Friday, June 22, 2018

Be a Thermostat, Not a Thermometer

Boat, on Lake Michigan

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

A thermometer reacts to the environment, going up and down as a response to external conditions.

A thermostat sets the temperature and influences the environment. The environment responds, going up and down as a response to internal conditions.

Thomas Merton saw many persons living as automatons, "no longer moved from within, but only from outside themselves. They no longer make decisions for themselves, but let them be made for them." (Through the Year with Thomas Merton, p. 108)

Merton continues,

"Such a man no longer acts upon the outside world, but lets it act on him. He is propelled through life by a series of collisions with outside forces. His is no longer the life of a human being, but the existence of a sentient billiard ball, a being without purpose and without any deeply valid response to reality." (Ib., p. 109)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

I am currently writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Morality Needs God


One Isis horror story goes like this. Isis members raped a mother in front of her children. She was crying and screaming while being raped. The one of the Isis persons beheaded her baby in front of her and placed the baby on her lap.

Call this example X. Write X into a moral claim: X is wrong.

Is X objectively wrong? If so, then the claim X is wrong is true for everyone, just as I'm now typing these words is true for everyone. 

Many believe that if God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values. On atheism X is wrong is not an objective claim; viz., it is not true for everyone. 

It's not hard to find intellectual atheists who believe that God and objective morality stand or fall together. That is, who believe that if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Here are some examples.

Jean-Paul Sartre: “It [is] very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him.” (Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotion, 22)

Friedrich Nietzsche: “There are altogether no moral facts”; indeed, morality “has truth only if God is the truth— it stands or falls with faith in God.” (Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist, 55, 70)

Bertrand Russell rejected moral realism and retained the depressing view that humanity with all its achievements is nothing “but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms”; so we must safely build our lives on “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” (Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, 41)

J. L. Mackie: “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful all-powerful god to create them.” (Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, 115)

Richard Dawkins concludes that a universe of “just electrons and selfish genes” would mean “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, 132-133)

Because real atheism is philosophical naturalism, and nature (matter) is valueless, "why think that value would emerge from valuelessness?" (Paul Copan, "Ethics Needs God," in Debating Christian Theism, 86)

The atheist who, e.g., accuses Christians of being "intellectually dishonest," tacitly assumes the existence of God, without which his moral accusation is logically incoherent. Such an "atheist" is the despicable, intellectually dishonest "village atheist" Nietzsche writes about. 

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

I am currently writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What Is the Purpose of a University, and a Church?

Flowers, in my back yard

(A few thoughts I have on Stanley Fish's recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the  cultural analysis as helpful in understanding the meaning of "world" in Romans 12:1, and expectations of the same effect on the Church as on the University.)

As American educators know, the idea of the "university" as an institution for a broad education for life is going. This especially affects the liberal arts. 

Attendance in the humanities is low. In response, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point is proposing to eliminate 13 majors, including history, art, English, philosophy, sociology, political science, French, German, and Spanish. (See here.) 

What is the purpose of a university? Is it to educate? Or, is it to function like a trade school, preparing clients for career opportunities? Stanley Fish thinks it is the former. He writes: "The university’s obligation is to be true to what it is and to resist turning over its mechanism of judgment and decision-making to some purpose not internal to its proper operations."

We must, writes Fish, identity the university's "core activity." 

Fish believes universities have surrendered to metricization. "The rest of the world is preaching instrumentalism, assessment, outcomes, employment statistics, and metrics."

That is American culture. Universities are near-fully conformed to its worldview. Hence, the university is no longer a university. Fish thinks the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point should remove the word "university" from its appellation.

The same point can be made about the Church in America. Much of it has been shaped into this world's mold. How can we know this? We can infer it when the language of the Church is increasingly instrumentalist, using assessments, outcomes, statistics, and metrics (How many? How big? How much?).

When such methods and concerns predominate, the Church's core discipling and equipping functions are less attended, and perhaps eventually removed. (The Church as equipping people for ministry, which has nothing to do with entertainment.) The purpose of the Church is lost. The appellation "Church" should be removed.

Followers of Jesus have an obligation to be true to what Church is. We must resist turning the Church over to some purpose not internal to its proper operation. 


Because, in our world's mold, "only what can be measured is worth knowing." (Ib.)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

Shame, Abuse, and Grace

Silver maple leaf on my red front porch

I sat in my office with a man who had been verbally abusing me. I asked him, "Can we just pray for love for each other?" My thought was that, as Jesus-followers, we're even supposed to love our enemies, and apparently that would be me, for him.

My appeal for love did not reach him. It was as if I never said those words. He kept on defaming me, in person and behind my back.

Where did his wrath come from? I don't think it was about me. I think it came from a heart of shame. Many abusers of others are shame-filled people (the relationship between shame and abuse is asymmetric). Sprouting from the root of shame, the shaming of others grows. 

Others exist as threats to the shame-based person. So they call others words like "Nothing," or "Stupid," or "Amateur" (which is how this man referred to me), or whatever. In this way the shame-filled abuser ensures, at least in his own mind, and sometimes in the captive minds of the ones they abuse, their superior status in the honor-shame hierarchy. They "put down" others so that they might rise up.

Shame-filled people don't experience grace. The abusers among them are graceless and merciless. Shame-filled abusers can feed off the failures of others. They may love to see others fail and fall. They may gossip and slander about the failure of others, justifying their own existence as somebodies. The declared nothingness of others becomes the somethingness of the shame-filled abuser.

Most people struggle with pride and shame. I know I have. Both are forms of self-obsession and, as such, other-dissonant. These two sides of the same coin are killers for the struggler, and for the people in their lives. I have battled these twin evils. Thankfully, there is an answer in the grace of God. As I experientially understand grace, I find myself more grace-filled towards others.

Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.

(For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve.

The best book on "grace" is Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? See also Yancey's Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? )

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gossip and Slander as Crucifying Others

Monroe County
Linda and I have counseled and ministered to hundreds of individuals, families, and marriages over a period of forty-five years. We're far from perfect ourselves, and often thank God for the opportunity to be on other people's rescue teams. That God could use a wretch like me to help anyone amazes me!

We have been privileged to hear confessions of sins, failures, faults, struggles, shortcomings, wounds, and woundedness. We keep such things confidential. We never talk about them without permission to other people. 

And, we do not look down on struggling people. Why not? Because it would make our rescue efforts much harder! Instead of looking down on people we have to get down with them (= "mercy"). Why on earth would we gossip about and slander people we are trying to rescue? And besides, we have struggled and experienced God's redemptive love.

"Gossip" is: non-value-added talk about others, behind their backs. Gossip is talking with others about someone else's failures and faults, without permission.

"Slander" is: demeaning the character of another person.

Slander is saying something behind a person's back that you would never say to their face. "Flattery" is saying something to someone's face that you would never say behind their back. Both are forms of dishonesty and hatred.

What you share with us… we never share with other people. Why not? Because it’s none of their business. Because it will harm the rescue effort. It is immoral, sinful, evil, and satan-inspired to gossip about people and slander people. So, we am not going to do this. We are two greatly-rescued persons  on a rescue mission, and we are not going to talk about the people God and us are trying to rescue. 

We are told in Scripture that to do this would endanger their lives. 

  • Leviticus 19:16 says: “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD."

  • In Psalm 140:11 "slander" is compared to violence: "May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent." "Slander" is a violent, abusive act.

  • Someone who slanders and gossips obviously is not following Jesus, for Jesus says in Matthew 15:19: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." "Slander" is evil. It is satanic.

  • In Romans 1:29-30 gossip and slander are marks of God-hating: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil.

Gossip and slander are antithetical to the heart-circumcising cross of Christ.

In ancient times bottom-caste criminals were put to death, by crucifixion. Sometimes a note was attached to their crosses for people to read as they paparrazied on the brutalized dead bodies. See, for example, the enemy of our souls pouring on the slander and shame in Mark 15:26:

The written notice of the charge against him read:

If that had been me hanging on a cross for my sins, faults, and failures, it would take a scroll to list them all.

Here hangs John Piippo,
who has sinned and failed in many ways,
who has not been entirely truthful,
who has not been perfectly pure,
who has had difficulties loving his enemies,
who had moments of pride and arrogance,
and so on ad infinitum ad absconditus...

To gossip and slander someone is to shame them before others. It is to crucify them before the world, and watch them hang with their laundry list of real and rumored misdeeds. This is the work of the antichrist. 

The Real Christ came to save, not to crucify, to love, not to shame. The Real Christ was crucified for our rescue and salvation.

As we read in Colossians 2:13-14:

He forgave us all our sins,
having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness,
which stood against us and condemned us;
he has take it away,
nailing it to the cross.

Christ was crucified so we, though deserving of crucifixion, would not be.

To gossip and slander is to crucify the people Jesus came to die for.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I'll Be at My Favorite Conference Soon!

Make Your Way to the...
Holy Spirit Renewal Conference, June 24-28.
You can register online or at-the-door.
God makes a way in the wilderness for His people!
Receive a touch from God and
a double portion of His blessing.
Rest in His love and experience His presence.
Reignite with fresh power, anointing & purpose.
Awesome messages, awesome worship, awesome workshops, awesome healings, awesome miracles,
awesome friendships.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Is. 43:19

Presence-Driven Churches Remove the Word "Success" From Their Vocabulary


When the Presence-Driven Church removes the word “success” from its vocabulary, there will come the slow death of the quantitative measurement tools of the Church Growth Movement. 

The Church Growth Movement arose in the late twentieth century. Gary Black describes it this way.

“To track the quality of church membership, [Donald] McGavran suggested modern quantitative accounting methods to evaluate and measure specific determiners of church “success.” Therefore, the CGM methodology gradually emphasized the accumulation, public reporting, and management of key metrics and measurements of congregational accomplishment.”[1]

The Church Growth Movement focused on numbers – of new converts, of membership growth, of church service attendance, and of financial giving. Black writes that “Seeker Sensitive” or “Seeker Driven” churches are the logical and historical culmination of the Church Growth Movement. “If “crowds, cash, and converts” are growing, then successful contextualization of the gospel into the culture is believed to have occurred.”[2]

The Seeker Church eventually morphed into the Entertainment Church, for that is its logical outcome. The Entertainment Church applies “the latest, modern consumer marketing techniques and technologies... essential for displaying cultural acumen, creating an entertaining atmosphere, and maintaining brand loyalty in a competitive religious marketplace. The technology and marketing efforts focus directly on the Sunday morning “worship service.””[3]

Seeker-driven worship, at its quantitative worst, becomes the creation of a performance event, a spectacle, meant to entertain, for the sake of being successful. When a pastor, perhaps out of desperation for attendees, succumbs to this, he or she has committed what Eugene Peterson calls “vocational idolatry.”[4]

(For some really good stuff on the "metricization of culture" see two books by Neil Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death, and Technopoly.)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

[2] Ib., p. 35
[3] Ib.
[4] Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 4.

Religious Experiences as Epistemological Anchors

Detroit Institute of Arts

When I was in Billings, Montana, I spoke on healing. My colleagues from Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries were there. One of them, Pastor Ross Lieuallen, hosted the event at his church.

After I preached, I prayed for a woman who said she had multiple physical problems. She was healed in many physical, emotional, and spiritual ways. I shared her story at Redeemer, and the effect her healing had on others that night.

Stories like this will be important for the Church in the days ahead. I share why, in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church (December 2017). 

The lack of such experiences in churches is the number one reason people doubt the truth of Christianity. J. P. Moreland writes:

"If you had to guess, what would you identify as the most prominent source of doubt in America today? Is it certain discoveries of science, incredulity about some stories in the Bible, the intolerance of Jesus’ claims to be the only way? These are not even close. In his study of doubt and defection from Christianity, sociologist Christian Smith claims that far and away the chief source of doubt comes from God’s apparent inactivity, indifference, or impotence in the face of tragedy and suffering in their life and in other’s lives, and the apparent lack of God’s interventions and help in the toil and fatigue of daily troubles." (J. P. Moreland, in Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland, p. 225)

The apparent lack of God's interventions and help... How sad, when many of us are witnessing the kind of things I saw in Montana.

Smith, the University of Notre Dame scholar, "claims that a major source of faith development and strengthening are spiritual experiences: “Very many modern people have encountered and do encounter what are to them very real spiritual experiences, frequently vivid and powerful ones. And these often serve as epistemological anchors sustaining their religious faith in even the most pluralistic and secular of situations.” (Ib.  Emphasis mine.) 

We have them at Redeemer. I expect more this coming Sunday. They are powerful convincers and faith-builders.


I am now writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Monday, June 18, 2018

There Are No Levels In the Kingdom of God

Norjo Cafe, Monroe, MI

To understand what God is doing in Christ it is important to understand honor/shame hierarchies. 

Every culture has them. For example, when I was growing up I learned that we were "middle class." This meant there were people above us (better than us; better off than us), and people below us (worse than us; worse off than us). 

The honor/shame hierarchy is the realm of all competition, comparison, jealousy, slander, flattery, pride, and shame. The soul of the kingdom of darkness is measurement on the honor/shame hierarchy. 

In the kingdom of God honor/shame hierarchies do not exist. We see this in the song Mary sings, recorded in Luke chapter one. God, in his greatness and mercy, 

has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

The tearing down of the honor/shame hierarchy is magnificent and breathtaking! Now, in Christ, life is different. Eugene Peterson writes, "There are no higher levels in the life of Christ - only following him." (In Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor, 1%)

Just following Jesus, without competing. Cheering and championing one another along, with everyone wearing the victory crown. 

To study honor/shame cultures go to

In my book I share how a praying life lifts us off the prevailing honor/shame hierarchy - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

See also Leading the Presence-Driven Church