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
Apr 28

We Win

by Leave a comment

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

...
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.

Posted in Books, Community, Uncategorized | 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
Feb 06

His Faith

by Leave a comment

“I want to state clearly that it is not just the narratives of Jesus that have helped me, but Jesus himself has carried me along through my grief and doubt. Jesus not only explains suffering, he experienced suffering. He endured the worst kind of alienation

...

“I want to state clearly that it is not just the narratives of Jesus that have helped me, but Jesus himself has carried me along through my grief and doubt. Jesus not only explains suffering, he experienced suffering. He endured the worst kind of alienation possible as he hung on the cross, feeling that his Father had forsaken him. When we received the news about our daughter Madeline’s condition, I too felt forsaken by God. Jesus understands.

In his letter to the Galatians Paul wrote this moving narrative: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”(Galatians 2:19-20).

If you look closely at your Bible when you read this verse, you will probably notice a footnote after the phrase “faith in the Son of God.” The footnote in most modern translations reads, “or can be translated ‘the faith of the Son of God.’ ” This is because it seems to be a more accurate translation, and your Bible translators want to be honest. So why do most translations not read that way? I think it is because we tend to emphasize our faith in Jesus, and are not used to thinking about Jesus’ faith for us.

Jesus said his Father was good. Jesus also refused to affirm the idea that external rewards and punishments are given by God on the basis of our good or bad works. Rain falls on the good and the bad.

Sometimes we pray for rain (for our crops), and sometimes we pray that it will not rain (for our picnics). Both good and bad people get rained on, whether they want it or not. Jesus faced suffering, rejection and alienation, and the people jeered at him as he hung on the cross, questioning whether God was really with him. And Jesus believed. And he believes for me. He believes even when we cannot. He prays even when we cannot. We participate in his faith.

I affirm with Paul that I have been crucified with Christ. I do not understand that mystery, but I know that Jesus is closer to me than I am to myself. Christ lives in me, and I live by his faith. I am not alone. This is something more than simply getting my narratives right. It is allowing Jesus to live in and through and for me. The love of the Father, the redemption of Jesus and the communion I have with the Spirit are not based on anything I do. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit to believe in a God who is good even when things look bleak.”

Reflect – Why is carrying the words of scripture in our hearts and minds so helpful?

 

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

Posted in A Good and Beautiful Life, Blog, Uncategorized | Tags: / / / / /

More Less
Oct 13

Lay Down Your “Divinity”

by Leave a comment

When you look at this icon (Christ Pantokrator, “almighty”), the two-sided face of Jesus jumps out. The left half is pristine, eye staring ahead, nothing off. The right half tells a different story. This eye looks stressed, taxed, a smudged line underneath. The mouth and

...

When you look at this icon (Christ Pantokrator, “almighty”), the two-sided face of Jesus jumps out.

The left half is pristine, eye staring ahead, nothing off.

The right half tells a different story.

This eye looks stressed, taxed, a smudged line underneath. The mouth and cheek droop, a bruised/shadowy cheek.

Take a few minutes and just sit with the image.

This is Jesus, the Son of God become man. Fully divine and fully human. An image pointing into the heart of a mystery of our faith.310px-Jesus_Sinai_Icon--wikimedia--public domain

When I practice gazing at this icon, I’m drawn to the left side. the divine.

Divine looks whole, perfect.

The human side looks worn down, aching, tired, longing for more.

Which is what we are–human, limited, reliant on forces outside ourselves for our very survival.

So, why do we feel the need to portray our “divine” self at church or in Christian gatherings? Why are we so slow to show our humanness, the very reason we’ve gathered in the first place?

At a workshop over the weekend, I heard a quote that lamented how people feel they can be more candid in bars than in churches.

Sad thought, huh?

Maybe the same thing that draws my eye to the divine is drawing you and I to put on “divinity” in life. And, that false divinity becomes a barrier to true relationship, to true humanity.

Jeff Bjorck spoke about the “illusion of autonomy” (we can’t do it on our own, but we think we can), which is connected to this divine thing. God is the only being who is self-sufficient, and even God exists in constant communion: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Bjorck went on to explain that bearing one another’s burdens breaks down this illusion of self-sufficiency. But the hardest part of bearing one another’s burdens is letting others bear our own burdens.

Read that last part again. Because bearing others’ burdens, though difficult, still lets us be in control, lets us be divine.

We’re helping. We’re serving. We’re bearing.

Letting others bear our burdens makes us face the reality that we can’t bear them alone (even if we thought we could). It makes us look more like the right side of the icon.

We won’t be transformed into the image of Christ until we’ve laid down our false pretense of divinity.

Once we’ve laid down our “divinity,” we’ll discover the possibility of true transformation. The freedom from the false divinity we’ve put on for so long.

Instead we’ll begin to live into our true identity: One in whom Christ dwells and delights. This transformation doesn’t sweep our humanity under the rug, it wraps our burdens in a new possibility (new creation and all that). Then our burdens and struggles cease to be something we hide and begin to be something that draws us to one another:

“The cross of Jesus Christ shouts that we are loved–as we are, not as we should be. We are never going to be ‘as we should be,’ as if there were some perfect version of us that we must strive to be in order to deserve love and, until then, we must live in shame. Guilt does not produce holiness, only shame, hiding and separation. God, in Jesus, reveals the great mystery: God is love, and we are his beloved. He did not enter into our world to condemn it (John 3:17). He became one of us to reconcile us to God, to remind us that Love itself has created us and calls us home” (James Bryan Smith, Hidden in Christ, 133).

A divine thought, indeed.


Do you have a hard time laying down your “divinity?” What barriers do you face?

 

Posted in Blog, Identity | Tags: / / / / / / / / / /

More Less
123
Back to top

Sign Up

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