Thursday, May 24, 2018

Prayer and Letting Go of Control

The Deepest Ministry We Have with Others

Linda's footprint, next to mine
Your worth is not the same as your usefulness. Your influence runs deeper than your advice-giving. (See "Giving Advice as a Form of Judgmentalism.")

The people who have most influenced me were somebody. I think of them - their character, their Christlike attributes. Just knowing and being with them made a difference. In their presence, more was caught than was taught. Sometimes I catch myself imitating their behaviors.

Dallas Willard, writes Alan Padling, believed that "what God treasures in someone’s life is the person they become more than the work that they do. Dallas reminded us that the deepest ministry we have with others is who we are more than what we say or do." (In Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation, Kindle Locations 2754-2755)


***
My new book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

This is a book about the primacy and centrality of God and his unsurpassable presence, and what this means for the Church. The presence of God is the core, the sine qua non, of mere Christianity. God’s presence is what is needed to win the day over the present powers of darkness. This book shows what it means for a church to be presence-driven, and what leadership looks like in the presence-driven church.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Does Jesus Expect Us to Do What He Taught?

Skye Jethani 

The Trouble with People Who are Not Like Me


My back yard


In the days of my greater immaturity I sang in a college choir. I am a baritone, and I can hold a tune. I can stay on pitch. But X, who sang in the baritone section next to me, could not.
I grew to despise him for this. 

Not only was X tone deaf, he could sing louder than anyone in the choir. X's tone deafness overwhelmed the rest of us. He was an eighth of a tone flat, all the time. Just slightly off pitch. To be slightly off pitch in a choir, and loudly so, is a great sin, for it works to drag everyone else down to its atonal level.

To make matters worse, X always had a smile on his face. I can see his broad smile now, forty-nine years later. X was upbeat, chipper, as he miserably sang. This angered me even more. 
X did not see how this was affecting me. My only relief was to share my grief with others, to spread my pain far and wide. I was everyone, and everyone talked about X. "X is ruining our choir." "X can't sing." "Just what does X think he is doing?" "X makes my life miserable."

"My life would be better if X were not in my life."

But that last statement, of course, is false. And immature. My trouble with X brought out my trouble with me. I, not X (or Y or Z or...), am my greatest problem. Unless I come to see the truth of that I will be forever miserable.

C.S. Lewis, in a beautiful little piece called "The Trouble with X," wrote:

"Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag, or your son would still drink, or you'd still have to have your mother-in-law live with you.

It is a great step forward to realize that this is so; to face up to the fact that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with--and that you can't alter their characters. And now comes the point. When you have seen this you have, for the first time, had a glimpse of what it must be like for God. For of course, this is (in one way) just what God Himself is up against. He has provided a rich, beautiful world for people to live in. He has given them intelligence to show them how it ought to be used. He has contrived that the things they need for their biological life (food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise) should be positively delightful to them. And, having done all this, He then sees all His plans spoiled--just as our little plans are spoiled--by the crookedness of the people themselves. All the things He has given them to be happy with they turn into occasions for quarreling and jealousy, and excess and hoarding, and tomfoolery..." (C.S. Lewis, "The Trouble with X")

But God's view is different from my view, or from your view. "He sees one more person of the same kind--the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom--to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs."

God sees me. To God, I am X. And surely, I am X to some people. "It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don't know about."

There is a second way God is different from me. I don't love X, but God does. God  "loves the people in spite of their faults. He goes on loving. He does not let go. Don't say, "It's all very well for Him. He hasn't got to live with them." He has. He is inside them as well as outside them. He is with them far more intimately and closely and incessantly that we can ever be. Every vile thought within their minds (and ours), every moment of spite, envy, arrogance, greed, and self-conceit comes right up against His patient and longing love, and grieves His Spirit more than it grieves ours."

Today, when I think of my attitude towards X, I am saddened. Surely X knew I couldn't stand him. The thought of X knowing that, and still smiling as he sang with all his atonal heart, sickens me. Who am I, before God, to treat anyone that way? And who are you to do the same? Lewis writes:

"Be sure that there is something inside you which, unless it is altered, will put it out of God's power to prevent your being eternally miserable. While that something remains, there can be no Heaven for you, just as there can be no sweet smells for a man with a cold in the nose, and no music for a man who is deaf. It's not a question of God "sending" us to Hell. In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. The matter is serious: let us put ourselves in His hands at once--this very day, this hour."

***
My new book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

This is a book about the primacy and centrality of God and his unsurpassable presence, and what this means for the Church. The presence of God is the core, the sine qua non, of mere Christianity. God’s presence is what is needed to win the day over the present powers of darkness. This book shows what it means for a church to be presence-driven, and what leadership looks like in the presence-driven church.

My Two Books (and Two More to Come)


Image result for john piippo books

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Image result for john piippo books

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pastors are Facilitators of Transcendence

I took this picture of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul

People need the Lord. Therefore, introduce people to the Lord. How can this happen?

1. Know the Lord yourself. Cultivate the God-relationship. Abide in Christ, hourly.


2. Teach people how to enter into the presence of God. Show them how to abide in Christ.


3. Tend the garden. The abiding person's life will bear much fruit.


That's it. 


That's all a pastor-shepherd needs to do. 

This is about the Presence-Driven Church, which is the only church worth living for. (During Jesus' time the Temple fell because the religious leaders shut the door to the presence of God.) 

Pastors facilitate this. Pastors facilitate transcendence.


I like how Jame MacDonald writes about this.



"Transcendence is the best single word I have found to describe the attributes of God that are found only in Him and what is missing too often from our churches. We are facilitators of transcendence. Our main job is to usher in the Almighty— God forgive us when we have settled for less. When transcendence is welcomed and unveiled, no one even notices the program, the preacher, or other people. Anything resembling performance seems out of place. Because all that is visible is eclipsed by what is not: God Himself moving through the church in power and meeting with His people in manifest ways.  (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for, What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 498-502)

***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

You Need to Change if Things Are Going to Get Better

Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya

J. Doe (not their real name) contacted me. J said they wanted help. Their marriage was failing.

But J did not really want help. To be helped, J would have to change. In J's eyes, their spouse, K. Doe, was the problem. K needed to change, not J. J wanted me to affirm their ways of doing marriage, and join them in blame-heaping their significant other.

I told J, "If you want your marriage to be rescued and upgraded, you will need to change some things. You will need to do things differently." 

I gave J this assignment: Make a list of things you have done wrong in your marriage. A list of things you have done to hurt K. Then, confess them one by one, asking for forgiveness for each one. 

I told K to do the same thing.

I gave J and K a few additional instructions.

The underlying idea here is: If J and K keep doing marriage the way they have been, the results will be the same. J and K both need to learn new skills if their marriage is to come together.

J refused to follow my counsel. 

J contacted me and asked to meet again. I explained that J had not followed through on our first session. I am not J's counselor if J refuses to follow my counsel. We would not meet again.

J was a hammer, K was a nail. This was their marriage. 

Both needed to change. 

Change is hard. 

Life without ongoing change in the right direction is harder.


***
For further reading see - 

The First Two Steps In Relationship Restoration


Community Is Where Humility and Glory Touch

Image result for john piippo community
With Al Willingham in Eldoret, Kenya

The Real Jesus called forth a community to dwell in and work through, not a bunch of isolated, detached individuals. Call this “church.” Ekklesia

Ek + kaleo. The called-out-by-Christ people of God. 

Effective, Jesus-indwelt community requires individual and corporate humility. Every single person in the totality abandons themselves to the will, and ways, of God. This is Real Church. It’s a Communal Movement. 

I have met community-rejecting Christians who refuse to assemble with other believers. In this, they are biblical and theological apostates, no matter how bad they were treated. They have chosen pride over humility, bitterness over forgiveness, division over reconciliation, and fear over faith. 

If community-despising is in you and you don’t want to let it go, I suggest you not get a praying life. Because if you commit to praying, God will break your heart about this. This will be the initial thing God does for you. This is crucial, because his glory refuses to descend on a proud heart. Rather, God’s glory graces the humble heart. 

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”(James 4:6) God graces and blesses the humble. This is community language. 


How very good and pleasant it is 
when kindred live together in unity! 
It is like the precious oil on the head, 
running down upon the beard, 
on the beard of Aaron, 
running down over the collar of his robes. 
It is like the dew of Hermon, 
which falls on the mountains of Zion. 
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,     
life forevermore. 

Psalm 133:1-3

The humble, unified Jesus Community can expect to experience God’s… 
• blessing 
• grace 
• glory 
• presence 
• leading 
• power 
• love 

Fellowship is where a lot of the action happens. Community is where humility and glory touch. Be praying for your Jesus Community, and your place in it.

(From John Piippo, Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, Kindle Locations 3145-3171)

Monday, May 21, 2018

What to Do When the Conference is Over

Image may contain: 2 people, including Max DeSloover, people smiling, people standing, sunglasses, tree, sky and outdoor
Me and Max, after our annual church softball game

Here at Redeemer we just finished a beautiful, life-giving, hope-infusing weekend conference with Steve Backlund. Yesterday was one of most meaningful, empowering Pentecost Sundays Linda and I have ever experienced.

Now, it's Monday morning. It's not a letdown, because I am not conference-dependent. That is one of the points Steve was emphasizing. What God poured into me this weekend is for daily life. I live a life of great hope and expectation. Thank you Steve for pointing me, and my brothers and sisters, in that direction.

So, what do I do about this? Here's my approach to post-conference living.

1. I continue to abide in Christ. I live an abiding life. I connect, every day, with Jesus. For how to do this, read John chapters 14-15-16, slowly. 

For my counsel on this read "How to Experience God's Presence," which is chapter six of my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church

2. I began today with some alone-time with God. I read a few verses from the Gospel of Luke. I read just one verse in Proverbs, which I have been carrying with me for days. Then, I read one entry in Dallas Willard's excellent devotional guide Hearing God Through the Year. Anyone who wants to learn and grow in hearing God should get this book!

3. I am beginning to reflect on the things God told me on the weekend. For me, the days after an intense God-conference like we had are for deepening the truths I heard and received. Some of these were reminders, course-correcting truths. There were also some new insights given to me. I write them down in my journal. I will be carrying some with me this week.

I am abiding, praying, listening, reflecting, moving forward, and expecting. I am growing in belief. Something is happening in me. I'm not the same as I was last week. (That's called "growth.")

When a Church Loses Its Soul and the Shekinah Is Gone

Green Lake Christian Conference Center, Wisconsin

The soul of a church is the presence of God. God is the core. God is the sun. The church is the planet that orbits around him.

Ruth Haley Barton writes to pastors and Christian leaders about the possibility of gaining the world of ministry success and losing your own soul in the middle of it all. "If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might... point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead." (Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 13)


Years ago Linda and I took our boys to Washington, D.C. One of the highlights for me was visiting the Church of the Savior and hearing Gordon Cosby speak. Cosby was a spiritual giant, especially in championing Jesus-led social justice issues (yes, the Jesus-life is more than feelings). Cosby writes this:


“Soul slips away easily from a church or an institution. You may go to any of these places and find that the Spirit has departed and the Shekinah is gone. . . . When a local church loses its soul it begins to slip into mediocrity and is unable to give life. The average person doesn’t even know when a church begins to lose its soul. It takes unusual deeper wisdom to see it, and then when we see it, it is costly beyond words to retrieve it.” (Quoted in Ib.)


Let us return to His Presence.