Aug 24

Simply Trust – Part II

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share their experiments with simplicity.  Perhaps their stories will provide some motivation, inspiration or some insight as to how God is working in their lives as they journey through the Apprentice Experience.

Here are just a few entries:

Participant 1-

“One way I am ‘un-cluttering’ this week is cleaning out my Inbox so that I can see all of them on one page- only keeping the essentials ones that remind me that I need to respond in some way, and unsubscribing from some of the emails I was getting that only distract me (TravelZoo, Groupon, etc).  Life with Jesus is better than any ‘deal’ the internet has to offer!”

Participant 2-

“On page 8 of Jan’s book, Abundant Simplicity, she writes, ‘Simplicity is not a discipline itself but a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider normal. It is an “inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and God’s kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty.’

 Simple thus isn’t the goal. I know of people who live frugally and who are about as far from God as one can be. Frugal can be a symptom of faithlessness. Rather simple is a means, when appropriately employed, to enable us to remove the obstacles that keep us from that ‘inward reality of a single-hearted focus upon God.’ I find that when I remove the clutter whether of things and/or the mental clutter that congests my soul’s lungs then I can breathe more deeply of the Spirit and can consequently experience a fuller reality of God’s presence.

 The accumulation of things hasn’t really been so much of a problem for me as I grow older as much as the things that add to the mental clutter of my mind. When that happens then the things start to own me rather than me owning them. The thing that tries to own me the most and does the most to clutter up my mind is the television and in a close second are the social media devices.

 I confessed recently in a sermon to my congregation that I contemplated canceling my cable service. But, after further consideration, I thought that might be a rash decision. The cable television isn’t bad nor the social media devices. They are only harmful when they start to own us and redirect our focus farther from God. So my spiritual discipline for this month is to first become aware of the routines that own me e.g., plopping automatically down in front and the TV and allowing the ‘Sirens’ of the flat screen to draw me into the rocks of spiritual despair. Secondly, once I recognize the harmful routines, I will turn to listen to the Spirit’s call and allow God to own me so that my soul can breathe more deeply of God’s goodness. In my confession to my congregation, I promised to keep them update on my progress. I think there might be some others in my congregation practicing this spiritual discipline of abstinence as Jan calls it.”

Participant 3-

“Abstinence has been with ease as I have matured.  I have found I do not buy ‘things’ as when I was younger. Yes I lack the desire but God has given me much more to replace than having those things.  My taste in food has gotten simpler, fresher, colorful with less of it.  However, If you ask me to give up chocolate or wine then I will find a struggle and an obvious discipline for me to venture.  Living on a ranch can lend to a collection of nuts and bolts ‘just in case’ you need one.  My eyes appreciate simple lines and cleanliness.  It takes some work to keep a landscape free of clutter in your home or outside.   As I walk along a creek near our house I have the choice to see all the deadfall that needs cleaning up or how nature runs its course with decay.  There was a great horn owl on a dead tree along on drive just last night.  I stopped the car so we could watch as the bird took off in a swoosh.  My husband said ‘That is why I want to leave the dead tree there.’  Jim Smith said in our last gathering that some people actually prefer manmade beauty perhaps more than even nature.  I agreed for a while.  Nature does not always have the cleanest lines but the whole picture cannot be replicated.  The chaos and the simple lie side by side.  I can see the beauty in the chaos while watching the center of a storm.  I can see beauty in decay while watching the birds in dead trees.  It is an ongoing process to keep the clutter down and oh how sweet it is when I am finally there, in glimpses.”

Participant 4-

“One thing that stood out in chapter 2 was that one can LEARN to be content. That is a very encouraging thing.  I don’t have to just wait for contentment to wash over me or do without it.  It’s not a disposition that, if I’m not born with it, I’m out of luck.  If it is something that can be learned, then it is within my reach. All kinds of things can be learned.  In a psychology class, I heard about a study in which rats became more creative after researchers reinforced them when they tried novel behaviors.  They said the rats learned creativity.  I also heard that the secret to being patient was to find something else to do in the meantime, and voila, I learned patience.  I think learning contentment is similar.  Focusing on what I do have instead of what I don’t, focusing on what really matters instead of what is here today and gone tomorrow.  As with all learning, the more I practice the more it becomes an automatic habit.”

Participant 5-

“I have been a blacksmith in the past. I love it, the smell of the coal smoke, the way the steel glows in the heat of the fire, the way it moves when I hit it with a hammer.  Literally hundreds of fantastic memories of working in front of men and boys at Royal Rangers camps.  However, I have not had my forge lit in 5 or 6 years. I owned a 281lb anvil, a 150lb vise, a huge 24 by 26 tray forge and dozens of hammers, tongs and tools.  As God was changing my life and preparing me for ministry, one thing that He was really working on was my attachment to stuff.  Even without the physical stuff the memories were still with me.  So…I simplified, I kept a small forge and anvil to play with when I come back to that hobby.  I sold or gave away most of my big tools and grinders.  And you know what?  Life is simpler!”

As you can see, people in the Apprentice Experience have been grappling with the concept of simplicity and have experienced some major revelations.  It will be interesting to witness the ways they experience God in the midst of all of this as we prepare for our next gathering.

Experiments with Simplicity

I’d like to encourage you to experiment with simplicity this week.  Perhaps you can try one or all of these:

  1. Talk to someone who lives simply. Ask them what they’ve learned through simplicity.
  1. Ask someone you trust to suggest what “weights” you need to lay aside. Don’t answer that person immediately.  Think about what he or she said.
  1. Journal about this question: “What do you want?” First write down what you think you want.  Then, ask God to help you search yourself as you look at things such as your calendar and spending records.  Also, consider your thought energy – What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?

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.

 

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Aug 11

Simply Trust

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the honor of leading people from all over the world in this 18-month journey in discipleship.  Our pilot group – Community 1 – is made up of twenty-five people.  They are pastors, church staff, para church workers and lay leaders.

As we prepare for our third Gathering in October, we are reading Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant SimplicitySimplicity is about intentionally choosing the engaging, relational life we were meant to live.  These choices allow God’s power to move through us and bless others as we have space to do good.  Suffice to say, it has been making an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.  Each week, we read two chapters, then attempt an experiment with simplicity.

One of the recent experiments asked us to talk with someone we know who lives simply.  I gave some thought to this and decided I was going to talk to a friend from Florida who recently simplified her wardrobe by doing a “clothing capsule.”  The concept is essentially a minimalist approach to clothing.  The idea is nothing new.  It actually dates back to the 70’s, but is making a comeback.  The basic idea is to build a wardrobe with a few high-quality, timeless pieces that mix and match.  You store seasonal clothing and only keep what you wear in your closet.  Each season, you switch to a new capsule, though some pieces will overlap.  The wardrobe is also intended to be built with ethical clothing.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a “clothes horse.” (Hey – everyone’s got their own vices, right?)  I decided to attempt the clothing capsule after much prayer and thought.  I took everything out of my closet and went through it all.  I hung up what I wear regularly, including shoes.  Then I went through what was left.  I either gave away of donated the rest.  I purged my closet again, only this time, it was really hard.  I picked a couple different items and said goodbye to the rest.  Versatility was the key to what I ended up keeping.

Part of having a capsule is not having all of your clothes in front of you, which can be overwhelming.  For example, my fall/winter wardrobe went in the spare bedroom’s closet, which included coats, sweaters, and long sleeve shirts.

The last step in my transition to simplicity was to stop shopping.  Which isn’t really hard for me since I hate to shop.  But when you get rid of 75% of your clothes, it’s easy to stroll into a store and pick up some new items.  Shopping should only occur when preparing to fill in the gaps for the next season’s capsule.  My summer wardrobe has exactly 40 items.

For me, this process was extremely spiritual.  While I was in seminary, my wife and I did not make very much money.  We were in a season of minimalistic living.  We hung on to what we accumulated in our previous lives because resources were limited.  This process of simplifying my wardrobe revealed something incredibly insightful.  I learned that, over the years, I hung on to clothes out of a lack of trust…with God.  I didn’t trust that I’d have clothes to wear, so I kept them – even though I didn’t wear a lot of it.  By purging my closet, it was an exercise in simplicity and trust.  The experience was very powerful!

Through this process, I also have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the wise words of Jesus, from Matthew 6 (v. 25-34)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I posted my experiment with simplicity in the online classroom for the Apprentice Experience.  Shortly afterwards, others from Community 1 began posting their experiments.  It was staggering to read how they are living in abundant simplicity.  I asked their permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.  Next week, I’ll post Part 2 of this blog so you can read their stories.


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.

 

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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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Jun 04

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 1

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“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,  so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give

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“Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

Psalm 30: 5b; 11-12 (NRSV)

What does the word broken call to your mind?  Plates, mirrors, and windows?  Promises?  A world record? Bones and fingernails and noses?  Hearts, spirits – yes, even people can be broken.

How do we come to be broken? We may have been hurt, injured, or suffered loss. We may have sinned greatly and become weighed down by guilt and shame. We may have been in a relationship or situation that has shattered our illusions or betrayed our trust.  A truly broken person has come to the end of himself or herself.

Richard Rohr has commented, “Would any of us even learn to love at all if it was not demanded of us, taken from us, and called forth by human tears and earthly tragedy? Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another?” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 123)   Rohr brings an important fact of life to our attention. When everything is rolling along well in our lives, we can believe that we are in control. We know what to do.  We don’t need to share our lives or steep in the wisdom of others. We feel no need to stop, look around, or attempt to make sense of anything.

But once grief or pain or betrayal or obstacles enter our lives, we are brought up short. Life is no longer fair – let alone rosy. We begin the journey of catching our breath, looking up, and trying to understand.  We try to make sense of our suffering. We may drop to our knees for the first time in our lives.

The pages of the book of Psalms spill over with the cries of the hurt and broken.  However, the Psalmists also teach us that joy may indeed come with the morning and through our mourning.  We can recycle those experiences and become wounded healers. We can love and care for another, speaking into his or her life through our own experience.

All of us are wounded in some way, but we do not all become healers. “Hurt people hurt people” is a cliché, but it is also true. If we do not work through our suffering with the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be a healing presence in the church or in the world.  Our helping will be tainted by our own unredeemed suffering.  We will be at risk of hurting others because the fruits of our spirit will be bitterness, anger, control, frustration, fear, judgmentalism, resentment, blame, criticism, cynicism, hatred, retreat, withdrawal or flight. Those of us who have been wounded and do open our suffering to the healing love of God can be of benefit to others because love, compassion, empathy, serenity, joy, and hope will flow from our lives.

Each of us is deeply wounded not only by life’s experience but also because we carry the taint of sin. The Church is a gathering place for the wounded.  But not all wounded find healing there. That is why churches can become the most vicious places on earth. And it may why the unchurched say that they will never darken the door of a church because it is filled with “hypocrites.”

Perhaps we look like hypocrites because we are still wounded. We invite those who do not know Jesus to find healing in our sanctuaries, but we don’t want to acknowledge that many of us already sitting in those sanctuaries have not allowed that Jesus to heal us. Even worse, most of us would not be willing even to consider that we were part of the wounded and unhealed.

Henri Nouwen brought awareness of the term “wounded healers” in his book of the same name. Nouwen is speaking here about professional ministers. I am enlarging that term to “Christ followers.”  Nouwen says:

A minister [Christ follower] is called to recognize the sufferings . . .in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service. . . .  His [or her] service will not be received as authentic un-less it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he [she] speaks” (Can You Drink the Cup?, p. 59).

Until churches believe this and make it their mission to become authentic healers, hurt people will continue to hurt people.  And the suffering Wounded Healer will suffer more as he watches our unwillingness to recycle our wounds harm his Church.

Moving from wounded soul to wounded healer takes hard work. In his foreword to John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, Caring for the Most Important Part of You, Henry Cloud quotes a psychologist who reports that his long-time patient Maddie “still has no interest in having an interior life (p. 10).   This dilemma faces many Christians. We say we want to grow. We say we want to be healed of our grief or anger or fear. But we choose not to do the work of looking at our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or beliefs. “Having an interior life” is an absolute necessity if we are to redeem our pain and suffering and recycle it for good.

Richard Rohr’s final encouragement for the healing of wounds is that “with Jesus, we find the power to hold the pain of life until it transforms us” (Breathing Under Water, p. 68). God is the great Alchemist. God can create light out of darkness – but only if we cooperate.

MULLING IT OVER:  Remember an experience of conflict in your church.  How much of it could have been avoided if each person participating was not just wounded but a wounded healer?

How can you offer your wounds for the healing of others?


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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Apr 28

We Win

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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

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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.

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