Spiritual Mentors: Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contemporary Culture Seminar at the George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In memory of Dallas Willard, who died today at the age of 77, I am posting some of my favorite Dallas themed posts. For more on his death and his legacy, see my Storify here.

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a thinker who made me fall in love with Jesus.

Dallas Willard

His Influence: As a young evangelical pastor, Dallas Willard was troubled by how much he had to “grind it out” to get visitors to the church and get them to come to salvation. He felt that much of his efforts were a form of manipulation and didn’t reflect what he thought he remembered from Jesus’ ministry. He began to study the Gospels more closely and discovered that people were incredibly drawn to Jesus. Willard began to ask himself, “What was it about Jesus that drew so much attention and what was it that made others want to be close to him and follow him?” Willard saw Jesus as gentle, relaxed, purposeful, unhurried, loving, compassionate, and understanding. Willard began to wonder if Jesus knew something about what made up the good life and how to live in the Kingdom of God? These questions led Willard to pursue graduate degrees in philosophy  and he would eventually become an accomplished professor at the University of Southern California. For thoughtful Christians and pastors, he would be known as the author of books such as The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, and his master tome, The Divine Conspiracy.

What I have learned from Willard. Around ten years ago, God broke me down in order for him to become the center of my life and for me to no longer rely on my own strength. I began frantically looking for writers and preachers who could guide me into the next phase of my spiritual life. I wasn’t interested in superficial religiosity and greeting card theology. I needed something meaty and hearty that would demand something of me and challenge me to pursue Christ at all costs. I picked up The Divine Conspiracy and discovered the power of the Sermon on the Mount and that led to grand passages that I barely paid attention to in the past such as the 10 Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, Colossians 3, and 1 Corinthians 13. But most of all, Willard taught me about the nature of Jesus and what it means to follow him. The concept of the Kingdom of God was foreign to me before but Willard showed me that this was Jesus’ major theme in all of his preaching and teaching. From Renovation of the Heart, I learned what makes up the human spiritual self and how each part can be changed into Christlikeness. Willard, for all of his intellect and philosophical skill, is also very practical and is very thoughtful in finding ways to phrase things in a way that anyone can understand and remember it. Thus, I can quote Dallas Willard in my sleep: love – to will the good of another, peace – the absence of will, faith – confidence based on reality, hope – anticipation of good not yet seen, discipleship – learning to live the kind of life that Jesus would live if he were I.

If I had not discovered Willard, my spiritual life would have been earnest but lacking intention and focus. I would not have discovered my mission in life, which is to become more like Christ in order to spread the work of his kingdom. I would not have started these ministry efforts to help ordinary Christians find growth in their spiritual life. I am eternally indebted to Willard and his writings.

What Dallas Willard can teach you: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Willard recommendations: If you want to experience Dallas Willard for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Divine Conspiracy – This book will set the foundation for the need for discipleship and how life with Jesus is the only way to live.

Renovation of the Heart – Once you have the foundation, you will need a guide to become more Christlike. This book shows how each part of ourselves can be transformed into Christlikeness.

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Spiritual Mentors: Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...

Image via Wikipedia

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a thinker who made me fall in love with Jesus.

Dallas Willard

His Influence: As a young evangelical pastor, Dallas Willard was troubled by how much he had to “grind it out” to get visitors to the church and get them to come to salvation. He felt that much of his efforts were a form of manipulation and didn’t reflect what he thought he remembered from Jesus’ ministry. He began to study the Gospels more closely and discovered that people were incredibly drawn to Jesus. Willard began to ask himself, “What was it about Jesus that drew so much attention and what was it that made others want to be close to him and follow him?” Willard saw Jesus as gentle, relaxed, purposeful, unhurried, loving, compassionate, and understanding. Willard began to wonder if Jesus knew something about what made up the good life and how to live in the Kingdom of God? These questions led Willard to pursue graduate degrees in philosophy  and he would eventually become an accomplished professor at the University of Southern California. For thoughtful Christians and pastors, he would be known as the author of books such as The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, and his master tome, The Divine Conspiracy.

What I have learned from Willard. Around ten years ago, God broke me down in order for him to become the center of my life and for me to no longer rely on my own strength. I began frantically looking for writers and preachers who could guide me into the next phase of my spiritual life. I wasn’t interested in superficial religiosity and greeting card theology. I needed something meaty and hearty that would demand something of me and challenge me to pursue Christ at all costs. I picked up The Divine Conspiracy and discovered the power of the Sermon on the Mount and that led to grand passages that I barely paid attention to in the past such as the 10 Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, Colossians 3, and 1 Corinthians 13. But most of all, Willard taught me about the nature of Jesus and what it means to follow him. The concept of the Kingdom of God was foreign to me before but Willard showed me that this was Jesus’ major theme in all of his preaching and teaching. From Renovation of the Heart, I learned what makes up the human spiritual self and how each part can be changed into Christlikeness. Willard, for all of his intellect and philosophical skill, is also very practical and is very thoughtful in finding ways to phrase things in a way that anyone can understand and remember it. Thus, I can quote Dallas Willard in my sleep: love – to will the good of another, peace – the absence of will, faith – confidence based on reality, hope – anticipation of good not yet seen, discipleship – learning to live the kind of life that Jesus would live if he were I.

If I had not discovered Willard, my spiritual life would have been earnest but lacking intention and focus. I would not have discovered my mission in life, which is to become more like Christ in order to spread the work of his kingdom. I would not have started these ministry efforts to help ordinary Christians find growth in their spiritual life. I am eternally indebted to Willard and his writings.

What Dallas Willard can teach you: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Willard recommendations: If you want to experience Dallas Willard for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Divine Conspiracy – This book will set the foundation for the need for discipleship and how life with Jesus is the only way to live.

Renovation of the Heart – Once you have the foundation, you will need a guide to become more Christlike. This book shows how each part of ourselves can be transformed into Christlikeness.

Spiritual Mentors: Frederick Buechner

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a writer who changed the way I view God and grace.

Frederick Buechner

His Influence: Have you ever had a moment in your life of simple awareness and peace that you didn’t exactly know where it came from? You are just going about your business, in your normal everyday routine, and something catches your eye or a realization of gratitude and thankfulness  comes to mind. Maybe, these moments come from a look on another person’s face, or from a word that seems to jump off a page at you, or there is a particular aspect of nature that you never really paid attention to in the past. Frederick Buechner calls these moments, acts of grace, and has spent his life searching for these moments, celebrating these moments, and encouraging his readers to “listen to their lives” for drops of grace that can be traced back to God himself.

By the time he was 25 years old, Buechner had already written a best selling novel but when his second novel bombed and his New York City existence was marked with increasing writer’s block, he was left mostly frustrated and depressed. Out of curiosity and some driving force, Buechner began attending church at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which was led by the famed preacher George Buttrick. During one sermon, Buechner was so moved he began to sob and knew his life no longer belonged to him but was now in the hands of a God who he had barely paid attention to in the past. Buechner would go on to become an ordained Presbyterian minister but he never held a church position because he would continue writing. His books were not written for the Christian sub-culture, with its often bad taste and melodramatic narratives. They were written for anyone who had struggled with doubt and who had ever been overwhelmed by a world that didn’t always make sense.

Because Buechner came to faith so unexpectedly, his writings have been absent of church speak and clichés. The characters in his fiction always have a heavy dose of sin even though they are capable of such life and holiness. In other words, Buechner is describing the life we live – full of God one moment but trending towards failure the next. Yet, God is always present, always a mystery in the most wonderful and beautiful way possible. Buechner’s God is not just one to follow and praise but one to fall in love with.

What I have learned from Buechner. On the surface, just reading Buechner books put me in a good mood in the same way that a certain song might put me in a good mood. No other author has that kind of influence on me. But deeper than this, Buechner description of God and his love for Jesus absolutely inspires me. If I have ever written anything of quality it has usually been after reading Buechner’s prose. I have walked out of a room after reading Buechner and my world has changed. He has encouraged me to” listen to my life and see if for the fathomless mystery that it is”. He has reminded me that all moments are key moments and that all of life is grace.  The very image of the sky seems different now that I am viewing it through Buechner’s lenses. Buechner celebrates life and more importantly the giver of life.

What Frederick Buechner can teach you: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Buechner recommendations: If you want to experience Frederick Buechner for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Sacred Journey/ Now and Then/ Telling Secrets – These are Buechner’s memoirs and the best way to understand who he is and why he writes the way he does.

Brendan – Historical fiction about a seafaring saint doesn’t sound that exciting but this is a joy to read.

Peculiar Treasures – A kind of Biblical Who’s Who done in complete Buechner style.

Spiritual Mentors: Michael Roe

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a musical artist that most people have never heard of.

Mike Roe

His Influence: The first song that I ever heard from the 77s, the band that Mike Roe founded in the late 70s, had a line that goes, “You spit out Manna, God sends quails.” I snapped to attention. I had been exposed to Contemporary Christian Music, and all of its superficial fluff and lame melodies, for so long that I hadn’t realized that an honest lyric and edgy rock music was even possible from a group of Christians. I picked up the album(actually a tape) and probably played it non-stop for a year. The album had it all –  longing, celebration, teenage angst, blues, beauty, and a voice that was both haunting and uplifting.

Who was this guy? All I had was a band photo and a name in the liner notes. How did he mix longing, doubt, and disappointment with hope and faith? I was a confused teenager who didn’t think anyone could identify with me, who had very rarely had any kind of message reach into my soul and touch it with such poignancy as Roe’s songs did. I began to frantically search for older albums by the band. Every find was like another “letter from home”. It seemed like every song he wrote was one that related to me. He wrote about teenage lust, about the difficulty in forgiving others, and the superficiality of personal accolades. And Roe and the band encapsulated these subjects in pop songs that jangled and dripped with hooks or in rock songs that were so refreshingly bare for that overbloated musical time period.

The one song that meant the most to me and seemed to sum up my life during my high school and college years was a song entitled, “Come and Gone”:

The wrong places at all the wrong times
Too far ahead, too many years behind
Make-up my face to hide another line
But it’s a waste when all your precious prime’s

Come and gone
Come and gone
Baby, come on

And now you’re coming to me every day
You’re telling me it’s gonna be O.K.
And though my story isn’t much to read
If I’ve got you, the rest is history

Life is tough, our lives are broken but in Jesus we have a story to be grafted in to. A story with a glorious ending that can, even in the darkest times, be experienced right now and right here. Roe discussed his faith at a bare bones level that I needed as I muddled through my teenage years. In Roe’s music, I found comfort, hope, and an identity that was real and authentic and without fluff and church- speak. He has the most glorious ability to sweep you away through music and then knock you over the head with a lyric, or maybe it is the other way around. No matter, it is utter genius and something that I praise God for every time I listen.

What Mike Roe can teach you: “In this world you will have trouble. (Some of it self imposed) But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Mike Roe recommendations: If you want to experience Mike Roe and the 77s for yourself, check out these recommendations.

77s – Sticks and Stones – my first 77s album and the perfect choice for new listeners.

77s – 88 – The greatest live album of all time.

Michael Roe – Say Your Prayers – this should be the Christian Life Hacker soundtrack.

Spiritual Mentor: David Leyerle

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is a minister that I knew growing up and later worked under for four years.

David Leyerle

His Influence: As the Minister of Recreation at my hometown church I would have admired and looked up to David simply because we shared a love of sports, competition, and basketball. But there was something else about David that I soon began to notice, even at a young age. First, the Family Life Center, a fancy name for the rec center belonging to the church, that he ran was not an exclusive club for church members but was a gathering spot for downtown area kids and anyone else who might walk through the doors. In other words, the people you saw at the FLC were not the people you would expect to see in my downtown, wealthy, historically rich, large church on Sunday and that was just the way that David liked it. David didn’t just have a heart for the underprivileged and then remain a safe distance from them,  he called them his friends and journeyed with them. At the FLC, I was exposed to the homeless, the mentally ill, and ethnic groups that my school rarely included. The community I found at the FLC seemed to embody what I understood to be important to  Jesus  – acceptance of all people and being a friend to the mostly friendless. David helped create that environment and demonstrated such acceptance and compassion that it made a huge impression on me. His was a faith that seemed to make a difference in the world, a faith that was tangible and real, something that seems to be important to young people.

What I learned from David: When my wife and I began pursuing social ministry and were just overwhelmed with the lack of obvious opportunities to serve, I emailed David and told him of our love for ministry among the underprivileged. He asked us to come visit his new ministry in town that was geared towards underprivileged families and kids. We visited and ended up serving at the ministry as sort of “missionaries in residence”. The best part was building a mentor relationship with David that taught me countless lessons about service to others, hospitality, acceptance, generosity, and love. The only people who seemed to dislike David were either people who weren’t thinking straight due to drugs, mental illness, and alcohol or people who weren’t thinking straight due to condescension, hypocrisy, and being out of touch with the Bible’s call to love the poor, the orphan, and the widow. He is not only a mentor but also a hero. He is retired now and living in downtown Houston. You can probably find him at some pastry shop reading a newspaper and noticing the unnoticeable.

What David can teach you: That Christ’s love for others was never from a distance.

Spiritual Mentors

This week, I will begin a series of posts profiling my Christian spiritual mentors. These are people who have, through their writing, life, or art have influenced the way I approach and view God. I do this so that you might begin to recognize those people in your life who have had the most meaningful impact on the way you live your Christian life. I also hope that I will begin to understand what it takes to influence another person so that they can grow closer to Jesus. Here is the list of my Spiritual Mentors:

David Leyerle

Michael Roe

Frederick Buechner

Dallas Willard

Each profile will include information about the person but will also list what I learned from them and what others could learn from them as well.