Friday, October 31, 2014

Praying to Be Released From the Punishing Prison-House of Self-Hatred (PrayerLife)

Self, in Bangkok

The whole problem of our time is the problem of love.

This Sunday at Redeemer I'm preaching on crossing over from hatred to love; moving from hating others to loving them. In the process I'll probably say something about the punishing prison-house darkness of self-hatred. 

I have personal experience in hating the self. And I have hated others. Thomas Merton says that my hatred of others grows from the soil of self-hating. Merton writes: 

"How are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves and to love one another? The reason why we hate one another and fear one another is that we secretly, or openly, hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God." (Merton, The Living Bread, 66)

There is a solution to self-hatred. It is: Be at peace with God, and you will be at peace with self. Be at peace with self, and you will be at peace with others. Accept, as 1 John tells us, that you are a deeply loved child of God. His seed is now in you, and the DNA of his seed is love: for self, for others, for God.


Love God, and you will grow in self-acceptance. This will lead to a transforming experience where, instead of beating your self for faults and failures, you will rejoice in the greater purposes of God manifested in them. God knows how to draw glory even from your faults. Not to be self-hating after committing a fault is one of the marks of true sanctity that is rooted in God's parental love for you.

A life of radical freedom issues forth from a deep life of dwelling in the presence of God. We come to accept our true identity and live out of it. We see how it is possible to love, not hate, others because God loves us.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Near-Deterministic Connection Between Actively Christian Parents & Their Childrens' Future Faith Commitments


If you are a Christian parent but don't have time to gather with other Jesus-followers (which means: "church") then you should not expect your children to be Jesus-followers since you're not one yourself. Your children will grow up to be just like you. 

"Non-churchgoing follower of Jesus is a self-contradiction. This is because Jesus came to establish "church" and work through this community of his followers. The person who says "I'm a follower of Jesus but don't go to church" is fundamentally misguided, since every real Jesus-follower is the church. "Church," therefore, is not something you either go to or not.

If you are a Christian parent and follow Jesus (which means you know that you are "church" and gather with Jesus's church) then the odds are your children will do the same. This is the conclusion of Notre Dame University's Christian Smith. "Parents are the #1 influence helping teens remain religiously active as adults.

From the above-cited article:


"The holy grail for helping youth remain religiously active as young adults has been at home all along: Parents.
Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s, according to new findings from a landmark study of youth and religion.
Just 1 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.
In contrast, 82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults, according to data from the latest wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion.
The connection is “nearly deterministic,” said University of Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith, lead researcher for the study.
Other factors such as youth ministry or clergy or service projects or religious schools pale in comparison.
“No other conceivable causal influence … comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth,” Smith said in a recent talk sharing the findings at Yale Divinity School. “Parents just dominate.”"

Smith adds: "One of the strongest factors associated with older teens keeping their faith as young adults was having parents who talked about religion and spirituality at home."

Praying to Be Found “In Christ” (PrayerLife)

Maumee Bay State Park (Ohio)

One Friday night Linda and I ate a local restaurant that is under new management. We had not been there in over ten years. I dropped her off at the door and parked the car. I walked up the steps towards the restaurant doors… and missed. I walked full face and full force into a pane of glass to the right of the doors. The glass was, to me, perfectly clear. I didn’t see it. This was a ego-stunning experience for me! I thought I’d broken my nose. I was hoping people didn’t see me do this. The clear glass wall was there all the time. I just didn’t see it.

In the book of Ephesians Paul alerts the young church of Ephesus to something that is there all the time, but has not been clearly seen. This unseen reality is: people who have believed in Jesus are now “in Christ,” and “new creations.” It is important to see this because it is the central Christian fact, from which everything follows. To not recognize this will cause me to put confidence in my meager human abilities, in what Paul calls “the flesh.”
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this.

In our Ministry School class on healing I teach out of John Wimber’s excellent book Power Healing. We were entering the part of the book that moves us into praying for others. Wimber quotes 2 Corinthians 5:17 - “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Then Wimber writes… IN ITALICS… these words:

“The key to our spiritual healing -  and the one point that must be understood and experienced for the rest of what I write in this book to make any sense – is becoming new creations in Christ and living our lives as fully forgiven and reconstructed people.”[1]

At this great reality Paul drops to his knees and prays:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 1so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 1may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.[2]

If the Ephesian Jesus-followers trust this, if they know this cognitively unknowable love of Christ by faith and by experience, their lives will bear much fruit. 

“Church,” as Paul understands it, is essentially “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”[3] That is REAL CHURCH. Why complicate this? By the Spirit’s work Christ takes up residence in me, and in us. Paul’s prayer is that Christ will permeate his whole being. “It is the equivalent of the command in 5:18 to be continually filled with the Spirit.”[4]

When the first church in Acts 2 was in the upper room in Jerusalem they weren’t holding meetings to figure out, on their own without God, what they were to do. They were, as Jesus instructed them in John 14-16, abiding in Him. And waiting. For what? For the coming, for the filling, of the Spirit Who will lead and guide them.
The early Church exploded throughout the Roman Empire without having “programs” to entertain people. God had it figured out, and they were following Him. The thrilling, empowering reality was Christ, the hope of glory, in them. Paul counsels the Ephesian church to acknowledge and trust this. 

Ben Witherington writes that “Paul is praying for the continuing presence of Christ within the Christians through faith. The verb katoikeo signifies literally to make a home or to settle down and so has in view a more permanent presence.”[5] Our hearts have become a Temple that hosts the Spirit’s earth-shattering presence. Knowing this, why would anyone trust their own finite, all-too-human efforts rather than Christ?

Christ’s indwelling means I am not my own. I must discover the reality that the Lord of heaven and earth, the One through whom all things were made, the One who holds all things together, has made his home in my heart. The intent of Paul’s prayer is clear: He wants me strengthened by God’s Spirit so that I may intimately know Christ’s presence and love.

Rather than some cute little “Personal Homeboy Jesus” hidden away in a closet to be pulled out when I need a miracle, Paul has met the Lion of Judah who gives shape and strength at the core of his being, and who takes up residence in me and redefines me. If this happens, everything else will fall in place. Including what I am to do.[6]

This is what I am praying for the most. I write my prayers in my journal, often adding a heart with an arrow drawn through it as a symbol of my request. I am constantly praying, “God, give me a heart of your love, that love that transcends all human understanding."

Knowing and understanding the love of Christ requires being rooted in that love, experiencing it, being grounded in it. My praying is for an experiential knowledge, a “knowing”  that goes beyond mental or intellectual abilities. Witherington writes: “One can grasp it only through experience, and even when one experiences it one is left groping for words to describe it. The ultimate goal of being rooted in love and grasping its meaning is to “be filled in all the fullness of God.””[7]

Why is this important? Because “grasping and experiencing God’s love is the key to receiving the full presence of God into one’s life.”[8]

As a believer in Jesus and follower of Him I am a new creation. I am “in Christ.” "In Christ" - this is the great Pauline theme. God wants me to grow and mature in my faith, like a healthy fruit-bearing plant. The growth will come, as Paul writes in Ephesians 3, as I am – by faith – rooted and established in the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. 

I’m praying that I would “grasp” this. The grasping will come by experience, since it is beyond grasping by human knowledge. The result will be that I will then be filled with the fullness of God. I didn't see the clear pane of glass that was there, but I did encounter and experience it. I must know, by experience, that the Spirit is there, already working in power within me.[9]





[1] John Wimber, Power Healing
[2] Ephesians 3:14
[3] Ephesians 2:20-22
[4] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians
[5] Ben Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 274
[6] See Thomas Merton’s famous chapter on “Being and Doing” in New Seeds of Contemplation.
[7] Ib., 275
[8] Ib.
[9] Ephesians 3:20

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Praying for Love to Fill the Hidden Harbors of My Heart (PrayerLife)

Conditional love

Recently I read John Ortberg's  tribute to Dallas Willard - "Dallas Willard - A Man From Another Time Zone." Willard struggled with love, as I do. Ortberg writes: "I remember hearing him talk once about his struggle with harboring contempt for people. If he did, it was in a very deep harbor. But God alone knows the human heart." 

Dallas was praying for Jesus-love to overwhelm his contempt. I am, too. How important is this?

Richard Stearns writes: “God’s deepest desire is not that we would help the poor; God’s deepest desire is that we would love the poor; for if we love them, we will surely help them.”

- Stearns, Unfinished, p. 76

Jesus loved people, in the first place. Out of his love, he acted. "Everything Jesus did was an expression of his love for the Father and his love for people. He embodied love as no one else ever has." (Ib.)

True love does. If we love, we will act.

Pray for this kind of love to fill the hidden harbors of your heart.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 4 R's of Real Repentance

St Mary's Mother House in Monroe
Last week Linda and I listened to the "Dr Jenn Berman" show. Berman gave her "4 R's" about forgiving someone. I think they are excellent. These are really, I think, signs of repentance. Repentance is one of the necessary pieces in the  puzzle of forgiveness. We ask, "Have they really turned around and now moving in the right direction?"

I am to forgive others when they sin against me, whether they repent or not. But Real Relationship Requires Real Repentance. (I am on an 'r' roll right now.) With Real Repentance their will be no Real Relationship.

Has the person who hurt you repented? They have if they:


  1. Are taking Responsibility for what they have done. This means they are not blaming, accusing, or making excuses.
  2. Are showing Remorse. This means they are genuinely sorry for what they have done, and are not just paying you lip service. They seem to truly understand that what they did was wrong, and how it hurt you.
  3. Are taking steps to avoid Repeating the same kind of mistake. This means they are getting help for themselves. It means they have cut off other people they may have been wrongly involved with. They are taking action and "fleeing every temptation." They are open and candid with information, emails, their social networking, cell phone activity, and so on (as this is relevant).
  4. Are working to Repair the damage. 
Berman says the one exception to this is domestic violence. "Domestic violence is a deal breaker. Regardless of promises, it is likely to escalate and can end in murder."

McPrayer and Praying (PrayerLife)

Ronald McDonald in Bangkok
Can we, while on the run in this crazy busy life, tweet occasional prayers to God? The answer is: Yes.

Is it OK to McPray? Yes.

Is tweetprayer and McPrayer the kind of thing the Scriptures are talking about when we read about praying? No. 

The answer is no because praying is a relationship, not a duty, and not something we pull out of our hip pocket in an emergency. 

The prayer relationship with God is like a marriage is supposed to be. McMarriages are shallow, disconnected, and troubled, right? It's the same with multi-tasked McSpirituality.

No praying person in the Bible or in church history would have concluded that real prayer was like a microwave. Real praying is a slow-cooker. Because praying is engagement in relationship with God. All real relationship requires much time and space.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Watched "Frozen"

In our quest to be relevant Linda and I watched "Frozen" a few weeks ago.

"We can't all go as Elsa from "Frozen." 
(From The New Yorker)

Love, Power, Knowledge, and Post-Christianity: How to Turn Things Around

Redeemer sanctuary, before teaching my Sunday night Prayer class.
Any who do not have their head in the sand can see that secularism is growing and more U.S. Christians are not showing up on Sunday mornings. See, e.g., "Secularism Grows as More U.S. Christians Turn "Churchless."" Greg Kinnaman of the Barna Group says that "nones," the unchurched, and skeptics number 38% of the population. By Kinnaman's count, "roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”"

Kinnaman says:
“We are far from becoming an atheist nation. There are tens of millions of active believers in America today. But the wall between the churched and the churchless is growing higher and more impenetrable as more people have no muscle memory of what it means to be a regular attender at a house of worship.”

That feels correct to me. I've seen this trend in my past 15 years of teaching hundreds of college students in my philosophy classes. How can it be turned around? I suggest by revisiting and returning to the Christian corporate distinctives of love, power, and knowledge.

Love

Followers of Jesus must get radical and return to: 1) loving God, and 2) loving one another. I've met too many "ex-Christians" who left the church because of what they experienced in the church. We must get back to the root of our faith, which is God's love, expressed within the community of God's people (AKA "church"), and then love towards those who don't know Jesus. 

Begin with community re-studying and re-meditating on the book of 1 John, which essentially is about abiding in Christ and having hearts of love within the community. Note that the word "love" (agape) is used 27 times in 1 John 4 alone. 

It's time to rediscover and reclaim our true identity as deeply loved children of God. I John resolves our individual and corporate identity crises. This happens as we return to the John-thing of abiding in Christ (John chapters 14-15-16) and a life of praying, out of which relevant and authentic doing emerges.

We must not lose sight of the cultural fact that skepticism and atheism provides a weak life-narrative. Most of what I see in the skeptical community is a thin bond of what we are against (a-theism), not what we are for. I see the lack of community in secularism as being intrinsic to secularism. Community (koinonia) is our thing, and we must cultivate it.

Remember that this crazy big thing called "love" comes from us, from Christianity, and not the other world religions and definitely not from secular culture. Sheer atheistic materialism has no metaphysical place for "love"; the atheist's love-impulse is religious, whether they know it or not. As Jesus's followers we must own this and wear this and abide in this and understand that "love" is the DNA seed that God that has planted in our hearts (1 John 3:9).

Power

When the apostle Paul talked about wanting to "know" the power of Christ's resurrection, he was using "know" in the Hebrew sense of an experienced reality. The early church knew, and therefore believed, that there was a power from God that was not only available for the emerging church but was foundational to its growth.

Demonstrated power, done in love and not showmanship, marks the true "seeker church." The sick person needs more than coffee and donuts and a band on a stage. Recently at one of our Sunday morning worship events a young man who was visiting told me, "I've been trying other churches. Another pastor told me to try your church. I am here this morning because I am hoping to find God. If I don't find God soon I am going to be in deep trouble." 

I suggest that this is far from an isolated instance. People need the inner healing which secularism cannot provide. Where can today's growing number of young heroin addicts turn but to God, since our medical resources, as commendable as they are, lack an answer to the beast-addiction of heroin? The church must reacquaint itself with God's available resurrection power, administered in love. This is our arena, our distinctive. We must not let secular metaphysical naturalism overwhelm us in this area.  

On Sunday mornings and throughout the week our people are praying with other people expecting to see God's transforming and healing power operative. God's power, exercised in love, is its own apologetic. 

Knowledge

My experience with young people who rarely gather with the church but self-identity as Christians is that they are Jesus-illiterate. We must teach our young people and children about Jesus. We must teach them that they are the church. Be creative in teaching - yes! But forget trying to water it down or make Jesus culturally palatable. To reduce the biblical Jesus to a "safer Jesus" only fuels post-Christianity. 

In my college logic classes I teach "critical thinking." The text I use states that knowledge is empowering. Thinking for yourself is good. Being able to formulate and evaluate your beliefs and the beliefs of others strengthens you. Secular institutions of learning focus on this. But note: there's a lot of literature out there pointing out the failure of high schools and universities to empower students with critical thinking skills. This syncs with my teaching experience. Most students do not because they cannot think for themselves. (See, e.g., Robert Arum, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.)

This means that a lot of the current skepticism and atheism and irreligion and the "nones" exists, not as a result of being examined and thought-out, but because it is trendy. Most of the "atheists" in my classes are sheep without a shepherd. It's not that they are cognitively incapable. They just have not been taught to think otherwise for themselves.

I predict that there will be an eventual cognitive backlash to post-religiosity. The religious and metaphysical impulse is never going to go away. We must remember that, as wonderful as science is, it cannot say anything about value (good, bad, right, wrong, beauty, truth, etc.). This is our turf. The church must teach it, go for it, and build disciples who know why they believe what they believe.

A final note: we must discover the church's distinctives and nurture them. Forget, to a large degree, trying to be relevant to culture. This will not entail isolationism, with the church hiding behind its walls, trying to protect itself from culture. Instead, it will be the church as it was always intended to be; viz., a culture-influencing movement of people call out to follow Jesus.

As Yale University's Miroslav Volf writes:

"Reconstructions of the Christian faith guided by the strategy of accommodation carry in themselves the seeds of possible Christian self-destruction. After they have accommodated, for the most part what remains for Christian communities to do is to appear after a non-Christian show and repeat the performance in their own way for an audience with Christian scruples. The voice of the Christian communities has become a mere echo of a voice that is not their own... (Ib., 85)

... Alas, in leaning over to speak to the modern world, we had fallen in. We had lost the theological resources to resist, lost the resources even to see that there was something worth resisting...  


... Christian communities will be able to survive and thrive in contemporary societies only if they attend to their “difference” from surrounding cultures and subcultures. The following principle stands: whoever wants the Christian communities to exist must want their difference from the surrounding culture, not their blending into it. As a consequence, Christian communities must “manage” their identity by actively engaging in “boundary maintenance.” Without boundaries, communities dissolve." (Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith, pp. 85, 81)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Redeemer Kids In My Office

Redeemer kids in my class, in my office, this morning (plus John and Daniel, my co-workers).

Coming Events at Redeemer



*    JOSH LEWIS IS PREACHING THIS MORNING, OCTOBER 26. Josh has been part of our Redeemer family since he was young, and served as a missionary in Ireland for a year.
*OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD PACKING PARTY immediately following service on Sunday Nov. 9th
* ANNUAL CHILI COOK-OFF AND LUNCHEON - After the worship service on Sunday, Dec. 7.
*    REDEEMER BASKETBALL LEAGUE COMING THIS WINTER: We plan on having registration on Dec 13th. The league will start on Saturday, January 10th. We plan on playing 10 weeks with an 11th being playoffs, and taking a week off for Pinewood Derby at the beginning of March. The league will be open to children from 5th through 12th grades.  Contact persons: Chris Verhille, Karen Reaume, and Daniel Reaume.
*    TORAH – THE FIRST FIVE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE. This RMS class is open to anyone who wants to be part of an in-depth study of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Meets Sunday nights beginning January 4. 6-8 PM at the church. Teacher: Pastor John Piippo.
*    BAPTISMS – SUNDAY MORNING, November 30. If you wish to be baptized please let me know.
* COFFEE & APOLOGETICS - Begins January 2015. Wednesdays, 9:30-11, at Panera Bread.