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HOW DALLAS WILLARD BEFRIENDED A ROOKIE PASTOR

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He taught me to live into the rhythms of the Spirit.

Richard Foster

[ posted 5/9/2013 9:20AM ]

 

Editor’s note: Dallas Willard died May 8 at age 77, days after being diagnosed with cancer.

It was 1970, and I had just received my seminary degree and been appointed to a small church plant in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. The church, I am sure, would probably rank me as a marginal failure on the ecclesiastical scoreboards, but I was excited to convert the world–at least by tomorrow!

Included in this little congregation were Dallas and Jane Willard and their children, John and Becky. Even before I met Dallas, I knew of his reputation as a world-class philosopher. (This was before the publication of his monumental Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge. Dallas’ enormous philosophic work is the great area of his writing and thinking that is least understood, but which might in time prove to be his greatest contribution.)

In our small fellowship, Dallas was simply the person who led the singing (what we today would call the worship leader).

However, in our small fellowship, Dallas was simply the person who led the singing (what we today would call the worship leader) and Jane played the organ (remember those days!).

Early on I observed the love and care that Dallas shared with Tony, another member of our fellowship. Tony was a construction worker with a third grade education. Tony could not possibly have understood Dallas’ philosophic work, but no matter. There was between them a bond of love and fellowship in Christ that was astonishing for me to watch. Dallas and Tony would gather once a week, just the two of them, to study the Bible and pray together. It was for me a vivid example of Christian koinonia.

That was my early introduction to Dallas and our friendship grew quickly. He would join me and a small group of men weekly to share and pray together. One young man, Bob, who was just as rough as a cobb, would also join us. He would often blurt out startling things. One night he was telling us about how he had gotten a hold of a bunch of habanero peppers and stuffed them into his mouth.

“They were so hot,” he declared, “that they would burn the hell out of ya!” Dallas turned and said with that serious wit of his, “Give me a thousand of them!”

Dallas and I would trade off teaching at the church. I have often explained that when I taught folks might show up, but when Dallas taught they brought their tape recorders. Me too.

He taught many courses. One of the early ones was an astonishing series in the Book of Acts. That is where his now famous sentence was born: “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the very heart of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant.” He also taught a course on the classical disciplines of the spiritual life, which broadened our horizons to encompass the whole people of God throughout history. What wonderful sessions. Little did I know then that, years later, these ideas would lead to the writing of Celebration of Discipline.

But nothing compared to the series Dallas taught our little fellowship on the Sermon on the Mount. As a teenager, I had read Detrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship over and over again so taken was I by Bonhoeffer’s analysis of The Sermon on the Mount. When Dallas immersed us into this most important of Jesus’ teachings on virtue ethics, I was absolutely captivated. I knew the literature in the field; I knew the varying approaches and interpretations of the text. So I recognized immediately that what Dallas was teaching us was stunningly creative and life giving, and at the same time deeply rooted in classical thought. The material was essentially what we today have in The Divine Conspiracy.

Our little group hung onto every word. We are onto something big, I thought to myself, something really big. Such teachings completely transformed our little fellowship, especially in terms of substantive character formation. Friends and neighbors saw these changes in the people, and our fellowship grew.

But it was not all sweetness and light. One dear lady who was absorbing the teaching like a sponge latched onto the words of Paul about Christ, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, ESV). She, however, turned this biblical concept into a wooden literalism, inviting a homeless drug addict into her own home to minister to him, thinking, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. After peppering her with questions for 48 hours straight, he raped her and burglarized her home. We found her a day later under the kitchen table in a fetal position. She required six months of intensive therapy to recover. The next Sunday Dallas spent the entire time tenderly teaching us on our human limitations.

Sometimes Dallas could help us as an entire congregation with a simple comment of accumulated wisdom. One Sunday morning, I was preaching on how Moses had to learn to do the work of the Lord in the power of the Spirit. He, of course, had tried to do God’s work in the flesh by killing the Egyptian, and it had failed miserably. So God had to put Moses into the desert for forty years to learn to do the work of God in the power of the Spirit.

In the context of Quaker worship, it is perfectly appropriate for any person in the congregation to speak a timely word from the Lord. So, as I was beginning to wax eloquent, in my enthusiasm I said something like “We want to learn these lessons so that it won’t take us forty years like it did Moses.” Dallas in his great wisdom simply spoke up so everyone could hear, “I doubt it.”

We were learning the delicate balance of not running ahead of the Spirit, nor lagging behind. We were learning the cosmic patience of God and how to come into the rhythms of the Holy Spirit.

Of course his comment stopped my sermon right in mid-sentence–and it needed to be stopped! His remark forced us to consider the hidden preparation through which God puts his ministers. It deeply influenced the manner in which we did ministry from that day forward. We were learning the delicate balance of not running ahead of the Spirit, nor lagging behind. We were learning the cosmic patience of God and how to come into the rhythms of the Holy Spirit.

I could continue with story after story, but allow me just say that I will always treasure the love and friendship of Dallas Willard. When we were ministering together I would often go to his home study, and we would sit together discussing and praying for the people in our fellowship. The grace and love and care that he carried for each person was so moving to me as the pastor of this little fellowship. Then, often we would slip into complete silence–a listening silence of course. Sometimes the phone would ring or someone would knock on the front door, but Dallas would never flinch. He was present to me and present to the Lord. I will always cherish those times of silence, for we had not only come together, but we were gathered together in the power of the Lord.

I was with Dallas and Jane just a few days before Dallas was ushered from this life into greater Life. I had come to say goodbye to my friend. I solemnly read to him the poetic words of Charles Wesley:

If death my friend and me divide,
Thou dost not, Lord, my sorrow chide,
Or frown my tears to see;
Restrained from passionate excess,
Thou bidst me mourn in calm distress
For them that rest in Thee.I feel a strong immortal hope,
Which bears my mournful spirit up
Beneath its mountain load;
Redeemed from death, and grief, and pain,
I soon shall find my friend again
Within the arms of God.Pass a few fleeting moments more
And death the blessing shall restore
Which death has snatched away;
For me thou wilt the summons send,
And give me back my parted friend
In that eternal day.

Dallas sat listening quietly. Then with trembling voice, I said, “We may not see each other again . . .” Our conversation was interrupted as we needed to take Dallas to the hospital for hydration. Once we arrived, the customary flurry of doctors and nurses and medical staff went on so that we were not alone again until that evening back at his house.

As I was preparing to leave, Dallas quietly spoke as if to continue the conversation of the morning. He smiled and said ever so kindly and firmly, “We will see each other again!” And so we shall.

“Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:23, ESV).

Richard J. Foster is the author of the now classic Celebration of Discipline and a number of other books. He is the founder of Renovaré, a community of Christians seeking continual spiritual renewal in Christ.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/may-web-only/how-dallas-willard-befriended-rookie-pastor.html?paging=off

DALLAS WILLARD, A MAN FROM ANOTHER “TIME ZONE”

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He wrote and taught like no one else on the ‘with-God life.’

John Ortberg

[ posted 5/8/2013 2:47PM ]

Editor’s note: Dallas Willard died May 8 at age 77, days after being diagnosed with cancer.

When Dallas Willard was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late summer of 2012, one of his reflections was: “I think that, when I die, it might be some time until I know it.” Dallas was always saying things that would never occur to anyone else. He said that a person is a series of conscious experiences, and that for the one who trusts and follows Jesus, death itself has no power to interrupt this life. Jesus himself said that the one who trusts in him will not taste death.

This morning Dallas Willard passed away. I’m not sure if anyone has told him yet. But I know that for all those left behind, for the lives touched by his mind and heart, there is a great void.

Because Dallas wrote on spiritual formation and taught philosophy at the University of Southern California, one might think he came from a background associated with richness of education and culture and resources. In fact, he grew up in very poor circumstances in rural Missouri. His mother died when he was two; her last words to her husband were: “Keep eternity before the children.”

Because of impoverished conditions, Dallas grew up in a circle of different families; electricity did not come until he was mostly grown up.

He read a book by Jack London once that contained a passage describing the world from an atheistic point of view. Dallas said that he’d never known books could contain such thoughts and ideas, and his mind was never quite the same after that awakening. He was nine years old at the time.

He became an insatiable reader. He attended Tennessee Temple and did graduate work at Baylor before receiving his Ph D in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then teaching for nearly 50 years at USC, where for a time he was director of the philosophy department. His particular area of study was the philosophy of mind and logic, and he is regarded as a leading translator and authority on the work of the German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. He was, along with scholars like William Alston and Alvin Plantinga, a significant influence in a renaissance of evangelical thinkers in contemporary academic philosophy.

His home, like his mind, was furnished mostly with books. He had a secondary library that occupied a second house; a tertiary library that filled his office at USC. After his diagnosis, a group of us packed up well over 100 boxes of books that only made it to his quaternary library in a nearby garage, books in multiple languages stretching from Homer to the present.

His teachings and writings are often categorized as being about ‘spiritual formation,’ although his real preoccupation was on the ‘kingdom of God’, or what he would often call the ‘with-God life.’

Many of us in the church have been impacted by Dallas through his teachings and writings that are often categorized as being about ‘spiritual formation,’ although his real preoccupation and concern was focused on the ‘kingdom of God’, or what he would often speak about as the ‘with-God life.’ He said the four great questions humans must answer are: What is reality? What is the good life? Who is a good person? And How do you became a good person? His concern was to answer those questions, and live the answers, and he was simply convinced that no one has ever answered them as well as Jesus.

These ‘spiritual’ writings of Dallas almost never used a technical vocabulary, but they had a density to them that makes them slow-going for most of us. I think the main reason for this is that any given word Dallas uses is a compressed summary of the history of human thought which he has digested and distilled. Words which are vague for most of us were precisely calibrated by him.

One of the games I used to play with Dallas was to ask him for definitions of all kinds of words; every one would come with a clarity and freshness and precision that would require folks to sit and reflect for a while.

Spirit is dis-embodied personal power.

Beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses.

disciple is anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place.

Dignity is a value that creates irreplaceability. (This he graciously attributed to Immanuel Kant.)

Joy is a pervasive sense of well-being.

Once when I was asking him questions at a conference we talked about work, which he defined as “the creation of value.” He said something about play—so I asked him to define that one. There was a brief pause—with Dallas there was always a pause—and he said: “Play is the creation of value that is not necessary.”

Dallas has impacted the world of the church—evangelicalism and beyond—through a power of historically informed thought that simply makes more sense of reality and existence than the alternatives that many of us are aware of. He deeply valued the scholarly guild, and contributed to it. But he was aware of the limits of the guild as well, and ultimately sought to contribute to moral and spiritual knowledge in a way that transcended current guild norms.

Dallas had a remarkable mind. (He was always careful to note the distinction between mind and brain. “God has never had a brain,” he would sometimes say, “and has never missed it.”)

He invited me to come to his home, and I experienced what countless others have: the unhurried, humble, selfless attention of a human being who lived deeply in kingdom reality.

But his life and his heart were better than his mind. My own life was forever changed when I first read his book The Spirit of the Disciplines (HarperOne) 24 years ago; it has effected me more than any book outside the Bible. I contacted him after having read it, and—for no particular reason—he invited me to come to his home and talk. I experienced there what countless others have: the unhurried, humble, selfless attention of a human being who lived more deeply in the genuine awareness of kingdom reality than anyone I have ever known. Somebody said of Dallas: “I’d like to live in his time zone.”

In one of his classes a student challenged him with statements that were both offensive and incorrect. Dallas paused and told the class that that was a good place to end their discussion. Somebody asked Dallas afterward why he had not countered the students’ argument and put him in his place. “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”

This is part of why Dallas would never debate non-believers. He would engage in a mutual conversation where both parties could seek for truth together. He would often say: “I’m sure Jesus is the kind of person who would be the first to say you must ruthlessly follow the truth wherever it leads.” Through the last week of his life he was still hoping to help believers engage non-believers by looking together at questions where people get stuck in their actual lives rather than by trying to win arguments.

He would be the first to say that he is not perfect, and would be very impatient with writings that idealize anyone—particularly him. I remember hearing him talk once about how he was struggling with the problem of harboring contempt for people. If he did, it was in a very deep harbor. But God alone knows the human heart.

Dallas’ work, more than anyone I know in our day, is helping us understand more clearly the reality of Jesus’ offer. His influence will continue to trickle down in a thousand ways.

He leaves behind his wife Jane; his son John and his daughter Becky along with her husband Bill and his granddaughter Larrisa. He leaves an understanding of the nature of the gospel and the kingdom and moral and spiritual truth that is helping the church, which is always reforming to recapture something of the spirit and message of Jesus, about whom Dallas never ceased to marvel. Dallas’ work, more than anyone I know in our day, is helping us understand more clearly the reality of Jesus’ offer. His influence will continue to trickle down in a thousand ways, in countless sermons and books and churches and disciples.

Among countless other ideas, Dallas thought about the nature of heaven in ways that linger. Our destiny, he used to say, is to be part of a tremendously creative team effort, under unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity, with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment. This is what “eye hath not see, nor ear hath heard” in the prophetic vision. Its worth a few dozen read-throughs.

Dallas also used to say that “God will certainly let everyone into heaven that can possibly stand it.” This is another one of those statements that becomes more daunting and frightening and wonderful the more you think about it.

“Keep eternity before the children,” his mother said. Dallas kept eternity before us in a way no one else quite has. And today he has stepped into the eternal kind of life in a way he never has before.

I’ll bet he can stand it. I’ll bet he can.

John Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, in Menlo Park, California. He is the author, most recently, of Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Zondervan).

 

THE GREATEST CHALLENGE IN THE CHURCH TODAY

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by Brad Powell

 

  • Q. What is one of the largest challenges to effectively leading change in the church?


A. This is a no-brainer. There’s not even a close second.

Changing myself is by far the largest challenge I face! It’s the largest challenge most leaders face.

The person God calls to lead has the greatest ability to effectively move people through change or keep people from changing. As the old saying goes, everything rises and falls on leadership.

Of course, we leaders and pastors love to take credit when what we’re leading is “rising.” But we tend to blame other people or the circumstances when what we’re leading is “falling.” However, as leaders and pastors, we need to honestly and humbly own our part in both.

Here’s an important discovery I’ve made through the years: We can be called and gifted by God to be leading where we are, while at the same time failing to be the leader God desires us to be.

Personal Change Required. 

I think this can result from two specific failures. The first is a failure of character.

Sadly, many who have been called and gifted by God to lead have failed in their leadership because of a compromise of character. King Saul in the Old Testament is a great example. Sadly, we’ve seen this kind of failure too often in the lives of pastors and leaders in our world.

The second is a failure to change. Stagnating environments often stem from stagnating leaders.

As our world, culture, communities, circumstances, organizations and people change, we have a tendency to keep leading in the same way we’ve always led. This never works in a changing environment. What used to be positive, effective leadership becomes negative and ineffective.

One of the realities we must understand is that leading change demands personally changing. When God wanted to change something in the world, what was the first thing He did?

He changed the person He was calling to lead. This was true of Moses (Ex. 3), Isaiah (Isa. 6) and Paul (Acts 9).

Personal transformation enabled Paul, who had waged war against Christ and His church, to become an apostle for Christ and urge people to follow his example as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; Phil. 3:17).

This was my first biblical introduction to an important leadership principle: speed of the leader, speed of the team. I have since found it to be the reality in my experience as a pastor and leader, especially when it comes to leading people through change.

No matter how much people respect or believe me, they won’t take the journey of change simply because I’m pointing the way. But they will take the journey of change if I’m personally leading the way. This has been true in every area of my leadership: knowing Christ, relevantly reaching out to the lost, serving the poor, and giving up or changing things I love to fulfill the purpose God has called me to accomplish.

In truth, the greatest catalyst to my effectiveness in leading change has been my willingness to take the journey of change myself. I’ve had to change the way I live, love, learn, think, work, relate and lead.

And I’m finding myself needing to change more now than at any time in the history of my leadership because the realities and circumstances facing the people I lead are changing faster than ever before.

Key Principles to Follow

To help you lead yourself through change, let me share some keys that have helped me experience a measure of success through the years.

Experiencing God.

As a spiritual leader, this is the single most important ingredient for change in my life.

If I don’t remain intentional at staying thirsty and hungry for God, I begin conforming to the patterns of this world rather than continuing to experience change by the renewing of my mind (Rom. 12:2).

Exposure.

I read years ago that the most important and valuable changes in our lives will stem from the people we meet and the books we read. The truth is that the changes we need to experience require exposure to new people, thoughts, experiences, environments, information and needs.

If we’re not intentionally expanding our exposure, we will by nature begin to stagnate.

Examination.

Without becoming morbidly introspective, we must be willing to hold ourselves up to some rigorous self-evaluation.

This should include inviting others into our lives to lovingly, but objectively, help us see the areas that could use some improvement. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “iron sharpens iron.”

Education.

I have found that the only way I can change the quality and effectiveness of my leadership is through a willingness to learn new things.

While my experience can be a great teacher, allowing myself to also learn from the experiences and knowledge of others helps me to change exponentially.

Enthusiasm.

Finally, my personal willingness to change and my ultimate effectiveness in leading others through change are directly connected to my passion quotient.

If my passion and enthusiasm for God, His people and the purpose He’s called me to are waning, my growth throttles back. If they remain high, nothing can hold me back.

So, here’s my question for you: Where do you need to lead change and how are you changing in that area yourself?

Brad Powell is the senior pastor of NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Mich., a 2011 Outreach 100 church (No. 47 Largest). He is the author of Change Your Church for Good (Nelson) and consults with church leaders to help them lead their churches through transition.

More from Brad Powell or visit Brad at bradpowellonline.com/

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