Monday, October 24, 2016

Pastors - The Grass Is Not Greener on the Other Side (The Presence-Driven Church)

Groundbreaking at Redeemer

My friend Jim Hunter says that a leader is either "green and growing" or "ripe and rotting." University of Michigan professor Robert Quinn told us that organizations are either experiencing "deep change" or "slow death." 

This implies that pastors, as leaders, should not be thinking that the "grass is greener on the other side." As leaders, they should be themselves green and growing, involved in deep ongoing transformational change, and grow grass and bring change into the churches they have been called to serve.

Growing a beautiful lawn takes time. The soil must be worked up. Seeds of the the Kingdom, the Real Jesus, and Real Church must be planted in the hearts of the people. All this must be watered and nurtured. And we must trust God. Seeds that are growing secretly are out of our control.

In the meantime, the pastor must focus on his or her own connectedness to God. This will keep them in ongoing renewal and transformation. When the pastor and the leaders (which, in the church, are everyone) are green and growing, and changing deep in their hearts, grass is growing around them.

This will give the pastor staying power. 

Pastors - stay and grow where God has planted you. If you can't grow grass there, don't assume you can elsewhere.

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Meaning of "Nothing" in Heidegger

Martin Heidegger
Michael Gelven introduced me to Martin Heidegger's Being and Time when I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. Gelven is one of the best teachers I've ever had. He combined brilliant scholarship with an ability to communicate it to lesser beings like myself. His method of teaching and evaluating become the one I now use in all my teaching.

In my seminary studies I did an independent study with theologian Tom Finger on Being and Time. Thank you, Tom, for taking that time with me. I'm certain I understood very little of what Heidegger was saying and doing. Yet being-taught by Gelven and Finger served and still serves as helpful in now understanding Heidegger, I think, more than I did forty years ago.

Let me try with some "later Heidegger" bullet-points + auto-commentary.

  • Heidegger-studies are usually divided into study of the Heidegger of Being and Time, and the "later Heidegger."
  • I'm looking at Heidegger apart from his involvement in Nazism, an unfortunate development.
  • Theologically, to understand Bultmann and Tillich one must understand Heidegger.
  • If Heidegger is interested in God, his is a non-metaphysical God.
  • Traditional ontology understood persons in terms of their relationship to "things"; in terms of the way things are. In doing this humanity was "led astray" by being.
  • "Being" was the center of Heidegger's thought.
  • Heidegger's term for human being was the German word Dasein. Literally, Dasein simply means "being-there." Heidegger uses this term to indicate that humanity must be studied in terms of its own structure rather than in relation to other "things."
  • Heidegger speaks of Dasein as being "thrown." That does not mean there is a "thrower." Rather, as James Robinson has written, Dasein's "thrown-ness" "relates it to Dasein's own projection of itself. Dasein is grounded in nothing outside itself." ("The German Discussion of the Later Heidegger," by James Robinson; in The Later Heidegger and Theology, eds. James Robinson and John Cobb. I find Robinson's writing on Heidegger clear, and am using his essay for my bullet-points.) With this in mind, consider this quote from Heidegger, who says that the aim is "to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself." (In Anthony Thiselton, The Two Horizons, 26)
  • This is the meaning, in Heidegger, of "nothing." Dasein is grounded in "nothing" outside itself. For Heidegger there is "nothing" beyond Dasein. Robinson writes: "Dasein, held out into nothing, is beyond all beings, and has in this sense attained ultimate transcendence, the goal of metaphysics." Heidegger explains this in his lecture What Is Metaphysics? (Sartre's "nothingness" in Being and Nothingness is both indebted to Heidegger's phenomenology of being and misunderstands Heidegger and goes in a direction that is non-Heideggarian.)
  • For Heidegger, there is nothing beyond Dasein, not a transcendent God, not to the universe as "the sum total of all beings" (Robinson, 11), and not to some Cartesian subject from which a world of things can be established. Beyond Dasein, nothing lies. The answer to the metaphysical question that haunted philosophers from Plato to the present is: "nothing." As Robinson says, "the answer to the metaphysical question is at the same time the end of metaphysics." (12)
  • Keep all of this in mind in order to understand Tillich's idea of God as the "ground of being."
  • Bultmann is indebted to Heidegger's phenomenology of being in the being of Dasein. The idea of hermeneutics is purely descriptive. Bultmann says, in regard to Heidegger's hermeneutics, "I learned from him not what theology has to say but how to say it." (In Thiselton, 28)
Serious students of Christian theology need to come to grips with the influence of Heidegger's anti-metaphysical phenomenology of Being.

As for "nothing," two interesting (but non-Heideggarian) studies are: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction, by physicist Frank Close; and Jim Holt's excellent Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story

The Presence-Driven Church & the Lost Art of Worship

Chicago restaurant
You can't program or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change.

Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. At that point the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God has led us to prepare this way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does. Always, in our context.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service," or a "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not me or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

A.W. Tozer looked at the "Program-Driven Church" in dismay. Tozer wrote:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church.Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us." (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51)

Tozer wrote that in 1948.

Needed: some modern-day Tozers.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why Isn't Everyone Healed?

Image result for johnpiippo evil
Monroe County

Over the years I’ve seen people healed of emotional and physical illnesses. One of them was my grandmother. She lived with my family 6 months out of every year when we were growing up. When she was in her mid-80s she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided not to have it medically treated. The cancerous tumors in her breasts grew. My mother used to bathe her, and visually and physically saw and felt the hard, growing tumors.

Grandma knew she was going to die. She had lived a long life, and was ready to leave this world for another one. She even bought the dress she wanted to be buried in.

When Grandma had spent what we assumed would be her last 6 months in our home, she went to live with my aunt and uncle, who cared for her during the other 6 months. One day my aunt called. She told my mother that, while bathing Grandma, she noticed that the tumors did not appear to be there. My mother could not believe this, yet wanted to. Mom packed her bags and traveled 400 miles to visually inspect Grandma and confirm this.

Grandma lived for 12 more years. She bought two or three more dresses to be buried in. She died at age 97. What happened? How can we explain this? I, and my mother, knew this:

1. Grandma once was cancer-filled, and then one day the cancer was gone.
2.  God healed Grandma.

I’ve heard of, and personally seen, other things like this. (For some really good, current, encouraging stuff see Eric Metaxas's book Miracles. For simply the best academic presentation see Craig Keener's Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.)

I’ve also prayed for people who have not been healed, at least as far as I can tell. Which raises the question: Why? Why do I not see everyone healed when I pray for them? 

I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think I can, given my quite-limited epistemic access, expect to have all the answers. Nonetheless, when I am asked this question, here’s how I respond.

1. Sickness and disease are not caused by God. God hates sickness and disease.
2. Sickness and disease are in this world because we live in, as Jesus referred to it, “this present evil age.” We live in a fallen world that’s ruled by Satan, who is called “the Prince of this world.”
3. Some diseases are part of living in this fallen world. The entire world is crying out for redemption (release) from this bondage.
4. The "age to come" in all its fullness is not our present reality. So, my physical body wastes away even as my spirit is being renewed.
5. See some of the resources I cite below.

Why did God create a world like this? Why a world where such suffering was even allowed? For me the answer is this:

- God is love. That is, God, in His essence, IS love. God cannot not-love.
- Therefore love is the highest value for God.
- God created persons (and spiritual beings) out of love.
- Genuine love is only possible if created agents have free will.
- Therefore God gave created agents free will.
- This is risky, since free will implies that one can choose to not love God.

From God’s end, giving his created agents (that's us) free will is worth it,. This is because God is love, and love is the highest value for God. Much of this world’s suffering happens because of people exercising free will to hurt themselves and others.

This is no mere theory, no abstraction from reality. It is an explanation of reality. As a pastor I’ve been around a lot of death and dying, to include in my own family, even my son David. How do I continue to find hope in such a world?

My understanding of what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God provides answers for me. Jesus talked about “the age to come” where will be no sickness, no struggle, no tears. When God invaded earth in the form of a Person, the “age to come” invaded this present evil age. Jesus once said that, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God, you can know that the kingdom of God is in your midst.” That is why I pray for the sick to be healed today, and will continue to do so.

I am part of a faith community. This makes a huge difference. I know people (even Christians) who would never pray for someone to be healed. In a faithless community one should not be shocked that healings are not seen.

Sometimes a deeper spiritual healing is needed. Some illnesses are, at root, spiritual and emotional. I have found that, for example, a person who lives for years with bitterness towards others and refuses to forgive others can be especially subject to physical illnesses. The account of Jesus' healing the lame man let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12) implies that the forgiveness of the man's sins had some connection with his ability to pick up his mat and walk.

Don't lay blame on the person who is sick. When Jesus prayed for sick people he never blamed them for their sickness. For example, Jesus rejects his disciples’ assumption that the blind man in John 10 was blind because either he or his parents must have sinned.

Persist in prayer. When some sick people are not healed through prayer, it may simply be because we haven't prayed long enough to bring the healing to completion.


In Francis MacNutt’s classic book Healing he is gives 11 reasons why people may not be healed:
  1. Lack of faith
  2. Redemptive suffering
  3. False value attached to suffering
  4. Sin
  5. Not praying specifically
  6. Faulty diagnosis (is it inner healing/ physical healing/ deliverance that is needed)
  7. Refusal to see medicine as a way God heals
  8. Not using natural means of preserving health
  9. Now is not the time
  10. Different person is to be instrument of healing
  11. Social environment prevents healing taking place

John Wimber, Power Healing. Chapter 8, "Not Everyone Is Healed."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Oregon Church Bans Overweight People from Their Worship Team

See "Church Apologizes, Asks Forgiveness for Banning Fat People from Worship Team."

This is another example of the non-Jesus, Performance-Driven Church. In Performance-Driven churches appearance is more important than God's presence. (The significance of "the stage," the ambiance, the mood, etc. etc.)

How absurd to think God won't show up unless we shed those extra pounds and look good. And by the word "good" here is meant, according to current cultural valuations. Because "looking good" varies. My "looking good" in the early 70s meant paisley bell bottoms. 

(Thanks, Lora, for the heads-up on this.)

Pastors - Better a Slave of Christ than a Slave of Culture

Uh-oh! Someone caught Linda and I having fun in Times Square on Monday.

There was once a woman in my church who saw me on a Wednesday afternoon in the grocery store. Uh-oh, I thought. I've been caught shopping for food! She had an angry sneer on her face. She hustled out of the store and immediately reported me to one of our church's Elders. "I saw John in the grocery store in the middle of the day when he should have been in his office at the church building!" She didn't have a clue.

Most people in the church who write job descriptions for the pastor have never read and immersed themselves in the Scriptures. They don't understand what "pastor" is really about, and write the job out in terms of this world's power structures, or from a secular business model. They don't have a clue. Inadvertently, these job descriptions shape us into this world's mold.

I don't have a formal job description (yay and hallelujah!). Yes, I do things, and these doings come out of my being-with-Jesus. Some of the things I do are... 

  • I pray.
  • I study.
  • I preach.
  • I teach classes in our church.
  • I meet with people in our church family and disciple them.
  • I (along with Linda) help people in our church family.

I do these things within my church family. I don't shepherd other flocks. (This is different from speaking and teaching at different churches, which I am called to do and love to do. But I am not the shepherd of those congregations.)

Eugene Peterson writes:

"Pastors have an extremely difficult job to do, and it's no surprise that so many are discouraged and ready to quit. Though it may not seem like it at face value, pastors are persecuted in North America, and I don't believe I am exaggerating when I say that it is far worse than in seemingly more hostile countries. Our culture doesn't lock us up; it simply and nicely castrates us, neuters us, and replaces our vital parts with a nice and smiling face. And then we are imprisoned in a mesh of "necessities" that keep us from being pastors." (Peterson and Marva J. Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 2175-2178)

Some of these "necessities" are laid on emasculated pastors by church boards (not my leaders!). These things are burning pastors out.

Peterson's mission is to set pastors free from these pseudo-necessities. Because "being a slave of Christ is far better than being a slave of culture." (Ib.)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

3 Bad Reasons to Help Someone Who Has the Entitlement Disease

The entitlement disease blinds people to the impact they are having on others. When you share how an entitlement person's choices and behaviors are negatively affecting you, they freak out, because in their minds it's all about them, not you. Entitlement people go nuclear when they don't get their way. Entitlement people are supremely inconsiderate.

What causes such blindness? 

"Entitlement creates the illusion that My life and how I impact others are not problems. This illusion creates an atmosphere within which the behavior can continue. If the individual were, instead, to think, "My life and how I impact others are indeed problems, and they are my problems," he’d be much more likely to do the hard work required to change."
- John Townsend, The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way (p. 84)

If you want to help someone move from entitlement blindness to responsibility-seeing you must keep two things in mind:

First, deal with your own entitlement issues.

Second, check out your "Why?" Why do you want to help someone who has the entitlement disease?

Townsend gives three bad answers to this question. None of these should be reasons you help someone.

1. To reduce the stress in your life that this person's bad behavior or bad choices cause. 

This "reduces the individual to the role of being a bother to you, a project, something to fix like a leaky faucet, it’s not very loving." (74)

2. To vent your anger on them.

"If this is a project to “set them straight” or to feel a bit of release because you could finally tell them off and show your irritation, the project will fail. Deal with your anger in other ways (prayer, venting to others, working out). Venting is not an effective motive for working with difficult people." (pp. 74-75)

3. To get them to see how they have affected you.

"This motive is about you more than it is about the other person...  Often, the entitled person will at some point have the awareness to see her harmful impact on others. But that awareness should serve her growth, not your satisfaction." (75)

The highest and best answer to this "Why?" question is: 

I help because I want them to live well, relate well, and work well. In other words, you choose to help because you know that entitlement damages a person’s life, relationships, and ability to successfully complete important tasks. Even at its least destructive, entitlement prevents the person from reaching his full potential. But at worst, she could suffer devastating failures and even an early death. 

The best summary word for this “why” is love. You feel motivated to help simply because you want better for that person; that is what moves you to engage with him or her. This is the deepest motive of God himself, who acts for our betterment: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5: 8). This kind of motivation will convey the grace and care you really feel toward your entitled individual." (75) 


The Cure for the Entitlement Disease: The Hard Way Principles

Narcissistic Pastors and Christian Leaders Refuse to Accept Where God Has Called Them

Times Square, New York City
Years ago (1979) I read Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch said that bureaucratic structures fuel narcissism. He writes:

“The narcissist has many traits that make for success in bureaucratic institutions, which put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments, and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem. Although he may resort to therapies that promise to give meaning to life and to overcome his sense of emptiness, in his professional career the narcissist often enjoys considerable success." (Quoted in Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, pp. 110-111)

Ruth Haley Barton says our churches function like bureaucracies, and therefore "it is not surprising that clergy are sometimes rewarded, not punished for their narcissistic behaviors." (Op. cit., 111) Barton writes: "There is a lot of narcissism among leaders—even Christian ones—and the truth is that we are driven by our grandiosity more than we think." (Ib., 110)

Narcissistic pastors and leaders view themselves as worthy of deserving something "greater" than where they are. Barton writes:

"One of the ways to recognize narcissism within ourselves is to notice when we have not yet accepted the field, the sphere of action, that God has given us—the opportunities and the limits of life in this body, this community, this set of relationships, this financial situation, this place where we have been called by God to serve. Narcissistic leaders are always looking longingly at someone else’s field as somehow being more worthy or more indicative of success. They are always pushing the limits of their situation rather than lovingly working the field they have been given." (Ib., 111; emphasis mine)

Over the years God has purged me of many narcissistic attitudes and behaviors. I don't know if it's all out of me yet. But I do know that, in my extended praying times over the years, God has labored to defeat the self-idolatry that constructs a throne in my mind.

I am a pastor at Redeemer Church in Monroe, Michigan. This is my twenty-fifth year here. How thankful I am for this. This is good news for me! As Barton says, "The good news is that there is something deeply spiritual about living and working within our God-ordained limits—or to put it another way, living fully and acceptingly within our own set of realities." (Ib., 112)

Our Young Narcissists

Wall mural in Columbus, Ohio

"But I need to get a good grade in this class!" pleaded Student X after I graded her an 'F' on the first exam of my Philosophy of Religion course. "I know this material," she said.

Student X had not studied for the exam. Yet she was angry because I failed her. X thought she could slide through the class without studying, just like she did in high school. She felt she "deserved" a good grade. She had a sense of entitlement. I had seen this many times. 

In "Seeing Narcissists Everywhere" Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has "concluded, over and over again, that younger generations are increasingly entitled, self-obsessed and unprepared for the realities of adult life. And the blame, she says, falls squarely on America’s culture of self-esteem, in which parents praise every child as “special,” and feelings of self-worth are considered a prerequisite to success, rather than a result of it."

“There’s a common perception that self-esteem is key to success, but it turns out it isn’t,” Twenge says. Nonetheless, “young people are just completely convinced that in order to succeed they have to believe in themselves or go all the way to being narcissistic.”
"Narcissism" - an inflated view of self. Student X was out of touch with the reality of her. "study [Twenge] published last month in Social Psychological and Personality Science... found that the number of students who consider themselves above average continued to increase during the recession, even as the focus on materialism has ebbed."
Not all millenials are selfish. But Twenge thinks narcissism is on the rise, a view I see verified in my college classes. 

A narcissist looks at the world and sees only their own self. For a narcissist, entitlement precludes understanding. A narcissist will judge first, and not have the needed humility to understand others before judging them.

My Book + Study Guide - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, is available here

I have written a Study Guide to Praying. This guide will not be published as a book, but is available free as a Word file. It is designed for both individual and group use. 

If you would like a copy of the Study Guide please send me an email -