Jesus

Dying to Comfort Vs Dying of Comfort: A Journey to the Prison - Micah Matthews No. 33 by Joshua Banner

Micah Matthews recently finished and MFA in fiction at Warren Wilson. This episode is his audio essay where he describes his visits to the prison with Josh. These visits cause Micah to reflect on the spiritual good of going outside of his comfort.

Without permission to take microphones and cameras into the prison, this essay is the next best way for you to come inside to taste and see the movements of the Holy Spirit in a prison.

The Invitation is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to cover our capital budget. Please consider contributing financially so that we can create more creative spiritual formation content like this for you. tinyurl.com/y9gqmnha 

Please subscribe to the Invitation Podcast to stay in the loop with all the new content as it becomes available.

Thanks for joining this journey with us!

Much Love & Peace to you!

Josh

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Update: A Hasidic Tale & Giving Tuesday! No. 32 by Joshua Banner

In this update episode, a Hasidic tale from Abraham Joshua Heschel helps us understand the Spirit's invitation to find the treasure right here in front of ourselves, right at home.

We are on the eve of #GivingTuesday. If you haven't had a chance to watch our Kickstarter video, please do.

Here's a link: tinyurl.com/y9gqmnhaA 

We hope you can catch onto the larger vision of what the Invitation is up to as a nonprofit connecting the prison to the local church parish through spiritual direction and this podcast. If you have means, please support the Kickstarter campaign as it raises money to fund our capital budget, money that will help us efficiently and creatively offer you spiritual formation resources on a more consistent basis.

Share the Invitation with your people, and pray for us on this crazy journey of trusting God. Peace & Love of Jesus to you!

The picture of this episode is the home of what we are calling 'Cloudstreet' as it is under snowy construction. Cloudstreet will be the hub of our practice of spiritual direction, a retreat space, and a production space!!!

Big hugs and LOVE!

Josh

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Conversation #9 Trevor Hudson No. 29 by Joshua Banner

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“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

So said Mr. Beaver to Lucy in C.S. Lewis' classic, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

I have the joy of practicing group spiritual direction twice a month in a prison. This practice is teaching me many things about following Jesus and about sharing Jesus with others.
 
This past Saturday, Jesse, a prisoner new to our prayer practices, shared that his experience of Jesus is still so new. He confessed he is just beginning to open himself to God, trying to determine if it’s safe to approach God further. I chuckled some about this and decided to be honest with him. “No, Jesse,” I said, “Approaching God is not safe. It’ll wreck your life.”

Jesus asks us, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”  As I mentioned last month, Jesus offers us a nice, hot cup of die-to-yourself. Why would anyone ever want to imbibe such a drink?

The cup Jesus offers us is the living water of transformation, of death and resurrection. It’s a drink of our baptismal waters. This strong drink is an acquired taste for most of us. It takes us time to learn how to regularly drink deeply of Jesus, the living water who is severe yet also liberating, sacrificial while healing, dangerous yet good. 

If you are given grace to desire this drink at all, the question then remains: how do I acquire more of a taste for God? If I’m honest, I’m scared of taking more of God into myself. I don’t know what he wants from me. How do I learn to want to surrender more of myself to God?

——————-

I do most of the cooking in our home. I prefer strongly flavored foods, the heat of peppers, the intensity of garlic and onion. The trouble is remembering that my family naturally enjoys milder flavors. Unwittingly, I’m changing their palate—slowly, meal by meal. Without working hard at it, I’m re-defining their tastes. My oldest son has recently taken to spicy mustard on his bratwurst. He’s also enjoying little dabs of the jalapeño jelly I canned a few years ago. My younger son now eats the salads I prepare, and my wife prefers her coffee black—if it’s from the fancy beans I buy.

Just by being myself, by being a person interested in certain foods, films, and books, someone who delights in the camping and canoeing we did this past summer—just by a kind of osmosis I am shaping the interests and desires of my children and spouse.

This is also the gist of what I offer as a spiritual director, a kind of Spirit-led osmosis. What matters more than the words I say to someone in spiritual direction is my internal contemplative posture. The greatest gift I can offer someone in direction is the way I sit in the presence of God with that person, how I share time and space with that person in and through the Holy Spirit.

It’s vital to unpack that word “share” here. I do not arrive at a session of spiritual direction to share God with someone as a performance or monologue. Sharing is two-way. It’s reciprocal. I can only be effective as a facilitator of a spiritual conversation if the directee has arrived open and willing to share the God that is already inside of herself. And that is the point: we join together to prayerfully discover the God who is already moving, breathing, and loving in and through us. Jesus has always been near. It’s just that we have yet to acknowledge him.

No doubt over the years some have left a session of direction with me unimpressed and sad to have wasted an hour. Perhaps I wasn’t the right fit for that person as a director, or perhaps she was not ready for direction anyway. Perhaps she didn’t know how to be weak.

The only pre-requisite for spiritual direction and growth is some experience of humiliation, even a minor sense of failure. I first sought direction in the middle of a very public position as the worship leader for a small Christian college. I was supposed to be the conduit of God for 1200 voluntarily assembled students. I sought spiritual direction when I finally accepted my inner emptiness. I had grown so tired of naming Jesus for everyone but myself. I had become a wreck. I was spiritually poor and needed help.

The group of men who choose to meet with us in the prison come broken, open, humble, and willing. One winter when we had trouble getting to the prison due to a massive snow dump, G, one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken human beings I’ve ever met, said, “You guys would come here on a sleigh. I don’t understand why you all are working so hard to get in here when we are working so hard to get out.” We told G, and we continue to remind all the men that we keep coming to the prison because of their holy openness to God. Their vulnerability means that we see Jesus in the lives of these men in ways we don’t see him anywhere else. These men have been drinking Jesus’ cup of die-to-yourself. They have been pushed to rock-bottom, yet in their humility they are each being transformed into something stunning.

My service as a spiritual director has led me to a focus on prisoners and also pastors. I am attempting to make connections between the two. I want pastors to come into the prison to pray with us. But this is not traditional prison ministry where we arrive to offer the men access to God. Instead, we go to the prison to see Jesus as he already is in the prison. It’s the witness of the Spirit moving among the prisoners that I’m so excited to share with the pastors. In the prison, practicing group spiritual direction together, we share in the eating and drinking deeply of Jesus. How will an experience of sharing God with the prisoners, the least of these, the moral lepers of our society—how might these pastors be changed in ways that transform the scope of their parish work?

As you listen and pray through my conversation with Trevor Hudson, you will hear us sharing deeply of God with each other, deep crying unto deep. I invite you to join us in drinking this cup of Christ to remember your baptism, to know him, the power of resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, that you and I might be conformed unto his death.

Josh

 

Loving God With Your 'Muchness' - Summer Retreat Part 6 No. 28 by Joshua Banner

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How ‘bout a Nice Hot Cup of Die to Yourself?

The essence of following Jesus is an idea that offends our minds: to Love God with all of our Strength, you must become weak. This is an other-worldly, a Kingdom of Jesus-the God-Who-Became-Weak concept.

What if our church marquee’s read “Come on in to worship with us and have a nice hot cup of die to yourself?”

Many of us have become so accustomed to the Gospel that we haven’t taken the deeply offensive nature of what he is asking us: we must die to ourselves, to this world, to our best ideas and deepest passions. The Gospel is no longer “offensive” to us. It is not moving in on us and invading our hearts and minds. To follow Jesus, we must confess with John the Baptist, “that I may decrease so that he can increase” in me and in the world around me.

In this final movement of the Summer Retreat 2018, we offer out bodies as living sacrifices to God. This episode uses a lectio divina format using the Message translation of Romans 12:1-2. The focus question is how does love for God in the heart, mind and soul become tangible and concrete through action. How can love become active in my daily life?

With the end of this summer experiment and now that we are officially a not for profit, the Invitation is moving into a season of fundraising with a kickstarter campaign launched later in the Fall while also searching for long-term, sustaining supporters. If the Invitation has been of help to you and if you believe it will be of help to others, please subscribe to the podcast, help spread the word about the Invitation and about the crowd-funding with kickstarter, join us in spiritual friendship, and become a sustaining supporter!

The Love & Peace of Jesus Christ to you,

Josh

 

Exploring the Depths of the Soul - Summer Retreat Part Five no. 27 by Joshua Banner

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Can Your Soul Become a BS-free Zone?

I have the joy of offering group spiritual direction in a prison. So I don’t mean to offend you by being crass here, but early on in the prison I learned to describe the prayerful conversations of spiritual direction as a “bullsh*t free zone.” This definition translates quickly for the inmates. The prison is riddled with many layers of bullsh*t, an absence of freeing and reciprocal honesty. The men who have chosen to return to our prayer practices over the past four years are self-selected. They return for our group practice of spiritual direction to enjoy a time and a space to be frank, raw, and honest with themselves, with each other, and with God.

New participants discover this freeing and reciprocal honesty quickly, too. Mike, on his second visit to our bi-monthly practice, looked at me with wide-eyed awe as he and I spoke intimately with each other. He leaned over and whispered, “I have never been so vulnerable with anyone since I got here.”

The shock of describing a prayerful conversation as a “bullsh*t free zone” requires those of us outside the prison to stop and consider the deeper implication here: the Holy Spirit reveals the holy love of God through the profane? Our lives are smothered in layers of information and misinformation, layers of false, empty desires that compete with each other, layers of pain and exhaustion, resentment and anger, layers of bullsh*t.    The Holy Spirit enters this gross confusion. The Spirit cuts through it. The Spirit shines light into it. The Spirit lifts us out of that pit.

In this episode, I meet with the small group to consider the deeper regions of our souls. We consider the many layers of resistance to moving into the depths of soul-spirituality. The intention here is that as we sink into God through contemplative prayer practices, we will each identify our own resistance to God, confess and surrender to His love, and be ever-more transformed.

Apologies for the delayed release on this episode. A few of the contributors got sick at the end of July, and then I got pretty sick too! A virus in the summer is not good. I hope you and yours have had a better second half of the summer than I.

We will soon be sending out our final episode of the summer retreat on ‘Strength.’ Thank you for allowing me to serve you in spiritual direction this summer. Despite the illness, it is a wonderful gift to share with you!

Peace of Christ,

Josh

 

The Mind is for Love: Beyond Academics - Summer Retreat Part FOUR no. 26 by Joshua Banner

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A spirituality of the mind is vitally more important than Christian academics and intellectualism.

There. I said it. This is my confession, the confession of a recovering theology student and teacher. I love theology. It's helped me so, yet I've come to love prayer more. It's taken another christian tradition to reveal to me that the two are not at odds. Evagrius Ponticus, most actively remembered by Eastern Orthodox christians said, "If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian."

The mind often gets short shrift in spiritual formation circles. Yet then in theological circles, the mind often gets placed in such a lofty, unattainable position. I'm saying that spiritualists tend to under-appreciate the mind while theologians tend to over-idealize the mind.

Again, on one hand, rich, abundant, Christo-centric, orthodox Christianity is about more than intellectual assent to our celebrated doctrines. In fact, it's fair to say that our minds often get in the way of our capacity to spiritually perceive Jesus as the Holy Spirit would have us deeply know Jesus. Deep, loving knowledge of God is not academic or intellectual, yet on the other hand it's a knowledge of God that so fully engages our minds in ways that are beyond anything we could ask or imagine that our minds become so full of love and truth that we don't need to be smart about our God-knowledge. We find instead that sitting lovingly in the presence of God with our minds open with our hearts to Jesus--this is all we end up being capable of.

The mind is intended to serve love.

I remember sitting with Carol on the front steps of her house. I was maybe 15 or 16. Carol was a spiritual mother, one of many people who have given much to me. Carol taught me through her presence. It was her manner, poise, the tone of her voice, her smile, the glint in her eye. It was the graceful, deep way about her that spoke to the deep inside of me. I sat on her steps yet again misunderstanding the things of God, trying to sort these things out when words were not very helpful.

"I wish I could just destroy my mind," I told her. It was so long ago. I assume that I had been inspired to make such a statement because I was gaining a sense that Jesus is more than my mind could easily accept. I look back today and understand that my mind had been offended by God. Carol assured me that this was a good thing. She explained that the point is not to destroy the mind but rather to redeem the mind, to put the mind in its right place, to use the mind for its correct purposes.

This is the context of holiness or wholeness. This is self-care: to put the mind in its right place alongside the heart, soul, and strength in service of worship and prayer of a God who generously reveals himself to us yet who is beyond our reasoning.
 
I invite you to the summer retreat, part four, a spiritual conversation with friends as we consider prayers of the mind. 

Happy summer-time!
Peace & Love,

Josh

 

Summer Retreat 2018 Part Two - Conversation #8 Chuck DeGroat no. 24 by Joshua Banner

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He's not safe, but he's good.

This episode is a follow up and an addition to the Introduction to the Summer Retreat 2018. I am so very excited to present to you my recent conversation with Chuck DeGroat, Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Christian Spirituality at Western Theological Seminary. This conversation opens our spiritual dialogue for the summer. Chuck wonderfully and generously helps me set a tone for the kinds of conversations we will continue to have on the mic with small groups of pastors and friends for each of the subsequent episodes on heart, mind, soul, and strength. We come to prayer with ponderings, hopes, desires, questions, loves and confusions. It's vital that we make this journey together. Chuck is a very capable companion for the journey because of his insight yes, but also because of his honesty. I invite you to come along on this journey with your own vulnerability, enthusiasm, and even fears.

In Mark 12 Jesus recounts the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Notice the introduction there: to love with ALL. This means we are to bring everything to God, to be whole in our worship. The Spirit is given to us to search through every arena of our selves because God wants to consume us with his love.

His love is comprehensive to consume us...to devour us whole. It's hard not to think of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia. As Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy, "He's not safe, but he's good." Why is he not safe? It's because he wants all. 1 Peter 5:8 says the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour. 

There are two lions seeking to devour us. One devours us with love. The other to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10). I invite you to flee...to retreat from the lion who seeks only to destroy. Let's flee into a consuming, devouring love instead.

Summer Retreat 2018 Part One no. 23 by Joshua Banner

Can you fall in love this summer?

Our winters are long here in West Michigan. Even when we are not buried in several feet of snow with a layer of ice, there's still the "lake effect" cloud cover which means our days of annual sunlight are only slightly better than Seattle. Now that the sun has finally come out, it has taken me a few weeks to get used to it. I wanted the sun desperately, but my winter-sick body didn't know how to take in the goodness of the light.

In the 63rd Psalm the author pines,

My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Here in West Michigan we might say,

My soul yearns for you in a dark and cold land where there is no sunlight.

So, for us, summer ends up being an especially dreamy, fantastical set of months in which we put a lot of hope. If it's not travel, it's long weekends, patios and grills, trips to the beach, lingering with friends and family, sunsets after 9pm, and then fireflies. Summers are a good time to fall in love.

The question is how. The intent of the Summer Retreat 2018 is to create time and space for us to consider the advantages of summer for falling in love with God.

It seems that every year Protestants engage Advent and Lent with more and more intentionality. But what about Ordinary Time, the other 34 of our 52 weeks of each year? In American culture, summer, a long stretch of Ordinary Time, it's something of a holy season. I recently recorded a conversation with Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care, counseling, and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary.

Chuck and I discussed how much of spiritual practice is about learning to be aware and present to yourself, to others, and God. Isn't this what we long for in a good summer, to be present, alive, awake? As we continued to talk, the parameters of a "spirituality of summer" began to emerge. In summer we tend to be more present. We seek rest and opportunities to be playful. We find ways to disrupt our habits of busyness, to slow ourselves and to enjoy the good life.

How then can we gracefully add intentionality to our summer practices to make ourselves especially available to the Holy Spirit that we might fall in love with God, to rest in the transformative love of Jesus? This Summer Retreat 2018 will offer you time and space as well as some helpful vocabulary to further consider the advantages of summer for spiritual formation.

I invite you to the Summer Retreat 2018. In this Introduction Part One, we prepare for the retreat by praying through a section of C.S. Lewis' great sermon, "The Weight of Glory." 

My conversation with Chuck DeGroat, Introduction Part Two will be available in a week. The subsequent four episodes moving through August will be spiritual conversations with small groups of pastors and friends to discuss prayers of the heart, mind, soul, and strength. As we fall in love, we learn more about our personal, unique mode of love but then we will also want to stretch beyond ourselves and learn new ways to love. As we learn new ways to love, our hearts will be expanded and we will become, in the language of Chuck's book, Wholehearted  (which is a highly recommended summer read)!

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Update! Your Guide to Going Deeper With the Invitation no. 22 by Joshua Banner

This is an update episode to invite you to go deeper with the Invitation Podcast by: 1. joining a summer-long, multi-episode retreat through the shema (Deut 6; Mark 12)of loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and 2. to become a sustaining member of the Invitation as it seeks to become a non-profit. Here Josh shares the story of how he got into spiritual direction, started this podcast, became involved in the prison prayer practices...and how all these pieces fit together into a non-profit! Please subscribe to make sure you can download a free song, "Silence" that Josh and his wife, Susanna Childress (aka Ordinary Neighbors) recorded for the podcast.

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Retreat #5 Lament: To Cleanse Your Spiritual Eyes no. 17 by Joshua Banner

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As we enter Advent, we take a sober look at the darkness in and around us to prepare for the dawning of a Great Light. If we do not honestly look at this darkness, we diminish our exceeding need for the light of Jesus.

Eastern Orthodox spirituality richly embraces this honest, necessary look into the darkness by teaching that tears are a second baptism. If we truly weep over our sins, the compunction of our tears refreshes and renews our identity as children adopted into the Kingdom of God. Surely we also return to the essence of our baptism, our identity resurrection with and in Jesus when we turn to him in the midst of suffering and offer prayers of lament.

One third of the Psalms are lamentation, yet there is not one lectionary from any Christian tradition that includes lament in this proportion throughout the scope of its annual worship. We are able to say then that none of our worship is fully Biblical. None of us sufficiently bring our complaints, confusions, doubts, and anger to God. There is much for us to learn about ourselves and God in and through lament. 

The novelist and essayist Fredrick Buechner explains, "Before the Gospel is a word, it is silence." This is to also mean that "The Gospel is bad news before it is good news." Advent, like Lent is a time to imagine the grief and misery of a world without a savior. If we open ourselves with humility, we will also see how we have resisted God and made our lives desolate. We will see how we have allowed ourselves to live in darkness.

I invite you to participate in this fifth, long-format retreat to consider that lament is not an end it itself. Instead we explore how speaking honestly with God can heal us. Opening the door to our pain allows us to see the prognosis our our sin-sick lives and our sin-sick world. If we locate the source and location of the pain, we can then more intentionally invite the Holy Spirit into our suffering.

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

Original music with help from Jared DeMeester and Josh Holicki.

Conversation # 6 Christopher Hall No. 16 by Joshua Banner

Is it fair to connect social injustices like racism and our industrial prison system to our own personal belief in Jesus' ability to transform our lives? 

I am beginning to believe it is fair to do just this. Our collective, national sicknesses are deeply connected to my own sense of who God is for me today. If I come to believe that the Holy Spirit can transform my own life, then I will develop hope for my neighbors, even my enemies and hardened criminals. 

In this latest discussion Christopher Hall and I wrestle with these things. Chris is the newest president of Renovaré I trust because he is careful and loving with the church. As you listen to this episode, you'll hear my consternation with the failings of the church to believe transformation is possible. As I read more and more about racism and the incarceration system, as I complete my third year volunteering in local prison, I see the weaknesses of an American Church that continues to criminalize and scapegoat people of color, especially black men. Chris challenges me to be more hopeful in the church. He argues that the church might respond to this crisis if they only could be informed about the crisis. This is a delicate subject to bring up Chris says, yet it is gaining traction even among evangelicals.

How do we challenge American Christians to risk, to look and see beyond the confines of their own communities to see the struggles of their not too distant neighbors?

Author and activist Michelle Alexander describes the blindness of those who enable institutional, systemic racism. She says:

Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches would often remind his audiences that, you know, most folks who support Jim Crow aren't evil bad people, they're just deeply misguided. They're blind, spiritually blind to the harms of the policies that they support. And I think the same thing can be said today, many people of good will are blind to the harms of mass incarceration and the devastation, the war on drugs has caused.

In this conversation Chris Hall challenges us to practice the spiritual discipline of moving our bodies and our minds out of our comfort zones into new "learning spaces" that we might be transformed into the character of Jesus.

I invite you to participate in this conversation, episode #16, a conversation with Christopher Hall!

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

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5 Minute Prayer #41 'Our Father Is Younger Than We' No. 15 by Joshua Banner

G.K. Chesterton says that children are strong because they can enjoy monotony.

I've watched Casper, my seven-year-old, sit with markers, paper, scotch tape, and scissors for hours. He has a powerful internal strength that keeps him so focused on making things that it is difficult to get his attention. He gets thoroughly lost inside his rich internal world. Nothing seems boring to him as long as he is free to experiment with colors, textures, shapes, and the stories he tells about each drawing or cut out. Imagination and creativity are strong with this one.

God asks us to love him with strength, to be squarely focused on him. He desires that we might lose ourselves in abandonment to his love and presence, that we might be so consumed by him that it will be difficult to distract us from that love. 

How can we become so focused, so consumed by God's love? "Focus" shares the same latin root as the word "hearth," that space around a fireplace. We stay focused on that which warms us. Fire is mesmerizing. It attracts our gaze like almost nothing else. If you watch Casper at play with his art projects, you'll see a little boy lit by an inner fire. When he brings me his finished crafts, a shining light of excitement glows in his eyes. He is in love with his art. Art gives him a kind of strength that compels him to do strange things. He often wakes up early before school to have some alone time so he can piece together something new. When we have favorite guests over, he will go to the other room to make them special gifts of his art. He wants to share his fire. He does so easily.

How is the fire inside of you? What are you focused on these days?
What fire is consuming you?
Do you want to be aflame with God's love? 


I invite you to stoke the fire of your own strong love for God in this newest 5 Minute Meditation, "Our Father is Younger Than We" based on prayer exercise #41 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend Five Minutes With God."

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

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Conversation #5 Nathan Foster no. 12 by Joshua Banner

When was the last time you were surprised by your life?

There are many reasons for us to despair today. Jesus anticipated this struggle when he spoke about "wars and rumors of war." In the face of catastrophe, he tells us to not be alarmed because all "these things must come to pass." How do we keep our heads above the water? If not the struggle of politics, terrorism, and racism, just looking at your bank account might cause your chest to tighten and keep you up at night. Or your trouble may be with relationships--confusion with family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

The couple who offered Susanna and me marital counseling asked us early on a penetrating question: When you consider the future, is it a gift wrapped in a bow full of surprise and goodness? Or is the future a bomb, a tragedy yet to unfold? 

If not either of these extremes, perhaps your future seems mediocre like the persistent banality of refrigerator buzz (for Radiohead enthusiasts, fridge buzz is a theme throughout Ok Computer). Perhaps the the future is merely the passing of time and events; its perfunctory, with little to no vitality.

What then do you make of Jesus' words? "I came to give you life, life abundantly."  (John 10:10)

Or what about this prayer from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:20: Unto him who is able to accomplish more than anything we can ask or imagine? 

How seriously, how deep can this hope penetrate into our mind, heart, our soul?

If you sense a desire deep inside your soul for more, for more help, more friendship, love, clarity, hope, depth, rich goodness, then you are hearing the Invitation of Jesus. That is what the Invitation Podcast is for, a time and a space for us to journey together toward the Desire above and beyond all desires.

In this episode no. 12, Nathan Foster and I sit down to talk about various ways to pursue God through spiritual discipline. We talk about ecumenicism, mysticism, and parenting. Nathan is someone who has struggled and yet continues to hope in the abundant life with Jesus, to believe that God can and will continue to transform his life beyond anything he could ask or imagine.

5 Minute Prayer #14 'Lion or the Dove' No. 11 by Joshua Banner

A lion or a dove? How do you meditate?

The awkward truth about prayer is that you can only learn it by practice. This can be a very discouraging realization. This truth can cause many to avoid prayer altogether. We don't like being beginners. We don't want God to be difficult, and we don't know how to be alone and quiet. We assume that if Jesus is really about love, then a relationship with him should be convenient and simple.

I know how to confess the difficulties of prayer because I've been discouraged most of my life in regard to prayer. Even while serving as a ministry leader, I held God at arm's length and struggled to sit still and give myself to his presence and truth through prayer and meditating on the Scriptures. 

While we can't learn how to pray from books or from someone else, it is possible to gain some inspiration and even some practical coaching on what to look and wait for as we approach God. This is the gift of spiritual direction and what I hope is the gift of this podcast outreach: that you can find some inspiration and practical help to get started or to try again to know and be known by God.

Prayer is simple. It is accessible and even convenient, but not in the way we think of any other simple, accessible, or convenient thing in our lives. Once you enter in you will understand in your own way what I mean. Talking to God is unlike talking to anyone else. Being in his presence is different than the personal presence of any other being. This is God. No one is like him. When you go to prayer on your own, you will learn your own way. There are various ways! You might pray like a lion or a dove, or in some completely other way. 

To understand what I'm getting on about, I invite you to listen to episode no. 11 based on prayer exercise #14 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend 5 Minutes With God."

5 Minute Prayer #4 'Listing Your Loves' no. 9 by Joshua Banner

The goodness?
The truth?
I'm having a real good time. 

Living into my vocation has become a delight. Yes, there are genuine difficulties. Susanna and I lost three babies in the past three years (Jericho 20 weeks, Tiernan and Havilah at almost seven). I really miss being with college students and running a recording studio at Hope College. At times it is a mess managing two little boys, the house, the calendar, making meals.... Yes, I'm at my worst in the 'witching hours' of 3:30-8pm. 

However, I'm happier, healthier, and more emotionally and spiritually present than ever. In fact, the Spirit is changing me in ways that are beyond anything I could ask or imagine. 

How? Meditation, the Scriptures, contemplative prayer, spiritual direction, serving in the prison, risking with God. These are all things you and I have known for a long time about faith. It's just that I've only begun to take it all seriously in the last five or six years. 

Please consider the Invitation Podcast my attempt to share the goodness with you, to invite you to listen to the Spirit's invitation. What could be more fun than to watch the Holy Spirit speak to incarcerated felons and pastors?

A NEW 5-Minute Format!
This will end up being five-ish minutes. As you see, I've put a big No. 4 on this one. The 4 refers to exercise #4 from the prayer guide "Forty Ways to Spend 5 Minutes with God" that I wrote for Harderwyk. The idea is to do guided meditations of each of the 40 prayer exercises. N. 4 is my first attempt at this. As always, I appreciate your positive/critical feedback.

I started with #4 because I hope it might especially help with the front end of Lent:  During Lent we are attempting to slow down, do less, eat less, drink less…to empty ourselves…to create internal space for God as we anticipate his resurrection. I pray episode No. can help you live into Jesus' death and resurrection.

I invite you to 'list your loves' here in Episode #9 on prayer exercise No. 4.  

The closing song, "Psalm 23:1-2" is used with permission from theversesproject.com and Zach Winters.

An Update & Short Meditation, 'Choosing Less' no. 8 by Joshua Banner

In this episode Josh offers two updates in a reflective meditation, a kind of short retreat. If you are interested in the Feb 7-8 church leader's contemplative retreat, send him an email (josh at harderwyk dot com). Josh also explains his decision to step down from his position at Harderwyk. Huge thanks to the leaders at that church and to all the people as well. Listen to find out more. A new, proper website will be online soon. Stay tuned for more conversations and retreats coming soon!

Conversation #3 Sharon Garlough Brown no. 7 by Joshua Banner

 

January 7, 2017

In late November I had the good pleasure of sitting down with author of Sensible Shoes, Sharon Garlough Brown. In our conversation Sharon says:

"Whenever we are talking about spiritual disciplines, we have to talk about them as ways of receiving the love of God, and then abiding in the love of God, and then finally responding to the love of God."
 

I fear that we often get this backwards. We focus on our actions trying to live out the Christian life without substantially receiving much of his love into our lives. When we get this backwards--when we don't live with a deep sense of God's love--we will either practice a vain, superficial Christianity or a very guilty, heavy Christianity. 

In my conversation with Sharon Garlough Brown, you'll get a glimpse of a woman compelled to serve God out of an abundance of love. 

A few years ago several women in my spiritual direction cohort recommended Sharon's books to me as a good way to introduce folks to contemplative prayer and spiritual direction. A few even said they were training to become directors all because of what the Spirit stirred in them through Sensible Shoes. I quickly read the book and introduced it to Harderwyk where it has taken off. 

For those of you who still feel outside contemplative spirituality--those who are scratching their heads wondering who Ignatius of Loyola is--this conversation should be helpful. Sharon and her fiction are very much in the Spirit of the Invitation Podcast extending the invitation into the deep love and life of God. 

I welcome you into conversation #3 with Sharon Garlough Brown as we discuss Sharon's journey into spiritual direction, the story behind her Sensible Shoes books, Ignatian Spirituality, the missional church, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, the disciplines of silence, lectio divina, journaling, Scripture meditation, and Sabbath keeping. Sharon also recites a section of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "Aurora Leigh."

Conversation #2 Brad Kilman no. 6 by Joshua Banner

December 20, 2016

In early November I had a reunion with my long-time friend, Brad Kilman. Brad and I have been friends since we were 18, almost 25 years. We were interns together at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City in 1999. We wrote our first worship songs and recorded them with Charlie Hall for his Generation Productions during that time.

Over the years since I have had to discern my way through the conundrum of contemporary worship. There is enormous power in those instruments and musical voicings that can easily dethrone God with ego and self-worship. As I've struggled to trust leaders and songs, Brad has been a touchstone especially when he says things like:

"I only have my own affection and my own prayer. And if that is not true and honest before him, the I have nothing to give...."

It had been two years since we had been together, so there was much to talk about. The recurring theme of our discussion on and off the podcast mic was how to follow God. As the conversation progressed, we began to outline the similarities between leading worship and practicing spiritual direction.

Mostly it was just good to be with a spiritual friend. 

A spiritual friend is a true gift of the Holy Spirit. A spiritual friend shows you God in ways that make you jealous for more of God. Deep calls unto deep. Brad's relationship with Jesus--the way he sings to God and loves God is contagious. 

I welcome you into conversation #2 with Brad Kilman as we cover topics like song writing, mentoring worship leaders, the influence Charlie Hall and Don Chafer had on us, balancing life with ministry, serving a local church community, the ego, the enneagram, Taizé, and our first experiences in a recording studio.

 

www.bradkilman.com Also check out www.theversesproject.com to find more of Brad's music. The next interview will be with author, Sharon Garlough Brown in anticipation of a contemplative prayer retreat for church leaders she will be co-leading with Josh February 7-8. Then we will begin releasing a new five-minute retreat format that will correspond to Josh's prayer guide, "Forty Ways to Spend Five-Minutes With God." At the end of this episode you can hear a bit of a song based on Psalm 103 written by Brad and recorded in a cabin during their time in a cabin near Three Rivers, MI.

Retreat #3 - Revelation 3 no. 4 by Joshua Banner

"I will come in to you to eat with you, and you with me."

September 18, 2016

We eat from many different tables even while the Spirit of Christ has invited us to eat from the abundance of his table. As CS Lewis has said, "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us....We are far too easily pleased."

Yet, how do we sit down and participate in the greater pleasures of God? This retreat slowly and carefully guides you through Scripture, quotes from great authors (Fredrick Buechner, Origen, Theophan the Recluse), and questions for you to consider, all to help you become more familiar with God in prayer.


Join me for Retreat #3 as we meditate on Revelation 3 and consider the inner regions of our hearts.

Music:
“Save My Life” Josh Banner 1999
“Always Faithful” by Brad Kilman www.bradkilman.com
"Silence" Josh Banner and Susanna Childress 1999
Josh with Jared DeMeester (uke & upright bass)
Other sound design by Josh (rhodes w/ fx) & Josh Holicki (snare)
“Light of Jesus” Instrumental Josh Banner