Monday, April 20, 2015

Christ, Not Muhammad, Is the Man of Peace

Monroe Couty
I'm reading William Kilpatrick's Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Kilpatrick argues, effectively, that Christianity is the religion of peace, not Islam. There's really no comparison between Christ and Muhammad. He writes:

"The imitation of Christ and the imitation of Muhammad lead a person in very different directions. Even a poor imitation of Christ (which is all most Christians can muster) is preferable to an excellent imitation of Muhammad." No doubt. 

Reject Performance-Based Churches


Is your church performance-based or Spirit-formed?
  • Are you trying to attain your goal by human effort or by the empowering presence and leading of God’s Spirit?
  • What would have to change for your church to become a Spirit-formed community?
James van Yperen, in Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, asks these questions. (p. 74). Van Yperen knows that many American churches are performance-based rather than Spirit-formed. This is not good, and explains a lot of church conflict.

He writes: 

"Pick up almost any book about church growth or leadership today, and the dominant theme will be performance—how you can do more and achieve more. Words like “effective,” “dynamic,” and “productive” describe the values and goals of leadership. Much is given to models and methods of leadership and growth. Little is said about spiritual formation." (73)

After beginning with the Spirit, many are now trying to "do church" in their own strength and by their own wisdom and efforts. (Galatians 3:3)

This distinction is key to understanding church conflict. The performance-based church creates an "audience," a bunch of "consumers," and audiences and consumers do what they do best: critique and complain. "A Spirit-formed community," in contrast, "is formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the personality or gifts of a man or woman." (74) 

The questions of the Spirit-formed community are not: "Do you like the worship?" or "Do you like the pastor?" In the Spirit-formed church people are not worshiping to please you.

Van Yperen is so good here. He writes:

"When a church gathers around a central figure who leads out of his or her knowledge, experience, or gifts alone, the church’s identity is inevitably tied to the ego and self-esteem of the leader. It becomes performance-based. By performance-based, we mean that planning and evaluation are focused on human achievement. Success or failure is measured by the growth and size of the church, the number of conversions, the latest facility expansion, or whether people approve of sermons, music, and so forth. Identity is measured by position, power, and accomplishment." (Ib.)

Real "church" is about God and Jesus, not some pastor or worship team. The consumer-audience will not understand this. Some pastors and worship teams don't want to understand this. This is one reason why, in our context, we don't put some "great musician" on the platform with our worship team if they are not primarily a passionate worshiper of Jesus and walk in humility and self-denial.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

God's Commands are Authoritative Words that Have Illocutionary Force

Monroe County Community College

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
- Genesis 1:3

When God said "Let there be light" it was not in the sense of "Permit there to be light." Rather, as John Goldingay writes, it was in the sense of "There is to be light" or "There must be light" or "There shall be light." God simply demands like a theater director, "Light!"" (Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel, 32) Lke: "Lights! Camera! Action!"

When God says "Light!" that is enough to make it happen. So we read "and there was light." 

Goldingay writes:

"The process involves supreme illogic. There is nowhere the suggestion that somewhere there is a dynamic source of light that can put forth light. In the same way, when God says "The waters are to gather together" or "The earth is to put forth vegetation," there is no implication that waters or earth already have the potential to obey these commands. It is the command that mysteriously generates them, as words can." (Ib., emphasis mine)

Philosopher J.L. Austin, in his philosophically famous book How to Do Things With Words, explained how certain words can do things; that is, certain words, said by people who have authority, have "illocutionary force." In such cases, saying makes it so. 

For example, because I am a pastor recognized by the state of Michigan, when I say the words to a couple "I now pronounce you husband and wife," they are, upon my pronouncement, husband and wife. But should you, assuming you are not a pastor, walk up to a couple on the street and utter the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife," nothing will happen. Your speech act will "do" nothing, except tperhaps get you taken to the hospital. In Austin's language your speek act "misfires" because you lack the authority to do such things with your words.

It was Jesus' claim to perform illocutionary acts with his words that had the religious leaders marveling about his authority. In Mark 9:10, for example, Jesus states that he, the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins. Then Jesus tells a paralyzed man, "Get up, take up your mat, and go home." Here Jesus' words do two things: 

1) at his word one's sins are forgiven; and 

2) at his word the paralyzed man is healed.

God said "Let there be light." And light came into existence.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
- Matthew 10:1

Because of this God-given authority our words have illocutionary force.

Community Is Where Humility and Glory Touch (PrayerLife)

Experiencing Community in New York City
"Community is where humility and glory touch."

Henri Nouwen

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 individual in the totality abandons themselves to the will and ways of God. This is Real Church, and it's a Communal Movement. 

The individual "Christian" who refuses to connect with Church (even though this is their identity) and stands outside Church in criticism is a biblical and theological apostate. People like this choose pride over humility. 

The glory of God refuses to descend on a proud heart. God's glory does fall on the humble. We read:

“God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.”
- James 4:6


  
 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
  • fruit
  • giftings
Pray for humility, and for your Jesus Community.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

We're Alone & Special In the Universe

Gary Larson (the brilliant)

Following Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth theory, I doubt that intelligent life exists anywhere in the universe outside of earth. Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich and astrobiologist Caleb Sharf suspect the same.

Sharf's new book is The Copernican Complex: Our Cosmic Sigificance in a Universe of Planets and Probablities, and is reviewed by Gingerich here ("Solar Complexus: we may be alone after all"). The "Copernican Principle" comes from Copernicus's discovery that our erth is not at the center of our solar system and, by extension, the universe. This discovery led people to believe that:



  1. We occupy an unimportant, mediocre, and unprivileged position in the cosmos; and
  2. The universe is teeming with intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Sharf challenges both of these beliefs.

To those enthusaistic about the possibility of extraterrertrial intelligent life Sharf writes: “[O]ne can easily argue that there has never been any data at all on the presence or absence of other life in the cosmos. I don’t want to make this sound too depressing, but it’s true—which is why we’re lucky we’ve discovered beer and chocolate to console ourselves.”


And, Sharf challenges the belief that we and our erth are not really special. He argues that "we are far from occupying an unimportant, mediocre, and unprivileged position in the cosmos. To take but one example, our well-ordered planetary system with the planets nicely spaced and in the same plane seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Quite possibly the moon was formed in a collision between Earth and a Mars-sized planet, which after an era of chaotic confusion, ultimately had a powerful stabilizing effect on our terrestrial system."


Probably, we are alone in the universe. 



Leadership & the Ministry of Absence

Bird house in Munson Park, Monroe

As a pastor I have people who call me for help. When they ask for help, I give them the best of what I have. I help them. But help can go overboard.

I must trust people with areas of ministry and release them to it, without always helping them. At some point I must not do the work for them. And, to help the laborers without invitation is to frustrate them. They will feel micromanaged, and grow resentful.

I must keep my hands off areas of ministry where I am not qualified. To assist where I am incompetent is to destroy relationship. Unskilled pastoral assistance breeds mediocrity.

All this requires the setting aside of "self" and ego. While the motivation to be of assistance can be pure, it can also be a sign of control and ego-drivenness. When this is the case helping is evil. 

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, tells the story of an introverted wing commander in the U.S. Air Force. He was in command of thousands of people, was a classically introverted person, and a great leader. Cain writes:

"He was also widely admired; when he spoke, everyone listened. This was not necessarily remarkable— if you’re at the top of the military hierarchy, people are supposed to listen to you. But in the case of this commander, says Grant, people respected not just his formal authority, but also the way he led: by supporting his employees’ efforts to take the initiative. He gave subordinates input into key decisions, implementing the ideas that made sense, while making it clear that he had the final authority. He wasn’t concerned with getting credit or even with being in charge; he simply assigned work to those who could perform it best. This meant delegating some of his most interesting, meaningful, and important tasks— work that other leaders would have kept for themselves." (Cain, 55-56)

Pastoral leaders need to know when to help, and when not to help; to know when to be with others, when to be without others. There is a ministry of presence, and a ministry of absence.

Pastoral leaders must allow more qualified people to lead areas of ministry and get out of their way.

Pastoral leaders must get over themselves to allow others to come forth and shine.

To lead is not always to help; indeed, there are times when helping subverts leadership.

All this is a matter of spiritual discernment. Discernment is a function of intimacy with God.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ontological Polarities of the Spirit (Nouwen's "Movements of the Spirit")

Monarch butterfly in my backyard.

After reading Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit I see  how indebted I have been to him regarding my own idea of "ontological dualities of the human spirit." Nouwen calls them "polarities." They have a vectorial, from-to movement. They help us understand the directionality of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation.


My original eight ontological dualities are:

i.      From PRIDE/SHAME to -------------- HUMILITY
ii. From CONTROL to -------------------- TRUST
iii. From REJECTION to ----------------- AFFIRMATION
iv. From EVIL to -------------------------- GOOD
v. From FEAR to --------------------------- FAITH (RISK; OBEDIENCE)
vi. From MATERIALISM to -------------- SIMPLICITY
vii. From DEATH to ----------------------- LIFE
viii. From PROTECTIONISM to ------- SACRIFICE (From SELF-CENTEREDNESS to... SELFLESSNESS)

Michael Christensen, in "Nouwen’s Place in Spiritual Development Theory" (Appendix), identifies twenty-six such "polarities" in Nouwen's writings. They include:

From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
From HOSTILITY to-------------------------HOSPITALITY
*From ILLUSION to----------------------------PRAYER
From SARCASM to--------------------------CONTEMPLATION
*From OPAQUENESS tp---------------------TRANSPARENCY
From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
                From LIFE'S ILLUSION to-----------------THE PRAYER OF THE HEART

                From FATALISM to-------------------------FAITH
From WORRYING to------------------------PRAYER
From MIND to--------------------------------HEART
From DISSIPATION to---------------------HOMECOMING
*From RESENTMENT to--------------------GRATITUDE
From FORGIVEN to------------------------FORGIVER
From PROFESSIONALISM to------------CREATIVE MINISTRY
From ALIENATION to---------------------COMMUNITY
From COMPETITION to-------------------COMPASSION
From ANGUISH to--------------------------FREEDOM
*From SORROW to---------------------------JOY
*From THE HOUSE OF FEAR to----------THE HOUSE OF LOVE
From AGING to------------------------------DYING
*From EXCLUSION to----------------------INCLUSION
From DENYING to--------------------------BEFRIENDING DEATH

(Christensen, Appendix in Nouwen, Spiritual Formation, Kindle Locations 2119 ff.)

*In Nouwen's work, seven of the Spirit-movements predominate (indicated by *).

As we dwell in God's presence the Spirit of God meta-morphs our hearts, with a "from---- to" movement. We are changed from, e.g., a HATEFUL HEART to LOVING HEART. In this way our subhuman heart takes on the form of Christ's heart. (Galatians 4:19).

Christensen writes:

"These movements of the Spirit may vary with the individual and with one’s season of life and community of faith; yet no one’s spiritual life is static, absolute, or perfectly completed, as if we must graduate from one movement to another before continuing our journey. Rather, we remain in motion and in the process of discerning which way the wind of God’s activity is blowing in our life. The process involves becoming aware of and naming the subtle movements of Spirit. To live spiritually is to seek to breathe with the Spirit’s rhythm and move in a God-ward direction on the long walk of faith.” 


Spiritual Formation and Transformation: A Phenomenology


For the new friends from ABCOPAD. 


***

SPIRITUAL FORMATION – A PHENOMENOLOGY (A DESCRIPTION)

Since 1977 I have been developing my theory of spiritual transformation, which is about How God Changes Lives. The inputs for my outline of spiritual transformation have been and are:

1. the countless hours, over the past thirty-plus years, that I have gone alone to a quiet place and prayed.
2. my ongoing saturation in the Christian scriptures, to include study and meditation on them.
3. the 2500+ pastors, Christian leaders, seminary students, and lay people I have been privileged to spiritually mentor and coach through class lectures, dialogue, and the submission of their spiritual journals for me to respond to.
4. my past and ongoing study of the history of Christian spirituality.

I think my theory can be applied not only to the issue of spiritual transformation but also to the ideas of spiritual “renewal,” “restoration,” “renovation,” and “formation.” All of these concepts have to do with “change,” and in Christian spirituality change is good, stasis is bad. One is either growing or dead. Spiritually, to not be growing is to be dying. As my friend 
Jim Hunter has said, “We’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” Or, as Robert Quinn has written, it’s either “deep change” or “slow death.”

My approach to spiritual formation (I feel free to use “formation” and “:transformation” interchangeably) applies and works cross-culturally, cross-temporally (concerning both old and young; and past, present, and future), and with both men and women. This is because the locus of spiritual formation is “the heart.” Thus change and renewal happen at a deep, ontological level. Because the deeper we go inside persons the more we are all the same, the principles of Christian spiritual formation speak to everyone, everywhere. This is my experience over the years as I have been privileged to teach this material to Chinese in Singapore, New York City, and Vancouver, Indians in India, African Americans at Payne Theological Seminary, Palmer Theological Seminary, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, African pastors (Kenyan and Ugandan) in Kenya, and hundreds of Anglo pastors and Christian leaders from the U.S., in Canada, and beyond. In my seminary classes I think I have taught this material to pastors and seminary students from every continent and, it seems, representing most of this world’s countries. All of this interaction and input has served to help me refine my teachings to the following major points.

How does God change a human heart? Here is a Phenomenology of Spiritual Renewal and Transformation. (Viz., a description of what I see happening when lives are renewed and transformed in Chriat.)

1 – THE NEED (Recognize how needy you are)
Without this step growth will not occur. To recognize one’s own neediness is to be in a very good place, spiritually. Isaiah 6 serves us well here. Isaiah, who is arguably the most righteous person among the people of Israel, enters the temple and sees a vision of a holy God. The result is that Isaiah is “undone,” or “unraveled,” or “dis-integrated.” There is a huge gap between the holy-otherness of God and Isaiah with his dirty mouth.

To recognize, to internalize, the gap between self and God is crucial to one’s inner change.

2 – THE GAP (Understand the magnitude of the needed transformation)
The Jesus-idea is that God wants to morph us into Christlikeness. Paul, in Galatians 4:19, longs that “Christ be formed” in his Galatian brothers and sisters.

The issue here is not asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather doing what Jesus did, as a matter of the heart. For example, if I had the heart of a great soccer player I would do what a great soccer player does. Jesus, as he hung dying on a cross, did not have took look at a wristband and ask the question, “Now what would I do?” Rather, Jesus forgave his persecutors, and we must believe he did so not as a matter of ethical protocol but because this was, indeed, his very heart.

The word Romans 12:2 uses is, in Greek, metamorphe. Literally, this is about “a change of form.” What is needed here are not more ethical rules to follow, since one can obey laws without having a heart for them. This concerns what Dallas Willard has called “the renovation of the heart.” To be morphed into like-Christ-ness.

Because the magnitude of the transformation is so great, we realize we can’t do this by means of our own will power.

Therefore…

3. I CAN’T SELF-TRANSFORM

Spiritual formation and transformation into like-Christness is not something we can do on our own. Indeed, if it were something we could do on our own, then we will have greatly diminished Christ. When it comes to this kind of change it is good to realize that we can’t “self-transform.” This is one thing we cannot do in our own wisdom and strength.

There is some good news here. This realization, if it is a heart-reality, frees us from “striving.” When it comes to personal transformation no striving is allowed. It simply won’t do any good to “try harder.” The goal of heart-morphing into Christlikeness is so beyond us that striving is useless. If we are to be transformed, only God can do it.
4- ONLY GOD CAN EFFECT THE NEEDED TRANSFORMATION

Therefore…

5 – GET INTO GOD'S PRESENCE AND DWELL THERE/ABIDE IN CHRIST

Enter into the “spiritual gymnasium” and “exercise unto godliness.” But isn’t that a kind of “striving?” No, because the spiritual exercises or disciplines are simply ways of ushering us into God’s presence. Once we abide there, God himself changes us. We are then like lumps of clay on a potter’s wheel, with God himself the shaper of our hearts.

John 14-16 is important here, as Jesus gives his “final discourse” to his disciples. Be a branch, connected to Jesus the true Vine. The stuff and life and resources and joy and peace and power of “the Vine” begins to course through the arteries of “the branch.” Just as a branch could not be attached to a healthy apply tree and fail to produce apples, so you and I cannot consistently dwell in God’s presence & remain unchanged.


This raises the question of the locus, or “place” of spiritual transformation.

1 – The transformation is a matter of “the deep waters of the heart.”

Proverbs 20:5.says: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” God’s Spirit moves in the deep waters of the human heart. Here is where the morphing happens.

This spiritual formation is not an external, physical makeover. It is internal, deep, and concerns the human heart. And, it is helpful to note that the deeper we go inside people the more we are all the same. This truth explains why, among other things, the Jesus-message has gone global.

2 – The dismantling of the false self

A major part of spiritual formation is the dismantling of the false, or fallen self. Using recent language by N.T. Wright, God wants to rescue us from our subhumanity and form Christ in us, who was truly human (as well as “very God”).

In my own process of spiritual transformation, and in coaching others, here are examples of the false self’s dismantling. God want to remove from us:

* self-love
* self-hatred
* self-pity
* self-hiding
* self-justification
* self-righteousness
* self-will
* self-centeredness
* self-seriousness
* self-attention
* self-inflation
* self-ignorance

This dismantling of the false self relates to what Jesus said about denying our self daily and taking up our cross. Jesus, the fully human One, was an other-centered Servant. As we enter into God’s presence he wants to morph our hearts into the sacrificial selflessness of Jesus.

3 – Ontological dualities
In the deep waters of the human heart we are all the same. This is why the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom speaks to all persons in all times and all places.

Spiritual transformation has a vectorial dimension in that it is a shifting or moving from one place to another. For example, all persons struggle with control and trust. God wants to shift our hearts from controlling to trusting. This movement is, precisely, the change; viz., one’s heart changes from a control-shaped heart to a trust-shaped heart.

I have discovered the following “ontological dualities” that lie at the base of the human heart. They are:

1. From Pride/Shame to Humility
2. From Control to Trust
3. From Rejection to Affirmation
4. From Evil to Good
5. From Fear to Faith
6. From Materialism to Simplicity
7. From Death to Life

As we continually abide in Christ there is a slow movement from the left ontological condition to the right side. I think that, using these deep dualities, one could thus measure spiritual transformation.


HUMILITY – the foundational attitude of authentic spiritual transformation

Finally, and in some ways back to the beginning, the foundational attitude needed so that one’s heart is “good soil” for the changes God desires to bring about is: humility. Pride, C.S. Lewis said, is "the complete anto-God state of mind." Francis Frangipane called pride "the armor of darkness." If these things are true, as I think they are, then of course the proud heart cannot expect to experience being formed into Christ.


Spiritual Formation: The Journey Inward Precedes the Journey Outward


In the spiritual life being comes before doing. This is a hard one for people who want to "do" great things for God and see time spent alone with God as wasted time. A number of pastors and Christian leaders fall into this category. They may say "I want to pray," but unless this translates into a life of actually praying their desire is an illusion. Ontologically (in the order of being) the Jesus-life works this way: 1) Abide in Christ; 2) Out of the abiding, obey (this is the "doing" part).

I like how Henri Nouwen expresses this:

"Only out of the prayerful place of solitude and introspection can we hope for community and ministry. The journey inward precedes the journey outward, and the chronology is important. Spiritually, we need to know our selves and God in order to know other people. We need to love our selves and God in order to love each other. Communion with God precedes community with others and ministry in the world. Once the inward journey has begun, we can move outwardly from solitude to community and ministry." (Nouwen, 
Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 2106-2109)


What the Bible Says About Spiritual Formation

This is from Renovare's website.

"Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand" (Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7).
This is a call for us to reconsider how we have been approaching our life, in light of the fact that we now, in the presence of Jesus, have the option of living within the surrounding movements of God’s eternal purposes, of taking our life into his life.

~ Dallas Willard, 
The Divine Conspiracy


The Bible has a lot to say about spiritual formation.  Here are a few relevant passages.

2 Corinthians 3:18 
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Ephesians 4:20-24 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life . . . Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

1 Timothy 4:7-8
. . . train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Colossians 3:10-11Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn't matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,
 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.


Blessed Are the Mono-Taskers, for They Shall See God

I currently teach at two theological seminaries, one Chinese and the other African-American, and in our own Redeemer Ministry School. My core seminary class is called Spiritual Formation, also called Personal Transformation. My main assignment: set apart one hour a day, five days a week, to pray and listen to God, keeping a record of the voice and activity of God in a spiritual journal. Needed: listening skills; ability to meditate and ponder; desire and focus to allow God to go deep (see, e.g., Proverbs 20:5).

I also teach two philosophy courses at Monroe County Community College: Intro to Logic, and Philosophy of Religion. Needed to learn philosophy and think philosophically: the ability to think; ability to focus and stay on task; desire and ability to go deep; ability to ponder and meditate.

Both spiritual formation and philosophy are slow cookers, not microwaves. Both, if attended to, produce much lasting fruit in a person's life. Oak trees grow out of the soil of pondering deep and important life-themes.

Deep, lasting relationships are slow-cookers, too. This includes the God-relationship. Knowing God means way more than theoretical knowledge. As an analogy, one learns to ride a bike by actually riding it, not by reading books on it or spending a few hurried minutes with it here and there.

Sadly, it's time to say good-bye to both spiritual formation and philosophizing, at least in North America and any culture that continues to be "wired." An entire generation has formed that is, now, neurally incapable of deep thought. To understand this begin by reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. See the various Shallows-posts I've already made 
here.

Or check out this nytimes essay "
Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction." The bullets are:
·                     “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification,” says a bright 17-year-old student. Professors take note. This student cannot attend to you for long. So he's not being rebellious if he's not paying attention.
·                    
"Developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention." So, in my spiritual formation classes, it is beyond-hard for more and more seminary students to pray, listen to God, and meditate on God-things for even a few minutes.
·                     “Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”
·                     Don't simply blame the kids for this. We've programmed them to Mc-think. "Even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory."
·                     I ban texting and laptops in my classes. I put this in my syllabus next to a picture of a skull-and-crossbones. Death to the multitaskers!  Because, e.g., "unchecked use of digital devices can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it." 
·                     Today's kids are "caught between two worlds, one that is virtual and one with real-life demands."
·                     "Research also shows that students often juggle homework and entertainment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either “most” (31 percent) or “some” (25 percent) of the time that they are doing homework." So what's so bad about this? It's only that you can't learn doing this, that's all. Yes, you can learn to multitask. "But this proficiency comes at a cost: [one student] blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report."  
·                     "Sean, a senior, concedes that video games take a physical toll: “I haven’t done exercise since my sophomore year. But that doesn’t seem like a big deal. I still look the same.”"
·                     "Some neuroscientists have been studying people like [these students]. They have begun to understand what happens to the brains of young people who are constantly online and in touch."
·                     "The heavy use of devices... worries Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is known for research showing that children are not as harmed by TV viewing as some researchers have suggested. Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV. Like Dr. [Michael] Rich [Harvard Medical School], he says he believes that young, developing brains are becoming habituated to distraction and to switching tasks, not to focus. “If you’ve grown up processing multiple media, that’s exactly the mode you’re going to fall into when put in that environment — you develop a need for that stimulation,” he said."
·                     "Students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own."
Ability to focus...  to deep-think... going...  going... gone... and with it the God-relationship going... going... gone...  at least in terms of the wired generation.

What am I doing about this? In my philosophy classes I assign little or no reading
homework, since I assume 95% of my students won't read it anyway. I ban texting and laptops in class. In my lectures I look for dialogue and interaction, exposing students to the wonder of thinking. I give seminarians prayer assignments (not books to read on prayer, which may or may not be read anyway), and require that spiritual journals be kept. In some cases, they are met by God. A new-yet-ancient habit is formed, new neural connections are made, the joy and value of heart-stillness and heart purity are learned, and it's like life begins.

Remember that Kierkegaard told us 
Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. To "will one thing." To focus on, attend to, be captivated by, be still before, one thing. What is the benefit of that? Blessed are the mono-taskers, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

(For more see 
The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life, by Timothy Jennings, M.D.)


It's You That Needs Changing

A few years ago some University of Michigan film students who are making a movie about our Monroe community interviewed me. I enjoyed spending time with them. One of them was a student named Jordan who has been part of Redeemer in the past.

Jordan asked me, "What's the main thing you see about Monroe that needs to be changed?" My immediate answer was: "Me." I am serious about this. If I can change for the better, into greater Christlikeness, our community will be better off.

If can change and be a better husband to Linda, Linda will be better off. If God changes me into a greater Jesus-like compassionate servant, then the people in my church family will be better off. Others will benefit from what God is doing in me. There's an old gospel song that goes "It's me, it's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer." Another worship song pleads change my heart O God," not "change their hearts O God."

I can't change other people. With God's help I can change.

Focus on 
your own change before God.


Square One


When a person loses their way we sometimes hear them say, “I’ve got to get back to “square one.” For them “square one” means something like: the place of origin; the place where it all began; the beginning place from where the journey began; and so on. Square one is: the beginning. Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, uses the idea of “square one” to make some excellent spiritual points.


Peterson writes: “Square One is the place from which we begin learning how to live with Absence with the same ease with which we have come to live with Presence. The generic word that we use for this is Faith – in its classic and never yet improved upon definition, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).” (Subversive Spirituality, 18)

“The characteristic element of Square One is this: God said.” (Ib., 19) When we live at Square One “the absolutely indispensable word that we learn is: God.” (Ib.)

When we “return to Square One” we return not only to a realization that God or of God, but to a listening. Listening to what God says. “God said.” (23) Now… we’re at Square One! Everything meaningful, relevant, and authentic follows from this. At Square One it’s not about spiritual chatter or spiritual platitudes or talking “Christian-eze.” It is a being-addressed, a being-talked-to, by God. This is not about us talking or even bragging about our spiritual experiences and accomplishments, but rather about “listening to God call us, heal us, forgive us.” (27) Peterson writes:

“This is hard to get into our heads. We talk habitually to ourselves and about ourselves. We don’t listen. If we do listen to each other it is almost always with the purpose of getting something we can use in our turn. Much of our listening is a form of politeness, courteously waiting our turn to talk about ourselves. But in relation to God especially we must break the habit and let him speak to us. God not only is; God Says. Christian spirituality, in addition to being an attentive spirituality, is a listening spirituality.” (27)

Christian spirituality begins with God. God speaks. We listen. We respond. In obedience. To not listen to God is to not respond to him. One can’t respond to a voice they don’t even hear. “Non-listening obedience” is self-contradictory. Henri Nouwen has pointed out that the word “obedience,” from the Latin ob + audire, contains the idea of “listening” (audire, from which we get “audio”). An audiologist tests our hearing. Of course if we cannot hear then we cannot be expected to obey. Not to be in a continual listening-relationship to God is to be in perpetual dis-audire; dis-obedience. If that’s the case, it’s time to get back to Square One, the place of listening, the place where GodSays.

I love how Peterson expands on this as he describes the causal efficacy of God Says. He writes:

“Something remarkable takes place when we return to Square One, to the place of adoration and listening – a terrific infusion of energy within us; a release of adrenaline in our souls which becomes obedience. The reason is that the word that God speaks to us is the kind of word that makes things happen. When God speaks it is not in order to give us information on the economy so that we will know how to do our financial planning. When God speaks it is not as a fortune teller, looking into our personal future and satisfying curiosity regarding our romantic prospects or the best horse to bet on. No, when God speaks it is not in explanation of all the things that we have not been able to find answers to from our parents or in books or from reading tea leaves. God’s Word is not, in essence, information or gossip or explanation. God’s Word makes things happen – he makes something happen in us. The imperative is a primary verb form in Holy Scripture: “Let there be light… Go… Come… Repent… Believe… Be still… Be healed… Get up… Ask… Love… Pray…” (28)

And the consequence, the intended result, of God Says? It is: obedience. “I will run in the way of your commandments, when you give me understanding.” (Ps. 119:32) Peterson says:

“Yes, run. Square One, with its attentiveness and listening, is that place of understanding – we know who we are and where we are… and who God is and where he is. At that place and in that condition, there is an inward gathering and concentration of energy that on signal from God’s imperative expresses itself in, precisely, obedience – running in the way of God’s commandments.” (28)

Get back to Square One. Stay there.

***

Spiritual Formation: Annotated Bibliography


For my new friends at the Urbana Spiritual Formation Seminar:


Spiritual Formation: Annotated Bibliography

Arnold, Eberhard. Inner Land: A Guide Into the Heart and Soul of the Bible (Rifton, N.Y: Plough Publishing House, 1976). A classic in Anabaptist spirituality.

Barton, Ruth Haley. Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups

Baldwin, Lewis. Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beilby, James K., and Eddy, Paul Rhodes. Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views. Arguably, this is the book to read on the current state of spiritual warfare studies.

Blackaby, Henry T., and King, Claude V. Experiencing God. An excellent, clearly written text that is especially good for church study.

Boyd, Greg. Satan and the Problem of EvilConstructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy
(IVP: 2001). An excellent study on the kingdom of God, esp. on spiritual battle and the kingdom ofSatan. A coherent Christian response to the philosophical problem of evil.

Boyd. Present Perfect: Finding God In the Now. (Zondervan: 2010) This is an excellent, clearly written little book that contains some deep spiritual insights that are not found in other spirituality texts. Greg’s meditation on “death” is worth the price of the book.

Bridges, Flora Wilson. Resurrection Song: African American Spirituality

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. The Practice of the Presence of God (Garden City: Image, 1977). A spiritual classic by a 17th-century monk that is still relevant today, and is especially good at knowing God in the everyday, mundane tasks of life.

Buechner, Frederick. Godric (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). A beautiful novel, spiritually deep and uplifting. The character of Godric reminds me of Thomas Merton.

Campolo, Tony, and Darling, Mary Albert. The God of Intimnacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. Nicely puts together the spiritual disciplines and social activism.

Carson, Clayborne. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Collins, Kenneth J. Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Baker Book House: 2000). An excellent one-volume text.

Cone, James. The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Costen, Melva Wilson. African American Christian Worship.

Dawn, Marva. Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living In An Affluent Society (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation: 2003). This is a deep, profound study allowing us to see our materialistic world and our spiritual place in it through God’s eyes.

Deere, Jack. Surprised By the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). A very good, clearly written biblical and historical presentation of how one hears God speaking to them.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek (Harper and Row). This makes my personal top ten ever-read list. A beautiful meditation of the creation, especially its microscopic aspects.

Fee, Gordon. God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994). This massive text is, arguably, the definitive statement of the apostle Paul’s spirituality. A detailed study of every Pauline reference to the Holy Spirit.

Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Superb, meditative, scholarly commentary on what it means to be pneumatikos (“spiritual”).

Felder, Cain Hope. Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. (Augsburg: 1991) This edited collection does an excellent job distinguishing the Eurocentric bias in biblical hermeneutics from an African American perspective which gives place to the now-experiential reality of God’s Spirit speaking to us through the written text.

Foster, Richard. A Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper and Row). The modern classic on the spiritual disciplines. If you have not yet read this it should be one of your choices.

Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper and Row: 1992). Examines several different types of prayer that are both biblically and historically Christian.

Foster. Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation. (HarperOne: 2010)

Foster. Longing for God: Seven Paths of Spiritual Devotion. (Intervarsity Press: 2009)

Foster, and Griffin, Emilie. Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (Harper and Row: Feb. 2000). A very good collection representing the great Christian types of spirituality.

Foster. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (Harper and Row: 1998). On the following traditions: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational.

Grenz, Stanley. Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom. One of our great theologians positions praying within the context of the kingdom of God.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. We Drink From Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988). Excellent, especially in its emphasis on corporate spirituality.

Hayes, Diana. Forged In the Fiery Furnace: African American Spirituality

Hernandez, Will. Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension.

Holmes, Urban T. Spirituality for Ministry. Still one of the best books on this subject.

Jones, Cheslyn, et. al., eds. The Study of Spirituality (New York: Oxford, 1986). A very good one-volume source on the history of Christian spirituality.

Kelleman, Robert, and Edwards, Karole A. Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. (Baker: 2007)

Kelly, Thomas. A Testament Of Devotion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941). This brilliant, provocative little text makes my top ten ever-read books on Christian spirituality. A modern classic.

King, Martin Luther. "Thou Dear God: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits

Kraft, Charles. Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Understanding of the Supernatural(Ann Arbor, Mi.: Servant, 1989). A brilliant study in paradigm theology by an anthropologist and missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Ladd, George. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Eerdmans: 1959). A classic, still-used examination of the kingdom of God as both present and future. Schoalrly, but it often reads devotionally.

Leech, Kenneth. Experiencing God: Theology As Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). An excellent historical study, from biblical times to the present, of the experience of God.

Leech. Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). The best book available on spiritual direction.

Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).

Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1979).

Lovelace. Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1985).

Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. A beautiful, very thoughtful meditation on the grace of God.

Manning, Abba’s Child. This book spoke deeply to me about my need for experiential knowledge of the love of God.

Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. Very good as it gets at the real Jesus.

May, Gerald. Addiction and Grace (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1991). An excellent, clearly written book with an especially helpful section on addiction to control.

May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction (New York: Harper and Row, 1992). A very good text on the nature of spiritual direction.

May. Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Harper and Row: 1987). An excellent text.

Mbiti, John. African Religions and Philosophy.

Mbiti. Introduction to African Religion.

McGinn, Bernard. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. McGinn  is arguably our greatest scholar on the nature of Christian mysticism. This is the text to read on mysticism in the early church father, and in the West.

McKnight, Scot; Tickle, Phyllis. . Fasting: The Ancient Practices.

McManus, Erwin. The Barbarian WayUnleash the Untamed Faith Within (Thomas Nelson: 2005)  Don’t be put off by the title. I loved this book about what it means to be a real follower of Jesus.

McLaren, Brian. The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Thomas Nelson: 2007). I loved this book about the kingdom of God.

Merton, Thomas. The Inner Experience: Notes On Contemplation (Harper: 2003). This is Merton’s final book. Few write about contemplation as well as he does.

Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961). Merton at his best.

Merton. No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983). Contains the classic chapter, “Being and Doing.”

Merton. Seeds (Shambala: 2002). A killer collection of Merton quotes. A tremendous introduction to the depth, wisdom, and discernment of Thomas Merton. Prophetic.

Merton. The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981). One of Merton’s journals, containing many spiritual gems,

Merton. Spiritual Direction and Meditation.

Miller, J. Keith. A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper and Row, 1991).

Miller. Hope In the Fast Lane: A New Look at Faith in a Compulsive World (New York: Harper and Row, 1987). An excellent text on overcoming sin in one’s life. Especially good on identifying the deep source of stress and overcoming stress.

Miller. The Secret Life of the Soul (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997). About the vulnerability needed for the transformation of the soul.

Muse, J. Stephen, ed. Beside Still Waters: Resources for Shepherds in the Marketplace (Smyth and Helwys: 2000). An excellent text that uses Psalm 23 to speak to Christian leaders regarding spiritual issues. Very good on our need to care for ourselves physically.

Mulholland, Robert. Shaped By the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation (Nashville: Upper Room Press, 1985). An excellent book on how the Bible interprets us.

Nelson, Alan. Broken In the Right Place: How God Tames the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1994). A very good book on how spiritual brokenness effects personal transformation.

Nouwen, Henri. A Cry for Mercy: Prayers From the Genesee (Garden City, New York: Image, 1981). A beautiful book of prayers expressing our heart’s fears, struggles, and longings.

Nouwen. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1987).

Nouwen. Gracias! A Latin American Journal (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983). One of Nouwen’s spiritual journals.

Nouwen. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Harper and Row). A brilliant little book, among the best I have ever read on pastoral leadership.

Nouwen. Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (New York: Image, 1986).

Nouwen. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Spiritual Life (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1980).


Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976).
An excellent text; a modern classic. On solitude, hospitality, and prayer.

Nouwen. Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith.

Nouwen. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit.

Nouwen. The Genesee Diary: Report From A Trappist Monastery (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). This book makes my top ten ever-read list in terms of spiritual impact. An excellent example of journaling that is of spiritual value.

Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love (Image Books: 1999). I find it hard to express how much God used a slow, meditative reading of this book to effect changes in my life.

Nouwen. The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (New York: Harper and Row). A tremendous book for pastors and Christian leaders.

Nouwen. The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life.

Nouwen. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Image, 1992). Simply put, one of Nouwen’s best and one of my very favorites.

Nouwen, and Dear, John. The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice. This is a spectacular book to read devotionally, with Nouwen's deep insights clarifying real Jesus-following and the blessedness of peacemaking.

Nouwen. The Way of the Heart (New York: Ballantine, 1981). A beautiful, meditative little book on solitude, silence, and prayer.

Paris, Peter. The Spirituality of African Peoples.

Payne, Leanne. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991). A very good, well-written text on what it means to hear God’s voice.

Peterson, EugeneThe Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Dallas: Word, 1989). I have read this book two or three times. It always reminds me of my priorities in pastoral ministry.

Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. The first of five books in Peterson’s summary of his spiritual theology.

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change (Jossey-Bass: 1996). A very good book, written from a leadership-business perspective, on the inner transformation required to lead effectively.

Renovare, et. al. The Life with God Bible NRSV. The spiritual exercises are woven into this study Bible.

Senn, Frank, ed. Protestant Spiritual Traditions (New York: Paulist, 1986). Various authors writing from the following perspectives: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Puritan, Pietist, and Methodist.

Sittser, Jerry. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Perhaps the best book on a spirituality of grieving ever written, by a deep thinker and excellent writer.

Sittser. A Grace revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life. The follow-up to A Grace Disguised.

Smedes, Lewis. Shame and Grace. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1994). For me, a beautiful book on overcoming self-condemnation by a deeper understanding and experience of the grace of God.

St. Teresa of AvilaInterior Castle. (Image Books: 1972) A spiritual classic.

Thomas, GarySacred Pathways (Zondervan: 2000). Very good on showing different spiritual styles and various ways persons experience God (the naturalist, sensate, traditionalist, ascetic, activist, caregiver, enthusiast, contemplative, and intellectual).

Thurman, Howard. For the Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace: 1984). An excellent anthology of Thurman’s spiritual writings.

Thurman. Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon: 1996). If you’re going to read one book by Thurman this is the one to read. He is brilliant, insightful, and extremely relevant for even today. There s a timelessness about Thurman’s writings.

Thurman. Howard Thurman: Essential Writings. (Orbis: 2006) Edited by Luther Smith. Smith is one of our great, if not our greatest, Thurman scholars. His introduction to Thurman’s writing is very helpful.

Thurman. Meditations of the Heart. (Beacon: 1999)

Thurman. A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life

Thurman. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman.

Walters, Kerry (ed.). Rufus Jones: The Essential Writings. Howard Thurman was deeply indebted to the mentoring of the Quaker mystic Rufus Jones.

Weems, Renita. Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt (Simon and Schuster: 1999). An excellent reflection of the silence of God and intimacy with God.

West, Cornel, and Glaube Jr., Eddie S. African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. (Westminster John Knox: 2003)

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins: 1998). What a deep, beautiful book on the kingdom of God.

Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (IVP: 1999)

Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Navpress:2002). This excellent book is all about spiritual transformation and is especially helpful in defining biblical terms like “soul,” “heart,” “spirit,” and “body.”

Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (Harper and Row: 1988). A great book, profound, clearly written. Richard Foster called it “the book of the decade.”

Wilmore, Gayraud. Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans.


Wimber, John. Power Healing (Harper and Row). An excellent, encouraging text filled with realism and hope.