Sep 08

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

by Leave a comment

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

...

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: / / /

More Less
Mar 31

A Priest Who Prays

by Leave a comment

“Jesus completely finished the work of reconciliation, but that does not mean he is up in heaven taking a long nap. One of the most beautiful parts of the theology of the ascension is that Jesus is now praying for us. Jesus is our great

...

“Jesus completely finished the work of reconciliation, but that does not mean he is up in heaven taking a long nap. One of the most beautiful parts of the theology of the ascension is that Jesus is now praying for us. Jesus is our great High Priest who intercedes for us. Having been reconciled with us through his death, Jesus is now laboring for our healing through his prayer: “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34 nrsv).

What does this mean for you and for me? It means that not only do we stand forever forgiven, but Jesus is also forever praying for us. And what is he praying for? He is praying that you and I would be completely new people, people in whom he can make his home.

When Paul asks the Colossians to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God,” he is urging them to reflect on the wonder of Jesus, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and the splendor of Jesus, the High Priest who now prays for us. This is how God is “making all things new.”

The glorious Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) is on a mission to transform every one of us. That does not happen by anything we do of ourselves. Jesus did it all. And Jesus does it all—by continuing to pray for each of us. But we do participate in this transformation. We set our minds on these truths: we are forgiven, and Jesus is praying for us. And when Jesus prays, things happen. He will not stop until he has made us all new people.

Soul Training – Changing Narratives:

Make a small notecard today with the following 2 phrases; “I am forgiven” and “Jesus is praying for me”. Place the card in a place that you will see it over the next week. (Examples: Next to Computer Monitor, Refrigerator Door, Bathroom Mirror, Phone Screen Background or Coffee Table)


 

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

Posted in Apprenticeship, Kingdom of God, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / / / /

More Less
Mar 24

I Can Have As Much of God As I Want

by Leave a comment

“A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; NIV). “With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8; MSG). When I

...

“A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; NIV).

“With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8; MSG).

When I was a child, I frequently lay awake trying to parse the concept of God having no beginning and no end. My 7-year-old brain was frightened by the limitlessness of God. By extension I did not take any comfort in the possibility of my life being lived in ETERNITY!  As I grew older, I understood that humans had built a framework of measured time over the universe to help us organize our lives.

The problem of time often limits our relationship with God. The reality is that God lives outside of time. In the Garden of Eden humans were comfortable with living in the eternal now. Every moment with God was now. As a friend of mine has said, “God was close by and conversation was easy.” Then our ancestors tried to grab control from God and were cast out of the garden. God didn’t change, but our experience of God did. God still lives outside of time; we are now bound by time. Therefore we can only find God in our present moments.

When we say that the Kingdom of God is “available now and is also coming,” we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that “now” means not just during our lifetime on earth, but actually NOW, at this moment, in this instant.  Not 30 minutes ago or next Sunday, but now.

Did you ever stop to think that Jesus’ stories about the kingdom happen in a specific and discrete moment?

  • The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field (Matt. 13:31).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour (Matt. 13:33).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like treasure that a man found, and hid again, and then bought the field (Matt 13:44).
  • The kingdom heaven is like a fine pearl which a man found and immediately bought (Matt. 13:45).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men -and at the third hour and at the sixth hour and at the 11th hour (Matt. 20: 1 – 16).

Jesus described those actions as happening in a distinctive moment of time – now.

So, if God and God’s Kingdom on earth are found only the now, what does that say to us?  If we want to find God, we have to live in the now. We have to stop and look at the burning bushes. We have to collect the manna when it falls. We have to sit at Jesus’ feet when it is inconvenient. We have to commune with God while we are washing dishes or mopping the floor (as did Brother Lawrence). We have to find God each time we open the door (as did Alphonsus Rodriguez, a lay brother who answered the door at the Jesuit College on Majorca and tried to see Christ in each of the persons who came to the door.) We have to find God in the forests and fields (as Francis of Assisi did.)

How do we do this? We fight off our addiction to living in the past and looking toward the future and, instead, dwell in the present where we can have as much of God as we want.

MULLING IT OVER:  Did you ever think about the fact that for us eternity/heaven will mean going “back to the future?”  After death we will return to the eternal now.  Communion with God will be effortless.  Now, however, we need to be intentional about seeking the face, the voice, and the companionship of God.  How do you make that happen?


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

Posted in Blog, Kingdom of God | Tags: / / /

More Less
Mar 10

IS STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT? (Part Three)

by Leave a comment

Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here) The previous two posts have given us a reason to look

...
Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here)

The previous two posts have given us a reason to look to the Old Testament as a place that shaped Jesus’ own perspective and one that could help us ground our own narratives on the character of God. Now we look at how the Old Testament can help us to identify–and join Jesus in living according to–God’s plan and purpose, thus bringing glory to “God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds)

God’s Purpose

One of the crucial elements of Jesus’ teaching is His proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. In the Kingdom of God the purpose of God is fully expressed and fully achieved. Jesus begins and ends the Beatitudes in Matthew mentioned with statements regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, 10, NAS95)

Jesus’ reshaping narratives in this initial element of the Sermon on the Mount serve as a focal point for the many kingdom of heaven parables found within this Gospel. The words, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, are familiar to many as the announcement of Jesus in Matthew 4:17. Many don’t realize they are also the words of John the Baptist and Jesus’ command for his disciples’ proclamation (3:2, 10:7). Where does Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of heaven originate if not in His Scripture? The Old Testament is replete with descriptions of what God’s kingdom is to be like and how those within it are to live.

Many individuals who read through the Old Testament are often attracted to the stories of terror and horror inflicted by the Israelites on their surrounding nations. Other readers focus narrowly on the David and Bathsheba story or that of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11. But such a focus misses the point of the Old Testament, to recount the activity of Yahweh, God of creation among humanity. The more important passages often seem to be less frequently proclaimed than the scandalous many, but remain more important nonetheless.

There are several key passages of the Old Testament that encapsulate the timeless purpose of God.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NAS95)

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

“[T]hey will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

It would appear that the purpose of God is for humanity rather than against it. It would also appear that the purpose of God encompasses blessing for others through the very ones who are in relationship with God.

Two narratives intertwine throughout the Old Testament regarding God’s purpose. The first informs us of God’s relationship with humanity and the creation. Despite attempts to narrowly limit the use of Genesis 1 to scientific debate, it serves a larger purpose, especially when cast against other stories of creation. One element of the creation is that the world; the land, the seas, the birds of the sky and the animals of land and even male and female, are viewed through God’s perspective as “very good.” The later scandalous stories of disobedience and discontent accounted in the Old Testament are unable to mask the reality that God looks upon all that he has done with great delight and pleasure. This attitude of God is not solely toward humanity. When we attempt to live like Jesus in our relationship to creation we must take God’s perspective into complete consideration.

The second narrative relates to God’s intended consequences for humanity. From Adam through Noah and vocalized clearly with Abram, God seeks to bless the nations of this created world, who one may recall are separated by discord at Babel. God is not looking for reasons to destroy but to preserve, not to keep in poverty but to distribute bountiful blessings. The sin that separates humanity from God is being addressed by God so as to tear down the walls of separation. Selfishness rears its ugly head in our lives as often as the dandelions of spring, summer, and fall appear. The Old Testament consistently reminds the people of God that they do not own or possess God, but that God possesses them. He is not for their use, but they for His.

In 539 B.C. the covenant people of God were permitted to return to their land from exile. Not all returned, but those who did reflected many false narratives. When 17 years had passed in the land, God spoke another message of reminder through the prophet Haggai.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “ Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “ You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11, NAS95)

These people of God looked for God’s blessings in life while ignoring God’s purpose. The Old Testament continues to communicate clearly that God is to be glorified among his creation. When we remember and our lives reflect that narrative as a driving purpose, then God works through creation to multiply our efforts and provide bountifully for our needs. When we forget and seek to glorify the work of our hands, then those same provisions can wither and disappear.

No one reflects the purpose of living to bring glory to God the Father better than Jesus the Son. His life activities are reflected best in the prayer recorded before his arrest.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:1-4, NAS95)

Jesus understood His purpose because his narratives were formed and shaped by study of His Scripture, our Old Testament. He understood God’s character and taught God’s character to those following Him. He kept God’s purpose central in His own life, understanding the folly and failures of past generations who departed from this path. If we are to be apprentices of Jesus, we would do well to reshape our narratives concerning God’s character and purpose until they rested on solid foundations and could not be shaken, despite the storms of life.

For the apprentice of Jesus the Old Testament is a rich depository of narrative changing accounts. Many of these narratives teach positive lessons while others teach using negative example. An apprentice of Jesus ignores these teachings to his or her own peril. The normal result of minimizing the writings shared by Jew and Christian is to somehow perceive God in this world through a warped lens. If I truly wish to live like Jesus I must think like Jesus, who “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself” so that “God highly exalted Him” above all those “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and in so doing all Jesus does is “to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11).

 

Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga


 

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.

 

 

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Kingdom of God, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / /

More Less
Feb 25

Communion in a Corral

by Leave a comment

Near Bamburg, Germany, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945 This story about my father was written many years ago by Bob King, a World War II veteran. The Rev. Rowland A. Koskamp volunteered to be a chaplain in 1943 so that when the men in his

...

Near Bamburg, Germany, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945

This story about my father was written many years ago by Bob King, a World War II veteran. The Rev. Rowland A. Koskamp volunteered to be a chaplain in 1943 so that when the men in his congregation came home from war, he would understand what they had gone through. He was captured in France in December, 1943 when he stayed behind to assist some injured soldiers as his unit retreated. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp in Hammelburg, Germany. In April of 1945 the camp was liberated.  Because there were not enough trucks, most of the men began walking the 90 miles to Nurnberg accompanied by German troops. Here is Bob’s story.  

Rowland Koskamp was “every man’s preacher.” He was the sort of person who gave courage and confidence to his friends and all others who came into contact with him during our time as POW’s. He calmed the griper, supported the downer, let it be known that our present circumstance was only a temporary setback, and that there is a caring God who is concerned and offers eternity to those who call upon him.

Easter morning!  We were on our trek for about a week with early mornings on the road.  Usually we were placed in barns where we would spend the night.  Rowland had requested that Easter morning be spent at the same farm in which we had spent the night before so that those who wished to could attend an early morning worship service.

Those of us who wanted to attend a service were taken by the guards to a nearby corral. I was one of the last into the corral, and I was standing at the rear of the group. Just before Rowland’s first words, the German Colonel in charge of the group of 300 prisoners entered the corral, closed the gate and stood next to me.  He did not establish eye contact, and I thought that, perhaps, he had come for security purposes.

Rowland’s message was first about the meaning of Easter, the historical event and its meaning to Christians.  Then he delivered a powerful sermon on man’s inhumanity to man and the need for people to overcome petty human concerns and to serve God and one another.  The Colonel, standing beside me, was in nearly constant movement as he almost imperceptibly twitched and dug his toes into the mud of the corral.

Always a very innovative and thoughtful man, Rowland had saved his bread ration for a few days and had somehow obtained a bottle of wine in the war-torn countryside.  So after the sermon he led us in a communion service.  First after the words of institution, he passed part of a loaf of dark bread.  Each broke off a piece and passed the bread along. The Colonel accepted the bread from me, broke off a piece, and passed it along.  When all had been served, we took partook of the bread together.  Then the bottle of wine was passed and each of us, including the Colonel, took a sip and passed the bottle along.  To me it was an extremely meaningful time, especially as I shared the loaf and the wine with a man who was our enemy.

This deeply moving experience occurred on the last Sunday on earth for Rowland and the Colonel.  They were both killed the following Thursday by American B-17 fighter planes who, unaware of the movements of the liberated POW’s bombed a near-by railroad station.  The bodies of the chaplain and the colonel were found not far from each other.

Another soldier reported seeing the German colonel standing at attention during the bombing. An American chaplain was sent to secure the dog tags from the bodies of the dead and came to one that read Rowland A. Koskamp. He says he quickly dropped the tag, reached for the soldier’s shirt collar, saw his chaplain’s cross, and said a prayer for his wife and little daughter. My father was 29 when he died in service to his God and his country.  I was 3.

Although Rowland Koskamp is buried in France, his chaplain’s cross was sent to my mother.  She had it made into a ring which she wore it for dozens of years and then gave to me.  I also wore it for dozens of years. It now lives in the box that contains his bronze star and purple heart, a tarnished relic (in the religious sense of the word) of a life that was lived in the unshakable Kingdom of God here and coming, and the influence that sacrificed life had on hundreds of soldiers – and on the daughter he only knew as an infant.*

A Response to this story from James Bryan Smith

I really loved reading this moving story submitted by our dear fellow apprentice, Karen Bables.  I was deeply touched by the part about “enemies” taking communion together.  It reminded me anew how the Cross and Resurrection unites a community that cannot be divided.  As I wrote about in The Good and Beautiful Community, we are peculiar people because we are people in whom Christ dwells and delight, and that unity in Christ is the tie that binds us all in Christian love.  So often we struggle to stay together in our communities because of minor disagreements; we so easily divide over trivial differences of opinion.   This story reminded me that “in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, barbarian or Scythian, German or American, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

 

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

Posted in Blog, Community, Kingdom of God, Love, Love | Tags: / / /

More Less
12
Back to top

Sign Up

Nam ut dolor at erat dignissim pellentesque. Aliquam erat volutpat.