Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Different Angle of Living Like Jesus for a Year

Let me preface this review by stating first of all that Ed Dobson was my pastor for the 3 years I spent in Grand Rapids pursuing my Seminary degree.  I worked at his church as an intern in the youth ministry for those years.  His church did a lot to help prepare me for ministry as I was able to instantly apply what I was learning in class directly into ministry.  I enjoyed growing under his ministry during those years.  

With that said, I also want to give a nod to A. J. Jacobs who first ran with this idea of trying to live "biblically" for a year.  Reading "The Year of Living Biblically" was a great book from my viewpoint because it was very enjoyable to look at the Bible (and Christian culture) through the eyes of a person whom was investigating all of this for the first time.  Ed, on the other hand, had a very different background than Jacobs.  He grew up fully entrenched in the conservative fundamentalist movement within America, getting his education from Bob Jones University and working several years for Jerry Falwell before taking his own church in Grand Rapids.  So it is with this type of background, growing up within Christianity, that he took on this challenge to live as close as he could to the way Jesus lived.  The journey that Ed takes the reader on is much more contemplative, spiritual, and challenging as many times Ed is having to evaluate long entrenched "conservative values" in light of who Jesus actually was according to Scripture.  In fact, in Scripture it was often the religious conservatives that Jesus tended to anger to the point of murder on a cross. So Ed takes on the challenges that push him to be more like Jesus despite what the conservative establishment might think of him.  I love that kind of courage and thinking! 

One of the main things that really challenged me in this book was Ed's thoughts and practices in the art of prayer.  He describes the physicality of having a prayer guide in your hands (rosary, prayer rope) and how it helps to involve more senses within the act of prayer.  He also talks about specific prayers in the Bible which he prays over and over again.  This challenged me to consider how I might improve my prayer life.  It was also deeply challenging to see how he processed his struggle with ALS through this year.  I was in awe of his ability to continue learning lessons through his disease as he tried to be more like Jesus.  I have grown up in church long enough to see some of those in the older generation who have become rigid and "set in their ways" within the church. But then there are those who have matured in such a Christ-like way that you just want to be around them because they are still growing and learning and open to the Spirit of God to use them to their fullest at every stage of life.  Ed is most certainly one of the later. 

 Apparently the thing that seems to be ruffling the feathers of most of the right-wingers is Ed's journey to try and figure out who to vote for in the past election. I deeply appreciated his journey that he wrestled through to make the decision that he needed to make in the voting booth. And I was equally disturbed by the apparent fall-out Ed took within the conservative evangelical movement for admitting his decision to vote for Obama. This election for me was also one of the most difficult political decisions I have ever wrestled with even while I was walking into the voting area. It was awesome to read Ed's thought process of trying to think which candidate most represented the ideals of Jesus Christ.

Favorite Quotes:

Dobson on Ministry:
. . . when I started in ministry I thought I had all the answers. As I enter more deeply into the lives of real people, however, I realize how few answers I really have.  In life's most difficult circumstances, the best I can do is to be present to represent Jesus and the community that we call the church. I am there to love, pray, and encourage. I'm not there to answer all the questions. (p. 23)

I've been experiencing the same thing at the stage of ministry that I am in.  I thought I had all the answers but the older I get the more I realize I don't have all the answers and what answers I think I have I need to approach with humility and sensitivity when talking with others.  My attitude of love and compassion is greater than the things I think I know. 

Dobson on Matthew 13:47-50:
. . . deciding who is 'in' and who is 'out' is entirely up to God and the angels. Not us. And for that I am deeply grateful. (p. 119-120)

Amen to this. 

Dobson on Our Jewish Roots:
Some Christians divide the Old Testament from the New, as though the word old implies that it's no longer relevant. But Paul reminds us Christians that we are deeply indebted to our Jewish friends. We are simply a wild olive shoot grafter into the tree. (p. 126)

It is amazing what we learn about Jesus when we study the context of Israel's history instead of reading the Bible into our culture. 

Dobson on Exiting a Church:
I asked the congregation for their forgiveness for ways in which I had offended them by what I had said or done. I assured them that as I left, I had forgiven them for ways in which they had offended me in what they had said or done. (p. 131)

What a way to leave with humility and integrity.

Dobson on Impact:
If we could just focus on these two commandments it would profoundly impact our lives. Love God and love your neighbor. That's it.  (p. 134)

Yes, yes, yes!

Dobson on End Times:
Nearly every generation of Christians has believed that they were living in the last days. And so far, all of them have been wrong. I still believe the same thing I've always believed about the coming of the Lord, but I'm more hesitant now than ever before to be emphatic about it.  I like the words of Abraham Heschel, a famous Jewish writer who passed away a few years ago: 'I will not trouble myself with things too difficult for me to understand'. (p. 139)

Eliminating the apocalyptic hysteria within evangelical Christianity would wipe out so much amusement.  Jesus will return. Enough said. Say good bye to the goofy charts. For a great book on this read "A Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse" by Jason Boyett.

Dobson on Alcohol:
Some of my best experiences in living like Jesus have come because of alcohol! Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and you can't be accused of that unless you eat food and drink wine. . . . Jesus often attended parties with people who were offensive to the religious establishment. So if I am to follow Jesus, I have to do the same! (p. 163)

Dobson on Alcohol: 
I discovered that most people at the bar were interested in Jesus, but they were not interested in the church or religion. Even though I'm a pastor, that didn't seem to matter. What mattered was my personal journey in trying to follow Jesus' teachings. . . I've discovered that having a beer in my hand disarms people. They're much more likely to listen to what I have to say about the Bible if I'm sipping beer while I'm talking. (p. 166)

This is so true.  Of course let me preface this by stating that I am only talking about drinking with my adult friends! 

Dobson on Reaching Out:
What God wants more than anything else is that we show mercy to those who desperately need it. Throughout this year, as I've tried to eat and drink with those who were outside the church, something interesting has happened. I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with those who don't know the Lord than I am with those who do know the Lord. Those who don't know the Lord are much less judgmental. They are open to new ideas. I'm also learning that I don't need to be the spokesperson for God. Truth is truth. God is truth. And he really doesn't need me to defend his reputation. (p. 174)

The truth behind this is so sad.  Christians should be the most loving and accepting people.  There are so many who think they represent Jesus but are so far from the mark.  Instead they have become more like the Pharisees. 

Dobson on Pro-Life:
But here's an important point: being pro-life not only means I'm interested in protecting the unborn. It also means I'm interested in protecting those who have already been born.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who are dying of HIV/AIDS.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who are living in poverty.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who lack adequate health care - especially children.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those in our communities who are into gangs and drugs and will ultimately end up in prison.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those innocent civilians who are being killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Israel, and places all over the world.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who are experiencing genocide in countries around the world.

Being pro-life means being concerned about these and a whole lot more. I am concerned about those within the conservative movement whose only concern is with the unborn. I agree with them. I stand with them. I support them. But I want to know why in the world they seem not to care about those who are already born. (p. 243-244)

There is a wealth of truth here.  Let me add that pro-life would also need to be anti-war. 

Dobson on Dying:
Given the disease I have, I'm not afraid of being dead. But I am afraid of getting dead. The process leading up to death is filled with fear. I am afraid of letting go of my own life. But as I stood before this cross and realized all that Jesus had done for me, it gave me great hope that the Jesus who suffered on the cross identifies with my own suffering. And the Jesus who identifies with my suffering is with me every step of the way - even leading up to death! (p. 261-262)

I hate that a guy like Ed who has dedicated his life to God is dying with ALS going out this way.  I just doesn't seem right.  We will all suffer in some form or other in our lifetime.  May our sufferings bring us closer to Christ in identifying with his suffering. 

Dobson on Voting for Obama:
I created a huge controversy. And that controversy was with "religious" people, not secular people. Not those outside the Church. Not those who deny the Bible. But "Christian" people. My oldest son reminded me, "Remember that the people who were most disturbed by Jesus' teaching were the religious leaders. The religious establishment opposed him. If you're going to follow Jesus, can you expect anything less?" What concerns me most was that these religious people completely ignored everything else I had to say. They were upset that I'd voted for Obama . . .(p. 278)

In one way this is odd to me because I know a lot of Christians who voted for Obama (and a lot who voted for McCain).  I guess it all depends on what part of the country you live in.  On the other hand, I did go to Liberty for 2 years so I got to live within the conservative (at times bordering on militant) evangelical movement that dove head in to the conservative Republican Party.  Newt Gingrich spoke at my graduation who replaced George Bush Sr. since he got involved with the first Gulf War.  Politicians! Go figure.  I scratched my head often, recognizing how strangely different Christianity was down in Virginia in contrast to my North East Ohio roots.

Dobson on Truth:
I also realize that no church, no denomination, and no theological system has the inside track on truth. I grew up in a fundamentalist environment where we believed we were right and everybody else was wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. . . . But none of the above groups . . . has the inside track on truth. We can all learn from each other. (p. 281)  

If every Christian, church and denomination were honest with themselves, we all pick and choose what we want to hear from the Bible and what we don't want to hear.  It is time for the church to stop dividing based on trying to define itself by what it is NOT and begin the process of learning from each other.

Dobson on Heaven:
The idea that Jesus is "the way" doesn't mean "the way to heaven" so much as it means "how we live in the here and now." Heaven is only a side benefit. (p. 284)

Amen! We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God's work in the present!  We are kingdom builders NOW!  There is so much to live for (and die for). It would be a crime for Christians just to sit around waiting for Christ to return and "rescue" us from this world.  We have been entrusted with God's creation.  We have been commissioned.  Time to get our hands and feet dirty for Christ.


This was a great book.  It was simply amazing to get inside the mind of a ministry legend who is now suffering with ALS and NOW decides to try and live like Jesus for a year.  I don't know that I could be in the right state of mind to take on a project like this while suffer with a unforgiving disease. 

I also loved, loved, loved to see how Dobson transformed in his thinking from growing up in a rigid fundamentalist evangelical environment, which often defines itself by stating what it is NOT while pointing the finger at those they do not agree with, to a mind that was more open to look for God in other expressions of Christianity.  Through this journey Dobson became aware of so many other pockets of Christianity that he could learn from.

Dobson continues to be a man marked by grace and wisdom as he explored what it meant to try and live as close as you possibly can to the life of Jesus.  It was an amazing journey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wonders how a man who has dedicated his whole life to ministry, now in his later stages of life comes down with ALS, can continue to seek out God will for his life. 

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