lunch with dallas willard

I was at a Dallas Willard lunch and lecture a few days ago.  Dallas was signing books afterwards and he asked my name, he though for a few seconds and then he wrote:  “For Dave Johnson- Matt 11:11-12, Dallas.”  For those of you who have read a little bit of Dr. Willard’s work you know that he is a deep individual.  In the moment I was too busy getting my picture taken with Dr. Willard to see what he wrote.  So later that day I looked at the book and noticed the way that he signed it.  He has a very modest way about him and he writes humbly.  The verse he wrote was obscure to me, I couldn’t immediately recall the verse.

This is what it says:

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

Who has that verse on the tip of their brain?

When you look at this verse in its context, the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and wanted to really make sure that he was the Messiah.  Jesus’ answer was that he is the messiah but blessed is the person who doesn’t fall away on account of him. (Only Jesus cited the scriptures to prove that he was the messiah)  Then Jesus says this verse that Dr. Willard cited.  It is as if Jesus was saying that God’s revolution has been moving forward for some time, people are grasping hold of it and it is moving forward.  I wonder if it was a way to comfort and encourage his disciples.  A way to say, Just because John the Baptist is going to die, doesn’t mean that the kingdom will die with it.  Because the kingdom is advancing, and when you really get a firm grasp of what that means, you will advance it even further.

I love that Dr. Willard cited a Bible verse than needs context in order to understand it.  Maybe this is the verse he puts in every book, I don’t know.  But I wonder if it is a way for Willard to say, the Kingdom is moving forward, forcefully lay hold of it.

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more than morality

I really do love the church.  I know that there have been people who have been beat-up and broken down at the hands of the church.  I know the critiques of the church from the past and the present.  I have my own critiques of the church, but I love it.  
I love the metaphors given to the church in the scriptures.  I love what it is ideally called to be and I love the messiness of what it is now.  Whenever you put a community together that needs grace and redemption you will always have some drama on your hands.

I love that the church is specifically designed to be redemptive.  There are not too many organizations or businesses that have a redemptive purpose.  I believe that the church is essentially perfect in its scriptural structure; it is the people that make it imperfect and the people who cause so much pain and division.  (People like me by the way)

I understand those who have been, “hurt by the church.”  In reality they were hurt by other people who call themselves the church.  When I was young my family went to a church where the lead pastor had an affair.  People left devastated.  My family left because my parents decided that they could teach us better family values doing things together on the weekends.  They were right.  I learned a lot about family values by camping and getting close with my family.  As I grew up I saw no practical need for the church.  My parents were amazing moral compasses, and that is all I needed.

I have always seen the point of society; you don’t have to go to church to be a moral person.  Anyone can achieve morality.  In fact there are many role-models in society who are super moral people.  But when it comes down to it, those people can not offer freedom and redemption.   I love the church because it offers more than morality.  It offers freedom from the slavery of morality.  Jesus offers redemption and the community of the church embodies that redemption.

The funny thing is that the reason why most people get hurt and leave the church is also why I love the church and I think you would love the church too.  I’d rather people not get hurt but honestly redemption is messy.  The reason why I love the church is because as the community of Jesus gathers to worship, I see a broken and messed up people admit their need for grace and liberation.

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becoming human

While I was on vacation I began reading this amazing book by Jean Vanier called, “Becoming Human” Right away the book hits on a heavy topic, loneliness.  It is a deep topic because feeling alone in the world leads to so much.  Feeling alone brings up feelings of anxiety, depression, shame, sadness and even suicide in a lot of cases.  The first few chapters of this book resonated with me so much because I have been there.

Back in college I had a lot of friends.  I traveled with them and I even had a fairly stable girlfriend.  However, I look back on that portion of life with the clarity that it was one of the loneliest times that I experienced.  I remember driving to school one day wondering how someone with such great friends and a girlfriend could feel the loneliness that I felt. I even prayed during this time and I never felt so alone.

I’ve realized a few things now about the loneliness I felt back in the days of college.  It wasn’t my friends, they loved me and they were there for me, it wasn’t the girlfriend, it wasn’t God leaving me or forsaking me, it was me.  I had a very difficult time loving myself. By not loving myself I created a wall that the love of others could not penetrate.  The barriers I built were too big to feel the love that others showered me with.  Until I was okay with me, I could not really begin to see a way out of feeling alone.

I don’t feel alone now; in fact it has been about six years since I’ve really felt this way.   The change came when I really had the comprehension that God was glorified in my brokenness. The change came when I realized that Jesus died, rose again and went to the father so that we can have something much greater, His Spirit.  I realized that the feeling of being alone must be false; something in me was tricking my conscience into believing that I was alone in this world.   The reality was that I have self-worth and value precisely because I am human.  My value is derived from something much deeper than friends and family, although they are amazing.  My value is derived from being created.  My value comes from the breath of life flowing through my nostrils.  My value doesn’t come necessarily from knowing God, but being known by Him.

I am a firm believer that anyone can overcome loneliness.  Feeling alone is a terrible feeling.  For me it was having an understanding that I was loved and known by my creator.  This understanding enabled me to love myself; these two things broke down the walls that were caging loneliness in my heart.  I feel more alive and more human now than those days.

If this is you, if your battling with the feeling that you are all alone in this world.  Know that you are loved.  Know that the only one, who can love perfectly, loves you.  Ask God to break down those walls that keep you trapped by loneliness.

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twelve stones

My dad has a rock in his back yard that means a lot to him.  To most people it is just a rock, but to my dad the rock symbolizes time spent with his father that was priceless.  My grandfather took my dad on a camping trip when he was a kid.  The trip was special because my dad had two other brothers and my grandpa took time out just for him.  So when I was about 11 my entire family went to this same forest in Utah, my dad brought a rock back for my grandfather.

Like I said, it was just a rock but to my grandfather it was like my dad brought him back a pot of gold.  The rock brought him back to that camping trip that they took when my dad was a kid.  I remember my grandfather taking a trip back to Michigan and he mentioned that he wanted to bring the rock with him in his luggage.  He was afraid that if he passed away, he wouldn’t be near the rock.  My grandfather passed away a few years ago and now the rock is my dad’s.  It symbolizes that relationship with his father.

There is this cool story in the Bible about a group of people who crossed a river.  The crossing of the river symbolized the people’s deliverance from the dessert.  It symbolized a new life in a land that they could flourish in.  God wanted his people to remember this moment so He told them to pick up twelve stones from the riverbed and to pile them up as a monument.  Then He said these twelve rocks tell a story and you have to tell that story.

My dad’s rock tells a story of relationship.  The twelve stones that came from the Jordan tell a story and serve as a reminder.  What reminds you of your need or reliance of God?  What reminds you that by your own power you’re nothing?  I think God really wants us to remember that in our brokenness, He has come through.  So set something up.  Stack rocks or something, it’s not for God; it’s for you.  Remember your liberation.

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open letter to pastor terry jones

Dear Pastor Terry Jones,

I wanted to write you to encourage you to continue with your rally on Saturday. However, I would like to encourage you to surprise the world with the love of Jesus Christ. You really have a golden opportunity; all of the media and the press will be at your Qur’an burning. You know that Muslims will be watching from around the world. Instead of burning these Qur’ans that are considered holy to so many, I’d encourage to speak of the love of Jesus in a way that is compelling. Paul says that when he preached, “Christ Crucified.” Maybe presenting the world with the reality that Jesus died for Muslims too will change some minds about who Christians are.

I would respectfully ask you to re-consider for a few reasons. First, what your church is involved with makes it more difficult for my church to reach non-Christians and Muslims. As you know, people who speak the loudest for any particular group, paint the entire group with the same brush. There are many of us who would not like to be painted with the brush that you will be using on Saturday. Please consider the repercussions on the rest of the family of Christ.

Second, I would ask you to reconsider because I don’t think it is in the best interest of the world in general. If you carry on with the Qur’an burning then I believe this will be taken as an act of aggression and escalation. The Bible is clear that we are to be peacemakers. Jesus even said, blessed are the peacemakers, and as he was exiting this earth he told his disciples that he was leaving his peace with them.

Third, I really do not think that the Qur’an burning that you are planning on Saturday will bring honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, I am questioning if this is even something that is led by the Spirit at all. The book of Galatians is clear that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you are convinced that this is really a Holy Spirit led activity, please ask yourself if these attributes are present. I do feel that it is my duty as a brother in Christ to reveal to you that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious. Galatians 5:19 lists many of them and the ones that I would like to point out are: hatred, discord, fits of rage, selfish ambition and fractions. If you look at your plans for this Saturday and see that the acts of the sinful nature are there, then I would encourage you to repent, and ask for forgiveness.

As I started with, please continue with your gathering on Saturday, but please shock the world by displaying the love of Jesus, and the forgiveness that he offers. Maybe extend an invitation to a life of forgiveness rather than a life of hatred.

Pastor Terry, I pray that Jesus will change your heart and mind and that you will be a force in spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Grace & Peace,

Rev. David Johnson

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