From Dallas Willard:
The only thing you take with you to heaven is the person you have become.
From Dallas Willard:
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Navigating change is a lot like navigating rapids on a river, says business maven Seth Godin:
Good words for church planters. No sense whining or complaining. This is hard.
Rather, be honest about both dangers and opportunities, hold on to the Holy Spirit, and shoot the rapids. (And smile big and soak up some sun on those places where the river is flowing calm)
From The Great Omission by Dallas Willard:
Just two weeks ago I was writing about the passing of one of the biggest influences on the shape of my faith, Brennan Manning. Today I’m writing about another, Dallas Willard, who a week ago was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and yesterday passed away.
Those in the church I lead who’ve never read Dallas still might feel like they know him. If we were to count them up, I suspect the Sundays where I quote either he or C. S. Lewis would outnumber those where I don’t. Actually, it’s not uncommon for me to say something I think is original to me, think to myself, “Wow that was kind of profound,” and then realize, “Oh yeah, I just quoted/paraphrased Dallas.”
Dallas’ influence on me began when I was a college student and attended a seminar on something called the “spiritual disciplines.” It sounded intimidating but I’d been to the other seminars on the menu so I attended that one. Prior to that seminar I had no idea that spiritual growth might involve more than having a daily quiet time, and overnight my journey with Jesus was transformed. The next week I taught everything I had just learned to a guy I was mentoring, and I haven’t stopped teaching these things since.
Dallas’ teaching on the disciplines turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. In the years that followed he shaped my understanding of everything from the kingdom of God (how is that Jesus defined the gospel with this term, yet I’d never heard a sermon on it?) to the “with-God-life,” hearing God, and how transformation happens.
Dallas had a way of challenging with such gentleness that it was difficult to be defensive. He continually challenged the modern church’s tendency to define success as the ability to gather a crowd. Instead, he would say, the goal is to create communities where we help one another grow as disciples of Jesus, learn together to “do all that he commanded” (Matt 28:19) and in the process become like our Master.
I once heard an interviewer ask him, “So if the goal of Christianity isn’t to get into heaven after you die, what is it?” Without missing a beat he replied, “To get into heaven before you die.”
His views on what the church should be influenced me greatly. In fact, as we were starting Life Covenant I sat down with Dallas and laid out our plan for how we intended to go about life together in the church. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “This is a great plan to help 21st century people become disciples of Jesus.”
When you read Dallas, every word counts. He didn’t write in technical language, but there is such depth of thought there that I find every few pages I have to stop for a minute and digest what I’m reading. (This might have something to do with his profession. Many people assume Dallas was a pastor or theologian, but, like C. S. Lewis, his actual day job was something else. Dallas was a highly regarded professor of philosophy, teaching for decades at the University of Southern California.)
His person was as influential as his teaching. Unlike most of my influences (who usually I know only through their books), I was privileged to spend a little time with Dallas. He exuded the presence of Jesus like few I have ever met, and I’m not kidding when I say that you felt strengthened simply from being around him. It was difficult to imagine him not forgiving someone, or being judgmental, or failing to act lovingly toward someone. You walked away saying, “Oh, so that’s what that trait looks like.” In a word, he was very Christlike.
I took a class with Dallas as part of my doctoral studies at Fuller Seminary. Part of the course was to spend two weeks in a monastery with Dallas learning and practicing the spiritual disciplines. I realize for some that sounds like a recipe for death-by-boredom, but for me it was amazing. I’m so grateful for those two weeks, which rank among the most formative experiences of my life.
Our worlds overlapped just enough that every couple years after that class I would have a random opportunity to connect with Dallas at an event or share a meal with him. These times were always a unique blessing.
One of my favorite of those encounters came a couple years ago when a professor friend asked me to give a lecture in a course on the missional church. After I was finished he asked if I had time to get lunch and I said yes. “Great,” he said. “As soon as Dallas gets here we’ll go.”
“Dallas?” I asked. There’s only one Dallas, but one has to ask.
“Didn’t I tell you? Dallas is giving the afternoon lecture.” For a brief moment I didn’t know which was more exciting – that I was about to have tacos with my patron saint, or that I had just served as his warm up act.
Dallas meets thousands and thousands of people so I never expect him to remember me. When he arrived I re-introduced myself the way I did each time we ran into each other. “Hi Dallas, I’m Tim Morey. I was one of your students a few years back.”
After a moment Dallas smiled, put a big meaty hand on my shoulder and said, “Oh yes, Tim the church planter from Torrance. How is your work there going?”
Dallas loved to talk about what it means to live with Jesus in the Kingdom of God now. He thought about life on earth and life in heaven in ways that involve far more continuity than most of us are used to envisioning. Eternal life, after all, is not defined by location but by life with Jesus (John 17:3), so what does death change for the disciple other than the scenery?
In a tribute posted yesterday, his friend and protégé John Ortberg notes that when Dallas was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer he remarked, “I think that, when I die, it might be some time until I know it.”
I wonder if he knows yet.
(Interested in adding some Dallas Willard to your reading list? A good place to start is The Great Omission, a collection of short essays on what it means to follow Jesus. For those who want to dive into something book length, I suggest starting with Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God, or The Divine Conspiracy if you’re feeling ambitious.)
[Thanks to Fuller’s Burner Blog for publishing this post as well]
There has been a lot of shock and grief these past two days as two men who blessed me greatly passed unexpectedly – my teacher and mentor Dallas Willard passed away this morning from cancer, and yesterday, my friend and colleague Larry Sherman died unexpectedly on a flight home from Nashville.
I’ll write more about Dallas later, but I wanted to share a few reflections from my time with Larry, as many of you who read this blog are Covenant church planters who knew or knew of Larry Sherman.
Yesterday I was at a retreat with about 50 church planters and denominational leaders when news came in that Larry had died. The shock was palpable as the room received the news of his passing, as was the grief in the hours to follow as the news was absorbed.
There is no such thing as a good place to get that kind of news, but there was a sort of appropriateness about hearing it there, in the presence of friends and colleagues of his who had worked with Larry for decades. Much of Larry’s work took place quietly, behind the scenes – and his friends in that room were uniquely suited to speak to the effect of Larry’s steady influence on church planting over the years. My interactions with Larry span only a handful of years, but I was deeply blessed by him all the same.
I first met Larry eleven years ago. I was a prospective church planter attending the ECC’s church planter assessment center, and Larry was one of the assessors. I was struck by his love for God, the church, church planting and church planters, as well as the depth and breadth of his experience. I knew at once that if I was blessed to plant a church, Larry was a man I wanted to learn from. Every chance I got, I did.
Fast forward six years to my first experience serving as an assessor. I was intimidated to be sitting at a table among giants, most of whom had been on the team who assessed me. My plan was to fly quietly under the radar, observe, learn, and try to avoid saying anything stupid. Larry, it seemed, was aware of my plan and graciously determined to thwart it. “Tim what do you think?” “We need to hear from Tim on this one.” In the years of church planter assessments to follow, I learned much from Larry’s insights, and from the gracious way he would contribute to conversations that could at times be complex or contentious.
Larry was instantly likeable. Warm and friendly, he exuded genuine good-naturedness and care for others. If you are a person, you pretty much had to like Larry.
Larry was smart and strategic. He was a collector of ideas, models, and innovations – a voracious reader always thinking about how we could best position our church planters to live and preach the gospel.
Larry had a tireless work ethic, and a tremendous capacity for output. He approached every question with thoroughness of thought and was comprehensive in his answers.
Larry was a man of integrity. I was around him during moments of victory and moments of frustration, and in both he honored others and conducted himself the way any of us would hope to.
Larry had a gift for making good things better. He was not afraid to look for both strengths and weaknesses in what we did, and consequently was always tinkering under the proverbial hood, tweaking this and that to make the machine run smoothly. I think especially of our church planter training center and the work he did there. Any who have gone through that training will have benefitted from Larry’s meticulous work.
Larry loved his family. At every event we did together, the team would know within ten minutes of arrival how his kids and grandkids were doing. These reports usually involved pictures. And Larry would always ask about Samantha and our kids. We were blessed to have Larry at our dinner table a couple of times when he and I were working on projects together, and he always made a big fuss over our girls. The girls loved it, and so did Samantha and I.
In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul writes the following: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
As I reflect today on Larry’s passing, I’m keenly aware of two things: Larry’s passing occurs within the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and for that reason it is a passing that comes with hope. And second, many others know hope in Christ because of his life. May Larry’s life continue to be felt long after his passing.
From The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen:
From the essay “Transposition” by C. S. Lewis (in The Weight of Glory):
To say, as the New Testament does, that Christ is the “firstfruits” – in other words that first portion of the harvest that lets the farmer know more is coming shortly – is to remind ourselves that we too are being changed. Do we live in this dynamic reality, or accept a lesser, static existence?
From an essay “The Grand Miracle” by C. S. Lewis:
From Affirming the Apostles’ Creed by J. I. Packer:
Over the weekend well-loved author Brennan Manning passed away. He was easily one of the biggest influences on my life and faith, and by extension, one of the biggest influences on our church.
Brennan’s own life was that of a sinner living off of grace. At various times he was a Marine, a monk living in a cave, a Catholic priest, and an aid worker. Then he was an ex-priest, excoriated for leaving the ministry to marry, and then for decades a brilliant writer and speaker. Throughout it all he was a struggling alcoholic, who lost everything more than once. Brennan’s story was not a clean, meet-Jesus-and-find-deliverance, tie-a-pretty-bow-on-it kind of story. Long after he was internationally famous he battled to maintain sobriety, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. He eventually lost his marriage as well, a failure he attributed to his swollen pride and hot temper. Through it all Brennan continued to preach the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ, a daily reality he sought to live into.
If I re-trace the development of my own faith, I think it is largely because of Brennan Manning that I became passionate about grace, and wanted to be part of a church where we made a conscious-though-imperfect effort to take off our masks and stop posing, posturing and pretending we have it together when we don’t. To refuse plastic spirituality, attempts to appear more religious than we are, to accept ourselves and one another as saints with tilted halos, to acknowledge that God’s work in us is very real and very beautiful, but as of yet unfinished. Not that we have achieved all this, but it’s so good to do life with people who want this like I do and are seeking God in pursuit of this goal.
A couple years ago I had the opportunity to meet Brennan. I patiently waited for my turn to shake his hand and say hello, and while I waited I thought about all I wanted to thank him for. There was the weekend retreat as a young believer where his preaching allowed me to envision what I wanted but didn’t know how to get: Christianity that was earnest without being legalistic. There was the way God used his writing in breaking me free from life-long insecurities as I found my identity as Abba’s child. There was the freedom to admit I was a screw-up ("inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker") and realize that God really, truly did love me anyway, and with that the freedom to better love others as screw-ups too. There was the wagon train parable that helped me understand church life as shared adventure and the proper role of a pastor living with fellow ragamuffins. There was the way his writings helped my wife find her way out of depression in that unbearably helpless season after our first miscarriage.
When my turn came to meet him I gripped his hand and opened my mouth, but no sounds came out. All I could do was stand there and cry like a child. He held my gaze, squeezed my arm, and nodded with an unsurprised expression that seemed to say, “I know, I know.” I think I was probably about the one millionth person to shake his hand and then burst into tears.
His last book was a memoir entitled All is Grace. In it Brennan writes the following:
My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — "Please, remember me" — and assures him, "You bet!" A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake, but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.
May God in his mercy cause us to live in this kind of grace.
(If you’re interested in reading Manning but don’t know where to start, try The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, or Ruthless Trust.)
[Thank you to The Burner Blog at Fuller for posting this as well.]
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