Wednesday, September 19, 2018

To Insist That Religion Is Peculiarly Malignant Is Mere Stupidity

IHM, in Monroe

Becoming a Christian has made many of us morally better. I know this has happened to me. I, like the apostle Paul, have not yet arrived to full Christlikeness. But Christ has made me a better person, morally and spiritually. 

This is what real Christianity accomplishes. It produces brokenness over moral failure, followed by repentance (going away from the attitudes and choices that led to moral failure), followed by transformation (the formation of Christ in us).

Real followers of Jesus grieve over their slanderous, hate-filled behavior. Because our Text states that Real Love is exemplified on the Cross, and bullet-pointed in passages like 1 Corinthians 13. (Which is, in my mind, the greatest word ever written about love.)

As far as I can tell, atheism (as philosophical naturalism) provides no guidance here, except for exalting the mostly unrealized inference to the non-existence of objective moral values. 

So, it's not religion (esp. Christianity) that is the root cause of evil. It's atheism (non-belief) that best serves as an evil-allowing worldview since, on atheism, objective morality does not exist.

Atheist John Gray writes: "To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity."
- John Gray, reviewing Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of ReligionBy Alain de Botton

This is a nice review of de Botton's book. I am certain the following is true: "We can be sure the world's traditional religions will be alive and well when evangelical atheism is dead and long forgotten."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Jim Hunter on What It Is to Be a Leader

Dynamic Leadership Event Highlight from Studio46 Media on Vimeo.

Here is my friend Jim Hunter, who knows more about leadership than anyone I know.

Jim has written three excellent, compelling books, that have influenced many of us.

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader

The Culture: Creating Excellence with Those You Lead

Pastoral Leaders - Beware of the Superman Mentality

(My recent book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

In Exodus 18:17-18 Moses' father-in-law Jethro sees Moses doing too much. Jethro says:

What you are doing is not good.
You will surely wear yourself out,
both you and these people with you.
For the task is too heavy for you;
you cannot do it alone.

Moses' leadership flow chart looked like this:

Moses has taken on too much! Just like some pastors. If they don't have a Jethro in their life this will end in disaster. 

Ruth Haley Barton identifies some of the symptoms that might manifest themselves when a pastor-leader is dangerously depleted and may be functioning beyond human limitations.

  • Irritability or hypersensitivity
  • Restlessness.
  • Compulsive overworking. Bryan Robinson writes: "Workaholism is an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work - to the exclusion of most other life activities." (In Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, p. 104)
  • Emotional numbness.
  • Escapist behaviors.
  • Disconnection from one's identity and calling.
  • Not able to attend to human needs.
  • Hoarding energy.
  • Slippage in our spiritual practices.
Barton writes: "If even a few of these symptoms are true for you, chances are you are pushing up against human limitations and you, too, might need to consider that "what you are doing is not good" for you or for the people you are serving." (Ib., p. 106)

Many leaders have a Superman mentality, which is "a grandiosity that we indulge to our own peril." (Ib., 108)

Pastoral leaders who take my spiritual formation courses know that the antidote to spiritual depletion is returning to their first love which is Christ, and a committed life of praying, solitude, and quietness before God.

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God  can help you overcome overworking.


Detroit Public Library

Defining “discernment”
-      Discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.

Discernment is different than “decision making.”
NOW WATCH THIS: The word in the Presence-Driven Church is” discern,” not “decide.”
This is not about “decision-making.”
God is making decisions and leading; you and I must discern what God has decided.
Biblical examples of discernment.
1 Kings 3:9-14 – Solomon asks God to give him a “discerning heart” to govern God’s people, and to tell the difference between right and wrong.
Psalm 119:125 – The psalmist prays: I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.
Proverbs 18:15 - The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
          for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Daniel 2:21 - God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
Hosea 14:9 - Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.
1 Cor. 2:14 - The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

How do I become a spiritually discerning person?
          Cultivate intimacy with God.
Discernment is a function of intimacy.

The basic rule is: The greater the intimacy with God, the more you have discernment.

“Discernment” Is a Fruit… or by-product…  of a Presence-Driven Life.

To know what God wants:
1. Meet regularly with God.
2. Engage with scripture.
3. Root yourself in community.

If you don’t have time for God or for praying or for worship or for saturating in the Word.. you will not have spiritual discernment.
Prayerless people dwell in the land of unfamiliarity.
There are three Greek words we translate as "discern." The first is in Rom. 12:1-2:

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind.
What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation.
We must live in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about.
The Greek word we translate as "discern" in Romans 12 is ἀνακρίνω,v  \{an-ak-ree'-no} - anakrino
1) examine or judge  1a) to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinise, sift, question  1a1) specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an  investigation  1a2) to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses  1b) to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of  any person or thing 

A second 
A second Greek word is in 1 Cor. 12:10 - 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

Here the word is διάκρισις,n  \{dee-ak'-ree-sis} - diakrisis
1) a distinguishing, discerning, judging
A third word is in Phil. 1:9-11:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Here the Greek word is δοκιμάζω,v  \{dok-im-ad'-zo} - dokimazo
1) to test, examine, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing  is genuine or not), as metals  2) to recognise as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy 

How to become a community of discernment.
Teach your people how to abide in Christ.
If you are a pastor… to do this you must give up control. It’s not about you. It’s all about what God is saying and doing in your people.
A Discerning Community is a Movement, not an Institution

Not Just Nice Words, A Blessing Is an Impartation


"We know that God is present everywhere, 
but he is not manifest everywhere."

Dallas Willard

The omnipresent God is able to localize his omnipresence. God can show up in a tabernacle in the wilderness, in the Temple on Mount Zion, on an ancient, dusty road to Emmaus, in your church building's sanctuary, and in your living room. 

God often manifests himself through words. Through the words of Scripture, through words of knowledge and wisdom spoken in the body of Christ, and through Spirit-inspired blessings, given to people. 

Near the end of his life my father blessed me with his words. What a great gift this not only was, but is to me! A blessing is an impartation, an empowerment.

This is the purpose of biblical blessings; viz., that God shows up and accomplishes the blessing in the person being blessed. It's not just nice, warm words that are sweet to hear. When, e.g., I bless someone with peace, I expect the Spirit to bestow peace upon the person. In the words of blessing there is a great doing

In Numbers 6:24-26 we hear the great Aaronic blessing:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

This is more than a slogan on a poster. A Hebraic blessing is an "speech act." That is, it does something. (See J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words.) 

The words “The Lord bless you” mean "“God bring good constantly into your life.” “The Lord bless you and keep you.” That means “God protect you. God build around you his safekeeping. The blood of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ be over you and keep you.”" (Willard, op. cit., p. 165)

A blessing accomplishes enduring things. Willard writes:

"The invocation, the blessing, is designed to project that presence of God in a manifest way to the person you are talking to. “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Peace comes in the presence of God, in having God’s shining face over you and in having him looking to you." (Ib., pp. 166-167)

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

My manuscript for Leading the Presence-Driven Church is at my publisher.

Monday, September 17, 2018

On Incompetent Business Model Churches


In my church we have a team of five who oversee our finances. They all have gifts and wisdom in this area. They are fiscally conservative, which I like. 

They put together a proposed budget, sometimes including a proposal from our Elders. They may become aware of a need, and insert it into the proposed budget. 

They are one of our discerning teams. They provide me with reports on budget spending every quarter. 

They are not responsible for making decisions about the direction of our church, although they may discern direction.

Thank God, I don't attend their meetings. They are more than capable of overseeing our finances. More capable, in several ways, than I am.

How grateful I am for them, their commitment, their excellence! I view them as a Discerning Team.

I don't like calling them a "committee." That's a business model term, and we don't do church by a business model. But many churches use business models and have "committees."

Now brace yourself, because I am going to quote A.W. Tozer. Consider this interesting, possible food for discernment. Tozer writes:

"God in His condescending love and kindness often sends a Moses, or maybe a Joshua or an Isaiah, or in latter times a Luther or Wesley to show us that the work of the Lord is not progressing. Times are bad in the kingdom and getting worse. The tendency is to settle into a rut, and we must get out of it...
Someone says, “Let’s form a committee to consider it.” The Baptist preacher Dr. Vance Havner says, “A committee is a company of the incompetent chosen by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.” Perhaps he stated that a little too radically." (Tozer, Rut, Rot, or Revival: The Problem of Change and Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Kindle Locations 174-176)


And yet...   I suspect many of my pastoral colleagues, who have inherited Business Model Churches, will agree.

Tozer admits a committee may, under certain circumstances, be helpful. But when times are bad and the church is in a spiritual rut, let's form a committee?

My book on leadership is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

The alternative to the Business Model Church is the Discerning Community. See Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

Scientism Exceeds its Grasp

Lake Michigan shoreline, Michigan

I meet, on occasion, someone who says, "Science explains everything." From this follows the idea that: If science cannot in principle explain something, then that "something" does not exist. This is called "scientism."

"Scientism" is the belief, indeed the worldview, that claims science is the only valid way of seeking knowledge and truth in any field. On scientism, science explains or will explain (at least in principle) everything there is to be known.

University of South Carolina biologist Austin Hughes (deceased 2015) addressed this in his essay "The Folly of Scientism." He quotes Peter Atkins, who says that science has "universal competence."

Hughes scoffs at this and writes:

"Central to scientism is the grabbing of nearly the entire territory of what were once considered questions that properly belong to philosophy. Scientism takes science to be not only better than philosophy at answering such questions, but the only means of answering them. For most of those who dabble in scientism, this shift is unacknowledged, and may not even be recognized. But for others, it is explicit."

Atkins, for example, says, “I consider it to be a defensible proposition that no philosopher has helped to elucidate nature; philosophy is but the refinement of hindrance.”"

Hughes shows how this kind of thinking over-reaches. Scientism "exceeds its grasp." To get at this Hughes takes us to the roots, the foundation, of certain scientific and philosophical ideas in which scientism is grounded.

He makes a nice distinction between science per se and what scientists say. For example, there has been a good deal of controversy over stem cell research. While many in the discussion are scientists, there is "little science being disputed: the central controversy was between two opposing views on a particular ethical dilemma, neither of which was inherently more scientific than the other. If we confine our definition of the scientific to the falsifiable, we clearly will not conclude that a particular ethical view is dictated by science just because it is the view of a substantial number of scientists."

Hughes questions the idea that science is essentially "self-correcting," in the sense that self-correction will necessarily occur. He writes:

"Alas, in the thirty or so years I have been watching, I have observed quite a few scientific sub-fields (such as behavioral ecology) oscillating happily and showing every sign of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. The history of science provides examples of the eventual discarding of erroneous theories. But we should not be overly confident that such self-correction will inevitably occur, nor that the institutional mechanisms of science will be so robust as to preclude the occurrence of long dark ages in which false theories hold sway."

Hughes rightly dismisses the idea that science and scientists are above political, petty, and irrational thinking. Those who think science to be epistemtically or metaphysically neutral attain a status quite like cult leaders. It's time to debunk the scientistic "aura of hero worship." Science does not possess some special, transcendent epistemic reliability. And it fails to explain everything, to include the claim that science explains everything.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hoping Beyond Death

So-Fee and me
If there is one thing that is certain, it is taxes. But there is something more certain than taxes. One day I will die. Death is more certain than taxes. 

I think about death. One result of my conversion to Christ forty-eight years ago was a greater awareness of death. Being a philosophy major helped me. "Death" is a big-time philosophical theme. 

How we think about death influences how we live today. Heidegger told us that life is best lived in light of one's death. The death of Socrates, as told by Plato, is philosophically famous as a example of a good life and a good death. 

Attending a theological seminary and becoming a pastor meant I would be called into life-and-death situations, some of which ended, of course, in death. 

I have done many funerals. I did the funerals of my mother, my father, and Linda's mother and father. My infant stillborn son David never got a funeral because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his expiration. Tomorrow morning I will do a funeral of a beloved friend. When you minister at a funeral you deal with death. You meet with people whose loved ones are gone.

I have cried at the death of loved ones. I cried when we put our dog So-Fee "to sleep" a few years ago. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We loved her so much! Driving her to the veterinarian's office as when she was dying was, for me, ridiculously painful. The fact that she trusted in us, in me, but could not be communicated to, made the situation harder. It also made me angry. Angry... at death... at the fact of death.

For several years I was the pastoral chaplain at the Mid-Michigan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lansing. This was Sparrow Hospital's "HOPING" group. HOPING: Helping Other Parents In Normal Grieving. David was pronounced dead in this hospital. 

My loss of David made me, in some way, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Once or twice a year I would speak, representing HOPING, to parents who lost their children in the hospital. That was intense. It feels intense as I write about it.

I never forget these things. I do not want to forget them. I cannot and should not forget that death is still with us. In times of death, when walking through the valley of the shadow of death, some people think and reflect. Not all, but some. 

I once did a funeral where friends of the drug-overdosed  deceased were having a tailgate "party" in the funeral home parking lot. Alcohol was their drug of choice for dealing with grief. They staggered into the funeral service having failed to "drown their sorrows."

Every death as a God-opportunity. Worldviews kick in at funerals. People weigh things, evaluate things, deal with incomplete things, unsaid things that should have been said, the experiential finality of death, and with their own mortality. All these are thematic in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. 

At a funeral I share how forgiveness is possible in Jesus, and how in his resurrection we have hope beyond the grave. As I speak I see people who are listening, who are HOPING. Some who live in denial come out of that dark closet and stand, for a while, in the light. In that moment they are looking for some hope, as before them stands the Hope of the World.

How do I handle death? I like what Thomas Merton said after one of his healthy meditations on life's mortality: "The important thing is simply turning to [God] daily, preferring his will and mystery to everything that is evidently and tangibly "mine."" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Note the quotes around the word "mine" since, obviously, we own nothing in this earthly life. This includes other people. Even we are not our own.  

I'm going to die. 

You are too. 

But Christ has been raised. 

Therefore, I have hope, and you can, too. I choose to live in the light of that eschatological hope and connect with "Christ, the HOPE of glory."

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Adultery: It's Not Complicated

Worship at Redeemer - it's not as complicated as it looks
(I'm re-posting this for X.)

As far as I can tell, Facebook popularized the response "It's complicated." I remember reading a woman's Facebook page. She described her extramarital affair as, "It's complicated." 

This silly meme fails to get at the truth, which is: It's not complicated. Not really. Adultery boils down to one truth: she chose not to keep her vows. 

But what about the reasons underlying the breaking of the wedding promise? Are the reasons for the deception complicated? Not really. Adultery is unoriginal and uncreative. It's boring. Reasons for adultery are easy to unravel. They boil down to the binary algorithm "either-or." At some point a choice is made. Adultery presents us with nothing new under the sun.

Truth is not complicated. It may be hard to understand at times, but not because it is complicated. Truth is binary. Truth is either-or. 

In my logic classes I demystify the nature of rationality and clear away the foggy delusion of "complicated." I explain that a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. A statement describes a state of affairs that either obtains, or it does not. Period. (If that astonishes you, then I wish you had taken one of my Logic classes at MCCC. Or, pick up any university Logic text and begin to read.)

"It's complicated" presents the adulterer as some kind of mysterious genius who has woven a web of relationships that only they understand. They are a complicated person, epistemically inaccessible to common folks. As if they have figured this horror out, when all they really did was old-fashioned cheating and hiding. 

Cheat and hide. Again and again, as they faced ever-growing waves of *Kierkegaardian either-ors and, simply and as old as humanity, chose evil. That's not very complicated, right?

(The same, of course, goes for men.)


*Shall we choose the feeling/aesthetic life, or the ethical life? See Kierkegaard, Either-Or. A choice may be difficult, but not because it is "complicated."

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

My second book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I'm now in process of writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

After that, Linda and I intend to write our book on Relationships.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Jesus Is Looking for Followers, Not People Who "Make a Decision"

Custer Airport, Monroe

To the Church in America: Focus on making disciples, rather than providing programs to entertain and hopefully retain the deciders

Jesus commanded us to make followers. Invest resources in this. 

Many make "decisions" for Christ and stop there, or fade out. Some of these deciders become disciples - praise God! Others don't.

Jesus is not trying to get people to some decision point, with discipleship as a nice, but unnecessary, add-on. For Jesus it's all about being a disciple and following after him. It's in following Jesus that we come to see that a person's decision was real.

Is it possible to make a decision to follow Christ as Lord and not follow him? No, it's not. It makes as much sense as saying, "I have decided to take up the game of golf," and then not take up the game of golf. Or, proclaiming in front of hundreds of people, "I have decided to eat this banana," and then proceeding to not eat it.

Here is Dallas Willard's definition of a "disciple" of Jesus:

"A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus."

Disciple-making is not popular in American entertainment-driven, consumer churches. For one reason, disciples cannot be microwaved. But a life of slow-cooked Jesus-following is vastly more satisfying, as any of Jesus' disciples know.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.