A Life Well Lived

After announcing a quiet and private battle with cancer just earlier this week, it was announced today that philosopher-theologian Dallas Willard passed away today at 77.  Having heard Dallas a few times in my own studies of Christian spiritual formation, I’m appreciative to have rubbed shoulders with one who is so humble regarding his impact on the lives of so many and who has so fervently longed for each of us to walk hand in hand with Jesus as Savior.

Yesterday, Willard’s son-in-law Bill Heatley posted on Facebook an excerpt from The Divine Conspiracy:

“Those who live in reliance upon the word and person of Jesus, and know by experience the reality of his kingdom, are always better off ’dead,’ from the personal point of view … we live in the knowledge that, as Paul elsewhere says, ’Jesus the Anointed has abolished death and has, through the gospel, made life and immortality obvious.’ (2 Tim 1:10).”

Today, Willard brings this quote to life and does so wholeheartedly.  May we, too, long to be better off dead.

Fiji the Lost Dog, and a Glimpse Into the Heart of the Father

ImageThis morning, as I woke up to make coffee and start the day, I noticed a small white blur outside the front window.  “What was that?” I wondered.   A small tuft of white went by again and I saw a dog walking by.  No leash.  No owner following it.  As the dog walked by, it looked lost.  Somehow it had escaped from its yard and was wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood.

Having my own dog, I knew that I’d want someone to retrieve him if he ever got out, so I made my way outside and called the dog over.  It was a white male terrier of sorts, and a quick look at his dog tag told me his name was Fiji.  Thankfully, Fiji had a responsible owner and there was a phone number.  Phone in hand, I dialed the number on Fiji’s tag and told the lady at the other end that I had her dog.  It was 6:30am, too early in my opinion to disturb anyone, but this was Fiji!  This was important.

After a few rings, someone finally answered and Fiji’s owner had had no clue that he had escaped during the night.  I gave the woman my address and she immediately made her way to my home—a good half-mile according to Google Maps—and Fiji quickly claimed his dogmother.  Both dog and woman were thankful.  Off they went in the dogmother’s car.  All in all, about a 20-minute encounter.  Yet, I can’t stop thinking about this morning.

Since that time this morning, I’ve thought of Jesus’ words in Luke 15 where He gives us the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.  The lost sheep, found by the shepherd who left the other 99 and called his friends and neighbors together to rejoice upon its being found.  The lost coin, found by the woman who sought it out by sweeping the house and searching the nooks and crannies of her floor, who upon finding it called her friends and neighbors to rejoice upon its being found.  The lost son, forlorn and ashamed of his actions, found by a heartbroken and miserable father who could finally rest since his son was finally under his roof.  A tired and wiser son could also finally rest since he was finally safe under his father’s roof.

Two-thousand years since Jesus’ stories above, today’s run-in with Fiji  echoes this joy.  It is but a small taste of the joy that is found not only by us as we press into the Lord, but the joy He has as we do.  And not just our joy, but that of His community as well.  Luke 15:7 and 10 tell us that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Wow.   As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, go and live with the knowledge that God, our Heavenly Father, wants to celebrate you and your continued seeking of Him.

Be encouraged, and do not give up.

The night of sleep that awaits Fiji tonight will be like no other.

Safe.

Quiet.

Protected.

Peaceful.  It’s the life we, too, were designed for.

Press on.

Continued Lessons from Parenthood

Parenthood continues to show me the juxtaposition of God’s gracious love for me as His child as well as His overarching concern for humankind.  Just as my daughter knows nothing of the big-picture affairs of our household, I, too, know so little of our omnipotent and omnipresent God.  I can only respond like Job to the fact that I cannot comprehend the vast expanses of the earth, nor have I seen the storehouses of the hail, nor send the lightning bolts on their way (Job 38).  There are concepts in our universe of which God the Father takes care and which I am completely ignorant, things which the wondrous images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reminds me of this.

Still, this ignorance does not allow me to pass up the amazing love God has for me.  Similar to my interactions with my baby girl, God wants to interact with me, with us.  With a passion and gentleness that is innocently intimate.  For most of us, the vulnerability required for this on our parts does not come easily.  Still, God is patient and waits.  May each of us seek Him today and turn to Him as He longs to be with us.

Kept by the One who Neither Slumbers nor Sleeps

With a newborn, my time to post at Enjoying the Surface has greatly diminished. Yet, caring for my daughter Ellie (pictured, left) continues to be a place where the Lord reminds me of His great love for us—for me, for her, for my wife, and for you.

I’m a doer. Rarely a day goes by where there is not a list, mental or written, of things to do, accomplish and succeed. And with each task completed comes an inner joy of satisfaction, of accomplishment. Ellie’s arrival is obliterating all of that, as the learning curve for me here is that it’s no longer about what I need to do, but the task at hand is to meet her needs in their full spectrum.

Understandably, this has caused some inner turmoil. The tasks of life—work, cleaning, shopping, interactions with others, service—must get done at some point. But at what cost? The negligence of care of my daughter is not worth the price. Yet that is where the temptation lies when task-man meets people-man.

Some weeks ago, in between the exhaustion and piled-up tasks, frustration entered in. Why couldn’t I get the things done that I’d typically got done over the many past years? And the Lord reminded me of Psalm 121. Holding Ellie in my arms one evening, I began to doze off yet still wanted to savor the moment with her. Exhaustion. Frustration. Anxiety over the things still to do in the late hours of the evening. And there it was. I was reminded of a passage in the Psalms I’d read so many times before and it now had a much more clear meaning. “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Yes, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”

My strength comes from my Keeper. The one who made the mountains. And my daughter. And me. He does not slumber nor sleep. On His watch, which is all the time, God doesn’t fall asleep. As I bounced up and down and walked our hallway to lull my baby to sleep, the Lord reminded me of my day that day—the frustration of not getting the things done that I’d hoped to. He showed me the difference between He and I—I with my task list and He with His desire to be with me. In fact, His agenda is to hang out with me. Just that. There’s nothing else.

There was an invitation that evening for me that I think is for all of us—to remember firstly that I do not keep myself. He keeps me. And in my reliance on His keeping, I can enter into the life He has for me, for us. This God who does not slumber or sleep, who wants to hear our cries out to Him, cries of joy and of frustration and of laughter, wants us to let go and enjoy the things He has for us, to hang out with those He puts in my path, in your paths.

May each of us remember Him and let go of those things to which we cling so dearly as we go throughout our day and instead embrace the God who does not slumber nor sleep.

Grace as the Ingredient to Righteousness

Sara Groves, a favorite artist of ours, has a song on one of her albums that talks about grace. Specifically, she says that “this is grace—an invitation to beautiful.” The song, Add to the Beauty, goes on to talk about the places of grace, oftentimes places we wouldn’t expect to be grace-places, but they are there and God uses them as places of redemption where we wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be. And so our role in these places is to receive the grace that God gives.

I’m intrigued by this concept, and yet as I look at my own life, I can look at the hard places in my own experience and see that they were more often than not places of grace. Places where God reached into my misery or frustration or anger or pain and did something with that situation to bring about His plan. Christians serve a God of redemption, and yet He is also a God of the weird.

While this is strange, it’s the way the Lord has used the pain in this world for millennia past, present and—we could assume—future. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when God would redeem all peoples during His year of favor. Then, He would “provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” These, God says, will be called “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”

While I long to be an oak of righteousness, I sometimes wish that ashes, mourning and despair were not the way to get there. Still, are not these the people we long to be? Aren’t these the people we see as being close to God. Consider one young Dutch girl’s captivity by her Nazi-occupied government that would lead to her imprisonment as well as her future ministry to promote peace and the Good News of Jesus. Or someone I know who went through a terrible divorce years ago and now has a thriving grassroots ministry to those in similar situations.

God’s ways are strange, yet holy. Whatever our own situation, wherever we find ourselves—may each of us drink more deeply of the God Who Is and plant the roots of our being in Him to display His splendor and find ourselves made more whole by His grace.

Happy Advent!

I think the early church fathers were on to something when they, centuries ago, noticed the dreariness of fall and winter—the change of the colors, the bleak snow-covered hillsides—and put the celebration of Jesus’ birth—Christmas—on the calendar during this cold and dark time.  And to think that this was years before anyone knew about Daylight Saving Time ending.

 

I find that that dreariness is fought off through the celebration of Advent.  In the midst of the darkest times of the year, Advent celebrates the joys of the Christmas season in its anticipation of the big day of Christmas.  Advent, which starts this coming Sunday November 28th, is a time to reflect on God’s goodness this past year, thank Him for His presence and to allow Christmas Day to be with us a bit beyond the one afternoon or evening with family and opening presents.  To this end, I’ve put together an Advent Guide that will show you what to consider as you make your own wreath and how to celebrate each Sunday of Advent together as a family.  If you have celebrated Advent in the past, you know the fun that this practice brings you and your family.  If this is your first time to consider celebrating, start now!

 

To download the Advent Guide, click here.  And if you decide to celebrate, please let me know—I would enjoy knowing who is celebrating with my family this year.

 

Peace,

David

 

Flavor of the Month

Back in the day, Baskin Robbins used to have a flavor of the month.  Remember that?  And it would be something pretty special.  A unique combination that you’d want to be sure to try because you knew you would like it.  Well, fast forward some years later, and a part of me has taken a liking to the idea of problem of the month.  It’s gotta be something pretty special and doesn’t everyone want to know about it because you know that they’ll want to worry about it with you.

 

In recent months, it’s occurred to me that my flavor-of-the-month syndrome doesn’t really help me much.  Because as soon as one perceived problem is solved another one pops up to replace it.

The truth of it is that so much of my worry is learned.  I’ve learned over time that it’s normal to worry, that something in my life must bring me to a place of fear and dread.  And yet in the back of my mind another part of me knows that problem-of-the-month just doesn’t cut it.  It’s the part that wants to believe Jesus words in Matthew 6 when He told His followers:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34).

Live for today.  Remember that Jesus’ Father knows what we need—that is, what we truly need.  And in our seeking first God’s kingdom, it will all work out.  That’s been the journey as of late.  And it’s been fun to see how God has showed up “more” than He has previously.

Try it with me this week.  And as you do, remember that we’re in good company!  The Apostle Peter encouraged those to whom he wrote his first letter to cast their anxieties on God.  King David asked God to search him and know his heart in Psalm 139.  May we follow their examples, be brave and rest in the fact that God is right next to us in our own lives.  And may you remember that as we seek His kingdom, all else falls into place.