This weekend I start teaching a class called Spiritual Disciplines. In preparation for it, I have been reading “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Dallas Willard. It’s a classic and, along with “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster, is the gold standard on the subject.

The subject of the disciplines has always been difficult for me because I have so often failed at maintaining them. I am by no means a shining example of a Christian fully engaged with the disciplines, and the thought of teaching on this subject gives me a bit of a stomach ache. Really, who am I to say word one here?

But I have sensed that God did not want me to delegate this class because I have more to learn than anyone. (In general, the teacher learns more than the students as he prepares a class.) And I have indeed learned a great deal. The book has both challenged and comforted me.

I am challenged because I see my need for the disciplines. I see now that, in order to continue to grow spiritually, I have to engage in these slow, inefficient practices. I am encouraged because I have come to understand that, though I am inconsistent in regards to prayer and devotional reading, my life is not void of the practice of the disciplines. In other words, I’m not nearly as bad a Christian as I thought I was.

If you’re in Columbus, come and learn with me and a few others what it means to be formed by the disciplines of the Spirit. Sunday at 9.

Tonight I taught probably my favorite e4 session–the one that covers the prophetical books. There’s so much material in the prophets that we don’t actually get into the content of the books. Instead, using the introduction of Abraham Heschel’s brilliant book The Prophets, we work through the prophetic pathos and what it must have been like to be one of these people that stood between God and his people.

One of my favorite quotes from Heschel is this one:

The ultimate object and theme of his consciousness is God, of whom the prophet knows that above his judgment and above his anger stands his mercy.

In other words, yes God gets angry. Yes, he judges. But greater than that, standing behind and above it, is his mercy and lovingkindness. In the prophets, judgment and hope are two sides of the same coin. When God threatens destruction, he inevitably comes around to the promise of restoration.

He utters judgment not in the cold manner of a jurist reading a sentence, but rather in the heart-broken tones of one who has been made a cuckold of again and again. We hear him say, not “5 to 10 hard labor”, but “I’ve loved you from the beginning! Why do you turn away from me? Don’t you know those other gods are no gods at all?!”

The prophets reveal not a God of wrath but a God of love (who has a very good reason to be angry). We see not the cold, abusive father, but the jilted husband, the one who trusted over and over, only to be made sport of by his adulterous bride. What’s most remarkable about the prophets is not that God judged his people and sent them away into exile, but that he sent them thousands of messengers and gave them hundreds of years to turn back to him.

And you thought this “God is love” stuff started in the New Testament…

So I’m reading the Beatitudes this morning, from Matthew 5. Here they are:

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
     for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
     for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
     for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
     for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
     for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
     for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This got me to thinking about what some of the alternative beatitudes may have been in Jesus time. In other words, maybe he was rewriting some common refrains, or reordering some elements of the underlying worldview of his time. Maybe the “originals” went something like this:

Blessed are the wealthy,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who rejoice,
     for no suffering can touch their hearts.
Blessed are the bold,
     for they will inherit the kingdom.
Blessed are those who never hunger or thirst,
     for they are always filled.
Blessed are the just,
     for they will judge rightly.
Blessed are those who keep Torah,
     for they will see God.
Blessed are the zealots,
     for they will restore the kingdom.
Blessed are those who die for God’s glory,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus turned it all upside down. I pray that he turns you, and me, upside down today.

Reentry after the holidays has been difficult for me this year. That is probably mostly due to the birth of our third baby–he’s doing great but still not sleeping through the night. I’m one of those people who needs uninterrupted sleep to feel normal, and we haven’t been getting that for the past six weeks or so. Not that I’m complaining. Ezekiel is amazing and I’d gladly trade all my sleep to have him as my son.

Back to the task at hand. I’ve been writing about life-giving leaders, and what it takes to lead in such a way that others’ hearts come alive. So far we’ve talked about trust, empowerment, and encouragement. These are all things that life-giving leaders do. But there’s something that a leader must be, and that is secure in who he is. In other words, a life-giving leader gets his identity (and senses of well-being, significance, etc.) from God.

Consider the behaviors that come with deep-rooted insecurity. Manipulation. Discouraging words. Control. Anger. Self-aggrandizement. Lashing out at others. Think about how you behave in your moments of insecurity. It’s fascinating how insecurity breeds self-centeredness. It’s only when we’re secure in who we are that we’re free to forget ourselves and see the best in others.

Having a strong sense of identity in Christ, and finding security there, is what enables you to be a life-giving leader. When you’re racked by insecurity, you are, by definition, focused on yourself and your own needs; and when you’re focused on yourself, your attention is given to breathing life into your own soul. And when someone (or something, or some circumstances) threaten the breathing of life into your soul, you become a death-dealing leader. You lash out in self-protection.

But leaders who are secure in themselves (because they know who they are in Christ) receive their life from Christ himself, a conduit which no man can threaten. Being relieved of the heavy task and fools’ errand of attempting to breathe life into their own souls, they are then free to breathe life into the hearts and souls of others. Through their security, they serve as a conduit of life from Jesus to others.

The key is to pursue a strong sense of your identity in Christ. Let him define you. Let him name you. There is no surer rock than the words of Jesus, so you need to put yourself into a position to hear from him. Let him rebuild your strength and confidence. Rest in the knowledge that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Be secure in Jesus, and you will find the freedom of soul to be a life-giving leader.

In my never-ending quest to help you, my reader(s), maximize your potential, achieve your dreams, and fulfill the snyergistic equilibriance of your life (sp?), I offer you this: A tip to obtain your BEST LIFE NOW!

Do not go see a post-apocalyptic film when your wife and kids are out of town for the weekend, especially not a film about a father trying to keep his family alive in the post-apocalypse.

BONUS TIP: Should you be so foolish as to go see a post-apocalyptic film when your wife and kids are out of town for the weekend, do not listen to folk music while you clean your house the next morning.

Let him who has ears to hear, hear this message for the obtainment YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!

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