“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

Jun 27

A Week In Review

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Links at your leisure: If you’re feeling like a dry river bed: Karen Wilk, We Need Constant Spirit-Filling “I said it’s not easy.  But maybe it is and that’s what makes it so difficult.  We live in a “just do it’ society but Jesus says –

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Links at your leisure:

If you’re feeling like a dry river bed:

Karen Wilk, We Need Constant Spirit-Filling

“I said it’s not easy.  But maybe it is and that’s what makes it so difficult.  We live in a “just do it’ society but Jesus says – just be in Me.  Jesus says, just—Come—as you are–  to me all you who are thirsty and I will give you drink… John 4: 13,14.  It’s not a matter of doing, it’s a matter of receiving.  It’s not a matter of getting, it’s a matter of being connected to the Source–  not to the corporate ladder, or the life of the party, or the workout queen or the meditation guru … because  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…  they won’t be able to keep themselves filled — but those who drink of the water that I, Jesus, give, will never be thirsty.” 

Donald Miller’s favorite Tweet is from our very own James Bryan Smith:JBS tweet

Donald Miller, My Favorite Tweet Ever

“I’ve studied enough psychology to know people don’t actually have that many purely objective opinions. Mostly, we think in tribal patterns. That is, “our people” subscribe to an idea and we adhere to that idea in order to feel a sense of belonging. The “issue” then doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. What we’re really doing is getting involved in a fight because our sense of security is involved.”

A Great Sermon on Matthew 10:28:

Christopher Yoder, A Perpetual Love and Fear

“The Vicar of St. George’s wears a flak jacket over his clericals and his cross.  That man is the Reverend Canon Dr. Andrew White, an English priest known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad.’  He’s served St. George’s since 1998.  At a hefty 6’3”, traveling by helicopter and escorted by an armed convoy on his parish visitations, he’s been described as “a gospel-toting James Bond.”[1]  Like 007, Canon Andrew regularly faces mortal danger without fear.  Indeed, he describes almost nonchalantly the terrors he’s endured:  ‘I’ve been hijacked, kidnapped, locked up in rooms with cut off bits of fingers and toes and things.  I’ve been held at gunpoint, been attacked, you know, the usual thing.’[2]  Terrible things have happened to him, he says, but worse have happened to his Iraqi colleagues.  One year, eleven of his staff were killed.  Nevertheless, in the midst of all this violence and death, Canon Andrew exudes a sense of joy and utter fearlessness.”

Hits closest to home:

Sasha VanHoven, Are You Surrounded By Idiots? Real Talk: You’re the Jerk, Not Them.

“The moral and emotional failure of the jerk is obvious. The intellectual failure is obvious, too: no one is as right about everything as the jerk thinks he is. He would learn by listening. And one of the things he might learn is the true scope of his jerkitude… the all-out jerk is inevitably ignorant” (Eric Schwitzgebel).

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Jun 26

Recommended Reading: The King Jesus Gospel

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I realize I haven’t offered many resources on the blog. So, in a concentrated effort to change that, we’ll start with an obvious choice: Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel. McKnight is a prolific writer, a great content creator and curator at Jesus Creed, and

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I realize I haven’t offered many resources on the blog. So, in a concentrated effort to change that, we’ll start with an obvious choice: Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.

McKnight is a prolific writer, a great content creator and curator at Jesus Creed, and one of the teachers for the Apprentice Experience, set to launch this Fall.

This is the first book of his I’ve had a chance to read. Our undergraduate students rave about The Blue Parakeet, so I’m excited to dive into this one.

Another reason it’s easy to pick this book, McKnight has a similar suspicion to us at Apprentice about the gospel (spoiler alert): it’s not primarily about going to heaven when you die.

It’s not exactly a spoiler alert: 1) I’m reading along with you, so I don’t know how he’ll develop his argument. 2) If you’ve been around Apprentice long enough you knew that was coming. If you’re new here, welcome to the party.

Without further delay, Chapter 1–The Big Question

Any guesses as to what that question might be? Bueller?

You got it: “What is the gospel?” (23)

You’d think we’d have this one figured out. We’ve got four different books called gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). There’s a whole genre of music that bears name gospel. Preachers are always referring to the gospel.Scot McKnight

But what is the gospel, really?

McKnight isn’t going to give us the answer in the first chapter. We’ve got to work for it a bit, and what kind of book would that be?

He does lay out three exhibits to prove how much we need to go back to the Bible to hear afresh about this gospel.

Exhibit A–Boils down to: What does Jesus being Messiah (descended from David) have to do with the gospel?

Exhibit B–Whose gospel are we talking about? Jesus (Son of God) or Paul (wrote most of the New Testament)? Do we favor the gospel and ethical teachings we find in Paul over the words of Jesus?

Exhibit C–If the Gospel is “justification by faith” (from Paul), then did Jesus even preach the gospel?

Which exhibit have you seen in your own gospel journey?

For most of my Christian life, I’d be Exhibit A.

Sure the Old Testament (before Jesus) is important, but if you had asked me why and what exactly it had to do with the gospel…(crickets).

This comment from a pastor to McKnight shows the importance (and need) of such a book: “The reason we need the book is because people are confused. Not only are they confused, they don’t even know they are confused” (26-27).

The point of confusion: what is the gospel?

More specifically: the gospel of Jesus has been transformed into a story about going to heaven when you die.

If that’s not convincing, how about Mcknight’s closing lines: “Our biggest problem is that we have an entire culture shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel. That so-called gospel is deconstructing the church” (27).

Compelling enough to follow along? How about picking up a copy and reading along? I’d love to hear your insight.

Have you read The King Jesus Gospel?

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Jun 25

The True Narrative About Young People and the Church

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“The church is dying.” “All the young folks are ‘spiritual, not religious.'” “They just don’t care about faith.” “The ‘nones’ are a growing segment among young people.” Enough crotchety statements. How far are those from some of the narratives you’ve heard (maybe even believed) about

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“The church is dying.”

“All the young folks are ‘spiritual, not religious.'”

“They just don’t care about faith.”

“The ‘nones’ are a growing segment among young people.”

Enough crotchety statements.

How far are those from some of the narratives you’ve heard (maybe even believed) about the church?

I’m sure there’s data that supports some of those claims, but I’m not convinced.

I think they’re just a false narrative we’ve accepted as true.

Since James Bryan Smith (in one way or another) is the reason you and I are meeting in this interweb space, I thought I’d bring his False Narrative/True narrative idea from The Apprentice Series to the blog.

I’m not going to say this is Jesus’ narrative, because it’s not in Scripture per se (I could proof text 1 Timothy 4:12, but I won’t).

The true narrative: High school and college age members of the body of Christ don’t want to leave, they want more.

Not more fluffy answers and cheesy sermon illustrations. Not more “free” stuff to bait them to coming to the next church event.

More depth. More authenticity.*

You’d be right to wonder what evidence I have to make such a claim.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Colorado with 15 students as part of the inaugural Apprentice High School Academy. Most of the students were high school seniors plus a few of our Christian Spiritual Formation undergraduates.

For one week, these students gave up all technology connections (no cell service or wi-fi where we were) and dove headlong into questions about the Bible and this whole life with God journey.

Not only that, they participated in morning, noon, and evening prayer (they even knelt during confession!), interceding for each other and for family and friends back home.

**Noon Prayer

**Noon Prayer

And they wrestled with the content. Sitting under the fine teaching of Dr. Stan Harstine on the Bible and Christian spiritual formation they faced head-on questions about their “house”:

  • What’s the foundation?
  • What is the Bible?
  • How do I read the Bible?
  • How do I make connections between different parts of the Bible?
  • How do I translate this into my life going forward?

Stan didn’t hold back. And the students rose to the challenge. They wrestled with the new questions–questions most of them didn’t even know could be asked–and how they related to the teaching that had been handed down to them in the past.

The rest of the teaching sessions focused on spiritual formation, especially The Good and Beautiful God.

They struggled through some of the narrative change (e.g. is God an angry judge or is God good? If God is good what about the violent passages in the Bible?).

They asked the questions many adults are too nervous to vocalize. The questions they’ve been in the church long enough to “know” not to ask.

But these students hadn’t lost a sense of wonder and adventure. These new narratives about God opened up a whole new frontier for them to explore.

It wasn’t all easy. There were late night conversations and debates over cups of coffee and hot chocolate. Tears rose up now and again as we talked in front of the fire.

And their questions didn’t always end up with neat and tidy answers. At the beginning of the week, they appeared pretty frustrated. But by the end, they began to live with the mystery.

Their wrestling and engagement and refusal to stay in place–always searching, asking, seeking growth–was invigorating.

They shared their own false narratives with each other, and by the end of the week instead of just coming to the leaders of the trip, they began teaching each other.

Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, they dug deeper.

If one forgot a true narrative and slid back into an old way of thinking, another student reminded them of the true narrative. Of their identity in Christ and the goodness of the kingdom.

And in the midst of the silence, laughter, tears, tea, popcorn, hikes, lectures, prayer time, and late night conversations, they gave me hope for the present.

Hope that I don’t have to believe the false narrative I keep hearing. In all their care for each other, reminding their friends of her/his identity, they reminded me of my identity, of why spiritual formation matters.

Working in the blogosphere it’s easy to buy into some of those false narratives. But those extraordinary students helped me leave my false narratives in Colorado, and sent me home with a better story.

 

*I realize this has become a bit of a buzzword, but I think it’s true. The students I’ve interacted with want to see my own struggles with questions of faith, scripture, life. They want to know that sometimes “I don’t know.”

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Jun 24

How’s Your Fountain Working?

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Close your eyes and imagine a water fountain. Maybe it’s one you’ve seen before, maybe it’s your own imaginative creation. How does the water look? Sound? Fall? Taste? Feel? What emotions rise up in you while looking at it? What kind of fountain did you

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Close your eyes and imagine a water fountain. Maybe it’s one you’ve seen before, maybe it’s your own imaginative creation.

How does the water look? Sound? Fall? Taste? Feel?

What emotions rise up in you while looking at it?

What kind of fountain did you imagine? One you’d seen before on a vacation? Or one you might see everyday (a drinking fountain)?

Was it beautiful to see the water cascading across the picture of your mind? Was it refreshing to have the cool water satisfy your parched mouth?

Water fountains can be beautiful. Water seems to dance and shoot in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

Water fountains can be fun. Children love to play and splash in the water.

Water fountains can be peaceful. A slow, steady fountain can be a great background for silence and meditation.

Water fountains can be refreshing. Nothing is better than a long cold drink from a water fountain on a hot summer day.

In all this beauty, fun, peace, and refreshment, I would guess not many of you imagined the driving factor behind those experiences: the lowly pump.

The pump is that forgotten, but essential piece that makes the whole fountain work.

Without the pump a fountain would just be a big pool, or a flat surface.

Without the pump, you’ll still be thirsty.

And water pumps, like anything else in life, require maintenance. Don’t care for the pump? Don’t expect a water show.

No one goes to a fountain to look at the pump (except the person charged to maintain it).

You look at the result of the pump’s work and enjoy it; thankful for its presence and function, even if you never actually realize it.

Which is kind of like spiritual formation and mission. In this with-God life journey, your spiritual formation is the pump.

No one sees your time in solitude and silence, lectio divina, prayer, secret acts of service, tithing, charitable giving, fasting, the list could go on. Those are all behind the scenes.

What people will see is the beauty of a life bent toward mission. Not in an annual mission trip kind of way, but in a regular openness and responsiveness to the call of God in your daily life. The nudges and pulls that are easy to miss when we’re overly busy or rushing from place to place.

220px-Jet_pump--wikimedia commons

The lowly pump

The hard work of creating margin and slowing down (pump maintenance) frees you up to listen to those moments when the fountain can burst forth in all its splendor.

It’s easy to want to run out and transform the world into a better place (fountain). But unless your pump is properly maintained, that fountain won’t keep working for long. It will sputter and try to work, but finally sit dry. And pump maintenance isn’t exactly glamorous work.

But the opposite is true, too. The best maintained pump in the world isn’t much good, unless the fountain is on and running. It’s just a nice museum piece, or relic.

The best fountains have both things working together constantly. Without one, it’s just not a fountain.

So how are you at pump maintenance? Are you overly focused on the appearance of the fountain? Have you been maintaining the pump well and need to turn the fountain on already?

If you want to improve your pump maintenance so the whole fountain works better, our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission is a great opportunity.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Biblioteca de Arte-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian via photopin cc

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Jun 23

Living by the Grace of Others

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paris cafe

We sat down in the cafe, unable to read a word on the wall. It looked like a nice enough spot and the staff seemed friendly, but the barrier remained. “Excusez moi,” I muttered…and it was off to the language barrier races. He was incredibly

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paris cafe
We sat down in the cafe, unable to read a word on the wall. It looked like a nice enough spot and the staff seemed friendly, but the barrier remained.

“Excusez moi,” I muttered…and it was off to the language barrier races. He was incredibly gracious, laughing through my attempt at French,

Parlais vous Francais?
“Un petit.”

Not real French, my Americanized version, something more akin to Frenglish. But he helped nonetheless and I was grateful, because without him I would have been left with no coffee or tapas that afternoon.

Sure there was a certain amount of risk on my part. I could have been laughed out of the cafe for butchering my new companion’s language. But I wasn’t, and it wasn’t the result of anything I did.

The whole week in Paris, I noticed again and again how the French upended every negative stereotype I’d heard about them. Every person I spoke with was incredibly gracious to this dumb Americain, and I did nothing to deserve it.

But it did take the willingness to risk, to ask, to realize I couldn’t do it on my own.

We’re quick to admit and proclaim the grace of God, but what about the grace of others?

Living by the grace of others meant swallowing my own pride, but it also meant a wonderful week and experience in the City of Light.

arc de triomphe

Cultivating a theological vision (training our eyes to see God in the world) is one of the most important things we can do as Christians.

And the grace of others is really just an extension of the grace we receive from God each moment, each beat of the heart and breath in the lungs, each opened door and kind gesture (however large or small).

Learning to see God will transform the way you go through life, and as you notice the grace of others, you might realize God is (and has been) more present in your life than you could have imagined before.

**All Photo Credits: Jill Nicole Photography

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