Ultimate Obedience

Black and White Hands

After two years of avoidance, I have returned to blogging. My impetus is the result of a CT scan which shows the metastatic breast cancer that I have been battling for 14 years has expanded in my liver and started its deadly assault on my lungs.  This wasn’t a surprise, but it’s a long story that I don’t plan to tell now. I am writing again simply to capture the vision that invaded my dreams decades ago and refuses to die. I don’t have that option:  I am going to die, (probably sooner rather than later), so I will spend the last days of my life writing about a vision that existed long before me and will live on long after my body decomposes in the earth.

The vision at its foundation is simply John 17, and the Lord’s repeated statement that we may be one as the Father and Son are one.  He doesn’t ask God to make us one; He simply states that they may be made one as if it is the assured outcome and the purpose of everything He does ask.  The first time I seriously considered those words nearly forty years ago, I believed that Christ’s prayer had been answered in the affirmative. No other option made sense to me, and it still doesn’t.  When the Son asked the Father to keep the disciples through His name, to keep them from the evil one, and to sanctify them in truth, did the Father say “no”?  Of course not! And being kept and sanctified means that we may be one. So what’s the problem?  Obviously, it’s us!  Obviously, we have chosen for one reason or another not to enter a spiritual reality that Christ provided as His final blessing on the disciples during His last hours in mortal flesh.

The church was born in the heart of that reality.  On the day of Pentecost they were all gathered in one place and in one accord and we know what happened.  Through the early days the believers broke bread daily and had all things in common.  We know from the New Testament, that it didn’t take long for the newly converted to take their eyes off of Christ and begin to focus on other things like the law, or their leaders, or who wasn’t getting their fair share of food distributions. Tragically, history tells us that the Lord’s plan for His disciples to be one as the Father and the Son are one has often been lost in bickering, battles, and bloodshed among believers.

The experience of universal Christian unity was lost within a relatively short period of time. Segregation by doctrine, denomination, and different cultures became normal in a body of believers called to be one as the Father and the Son are one. Knowledge of universal Christian unity faded from the church.  Many if not most Christians believe that John 17 is a promise for life after death.  But that just doesn’t make sense.  Read the prayer.  The purpose of our perfect unity in Christ serves to protect us from the evil one as we are sent into the world.  It provides evidence to the world that the Father sent the Son, and that He loves us as He loves His Son.  Neither will be necessary in the world to come.

We have lost the precious knowledge of Christ’s plan, provision, and power in unity.  But lost knowledge can be rediscovered. In my lifetime, in my small circle of experience, I have seen God bring down walls between Catholic and Protestant, between Methodist, Baptist, and Brethren.  And whatever He is doing around me, He is doing throughout the world. The burden I have carried nearly four decades convinces me that the time has come for the knowledge of Christ’s provision for unity among His disciples to be rediscovered and experienced once more.

Just read John 17 carefully. Think about the cross looming just ahead. Think about Christ’s last minutes with His disciples. Think of Him praying for the work they have been given. Think what might happen if all who claim His name actually believed that His repeated statement is spiritual reality.

Good tidings of great joy to all people

I gave a copy of The Divine Conspiracy and my review of the book to a friend.  She in turn mentioned the book and my enthusiastic endorsement to her sister.  Sister asked friend if I had not made similar claims for other books in the course of our acquaintance, and her question sent me on a quick mental review of my library.  After thinking of the books I cherish, of the books I share, of the books that I reread periodically, I conclude that The Divine Conspiracy is in a class of its own.

I am sure that every Christian will find blessing in A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest, Andrew Murray’s Abide In Christ, E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer, Evelyn Christenson’s What Happens When Women Pray, Paul Brand and Philip Yancey’s Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks At the Twenty-Third Psalm, Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, Tom Wright’s How God Became King, K.P. Yohannan’s The Road to Reality.  If I actually went to my shelves, I might find a few more books to add to this list.

But then I have books by Hugh Ross, Ravi Zacharias, Gene Edwards, Richard Swenson, John W. Kennedy, Charles Stanley, John MacArthur, Madame Guyon, Hannah Hunard, Augustine, Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Peter Whyte, Max Lucado, Donald Kraybill, Ann Voskamp and others that I recommend rather selectively.  I have topical collections of books about abortion, apologetics, biblical inerrancy, child sexual abuse, cancer, counseling, discipleship, education, eschatology, gardening, government, Haiti, herbs, history, language, leadership, nutrition, origins, peacemaking, prayer, science, slavery, spiritual gifts, writing fiction, and any other subject that captured my interest since I earned my first paycheck many, many years ago.   I only mention books in those collections when someone expresses a common interest.  I own too many books that are still waiting to be read.   I own many books that I would gladly give away to a good home.  I own unnumbered books packed in boxes somewhere that could disappear and I might never know they were gone.   I delight in my Kindle because now I can carry a library in my pocket and constantly add to it with just one click.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile.  I love books.  I am repeatedly blessed by books in many ways, and so I recommend a wide variety of books to my friends for a wide variety of reasons.  It is simply the nature of the beast.  But I can assure my friend’s sister that have never before recommended a book to EVERYONE.  Not only have I recommended The Divine Conspiracy to Fundamentalist and Catholic, Baptist and Methodist, Calvinist and Anabaptist, Continuationist and Cessessionist, Dispensationist and Amillennialist, OECs and YECs, mature saints and new believers, readers and non-readers, young and old, I have also recommended it to total strangers encountered in the waiting room, in the check-out line, in the coffee shop. And perhaps most incredibly, I recommend it to agnostic and atheist as well.

The Divine Conspiracy encompasses all that I have learned in decades of following the Lord and reading book after book after wonderful book.  It distills the good tidings of great joy for all people into its purest form.  Dallas Willard communicates the essence of the gospel in a way that anyone can thoroughly understand and actually experience as a disciple transforming into the likeness of Christ.  Because Dallas Willard devoted his life to obediently learning from the Master teacher, he has become like him.  Within the pages of The Divine Conspiracy, the author fades away and leaves me looking directly into the face of the God who gave his life to save me, who reaches out his hand to me, and asks me to simply surrender to his love in the ordinary moments of life.   I now know without a doubt that I can become daily more like Christ because I now see clearly exactly how God works to overcome evil with good.   That is why I think The Divine Conspiracy is in a class of its own.  But don’t take my word for it: read it yourself, whoever you are!

Jesus is smart and whatever he commands is doable

ImageRichard Foster (author of Celebration of Disciplines) calls The Divine Conspiracy “the book I have been searching for all of my life.”   I concur without reservation.  Dallas Willard is not only a devoted follower of Jesus Christ (I have been blessed to know many of those in my lifetime), he is also a brilliant thinker (a rare breed, but I still know a few).  But those two things alone are not sufficient to set his book apart from others in my library.   I have many well-beloved books that tell me the Lord is wonderful and that I should be like him.  The Divine Conspiracy shows exactly how the transformation into Christlikeness can happen in the life of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus, because Dallas Willard’s devoted spirit and brilliant mind are combined with a superlative teaching gift.

I have two analogies to describe the impact of this book on my life.  The first is the jig-saw puzzle with each member of the body of Christ represented as a single piece.  Many pieces are fitted perfectly together, securely connected to surrounding pieces. Others are clustered around fitted pieces because their colors seem to match, but they still aren’t sure exactly where they are meant to connect.  Sections of the puzzle are assembled in various places.  Some even show completed objects, while some have obviously missing pieces.  Some sections are so dissimilar that it doesn’t seem quite possible that they will all be part of the same completed picture.  And some of these sections believe that they are meant to remain separate, convinced that their portion is actually the whole, and that all pieces should conform to their colors and shapes if they are to be part of Christ’s body.  Sadly, too many pieces are in still in a disordered scramble, shuffling from one section to another, or waiting between sections, and wondering if they really belong anywhere.

The Divine Conspiracy is the box with the completed portrait of Christ.  It may still take time for the individual to find a place, and totally unexpected connections are yet to be made.  Entire sections may need to be shifted from the top to the bottom (That’s not sky!  It’s water reflecting the sky!) or to be shifted from the right to the left and vice versa (an intentional political statement).  But Dallas Willard has set the clear image of Christ before us and assured us that we are being fitted together for the glory of God right now.

The second analogy is personal rather than corporate.  I have been on a journey all of my life. I have traveled hundreds, maybe thousands of spiritual miles, with relative ease.  I made it to the right nation, the right state, the right county, the right township, and even to the right neighborhood. But for a very long time, I was aimlessly wandering through that neighborhood trying to find the right address. I knocked on many doors where sometimes I was rudely rebuffed, sometimes politely given directions, and sometimes invited in to chat a while before I was sent on my way. Suddenly a light appeared in a window, a door opened, and Dallas Willard shouted, “Come on in.”  I am home at last.  I have found rest for my soul.

The Divine Conspiracy is unquestionably a book for every disciple (or apprentice, as Dallas would say) of Jesus Christ.  It is for all those who want to be just like him, for those who are willing to allow him to live his life in their bodies.  Dr. Willard imitated Christ at the University of Southern California as a professor of philosophy from 1965 until 2012, but he writes for the serious student of Jesus Christ in any walk of life.  The Divine Conspiracy requires the reader to think, and to think deeply. But as Dr. Willard says, we cannot love the Lord with all our minds if we are not willing to think deeply about Jesus Christ.

Dr. Willard’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (or the Discourse on the Hillside, as he calls it) is enlightening and liberating.  His understanding of Christ’s method and purpose in teaching has taken me to new places both spiritually and intellectually.  I am still meditating on many of the things he says, but he has completely resolved the tension for me between my commitment to both non-resistance and active participation in government.

I have long believed that Christ’s call for us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect is meant to be taken literally at this time and in this place.  I have long believed that when Christ prayed for us to be one as he and his Father are one that his prayer was answered for this time and in this place. I am grateful to Dallas Willard for moving my strong beliefs to sure knowledge.  For the rest of my life in this realm I will joyously engage in God’s Divine Conspiracy.

The entire take away message is in the title: Jesus is smart and whatever he commands is doable.

A myth by any other name

We are here.  No one but a solipsist or Matrix devotee would dispute our existence on planet Earth.  But how we got here and where we are going is another matter entirely.

God and AdamThe precise cause of our existence is an issue of perpetual debate among scientists, philosophers, and theologians.  Since our varying positions in this debate are determined entirely by the origin myths we choose, we should start any serious discussion on the subject of origins with an honest look at those myths.

 

 

Whether we are aware of it or not, every Darwinist as well as every Creationist has chosen a myth to interpret all data continuously gathered by diligent scientists all around the world.   Unfortunately, the difference between the two opposing viewpoints is almost always characterized as the difference between what is science and what is not.  Darwin's tree of life As everyone knows, the Darwinist gets the label of “scientific” and the creationist is called “religious.”   In reality, neither Darwinism nor Creationism is science.  Both are myth-dependent beliefs about the world.  And if we all learn to clearly articulate our myths for each other, then we will all find it much easier to distinguish actual data from our interpretations of data.  

This simple exercise will not end our arguments over origins, but it certainly will clarify them for us.  We will have greater hope of resolving our conflicts if it becomes clear to everyone involved that we are not arguing about physical data discovered through the methodological naturalism of science.  We are arguing about which myth should be used to interpret the data.  We are engaged in a philosophical debate, not a scientific one.  And it is past time for everyone concerned to honestly acknowledge that one basic fact.

Before I continue, I must make it clear that the word myth is only convenient shorthand for me; it does not mean a fictional story.  Throughout this discussion, I define myth as “a grand narrative of existence that forms the foundation of a worldview.”   I considered using GINOAW for Grand Interpretive Narrative Of A Worldview, so if you can’t separate the word “myth” from the concept of fiction, just copy and paste into a Word document, find myth, and replace with GINOAW.   I simply prefer the single-syllabled myth over an unfamiliar and rather clumsy acronym.

Of course I’m convinced that my own myth is truth.  That’s why I chose it.  And by choosing, I have obviously judged all other myths to be false on some level.  In telling you how I made my choice, my goal is not to convince you that I am right.  My goal is to convince you that it is important for us all to fully understand our own myths and the myths of others.   Once that is done, then we can talk about which myth gives us the best explanation of reality.

Before we look at our myth options, I want to pay tribute to Leonard Read, the man who taught me that consistency requires a premise, because I’ve interpreted that principle to conclude that understanding the creation/evolution debate requires articulated myths.

My Tyndalian Quest

William TyndaleI have finally returned to my long neglected blog with a renewed sense of direction and purpose thanks to Reasons To Believe’s online class Creation versus Evolution.  I expected to learn from the class, but I was also surprised and inspired.

To make very long story exquisitely short: I entered the class believing that there is no compelling scientific evidence that humanity and chimpanzees have been evolving for millions of years from a common ancestor, and the class thoroughly confirmed that belief.  However, the surprise and the inspiration came in my discovery that many (if not most) proponents of Darwinian evolution seem to be blissfully ignorant of the lack of concrete evidence to support the descent of man.  I came to that conclusion while reading Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells, and I would now call the book a must-read for every creationist with children enrolled in public school.

I finished the RTB class with a clear mission patterned after William Tyndale’s famous response to the priest who called it heresy to offer the word of God in English instead of Latin.

“If God spare my life, before very long I shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you do!”

I state my goal with less flare, but hopefully with just as much desire to please the Lord. 

By God’s grace, I will do all that I can to help creationists in grade school have a better understanding of our origin than many of the celebrated Darwinists in academia.  

Secure in the knowledge that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the strong, I am about to begin Gramma’s Guide to Origins, which will eventually tell you two things:

  1. How I chose the myth that undergirds my belief about life,
  2. How I choose the prophets who interpret God’s word and God’s world for me

I hope that as you read, you will recognize your own myth and become curious about the myths of others.  I hope to convince you that you are obligated to be aware of the myths of those who write textbooks and teach in public schools because those myths are being impressed on young minds around the nation.

Eventually, I plan to put this all in a single document that I can share easily.   So you could wait for my final edit, but God alone knows how long that will take.  Or you can just follow along, offering encouragement and/or critique, on my Tyndalian mission of translating the speech of creation into the language we all understand.

Blind spots and bias confirmation

For decades I have believed that Christ gives  each member of His body a unique portion.  For decades I have believed that if we separate ourselves from any true believers in Christ because of doctrinal differences on disputable matters, we will separate ourselves from the blessings of those portions meant to benefit Christ’s body as a whole.

In spite of my belief, I have systematically chosen Christian speakers and authors (and maybe even friends) in an obvious pattern of bias confirmation, avoiding believers who disagree with me on points that I consider non-negotiable.  Praise be to the God who used The Veritas Forum to demolish the wall I had unwittingly built around myself in more areas than just the age of the earth.

In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas my knowledge of the Lord was expanded by Ian Hutchinson (who uncritically accepts evolution), by Tim Keller (whose political views border on socialism), by Peter Kreeft (who converted from Reformed to Roman Catholic), and even by John Polkinghorne (who doesn’t know when a human zygote becomes a human person). However, the deepest impact on my life came through an Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright.  His books Simply Christian, Simply Jesus, and How God Became King have the aroma of heaven about them.  Often while reading his books or listening to him speak, I am reminded of the difference between one who  knows the Bible well and one who walks with the Living Word of God.  Tom Wright is definitely the latter.

Alas at every turn, whenever I have attempted to share the riches I found in N.T.Wright’s wonderful retelling of the old, old story of Jesus and His love, I am warned against him.  With few exceptions, the warning has come from one who has never read his books, but who has simply accepted another’s opinion of what Wright is teaching.

That is how our blind spots and our biases perpetuate the divisions in the body of Christ. Our personal understanding of doctrine (in this case the meaning of justification) becomes the basis of our fellowship rather our mutual relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Like the eye speaking to the hand in I Corinthians 12:21, members of Christ’s body say “because N.T. Wright questions the tradition of the reformation, we have no need of him.”

According to my personal understanding of doctrine, I disagree with Tom Wright in at least three significant areas: creation, gender roles, and purpose of government. However, his books and talks paint a portrait of the Lord, high and lifted up and rightfully adored.  I can only thank a teacher who expands my vision of Jesus, even if he challenges my personal biases. That is the only way my blind spots will be exposed, and I thank God for the sometimes painful but always enlightening process.

We are blessed to live in a century when a debate over justification does not result in the bloody wars that ravaged Europe during the Reformation. Yet the spiritual battle is just as real now as it was then, and our enemy is just as determined as ever to divide and conquer the body of Christ. We all need to understand How God Became King, how God is our King now, and how He rules and reigns through His people on Earth.

If we come together in the sure knowledge of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, (1 Corinthians 2:2) we can trust the Spirit to lead us in all truth. Whether or not you have been warned about N.T.Wright, I would recommend that you read him for yourself and, like the fair-minded Bereans, search the scriptures to discover whether or not what he says is so.

Praise God for our blind spots

If the whole body were an eye…

 

 

All my life I have despised my blind spots! I can’t tell you how often I’ve ranted and railed at the God of the universe telling Him blind spots are a very, very bad thing for Him to allow in His children. Why, O Lord, why do you show my blind spots to everyone in the world but me? What kind of a sense does it make?

This morning in the wee hours, God finally answered my decades-old question. I now see His purpose, His plan, and His providential provision in my blind spots.  I still hate them.  I want them all to be removed, but I finally understand their use in the kingdom of God.

My epiphany came as two seemingly unrelated events converged in my life. The first one is the ongoing debate between N.T. Wright and John Piper on Paul’s perspective of justification. The second is my initial attempt to serve as a Critique Partner for a fellow author.

But before I describe the convergence of doctrinal debate with manuscript critique, I must step back to clarify the truth—or rather the lack thereof—in my repeated rant toward God. It is true that I have cried out “Why do you permit everyone but me to see my blind spots?” in the kind of Davidic hyperbole that fits so well in a lament.  However, it is not true that God shows my blind spots to everyone.  He does not show anyone’s blind spots to everyone.  If He did, we could have no false teaching in the church, no congregation would follow a leader who strays, and each of us would be corrected immediately whenever we step out of line.

Perhaps I should instead cry out, “Why, O Lord, why don’t you show everyone my blind spots so I never have to worry or wonder whether I’ve got something right?” Fortunately, this time I don’t have to spend decades waiting for the answer because it’s the same for both questions: Our blind spots are God’s tools to refine our relationships with each other and with Him.

I begin with the premise that all human beings (with the single exception of the Incarnate Lord Himself) have blind spots throughout our lives, and we must acknowledge that fact before they can be removed.  Our blind spots remind us that we are totally dependent members of His body. No one, not Peter, not Paul, not John the beloved had or has a corner on the Truth. Together we have the mind of Christ, but alone we are just neurons randomly firing across synapses.

1 Corinthians 12 tells us plainly how gross we become when we choose to live in isolation with our blind spots rather than seek the unity Christ provided through His intercession in John 17.  Imagine what it would be like if someday your foot suddenly says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of your body.” And then your ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of your body.”  Next your eye says to the hand, “I have no need of you”; and your head says to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

There is a reason we find disembodied body parts horrifying, and we should keep that image in mind whenever we feel inclined to distance ourselves from other members in the body of Christ.

That brings me back to the Wright/Piper debate on justification, but that is the subject of my next post.