Why I Believe in "Friends"

Go ahead, admit it. Some of you have the Michael W. Smith song playing in your head. Today I want to give thanks for something that many of us take for granted - friends. But not just any friends. You may have several different types of friends - friends you'd let borrow your truck, those whom you'd let borrow your truck, friends who show up at 3am with food when they find out your family has experienced a huge loss. Or you may have Facebook friends who you barely know, or golf buddies that you know as much as you'd ever like to given the way they carry themselves after they miss a 5-footer for par.

Those are great friends, but those aren't who I'm talking about either.

I'm talking about friends that are kindred spirits. Those who speak the same language, or at least from the same glossary as you even though you may not have any idea who they are and vice versa.

masthead-300x242This past weekend I was able, along with two other members of Parkview's discipleship staff, to spend time at the Apprentice Institute National Conference. Located at Friends University (see what I did there?) in Wichita, Kansas, this event brings together kindred spirits in the conversation of spiritual formation. This year's theme was "Formation for Mission" and the speakers centered on the fact that if we are shaped into the likeness of Christ it will necessarily drive us to love and serve those who Christ would have loved and served were he to be in our shoes today.

So I want to do a bit of a send-up today of some of the quotes, thoughts and inspirations that came from our time with kindred spirits. I want to do it in the light of gratitude, as I truly am grateful for the people who give their time and talents to "spur others on" in the journey of spiritual formation.

I'm grateful for Tom Smith, head of Rhythm of Life and author of Raw Spirituality. His confession of being a "church idolater" and making the church and it's growth an object of worship above the God who created it in the first place was refreshing and helpful to be sure. His final prayer, one that captures our need to get out of comfortable situations with people who are all just like us, is this: "God, help us to diversify our bubble."

I'm grateful for Brenda Salter McNeil, a prophetic message about how perhaps if we are with people who are frightened by the same things that frighten us, we will never get past our fear. We have to say yes to God, moving like Abram from the comforts of Haran to the realities of the beautiful and diverse lands God has given. Coming back to a theme repeated throughout the conference, she says, "All know is I can no longer be formed in homogenous communities that look like me and think like me- I need to be formed into the image of Jesus."

I'm grateful for James Bryan Smith, head of the Apprentice Institute for being a humorous but reflective voice on spiritual formation into Christlikeness. His quotes from Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, plus his well-timed bad jokes were just the levity we needed to balance out the substantial insights of the weekend.

I'm grateful for Don Davis, executive director of The Urban Ministry Institute for preaching as he was given to preach and challenging us with a bracing and full narrative of the story of Scripture. Also I'm grateful he used substantial illustrations that I can at some point...borrow, yes borrow is the word. In talking about living into the "really real" life that Christ has for us, he says "If you continue to act into the really real, live into the pretense, identity will be formed." Our identity is formed by living "as-if" everything Jesus teaches us about God is true, because it IS.

I'm grateful for Shane Claiborne, a fresh and imaginative voice for justice in our world. He was a good sport even after ending up in a hilarious tweet picture of our team member Daniel in the Wichita airport. Shane said of today's Christianity that "our doctrine doesn't spread by force, but by fascination; the problem is that our Christianity is becoming less and less fascinating." He told magnificent and miraculous stories of the creative ways people in his Philadelphia neighborhood were fighting injustice in the name of Jesus.

I'm grateful for Alan Fadling and Jeff Bjorck, for waiting until the next to last session to blow what was left of my mind and heart with brilliant insights and timely wisdom that hit right in the sweet spot of my journey at this moment. Alan Fadling stated that in our teaching and preaching we are getting to the place where we make people "comfortable with unpracticed insight." Jeff Bjorck added that we often "step over answered prayer requests like dirty laundry on the way to our next request" and called us to times of gratitude and thankfulness as a way of caring for our soul. I'm starting now, Jeff.

I'm grateful for friends like Kara Yuza and Josh Luton of the Apprentice Institute. These wise and care-full friends are wonderful conversation partners in this eternal life, and it is an encouragement every time I see them. I pray God blesses them with a rich and beautiful Sunday Sabbath, because after hearing all the new initiatives of the Apprentice Institute - they're going to need all the energy they can muster.

I'm grateful for my team, Daniel Ilg and Dave Ulrich, for getting "spiritual formation giddy" with me as we met Richard Foster and celebrated the life and work of the man who paved the way for the work and thought we find ourselves swimming in most days. These two are not unknown kindred spirits, but I thought I'd bring them in to the discussion anyway.

I'm grateful for Cindy Bunch and Bob Fryling at IVP. Cindy has been a long-time conversation partner and now having met Bob I'm excited to think about what the future of spiritual formation publishing may look like going forward.

Thank you, my friends, my kindred spirits.