Last Tuesday, I read another chapter of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart and discussed the implications with two good friends. One of these friends knew Dr. Willard and spiced up our conversation with first hand stories of his life. We smiled with admiration for the life and teaching of this influential author.

Last Wednesday, Dallas Willard passed from this life to the next. His death felt sudden and surreal, and I read beautiful stories told by his friends in the next few days.

Many years ago I remember a friend recommending his The Divine Conspiracy, and I remember using my pastoral book allowance (those were the days) to order the book. It came in one of those small cardboard boxes, and I quickly opened it up and held the thick, hardbound book in my hands. It had some sort of fruit on the cover beneath the title. I was drawn to the book and dove in as soon as I had the chance.

To be honest, the first couple of chapters almost took me out right then and there. That was some heady stuff! But then I made it through to his brilliant articulation of spiritual formation, of following the ways of Jesus in real life, in real ways. I read through his thoughtful explanation of the Sermon on the Mount and how we could create schools for teaching people to obey what Jesus commanded. I was hooked.

Around the same time, I began to study with more intensity the rabbi and disciple context for the life and teachings of Jesus, and it seemed to fit perfectly with what Dallas Willard was writing. Soon, I was quitting my job as a youth pastor and working for Reimagine in San Francisco, launching what we called the Jesus Dojo, an action based formation process for learning to live in the way of Jesus.

As I have reflected on my admiration for Dallas Willard, I have come to some realizations. Obviously, I appreciate the ideas in his writings, but there is something more. I have heard him speak in person and listened to so many first hand accounts of his life, and the man practiced what he preached. He was humble, kind and gracious. He exhibited a peace and love that very few humans attain.

In a world full of flashy stories, carefully timed twitter announcements and image conscious leaders, Dallas Willard lived a simple and beautiful life. He taught people how to become disciples of Jesus. He immersed himself in the Scriptures and the presence of God, and he quietly loved the people he encountered.

I am grateful for a life well lived.