Monday, May 04, 2015

Prayer and the Weakness That Is Still Unliberated (Prayer Life)

Sunset on Glen Lake, Michigan

More and more I am seeing the depth of Christ's love and my need for a greater baptism of his love. I think of Jesus' heart that loved his enemies. Yes he did. And, he didn't need a 'WWJD' bracelet to remind him of this. His heart was love-shaped.

I have intentionally been praying for my enemies, especially those in my past for whom, it seemed to me, I was their worst nightmare. I must discern my responsibility in their hatred of me. In some cases I caused it. "I" was the problem. If they were true Jesus-followers they would love me in  spite of me, and I would love them. This sounds so unreal to me! I rarely meet such love, both in others and in my own heart.

Last week I was praying for some "enemy" when God told me, "John, I love them as much as I love you." I felt stunned by this. I know, theologically, that this is true. I know it in my head. I want to know it also in my heart.

Thomas Merton has written: "How true it is that the great obligation of the Christian, especially now, is to prove himself a disciple of Christ by hating no one, that is to say, by condemning no one, rejecting no one. And how true that the impatience that fumes at others and damns them (especially whole classes, races, nations) is a sign of the weakness that is still unliberated, still not tracked by the Blood of Christ, and is still a stranger to the Cross." (Merton, Thomas. 
A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 3870-3873.)

It takes a liberated person to love as Jesus loved. The freer one is the wider, deeper, higher, and longer is one's love.

Following Merton I am to:
  1. Hate no one.
  2. Condemn no one.
  3. Reject no one.
Surely those three things are true, from Jesus' POV. If it has "flesh and blood" it is not my enemy. The real battle lies elsewhere. Paul tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore any Jesus-follower who inwardly or outwardly condemns another Jesus-follower is an instrument of unrighteousness in the hands of the enemy.

Hate sin. Love people. Like Jesus did, and most completely expressed this as he died for us while we were 
still his enemies. Note: we were his enemies, not he our's.

Recently, while teaching at Payne Theological Seminary, my students and I spent four days meditating on Psalm 23. One of the lines says: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows." One of my students received a God-insight I had never thought of before. God told him that not only is the "prepared table" visible to one's enemies, but so is being anointed with oil and the overflowing cup. I took this thought and related it to my cry for a greater love, in me. The flask of God's unending love overflows onto my enemies.

I invite you to pray this with me: "God, let your love so shape and fill my heart that it overflows even to my enemies."

Pray for release. Pray for the freedom to love others as Christ loves them. And pray to receive this love for your own self.

Sunday's Softball Game at Redeemer

(Photos by Lin Andreoli)

Praying Sub Specie Aeternitatis

Lake Michigan, from Holland State Park

Sub specie aeternitatis - lit., "under the aspect of eternity." 

When Jesus calmed the storm on the Lake of Galilee the reason he was calm is that Jesus was seeing the storm in a non-earthly way. Medieval theologians would say that Jesus saw the earthly storm sub specie aeternitatis; i.e., from the perspective of eternity. 

The Quaker theologian Thomas Kelly wrote in his exquisitely beautiful book A Testament of Devotion this prayer: God, let me "see earth, through heaven." When we, as Jesus-followers, see the things of earth through the lens of God's heaven, one result would be that certain fears and doubts would dissolve because we would see how, in life's circumstances, God actually is working all things together for good. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "From all this it now follows that the content of ethical problems can never be discussed in a Christian light; the possibility of erecting generally valid principles simply does not exist, because each moment, lived in God’s sight, can bring an unexpected decision. Thus only one thing can be repeated again and again, also in our time: in ethical decisions a man must consider his action sub specie aeternitatis and then, no matter how it proceeds, it will proceed rightly." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 10, p. 368)

Pray like this: "God, let me see the things of earth through the lens of heaven."

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Presence-Driven Church Develops a Shared Language

Redeemer Ministry School students
The words we use are important. Words frame the way we view reality. 

In the Presence-Driven Church we ask questions using words like this:

  • What is God doing in your life?
  • What is God saying to us, as a community?
  • What does God want us to do?
This is not some theory minus application. I, and we at Redeemer, vocalize these sentences

Not all churches ask these questions. In one of my seminary classes a pastor raised his hand and confessed, "I attend a lot of meetings with many pastors and we ask "What do you think?", never "What does God think?"! God-discourse is radical. Make these your core questions and your ministry will begin to change.

In the Presence-Driven Church we use words like:

  • Abiding
  • Presence
  • Listening
  • Following
  • Leading
  • Discerning
  • Together
  • Hearing
  • Testifying
  • Experiencing
  • Formation
  • Transformation
  • Jesus-follower
  • Worshiper
  • Spirit-empowered
  • Praying
  • Real Jesus
These words, and others, form a core vocabulary which shapes expectations.

Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"Transforming community begins to emerge as we establish shared understanding about what spiritual transformation is, develop shared language for talking about and encouraging one another in the process, and embrace a shared commitment to arranging our lives for spiritual transformation." (Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Kindle Locations 133-134)

Friday, May 01, 2015

This Sunday at Redeemer


Servant Leadership class with Jim & Denise Hunter, 9 AM.

Morning worship service - I'll preach out of Rev. 2:18-28 (the "Jezebel spirit"); + we'll celebrate the Lord's Table.

After the service we'll:

1. Break ground for our new building extension. Bring spades or shovels and we'll do this together, simultaneously. Kids too!
2. Have our spring church picnic, followed by
3. Our Annual Softball Game.

Relationships class - 6 PM - Should every broken friendship be saved? How to rescue a failed friendship.

I am looking forward to this Sunday!

Recognizing God's Voice Comes by Experience

Prayer circle at Redeemer
I know the sound of Linda's voice. Immediately. This is to be expected after 42 years of marriage, plus a year of courtship. But had she called 44 years ago I would, upon hearing her voice, ask "Who is this?" 

I know my wife's voice by experience. Countless hours of communicating have attuned my heart to her's. I am able to distinguish her voice from the many other voices I hear throughout the day. This is how voice recognition happens, and this is how we come to hear the voice of God.

Dallas Willard writes: "The only answer to the question "How do we know whether this is from God?" is: By experience." (Willard, Hearing God, 217)

Sheep and other domesticated animals and pets recognize, without fail, their master's voice. When they first heard that voice they did not know who was speaking. But they learn this quickly. Jesus said:

The shepherd of the sheep . . . calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . 
He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. . . . 
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. . . . 
My sheep hear my voice. 
I know them, and they follow me. 
John 10:2-4, 14, 27

The more I spend time with Linda, the more I not only recognize the sound of her voice but also become familiar with the heart behind the sound of her voice. This comes by personal experience, and much of it. There is no substitute for this. You cannot get this out of a book. Second-hand experience will not do. The testimony of someone else cannot substitute for first hand, personal, experiential knowledge.

Someone who does not have time to pray should not expect to recognize the voice of God, any more than spouses who have drifted apart would be familiar with each other's hearts. Only familiarity breeds discernment. 

Familiarity in the sense of recognition and understanding is directly proportionate to the amount of time spent together, and spent in a certain way. That's how it is with people. It is the same with God. We come to recognize God's voice by personal experience.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Praying to a Non-physical God (PrayerLife)

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Physicalism is the belief that all facts are physical facts. Most intellectual atheists are physicalists. 

Physicalism has its problems. It is unable to account for consciousness and free will. On physicalism, free will does not exist, which I find absurd. (See, e.g., J.P. Moreland's critique of physicalism here, and here.) 

Not all atheists are physicalists. See, for example, NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Nagel's point regarding consciousness is that a physicalist (materialist) view of the natural world does not only not account for consciousness, but positively excludes consciousness. Nagel sums his book up by saying that the physical sciences, as wonderful as they are, cannot - even in principle - "provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything."

I believe (and reason) that non-physical realities (like consciousness and free will) exist. Among them include God. God is an immaterial, therefore non-physical, Being. This has implications, and affects how I pray.

I am made in God's image. There are things about me that are God-like. John Calvin, at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, wrote:

"No man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts 
towards the God in whom he lives and moves; 
because it is perfectly obvious, 
that the endowments which we possess 
cannot possibly be from ourselves."

(Quoted in J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, 4)

I have a soul, a mind, consciousness, and free will. I am not a purely physical thing. In this sense I am like God. This is the point of contact between me and God. Just as God transcends physical reality, so do I. When I pray, I do so as an image-bearer. This is where I stand in relation to God. Moreland writes: "An entity can stand in certain relations and not others depending on the sort of thing it is." (Ib.)

I, and you, and all human beings, are a certain sort of thing that is inherently non-physical. "I" cannot be reduced to mere matter. When I pray, my non-physical spirit interacts with Non-physical God. God is not limited by physical constraints, therefore neither am I (think of Paul, praying while in prison chains). 

God is present to me now as I pray. 

See also:

Praying to an Everlasting God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self-Forgiveness Often Includes Making Amends with Others

Spring flowers in Rockford, Illinois
Are you having a hard time forgiving yourself for things you have done to others, to your own self, and to God? If so, the book to read on this is Everett Worthington's Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past

Worthington emphasizes the connection between self-forgiveness and seeking the forgiveness of others we have wronged. He cites studies that show "that people could forgive themselves more quickly and thoroughly if they felt forgiven both by God and by the person they wronged." (85) This is because when we hurt another person we damage our own character. In wounding others we also wound ourselves. When we choose to restore relationship with the one we have harmed this "restorative moral action will narrow our own injustice gap and help restore our sense of self as a moral person." (Ib.)

How can we narrow the injustice gap our actions have created? For one thing, "to regain trust from someone you harmed, you need to show the person that you are taking full responsibility." (86) If I hurt you then I am responsible, with your permission, to acknowledge your woundedness and the healing process. For example, the adulterous wife or husband must talk about their evil tryst, intentionally and proactively, so that their spouse does not have to keep asking all the many questions that are now in their mind. Worthington writes: "add substance to your commitment to take responsibility by acting to narrow the injustice gap." (Ib.) 

Persona in Absentia (PrayerLife)


As much as I desire to meet alone with God and pray, God desires to meet with me like a loving parent longs to connect with their children. Henri Nouwen writes: 

"God wants us more than we want God."
- Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 30

Who wants to be heard the most - us or God? The answer is: God.

Who grieves more over our lack of praying - us or God? Answer: God.

Nouwen quotes Anthony Bloom:

"We complain that God does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three-and-a-half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy, I am sorry.’ Or when we do not answer at all because we do not hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our mind, of our conscience. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.” (In Ib.)

Whenever there is an "in absentia" situation, it is us, and not God. God is never absent.

I am going to take time today and go to a quiet place, just me and God. We will meet together. God's gladness will far surpass mine.