Comments from Colossians (1:28-29)

So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29; New Living Translation)

Some folk say, “I pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on me.” It makes me smile but it also reflects a biblical tension.

TensionOn the one hand, many Christians do little to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). They live so passively or apathetically that faith seems of little or no consequence. If anything is going to happen, God will have to find a supernatural way to pull it off on His own. No help from these people. Their faith is personal and private. They have families, careers, and hobbies to attend to. They might slip into a Christmas or Easter service but not much beyond that.

On the other hand, other believers just work their hearts out. They volunteer for everything in the church and attend every major event. They always raise their hands when things need to be done. They work tirelessly, it seems; Christian Energizer bunnies who “work hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:12).

But there IS a tension, and should be.

The Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Colosse, “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Hang on a minute! Paul is working and struggling hard, but at the same time he depends on Christ’s mighty power that works within him? Whose strength is Paul really using or relying on?

Both.

The journey of faith is neither apathetic passivity not frenetic activity. It’s partnership. Anything less than our best effort is unworthy of our calling. But self-reliance dishonors the Presence and power of Christ..

Some days I put my shoulder to the wheel FOR Him, and while the results may impress others, the effort usually drains me or draws attention to me. However, when I put my shoulder to the wheel WITH Him, I discover that indeed “His yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

When the journey of faith feels exhausting or futile, when we feel disillusioned or depleted it may be that we’re struggling hard in our own power. Similarly, when we assume that everything depends on Christ, with little discipline or devotion on our part, we may feel distant, disconnected, and dissatisfied.

Can we struggle hard for the Cause of Christ while also depending on (and appropriating) His mighty power? We must. But His power flows from His Presence. Only as we abide in Him will we bear much fruit.

May God grip us, guide us, and go before us today as we surrender “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength” (Mark 12:30) to Him.

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End of a Season: THANKS!

Dear friends –

I have decided that Because of Grace (this blog) has run its course.

Well over 1,000 of you have generously received my blog posts — many of you for many years. I am grateful beyond words for your kindness, and the feedback that has so often sharpened and shaped my own thinking.

ThankyouYou have encouraged me to write, and I have been honored and privileged to be part of your lives in this way. But it’s time for a change.

I will continue to write, but I plan to write (Lord willing) on leadership. As Dean of our School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University, I am convinced that we need more leaders in society, and we need different leaders … transformational leaders.

Shape Your WorldTransformational leadership is a thoroughly energizing, biblically-consistent, gospel-honoring, Kingdom-faithful model. As many of you may know, I recently published a book (Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life) on this topic; trying to walk the line for both believers and unbelievers. I feel like it’s the most important book I’ve published in a decade.

Transformational leadership is about producing change and building lives through authenticity, inspiration, empathy, and innovation. These are the topics and themes that burn deeply within me right now, and that our culture seems to have lost sight of. Our churches are not faring much better.

Parents need it. Pastors need it. Politicians and business leaders need it. We all do!

If you have interest in staying connected (or leading your family, church, or community more effectively), I will be writing regularly on these themes at another blog — On Ramp. You can find it at www.jessupleadership.com. I invite you to join me for this new season and new journey. Click on the link, come on over, and subscribe to that blog. I would absolutely welcome your company and feedback.

By God’s grace, I’ve been writing Because of Grace for the past seven years, and a spiritual formation email (In Hope) for eleven years before that. Now it’s time for something new.

THANKS for your company and comments on this site. I’ll leave it open for future searching and reference. But for now, I’m tipping my hat and heading for On Ramp. Grateful to the Lord for this opportunity, and ever so thankful for your spiritual friendship and support.

May the days ahead be filled with His grace and peace for each of you.

David Timms
August 30, 2018

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Trying or Training?

At the end of 2017, I spoke with Dr. John Coe, Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Biola University. He’s a delightful and gracious person.

As we chatted about spiritual formation, he raised the important distinction between training and trying; something Dallas Willard also addressed some years ago.

leaders of the marathon runningMany of us attend trying churches. Week after week we hear (or give) admonitions to try and live better. Angry? Just stop it! Gossiping? Don’t! Battling with an addiction? Get over it! We have assumed that if the command comes with plenty of Bible verses and a dose of deep conviction from the pulpit, people will be inspired to change.

Characterological change, however, doesn’t usually happen that way. It rarely arises from a single act of the will. It rarely results from trying. Instead, it emerges from training; steady self-discipline in many small ways pointing in the same direction.

Trying is a teeth-gritting effort to change ourselves. Training is simply the repetition of positive practices until they become habits. Trying tends to produce momentary or temporary external changes. Training eventually produces transformation at the core. Trying focuses squarely on ourselves. Training generally has a higher purpose and motivation.

When an athlete prepares for a 10,000-meter race, they don’t simply line up at the starting line, burst forth at the starter’s gun, and “give it the old college try.” If they are even moderately serious, they will have been training for months (if not years), usually on smaller distances that grew longer and longer; usually with coaching and some attention to cross-training. Then, even during the race, the training kicks in and restrains the athlete from trying too hard too soon. They run with a “plan” based on training, not sheer adrenaline-induced trying. This holds just as true for us in our spiritual journey.

The apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).

We can run aimlessly, pouring ourselves into fast and furious bursts without making any real progress. Or we can “go into strict (spiritual) training.” Very few people prepare for a marathon by running marathons. Counter-intuitively, you start with short distances, eventually add some intervals (fast-paced, measured, short-distance runs), perhaps make a few changes to your diet, and begin to learn when your body needs fuel and fluid.

Spiritual formation functions the same way. What are several small steps you can take today, repeat tomorrow, add to in a week or a month, and sustain easily for the next six months? That’s training. That’s what produces long-term change…and truly flourishing lives.


Shape Your WorldJust a reminder…

My latest book Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life is available here. This is the most important book I’ve written in a decade. All proceeds support the Gospel in Chile.

In Australia? Go to bookdepository.com.

 

 

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World’s Toughest Marathon

When John Kelly and Gary Robbins lined up for last year’s Barkley Marathons (2017), little could they know the drama at the end.

Barkley MarathonsThe Barkley Marathons is perhaps the most grueling race in the United States. It is, in fact, an ultra-marathon run in Frozen Head State Park in East Tennessee. Technically, the course covers 100 miles and runners have 60 hours to complete it. In reality, the course is five laps of unmarked trail with 118,000 feet of elevation change (up and down Everest TWICE) and closer to 130 miles (according to many participants).

In its 32 year history to Spring 2017 over 1,000 runners had attempted the course; only 14 had ever finished it. Some years the weather and conditions have been severe that no runners completed more than two laps.

Among last year’s starters were John Kelly and Gary Robbins. They ran neck-and-neck for two days, crossing streams, battling vicious thorn patches, and enduring rain and harsh conditions together. That they finished lap four together was remarkable in and of itself. Exhausted, they both took a brief rest and ate more food then had a choice to make.

On the final lap of the Barkley, runners can choose to continue in the same direction as the previous four laps, or reverse direction if they feel that might help. Kelly opted for clockwise. Robbins reversed direction.

The hours ticked by. Finally at the 59½-hour mark, John Kelly appeared at the top of the rise near the finish line. He staggered down the hill and put his hands on the yellow finish gate. Gaunt, emaciated, and exhausted, and with just 30 minutes to spare, he had become the 15th finisher in the history of the Barkley.

But where was Gary Robbins?

“Fifteen minutes!” called out the Race Director. No sign of Robbins. “Five minutes!” went out the next call. Some spectators hurried up the slope to see if there might be any sight of him. Suddenly the cry went up; “He’s coming!” “One minute!” came the next announcement.

Robbins crested the short slope and sprinted down to the finish line. Two finishers in the same year? The Race Director clicked his stopwatch. 60:00:06. Robbins had missed the finish by six seconds. He collapsed on the ground, utterly spent. Two and a half days of torture and sleep-deprivation and he had missed by six seconds. He pleaded with the Race Director, because he had taken a wrong turn near the finish and lost some valuable time.

The Race Director, while sympathetic, wouldn’t budge. He took out the runner’s card and wrote DNF on it. “Did not finish.”

Some of us fear that God works like that Race Director, watching the clock closely, and ready to declare DNF if we get off track. But the Barkley Marathons is NOT a picture of life. Our laps might be difficult enough, but God’s grace is more than enough. Whether we feel exhilarated or exhausted, excited or emaciated, strong or sapped, he welcomes us at the finish line with grace and joy.

Are you in a grueling lap right now? Don’t fret; lean in on your faith. Taken a wrong turn? Don’t quit; quietly get back on track. Grace awaits. Always.

________________________________________________

Shape Your WorldSeen my latest book? All of us who influence others are leaders. That includes parents, peers, pastors, and most people. The question is not “Will we lead?” but “How will we lead?” This book lays out a simple, powerful, and biblical model for raising your kids, enriching your workplace, and shaping your world. Servant-leadership takes most of us nowhere. Transformational leadership changes everything.

Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life. Available on Amazon. Click here. All proceeds support the gospel in Chile.

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Shape Your World

Dear friends,

I’ve been a little  quiet on the blog posts in recent times because I’ve been working on completing my latest book, which I’m pleased to say has been released on Amazon today.

Shape Your WorldLeadership happens anytime one person influences another. That could be parents with their children, pastors with their churches, teachers with their classes, colleagues in the workplace, and a gazillion other settings (long-term, short-term, large settings, small settings). Leadership happens everywhere, every day. We all do it. But we also know that not all leadership is effective. Indeed, some leadership can be self-serving and even damaging.

Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life is the distillation of my leadership reading and research over the last two years. It explores the power and impact of authenticity, inspiration, empathy, and innovation as the chief building blocks of leadership that produces meaningful change while building lives. I’ve become convinced that this model of leadership — first proposed in the business world in the late 1970s — reflects the heart and core of Jesus’ own life and ministry more fully than any other model.

I invite you to this journey with me.

Copies of the book are now available on Amazon by clicking here. If you are interested in getting multiple copies of the book (10+) at a discounted rate, feel free to contact me at dtimms@jessup.edu.

By the way, all proceeds from the book will support the important and impressive work of Iberoamerican ministries — reaching and serving the people of Chile, South America, North Africa and the Middle East for Christ. You can find out more about them here.

My prayer for this 188-page book is that the Lord might use it to both equip and encourage you as a leader. Blessings as you continue to shape your own world more effectively for the glory of God!

David

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Gotta Die First

We LOVE stories of escape and survival (and the occasional Hallmark movie).

Think of Steve McQueen and James Garner in the 1963 classic The Great Escape. Those of us old enough to remember it have probably watched it more than once. More recently, millions of people watched Tom Hanks in Miracle on the Hudson; the inspiring story of Captain Sullenberger landing US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009, without losing a single person. 155 people saved! We love it.

T'ChallaIf you’re into superheroes, you’ve probably enjoyed the genesis of Superman. Jor-el sends off his baby son Kal-el in a miniature space-ship before Krypton explodes. And the baby who escapes the planet becomes Superman.

Batman begins with a young Bruce Wayne surviving the brutal murder of his parents. He grows up to become the caped crusader in Gotham City.

The Black Panther, T’Challa, returns to his home country of Wakanda and ends up in deadly battle with an arch-enemy. We think T’Challa dies when he falls from a cliff into the swirling waters of the canyon below. But he survives and returns to save the day!

Our heroes always escape or survive! They muster up that last ounce of energy to win the day. They fight back and prevail. Story…after story…after story.

This weekend – tomorrow through Sunday – is Easter. We tell the central story of our faith again. Is the Christian story any different? Is it any different than every other hero story that we tell?

It is profoundly different, and here’s how. The core of the Gospel is not a rescue mission but a resurrection mission. The Gospel is not about a miraculous escape from death, but a glorious resurrection after it.

Unlike our superheroes, Jesus did not fight back. He does not resort to violence. He doesn’t summon a legion of angels to do battle. He dies. That’s something we can all do.

His enemies think they have taken his life; but He has given it. His enemies think they have won; but the story is not finished. His enemies think they have silenced him forever; but Sunday’s coming. And the apostle Paul says, this is everything.

In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul declares: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is in vain.

Resurrection is everything. And it’s everything, because it’s not just the story of Jesus; it’s also our story. Much as I might like to be a superhero, with fantasies of power and strength, everyday I face death and failure of some kind. And the Gospel invites me not to escape or survive, but to die. And then the message of Easter bursts forth: Out of death comes life, when the hand of God is in it.

  • When a marriage is dead; life is possible when the hand of God is in it.
  • When addictions have killed our joy and our hope; life is possible when the hand of God is in it.
  • When grief and loss have stripped us of everything we love; life is possible when the hand of God is in it.

God does not rescue us; He resurrects us. This isn’t about discovering a secret tunnel at the last minute, or finding enough inner-strength to survive. This isn’t about being clever enough to land your stricken plane. The Easter message for each of us is that God takes death and by his power alone gives us life!

This Easter weekend, hold fast to faith, embrace hope, reject violence, and expect resurrection.

We don’t survive. We die! And then God takes the seed that dies, He plants it in the ground, and it bursts forth in new life; an entirely new creation. This is the glorious Gospel.

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Distance & Desolation

Some days we feel the Presence of God as tangibly as a hand on our shoulder. Other days we’re traipsing alone through Death Valley under a scorching sun. Spiritual distance and desolation may come our way for a day, a week, or sometimes a season.

OasisChristians throughout the ages have grappled with this common reality. St John of the Cross wrote his famous Dark Night of the Soul in the 16th century to explore this feeling and experience. What are some of the possible factors? St. John concluded that “desolation” is a purging experience produced by God to make us hungry again for Him, to move us beyond spiritual immaturity and towards union with Him. Perhaps so, but consider the following, too.

Desolation can derive from rejection. Not the Father’s rejection of us, but our rejection of Him. Contrary to popular belief, God is not disgusted by us or quick to abandon us. He is not the angry God who punishes, but the loving God who grieves. But He also allows us to choose rebellion and sin. We reject Him…and it withers the soul.

Desolation can derive from false expectations. Many Christians have assumed that the journey of faith means a joyous road to bliss and well-being. We have no theology of suffering that allows for bankruptcy, illness, accident, unemployment, persecution, or failure. So when we face such things we may feel abandoned, even though Christ quietly enters our pain.

Desolation can derive from failed fellowship. God created us for fellowship with Him, with each other, and with all of creation. Any collapse in this fellowship moves us another step away from Him. When we fail to abide in Him, we build distance. When we harbor enmity, bitterness, or even indifference towards others, we build distance. Indeed, dare I suggest that when we are out of touch with creation itself, we can’t be in touch with the Creator himself. Violence and violation of the created order shatters intimacy with the Creator.

A parched soul produces a languishing life. None of us enjoy such blight. But in truth, we’re not alone. Be assured, the Father neither turns His head nor withdraws His grace.

If you are facing a day or a season of this kind, come again right now to the well. Jesus said to the woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

 

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Unhurried

“Is a day without achievement a day well-lived?”

The question makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mind swapping the workplace for the home, but I’ve got lists of things to do in each place. And the more I’ve checked off my list, the better I feel. “It’s been a good day.”

UnhurriedEver feel that way? Busyness seems to give meaning and purpose to my life. Busyness makes me feel needed and valuable. Busyness — racing from meeting to meeting, or from person to person, or from task to task — says I am organized and significant. But this can be like cancer to the inner life.

Spiritual directors throughout the ages have declared that when we abide most deeply and richly in Christ, then our lives look and feel unhurried. Interestingly, nobody in the Gospels ever said of Jesus that he was hurried or busy. Perhaps he would have seen that as something less than a badge of honor, while we might consider it a great compliment. Instead, he stopped, listened, withdrew, paid attention, got engaged in the interruptions … and trusted the leading of his Father.

“Is a day without achievement a day well-lived?”

Perhaps we might also ask the corollary questions: “How do we learn to be with God, when we’re not great at being with anyone?” Or perhaps “Am I in the business of Jesus, or abiding in Jesus?”

Unhurried does not describe how I spend hours or minutes. It describes a state of heart. Unhurried comes not from forced breaks, but from chosen stillness. Unhurried is not what happens when I’m not busy, but a commitment to manage and view busyness differently.

If today took an unexpected turn, if your lists remained untouched, if you couldn’t be “productive,” would you be unhurried or stressed?

The unhurried living Christ invites us to abide in him, to walk with him, to embrace his leading and his way, to find rest and hope and purpose and significance in him. You may be facing a full day, but busyness is a state of the heart (as much as hurry is). Live into the fullness, but not into the busyness. As we become less hurried, our days will be better-lived…and more.

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