Picking Up Hitchhikers on Mother’s Day

Aaron was young, a little bit bigger than I was and wore a cowboy hat and carried a backpack and one suitcase. I had never picked up a hitchhiker before and wasn’t planning on it that day. He was on his way to surprise his mother for Mother’s Day when I met him.

I had stopped to get gas and was just 40 minutes away from seeing my own mother for Mother’s Day.

He had already traveled hundreds of miles from Fort Riley, Kansas and only needed about 70 more miles to go. He wanted to know if he could catch a ride with me for part of the way.

When Aaron approached me, it made some sense for me to give him a ride but what was I getting myself into?

I had seen him get dropped off by someone else as I pulled into the Truck Stop. That told me that he was actually working on getting somewhere and not out for some carjacking spree. Second, he went straight from being dropped off towards me to make the request. I try not be one of those “everything is a sign from God” type people but out of the 12 people getting gas at that time, wasn’t it kind of weird that the Christian guy trying to live the Jesus Way in a very intentional matter is the first person he talked to? Also, I have been around enough homeless types with addiction or mental problems to recognize when someone didn’t quite fit the profile. So, I gave Aaron the response of, “Yeah, but hold on one second.”

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U.S. National Archives

I still needed to pump my gas which gave me more time to think and pray things over. Quickly, I thought, I am by myself, I am a decent person, I have been reading a lot about compassion, and it is Mother’s Day for crying out loud. But most of all, I thought about a Dallas Willard quote that has stuck with me for years:

“The world is a perfectly safe place for us to be.”

Willard’s idea is that Jesus, who is living out of the power of the Kingdom of God, had no reason to be frightened or worried, his Father was in control and that was all that mattered. If that was good enough for Jesus, why can’t it be good enough for me?

I don’t know if Aaron made it home in time for Mother’s Day. When I dropped him off, he still had about 40 miles to go. But, I prayed that he did. I wish I could have seen the surprise on his mother’s face when he showed up.

The whole thing was kind of surreal, like something was happening that involved me but where I didn’t have much say over the matter. I just filled a role I felt like I needed to fill at that particular time. Was I uncomfortable? Yeah. Was I surveying every move he made while in the car? Yes. Did I try to think of scenarios where I could call for help if I needed it? Sure. But it was about as normal a conversation and time as could have been had on a warm Spring day when we were both just trying to get home to see our mothers.

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Quit Focusing On Inadequate Examples of Growing Up

Superficially, many of our hang ups on the road to Growing Up don’t involve anything to do with your deep personal spiritual make up.

Often, you are hesitant to Grow Up because of the poor examples of “mature” Christians you see around you or observe a church culture that you want no part of. This is the wrong focus. God isn’t asking you to match someone else’s faith or fulfill some here today/gone tomorrow church trends, he is asking you to join the Kingdom of God. The what you ask?

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The Kingdom of God is where what God wants done is done. The Kingdom of God is what Jesus spent many of his parables discussing. As James Bryan Smith has said, “It is much more difficult to find a teaching of Jesus that was not about the kingdom than to find one that is.”

The interactive life with God that is the Kingdom of God is what you should strive for. The Kingdom of God is a place where you hear from God and know what to do next. A place where you receive assurances of your standing with him and experience the deep love and mercy of the Father. A place where you can drop all pretense and be humbled because God is working and in control.

The Kingdom of God transcends individual examples of “good Christians” or church marketing slogans. Scripture tells us that it is so precious that a man would sell all that he had to assure he could obtain it.

So quit looking around to human examples of faith that lack substance and aren’t true to your deepest longing. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Then, so much will be added to you. You will even Grow Up.

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.

Jesus Didn’t Die To Give You A Political Stance

I am fed up.

I don’t like to use this space for social and political commentary but recent events are crying for a different perspective, one that I thought I might be able to speak to.

It seems that there is a misconception in American Christianity that the only way to live out your faith is to be bold and fanatical regarding social or political  issues. Somehow the Christian duty of loving God, loving others, sharing the gospel, and making disciples has been replaced with making political statements, arguing, fanatical postering, and boycotts.

The implication in all of this is that to be a true Christian is to be bold and outspoken about cultural and political issues. Despite lines and lines of Biblical texts that discuss loving your enemies, care for the unfortunate, and going the extra mile, Evangelical Christians feel that the only model for a devout faith involves becoming overly confrontational and entrenched in Christian culture.

John 13:34-35 states,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorifyyour Father in heaven.”

Ephesians 5:8 explains, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light”

Our call as believers and followers of Jesus is to let his life work through our life so that the Kingdom of God (where what God wants done is done) is spread. We can only do this through the transformation of our life through Christ.

If you want to change culture, change your heart, not your political stance. The only hope for this world is Christ’s children living his life in their life.

Take a stand for righteousness and Christlikeness, consider the damage of your own sin in your community before attacking others (even heathens), and above all seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Do these things, and the cultural and political changes we all long for will become an increasing reality. God looks on the heart, scripture says, and that is where we make change happen.

This is why spiritual formation is so important to me and this is why it should be important to you. Our world needs changed hearts and Christians living Christ-like lives. Heart change is so much more important than political change.

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.

How To Live Without Worry

Yesterday, I taught my Sunday School class a lesson on worry. This lesson came from the part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6) when Jesus instructs his listeners to “not worry.” He explains that the birds of the air and flowers on the ground are both taken care of by God so why wouldn’t a believer expect to be taken care of so much more fully?

I am a high worrier and always have been but I have made some progress in this area, thanks to God showing me two things. First, I have learned that Christ lives inside me (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20). Through this reality, I begin to filter my situations through the Jesus filter. For example, if I am worried about looking like a failure to others I run that worry in front of the Christ who dwells inside me. I realize that Jesus doesn’t have bias, hangups, personal whims, and sin that cloud his judgement. I realize that Jesus will see my heart and my true intentions and will not remove his presence from me no matter my earthly successes or failures. I understand that he is merciful, accepting and loving and most other people are not. I realize that Jesus has the ability to fully grasp a situation and my role in it and understand the truth while other people do not have the capability of doing this. I may screw up and sin and fail to live up to Christ’s standard but unlike fickle and disjointed humans whose love and acceptance may be superficial, Christ love is full of depth and intensity that will not be undone by mere circumstances.

Secondly, I understand that I am a part of the Kingdom of God and that inside the Kingdom is abundant blessing. The Beatitudes are not a laundry list of “to-dos” but an example of how no matter your circumstance, God has a blessing for you when you are seeking his Kingdom and his righteousness. So, why should I worry when I have the savior of the world and the most loving person who ever stepped foot on earth living inside of me? Why should I worry when God is in the business of turning undesirable things into glorious things and that my situations, no matter how dire it may be, can be transformed into exactly what I need and what will be best for me.

I may never let go of worry in my life but I have learned, in specific circumstances, to quickly find that point in which the assurance and realization of who I am in Christ and the availability of blessing in God’s kingdom reminds me that worry is a fruitless endeavor and one of Satan’s deepest tricks.

For more on the idea of the indwelling of Christ, read James Bryan Smith’s Good and Beautiful God.