Thursday, April 30, 2015

Praying to a Non-physical God (PrayerLife)

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Physicalism is the belief that all facts are physical facts. Most intellectual atheists are physicalists. 

Physicalism has its problems. It is unable to account for consciousness and free will. On physicalism, free will does not exist, which I find absurd. (See, e.g., J.P. Moreland's critique of physicalism here, and here.) 

Not all atheists are physicalists. See, for example, NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Nagel's point regarding consciousness is that a physicalist (materialist) view of the natural world does not only not account for consciousness, but positively excludes consciousness. Nagel sums his book up by saying that the physical sciences, as wonderful as they are, cannot - even in principle - "provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything."

I believe (and reason) that non-physical realities (like consciousness and free will) exist. Among them include God. God is an immaterial, therefore non-physical, Being. This has implications, and affects how I pray.

I am made in God's image. There are things about me that are God-like. John Calvin, at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, wrote:

"No man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts 
towards the God in whom he lives and moves; 
because it is perfectly obvious, 
that the endowments which we possess 
cannot possibly be from ourselves."

(Quoted in J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, 4)

I have a soul, a mind, consciousness, and free will. I am not a purely physical thing. In this sense I am like God. This is the point of contact between me and God. Just as God transcends physical reality, so do I. When I pray, I do so as an image-bearer. This is where I stand in relation to God. Moreland writes: "An entity can stand in certain relations and not others depending on the sort of thing it is." (Ib.)

I, and you, and all human beings, are a certain sort of thing that is inherently non-physical. "I" cannot be reduced to mere matter. When I pray, my non-physical spirit interacts with Non-physical God. God is not limited by physical constraints, therefore neither am I (think of Paul, praying while in prison chains). 

God is present to me now as I pray. 

See also:

Praying to an Everlasting God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self-Forgiveness Often Includes Making Amends with Others

Spring flowers in Rockford, Illinois
Are you having a hard time forgiving yourself for things you have done to others, to your own self, and to God? If so, the book to read on this is Everett Worthington's Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past

Worthington emphasizes the connection between self-forgiveness and seeking the forgiveness of others we have wronged. He cites studies that show "that people could forgive themselves more quickly and thoroughly if they felt forgiven both by God and by the person they wronged." (85) This is because when we hurt another person we damage our own character. In wounding others we also wound ourselves. When we choose to restore relationship with the one we have harmed this "restorative moral action will narrow our own injustice gap and help restore our sense of self as a moral person." (Ib.)

How can we narrow the injustice gap our actions have created? For one thing, "to regain trust from someone you harmed, you need to show the person that you are taking full responsibility." (86) If I hurt you then I am responsible, with your permission, to acknowledge your woundedness and the healing process. For example, the adulterous wife or husband must talk about their evil tryst, intentionally and proactively, so that their spouse does not have to keep asking all the many questions that are now in their mind. Worthington writes: "add substance to your commitment to take responsibility by acting to narrow the injustice gap." (Ib.) 

Persona in Absentia (PrayerLife)


As much as I desire to meet alone with God and pray, God desires to meet with me like a loving parent longs to connect with their children. Henri Nouwen writes: 

"God wants us more than we want God."
- Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 30

Who wants to be heard the most - us or God? The answer is: God.

Who grieves more over our lack of praying - us or God? Answer: God.

Nouwen quotes Anthony Bloom:

"We complain that God does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three-and-a-half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy, I am sorry.’ Or when we do not answer at all because we do not hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our mind, of our conscience. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.” (In Ib.)

Whenever there is an "in absentia" situation, it is us, and not God. God is never absent.

I am going to take time today and go to a quiet place, just me and God. We will meet together. God's gladness will far surpass mine. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emphasize Things Deserving of Attention

Yellow Springs, Ohio
Finally, brothers and sisters, 
whatever is true, 
whatever is noble, 
whatever is right, 
whatever is pure, 
whatever is lovely, 
whatever is admirable
—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy
—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

A good teacher will instruct their students on what they need to understand so as to improve. As a guitar teacher I taught students how to play better. Too much emphasis on what can go wrong can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Henri Nouwen writes:

"What is finally important is not that we overcome death but that we celebrate life. I have found that total concentration on fighting the forces of destruction is dangerous and can be very damaging." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace, 40)

This is not the old "power of positive thinking" thing, or some shallow "Eckhart Tolle" (not his real name) myth. It is, however, to acknowledge that what we think about matters to our spiritual well-being. Make your focus on what is right, not on what is wrong. Acknowledge wrong, but major on right. 

Nouwen continues:

"When I allow my mind and heart to experience what a nuclear holocaust can do to our planet, it often seems that a deep darkness starts to surround me and pull me into a pit of depression and despair. When I try to confront the powers of death that already have a hold on me, I often feel so powerless that I lose contact with the very source of my own life. How easy it is to become a victim of the very forces I am fighting against! When all my attention goes to protesting death, death itself may end up receiving ore attention than it deserves. Thus my struggle against the dark forces of death becomes the arena of my own seduction." (Ib.)

Instead of paying attention to the prince of darkness, focus on the Lord of light.

See beauty, not ashes.

Emphasize excellence, not failure.

Rejoice in truth, not falsehood.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Redeemer Coming Events


Morning worship service - I'll preach out of Revelation 2:12-17  - on loyalty to Jesus in the midst of persecution, on "no compromising," on the "hidden manna" and the meaning of the "white stone."

Relationships class - 6 PM - "What to Do When Friends Fail."


Morning worship service - I'll preach out of Rev. 2:18-28 (the "Jezebel spirit"); + we'll celebrate the Lord's Table.

After the service we'll:

1. Break ground for our new building extension. Bring spades or shovels and we'll do this together, simultaneously. Kids too!
2. Have our spring church picnic, followed by
3. Our Annual Softball Game.

Spiritual Formation Is Not About Strengthening Will Power

Bolles Harbor, Monroe

Dallas Willard writes:

"It is not the growth of “will power” we are looking for in spiritual formation, but transformation of all dimensions of the self under the direction of God, through a will surrendered to Him and applied appropriately to bring about personal change." (Dallas Willard, Getting Love Right, Kindle Locations 222-226)

We are not to work harder or try harder to self-transform into Christlikeness. To think that trying harder will achieve, e.g., the kind of love Jesus had is to devalue Christ and diminish expectations. "Will power" (Richard Foster calls it "will worship") won't work.

But as we surrender to Him He transforms us. He produces spiritual "fruit" in us, which are qualities of His own being. As we abide in Christ He gives us precisely what we cannot achieve in our own strength; viz., the ongoing meta-morphing of our heart into a heart like His.

(Click on the link and get Willard's beautiful little book for $1.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Prayer as Allowing God Access To the Deep Self (PrayerLife)

Linda and I in Brasilia, Brazil
I read Henri Nouwen because he was connected to God. He prayed, actually. Nouwen is a very good theoretician, but theory without experience means nothing. Nouwen didn't theorize about prayer, he actually prayed. 

This is good because experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Nouwen is the kind of person I need to hear from; viz., someone who does original research in the life of prayer. Someone who knows God, allows God access to the depths of their being, and can guide me to that beautiful place.

Out of his deep prayer life Nouwen theorizes. First pray; second theorize about the prayer life. Nouwen reflects biblically, theologically, and psychologically on his experience with God, especially in times of praying. Because he actually prays his theories on praying are worth listening to.

Nouwen saw prayer as a whole-being experience. He writes:

 "Prayer is the bridge between my unconscious and conscious life. Prayer connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passions, my brain with my belly. Prayer is the way to let the life-giving Spirit of God penetrate all the corners of my being. Prayer is the divine instrument of my wholeness, unity, and inner peace." 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let Your Words Come Out of Your Silence

Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
Proverbs 10:19

Ralph Cramden of "The Honeymooners" had an unfiltered mouth. He could not keep the irritation in his mind from cascading like a waterfall out of his troubled self. He would open wide and say words he would often later regret. Afterwards Ralph would open his mouth again and confess "Me and my biiiiiig mouth!"

I've done the same, hopefully not as much as Ralph. One time I opened my mouth in a sermon and said a sentence that I wish I could take back. The next Sunday morning I asked my church family to forgive me for that. I've also done this with people I love, and confessed it with sadness.

After quoting Proverbs 10:19 Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"This is a truth that could drive leaders to despair, given the incessant flow of words from our mouths, pens and computers. Those of us who deal in words are at great risk of misusing words and even sinning with our words due to the sheer volume of them. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can literally feel—deep in my bones—that if I do not shut my mouth for a while I will get myself in trouble, because my words will be completely disconnected from the reality of God in my life." (Barton, Ruth Haley. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 124)

In silence before God I shut my mouth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that "right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech." (Quoted in Ib.) "Silence," writes Barton, "is the only cure for this desperate situation."

In my silent times before God he heals my troubled soul. He takes the edge off me. He calms the turbulent waters. He strips away dis-ease and restores my sanity. He grows self-control in me and empowers me to shut my mouth. The psalmist writes:

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds,
and be silent.
Psalm 4:4
When it comes to fixing people there is a time to be quiet and put your trust in the Lord. (Ps. 4:5)

"There are times when the most heroic thing a leader can do is to remain in that private place with God for as long as it takes to keep from sinning. In silence we consciously trust ourselves to God rather than following our human impulses to fix, control or put people in their place." (Ib., p. 125)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Liberal Morality Is Not Rooted in Atheism or Science, but in Jewish and Christian Theism

One of my favorite atheists is John Gray. His book The Silence of Animals was one I recommended to others. He is an excellent writer, and has got a lot of things right. One thing he consistently gets right is the logic of atheism; viz., the ramifications assuming there is no God. He is brilliantly critical of other atheists, especially missionary atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. And, he is funny. If you claim to be an atheist (which, in my experience, does not entail you actually are an atheist), you should read something like Gray's recent essay "What Scares the New Atheists." 

Gray knows what Nietzsche knew but the likes of Harris, for some reason, cannot fathom; viz., that you can't derive "ought" from "is." Gray writes:

"It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements. When they assert that science can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way. There is no more reason to think science can determine human values today than there was at the time of Haeckel or Huxley. None of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science. How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism."

And just who might that atheist thinker be? It's none other than Nietzsche, who understood atheism while remaining largely misunderstood even today. Gray writes: "The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality." Nietzsche, Gray, and the likes of Georges Bataille understood that "when monotheism has been left behind morality can’t go on as before. Among other things, the universal claims of liberal morality become highly questionable." 

This is because (now pay attention to this) "Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values." 

Can a liberal morality be embraced without God? Not at all. "The trouble is that it’s hard to make any sense of the idea of a universal morality without invoking an understanding of what it is to be human that has been borrowed from theism. The belief that the human species is a moral agent struggling to realise its inherent possibilities – the narrative of redemption that sustains secular humanists everywhere – is a hollowed-out version of a theistic myth. The idea that the human species is striving to achieve any purpose or goal – a universal state of freedom or justice, say – presupposes a pre-Darwinian, teleological way of thinking that has no place in science."

Now that is some beautiful reasoning. Anyone who wants to overcome the abyss of relativism (and nihilism) and have "their values secured by something beyond the capricious human world had better join an old-fashioned religion." Indeed.

Gray has a lot more to say, and says it well. 

Solitary Unbusyness with God

Doors, in Monroe County

Today I've been able to get away and get alone with God. I've prayed for some things, and listened for God's voice. I've written some things down in my journal that are from God, to me. All this restores, renews, and refreshes me. 

I get away often and meet with God. So did Jesus. It was his custom to go alone to meet with the Father. If Jesus needed to do this, who am I not to, since I am one of his followers.And it is so very, very good to do this. It's good for God, for me, for Linda, and for my church family and beyond. Nothing but life and goodness comes from much time spent alone in God's presence.

The simple truth is that God is God, and I am not. Ruth Haley Barton emphasizes the importance of acknowledging this. She writes:

"There are limits to my relational, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities. I am not God. God is the only one who can be all things to all people. God is the only one who can be two places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not. We can’t remind ourselves of this enough. This is pretty basic stuff, but many of us live as though we don’t know it."

My effectiveness for Christ and his kingdom is directly proportional to my solitary unbusyness in relationship with God.

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

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 ALIENATION to---------------------COMMUNITY
From COMPETITION to-------------------COMPASSION
From ANGUISH to--------------------------FREEDOM
*From SORROW to---------------------------JOY
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.” 

Love Is Not Jealous

Lewis Smedes's beautiful extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love In a Selfish World is, I think, the best book I have ever read on Jesus-like love.

Love, among other things, is not jealous. Pray for freedom from the bondage of jealousy.

The reason agape (the biblical Greek word for "love" used in 1 Cor. 13) is not jealous is because "it is the power to move us toward another person with no expectation of reward - not even the reward of exclusive loving. That is why agape is not jealous." (23)

Jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy is the wish that we had something that belongs to someone else. "Envy" does not have pain associated with it. "The people we envy are not a threat to us; they only happen to have what we would like to have." (24) But jealousy "is aimed at someone who threatens us, threatens to take away someone we love." (24)

It's not just persons we can be jealous of; we can also be jealous of things. I have met wives whose husbands spend more time fishing than they do with them. These wives are jealous of the sport of fishing. 

This is the reason pornography hurts and ruins a marriage. The wife wants her husband's eyes looking at her, and not at other women. 

And of course the shoe can be on the other foot. A husband can be jealous of his wife's friends, or her family, or her job, or even their children if she spends more time with them than with him.

Smedes writes: "Jealousy and envy are different feelings... We envy without pain. Jealousy is the pain we feel when our role, our position, is threatened by someone close to us. Envy can stimulate us to try harder. jealousy stimulates us only to resentment of the person who does better." (25)

Linda and I have been married for almost 42 years. I remember a time  when I was at her house. I was falling in love with her. We were with her family when someone knocked on the door. It was one of Linda's old boyfriends! She stepped outside and talked with him alone. Feelings of jealousy flooded over me. As I was sitting there I looked on the table next to me and there was a little booklet entitled "How to Win Over Jealousy." God has a sense of humor, right? I began to read it.

When her old boyfriend left I asked Linda, "What did he want?" 

"I told him you and I were dating. He said 'OK,' but would you still like to go to a play with me?" 

As I heard that I lit up! I couldn't believe he would ask her out knowing she and I were in a relationship. Didn't I trust Linda? This event began to show me there was a lot of stuff inside me that needed healing.

Smedes says that "agape love transcends jealousy without destroying it." What does that mean? It means the more possessive and controlling a person is, the more a normal, protective jealousy will turn cancerous. Pray for release from controlling others.

Smedes writes: "If we have nothing else in the world to live for but our lover, we are vulnerable to the worst fits of jealousy. The person who tells someone else, "I can't live without you," is threatened at his deepest selfhood when the one with whom he cannot live has to be shared in the smallest way. Such a person always suspects the worst, and this very suspicion prods him to cruel reactions... Agape does not let us give our souls to idols, even to the idol of the ideal husband or wife or friend... So agape will not let us be so deeply threatened that our very existence seems at stake." (28-29)

Linda and I have always told others that, if and when you marry, you must marry someone that can live without you, and you without them. The only One we cannot live without is Christ. Agape love is, says Smedes, "the power to admit cheerfully that you cannot meet all the needs of your loved one or friend and are pleased that someone else can add what you lack." (29)

Jealousy is painful, but with God it can be transcended.  "But where there is Christian love, the power of agapic giving and sharing will prevent jealousy from building barbed-wire fences of self-protection against any sharing of love and loved ones." (29) Agape love is, among other things, the power of sharing.

Pray for a heart filled to overflowing with Jesus-like agape love.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Longsuffering as Creative Victimhood

Near Wilberforce, Ohio
Chapter 1 of Lewis Smedes's Love Within Limits is on 1 Corinthians 14: 4, "love suffers long" (aka "love is patient"). This is a beautiful chapter, written for all who have ever suffered and want to know how to suffer well.

Smedes writes: "Love is an uncommon power to cope with common suffering." (1) Everyone suffers. "Suffering is having to endure what we very much want not to endure." (Ib.) When my son David died Linda and I long-suffered. We wanted him with us, and I wanted the grief of his loss to go away, not only from myself, but from Linda. Suffering means "putting up with." This makes "longsuffering" a minor miracle.

Suffering is to be distinguished from longsuffering. "To suffer is to be a victim; to be longsuffering is in a sense to be free." (2) A longsufferer chooses to live indefinitely with what they hate. This is a paradox, says Smedes, and it is what makes longsuffering "a creative art of living." (Ib.) We determine to live with what we do not want and rejoice in it.

"Longsuffering, therefore, is the power to be a creative victim." (3) It is not passive. "It is a tough, active, aggressive style of life." It requires "power of soul." It is not merely "hanging on," but rather "the power of affirming and creating life in the midst of suffering." (Ib.)

The power to do this is the love of God, which is agape-love. "Agapic love is the liberating power that moves us toward our neighbor with no demand for rewards." (Ib.) Such God-love has the power to be "creatively weak." (4)

There are limits to longsuffering. The longsufferer cries out, "Lord, how long?" Maybe forever. Maybe until tomorrow. Maybe yesterday. "But," says Smedes, "suffering long is not the same as suffering endlessly. There come moments when suffering must stop. There are some things we must hate and reject. There are lines to be drawn. The trick is to know when we have reached the moment to draw the line. God himself draws that line." In this we see the tough side of God. Put another way, this is about "boundaries." (See, e.g., Cloud and Townsend)

"Love suffers some things longer than others." For example, marital infidelity causes great suffering. "Agape is the power to suffer the pains of frustrated and rejected and betrayed erotic love - and it is the power to suffer them long. How long? No one can draw the line. But agapic love is by definition a power that moves us toward another person with no demand for reward. The rule of thumb is this: when I turn off suffering for the sake of my pleasure, I turn it off too soon." (6)

Love is the power to suffer evil for a long time. But we are not called to accept the evil; we are not to capitulate to it so as to escape it. We are not to affirm evil, which accepting it would require. We bear with it even while we reject it. "Longsuffering is the work of love giving us the power to suffer, but not to accept, what is unacceptable." (8)

We are not to praise God for evils that assault us and bring suffering. It might sound religious and pious to do so, but "it is false and offensive to God to praise him for evil." (8) God is not the cause of evil. "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:15). God gets and desires no credit for evil. Evil, such as cancer, is unacceptable. "God does not want us to affirm the work of his enemy." (9)

As we live in Christ and are empowered by his longsuffering, patient love, we are given, by the Spirit, courage. "Courage is the power to resist assaults on our lives - both negatively and positively. In a negative sense courage is the power to be angry at - indeed, to hate - the evil which assaults us. The person with cancer needs courage to hate the disease that is sapping away his life. The person struck by loss of sight needs courage to hate blindness. The woman who has had a mastectomy needs courage to hate the operation. They must not only be angry, they must not only hate, but they must push that anger and hatred to the surface of their lives and shout to the world: "I hate my cancer."" (9)

It is at this moment that love comes in "as the power to suffer long what we desperately want to go away. Love is the courage to love life and be glad for it. Love is the courage to discover that life is not completely tied to the precious goods we have lost or not yet found." (9)

Longsuffering-as-love never suffers for the mere sake of suffering. Smedes says that "love suffers long so that time can be created for redepmtive powers to do their work, so that justice can be fought for without hasty and needless violence, so that healing and reconciliation may be possible. Love suffers long so that the evil suffered can be done away. Love suffers long so that suffering can finally cease. And when love gives us the power to suffer long, love also gives us the power to see reasons for rejoicing while we suffer." (10)