Dr. Matthew Burford interviews Jay Watts from Merely Human Ministries. The impetus here is the Pro-Life argument and how to properly argue for that position in a positive light. Questions like “why don’t we just preach the gospel and not worry about abortion”? That’s a great question, and if the conversation about the unborn is a gateway drug to the Gospel, would you be willing to talk about it? Another great question. Listen and watch to find out how Jay handles all these issues.
What is the longterm strategy for the Church? How are we moving forward with our new ideas about social distancing when we think about gathering as a Christian Fellowship. Listen as Matt interviews a group of pastors and theologians to discuss these very issues.
Guests: Drs. Kyle McClellan, Joel Busby, Calvin Bell, Tom Fuller & Cameron Dahl
Matt and Travis interview Bradford Acton about the ethics of thinking about the economy in times of trouble? Is there a Theology of economics? How should we count the costs of lives over the disruption of the finances and the market? In the tradition of common sense questions and clear thinking, our group takes a hard look at what it means to be a Christian during this hard economic time.
Dallas Willard reminds us that Jesus tells us to take his yoke upon us, learn from him, and we will find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). This does not mean that if we just connect to God, He will do all the work for us, so we can find rest. Instead, the often overlooked phrase in this verse is that we are to learn from Jesus. By taking His yoke on, we are like the young ox that is yoked with an experienced ox in order to learn how to do the work in the right way. Jesus is telling us that if we’re tired and weary, we’re not doing life the right way. We are meant to live in the rest of Christ. Instead, we are not really even the young ox, but an ox who has developed bad habits and a wrong way of working and needs an experienced ox to work with to learn the right way to do it. If we walk with Jesus, learning the way that He lives, seeing the things He sees, valuing the things He values, we find that life can be lived in rest and peace. Jesus promises us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
One example of this is found in a recent book by John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Once Willard was asked about what is the single biggest thing we can do to help us be more like Christ, and he responded that we need to ruthlessly work to eliminate hurry from our lives. Now if you’re like me, this seems completely counterintuitive, as there is never enough time in the day to get even most of the things done I think I need to do that day. However, Comer lays out (relying on Willard) how we’re missing the point of life and the way we were created if our lives are ones of constant hurry. While we are busy trying to keep everything going in our lives, we are focused on the wrong things. We need to refocus on the things that matter, the things that Jesus sees, the values Jesus shows us. Yes, dinner still needs to be made, the kids still have homework, laundry needs to be done, and everything else, but with a realignment of values, those things take their proper places in our lives. This doesn’t mean that our lives are free of all types of stress, but when we live our lives the way we’re meant to live them, we are like the tool that is used in the way it is intended rather than the power saw trying to be a screwdriver.
Part of why life is so hard is that we are trying to live out of ourselves, working to make the decision every day to do the things we need to do to be like Jesus. Drew Dyck’s Your Future Self Will Thank You engages some of the contemporary brain science related to Christian formation, especially with respect to will power. When we fail to integrate these practices into our lives, then every day we have to use our will power to do these practices. However, will power is a limited resource, and if we have to rely on that resource to fuel our spiritual growth, on the days when the demands of life require us to use our will power elsewhere, we find that we lack the resources to do the practices to be more like Jesus.
Part of the reason that we have to use our will power to do these things is because these practices are contrary to the things we actually value in our lives. I’m not saying that we don’t want to value these things, but that what we actually value in this present moment may not be perfectly aligned with the things we want to value or know we should value. The goal of using our will power should be that these things become ingrained within us so that we don’t have to use our will power.
I have had a bad tendency to try to do fix everything at once in my life. Spend some time with God, get the workout in, eat healthy, exhibit otherworldly patience with my children, and get plenty of sleep, on top of everything else going on. When none of things is my natural inclination, I’m using my will power at each turn to make those things happen, and on a good day, before the sun goes down (far too early, as I write this in the late fall), my will power is depleted, and it is incredibly difficult to do things that I know I should do. Instead we help ourselves when we do one or two things, and focus on those things, choosing to do them, but not just to do them to check them off the list, but to do them in a way with the goal of making them a part of our lives. Over time, we have to use less will power and it becomes a part of our normal lives, but it takes a constant and persistent choosing in the beginning. Once it is a normal part of our lives, we are using little of our will power to make it happen, and then have the will power resources to add another presently difficult thing to our lives.
As we start to realign our lives to be more like Christ, developing the mind of Christ through disciplines, some of the difficult things may become easier, even when we’re not focused on those things. When I started regularly working out, my body started to desire more water than I was drinking at the time, and so I started to drink more water, which is healthier than I had been. In time, I found that I was naturally grabbing water when I wanted something to drink. Similarly, as we learn from Christ as we walk alongside Him, we will likely find that as we work to add a practice to or eliminate a practice from our lives, as we are able to be successful once, the next one may be easier to do, or we may even find ourselves doing that thing we previously weren’t doing.
However, we have to start. We have to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing and that we need to learn. We have to attach ourselves to Christ, not expecting Him to do everything for us, but to learn how to live, including the spiritual disciplines, not as a matter of things to do, but of ways to live in the rest that we have been promised in Christ. Yet, we seem to be unable to accept this reality most of the time.
I often see this inability to accept reality in my children. They become convinced of doing things a certain way, although that way is incredibly inefficient or produces poor results. While they are able to get the job done, their methods result in a struggle that is ultimately unnecessary. However, the idea of doing something differently than they’ve known is not appealing and seems difficult, so they persist in their ways. As a parent, I try to show them a better way, but until they’re willing to try it for themselves, they remain convinced that the struggle is just part of doing those things. In the same way that parents long to show their children a better way, so does the Triune God long for us to embrace the way of living life by which we thrive. It often seems beyond our imagination to do so, yet it is the imagination that can play an essential role in this life coming about.
In the next post,
I’ll consider the way that imagination can help us develop the mind of Christ.
 Of course, we then added another child to our family and the caffeine content of the beverage trumped everything else for the next twelve months.
Aristotle says in Nicomachean Ethics that every action is done aiming at a good. Before you start listing all the bad actions that people (especially you) do as clear counterexamples to this claim, consider your own thought process when you do something you would say you know to be bad. When you go back to the buffet for the third or fourth time, you may know that you’re going to be miserable and regret doing it, yet you go because in that moment, the partaking of that additional food is appealing and seems to be good. You aim at the good of enjoying food, but your understanding of enjoying food fails to consider the moderation necessary for actual enjoyment that is not fleeting. We can even look at more extreme examples like premeditated murder. When someone decides to kill another person, the murderer may recognize that the victim’s friends and family would be deeply hurt and, if caught, the rest of his life will be spent in prison. Yet, the murderer so strongly holds the belief that the world will be better for him if the victim is not alive in it, that the murderer acts, despite the negatives that could result. For Aristotle, being a good person is not about doing the right action, but about seeing what is good correctly, for an accurate perception of the good will result in right action. Because we all do what we perceive in that moment as good, the way we perceive the good is of the utmost importance. Additionally, the longer we incorrectly hold a perception of something as good, the more difficult to change it, as we fight back against the solidification of our perceptions of value that tend to happen over time.
However, the examples above point to the reality that we don’t properly perceive the good all the time, and that the idea of the good that some have is so misshapen that what is actually good may be repulsive to them. With Christians, Dallas Willard made the case in multiple places that discipleship is too often treated as an optional good for those who are really committed. The mindset is that actually living out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount are only for those “super-Christians”, clergy, or even no one, showing us how far we are from God. However, what Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount is the way of the kingdom, both now and in the New Creation. If these things look unappealing to us now, what reason do we have to think that they will suddenly become appealing upon our death? Jesus tells us that eternal life is not primarily a matter of what happens when you die, but about knowing the Triune God (John 17:3). So if what is now unappealing or lacks value becomes appealing and valuable in an instant upon death, it is worth pondering if it is really you that exists in the New Creation.
If eternal life is something that can be experienced already, then we should be living in that life of relationship with the Triune God in the here and now. Then, as I talked about in a previous post, when you’re in relationship and genuinely pursuing that relationship, the way you see the world is changed, and what you value changes as well. Eternal life is then about learning to see and value reality through relationship with the Sustainer of reality.
While there are seismic shifts that can happen in the way we understand the world, these shifts are incredibly destabilizing and often leave us feeling uncertain of more than just that issue, including who we really are. If we are treating discipleship as an optional part of Christianity, or a secondary emphasis to evangelism, I think we’ve misunderstood what Christianity is about. I am not at all bold enough to make any claims about the salvation of those who hold such a view, whether just in theory or in practice, but it seems that at the very least, the process of transformation into Christlikeness has to happen, and if it fails to at least start in this life, we only further solidify the parts of our life that are contrary to that process, making it a lengthier and more difficult process in the life to come.
The Christlike perspective is necessary in the New Creation, for without it, we may live in the Kingdom, but without an understanding and appreciation necessary for the flourishing we are all called to in the New Creation. So if we must gain this perspective, but it is presently a perspective foreign and unappealing to us, if clothed with that perspective in an instant, would we know how to function? This is not simply being given glasses to make things clear that were once blurry, but learning that what we thought was up is down, what we thought was power is weakness, what we thought was ugly was beautiful. If we are able to immediately accept and thrive with that instantaneous change, what is the connection between these new people and the people we were before this change? It seems like all that we valued and even the way that we remembered our lives would shift so dramatically, that while it may be the same resurrected body, it may be the same embodied soul, but is that the person we knew ourselves to be before we died? 
However, if we are working to bring our perceptions in line with Christ, to see the world as He does, then, like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, what we now see as a reflection in a mirror, we will then see face to face in the New Creation; what we know in part now we will know fully in the New Creation. It is as though we will gain glasses to see perfectly the things we strained to see here and now. Glasses only do good for people who are trying to see reality, but are struggling. Glasses don’t cure blindness, nor do they cure those who lack a commitment to truly experience reality, preferring to perceive things in ways that serve them most.
Working to gain that Christlike perspective of the world cannot be done on our own, but requires Jesus, for at the very least, we need Him as a check on us as to whether our perceptions are actually becoming more like His or not. We too have work in this, as no one can make us see things differently than we want to see them. An oversimplified analogy would be that of the magic eye pictures that were so popular in the 90s. What looks like a weird, formless pattern on first glance, becomes an interesting 3D picture upon looking at it in the right way. However, if you don’t look at it in the right way, you’ll continue to only see the pattern and not the picture that is within the pattern. You can train yourself to make it easier to see the picture, but it is a different way of looking at the picture than you typically look at the world. In Christ, the reality of the Kingdom requires you to train yourself to see in a way that is foreign to this world, but failing to do so, means that you fail to see the depth of what is going on in the Kingdom, not just in the New Creation, but even in the here and now.
Again, I am not saying that those who call themselves Christians but fail to strive toward a Christlike in the present will not be in the New Creation, for the Triune God does not want anyone to perish, but all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). However, the work necessary to change our perception can and should begin now, because I believe the Triune God wants all of us there, not just our embodied souls, and there won’t be an instant in which our perceptions are completely and dramatically changed to appreciate the reality and beauty of the Kingdom.
How do we do this? I’ll lay some groundwork for this in the next post.
 The explanation of why an immediate, dramatic change in values might undermine our identity is discussed at greater length in a future podcast to be linked once recorded.
Matt Burford interviews Tim, Simeon, and Jeremiah Castille about competition in a sports context and how it relates to Christianity. Should Christians engage in competitive and even violent sports?