The Suffering I Was Freed From

Gathering 2 of the Apprentice Experience was focused on our own spiritual growth, maturity, and character development. As it should, this emphasis required soul searching and a willingness to clearly see our own deficiencies so that we could begin working on it, with Christ’s help. I was surprised at what stuck out to me as an area that I really needed to work on.

Being critical has always been a particular talent of mine. I have often used it as a crutch. If I can be critical of someone or some event or program then I don’t have to interact with that person or thing, and I can be on my way without all of the emotional baggage of connecting and assessing my own motivations and desires.

But, I am not just critical of others, I also can be ultra critical of myself. I am not a perfectionist type that mulls over work tasks and reports with a hyper-critical eye. My form of personal perfectionism involves my interactions with people. I am constantly replaying conversations in my head to find some statement or look that I should have handled better or should have included a different word or approach. I treat encounters I have with people like a football coach treats a game film after a game. I rarely like what I see and I am ultra critical of my abilities and my choice of words. Also, I over analyze the words and looks of the people I am conversing with. This usually leads to self doubt or shame as I find something in their reaction that makes me think less of myself.

God led me to the realization of the extent of my critical nature and how it has caused great pain in my life and how it has hindered me from getting close to people and finding the love, compassion, and friendship that comes from others. But I needed more than just a realization of my problem, I needed to be free of it.

One night in Wichita, we meditated on the story of Jesus healing the woman with the bleeding problem. Twice Jesus tells this woman to “go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” I believe that Jesus had her physical suffering in mind the first time he said it and her spiritual suffering in mind the second time he said it. As I meditated on this passage, I was comforted by this phrase and took the words to heart regarding my critical nature and its damaging effects. I was suffering through my endless need to criticize others and especially myself. Christ freed me from that suffering.

I did not expect this to be the area that God would do the most work on in my life last week but I am glad that he knows what is best for me much more than I know what is best for me.

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.