Apr 28

We Win

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Always with you--hands grasping

“A few years ago several friends and I threw a surprise birthday party for a dear friend who had experienced several difficulties over the past several years. She had lost dear family members and gone through a painful divorce. Each time I saw her she

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Always with you--hands grasping

“A few years ago several friends and I threw a surprise birthday party for a dear friend who had experienced several difficulties over the past several years. She had lost dear family members and gone through a painful divorce. Each time I saw her she had a pained look on her face, but she did her best to be positive and not complain. We planned the party for months, and when the big night came we all crammed ourselves into a room at a local restaurant where she thought she would be dining with a friend. We had a huge birthday cake aflame with candles. When she came through that door and we all yelled, “Surprise!” and then sang happy birthday, tears flowed down her cheeks. It was a beautiful sight. The pain of recent years faded in this moment of glory. She knew she was loved, and she glowed.

That is the image we need to see when reading Colossians 3:4. On the day when Jesus takes us in his arms, our life will be celebrated. It may be at our moment of death, or it may be in this life, should he return before our earthly life ends. But that day will come. We can be certain. Not because of what we have done or deserved, but because Christ, who is our very life, gets the last word.

Till then, we must remind ourselves each day that we win. It makes all the difference. There is nothing we will face today—illness, loss, divorce, death—that will not be overcome in the final victory of Jesus. And this is not wishful thinking.

Jesus’ resurrection secured this reality. If he rose from the dead, can he not also subdue all creation in final victory? The whole of the cosmos—the cosmos he himself made—will fall back into his hands and under his reign. It is a certainty. He won, and because we are in him, we win.”

Soul Training– Reflect on or memorize Revelation 7:16-17 today.

“Never again will they hunger;

never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat down on them,

nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne

will be their shepherd;

‘he will lead them to springs of living water.

‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

 

Taken from Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2013 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.

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Apr 21

Spiritual Formation and Superhero Thinking

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One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may

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One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may be in the mindset of the individual.

Confession is good for the soul. “The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. motivated this installment.” Wow, that felt refreshing! Having identified my inspiration, I highly recommend her book. Since opening its front cover (or rather swiping through its pages on Kindle), I have been sharing insights with my sons, students, and colleagues. It is like seeing the spring grass and flowers anew following an atmosphere clearing thunderstorm.

I want to identify the core idea from Dweck’s book for the reader and then suggest how understanding this idea might make a difference for those of us who seek to help others with their own spiritual formation. Dweck labels her two mindsets Fixed and Growth. The key point of Dweck’s work is that a person’s mindset is not permanent; a mindset can be modified and manipulated by oneself and others. To summarize her distinctions between the two, “children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed . . . But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.” (p. 17) To extend her thought into Christian Spiritual Formation, for Christians with a fixed mindset Spiritual Formation is about being like Jesus and for those with the growth mindset it is about becoming like Jesus. Since the first sees talents and abilities as innate, any struggle or setback leads them to stop trying, while for the second each challenge is viewed as an opportunity to grow a bit more like the Master.

“People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.” (p. 28) The inverse is that people with the fixed mindset don’t use the word “potential,” one either has IT or they don’t. As the author herself notes, “Until I discovered the mindsets and how they work, I, too, thought of myself as more talented than others, maybe even more worthy than others because of my endowments.” (p. 29-30) A fixed mindset considers that “effort is for those who don’t have the ability.” (p. 40) In one study with children some were praised for their ability while others were praised for their effort. “Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students’ IQs. And that praising their effort raised them.” (p. 73)

A final note of clarification from Dweck: “Perhaps it’s because, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, people prize natural endowment over earned ability. . . . We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” (p. 90)

What does this have to do with Spiritual Formation?

We should recognize first and foremost that a fixed mindset is detrimental to spiritual formation. Because of this reality, it is crucial for CSF directors to be cautious of the language they use in describing formation. We don’t help others if we indirectly reinforce their own fixed mindset. Formation directors must also learn to see a fixed mindset in those they are leading and consciously move them toward a growth mindset in other avenues of their life as well. These conversations can focus on the worlds of the two mindsets. In the world of the fixed mindset, “success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself.” However, in the world of the growth mindset, “it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.” (p. 16) This is where a conversation can begin with other directors you know.

What language do you use? How might you rephrase your language to develop a growth mindset in a mentee?

Second, it is critical for those of us involved in spiritual formation to avoid creating our own superheroes. The spiritually mature have not always been where they are today. We applaud them for their status, adore them for their spirituality, and admire them for their seeming superiority. In so doing we reinforce a fixed mindset in ourselves and remain behind a self-imposed barricade to our own journey. If I have a fixed mindset (which I discovered is a default for me) then I see in others the same qualities. I easily forget the years they spent undergoing transformation. I have learned to recognize that my “spiritually formed” friends have not always been so. Their lives have not been a smooth road protected from difficulty. Some have tragically lost a child; others suffered from unspeakable childhoods. A few have suffered physical illness in their body, while one dear friend was the lone survivor from her family of a car accident. These individuals were formed through time, trials, and trust in a merciful god. The true danger of creating spiritual superheroes is that we relegate them to a solitary life because they can no longer walk among us as regular humans who themselves are in the process of being transformed by God. We risk stunting their spiritual formation

How do you speak about the authors you are reading? Do you impose on them fixed traits? Do you validate yourself by seeing them as having this static spirituality?

A third application of Dweck’s material for spiritual formation may be less obvious. One characteristic frequently identified as the Greek virtue unique to Christianity is humility. I wonder whether the fixed mindset with its concern for maintaining superior positioning based on an innate quality can actually practice humility. It seems that the growth mindset with its better recognition of abilities and areas for improvement may have the upper hand in actually living a life of humility. This might also help explain Paul’s admonition to the Philippians in 2:5 “You should think among yourselves in the same way that Christ Jesus thought!”

Does the unrealistic self-identity associated with a fixed mindset hinder the development of humility? How do you understand humility to be developed?

Finally, I must recognize the real danger a fixed mindset presents to spiritual development. Dweck notes, “In the end, many people with the fixed mindset understand that their cloak of specialness was really a suit of armor they built to feel safe, strong, and worthy. While it may have protected them early on, later it constricted their growth, sent them into self-defeating battles, and cut them off from satisfying, mutual relationships.” (p. 232) Armor we have worn for decades is not easily removed. Quick and easy is not the way of Jesus. Faithfulness over the long haul reflects the narrow pathway of discipleship.

Do you see yourself as being transformed by God as you journey with God through this life or as having already arrived? Is your mindset one of growth or is it fixed?

 

Mindset The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 2006


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

 

 


 

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Jan 13

Being Awake when the Sun Rises

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“Sometimes I don’t even think I’m a Christian,” Joan wailed with tears in her eyes.  She had just described a toe-to-toe shouting match with her husband. “I’m trying so hard to change and grow, but it’s not working.”  The rest of the group of the

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“Sometimes I don’t even think I’m a Christian,” Joan wailed with tears in her eyes.  She had just described a toe-to-toe shouting match with her husband. “I’m trying so hard to change and grow, but it’s not working.”  The rest of the group of the women in the room knew very well that it is working. We had watched her grow. Even her facial expressions had changed from anxious frowns to peaceful smiles – usually.  As I watched the group interact, I thought, “She doesn’t just want to grow.  She wants to be transformed!” She wants to be the new creation that Paul promises in 2 Corinthians 5: 17 and encourages in his masterful description of shedding the old self and putting on the new self in Colossians 3.

Joan’s journey was my journey. I finally began understanding and becoming a “new creation” nearly a decade ago when I focused on M. Robert Mulholland’s description of the path:  “the process of conforming to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Then I found Eugene Peterson’s definition:  “a long obedience in the same direction.”  Finally, I read the Apprentice Series by James Bryan Smith and learned practical measures to make it happen.  These influences along with my decades of study of the Twelve Steps have created this book’s focus.

In his classic book, Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie thanks God for the life of Jesus who lived his life “on this common earth” and “under these ordinary skies” in a most extraordinary way.  As apprentices of Jesus, we, too, can live our everyday lives in an extraordinary way.  We can thrive in the unshakable Kingdom of God while the culture around us seems intent on destroying itself.  Goodness and mercy can follow us all the days of our lives.  How does this happen? We have to be willing to change, to conform, to put on a new self.

How Do We Change?

                 “The Sufi tell of the disciple who asked the elder, ‘Is there

                   anything I can do to make myself enlightened? ‘”

                 ‘As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.’

                 ‘Then, of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?’

                 ‘To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.’”

This story speaks to the classic debate about spiritual growth: who and what makes spiritual transformation possible? Is it God’s grace or my effort? In Breathing Under Water, the Twelve Steps and Spirituality, Richard Rohr describes this “the chicken or the egg: which comes first?” question by using an old aphorism: “No one catches the wild ass by running after him, yet only those who run after the wild ass ever catch him.

So, what is the process of becoming more spirituality mature?  The answer is important because this growth doesn’t happen by osmosis.  Sitting in a pew every Sunday does not guarantee that we act more and more like Jesus. Intellectual assent to a set of theological propositions is not enough to give us the mind of Christ.

The question “how do we change?” is another of the wildly interesting paradoxes of the Christian faith:  is it “grace” or is it “works?”  The answer is “yes.”  Scripture challenges us to hold two equal propositions in tension at the same time – something our Western minds find difficult to do.

Our role in the process is to be open and ready to let go of the controls.  We have to be awake when the sun rises; we have to run after God.  As Rohr says, we have to be ready to “undergo God” – a process of surrender. As we let go, the Holy Spirit comes in. And change happens. This surrendering is first a surrender of will. And then it becomes a daily surrender to “seek first the Kingdom of God” as God showers us with all we need.

Many of the traditional spiritual disciplines (also called soul-training exercises) are about giving up one kind of control to gain another. Time spent in silence and/or solitude or prayer or fasting is time that the Holy Spirit can speak peace into our confusion, our fear, and our disquiet.  Practicing gratitude gives the Holy Spirit a sliver of space in which to deal with our avarice and vainglory (greed and pride).  Immersing ourselves in Scripture centers our thoughts so that the Holy Spirit can teach us and guide us.  Practicing living in the moment instead of the past or the future ushers us into God’s presence. Valuing simplicity of life and thought results in time and resources, as well as clarity. Carving out margin in our jam-packed lives gives us opportunity to reflect, enjoy, and appreciate.

As we allow God to flow into our lives, we learn to collaborate with God’s vision – for us as God’s child and for our life in God’s Kingdom. We can clearly see the sun rise. And even catch whatever seems impossible to be caught.

 

This blog post is an excerpt from Under Ordinary Skies, Living as Apprentices Every Day, written by Karen Bables for apprentices of Jesus.

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Sep 17

The King Jesus Gospel–So What?

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We’ve arrived at the final chapter of The King Jesus Gospel, “Creating a Gospel Culture.” McKnight doesn’t disappoint in his concluding chapter. He begins by contrasting cryptic cave drawings in Ireland whose meaning (if ever existed) has been lost and one of the Celtic high

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We’ve arrived at the final chapter of The King Jesus Gospel, “Creating a Gospel Culture.”

McKnight doesn’t disappoint in his concluding chapter.

He begins by contrasting cryptic cave drawings in Ireland whose meaning (if ever existed) has been lost and one of the Celtic high crosses.

The high cross depicts biblical stories and is beautiful in its art form, but without interpretation, it means nothing.

Which is true for life: For McKnight’s money, the gospel is Jesus’ and the apostles’ interpretation of the story of life (147).

Stories tell us how to act–emulating good examples, being sure not to repeat bad examples, learning what to laugh at, what to cry at, and a host of other postures and ways of being in the world.

The gospel is the interpretation of life that makes sense when following the King Jesus.

McKnight then dives into a headlong rendition of the gospel story, beginning in the begining (Genesis) and running all the way to the end (Revelation).

What struck me while reading his account of gospel history is the repeated rebellion of us human types. Rejecting has been our nature, from Adam and Eve rejecting God, to the people of Israel rejecting leadership (judges, kings, God), and finally to everyone rejecting Jesus, God become flesh.

Celtic high cross

**Muiredach’s High Cross–Brianann MacAmhlaidh–CC SA 2.0

But you can’t get that note from a flash card version of the gospel, which is what makes McKnight’s longer form (though he admits not exhaustive) version so helpful.

In one sitting you get swept up in the action of God throughout history. We often miss this when we read individual pieces of Scripture, expecting to “get something” out of our efforts.

Takeaway from this story: “what usurpers [that’s us] fear the most is the goodness of God, but, paradoxically, what usurpers most want is the goodness of God, and Jesus was that God, and that is why Jesus as Messiah and Lord is the gospel” (152).

Which makes complete sense when you sit with it for a moment.

God created us to be eikons, ruling under his own rule. But we thought we could interpret reality in a different and better way. We thought there was a better path to goodness, so we stormed the throne and came up empty.

Until, we get to the church, or new creation people in Jesus. This whole quote is excellent, sorry for the length:

“And this same God chose to do things all over again with his new cration people: he chose to give them a second chance, which is one way of talking about the magnificent theme of God’s grace. He chose to let them be people of the kingdom, called the church, and he summoned them to believe in Jesus, to turn from their usurpations, and to so identify with Jesus that they would enter into his death and into his resurrection and through that find new life. Most importantly, though Jesus was the true king, the true Messiah, the true Eikon, and the true Lord, God gave Jesus’ people the assignment he had given to Adam and Eve. They were Eikons like Adam and Eve but with a major difference: they had the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit could transform them into the visible likeness of Jesus himself. As Christlike Eikons they are assigned to rule on God’s behalf in this world. They do this by listening to this story, by living out this story as their story, and by spreading the good news of this story” (152).

Those last two lines highlight our calling as apprentices of Jesus: rule on God’s behalf (we live in the kingdom of God), and learning, living and telling the story.

But how do you get a gospel culture from that?

We have to become people of the Story (the big story) and people of Jesus’ story. We have to learn to soak in the gospels, ask questions, ponder, discover how the gospel connects to the story of Israel.

If the story of Jesus is the culmination and completion of the story of Israel, then the better we learn the story of Jesus, the better we will learn the story of Israel.

Put differently, a better understanding of Jesus will only come when we search out the Old Testament. And that searching out of the Old Testament will inform our understanding of the story of Jesus.

It’s a win-win.

I’m a liturgical (liturgy means “the work of the people) nerd, so my favorite suggestion from McKnight is: follow the church calendar, because it follows the story of Jesus.

In Advent, we expect the coming of the Christ child, but also the return of Christ and the culmination of all things in and through him.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ. At Epiphany Christ is revealed to the Gentiles (non-Jewish world–also you and me).

Then comes Lent, Holy Week (Jesus’ final week, crucifixion, burial, resurrection) and then onto Pentecost (the Holy Spirit poured out) and the ascension of Christ to the right hand of the Father.

Then in ordinary time, we study Jesus’ teachings and healings in the gospels (apparently healing is ordinary for this Jesus character).

By following this story of Jesus in church each Sunday, we’ll get the whole gospel story every year. How great is that?

In addition, we need to know the story of the church, from Acts to recent times. Once we learn this story, we can discover ways (both good and not so good) of adapting the gospel to fit our audience and context.

We’ll close with McKnight’s words:

“…this book is a plea that we will both discern the apostolic gospel and embrace that gospel so deeply we are wholly transformed into the image of Christ himself. A gospel culture can only be created if we are thoroughly converted ourselves” (158).

There are a number of other gems in this final chapter, but hopefully this whets your appetite enough to go read the whole thing.

I think McKnight’s counsel is spot on and easily adaptable into almost any church setting. Who’s going to argue with diving more deeply into the story of Jesus and being transformed more and more into the image of Christ?

The work of creating a gospel culture is simple, but not easy. Here’s to realizing that reality in your community of faith.

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Sep 10

How Does Your Gospeling Differ from the Apostles’?

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So far in The King Jesus Gospel we’ve followed McKnight through the New Testament, searching out exactly what the gospel is, and how different authors and people gospeled the gospel. That’s all well and good, but today’s chapter dives into the “So What?” question. Chapter 9

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So far in The King Jesus Gospel we’ve followed McKnight through the New Testament, searching out exactly what the gospel is, and how different authors and people gospeled the gospel.

That’s all well and good, but today’s chapter dives into the “So What?” question. Chapter 9 is all about comparisons.

Comparison can be harmful: she has that, I don’t, now I’m jealous, etc.

But comparisons can also be helpful. Here’s how they gospeled, here’s how we gospel, what’s the disconnect?

McKnight structures the chapter around six major comparisons, so I’ll follow suit:

Comparison 1: What Gospeling seeks to accomplish:

“The gospeling of Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as the Savior.”(133)

This is pretty self-explanatory, though if you skim that quotation you may not notice a difference between gospeling in Acts and our own gospeling today. The key difference is found in “Messiah” and “Lord” also confesss Jesus as those things. That’s how Acts gospeled. Our gospeling tends to get people to confess their sins and “get saved.”

Comparison 2: What Frames Gospeling?

This is a direct result of the previous confusion, or maybe vice versa. We try to get confession of sin and forgiveness/salvation because atonement (what Jesus “does” on the cross) is most important in our minds. For the apostles in Acts, the story of Israel and its completion in Jesus was the most important.

How you frame the story determines what story you end up telling.

Comparison 3: Gospeling, Wrath, and Judgment

Not much here, really. Judgment is a necessary aspect in the confession of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Mcknight seems to think we need a better understanding of judgment in our gospeling, but shouldn’t go to the Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” extreme.

Comparison 7: We don't gospel from golden thrones with furry gargoyle creatures nearby.

**Comparison 7: We don’t gospel from golden thrones with furry gargoyle creatures nearby, as St. Mark apparently did.

Comparison 4: The Problem Gospeling Resolves

Our gospeling is focused on sin and forgiveness. Sin is the problem, Jesus’ death and forgiveness are the solution, end of story.

But if the story of Israel is our framing story we’ll discover a different problem and solution. To prove his point, McKnight goes way back, to the beginning.

In Genesis, Adam and Eve, are “eikons” (image-bearers) of God. They’re charged to rule under God. God gives them the reigns and they are to steward/rule as God’s representatives. But, we know how well that goes…

The common narrative about Eden is that Adam and Eve sinned, so they need forgiveness. For McKnight’s money, we’re “not just sinners, but usurpers in the garden” (138). Usurpers, we tried to storm God’s throne and do it our way.

That’s the story of the people of Israel from Genesis through the rest of the Old Testament. Leaders, judges, and kings all fail to live into their calling as “eikons” of God.

Until…Jesus. “Not only is Jesus Messiah, but Jesus over and over in the New Testament is the one true Eikon of God” (139).

And this great quote: “The messianic, lordly, and kingly confession of Jesus is not incidental to the Bible. It is the point of the Bible, and the gospel is the good news that Jesus is that Messiah, that Lord, and that King.” (141)

That lord, and that King, is the one who would fully and rightly be God’s eikon on earth. But it doesn’t stop there, God calls us, in Jesus, to fulfill the roles of ruling and forgiveness we failed to fulfill on our own.

Comparison 5: Empire

A popular argument, especially recently, is that the apostles’ were strongly anti-Empire (against Rome) in their message. McKnight isn’t convinced that this is the case.

To say “Jesus is Lord” is also to say that “Caesar is not Lord,” but I think there is a subtle nuance between that confession and direct anti-Imperialism.

Comparison 6: Talk about Jesus

In short: the apostles told the story of Jesus, we talk about how to be saved (144).

What do you make of McKnight’s comparisons? I think they’re pretty spot on. They offer an easy way to evaluate our own gospeling and the gospeling we hear from pulpits and lecterns (and blogs?).

Next week we’ll finish the book and find out how to go about “Creating a Gospel Culture.”

 

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