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Randy Willingham Posts

The Bigger Conversation

Someone attempts to kill everyone in a church service, questions emerge, and reporters (more cultural commentators than news reporters) communicate the following sentiment.

We need a bigger conversation. We need a bigger conversation about why human life is seen as something we can just discard and why we value it so little. We need conversation about what is deeper that produces so many of our problems.

When we have a mass killing a number of explanations emerge that are plausible. Until we get the facts we do not know what explanation applies. Yet, the very fact that there are so many options is a sign of the enormity of our problems. Is a particular mass killing domestic terrorism, international terrorism, domestic disputes, mental illness, simply human wickedness, or just inexplicable?

And then we have others who quickly offer explanations though we know they are agendas. Their devotees will pounce on any and every opportunity to push their “solution.” In many ways these solutions are in search of a problem so they can be legitimized as solutions. Some of us realize that to these people the solutions are more important than solving the problem that the solutions are hypocritically claimed to solve!

The very fact that so many “plausible” explanations emerge, that so many jump immediately to emotionally reactive attempts to push solutions embraced with or without facts and the resulting understandable polarization all point to something important about our world. That is, we are breaking down. And, we have been on this path for a very long time.

The problem is also complicated by the fact that entire industries are positioning themselves to turn our problems into extremely lucrative work. Therefore, the real conversations become even more difficult as “experts” fail to admit ways they are part of the problem. Leaders of these industries have not only contributed in powerful ways to our break down but they are also lining up to financially profit as they become our “experts” for understanding our dilemmas. Making no progress deepens their pockets and creates dependency on their “help.”

Families, churches, religious communities and institutions, businesses, political groups, nations, and the human race as a whole can be a dysfunctional group. And, when any of these groups are dysfunctional they will attack and turn on anyone who offers the actual solutions that can give true “hope that does not disappoint.”  They will tend to turn on the very voices they need to hear. It is worse than a waste of time to offer solutions into that kind of conversation. Why? Because they will turn and tear you in pieces. But, there is an even greater reason that this is a waste of effort.

Surely, the best among us would be willing to be torn to pieces if the result would be ultimate good for all. Yet, it is also true that offering solutions in this environment is actually bad for the people who receive those solutions. To understand my claim it is important to realize the following.

Real solutions call for real and painful change. Real solutions are often simple yet complex and difficult in many ways. When defensive people receive those solutions they simply get inoculated against insight that CAN make a difference. As a result, they are in worse shape after they have received insight than they were before they received it. Our problem is NOT that we do not have solutions. Our difficulty is that we do not like the solutions that actually exist. There are powerful reasons we do not like these solutions that could be explored in more detail later.

Hope does not depend on engaging another new conversation. We have not done well with the ones we do engage. Our hope depends upon our realization that we have engaged too many conversations with their accompanying experts as a way of avoiding truths we all know that very few want to admit. Our problems have very little to do with the kind of ignorance that can be “cured” by education. Our problems have everything to do with deliberate and willful ignorance. Willful ignorance is very different than simple ignorance and it cannot be approached the same way.

When we have become so broken we are willing to engage issues of sin more than addiction, moral corruption more so than mental illness, and a spiritual framework that sheds light on an objective moral law more so than subjective human opinion then and only then can we find light at the end of our tunnel.

What we are currently living is the very fruit of being our own “gods.” THE conversation is one about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life given by a being beyond human to humans. If there is not such a thing then “might makes right” and the smartest most manipulative among us will function as the divine intelligence. When we wake up we will realize we have been actually competing against the true God who is within but also above the universe.

We WILL do one of two things. We WILL experience a radical spiritual turning or things WILL get much worse. If we get worse even our prayers will be meaningless because they will be empty self-talk. In that case, our prayers would simply be the problem in conversation with the problem about the problem . . . which is the problem.

Does Anybody Still Believe …

Does anyone believe in a true before and after?  Can the Gospel still change lives and give actual healing that restores the soul?  Meet Deonna.

John 3:17 Ministries and the Remmel congregation show over and over that the Gospel still saves AND heals … completely.  Pure Heart Vision is honored to partner with John 3:17 to conduct family days for these renewed angels of God.Deonna’s story is powerful. God has lifted her from loosing her mother while being, herself, badly injured in a horrible automobile accident. She was 7 years old. And, this was only the beginning of her difficult path. That childhood experience defined her in ways no child could control for many years. She entered a death spiral that discovered one bottom after another as she fell to new lows she didn’t know existed. She began to be something horrible. In her words, she became a waste of living and breathing space.

What a way to define yourself! I cannot imagine anything better than the person on the left to powerfully picture Jesus’ claim that some people are dead … even if physically they do take up breathing space. I cannot imagine anything better than the person on the right to more powerfully picture that Jesus gives life giving water that actually raises us from death to new life. Salvation is a move from death to life. Actually. And, her pictures show what is less obvious yet just as true for all of us.

Here is how I described the new Deonna at her recent graduation.

         “I have been walking with two atheists toward death as they can actually see the end of their lives. One of them tells me, ‘Randy, I used to lay on the ground outside at night and just marvel at what some call the heavens. The consistencies, majesty, and beauty of those stars night after night are profound. I wondered how it could be that it all happened by chance. It is amazing.’

       The Bible says the heavens speak. They speak of the glory of God. If we listen we can hear (Psalm 19). In fact, the creation speaks so clearly that if we do not hear what is spoken we are without excuse and we will actually corrupt our own minds (Romans 1:18-32). However, the struggle of an atheist who rejects God because of seeing war, pain, and unimaginable suffering can teach us a truth. Lay under the stars at night and listen. Listen and you can hear the heavens speak of God’s power. Yet, ask those stars that speak so clearly of God’s power about your deepest pain – and they are silent. The stars say nothing about the meaning of our suffering, why our world is so fallen, and why innocent children face life challenges no human being can face. We cry out into a universe that feels like it does not hear our cry and just responds with an insulting silence.

         Deonna is beautiful … way beyond what we see on the surface. She is beautiful because … because by her openness to God healing her pain she IS the voice of God to others in their pain. She speaks what the stars themselves cannot express. She carries within her own story the story of God that not only explains but that also heals our deepest wounds. Others may choose not to hear just as an atheist may choose not to hear what the stars DO speak. Yet, she has a message for any who is truly honest. And, that message is her life lived as an irrefutable proof that we can choose not to waste our pain, that our pain is meaningful, and that our pain is often the place where we join God’s deepest work in the world.

         Here is where I saw Deonna’s beauty as we processed her story. I saw her beauty in the “yet.” Notice. She experienced pain she could not control and that runs deeper than what 99% of the population will ever know. YET, a thread running through her life was a need to help others who were hurting … even when they were hurting less than her. This was her hidden spark of life in a body of death. She has not become one who thanks God for the gift and then runs away from God’s work to heal those who have not found healing. No wonder she is now assisting John 3:17 to care for incoming residents who need what she has found. Do you hear what I hear? She has become a voice who can be heard even when the stars have nothing they can say.”

My prayer for her is that she will not be burdened by carrying for others but that she will find even deeper healing. I pray that just as she found one bottom could break into an even lower bottom she will now find that God will lift her up beyond the ceiling’s limitation time after time!Please pray for her. And, we have two upcoming family days for two more ladies. We have done family days for well over 40 women. Imagine over 40 before and after pictures very close to this one. This makes me grateful to the board of Pure Heart Vision for supporting this ministry and grateful for John 3:17 Ministries’ partnership and friendship that gives us such meaningful and Gospel validating work. I am grateful to God for my own pain and the pain within my family without which we would have never known the joy of walking alongside someone as deeply beautiful as Deonna.

 

A Call to Christians

We invest our hearts, our minds, and our very lives to fulfill our mission. Yet, we are not naïve about the potential self-deception that can turn our personal goals into subtle idols. We are serious about effectiveness because we are even more serious about faithfulness. Therefore, we vow before God and to each other to pursue our mission in a way that is faithful and consistent with a Biblical set of values we believe to be pleasing to God. We embrace the following.

  1. God’s Greatest Truth (which empowers God’s greatest commands)
  2. God Invests in Flawed People to Receive and Carry His Love to Others
  3. The Gospel is about Relationship Not Issues
  4. God’s Creative and Redemptive Intentions
  5. Realistic Optimism about Human Nature

God’s Greatest Truth

According to the Bible, the greatest commands are to love God, first, and then to love each other as we love ourselves. All the Law and the Prophets boil down to that legal claim on our lives.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

Matthew 22:35-40

However, the Bible’s greatest commands are different than the Bible’s greatest truth. The greatest truth of the Bible is love from the other direction. John 3:16 and 17 do not speak of love we ought to give God. Rather, they speak of love that God has given us in spite of the fact that we have NOT first loved God and then loved our neighbor as ourselves.

             Christ comes to us in ways we do not deserve. Receiving God’s love in Christ provides what we need to love others above the love we should have but failed to give them under the Law’s requirement. Christ eventually calls us to love each other and outsiders in the way he has loved us when we were unloving.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16, 17

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34, 35

The expectation to love in a way that we are not capable of loving is a problem. We all know deep in our hearts that we have been more self-centered and less caring than what would be ideal (that is, God’s will). And this is where making the distinction between love as a command (the Bible’s greatest command) and love as a gift (the Bible’s greatest truth) makes a difference. I will unpack the implications of this in a later blog. But will now say that the experience of being loved and receiving that love is healing. Receiving God’s gift of undeserved love (which is different than being loved by Him) is what produces the power for us to meet the obligation of love toward God and others. And, ultimately, this is the key to moving beyond that to love others the way God loves us. As I mentioned, I will unpack this more later.

God Invests in Flawed People to Receive & Carry His Love (that is, His Presence)

God’s desire for working on earth with and through people is expressed in the opening pages of the Bible. Genesis 1:26-28 provides a biblical perspective of God’s creative intention.

  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

 Genesis 1:26-38 

Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply with a view toward ruling over the created order under a trusting relationship with God. Historically, the human race has been a drama of fall and divine recovery. The promise of blessing was given to Abraham, the father of Israel. Israel became the people of God but then echoed the human story of fall from God’s grace and intention. Prophets marveled that God would not destroy unfaithful Israel. Elijah thought he was the only one faithful to God and Habakkuk was baffled at God’s patience with unfaithful Israel. Yet, God’s love for Israel was portrayed to a society (for which honor was a life and death matter) by depicting Israel as a wife who unfaithfully prostitutes herself while rejecting a husband who truly and deeply loves (Hosea).

God shattered accepted categories and revealed the scope of his people when he included all nations in the work of the Cross and the Great Commission. All along, God wanted Israel to be a “light to the nations” but Israel was more self-focused on themselves as “God’s people” than focused on God (as the story of Jonah reveals). The church is God’s modern Israel and is pictured in Scripture as God’s Temple to represent his presence within and among us. God’s loving presence is his grace and it is God’s will that he be discovered in the church for the world.

As God’s Temple, we are both the recipient and the carrier of his gracious presence to others. God provides wisdom to the church (James 1:5; 3:17), expects the church to make discerning judgments (Matthew 7:1-6; 18:15-20; Acts 15:1-21; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11), gives gifts to the church to serve others and mature the church (Ephesians 4:11-17), and reveals his presence to the world by the way the church relates to each other in love (John 13:35) – even when we have disputes (Matthew 18:20).

The Bible that begins with God walking with Adam and Eve in a garden ends with a description of God taking up his dwelling with his people pictured as a city (Revelation 21). The final picture of God and his people is an intimate wedding scene picturing the Holy Spirit and the church as groom and bride who invite others into their shared home to join God in his continued work (Revelation 22:17, 21).

Our mission is lived out with a mature awareness of church imperfections – with full commitment to God’s love for the people he loves. We see ourselves as unworthy but grateful recipients of his love made worthy by that very love. We have confidence in God’s confidence for the church.

 

The Gospel is About Recovered Relationship Not Issues

Jesus, according to Scripture, places reconciliation of relationships above worship (Matthew 5:23, 24).  Paul specifically states that the Kingdom of God is not about what one can eat and drink but is more about relating to each other in ways that advance Christ’s work of the cross (Romans 14:17-21; 1 Corinthians 9:8-13).  Paul worked with the Corinthians to change the questions they were asking from “who is right” to “what expresses the love of the cross?” The Corinthian’s question leads to human declarations of winners and losers out of abusive human arrogance; Paul’s question is based in the spirit of the Cross.

  We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.  . . . We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  . . . But not everyone knows this. . . . Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?  So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 

1 Corinthians 8:1-12

The Gospel is not that God was right and we were wrong. The Gospel is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15) in spite of the fact that I was an enemy of God and did not deserve his love (Romans 5:7, 8); and this allows us to draw near to God even when our own hearts condemn us (Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:18-21; 5:13). The biblical picture of the Gospel is not that God finally convinced us we had the wrong conclusion about whether or not the Sabbath should be applied this way or that, whether real worship is expressive or meditative, or whether elders or ministers have the most power. The Gospel is about God overcoming our alienation from him due to our own sinfulness. We were at fault, but He overcame our fault through the giving of Jesus for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

God’s people have tended to get distracted from his work over petty issues for centuries. We must place the emphasis of the message where Scripture places it rather than on proving we are right on all the issues. We believe God’s presence is found in our love for each other; not in those who win the argument about singing the new songs or the old ones. Most believers intuitively recognize that worshipping God is a major dimension of spiritual life. Since the Bible places one’s worship to God below our relationship with each other then we must value relationships at a very high level if we are to faithfully fulfill our mission.

The task of our mission, ultimately, is about a relationship between the human race and God and the resulting way we treat each other. Since God himself reaches down to us (Psalm 113), then we must reach down, across, and even up to each other. We believe the reason for our failure to reach down, around, and up is because we do not see God clearly; and, we consequently do not see ourselves clearly.

 

God’s Creative and Redemptive Intentions

God’s work in the world involves human work. This is a “high partnership” theology which assumes that God is very active in the world but that he expects people to join him. He expresses this purpose in the fact that he has given gifts to people for ministries in the church and in the world.  Although he does not have to, he simply chooses to have us as a part of his ongoing work.  Partnership with him was his intention in Creation and it surfaces again in his plan of Redemption including humans as carriers of the Gospel.

  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 1:26-28, Emphasis mine, RW

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”           

                                                                                       Matthew 28:18-20

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Revelation 22:17-21

The fact that God works through humans to accomplish his will on earth is also seen in the Incarnation of God through Mary, the Bible as a book from God written by human hands, and the significant list of people who can be added to one’s list of faith heroes after reading the Bible (you cannot think of the Exodus without thinking about God . . . or Moses). God partnering with inferior beings to accomplish his work in the world shapes the way we fulfill our purpose.

Realistic Optimism about Human Nature

We understand people, primarily, from a spiritual perspective as being a paradox. People embody both the Divine Image and sinful corruption.  We face human challenges with hope because of the divine possibilities of people as well as with realism because of the sinful possibilities within them.  We do not expect people to be free from problems. Yet, we legitimately expect all Christians in all places to grow as carriers of God’s presence to others. People have been problems to themselves from the beginning of time. We predict that will be the same tomorrow. We live a tension between what we can be at our worst and what we can be at our best.

People, sinfully, try to use the God-given capacity to “rule” to exploit others for purposes of self-advancement or self-protection from others. The same capacity that allows us to manipulate others also makes it possible for us to genuinely love and influence others. We must surrender ourselves, consciously choose to be doves as wise as serpents (Matthew 10), and exert our “ruling capacity” the way God does.

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule . . .

Genesis 1:26-28

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

                                         Romans 3:23

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  

                                                                                                                                                            Matthew 10:16

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked.  She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”  . . . When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:20-28

Understanding this dynamic about human beings will prevent people who care from becoming cynical and it will prevent them from being burned by unrealistic optimism. Seeing the tension here also explains much of how people use power … especially when they deny that they use it. I will unpack more of that dynamic in a later blog.

We are optimistic about people because God’s investment and creative design signals potential. Because of sin, we are not surprised that this potential is not fully reached. We are optimistic because of the Divine Image and we are realistic because of sinfulness; both of which we know in ourselves and others. We are not surprised when people travel to and explore other planets nor are we surprised when people become the only threat among created beings who can literally destroy our entire planet. Therefore, we accept our own call to live lives of powerful influence that is respectful, non-manipulative, and exercises power in a godly way.

Randy Willingham

PHV Coaching Workshop Schedule

I’m deeply grateful to be part of Pure Heart Vision, a ministry seeking to help churches mature as partners in God’s mission. To this end, we provide dedicated Christians with insight, care, training, and connection.

Our work changes the way people think about what it means to be Christian, supports caregivers to sustain them in ministry, coaches decision makers through wise action, and networks for greater impact.  The Pure Heart Vision Coaching Workshop will provide participants a deepened understanding of God, an appreciation for how God sustains care givers, tools that work to make meaningful differences in others’ lives, and meaningful connection with believers who realize it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Where?

The campus of Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Room 208 in the American Heritage.

When?

July 28, 29, 30 (Thursday through Saturday)

Schedule & Focus?

Day 1 (Thursday, July 28): The Farewell (Jesus’ Longest Recorded Speech)

9am to 4pm (lunch provided)

Dr. Peter Rice and Professor Jim Bury will lead us in a deep study of the Farewell Speech (John 13-17).

 

Day 2 (Friday, July 29): Pure Heart Vision Coaching and Consulting

9am to 3pm (lunch provided)

Dr. Randy Willingham will coach the group on Pure Heart Vision coaching and consulting.

 

Day 3 (Saturday, July 30): The Biblical Story that Makes Our Story Matter 

9am to 2:30pm (lunch provided)

We will integrate insight from days 1 and 2 into meaningful adjustments to our care of souls.