Friday, October 19, 2018

How We Help Troubled Relationships - Resources

Josh and Nicole's wedding day

We all are troubled people.
Jesus comes to heal our turmoil.

Two weeks ago Linda and I did our workshop on "Helping Troubled Relationships" for Ferris State University students who are in Real Life campus ministry. 

We mentioned some resources - here they are, plus more.

One of the best books on relationships is Real Relationships: From Bad to Better, From Good to Great, by Les and Leslie Parrott.

The best book on how to communicate when in conflict is Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Towards Others, by David Augsburger. 

If there has been adultery in a marriage, the most helpful book we have seen is by David Carder, Torn Asunder; Recovering From an Extramarital Affair

One of the best books on the place of forgiveness in restoring relationships is The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don't Know How, by Lewis Smedes.

The Boundaries books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend are necessary reading!

Begin with Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

Then, we have...

Boundaries in Marriage

Boundaries in Dating

Boundaries with Kids

Boundaries with Teens

For some instant help with boundaries, see these teaching videos by Henry Cloud:

Gary Chapman's book One More Time: What to Do When Your Marriage is Falling Apart is excellent. 

And...  Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away; Real Help for Desperate Hearts in Difficult Marriages, by Gary Chapman.

The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, by Robert Enright
For Linda and I the key to a healthy marriage is: confession and forgiveness. In this book University of Wisconsin psychologist Enright shows us the relational power of forgiveness, in stories and empirical research.

The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason

The most beautiful exaltation of marriage ever written?

I Married You, and I Loved a Girl, by Walter Trobisch
These two beautiful books were recommended to Linda and I before we got married.

This book has helped us much in our counseling: Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy, by Everett Worthington.  It's more academic, and for marital counselors. Very good!

Here are some blog posts on relationships.

Your Marriage Can Be Saved (Especially for Husbands)

A Wedding Is a Welding

How to Save Your Failing Marriage

28 Danger Signs for the Not Yet Married

Dealing With Anger In Relationships

Using Logic to Manage Anger in Relationships

Your Marriage Represents Christ and the Church

Want to Be Married? Prepare for Conflict!

FINALLY...  You can watch the One-Hour Seminary Linda and I did on this. 


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Real Church Is an Edification Station

Norjo Cafe in Monroe,  gift to our community (now closed...)

Any fool can criticize. What's really needed, and hard to find, are people who edify others.

Real Church is an edification station. Pseudo-church is a critical mass.

Demolition is quick and easy. Construction requires time and wisdom.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to find flaws in people. You need the Holy Spirit to speak words that strengthen, comfort, and encourage.

The Holy Spirit hugs and spanks, all in love, and all for the purpose of growth into Christlikeness. In Real Church there is conviction. In Pseudo-church there is eviction.

In the Real Church mercy wins, judgment loses. In a critical spirit judgment triumphs over mercy.

Oswald Chambers has written:

"It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others. Jesus says that as His disciple you should cultivate a temperament that is never critical. This will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person."  

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Stephen Hawking Says There Is No God

Green Lake, Wisconsin

(Some initial reflections...)

Stephen Hawking says there is no God. (See "Stephen Hawking's Final Book Says There's 'No Possibility' of God in Our Universe.") 

Hawking's new book is Brief Answers to the Big Questions. The media is sensationalizing his atheism, but we saw it clearly in The Grand Design

How does Hawking arrive at his atheism? 

"I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science," Hawking, who died in March, wrote. "If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn't take long to ask: What role is there for God?"

This is an amazing statement. Because where there is no time, and no space, hence no matter, the laws of science are also nonexistent. From nothing, nothing comes. (Lawrence Krauss was criticized on equivocating on the word 'nothing' in his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing.)

This must mean that, according to Hawking, the universe has no cause. And, indeed, that is what he seems to be saying. Our universe is not the "effect" of something. 

Hawking's use of 'created' is misleading, since 'created' implies a 'creator;' therefore, a cause. Perhaps he meant to say "The universe spontaneously began to exist out of nothing." "Spontaneously beginning to exist" means "having no cause." If the phrase implies having a cause, since whatever begins to exist has a cause, then the cause of the universe must be something rather than nothing, since 'nothing' has no causal properties.

"The universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature," he wrote.

Hawking gets this from quantum mechanics, which claims "subatomic particles like protons and electrons seemingly appear out of nowhere, stick around for a while and then disappear again to a completely different location. Because the universe was once the size of a subatomic particle itself, it's plausible that it behaved similarly during the Big Bang."

The word "seemingly" is important. Subatomic particles "seem" to "appear out of nowhere." But from this it does not follow that they do appear out of nothing. ("Nothing," in physics, is hard to define. See Nothing: A Very Short Introduction.)

Hawking believes our universe did begin to exist. But before its existence he believes there was no time. He writes: "We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in." But this is not a problem if it is possible for a cause to exist where there is no time. (See God and Time: Four Views.) 

Hawking concludes: "For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in." But many theists understand God's existence prior to the beginning of the universe as nontemporal. The theistic Creator does not require time to exist. Indeed, in the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence, it is precisely God's nontemporal being that best explains the beginning of a temporal universe out of nothing.

Hawking described his explanation of the origin of the universe just popping into existence out of nothing as "simpler" than the explanation that God created the universe out of nothing. I'll need some further explanation of "simpler" to agree with him.

Pray to Be Free From the Need for Things to Go Your Way


In Thomas Merton's journals he wrote about life in the monastery of Gethsemane, in Kentucky. One theme was Merton's struggle with the CEO of Gethsemane (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.)  

Then Merton had 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 I see a free person. Merton was free of the terrible burden of always having to have things go his own way.

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 have things always go your way.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Logic of the Conditional Promises of God

Stone path, in Monroe

Jesus employed logic in his teaching. For example, he used disjunctive syllogisms, which are, formally:

1. Either p or q.

2. Not-p.
3. Therefore, q.

Like this:

1. Either the coin is in my left hand, or it is in my right hand.
2. The coin is not in my left hand.
3. Therefore, the coin is in my right hand.

If the two premises are true, the conclusion (3) logically follows.

Jesus also used modus ponens and modus tollens. Here is an an example of modus ponens.

1. If it rains, then the ground gets wet.

2. It is now raining.
3. Therefore, the ground is now getting wet.

Premise 1 (P1) is true. If P2 obtains, then the conclusion necessarily follows.

This argument has the form:

1a. If A, then B.

2a. A.
3a. Therefore, B.

In logic this is the classic argument form modus ponens, which means: to affirm the antecedent. The antecedent is the first phrase of a conditional statement, in this case, "It rains," or, symbolically, "A." In this argument form if the antecedent is affirmed, as it is in P2 and P2a, then the consequent (the second phrase of a conditional statement) must be true.

Consider the second argument form modus tollens (to negate the consequent).

1b. If it rains, then the ground gets wet.

2b. The ground is not getting wet. (the consequent of P1 is negated).
3b. Therefore, it is not raining.

Or, symbolically:

1c. If A, then B.

2c. Not B.
3c. Therefore, Not A.

Here is an example of a conditional promise of God. Jesus said, "If you love me, then you will keep my commands." Using this conditional promise, let's make an argument using it as P1d, and employing modus ponens.

1d. If you love me, then you will obey my commands.

2d. You love Jesus.
3d. Therefore, you will keep Jesus' commands.

P1d is true. Assume that P2d obtains. P3d then necessarily follows, with as much certainty as P3 follows from P1 and P2. This explains why the commands of Jesus are no harder to follow than for the ground to get wet if it is raining.

Using modus tollens, it goes like this:

1e. If you love Jesus, then you keep his commands.
2e. You do not keep Jesus' commands.
3e. Therefore, you do not love Jesus.

Here's an analogy to explain this. I have taught many guitar students over the years. I have found this to be true:

1f. If a student loves to play the guitar, then they will practice.

2f. They do not practice.
3f. Therefore, they do not love playing the guitar.

So, if someone does not obey the commands of Jesus, it shows that they do not love Jesus. As Thomas Merton once wrote, desire without discipline is an illusion; desire always leads to discipline. Loving Jesus always leads (without trying) to following his commands.

I used to love eating large quantities of Breyer's butter pecan ice cream. While this created a growing burden around my midsection, eating massive quantities of ice cream was not burdensome. The reason was: I desired it. I loved it.

Here are some examples of conditional God-promises.

1g. If you trust in the Lord with all your heart and in all your ways acknowledge him, then he will make straight your paths.

2g. You do trust in the Lord and acknowledge him in all your ways.
3g. Therefore, you find that he has made straight your paths.

If P2g is true, then God guides and directs you in life.


1h. If you allow God to be your shepherd, then you will not be in a state of want.

2h. You do make God your shepherd.
3h. You find yourself not being in a state of want.

If P2h is true, then you will not find yourself in a heart-condition of lack.

And one more:

1i. If you abide in Christ, then he will give you his peace.

2i. You do abide in Christ.
3i. You discover that your heart is not agitated, but at peace.

If P2i is true, then your heart will be at peace.

I have found all of these conditional promises to be true as I have lived out the second premise of each argument.

Love Jesus.

Trust in the Lord.
Acknowledge God in all your ways.
Let God shepherd you.
Abide in Christ.

And you will discover:

His commands give life.

He guides you.
He delivers your heart from a spirit of lack.
He gives you his peace, and a full measure of his joy.

God Wants Ownership of Us, Not Partnership with Us

Image may contain: 3 people, including Allie Piippo, people smiling, people sitting
Linda, Allie, and Dan
Henri Nouwen once wrote that the basic question of the spiritual life is "Who do I belong to?"

This is the question Esther faces as she reads the message from her cousin Mordecai. "Will I remain in hiding and continue to identify as a pagan (as Persian 'Esther,' which means 'concealment'), or will I become 'Hadassah' (her Hebrew name) and confess I belong to God's people?"

This is Paul's captivity to Christ. "I have been set free from sin, and have become a slave to Christ." (Romans 6:18) Paul understood his new slavery not as bondage, but as freedom. "It is for freedom that Christ has set me free" (Galatians 5:1)

I am now in Christ. I am my Beloved's. Leonard Ravenhill writes:

The price is high. 
God does not want partnership with us, 
but ownership of us.

Leonard Ravenhill

Monday, October 15, 2018

American Culture: From Community to Individualism

In 2011 Google published a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. You can do a word search and find out how many times a word was used, at different times in history.

In "What Our Words Tell Us," David Brooks shows how the results indicate interesting cultural shifts. For example, "cocaine" was common the Victorian era, then gradually declined during the 20th century. Until 1970, when use of "cocaine" skyrocketed.

Here are some especially significant findings.

Individualism, not Community; Me, not Us

Between 1960 and 2008 "individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases." (Pastors - in our individuated culture it's hard to form community, right?) Brooks writes:

"Over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded."

Demoralization, not Virtue

"A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently."

On the general subject of demoralization, Daniel Klein of George Mason University "finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.”"

Preservation, not Courage

"Usage of courage words like “bravery” and “fortitude” fell by 66 percent."

Entitlement, not Gratitude

"Usage of gratitude words like “thankfulness” and “appreciation” dropped by 49 percent."

Pride, not Humility

"Usage of humility words like “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52 percent." 

Apathy, not Compassion

"Usage of compassion words like “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56 percent."

Brooks concludes that these word trends show a society that has become more individualistic, and less morally aware. This is because moral awareness diminishes as individuality increases. 

Jonathan Merritt, in Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing - and How We Can revive Them, shows how God + virtue words have severely diminished among professing Christians, indicating how the Church has been overtaken by the form of this world.

Merritt writes:

"In the Western world, religious and moral terms have significantly declined over the course of the twentieth century. One study in the Journal of Positive Psychology analyzed fifty terms associated with moral virtue using Google Ngram data. They discovered that a whopping 74 percent were used less frequently over the course of the last century.

  • “Grace”…declined. 
  • “Mercy”…declined. 
  • “Wisdom”…declined. 
  • “Faith”…declined. 
  • “Sacrifice”…declined. 
  • “Honesty”…declined. 
  • “Righteousness”…declined. 
  • “Evil”…declined."

(Merritt, p. 17) 

To be morally aware one must be habituated in community. Only in the tribe do the virtues flourish.

The words we commonly use indicate our level of compassion.

For my take on the importance of a common language in religious experiencing, see Chapter 7 of my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church ("The Language of the Presence-Driven Church").

Pray for Eugene Peterson

Wildflowers in my front yard

Like so many, I have been deeply influenced, challenged, and repositioned by Eugene Peterson.

Now, he is dying.

I am praying for him, and his wife Jan and family.

"Eugene Peterson Enters Hospice Care."

Breaking Intimidation and the Fear of Man

"Don't be intimidated, he doesn't even have a balcony."

P.C. Vey, New Yorker

At Redeemer we continue to preach on Calling the Church in America to Revival and Awakening.

Yesterday morning I preached on Esther 4:14.

This coming Sunday, Oct. 21, I'll preach out of Nehemiah on Breaking Intimidation and the Fear of Man.

The Cure for the World is Spiritual

Wildflower in my front yard

I am praying to have a heart of love for my enemies, for those who are against me, for those seeking to hurt me. If I possessed this, I wouldn't be praying to have it.


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 
But I tell you, love your enemies 
and pray for those who persecute you, 
that you may be children of your Father in heaven. 
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, 
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 
If you love those who love you, 
what reward will you get? 
Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 
And if you greet only your own people, 
what are you doing more than others? 
Do not even pagans do that? 
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus, Matthew 5:43-48

The only hope for humanity is transformation of the human heart, person by person, into greater and greater Christlikeness. Should this happen, then transformed persons would love, not shoot, their enemies. 

A changed person would die for their enemies. While the Isis-message is "Die for God," the Christian message is "God died for us." This sounds as revolutionary and radical today as when Jesus spoke it two thousand years ago.

The solution for this world's violence is... more violence? Really? Violence has never worked in human history to make peace (because conquering violence always creates more enemies in its aftermath).

Both large scale and small scale violence is impotent to create genuine peace, a peace that has captured hearts. 

I've worked with countless marriages, families, and relationships, and seen the post-war carnage.  Violence that "wins" creates captives longing for retribution. Violence and hatred breed more violence and hatred.

Technology, for all its benefits, is no intrinsic peacemaker,  since by it the means of war are increased. Thomas Merton writes: "No amount of technological progress will cure the hatred that eats away the vitals of materialistic society like a spiritual cancer." (Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 13) "The only cure is, and must always be," said Merton, "spiritual."

The cure for the world is spiritual. Not political. Not economic. It concerns the "Us vs. Them" condition of the fallen human heart. 

When Jesus increases in us, hatred of them decreases.

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church