A Witness of Jesus


IMG_0834I’ve heard a lot said about the responsibility of Christians to be good witnesses of Jesus. In my evangelical experience, witnessing is a verb referring to the activity of, in some form or another, outlining the content of the gospel to someone who is not yet aware of it.

As I’ve thought about this, it strikes me what a witness does in a court setting. A witness simply tells the story of what they themselves have seen. They share their perspective on a happening. They speak of what they have actually witnessed.

In inviting us to “bear witness” (John 15: 27, for example), Jesus is not so much telling us to be attorneys, seeking to convince someone of something. He does not call us to be the judge, deciding who is innocent and who is guilty, who is in and who is out. He calls us to be witnesses, and a witness’s sole reason for being present is to talk about what she has seen and heard. To speak of something that we have not personally witnessed is to be guilty of hearsay.

Question: Are we making sufficient time to see (witness) Jesus in our lives and circumstances so that have something of Him to bear witness of to others?

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John Ortberg: Knowing Christ: Who Are the Experts? (Part 3)


Recently, I enjoyed hearing John Ortberg (along with Dallas Willard) at the “Knowing Christ” Conference sponsored by the Martin Institute/Dallas Willard Center at Westmont College. His title was, “Who Are the Experts on Life Transformation?”  As always, these are my notes of his presentation. At some points, I may or may not have completely captured exactly what he said, or I may have put something in my own words. John gets credit for the goodies. I’ll take responsibility for anything amiss. Here is part one of three of my edited notes:

(Read Part Two)

(Continuing conversation between John and Dallas Willard)

Q: Dallas talked last night about not focusing on right doctrine as bottom line. How do we explain the difference between doctrine as focus or following Jesus.”

A: Dallas uses words very precisely. This is why his books seem so dense to many readers. In churches, we try to get people to affirm the right beliefs and points of view. The real test of what I actually believe is whether it guides what I do—how I live. Otherwise, they are just affirmations or professions. I actually believe in gravity, so I don’t step off a cliff (unless I mean to do myself harm). My actions are always a result of my intentions and my perceptions of how things really are (my beliefs). We sometimes work to get people to affirm stuff that they don’t actually believe at the level of our shared belief in gravity. Do people believe in the Bible? They think they do. They affirm it. They make a profession of belief, but do they, for example, actually live as though giving is better than receiving?

My actual beliefs guide how I actually live. They just do. My affirmations don’t necessarily do this, but my beliefs do. We want to have the same mental map that Jesus had about reality.

I sometimes have people in my church come up and ask questions like, “What do we believe about the Trinity?” It’s an odd question to ask. We aren’t merely aiming to get an “A” in theology, but to deal well with reality.

Q: Sometimes, when we find people who are welded to their “try harder” approach to life, they think the message of grace is nothing more than a message of license.

A: It’s a deep question. Not sure there is a short answer. Spiritual transformation is different than behavior modification. Behaviors really do matter, but if the inner stream of thoughts and feelings don’t change, we can never be good enough at suppressing bad thoughts and feelings from erupting in bad behavior. Jesus didn’t aim as getting people to do right things (like the Pharisees did), but to help them become the sort of people who do right things as the natural outflow of their life. That’s as far from license as it could be.

Q: What’s the difference between information and knowledge?

A: Knowledge would be when I believe something to be true (for good reasons) that actually is true. Information is a description of something perhaps on a piece of paper. It tends to be something outside of a person.

Q: What does it do to the soul when we are asked to affirm something that we actually don’t believe? When we expect people to affirm doctrine that they haven’t thought through?

A: Dallas will talk about this. Soul is our deepest place integrating body, will, mind. The soul cries out for integration. When this doesn’t happen, the soul is damaged. Certainty produced by will power or social pressure damages the mind. Faith, certainty and commitment are distinguishable. True certainty is a feeling that cannot be generated by will power. It’s a by-product of knowing. My mind knows that will-power certainty isn’t necessarily true. We don’t pressure people to create certainty. Commitment: I can commit myself to a person or cause with varying levels of certainty about that person. I can commit myself to Jesus. Certainty, truly, is a fruit. This kind of commitment happens every day when two people who really hardly know one another make a commitment to become husband and wife.

Q: How is it that you go about discipling somebody? We seem to assume books and curriculums. What does this look like?

A: For me with Dallas, it has mostly been being exposed to the kind of person he is. When I first met him, it was before answering machines were popular. We were talking and, if the phone rang, he wouldn’t answer it. I was the most important person to him in that moment. Hurry wasn’t in his body. I’d like to live in his timezone. I have watched how he lives. Of course, Dallas sometimes recommended readings, but these were not the focus of my learning to follow Jesus with him.

I once shared a very hard experience with Dallas. His reply was, “This will be a test of your joyful confidence in God.”

We sometimes use “disciple” in the church as though one person disciples another. I think this is a mistake. We are only disciples of Jesus. This sort of human version of discipleship feels like a narrow relationship instead of spacious one in Jesus. And being a disciple is a full-time job.

Q: What do transformed people look like?

A: The correlation between spiritual disciplines and all that. The danger is always to think primarily of devotional practices. Disciplines are only a means. 1 Cor. 13 describes the genuine life of a transformed person. But these are fruits of a way of life and not qualities we try harder to express. It is a matter of training. Disciplines are means. We aren’t measuring quantity of practices as a measure of maturity. We have to measure spirituality in a way that the Pharisees do not win. 

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John Ortberg: Knowing Christ: Who Are the Experts? (Part 2)


Recently, I enjoyed hearing John Ortberg (along with Dallas Willard) at the “Knowing Christ” Conference sponsored by the Martin Institute/Dallas Willard Center at Westmont College. His title was, “Who Are the Experts on Life Transformation?”  As always, these are my notes of his presentation. At some points, I may or may not have completely captured exactly what he said, or I may have put something in my own words. John gets credit for the goodies. I’ll take responsibility for anything amiss. Here is part one of three of my edited notes:

(Read Part One)

If you are part of or help lead a church, you are stewards of the way of Jesus. He has the best knowledge/information about how to live that is available to the human race. He still has the best info about what is a good person and how to become one that has ever been given to the human race.

Dallas’s four key questions:

  1. What is reality?
  2. What’s the “good life”?
  3. Who is a good person?
  4. How do you become a good person?

Advertisers say that the people who are living the good life are those with fresh breath, white teeth, new cars, etc. It’s a pretty thin and unsatisfying definition.

On the other hand, in the workplace, complaints tend to be about how a person wasn’t good.

We tend to wait until a funeral to say good things about people. Obituaries read very differently than advertisements. We’ve lost the connection between being a good person and living a good life.

What is the gospel that Jesus preached? Dallas asked this years ago: “What is the gospel that Jesus preached?” How do you respond to this? What do the gospels say? Here are a few passages to consider:

  • Mark 1:14-15, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke have an identical summary of this basic gospel message.
  • Lk 8, Jesus was “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”
  • Lk 9, kingdom of God.
  • The 72 proclaim the kingdom of God.
  • Acts 1: Jesus appeared and taught the disciples about “the kingdom of God.”

Jesus didn’t simply proclaim that the kingdom of God exists, but that it had become available for human beings to enter and live in it. You are welcome to come in. What’s tragic is that the gospel of Jesus has been substituted for a gospel of minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven when you die. In what way do we find this in the gospel Jesus proclaims?

Do I see heaven as the pleasure factory and hell as the torture chamber? Do I actually want God, or just some poorly defined eternal pleasure forever without much reference to God’s presence?

Life in the presence and power of God has come to earth. This is his kingdom…in Jesus…in his body. Heaven is literally on earth in Him. Jesus essentially says, “If you want this, just come to me, be with me, watch me, learn from me, do what I do. And then you, too, can live.”

Kingdom: This gospel of Jesus, of course, includes life as eternal and forgiveness of sins. It is individual as well as corporate. But, it is more than these things. The cross is not the only reason Jesus came. He came to bring God’s kingdom among us. This was his message. This was how he lived. Americans aren’t obviously much into kings, so “kingdom” seems foreign to us. But it’s not foreign to Jesus.

Dallas defines kingdom as the range of your effective will. It’s the sphere in which things happen just because you want them to happen. Being made in God’s image, in part, is to exercise dominion. This is kingdom language. My will is actually effective. It can make things happen. Notice how two-year-olds say “no” and “mine.” They are exploring the boundaries of their kingdom.

It’s very hard to lead people without violating their kingdom. We, as pastors, do this in churches all the time. You’ll see that Dallas works hard not to violate kingdoms. It would be like taking spiritual steroids. Build a church that way and it simply won’t last. People must offer their will to God’s reign freely and willingly. If we are forced or manipulated, change of this sort cannot last.

And one of our basic problems is that our kingdoms have been junked up by sin. This has happened in our our minds, our bodies, our emotions, etc.

Dallas once said, “The will is transformed by experience, not information.” We tremendously over-estimate the power of mere information to transform.

Our individual kingdoms merge in marriages, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, nations, etc. That whole conglomeration might be called, ‘The kingdom of earth…of this world.” How are things in that kingdom? Not so hot. Jesus comes and says that there is another kingdom. It’s real…more real that you real-ize. This is the kingdom of God. Jesus is often trying to help people see their distortions of what God’s kingdom really is. Dallas helps us see the kingdom of God differently—more truly.

Jesus uses the image of hidden treasure to say that if we realize what the kingdom is like, it will awaken tremendous desire within us. We will be willing to go to great effort to acquire such a treasure.

Romans 14:17, Kingdom of God isn’t eating/drinking rules, but about righteousness, peace and joy. It’s a measurelessly beautiful kingdom. This is what Jesus has brought to us.

The Lord’s prayer is all about this. Father in heaven (the range of God’s effective will). Hallowed be your name (you’re so good). Your kingdom come/will be done on earth as in heaven. Do you believe that can happen?

We tempted to make “Star Trek” prayers, a sort of, “Beam me up, Jesus.” Jesus suggest such a prayer. He says, “Make ‘up there’ come ‘down here.’” In my body. How does that happen? What does that look like? This is what we are stewards of. Best info on life transformation ever given to the human race!

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John Ortberg: Knowing Christ: Who Are the Experts? (Part 1)


Recently, I enjoyed hearing John Ortberg (along with Dallas Willard) at the “Knowing Christ” Conference sponsored by the Martin Institute/Dallas Willard Center at Westmont College. His title was, “Who Are the Experts on Life Transformation?”  As always, these are my notes of his presentation. At some points, I may or may not have completely captured exactly what he said, or I may have put something in my own words. John gets credit for the goodies. I’ll take responsibility for anything amiss. Here is part one of three of my edited notes:

Another Dallas story: A student once had an obnoxious disagreement with Dallas (and was most definitely wrong). We all thought Dallas would demolish the guy. Instead, he responded, “Well, I think that’s a good place for the class to end. We’ll pick up next time.” We asked him why he didn’t respond. Dallas’s reply? “I’m practicing the discipline of not having the last word.”

Every single moment is a chance to live life with Jesus. Amazing! Grateful!

Another Dallas comment: I first read Spirit of the Disciplines 20 years ago. I still remember the thesis statement: Transformation is really possible if we arrange our lives around the kinds of practices Jesus live. All of this really isn’t about Dallas. He’d be the first to say it. It’s this wonder that there is a God Who is as good as Jesus said He was. But we keep losing that. Dallas has worked to help us keep remembering.

Spiritual formation has taken over Dallas’s body in a way I long for. Keeping up with Dallas takes some energy.

Like Dallas said, we tend to try to create an emotional experience to move people, rather than giving them true knowledge to provide a basis for seeing reality differently. Then, we don’t hype people up, but we help the life of God actually flow through them. The question isn’t “Was I moved?” but “God, would you open the windows so I can see?” There is work to be done to learn from Jesus in taking on his yoke.

Our theme question: Who really knows what life can be and how we pursue it? Human beings are creatures who have to learn. Whether or not we want to, this is our nature. We will always search for teachers when we realize that we don’t know something. Playing piano. Playing Tennis. Or, just living.

In our generation, we have become suspect of authority and so think that we don’t need to learn how to live. But who has actually mastered life? Who will I sit under? Do we see Jesus only as Savior, but not as Teacher/Mentor? Over time, the disciples came to see Jesus as more than teacher, but as life mentor.

Psalm 1 and two ways of life.

      Dallas says that we will all live by default or by design. We live in a world in which drifting always leads to disaster. The one who does not live or walk in the counsel of the ungodly is blessed. There in intentionality here.

The counsel of the ungodly is just the way most people talk. It is the conventional wisdom in which people live as though it were not true that you are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s glorious universe. It is living as though the outcomes of my life are on my shoulders and under my control. As if aging is something to worry about. As if satisfying my desires is central to my well-being. As if moving faster, acquiring more, being more successful, looking younger, sexier or getting even would actually lead to a good and satisfying life. .

First, the psalm says, “Don’t walk.” Then, “Don’t stand.” First you walk with the ungodly, then you are standing with them. Finally you sit with them. You aren’t going anywhere. This becomes a settled posture. Nobody purposes to take a destructive path, linger there and settle in. The psalmist says that we can choose the blessed path of refusing that way. Such a life is good and flourishing.

Human beings can’t help looking for someone to teach them how to live. This is so important because Jesus is the best and only one from whom to learn how to live. We learn from parents, others in authority, media, etc.

1 Co 1. Paul: Christ didn’t send me…with words of human wisdom. The message of the cross is…for us being saved…the power of God. God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.” Living our lives as though God didn’t exist or matter is utter foolishness because it is disregarding the greatest Reality there is. Could there be a worse disorientation?

We assume only science has knowledge. What does science have to say about how to really live? This is why psychology has risen, even among Christians. It claims a sort of scientific basis for human life. We haven’t done well to help Christians see that following Jesus actually and really shows us how to live whole and holy.

Freud and others spoke of the complexity of the human person. The church, with its moralizing and simple “say a prayer” approach to eternal life, looked superficial next to this.

With psychology, the vast majority sitting in influential seats in this discipline, are much less likely to be followers of Jesus than the average population. They are five times more likely to be atheist, for example. This has tended to influence the conversation in that field.

Over the last 20 years, the biggest movement has been “positive psychology”. Psychology has tended to be focused, in the past, with pathology and problems. The “positive” is about how to help people flourish. How do we show people this without God…without Jesus? Where will people find the good life from a secular foundation? It’s hard to define a “good person.” Many psychologists have a hard time quoting Jesus, but will quote Aristotle, Stoics and other ancient and modern philosophers.

(Read Part Two)

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Psalm 99: Acknowledging God’s Reign


A morning walk with Jesus

A morning walk with Jesus

Psalm 99:1 NIV
The Lord reigns,

      let the nations tremble;

he sits enthroned between the cherubim,

      let the earth shake.

Jesus, Your majesty and your might are good reason even the highest human rulers to tremble with fear. The earth itself should quake before You. For me, it would be better to tremble before the gracious might of a loving heavenly King, than to tremble for all the lesser reasons that I do: fear of what others will think, fear of being unable to do what I’ve been given to do, fear of financial troubles.

In all of this, I either believe or I don’t in Your reign. You are either King or You aren’t. I’m either living in the light of reality of Your rule or I am not. There is an unhealthy version of “all or nothing” thinking. This isn’t it. When it comes to You, there are “alls” and “nothings” to be embraced and affirmed. Apart from You, I really can do nothing. And I really can do anything through the strengthening of Jesus Christ in and with me.

You reign over my life and my work today. You are King. No one else has effective say over me but You. This is unless I come to wrongly believe that some other force, authority or power is over me. What do I believe? What are my convictions? Where is my confidence settled?

Help me to see You, Jesus, and my Father in heaven through You. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done both in and through me. I offer that prayer hardly knowing what I’m asking. I ask anyway. I trust Your goodness and wisdom to answer me better than I could imagine. I look to You to be the gracious and merciful God. Thank you.

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Eavesdropping on My Enemies


A view of the sun during a dust storm in the Holy Land earlier this year

You may be aware of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, where he imagines communications between a senior tempter and a novice tempter who is trying to learn the ropes.

In morning prayer a while back, I tried to imagine such a communication in the background of my life at the time:

“Alan seems to be resisting the ‘big temptations’ more easily lately. That’s not really a problem. Our aim isn’t big failures. We just want to create distance, even if it’s little by little, between Alan and the Enemy Above. We don’t really care if it is headline-making or not. It’s the distance we’re after. Let’s whisper some discouraging, fear-provoking words in his ears. That should do the trick. He’ll begin to believe that the Enemy Above is mostly disappointed with him or uninterested at best.

“Or, we can just plant distracting little thoughts in his mind to get him running off on wild goose chases after this and that little meaningless detail. Distracted is as effective as rebellious, maybe even better.”

At the time, I was deep into composing my first draft of An Unhurried Life. Based on this little fiction, I thought about what was the reality of God with me in that work:

  • God has opened the door for me to be writing this book. Left to myself, I cannot write it. But, I’m not left to myself!
  • God’s affection, delight and pleasure in me as a beloved son is secure in Christ. I really am in Him. I am learning to abide in Him. This is a place of great freedom, creativity and favor. This is where I live! This is my neighborhood.
  • I am lacking absolutely nothing I need to live the life God is inviting me into or to do the good work God has given me to do. I am fully resourced. Ideas are available to me—wise, creative, compelling ideas.
  • I am not writing this book to further my own name, my own kingdom, my own renown. I deeply and genuinely desire to honor Christ’s name and somehow build for His reign .

For Reflection:

  • What conversations could you imagine going on in the background of life between those who would seek to derail, distract or damage the work of God in you?
  • What “God realities” do you want to remember in the places of temptation you may be presenting facing?

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Morning Prayer: Satisfied With Jesus


A stream in La Cienaga, The Dominican Republic

Here’s another journal from our morning prayer at the Journey a while back:

First reading: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51 NIV)

Jesus, I am glad You came down from heaven to share Your life with us. I feel a deep gratitude that causes my eyes to tear up. You have given Your life for the sake of the world. You want me to enjoy Your life like I would eat a delicious loaf of bread.

Second reading: But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. (John 6:50 NIV)

Anyone may eat. I am again grateful for such generosity. I’m blessed to realize, Jesus, that You give of Yourself without limit. You come down from heaven so that I can enjoy the gift of heaven. You desire to nourish me, and I come this morning to eat.

When I eat, I often make the mistake of eating fast to get a feeling of fullness as soon as possible. But what fills my stomach never satisfies my soul. This requires heavenly bread–the bread of Jesus’s own life.

Thank You, Jesus. I need not go without. You give the Spirit without skimping or limits. I have more than I need. Abundance is mine throughout this day. I am not drawing on my own puny resources.

Third reading: It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. (John 6:45 NIV)

I will be taught by God today. He desires to speak to me. He wants me to hear His voice and know His presence. I am wanted and welcome in the presence of Jesus today. Help me rise my figure-it-all-out mind and simply encounter You as the Living Bread. I need this.

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