Treasure or Clay Pot?

I work at a Christian university that has developed quite a culture. A culture that they are very proud of. I have worked at two others Christian, Baptist universities and DBU is unique in its commitment to Christ-centeredness and Servant Leadership.

Maybe you have been a part of a church with a rich culture with many admirable qualities and distinct elements of what is good.

What we have to guard against, though, is mistaking these institutions as a way of life. Let me explain.

I might be prone to thinking about being a servant and sacrificing some of myself to help the students at DBU because our culture has instilled that idea in me. Or, I may have a community surrounding me at my church that is inspiring and uplifting. But the reality is that these institutions are mere vessels. Scripture says that we have treasure in earthen vessels.

We have to ask ourselves, is being a good member of my church more important than being a good follower of Christ? Is being a good Baptist, or Methodist, or Lutheran more important than being a good Christian? Is being a good parent more important than being a child of God?

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You see, we are called to be obedient to Jesus with all that we have have and nothing else.

This is important, as Dallas Willard has said, “The problem comes when we mistake the vessel for the treasure, for the treasure is the life and power of Jesus Christ.” Willard goes on to say, “A culture can capture us and shut off our access to the supernatural spirituality of the Kingdom of God.”

So, praise God for these institutions that are doing good work, even excellent Christian work, but let us not substitute these good things for the great goodness that comes from a life with Christ. A life that is filled with power, creativity, conviction, growth, and grace. This life is what is worth our complete allegiance and obedience. Everything else is just a vessel.

 

photo credits: Alexandre Dulaunoy

 

My Letter To God

Our Apprentice Experience Community has started our second round of readings and questions in preparation for Gathering 2 in March. One of the first Soul-Training exercises we were asked to complete based on our readings was to write a letter to God starting with the words, “Dear God, the life I want most for myself is…” I thought that I would share my letter on the blog.


Dear God,

The life I want most for myself is a God-breathed life; a life where those that know me, know a little of Jesus.

I want decisions I make to have a hint of the special and holy and divine. I want to be inspired daily and not live a hum-drum existence. Without you in my life, my life is full of limits and boundaries and roadblocks. With you in my life, I can accomplish many things I couldn’t accomplish on my own. I want to lean into that reality and watch you work. I want to be as amazed by your work in my life as everyone else.

I have seen so much in the last few months. All of it has been a surprise but yet your presence has been there, moving me to the next thing. I can’t believe I am here in my life right now. I wouldn’t have predicted this scenario at this time. I need you Lord. I need the best of me to be all of you. I have so many questions and concerns. Please don’t turn those into worries. Worries are no friend to growth, they try to stifle it. I put my worries behind me and your transforming power in front of me.

Come Lord Jesus.

Your indwelt and loved child,

Scott


I encourage you to write a similar letter to God. And don’t misplace it. Returning to the letter a year from now should be a keen reminder of what God has done in your life and how you have Grown Up.

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photo credit: Lukas.bO

My Journey: Letting Go of Failure and Shame

During Gathering 1 of the Apprentice Experience, Keith Matthews listed out nine obstacles to Spiritual Growth (Growing Up). When he was done, he asked each of us to rank our top two obstacles. My top obstacle was the last one on his list – Lacking the confidence that God will really speak to me.

As I did this exercise, I was thinking of four somewhat recent failures, mostly of the spiritual kind. The guilt and shame associated with these situations have recently affected my ability to grow and minister to others because I am fearful that I will be inadequate and lacking.

These four instances can be divided into two groups – ministry to individuals and decision making. The decision making situation involved several others and our decision would affect a large number of people. During this time, I tried to practice spiritual discernment and not lean on my own understanding or some kind of worldly management strategies. I wanted God to speak through me and guide our decisions. The outcome to all of this was largely disappointing and I felt it had lasting negative effects. I felt responsible.

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This has led me to question my ability to hear God and to trust what God is doing in my life. I felt a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football with all of the sincere determination and intent only to have Lucy pull up the ball at the last minute over and over again. Was I just destined to be well-intentioned but largely lacking in my ability to do any good?

But then I went to Kansas. Here, through exercises like the one above, and other conversations and teachings, I let it all go. I let go of my sense of failure, guilt, and need to be successful in only a limited set of parameters.

Before we arrived, we were asked to bring something to Kansas that we can place in the middle of the room during our classroom time that symbolizes why we were there and our desire to Grow Up. I brought a letter that represented one of these instances of “failure.” In my rush to prepare to leave for the week, I left it there. But, I am glad I did. You see, I needed to leave my guilt and shame and start fresh.

We learned two important truths that week in Kansas. 1) I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights and 2)I live in the strong and unshakeable Kingdom of God.

I brought my failure and shame to Kansas, but left with the reassurance of God’s work in the my life and God’s provision and blessings. This was a good and beautiful thing.

 

photo credit: Michael W. May, some rights reserved

 

It’s The Most Spiritual Time Of The Year

You may think that you have never practiced Spiritual Disciplines. You would be wrong.

If you have celebrated Christmas, then you have practiced Spiritual Disciplines. All that music, all of those candles, all that giving, all that singing, all of that charity focus, all of that family celebration, all of that scripture reading, all of that gratitude, and sense of anticipation. These are all Spiritual Disciplines that are practiced during Christmas.

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Spiritual Disciplines is a stuffy phrase that is better described as Soul Training Exercises or Spiritual Practices. These are intentional activities that open yourself up to God’s transformation in your life. They are not for the super spiritual or type A personalities trying to show off. They are for followers of Christ who, for example, want to trust more (then try practicing Sabbath), want to break the tyranny of the flesh (try fasting), want to be more Christ minded (try Scripture memorization), or want to be more aware of other’s needs (try service to others).

Christmas, despite all of its commercialization, is the most spiritual time of the year. From Advent reefs to Candlelight services; to live nativity productions; the focus is on an event that is dripping with hope, anticipation of the divine, and the transcendent. There are so many ways to practice opening yourself up to God through these practices. So be intentional this season and make one of these Spiritual Disciplines a point of emphasis.

A good way to get started is to have a good Advent devotional or family study. Here are some of my favorites.

Good Dirt: http://a.co/01vmpMH

d365: http://d365.org/

Advent writings from Ruth Haley Barton: https://www.transformingcenter.org/tag/advent/

 

photo credit: Lutheran Church of Hope

What Has Been Going On Since I Started All This Writing

Since I started writing this blog back in May, the blessings have been profound and the challenges have been heavy. Here is a sample:

I have tried to manage being a parent to three girls in various stages of life. One is months away from graduating high school, one is just entering her teens, and one is eight years old and faces significant surgery in the coming year.

God has provided for me new friends and acquaintances who have also been through programs similar to the Apprentice Experience.

I have lost a close friend to addiction. A friend who I put forth many hours and extended myself in ways I have never done before to try to help. I did help him, but the addiction was too much.

I have had people come up to me and tell me that they have shared my blog with a friend whose non-believer husband has chosen to read as well.

My dad had reached a low point in his battle with cancer.

But then, he had several months where he felt better than he had in a year and was getting to do all the things in enjoys doing.

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I have faced a situation at work that was filled with difficulty, shame, guilt, and drama and it is not over yet.

I have prayed with more urgency and consistency than I ever had before and seen those prayers answered in miraculous ways.

I have also seen my prayers answered in ways that I didn’t ask for and don’t understand.

I have started the seeds of a ministry and hosted a party that raised over $500 to go towards my training and future ministry efforts.

I have nearly had my dad die because of liters of blood that surrounded his heart.

He survived and we will be celebrating Thanksgiving with him this week as well as my parents 50th wedding anniversary.

I spent four and half days in Wichita, Kansas with 29 of the most sincere, compassionate, Christ-centered people on the earth. God showered me with his love. I learned to trust him and rely on him for everything. I had moments with God that I can only describe as divinely designed.


I know that I am on the right path because God’s blessings have been so unique, good, and beautiful. But, I also know that I am on the right path because Satan’s attacks have been SO personal, SO pointed, and designed to bring shame and guilt and present roadblocks in any kind of progress I am making.

I have faced tremendous challenges in the last seven months but somehow I keep Growing Up, keep understanding more and more about God, and keep moving forward in his grace.

The Four Words That Are About To Turn Your World Upside Down

We are about to enter the Do Not Be Afraid season. Everywhere you turn in the Christmas story is someone being told to not be afraid. Mary is told to not be afraid, Joseph is told to not be afraid, and then the Shepherds are told to not be afraid.

What was going on that would make them afraid? It was God’s work in their life that had the potential to change everything. These encounters with God’s angels were fearful because everything was about to change. From the way they were now going to look at the world to what they were being asked to do, their lives were never going to be the same.

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Why do we fear God’s action in our lives? For one, we have spent many long years shaping our existence and identity. No matter how faulty our reasoning or misguided our behavior has been, we have grown attached to who we are. There is a level of comfort to our identity that we fear changing.

Second, with change comes more responsibility because we have to be accountable to that change. We have to answer to it and about it. That requires conversations with people who may not understand what God has done in our lives. Or we may experience judgement from the hearer that we would rather not have to deal with. Think about the responsibility placed on Mary and Joseph as they accepted the change to their life that was on the way. That was a heavy burden for them, yet, they were told to not be afraid because everything was going to turn out okay.

In this Do Not Be Afraid season, do not shy away from God’s work in your life. In the slogan of our day – lean into it. If you can just be obedient and move forward in Christ’s ways for your life you will experience transformative miracles that will revolutionize who you are and the world you participate in.

Do Not Be Afraid.

Why We Are Partners With God and Not Puppets

“God wants partners not puppets.”

Jan Johnson, one of our master teachers at the Apprentice Experience, made this statement in a talk on God’s love during Gathering 1.

There is nothing about a puppet that is independent or free from the one who controls it. Puppets can’t move, talk, or participate in a story without someone directing their every move and choice. God doesn’t want puppets, he wants partners.

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Partners have similar values and work toward a shared goal. Partners bring their own unique set of gifts and skills to the partnership to make it better. Partners operate in tandem with a mutual understanding of what is needed from each person. Partners provide feedback to one another and communicate effectively.

Scripture tells us that we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. We are loved because of who we are, not in spite of it. God wouldn’t love a puppet in the same way because the relationship is only one way. Our relationship with God is interactive.

Julian of Norwich says that God “wishes to be seen, and he wishes to be sought, and he wishes to be expected, and he wishes to be trusted.”

God is calling out to you for a divine partnership. Won’t you seek him and join him and trust him for whatever that partnership leads to.

photo credit: pexels.com

The Church Has Neglected This Most Important Goal

Yesterday in my own church, a visiting retired missionary told the story of a missionary he knew that was hampered in his own efforts to disciple believers because he said that he was never discipled himself.

Discipleship is simply learning to do the things that Jesus said to do.

American church culture has created a world where discipleship is an add on. Not a bad thing to practice and work on but not essential to the life of the believer or the good of the church. So efforts at Growing Up get pushed to niche times and places and become largely ignored by the majority of the church faithful.

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How have we gotten to this state?

“What you present as the gospel, will determine what you present as discipleship.” This quote by Dallas Willard has much to say about the modern church and why there is a significant lack of discipleship.

The 3,000 people that first joined the infant church at Pentecost were presented a Gospel that was Jesus focused. Peter, in his talk that day, stressed the arrival of Jesus, the work of his ministry, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. The Gospel story was Christ centered and began with Jesus, not with us. If our Gospel starts with us, then we are in trouble. Jesus gets reduced to an instrument for our personal use rather than a King destined to rule the Earth for all of eternity and transform us into Children of God.

The baby believers at Pentecost were not making a transaction that required little of them, they were entering a new existence that quickly began to be evident as a peculiar community sprung up around them. They shared their life together (including some of their possessions), they shared meals together, they had glad and sincere hearts, and they praised God as one. Everything changed because of the Gospel.

Ruth Haley Barton says that churches oversell and under-deliver two things, transformation and community. Could it be that the gospel we are presenting is contributing to our inability to create true disciples who are radically changed and urgently busy at the work of God’s kingdom?

Start with Jesus and his story of life, death, resurrection, and future return and see if that doesn’t produce a different result. This was the gospel of Acts and this good news started a global spiritual revolution.

You Are A Student, Start Acting Like One

One of the things mentioned last week was that our primary orientation as a follower of Christ is as a student.

 

Some form of the word disciple, learner, student, or apprentice is used 264 times in the New Testament while the term Christian is only used three times. Scripture tells us that the people in Antioch were the first to call believers Christians but many people think this was a derogatory label as it meant “little Christ.” As in “look at those “little Christ” thinking they are something special.”

Think about the thousands following Jesus through the Galilean countryside. Time and time again, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them and they listened. You hear some of their questions and comments in scripture because they were learning and letting Jesus teach them.

Don’t you think there will be a learning curve when we reach heaven? Paul says that right now we know in part and we prophesy in part. There is still so much for us to learn about life, God, love, and the Kingdom of God. We might as well start now.

Do you need an exercise to help kickstart your studies in the School of Christ? Take the disciples cue when they point blank asked Jesus to “teach us to pray.” Look at Luke 11:1-13 and begin your lesson on prayer. You are an apprentice of Christ, start learning from him now.

photo credit: public domain

“Are You Happy With The Person You Are Becoming?”

Last week had a little bit of everything. 29 people from all corners of the country converged on Wichita, Kansas for five days of study, worship, reflection, direction, fellowship, celebration, conviction, relationship developing, and encouragement.Some of us were pastors, some of us were lay people, some needed deep restoration and healing, some were working toward a degree, and some were just curious about all of this Spiritual Growth stuff.

No matter our particular situation, all of us were struck by this question that kicked off the week: Am I happy with the person I am becoming?

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There wasn’t one person out of the 29 that I think was satisfied with their answer to that question. So much of our quest through the week was to start to piece together a vision of ourselves that matched Christ’s vision for us.

For myself, God began to show me what true trust looks like. I also began to let go of past situations and decisions that have often prevented me, in the present, from listening to God. Because of these situations and decisions I had become too ashamed and disappointed in myself and lacked confidence that God truly wanted to speak to me.

What about you? Are you happy with the person you are becoming? Let me tell you that you don’t have to fly hundreds of miles or take a week off from your life to begin letting Christ transform and change you. Christ wants to help you Grow Up. He will show you what that might look like and then will give you opportunities for learning, spiritual exercises, and time with Him. It will be a process and there are no short cuts but you can live the life to match Christ’s vision for you.

image credit: pincel3D.Deviantart.com