Jul 07

Suburban Apprentice

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree. 

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree.  One of my professors was pleased to announce that the seminary would soon be establishing a “School of Urban Ministry.”  He explained the timeline and the reason for this new initiative.  Since Orlando is a fairly large city (especially compared to Asbury’s main campus in Wilmore, KY), there would be some tremendous opportunities for ministry.  My professor also said the School of Urban Ministry would be a terrific way for people to get solid training before heading off to participate in urban ministry throughout the country.

While the initiative is without question important if not necessary, I couldn’t help but get a little uneasy in my seat.  It had nothing to do with the seminary’s lukewarm coffee that was offered, either.  My mind was racing because I thought there was a large portion of our country’s population that was being overlooked.  Shortly after the professor left the classroom, I leaned over and told a classmate what I was thinking.  I said, “The seminary also needs to establish a School of Suburban Ministry.” My classmate gave me an odd look.  She wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking.  But I was dead serious.

I’ve visited several big, urban cities all over the country.  Sometimes it was on business.  Other times it was for pleasure.  I’ve also participated in inner city mission trips.  No matter the purpose for my visit, it was always very easy to spot the need.  Whether it was a run-down church with an eviction notice on the front doors or a homeless person on the corner with a cardboard sign in hand, you didn’t have to travel far into the city to see a source of pain or suffering.

Things are different in suburbia, a place removed from the city with neighborhoods full of manicured lawns and lovely patio furniture.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy living in the suburbs.  But there are some real challenges too.  Having lived in suburbia all my life, I have learned that the needs of my neighbors are easily hidden in the shrubs that help shape the landscaping.  Much of this, in my opinion, is done on purpose.  Suburbanites are supposed to have their act together.  So it’s not easy for people to reveal their “warts” when everyone else around them seems to have it so good.  News flash – we all have warts!

There has been a bit of a paradigm shift in neighborhoods over time.  Fifty years ago, people who lived in suburban neighborhoods knew each other.  They spent time out front talking about their lives, and sharing a cup of sugar or a few eggs for a recipe.  It was also easy to connect with each other because houses were designed differently.  Think about it.  Front porches were much bigger back then.  People placed an emphasis on being available for their neighbors, therefore they spent more time on the front porch.  In the 21st Century, our time and our money is spent on the back porch, where it’s harder to connect with our neighbors.  Contributing to the isolation is the habit of opening the garage door, pulling the car in, then promptly closing the garage door.  Our isolation has also bled into other areas of suburban life.

As a father of two young kids, I spend a lot of my time in the evenings at the soccer fields or in the dance studio or in a gymnasium.  It would be easier for me to find a seat and surf my social media accounts or return work emails.  By doing that, I would get to avoid everyone else.  After all, so many other parents are doing the same thing.  That’s life in the suburbs.  But the suburbs are my mission field – and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect with someone who might be suffering or going through a trial.  So I look people in the eyes, and ask about their day.  Some people are guarded with their answers.  Others are ready to unload a burden that’s weighing them down.  Financial stress, parental issues, relationship problems, spiritual crises – they are more prevalent than we realize.  Our neighborhoods and communities need us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of our everyday lives.

In Knowing Christ Today, Dallas Willard speaks to this when he says,

“The ‘love’ Jesus lived and taught is not limited to compassion for the suffering and the downtrodden.  Those were simple and obvious cases of love, to be sure: obvious because the needs of such people were so glaring, and because they were not the usual objects of love for ordinary people in ordinary life.  They tended to be passed by.  Helping people in dire need was recognized as a ‘big deal,’ something to make a show of, and as a praiseworthy thing for extraordinary people to do – rather as we today would describe someone as a ‘philanthropist.’  Unfortunately, people are not thought to be philanthropists because they are kind and thoughtful and on the lookout for the good of those around them and serve them.  But when Jesus spoke of love as the principle of life as it ought to be, he is referring mainly to the posture of benefiting others in the ordinary relations of ordinary life.” 1

Our calling as suburban apprentices of Jesus is to help re-shape the narratives that form and cause harm to our neighbors.  Going out of your way to connect with the people around us may seem radical to this world.  But these practices are ordinary to Jesus because they flow of out of who he is.  So consider yourself an ordinary radical – someone who loves and cares for people – in the midst of your everyday life.  Whether they readily realize it or not, it matters to them and it matters to God, and it will make a difference in the Kingdom.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does your everyday, ordinary life look like?
  2. Do the comforts and isolation of the suburbs prevent you from connecting with neighbors? How?
  3. What are some tangible ways you can show love to those in your community?

Bibliography

  1. Willard, Dallas. Knowing Christ Today. Harper One, New York, 2009, p.88.

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.


The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – An Apprentice Institute event in partnership with Renovaré.  Gather with us as we learn about The Joy of Kingdom Living.  For more information visit www.apprenticegathering.org 

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Mar 31

A Priest Who Prays

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“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

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“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: / / / / / / / /

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Oct 01

(Don’t) Give Until There’s Nothing Left

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Have you or someone you know ever had major surgery? Needed a blood transfusion? What a gift that is for those who need it. Life. Oxygen rich blood to a body in need. Life to a body on the brink. But where did that blood

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Have you or someone you know ever had major surgery? Needed a blood transfusion?

What a gift that is for those who need it. Life. Oxygen rich blood to a body in need. Life to a body on the brink.

But where did that blood come from?

Another body, another life. To the best of my (limited) knowledge, the medical/scientific community hasn’t come up with a way to manufacture human blood.

So all that blood that gives life to patients comes from someone else, a willing donor. Give life.

Why all this talk about blood?

I gave blood yesterday, so it’s on my mind.

O negative blood type, here. For those who don’t know, that means universal donor. Any patient (especially newborns since doctors don’t know their blood type yet) can accept my blood.

So, I feel a bit obligated to give. And I’m happy to do it.

But when I go to give blood, I don’t give much. 1 pint if it’s a normal donation. 2 pints if it’s the whole blood fancy donation machine.

Even though those folks rushed into the ER who the doctors and nurses haven’t had a chance to figure out their blood type yet and the babies who need blood could use all of my blood, I can’t give it all.

Why? Dumb question, right? Because If I give all my blood, I’ve got nothing left to sustain my body.

After I donated yesterday, the Red Cross technician told me I couldn’t donate again until January, that’s a ways away.

My body has to build up its own blood supply before I go back to offer anything to anyone else.

It’s a slow process that can’t be rushed, but it’s essential to my life and those who may receive my blood.

Living for others, giving of yourself is good, but you can’t give until there’s nothing left. Remember what happens if you give blood until there’s nothing left? Yeah, bad deal.

So, what is your own process and practice of building up your supply of life? It doesn’t have to be individual, how does your church help?

Because it’s not just your individual practices that form those life giving moments in your life. It’s the church, the body of Christ.

After all, your mission/outreach/service call it what you want, is first and foremost a participation in the work of that bigger body. The folks you gather at the table with each Sunday, the people you pass the peace of Christ with and pray with and for.

That’s where you are replenished as a member of the body of Christ to go and give. Not everything, but what you can give in your context. You can give once the body has refilled the supply in you.

Don’t mis-read me. Unlike blood donation, you don’t have to wait months to give again. But without a rhythm of filling and giving, you’ll be drained of all your resources and have nothing left to give.

All due respect to Relient K.


Have you given until there’s nothing left? How did it impact you, your close friends, your family?

 

Posted in Blog, Formation for Mission | Tags: / / / / /

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Sep 24

(O)mission

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line at a coffee shop

We’ve got this conference coming up, which has had me thinking a lot about mission. Mission is often about something you do. On a mission trip, you build a house, or clean up a neighborhood, or spend time with folks you wouldn’t normally be around.

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line at a coffee shop

We’ve got this conference coming up, which has had me thinking a lot about mission.

Mission is often about something you do. On a mission trip, you build a house, or clean up a neighborhood, or spend time with folks you wouldn’t normally be around.

It’s a lot of action.

And it can be draining.

Imagine trying to live every moment of your life at the level of a traditional mission trip. You’d be exhausted.

But that’s how mission is communicated. Go do this thing. Come help out with our event on Saturday. Feed people.

Those are all good things.

But I don’t think that’s all there is to this whole mission thing.

Because the word mission carries meaning of sent-ness.

So who’s the one doing all the sending?

God.

The mission trip or experience you went on is part of a bigger mission God is on in the world, and has been for quite some time.

The Father sent the Son into the world, and Jesus sent out the apostles (with the Spirit). And that sending continues.

But it’s not just a sending to another place where they don’t speak your language.

It’s a sending into your everyday. Into your neighborhood. Into your coffee shop. Into your work place. Into your gym. Into your commute. Into every aspect of your life.

The mission is your openness and willingness to respond to the places God is already active.

Sometimes mission is guilt-driven: you have, those people don’t, therefore mission. And it’s all about doing.

But mission in the fullest sense is more about paying attention. Because we follow an active God who is already on the move in mission.

The missio Dei (mission of God) is another way of saying this. Whatever activity you’re involved in is a participation in the work God is already doing. Which takes a little of the pressure off.

Here’s Dave Fitch’s perspective:

“If the Triune God is already in mission, then I need to see the worlds in which I regularly walk as the arenas of the Spirit–places imbued with the presence of God…I started to changed the way I inhabited places: work, the coffee shop, the train on the way to work, a neighborhood conversation, a school board committee meeting, the food pantry, and of course my own family life. I started to pay attention to things I normally would miss. I began to listen for God. I tried not to make God into an evangelism project that I had to do a few hours a week. I simply paid attention to my existing routine and daily tasks. I looked for what God was doing in all the relationships and interactions of my life.” (Prodigal Christianity, 28).

Too often mission is about what we do, instead of paying attention to what God is already doing. Yes, we do something, but we’re just looking for ways to align ourselves with God’s work in and around us.

Which means mission will look less like a trip and more like a listening and responsive life.

How would your day tomorrow look different if you looked for the Spirit’s action all around you? If you listened for the nudge?

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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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