12 Rules for Life and Spiritual Formation

12 Rules for Life  I’ve been following Jordan Peterson with great interest since his videos on Bill C-16 went viral in the fall of 2016.  From the beginning I have been fascinated by the spiritual truth that permeates his interviews, talks, and lectures.  I often wonder what it would have been like to hear him in conversation with Dallas Willard.  And I continuously hope that someday I will hear someone share the wisdom and work of Dallas with Dr. Peterson.

In the meantime, I have two reasons to highly recommend 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos to everyone in the body of Christ who is seriously interested in spiritual formation.  The first reason is because the book lays out practical directions for transformation by human effort alone.  This makes it a perfect resource to highlight and contrast the difference between living in the flesh and living by the Spirit.  Dr. Peterson’s psychological insights will help his readers to understand the same principles that Dallas unfolds for his students.  This can be seen (apart from the book) in Peterson’s Self-Authoring Program which is an elaborate (and of course, secular) version of Dallas’s VIM (vision-intention-means) guide for transformation.

In 12 Rules Peterson touches on many themes that Dallas weaves throughout his teaching: the preeminence of truth, the nature of humanity, the necessity of purpose, the importance of personal responsibility, the power of discipline, the reality of evil.  Comparing 12 Rules to The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, or Life Without Lack will help the apprentice of Jesus see the difference between striving in the flesh to be a good person and learning to live in the Spirit.

The second reason I highly recommend the book to Christians is that I believe it is a prophetic rebuke to the Church as a whole.  Read it with Peterson’s massive international audience in mind.  Read it knowing that hundreds of thousands of people around the world are eager to learn how to be better people and are grateful for the hard truth that Peterson lays before them.  Read it to discover that a vast global field white for harvest has been largely overlooked by those who know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Read it knowing that God is already using Jordan Peterson to change lives.

It would be rather naive to assume that everyone who responds to Peterson’s call to lift a heavy burden and look for meaning in life would automatically surrender to Christ. However, around the world Peterson has renewed interest in the Bible, he has magnified respect for Jesus Christ, and he has challenged the materialistic worldview that dominates academia.  He has given the church an opportunity to follow the example of Paul: 12 Rules for Life can serve us in the 21st Century West just as the altar to the unknown god served the apostle in ancient Athens.

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Living Without Lack

life without lackOn January 5, 2018 I was at lunch with some friends when I got a call from my doctor’s office.  My liver enzymes had spiked ten-fold from the low-average level they had maintained throughout my sixteen year journey with cancer.  At that point I was already a full year beyond the average life expectancy for a person with breast cancer metastasized to the liver and lungs, and I was well aware that I had been living on borrowed time.

As I processed the news of dramatically elevated enzymes my first thought was “I made my burial arrangements last fall, so I’m good to go.”  (Previously, each time I learned of cancer progression I would think, “I really need to make my funeral arrangements.”)

My second thought: “I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil.”

My third thought: “I wish everyone I love could walk in peace as life in this world draws to a close.”

It wasn’t a conscious prayer, but the Lord still heard the cry of my heart and answered.

Just four days later, on January 9, I was offered an advance copy of Dallas Willard’s most recent book—Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of the 23rd Psalm.

Now, I know that five years ago I gave away to friends at least fifteen copies of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard; I convinced about the same number of people to buy it for themselves; I recommended it to I-don’t-know-how-many others (including strangers in a check-out line); and I even led a small group study based on the book.  Alas, as far as I know, only one person entered fully into the delight and wonder I found in Dallas Willard’s teaching.  And yet, I am undaunted by the tepid/bewildered response to my enthusiasm in the past.  I am compelled by the Spirit to share another Dallas Willard treasure with anyone who just might listen.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon on February 27 when Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 became officially available for purchase. (You don’t have to rely on my opinion alone; there are now 103 reviews.)

Through the skillful editing of his daughter and his friend, Dallas Willard has given the church a book for all who long to follow Christ more than they long for anything else. 

The Divine Conspiracy is God’s master plan for his people throughout the entire course of human history.  Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 is a practical guide for any individual who wants to live in daily intimacy with Jesus.  Larry Burtoft and Becky Heatly have transformed spoken words from one of our generation’s best teachers into a book that captures both his voice and his wisdom.  Dallas marks a path through the twenty-third psalm that the youngest believer can follow.  At the same time he reveals endless horizons of peace and joy to delight the heart of the most mature saint. 

As I read through the first time, I imagined Jesus asking, “Dallas, do you love me more than these?” After Dallas answers simply, “Yes, Lord, I do,” Jesus repeats the charge that follows the question: “Feed my lambs.” And so Dallas shows us plainly that the Lord is our Shepherd who will supply all our needs in abundance. 

If you don’t see how a Life Without Lack is possible, Dallas will guide you step by step until you do. The process is relatively simple, but you must commit completely. You must surrender your life to the transforming work of the Spirit.  If you have already surrendered your life completely to the Spirit, Life Without Lack may bless you with a fuller understanding of God’s design in the transformation process, a greater appreciation for the necessity of personal effort, and a deeper trust in the One who made transformation possible. But perhaps the most important blessing could be that you will learn how to better nourish any little lambs in your care.

If you love Jesus, I think you will be pleased with this book. 

Whether you or not you purchase and read Life Without Lack, I am content because God, in his infinite grace and love, has assured me that everyone I love can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil. He sweetly reminded me yet again that he is my Shepherd and I shall not want.

Since my liver enzymes started climbing in January, I have had one MRI, two CT scans, and I-don’t-know-how-many blood tests. After a trip to Pittsburgh for a second opinion, I had a port placed on June 22, and started IV chemotherapy on June 25 with no end to treatment in sight.

Because of the cancer in my body, I am constantly aware of the reality that life in this world is drawing to a close.  Whether my remaining time is measured in minutes or decades, I look forward to learning with friends and family how to live fully in the blessings and abundance that the Lord pours out generously without finding fault.

I look forward to watching the Lord bring hope and healing to our divided nation as His children learn to live without lack.

 

Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness–A Philosopher’s Lament

Walking Through Twilight

How I landed on the Twitter page of Douglas Groothius on June 10 is a total mystery to me.  I had heard of him, and even considered buying Philosophy in Seven Sentences when it was first published, but I didn’t follow him until ten days ago.  Somehow, in a way now known only to God, I got to his page, and the first tweet I read said, “I spent 20 minutes with Becky trying to understand a thought she could not get out of her mind into her voice. I’ve ventured possibilities, but they were all futile. De-voicing a genius is cruel beyond words.”

I was gripped by a need to put that strange heart-cry in context.  I don’t know how long I spent wading backwards into an ocean of pain before I ordered Walking Through Twilight from Amazon.  I only know I had to hear Becky’s story,  driven by the force of weeping with those who weep.  I have experienced that same force repeatedly since childhood, but for the first time in my life, I think I am beginning to understand it in a meaningful way.

After a week of checking on Becky each morning through her husband’s now bookmarked Twitter feed, I finally picked up the thin book that had arrived via USPS on June 12.  I opened the window and peered into the deep, dark night of two souls entwined in suffering.   I can think of no greater anguish than what is described in Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament.

That is not a frivolous statement.

As I labored through 170 pages of lamentation, I thought about holocaust survivors, tortured martyrs, prolonged illnesses, and dying children.  I thought about individuals who through accident, disease, or malice have been subjected to the kind of assault on the body that turns death into an agent of mercy.  I thought about family and friends whose sudden losses immersed them in torrents of grief.  Still, nothing in either real life or in the imagination rises to level of agony that must come from watching the relentless deterioration of your soulmate, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Nothing can compare with the long and lingering death of your kindred spirit, delightful  companion, and wise counselor.

Nothing, that is, except the cross the Christ where the grief of the world was absorbed.

Douglas Groothius shares their story with his wife’s full approval.  So I thank them both for a magnificent lesson on the power of love, but not just their love for each other. Their story displays their love for the God who often seems to hide while they suffer far beyond what most mortals are called to endure.  The combination of Doug’s philosophical mind, his verbal precision, and his steadfast devotion (to both his wife and his God) allows us to walk the paths of pain with them. So I thank them both for sharpening my focus on what lasts forever.

Walking Through Twilight is a vessel of precious oils broken and spilled out to share the transforming fragrance of suffering.  Those who open the pages will catch the uplifting scent of marriage according to God’s design, the comforting aroma of the body of Christ supporting those in pain, and the pungent odor of sorrow that permeates every activity of daily living.  Perhaps far stronger than all others is the bitter smell of irony that rises from a life dedicated to a reasoned defense of Christianity that is now tested and tried.

A husband watches helplessly as the God of the faith he defends allows his wife’s brilliant mind to slowly dissolve in the devastation of primary progressive aphasia.  Breathe deep of Doug and Becky’s story and the perfume of eternal life will waft in from beyond the created realm.

I have been thinking about death from early childhood, perpetually imagining what lies beyond this veil of clay.  And in the course of those meandering ruminations, I often think about the people I will encounter somewhere in the light of eternity: the people I have loved, the people I have met through books or lectures, and the people who are still totally unknown to me.  I imagine the delight and the wonder that we will all find in sharing our stories of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives.

At this moment, there isn’t a story I want to hear more than the one that only Rebecca Merrill Groothius will someday be able to tell us all.

 

 

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.