Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Long-Term Marijuana Use - This Is Your Brain on Drugs

A Harvard-Northwestern study has found differences between the brains of young adult marijuana smokers and those of nonsmokers. In these composite scans, colors represent the differences — in the shape of the amygdala, top, and nucleus accumbens. Yellow indicates areas that are most different, red the least.Credit       The Journal of Neuroscience

From age 18-21 I was a regular marijuana user. One day - the day of my conversion to Jesus - I stopped, forever. To quote Eric Clapton ("Cream"), "I'm so glad, I'm so glad, I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad."

That was during my college years. Dr. Hans Breiter, professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, says that “Working memory is key for learning. If I were to design a substance that is bad for college students, it would be marijuana.” ("This Is Your Brain on Drugs")

Breiter is co-author of a Harvard-Northwestern study published in the April 2014 Journal of Neuroscience. ("Cannabis Use is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users.") The results of the study are:

  • Recreational marijuana uses results in structural differences in two areas of the brain. (See "Casual Marijuana Use Linked to Brain Abnormalities.") 
  • "With the brain developing into the mid-20s, young people who smoke early and often are more likely to have learning and mental health problems." 
  • High-THC marijuana is associated with paranoia and psychosis, according to a June article in The New England Journal of Medicine. “We have seen very, very significant increases in emergency room admissions associated with marijuana use that can’t be accounted for solely on basis of changes in prevalence rates,” said Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a co-author of the THC study." 
  • In the Harvard-Northwestern study "all smokers showed abnormalities in the shape, density and volume of the nucleus accumbens, which “is at the core of motivation, the core of pleasure and pain, and every decision that you make,” explained Dr. Breiter."
  • "Evidence of long-term effects is also building. A study released in 2012 showed that teenagers who were found to be dependent on pot before age 18 and who continued using it into adulthood lost an average of eight I.Q. points by age 38."
My last joint was 45 years ago when my mental fog was healed. To quote another Clapton Cream song, "I feel free!"

See also:

Science News, "High-potency pot smokers show brain fiber damage." "People who use especially potent pot show signs of damage in a key part of their brain."

Psychological Medicine, "Effect of high-potency cannibis on corpus callosum microstructure." (Vol. 46, Issue 4, March 2016)

Oh - BTW - recreational marijuana use is against the law. So for a follower of Jesus whether or not to recreationally use marijuana is a no-brainer - it's against the law. Unless breaking the law is needed to advance the cause of Christ [like Jesus-followers in oppressive atheistic cultures] then it's beyond-difficult to see how recreational marijuana use would promote Christ.

Resolution: Be Transformed from Dissonance to Consonance

I took this picture of turkish delight
while in Istanbul. A man walking is reflected in the window.
It appears like he is eyeing the candy.

"Resolution" - the act or process of resolving." 
"The act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones," thereby "solving" something.  
"The act of determining."

"Resolution" - in music, "the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance."  

For example, if a musical piece is in the key of C, G is the 5th. A musical piece that ends on the 5th begs to be resolved to the 1st, or tonic chord, which is in this case C. The unresolved 5th causes one to inwardly strain and lean towards the anticipated 1st. 

To "resolve" - fixity of purpose, resoluteness. For example: His comments were intended to weaken her resolve but they only served to strengthen it. (From here.)

If you are a Jesus-follower, don't make resolutions. Just resolve, today.

1. Resolve to inquire of the Lord.  

2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed,Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (2 Chronicles 20:2-4)

Bring life's dissonance to the Lord. Now. 

Inquire of God, regarding the chaos and incompleteness. You've tried to figure out how the ending will be; instead, seek God about this. Not just once in a while, but today and every day. 

Place your trust in God, now. Get alone with God and receive direction. Like God called Jehoshaphat to declare a fast in response to unresolved dissonance in Judah, so God has promised to shepherd you through all things. God is willing to direct your paths.

Resolve to inquire of God, today and every day.

2. Resolve that your mouth will not bring destruction

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right. 

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing; 
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. 4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent. 
(Psalm 17:2-4)

I will keep my mouth shut unless my words serve to build up others.  

I will meet, often and alone, with God. I will abide in Christ. I will dwell in his presence. God will shape and form my heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19) This Jesus-heart will be what comes out of the space between my lips.

Resolve that your mouth will not destroy, today and every day.

3. Resolve not to defile your soul with the enemy's "turkish delight."

7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel... (Daniel 1:7-9)

Daniel refused to allow King Nebuchadnezzar to redefine his identity. Daniel "resolved"; i.e., Daniel "set upon his heart" not to pollute himself. 

Daniel set his heart "not to compromise himself by accepting his redefinition as a Babylonian. This is the matter of allegiance.

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch, who seduces him with a delicious piece of  "turkish delight." He eats it, betraying Aslan, and his defiled heart falls under the Witch's dark spell.

Today, resolve not to compromise your allegiance to Jesus as your Lord.

4. Resolve to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

This is not rocket science. Learn about Jesus. Learn Jesus. Fix on him. Sum all things up in Jesus.

Resolve to know Christ and him crucified. Today. 

Be transformed from dissonance to consonance.

My book Praying is available as a Kindle book HERE. $9.99.

Paperback HERE and HERE.

Hard cover HERE

You can contact me at:

My Book Is Now Available - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

My book Praying is available as a Kindle book HERE. $9.99.

Paperback HERE and HERE.

Hard cover HERE

You can contact me at:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Collected Thoughts on PREACHING

(One day I may systematize these.)

How I Prepare for a Sermon

1.  I print out the text and carry it with me throughout the week.

2.   I meditate on the text. I read it over and over and over. I let it get into me. As I am doing this, God speaks to me. I write down what God says to me.

3.   I ask these questions:
a.   What is the text saying?
b.   What is the text saying to me?
c.   What will this text say to our people?

4.   I study the text.
a.   I use biblical commentaries.
b.   The rule is: not just any commentary will do. Find trusted Jesus-following scholars who have invested their lives in studying the text. I have a list of trusted names. E.g., Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, Richard Bauckham, Craig Evans, Robert Mounce, Grant Osborne, R.T. France, Gordon Fee, Andreas Kostenberger, Joel Green, N.T. Wright, and so on…
And people the above scholars recommend.
Note: some scholars are especially excellent in certain biblical books because they have invested a lot of their lives in them. For example, Gordon Fee is especially valuable on 1 Corinthians.
c.   When God speaks to me while I am studying the commentaries, I write it down.
d.   I take notes on the commentaries. These notes appear in my sermon notes. 

5.   As I am doing these two things – meditation on the text, and study of the text – I type out the sermon, often word-for-word, that God wants to speak through me.

6.   I take these notes and walk with them…, reading them over and over…  take drives in the car with them… I preach them. It always happens that, while doing this, God preaches to me. Often, usually, this gets very emotional for me. I feel passion building towards the text and what God has said and what God is saying to me and what God is going to say on Sunday morning.

7.   When I preach on Sunday morning I want to know that I have given my entire self to preparing for this message. I never step up to preach without having given it my all. Average sermon preparation time for me each week is 10-20 hours. 

8.   I feel a holy responsibility in preaching. I do not want to lead my people in the wrong direction. Therefore I study long and hard. And, I pray the text,

9.   I always have this expectation that God is going to show up, and make my mere human words into words from Him, for us all.

10.               With my focus on meditating on the text, and studying the text, and praying the text, my belief is that God, in the sermon, will give me and my people words from Him that are rooted in Scripture but are extrabiblical revelation – viz., “now-words from God.”

11.               As I preach I give God the right to lead me, even into things that I have not yet thought of. Usually, God does a fair amount of slicing and dicing my message into His message.

12.               If my people are spoken to by God, rather than being impressed with some “great sermon,” then I know the real thing has happened.

13.               I assume and expect God will do something through the preached Word. I am alert and attuned to this. Sometimes, even while preaching the message, I don’t know what God will do when the message is done. At other times I have a strong sense of what God wants to do, and I lead my people in this. In no way do I think I’m going to end the message with an “Amen” and then say “We’re out of here.” The preached word is going to bear fruit in people’s lives, immediately. The preacher needs to respond to this, and lead their people. 

Preaching Guidelines

  • Explain needed terms. Find how certain key words were heard by the listeners/readers in first-century Jewish-Greco-Roman culture. Give definitions as needed. But do not use "Webster's Dictionary." The listeners and readers of 2000 years ago were not 21st-century Americans.
  • Give context as needed. Again, the goal in explaining the text is to acquire the eyes and ears of the first-century Middle East/Greco-Roman listeners and readers. Some biblical texts demand more context than others. In this regard know your audience, and determine how much background context they will need.
  • In preaching you are a spokesperson for God; a voice speaking for God. For me this has to do with the importance of preaching. Every time I step up to preach I take this seriously and joyfully. I do not want to misrepresent God. I refuse to take this lightly. For me it doesn't matter whether I'm preaching before 5, 500, or 5,000. Note this: most of the great moves of God in history happened when God moved in one person, or a few. They did not, mostly, happen in mega-situations. So when you preach, I fully expect that God will be saying something through you that will be for some of us, or many of us, or all of us.
  • Prepare spiritually by praying the text. For me this means carrying the verses with me at all times. I pull them out, read them and re-read them. I pray them. What does that mean? Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. So, preaching is a true collaborative event - me and God; God speaking to me and through me.
  • Ask, "God, what do you want to say when I preach?" In preaching there are two central moments: 1) what does the biblical text say? I want to be true to that. 2) What does God want to say through the preached biblical text? That's what I seek God for. God can reveal this to me days, even weeks, before the preaching event. Or, as he often does, he can reveal this to me as I am preaching. But here's a caution: I feel God will mostly do some on-the-spot revealing only when the preacher has prepared and prayed and studied with all they've got. I do not see God saying, "John doesn't prepared at all for these things, so I'll keep on rescuing him so people will think he's a great preacher." I don't think so.
  • The text needs to speak to you. What does God say to you, through the biblical text? If the text doesn't speak to you and influence you in some way it's hard to see how God's going to use you to influence others. When and as God speaks to you through the text, it's quite likely that what God is saying to you is going to also be a very good word for those who listen to your message.
  • Use analogies and personal examples to illustrate - as needed. This will be part of the word becoming flesh in you. The Gospels are essentially narratives. Judeo-Christian culture is a narrative culture. For we Jesus-followers, the Jesus-event is our "controlling life-narrative." "Story" is cool. Your story (what God is doing in and through you) is very cool.
  • What does God want to do after you preach? Here's what doesn't work, at least for me: "That's it, sermon's over, Amen, have a great day." No, God wants to "do" his Word in people. Of course this can and does happen before the preaching and during the preaching, and in various unknown ways in the hearts and minds of people. God's not limited in this regard. But when I am preaching I am listening for the Spirit's direction - how does God want to play this thing out, right now? This can mean, for example, that I invite people to be prayed for. At Redeemer we've seen this work itself out in a lot of different ways.

Some Thoughts on Teaching, Preaching, & Life

Randy Clark at Redeemer
Here are some things I believe are important when it comes to teaching, preaching, and living the Jesus-life.

• Give to others the best of what you have to give. I cannot think of one time I have preached and not given 100% in preparation. I never sing the worship song "Lord, I Give You My Half-Job." I never step up to the plate not as ready as I can be. Give 100% every time you teach or preach. The size or type of listeners means nothing, View every occasion of teaching and preaching as the last opportunity you will have to do this. This does not mean I preach great sermons. But I always give it everything I have. As a pastor I have weeks where I am called to help others more than usual. On those weeks I may not have the time I think I need to prepare. At that point I say to God, "You know I've done the best I can. Now come and make it better than what I have to offer." And, consistently, God does.

Don’t try to be someone else. Don't waste your time comparing your teaching, preaching, and life with anyone else. This is freeing for me because I have tried to teach, preach, and live like others. Now, at age 64, I feel less interested than ever in being like someone else. Mostly I want to be like Christ.
• Focus on pleasing God, not on pleasing people. If you are a people-pleaser you will end up saying nothing, and the nothingness that comes forth from you will displease some people. When we teach and preach God's Word, some will not like it. You will not be universally liked. Therefore be disliked for the right reasons.

Work for God, not people. Work so as to please God and experience God's pleasure, not the pleasure of people. Of course if what you do and say pleases God then real Jesus-followers will be pleased as well. Trust in God to pay you a wage. He is your Master. Desire his "well done." God’s approval is what counts, not the approval or disapproval of other people.

• What people think of you does not matter; what you think of people matters greatly. God loves people who like and dislike you. Ask God to so transform your heart that you love others like Christ does. It is freedom to be unconcerned about what people think of you. Only such a free person can then love other people. When Jesus hung on the cross and said "forgive them," behold the perfectly free person who loves even his enemies, and whose love is not a function of peoples' love for him.

 Be transparent. But remember: transparency has boundaries. Use personal examples and illustrations in teaching and preaching. It's not only OK to tell stories of personal failure it is needed so people can be free of the illusion of clergy-pedestalness.

• Don’t teach or preach your current struggles. People will begin to focus on you rather than what you want to say to them. If you are a sex addict get help. Realize if you confess your sex addiction to your entire congregation you will then become the issue. The time may come when you tell people about this. If so, it will be long after you are healed and set free. Transparency does not mean an open book for all to see everything in your soul.
• Don’t talk about other people without their permission. In a sermon, that is. In preaching never talk about other people’s failures (re. people that you know). In life strive to lift people up, not point out their flaws. If God has shown you the flaw or sin of another person it is only so that you can pray for them.

• Know your audience.

• Remember that you don’t know it all. You don’t have to. But you do have to study, prepare, and pray like crazy.

• Be clear rather than profound. In your clarity God's Spirit can move. In your profundity and obfuscation even the Spirit asks, "Huh?"

What you say needs to be coherent, connected.

• Stay on-topic.

• Make eye contact.

• Want people to understand you. Therefore enunciate, use complete sentences, get free of annoying vocal and bodily mannerisms, don't speak too fast, speak so people can hear you, go watch the movie "The King's Speech."

• Teach and preach what people are to do, not on their failures. Good teaching and preaching builds up, not tears down.

• If you fail morally, people will not listen to what you have to say. This is a sad truth. It's sad because we all fail morally. Trust will have to be regained before you have a  voice again. It can happen. This will take much time.

• Continue to grow deep. What we especially need today are more deep people, not people who know more things. Deep soul-growth will impact your teaching and preaching. Spend much alone-time with God.

• Teach and preach as a servant. Desire not to be on TV. This is not about you being viewed as some "great preacher"; it's about you preaching about a great God who is infinitely greater than your preaching.

• Teach, preach, and live with passion. Note that passion looks different in different cultures. My ancestry is Scandinavian-Finnish. We are not exactly "hopping" people. Mostly, we'd rather bale hay than talk in front of an audience. But God has placed a fire within my hay-baling heart. And you don't have to advertise a fire.

• If you teach, preach, and live so that some people surpass you in excellence, then be very happy.

• When, in your teaching and preaching you are wrong, admit it. I've done it. If you haven't then you are dishonest.

• Never talk down to people.

• You will be criticized. John Calvin, in his Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:18, writes: "For none are more liable to slanders and calumnies than godly teachers. Not only does it arise from the difficulty of their office, that sometimes they either sink under it, or stagger, or halt, or blunder, in consequence of which wicked men seize many occasions for finding fault with them; but there is this additional vexation, that, although they perform their duty correctly, so as not to commit any error whatever, they never escape a thousand censures. And this is the craftiness of Satan, to draw away the hearts of men from ministers, that instruction may gradually fall into contempt."

 Listen to your critics. Even if some of them are not loving.

• Remember: The foundation of all God-filled teaching and preaching is love. In your teaching and preaching be loving. It is, after all, possible and necessary to speak the truth in love.

PREACHING – the DEEPER ISSUES and a few smaller matters


1.   Spend much time alone with God.
a.   Real authority comes from a person who knows Christ.
2.   The goal is formation into Christlikeness, not becoming a great preacher.
3.   Let go of the need to be liked.
a.   The basic question in not “How am doing?”
b.   It's not my well-being or sense of value that is on the line.
c. This is not about you being "relevant" or cool.
4.   Keep on being changed yourself.
a.   Remember: you can’t change other people.
b.   Never preach towards a specific person or persons. Preach the text. Let God instruct or convict people.
5.   Forgive others for what they have done to you.
a.   If you are a hurting person you could hurt others in your preaching.
6.   Confess to others and asked for forgiveness, as needed.
7.   Be led by the Holy Spirit.
8.   Prepare all your life for the next sermon.
a.   You don’t just turn on preaching like flipping a switch.
b.   A sermon will be the overflow of who you have become and are as a person.
9.   Be mastered by the biblical text.
a.   Authentic, authoritative preaching is not about mastering certain techniques; it is about being mastered by certain convictions.
10.     Find your own voice.
a.   Stop trying to be someone else and let God use you.
11.     Preach with authority.
a.   Speak assertively.
b.   Articulate your words clearly.
c.   Project your voice.
d.   If people can’t hear or understand you it’s a waste of time.

12.     Preach like it’s the last message you’ll ever give.

Open the Present

Flowers in Rockford, Illinois
 "Now is the time I must learn to stop taking satisfaction in what I have done, or being depressed because the night will come and my work will come to an end. Now is the time to give what I have to others and not reflect on it. I wish I had learned the knack of it, of giving without question or care. I have not, but perhaps I still have time to try."
- Thomas Merton, October 2, 1962, A Year with Thomas Merton

I think it was Annie Dillard, in her book The Writing Life, who wrote something like this: don't save your best writing, your best stories, your best illustrations, for later. Spend them now. I view preaching this way. This coming Sunday morning I will pour out all God has given me as today I pour myself into the biblical text and prayer. This is not about comparing yourself with others, or being worse or better than others. Comparison stalls the now-activity of God.

Spend the best that you have now on what God has called you to do. Don't save your best for some great occasion or great moment in the unknown future. If you don't give your best for Christ now, in the present moment, that future great moment will never come. 

God has given you spiritual gifts. Unwrap them today, and behold as the Spirit builds up the Church. You have much to give. Give all you can today for the glory of God. God has given you much. You are not some spiritual pauper. Use what God has given you now for his Kingdom and glory.

Husbands, spend time with your wives today. 

Friends, befriend one another today. 

Church, move now. 

Come, now is the time to worship. 

It's not time for another meeting to discuss "movement."  Today is the day of action, rescue, and salvation. 

Thank God for the past. Learn from the past. Don't wait for the future. The only moment you have is the present.

Present your life to God. 

Be present to God. 

Open the present.

Bloom today.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Foot Washing at Redeemer - 5/22/16

Foot washing at Redeemer - 5/22/16 - Photo by Karen Reaume

Authentic Community Saves Lives

Covall Russell

The Real Church provides authentic community. (One of the best books on community development in the church is Ruth Haley Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community.) Christ-centered community is one of the church's great distinctives. Therefore, nurture it. There will never not be a need for this.

Covall Russell was a ninety-two-year-old inmate in the Butte County, California, jail. Russell petitioned the judge to let him stay in jail after the end of his prison term. He had outlived his family and friends. Finally, this elderly bachelor had found a safe and caring community, in prison. Russell, in spite of his appeal, was released. He was interviewed. The "distraught Russell said his remaining options were to... violate his parole so he could return to jail, or maybe even take his own life." Shortly after this interview, Covall Russell jumped off a forty-foot bridge into the icy waters of the Feather River. (Adapted from Jean Lipman-Blumen, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, 79)

Humans were not made to live as isolates. Isolates "suffer the pangs of anomie and disconnection. They experience social death. They watch life from the sidelines." (Ib.) Unconnected to real community, they are the marginal people. (Remember "Brooks" in "The Shawshank Redemption?") 

For individuals to grow we need adequate social, spiritual, and economic support. Lack of these things cause us to be more anxious than ever. We float adrift, without meaning or direction. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a coherent context. A human life that has meaning, that is experienced as meaningful, has found a place in a community of love.

Happily, Covall Russell had found a safe and caring community. Sadly, it was within constraining prison walls. Tragically, his radically individuated existence outside those walls drove him to a place of personal meaninglessness. Psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm wrote: "each step in the direction of growing individuation threaten[s] people with new insecurities." (In Ib.) Loving community provides a secure foundation in life. Russell had his pulled from beneath him.

Authentic Jesus-communities provide koinonia. This biblical word comes from koine, which means "common." What we have in common, in Jesus-community, is Jesus. Where two or more get together, he is there with us. It's life-giving and life-saving. 

Growing Spiritually Even While We Sleep

Gliding Forward Even While We Sleep

Tree on fire in my backyard

I am reading (for the third time) Brother Lawrence's classic The Practice of the Presence of God. Books like this, like the reading of Scripture, take my heart to deep places of fitness and belonging. They bring my heart to its true home.

There are many gems in Brother Lawrence. All of them center on dwelling, 24/7, in God's empowering presence. The constant dwelling in Christ was Brother Lawrence's goal. For him this was like learning a new language. One either continues to practice it and grow in it, or neglect it and regress. He writes: "We must continuously walk in God's Spirit, since in the spirit-life not to advance is to fall back." (31)

The "24/7" part, for him, meant just that, and includes night time when we are sleeping. "Those who have the wind of the Holy Spirit in their souls glide ahead even while they sleep." (31) 

I agree. Consider the "branch - Vine" metaphor Jesus uses in John 15. The connected branch grows 24/7. It does not disconnect from the Vine for eight hours of sleep. Christ-dwelling is our status even while we sleep. Sometimes God gives us dreams, right? Surely he is still with us when we are not awake.

Awareness of Christ's presence is nice but not necessary. In sleep we unaware of it, but we are not unaffected. Spirit-morphing continues. Fruit-bearing happens.