Friday, July 21, 2017

The Desire to Change Other People Is Toxic

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Lightning, over my house

Years ago God told me, "John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can't even change your own self?" I have come to the freeing conclusion that: I cannot change other people. Only God can. So I can let go of trying to do that.

One result of this insight is that, in our marriage, Linda and I rarely, if ever, "advise" one another. We do it if requested. This is because unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism. For example, if I saw you today and said, "Did you know that Macy's has some really nice shirts on sale?", you would think, "John doesn't like my shirt!"

If I want your advice I'll ask for it.

I do ask people for advice on a variety of things. If the advice is about something personal, I ask people who know me, love me, are themselves vulnerable and open, and trustworthy. If Linda gives me unsolicited advice (like, "Your pant zipper is down") it always comes out of care for me.

The desire to see people change into Chrsitlikeness is beautiful. The desire to change other people is toxic. I like how Thomas Merton puts it. He writes:

"Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men. A serious obstacle to recollection is the mania for directing those you have not been asked to reform... Renounce this futile concern with other men's affairs! Pay as little attention as you can to the faults of other people and none at all to their natural defects and eccentricities." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 255)

If God shows you another person's fault, it's so you can pray for them.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Existentialism and Free Will

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Our back yard, by the river
I recently talked with a friend about free will. I choose to believe we have free will. 

He mentioned his liking of existentialism. 

I said, "Existentialists are big on free will."

How so?

To begin - the classic definition of existentialism is: existence precedes essence.

That is an anti-Platonic, anti-metaphysical statement. Plato believed persons had a pre-existing essence. Socrates, through a metaphysical Q&A, functioned as an epistemological midwife, assisting the rest of us in remembering who we already are.

For the existentialist (like Sartre, like Camus), we are left to choose our own identity. In this we are "radically free." Existentialism is a philosophy of radical epistemic and ethical freedom, in the face of an unknown future. This, also, is Nietzsche's freedom to choose an uber-morality.

Hence, free will (radical freedom, with no preexisting ontological constraints) as a core assumption of existentialism.

How to Pray for Other People's Change

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Dan, Linda, and Josh

I cannot change people. But I can pray that people would change. 

I can pray, e.g., that an abusive spouse would change. I can pray that God would break them in the right place, thereby giving them an invitation to change. But only God can change them.

It is a major step forward in the spiritual life to realize that God is the agent of change, not me. 


This helps me focus on the changes I need. 

When God changes me, he can use me to influence people. The spiritual transformation that happens in my heart is not just for me.

I have seen people change. Their transformations have influenced me for the good. 


Influence is more powerful than control. Control captures people from the neck up. (Thank you J.H.) Influence captures their heart.

Trying to control, or guilt-manipulate others, de-influences and distances them. More and more I see that I can let that go. 

At this point I am free to change. The transformation of my heart is in inverse proportion to my controlling demands that others change.

Sometimes God allows me to see how some other person, X, desperately needs to change. God gives me eyes to see this, so I can pray for them, not judge or critique them (which any fool can do). 


Here is a way to pray for X and their need to change.



  • First, pray for more self-transformation into greater Christlikeness. Pray "God, change my heart!" 
  • Second, trust that God can use what is happening in you to influence X. Pray for God to guide you in ways to relate to X (what to do, what to say).
  • Third, since all change requires brokenness, pray for X to be broken in the right place.
  • Finally, pray for a fresh baptism of love that transcends irritation with people, such as X, and such as you.

In the Absence of God's Presence, Church Becomes a Circus

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Anderson Gardens, Rockford, Illinois



The first class I taught on prayer was in the M.Div. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. That was 1977. Today, after forty years of teaching prayer and spiritual formation to four thousand pastors and Christian leaders, my discovery is that 80-90% of them do not have a significant prayer life. They, like most, say "I don't have time to pray."

If a pastor or Christian leader is from a non-Western, Third World context, the odds are they do have a significant prayer life. The general rule is this: the more stuff a person has, the less they pray; the less stuff a person has, the more they pray. There are exceptions, but not many. As Jesus said, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the absence of a deep life of prayer-connectedness to God, what does Christian ministry look like? Henri Nouwen writes:


"Most Christian leaders are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization: getting people together in congregations, schools, and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the Spirit within. I am afraid that in a few decades the Church will be accused of having failed at its most basic task: to offer people creative ways to communicate with the divine source of human life." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 207-210)

The #1 thing a pastor-shepherd must do is plant themselves by the living waters and green pastures of God's earth-shattering presence, and then lead their people there.

Teach them, as Jesus instructed, to abide in Him. (John 14-16)

Then their lives will bear much fruit.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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


Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
My two books are:


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Sept. 2017)


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

Too Dumb to Understand What God Is Making Out of Me


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In Detroit

7:30 AM. I'm awake. I begin the day by reading from Psalms and Proverbs.

Then, I read the daily entry from A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations From His Journals

I read these comforting words:

"There is only one way to peace: be reconciled that of yourself you are what you are, and it might not be especially magnificent, what you are! God has His own plan for making something else of you, and it is a plan which you are mostly too dumb to understand."

Good morning.

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



My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, is available in paperback and as a Kindle book here

I have written a simple Study Guide to Praying. This guide is not published as a book, but is available free as a Word file. It is designed for both individual and group use. 

If you would like a copy of the Study Guide please send me an email - johnpiippo@msn.com. 


My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church will be out this fall.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"Sin"

Chicago

Whatever happened to "sin?" 

I am told some churches rarely, if ever, talk about sin, because people will be turned off by it.

Other churches do talk about sin. I do. Of course. The entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation will turn into one big smiley emoji if we eliminate sin from the story. The story will be lost in its entirety if sin is eliminated. Because then, there's no need for a Messiah, a Savior.
If you use the word “sin” in public some people will look at you like you are some kind of medieval religious crazy person. Like: "Justin Bieber sinned a few days ago." Say that and you'll get accused of being "judgmental."

I find all this stupid, and troubling.

“Sin” is just a word. Which REFERS to something real

  •  “Sin” is a word that refers to behaviors and actions that create alienation and isolation.
  • “Sin” is a word that refers to choices and non-choices that cause emotions of anger and vengeance and sadness and bitterness and bring tears and loss and grief and cries for justice and so on and on and on…
  • If sin wasn’t about something very real and very dangerous and very alienating, half the movies that are made would not be made, and many of this world's tweets would be meaningless.
  • “Sin” is a big-time reality word. There are not a lot of things more real than the reality of “sin."
  • The English word “sin” is just an ancient word that refers to a reality that is still with us. And within us, if anyone should care to self-examine.
  • Everyone does it. Everyone has it. If you don't have it, then you can start throwing stones at the rest of us.
  • "Sin" is one biblical concept that is easily empirically verifiable.
Sin is only meaningful if it has a reference point. The reality of sin evokes the question, "in reference to what?"

"Sin" falls short of something. Sin doesn't measure up. If there's no reference point, then moral outrage is absurd and "sin" doesn't exist.

Moral outrage is everywhere. Moral outrage is currently (but who cares) politically correct. Moral outrage makes no sense if sin (wrongdoing; evil; heinous acts; etc.) does not exist.

Everyone - me and you and you-know-who - has screwed up and landed short of the Reference Point. (On atheism, there is no Reference Point. Philosopher James Spiegel states how difficult it is for the noetic framework of atheism to discuss evil. "The very notion of “evil” presupposes a standard for goodness which atheism cannot provide. Any notion of evil or, for that matter, how things ought to be, whether morally or in terms of natural events, must rely on some standard or ideal that transcends the physical world. Only some form of supernaturalism, such as theism, can supply this. So to the extent that atheists acknowledge the reality of evil, they depart from their own commitment to naturalism." (The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Lerds to Unbelief)

We need to talk more about this, not less.

There always has been, and still is, a huge SIN PROBLEM in the world.

Churches should lead the way in the discussion.

And, BTW, "sin" and "death" were the enemies Jesus came to defeat. How foolish for churches not to let seekers in on this open secret.  

Every Text Is a Cautionary Tale

Goldfinch approaching one of my backyard feeders

Every biblical text is a cautionary tale.

Every statement is a cautionary tale.

Which means: WARNING! EVERY TEXT CAN BE MISINTERPRETED!

Any text can be cherry-picked and politicized.

In a recent discussion on my views of healing and the Atonement, a responder was concerned that my perspective could slip into a prosperity gospel position. I assured them that I am not into the heretical prosperity gospel.

I am, however, interested in correctly interpreting Scripture, and even language, for that matter.

We must first ask, what is the text saying? We have to be able, as best we can, to get the text right, and not impose, e.g., a Western worldview on the text.

Once we believe we get the text right - e.g., in my case, comprehensive healing is in the Atonement (1 Peter 2:24) - then we simply present it. We present the correctly (we hope) interpreted text without worry that our presentation could be misinterpreted. Because - of course our presentation could be misinterpreted! It is a guarantee that it will be misinterpreted.

This human reality cannot prevent us from putting forth our understanding. If we operated out of fear that our position could be misinterpreted, then we would present nothing.

Every text is a cautionary tale.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Forgiving Others - Three Stages

Chicago

What is forgiveness? Lewis Smedes, in his paradigm-changing book Forgive and Forget, stages the process of forgiveness this way.

1) You surrender the right to get even with the person who wronged you.

You will no longer engage in ways of making them pay for how they wounded you.

You give whatever justice should be exacted over to God.

You let it go.

2) You reinterpret the person who wronged you in a larger format.

You begin to see the person as God sees them (much like the forgiveness seen in "The Shack," where Mack sees people as God sees them).

This help us avoid creating a "caricature" of the person who wounded us. "In the act of forgiving, we get a new picture of a needy, weak, complicated, fallible human being like ourselves.

We begin to see that we are "that kind of people" too, not in the details, but in the heart.

As you begin to view the person who hurt you this way, forgiveness is taking root in you.

Forgiveness will be securely planted in you when you experience stage three, as a matter of your heart.

3) You develop a gradual desire for the welfare of the person who wounded you.

At this stage you are like Jesus, who loved us even as we were his enemies and wounded him on the cross.

***

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Sept. 2017)