Dallas Willard lecture “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church”

This hour-long session was recorded in January 2012 at Rolling Hills Covenant Church at Rolling Hills Estates near Long Beach, California.

Watch on YouTube: “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church”

Download the audio-only version here: Link to audio version of “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church”

Summary and Recommendations

I have collected and studied over 175 articles and recorded lectures/sermons from Dallas Willard over the past few years.  This particular recording speaks directly to the leadership of a church in southern California with whom Dallas had a long-time association.  So the tone of this session is familiar and encouraging in a way that some of his other public lectures are not.  He is among friends and he is speaking freely from his heart.  In this presentation he is sharing a vision for discipleship and describing the means of moving toward that vision with more clarity than any other recording of his that I have heard.  My hope is that you will see him as your friend, too, and listen attentively to his wise counsel.

I note that this recording was done in 2012 near the end of his long and fruitful life and ministry.  He speaks out of the fullness of experience of years here and includes in his presentation several of the other major points of insight and understanding that he shared elsewhere in more detail (in books and lectures).  In some very real ways, this recording is one of the “Best of” Dallas Willard because of that.

Here are some quotations I transcribed for one of my earlier blog posts.  They can serve as a quick indicator of some of the content of this recording.

I have provided a link to the YouTube video version.  Also, I have an audio-only version available above, too.  Just a note, I usually listen on my smartphone with the speed increased to 1.5 times the normal (slow!) rhythm of Dallas’s pace.  He naturally speaks slower than most speakers, but that may actually be helpful to give time and space to absorb the weight of his words.

Enjoy!

“If you don’t have the people who are living naturally and easily in the things that Jesus taught both positive and negative, (because you know it isn’t about just not doing the wrong thing, it’s basically about doing the right thing) and easily living in a world in which honesty and love for neighbor and where you care for other people effectively, you are able to witness to others in a way that is natural and effective because it comes out of a life that is real. That is outreach. And if that’s not there, all of the other efforts at outreach may do some good, may get some people into heaven (and that’s not small) but it won’t get heaven into many people because the reality is lacking.” Section begins at 16:25 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.” (this recording is posted along with a description in the next post).

“There are all kinds of details. But if you have spiritual formation of disciples into the likeness of the inner life of Christ, if that is your center, everything else will take care of itself. If you don’t have that as your center, nothing else will take care of itself. It really won’t matter that much what your arrangements are if you don’t have that as the center.”
19:21 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.”

“The great omission from the Great Commission is not having a plan to teach disciples in a way that they naturally obey. They have been changed in their will, they have been changed in the other parts of their character so when they think of dealing with their enemy their natural response is love. You become a person who would love your enemy. That’s an evening’s discourse in itself. You can learn to love your enemies by going through a process of change in your thoughts and your bodily habits and so on. And if you don’t learn and you try to use will power you won’t succeed. And it will make a Pharisee of you because you now believe it’s very important. Remember what Jesus said in Luke “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” You know, you’ve got to be fair to the Pharisee. They’re concerned about a good thing but they believe in will power and they can’t do it, so they retreat to hypocrisy.”
34:48 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.”

“You have to remember that the most effective form of outreach has always been transformed people. That has always been true in every age of the church, that it’s transformed people that touch other lives and understand the goodness of being Christ-like and the availability of that. And they say “I must have this.” They may not even say it consciously but they are drawn to it. As a result, transformed lives occur.”
55:37 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.”

Reflections on Mike Breen’s article “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail”

I’d like the opportunity to share some observations after reading through Mike Breen’s two articles. I don’t have any visibility about an ongoing conversation among this group; I am blindly jumping in hoping to bring some food for thought. I think the article is a good reference point around which to focus our discussion.

For easy reference, Breen’s two articles are compiled into this DOC file:   Articles “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail”

This blog post can be printed out from this PDF file:  PDF of this blog post

Preliminaries
In a conversation like this where there are consequential issues at stake, I like to keep two things in mind which are at tension with each other. The first is to extend brotherly kindness and respect to the other parties who are expressing their ideas and opinions. The second consideration is taking the freedom to clearly evaluate and assess those ideas and opinions. In a written statement like I am undertaking here, the tone might be mistaken as accusatory and judgmental because it’s direct and analytical. One way to compare what I am getting at is that you don’t think a dentist is accusatory when he looks in your mouth and says “You have a cavity in that tooth. We need to do something about that.” He’s not being unkind or condemning. He is making an assessment and plainly stating the facts as he sees them. I seek to exercise that same freedom of expression coupled with genuine respect. Enough on the preliminaries?

Mike Breen’s Article
Ryan McKee sent me the link to Breen’s article because it has been the source of some recent discussions among your group. I read through Mike Breen’s two articles several times seeking to understand his emphasis and what he is suggesting. What I observed is his use of some common terms and phrases in a manner that I think deserve some further definition.

Here’s my opening statement of what I see as a major problem: Mike is using common terms and phrases that are not clearly defined. The terms I want to discuss:

  • Disciple
  • Discipleship
  • gospel

and phrases such as:

  • “learn to do what Jesus could do”
  • “To be a disciple is to be a missionary”
  • The “fruit of our lives”
  • “we need to be reflective about whether we’re good at the things Jesus could do”

 Same Words, Different Meanings

I just stated the problem: using words and phrases in conversation that can have different meanings. Let me take the next step and express what I see as a result of unclear definition. We may be conversing together thinking we are in agreement because we are using the same words. I contend that unless we dig down a bit, behind the meaning of the words, and forge an agreement on the meaning of terms, we can’t think clearly about how to take action together.

Opening Statement of Concerns

With that preamble, let me lay on the table my main concern with Mike Breen’s perspective and why I think that using his ideas as a basis for consideration of how to make meaningful progress for our church body are flawed. I’ll do this by quoting Mike from his articles and offering my comments. Time to put on our big boy pants!

Attempting to Summarize Breen’s Vision

He states “…the God of mission sent his Son as the great rescuer and we are to imitate him.” This particular grid envisions Jesus as one sent on a mission to rescue men. When Breen says that we are to imitate him, I think this idea gets at what I see as Mike’s basic premise for forming his strategy for discipleship. It’s the grid that underlies the concepts Mike shares in his two articles. It’s the grid that influences and drives his definition of the Gospel. Or maybe, it’s his flawed idea about the Gospel that has influenced his strategy, grid, and definition of discipleship. I think it’s the latter.

The first tip off to me was Mike’s early statement on page one of his first post: “So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship.” I think something is more fundamentally “the engine” of the church: the message that is preached (and there’s a LOT to say about that!).

“Does the gospel I preach and teach have a natural tendency to cause people who hear it to become full-time students of Jesus?”   Dallas Willard

A Weak Idea of Disciples and Discipleship from a flawed vision of the Gospel

Mike Breen offers some clear assessments of the challenges of making disciples. I have issue with how he shapes his vision for where we would end up if we follow his suggestions. I believe (strongly) that using his grid as the map for pursuing the Great Commission will result in a journey that takes us far from what Jesus had in mind when he told us to “go, and in the going, make disciples”.

On page three of Mike’s article in the section “Missions Devoid of Discipleship”, he presents these questions to be asked by church leadership:

  • Do I know how to disciple people who can then disciple people who then disciple people, etc? (i.e. does my discipleship plan work?)
  • Does our discipleship plan naturally lead all disciples to become missionaries? (not just the elite, Delta-seal missional experts)

This section gets after the main mis-direction I see from Breen. He is focusing his definition of disciple on the replication process and not upon the apprenticeship-to-Jesus. Mike’s emphasis here is on the “outward” part of apprenticeship, indicated by the choice of his words. We don’t “disciple people who can then disciple people”, we disciple people who then becomes disciples of Jesus as their teacher and HE puts His plan to work in their lives. Our plan isn’t to create missionaries, it’s to lead people into easy obedience to Jesus as their master, learning how to live life in the Kingdom as His apprentices.

Breen mentions Dallas Willard’s two questions, ‘What is our plan for making disciples?’ and, ‘Does our plan work?’ Nowhere does Breen mention Dallas’s consistent emphasis on the gospel we preach as being an even more fundamental question. This point is a fundamental issue because our definition of the Gospel directs our imaginations for what discipleship to that gospel practically looks like. Willard has written extensively on this topic for decades and produced a body of work that has received widespread recognition, including Christianity Today’s ‘Book of the Year’ award in 1999 for his Divine Conspiracy. A few years later he wrote The Great Omission from the Great Commission, which focused upon just the kinds of issues we are discussing here.

Here’s specifically the questions that Willard asks, quoted from Divine Conspiracy on page 58:

  • Does the gospel I preach and teach have a natural tendency to cause people who hear it to become full-time students of Jesus?
  • Would those who believe it become his apprentices as a natural “next step”?
  • What can we reasonably expect would result from people actually believing the substance of my message?

You might note here that Breen’s questions are focused upon the “plan”. Willard’s questions are focused upon the message of the gospel. I contend that the gospel message is the source of the plan for discipleship. We need to start there to get the plan.

A mis-statement of discipleship – On page four Mike writes “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.” This is so close to Dallas Willard’s definition as to be easy to mistake the mis-emphasis of this statement. We aren’t seeking to “become who Jesus would be if he were me” in some kind of transcendent imputation of His being (a hypostatic union?). We are seeking to “live our lives as Jesus would live it if he were I” to accurately quote Willard. It’s OUR life that WE are leading. When you put the emphasis on “becoming who Jesus would be”, the sanctity of my life and the dignity that God gives to each of us is marginalized in an effort to pursue a misshapen vision of transformation. This difference of emphasis by Breen is significant because it plays out in the substance of our daily lives and points to a different vision of discipleship as its fulfillment.

Page 5 – “To be a disciple is to be a missionary. Jesus made disciples and he sent them out as missionaries while discipling them”. This is a narrow definition of a disciple that seems to me to focus on outward activity (more on this below). This statement correlates closely with the explanation that Dallas Willard presented in the opening paragraphs of his Discipleship article for the Oxford Dictionary of Theology (which I posted and outlined in an earlier blog entry). The Navigators identified three categories of Christians: ordinary Christians, Disciples who were training and seeking to make converts, and Workers who were training disciples. The Navigator organization has made changes in the past decade away from using those categories. What this statement by Mike Breen clearly displays is his vision for what a disciple looks like – someone who is doing missionary activities and being trained by Jesus to do those activities. He does not attempt to balance his statement here with any mention of relationship to Jesus as our master and teacher in the process of learning to participate in life in the Kingdom.

A pause here for recognition that Breen includes some statements in his article that seem to indicate his awareness of “discipling cultures” and “missional cultures” and the character/competency polarity that he describes. I think his descriptions of the tensions are helpful. The point I am making here by recounting his statements is that when he moves to making suggestions for direction and vision, he appears to me to default to an emphasis that does NOT represent a balance of the tensions that he describes. Even though Breen mentions the tension elsewhere in his article, I think he falls short of offering a well-balanced vision. In summary, he may have a helpful description of parts of the problem but the solution he offers is flawed.

In counterpoint to Breen’s statement that “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you”, Dallas has this vision to offer:

“The apprentices of Jesus are primarily occupied with the positive good that can be done during their days “under the sun” and the positive strengths and virtues that they develop in themselves as they grow toward “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundations of the world” (Matt. 25:34). What they, and God, get out of their lifetime is chiefly the person they become. And that is why their real life is so important.

The cultivation of oneself, one’s family, one’s workplace and community – especially the community of believers – thus becomes the center of focus for the apprentice’s joint life with his or her teacher. It is with this entire context in view that we most richly and accurately speak of “learning from him how to lead my life as he would lead my life if he were I.” page 285, Divine Conspiracy

I don’t pick up from Mike’s two articles this depth of vision for the inner transformation as an apprentice to Jesus. Mike’s over-emphasis on the doing leads us into the second major area of concern I have with his vision. The next section seeks to pull statements from the article that belie Mike’s underlying view of discipleship.

Balancing the Tension of the Inward and Outward Journeys

“Fruit” – Inward or Outward? (or both?)

The ‘fruit’ for him is the ‘doing’ of making converts. This is a common notion among evangelicals. The categories I mentioned earlier used by the Navigator organization are a clear example. Mike Breen does mention the inward movement (his helpful use of the high/low categories in the diagram on page seven), but then he defaults back to the perspective that ‘mission’ is focused upon doing to the almost exclusion of being. He might defend his position if he were involved in the discussion; but it’s clear from the flow of his two articles and the repeated mention that his focus is upon ‘fruit’ as being the production of converts, not the inner growth in grace and interactive relationship with the Holy Spirit as our teacher. His telos is on outward productivity, not inner transformation. These two concerns are hard to hold in tension without the underlying concept that Jesus can function as our individual personal teacher and manage the joint process of the inward and outward journeys into Christlikeness.

On page 4 Breen defines disciples as “people who LEARN to be like Jesus and learn to do what Jesus could do.” (and that phrase, “what Jesus could do”, is repeated three times!) This is plain enough on the face but there are parts of this statement that beg further inquiry. What does “like Jesus” and “do what Jesus could do” mean here? Mike seems to be moving toward an answer that points to “Jesus being missional”. I think he’s missing the deeper issues.

Simply, Breen is focused on “activities that produce converts who go on to produce other converts” with very little notion about the inner transformation that is necessary to be able to effectively share the reality of Kingdom living in our daily lives.

His further explanations on page four illuminate what he means: “…people who were able to do the things we read Jesus doing in the Gospels.” What things? He introduces “fruit” here by stating “I don’t think this is the kind of ‘fruit’ Jesus was referring to when he talked about fruitfulness in John 15. Would those kinds of people change the world like the early church did?” He is making comparison with current church people who are ‘nice’ but aren’t displaying missional activities that would change the world. It appears clear to me that Breen is using missional activities with the term ‘fruit’ and with “the things we read Jesus doing”, along with “changing the world like the early church did”.

Here a clear alternative vision from Dallas Willard:

“If you don’t have the people who are living naturally and easily in the things that Jesus taught both positive and negative, (because you know it isn’t about just not doing the wrong thing, it’s basically about doing the right thing) and easily living in a world in which honesty and love for neighbor and where you care for other people effectively, you are able to witness to others in a way that is natural and effective because it comes out of a life that is real. That is outreach. And if that’s not there, all of the other efforts at outreach may do some good, may get some people into heaven (and that’s not small) but it won’t get heaven into many people because the reality is lacking.” Section begins at 16:25 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.” (this recording is posted along with a description in the next post).

“There are all kinds of details. But if you have spiritual formation of disciples into the likeness of the inner life of Christ, if that is your center, everything else will take care of itself. If you don’t have that as your center, nothing else will take care of itself. It really won’t matter that much what your arrangements are if you don’t have that as the center.”
19:21 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.”

“The great omission from the Great Commission is not having a plan to teach disciples in a way that they naturally obey. They have been changed in their will, they have been changed in the other parts of their character so when they think of dealing with their enemy their natural response is love. You become a person who would love your enemy. That’s an evening’s discourse in itself. You can learn to love your enemies by going through a process of change in your thoughts and your bodily habits and so on. And if you don’t learn and you try to use will power you won’t succeed. And it will make a Pharisee of you because you now believe it’s very important. Remember what Jesus said in Luke “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” You know, you’ve got to be fair to the Pharisee. They’re concerned about a good thing but they believe in will power and they can’t do it, so they retreat to hypocrisy.”
34:48 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.”

“You have to remember that the most effective form of outreach has always been transformed people. That has always been true in every age of the church, that it’s transformed people that touch other lives and understand the goodness of being Christ-like and the availability of that. And they say “I must have this.” They may not even say it consciously but they are drawn to it. As a result, transformed lives occur.”
55:37 on the sermon “Planning for Spiritual Formation in the Local Church.”

This is clearly a vision for discipleship that’s on a different trajectory from what Mike Breen is describing. When Dallas Willard is using the phrase “into the likeness of the inner life of Christ” he is pointing toward something much different than what Mike Breen seems to indicate from his “learn to be like Jesus” language.

The challenge for our discussion here is that participants can refer easily to Breen’s article and locate his ideas. They may not be familiar with Willard’s perspectives and definitions. I hope to bring some of those ideas into our discussion. Stay tuned!

Beginning a Discussion about Discipleship

I have some resources regarding discipleship that would be easier to share via this blog so they are readily accessible.  Here is the first one!

The attached article is an entry from the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, 2010. I won’t take the time to introduce Dallas Willard to you at this point.  After you read the article you will have a pretty good idea of his capacity for historical insight and contemporary commentary.

This article is particularly helpful in understanding some of the development of the idea of being a disciple and how it has morphed in the past 150 years.  For a fuller consideration, read Dallas Willard’s book Divine Conspiracy.

Here is the link to the article in PDF format: Willard – Discipleship

Thinking about models and concepts of the Atonement

I want to think here a bit about the Atonement. I stumbled upon this topic a couple years ago while reading my daily portion of Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest”. I am seeing that how we think about the Atonement fundamentally influences our expression of the Gospel message. That is a reason why I think the atonement is an important area for renewed scrutiny, something I have been studying over the past months.

The Atonement is an area of doctrine that considers what Jesus accomplished upon the cross. I want to direct the conversation to consideration of a couple questions.

What is the message that most effectively represents what Jesus accomplished on the cross? That message becomes “the Gospel” that is offered to people!

What is the need of man? What is broken or lacking?

What is God’s concern that He was taking care of with the atonement by Jesus?

I was trained as a sales rep in Silicon Valley. Permit me to inject some sales and marketing lingo in the discussion here. The activity of sales is finding out what your prospect needs, and then showing them how your product or service meets that need. Without a felt need, people aren’t motivated to make a buying decision.

I heard an interesting observation a couple months ago in my reading, that during the first 1,000 years of church history, the focus was on the life of Jesus. Then there was a shift of focus upon the death of Jesus. When you think of that in terms of “product marketing”, how and why did the church’s message change? Take a look with me at a couple things I came across in the New Testament.

Remember the EF Hutton commercial slogan “When EF Hutton speaks, everyone listens”? Someone representing the EF Hutton investment firm in the commercial would offer some financial advice in a conversation in different public places and everyone around would hush and listen. I found an “EF Hutton” moment in Acts 5:20. Some number of the apostles were apprehended by the high priest and his cronies, who put them under guard in a local jail. Then the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors at night and led them out. Now the EF Hutton moment when the angel tells them “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” I was intrigued what the heavenly messenger told them to talk about.

Then in John 20:31, the apostle states his purpose for writing his gospel “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

In John 5:40 Jesus tells his Jewish listeners “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

I came across an observation about Martin Luther written by Leonard Verduin:

“We meet in Luther, to put it theologically, a very heavy emphasis on the forensic aspect of salvation and a correspondingly light emphasis on the moral aspect. Luther was primarily interested in pardon [for sins], rather than in renewal [of life]. His theology [Reformation] was a theology that addressees itself to the problem of guilt [of sins committed], rather than to the problem of pollution [of life inherited from the first Adam]. From “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren”. 1964 p. 12

One of my favorite books in the past couple years and one I highly recommend is by Dennis F. Kinlaw, “Let’s Start with Jesus” that presents three metaphors to describe the nature of the relationship God desires with us. He writes in his introduction (and two more quotes following), “I began to realize that the juridical metaphor that was so liberating in the Reformation is biblical enough, but that is not the only metaphor that the Scriptures use to explain the heart of what Christ died to do for us”.

“We see that salvation is God’s gift to restore us to fellowship. Christ died to do more than get us past the judgment and help us escape hell. He became incarnate and died on Calvary’s cross to remove any impediments that would hinder us from being comfortable in his presence and to change us so that we can enjoy him in self-giving love now and forever. Any understanding of the atonement that does not make provision to get us ready for that intimacy with him is inadequate, incomplete, and only partially biblical”. p. 68

“God wants humanity to share in the communion of love that is the inner life of God. That does not come easily. The gospel makes it very clear that the reason for the incarnation and atonement was to prepare us for just such communion with God”. P 44

Back to the question of how the emphasis of the church moved from the life of Christ that he offers to us to an emphasis on the death on the cross – I found some very readable insights in a scholarly work by James A. Fowler.   The 16-page paper is entitled “Concepts and Models of the Atonement”. http://www.christinyou.net/pages/atonement.html He describes briefly (and understandably!) over fifteen concepts of the atonement and provides a very engaging account of how these concepts developed over the centuries.

Back to some practical considerations, and this entire discussion gets very practical! When you “share the Gospel” with someone, where are you going to start and with what kind of invitation are you going to end? I suggest that if we give this subject some thought, we could develop a much more compelling expression of the life that Jesus has purchased for us than is currently being presented by the current widespread emphasis on penal substitution.

Getting His love from my head to my heart

This post records some additional thoughts about the podcast “Stop Doing”.  Located on The God Journey site:  www.theGodJourney.com  

 

What’s our part in this process of getting God’s love for us from our head to our heart?  Believers can usually find mental agreement to the assertion that “God loves you”.  But experiencing the deep assurance of His delight and enjoyment of us as His children in our hearts requires more than our agreement; it requires our participation. A couple quotes from the letters Wayne and Brad shared:

“How do I live there? I feel that sitting around waiting for the change to come is accomplishing nothing.  What are the things I should be doing to get this through to my heart?” From another letter: “How do you make the jump from head to heart? We know Jesus loves us, because the Bible tells us so.  We hear Thomas Merton’s words and yours and recognize their truth.”  Wayne response: “I think the whole part of that program performance based mindset is “OK, I now see what I want, what do I do to make that happen?”  The heart of the righteousness that faith produces is sitting before God and saying “I can’t do this, no matter how hard I try. I can’t do what God wants to make real in my heart.”

I was reminded a few months ago about something I said in my brash and self-confident young adulthood.  I remember telling my pastor “Just tell me what to do to live the Christian life and I will do it!”  So I join Wayne in whining about how many years it took me to see that was the wrong tree to be barking up.  Thankfully, very thankfully, my pastor didn’t respond to my ignorantly sincere request.  Instead, he encouraged me to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to me. But it still took years! J  I share this by way of background to segue into my thoughts about how Wayne and Brad responded to these questions.

 

What I heard on the podcast was a bit unclear and possibly confusing. I want to help by thinking here about this question.  Paul Young, author of The Shack, said something in his interview on the God Journey about salvation being spoken of in three verb tenses in the bible.  The actions that Jesus did on the cross and the actions He will do in the future at the end of the age to bring us into our full inheritance are His alone.  But the present tense activity of His transforming work in us requires our participation.  Briefly, what He is offering us is a relationship, one in which we must participate willingly and with conscious intention.  To be known by Him in the way that truly meets our deepest needs requires us to open ourselves to His involvement in our lives.  He brings the power and the initiative to transform us, but we retain the awesome responsibility to respond and choose to open the door to His knocking.  

 

The Reformation placed such a heavy emphasis on salvation by faith alone that the notion of personal transformation through a dynamic relationship with the living Lord Jesus was marginalized, even minimized.  In our current day when we grapple with the question of the nature of our participation, there exists even still such a strong influence to pull toward describing our part in terms of “grace through faith alone” that our participation in the transformation process is expressed with the same kind of passive cognitive belief constructs that define faith as mental assent.  It stays in our heads and doesn’t get to our hearts!  Ordering off that menu gets us hamburger instead of filet! 

 

But there is a trap lurking for anyone who begins to articulate anything that resembles a “program” or hints of “performance” to move towards heart transformation.  The aversion to legalism hobbles people from engaging in a robust pursuit of God!  Yet, I don’t think we can expect to see spiritual heart transformation by “sitting around waiting for change to come” as the dear sister wrote to Wayne in her letter and attests to.

 

Over the past couple weeks I have listened to about twelve hours of teaching audio from Dallas Willard and audio from a five-session Renovare conference with Richard Foster.  If you know of these men you will recall that they both have written well-received books about the spiritual disciplines.  Both of them taught in these sessions about the benefits of the spiritual disciplines of Solitude and Silence!  And then what I heard Wayne and Brad articulating sounded strikingly similar: (the numbers are the location on the MP3 file. The text is not word for word but very close.)

·         31:57  How does it happen? When He speaks. You can’t hear his voice without Him speaking. The reality is that I can’t control that.  There is not a button that I can push: Speak, God!   It’s more like I can make myself available. Get into some space that helps allow that to happen.  For the most part this is really getting into some space, getting away for a bit, even if it’s to take a half hour walk. But creating a space for that to happen.  Our harried world existence where we’re running from one responsibility to another responsibility doesn’t allow for the space for revelation to happen. It doesn’t take going up to a mountain and praying for 24 hours, but it does help taking a little bit of space in your life for that opportunity to happen

·         34:23  I think rest opens up space and not being afraid, and not being harried. Even if it means going in a room for 15 minutes, close the door and say “Jesus, would you make yourself known to me?”  Creating that space to me opens up the opportunity for us to know love that way. 

·         37:58  The heart of the righteousness that faith produces is sitting before God and saying “I can’t do this, no matter how hard I try. I can’t do what God wants to make real in my heart.”  That is a great place of faith.  I’m now at peace with the fact that I can’t get there. 

·         39:56  That can be a real place of peace, not self-pity, self-loathing, or frustration.  It’s liberating, because now I can stop doing all the stupid things that I have been doing for all these years to try to make this happen in my heart, and now just do the one thing I can do, which is to say “Jesus, would you do this in me?”  It’s coming to a place of acceptance, not defiance. It’s coming to place of relaxed rest that God is big enough to do this in me, and I’m not big enough to do this in myself.  So I’m going to stop trying, and I’m going to learn to listen and learn to live loved.

·         42:35  “To some degree, until you stop all you are doing, how in the world are you even going to be able to see what He’s doing? I really think that in all of the flurry of our well-intentioned activity, I am so aware of what I am doing, that I am least aware of what He’s doing.  But if your identity is wrapped up in what you’re doing, it’s almost impossible to stop.  That is where the Holy Spirit is first nudging our heart.  Pull back, your identity is not based on your doing, your security as a believer is not based on all the things you’re doing, but we’ve been taught that it is.  But until I stop doing, I may not start seeing.   

·         “But it begins with him.  It’s empowered by him.  I have to get to the place where I settle myself and open my eyes and open my ears and ask “help me see where this is.”  It’s only when I know that I’m not doing this that I can be aware of the activity He is doing.  And then I do start to feel loved.  I start to perceive an activity that I couldn’t otherwise.  That is where living loved begins, in that space.”

 

There are intentional actions that we can take to create that space for God to speak!  Both Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have written and spoken extensively about those actions that we can take.  Do we invoke God to action by our preparations or make Him obligated?  No, ours is the action of humble servants, like the wise maidens who trimmed their lamps and were ready when the bridegroom arrived.  We do have our part in the great dance of relationship with God.  There have been earnest disciples in every age that we can learn from as we ask God to guide us on our journey.

 

There may be some materials from these other sources from which you can benefit. (I certainly have appreciated the other voices and viewpoints seeking to describe this Life that He offers!)  The audio tracks I mentioned are downloadable for free at http://christianaudio.com search on Willard and Foster.  A page with links to Willard’s other audio teachings is here: http://www.dwillard.org/resources/audio.asp 

Menu Choices – Will I let God pick for me?

I came across a podcast series by the two men who helped Paul Young, the author of The Shack, get his book published. They have been hosting a weekly podcast for a couple years. The focus of most of their informal, rambling discussions usually touches upon “living loved”, experiencing God’s love for us personally in a transformational way.

In last week’s podcast entitled “Stop Doing”, there were some comments about dealing with suffering and unmet expectations. Wayne and Brad offered some suggestions that got me thinking about some things I’ve been reading in the last few days related to this very same question.

Wayne replied to a letter from a listener with this observation: “This life is lived best as we celebrate what God gives rather than trying to get God to give us what we want”. There was a bit of discussion about the mistaken mindset that God’s love for us is evidenced when everything goes our way. Wayne speaking in the podcast:

“How do you interpret love? Does it mean that everything great goes your way? If to be loved by God means I have a carefree existence with no trouble, then you’re going to run into that issue every single day. It’s not even that it’s just suffering; it’s sometimes the disappointment of my own agenda. I’m praying for God to do these things, fix these things, give me these things. (And Wayne quipped…) And if I loved me, I would!”

I laughed!

I think God’s definition of love toward us encompasses so much more than our temporal happiness (read that: pleasure derived from what is happening now). He desires our blessing, a deep joy which is not based simply on our present pleasant circumstances but instead as an outcome of our relationship with Him. A practical way I have found to wrestle with this mistaken mindset is to pray “Lord, please bless me with every blessing You have for me today, I want to receive everything you have for me as your child.” You might recognize this attitude from the popular Prayer of Jabez. When I first began praying that part of the prayer seven years ago, I was intentionally opening myself up to whatever God had for me: His agenda, His pruning, His choice of the daily menu of life’s events. It’s a way of declaring my resolute trust in His faithful delight to extend His care to me and share His life through all of life’s experiences.

I remember at the beginning of praying that prayer, imagining mostly the kinds of blessings that bring that flush of thankfulness for pleasant circumstances. In the past couple years I am seeing that the greatest blessings are not “the stuff”, but the growing sense that He is Enough!

But I really think it would have been a challenge at the beginning of praying those prayers to comprehend the value of experiencing that sense of intimate fellowship into which He has drawn me. I can testify, though, from this vantage point, that the blessings are real and unexpectedly satisfying. If you have never tasted a good filet, hamburger tastes just fine! But after tasting a good steak, simple hamburger will not do! We spend so much of our time seeking hamburger when God wants to help us acquire the taste for steak!

Power: right-handed, left-handed, His…

I recently read a blog post discussing power as being right-handed or left-handed.  The general description of right hand power is that which comes out of our self-determination and self-direction, focused on meeting our own needs.  Left-handed power was characterized as power subordinated to the needs of those around us. The discussion was about the virtues of left handed power.  I had some thoughts catalyzed by something Eric Ludy spoke about in one of his discipleship sessions.

In summary form, I see the issue as not one of our choosing to use our right-handed power or our left-handed power.  Instead, God is offering me to be enabled by His right hand!  So the focus is not on my power but upon His power. Here are some thoughts from that session:

In Biblical culture, the Right hand is the hand of blessing, the holy arm. 

“For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou had a favor unto them.” Psalm 44:3

“O sing unto the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.” Psalm 98:1

“Now know I that the Lord saves his anointed: he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.” Psalm 20:6

The notion of the right side of the body presented through scripture is one of strength, power, salvation, control, will, kingship, holiness, correctness, correction, honor, and wisdom. The right-handedness of man is symbolic of the scepter of man’s kingdom, dependence upon his own strength, his own wisdom, his own will-power, his own effort to rescue himself upon this earth. If a man refuses to relinquish this “right side” of his being unto God, he is despising the offer of God’s strength, power, salvation, control, will, kingship, holiness, correctness, correction, honor, and wisdom and is determining to seek those things by means of his own resource.  So the right side of one’s being must be willingly relinquished in order to become as he ought to be. The branch grown out of the root of our selfishness is pulled up and the Holy Spirit is planted within us, the righteous strength of Almighty God enabling us to experience and “live loved” in the life of the Trinity.

Jesus demonstrated how a right hand must be used, must be surrendered, must be consecrated.  Though He was God, he was “found in the fashion of men, he humbled himself and became obedient”, in order to demonstrate perfect right-handedness by exhibiting the power and glory of God’s right hand.  Philippians 2:6-11

What I am seeing here is that the option is not about declining to use my own right hand and instead, use my left handed resources.  Both of those sources of power are mine, limited and humanly frail at the core.  Instead, God is offering me to lean on His Right arm!  I wasn’t designed to operate alone, as my own source of power!  The process God has used to bring me to a deep realization that my right arm is not sufficient is a story of His kindness and love.  The drama has not been pleasant but the fruit is truly worth the pain of being confronted with the limitations of my own right arm to sustain me.

I suggest that we look at this metaphor as a choice between trusting in our own right arm or trusting in His right arm.  I think it is a much better choice than even using my own left arm!  As for me, I’m delighted to be “leaning on the Everlasting Arm”!

The indented material is almost all extracted from a teaching on Right Handedness by Eric Ludy, a young man with a fierce devotion to God and a poetic pen.  This teaching is available on his website as a download of MP3 audio and PDF notes.  The series is number 5. http://www.ericludy.com/ericludy.com/Discipleship.html