Tuesday, October 14

Vine or Branch?

One more little gold nugget from Roy Hession, in We Would See Jesus, responding to Jesus' teaching, "I am the true vine." He writes: "We start the day as if it were our day and we make our plans for our day and fully intend to do our best for the Lord. The responsibility and government is really on our shoulders, and we have subtly become the vine. But just because it is our day and we are the vine, things soon go wrong. People and circumstances upset our schedule and interfere with what we wanted to do, and there is a reaction of hardness, irritation, and resentment in our hearts, and often the sharp retort on our lips. The very responsibility of being the vine makes us tense, and tenseness always predisposes us to further sin. . . . 

"The way of repentance, however, is ever open to us. Our true Vine, Jesus himself, has, like many an ordinary vine, been tied to a stake, the stake of Calvary. He invites us to return to him in repentance and to confess the source of these things as being our attempt to be ourselves the vine, receiving from His hands forgiveness and cleansing. Immediately he becomes the Vine to us again and we become the branch that rests in him. And in the very place of failure, we have the fruits of the Spirit, the products of his life and nature" (p. 91).

". . . there must be the willingness to be broken and become available to Him as a branch. A branch has no independent life of its own. It exists only to bear the fruit of the Vine. So it must be with us in our relationships to the Lord Jesus. What a battle there is in our hearts so often with our selfishness and personal interests! So often we are just not available to him because we have lapsed back to our old center, self. But it must be surrendered if we are to be available to him as his branch, and that not just in one sweeping surrender, which we may make in a solemn moment of dedication, but just as things come up and as he deals with us. This will involve a continuous dying to self and its rights and wishes, but only so can the Lord Jesus bring forth his fruit on the branch."

Is Jesus the Means or the End?

Another insightful quote from Roy and Revel Hession:

". . . there was not always the mighty working of God that I thought there should have been. The reason is now clear. Our repenting and getting right with God was a means to an end, the end being that souls should be saved--an end other than Jesus himself. . . . We were repenting . . . as a sort of bargain with God" (p. 78).

This challenges me: do I "get right with God" in order to see my family blessed, my ministry blessed, my borders enlarged? Or am I really seeking Jesus himself, and trusting him whatever he may bring?

We Would See Jesus--Book Review

We Would See Jesus We Would See Jesus by Roy Hession

My Goodreads.com review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a solid little devotional book, very helpful to me in thinking about why focusing on Jesus is the beginning, middle and end of what we need and do as his disciples. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a solid conception of the "dark night of the soul," because this book would leave you with the impression that if you're experiencing dryness or darkness, you must simply repent and look to Jesus, perhaps praying more, and all will be restored. Actually, many have found that Jesus seems to be absent or distant despite all repenting and praying, even for a long season. Later, they look back and see he was doing a much deeper work in their soul and had to let them experience that desolation. Roy and Revel Hession wrote in the mid-twentieth century, when that idea was almost completely lost to the Protestant world.

This book was worth the read for its many gems, including:

"To concentrate on service and activity for God may often actively thwart our attaining of the true goal, God himself. At first sight it seems heroic to fling our lives away in the service of God and of our fellows. . . . Service seems so unselfish, whereas concentrating on our walk with him seems so selfish and self-centered. But it is the very reverse. The things that God is most concerned about are our coldness of heart towards himself and our proud, unbroken natures. Christian service of itself can, and so often does, leave our self-centered nature untouched. [Now listen to this!] That is why there is scarcely a church, a mission station, or a committee undertaking a special piece of service, that is without an unresolved problem of personal relationships eating out its hear and thwarting its progress. . . . In this condition we are trying to give to others an answer which we have not truly and deeply found for ourselves" (pp. 14-15).

View all my reviews on Goodreads.com.

Thursday, June 19

Excellent tool set for people who need help getting organized

This book has helped me so much! I have read it once and am starting to work my way through it again, because it's easy to read but takes real discipline to implement. I am by nature highly disorganized--my desk is perennially piled high and deep, and bills may be found anywhere in my house.

By taking the first steps towards implementing this I've already become more confident in my ability to manage the almost overwhelming amount of responsibilities and tasks that multiply like bunnies.

I think the subtitle is a little bit of exaggerated advertising..."Stress-free" is probably unattainable for most of us; but this book WILL help you lower your stress levels quite a bit if you have trouble managing all your responsibilities, and if you put it into action.

It's chock full of fun and wise quotes, which keep it interesting. And David Allen gives some excellent advice that can improve your personal quality of life and any organization's culture. I recommend it for leaders, managers, and anyone who's naturally not super organized.

Friday, June 6

Book Review--True Story

rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book bursts with fantastic theology and, simultaneously, a great method for holding it all together in your mind and even communicating part or all of it to others. If you want to read a novel, this book isn't the most gripping thriller. But if you want theology, it reads as close to a novel as I think you could come while still packing a walloping dose. Reading it help you gain a more holistic understanding of the gospel, and may reveal some of the popular culture beliefs we hold that actually aren't biblical.

If you want to become an effective communicator of the gospel, this book will give you an excellent tool. I have used a streamlined version of this diagram a number of times, and I appreciate its clarity and how compelling it is for people in today's generation. Does the gospel have anything to say about war and violence, racism, sexism, or the environment? You will find a clear and, I think, compelling " yes!"="" here.="">

Great job, James. I'm amazed at how much you put in. This book is a gift.

It's a fairly quick read, although the worldview may take a good amount of time to digest.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, May 28

Humble Service

More Mother Teresa quotes:

"She had broken her shoulder bone and fractured three ribs due to a fall in Rome, but this was not enough to keep Mother [Teresa] in bed. She was always in haste to give Jesus and gave no thought for herself. At the age of over 80 it surely was not easy to have a hectic day followed by handling the mail each night. However, Mother gave herself completely."

A sister wrote, "I remember once when Mother came to Baton Rouge, I was watching Mother's every step. After we had lunch, Mother helped us to wash the dishes and she was the first one to take the duster to clean off the table. People were crowded outside because of Mother, and here Mother is doing the humblest act like a sister."

Brian Kolodiejchuk, her biographer, notes: "Mother Teresa accepted all the interior and exterior sufferings God gave her as a privilege, using them to fulfill the aim of her congregation. Yet it was not with a sense of helplessness or passive resignation that she lived; rather she radiated the joy of belonging to God, of living with Him. She knew that after the pain of the Passion, the joy of the resurrection would dawn." 

Come Be My Light, pp. 324-5

Friday, May 2

Moments of Savoring

I'm struggling as I write this book on Joy. How do we maintain joy in the midst of all life throws at us? I liked the quote my spiritual director recently read to me from Brother Lawrence. It's helped me a lot this month:

"The most holy, most ordinary, and most necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without limiting the conversation in any way, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even unfaithfulness and sin. We must continually apply ourselves so that all our actions without exception, become a kind of brief conversation with God, not in a contrived manner but coming from the purity and simplicity of our hearts."

"Whatever we do, even if we are reading or praying, we should stop for a few minutes -- as often as possible -- to praise God from the depths of our hearts, to enjoy Him there in secret."

--Practicing the Presence of God, part 3, Spiritual Maxims

I love this focus on savoring Jesus' presence. But wow..."even [in times of] unfaithfulness and sin." That's a stretch for me! But it helps me when I do...

Thursday, May 1

Pride or Joy?

Mother Teresa had taken a vow never to knowingly deny Jesus anything he asked. Two questions: Wasn't this an arrogant act? And didn't it suck the joy out of her?

Maybe for most of us it would be prideful. She, however, waited to make the vow until her spiritual director agreed she wasn't misguided. Her writings and comments from that time forward continue to be peppered with phrases like, "I am nothing. Jesus is everything." Sometimes I hear people say those things, but somehow I'm not convinced. 

Mother Teresa, on the other hand, in almost all her letters beseeched friends, mentors and counselees to pray for her. She talked often of her weakness. As the ministry grew, she marveled that Jesus had chosen her to launch such a work.

Another piece of evidence: she became known for rapid responsiveness. She acted very quickly once she thought Jesus was asking her to do something. In fact, some of those around her thought of her as somewhat rash or impetuous.

I've noticed children are quick to refuse to do something they're asked to do; or if they don't outright refuse, they can be very slow to obey. I've noticed I'm not much different. It really does require humility to respond quickly, and I think that accounts for her quickness to respond.

As for joy: One of the sisters in her community wrote that she was "full of fun" and "enjoyed everything that went on" (Come Be My Light, p. 33).

Her own comment reveals her internal experience: "When I see someone sad, I always think, she is refusing something to Jesus" (p. 33).

She inspires me to greater humility. Lord, help me become quick to respond, by your grace. 

Tuesday, April 22

Humility and Submission

Humility is the greatest virtue and the ground of all the other virtues, wrote Andrew Murray. I think the life of Mother Teresa illustrates this stunningly. We all have at least an impression of what an amazing difference she made in this world, particularly amongst the poor and destitute, whom God loves. But where did that power come from? Her personality? Training? Those probably played a small part, but she herself would trace it to something different.

At age 32, she wrote, "I made a vow to God, binding under [pain of] mortal sin, to give to God anything that He may ask, 'Not to refuse him anything.'" (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, p.28). That may sound pretty arrogant, but at least three things show it wasn't.

First, she sought the guidance of her spiritual director, and would not make this vow without his permission. To allow her to make this, he must have felt she did not want to do this from a place of self-adulation but rather self-denial.

Her writings also attest to humility: "Why must we give ourselves fully to God? Because God gives himself fully to us. If God who owes nothing to us is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself....to possess God we must allow Him to possess our soul" (p. 29).

I'll write about the third evidence of humility in my next post (trying to keep these concise). I'm not entirely sure what I think of making a vow under pain of mortal sin (meaning to break it would be to condemn herself to hell). However, I cannot deny the power of God working through her. Her life over the following 55 years blazes on like a torch in human history.

I am inspired to submit myself to God, without reserve. I have such a rebellious heart: often I have a sense of conviction to do something small, or a pang of conscience that I should stop doing my current activity. Often I submit, but often--let's just say my track record has improved but I have such a long way to go? Why, oh why do I kick against the goads?

Lord, I admit I am self-centered, full of myself, and would rather go my own way. Change my heart; take out my rebellious heart and change it to a heart of flesh, both to will and to do whatever you ask.

Monday, March 24

Identity Struggles

I have been enjoying The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner. I found these words in his preface refreshing and stimulating:

"In all of creation, identity is a challenge only for humans. A tulip knows exactly what it is. It is never tempted by false ways of being. Nor does it face complicated decisions in the process of becoming. So it is with dogs, rocks, trees, stars, amoebas, electrons, and all other things. All give glory to God by being exactly what they are. For in being what God means them to be, they are obeying him. Humans, however, encounter a more challenging existence...

"With a little reflection, most of us can become aware of masks we first adopted as strategies to avoid feelings of vulnerability but that have become parts of our social self. Tragically, we settle easily for pretense, and a truly authentic self often seems illusory.

"There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of the tulip.... Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity."

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, (and I paraphrase), "I wouldn't give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would stake my life on simplicity on the far side of complexity." I feel that phrase "simplicity on the far side of complexity" may be something of a "life-phrase" for me, to coin a term. 

I long for the kind of simplicity Benner's talking about, a simplicity of identity--on the far side of complexity. Jesus has been discipling me through a long, sometimes arduous journey which I believe will eventually lead there--at least, that is my hope. 

Wednesday, March 19

A Very Important Book for the Church

Most people today agree something is seriously wrong with the church, because people in it seem little different than people outside the church. Christiandom today has some pretty major flaws. People have been leaving local churches in droves, and Christian leaders have struggled to know what to do about it. I'm oversimplifying quite a bit, of course, but I think you have an idea of what I'm getting at.

The Great Omission is not only the easiest of Willard's books I have ever read, but I believe one of his most important. That's hard to say, because all of his have been very important. But to me this book, actually a collection of lectures, gets at the heart of Willard's contribution.

He addresses what is wrong with our current understanding and practice of the Gospel, and particularly of Jesus' great commission to make disciples. I think he gives a powerful post-mortem of Christian discipleship, showing we have actually omitted the heart of that, and yet presenting a clarity that should, if we follow it, bring true Christian discipleship back to life.

I think Willard presents some of the clearest teaching on discipleship, what it is, and what it isn't, that I've ever found. I will put it alongside Coleman's Master Plan of Evangelism as my top two books on practical ministry, and see how it holds up. Of course, being written by a philosopher, it's not exactly brimming with practicals. But he lays out the principles so clearly that I would say it's chock full of pointers with very practical implications.

I would love to hear what others of you think of this book. For now, it's going in my top 5 recent books. I think predict it will stay there for a long time...

Tuesday, March 11

It's more blessed to give...

“In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others; because he places his own happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Thus when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.” —Jonathan

Friday, February 22

What is joy?

I especially like the second line of this quote, which I've put in bold: 

"We do well to note, however, that love is the foundation of the spiritual life and joy is a key component in the Christ life. Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being. Hope in the goodness of God is joy's indispensible support."

--Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

Sunday, February 17

The Great Omission

I find these comments by Willard deeply insightful and challenging:

"The overshadowing event of the past two centuries of Christian life has been the struggle between orthodoxy and modernism. In this struggle the primary issue has, as a matter of fact, not been discipleship to Christ and a transformation of soul that expresses itself in pervasive, routine obedience to his "all that I have commanded you." Instead, both sides of the controversy have focused almost entirely upon what is to be explicitly assered or rejected as essential Christian doctrine. In the process of battles over views of Christ the Savior, Christ the Teacher was lost on all sides.

"Discipleship as an essential issue disappeared from the church and with it there also disappeared realistic plans and programs for the transformation of the inmost self into Christ-likeness. One could now be a Christian forever without actually changing in heart and life. Right profession, positive or negative, was all that was required. This has now produced generations of professing Christians who, as a whole, do not differ in character, but only in ritual, from their nonprofessing neighbors; in addition, a massive population has now arisen in America who believe in God, even self-identify as spiritual, but will have nothing to do with churches . . ."  --The Great Omission, pp.109-110. 

I highly recommend this book! Strikingly, I read a couple days ago in Mother Teresa's writings that in founding the new Missionaries of Charity, her plan was for all new members of her order to go through a two-year orientation process. The second year would be active service among the poor, but--listen to this--the first year was devoted to formation: almost complete solitude, spiritual direction, much prayer and meditation. She understood that without this kind of personal transformation, no one could sustain the kind of ministry envisioned. To this day Missionaries of Charity spend hours in prayer daily, take communion daily, and take retreats after every several weeks in active ministry. 

Striking that one of the few places in our world where the character of Jesus has shone like a light in the darkness has been where formation of people as disciples--students--of Jesus has been taken seriously. 

Tuesday, February 12

Calm and Joyful Noncompliance with Evil

"Vision of God secures humility. Seeing God for who He is enables us to see ourselves for what we are. This makes us bold, for we see clearly what great good and evil are at issue, and we see that it is not up to us to accomplish it, but up to God--who is more than able. We are delivered from pretending, from being presumptuous about ourselves, and from pushing as if the outcome depended on us. We persist without frustration, and we practice calm and joyful noncompliance with evil of every kind."  --Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship

Amen! I love that--delivered from pretending, and from pushing as if the outcome depended on us. May that be so more and more in our lives. May Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven!

Monday, February 11


My friend Derek used to quote someone (I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones) who said, "Read a little biography every morning to humble you, and a little theology at night to build you up." I recently started reading Mother Teresa * Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta", and wow, has it been humbling. I'll post some of the most striking quotes.

At age 18, she left her family in Albania and moved to Calcutta to follow what she felt was Jesus' calling to love and serve people there. Shortly after arriving, she wrote:

"The heat of India is simply burning. When I walk around, it seems to me that fire is under my feet from which even my whole body is burning. When it is hardest, I console myself with the thought that souls are saved in this way and that dear Jesus has suffered much more for them. . . . The life of a missionary is not strewn with roses, in fact more with thorns; but with it all, it is a life full of happiness and joy when she thinks that she is doing the same work which Jesus was doing when he was on earth, and that she is fulfilling Jesus' commandment: 'Go and teach all nations!'"

Her passionate, focused love of Jesus has been inspiring and challenging. Lord, cause my heart to grow in love and passion for you!

Tuesday, February 5


I heard Thomas Merton quoted in a sermon, and I really like the way he puts this:

"There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality. For life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relationship with reality."