Monday, July 28, 2014

The $20 Wedding

Yes, I wore a tux...
(I'm re-posting this for A.)

In 44 years as a Jesus-follower and pastor I have officially performed one bazillion weddings. That is a lot of rehearsal dinners and wedding reception dinners.

1. I have done one bazillion weddings.
2. Therefore, I am overweight.

When I think of these weddings what I remember is not the food, but the people. The most beautiful weddings I have seen have to do with the marital couple, and who they are. All the money in the world cannot cover over two clueless people. But a groom and bride who submit their lives to God and then to the serving of the other shine like stars in the materialistic darkness. I am thinking of some of them now. They loved, and still do. Their love influenced others, without trying to.

It's really about preparing for marriage and life together, not the wedding day. The more the former happens, the greater is that special day.

I present to you a wedding plan. Here are the costs, in my Monroe community.

Wedding planner - $0. (I charge nothing for this advice.)
Officiant - $0. (I charge nothing to officiate your wedding.)
Building rental - $0. (We can have your wedding outdoors. We've had weddings in our backyard, on the river.)
Groom's tuxedo - $0. (The groom wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
Bridal gown - $0. (The bride wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
Flowers - $0. (From your mother's garden.)
Photographer - $0. (Because all your friends have smart phones.)
Food - cost per plate - $0. (Your friends bring finger foods. That's what Linda and I did, and we had 350 people at our wedding.)
Miscellaneous costs - $0.
Marriage license in Monroe County - $20.
Pen to sign marriage license - $0. (I will lend you mine.)
Total costs - $20

Stress - less.

Relationship - more.

I have done some weddings like this. I remember them for the inner beauty of the couple and the presence of God.

(See, e.g., "Is Simplicity the Newest Wedding Trend?")

Prayer and the Basic Question of Psalm 23 (Prayer Summer 2014)

I made this video in July 2013 when I taught Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary.

I just finished teaching my July 2014 class last Friday.

Where Prayer Converts to Worship (Prayer Summer 2014)

My backyard

I was born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. To me the U.P. with its vast forests, lakes, many waterfalls, and Lake Superior and Lake Michigan shoreline is beautiful. More than beautiful, I see this as a "creation," fashioned by God.

This world is a creation of God. I look on the world and think of God. Seeing this way, I find God's handiwork everywhere. All I need to do is walk into my backyard or the park across the street to experience God's reflected glory. 

This deeply affects how I pray. I see and experience God as greater, and myself as a beloved creation of our great God.

When possible I pray outside, or at least looking through a window upon the creation. Often, at night when it is dark and before I go to sleep, I step outside and look up. I do this even in the coldest weather! My praying at this point becomes mostly giving praise and glory and expressed wonder to the One responsible for all this.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Psalm 19:1

I ride my bike to Lake Erie and sit on a bench with my journal and Bible next to me. As I am surrounded by the sights and sounds of water, fields, trees and varieties of birds I pray it all in, mind-body-spirit-soul. Praying in this environment heals my troubled heart, cures my self-obsession, and restores my focus. 

Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.
Revelation 14:7

True lovers of God's creation find beauty wherever they look. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is no more stunning than my backyard. I learned this from praying everywhere, and from a book like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

If possible, pray outside today. This is where prayer converts to worship.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walking Improves Creativity

I knew it.

Thank you for linking me to this Sandra P.!

"Stanford study finds walking improves creativity"

Habitual Praying Produces Increasing Knowledge of God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Store in Tipp City, Ohio
Jesus habitually prayed. He was accustomed to praying. (See Luke 22:39-41.) 

By my logical lights this follows: I am a follower of Jesus. Jesus prayed. Therefore, I pray. And not just a little bit. The old hymn "Take a Little Time for Jesus" is misleading if taken literally. Love takes much time with the Beloved.

 Linda and I celebrate 41 years of marriage in two weeks. We have spent much time communicating over the years. The result is that Linda knows me better than anyone does, and I, her. There is no substitute for this. In the same way habitual praying produces increasing knowledge of God.

A.W. Tozer writes:

"Progress in the Christian life is exactly equal to the growing knowledge we gain of the Triune God in personal experience. And such experience requires a whole life devoted to it and plenty of time spent at the holy task of cultivating God. God can be known satisfactorily only as we devote time to Him."
- A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous, Kindle Locations 134-136

More than reading a "devotional" today, devote yourself to God in the act of praying.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Praying in the Tent of Unfamiliarity (Prayer Summer 2014)

Monroe County

In my spiritual formation classes my main assignment is: go apart to a "lonely place" for one hour a day, five days a week, and pray. We read that Jesus had the habit of going early in the morning to a "place apart" to pray: Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 6:17)

These "lonely places" are, for us today, away from our homes, church buildings, cell phones, and places of work. Praying in a lonely place gives one a spiritual edge because distractions have been minimized. All the stuff that defines us and calls for our attention are missing, freeing us to better attend to the Lord. In my Monroe community I have several such lonely places. I'm going to one today, to attend.

Francis Frangipane, in "The Tent of Meeting," calls the lonely prayer place "the place of unfamiliarity." (Frangipane, And I Will Be Found By You, Ch. 1) He uses Exodus 33:7 to illustrate: 

 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, 
calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go 
to the tent of meeting outside the camp.

The "camp" was "the camp of familiarity." The tent of meeting (meeting God) was outside the camp of familiarity. Everyone who sought the Lord would "go out." Frangipane writes: "If we are going to truly seek the Lord we must "go out" as did Moses" and others did. (13) "We must pitch our tent 'a good distance from the camp'." Moses knew that "our human nature is governed by the influences of the familiar. If He is to expand us to receive the eternal, He must rescue us from the limitations of the temporal." (Ib.)

Those who seek after God and His presence will find the time to do this. We find time for what we desire. Desire always leads to finding time; those who don't find time to get alone with God in the tent of meeting don't desire. Such desire cannot be manufactured. One either has it or one does not. When it is there, it is a gift from God. Such people are aflame with the need for God and His earth-shattering presence.

I like how Frangipane expresses this. He writes:

"If we set our priorities right, we will discover that God has given everyone enough time to seek Him. After having done what love would have us do for our families, we simply say "no" to every other voice but God's. We redeem our time: cancel hobbies, forsake television and the Internet, put away the newspapers and magazines. Those who truly desire God - find time." (13-14)

What sort of spiritual creature would desire the Internet more than God? One answer: someone who has not yet been introduced to God, by experience. In this way my spiritual formation classes serve as an introduction or re-introduction to God.

All who desire God will today be found praying in the tent of unfamiliarity, the tent of meeting.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tom Petty's Historical Ignorance

In today's USA Today Tom Petty is interviewed about his new album. Petty says it's a "moral album."

Petty gets this part very wrong as he states: "Religions caused most every war that's gone down." How absurd and misinformed. For many reasons, to include historical ignorance. See here, for example. 

Payne Theological Seminary Spiritual Formation Class July 2014

What a beautiful class this is. (Sorry V & K that you missed being in this photo.)

Payne Theological Seminary Spiritual Formation Class July 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spiritual Formation - The Gap


The first stage in spiritual formation and transformation is the recognition of how needy you are. (The Need.)

The second stage is the recognition of the magnitude of the transformation. God wants to form Christ in you. (Gal. 4:19) This is no small or ordinary thing.

I like the scene in Isaiah 6 where Isaiah, arguably the most righteous person in Israel, enters the temple and gets a glimpse of a holy God. Isaiah’s response is a prophetic one; he pronounces doom upon his own being. “Woe is me! I am undone! I am dis-integrated! I thought I was a man of integrity. Now I see I am a man with a dirty mouth.”

Isaiah sees the holiness of God. “Holiness” is not another attribute of God. To call God “holy” is to express the “otherness” of God. God, as Supreme Being, is “set apart” from all other beings. There is no one like God.

God is different. God’s difference is expressed in his all-knowingness, all-powerfulness, and all-loving nature. This is, understatedly, different from you and I. To see this is necessarily to be “undone.”

I love to play basketball. In high school I was good enough to make the team, but not good enough to start. There were a few years when I lived and breathed basketball. And, in my own little circle of basketball-playing friends, at times I thought I was pretty good. I still like to shoot around, even though at age 62 I can no longer run (what I do should never be called “running”) and have no hang time. I just “hang.”

Now imagine this. I am young again, and in my basketball-playing prime. A few people think I’m good. We’re in the gym. I am scoring points. In walks Michael Jordan, in his prime. We all stop. We’re stunned. He asks, “May I play?” We let him. He decides to guard me. I say, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean basketball-playing!” Jordan’s playing is “holy.” Different. Set apart. Not just a “cut above,” but “beyond.” His skills are transcendent. I am on earth, thou art in heaven.

The difference between Michael Jordan’s basketball skills and mine (and yours) is minor compared to the difference between us and Christ. This difference must be recognized, and should not be minimized. It is jaw-droppingly real. Jesus is different.

This often comes as an epiphany, a revelation, an illumination. The Great Realization. The ultimate “O My God!” happening. This is needed, and it is good. As this happens the prospect of spiritual metamorphosis is positive. But without it, we’re left with the variety of human will power and self-transformation strategies. It is instructive to note that one cannot self-morph into Christlikeness. To think so is to trivialize Christ.

Spiritual Formation and the Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

(I'm teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary this week. Here are my notes on the prayer life and spiritual formation ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is a mistake to portray King as a great leader while leaving out his Christian theistic spirituality and deep prayer life. Such things were foundational to King, in his own mind.)


All quotes unless otherwise cited from Lewis Baldwin, Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

See also:

Prayer as a conversational relationship with God.

  • King defined prayer as “the human response to God.” (1)
  • Prayer is a daily conversation and walk with God. (2)
  • King honored his slave ancestors by practicing prayer as “talking with God.” (21)
  • For King prayer was “communion with God.” (28) Because of this prayer is far more than “inspired speech or religiously informed rhetoric.” (28)
  • King described prayer as “intimate conversation with God.” (32)
  • Sometimes God’s communication to the praying person comes as “prophetic revelation.” (33)
  • Sometimes the praying person is given “mystic insight” into the being and nature of God. (34)

If you don’t have a prayer life you have no business being a pastor.
  • “King was thoroughly convinced that it took fervent and persistent prayer to pastor a church, and his own life bore the stamp of that conviction.” (54)
  • King believed that “the need to develop a prayer practice or habit and indeed a vibrant prayer life was axiomatic for the both the pastor and the congregation.” (59)

If you don’t have a prayer life you have no business preaching.
  • King never engaged in prayer-less preaching or prayer-less sermonizing. (6)
  • King was a praying preacher who approached the act of preaching in a prayerful spirit. “Indeed, prayerful preaching is the key to understanding King as a master pulpiteer, and it explains much of the power and creativity he brought to his sermonic discourse and to his art as one who proclaimed the Word as revealed in Scripture.” (39)
  • King was convinced that the ability and energy to preach came from God. Therefore “King made prayer an all-commanding factor in his sermon preparation.” (40)
  • King “prayerfully surrendered to God” as he prepared his sermons. (40)
  • King was “intentional about praying in the privacy of his home, church office, hotel room, and other relatively isolated places in which he found a greater measure of peace, silence, and solace.” (40-41)
  • King depended on “’preparatory prayer’ in thinking through and writing his sermons.” (41)
  • “King never engaged in prayerless sermonizing and/or preaching.” (44)
  • King “literally lived by prayer. Prayer pervaded every corner of his life.” (50)

Prayer as abiding in the presence of God.
  • Prayer became King’s way of expressing himself to God, of experiencing God’s presence and companionship, and of witnessing on behalf of others. (28)
  • King’s “pastoral prayers at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church moved people and were effective because he spent quality time with his parishioners in what he called “the valley” of life.” (58)
  • For King “prayer… was the source of and pathway to a grace-filled life.” (59)

Intellectual ability is not enough.
  • King combined a deep personal piety with intellectual ability and a profound social vision. (1)
  • King never separated intellectual ability, moral responsibility, and social praxis from deep personal spirituality and piety. (5)
  • For King “prayer became a matter of invoking the supernatural and an expression of his humble submission before the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent God, without whom the preaching becomes a meaningless play of words.” (42)
  • For King, “the preacher had to pray for guidance to ay what needed to be said and to proclaim what needed to be proclaimed… The thought of sermons having the same effect as water on a duck’s back, which is easily shaken off, bothered King immensely.” (44)
  • “King understood that his seminary training and intellectual gifts, though necessary and significant, could not guarantee what was called in clack church circles “power from on high.” This view helps explain why King, in both his private and public lives, mastered prayer as the art of pastoral conversation with God.” (54)
  • Once King received a phone call at midnight from a racist who verbally degraded him, and threatened to kill him and “blow up” his home. This deeply disturbed him, and he was unable to sleep. “Knowing that the theology he had studied in the corridors of academia could not help him and that he had nowhere else to turn, King had a face-to-face encounter with what he, in the tradition of his forebears, called a “Waymaker,” exposing his fears, insecurities, and vulnerablities with sincerity and humility. Great comfort came as an “inner voice” spoke to King, reminding him that he was not alone, commanding him to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth, and assuring him that “lo, I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”” (69)

Prayer and Solitude
  • Solitude, getting alone with God, just you and God, was important for King. (69)

Prayer and Personal Transformation
  • King’s prayers highlighted the necessity for the transformation of the soul and uniting the soul with God in heaven. (31)
  • King believed in the power, potential, and possibilities of prayer as a “life-transforming force.” (36)
  • For King, one must “sustain a life of prayer.” This involves “a profound surrender of the self to God, not prayer rooted in self-pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness.” (54)
  • “King had a deep appreciation for contemplative prayer and of the potential of the Christian inner life… [He also had] an intense longing for the simple presence of God, a deeper understanding of God’s Word and commandments, and the will and capacity to listen to and obey God. In this regard, solitary prayer was as important to King as communal or group prayer.” (56)
  • In being interested in contemplative prayer King was not stepping outside of his tradition, “for there is a contemplative trajectory in the black prayer tradition that is not ecstatic and theatric.” (57)
  • For King the worship experience also involves “silent communication with God.” (57)
  • “For King, the lives of the ancient Hebrew prophets and of Jesus highlighted the essentiality of contemplative prayer. He say that the prophets and Jesus withdrew at times to quiet places to communicate with God, thus becoming a model for every sincere believer. King also understood that periods of quiet prayer and meditation were necessary for him and his church folk because of the pressures of black life I the South and the hectic pace and rapid change of modern life in a noisy world.” (57)
  • Because “prayer can change the very fabric of reality… prayer was a catalyst for positive change in one’s self and one’s circumstances and that the promises of God are met largely through prayer.” (59)

Prayer and Social Transformation

  • Prayer has a unique role in any serious and legitimate effort to achieve social transformation. (4)
  • “Prayer and praying became for [King] powerful resources in the effort to transform civic and political culture and in the quest for a new nation and a new world order.” (65)
  • Prayer is connected to God’s work in the world. (67)
  • “King made prayer central to the struggle for civil and human rights.” (67-68)
  • King saw himself as essentially involved in a “spiritual movement,” and not simply a struggle for equal right, social justice, and peace.” (68)
  • Because the root, basic struggle is about a total way of life, without prayer’s connection to God “the quest to redeem and transform the moral and political spirit of the nation and of humanity as a whole would ultimately prove futile and perhaps even counterproductive.” (68)
  • “King believed that the more praying there was on the part of committed persons, the stronger the force against evil and the greater the opportunities for creating a better society and world.” (73)
  • “King taught the people of Montgomery that the weapon of prayer was ultimately more powerful and effective than any gun or bomb.” (75)

In prayer, the self gets exposed.
  • In prayer as intimate conversation with God the self gets exposed in all of its nakedness and with all of its perplexities, struggles, and temptations. (32)

Prayer and Healing
  • King saw and practiced prayer “as a dimension of healing ministry.” (59)
  • King “believed… that prayer embodied infinite possibilities for healing.” (59)
  • King lived in a church culture where people “believed that prayer influences God’s dealings with humanity and in which a frequently heard remark was that “prayer changes things.”” (59)
  • Prayer can change the very fabric of reality. (59)

Prayer as a weapon of warfare.
  • Prayer has a place in the struggle against hatred, intolerance, and war.” (35)

Effective prayer
  • King was “convinced that the power of prayer, much like that of preaching, is largely affected by the character and conduct of the person who prays.” (49)
  • “Prayer and a clean spirit are the preacher’s best and most durable weapons when faced with the perilous and capricious nature of life and human existence.” (50)
  • “King was effective because his praying and preaching were effective. True leadership in his case made prayer and preaching indispensable.” (50)

Prayer and Obedience
  • Prayer needs to be combined with intelligence and responsible, positive action. “King wanted his people at Dexter to know that genuine prayer is never an opiate but rather a life-giving power that stimulates effort and energizes the believer for a courageous and persistent engagement with life’s struggles… [King] also repeatedly reminded them that God should never be regarded as some “cosmic bell hop” to be called on for every trivial need and desire.” (61)

Prayer and Theology
  • For King prayer “was a theological activity, or in more precise terms, an exercise in practical theology.” (64)

For King to pray is to engage in a rational activity, a natural activity. Prayer comes out of “a throbbing desire of the human heart.” (34)

“Praying as an act of selfishness was repulsive to King.” (35)