Conversatio Divina

Part 11 of 11

Celebration and Worship

Originally given in a Wednesday night class at Rolling Hills Covenant Church

Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard teaches through a variety of disciplines at the church where he, as he later admitted, got his start as a Christian teacher.

Dallas:  . . . have learned, not just in the sense of books or something of that sort but really in the sense of things which work in life.

Now this evening, we are going to give the last half of the hour to questions; mainly practical questions I am hoping because I am thinking those are the ones that need to be addressed about the subject matter of the course. [00:31]

I am going to talk to you about one final discipline this evening but I am really only going to give you a start on this one and make some statements, which I hope will clarify what the discipline is and tie it in with some scriptures; but really there is no way we could do justice to it even if we did take the full hour. That is the disciplines of celebration.

So I hope you will be thinking or have been thinking about the kinds of, not only questions but also, comments that you would like to make. I am very happy to have people who have a desire to share their own views on the matters we are discussing as well as people who want to ask questions. So, keep that in mind now as we approach this hour, and we will in about a half an hour stop the lecture part of the hour and go into a question/comment discussion part of the hour. [1:31]

Let’s bow together in prayer as we come now to this study. “Dear Lord, for some reason, it seems hardest of all to live a life of celebrating your goodness in the sense where we are really enjoying the things you have provided in every dimension of our experience with a clear conscience and with unbounded thankfulness that you have provided them.

We know that discipline sounds a little harsh and we tend to associate it with things that are difficult so that when we come to just abound in your goodness, we are perhaps a little disoriented; and so now, as we approach this topic, we are asking for special assistance that in this dimension also of the life of our Savior, even while He was here upon this earth, we should also be able to identify with it. We should also be able to enter into it with good faith and enthusiasm and without the least suspicions that you are somehow angry with us because we are feeling good.

So, touch the deep resources of our hearts, the recesses where there hide suspicions about your attitude towards us, unease about the enjoyment of life and help us to see that life lived at the level of abundance and fullness can also be a life of faith and a life of service. Help us to see that a life of faith and a life of service can also be a life of abundance and fullness. We really do need help with that, Lord and so we are asking especially for that this evening. In your name, Amen. [3:37]

Now, we concluded our last study on a note of exultation as we contemplated the community of fellowship and submission as I used those words last time—the community of fellowship and submission which will in God’s time and in God’s way come to dominate the whole earth and indeed the whole cosmos—that community which will dissolve the Kingdoms of this world into the Kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.

That is to say, there is going to come a time in which government as we know it will simply not be of any use.  It will have no function because there will be a transformation and God will so dwell in all living spirits that there will be no use for government, as we know it. [4:38]

Now, if you ask me for the details as how that’s going to come about, I can’t give you the details. I can refer to you to people who can but I can’t and I don’t find any peace in any of the clearly identifiable positions that have big long names attached to it. I know that we should be, and we can be ready for the coming of Christ at any time. That’s what we are told—to be ready—to watch—to be prepared, that He “will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2) when you don’t expect Him; when you are asleep, He will come. [5:12]

We can be ready and that’s what we are advised to be but I do know that the outcome of history is going to be that “every knee shall bow . . .  and every tongue shall confess” (Philippians 2:10-11) with enthusiasm and joy, that “Jesus Christ really is Lord.”  And when they do it, it will be an act of glorification to God and it’s going to be nothing else but the coming in fullness of that fellowship of submission and love and understanding and power that we spoke a little bit about last night and indeed we are going to speak a little bit more about today.

So, it is appropriate for us to go on from the discipline of submission and fellowship to the discipline of celebration. I remind you of the overall structure of our series now. We are talking about people who have decided that they wish to be like Christ. They want to be like Him. They, more than anything else want to be like Him. They have decided to arrange their life so that they can become like Him, that they can be conformed to the image that He expresses of the nature of the triune God. These are people who have become disciples.

Then we have spoken about a series of activities, which we enter into in the hope and confidence that in them we will meet God and come to live in the character of God by the power of God. Those are our disciplines and in so doing, we enter in as God brings us along, we enter in to the triumphant life of faith, which is a solid replica of the life, which Jesus Christ Himself lived. [7:07]

Now, if you are suspicious that that’s not going to happen until after you are dead; well, I am glad to know that it will happen after you are dead, but I would hope that you would think you might begin to enter into it now. There is no indication that the confirmation to the image of Christ to which we were all pre-destined in order that He might be the firstborn in a large family, there is no indication in the Scripture and every indication to the contrary that that is something that is not only to begin but is to be substantially realized in this life—in this life.  [7:42]

The old Apostle John in his letter says, “As he is, so are we in this world.” 1 John 4:17) And Jesus said, “It is enough for the disciple that he be like his master.” (Matthew 10:25) That’s what it is all about and now our faith has to rise to that because if we reject it in our heart, it will not come to pass and of course, it is the business of our ministers and our teachers to so speak the world of God that that faith is created because of course, you can’t have faith by trying. You have to set yourself before the word of God until the word of God creates faith.

So that’s the overall scheme now and we come to the last of those activities purposively entered into in the faith and hope that in them we shall learn to live by the power of God in the character of God and that’s the discipline of celebration. It’s one of the hardest ones to talk about. It’s one of the hardest ones. It has been one of the hardest ones and is one of the hardest ones for me to accept. Frankly, I will confess that to you—the discipline of celebration—and let’s try to talk about it a little bit now to see what it might mean for you. [9:03]

Generally, a celebration is an activity in which we engage in honor of something. You celebrate something, don’t you? The old church—the old Catholic Church speaks of the “celebration of the mass.” Have you ever heard that language? They celebrate the mass in the Catholic Church. Isn’t that interesting? It is a celebration. You celebrate the body and the blood of Christ in that ritual.

A celebration is always in honor of something but the second thing about a celebration—it is something, which is carried out, in real joy. It is a joyous occasion engaged in “in honor” of something. We celebrate the 4h of July. We celebrate Thanksgiving. We celebrate Christmas, you see? Those are joyous activities, which we enter into. Now, here’s the catch, you see. You have to understand that that joy always comes from a particular activity. Let’s think about it for a moment. [He writes something on the board.] [10:15]

When we celebrate Thanksgiving, we think of particular activities—chasing some poor turkey down and stuffing it and then stuffing us with it. [Laughter] Fourth of July—firecrackers, fireworks, picnics, cookouts—see, all of those things. Christmas—another story—Christmas lights, gifts, Christmas trees; see, there is a different particular activity. Now what characterizes all of those particular activities?

They have in them an intrinsic quality of joy—the joy of color and shape and the glitter in a Christmas tree. See, those are elemental things that are put in our nature by God and we take those and we engage in those as a process of celebrating the birth of Christ—the entrance of Christ into the world. No one can say its imperfect and there are so many things wrong with it. Sure, there are a lot of things wrong with it but let’s enjoy it. All right? [11:26]

I mean, you can say, “Well, you know, there are people who get on the radio and elsewhere and they say all these bad things about Christmas and how it’s a reflection of a pagan festival and all that and sure, I know all that’s true. I know all that’s true and if you are going to have a pagan festival with it, you better stop it but you don’t have to do that, see? You can celebrate it unto the Lord.

Just like in all of the disciplines, so celebration, if you take the particular activities involved and just look at them, you can make them look silly. You can make them look silly. I mean, why should anyone string popcorn together and put it around a Christmas tree? That’s silly. Bah-humbug is the word I think we use there. [Laughter} Right? So, it looks silly. You can make it look silly. But you see, as in all things, the question is what spirit, what intention do you enter into the activity with and if you enter into it, the truth of the matter is, even Scrooge himself could have fun stringing popcorn together on a string and wrapping it around a Christmas tree.  [Dallas?] Yes? [12:36]

Question: What is the derivation of the word celebration? I know that the celibacy sort of has a similar ring to it.

Dallas: Not for sure, Al. I’ll have to look that up. Celebration—no, I don’t know what that is. Hmmm, I will look it up. Celebrate—it does sound like celibacy but I‘m not for sure what the connection is so I will have to do a little homework on that. [13:04]

Now the particular activities then, the one thing in common is that they have in them an intrinsic quality of joy and this is the most important thing for us to understand about a celebration. And of course, since God has made our nature and our world rich with sources of joy, there are a lot of different ways you can celebrate—a lot of different ways you can celebrate.

I would say something practically about this in a moment because one of the things in a celebration we want to do is pick out the particular activities that we really do enjoy. If we don’t like firecrackers; well, for goodness sakes, we don’t want to buy a bunch of firecrackers and set them off just because we are supposed to on the 4th of July, right? That won’t do an awful lot for us. So, one of the things we have to watch is tying into the particular activities that really do give us joy. And that is a challenge to our faith because we do have a problem accepting the significance of our particular needs and wants. [14:14]

Okay, now, with that general understanding of celebration before you, let’s look at some scripture passages now and think about them just briefly. Some of them I ask you to read. Let’s begin with Philippians 4:11. Here you find Paul talking about; actually if you go back before this, you find that marvelous passage where he is including so much—“ . . .whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, pure . . .” (Philippians 4:8) See, those are things which are in fact sources of joy and he was apparently one who practiced this and he says, “whatsoever you have both learned and received and heard and seen in me do and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9) because you have all of these sources of joy in the Lord. [15:04]

Now then, he goes on to speak about how in the 11th verse he has learned to be content in any state. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:12)

Now, if you will notice—it looks contradictory and I hope that I will have time this evening to draw this tension back together but for the time being, jut notice abased, abound, full, empty, abound and suffer need and the unity of it all is “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Now, I want to ask you a question, which will perhaps give you some illumination on how we just almost naturally think of this. When we hear someone saying, ”I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” What do we conclude; that they are having a bad time or a good time? [16:05]

Comment: A bad time.

Dallas: A bad time. A bad time but if you go back and look what Paul is saying. He is not saying that, is he? That all covers good times as well as bad times. Now, if I ask you, when you are apt to get furthest away from the Lord, in the good times or the bad times, which one?

Comment:  In the good times.

Dallas: Isn’t that curious? Isn’t that strange? The Old Testament says, “Jeshurun waxed, fat and kicked”(Deuteronomy 32:15)—a rebellious ox, a rebellious horse—ever work a horse that has been fed all winter and standing around in the stall and you get them out on a nice cook spring day? Well, good luck! You are gonna need it because they just got a lot of stuff in them they’ve got to get out—just a lot of devilment that’s built up. And you see, it’s very important to remember that we take Christ into our good times and we praise God in our good times by the strength, which Christ provides. [17:11]

Very interesting, you see, how we think about these things. And celebration of course automatically comes to be identified with times when we don’t need Christ. Isn’t that interesting? Times when we are, as it were “sufficient to ourselves” but Paul had this straight, see?  And so, the times of abounding and the times of abasement, he took Christ with him in those times equally and until we understand that, out faith has not begun to be the kind of full vision of God’s glory and of our place in His world. That will enable us to walk in His ways as if it were joy and natural and right and healthy and strong and all of those things. [18:04]

What do you suppose Paul means in Romans 8 when he says, “We are more than conquerors”—more than conquerors—“through him that loved us.” [Romans 8:37) We are more than conquerors. We don’t just win, you see? It isn’t just a matter of winning. It is a matter of abundantly winning. It is a matter of “an abundant entrance” to give you those words from the words from 2 Peter which we dwelt on many nights ago—“an abundant entrance.” (2 Peter 1:11) It is in the abundance of the entrance. It is in the abounding of life. It is in the “more” that goes with the “more than conquerors” that we enter into the level of comprehensive faith—the faith that is as natural as breathing in and breathing out—the ease with which Jesus walked among men that got Him the name of a glutton and a wine bibber, you see? [19:07]

The ease—you see, He walked with a clear consciousness—a clear conscience in the good food and the wine and the good times and the celebration and the good fellowship. He could sit down at a party of the Pharisees and the Scribes and the publicans and the harlots and be at home—perfectly at ease. Perfectly at ease because His faith was right and He saw God in the right way.

David saw this also. If you read—I believe it’s the 5th verse of the23rd Psalm, what does it say? “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Now, you see, when you are in the presence of your enemies, you don’t want to eat. You want to snarl and bite and the juices that flow are not the gastric juices; they are others and they put you in a pugnacious attitude. [20:14]

It’s no time that David says, “in the presence of mine enemies I sit down an abundant table. My head is anointed with oil . . . ” That was before people were afraid of the “greasies,” you know. That oil on the head meant that you were feeling good and you were in a condition of celebration and kind of fullness of life. If you know, if you have lived through some of our Santana periods where your skin feels like it is going to pop? You put a little oil on it? You know then what David was talking about.

“Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup runs over.”—so much of an abundance that the milk or the wine or the water or whatever it is he is drinking is just running over—a running over cup, an anointed head—a table full. “Surely, I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” See? That kind of confidence before God in abundance is what we are really talking about with celebration. [21:14]

Now very quickly, just a few references to some of the special passages. I am going to stick mainly to the Old Testament here. Let me cover this under three headings. [He writes on the board.] And I’ll give them, for lack of more convenient names—the Sabbath, the Feasts, and then individualized or individual abundance and I’ll give you some scripture passages now to tie in with all of those.

If for example, on the Sabbath year, you look at Leviticus 25—just one of the passages where this marvelous custom of the Jews on the Sabbath is spelled out in its full detail. The Sabbath was not a day of the week. The Sabbath was a periodic time in which one simply laid back as it were and lived off of the abundance of God provided through His land. And of course, it was primarily in the Sabbath year and in the year of Jubilee that this abundance was shown forth. [22:38]

In Leviticus 25, you begin verse 4 here—the seventh year when you come into the land, “ . . . the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the Lord; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vine. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. And the Sabbath of the land shall be meat for you: for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee. And for thy cattle, and for thy beasts that are in the land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.” (Leviticus 25:4-7) And not only shall that happen every seven years but, “Then thou shalt number seven Sabbaths of years  . . .”—Forty-nine years—“ . . . seven times seven . . . and thou shalt cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month . . . and thou shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land . . . and it shall be a jubilee unto to you . . . “ (Leviticus 25:4-10)

What’s a jubilee? Well, a celebration, right? Jubil—what did jubl do? Does anyone remember what Jubil did? [23:58]

Comment: He made horns.

Dallas: He made horns. [Laughter] That’s right. Jubil was the creator of musical instruments and of course, what do you do in a celebration? You have music. A jubilee is when you get together and “jubil” (Laughter) and so the year of jubilee, why, you sit around and you plunk your guitar and you blow your horn and you eat off of the fat of the land. [24:20]

The provision that is made—if you go on, the 21st verse (but he meant 20th verse)—let’s look at 21 because this is really the issue with the Sabbath. “And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase . . .” That’s what we might say and God says, “Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.” (Leviticus 25: 20-21) The sixth year will just bring forth fruit for three years. I mean the God who provided manna in the wilderness now in the land of Canaan provides on the sixth year enough food for three whole years. “And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year, until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.” (Leviticus 25:22) The old store—well, that’s the Sabbath. [25:13]

The Sabbath is a time of rest and jubilee and celebration and God meant that that should be the same way with the Sabbath in the week and it was a time of rest. We have practically obliterated that from all of our consciousness. We have no time of rest. No time of rest.

My grandmother and grandfather still were from an era in which they thought it a little bit wrong for you to play a baseball game or see a movie or have fun on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was supposed to be pretty grim. There wasn’t much “jubil” in it, you know, especially for young people.

And this is one of the things that hurt many, many young people because they learned to associate religion with dreariness and with the rejection of the good and the joy that is in the natural deployment of the body. This is a piece of Pharisee-ism that comes down to us, you see and we have to go back and look at the initial plan of the Sabbath. [26:22]

Rest does not mean inactivity. Rest does not mean inactivity. Rest means a change of activity. You rest from something. You rest from something. Rest is a relative term and you rest from one thing by turning to another and of course, there is nothing more important in our Sabbaths than that we should turn from “business as usual,” as it were and concentrate upon activities which bring us before God in worship and study, in fellowship and so on.

But on the other hand, the rest of our life should have those in them too and there is no reason in this world why our re-creative activity, our resting activities should not be something we enjoy and the truth of the matter is, that’s exactly what it was supposed to be—something we enjoy. [27:23]

The prohibition of things because they are fun, while it might serve a purpose in some connections, it might remind us, for example, that we should attend to things which directly relate to the worship of God and the building up of the soul in prayer and study and the things I have mentioned. Still, still, that does not mean that things should be precluded simply because they are sources of joy. Indeed, it is only in the strength of joy that we are able truly to worship the Lord. Joy is a source of strength. [28:06]

Let’s go on to feast for just a moment.  Here, let me give you a scripture passage, which covers a number of feasts in Israel—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of the Tabernacle. This is Deuteronomy the 16th chapter and I will want to read a verse from that. Deuteronomy the 16th chapter—just a verse or two that will give you the flavor of the kind of celebration that is going on there—you might go back to Deuteronomy 14:13 also but I want to read from 16. Indeed, this whole section in here, Deut. 13 to 16, read with a view to understanding what the feasts were. [28:49]

But, just for example, let’s look at the Feast of Tabernacles, verse 13 and following, of chapter 16—“ Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine.” Now look what shall happen. “And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.” (Deut. 16: 14) Now, the intent of that list is to make sure that everyone gets in—everyone gets in—the widow, the sojourner, the orphan, the stranger, all of them. No one was to be left out. If you happened to be passing though a town when that hit, you were to be included.  See, and again, you get a sense of an altogether different kind of a community that’s being discussed here. [29:42]

Now, the truth of the matter is, as far as I can tell, from studying what sources remain, this kind of thing never really happened among the Jews. They never did bring themselves to the point to where they could include all those people. They had the feast for some periods of times but it never was something that their faith rose to and their joy rose to so that they could do it in the manner prescribed here. [30:09]

“Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose . . .” Can you imagine today a group of people holding a feast for seven days? We’ve lost that art.  . .  [Went silent at 30:23 – 30:32-Change of tape] . . . I reference to God. I don’t think that’s true. I think this is a very realistic fellow with a very realistic faith and he is a lot smarter than most of us. And what he has to say should be looked at very carefully. As in all cases, you cannot take any verse or any passage from any book and pull it out of its context and out of the Bible and say , “This is total wisdom” but it is a part of wisdom.

Now watch what he says, chapter 2 verse 24 of Ecclesiastes—“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” And the writer in effect says in the 25th verse,  “I ought to know. I am better at this than anybody.” (For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?) [Laughter] See? [31:29]

And, in the midst of a world where there is so much that appears as vanity and vexation and puzzling and tragic even, the wisdom of God is that you should sit down in the middle of it and you should enjoy the good that God has given you in your labor.

You might tie with that Ecclesiastics 9:7-10—another dimension of the enjoyment that God has given. Listen to this. This is 9:7—“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy and drink thy wine with a merry heart for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou loveth all the days of the life of thy vanity . . . ” He’s saying, “Really, don’t blow yourself up so big that you think you’ve got stuff so important to do that you can’t enjoy your food and your romantic life.” Right? That’s a very important thing for us to hear especially those of us who believe we are ministers and teachers because we can undermine the solid foundation of God’s grace by neglecting these kinds of things. [32:55]

“ . . . Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and then he goes on to say, “ . . . for there is no work, no device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, wither thou goest.” In other words, he is saying, “God has given you this world. Enjoy it! Enjoy it! Enjoy it!”

Now again, as I say, I want to re-emphasize, that is not the whole of wisdom; that is a part of wisdom. And it is a part of wisdom if which we are not masters of it, we are not wise, no matter how holy we may look. You remember, it is another part of the counsel of the preacher, in Ecclesiastes 7:16, “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” How many people have destroyed themselves by being too righteous? And one of the main manifestations of a fallen world is destructive religion, which gets so righteous that they cannot simply enjoy the natural things, which God has appointed and praise Him and love Him and have faith in Him therein. [34:11]

If I had time this evening, I would like to just work you through Psalms 145-150 and I’ll give you that reference. Read it. Look at the celebration. Look at the whole creation just jumping with praise for God. “Everything that hath breath praise ye the Lord . . . (Psalm 150:6) Why?—because of the experience of the goodness of God and of the creation that He has made. We praise God truly when we truly enter into His goodness.

There may be times when we must praise Him out of desperation to remind ourselves of His goodness, but that again is only a part of the story. And the act of celebration is an act in which we enter in to particular activities, which we know to be good, with the intent of praising Him with the joy and the strength of joy that comes from engaging in those things that He has given. That’s celebration.

Now, a few practical points and I close. First of all, celebrate in balance. If you don’t know how to fast, you probably won’t know how to celebrate. I’m not saying start at one place or the other, but just remember, celebration is to be in balance with the other disciplines. [35:30]

All of the other things we have been talking about and others besides which we have not been able to discuss but which fit the general description we’ve given, that’s to be in balance.  While there will be individual variations, our activities as a whole will balance out into a unified life wherein there is alternation between fasting and feasting, between being with people and being alone, between singing and being silenct, praying and serving, studying and celebrating. So, everything in balance. Celebrate in balance. [36:12]

Secondly, as you approach this discipline, take time to examine your uneasiness about doing it, OK? Because I know that you are going to be uneasy about doing it. I know that and if I were to say to you that you could take off and go to San Diego for a weekend to enjoy the zoo or whatever else you enjoy down there, and that you were to do that as a religious exercise, you would probably feel very uneasy about that. You would think, “What? Sounds like a vacation to me.” But wait a moment. Wait a moment! See, the whole point is precisely that—a vacation can be an exercise in religious devotion and on the other hand, if it can’t be, what’s wrong with us? Why is it that our faith rules that out?

See, the truth of the matter is our faith has a hard time rising to the idea of having a good time to the Glory of God.  It has a very hard time and so I say, think about what this shows us about our faith. What does this tell us about our belief about God? That He is happier when we are miserable? The truth of the matter is we are apt to believe that—that God is just a little bit happier if we are a little less happy. Hmmm? [37:43]

Thirdly, as you approach this, select the things you really do enjoy. Don’t select the things that someone tells you that you should enjoy. Given that in fact, these things you enjoy are right and proper and that’s the assumption of all that I am saying. Select the things that you enjoy and whatever that may be, then do that and praise God with the joy that comes from that.

Try to get past the screen of sorting out that says that this is—suppose someone says, this joy is, let’s say, silly or stupid? Now, being silly or stupid isn’t a sin, okay? Let’s start with that. And if you enjoy it, enjoy it. Don’t worry about it if someone else thinks they are silly or stupid, right?   Enjoy it and thank God for it and live in it for that length of time with thankfulness towards God. [38:53]

So, select things you really enjoy! And then, as you do so, you must make the conscious choice and effort, when you are enjoying them. Let’s suppose you just love firecrackers and fireworks; at the height of your enjoyment, praise God with the strength of that joy.  Turn the beauty and the sound or whatever it is you like about that and thank God for that. Thank God for the good things when they are good, when you are enjoying them.

Let me tell you something. Here is a nice exercise. I’ll give you an exercise. Next time you have a big meal, instead of praying before, pray afterwards. Pray right at that moment you just, you know feel like you have come to that place where it is perfection—perfection. [Laughter] At that point, lift your mind to God in thankfulness for that. You will find that the quality of your devotion towards God is immensely improved and lightened when you take Him into that. [40:10]

If you feel al little bit guilty about praying afterwards rather than before—explore that and ask yourself why? And ask yourself if we aren’t possibly identifying God too much with perhaps a mother and father who insisted that we do everything right before we eat. Trace those things down and try to make sure you aren’t thinking of God in a rather bad way if you believe you must pray before you eat.

God might rather wait and have an overflowing thanks that rises somewhere from here than to have a little think squeak of thanks which is done because you think maybe He would like it better if you said it before. Praise God! Praise God with genuine thankfulness that arises from a real joy that is throughout your body. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6) [41:18]

The intention of God is to create a community, which as He says, in Isaiah the 65th chapter, will be “ . . . Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy.” If you look in the last chapters of Revelation, you see this marvelous creation of the Heavenly Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. Do you know what that’s going to be? Oh, it’s going to be a place all right.

It’s going to have a lot of marvelous equipage about it; that’s not what makes it great. What makes it great is, it is the abode of a happy people. It is the abode of a people who are rejoicing and are filled with joy because they live directly confronting the overflowing abundant goodness of God. [42:07]

You re-read chapters 20 and 21 of Revelation, I think it is. Yea, 21 mainly and just see if you don’t see there a sweet society of people who are rejoicing as they live together in God. “I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” That’s celebration. That’s eternal celebration. That’s what’s going to be going on forever is an eternal celebration so you better start getting yourself in shape. Okay.

All right now, we are going to stop the lecture part. My wife has suggested that a good way to deal with questions might be if I would just take questions for a while and try to organize them since we have a limited amount of time. Let me jot down a few of them if there are a lot of questions or comments and then try to respond to them if that’s what I should do when it’s stated in sequence trying to organize them and save a little time. So, who would like to begin with questions or comments and remember, I am especially interested in questions about the practicality of what I’ve been suggesting. Anyone? Al? [43:24]

Question: If there is a different way to pray in thanksgiving, then it seems to me a lot of (inaudible) by the discipline of celebration.

Dallas: Yes, indeed.

Comment: It would be right at the heart of it.

Dallas: That’s a good—that’s an excellent point because after all, if it isn’t a celebration in this sense, then the praise and the thanksgiving are apt to be rather thin and as we say, proforma and this is why I think your recommendation is excellent that we should be very careful. I would even put it in this way that we should be very careful about our praise and thanksgiving unless it really is somehow involved in an act of celebration. That’s a good comment. Any other comments or questions? Yes?

Question: Dallas, Paul says that we are to rejoice in the Lord always and that in everything give thanks. When we have crisis and trials in our life, is that the time that he is talking about to give thanks even though we don’t feel like giving thanks? [44:33]

Dallas: Let me—I think I want to come back to that one. In everything, okay. Bob, you were going to make a comment. I will try to come back to that in just a minute. Let me try to collect them.

Question: Getting back to abstaining from baseball and picture shows and so forth, when that started, did that have anything to do with the world of the disciplines? [45:10]

Dallas: All right. Anyone else?

Question: I would really like to hear about a discipline becoming a burden. [45:22]

Dallas: Good. Okay, anyone else?

Comment: Celebrating the disciplines requires self-discipline, which is not one of my long suits. [Laughter] What suggestions do you have for integrating a solitary discipline; like meditation and so on into our schedules? [45:40]

Dallas: Hmm….mmm….okay, let’s see. Suggestions—okay, anyone else want to have a comment? Yes mam.

Question: Inaudible [In summary, it seems to be a question about a discipline of dancing and it being a celebration of life and she wants to get his feedback on that.] [46:10]

Dallas: You want to know what I think about dancing? [Laughter] I’ll be glad to tell you. Yes?

Question: The verse that you used tonight about “I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me.” Would you elaborate on “all things?” What does he mean? Does he mean “all things?” [46:28]

Dallas: Yes, okay. Well, why don’t I have a shot at these for a few moments and see what I can pull together and if I don’t respond to your question, then please you should press me once again.

Actually, there are a number of these questions that are related and I think that’s one of the good reasons for doing it this way. Perhaps we can deal with a number of them together.

“In everything give thanks . . .”—okay? All things through Christ who strengthens me. Now, you have to understand that when Paul speaks of “all things, which he is doing,” he is ruling out a lot of things, which he wouldn’t do, right? He is of course already committed to the way of the disciple and so that rules out holding up trains and robbing 7/11’s and things of that sort but on the other hand, it includes all of the normal kinds of circumstances that we would find ourselves in as we go through life and death. [47:43]

What he is saying is that all of the kinds of circumstances that are normal in human life and then beyond that, the special circumstances that he was called upon to endure as a minister of the Gospel, he entered those in the strength of Christ and was kept by the strength of Christ whether it was abounding or abasement.

The “all things” in everything give thanks—let me just point out that what he is saying is that because of the disciplined life he had led in Christ, he was in a position where even when he was in a circumstance that was not pleasant in itself, he had plenty to give thanks for. [48:28]

“In everything give thanks” does not mean—thank God for every thing. It does not mean that. It means in every circumstance, give thanks but not necessarily for everything that is happening around you. That is very important to understand because many things that happen in this world, you cannot thank God for because He’s not responsible for them and doesn’t want them to happen but no matter what happens, He wants us to be in a position to have such a disciplined spirit of trust and faith and to have lived and worked that out in such a sway by our lives that we are able to be thankful even in those circumstances. And thankful, not in the sense of just forcing it, but in the sense of really finding and having things for which we are thankful. [49:17]

Let me say that I believe that one of the things that we become most thankful for as we grow and live in the church of Christ is the other people that we know in that church. I think that we come to the point to where I know from my own experience, that I have people, some of whom are dead now, and some of whom I haven’t seen for fifteen years but they are a constant silent source of nourishment and thankfulness on my part that I have met those people; that they are alive and that they have lived and that they have impacted me. So, that’s just one thing, but the manifold grace of God that we live through, I think provides us with plenty to be thankful for. [49:57]

Let me go to this question now of how do we work these things in? There is no simple answer to that. This is going to come in degrees. You are going to have to range and re-arrange your affairs until you are able to integrate things like solitude. I would suggest that here you have to recognize that if you lead a very busy life and you have a home with a lot of people in it and so on, you are going to have to make a real effort to begin to integrate solitude into your life. You are going to have to decide what you are going to give up. You are going to have to “lay plans” for this or it just won’t happen.

Solitude and silence—those are among the harder things for us to come by; yet, they are more important for us to come by, I think because our world is so noisy and so busy. We are in a sense intoxicated by noise constantly and so I think what you have to say there is you are going to have to plan. You should plan some large lump; for example, a weekend—go be alone. You may find that you can’t handle that and so, deal with the reasons why you can’t handle it. You may find that your family won’t let you do it or your business won’t let you do it. So, then you have to deal with that. [51:06]

When you start practicing the disciplines, you restructure your world and of course, that affects other people. And now, you can’t ride “rough shot” over that. You have to recognize what is happening and you have to allow other people the opportunity to re-adjust themselves.

On the other hand, you run into things like maybe you are assuming that you carry too much of your world. People might be better off if you were to withdraw and let them have to cope with it and so there are all kinds of things you have to work through on that. There are many very subtle points that you really have to deal with and you have to make plans and you have to accept the fact that your first efforts in most of these things are not going to turn out so well. That’s very important for you. You have to accept the fact that this is an experimental process. [51:54]

If you start to fast; if you start to pray as a discipline; if you start to serve others—any of these will require that you go through a learning process because we are really are not set up that way. Our world did not structure itself that way around us. And yet, if we are going to be conformed to the image of Christ, we have to do it.

There is one thing that I hope that you will remember after you have forgotten everything else and that is at least my assertion. You will remember my assertion that unless we take some steps, conformity to the image of Christ is not going to happen to us. It isn’t going to happen to us. We have to choose. We have to set ourselves in the way. The word of the old servant of Abraham, Eliezer, “I being in the way, the Lord led me.” (Genesis 24:27)  If he hadn’t been in the way, the Lord would not have led him. We have to put ourselves in the way. We have to make the choice. We have to make the commitment. Now, let’s see here, what else have we got?  [53:00]

Not much I think. I think that just about—dancing. Dancing. [Laughter] A lot of dancing in the Bible—nothing wrong with dancing. A lot of things wrong with the places it’s done and the people who do it sometimes but there is nothing wrong with dancing in itself.

Dancing—fundamentally is an enjoyment of the elemental motions of the body. You ever watch a kid? Watch at kid? Watch a kid try NOT to dance. [Laughter] Watch a kid. You know, unless a kid is scared or something, they never walk. They lurch. They rumble. They fly. They dance. They waddle. They don’t walk unless they are scared or something like that. They can’t because you see, they must stylize the motions of their little bodies and it’s one of the most delightful things in the world to watch them. [54:08]

Dance is a motion through which the joy—the element of joys—of the body and its powers to move are expressed. Now, because of the deep connections between the body and the rest of life, there are difficulties that arise because the motions of the body and the joys of the body are closely connected to other things; like the joys of sex and courtship and so you have to have a governing principle that guides. Not everything that is done in the way of dance is right. Some things are—some things aren’t. [54:44]

David danced before the Lord and made a fool of himself and many people have made fools of themselves, not even dancing before the Lord, just dancing. [Laughter] So, it can be done wrongly. It can be done wrongly. And I would say in particular that if you have young folks especially and they want to dance, you should talk with them about what goes on in the dance. You should be realistic about the sexual relationships to dance and how that affects our excitabilities for romance and love and the illusions and dangers that all come with that.

Discuss with them realistically and if you have got a person, a young person who is concerned to do what is right, I think you will be able to reason with them about it. Eventually, you will have to turn them loose. You cannot control them. You have to turn them loose and so what you must do is be realistic and share with them both the joys and the dangers. Above all, when we come to the things that are basically natural goods, one of the things we really want to avoid is getting trapped into a posture of denying the goodness that is in them because if you do that, you falsify something and your kid or whoever you are talking with knows that you are not speaking it straight. [56:04]

If, on the other hand, you admit the good that is in them and perhaps are even open to learning from the individual about something in it that you don’t know about and then go on to say, “Well but now, there are these others things,” you are apt to get a much better hearing. I think the last series or so when I was down here, I gave you that old statement by the old Methodist Sam Jones that “a praying knee and a dancing foot don’t grow on the same leg.” [Laughter] [56:32]

I think as a matter of fact that’s true but that’s true largely because there are very few praying knees on any legs, you see? And there just aren’t an awful lot of praying knees around, dancing feet or not, but you do have to recognize there is a danger.  There is a danger and much of the danger that is in the dance has nothing to do with the dance but with the circumstances and the spirit and the attitude of the people and the occasions in which the dance is held.

I do not myself go in for religious dancing. I think that probably we should associate religion generally with other things; although if someone feels like they would like to dance in the spirit, I would not tell them no unless they were disrupting a service. In which case, I would tell them no and try to help them out the door—gently, of course, gently.

But, on the other hand, it is one of those things, which God has placed in this world. It is not unnatural. It is natural to dance, which doesn’t make itself good in itself. You have to, again look at the circumstances. My answer to that would be, with reference not just to this but the ball playing and all of the others things. Now, I want to try to come back to this as closing the survey of these questions. Was the prohibition of things like dancing and ball games and so on–was that associated somehow with the disciplines? [58:16]

I think it was, Bob. I think it was associated in this way. Well, I know it was in the minds of many people because I am talking about people that I knew personally and it was simply that they felt that you should spend that time reading the Bible, praying and fellowshipping with the saints. And I’ll tell you, that’s not a bad idea. That’s not a bad idea. You know, I’d put it to you this way that you would want to make sure that you had taken care of the first things, the most important things, and then if you’ve got any time left over, it’s a good time to play ball, but don’t go play ball before you’ve taken care of the other things. [58:54]

Now, when you are dealing with a kid, of course, that confuses things because they’ve got all sorts of things on their minds and basically, you have to provide a context in which they can sort of try this and try that and if you get a kid who just wants to read the Bible and pray . . . [Laughter] you know, well, that’s impressive but you still are a little worried, you know. You are a little worried and you have grounds for worry because somehow that’s just not in the nature of the kid.

You want to see them coming into that later. You want to see them coming into that later and it’s all right if they want to do that for periods of time. If that’s all they want to do, then God is going to have to give, and I’m not saying this cynically, God will have to give them special grace to bear up under a special religious vocation and some young kids have that. No question about it but they have to have special grace to do that and you can’t just do that in the natural order of things. [59:53]

Well, I don’t know that I’ve given anything like satisfactory responses to these. Let me just say then that I am sure of this; that if you will in an experimental, trusting and hopeful and intelligent attitude undertake these and similar activities, I am sure that you will see substantial measurable progress in your own way toward confirmation to the image of Christ. [1:00:20]

Let us pray to close the series.