Kyle Strobel: Discovering the Life of Grace (Part 2)


kyleLast Friday evening, Jamin Goggin, Saddleback Church’s pastor of spiritual formation, launched their first in a series of Conversations in Spiritual Formation at Saddleback’s Rancho Capistrano retreat. Kyle Strobel, author of Formed for the Glory of God, shared on the theme, “Discovering the Life of Grace.”  I appreciated his insight that grace is far more than mere forgiveness, but is God’s gift of God’s own self in Jesus Christ to us. I found Kyle’s insights helpful in so many very personal ways. In gratitude I am sharing my notes in three installments here.

As always, when I share notes from a presentation, my standard disclaimer is that these are insights that I gained from listening to Kyle. They are sometimes his exact words or quotations. They are sometimes my own words or reflections on what he shared. So, don’t assume I’ve transcribed his presentation. And these notes are lightly edited, so bear with possible typos or grammatical goofs. I’ll take responsibility for any way in which I might have misunderstood him. With that in mind, I pray these notes will help you in your own journey of entering into the life of God’s grace.

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(Read Part One)

Do we think about gospel as the presence of God with us? Or, do we mostly think of a courtroom? The problem with the courtroom as primary is that it is not a place of lasting friendship. You do your business in court and you leave it behind (hopefully). You aren’t a friend to the judge or even your attorney.

Trying hard to be forgiven is lifeless. It is a very human gospel. But God has actually given Himself to us. Grace is the gift of God’s own life.

Two main biblical images beyond the courtroom that help us enter into this: adoption and marriage. Both are metaphors of family and affection.

We are God’s sons and daughters in Jesus Christ. The Son has broken open his relationship with the Father to us. “Abba” is Jesus’s prayer, and we are invited to pray it in Jesus. He is a Son by nature. We are children by grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6 NIV)

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18, 22 NIV)

In adoption, we break open our lives to welcome a child into them. This is what God has done for us.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)

Legal issues are involved in adoption and marriage, but this isn’t the focus. We don’t dwell on a marriage license or adoption papers. The focus in these is love—relationship. Adoption and marriage give us a new identity. It’s a relational reality.

A courtroom is not the ongoing purpose of the Christian life.

The prodigal son could only assume his true identity at the loving initiative of the father. He couldn’t get past the dutifulness of a slave.

Do we treat grace as limited, as if someone else receiving grace diminishes its availability to me?

We tend to turn everything into a mechanism that we control. It doesn’t become about being with God.

Do we go to church as a mechanism to feel forgiven, or as a place where, together, we come to know and enjoy God and be known by God?

(Read Part 3)

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Kyle Strobel: Discovering the Life of Grace (Part 1)


kyleLast Friday evening, Jamin Goggin, Saddleback Church’s pastor of spiritual formation, launched their first in a series of Conversations in Spiritual Formation at Saddleback’s Rancho Capistrano retreat. Kyle Strobel, author of Formed for the Glory of God, shared on the theme, “Discovering the Life of Grace.”  I appreciated his insight that grace is far more than mere forgiveness, but is God’s gift of God’s own self in Jesus Christ to us. I found Kyle’s insights helpful in so many very personal ways. In gratitude I wanted to share my notes in three installments here.

As always, when I share notes from a presentation, my standard disclaimer is that these are insights that I gained from listening to Kyle. They are sometimes his exact words or quotations. They are sometimes my own words or reflections on what he shared. So, don’t assume I’ve transcribed his presentation. And these notes are lightly edited, so bear with possible typos or grammatical goofs. I’ll take responsibility for any way in which I might have misunderstood him. With that in mind, I pray these notes will help you in your own journey of entering into the life of God’s grace.

- – -

What has gone wrong? Why do so many claim to follow Jesus but have no experience of abundant life?

How does grace work for me?

Famous story: Prodigal son (really two sons).

As the elder brother, we may not have left home, but we’ve still become servants–dutiful. Our hearts fled to the far country. Both sons make the same error, rejecting abundant life. Both sons accepted less than they were given. They are confused about status and treasure that aren’t really that.

Some of us have tired hearts from trying so hard. Doing our duty, hoping it will be enough and that God likes you.

Here are two axioms that are universally affirmed, but widely ignored:

1. Your greatest strength will be the place of your greatest weakness.

2. If we fail to focus on the large narrative of scripture, we will whittle the gospel down to something much less than it actually is. We will then embrace it and seek to be dutiful in that small gospel.

We embrace an “older son gospel” that isn’t one. It is a gospel disconnected from a life.

Re: axiom 1: How many are unwilling to acknowledge their strength, and are therefore unable to see their weakness.

Evangelicalism has a great strength in our view of God’s graciousness. Grace cannot be earned or bought. We can’t be worthy of it.

Axiom 2: We have forgotten the grandeur and expansiveness of grace. We’ve settled for so very little.

We settle for defining grace without experiencing grace. We define it as being free without experiencing the freedom is gives us.

Our small definition of grace is forgiveness. That’s not the gospel. It’s too small. It isn’t an abundant and grace-full life.

What is this gift given to us? What is grace? It is God freely giving Himself to us. He sends the Son to show us Himself, and He gives us His Spirit to help us.

God’s presence and God’s life is the answer to every one of our issues.

The main biblical image for this is temple. There is a portable tabernacle, then a more permanent temple.

The temple involves concentric circles of holiness going outward that included more and more people for more and more time. Holiness billowed out from the holy of holies. God is with us, but there are walls. The temple was a taste but not a full realization

Jesus comes as Emmanuel–God with us. Jesus comes as the true temple, the true place of God’s presence with us.

Jesus says I will be with you, but then leaves. His Spirit comes, but we still experience absence.

All of this is leading to the culmination of the scriptures–Revelation 21—a new heaven and new earth.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23 NIV)

The heavenly city has the same cubic dimensions as the temple’s holy of holies.

(Read Part 2)

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Practicing the Presence of God


Two of our DR Journey leaders at the last retreat.

Two of our DR Journey leaders at the last retreat.

A while back, Richard Peace shared some from the book he had just finished—Noticing God (InterVarsity Press 2012). He said that, really, all spiritual disciplines are, in essence, noticing God. We do not have to get God to listen. He is always listening, always present. The problem is we don’t always notice God. I especially appreciated his listing of other ways of talking about this discipline of “noticing God”:

  • “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  •  “the habitual presence of God” (Diogenes Allen)
  • “the practice of the presence of God” (Brother Lawrence)
  • “recollected prayer” (Carmelites)
  • “the practice of inward orientation–of inward worship & listening” (Thomas Kelly)
  • “a continuous conversation with God” (Laubach)
  • “a conversational relationship with God” (Willard)
  • “a dialogue with God” (Mark Virkler)
  • “listening to the God who speaks” (Klaus Bockmuehl)
  • “a deep sense of the immediacy of the Spirit.” (Richard Foster)
  • “the manifest presence of God” (A. W. Tozer)

Why all these descriptions? Because our various Christians traditions all have some way to describe this orientation to a simple awareness of and communion with God.

Would you reflect and share your comments?

What is helping you most these day be more aware of the good reality of God’s presence always with you?

Solitude Just For Introverts?


Koi at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

Koi at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

I train a lot of Christian leaders. Many leaders consider themselves extroverts, even if only functionally so because of their work. Some of these resist practices like solitude and silence because they assume those are for introverts, not extroverts.

I prefer not to position these practices in those terms. I believe practices like solitude and silence, as well as community and bearing witness are disciplines for everyone. Jesus practiced them all, and invites me to join him.

So, as an introvert, it may be true that I have more of an orientation towards being alone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I find solitude easy. Solitude and silence is still a discipline for introverts. It is a discipline for each of us for our own unique reasons. Privacy is not the same as solitude. Being alone for my own purposes is not at all the same as being alone and attentive to God. Jesus extended the invitation to come away to a quiet place to get some rest to both reflective John and bombastic Peter.

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Thoughts About Our Thoughts


A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

In classic Christian literature, there are many good things on the theme of distracting thoughts in prayer. There is a way of thinking that focuses our mind and heart towards God through Jesus. There is also a way of thinking that turns in on itself, even with thoughts about God, that doesn’t help us much. Here’s one way of talking about our distracting thoughts in the context of prayer that I recently read and found helpful:

“As likely as not, without any deliberate intention on your part, you will actually find yourself chasing the first thought with a second one, such as “I must stop this‑I’m not supposed to be thinking”. That easily leads to an infinite regression, one thought trying to catch another. There is no need to take any notice of any of them! Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children trying to attract attention to themselves. If you ignore them, refusing to be distracted by them, then sooner or later they will get bored and go away.” (Tugwell, Simon. Prayer in Practice. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1974, p. 39.)

For example, when I sit down to prayer, often a whole series of distracting thoughts will cross my mind:

  • I really should look through my email inbox really quick and make sure I’ve answered the critical ones.
  • Is there something I forgot to do that needs my attention?
  • I wonder who has posted something on Twitter or Facebook that I’d be interested in.
  • I feel hungry, tired, distracted, worried, fearful, etc., so I’m not at my best to pray right now. I’ll pray later.
  • I need to use the restroom, check the mail, straighten up my desk, finish just one more “to do.”
  • Etc, etc., etc.

If I latch onto or act on these thoughts, they really can become an ongoing string of continued thoughts that draw me away from my intended attentiveness to Jesus. I let myself become distracted by my distractions, worried about my worries, afraid that I’m feeling fearful, frustrated with my frustrations. There is a way of continuing to offer my attention to Jesus, simply and peacefully while allowing all those noisy, distracting thoughts chatter away, but more in the background.

For Reflection or Comment: What do distracting thoughts look like when you stop to offer your attention to God and pray? What have you found helpful in resisting the temptation to get wrapped up in such thoughts?

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God’s Presence and Our Sense of Identity


And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’” Exodus 3:12 NIV

In the midst of the burning bush encounter, God’s answer to Moses’ words of self-doubt and low confidence was not an affirmation, but a reminder of the Divine presence. The Lord does not let Moses keep the focus on himself, but draws his attention back to God. This is critical, subtle and necessary. We so easily expect God to enhance our self-referenced sense of identity, whether it’s positive or negative. God gives Moses an answer to the question he isn’t asking, but desperately needs to hear.

Father, thank You for this word that touches me where I am needy. I can feel the need for Your Spirit drawing my attention away from my own sense of worthiness or unworthiness (the latter being the more common feeling these days). You want me to see Yourself, because You are life. You are creative. You are good. You are wise. I am only these things in relationship with You. Apart from You I can do nothing.

As I engage the work You are giving me, Father, You will be with me and I will worship You. Your presence with me will be significant because You really are the holy God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who it is with me makes all the difference. Remembering Who You are is what matters.

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Morning Prayer: The Holy Spirit and Fire


Passage: Luke 3:15-22

First reading

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:16-18 NIV)

John exhorted the people and proclaimed to them good news. Exhortation is good news in that it is possible to change. I can be refined into the image of “the one more powerful” than me. There is freedom and life here.

Second reading

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17 NIV)

Wheat and waste. I feel a deep hunger to be wheat that is gathered up into the barn of Jesus. I want the chaff of my life to be burned with His holy fire. I feel grateful places of His refining work in my life, in our marriage, in my ministry. It is hard, painful and humbling. It is also leads to goodness, joy and being lifted into the Presence. I feel gratitude for these difficult gifts. I see new places of felt peace, joy and spiritual energy that are the fruit of this moment of our journey.

Third reading

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them… And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:18, 22 NIV)

I feel invited to pay attention for words of exhortation or good news today. Perhaps one of them will be the Father’s expression of love and pleasure.

Father, I welcome Your Spirit to open the ears and eyes of my heart to hear and see what You are giving to me. Thank You for Your great faithfulness.

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Led By the Spirit into the Wilderness


I’ve been struck recently by the line in Luke 4:1 where, having just been baptized by John and hearing the loving, affirming, delighting voice of the Father, the Spirit lead him into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. The wilderness is not where I expect the Spirit to ever lead me. But, if I follow Jesus, I should not be surprised when seasons of testing come into my life.

Reginald Somerset Ward, a spiritual director I’ve been quoting here quite often recently, spoke to this same theme with, perhaps, rather rigorous words:

“And what can possibly be the meaning of this coldness and darkness of the soul? Surely it is God’s test. How should we ever grow without tests? We say to God, ‘I want Thee more than I can say.’ God replies, ‘Do you really want Me?’ And straightaway in our prayers we find darkness and coldness, and the numbing loss of energy. If we were speaking the truth, we go on praying in spite of it; if we were not, we stop. And if we go on praying, the darkness becomes not a hindrance but a help, for the measure by which God values our prayers is the amount of desire in them, and it shows much greater desire to pray in darkness than in the light.

For this reason it has been said that we walk faster on the Road to God in darkness than in light. If you persist in prayer through darkness, you will assuredly find yourself after the darkness has passed much nearer to God.” (Morgan, Edmund R. Reginald Somerset Ward: His Life and Letters. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd, 1963, p. 141.)

Part of me hears this as a rather harsh and Spartan vision of the Christian life. I hear this vision of God saying, “So you want me more than anything, huh? Well we’ll see about that!” He sounds vindictive, not really believing my intention, and reserving a “wait and see” posture towards me.

But I also realize that such tests are the only way I come to know what my actual level of willingness is. I say I want all kinds of things. Some of them are fleeting whims. Do I really want to invest as much effort seeking their fulfillment as I would a truly deep and holy desire? Doesn’t such a testing process help me by focusing my attention and efforts, eventually, towards what is truly the longing of my heart? I realize that most of whatever wisdom I currently have has come through these trying experiences that have helped me sort out what I really believe, really want and really intend.

Question: How might your current challenges, difficulties or troubles serve as a means of refining what it is you truly and deeply want?

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Dallas Willard: An Unhurried Life


DallasWillard-smToday, many friends of Dallas Willard will join together at Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA to celebrate his life and ministry. Last week, some of us attended the family memorial and graveside service. My friend, Bill Gaultiere, shared some of his reflections from that day on his blog. I’ve continued to appreciate notes I took from February’s “Knowing Christ” conference which was my last opportunity to hear Dallas teach. (Those notes are collected on one page here on this site.)

Here are a few of my recollections from the May 14th memorial service:

  • In conversation on the drive up, I shared that I never remember Dallas trying to convince us of anything. He simply believed in the reality of Christ and his kingdom and lived it among us. This was the greatest gift I received from him.
  • I was deeply touched by Dallas’s granddaughter, Larissa, sharing her grandfather’s last word to her: “Give ‘em heaven!”
  • Pastor Bill Dwyer shared Dallas’s definition of the kingdom as “God’s action in my little ol’ life.”
  • He also quoted Dallas’s words about blessing at the Santa Barbara conference. (And this is an extended version of that quotation from my notes): “What is blessing? Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. It isn’t merely words. It is the actual putting forth of your will for the good of another person. It always involves God. Only God is capable of bringing good to another. We naturally say, “God bless you,” and that’s right. You bless someone when you will their good by invoking God on their behalf. This is the nature of blessing. God wants us to receive blessing from Him and extend it to others.
  • In the end, Dallas described seeing a hallway where there were many “clouds of witnesses” there to greet him. He said he had never experienced so much love. I think it was Gary Black who shared that Dallas observed, at some point, “There are people here we know.” His last words were “Thank you.” Pastor Bill Dwyer felt that they were not just generic, but directed to Jesus and perhaps even to Jane.
  • Dallas often said, “Never believe anything bad about God.”
  • Dallas’s life was a “word from a different reality.” (Jan Johnson mentioned this, I think).
  • Joining with others in placing a red rose on Dallas’s casket just before they lowered it into place. I felt a deep gratitude for his life and impact.
  • The moment when Pastor Bill Dwyer shared a vision he’d had of being in a lawyer’s office as one might be when a last will and testament was going to be read. Many were in the room waiting to hear what they would receive. He couldn’t see who the “lawyer” in the office was because his back was turned. Then, the chair turned around and it was Dallas. As if to answer the “What do I get?” question, Dallas said something like, “Take whatever you want. It’s all yours.” Bill encouraged us to take in whatever of Dallas’s legacy we wanted. I found myself praying that my book and ministry might carry on Dallas’s theme of living unhurried kingdom lives.

More Influence Than I Think


“In our little lives of small horizon we lose sight of the fact that we are really important to man and God. Yet we stand on the very frontiers of the kingdom of God to repel the invader, and wherever one of us falls the frontier is opened and the enemy advances to ravage the fatherland we promised to defend. As members of the Church we are called, therefore, to lead the life of the Spirit; the rule of prayer, the control of our thoughts, the struggle against our temptations are of vital moment to the Church. It is the band of individuals who are in earnest, who are really trying to grow in the Spirit, who will save the world, who are the real defense against Materialism. Each of the great parts of the Catholic Church have had at times in history an unequalled opportunity. The Greek Church lost hers by a passion for metaphysical speculation. The Roman Church lost hers by a passion for political intrigue. Let us pray that our Church may not lose hers through sheer stupidity.” (Morgan, Edmund R. Reginald Somerset Ward: His Life and Letters. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd, 1963, p. 102.)

I underestimate my value to God’s purposes. I assume I am of little consequence. There is a variety of humility at work here, but I’m not sure it is a fruitful species. I have actually been called to join Jesus in His kingdom work. I can be of great use. How is Jesus wanting to use me uniquely for his kingdom purposes? You’ve chosen me to do what only I can do. No one else. This does not lead me to self-importance, but a more genuine humility seasoned with gratitude. It perhaps borders on Bernard of Clairvaux’s fourth stage of love in which I might actually love myself for God’s sake. Perhaps.

I am also struck by the image of my being part of a protective barrier that is breached when I fail to remain faithful to the way of Jesus. Jesus, I desire to be more awake than I’ve been. Thank You for ways that Your Spirit will keep my eyes, my ears, my mind and my heart aware and awake to You in this day.

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