow of out of who he is.  So consider yourself an ordinary radical – someone who loves and cares for people – in the midst of your everyday life.  Whether they readily realize it or not, it matters to them and it matters to God, and it will make a difference in the Kingdom.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does your everyday, ordinary life look like?
  2. Do the comforts and isolation of the suburbs prevent you from connecting with neighbors? How?
  3. What are some tangible ways you can show love to those in your community?

Bibliography

  1. Willard, Dallas. Knowing Christ Today. Harper One, New York, 2009, p.88.

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.


The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – An Apprentice Institute event in partnership with Renovaré.  Gather with us as we learn about The Joy of Kingdom Living.  For more information visit www.apprenticegathering.org 

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