I used to think I was a Christian......
(until I read Dallas Willards book, the Divine Conspiracy)
- by Charlie Wear
As a church pastor I had the unenviable task of coming up with a new, fresh, message
from God every week that would be practical, educational and life-transforming. It
was easy to get into a certain routine. Pick a portion of the scriptures, the Book of
Acts, the Gospel of Matthew, or whatever. Read several translations of the passage,
research several commentators, think of several illustrations, then synthesize all of that
material into 30-40 minutes of oratory.
After doing this week-in and week-out for a while one finds the
commentators that are appealing and the illustrations that are familiar to convey to the
congregation. Over the course of weeks, that turned into months, it was possible to analyze
the impact of all of these messages. I could tell if I was being practical by the number
of people dozing off in the first 10 minutes of my presentation.
I could observe, up close and personal, the transforming effect of my
words. This sort of analysis frequently left me depressed. If I preached on fidelity,
inevitably some one fell in adultery. If I preached on ethics, someone got caught lying
and cheating. If I preached on grace, the congregation seemed to become more judgmental.
At least, thats how it felt during my darker moments.
Eventually my tenure as a pastor came to an end and I got back to
working for a living. I am a lawyer by trade, and I had been telling my wife
for a few years that if I needed to, I could get a job easily. Last fall, she informed me
that I needed to get a job.
Three faxed resumes and one interview later, I found myself working 60 miles from home on
the other end of an hour-long train ride five days a week.
One nice thing about train rides, is that you can do something else
while you are traveling. The possibilities are endless. Learning a foreign language,
writing a book, prayer and meditation, these are all possibilities.
For the last four months, however, I have been reading Dallas
Willards the Divine
Conspiracy. Let me say this, I have heard Dr. Willard speak several times in person,
and every time have been challenged to the core of my being. He speaks about spiritual
discipline, and being a student of Jesus Christ, and righteousness, from a clearly established
philosophical and theological high ground.
He also brings his own shortcomings to bear on the struggle that we all face in truly
becoming all that God desires us to be.
On those train rides I have had plenty of time to reflect on the wear
and tear on my soul from my time as a pastor and from being involved in the closure of a church. I have
had the opportunity to examine my own motivations and have discovered that they
havent been very
good. The desire to be well-thought-of is not a good motivation for being a church
leader. It can quickly lead to disappointment.
You might ask, why has it taken so long for you to read Dr. Willards
book? I would reply, because it has been one of the most practical, educational and
life-transforming experiences of my Christian walk. It is so rich in content and fresh
insight into the life of the kingdom of the heavens, that I can only have so many of my
paradigms shifted at a time.
Dr. Willard exposes the inherent beauty,
simplicity and authority of
Jesus profound teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount. He demonstrates the
unity of thought and focus that Jesus brought to this discourse. He outlines the truly
kingdom life that will come to those who become students of Jesus.
The fresh insight for me is that all the religious upbringing, instruction and practice
that I have experienced up to this point in my life had somehow missed the actual point. I
have been moved by the idea that God has conspired to recreate me, to renew me and to
restore my soul. Its amazing that I have struggled for so long to perform in just
the right way, to be pleasing to God, and all along he was simply waiting for me to cease
I used to think I was a Christian, because of what I believed, how I
behaved and perhaps, because of how my associates thought of me. After reading Dr.
Willards book, these past few months I have realized that this was beside the point.
God has chosen me (and all of us who wish to be chosen) for fellowship with him, for an
eternal kind of life that can begin right now. As a student of Jesus Christ I can learn to
live a life that has peace and joy despite my circumstances, today. I
can have my inheritance in Christ, now, every day.
Charlie is a lawyer and
a former pastor in Southern California. Also check out this article by Charlie: "If you build it, they will come -
about the skateboarding ministry of the Moreno Valley".