Rumblings From Gathering 2 of AE

I am back from Wichita after a week of learning, praying, practicing, and growing at Gathering 2 of the Apprentice Experience. I am sure I will be sharing many insights with you over the next few weeks but here are some random items that are fresh on my mind as I return to life in the normal:

  • My fellow AEers are amazing people. I don’t just say that. Up and down the line of the 30 of us include genuine, talented, sincere, brilliant people. But not just their skill set is impressive but their ability to listen, take an interest, and love on others is what makes them so amazing.
  • Spiritual Direction is a really enriching thing. I had never done Spiritual Direction before but the two times I have done it, once at Gathering 1 and then again at Gathering 2, have been just what I needed. It is not confession and it is not counseling but more like a chance to get, as one of our teachers said, soul naked. Scary but so needed.

  • Spiritual Disciplines are for growth. I have tried most of the spiritual disciplines because that is my natural bent and I enjoy studying, contemplation, solitude and silence. But what I had driven home to me was that Spiritual Practices are a way for us to move from our static positions to a growth position. For example…
  • I need to be more vulnerable. I need to expose more of who I am to people. To let people inside instead of keeping stark boundaries. So, during the week, I made a practice of connecting with people in an intentional way. I invited people to run with me when I usually like to run alone. I joined a group of late night conversationalists when I would have normally retired to my room. I moved around the room so I could interact with different people. This was hard, but that is what the disciplines are designed to do. Be challenging enough to help us change.
  • There is hope for the church. Politics were not mentioned. Trump was only mentioned in a light-hearted way. Theological debates were kept to a minimum. We were constantly encouraged to move from our head to the heart. What we were challenged to do is become like Jesus – trust Him, learn from him, be creative with him so that we could be outposts of light to a dark world. If we can do that, then others can as well and the ripple effect could be profound and exponential.

If you like what you are hearing from my reports and think you would like to join the Apprentice Experience, they are taking applications for Community 4, which will start this summer. Applications can be found here.

Some Random Thoughts As I Head To Wichita

Gathering 2 of the Apprentice Experience starts today. When we met back in November, the themes of the week and all of our readings leading up to the week were on Narratives and The Gospel. This Gathering is on Spiritual Growth and Development. We have read books about Shame, about Self Deception, and have discovered our Enneagram number (I am somewhere between and 5 and a 6).

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Leading us will be some of the same teachers but we will also be joined by Curt Thompson, the author of the book on Shame that we read. I am interested to see how God moves through this week. While our first gathering made me get real with my own personal narratives and how they have shaped my life and I discovered ways I have distorted the Gospel, I have a feeling that Gathering 2 will force me to go deeper and be more open to ways I need to change. I pray that I will discover blind spots to my growth so that nothing will block me from Christ’s transforming power.

The last few months have been intense emotionally and I just hope and pray that this week will allow me to find some rest and respite from that intensity. But I don’t just want a break, I want a Grow Up experience. May you pray for me that God’s will may be done in my life during this week.

God Provides For What He Has Called You To

It is funny how this time last year, I had a calling but couldn’t see the path to make that calling a reality.

Last March, I had a phone call with John Carroll, Director of the Apprentice Experience. This call was designed to determine my fit for the Apprentice Experience. Though I was extremely excited about the possibility, I had my doubts that it would ever come to fruition.

What about the time commitment?

What about my family?

Isn’t this self-indulgent?

And my thoughts usually returned back to how can I pay for such a thing?

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I began to devise some plans and determined that if people I know can raise money for mission trips why couldn’t I raise money for 18-months of discipleship training. I had to force myself to be vulnerable here. I knew there would be people who wouldn’t understand fund-raising for what looks like a series of spiritual retreats and small group activity. They would think that it is self-indulgent and a form of escapism. But I pushed ahead and knew there would be others that would totally get it and welcome the opportunity to help me.

Amazingly, I have had friends and family give. I have had people I have never met give and people I have barely seen in years and years. I have hosted a fund-raising party that saw people give hundreds of dollars and really commit to the cause. People’s willingness to give has been overwhelming.

God has provided in other ways as well and I have been totally blessed.

Last summer, I mentioned that I began praying for very specific things. One of my specific daily prayers was for the funds to complete the program. I can say, with a year left in the program, that I have met my fund-raising goal and have the funds to make all of the payments.

God has answered my prayers long before I thought possible.

When he calls you to something, He makes the way available for you to do it. I don’t know why I ever doubted this truth would apply to me.

What My Obsessive Nature Says About My Spiritual Life

I am a guy who has obsessive tendencies. I once prided myself in reading weekly Sports Illustrated issues cover to cover before the next week’s issue arrived. I had a small transistor radio called the Street Beat that I carried around the house so I wouldn’t miss a pitch of a Texas Rangers’ baseball broadcast. This was done when I was a married man, with kids!

I have listened to everything Tim Bluhm and Mike Roe have ever recorded and obsessed over their best work and most memorable moments. Not a week goes by that I don’t make a reference to Friday Night Lights. I have run four marathons. Is there anything more obsessive than running marathons?

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How has this part of my personality helped my spiritual life?

Loyalty

I think, for one, I am not a binge obsessive. When I get into something, I am loyal to it for a long time. So, If I have a spiritual insight or inspiration, it will stick with me. For example, I have studied, memorized, read, and lived with the Sermon on the Mount for years and years and haven’t gotten tired of it. Parts of Psalm 23 still inspire as if I am reading them for the first time. Same with Colossians 3.

Stick to the Routine

If my routine gets off, it starts to bother me. This kind of rigidity obviously has its problems but also its advantages. If some kind of routine is required or prescribed, I am willing to adhere to it and not deviate. Every day may not be a breakthrough or an epiphany filled experience, but I trust the routine to bring something good coming my way.

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I am  a Completist

I have tried to work on  this and  be willing to not finish certain things but my tendency is to complete anything that I start. This means, that I am able to fight through the emotional roller coaster that often marks the spiritual life. High points and joyous moments are great but if I am unwilling to fight through the frustrating times and the moments of uncertainty, then I wouldn’t be around for the pleasant moments that are waiting on the other side. I have learned to be okay with frustration.

My tendency to obsess over things is sometimes maddening, sometimes unfair to my loved ones, and sometimes a helpful trait to have. God created me in this way for some reason. Maybe, because he knew I might spend an obsessive amount of time writing this blog.

 

 

Why You Shouldn’t Drop Out of Church

If you have had a bad church experience, then join the club. But understand what you will be missing if you drop out of church.

You will be missing a chance to hear the Gospel proclaimed on a regular basis. This age of personalization and personal preference can lead us to never be really challenged or convicted. This doesn’t help growth.

You will be missing a chance to worship as a group. There is really something special about a room full of voices and hearts pointed towards God in praise. Don’t you think God deserves this? Don’t you think it is better done corporately than just individually?

You will be missing out on part of Christ’s mission on earth. Christ established his church and we can be confident that it will turn back the work of Hell. This is dramatic talk that emphasizes the importance of the church.

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You will be missing the chance to be convicted. God always uses church to challenge my pride and humble me. Whether it is a sermon or a relationship I need to work on, or my willingness to serve, I need that level of accountability and challenge. I don’t trust myself to provide that laboratory of change on my own.

You will miss incredible support and love from Godly people. When our youngest was born with several birth defects, we were overwhelmed with gifts, meals, letters, encouragement, prayers, and evidence of love. In times like that, our extended family could not have been too big. Church extended that family to hundreds.

You will miss a chance to serve. There is nothing quite like stepping out of your comfort zone, humbling yourself, and sacrificing your personal preference to serve someone else. My family always has a rotation in our church nursery. I have kids but am not a huge fan of hanging out with other people’s kids for long periods of time. Yet, I never want to be that guy who says, “I am not a kid person so I WILL not help in the nursery.” I need to be willing to serve and usually the Lord takes care to teach me a few things during my time of service. For one, truly connecting with a child is a unique experience that has a purity to it that reminds me of the power of human connection and mutual enjoyment.

If you are considering dropping out of church, know that any collection of humans is going to be flawed but the potential for dissipointment shouldn’t outweigh the hope of an encounter with God and a community that brings true love and connection.

Not Just A Slogan, Part 2: What Is Christ-Centered?

Today is a continuation of our look at what it means to be Christ-centered. Monday covered being like-minded and not seeking selfish ambition.

Work out your salvation

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”

For believers, we have confidence of our future and hope for the restoration of everything. But we still have a job to do. We still have to be diligent and intentional in our own Growing Up. We have incredible powers at our disposal but God has established a process where by we must devote ourselves to the disciplines, practices, and sacrifices needed to resemble Christ.

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Eliminate Whining and Arguing

“so that you can remain blameless and pure”

Sometimes, the easiest thing in the world is to complain or be contentious. It takes real maturity to let that not be your default setting. This passage tells us that if Christians can make progress in this area, we will shine like stars in the sky. The tendency to grumble and point out faults at every turn is so pervasive that if a group of people are not participating in this behavior it will be noticed as easily as we might notice stars at night.

Lesson Learned

Have you noticed from Monday and then today that to be Christ-centered involves a relational bent and a unique sense of community. Only one of Paul’s emphasis in this passage is truly a personal act – working out our salvation. The rest involve how we serve others, how we get along with others, and how unified we are.

This truth has come as a surprise to me and has convicted me. Being an introvert with a slight obsession with personal improvement, I don’t always consider my relationship with others to be paramount. Now I know what I need to work on.

What do you need to work on?

 

photo credit: Matthew Doyle

Not Just A Slogan, Part 1: What Is Christ-Centered?

I went with my daughter to visit two colleges this weekend. It was interesting to hear the words, ideas, and terms that these individual cultures presented. The sloganeering that happens in places like a college campus works well on brochures and billboards but do these people even know what they are really saying and do those that are listening even understand what these terms mean?

Where I work, the term Christ-centered gets thrown around a lot. It is a great sentiment but what does it really mean? I went to scripture and found some insight on what Christ-centered truly means.

Like-minded

“having the same love, being one in spirit, and in mind”

Christ centered institutions have a unique unity. How does this occur? First, individual Christians begin to Grow Up and be changed and begin to resemble more of Christ. This means we possess more of the mind of Christ and heart of Christ. So, if I possess more of Christ and you possess more of Christ then the more we mature the more we are reaching a common plane of mind, heart, and spirit because Christ is working in both of us.

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Avoid selfish ambition

“not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others”

Christ centered people and institutions will be marked by a measure of humility. I was talking with a prominent coach on our campus, and he talked about the biggest surprise he has had with building character among his players is their increase in humility. This growth hasn’t made them soft, instead it has increased the unity and bond as a team because they are valuing others above themselves.

Read part 2 on Wednesday.

 

What Marriage Has Taught Me About Growing Up

This week we celebrated Valentine’s Day. I am very thankful for my beautiful and loving wife, Leah. We have been married for 19 years. Marriage is a great testing ground for our growth in Christlikeness. Here are a few things I have learned about Growing Up through the experience of marriage:

Anger needs to be dealt with

Many times, when I have had fights with my wife and we have left to different parts of the house in our anger, I have asked God to show me what to do. To direct my next steps. Almost every time, I have been directed to find her, reach out to her, and apologize. I have never been directed to sit there and stew on my anger. That would just make things worse.

Dallas Willlard says, “Anything that can be done with anger, can be done better without it.” So, it is best for me to swallow my pride and deal with my anger as soon as possible. We may be hurt but it would be best if we dealt with the anger so we can deal with the hurt.

Love and support of a committed person brings with it strength and courage to face major problems

I remember when my wife and I found out that our baby might have severe deformities. We were in shock and bewildered. But I also remember the quiet assurance that we seemed to give each other. Her support and encouragement blended with my support and encouragement to strengthen us for the uncertain months ahead. We were fearful and overwhelmed but knowing that we were there for each other and going through this together, eased our anxiety and gave us courage. I can’t overestimate the power of honest and true love and support. It can absolutely make the impossible seem possible.

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You can’t think about yourself for very long and if you do, be ready for problems

There is no such thing as “It’s all about me” time in a marriage. There may need to be time for space or time for personal recreation or entertainment but to shut off all burdens of commitment and time to your spouse so that you can do your own thing is not part of the contract your signed when you got married.

Commitment to commitment means something and our own wants should never outweigh our commitment to our spouse or to God. I have to consistently check myself and my motivations. Is my heart burning with selfishness and self-absorption? If so, I need to get back in the spiritual laboratory and let God take back control. For my benefit and fulfillment and hopefully for the benefit and fulfillment of my wife.

“What Happened?”

You may have wondered a about a few things over the last couple of months.

“I thought Scott was starting a ministry, I thought he wanted to lead workshops and speak in churches?”

“I thought Grow Up Ministries was a real thing. Scott hasn’t mentioned it. Didn’t he have an event where he was kicking off this ministry? What happened?”

There are real, substantial reasons for why I haven’t pursued this venture at this time.

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My life has changed significantly since the beginning of December. The majority of the change has come vocationally.

I would like to discuss these changes in more detail and tell you God’s handiwork in all of this, but the transitional nature of my current situation makes broadcasting some of the details slightly complicated. So I will wait.

But, I can tell you, that God is involved and the story is a really good one. It involves answered prayer, really tough decisions, and unusual circumstances. But I am still too much in the middle of it to tell you where it all will end.

That being said, all of these ideas and insights that I try to wrestle with in this blog are not just clever ruminations about themes that may or may not have real practical pursuits. No, I am putting this Growing Up stuff into practice on a daily basis. I am running spiritual experiments, if you will, over and over. This is both exciting and challenging and quite ambitious for a simple, unassuming guy like myself.

If you pray, can you lift up a few for me and the results of all this? I just want to impact people’s lives and bring God glory.

Soon, you will know the rest of the story.

Satan’s Role In Hindering My Spiritual Growth

Here is one thing I think but have not said:

That Satan possesses people for small moments to disrupt my spiritual growth. I have learned to see this a part of the process of Growing Up but early on, I wasn’t always able to handle this.

What will happen is that I will have a really rich time with God, usually in the mornings, and my whole perspective will change as I see God’s work in my life. My desire in these moments is to live a transformed, Christ-filled existence, and in the joy of those times, I see and have faith that it will happen, even that morning.

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Then, sometime during the day, I am met with such difficulty and frustration coming from other people that it doesn’t just make me doubt the progress that I have made but makes me want to abandon it altogether. The people involved have seemed to be directed to point out and state the one thing that day that would send me reeling away from the progress I have made. It is almost like clockwork. But now, I have learned to expect it and prepare for it  and see it for what it is – a strategy by Satan to counter my growth.

So, if you are just dabbling in Growing Up and are just starting to make progress, let me warn you of these moments. May you be prepared for them and know that you have done nothing wrong unless you let these people or these moments get the best of you. Start to see them, not as trying moments, but as badges of honor to demonstrate to you that you must be doing something right.

Keep Growing Up. Satan doesn’t like it and wants to hinder any progress towards Growth. Trust me, you can withstand these attacks and be stronger when you do.

Look at this passage and see what comes after perseverance. Godliness is possible, through the power of Christ, but it is essential that we find our way through these attacks in order to reach our goal of Growing Up.