What I Deserve

In a type of closing ceremony, on the final day of the final gathering of the Apprentice Experience in Sierra Madre, California, each of the participants got to say a few words about their experience in the program and then received a certificate. Here is what I said:

I don’t deserve the gift that AE has brought me. I don’t deserve the strong spiritual friendships that I received through our small groups and connections that I have made. I don’t deserve the chance to wrestle with such important issues and ideas that were taught by such strong teachers. But, God isn’t interested in what we deserve, he is interested in what He can provide. Thank God for his abundant and generous provision.

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What I Take Away From A Life-Changing Experience

Random observations from 18 months of the Apprentice Experience:

  • I have become a fan of Wichita, Kansas. I have the shirt to prove it. Not a bad smaller big city.
  • I have always liked Scot McKnight. His blog is one of the best things on the internet. Getting to hear him speak on theology, Christology, and soteriology sounds really dry when I write it but he always makes these topics accessible. The best part, though, was finding a library with a TV in a Catholic retreat center so that Scot and the rest of us could watch his beloved Cubs in the World Series.
  • My small group, made up of five individuals – a California pastor, a Kansas youth pastor, a California matriarch, and a Kansas graduate student – has been consistently one of the highlights of our gatherings. We have bonded over meals, over texts, and in our scheduled time together. They are loving, interesting, and authentic people.
  • Just about everyone in our Community would be someone who I could sit down with right now and have a conversation that weaves elements of Spiritual Formation and discipleship without any hesitation. I have lived most of my Christian life having to pick and choose the ways I talk about these things because people look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. It is nice to find my tribe.

  • My biggest takeaways have involved intense personal conviction. One gathering included me coming to grips with my overly critical nature. One forced me to evaluate what it means to forgive and how to do it. I became more vulnerable by intentionally seeking out social opportunities with my fellow AErs instead of slinking to my own personal space.
  • There is always a two-hour stretch sometime during the Gathering weeks that we spend in complete silence. I spent one of these times walking through the Stations of the Cross. I would just sit on a bench in front of each station and take in the station. When I got to the station where Jesus is taken down from the cross I couldn’t see the image on the stone because the sun was shining so brightly in my eyes. The exact angle that I was sitting mixed with the timing of the day made it to where even the darkness of Christ’s temporary death was not visible.
  • All of our readings have influenced the blog. My posts on lament, the times I tried to tell my story, my discussion of vulnerability, and others have been directly inspired by something I read from our assigned readings. I so enjoyed the excuse to reread Dallas Willard‘s classics The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart.
  • This final gathering will be a little different as we will be in Southern California at a retreat center in Sierra Madre. This will be an interesting change of scenery from Kansas. Our guest teacher will be Shane Claiborne and the overall theme will be community. I so need this time away in rest, contemplation, and community.
  • I want to say a special thank you to many of you who have contributed to my fund-raising efforts to make this all possible. Some of you contributed graciously and generously. You may not realize it but your contribution paved the way for the learning and transformation that has shaped the best parts of this blog and the best parts of my efforts at doing kingdom work in my job and in my church. Your contribution has not gone to waste, I can assure you.

The Experience Is Wrapping Up But the Blessings Will Continue

The re-launch of this blog started in May of 2016.

It was rebranded Grow Up and I began to talk about issues of Christian maturity and Christlikeness. Also, I wanted to raise some funding to complete the Apprentice Experience (I should be in the picture from the link but I had left the day before the picture was taken) and chronicle my journey through this intense 18-month discipleship program. March 5-9 will be the last of our four gatherings and the end of the program.

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Since the Apprentice Experience began, a good friend died, my oldest graduated from high school, my Dad died, I became a director of a library, my wife started a brand new career, and I relied on God more than I ever have before.

I want to use this space for the next few weeks to discuss some of my observations from the Apprentice Experience and to mention some of the highlights. I can’t recommend the Apprentice Experience highly enough and I hope to express the value of it in the next several posts.

An Ash Wednesday Challenge For Those Who Didn’t Know It Was Ash Wednesday

You may not care a lick about Ash Wednesday and think people that would put ashes on their forehead or go without chocolate for 6 weeks are strange but let me challenge you anyway.

There are six weeks until Easter. There are six weeks to get to know Christ, to understand who he is, why he came, and what the cross means. Open up the Gospels and consume the information and the good news of Christ.

There are six weeks until Easter. Six weeks to bury your wrongs and mishaps and high propensity to mess things up. Bury these things with Christ in that tomb so you can fully understand the power of his resurrection and your own.

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There are six weeks until Easter. Six weeks to share in Christ’s suffering. Because he suffered for you, what would it look like for you to suffer with Christ? Why would that be important? This sharing in suffering will cleanse you and refine you for obtaining resurrection.

There are six weeks until Easter. Six week to become like Christ in his death. We need to die to self and crucify our old self so our new self can emerge.

For when that day comes, when Easter arrives, we can celebrate the resurrection that puts death to death. That turns the world upside down. This resurrection that we can obtain and will obtain.

 

We Are All Imitators of Something

My daughters like to watch the TV show, “America’s Next Top Model.” This is a reality show where aspiring models compete to be the top pick and get a modeling contract. Throughout the show they are coached and guided by experts, other models, and people who are experienced in the industry. My daughters have started to pick up on tricks and tips that the models try to implement to create great photographs. We joke around the house about the way to walk, hold your lips, “smile with your eyes,” etc. My daughters are imitating what they are seeing, even playfully, on the screen and letting it inhabit what they do.

I can’t stress enough how much we imitate what we see around us. There are many ministry majors that I have seen at colleges I have worked whose only aspiration was to be a youth minister like the one they had in high school or to be a worship leader like their favorite traveling worship band. The gist of what they are doing is simple imitation. We are hardly capable of our next move without turning it into a form of imitation.

America's Next Top Model Is Already Coming Back—Without ...

Who are we imitating to Grow Up in our spiritual life? Do we have models of Christlikeness around us? Or, do we have models but not very good ones. I have been in church my entire life and many of the models of Growing Up I have seen around me are rather weak and less than inspiring.

So, if you are a veteran follower of Christ, how are you modeling that reality? Does it reflect the Christ of scripture or the watered-down, culturized Christ American church people have settled on? What Growing Up do you still need to do before you can be a model for others?

And if you are a new Christian, who are you trying to imitate? I would warn you to understand everything you can about Christ from scripture. Then, when you start to see that version of Christ reflected in individuals, then they are worthy of imitation but if not, keep looking.

Our goal is to echo the words of Paul and say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

Jesus Is Not In A Panic But We Often Are

I thought 2017 was a tough year for me and many of the people I work with but 2018 has already been marked by one report of bad news after another. I have that same sinking, weak, and impotent feeling I had last summer when my Dad died. My knees seem to constantly be in a state of weakness.

Thankfully, God provides messages and resources in my weakness. For my time with God, I like to read the meditations put together by Jan Johnson in her book, Meeting God in Scripture. In part five of the book, the theme is “Facing fears, frustrations, and discouragement.” The first passage that she walks the reader through is Mark 4:35-41, the time when Jesus is taking a nap on a boat while a huge storm erupts and has the Disciples fighting for their lives. Johnson pointed the reader to a Rembrandt painting of this scene.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

I found it so interesting to observe the disciples and all of their different responses (including the one heaving off the side of the boat) and then to ask myself which disciple most resembles the reaction that I would have.

At first glance, I identified with the lone disciple at the back of the boat straining at the rudder, trying to keep the boat on a steady path. He is all strain and little progress. Rembrandt seems to really like the dark and so it is hard to see that there is one disciple who is kneeling before Jesus, perhaps begging for him to do something, or crying out for mercy. Some scholars think this is Rembrandt himself, placing himself in the painting. Where are you in the painting and this scene?

Take a few moments and read the passage and then observe the painting. Which disciple are you in your current situation? What response do you wish you had in light of how the scene plays out? Will you ever be able to just calmly sit next to Jesus during your stormy seasons? How will faith help remove the fear in your life?

What Will A Future Christian Be Like?

Karl Rahner has said that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he won’t exist at all.”

All of my Christian conservative readers are probably getting nervous right now after reading that quote. The fear is, among some people, is that Christians must hold tightly to rationality and reason lest they become sucked into a kind of spirituality that is more based on feelings, stirrings, and wild movements that deviate from scripture.

I get it and understand the fear. I fear this myself and know in my younger, more innocent days, I experimented with a dangerous emphasis on feelings. But in some people’s emphasis on a perfectly logical faith, they have sucked all of the life out of following Christ.

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The over emphasis on reason and rationality may have gotten us in the predicament we find ourselves in with faith and politics. Because a particular political party embraces some of the ideals that are important to Christians, reason tells us that we must support that party at all cost even though the nature of politics can be so seedy and unsavory and un-Christlike. This kind of marriage of faith and politics begins to hurt Christianity much more than it improves politics. The priorities of Christian belief gets tainted and soiled by its seeming reliance on politics. All of this happens because we think reason dictates us to act in this way.

What Rahner is saying is that the path of pragmatic Christianity is fading and has proven to be unsatisfying and that the Christian of the future will be one who has no problem with reason but uses reason in the context of a constantly growing, developing, and cultivated spiritual life. These Christians will “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” and that will make the difference in their life, not a well organized belief system. The Christian of the future will be known for their spiritual nature, maybe even their changed behavior. This will mark them, not their ability in apologetics or boldness on issues, except in matters of the heart.

This may all be pie in the sky thinking on the part of Rahner and others but I doubt we will see any thriving and life giving Christian communities in the future if we do not see an element of the mystical and the transcedent present in them.

Books, Songs, Podcasts and Practices That Helped Me Grow Up in 2017

I am indebted to the mentors, the muses, and the motivations I gained this past year from a wide range of areas. Each item is something that I was exposed to in 2017 that had a high impact on me changing and maybe even growing up.

Music

Band of Horses – Last January was so full of stress and tension that my only moment of respite would be the last 10 minutes of my work day when I would turn on two songs by Band of Horses. “In a Drawer” and “Casual Party” had the right mixture of triumphant rock and moodiness to break some of the tension and bring a little catharsis to my overwhelmed state.

Andrew Bird – My go-to reflective, relaxing, holding the tension between pain and praise music. Every drive back from Abilene, where my Dad suffered his last days, included a six song playlist from Bird.

Podcasts

Pray As You Go – A common companion on my runs, this app provides the listener with 10-12 minute meditations on scripture along with music and time of reflection. If you want to recharge your approach to scripture, this podcast will do the trick.

The Invitation – Josh Banner has the typical interview format but regularly will have 20 minute spiritual retreats that have been very meaningful to me. A recent one covered lament, which was very appropriate to my situation. Also, his 5-minute prayer episodes are great for making spiritual things more accessible.

Building a Storybrand Podcast – I re-listened to the first 6-7 episodes twice and was inspired each time. These Podcasts are helping shape me into the kind of manager I want to be as a director of a library.

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Photo by Ryan Searle on Unsplash

Books

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd – I was inspired by the heart, intellect, and the spirit of God working in Zahnd’s book, Beauty Will Save the World. I heard him speak at the Apprentice Gathering and heard him mention his book, Water to Wine. This book chronicles his movement from a typical American pastor at a typical American large church to a more contemplative and spiritually rich pastor. His story is remarkable and his courage to transform his ministry after decades of doing it a certain way is inspiring.

Healing the Heartbreak of Grief by James Flamming – The author was a pastor at the church I grew up. Even as a kid, I remember his ability to mix the heady, the spiritual, and the practical in wonderfully concise and accessible ways. He is a great communicator. In this book, he does the same thing with the concept of grief. I have stepped away from this book with a better understanding of what grief is and how it works and also have been healed in the process.

Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen – I have given this book out to many people who are experiencing pain or struggle. In light of my own struggles, I began reading this again for myself. The entries from this book are taken from Nouwen’s personal journal when he was in a deep point of struggle. Not every entry applies to every person’s situation but the one’s that do are like they were written just for you.

Experiences

Running – The practice of running is so time consuming that in the past I have had to choose blogging or running because I couldn’t do both. But this year, I realized how much I love running and how helpful it is to me physically and spiritually. Running is such a good stress reliever and if I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t spend much time outdoors, which is not good for my mental state. When I think about the many gifts my Dad gave to me during his life, running might be one of the most meaningful.

Fasting – About a month after my Dad’s death, I took a day and a half and fasted. I wanted to give time and intention to my grief and all that I needed to do to move forward. This was one of the best decisions I could have made. This time was so rich with memories, nudges from God, insights from scripture, and healing. I have now committed to practice these fasts quarterly.

Examen – Our days just move along to their usual conclusion and then we reboot and do it all over again. There is often no time for reflection, for gratitude, for confession, for a challenge. Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, lays out a simple method of what church history has called Examen. At the end of each day, you practice the following:

  • Be grateful for God’s blessings.
  • Review the day with openness and gratitude, looking for times when God has been present and times you may have ignored him.
  • Pay attention to your emotions in order to listen to God.
  • Express sorrow for sin and ask for God’s forgiving love.
  • Pray for the grace to be more available to God who loves you.

This practice has allowed me to not end my day with stress, anxiousness, disappointment, and guilt; which I am so prone to do. Instead, I place myself back into God’s hands and know that I can trust him with the outcomes and with the promise of the next day.

 

Best of the Blog in 2017

This year has been the hardest and most meaningful year of my life. So many things, good and bad happened this year. I couldn’t sum up the year in a few sentences, but my posts provide a diary of sorts to the ups and downs and the goodness of God.

Spiritual Discovery

If you are young and exploring your spiritual identity, join the crowd.

God might be speaking to us all the time. We just arent’ paying attention.

2018 might be a time when we embrace the ordinary.

We can all say that we have Grown Up but where do we actually stand on the Maturity Scale?

We all have a spiritual life. What are you making of yours?

Struggle

There would be no blog and my life would be a shadow of what it is now if this hadn’t happened.

Last summer, I took this well-known passage, Jeremiah 29:11, and explained why it is meant for those who are in places they do not want to be.

As my Dad lay dying, I had to come to grips with my own selfishness. It wasn’t pretty but it was needed.

I have learned that God is working and showing up even when he doesn’t seem to be attentive to our prayers and even our needs.

It took me two posts to discuss the problems with having a sour face.

Do you think you are on the verge of Growing Up? Be ready for a major challenge from Satan.

@krisroller

Grief

One good thing about being so aware of spiritual disciplines is that I knew there were tools out there that could help me with my grief. I just needed to use them.

I tried to eulogize my dad after his death. My goal was to talk about why I admired him so much and why his kind of life is so needed in our time.

Culture

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I explain while our society is ill-equipped to solve these problems.

That time I picked up a hitchhiker on Mother’s Day.

 

Spiritual Disciplines

I think we could all use help reading the Bible.

Life Change

Beyond my Dad’s death, the most significant thing to happen to me this past year was this.

Parenting

Parenting is probably the area where I need to Grow Up the most.

Why I am not a Dad blogger.

Sin

Being overly critical is a poison and it has done damage to me in the past. But I am working on it.

Service to Others

I might have found the secret to making serving others easier.

 

 

 

A Part of My Story: The Breakdown

My stomach hurt, my neck was constantly stiff, I was exhausted all the time. The weight of the world, at least my world, was on my shoulders. I was trying to finish Grad School, my job kept me occupied nights, weekends, and holidays, and my wife and I had a small child that was just a year old. I was trying to make a career, a life, a future for my family, but it was so hard and so strained and full of pressure. I was drowning under all of the responsibility. I kind of bottomed out emotionally.

For some reason, several months before, I had signed up to be a part of a training as a Challenge Course facilitator. Since this training was being done on the campus where I worked I got to spend a week being paid to be outside, to use my body, to work as a team with people, to challenge myself in ways that were different for me.  In a way that only God could orchestrate, even though I had signed up months before, the training occurred when I was at my lowest point.

Throughout that week, through God’s grace and all of the finer qualities of the training, my load began to lighten and I was given space to breathe, to think, to pray, and to listen. Christ was there waiting for me. What he wanted to tell me was this, “You have tried to manage your life on your own, why don’t you consider putting me on the throne of your life. Why don’t you let me run things for a change? Do you understand what is possible if you truly trusted me for everything?

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I can’t remember one moment or one spiritual experience that revealed this to me. It was more like walking through a darkened corridor, like at a theater or stadium, that opens up to a bright, awe inspiring, and dynamic setting and experience. Everything was different because Christ was illuminating everything around me. All things were dripping with his presence, warmth, and love. All I knew was I had found what I was looking for and it was like I was putting on glasses for the first time and could see clearly. Christ had broken through my darkness and depression and had even used that darkness to make me reach out to Him in my desperation.

I had replaced myself from the throne of my life and placed Christ there. I had never felt so free. Everything changed from that moment. It all happened so easy yet seemed like a long, winding journey.