Words and the Spiritual Kingdom—the “Treasure”

Dallas Willard Part 13 of 22

Dallas agreed to teach two separate weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Atlanta, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with the group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Dallas: Okay, let’s go right back to the bottom of page two in your notes and we will work along. Things will run together a bit but that’s the way they are. We need to talk some about the foundation and framework of the glorious life. That is the substance of Christian character. We’ve looked at the reality of Christ in us, the contrast between the outer and the inward and that contrast is carried on in how we think about flesh and spirit. This is Paul’s primary language and the two kinds of minds that characterize human beings.

This language in Romans 8 is too important not to touch on briefly. Romans 8 is a description of deliverance and Paul says, you may recall at the end of Romans 7, “ Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death?” Now, for many people, the book ends right there. That’s all! There is no answer. It’s a cry of despair. Who shall set me free from the body of this death? But, of course, Paul continues, “Well, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s the answer to the question, “Who shall set me free?” [2:33]

Of course, he has already been dealing with that in Romans 6 in great depth there but now he continues, “So then on the one hand, I myself with my mind serve the law of God but on the other with my flesh, the law of sin.” Now, that has to be worked out but you want to get the heart of the solution from the 8th chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” What is the condemnation he is talking about? He is talking about the condemnation he had been discussing in Romans 7. The condemnation of being under domination by sin and now, he is going to say how that deliverance comes. [3:33]

In the believer, a new law is working and that is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Notice—“has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Law is regularity. The law of gravity is regularity among physical bodies. More specific laws have water running down hill. Roofers have to know which direction water runs in or they can’t make a roof that will keep the water out.  These are laws. Laws are regularities—if this, then this; if this, then this—“the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Before I had that law—the spirit of life in Christ Jesus—then, whatever the situation was, the law of sin and death would take over—splat!—and I would do what I shouldn’t do, what I said I wouldn’t do, what I don’t want to do and so on.

Now, then, there is a new law and we need to pay a little attention to how that law works because it works in terms of where the mind is turned. The law understood now as the statements of truth from God given by revelation. What that law could not do because it was weak through the flesh. Flesh means natural human abilities—unaided human abilities and unaided human abilities cannot keep the law. It simply can’t do it. It is too complicated a situation. Are you impressed with how small your mind is? Well, I mean, our minds are very small. All of our human abilities are very, very small.  The only hope of human abilities is to latch on to some larger principle so, you see big machines working around here and you see some little guy sitting up on there just pulling the lever and then you think about moving all that dirt with a shovel, see? [6:20]

The key to understanding the human nature is to understand that it is designed to work with orders of various kinds and if you do that right, you get a big machine. Where did the machine come from? Well, human beings are able to do little things that produce big machines and then big machines are able to do things that human beings can hardly contemplate doing.  You see these old pictures of Communist China where they are building dams by having people carry baskets with dirt in them and you think, well, that’s like people trying to keep the law of God on their own except it’s worse in the case of trying to keep the law on its own. [7:18]

The secret here now—Christ came, showed sin up for what it was in the flesh, condemned sin in the flesh; that’s its natural home, not because flesh is sinful but because that’s what has happened is it has been surrendered to sin and so that’s where Christ came.  He came into the natural world in order to show that it is a perfectly good place to be if you are in the hands of God. If not, it’s not.  So, now, in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit? According to the preposition “cata,” “in terms of” is better—people who walk “in terms of” the natural abilities, and people who walk “in terms of” the Spirit. [8:28]

Now, these, the next verses are really central for understanding our project of conversation and character in the presence of God. “Those who are in terms of the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” They set their minds. That’s a choice on their part at a certain point. When they come into the world, it’s not their choice so much as when they naturally get drawn into and those who live in terms of the Spirit—the things of the Spirit—and see now, that’s back to our two worlds—the visible and the invisible and the issue here is where you set your mind. The mind set on the flesh is death but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. [9:23]

Remember the things that are not seen are eternal. That’s where your life is if you set your mind in that direction and then as you set your mind in that direction, it draws in the resources of what you have set your mind on and your choice to keep your mind situated there is a choice of where you are going to draw your strength from and expectation and your knowledge, your intension and your means all fit into that place where you have set your mind. You can set your mind just on the natural world and that natural human abilities and that’s all you have to work with and that is something that will come to an end. Right? So the mind set on the flesh is death, right? And so, that mind is one that lives in fear of death as Hebrews 2 says, “All their lives long were under the threat of death.” [10:36]

Now, it is really important for us who are talking about having the character and living in the power of Christ to deal with this issue of death. We don’t get much help from it unfortunately from our churches but just in a sentence, we need to understand that we are not going to die. Now, our bodies will stop functioning but you are not your body. You are your experiences and your experiences will continue in the main as they do now. The difference will be—they will not be tied to your body. That I think is, we need to say it; we need to think about it. Your experiences are your life. That’s what makes up your life is your experiences. That’s what you treasure so you go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. What’s seeing the Eiffel Tower? It’s an experience. You want it and maybe you have somebody take a picture of you by the Eiffel Tower. What do you do when you look at the picture? Well, you sort of re-live the experience. Right? You value that. It’s experiences. It’s experience that we treasure in others as well are relationships to others and that we treasure in even our dog because they have experiences.

Years ago, someone devised a video dog so when you come home and open the door, the video will come on and the doggy will “yap” and come up and greet you. [Laughter] Well, that’s a pretty impoverished version but that you see there is something attractive in that. That’s the great difference. This is what we treasure—this is why even people who are not worthy are worth something and human beings are of value because of experiences that they have. Yes, Randy……. [13:18]

Q: Relating that concept that we are our experiences back to what we talked about last fall about we are not our brains, where do our experiences reside?

Dallas: They don’t reside anywhere.

Randy: They don’t reside anywhere?

Dallas: That’s the nature of spiritual things. They hover about if you wish, about your body but they are not located in your body anywhere. I’m just saying that like, “Yeah, well that’s obvious.” [Laughter] But, you have to take a stand at some point against a world that says you are that piece of meat between your ears, right?  And that’s what that piece of meat between your ears is—it’s a very interesting piece of meat. If people did not know what experiences were independently, they would never find out an experience by examining the brain at any level of analysis. Never! It’s only if you have someone whose brain is functioning and you can comminute with them that you can find out that something happening in the brain has any correlation at all with something that is happening in experience. No one will have it. It isn’t in your brain. No reason why it shouldn’t. [14:41]

See, that’s a part of the lesson in John 4—Oh, we worship in Jerusalem or in Samaria? No, neither place. It isn’t that kind of thing. That’s what we have to understand about ourselves, and a part of the world’s war against the spiritual nature of man, woman, God is the drive to identify you and your brain.

Now, Christians are caught in a terrible bind on this. They go to university and they are told that they are their brain and they accept it and then Grandpa dies and they find themselves talking another language. Grandpa is going to Heaven. Grandpa is looking down on us now. Whitney Houston is looking down on us now. That is said over and over and over again. So, this has the affect of making your understanding incoherent and it also really messes up your view of God because as I probably told you last fall, God does not have a brain.  Apparently, He doesn’t miss it. [16:00]

I mean, this is a huge challenge for us today. We are talking about the spiritual life and one natural tendency is to say, “Well the spiritual life is a brain thing too.” Right? So, they had big “brew-haha” a couple years ago when someone discovered the God-part of the brain. That didn’t mean they discovered God. Supposedly, they found a part that “sparks up” when you think about God. [16:32]

So, you are not your brain. No matter what you learn in school, you will never deal with another person as if they were a brain. Try to imagine what it would be like. Umh? [16:49]

Would you like someone to deal with you as if you were your brain? Well, you probably think they would have missed you altogether. How do people deal with you? Well, they communicate. Now, they communicate in many ways and it has something to do with their bodies. The body is important. It has to do with our finitude and how we are inserted into the world and how we act in relationship to one another.

So, that’s important; no question about that but if I want to know you, it would do me absolutely no good whatsoever to examine your brain. “Talk to me”—a worker being around you. “I sense what is going on here.” Right?

So, that’s really important to understand and I probably should, since that question came up, refer you to 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul is actually discussing this. He is talking about the work of the spirit in revealing things—working with the Gospel and so on and he says in verse 10, “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things even the depth of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him.” Right? “Even so, the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” He’s talking there about, especially in verse 11, about self-knowledge, the spiritual side of the human being. You always want to remember now, when the Bible says “spirit,” it doesn’t always mean the Holy Spirit. You have a spirit. You are a spirit. You are an un-bodily personal power that is tied to your body. Your body is a power also. It’s not a personal power. It is personalized by your thoughts and intentions and what you do. [19:16]

So, when Paul gives us this wonderful discussion of flesh and spirit in Galatians 5, you have to know where that’s coming from and the works of the flesh are contrasted with the fruit of the spirit, and you will notice that in one case, it’s works. In another case, it’s gifts. That’s what the flesh does. It works. Now, because it is limited, here is what it does. The deeds of the flesh are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying—what’s at work in that?  What’s at work in that is human abilities. This is what comes from being limited to human abilities and trusting human abilities. [20:32]

So, sorcery, witchcraft, things of that—where does that come from? Well, that’s an attempt of the flesh to use its natural powers to get something more going. It’s the same thing as drunkenness. Why would one get drunk? Well, they are trying to do something in their natural powers to meet a need which they don’t understand usually but it’s real to them and they try to do something with it. [21:09]

In San Francisco a few years ago, a woman published a book called The Office Witch, and it was a treatment of how by hanging symbols and words and pyramids and things of that sort around office machines, they would work better. Now, anyone who has confronted an office machine knows you need a little help but see, flesh is always reaching out for something more….something more…something more…something more. It’s always under the impress of desire. That’s not –it’s mixed in with desire and you know, it’s a good thing that the printer would work. That’s a good thing and it needs to work and so on and that’s something human beings have to deal with so just to say, that’s what—when you read that passage, you want to recognize that’s what’s there. Now, because of human limitations, it always drifts off into bad stuff—into malice, anger, deceit and so forth and that’s a further reflection of the limitation.

Now, the fruit of the spirit is different. Fruit is something that wells up effortlessly from what one has become and effortlessly doesn’t mean you don’t do anything but it is always with the realization that you are not the one that secures the outcome. You are not the one that makes it happen. You’ve got to do something and that’s certainly our part but it’s still fruit and you get an entirely different description here of a dimension of life and of course, the one fruit has as its dimensions love, joy, peace.

Now, those are foundational. When you have those, then patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, loyalty, gentleness, and self-control. See, you are operating in a different world. That’s the mind of the spirit. The mind and the spirit is turned to God and His instrumentations and His Kingdom and YOU! You are a spiritual being. You are a part of that world. Now, you look to that and as you look to that, then different stuff comes out as a by-product and that is where we turn loose of deeds of righteousness, trying to justify ourselves and live in terms of deeds of righteousness and open ourselves to love. That’s the key and then the rest of it is a spelling out of that but we need to pay some attention to those different aspects. [24:42]

When we look at these, we are looking at the overall condition of the person under redemption—shaping and unifying every dimension of the person—heart, mind, body, social presence and soul.

Now, Paul fought battles about this with people all of his life and the attempt to step free for the individual is something that comes progressively and the wonderful statement of John the Baptist in John 3:34 where he says that “the spirit is given to Jesus without measure.” It comes to us slowly. There are particularly important moments in that process and our experience, they tend to be different for different people and come in different ways and that’s fine—no problem with that—there may be times when they are communal. There may be times when they are personal but the spirit progressively comes into our lives and because it carries both character and power with it, it has to be progressive. With Jesus, that was not so. God didn’t have to put the spirit out on Him as it were with an eyedropper where He gave Him a little drop and when He grows and maybe gets some more, that’s the way it is with us but it is sure. It is progressive. It is bound to happen if we turn ourselves loose to follow Jesus and take Him as our teacher. Then, we will see that kind of progress happen. [26:58]

Now, Paul is really primary in teaching about this. He was chosen because of his qualities as a roman citizen, as a teacher, as a person who was knowledgeable about religion and culture inside and out. He knew it in the Jewish form and he knew it in the other forms and he understood both the importance of the vessel. We don’t dispense with the vessel. We all have the vessel and we want to respect it and we should love it and care for it as is appropriate. [27:40]

The worse thing that happens to the body is it becomes the focus of a life that is trying to grind out what it cannot provide from human abilities. The drive to succeed, the inability to sleep or the unwillingness to sleep—that’s an almost worldwide, or certainly America-wide, problem today is sleeping. It isn’t all from insomnia. A lot of it—most of it—is simply from the unwillingness to sleep and rest because when you do sleep, you have to “give up.” Insomnia comes from an alarm that is going off in the soul and the body and you can’t turn it off. Usually it comes from some event or some events or some practice that has upset your natural system and so we have to learn to love and to take care and to respect the limitations that are placed upon us through our body. Paul understood that and so, he gives the testimony out of his own experience and knows what it means to look at the things that are eternal and to take care of the vessel all at the same time. So, that’s important to understand. [29:11]

Now, on page 3, I mention The Grand Inquisitor because I thought at one time you were reading Dostoevsky. The Grand Inquisitor is a section in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov where the picture is Christ coming to Sevel to have an interview with the Grand Inquisitor and the issue, is something different going to happen to Christ now at the hands of the Grand Inquisitor? And Dostoevsky’s artistic insight is, “No, the same thing will happen.”

You may have run into the Grand Inquisitor and you will have done that if you begin to suggest that certain contemporary versions of circumcision are not necessary. We don’t have a particular problem with circumcision in our culture but what are the equivalent forms of circumcision in our culture?  What is it that we are required to identify with or we couldn’t possibly be of God? [Baptism? What kind of baptism?] Well, see! [How much water?]

So, the problem with these is they keep us away from a living connection with Christ living in the Kingdom of God. We have traditions. Traditions are always a part of the vessel we are in. There is nothing wrong with that usually unless there is something badly wrong with the tradition but just as we have to have a body; we have to have a history and we have to have a culture but the issue is whether we make that the center of what we are doing.

If you are thinking about spiritual formation as the center, you are going to run into some circumcisions. I see that constantly as I travel about and talk to pastors and others because fundamentally, the old Grand Inquisitor is sitting there and he is saying, “No, no you know we can’t do that!” We have now situations where more than 40,000 denominations of Christians exist in the world and all of them are right. [Laughter] So, if it becomes an issue, what do you trust? What do you trust? [32:13]

Ok, you have traditions. That’s wonderful; no doubt they have blessed many people. That’s a good thing. We should respect it but the question is what do I do now and do I count on my tradition?

Just mention one thing in connection with this; can we continue to think about the church as we’ve been thinking about it especially since the reformation? This is a huge challenge and the question about how you “do church” is something that agitates constantly with people and you know all the fights and the disagreements about this that goes on around us.

It’s music—we used to when I was younger, we called the choir the “war department.” [Laughter] [It’s still that way.] Is it?  But, you just think of a mandate—well, for example, do you use an organ, right? Some people don’t even know what that is anymore; they think you are talking about your kidneys or something. [Laughter] You see, we get side tracked on all these things and the center is lost. Dare we build our churches on the center? Can you even think that way? We have a long history that has many dimensions to it and we have to think about this in terms of how we invest our minds.

Jane and I are regular participating members and leaders in our local congregation and I treasure that and I recommend it but if your local congregation is focused on its success, it’s got the wrong thing and nearly every church now, especially in financial hard times is focused on whether or not they will survive. Well, whether or not they will survive is of no importance.

We have just had the crash of the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California heard around the world basically because of stupidity. I mean, a church that winds up owing 50 million dollars—you don’t need a crash to tell you something is wrong. [That was just the Windex bill!] [Laughter]

Q: Could we pursue that for just a moment? I have thought a lot about this. What happens in the financial world that we are living in where you know the structures financially are eroding if not crashing around congregations and us are unable to kind of live the same way. The church goes back market place where you work and how then—what does it look like? Is it small groups? Because there still is the sense in which you cannot go it alone which still a lot of people want to do. “Let me go it alone……let me just….”

Dallas: Community is necessary.

Joann: So, then is it back to house churches? Is it…… ?

Dallas: I don’t think it matters how large your church is or how big your budget is or small at all. It’s a question of what you are devoted to accomplishing and if you are devoted to making disciples and surrounding them in Trinitarian reality and teaching them to do everything that Jesus said, then one can have a big building, have a big budget, have whatever…..

Now, debt is another thing personally I think—there is a lot to be said about staying out of debt and the motivations of the people who are drawn in. See, one of the problems of big churches is they draw in people who really are not interested in the right things and then those people tend to take over. [37:12]

Joann: I mean, it’s not good. There are parts of it that are not good either way. I guess I am thinking in terms for instance, my grandchildren; every Sunday we make sure they are in Sunday school. We make sure they are in worship a lot of times even though there is a nursery so they get used to and they hear or whatever…all that kind of stuff. So, the crash comes down where—I guess, the challenge is the right teachings, the right focus, the right center so that when they grow up—if in fact these congregations cannot support themselves any longer—it looks different. What do you send them into? How do you ensure? I don’t know. I guess it’s back to the family and it’s an interesting and fascinating thing for me to think about.

Dallas: It is interesting and what it comes down to is we have been seized by a picture of what churches might and actually, it’s not classical but very recent and for example, churches in the not very distant past and not just “the little brown church in the veil” but “large first churches in the cities,” they didn’t cost what they now cost and there are many reasons for that. But we have to think in terms of the experiences that our grandchildren are going to have and my heart would bleed to think that my grandchildren were not going to have the experiences of a loving fellowship in a church that we have understood.

But on the other hand, there have been other time when that was not possible and the community did not meet in that way and that was certainly true for the last couple centuries. We have to think in terms of how the community comes together in such a way that the teaching—the common worship and ministry to one another and so on.

Now, one of the reasons again why I wanted you to read Bonheoffer was to think about what he is talking about in relationship to our churches. Asking the question, could we do that? When you recognize that that was written for a very unusual group of people but the principles that are laid out and how we are together are not tied to that sort of special group of people unless we concede that. So, we are going to need to search deeply to see my way of putting it would be simply, ”Are our churches devoted to spiritual formation and Christlikeness?”  I think if they are, then everything else will take care of itself. If they aren’t, it won’t take care of itself and we will wind up running our churches on the principles of human abilities, which is where death tends to come in. It can be as the Bible teaches us, very, very disruptive. [40:38]

When I was young, a banker thought for himself and of course it was always him, how as a kind of counselor who often would say to people, “Now you don’t want to borrow this money.” And so the changes in the financial industry as we call it feed into changes in the public and the willingness to borrow money is something upon which the prosperity of the banker now begins in a way that they didn’t think of and so all of these changes go into and of course we don’t have very good teaching about such matters generally anymore. Okay, other comments or questions before we go on? Yes sir! [41:43]

Mike: Are you teaching that if that’s not going on in our churches—if we are not teaching spiritual formation and Christlikeness in our church that we should remove ourselves from that church?

Dallas: Well, I would let them throw me out. I always advise that. [Laughter] It is better for people if they throw you out. See, the people who crucified Jesus haven’t gotten over it yet.

So, I mean, there is obviously a time when one should move but not because you are mad or because people don’t like you. You need to give them a chance to learn to love you and so, I don’t encourage just leaving though I do want to say I believe there is a time when yes, that should happen but it’s better for them and for you to let them throw you out. It’s a different kind of experience. [43:10]

Elesa: So, you are saying stay true to what you believe and then, if along the way you get thrown out, you stay true?

Dallas: Like, for example, be a disciple. Make disciples. [Start a group?] Teach people to do the things that Jesus said. Say that’s what we ought to be doing. [So, do it!}  I point out that we wouldn’t all be mad at one another if we were simply doing what Jesus said.  But, if you are a pastor that could lose your position because I hear constantly that spiritual formation is opposed to outreach. Outreach is getting more people in and we are accustom to the idea that you don’t do that by making disciples and if you try to make disciples, people won’t flood in at your door. OK; other comments or questions? [44:26]

I want then to move on to Page 4 in your outlines and begin to talk about   words and the spiritual Kingdom—the treasure. Let’s just glance at the opening of 1 Thessalonians to sharpen our perception of words. We could use 1 Corinthians as well perhaps because we are talking about Paul and his experience here again—the treasure and the vessel.

So, here Paul is talking to the Thessalonians and this may well be his first letter. You will notice in the letters to the Thessalonians, he doesn’t introduce himself as an apostle. I think his experience was growing in that regard and he didn’t fully understand what he was doing but here he is writing to the Thessalonians and he says, verse 4, “Knowing brethren beloved by God, His choice of you,”—His choice of you. Paul says, ”I know that God chose you” and he is addressing them in the light of that and here is his evidence. “For our Gospel did not come to you in word only.”

Now, think on that phrase—“word only.” Paul was very conscious that when he came to town, he was not operating in his abilities. Paul was probably, if you were running a race, probably the single most educated man in the Mediterranean area. I mean, he really had “had it” as far as that was concerned but he did not count on that because he understood that if he did that, he would be counting on natural abilities and that natural abilities were not up to the task that he had before him. So, he says, “Our Gospel did not come to you in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction,” and immediately shifts to character issues.

“You know what kind of men we prove to be among you” and then immediately shifts to imitating. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit so that then you became examples.” You see, how that just trickles down like rain running down a rope. [47:47]

The operation of God, not my cleverness, not my education—I came to speak and when I spoke something else happened, right? What happened was God called you to Him knowing brethren beloved His choice of you now. Now, we use theological terms—election, and when you talk about election, the issue is always who is voting? God was voting. That doesn’t mean you are not voting.

So, you see here now the way that words are designed to work. They are designed to work by spiritual presence. There is a level at which it can just be the human spirit and that is what usually takes place but they are meant to convey divine reality and truth, and when we are thinking about our walk with God, we want to understand that that is the main atmosphere in which we live—is the communication of divine reality and divine truth.

This verse that I give you at the outset of Page 4 from John 6:63, “It is the spirit who gives life, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, they are spirit and they are life.” Let me give you a cross reference there to John 14, and this is a context where Jesus is trying to help His friends come to grips with His departure—His leaving and they are struggling with who He is. “I am leaving and you can’t go with me.” They are, to put it mildly, upset. You know, this was not anything that had appeared on their map of how this thing was going to go. They are still waiting for Him to take over the government and He is saying, “I am leaving.” So, you can imagine they would be distressed and so Jesus starts out by saying, “Don’t let your heart be troubled”—you know, you say that to people who are letting their heart be troubled is when you say that—“You believe in God, believe in me also. Put your trust in me. I am in charge. God is in charge. It’s going to be okay.” [51:25]

Look at how he developed that. The next thing He says, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” Now, that’s important to understand. This is not the only place—“many dwelling places.” What’s my Father’s house? Well, basically, it’s the universe. Not just the physical part of it but everything that is created and God has built that, as His dwelling place and He will claim it as such. “In my Father’s House are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again to receive you unto myself that where I am you may be also.” See, that’s what they were asking. And then of course Thomas pipes up and says, “Lord, we have no idea where you are going. How can we know the way?” And then this amazing discussion ensues where Jesus says, “I am the way.” So, it’s association with Him that takes care of the “way” problem. “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the light. No man comes to the Father but by me.” [52:51]

Then He goes into a discussion here about “if you had known me” indicating they did not know Him. That’s what comes out, “If you had known me, you would have known My Father also. Henceforth, you know Him and have seen Him.”  Philip pipes up, “Wow, that’s a great idea. Just show us God and that will take care of everything.” It’s interesting to speculate on what Philip expected to happen. [Laughter] I often take a look at that movie, The Transformers or whatever it is called. He would think Jesus would have turned into one of them and you know, what would have been Philips’s response? “Oh, I get it.” [Laughter] He didn’t realize what he was looking at. It’s fascinating to follow this discussion.

Now, Jesus goes on to say, “No, you don’t understood me; you haven’t known me yet. What’s the problem?” Then, these words, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” The words—now go back to words—“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own initiative but the Father abiding in me does the works.” God dwells in words—My words and God’s works, my words and God’s works—Jesus’ words and God’s works. [54:46]

We are learning something about that when we move into this issue of conversation with God. See, words are spirit. They are life. They are un-bodily personal power. What words do is not in the domain of physics. They bring meanings and meanings tie us into things. That’s true at every level and it is also true of bad words. [55:22]

Words are a battlefield. James talks about that if you recall in chapter 4 and he says the “tongue is an untamed evil.” Bad words—Paul talks in Ephesians 4, I think it is about “letting your words be instruments of grace—full of grace, carrying grace.” Grace is God acting.

To speak is to interact with God, to expect that. That’s what Paul learned as He traveled about is that he could speak these words and it would call forth people and call them out. Now, see that’s the great temptation of the preacher is to believe that by their ingenuity, they can say things that will do some good for people and we just have to accept that we can’t. No matter how smart we are. No matter how much people applaud.

It is so customary in churches now to, you know before you get off the platform, people are saying how the service went. They don’t know how the service went. God knows how the service went. They are so conscious of human approval that we are slipped into the position of trying to manipulate the effects of our words. You just have to give up on that.

See, that’s another thing that Paul gave up on. In 2 Corinthians, he occasionally pokes a little fun at himself and in 2 Corinthians 10:10, he gives the wrath on Paul as a speaker and the wrath is, he quoting it, “His letters are really impressive. In person, he is not much and his speech stinks.” Read it! Now, I don’t know if you would like to be a speaker with that reputation. You have to give up. You have to give up and you have to say, “If God is in charge of what comes from my words. Now, it doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. Of course you work hard; you just don’t trust your work. Paul worked hard but he was so conscious of this union of word and God, you see, and he would not depart from it. He gives the list of his credentials in Philippians 3 and says, “They are dung.” [Slams pulpit stand.] Well, he really worked for it. The years that he devoted to developing his resume but he knew where the power lay. And the power lay in the spiritual realties of the words. Words have an invisible power to put us in relation to an invisible realm and Paul and the Gospels, and for teat matter, the Psalms and the prophets never let up on that. [59:34]

Now, that’s why we have to think deeply now about Jesus’ teaching in John 6 because He says that “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have no life in you.” Then He says, “I didn’t mean it.” In fact, he says, “Don’t take that literally. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life.” “The flesh profits nothing,” He said. So, you begin immediately to see how people can take that wrongly and build traditions upon it. Traditions that really have to do with human control because if you have to have flesh and blood, you have to have people who can do that, and not everyone can do it. Presumably, only a very select group of people can do it. Then you have problems with the reserved sacrament because apparently we didn’t get a way of turning the flesh and blood of Christ back into bread and wine. So, that causes huge problems. [1:01:21]

Some years ago, the Lutherans and the Catholics in Switzerland were coming very close to an important kind of union and agreement but they couldn’t agree on what to do with the reserve sacrament. Reserve sacrament is what is left over after communion and you can’t just throw it out, right?—Because the body and blood of Christ.

So, then you get these traditions that are all built upon misunderstanding that Jesus corrected in the very place where He is giving the teaching that lead to the misunderstanding. And of course, one part of what He is teaching is that human beings are not in control of this and control is very important for religions. If the issue is salvation and the issue is who is in control of it?

So, now Jesus simply tells us that it is through His words that He imparts the substance. It is through His words that He imparts His substance. That is why it is really so important for us to approach His words with an understanding that they represent the reality of God. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” See, that’s from Colossians 3 and it gives a little picture of how this is supposed to work. “The word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” Is that the atmosphere of our communities—the word of Christ? Well, a serious question, isn’t it? Is that what occupies our conversations? Is it how we approach one another in fellowship? Or is it other words? [1:04:03]

Now, the emphasis on the word is not new with Jesus, and the first Psalm, “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly and stands in the way of the sinners and sits in the seat of the scornful.” That is an interesting progression from walking to sitting there but “His delight is in the law of the Lord and He meditates in it day and night. He should be like the tree planted out in a very dry place but close enough for the roots to reach the streams of waters that are running beneath the ground.” The promise there is stunning. It blows me away. “It bears its fruit it its season.” That’s what it is supposed to—the leaf doesn’t wither and whatever it does, will proper.

Now, the Word of God is the connective system that relates the individual to the Kingdom of God. The Word of God—God speaking—so now then we have to back up and recognize the presence of the Word. We have to integrate the idea of logo; Jesus as the logos into our understanding of creation and if we do that, then we begin to get the function of the spirit in teaching, preaching, talking, conversing, and so on in the right perspective, but we have to make sure to get this idea on the Word of God right and we have to take words out of the category of “chatter.” [1:06:19]

Q: Dallas, could you say one more time “the word of God is the connective system……”

Dallas: The word of God is the connective system that integrates the person into the Kingdom of God.  Not only Psalms 1 but Joshua 1:8 & 9 gets into that.

Joshua 1:8 & 9….everyone should have Joshua 1:8 memorized. “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth”—it didn’t say out of your head—“your mouth.” That’s where it belongs. That’s because we are so limited. We need to keep it right up front but “you shall meditate therein day and night that you may observe to do according to all that was expected in the very end and then you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success” because that ties you in to what God is doing. That’s how you seek first the Kingdom of God. It’s with the Word of God. [1:07:32]

Then you have to get it as I say out of the domain of chatter. God, after He spoke long ago to our fathers in the prophets—this is Hebrews 1—“In many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His son whom He appointed heir of all things through whom also He made the world.” Without him was not anything made that was made in the language of John 1—“He is the radiance of His glory; Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory—the exact representation of His nature and thus holds all things by the word of His power.” The reason your nose doesn’t fall off and clatter down on the floor is because Christ is holding it to your face.

That’s standard New Testament teaching-Colossians 1 and 2. Right here, “all things stand together—hold together.” See? “He upholds all things by the word of His power. When he had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand the Majesty on high” and that is our point of reference in our lives.

The speaking God—now, you may think that that’s pretty thin explanation and it is if that’s all you know about it but when you start to examine physical reality and ask the ultimate questions about what holds it together, you will not find a satisfactory answer. You will be referred to quirks and streams and all sorts of things and then you will ask the same question about them that you asked about trees and apples and you won’t have an answer. What happens currently is that in people who speculate scientifically about this, they wind up assigning the attributes of God to quirks and streams and whatever else they light on. It used to be atoms but atoms are way up the line by now.  [1:09:52]

So, all of this teaching—I gave you a bunch of references here on Page 5 and then the second heading—Creation, Power, Energy, Matter, (“the seen”) and I am getting e=mc2 right.  You have to understand that that formula doesn’t tell you how much energy there is in the world. It doesn’t even tell you how much matter. It tells you how much energy there is in a given quantity of mass. That’s all it tells you. It does not tell you that only where there is mass, there is energy. See, that’s what is often thought. If this was a revelation of the limitations of energy and the teaching of scripture and the people of God through the ages as well as other religions is that energy exceeds mass and that, for Christians, the main form it takes is spirit. And again, you are most directly acquainted with spirit in yourself and the form of consciousness of thoughts and choices, feelings and so on that characterize you as a person.

Now, of course, we know that these things have some value because for example, you did not come here by atomic energy. You came here by the energy of spirit. You chose to come here. You received information. You made decisions. That’s all spiritual. That is not physical. If you were to find a leaf blown in here by the wind, you might say, “Well, that’s physical.” You were not blown in here by the wind because you are not that kind of thing and the power that spirit has is seeing first of all for unbelieving people especially, perhaps for everyone in human behavior and experience.

So, you want to—as I say here—get e=mc2 right. It’s no statement about how much energy there is. It’s the statement about a relationship between matter and energy; how much energy there is in a given unit of matter. [1:12:11]

Now, then it’s important to understand that and the reason why we have the nature miracles of Jesus and others is to help us understand that God created the world and can prevail over it. Now, I am building to something here, okay—very important and that is the place of prayer.

The nature miracles are designed to help people understand that the realm of nature is under a higher system—under a higher system. Now, if you don’t like that, you can say, “No, it’s not under any system, it’s just out there.” That’s what many people now are trying to say and actually they have been trying to say that for a long while. For Jesus’ teaching, and His life among His disciples, He was operating in a system of nature under the power of God. Right? [1:13:30]

I used to have a backslidden Baptist fellow colleague at USC who was a chemist and he liked to say, “Well, you know, Dallas if Jesus turned the water into wine, it would generate so much heat, it would melt the pots.” It’s a bad sign to be thinking. I never really had the heart to say to him, “You know, if He could change the water into wine, don’t you think He could manage the pots?” [Laughter]

This is a big barrier for many people. It was a big barrier for His own disciples. There is an interesting statement in Mark 6, I think—this is after Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fishes and now, they are in trouble in the boat again and Jesus walks to them and calms the sea, got into the boat—this is Mark 6:51 and got into the boat with them and the wind stopped and they were greatly astonished. Now, the comment here in the scripture is on their astonishments. Why should they have been astonished? They have just watched this guy turn energy into matter in the form of fishes and loaves. Now, He is dealing with a storm and verse 52 is very instructive. “They had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves but their hearts were hardened. “ Now, that meant that their heart couldn’t absorb the lesson. It doesn’t mean they were mean or anything like that. You don’t have to be mean if you are stupid enough. It won’t have the same effect and we should never blame on intention what can be explained by stupidity. Their hearts were hardened. Now, see this is major concern for us in conversational relationship because a lot of the conversational relationship takes the form of what we would call prayer. [1:16:33]

Prayer in the scriptures is nearly always prefaced by a reference to creation. Did you know that? The reason for that is because that’s the barrier and when you pray, you want to understand that God made it all. He made it all by speaking His word. [1:17:01]

Jeremiah 33 is a good one because this is often quoted nowadays by people who are trying to work up courage to pray. Verse 1,”When the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and the second time while he was still confined in the court of the guards saying, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord who made the earth; the Lord who formed it to establish it. The Lord is His name.’ “ Then he goes on to say, “Call on me and I will answer you.” When you move to prayer, you have to understand that everything is subject to God and that’s a huge barrier for many people. They cannot believe it because their mind has been formed in an intellectual atmosphere—much of it religious—very high sounding things like we think God is going to pay attention to you and so forth and so on—but fundamentally, it is to get us off the idea that our conversation with God makes any difference to Him or to us. Prayer is kind of treated like spiritual happy hour. You go there drinking a little and you feel better and so, we need that no doubt. We need to feel better but just a couple of–well, there are so many terms. Just watch when this shows up in prayer context.

Let me now give you one from Acts 4–one more. This is after they have been mistreated; the apostles had—verse 24—“When they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘Oh Lord it is you who made the Heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. Who by the Holy Spirit to the mouth of our Father David.’ “  So there are two dimensions here—one is the natural order and then the other is the covenantal order and you see this over and over. Nehemiah 9 has a beautiful statement of it. [1:19:40]

So, now then, He lays the foundation in creation and in covenant and in verse 29, “Now, Lord, take note of their threats and grant Thy bondservants to speak Thy word with all confidence. While you do extend your hand to heals and signs and wonders take place in the name of your Holy servant, Jesus” and when they had prayed, the place was shaken and so exciting things happened. I hope that makes the point simply that everything is under the hand of God and when we pray to God, then that’s an interactive relationship. He doesn’t always do what we think He should do but there are times when He does, and that’s a part of the speaking and hearing relationship that governs our life with Christ. [1:20:42]

Now, God speaks in many ways and that’s present in the scriptures. You find many things treated as God speaking—historical events, creation itself is treated as God speaking in Psalms 19 and in Romans 10. Romans 10 even says the Gospel has gone out through all the world through nature speaking referring back to 19,“Nature speaks day after day;” you can’t hear it audibly but it is speaking. That’s what Psalms 19 says.

Historical events speak. The Bible—individuals speak into others. In the individuals’ own mind, God speaks. Now, speaking is the communication and is the natural way for a Kingdom to work. A Kingdom works by communication. You elect somebody to office and they have the power to sign their names to things and put them in action. That’s how governments work is through communication and in general, the human system is designed to do that. [1:22:08]

Now, a little bit on Page 6 about why there is the system and what does it have? That is so very important for us to know. We will go into more detail on how this works in the time after lunch, but it’s important for us to understand why we have this system of communication and it is to allow people space to interpret, to decide, to not hear. You may have thought about what Jesus says in Matthew 13 where they ask Him, “Why are you speaking in parables?” He gives a really strange answer a part of which is so that people would not hear and understand and become converted. What do you think is at work there? Don’t we want people to be converted? Well, I think the answer is not if they don’t want to be converted. See? [1:23:53]

And so, He pulls a passage out of Isaiah and comments on that because what God is most interested in is the human will and character that comes out of that. God could convert everyone on the face of the earth within ten seconds if that’s what He wanted—if that’s all He had in mind. He could do it! You know, just show up close enough to what He is—Booooooo! [He makes a scary sound.] And then everyone would say, “Oh, I believe, I believe!” [Laughter] That’s not a problem but that’s not what He wants. Actually, He wants people who are seeking Him. He is seeking them but how He does that is crucial for His purpose.

Now, let me close this session just by leaving a thought on that point with you. What comes out of human history? What’s this all about? You know, you just look at it from the viewpoint of natural sciences, earth history and biology and all of that; what does all of this amount to? What does this amount to? [The formation of the bride?] The formation of the bride she said. What’s that? What He gets out of human history is a community of people and I believe the story is that He has a future for that community and that future is to govern the universe with Him. [1:26:03]

Most of these verses that I refer to are in your notes but this is where Revelations 22:5 is especially important because this talks about the future of human beings. They are those who turn to God form a community that will govern the universe forever. That’s your destiny. That’s why we have a system of communication—a choice of interpretation and the factors in personality that we talked about last time all come into this because the will, the set of the will is very important in what you can hear. Then of course what’s in your mind interacts with what is in your will. Your social relationships enter substantially into who you are–your body’s habits. All of these things hang together and it is in the practice of the divine conversation that we grow into a future that God has in mind for us. Not cringing slaves. Not people who had just given up because if they didn’t God was going to swat them but people who love what is good and are prepared to give their lives for it and are prepared to give their lives for it because they know God and they know that that’s alright. To know, in contemporary language, that God has my back so I don’t need to watch it, and I can sacrifice and I can go to the cross because I know that there is life in the cross and beyond the cross. I know that because I have been blessed with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. That’s the larger picture now. We want to talk about how the conversation goes some after lunch but—questions?

Q: At the retreat in October, we talked a little bit about working through our beliefs about God and our vision of God? [Yes] When you are talking about God having power over nature, one of the questions that comes to my mind just in terms of talking about these things with people is believing that God is good and he loves us. [That’s a challenge, isn’t it?] Yeah, but one of the things is when bad things happen that are cause by other people which I feel like I kind of have some idea on how to work through those with people, but natural disasters, how would you work through the idea that if God is good and God loves us, but then He sent out these natural disasters even if God has power over nature? [1:29:43]

Dallas: Well, where you have to start with, I believe in that, is asking recognition that there has to be an order of events in creation. That’s in the nature of things. There has to be an order. What order would be better than the one we have and how would God inject Himself into that? In the world, such as we have it with earthquakes and tsunamis and so on, what is our place in dealing with those kinds of events?

Now, back of that kind of response I think is always the idea that I cannot fully answer the question of why we have the system we have and not an alternative one that might work better.

So, I think that for the unbeliever, there is no answer and the only issue of evil is what you are going to do about it. But we need to point out to people that accept on the assumption of a good God, there is no problem of evil. If there is not a good God and if a tsunami hits and someone says, “Why?” The only answer is, “Why not?” It’s only on the assumption of there being a good God that there is a philosophical problem of evil.

Now, why would someone make that assumption? Not an easy question. There are people that have done it on the basis of general philosophical speculation. Believers, at least in the sense of being a Christian or someone involved in a covenant relationship, if a person knows God through Christ, then they have reason to think that whatever happens, all will be well. [1:32:09]

Now, you have to fill that out because for the child that is dying of starvation in the Sudan, how could that possibly be? So you have to be able to fill in the background of God’s care for people that will take care of that. Can you believe that God will deal with that child in such a way that it will be thankful for it’s existence? It will be glad to have lived? You are going to have to have a big God to do that.

Now, if you have assurance for whatever means of the existence of such a God, then you can rest the evil that you see with Him and there are lots of nuances that you have to go into there if you are doing this philosophically. Like, how much evil? Would there have to be as much as there is for God to achieve His purposes and so on? That’s basically the way I think you have to go and for the person who is a Bible studier, they will be impressed with things like whenever God shows up to Job and God presents Himself to job, Job doesn’t ask any question. He’s just spent many chapters complaining about why can’t he get before God to ask Him all of these questions and you understand that. You are out there on the ash heap scraping the boils and you understand that. But, the thing is when God shows up, it somehow—there are no questions because GOD. [1:34:00]

I think I’ve told you last time about the lady in Texas whose little child was run over by a neighbor and killed and there is a testimony on this that is out on DVD and so on and she said one of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard on this point and that was she found relief by thinking of the attributes of God. That is, I think the final resting place; I wouldn’t say answer but it’s the final resting places—is the attributes of God. Since God is who He is, all is well. No matter how bad it looks and surely there are some things that would be better if they didn’t happen but the idea that there is a God, who created nature and is in charge and this God is love and will bring to past what is good and right is a kind of faith that I rest in myself and I encourage others, “Don’t believe anything bad about God.” [1:35:08]

Q: Dallas, following up on that though, a recent experience with these tornados that took place, and a prominent evangelical writer did an article on his blog and posted about how these were the hand of God and he attributed God as the author of these and that sort of thing. When do you cross a line, because you talk about that in your book, Hearing God, where one of the most damaging things is where we sort of attribute faith or everything that happens to being God.

Dallas: I do believe that but I think what you have to say is, “Did God permit it?” Obviously! If He hadn’t permitted it, it wouldn’t have happened. It is a part of a system that God devised or again, at least permits and that, I think you have to accept if you accept the standard view of God that is presented in the scriptures and one of the good things about the Psalms is if you have a problem with God, you can always go tell him about it and give Him a bad time if you wish about it. It’s okay. He understands.

Now, this is actually a pretty complicated issue about causation but I would not attribute to God anything that is bad—anything. I would not attribute that to God. And you get into discussions here about secondary causes and is it wrong to kill people but not wrong to let them die and things of that sort. I think the involvement of the will is what matters here and I certainly want to say that God did not cause, in the sense of directly initiating the events that are so awful in human history. I wouldn’t say that and many people think that if you say that, then you are simply not standing up for the sovereignty of God. I simply don’t agree with that and I don’t think sovereignty should be understood in terms of having direct causation and control over everything. Gary?

Gary: Thank you, Dallas very much. Two things—the power went off and they were repairing the elevators where we are staying so until Keith has had a chance to check those out….[Laughter] Secondly, now if anyone has a gift of a brief blessing, if you would send us off with one? Thank You!

Randy: Father, we thank you for this morning and we thank you that your words continue to penetrate in the depths of our being and who we are to help us become who you have created us to be. We thank you for the fellowship and the words that we have received this morning. Bless our fellowship and our time of sharing over this meal and we give you our praise and thanks for all the good gifts of life. You are the author of everything that is given to us and we give God praise in Jesus’ Name. Amen


Listen to all parts in this Renovaré Institute: Atlanta Cohort series