Feb 17

Heavenly Reverie – Cultivating the Mind of Christ Jesus

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Part One – Scarcity and Abundance I was recently at one of my favorite coffee shops, named Reverie.  On one of the walls they have written, in large letters: REVERIE:  A STATE OF BEING PLEASANTLY LOST IN ONE’S THOUGHTS My first thought was, “I don’t


Part One – Scarcity and Abundance

I was recently at one of my favorite coffee shops, named Reverie.  On one of the walls they have written, in large letters:


My first thought was, “I don’t want to be lost in my thoughts, I want to be pleasantly lost in the thoughts of Jesus.”  I have come to believe that the primary work in Christian spiritual formation is seeing and knowing the world (God, creation, ourselves, life’s meaning, etc.) as Jesus saw it.  The scholarly way of saying it is “living in the noetic environment of Jesus” (Mark McIntosh).  The simple way to say it is, “To know reality as Jesus understood it.”

Dallas Willard put it this way:  “The process of spiritual formation in Christ is one of progressively replacing . . . destructive images and ideas with the images and ideas that filled the mind of Jesus himself.  Spiritual formation in Christ moves toward a total interchange of our ideas and images for his.”  It is clear from Paul’s epistles that what we think about, what we set our minds on, is crucial in our formation.  The two verses that best describe this are these:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5)

What does it mean to set our minds on “things above,” or to have the “mind” of Jesus?  It is a new way of perception.  It means to see reality as Jesus does.  Paul uses the word “above” to contrast that which is “below,” which is to see reality from a human perspective “being conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).

So how does this world think?  And how does Jesus think?  That is what I hope to write about in this blog, and in several to follow.  Today I want to write about the scarcity narrative of this world, and the abundance narrative of Jesus, and how the decisive shift in thinking come from the Cross.

In the mind of the world, there is a limited amount of the things we need.  Think of a pie.  There are only so many pieces to a given pie, so if you take a piece I have less for me.  If you and others take several pieces of the pie, I may not get any.  Thus, I will need to scratch and claw and fight to make sure I get my share of the pie.  This is the mentality that is at the core of warfare.  It is also at the core of all sin.  The early church theologian Evagrius Ponticus (345-399 AD) taught that the scarcity narrative was at the root of all the 8 Deadly Sins (pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust and vainglory).  For example, because of scarcity, I will be envious of someone who has something that I do not, or more of something that I do.

In contrast, when we examine the gospel stories we see Jesus living from entirely different view of reality.  In them we see Jesus behaving as if he were from another world.  Which he actually is.  But it is a world accessible to us.  It is the reality of the Kingdom of God in our midst.  Jesus knew that the world is actually God-bathed.  He had a clear vision of a good and beautiful God who is right here with us, able to provide what we need when we need it.  In the economy of the Kingdom of the heavens, resources do not diminish upon their bestowal.  There is more than one pie.  In fact, pies are in endless supply in the Kingdom of God.

This is why Jesus told us not to worry.  He knew that for the person who loves and lives with his heavenly Father, the world is a perfectly safe place to be.  Heaven is here, now.  God is with us.  Of course, we cannot see it in the literal sense, but the most essential aspect of our lives are almost always invisible.  For Jesus, as Dr. Willard has written, we live in “a world filled with a glorious reality, . . . a world that is beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.”  Jesus knew this with absolute certainty, and he demonstrated it in his actions.

When the wedding celebration in Cana has ran out of wine it looked like the party was over.  Not to Jesus.  He turns water into wine and the revelry continues (John 2:1-10).  Oh, and it is the very best wine anyone had ever had.  One day when Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee he looks behind him to see 5,000 hungry stalkers.  Jesus tells his disciples to feed them.  They (thinking from below), say, “We don’t have the resources.”  Jesus said, “Tell them to sit down.  What do we have?”  “A few loaves and fishes,” the disciples replied.  So Jesus takes what they have, gives thanks, and feeds the entire lot.  Oh, and there’s leftovers (John 6:1-13).

The wonderful opportunity to which we are invited as apprentices of Jesus is to have the mind of Jesus.  We are invited to see reality as he does.  Jesus saw clearly that the power of the heavenly realm was easily accessible.  In order to make this shift we will need the Holy Spirit to assist us: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:10).  In our current condition, dominated by the below thinking to which have grown accustomed, our minds have been enslaved to the narrative of scarcity.

In the realm of scarcity our isolated selves will have to extract our needs from others because we do not know how to receive them from God.  Jesus never thought in terms of scarcity, limitation, fear, or lack.  He thought in terms of provision, abundance, and excess.  So, if we are to put on the mind of Jesus we need to engage in some heavenly reverie.  Think on these things:

With Jesus, we can do anything that is right and good, no matter how seemingly impossible.

With Jesus, we will never run out of what we need.

With Jesus, we simply cannot lose.

With Jesus, we will never die.

I challenge you to take ten minutes and simply think about these four realities.  Get lost in these thoughts.  Ruminate, contemplate, and reflect on them.  This is how Jesus saw reality.  And so can we.  We just need to practice heavenly reverie.  Instead of being pleasantly lost, you will become pleasantly found.



Dr. JaView More: http://jillnicole.pass.us/apprentice-teammes 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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Aug 06

Gospel, Salvation, and Vampire Christians: You’re Not One, Are You?

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“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Bumper sticker theology on the blog today. But seriously. God said it–in other words, “it’s in the Bible.” When you hear those words some claim about the Bible being sufficient isn’t too far behind. If not


“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Bumper sticker theology on the blog today.

But seriously. God said it–in other words, “it’s in the Bible.”

When you hear those words some claim about the Bible being sufficient isn’t too far behind. If not audibly, it’s implied.

There’s an inherent claim being made: “I don’t need tradition or creeds or other stuff people made up, just the Bible for me, thanks.”

There’s a simple beauty in that phrase, even if it’s impossible to maintain.

In chapter 5 of The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight argues people set up a false choice when they choose the Bible instead of the creeds.

For McKnight, there’s a direct line of development from 1 Corinthians 15 to the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

You’ll recall that the apostolic gospel of Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the post.

Quick refresher: Paul received the Gospel and passed it along; he didn’t make it up.

Here’s a sketch of McKnight’s argument in the chapter:

First Corinthians 15 led to the development of the Rule of Faith,
the Rule of Faith led to the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.
Thus, 1 Corinthians led to the Nicene Creed.
Thus, the Nicene Creed is preeminently a gospel statement!” (64)

Ok, I’m assuming a good bit of knowledge here, so let’s define some terms:

Rule of faith–don’t think of it as a disciplinary rule. It’s more like a rough outline of what it means to follow this God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Apostles’ Creed–developed over time, affirms belief in the Trinity–Father, Son, Holy Spirit–and the work of the those three persons in history.

Nicene Creed–product of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. outlining belief in God. Also Trinitarian in nature, but focuses primarily on the Father and the Son.

Whew, good? Enough church history for one blog post.

To boil it all down: “Denial of the creeds is tantamount to denying the gospel itself because what the creeds seek to do is bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel.” (65).

The creeds are an attempt to clarify the gospel conversation. (Not the salvation conversation).

For the early church and much of church history–it was all about the gospel. If you read the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed you’ll Nicene Creed Icondiscover those common points about events in Jesus’ life:

Nicene Creed:
“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.”

Apostles’ Creed:
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

If that’s all true, when did the focus shift from gospel to salvation?

McKnight contends: The Reformation.

In true Protestant spirit a couple confessions (Augsburg and Genevan) shifted the church focus. (You’ll have to read the chapter or Google for more on those confessions, or ask your Lutheran/Reformed friend, respectively)

What changed? An intense emphasis on personal salvation.

Personal salvation became the goal, and the gospel was the road you traveled to get there.

The whole conversation switched from telling the story about Jesus’ life (gospel) to narrating points about God and you (salvation): “God loves you, you are messed up, Jesus died for you, accept him and (no matter what you do) you can go to heaven” (73).

Heard that speech before? Me too.John Wesley

McKnight gets bonus points for referencing my boy, John Wesley. Wesley is a poster child for this evangelical salvation thing. He was unsure about his standing with God, until one night on Aldersgate street when, in his words:

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (74)

Salvation = J Dubs and God.

A beloved figure around the Apprentice Institute Dallas Willard put it this way,

“‘Gospels of sin management’ presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind…[and] they foster “‘vampire Christians,’ who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven” (76).

“Nothin but the blood,” indeed.

To McKnight’s credit, he doesn’t put the early church on a pedestal as some perfect period of church history. Nor does he deny the positive impact of the Reformation. Instead he helpfully traces the arc–admittedly with broad strokes–of the change of culture in the universal church from one of “gospel” (telling about Jesus) to “salvation” (telling about how you get saved).

If you had any doubts about the importance of the creeds, hopefully those are fading fast. And hopefully you see the broad movement from a gospel centered church culture to our current salvation centered situation. And hopefully you’re beginning to realize the gospel is bigger than salvation.

If you’re not there yet, you can always hum this little ditty:

What do you think about the book so far? Or, if you’re not reading, what do you think about the content you’ve seen here? Curious enough to check the book out?

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Jun 19

When Feelings Fail You

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How do you feel right now? Energized or tired? Satisfied or hungry? Want to work or go home? In conflict with co-worker or at peace? Happy or upset? Lustful or…i’m not sure what the opposite of lustful might be. Think about it, we all experience


How do you feel right now? Energized or tired? Satisfied or hungry? Want to work or go home? In conflict with co-worker or at peace? Happy or upset? Lustful or…i’m not sure what the opposite of lustful might be.

Think about it, we all experience feelings all the time. Feelings are central to who we are as human beings.

But they can also be a struggle. Dallas Willard wrote, “[Feelings], more than any other component of our nature, are the ‘trigger’ of sinful action” (Renovation of the Heart138).

Feelings become a problem when we’re mastered by them. Think of a negative experience you’ve had with feelings recently, did that feeling dominate your afternoon/day/week/month/year/life? Did you try to change the way you felt? How’d that work for you?

Probably not well, at least it hasn’t for me.

The problem with feelings is that they change so often–day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment. Something makes me feel “good” so I continue to pursue it, even if it begins to dominate my life (addiction).

On addiction, Willard wrote, “The addict is one who, in one way or another, has given in to feeling of one kind or another and has placed it in the position of ultimate value in his or her life” (125).

Ultimate value. Hmm, what should be there?

Well, since we’re talking about Christian spiritual formation. Probably God. (the Sunday school answers still work).

Feelings are fickle lovers

Which is part of our problem with feelings and God. Most people’s false narratives (stories they tell themselves) about God stem from a fear they have deep down: God might just be as fickle of a feeler as me.

“Is God angry with me?”
You’re one in whom Christ dwells and delights.
“But what if I do something to make God mad or angry?”
You’re one in whom Christ dwells and delights.
“But, what if…”

What we’re really asking is: how does God feel about me? And if God is as quick to change feelings as I am then I’m in a heap of trouble.

And you’d be right.

But that’s not the way it has to be. The solution to your/mine destructive feelings isn’t to put “not” in front of them.

Lust much? I shouldn’t lust. Escape in a bottle. I shouldn’t want that. Angry? I shouldn’t be angry. Sad or melancholy? I shouldn’t be sad.

That’s just as useful as giving in to every feeling.

But we can’t just refuse the feelings on our own willpower either. Tried that? Yeah it didn’t work for me either.

The solution is as simple as it is difficult: Jesus (another Sunday school answer).

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul lays out a vision of peace, joy, and love. These aren’t feelings (those are dependent on us), they’re a state of being that’s dependent on God alone:

Have peace–not through yourself–with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rejoice in the hope–not of your power or ability–of the glory of God.

“Rejoice in suffering because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:4-5).

bridge foundation

Peace, joy, and love are the gift of God and a confidence we have in the greater work God is doing in our lives.

But instead of focusing on that goodness, we get tackled by our fickle feelings. And we see a god who is just as fickle as we are. No matter that this god we create looks nothing like the vision Paul rolls out in Romans 5.

Even if you don’t have destructive feelings, maybe you’ve succumbed to that painful Christian quicksand pit: I just don’t feel God anymore.

And then you feel guilty because you don’t feel like praying, or going to church, or reading the Bible, or you don’t feel God when you do those things. Which is about as useful as all those other negative feelings.

It’s not easy to break the mastery of feelings because this world we live in tells us our feelings are what define and drive us. But those who have begun living as apprentices of Jesus know there’s more to the story.

If our life with God is based on feelings then it will be here one day and gone the next. But if our life with God is based on the peace we have in Christ, in the kingdom of God, then we’ve got a little better foundation, one that you can build your life on.

If your ultimate value is in feelings, there’s not much ultimate to work with. If your ultimate value is God, then your life can be guided by something better than some fickle feelings.

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May 20

Remembering the Power of Relationship

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empty bench

This is a guest post by Tom Smith. Tom will be presenting one of the A Talks and leading workshops at our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission. I am passionate about mission and spiritual formation but I fear that sometimes these two beautiful manifestations

empty bench

This is a guest post by Tom Smith. Tom will be presenting one of the A Talks and leading workshops at our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission.

I am passionate about mission and spiritual formation but I fear that sometimes these two beautiful manifestations of God’s invitation to love God and others can become abstract “talking points” devoid of real life relationships.

From personal experience I know this abstraction too well.

A few weeks ago I listened to the audio version of CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce and stopped the car when Lewis places the following speech in Gordon McDonalds’ mouth,

“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in smaller matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organiser of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.”

The real danger is that I can easily fall into the snare of being fanatical about spiritual formation and mission, or missional spirituality, without involvement with God and God’s people. Jesus hinted at this when he reflected with the Pharisees and noted that, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40, ESV)

In the end, missional spirituality is an invitation into a friendship with God the Father, Son and Spirit and God’s people and creation. It is here where Dallas Willard’s beautiful definition of knowledge helps me to remember what the end of missional spirituality is. Dallas noted that, “Knowledge, biblically, is interactive relationship with what is known”[1] The invitation into a missional spirituality is towards an interactive relationship with Christ who said, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”(Mtt 25:40). Interaction is an invitation towards the inward and outward relational journeys wherein we become part of the dynamic blessing nature of the Triune God making the world a better place.

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/resources/WillardWords.asp accessed 16 May 2014


–          How have you experienced the subtle snare that leads to abstraction?

–          What does an interactive relationship with God and people mean for you?

 Want to hear more from Tom? Register today for

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/resources/WillardWords.asp accessed 16 May 2014


Tom Smith is married to Lollie and they have two children, Tayla and Liam. Tom has a passion for following Jesus in his everyday context. He is the co-founder of the organization Rhythm of Life (www.rhythmoflife.co.za) that helps churches to grow in discipleship. Tom is a church planter and is currently a PhD student doing research on the development of missional spirituality. He is the author of the book “Raw Spirituality.” He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. 


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May 19

A Loving Community: The Cure for Isolation and Shame

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This is a guest post by Samantha Skaggs. In today’s culture, communication is built on guilt and shame. We believe we know what is best for one another and guilt and shame each other into doing it. Guilt is the feeling of remorse for an


This is a guest post by Samantha Skaggs.

In today’s culture, communication is built on guilt and shame.

We believe we know what is best for one another and guilt and shame each other into doing it. Guilt is the feeling of remorse for an action while shame is a state of being and overall feeling of unworthiness. Guilt is temporary while shame is ongoing.

Guilt and shame are apparent in the way we communicate in churches as well.Rather than promoting kingdom community and the betterment of all, we compete with one another and shame each other for missteps.

What if we believed that each of us has the tools we need, the image of God in us, to make transformational decisions in the context of a supportive community and encouraged each other along the way?

Shame is fear of disconnection. It’s a universal emotion; everyone experiences it.  The real struggle is that true connection is only reached through vulnerability and transparency.

The fear of not being wanted, not being good enough, not believing others will love the true you, leaves us feeling alone and filled with shame.[1]

Shame is like a man falling off his bike.[2]  He was riding his bike, crashed, fell, and injured himself. He looks around; making sure no one saw him, more worried about his pride than the fact that he was physically injured. He blames himself for falling and felt shame for something completely out of his control, internalizing his emotions, believing he would be alright as long as no one found out.

Shame is the feeling, “One has simply failed as a human being.”[3]  Shame may be purposefully placed on an individual by someone else through belittling, but it could also be completely internal and based on perceived self-expectations.

The perception is that if everything is alright externally, then internal feelings are of no significance. This, however, is not true wholeness and is not living up to our full potential in our interactions with ourselves and others.

Often, feelings of shame come from a need for self-perfection. The individual is never satisfied with herself; always believing she should have worked harder and achieved more.

Many people have a narrative, or belief, that perfection is attainable and even required. Every task performed must be done flawlessly, with contingency plans for every possible change of path. Life becomes a never ending chore of keeping up appearances and maintaining a perfect image. This persistent need for achievement and faultlessness leaves a feeling of never quite being good enough: shame.

Perfection gives us unhealthy expectations for ourselves and others. When we believe that we must be perfect, we also expect that from others. This produces more isolation and unrealistic expectations in relationships.

High levels of shame come when people perceive their experiences as individualized to themselves and the situation, not believing that anyone else has struggled with the same thing or potentially made those same mistakes. Vulnerability, honesty, and empathy are the keys to reducing shame and increasing resilience to it in the future.

Some of the most powerful words are “me too.”

When an individual who feels shame becomes vulnerable, expresses those feelings, and receives empathy and understanding in return, shame can be healed.

Shame isolates, but vulnerability and empathy restore. Realizing we are not alone is one of the most freeing feelings. Empathy heals the empathizer and the empathizee.

Shame produces feelings of being trapped, isolated, and powerless while empathy produces connection, power, and freedom.man in boat

Healing Shame through Community

Shame is healed through an accepting and loving community that continues to affirm the worth of the individual. It is healed through the changing of beliefs and the knowledge that belonging comes before behavior, not the other way around.

True love and acceptance is based on who you are, not what you do.

Shame does not have to be the norm. We are made for something greater: an image based on our Creator, not based on our opinion of self or the opinions of others.

True community seeks to affirm the image of God in each other and continues to promote transformation to become more like Christ. Rather than harping on missteps, community empathizes with mistakes and affirms movement towards vulnerability and transparency.

Led by the Holy Spirit, this community begins to function like Dallas Willard’s description of the Children of Light: seeing the world as Christ sees it and interacting with it the way he would.

Guilt and shame can begin to heal when individuals believe they are in a safe place. They can begin to be themselves, putting shame aside, and really open up about their struggle and desire for change.

In an open conversation and community, people are able to be transparent, to see that they are not the only one who struggles, and to learn that the Christian faith needs community.

In a culture based on perfection, empathy and understanding are often under-appreciated and under used. We do not allow one another to make mistakes because of this required perfection. Shame is an emotion we all experience and is amplified in our perfectionist culture. It is a consistent feeling of unworthiness: unworthy of being, unworthy of feeling, unworthy of connection and relationships.

Shame keeps us from true transparency, community, and healing because we feel unworthy of telling our story. Only when we are able to tell our story fully are we able to experience true empathy and healing which reduces shame and increases our feelings of worthiness.


[1] Brown, Brené, “Vulnerability”.

[2] Rafael Zaracho. “Communicating the Gospel in a Shame Society.” Direction 39 (2010): 271-78.

[3] Asa Sphar. “A Theology of Shame as Revealed in the Creation Story.” Theological Educator no. 55 (1997): 64-74.

Samantha is a recent graduate of Friends University where she studied Business Administration and Christian Spiritual Formation. She spent last summer in a small village in Tanzania, volunteering at an orphanage where she experienced relational Christian community. She deeply misses the people and is excited to be reunited with them this summer. Currently, she is living in the tension of post graduate life, trying to discover what’s next.

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