Jul 23

Shaped by Story

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“We are creatures who live by our stories. From early on we are told stories by our parents, which help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be. We are naturally drawn to stories and must follow them to their conclusion because

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We are creatures who live by our stories. From early on we are told stories by our parents, which help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be. We are naturally drawn to stories and must follow them to their conclusion because stories are exciting. Jesus taught primarily in story form. One reason might be that stories are memorable. We may not be able to remember many (or any) of the Beatitudes, but we all can remember the story of the prodigal son.

When we have a significant experience—one that shapes us—we turn it into a story. For example, a powerful experience from childhood may have been a special birthday party where you got the gift you had been hoping for. You do not remember the event in exact detail. You remember it as a narrative—who was there, what was said, how you felt, what the cake looked like.

Narrative is “the central function . . . of the human mind.” We turn everything into a story in order to make sense of life. We “dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative.” In fact, we cannot avoid it. We are storied creatures. Our stories help us navigate our world, to understand right and wrong, and to provide meaning (“So the moral of the story is . . .”).

There are all kinds of narratives. Family narratives are the stories we learn from our immediate families. Our parents impart to us their worldview and their ethical system through stories. Key questions such as Who am I? Why am I here? Am I valuable? are answered early on in the form of narrative. There are cultural narratives that we learn from growing up in a particular region of the world. From our culture we learn values (what is important, who is successful) in the form of stories and images. Americans, for example, are taught the value of “rugged individualism” through the stories of our past (the Revolution, the pioneers). There are religious narratives— stories we hear from the pulpit, the classroom and religious books that help us understand who God is, what God wants of us and how we ought to live. Finally, there are Jesus’ narratives, the stories and images Jesus tells to reveal the character of God.

We are shaped by our stories. In fact, our stories, once in place, determine much of our behavior without regard to their accuracy or helpfulness. Once these stories are stored in our minds, they stay there largely unchallenged until we die. And here is the main point: these narratives are running (and often ruining) our lives. That is why it is crucial to get the right narratives.

Soul Training Exercises:

Read and reflect on Luke 7:36-50

Which character do you most identify with? Why?

If you are familiar with this passage, has the character you identify with changed over time?

How does this story impact the way you think about God?

 

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


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.

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.

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May 19

The Scrambler

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When my son, Jacob, was six years old, I took him to an amusement park. There were only a few people in the park that day, so we went from ride to ride without having to wait. We came upon a ride that I had

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When my son, Jacob, was six years old, I took him to an amusement park. There were only a few people in the park that day, so we went from ride to ride without having to wait. We came upon a ride that I had never ridden before but I assumed was fun. After all, we were in an amusement park. We got in our seats and a teenaged boy buckled us in. Soon the ride started whirling and spinning us, faster and faster, jerking us around and up and down. I held on to Jacob as hard as I could, afraid that he would fly out of his seat. With white knuckles and gritted teeth I prayed the entire ninety seconds for the ride to end. I looked over at Jacob, who was laughing and having a great time.

When we got off the ride, I saw the name of it in bright red paint: the Scrambler, which was appropriate. Jacob said, “that was fun, let’s do it again!” I said no. (What I felt like saying was, “Not a chance! ever again! I am the worst father ever! Please forgive me.”) We sat down on a nearby park bench, and I asked, “Weren’t you scared? that ride was pretty wild. Why did you get on a ride like that?” he answered with childlike honesty, “Because you did, Dad.” Right or wrong, that little guy trusted me. I was and am clearly not worthy of such trust. I love him and would do anything for him, and I would never put him in harm’s way intentionally. But I am a limited, finite, ignorant human being. In his eyes, however, being with me meant he was completely safe.

That illustrated for me why it is so essential that we understand that God is trustworthy. The God Jesus reveals would never do anything to harm us. He has no malice or evil intentions. He is completely good. And the fact that God is also all-knowing and all-powerful makes his goodness even better. I can trust God, even if things look bleak. It does not matter that God is all-powerful or all-knowing if he is not all-good. If he isn’t all-good, I will never be able to love and trust him.

 

Soul Training – Use the following Bible Passages for Reflection:

1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” NIV

2 Samuel 7:28 “Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.” NIV

Psalm 91

 

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


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.

 

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Apr 07

Where are You?

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My husband Fred had been ill for several weeks.  By the time he was finally hospitalized, a lung infection had spread to his kidneys and to his brain.  After about two hours in the emergency room, he became non-responsive.  We talked to him, called his name, and asked

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My husband Fred had been ill for several weeks.  By the time he was finally hospitalized, a lung infection had spread to his kidneys and to his brain.  After about two hours in the emergency room, he became non-responsive.  We talked to him, called his name, and asked him questions, but he didn’t answer. His eyes followed us at some points, but there were no words, no responses when he was asked to move his arm or turn over.  He was there, but he wasn’t there.

Early in the morning a day later, I walked into his room and stood near him, calling his name. Finally he opened his eyes. A minute later they came alive and then filled with tears.  “Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!” he repeated as the tears rolled down his face.

“Why?” I asked.  “I didn’t do anything.”  Then, thinking he meant that he was grateful to be feeling better, I said, “The doctors and the nurses were the ones who helped you.”

He shook his head, “No, I mean thank you for being you.  I’ve been in a very dark place. You are the first person I recognize!”  And then the questions came. “Where am I? Why am I here? Why are they doing all this stuff to me?” After about an hour, as more clarity came, he sheepishly said, “I didn’t know anybody so I asked for a phone, but I didn’t know anyone to call.”  We both laughed and he went on. “The only way I figured out who I am was by seeing you.

A few days later I heard a sermon on Genesis 3 and listened again to God’s poignant call to Adam, “Where are you?” When Fred was non-responsive, we were all calling him, essentially asking him, “Fred, where are you?” It occurred to me that my sense of loss when the Fred I knew and loved was “missing” must be something similar to God’s reaction when Adam was hiding from him.  Where was this creature he knew and loved?

Since then I have thought a lot about this parable of the lost Fred.  I thought about how often we go “missing” from God, so far gone that we don’t hear his repeated calls.  I thought about how far on “the dark side” we travel as we walk farther and farther from God’s voice.  I was jolted by the fact that we, like Fred, concoct useless plans to try to fill in what’s missing when God’s missing.  And how true it is that we cannot know who we are unless we know who God is.   And how grateful we are when we finally hear God’s voice and realize that God has been there all the time!

MULLING IT OVER:  Can you think of a time when you wandered away from God?  How did you find your way back?  Is God wondering where you are now?   When we spend a lot of time with someone, we learn to know their voice.  How can you learn to know God’s voice better?


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 atwww.livingasapprentices.com.

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Mar 24

I Can Have As Much of God As I Want

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“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

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“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.

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Mar 13

Cultivating Wonder

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“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  Psalm 65:8 (NIV) In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a four-year old girl and her grandmother who

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“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  Psalm 65:8 (NIV)

In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a four-year old girl and her grandmother who were together on a summer afternoon. The grandmother was reading while the girl played on the floor nearby. Suddenly there was a crack of thunder and a torrential rain.  And then, as quickly as it came, it was gone. The girl got up and looked out the window and spotted the stripes of a rainbow against a patch of blue sky. “Grandma,” she asked, “who made that?”

Do you envy that child? Like most children, her world is still full of awe and wonder. What about you? Do you live in wonder?  Or do you move through your world without really seeing – until a clap of thunder wakes you up?

Are you filled with wonder when a baby smiles back at you?  When a choir and orchestra fill a sanctuary with glorious music? When sunlight slants through a forest? When a perfect sentence ends a mesmerizing book? When birds serenade each other a sunrise? When a dancer gracefully floats across the stage? When children giggle? When aromas of a Thanksgiving meal waft through a warm kitchen? When frost traces delicate filigree across your window pane?

Psalm 65: 8 says that God has filled the world with wonder to invite our joyful praises.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: “Dawn and dusk take turns calling, ‘Come and worship.’” We are called to live in wonder because wonder trains our souls for worship. A sense of awe and reverence for everything around us prompts us to reverence the Creator of it all.  Wonder makes us humble. It takes us outside of our petty existences and puts us in touch with presence of God.

In their book Awaken Your Senses, J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram describe how using our “whole” brain nurtures our experience of life, including our sense of wonder:  “Our left brain, which is the logical and concrete center of our thinking, uses words to understand and interpret experiences.  However, the left brain cannot experience – God or anything else.  The left brain takes meaning from our experiences; the right brain does the experiencing.  The right brain, the creative and intuitive center of our thinking communicates through images, not words. By image, we mean anything you envision through one or more of your senses.”

 They go on to say that our “senses are involved in faith development.” Most of us know this intuitively: sunrise and sunsets, bubbling creeks or waves lapping on the shore, the aroma of pine trees – these move us into spiritual experiences – without words. In a world of word after word after word (texting, e-mailing, newspapers, blogs, instant messaging, even phone calls and voicemails – which are, after all words), we long for these sensual (as in using our senses) experiences without even understanding why.

In the 21st century, if we seek to experience God in the present moment, we need to foster awareness of the experiences our senses can give us. Perhaps we can do that by offering our senses to the Holy Spirit. We need to intentionally cultivate an attitude of wonder and awe. Perhaps we can do that by slowing down, creating margin, creating a different rhythm to our lives. We need to seek the sacramental nature of every moment.  Perhaps we can do that by digging deep for our long-lost childlike response to the universe. Perhaps then, when we see a rainbow, our first reaction will be to fall on our knees (metaphorically or even literally) and shout “God made that!”

MULLING IT OVER:  Read Eugene Peterson’s poetic and joy-filled vision of Psalm 65 below. Is this the way you see the world? How can you turn everything you see into an object of wonder?

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop,
they’ll stare in awe, in wonder.
Dawn and dusk take turns
calling, “Come and worship.”

Oh, visit the earth; ask her to join the dance!
Deck her out in spring showers,
fill the God-River with living water.
Paint the wheat fields golden.
Creation was made for this!
Drench the plowed fields,
soak the dirt clods
with rainfall as harrow and rake
bring her to blossom and fruit.
Snow-crown the peaks with splendor,
scatter rose petals down your paths,
All through the wild meadows, rose petals.

Set the hills to dancing,
Dress the canyon walls with live sheep,
a drape of flax across the valleys.
Let them shout, and shout, and shout!
Oh, oh, let them sing!

Psalm 65:8-13 (MSG)

 


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.

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