What Brought Me To Tears in California

If you were present the last full day of our Gathering in California and looked over at me that afternoon, you would have seen tears flowing down my face. It was the only time that week that I had reached that level of emotion.

I stood in the middle of the room. I turned to my friend Kris and said something like, “what did we do to deserve this?” Both of us had our life changed and turned upside down and wouldn’t have even been in the same room with one another if it wasn’t for the writings, thoughts, and example that was on display in front of us.

Jane Willard, the widow of Dallas Willard, had just spent the last 30 minutes speaking to our Apprentice Experience Community about what it was like living with Dallas, how he came to write his books, and some of the challenges he and she faced over the years. This was all so fascinating, but then she brought out her personal collection of items from her home – things like Dallas’ personal Bible, letters from Richard Foster encouraging Dallas to write his Christian books, a copy of Mere Christianity, complete with Dallas’ notes, that reads like a conversation between Willard and C.S. Lewis. She had pictures of their wedding and their family through the years as well.

Dallas Willard’s Bible

Of course, when I picked up his Bible, like many of us, I turned to Matthew 5 and 6, the Sermon on the Mount, to see the notes and highlights on the passage of scripture that inspired the book, The Divine Conspiracy. This book was Dallas’ most profound and influential work and the piece of writing that I found 18 years ago that turned me from a devotee of Christ with little direction and purpose to a disciple of Jesus, willing to be led by him to be the Christ I have been called to be.

When I had my spiritual breakthrough many years ago, I began to seek out voices that could feed my desire for continued growth and stoke the inspiration that I had received from a life-giving God. The primary voice that I found was Dallas Willard. I really can’t put into words (though I have tried) what his writings and example has meant for me. His was a life that showed and taught the grand possibility of Christ’s transformation in an individual’s life. Without this message, I would have still had faith but it would be lacking in hopefulness, in vitality, in real examples of growth and transformation. Willard inspires and awakens the reality of Christ and the potential of the Kingdom of God like no other writer, speaker, or pastor I have ever come across. I owe so much of my Christian experience over the last 18 years to the influence of Dallas Willard and in that moment in California, God let me behind the curtain to be with that legacy in an intimate and unique way.  I felt unworthy.

So there I was, feeling the impact of Christ’s work through one man to help point me to Christ as Savior, Christ as teacher, Christ as friend, and Christ as an indwelling presence in my life. God’s abundance and generosity and foolishness overwhelmed me in that moment. What did I do to deserve this?

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How To Handle Irritating Church People

Some people just can’t handle it.

An irritating person is in their Bible Study. A socially awkward man likes to speak up at all of the church meetings and eyes roll all over the room. A mentally disabled person makes weird noises at weird times and that is all people can think about as the sermon is being delivered.

My father in law, who is a pastor, says that because the church is supposed to be light, the light will attract bugs, in the form of strange, kooky, and difficult people. And he can tell you many stories of these bugs he has had in his churches.

I once heard a pastor speak with pride about asking a notoriously difficult and church hopping couple that they were not welcome at his church. He didn’t want their drama and peculiarities junking up his congregation.

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It can be too easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback with some of these situations but I was struck recently by a phrase found in David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship.  Augsburger says that Christian community is, “a web of stubbornly loyal relationships knotted together into a living network of persons.” I love that phrase “stubbornly loyal.” When was the last time we were stubbornly loyal to anything much less our church?

Augsburger expands on the stubbornly loyal idea and describes what this might look like in a church setting.

Recognizing that community is a place where both good friends and predictable frustrators are present, needed, valued, respected, incorporated, and indeed learned from in genuine dialogue, stubbornly inclusive participants do not give up on the irritating or withdraw into the conforming, but rather welcome both.

Augsburger thinks that we should welcome the irritating and even learn from them. Jesus’ disciples were always trying to shield Jesus from the irritating people around them but Jesus seemed to seek them out. He asked that the children come to him instead of pushing them to the margins. When random people touched him in a huge crowd, Jesus sought out some of those people much to the annoyance of the disciples.

What does it say about us when our instant intolerance overwhelms our willingness to welcome and include? What might God be asking us to learn from this situation? Do we think we are so good that we can’t humble ourselves to be a little uncomfortable?

Christ has been stubbornly loyal to his church, despite all of its division, brokenness, corruptions, and scandal. Maybe it is time for us to practice a little stubborn loyalty ourselves.

 

What I Deserve

In a type of closing ceremony, on the final day of the final gathering of the Apprentice Experience in Sierra Madre, California, each of the participants got to say a few words about their experience in the program and then received a certificate. Here is what I said:

I don’t deserve the gift that AE has brought me. I don’t deserve the strong spiritual friendships that I received through our small groups and connections that I have made. I don’t deserve the chance to wrestle with such important issues and ideas that were taught by such strong teachers. But, God isn’t interested in what we deserve, he is interested in what He can provide. Thank God for his abundant and generous provision.

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What I Take Away From A Life-Changing Experience

Random observations from 18 months of the Apprentice Experience:

  • I have become a fan of Wichita, Kansas. I have the shirt to prove it. Not a bad smaller big city.
  • I have always liked Scot McKnight. His blog is one of the best things on the internet. Getting to hear him speak on theology, Christology, and soteriology sounds really dry when I write it but he always makes these topics accessible. The best part, though, was finding a library with a TV in a Catholic retreat center so that Scot and the rest of us could watch his beloved Cubs in the World Series.
  • My small group, made up of five individuals – a California pastor, a Kansas youth pastor, a California matriarch, and a Kansas graduate student – has been consistently one of the highlights of our gatherings. We have bonded over meals, over texts, and in our scheduled time together. They are loving, interesting, and authentic people.
  • Just about everyone in our Community would be someone who I could sit down with right now and have a conversation that weaves elements of Spiritual Formation and discipleship without any hesitation. I have lived most of my Christian life having to pick and choose the ways I talk about these things because people look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. It is nice to find my tribe.

  • My biggest takeaways have involved intense personal conviction. One gathering included me coming to grips with my overly critical nature. One forced me to evaluate what it means to forgive and how to do it. I became more vulnerable by intentionally seeking out social opportunities with my fellow AErs instead of slinking to my own personal space.
  • There is always a two-hour stretch sometime during the Gathering weeks that we spend in complete silence. I spent one of these times walking through the Stations of the Cross. I would just sit on a bench in front of each station and take in the station. When I got to the station where Jesus is taken down from the cross I couldn’t see the image on the stone because the sun was shining so brightly in my eyes. The exact angle that I was sitting mixed with the timing of the day made it to where even the darkness of Christ’s temporary death was not visible.
  • All of our readings have influenced the blog. My posts on lament, the times I tried to tell my story, my discussion of vulnerability, and others have been directly inspired by something I read from our assigned readings. I so enjoyed the excuse to reread Dallas Willard‘s classics The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart.
  • This final gathering will be a little different as we will be in Southern California at a retreat center in Sierra Madre. This will be an interesting change of scenery from Kansas. Our guest teacher will be Shane Claiborne and the overall theme will be community. I so need this time away in rest, contemplation, and community.
  • I want to say a special thank you to many of you who have contributed to my fund-raising efforts to make this all possible. Some of you contributed graciously and generously. You may not realize it but your contribution paved the way for the learning and transformation that has shaped the best parts of this blog and the best parts of my efforts at doing kingdom work in my job and in my church. Your contribution has not gone to waste, I can assure you.