What Brought Me To Tears in California

If you were present the last full day of our Gathering in California and looked over at me that afternoon, you would have seen tears flowing down my face. It was the only time that week that I had reached that level of emotion.

I stood in the middle of the room. I turned to my friend Kris and said something like, “what did we do to deserve this?” Both of us had our life changed and turned upside down and wouldn’t have even been in the same room with one another if it wasn’t for the writings, thoughts, and example that was on display in front of us.

Jane Willard, the widow of Dallas Willard, had just spent the last 30 minutes speaking to our Apprentice Experience Community about what it was like living with Dallas, how he came to write his books, and some of the challenges he and she faced over the years. This was all so fascinating, but then she brought out her personal collection of items from her home – things like Dallas’ personal Bible, letters from Richard Foster encouraging Dallas to write his Christian books, a copy of Mere Christianity, complete with Dallas’ notes, that reads like a conversation between Willard and C.S. Lewis. She had pictures of their wedding and their family through the years as well.

Dallas Willard’s Bible

Of course, when I picked up his Bible, like many of us, I turned to Matthew 5 and 6, the Sermon on the Mount, to see the notes and highlights on the passage of scripture that inspired the book, The Divine Conspiracy. This book was Dallas’ most profound and influential work and the piece of writing that I found 18 years ago that turned me from a devotee of Christ with little direction and purpose to a disciple of Jesus, willing to be led by him to be the Christ I have been called to be.

When I had my spiritual breakthrough many years ago, I began to seek out voices that could feed my desire for continued growth and stoke the inspiration that I had received from a life-giving God. The primary voice that I found was Dallas Willard. I really can’t put into words (though I have tried) what his writings and example has meant for me. His was a life that showed and taught the grand possibility of Christ’s transformation in an individual’s life. Without this message, I would have still had faith but it would be lacking in hopefulness, in vitality, in real examples of growth and transformation. Willard inspires and awakens the reality of Christ and the potential of the Kingdom of God like no other writer, speaker, or pastor I have ever come across. I owe so much of my Christian experience over the last 18 years to the influence of Dallas Willard and in that moment in California, God let me behind the curtain to be with that legacy in an intimate and unique way.  I felt unworthy.

So there I was, feeling the impact of Christ’s work through one man to help point me to Christ as Savior, Christ as teacher, Christ as friend, and Christ as an indwelling presence in my life. God’s abundance and generosity and foolishness overwhelmed me in that moment. What did I do to deserve this?

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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.

Confessions of A Sour Face, Part One.

“You are hard to read;” “You aren’t the most expressive person;””I thought you were mean the first time I met you;””Does he ever talk?”

These are quotes that have been said about me over the span of my life, some within the last week. On a regular basis, I hear from people about my “look.” Apparently, my face does not provide a very comforting, welcoming, or friendly sense in others. And because first impressions are so hard to move away from, it takes a lot of work on my part to guide people towards a truer sense of who I am.

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I have asked myself what is wrong with me? I have tried to even change the position of my mouth to a more smiling posture but that can’t be sustained over long periods of time and seems so fake.

I mentioned this aspect of my existence to some of my friends at the Apprentice Experience. One friend said that these reactions to me was a form of persecution. He said that I was being persecuted for righteousness sake. I guess he meant that because I care more about who I truly am in Christ rather than how I look to others, I wasn’t playing an image management game that seems to be so important to most of the world and I was paying the price for it. He may have overstated things a bit but it got me thinking. Should I work to make sure I am projecting an image that appeases the world’s need for me to look and behave a certain way at all times or should I focus on the inside and Christ’s transformation in me and let people’s perception take care of itself?

The ironic thing is that I am more friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic than I used to be. Honestly, I consider this a minor miracle and a sign of Christ’s transformation in my life. Still, it bothers me when I hear the comments like those above and I wonder what am I supposed to do?

In my next post, I will tell what happened in Kansas and shortly thereafter that gave me my answer to my dilemma.

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.

The People Are What Make This Experience So Special

The Second Gathering of the Apprentice Experience is less than two months away. God taught me quite a bit in my one week in November and I have been changed and continue to be amazed how God used that first gathering to prepare me for what lie ahead in the coming months. But, what might stay with me the most will be the relationships that have been formed through this experience. These were truly amazing people who, by their sheer love and concern, taught me some amazing things.

-There is a young pastor from the Southeast whose enthusiasm for the things of God and love for people has inspired me.

-There is a Northern California mother of adult children whose calming spirit and love for God instantly made me feel at ease.

-There is a Anglican priest who is so well read and spiritually experienced. He has kept all of us thinking about important spiritual things online even when we are not together.

-There is a Midwest lay person from a small town who runs a benevolence ministry for the simple reason that it needs to be done and God has gifted her with the ability to do it.

-There is a West Texas mechanic with such a keen grasp on connecting the physical with the spiritual that we all sit in amazement as he weaves his intricate illustrations that teach profound truths.

-There is a lady from my home town who provided me with an instant connection and whose peaceful concern for me eased much of the anxiousness I felt as the week began.

-There is a fun-loving Mennonite who is  a true delight to be around even if he doesn’t believe that he is.

-There are pastors who, though tasked with huge responsibilities, are seeking God with all of their heart and that give me hope for the future of our churches.

-There are a few coming off incredible brokenness whose bravery and faith put mine to shame.

I could go on and on about all 27 of these amazing people and what they have taught me. We have just started this journey and God will no doubt continue to move in us. I can hardly wait until March.

Amazingly, at least in my mind, I am just a few hundred dollars away from paying for the entire $5,000 tuition needed for the Apprentice Experience. It has been a while since I asked for help with this fund raising.

Won’t you consider donating and partnering with me. You know I value your input and support beyond what I can express. This is an unbelievable opportunity for me and I want to share it with you and others.

Help me make this happen. Donate here.

By contributing you will receive the following:

At least $25 – The Grow Up Playlist full of songs that have helped me in my spiritual life.

At least $50 – A sample chapter of an eBook I worked on a few years ago called More of Christ, Less of Everything Else.

At least $75 – A resource pack full of the list of tools that I use to grow closer to God.

At least $100 – A short eBook that I am creating called the Devotional Lives of Famous Christians.

 

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

 

“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

Despite Unlikely Circumstances, Here I Am

Nearly one year ago, God began revealing in me what the next few years might look like.

What started out as a simple interest and desire of mine began to take shape as an opportunity that was tangible and the promised next steps in my faith journey. As I have said in a previous post, the pattern has been God asks me to do something and I just go about doing it. There hasn’t been too many road blocks or hang ups, at least from me personally. God just keeps presenting himself and his will to me and I just move forward despite some hard circumstances that have been largely out of my control.

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That has led to this point. On Sunday, I will be traveling to Wichita, Kansas to spend the next five days in Community 3 of the Apprentice Experience. This week will be one of four that we will spend as a group of 27 people from around the country. We all have been doing readings but up until now, we have not met as a community. The week will be filled with study under the teaching of James Bryan Smith, Scot McKnight, Jan Johnson, and others. We will also be participating in spiritual practices, discussion, and community worship. It promises to be a deeply rich and rewarding experience and one that I am highly looking forward to.

As a reader of this blog, you know my heart is to help others Grow Up in their Christian Spiritual Life. You know that I am not just about personal spiritual experiences or Christian thrill seeking. I truly want this experience to change me so that I can help demonstrate to others how Christ wants to change them also. The Apprentice Experience is just another step in God’s work in my life and in the growth of my ministry efforts through Grow Up Ministries, where I plan to help people live the life that Christ intends for them to live.

I will be taking good notes and will be chronicling my experiences but will wait until I get back to share with you the particulars.

Please pray for me. Pray that nothing will get in the way of me experiencing the fullness of God’s blessing during the week. Pray for the entire group that we will quickly draw close together as a group of believers. Pray for my family, who is gracious enough to let me be away for this long. Finally, pray that I can take what I have learned and it will make a difference moving forward in the lives of those that I am around and try to minister to.

Also, I am still in need of some support so that I can complete the program. Please donate so that what God has started to grow in me and my humble efforts will result in something that has a real impact on many people’s lives.

Scenes From the First Grow Up Event

Last Friday, I hosted the first Grow Up Event, a Fund Raising Party. After rain earlier in the day, the skies cleared up late Friday afternoon and the weather was perfectly cool and pleasant. The ground was hardly wet or muddy. God set up a great evening for us.

Around 35 people came and enjoyed excellent tacos from El Taxqueño Taquería and then settled in for music from Ben Coleman and then from Chad and Melissa Edgington. The songs were a perfect backdrop to the evening and set a great tone for a pleasant and uplifting night.

In addition to the music, I was able to tell a little bit of my story and what I feel God is leading me to do with the start of Grow Up Ministries. I mentioned how He has led me to the Apprentice Experience training as an act of faith and that now, I will be pursuing opportunities to help struggling and stagnant Christians find the ability to live the life Christ intends for them to live.

After the music, people had the chance to give. At the end of the night, we raised $525 that will go to the completion of my training and the start up of Grow Up Ministries. God is good.

See pictures below.

Even if you were unable to make it, you can still give by going to my fund raising page:

https://igg.me/at/bkFj2UfykB4

By contributing you will receive the following:

At least $25 – The Grow Up Playlist full of songs that have helped me in my spiritual life.

At least $50 – A sample chapter of an eBook I worked on a few years ago called More of Christ, Less of Everything Else.

At least $75 – A resource pack full of the list of tools that I use to grow closer to God.

At least $100 – A short eBook that I am creating called the Devotional Lives of Famous Christians.

Why I Am Starting Something New?

I relaunched this blog back in May. There was a lot of prep to get it started again but I have never felt burdened by it. I started the Apprentice Experience in August and have been doing weekly readings and assignments. This has taken a little bit of time away from the blog but I have never felt overwhelmed by the time commitments.

This is the pattern that I am noticing on this journey. God directs me toward something and I go do it. There hasn’t been a lot of fuss, or hand wringing, or feelings of desperation. I simply move forward in obedience and things progress forward. There has been a flow forward that has been rewarding, refreshing, and uplifting.

I never thought that anything more than some words in a blog or some additional advice to friends and mentees would spring from these ways forward but I was wrong. God has made it apparent, just as he did with the blog and the entry into the Apprentice Experience, to take up a new task; one that is bigger and more out there than anything I have done previously. But, now that I know the pattern, I can just start to move forward in obedience and see where this takes me.

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Here is the new task: Grow Up Ministries. To take the content of the blog and the lessons and skills I am learning from the Apprentice Experience to create retreats, workshops, or individual session so that Christians can learn to Grow Up and live the life that Christ intends for them to live. I would make myself available to churches, parachurch organizations, and other ministries, and show their people that maturing in the Christian life is not only for spiritual superheroes or preacher types but for everyone who has a desire to grow.

Wise, mature, transformed Christians are desperately needed in our world and I want to do my part to help people make the spiritual changes they desire and that God has planned for them.

Friday night’s event is a kind of kick-off event for this new ministry venture. In the midst of all of the great music, I will briefly explain the plans and goals of this ministry.

What does that mean for you, faithful reader of the blog? Not much except for maybe a new web design and additional opportunities to see/hear me speak in person.

This is all kind of scary for me. I am not always the most optimistic person in the world but now that I know the pattern I can be confident that I just have to move forward and God will provide a way and a result.