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.
In recent weeks, conversation in our home has included words and phrases like “second term,” “fiscal cliff” and “unrepresented.” And as we’ve entered this time of Advent, it’s been wonderful to focus on something more stable and less unsound than the raising of a debt ceiling, party lines that are supposed to be crossed instead of bickered over, and that uneasy feeling inside that Washington and Sacramento just don’t nor probably can figure it out.
Lest I make my first politically motivated blogpost on Enjoying the Surface, let me share with you this past Sunday’s church service, where the familiar passage in Isaiah 9 was read. This is the prophet’s passage about the Messiah that would one day come to Israel and save it from evil attacks and raise up a new era of hope and restoration where “the government shall be upon His shoulders.”
What a minute. . . . Did that passage say “the government?” Referring to those same ones that can’t ever seem to figure it out in their own wisdom (my southern friends would say insert a “bless their hearts” here)? “Shall be upon His shoulders”? What did Isaiah mean here? Would the coming-soon Messiah be a political leader that would finally end Israel’s political restlessness and restore it to what had been under King David, and then some? Whoever this Messiah was to be, they were to be radically different than anything Israel, or the nations of the day—or the nations of our day—had ever seen.
There is new life in these words. Words of hope. Of longing. Of a desire for settledness within. Of a conviction that the desire for wholeness that each of us hold so dear was to be brought to Israel by that long-awaited Messiah.
I find as well that these words of Isaiah are also words of caution—caution about not looking to my fellow man to fix the issues of the day. For Isaiah, the words were a call to a recently liberated people to not look to their surroundings for their long-term hope. For us some millennia later, the message is the same. One’s fellow man cannot provide any sense of security for the long-haul. Rather, that security can only come from the One for Whom this Advent is all about.
And this is what is so amazing about Advent, about that first Coming of the Messiah. For that long-term security and hope is found in that helpless Babe born in a manger. So profound and paradoxical of a birth—the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Him that one night, says the Christmas carol. Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the “Light of the World” and it is in Him whom we can find a hope that doesn’t go away. May each of us seek Him in this season.
Our own Easter celebrations earlier this week were much different than that of the first Easter. Jesus’ disciples weren’t fully aware of the importance of His resurrection as they were perplexed an letdown. Wasn’t this Jesus to be the political Savior for which they were waiting? Scripture tells us that those like Thomas doubted. You can imagine that the conversations they had over the weeks led them to fully understand what had gone on and what was to go on in the future. Those must have been conversations that built up the trust and understanding of what had really gone on that leads us to see the hope we see in the book of Acts.
Fast forward a few weeks to Pentecost where we see that hope and confidence in the Apostle Peter. Peter, who had so readily betrayed Jesus the night of His arrest, is a different man when we seem him in Acts 2. This is where the Holy Spirit is first poured out on the Church. On this strange and wonderful morning, we see a loud sound coming from heaven like a rushing and mighty wind. And everyone there appeared to have divided tongues of fire above them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Verse 7 tells us that some in the crowd were amazed and marveled, saying “Look are not all these who speak Galileans?” This group felt that they shouldn’t have known and spoke in the language in which they were speaking. Others in verse 12 and 13 were perplexed. Some mocked saying that the crowd was drunk.
And here we see how the Truth that Peter so truly believed in motivated him to live in a compelling and pleasing way. Peter’s words in this first real public sermon for him are very attractive. He goes on to talk about how the Prophet Joel and even King David both had foresaw the coming of Messiah and how Jesus had fulfilled so many of their prophecies.
What astonishes me the most in Peter’s words here is his confidence.
Is this not the same Peter who only a few weeks before is denying his relationship with Jesus?
The main reason for this difference we see in Peter is that he is no longer trying to do things on his own. He is a picture to me of Isaiah’s words that it is “not by strength, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” Peter gives you and I today a brilliant illustration of having the Lord fill our cup and living out a life that spills out onto others out of the overflow God gives us.
May each of us live out the resurrection life today that Peter so readily demonstrates!
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” As we celebrate this wonderful man’s life today, may each of us have the courage to find a way to rise about our own confines and serve the other in our midst and, in the process, become more fully alive.
Practically speaking, one day recently was a complete waste. It started early for a time of prayer with friends. This was followed by yet another meeting with another friend. And then one more time of hanging out with some friends who just had a beautiful new baby (By the way, there are so many cute new babies around us these days!). From here, I went with my wife to her office and talked with a colleague of hers. Then, both of us ended our evening again enjoying conversation with some other colleagues over dinner.
An entire day of conversation. Practically meaningless. Nothing accomplished other than deep conversation with dear people.
Yet relationally robust. While my day was indeed not filled with tasks completed of checklists nor power lunches with those in-the-know, it was definitely fulfilling. It was a day to learn more the importance of Paul’s prayer to the church at Ephesus, that out of the glorious riches of Jesus they would be strengthened “with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (3:16).
It’s days like these that remind me of the important things—a new baby’s coo, deep conversations with old friends and new, and taking time to let the details go aside. May each of us be willing to set aside the task list for awhile and focus on things that really matter, things with eternal value—people, relationships and connection of souls.
Does it ever feel like you need to come up for air? Get to the surface after being submerged for far too long? Your lungs are on fire with the need to get to the surface. You exhale the spent air that was too long in your belly and you inhale a breath of fresh air deeply into your abdomen.
This has been my journey and so the final-for-awhile name change of the blog fits better than previous names. Feelings of relief, freedom, fear, newness and excitement are all a part of the Surface. Life on the Surface is a putting away of living underwater, and a putting on of new ways of living in the new world of air, storms, blue skies and sunlight. Of warmth and starting again, rebirth. Of choppy waves, birds and looking underneath to see where you once were, in a world of muted tones and darkness. The Surface is much more real. Here, there is noise—foghorns, squawking, and the crashing surf. Here, there is light—sun, moon, stars, thunder. Here, there is real life. Here, there is growth.
Enjoy the Surface.