Friday, August 30, 2013

Jesus' high standards from the Sermon on the Mount

There are situations where I find myself with people whom I wish I could just give a nod and leave them there, giving them their last word. But I can't and won't. I would still sit through it no matter what is lashed at me.

Pastor Marvin has been preachingand is still preachinga sermon series on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7) and I have committed to do my daily devotion with R. Kent Hughes's The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word), studying, meditating and praying on these most radical and revolutionary lessons from Jesus.

I have been steeped in weekly and daily lessons on anger and hatred and revenge. As such, when I was confounded in this situation with this difficult person, it is a hard lesson. I have gotten so frustrated. In times of frustration, I resort to writing as a therapy and I must confess, it wasn't nice things that I wrote. No expletives, no crudeness, plain old wit but not good.

But my question is, can't I regard it like an imprecatory psalm, which I have done before here. 

The answer I found, is no, I can't.

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matt 5:21-22, NIV)

Hughes said, "the Israelites...felt that God's direction of their historic relations with other peoples, such as his command to exterminate the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms, supported (even called for!) this hatred of others. What they failed to take into account was the fact that those and similar commands, including the imprecatory Psalms, were judicialnever individual." (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word), Crossway, 2001: p.140) (emphasis mine)

As much as I have done it not out of hatred but as a therapy for my frustration, the fact that I have thought it, it is like I have committed murder and will be liable for the same judgment.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dallas Willard (1935-2013)

Here is a question you might get asked during ice-breaking sessions: Who would you like to meet in heaven? Or is that a book title?

Other than the obvious like Jesus (he is omni-present anyway), the prophets and disciples and definitely Paul (loads of questions to ask him though the line will be long), my list will consist mainly of writers.

C.S. Lewis tops the list and now I'll have Dallas Willard in it as well. I bought a couple of his books back in my book craze days but have not read him until last week, albeit a different and newer ebook edition. 

He was indeed brilliant. John Ortberg gave a splendid tribute to him as per my post yesterday. (I think I have listened to Ortberg's sermons before in mp3 - I really like his writing and how he puts it here.)

For Dallas's students and friends—and these categories largely overlapped—the best moments, the ones I will miss the most, were the moments with no hurry, no schedule constraint, nothing in the world but time and God and love. Then you could ask him, "Hey, Dallas . . ." (There are a thousand stories that begin with the statement, "Someone asked Dallas.")
"Hey Dallas . . ." You could see him thinking—not about the problem, which he had worked out long ago, but about how to express it in a way that those of us listening might be able to grasp it. So that it would not be a "pearl cast among swine"—one of dozens of Scripture passages I heard him explain better than any professional exegete.
Dallas and I used to play a game. I would ask him for definitions of all kinds of words. And every definition would contain a clarity and freshness and precision that would require folks to sit and reflect for a while. "Hey Dallas . . . ," and then I'd ask him about any word or concept that mattered, and would receive a brief education in the possibilities of redeemed thought.
The word spirit. "Disembodied personal power."
Beauty. "Goodness made manifest to the senses."
disciple is "anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place."
Dignity is "a value that creates irreplaceability." (This one, he graciously attributed to Immanuel Kant.)
Dallas was ruthlessly committed to logic, clarity of thought, and the constant cultivation of reason. He held such commitments because they were indispensible to navigating reality, and because helping people navigate reality is indispensible to love.
"Hey Dallas, what is reality?"
"Reality is what you can count on."
"Hey Dallas, what is pain?""Pain is what you experience when you bump into reality."
Because of this, Dallas had a deep aversion for Christian speakers or writers who use emotion to manipulate a temporary response from their listeners—a response that bypasses their "mental maps" and leaves the audience in worse shape than when they started. He said at one conference that speakers should never tell stories. This prompted a group of publishing types to propose the "Dallas Willard Study Bible," with all the stories taken out. (Pretty much just Leviticus.)
"What is spiritual maturity?"
"The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place."
"What exactly does it mean to glorify God?"
"To glorify God means to think and act in such a way that the goodness, greatness, and beauty of God are constantly obvious to ourselves and all those around us. It means to live in such a way that when people see us they think, Thank God for God, if God would create such a life."
For many, he was a little like the wardrobe in Narnia. It's not about the wardrobe; it's about a luminous world to which the wardrobe opens.
Yet you love the wardrobe after all.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hearing God - the quiet inner voice

I have been quite discouraged lately, and I felt my prayers were like monologues. I did try to listen and I did read the Bible but when it came to my prayers, it was like facing a wall.

That was when I went searching for good books on Christian living and spirituality and found Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. I immediately bought a copy and started reading it straightaway.

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
by Dallas Willard, IVP, 2012

It is an excellent book.

Willard firmly says that God do speak to us and we do hear him when we listen. He says, "people are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to...he can and does guide us by addressing us."

One of my favourite parts of the book was when Willard used this analogy to explain why we need to be in Christ, to be given a new life to live and breathe in him, and how if we are dead to him we will never see or understand him and in the same way if we are dead to the world, and alive in Christ, we should not be "understanding" or succumbing to the world. He writes, "Though alive as a cabbage, it is dead to the realm of play. Similarly, a kitten playing with the string can make no response to numbers or poetry, and in that sense the kitten is dead to the realm of arithmetic and literature...without this [new] birth we cannot recognise God's workings: we do not possess the appropriate faculties and equipment. We are like kittens trying to contemplate a sonnet."


In all my life, thus far, I am absolutely sure that God literally spoke to me, though not in an audible voice, twice. And in both times, with only two words. Brief, but powerful. My life and my faith have certainly been strengthened as a result.

Willard has now helped me confirm it and I am now nudged into pursuing this continuing conversation with God that I hope will grow into communion with him and finally a union with my God.


p/s I just discovered that Dallas Willard has just died recently on May 8, 2013, aged 77. Here is a tribute to him by John Ortberg.