Monday, August 21, 2017

Bob Sorge - God Could Have Left Job Alone



I'm re-posting this for N. 

Deepen the Life You Already Possess


Monroe
What does God want me to do next? How shall I spend this week? How can my life be more effective for Christ?

What is my calling and mission, today?

These questions will be answered as I dwell in God's presence. All my deepest questions are answered in his presence.

I will seek God, worship God, love God. 

Christ is in me, and I, in him. That is enough. (Pay attention to this.)

Therefore, I will abide in Christ, like a branch connected to a tree. 

I will saturate myself in the Scriptures. 

I will meditate on the things of God. (I carry Bible verses with me, on 3X5 cards.)


I will pray.

I will obey what God tells me to do. 

I like the way Thomas Merton puts this. He writes: 

"Our glory and our hope—we are the body of Christ. Christ loves us and espouses us as His own flesh. Isn’t that enough for us? But we do not really believe it. No! Be content, be content. We are the Body of Christ. We have found Him, He has found us. We are in Him, He is in us. There is nothing further to look for, except the deepening of this life we already possess. Be content." (A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 4260-4263. Emphasis mine.).

Deepen the life you already possess.

***
My book on this is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Difference Between "Christian" and "Follower of Jesus"


The German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege, in discussing his linguistic theory of sense and reference, showed how two different terms could have the same reference, but different senses. His famous example is "the morning star," and "the evening star." Both terms refer to the planet Venus. So, they have the same reference (denotation). But, they have different senses (connotation). (See here; scroll down to 3.2.)

The terms "Christian" and "follower of Jesus" used to have the same reference, with different connotations. Such is the case no longer.

At one time, "Christian" meant "follower of Jesus." "Follower of Jesus" was, perhaps, a subset of the broader category "Christian."

It was assumed, in the first century of Christendom, that if a person was a "Christian," then they followed the life and ways and teachings of Jesus. This is why Christians were martyred, like Jesus was. This is why Christians were peacemakers, and lovers of people, even their enemies. This is why Christians forgave one another, and why they served one another, since Christ came to serve, not to be served.

No longer is this the case.

Many self-refer as "Christian," but have little or no intention of actually following Jesus. I point out, e.g., that they must love other people, even their enemies, and that they must forgive others from the heart and not hold on to bitterness, and that they must not accept relationship division, since Jesus calls us to be reconcilers and peacemakers. Which means, to go after these things, behaviorally. Many, it appears to me, want the name, but not the cross.

Today, it is possible to think of oneself as a Christian, but not give Jesus the time of day. You can be a Christian and not follow Jesus. You can be a Christian but have no time to pray. You can be a Christian, while popping in and out of church. Your entire family can be a bunch of Christians, yet your hearts are won over by secular commitments.

Which means: "Christian," and "follower of Jesus," have neither the same sense, nor the same reference.

This is why we must abandon the word "Christian," and decide whether or not we will be disciples of Christ, people who hear Jesus' voice, and obey.

Real Followers of Jesus Are Peacemakers

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South Haven, Michigan
If you are in conflict with another brother or sister in Christ, this should not sit right with you. You should be troubled by this. If you are a follower of Jesus, you must do something about it.

You will not have peace with God if you are not working towards peace with others. The very peace Jesus promises to all who abide in him is not only for you. It is for the community of Jesus-followers you are in.

Henri Nouwen, in his beautiful book The Road to Peace, writes:

"In his farewell discourse Jesus said to his apostles, "Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you" (John 14:27). When we want to make peace we first of all have to move away from the dwelling places of those who hate peace and enter into the house of him who offers us his peace. This entering into a new dwelling place is what prayer is all about." (9)

A peacemaker dwells, not in the house of fear and war, but in the house of peace. In Christ, there is peace. As I abide in Christ he gives me his peace, a peace that is different from this world's peace. I connect with him who is our peace. (Ephesians 2:14) How?

By praying. Praying is a main way of connecting to God. Have an actual praying life and receive the peace of God, as Jesus promised. "A peacemaker," writes Nouwen, "prays."

He continues: "Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal for all peacemaking. I say this without apology, because it allows me to go straight to the heart of the matter, which is that peace is a divine gift, a gift we receive in prayer." (9, emphasis mine)

In some church communities the people do something called "passing the peace." They turn to people next to them, and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you." The peace of God is something for others. You have been freely given God's peace. So, freely give it away. Which means, make peace with others.

Jesus didn't give us the Beatitudes so we could posterize them. (Matthew 5) Real followers of Jesus live these things out. Division doesn't sit right with them. 

This is hard work. It is out of our comfort zones. Nearly everything Jesus calls us to do is out of our comfort zones. This is why peace-lovers are many, but peacemakers are few. 

If you follow Jesus, you will wage peace. You will then experience the blessing and favor of God, imparted like anointing oil, over you.

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Psalm 133:1-3



Praying as Performative Ontology

The world of my back yard

One author I keep reading is Pentecostal Philosopher James K. A. Smith, who teaches at Calvin College. That's interesting in itself, right?

In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith writes the following about the practice of praying:

"The practice of prayer banks on God's exceeding our worship space, transcending the confines of space and time, and as the Creator of the universe, being interested and concerned about concrete realities that face us here in our finitude. Praying enacts an entire cosmology because implicit in the very act of prayer is an entire ontology and construal of the God-world relationship. This doesn't mean we need to pursue a doctorate in metaphysics in order to pray; on the contrary, the point is that by doing it, by praying, we are engaged in a sort of performative ontology that could be teased out in reflection and analysis." (p. 193. By "performative" Smith means in the sense of J.L. Austin in the latter's How to Do Things With Words. Performative utterances do things, and establish things. In this case, prayer performatively establishes a worldview.)

The act of praying posits, prethematically, a worldview (following Charles Taylor, a "social imaginary"). By "performative ontology," Smith means a "doing" that prereflectively assumes the truthfulness of Christian theism. Such truthfulness could, if one wanted, reflectively "tease out" the propositions that make up the Christian social imaginary. 

This prereflective social imaginary is prior to the kind of reflection done in apologetics or theology. A praying person just "knows" such a world to be real. A praying person is, from the point of view of today's secular social imaginary, in another world; as N.T. Wright says, at the intersection of heaven and earth.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Horizontal Church vs. Vertical Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

Image result for johnpiippo church
Preaching at Faith Bible Church in New York City (Flushing)

The Vertical Church is a people group of Jesus-followers who desire nothing more than God's earth-shattering presence, and who experience that presence whenever and wherever they gather. The presence of God is the glue that holds them together. This is the meaning of Jesus' words about "whenever two or more gather, there I am in their midst." That's all that's needed: Jesus in our midst.

The Horizontal Church needs more than "Jesus in our midst," even to the exclusion of Jesus, leaving only us and "our midst." Here people have been seduced by the god of relevancy. Many are good people who have been mis-discipled. They have been taught - by culture - to rely on their own natural charisma to attract consumer-seekers. Much energy and money is spent on catering to the prevailing cultural ethos and its chronos-mentality; hence, there are temporally choreographed services because people (it is assumed) will pull out their cell phones if the earth-shattering presence of God hovers among them for more than an hour. The Horizontal Church unwittingly adds to Scripture, and has Jesus saying, "whenever two or more gather, with a fair trade coffee bar and stage lighting and short services and apps and creative add-ons, there I am in their midst, if only for an hour."

Horizontal churches burn people out in striving to measure up to the ever-shifting bar of cultural coolness. Even name changes and stage lighting cannot rescue these sinking vessels. (Vertical Church is not essentially about external makeovers, not that serving coffee or tight blue jeans are evil.)

James McDonald of Harvest Church in Chicago writes:

"Eventually everyone vacates church where God is not obviously present and working. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first— that’s what Vertical Church is all about!
Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church.
The problem is you can’t fake glory. You can’t manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will. Only God Himself can bring glory into a church, and when He does, communities get shaken and lives get changed, and the fame of Jesus Christ curls continuously upon the shore of human hearts like a Hawaii 5-0 wave. Church is supposed to be a tsunami of glory every Sunday, and that is what we gather for." (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 104-105)

McDonald says, "In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything."

***
I worked today on my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church, to be published hopefully before the Lord returns.

My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Relationship Comes Before Request

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South Haven, Michigan

If I had a child who did not listen to my counsel and respond to my directives, I would not listen to their requests. If they ask me for something, I'll want to first talk about our relationship and their nonresponsiveness.

God has no use for the prayers
of the people who won't listen to him.

Proverbs 28:9 (The Message)

If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, 
even their prayers are detestable.

Proverbs 28:9 (NIV)

James 5:16 says, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Which would mean, the prayer of an unrighteous person is powerless and ineffective.

Which means, the prayer of a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist is powerless and ineffective.

The God of Christian theism is not some big butler in the sky who exists for our gratification. God is a God of relationship. He is a loving Father, we are his children.

Relationship always comes before request.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Five Stages of Spiritual Transformation

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Linda and I, in South Haven, Michigan
God can change human hearts. He is able, and desires, to transform (Rom. 12:2 - meta-morphe) our hearts into increasing Christlikeness (Gal. 4:9).

Since 1977 I have been developing my theory of spiritual transformation, which is about How God Changes Lives. The inputs for my theory of spiritual transformation have been and are:

1. the countless hours, over forty years, that I have gone alone to a quiet place and prayed.


2. my ongoing saturation in the Christian scriptures, studying and meditating on them.


3. the 3000+ pastors, Christian leaders, seminary students, and lay people I have been privileged to spiritually mentor and coach through class lectures, dialogue, and the submission of their spiritual journals for me to respond to.


4. my past and ongoing study of the history of Christian spirituality.

IMy theory can be applied not only to the issue of spiritual transformation, but also to the ideas of spiritual “renewal,” “restoration,” “renovation,” and “formation.” All these concepts have to do with “change,” and in Christian spirituality change is good, stasis is bad. One is either growing or dead. 


Spiritually, to not be growing is to be dying. As my friend Jim Hunter has said, “We’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” 

Or, as Robert Quinn has written, it’s either “deep change” or “slow death.”

My approach to spiritual formation (I use “formation” and “transformation” interchangeably) applies and works cross-culturally, cross-temporally (concerning both old and young; and past, present, and future), and with both men and women. This is because the locus of spiritual formation is “the heart.” Thus, change and renewal happen at a deep, ontological level. Because the deeper we go inside persons the more we are all the same, the principles of Christian spiritual formation speak to everyone, everywhere. 

This is my experience over the years as I have been privileged to teach this material to Chinese pastors and leaders in Singapore New York City, and Vancouver, to Indians in India, to African Americans at Payne Theological Seminary, Palmer Theological Seminary, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, to African pastors (Kenyan and Ugandan) in Kenya, and to hundreds of Anglo pastors and Christian leaders from the U.S., in Canada, and beyond. In my seminary classes, I have taught this material to pastors and seminary students from every continent and, it seems, representing most of this world’s countries. All this interaction and input has served to help me refine my teachings, reducing them to the following points.

How does God change a human heart? Here is a Phenomenology of Spiritual Renewal and Transformation; viz., a description of what I see happening when lives are renewed and transformed in Christ.

1 – THE NEED (Recognize how needy you are)


Without this step growth will not occur. To recognize one’s own neediness is to be in a very good place, spiritually. Isaiah 6 serves us well here. Isaiah, who is arguably the most righteous person among the people of Israel, enters the temple and sees a vision of a holy God. The result is that Isaiah is “undone,” or “unraveled,” or “dis-integrated.” There is a huge gap between the holy-otherness of God and Isaiah with his dirty mouth.

To recognize, to internalize, the gap between self and God is crucial to one’s inner change.

2 – THE GAP (Understand the magnitude of the needed transformation)


The Jesus-idea is that God wants to morph us into Christlikeness. Paul, in Galatians 4:19, longs that “Christ be formed” in his Galatian brothers and sisters.

The issue here is not asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather doing what Jesus did, as a matter of the heart. For example, if I had the heart of a great soccer player I would do what a great soccer player does. Jesus, as he hung dying on a cross, did not have took look at a wristband and ask the question, “Now what would I do?” Rather, Jesus forgave his persecutors, and we must believe he did so not as a matter of ethical protocol but because this was, indeed, his very heart.

The word Romans 12:2 uses is, in Greek, metamorphe. Literally, this is about “a change of form.” What is needed here are not more ethical rules to follow, since one can obey laws without having a heart for them. This concerns what Dallas Willard has called “the renovation of the heart.” To be morphed into like-Christ-ness.

Because the magnitude of the transformation is so great, we realize we can’t do this by means of our own will power.

Therefore…

3. I CAN’T SELF-TRANSFORM

Spiritual formation and transformation into like-Christness is not something we can do on our own. Indeed, if it were something we could do on our own, then we will have greatly diminished Christ. When it comes to this kind of change it is good to realize that we can’t “self-transform.” This is one thing we cannot do in our own wisdom and strength.

There is some good news here. This realization, if it is a heart-reality, frees us from “striving.” When it comes to personal transformation no striving is allowed. It simply won’t do any good to “try harder.” The goal of heart-morphing into Christlikeness is so beyond us that striving is useless. If we are to be transformed, only God can do it.



4- ONLY GOD CAN EFFECT THE NEEDED TRANSFORMATION

The God who spoke and brought a universe into being is not puzzled by you and I. We pose no special obstacle to change, except that, in our created uniqueness, we could exercise free will to oppose being changed. 

God can change me into greater Christlikeness, and desires to do so.

Therefore…

5 – GET INTO GOD'S PRESENCE AND DWELL THERE/ABIDE IN CHRIST

Allow God to get his hands on you. Enter into the “spiritual gymnasium” and “exercise unto godliness.” (See 1 Timothy 4:7) But isn’t that a kind of “striving?” No, because the spiritual exercises or disciplines are simply ways of ushering us into God’s presence. Once we abide there, God himself changes us. We are like lumps of clay on a potter’s wheel, with God himself the shaper of our hearts.

John 14-16 is important here, as Jesus gives his “final discourse” to his disciples. Be a branch, connected to Jesus the true Vine. The stuff and life and resources and joy and peace and power of “the Vine” begins to course through the arteries of “the branch.” Just as a branch could not be attached to a healthy apply tree and fail to produce apples, so you and I cannot consistently dwell in God’s presence & remain unchanged.

Don't focus on change.

Don't work to make it happen.

Focus on staying connected to Christ, and you will be changed.

Mostly, this is a slow-cooker, not a microwave.


***
My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Book #2 is Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Fall 2017).

I have begun writing book #3, How God Changes the Human Heart

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Carrying a Promise With Me Today

I began today by reading out of Psalms and Proverbs.

I wrote Ps. 92:12-14 on a 3X5 card.

It's in my pocket, staying close to me today.