Friday, July 20, 2018

Leaving Show Business in Search of Political Depth

Maumee Bay State Park (Ohio)

Linda and I were having breakfast, watching "The Megan Kelly Show." Her guests were the co-hosts of "American Ninja Warrior." We have watched it, and admire the athletes who compete on these outrageous obstacles. The co-hosts are OK, too, except that the one guy's primal voice sometimes irritates me. (I am, perhaps, envious?)

On the Kelly show the three began discussing American politics. This, I quickly reasoned, is a waste of my time. The man with the primal voice was expressing his political opinions. Why was he allowed to do this, since, as a TV personality, he possesses no special political acumen? I might as well be listening to a clanging, albeit ninja-like,  cymbal.

I have moments of despair when it comes to American politics, and the cult of personalities who are famous, not for their special wisdom and insight, but simply for being famous. Welcome to the Age of Show Business. (See Neil Postman's works here.) Welcome to Panem.

Looking for some lifelines, I googled "best books on American politics." I found an article in The Atlantic: "A Reading Guide for Those in Despair About American Politics." That's me!

I was encouraged to see that one of the contributors was Princeton's Robert George. When George writes, I read it. He is a brilliant legal scholar, and a follower of Jesus. George recommends Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, by Ryan T. Anderson. I've read it. Everyone should read it.

George also recommends Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith, by jurisprudential scholar and philosopher Francis Beckwith. I've already read Beckwith's brilliant Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice. Everyone should read this! But I had not read Beckwith's Taking Rites Seriously.

I ordered it for my Kindle, and showered in it over the past two days. I told Linda, "This book is incredible!" 

George comments,

"This book demolishes what is left of the formerly ascendant idea that sound political theory and constitutional interpretation require a relegation of religion to the private sphere and its banishment from the public square in which issues of politics and policy are debated by citizens of a pluralistic democracy.”

Yes it does.

Experience God, Rather Than Just Talk About God

Grand Haven State Park

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church I make the claim that the point of the Bible is to usher us into a corporate and personal relationship with God that we know by experience, not theory. Doctrine is important, but when we claim that people need the Lord, we mean transcendently, in experience.

Sometimes I experience God mediately; viz., through creation, other persons, in reading a book, listening to music, and so on. I also experience God in an unmediated way. Here Ruth Haley Barton helps us. She writes:

"The longing for solitude is the longing for God. It is the longing to experience union with God unmediated by the ways we typically try to relate to God. By “unmediated” I mean a direct experience of God with nothing in between: an encounter with God that is not mediated by words, by theological constructs, by religious activity, by my own or other’s manipulations of my relationship with God. It is the practice that spiritual seekers down through the ages have used to experience intimacy with God rather than just talking about it." (Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, p. 32)

When, in the Church, there is too much talk, there is not enough power. In the absence of power religious people talk. This is to miss the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, the kingdom is not a matter of talk, but of power. Not talking about power, but demonstrations of power, felt and known by experience.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How to Defend Your Faith with Gentleness and Respect

At the root of America's cultural crisis is confusion and rejection of authority. (For just one of countless examples, see here.)

God's calling on my life includes equipping the followers of Jesus to give reasons for our hope and belief in God, in Jesus, in the authority of Scripture, in all we believe. 

On July 26 at Redeemer I will share how I have learned to do this, with (hopefully!) gentleness and respect. 

6:30 - 8

Childcare provided.

But give reverent honor in your hearts to the Anointed One 
and treat him as the holy Master of your lives
And if anyone asks about the hope living within you, 
always be ready to explain your faith.
1 Peter 3:15
(Passion Translation)


Eight Reasons to Believe God Exists

Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio

A long, long time ago Bill Craig (aka William Lane Craig) was one of my campus pastors at Northern Illinois University, where I did my undergraduate degree in philosophy. I was honored to sing in Bill and Jan's wedding. 

In this essay in Philosophy Today Bill gives eight reasons to believe God exists ("Does God Exist?"). Read the essay for the reasoning. 

They are:

  1. God is the best explanation why anything at all exists.
  2. God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.
  3. God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.
  4. God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
  5. God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness.
  6. God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.
  8. God can be personally known and experienced.

(If #7 confuses you, it's the modal version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence.)

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I am currently writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Prostitute Who Loved Much

Dragonfly, clinging to the white aluminum siding of our house 

Long ago, in another place, I knew a woman who did not love. She was judgmental towards people, including me. She acted above us. She had the gifts of criticism, finger-pointing, correcting others. I never heard her admit she was wrong about anything. As for the rest of us lowerlings, we were very, very wrong.

One time I asked her, "We are followers of Jesus. Jesus told us to love one another. Can't we just love one another?"

I see her sitting before me, non-responsive. She loved little, seemingly not at all. I wondered, had she not experienced her own massive need for the forgiving, merciful, gracious love of Jesus?

Longer ago, on the far side of earth, a prostitute was standing behind Jesus. She was weeping. She lowered herself to her knees, and began wetting Jesus' feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them. 


Because, she thought, Jesus might be able to forgive her sins, which were many. 

Those who come to grips with their own inherent sinfulness  have compassion towards people. They love people, a lot. 

Jesus explains this reality to his disciples. He says, 

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
— as her great love has shown. 
But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 
Then Jesus said to her, 
“Your sins are forgiven.” 

Luke 7:47-48

I often think of how much I have been forgiven of, especially when I take communion. Most of what I have been forgiven of is deeper than my awareness. Christ has forgiven me of more than I could ever know.

Jesus is saying, the more awareness of God's mercy and grace that has been given me, the less I will despise, and the more I will love; the less I will judge, and the more I will relate to.

The woman who did not love lived in oblivion to her own failure. The prostitute who grieved over her failure became the woman who loved much.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I am currently writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Remain in Christ (Rather than Occasionally Visiting Him)

Green Lake Christian Conference Center (Wisconsin)

A main thing we teach people at Redeemer to do is abide in Christ. For followers of Jesus this is the first thing we must learn, and live. 

To "abide," or “remain” in Christ means “to take up permanent residence” (Greek meno). This is a slow cooker, not a microwave; a lifestyle, rather than a trend; a relationship, rather than a rule.

It's being a branch, connected to a Vine who is Christ. It's a day after day after day thing, rather than occasional visits.

Greg Boyd writes:

“Branches don’t visit a vine once in a while on special occasions. Rather, branches are permanently attached to their source of life. So too, followers of Jesus are to take up permanent residence in Christ, remaining attached to him at all times as their source of their Life.” (Boyd, Present Perfect, 34)

Church-Involved Parents Influence Their Children

The 700' Cuyahoga, pulling into Holland, Michigan

If you are a Christian parent but don't have time to gather with other Jesus-followers (which means: "church"), you should not expect your children to be Jesus-followers since you're not one yourself. Your children will grow up to be like non-attenders or sporadic attenders like you. 

"Non-churchgoing follower of Jesus" is a self-contradiction. This is because Jesus came to establish "church" and work through this community of his followers. The person who says, "I'm a follower of Jesus but don't go to church" is misguided. Every real Jesus-follower is the church. "Church," therefore, is not something you either go to or not.

If you are a Christian parent and follow Jesus (which means you know you are "church" and gather with Jesus' church),  then the odds are your children will do the same. This is the conclusion of Notre Dame University's Christian Smith. "Parents are the #1 influence helping teens remain religiously active as adults.

Smith writes: 

"The holy grail for helping youth remain religiously active as young adults has been at home all along: Parents.
Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s, according to new findings from a landmark study of youth and religion.
Just 1 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.
In contrast, 82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults, according to data from the latest wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion.

The connection is “nearly deterministic,” said University of Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith, lead researcher for the study.

Other factors such as youth ministry or clergy or service projects or religious schools pale in comparison.
“No other conceivable causal influence … comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth,” Smith said in a recent talk sharing the findings at Yale Divinity School. “Parents just dominate.”"

Smith adds: "One of the strongest factors associated with older teens keeping their faith as young adults was having parents who talked about religion and spirituality at home."

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Real Church is Revolutionary, not Attractional

Image may contain: sky, cloud, twilight, tree, outdoor and nature
Sunset in Monroe County, 7/14/18
This morning at Redeemer our friends Jeff and Annie Dieselberg from Bangkok, Thailand, are with us. (Click here to see what they do.) This Sunday morning, and next Sunday morning as well. What a blessing for us! Especially since our focus since January has been on being a missional people. 

We are interested in developing a Missional People, a people that moves out, rather than investing in being attractional.

Followers of Jesus have joined The Revolution. If church doesn't feel and look like a revolutionary movement to you, something is not right. It could be something in you that has lost its way.

When I became a follower of Jesus, the year was 1970. One of my campus ministry leaders handed me a book to read. It was by someone named Bill Bright. The title was Revolution Now


Now, not later?


We've been privileged to have Greg Boyd speak at Redeemer twice. Once, Greg was with us for an entire weekend. Greg talks a lot about the Real Jesus as a Revolutionary, and his followers as revolting against the kingdom-of-darkness-world-systems. A few years ago I was reading Tomas Sedlacek's Economics of Good and Evil. I emailed Greg the link to this book. I thought he would enjoy reading it. 

He responded with a book recommendation for me. Greg told me that, next to the Bible, there is a book that has had great influence on him. It is Christian Anarchism, by Alexandre Christoyannopolis. I purchased it, opened to chapter one, and began reading "The Sermon on the Mount: A Manifesto for Christian Anarchism."

The sermon on the mount?


Christian anarchism is the belief that there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable—the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus.  (You DO know why Jesus was crucified, right? NOT for being just another nice guy who served coffee after he preached.)

That DOES sound like the sermon on the Mount. So I re-read, as if for the first time, Matthew chapters 5-7. Don't you know, Jesus is talking about a revolution?

I, as one of his followers, am a revolutionary. I am on a mission, empowered (anointed) by the Spirit of the Sovereign God. I am engaged in, as the gentle, bearded Eugene Peterson writes, a Subversive Spirituality

Peterson writes: 

"Most of us [pastors] are known by name only to our congregations and, except for ceremonial appearances at weddings, funerals, and bullroasts, are not in the public eye. 

In general, people treat us with respect, but we are not considered important in any social, cultural, or economic way. In parody we are usually treated as harmless innocents, in satire as shiftless parasites.

This is not what most of us had in mind when we signed on. We had not counted on anything either so benign or so marginal. The images forming our pastoral expectations had a good deal more fierceness to them: Moses' bearding the Pharaoh; Jeremiah with fire in his mouth; Peter swashbucklingly reckless as the lead apostle; Paul's careering through prison and ecstasy, shipwreck and kerygma. The kingdom of God in which we had apprenticed ourselves was presented to us as revolutionary, a dangerously unwelcome intruder in the Old Boy Club of thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers." (Peterson, "The Subversive Pastor")



The Bible seems to think we are in a war.

The Bible. Still on lists of the most feared, most banned books ever written. Why? Because it is a subversive document. Eric Metaxas writes

"In the meantime — unless you’re scared — you might put the Bible on your personal reading list. Find out why it scares the pantaloons off tyrants and dictators but has inspired others to change the world. It’s truly fascinating. If you’re not a dictator or tyrant, you’ve really got nothing to fear. But if you are, go ahead and be afraid. Be very, very afraid."

The Church.

The Real Church.

Revolutionary. Threatening. Anarchic. Feared. A Movement. Scary. Supplanting, Usurping, Overthrowing. Kingdom toppling. Subversive. Warring. 

My two subversive books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God