Monday, July 21, 2014

Teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary


Linda and I leave this morning for Dayton. I'll be teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary Tues-Fri. I'm glad Linda is going to get some R&R!

I feel so privileged to teach at Payne. I have met many beautiful, Jesus-following African-American brothers and sisters. Payne is a great seminary, one of the oldest black seminaries in our nation (the oldest free-standing black seminary). 

In my Spiritual Formation class I will...
  • lead students in individual prayer-encounters with God
  • gather students in small groups to process what they hear God saying to them
  • present my Phenomenology of Spiritual Formation
  • present Howard Thurman's theology of spiritual formation
  • present Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's theology of prayer as foundational to leadership
  • share my ideas on Leading the Presence-Driven Church
This will be my ninth Spiritual Formation class at Payne. I've taught and made friends with 180 students. In the process I've engaged in ongoing African and African-American studies. I've learned so much from my studies, my students, and the faculty, staff, and culture of Payne Seminary.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Three Tools for Communicating When in Conflict

Care Enough to Confront
David Augsburger roots his book Caring Enough to Confront in Ephesians 4:15, which states: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others, even when we are in conflict with them? Here we see two actions we are to take:

1. Speak truthfully

2. Speak lovingly

Both truth and love are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could hurt people. I could tell you the truth in an unloving way, the result of which could bring harm to you.

If we only speak lovingly we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.

Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus always asserted the truth, and he always did so in love.

Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

CARING                                                                                   CONFRONTING

• I care about our relationship............ .....................................& I feel deeply about the issue at stake

• I want to hear your view....................................................... & I want to clearly express mine

• I want to respect your insights........ .....................................& I want respect for mine

• I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings................ & I want you to trust me with yours

• I promise to stay with the discussion until 
we reach an understanding........ ............................................& I want you to stay with me until ............................................................................................we've reached an understanding

• I will not trick, pressure, manipulate, or distort the differences...  & I want your unpressured, clear, honest views of our differences

• I give you my loving, honest respect......................................& I want your caring-confronting response

When Linda and I communicate these are the attitudes we have learned to have. We were blessed to learn these things from David Augsburger years ago when we were in a married couples group that met at David and Nancy's home. Those times were so important to us as a young married couple! We saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you feel angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another. That is the way out of what sometimes seem like irreconcilable differences.

Work at understanding one another. You will find that often, when understanding has been achieved, "the problem" is not there anymore. ("Understanding" causes a lot of dominos to fall.)

Deal with Anger in Relationships

I stepped out of the car in Kenya and took a shot of this.

I'm speaking this morning at Redeemer on Ephesians 4:17-27. I'll give everyone a copy of this and share how to work through anger.

In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen. I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger.
When I feel angry, what can I do?  

1. Recognize your anger. 
“Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. 
Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. 
Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. 
If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. 
For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: 
Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.

Communicate this in your own way of saying things. Begin your sentence with “I” rather than “You.” For example: “I feel angry…” rather than “You make me feel angry…” Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel so attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you get free of these things you’ll find yourself less angry.

Remember that from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told never to feel anger. There is a righteous anger, and that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. In all relationships we are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only it’s only been a few times in our almost 40 years of marriage that have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We are this way because we were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were sufficiently warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and He has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, then confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give Him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.
Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

7 Rules for a Good, Clean Fight

Before I married Linda one of my pastors gave me Charlie Shedd's book Letters to PhilipOn How to Treat a Woman. I read it. And then, a few years later, I read it again. Remember that, when it comes to wisdom, "old" doesn't mean "not as relevant."

Monroe County
Shedd's little book gave me some relationship tools I have never forgotten. For example, here are his "7 Rules for a Good, Clean Fight." 

 1. Before we begin we must both agree that the time is right.

 2. We will remember that our only battle aim 

is a deeper understanding of each other.

 3. We will check our weapons often to be sure they're not deadly.

 4. We will lower our voices instead of raising them.

 5. We will never quarrel in public nor reveal private matters.

 6. We will discuss an armistice whenever either of us calls "halt."

 7. When we have come to terms we will put it away 

until we both agree it needs more discussing.

Schedule Prayer Times (Prayer Summer 2014)

Pierce Stocking Drive, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Every Tuesday afternoon for the past 35 years I have gone to a quiet place alone and prayed. Sometimes for 2 hours, sometimes as long as 6 hours. I pray at other times, but Tuesday afternoons have been my times with God.

Most Jesus-followers who have serious prayer lives have scheduled prayer into their life-rhythm. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Clock time can become sacred time. We can choose fifteen minutes, half an hour, or even a few hours, and set them aside for God. For a healthy physical, emotional, and spiritual life, we have to structure our time. We need to know beforehand when we will pray, when we will spend moments in spiritual reading, when we will participate in common worship , and so on. A rhythm of life in which sacred times and places are scheduled in gives us much spiritual support and causes us to look forward to them as “times of refreshing” for discernment."
Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, pp. 12-13

What began 35 years ago as a small stream has formed a neural river flowing from the throne of God. The river groove runs so deep that I cannot not-pray any longer. This is good. It has turned into (as I understand this) "praying without ceasing."

I always look forward to these extended, scheduled prayer times. They have become times of refreshing and discerning.

Write "Praying Time" into your calendar.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Prayer and Humility (Prayer Summer 2014)

Preparing for Love

In three weeks we will begin preaching through the biblical book of 1 John at Redeemer. I am so excited about this! This is personal to me. Because my prayer for the past several years has been: "God, produce Your love in me so I might love as you do." Here are some love-thoughts as I am preparing for 1 John.

Love does Not Fashion Others Into One's Own Image

It is the height of arrogance, manipulation, and control to try to make other people into one's own image. I often meet people who try to make some significant other into a "normal" person like they are; into someone who thinks their thoughts, likes their likes, wants their wants, and desires their desires. Parents do this to children, friends do this to friends, lovers do this to their beloved. What is this evil thing that wants to live vicariously through other people?

Thomas Merton writes: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Real love lets the other be who they are, and champions them to be better than they both are. The one who can love someone just as they are is a sign of the lover's freedom. It's an insecure person who needs others to be just like them and agree with them on everything. The truth is that if both people agree on everything then one of them is not needed. That's precisely how the other will feel as the image-controller manipulates them.

Discover the reality of your own self, before God, in Christ.

Release other people to do the same.

Doing these things makes life lighter, more truthful, and more joy-filled.

Love Always Protects

στέγω,v \{steg'-o}
1) deck, thatch, to cover 1a) to protect or keep by covering, to preserve 2) to cover over with silence 2a) to keep secret 2b) to hide, conceal 2b1) of the errors and faults of others 3) by covering to keep off something which threatens, to bear up against, hold out against, and so endure, bear, forbear

Love always protects. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

In my late teens when I had a date with a girl I would be thinking "Will she have sex with me?" One time I was with this girl in the back seat of a car and started putting physical moves on her. She pushed my hand away. She wanted none of that. I didn't understand and tried to convince her otherwise. That was the last time she went out with me. 

Good for her! She requested something of me. I did not respect her request. Feeling disrespected, she wanted nothing more to do with me. I was so self-centered that the concepts of honor and respect were not part of my DNA. I did not know love or how to love and be loved. I did not understand that love always protects.

The Greek verb stego means "to bear." This does not mean love "bears up under things," but that "love bears all things up." "Love carries everything." (Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits, 94) Lewis Smedes writes:

"Love hates a scandal... [L]ove drives us away from scandal for deeper reasons than propriety and good taste. Scandal hurts people; and love hates everything that hurts people. This is why a loving person is turned off by gossip and rumor - out of concern for the people being whispered about." (Ib., 95)

Love carries our sorrows. Love never causes more sorrow. "Sorrow is a suffering of the mind, the hurt of knowing that something is wrong." (Ib., 97) Love is a cure for, not a cause of, emotional pain. The girl who refused my sexual advances refused to be victimized by my disrespect of her.

To respect is to protect. Love always cares for the other, with no expectation of anything in return.

Love is Kind

There may be no better book to read on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 than Lewis Smedes' Love Within Limits: A Realist's View of 1 Corinthians 13.

Chapter 2 is - "Love is Kind."

Nietzsche, in one of his
gentler moments.
"Kindness," writes Smedes, "is the will to save; it is God's awesome power channeled into gentle healing. Kindness is love acting on persons." (11)

Love is power.

One quality of love is kindness.

Therefore kindness is power.

The German atheist philosopher Nietzsche did not take kindly to this. Nietzsche hated Christianity (and especially Paul) for promoting kindness, which he saw as weakness and door-mat-ness. But "kindness," says Smedes, "is enormous strength - more than most of us have, except now and then." (Ib.)

"Kindness is the power that moves us to support and heal someone who offers nothing in return. Kindness is the power to move a self-centered ego toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, and to move that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward." (Ib.)

Only a free person can love this way. When I ask God to "set me free" I am thinking precisely of this kind of thing; viz., freedom to love; freedom to be kind.

Love Is Not Jealous

I'm reading more of Lewis Smedes's beautiful extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love In a Selfish World. This is, I think, the best book I have ever read on Jesus-like love.

Love, among other things, is not jealous. Pray for freedom from the bondage of jealousy.

The reason agape (the biblical Greek word for "love" used in 1 Cor. 13) is not jealous is because "it is the power to move us toward another person with no expectation of reward - not even the reward of exclusive loving. That is why agape is not jealous." (23)

Jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy is the wish that we had something that belongs to someone else. "Envy" does not have pain associated with it. "The people we envy are not a threat to us; they only happen to have what we would like to have." (24) But jealousy "is aimed at someone who threatens us, threatens to take away someone we love." (24)

It's not just persons we can be jealous of; we can also be jealous of things. I have met wives whose husbands spend more time fishing than they do with them. These wives are jealous of the sport of fishing. This is the core reason pornography hurts and ruins a marriage. The wife wants her husband's eyes looking at her, not at other women. Of course the shoe can be on the other foot. A husband can be jealous of his wife's friends, or her family, or her job, or even their children if she spends more time with them than with him.

Smedes writes: "Jealousy and envy are different feelings... We envy without pain. Jealousy is the pain we feel when our role, our position, is threatened by someone close to us. Envy can stimulate us to try harder. jealousy stimulates us only to resentment of the person who does better." (25)

Linda and I have been married for 41 years (in less than one month!). I remember a time, 42 years ago, when I was at her house. I was falling in love with her. We were with her family when someone knocked on the door. It was one of Linda's old boyfriends! She stepped outside and talked with him. Feelings of jealousy flooded over me. As I was sitting there I looked on the table next to me and there was a little booklet entitled "How to Win Over Jealousy." God has a sense of humor, right? I began to read it.

When her old boyfriend left I asked Linda, "What did he want?" "I told him you and I were dating. He said 'OK,' but would you still like to go to a play with me?" As I heard that I lit up! I couldn't believe he would ask her out knowing she and I were in a relationship. Didn't I trust Linda? There was a lot of stuff inside me that needed healing.

Smedes says that "agape love transcends jealousy without destroying it." What does that mean? It means that the more possessive and controlling a person is, the more a normal, protective jealousy will turn cancerous. Jealous peple are controlling people.

Smedes writes: "If we have nothing else in the world to live for but our lover, we are vulnerable to the worst fits of jealousy. The person who tells someone else, "I can't live without you," is threatened at his deepest selfhood when the one with whom he cannot live has to be shared in thesmallest way. Such a person always suspects the worst, and this very suspicion prods him to cruel reactions... Agape does not let us give our souls to idols, even to the idol of the ideal husband or wife or friend... So agape will not let us be so deeply threatened that our very existence seems at stake." (28-29)

Linda and I have always told others that, if and when you marry, marry someone that can live without you, and you without them. The only One we cannot live without is Christ. Agape love is, says Smedes, "the power to admit cheerfully that you cannot meet all the needs of your loved one or friend and are pleased that someone else can add what you lack." (29)

Jealousy is painful, but with God it can be transcended.  "But where there is Christian love, the power of agapic giving and sharing will prevent jealousy from building barbed-wire fences of self-protection against any sharing of love and loved ones." (29) Agape love is, among other things, the power of sharing.

Pray for a heart filled to overflowing with Jesus-like agape love.

Love Requires a Predicate

With Dee, Stella, Holly, Debbie, and Trevor in Detroit
Love requires a predicate. 

"S loves p." As in: "S is in love with ____" (with p = "in love with ____"). "John loves Linda." A 'subject' loves a 'predicate'; in this example, a subject loves a person.

"The lover desires the beloved." Love, therefore, is other-centered. At its best and purest a lover loves the beloved in such a way that the beloved experiences being-loved. Real love is for the sake of the other, and not essentially for one's own self. Love serves the beloved. Where there is love the beloved's well-being is paramount.

"Love" is a relationship in which the predicate benefits at the expense of the subject. The subject spends itself on the predicate. When it's the other way around, when the subject benefits at the expense of the predicate, the predicate loses their personhood and becomes a mere object. "loves p" gets reduced to, simply, "S." The beloved loses their identity. This is the loopy logic of self-love, of "love" for the sake of one's self. The predicate is the subject. A strange self-reflexive loop is formed. This is the kind of "love" that is never satisfied. This is the "love" that leads to adulterous affairs, serial monogamy, and non-investment.

Thomas Merton writes: "The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satisfied with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unqiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." (The Waters of Siloe) When no "predicates" satisfy the "subject" the reason is because the subject is an all-absorbing thing eats up love-objects like a dog devours a chunk of meat.

"S loves p" could be construed not as a subject-predicate statement but as a subject-object statement. What, precisely, in "S loves p," is predicated of S? Isn't p to be understood as the "object" of S's love and not a predicate that ascribes something to the subject? No and yes. 

No: p is not best understood as an "object" of S's love. Subject-object language implies relational distance, which "love" has nothing to do with. "Love," being essentially a connected-relational thing, speaks of oneness and unity rather than two-ness and distance. Two lovers "become one flesh." "One flesh" language resists the Cartesian ontological dichotomy between a knowing subject and an object which is to be known. 

Yes: because if love were an ontological union between the lover and the beloved both would disappear. Or, perhaps, the beloved would be absorbed into the lover. In this case "S loves _____" would become, simply, S. There is always a distance between lover and beloved, but the distance is not a Cartesian metaphysical distance. 

I think subject-predicate language better explains the love-relationship than does subject-object language. In the statement "The chalk is white," "whiteness" is predicated as an attribute of "chalk," and thus tells us something about a certain piece of "chalk." Analogously, to say "S lovesp" (or "S loves ____") tells us something about the being of S, instead of simply objectifying p.

The noetic framework that best accounts for the nature of real love as predicate-centered is Christian Trinitarian theism. The Christian idea of God as  "trinity" of Persons conceptually explains the idea that God is love. God, in his being, is love. Because we have a God who is a three-personed being sharing one essence, the love of God is not self-love. In the idea of God-as-Trinity Father, Son, and Spirit love one another throughout eternity. God's love is "predicative" and relational, rather than objectifying in the sense of Descartes and the influential Cartesian tradition

In John 14-17 Jesus extends to us the invitation to enter in to Trinitarian love. The love that ultimately satisfies, the love that provides the foundation of all earthly loves, the very source of love itself as other-centered, becomes ours. Real love requires a predicate because the God who is love is, in his essence, a lover of others. God is the author of the subject-predicate love that defines his very being.

Some Meditations on LOVE

I will meditate today on "love."

  1. God is love. Love forms the very being of God. "Love" is an essential attribute of God. This means that God cannot not-love. Christian Trinitarian Theism best expresses this. God is a 3-personed being. God is, essentially, a being-in-relationship. God as Father-Son-Spirit makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. Because "love" is relational. "Love," to be love, requires an "other," an object to-be-loved.
  2. God cannot not-love you. This does not form some restriction on God. God does not love you because there is some command external to his being that he must follow. [Sorry "Euthyphro dilemma."] God is love, therefore all God's thoughts and actions are loving. God's love for you is genuine. When God thinks of you he has a good feeling. God likes you. You are God's child, his son or daughter. God made you, and what he has made God calls "very good." You are deeply loved by God. Nothing can ever change this.
  3. God expressed his love by coming to us, rather than making us seek to find him. God himself came, in the Son, to "sozo" us; i.e., to "save" us. Love came down to rescue us. "For God so loved the world..." Michael Brown et. al. write that the New Testament usage of sozo means "to rescue, save, deliver, preserve from danger, etc." (212) "James 5:15 in particular provides an excellent example of the holistic usage of sozo." (213) The sick person will be "raised up," forgiven, and "made well" (sozo). Sozo includes being healed, made whole, and delivered, and is applied not simply to individuals but to people groups and cultures. "Love" is  verb. Love is an intentional action.
  4. From God's POV love is "the greatest." The highest, in terms of value. Love is greater than power. In the being of God love is the raison d'etre of power. Jesus, in his humanity, accessed the power of the Father. Jesus' displays of power came out of his compassion, which is to say, out of his love. Paul follows up and expands on this theologically in 1 Corinthians 13. Without love, you are nothing.
  5. Love is not impatient. Love waits. Love waits for others. Love doesn't get ahead of others.
  6. Love is not unkind. Love never speaks un-loving words, for that would be the antithesis of love. Love speaks kindly.
  7. Love does not envy or boast. Love is free from human hierarchies of comparison. Love does not measure one's self against others.
  8. Love does not dishonor others. Which means: love looks to honor others before one's own self. Love does not go after self-honor. Love loves to see others get the honor. Love is free from the need to be in the spotlight. Love does not "upstage" others.
  9. Love is not self-seeking. Love does not seek after one's own self, but seeks after God and the well-being of others. Loves puts God first, and others second. Love is satisfied with taking third place, or not place at all.
  10. Love is not easily angered. Love doesn't get irritated or ticked off. Love isn't irritable or inconvenienced. Love is easily interruptible.  
  11. Love lets go of past offenses. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Because of this, love sleeps peacefully at night. There's no bitterness or resentment in love. To forgive others: this is one of love's greatest accomplishments.
  12. Love does not delight in evil. There's nothing evil does that makes love happy.
  13. Love does not rejoice with falsehood. Love rejoices with the truth. Love doesn't throw a party when "1+1=3."
  14. Love always protects. Love is responsible for the other. Love shelters. Love takes a bullet meant for the beloved.
  15. Love always trusts. This is because love trusts in God. Love is not naive or gullible because of this. Love doesn't trust an ax-murderer with an ax, but trusts that God is greater than he who is in the world.
  16. Love always hopes. Love expects, therefore love prepares.
  17. Love always perseveres. Love never gives up.
  18. Love never fails.
  19. Love is the thing that will last. Love ever-lasts. Therefore build your life on the everlasting foundation of love.
  20. Faith and hope are great things, but love is greater.
  21. We are to love one another. This is the mark of the real Jesus-follower. "See how they love one another." If we all were doing just this one thing the entire world would be revolutionized.
  22. We are even to love those who are against us. We are to love our enemies. Love doesn't get any more radical than this. This is the "Mt. Everest" of love; love's summum bonum. When love displays itself this way the earth trembles, the heavens open, jaws drop, eyes open, and skeptics reconsider.
  23. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. And one of his commands is: Love your enemies. Here logic kicks in. Modus ponens1. If A, then B. 2. A. 3. Therefore, B. Such as: 1. If it rains, then the ground gets wet. 2. It is raining. 3. Therefore, the ground gets wet. Such as: 1. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. 2. You love Jesus. 3. Therefore, you keep his commands. Including the commands to love God, love one another, and love one's enemies. Just as surely as the rain causes the ground to get wet.

"Marriage" Is Not the Greatest Thing

Moon over my house - 10:30 AM, 7/18/14
When I became a Jesus-follower God told me to lay off trying to hustle women and take a full year off dating. I did. It was a wonderful year for me. I began to find out about what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was now my "head," and I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life-goal was no longer to find some "soul mate," because my soul was now mated to Christ. The new life-goal was to find Christ and be found in him. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw close to the only One who purely loves your soul and who, BTW, created you. Take advantage of this and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate ask yourself, where does this come from? I have seen Christian parents who lay pressure on their children to date and get married. Too many times the child ends up marrying anybody just to please, at least unconsciously, their mother and father. This pressure is not from God. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. Like any false god, this will let you down.

I've seen a lot of "Christian" marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are hellish because both partners are Christians. If you are not in a marriage like this give thanks. You have been spared from a very dark existence. Be thankful if you are not in a world where adult babies are making babies and then abandoning them in divorce.

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee their marriage will be wonderful. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done. This never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage and so end up paying in ways they never imagined.

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that!

See this post by Ben Witherington - "Family First!— Not a Biblical Viewpoint." Correct. Which means, marriage isn't first either. The Scriptures consistently and persistently point us to #1 as: God, and life in Christ. Ben writes: 

"Anyone who has carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 will know that Paul says that being married in the Lord or being single for the sake of Christ are both good stations in life, and BOTH require a certain ‘charisma’ or grace gift to live in such a state. That is, Paul does not agree that marriage is the normal default for every believer. He doesn’t think we should think that way at all. It is not the highest goal that everyone should strive to reach. Frankly, says Paul, I would prefer various of you be single like me, for the sake of the Kingdom. But each according to his gift. 
What is radical in its day, and even now, about the teaching of Jesus and Paul (remembering Jesus in Mt. 19 says disciples can be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) is what they say about the viability and goodness of never marrying, or remaining single after you lose your spouse. Frankly Jesus would have been appalled at the name of a Sunday school class at my old church— ‘Pairs and Spares’. Single persons are not like spare tires. They are not like fifth wheels. 
Indeed the NT warns us that some people are just not cut out for or gifted [or called] to be married, and we should stop trying to goad all believers in that direction. [Stop doing this please!!!!!]  Instead, we need a more viable theology of and support for single persons. We need to stop exalting marriage as if it were the only good state of being for any true believer. It isn’t. As Christians our highest good and highest calling is to follow the example of Christ and the teaching of Christ, and neither of these things encourage us to put up banners that say ‘Family first!’. Rather the body of Christ needs desperately to get on with being a family towards all of its members and learning what in fact that means and entailed." [Parenthetical remarks and emphasis mine.]

What if you are in a marriage that is screwed up? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pray to Be Free From the Need for Things to Go Your Way (Prayer Summer 2014)

Weed seed, in my backyard
In one of Thomas Merton's journals he writes about life in the monastery of Gethsemane, in Kentucky. Merton struggled with the CEO of the place (the "Abbot"), Dom James. Dom James had his problems, as Merton saw things. Merton knew he had to accept this, and wrote:

"I do not criticize Dom James – his nature is what it is, and he must see things as he does. And he is the Abbot God has willed for me." (Merton, Thomas (2010-10-19). Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom, The Journals of Thomas Merton, p. 27.)  

And then he has this insight: "I know I will never have things exactly as I wish they ought to be – and as I would take pride in them." (Ib.)

In that singular sentence we see a free person. As Richard Foster has written, we should pray to be free of the terrible burden of always having to have things go our own way.

But is that really a terrible burden? Wouldn't it be ideal to have everything go our own way? As interesting as these questions are, they are irrelevant because everything in life will not go your own way. Indeed, everything in life should not go your own way, unless you are a God who always knows the best way for the world to go.

The person who needs things to be exactly as they wish them to be will be forever weighed down by the fact of such a non-happening. They will be everlastingly miserable as expectation after expectation remains unmet. But the one who learns how to be in and through whatever comes one's way is the truly free person, living transcendent to life's circumstances. (Also called: living by faith.)

Pray to be free of the need to get things to always go your way.

"God's Not Dead" - At Redeemer, Sept. 6

We're showing the movie God's Not Dead" at Redeemer.

When: Sat., Sept. 6, 6 PM.

Cost: Free.

I will lead a Q&A following the movie.

We'll serve refreshments afterwards.

I've reviewed it here.

If you are skeptical about God's existence, or have friends who are, bring them to the movie and be ready to ask questions afterwards - I'd love to have them there!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What If You Don't Feel Like Praying? (Prayer Summer 2014)

Bee in my backyard

I set aside times to pray. If you are new at this I suggest going for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

But what if you don't feel like praying? Pray anyway. Choose to pray anyway because to pray is to engage in relationship with God. Think of it like this. I talk with Linda every day, multiple times. Whether or not I feel like talking with her is irrelevant, because we are married. 

It is important to pray when you don't feel like it. The person who only prays when they feel like it is not a praying person any more than a person who practices the guitar only when they feel like it is a serious guitar student. We are not to allow feelings to determine whether or not we will actively stay in relationship with God. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Often we do not feel like praying and our minds are distracted. The lack of motivation and difficulty focusing make us think that our prayer time is useless and wasted time. Still, it is very important to remain faithful to these times and simply stick with our promise to be with God , even if nothing in our minds, hearts, or bodies wants to be there. Simple faithfulness in prayer gives the Spirit of God a real chance to work in us, to help us be renewed in God’s hands and be conformed to God’s will ." (Henri Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, Kindle Locations 496-500)

A praying person is a faithful person. Choose to pray today.