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.

 

 

Best thing since the printing press!

My renewed commitment to blogging is a good way to share treasures I have found while exploring cyberspace.  I can hardly believe it was only in March that a young friend directed me to one of the richest resources on the internet.  For the past three months,  I’ve been obsessively recommending The Bible Project to friends and family, and so it only reasonable that I extend that recommendation to all of you as well.

I have the same deep and abiding level of appreciation for Tim Mackie and Jon Collins that I have for Johannes Gutenberg.  And as a dyed-in-the wool bibliophile, that is not something I would say lightly.  I am not using hyperbole when I say that I believe that The Bible Project does more to make the Bible accessible to all people than anything since the printing press.  The brilliant combination of biblical knowledge and imaginative art has created a 21st century gateway into an ancient book for anyone and everyone who is even slightly interested in the Bible for any reason whatsoever.

I have heard Bible stories all of my life.  I remember turning the pages in My First Book About Jesus as I learned to recognize the printed words .  I have been seriously studying my Bible for over forty years, and yet brighter light shines on the familiar and beloved stories and poems whenever I watch the short, fast-paced videos created by Tim, Jon, and their dedicated team.

However, the most remarkable thing about The Bible Project is certainly not that I learn new things.  I constantly find teachers who can add to my understanding through books and lecture series.  The most remarkable thing about The Bible Project is that the videos bring an Ancient Middle Eastern text instantly to life even for a novice.   It seems almost supernatural to me that every video has something for the child and for the scholar and for everyone in between.

But don’t take my word for it! Follow the link to the website and check it out for yourself.  Judge for yourself whether or not they are accomplishing their mission “to show that the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.”

Jordan Peterson: A 21st Century Prophet

JP Clean Your Room

Last September Jordan B. Peterson burst onto the internet stage with three short YouTube videos that he created to understand and articulate his visceral objection to Bill C-16, a proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights code.  He became the instant darling of free speech advocates around the globe.  And since I had already been following some of those advocates, I heard Dr. Peterson interviewed again, and again, and again.

The first time I heard him speak, I was attracted by a brilliant mind expressed through a humble soul. Great intelligence and deep humility are rare in the same person (especially on the internet).  This uncommon combination of qualities may make Jordan B. Peterson the wisest man I have discovered while wandering through cyberspace. Unlike most dynamic speakers who make the rounds on YouTube and podcasts, he does not simply repeat one powerful message over and over again to different audiences.  In every interview, every talk, every conversation he seeks to move closer to truth.  Whenever he talks, he teaches; whenever he teaches he listens to learn.

I often play Dr. Peterson talks while I work around my home.  In this way, I have managed to listen to all his lectures in the 2017 Maps of Meaning and Personality and its Transformations during the past year.  I listened to each of his twelve talks on The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories as they become available from May to August.  And because he does not have a canned speech, delivered repeatedly (and practically verbatim), each time I listen to him, I learn.  His teachable spirit makes every talk his own learning experience, and gives him a continuous source of new things to freely share with his faithful YouTube subscribers and Facebook followers.  And everything he shares is held together with many strong, carefully formed cords of wisdom that he weaves naturally throughout his powerful life message. Now I want to share three of those cords that convince me that Jordan B. Peterson is a prophetic voice for the church in the 21st century.

The first JBP cord of wisdom is expressed succinctly in the “Clean Your Room” meme.  I heard that message in his first interview with Joe Rogan.  After well over two hours of hashing out the events leading up to Peterson’s sudden fame and the rationale behind his opposition to Bill C-16, Rogan asked how people could support him in his bold fight for liberty.  His answer:  sort yourself out; put yourself in order. I realized immediately he was basically saying get the log out of your eye.  Later in another talk I heard him elaborate the same point as he told his audience that you must work at being the best person you can be if you want to help others and contribute to the good of the world as a whole. I can’t pinpoint the message for you, but Jordan Peterson gives the most practical teaching I ever heard on Matthew 7:3-5.   Eventually, I heard Peterson actually use the words of Christ when he told his audience yet again that to change the world, you must fix yourself up first.

The second JBP cord of wisdom is “Always tell the truth.” Perhaps it would be better stated “never lie.” Peterson’s long, intense study of the totalitarian regimes that murdered millions in the 20th century has convinced him that no matter what happens as an immediate consequence of telling the truth, it will not be as bad as the long range consequences of compromising, of going along to get along, of living contrary to what you believe is true.  Peterson acknowledges that we don’t always know the truth. Often the best we can do is just say honestly how things look to us.  There is a concise (and lovely) summary of his thoughts on love, truth, and free speech at the beginning and end of his talk at Linfield College. If you want to meet Jordan Peterson, start there for an introduction to the man and his message.

The third JBP cord of wisdom is the one I value most, and that is his unapologetic admiration of the man Jesus Christ.  Some of my dear brothers and sisters in the faith might recoil if they hear the Son of God called “a meta hero” or “a mythical archetype.”  Jordan B. Peterson will never fit an evangelical or orthodox Christian mold.  And his speech is often seasoned (at times quite heavily) with profanity. But I am delighted that this man with an international audience of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) is talking about Jesus.  I am delighted to know that atheists, agnostics, and secularists are listening intently as Peterson proclaims that the one we know as King of Kings and Lord of Lords is also Hero of Heroes.  I am delighted to know that Jordan B. Peterson is tunneling through centuries of legitimate criticisms of the Church to focus his audience on the light of Christ.

Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself.” Jordan Peterson is lifting up Jesus to audiences around the world, and that is why I believe he is God’s prophetic instrument.

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.

Dr. Jason Lisle cracked my young earth foundation

Young earth alternatives to the big bang

I started writing my sci-fi novel in 2009 believing that the earth is young. I never doubted the dimensions in the description of the universe I got from Alex Filippenko in his Introduction to Astronomy, but Jason Lisle’s DVD–Distant Starlight: Not a Problem for a Young Universe–had given me the impression that most astrophysicists just ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit a big bang scenario.  Three years ago when I listened to Dr. Lisle talking about Gravitational Time Dilation (GTD), Speed of Light Decay (CDK), and Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC), I  believed that he offered legitimate alternatives to Big Bang Cosmology.

Although I know much more about outer space now than I did the first time I heard Dr. Lisle, I’m still not prepared to critique the science of an astrophysicist.  (You can find that here, here, and here if you are interested.)  And besides, Dr. Lisle’s science is not what cracked the foundation of my young earth view.

After weeks of using the resources of Reasons To Believe, I again watched Distant Starlight: Not a Problem for a Young Universe.  I immediately realized that Dr. Lisle does not  present Old Earth Creationism honestly because he never examines the scripture that supports it.  After listening to podcasts and reading books and articles from RTB, this omission seemed glaring to me because, in contrast, all Reason To Believe scholars take every opportunity to openly engage the arguments, discuss the evidence, and examine the biblical interpretation of YEC.  As a result, I have actually learned more about the history and development of Young Earth Creationism through RTB than through YEC resources.

In Distant Starlight, Dr.Lisle builds a case against evolution and a godless big bang theory, but he dismisses out of hand any alternative biblical interpretation.  He talks extensively about the science (that many of us will never understand completely), but he takes no time to evaluate the case for an old earth made directly from the word of God (that every believer can understand with the light of God’s Spirit).

Dr. Lisle states “The big bang cannot be harmonized with the Bible.  It doesn’t work.  They are mutually incompatible.  You can’t make them mix.”  Thanks to Reasons To Believe, I know that statement is simply false.  I don’t understand all the scientific data, but I have no problem understanding RTB’s literal interpretation of the creation account that can harmonize the big bang with the Bible.  I see how it does work. I see how the two are completely compatible.  I see how the big bang and the Bible can be made to mix quite easily.

Does that prove that the big bang is true?  No, it doesn’t.  But God calls us to test all things and hold fast to the good (1Thessalonians 5:21), and He promises to generously give us wisdom whenever we ask (James 1:5,6).   Like the Bereans, those of us who love the Lord and want to obey all He says are obligated to search His word and allow the Spirit to lead us in all truth rather than to blindly accept the teaching of men.

It was not science that first caused me to doubt the Young Earth position.  It was the failure of Young Earth leaders like Jason Lisle and Ken Ham to honestly discuss the scriptural case for an Old Earth.  I still wonder why people who love the Lord, honor His word, and trust His Spirit refuse to encourage all creationists to search the scriptures together regardless of what they believe about the age of the earth.

Because I know the Lord blesses us whenever we seek Him in His word, that’s what I’m inviting you to do with me in Grammas’ Guide to the Universe.