Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Most Immature and Mindless Church the World Has Ever Seen

Weaverville, California

Eugene Peterson writes, "North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Kindle 19%)

So what do pastors do? They acquiesce to the American way. They work hard (and largely fail) to develop a "product" that people will be attracted to and buy. Hence, they engage in public relations, image building, salesmanship, marketing techniques, and competition for buyers.

The result is a "mindless cultural conformism [which]..., far from being radical and dynamic..., is a lethargic rubber stamp on worldly wisdom." (Ib.) This has led, as Chesterton saw way ahead of his time, to "the degrading slavery of being a child of this age." (Quoted in Ib.)

Peterson, writing in 1992, saw that "we are immersed in probably the most immature and mindless religion, ranging from infantile to adolescent, that any culture has ever witnessed." (Ib.)

At Redeemer, one way we are combating the prevailing religious mindlessness is to preach, on Sunday mornings, through the biblical texts. (Sounds novel, right?) Several years ago I and others preached through the four Gospels, verse by verse. This took us seven years. Since then we have preached through many of Paul's letters, the book of Revelation (took us a year to get through this), Hebrews (one year), and now the book of James. After James we'll preach through 1 Peter. This is exhilarating, empowering, equipping, and encouraging.

Why do this?

Because I see the biblical illiteracy that fuels religious mindlessness.

Because the Bible is our distinctive, and our text. In the Bible a follower of Jesus gets situated in the Grand Narrative.

Because I'm going to show our people how to speak to our culture through the biblical Narrative, rather than allow the culture to interpret and thereby trivialize the Narrative.

Peterson says that, when Christians come from Third world countries to the American church, "what they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism..., the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy" (Ib.)

Pastors - revolt against our culture's systematic trivializing of what we are called to do.

People - do not allow our culture to shape you into its mold.

***
And go back to a praying life - my book can help you with this. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Incarnation Breeds Sympathy; Discarnation Breeds Criticism

Linda walking in Munson Park

The Jesus story begins with incarnation, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The ternal Son gets into us so that we might enter into him.

When you get inside someone else's skin and live and die there you feel with them. Incarnation breeds sympathy.

Sym + pathos. "Feeling with." Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 

The biblical Greek word here is:
συμπαθέω,v  \{soom-path-eh'-o}
1) to be affected with the same feeling as another, to sympathise with  2) to feel for, have compassion on 

In Mark 6:34 Jesus saw a large crowd of people and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The Greek word here means "deeply moved."

Jesus felt with people in their struggles and disorientation. Which means: so should we who follow him. We are to...

... "clothe ourselves with compassion" (Colossians 3:12).

... "be kind and compassionate to one another" (Ephesians 4:32).

... "be compassionate and humble" (1 Peter 3:8).

Because "the Lord is full of compassion and mercy." (James 5:11).

Since we are "united with Christ" we share in his "tenderness and compassion." (Philippians 2:1)

Compassion and sympathy are beautiful fruits that grow in a Christ-abiding heart. The more we are like Christ the less we will criticize others. The more Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19) the less we will judge others for their struggles. Incarnation breeds sympathy; discarnation breeds criticism.

Thank God that he sympathizes with our weaknesses! Thank God for his followers who have matured to do the same.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

There Are No Critics In the Revolution

When I became a Jesus-follower through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ I was given a book by an unknown (to me) author named Bill Bright. His book was titled "Revolution Now." "What is this," I thought, "Marxism?" I just got saved from drug and alcohol abuse, which was beautiful. What I did not realize was that I had just enlisted in The Revolution.

I was in the Jesus Movement. Not the "Jesus Institution." It is essential to understand this distinction.

The "Jesus Institution" is a spectator sport minus the word "sport." It is audience minus participation. It moves slower than oozing molasses. Here's how this works.

Linda and I love to go to movies. After a movie we ask each other the question, "So what did you think? Thumbs up, or thumbs down? Or, maybe, thumbs sideways?" Sometimes we disagree. "The story line was weak." "The acting was poor." "I fell asleep." "That movie deserves an Oscar." And so on.

Obviously, we were not part of the story. When you are not part of the story you evaluate it. You become a movie critic. That's what audiences do; viz., they critique.

Church-as-institution, which can mean we're in "maintenance mode," births an audience that sits, observes, and evaluates. Criticism is the inevitable fruit of institutionalization. In the Institutional Church people critique the color of the sanctuary carpet. "Worship wars" feed on institutionalization-as-lack-of-Movement. People become an audience of onlookers. "Church" becomes entertainment. Onlookers look and criticize. This is not good.

Revolutionaries, on the other hand, revolt. This is good. This is the revolutionary nature of Real Jesus stuff. When persons are engaged in The Movement, energy is directed forward. When forward movement increases criticism decreases. We revolt against the false gods that are worshiped on the punishing honor-shame hierarchies of the world system.

Critics in the church are not engaged in The Revolution. Real "church," on the other hand, is a People Movement, a part of the Jesus Revolution, called out (ek-kaleo) to engage in the redemptive Cross-activity of Jesus. Viva la Revolucion! A bas l'institution !

Giving Advice as a Form of Judgmentalism


Unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism.

Imagine that I come up to you and say, "Did you know that there are some really nice clothes on sale at Macy's today?" The thought comes to you: "He doesn't like my clothes." This "friendly advice" is actually a form of criticism and judgmentalism.

Mostly (but not entirely) people give unasked-for advice to others to try to change them. If you want to give a piece of advice to someone because you see they are having a problem and you've got the answer, try asking their permission: "May I suggest something?" That's cool. But a whole lot of advice-giving is about control and manipulation. It produces anger and bitterness, because who likes controlling people who are out to change them?

On changing other people: you cannot do it. Period. You can force people to do something, threaten them, imprison them, and guilt-manipulate them. But the human heart, the human spirit, cannot be changed by other people. 

The human heart is, however, influenced by other people. In my life there are a handful of people who have significantly influenced me. One of them now comes to mind. In the 1980s he was in my church in East Lansing. I was privileged to be in a small group with him and his wife that met weekly. He was a great scholar, which I admired. He spoke when asked, and never advised when not asked. I found this intriguing because he was a psychologist, and psychologists (so I thought) were there to give advice. His character and demeanor and humility and Christ-in-him were compelling. So much so that, eventually, I sought him out to advise me about some things. Which he did, with wisdom and love.

Instead of advising others whether they ask for it or not, focus on connecting with Jesus, and allow Jesus to work on the stuff inside ofyou that he knows about and is able to change.

I need to be continually saved from my own self. You, "the other," cannot do this. You are not my Savior. But if you remain connected to Jesus and allow Him to change your heart about things, the chances increase that God will use you to effect real heart-change in me.

The life goal is to know Christ, not advise other people. And God can use the brokenness effected in you to bring breakthrough to the people around you.

***
SEE ALSO:


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Judgmentalism Is a Form of Violence



(Pair of Old Testament Prophets, Gabriel Joly, 1530
Detroit Institute of Arts)

"I vividly remember encountering a man who never judged anyone," writes Henri Nouwen in The Road to Peace. (p. 35) 

Are you kidding me? Nouwen met a person who never judged anyone? Amazing!

Then I remembered a man who never judged anyone. We're friends. As soon as I read Nouwen's amazing claim I thought of this friend. I never, in countless hours of dialogue, remember him bad-mouthing anyone. Amazing! Super-natural ("beyond nature").

When Nouwen met the nonjudgmental man he was stunned, and didn't know how to act. He was so used to being around people who are full of opinions of others that he felt lost. "What do you talk about," asked Nouwen, "when you have nobody to discuss or judge?" (Ib.) Ask yourself that question. If you have nothing left to talk about then you are in spiritual trouble.

Slowly, Nouwen discovered that this man did not judge him. Nouwen experienced a freedom in this friendship. He writes: "I realized that I had nothing to defend, nothing to hide, and could be myself in his presence without fear." (Ib.) A new kind of conversation opened up that wasn't based on competing or comparing, but on celebrating what any two Jesus-followers have in common; viz., Christ is us, the hope of glory.

Judgmentalism is a form of violence. It causes damage, and destroys the unity Christ achieved on the cross when he brought down the dividing walls of hostility. (Ephesians 3) Nouwen writes: "Judging others implies that somehow we stand outside of the place where weak, broken, sinful human beings dwell. It is an arrogant and pretentious act that shows blindness not only toward others but also toward ourselves." (Ib., 34)  As Paul writes in Romans 2:1-4:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someon e else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

As Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19) we are freed from the heavy burden of judging other people. 

Pray to be free of all violence within.

***
My new book iis Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

The Most Exciting Ending to a College Football Game I've Seen


For one of the most exciting endings to a college football game you'll ever see click HERE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Gospel According to Me (Passive Nihilism)






In their essay "The Gospel According to 'Me'" Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster write about America's cult of self-worship. The more "nones" there are, the more we can expect to see a turn to "me." After all, if there is no God, then there's only "me." They write:

"Despite the frequent claim that we are living in a secular age defined by the death of God, many citizens in rich Western democracies have merely switched one notion of God for another — abandoning their singular, omnipotent (Christian or Judaic or whatever) deity reigning over all humankind and replacing it with a weak but all-pervasive idea of spirituality tied to a personal ethic of authenticity and a liturgy of inwardness. The latter does not make the exorbitant moral demands of traditional religions, which impose bad conscience, guilt, sin, sexual inhibition and the rest."

People are moving from the idea of God to the idea of self. (See Christian Smith's helpful work on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism - see 
here, and here.) 

Surely Critchley and Webster are correct when they observe:


"A postwar existentialist philosophy of personal liberation and “becoming who you are” fed into a 1960s counterculture that mutated into the most selfish conformism, disguising acquisitiveness under a patina of personal growth, mindfulness and compassion. Traditional forms of morality that required extensive social cooperation in relation to a hard reality defined by scarcity have largely collapsed and been replaced with this New Age therapeutic culture of well-being that does not require obedience or even faith — and certainly not feelings of guilt. Guilt must be shed; alienation, both of body and mind, must be eliminated, most notably through yoga practice after a long day of mind-numbing work."


The goal of human life is personal well-being, rather than a collective endeavor towards a greater good. "The stroke of genius in the ideology of authenticity is that it doesn’t really require a belief in anything, and certainly not a belief in anything that might transcend the serene and contented living of one’s authentic life and baseline well-being. In this, one can claim to be beyond dogma."


The American Dream is now one of "pure psychological transformation." Critchley and Webster call this "passive nihilism." This is an ethic of personal authenticity, "a
t the heart of which is a profound selfishness and callous disregard of others. As the ever-wise Buddha says, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”" 

An uncritical brainwashed "authenticity" leads to a "deep cynicism." We see this in the self-made "Eckhart Tolle's (not his real name) silly, money-making 
The Power of Now (yes, I did read it... in one setting in a bookstore...    :(  

Sadly, a lot of church culture is marketing itself this way. Critchley and Webster write:


"When the values of Judeo-Christian morality have been given a monetary and psychological incarnation — as in credit, debt, trust, faith and fidelity — can they exist as values? Is the prosperous self the only God in which we believe in a radically inauthentic world?"


Ironically the uncritical zombielike (flesh-without-spirit) humanity of today is becoming more and more inauthentic in its none-ish staggering towards the Oz of the false self.

Identity, Community, and Freedom

Praying at Redeemer
We are loved unconditionally by God. This means there is no "If...  then" in God's love. God cannot not-love. God never thinks "If John performs well, then I will love him," or "If John fails, then I will withhold my love from him." I am "beloved" by God.

True Christian community is rooted in belovedness. In true community belovedness has become embodied. Belovedness is a triple helix wrapping people in a garment of love. This is so crucial, so central, that without this there will be chaos and conflict and competition and control. Without love, the community will be nothing.

1. Know that you are one of God's beloved sons or daughters.

2. Cultivate community on this truth.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When we are aware that we are the beloved, and when we have friends around us with whom we live in community, we can do anything. We’re not afraid anymore. We’re not afraid to knock on the door while somebody is dying. We’re not afraid to open a discussion with a person who underneath all the glitter is much in need of ministry. We’re free." (Nouwen,  A Spirituality of Living, pp. 38-39)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Freedom From Two Illusions

Teaching in Eldoret, Kenya
When I was teaching in Eldoret, Kenya, I told the Kenyan and Ugandan pastors that the #1 thing they need to do is stay tight with God. Abide in Christ. Dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Send roots to the river of God. Live, 24/7, in the fortress of God. 
That's what you need to do. That's what your people need you to do. Because what they need is not you, but God. They need "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Dwell in God's presence and he will free you from the illusion of your indispensability. I told these African pastors that they are not needed by God. God is able to accomplish his purposes with or without them. But, God loves them and wants to use them. And he will, if they trust in him and abide in him.

We can't change other people. Only God can do that. So I told the pastors: "Today you can let go of your striving to change other people."

Some of them told me how novel and freeing this was. I added, "But God can change you."

The change happens as we hang tight with God. You cannot consistently nurture the "in Christ" relationship and remain unchanged. And, as a bonus, as you make God your Shepherd (in practice, not theory; viz., trust in him) he "restores your soul." So, you don't have to "work on your own self." Just step into God's presence, stay there, and the Restorer of Souls proceeds to strip away all that has covered over your soul to get to the original "in God's image" psuche.

The changes God works in you will not be just for you, but for others. This is called influence. W
hat God works in us can and will influence other people, by God's Spirit.

Be free of two illusions:

  1. The illusion of your indispensability
  2. The illusion that you can change people


Today, abide in Christ. As he speaks, obey. This is the place of all authentic spiritual formation.

The Ontological Argument (Video)





I'll present this argument in my first Philosophy of Religion class this Thursday.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Impracticality of Seeking Truth in Material Objects

Detroit

I'm in agreement with this quote from Elliot Milco ("Christian Identity in the Workplace"):

"Lately I have been revisiting Plato, and it strikes me that the basic problem of Christianity in the secular workplace is not the selective distribution of “identity” status or the uneven application of liberal principles. Our problem is that we live in a society as hostile to the aims of the philosophical life—a life in pursuit of moral integrity, the truth, and union with God—as was Athens in the time of Socrates. Our fellow citizens do not understand our preference for spiritual goods over material prosperity. They despise us because we disapprove of pleasures everyone else accepts. Chiefly, though, I think they are impatient with our impractical fixation on intangible truths."

This week I begin my sixteenth year of teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I'll teach two Logic classes and one Philosophy of Religion class. If my students are hostile to philosophy I will change most of their minds about this. Some, even, will consider majoring or minoring in philosophy.

We live in a profoundly ignorant culture. This deep ignorance is fueled by social media as anyone can make belief-claims without understanding or justification. Ignorance breeds hostility. Some of my students, prior to my classes, will be hostile to spiritual truths. As class progresses some of them will deconvert from their prereflective physicalism to consider something like the Platonic worldview.

Do the followers of Jesus focus on intangible truths? Yes. But note this: "truth" itself does not exist as a tangible reality. That is, "truth" is not some sort of "thing" that can be empirically verified. Hence all who seek for truth in tangible realities are fundamentally misguided. Our fixation on intangible truths (the only kind) seems impractical.

That's some late night rambling. Time for bed...

Elemental Chaos and the Presence of God (The Presence-Driven Church)

Cloud formation, Monroe County

Gordon Fee called it the "presence motif." It runs throughout Scripture like a holy river, from its source in Genesis to the glassy sea of Revelation.

It's in the garden in Genesis 1 and the final adoration chapters of Revelation. It's in the Psalmist doorkeeper's desire and the Pauline "in Christ."

Moses refuses to move without it.

Jesus tells his disciples to primordially abide in it.

Fee refers to it as "God's empowering presence."

It's "Emmanuel, God with us" as an experiential reality rather than a theological theory.

Don't mistake it for performance. It has nothing to do with entertainment. Instead of an audience voting with their thumbs, faces are on the ground. To know this earth-shattering presence one must be stripped and restored like a piece of wood undergoing sandpaper and knife.

Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"It takes profound willingness to invite God to search us and know us at the deepest level of our being, allowing him to show us the difference between the performance-oriented drivenness of the false self and the deeper calling to lead from our authentic self in God. There is an elemental chaos that gets stirred up when we have been in God’s presence enough that we can recognize pretense and performance and every other thing that bolsters our sense of self. It is unnerving to see evidence that these patterns are still at work—perhaps just a bit more subtly—in our everyday lives." (Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 126)

For the past forty years I have taken every Tuesday afternoon to place myself before The Restorer of My Soul. This Tuesday, for the two thousandth time, I will pray "Search me, O God, and know my heart."

He will. He does.

He overturns the tables of salesmanship and drives the market downward.

He crucifies any residual performance-drivenness.

In his presence I am stripped away.

He restores my soul.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Fear of Solitude as a Cause of Texting

Downtown Monroe
M.I.T.'s Sherry Turkle, in her brilliant Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, argues for solitude as the foundation of authentic community. Turkle dedicates an entire chapter to this, and opens it with a quote from actor and comedian Louis C.K. He writes:

"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there. That’s just being a person...

Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty, forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone. It’s down there. And sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching and you’re in your car and you start going, Ooh, here it comes that I’m alone, like it starts to visit on you just like this sadness. Life is tremendously sad. . . . 

That’s why we text and drive. Pretty much 100 percent of people driving are texting. And they’re killing and murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking their life and ruining another because they don’t want to be alone for a second. . . " (Turkle, pp. 59-60)

Why so much texting? One cause is: the fear of solitude. The fear of insignificance. The fear of being forgotten. Insecurity of the self. Loss of identity. The need for authentic community, which will not be achieved via texting.


***
I write about solitary praying in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Solitude Before God Rips Off the Disguise

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, Michigan
The person you see on Facebook is probably not who they really are. They have created a persona, an image of something they would like to be seen as. They are clever, witty, cool, beautiful, and happy. Or they are dark, mysterious, and deep. And they may be very smart. But again, all these are appearances, and they are in fact none of these. 

There are exceptions. These are people walking the long road of self-examination before God. This requires solitude with God. Thomas Merton knew that the solitary life does not tolerate illusion and self-deception. He wrote: "Solitude rips off all the masks and all the disguises. It does not tolerate lies." (A Year with Thomas Merton, August 8, Kindle Loc 4074)

In solitude - lengthy periods of it - we do not have people to blame or praise us, to give us false wisdom about who we are, what we have been made for, and what we are to do. It's just us and God. And God sees into the heart behind the face behind the persona. 

I am not all that I imagined myself to me. I am what God thinks of me. Discovering more and more about the truth of me is what sets me free the false labor of self-construction.

  

23inME! Conference in New York - Revised Dates





Thursday, August 18, 2016

God's Justice Is Restorative, Not Punitive


Lake Michigan, Empire, Michigan

I’m re-reading my highlights and notes from one of the best books on self-forgiveness there is – by clinical psychologist Everett Worthington (Virginia Commonwealth University). There are so many things Worthington says that I need to remember. Yes, I have struggled at times with self-forgiveness. You have as well, right?

Some find it hard to approach God while wallowing in the mire of self-condemnation. Worthington helps me by reminding me of an important distinction. He writes:

“Think about Jesus’s response to a woman caught in adultery: “Then neither do I condemn you.… Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8: 11). God is more interested in restorative justice than in punitive justice.“ (Worthington Jr, Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past, Kindle Locations 756-757)

God’s desire is always to rescue, release, and restore, not to add more locks to the prison cell we inhabit.

***
My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What a Pastor Is Supposed to Do – Looking After Souls In a Soul-trivializing Age


Empire, Michigan
At Redeemer we are now in the middle of preaching through the biblical letter of James. I’m taking it in small bites, while keeping the broader context always in view.

James is calling his messianic Jesus-following readers to understand the spiritual and moral break they are to make with the massive surrounding Roman culture. They are to have their desires disengaged from status, power, and wealth (at the expense of the poor), and desire the true wisdom that is from above.

James is simple to understand and very deep. This is a glorious combination, and a challenge and joy to preach it to our people.

Maintaining the qualitative distinction between the Real Jesus and American culture is the calling of every pastor and, indeed, every follower of Christ. This calling must be constantly placed before us.

Eugene Peterson writes:

“Pastors are in charge of keeping the distinction between the world's lies and the gospel's truth clear. Not only pastors, of course - every baptized Christian is part of this - but pastors are placed in a strategic, countercultural position. Our place in society is, in some ways, unique: no one else occupies this exact niche that looks so inoffensive fensive but is in fact so dangerous to the status quo. We are committed to keeping the proclamation alive and to looking after souls in a soul-denying, denying, soul-trivializing age.” (Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 65-68)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Craig Keener's "Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost"


I received a copy of Craig Keener's Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. I brought it with me as Linda and I are away relaxing for four days in Glen Arbor, Michigan. I've read thirty pages, and underlined about half of them.

Craig is a Pentecostal theologian, as I am. In the Foreward Amos Yong (Fuller Seminary) writes:

"In Craig Keener we finally have an exemplar that unveils how rigorous use of the intellect and prodigiousness in scholarly output are spiritual activities, compelled by life in the Spirit of Jesus, in anticipation of the coming reign of God. More pointedly, it may even be said that in a certain sense there is no life of the mind in his case without a spiritual life that sustains and impels intellectual pursuits." (xxi)

This book is, writes Yong, "the work of a master teacher."

Study Guide for My Book "Praying" Now Available - Free

My book - Available in paperback and as an e-book at amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Thanks to all who have purchased and read my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I have written a simple Study Guide to accompany the book. It can be used personally, or for small group discussions.

You can purchase my book here - and available as a Kindle book here.

To get the Study Guide send me an email and I'll send it to you in a file. You can print it out for personal or group use.

Again - thanks!

johnpiippo@msn.com

One Minute with Eugene Peterson

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

I never really thought I’d be a pastor because I had so many pastors I didn’t respect.... 
I’d never been around a pastor who was a man of God, to tell you the truth.

I can't get enough Eugene Peterson in my life. I'm currently reading The Unnecessary Pastor (with Marva Dawn) and Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Peterson thankfully removes the "mega" from church and calls me to my senses as a pastor. He exposes the insanity of the bloated "size matters" American church when he writes things like this:

"The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol — a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing." (Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 5)

Pastors must focus on holiness, and bring their people to the living waters of relational purity. Then, and only then, will "all things be added" unto them. This doesn't mean "Your church will be huge." It does mean "Your church shall have influence disproportionate to its size." It's about influence, not size.

In an interview Peterson said: "One of the things that distresses me most is how much ambition there is. I'm alarmed that we measure things by what the world counts as important." ("The Relationally Grounded Pastor")

Peterson is a prophet with an upside-down voice. In another interview he is asked what he would tell a younger Christian who is longing for a deeper and more authentic discipleship. His counsel was:

"Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher." ("Faithful to the End: An Interview with Eugene Peterson") How refreshing, how true. This is why, among other reasons, Bono (U2) carries Run With the Horses with him.

Do you like truth, spoken in love? "Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality." (Under the Unpredictable Plant, p. 5)

A few years ago I talked on the phone with Eugene Peterson. I was inviting him to speak at a pastor's retreat in Michigan. I googled him and found his phone number. I called. "Is this Eugene Peterson?"

"Yes."

I introduced myself and asked if he would consider being with us for two days. He said,

"I'm sorry. I can't do it. I'm out of gas."

I thanked him for his time. I also thanked him for his voice that has been used by God to influence so many, including me. And that was it. One minute with Eugene Peterson. The sound of his voice, addressing me. One minute with Eugene Peterson is better than a thousand minutes elsewhere.

Give me one authentic voice calling in the darkness of the hyped market-driven numbers-evaluated smoke-and-mirrors religion of the American church. Peterson (and just a few others) are that, for me.

***
My partially Peterson-inspired book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God


Monday, August 15, 2016

Doxology Names the Glory

Sleeping Bears Dunes on Lake Michigan (Michigan)

This summer at Redeemer I taught a course on "What is God Like?" Following Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, I talked about God's incommunicable attributes (those belonging only to God, such as his aseity and eternality) and God's communicable attributes (e.g., God power-shares with us; his love; and so on). I also did a session on the triunity of God (God's complex unity, in his being).

While teaching and explaining God's essential attributes I had moments where I was inwardly moved. I felt emotions of awe that led me to worship God. This thought came to me: I want to know more about God and teach others about his transcendent glory. I've decided to do this at a conference I have in California in two weeks.

Marva Dawn writes:

"The word doxology comes from two Greek words meaning "glory" (doxa) and "word" (logos). Thus, defined simply, doxology is words about the Glory, words that express praise, true praise. It is important to define praise carefully at the beginning of the twenty-first century because there exists in worshiping groups massive confusion between praise and happy songs. Praise is not merely something uplifting or upbeat. beat. Rather, it is the naming of attributes, character, and/or actions of the one being praised." (Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 409-411)

"Doxology is praise that names the Glory and helps those who hear to see it." (Ib.)

Simply naming and defining the attributes of God leads God-believers to doxologize.

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For more see chapter 2 of my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, "Praying and the Nature of God."

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Praying to Be Free from Comparison (PrayerLife)


When we spend time comparing ourselves with other people this often produces the bitter twin fruits of self-obsession, which are: shame and pride. Shame is the feeling that I am no good, worth little or nothing, of no value. Pride is the feeling that I am more valuable than other people.

There is, it should be noted, a "healthy pride." C.S. Lewis talks about it in his chapter "The Great Sin" in Mere Christianity. But self-obsessive pride and shame are punishers of the soul, and are rooted in comparing ourselves with others. Here are some things about comparison, sort of a phenomenology of comparison.

Comparison rank-orders people on an honor-shame hierarchy with its various manifestations (like: good-bad; beautiful-ugly; worthy-worthless; useful-useless). In this world there are many kinds of honor-shame hierarchies. Compared to other people you and I are either: 1) better than they are; 2) worse than they are; or 3) the same as they are. This is in terms of some specific attribute, quality, or talent. You're not as beautiful as some; you are more beautiful than others. A whole lot of people are smarter than you; you are a whole lot smarter than a lot of people. If you can read this, you are ahead of the world's 20% of adults who cannot read. If you scored 50% on the ACT, then half of our nation's teens are smarter than you in terms of the material tested on.

Compared to others, you either measure up or measure down. If you measure up, then you look down; if you measure down, then you are looking up. The honor-shame hierarchy creates "haves" and "have nots," relative to a person's position on whatever honor-shame hierarchy we are considering. "Pride" looks down on others; "shame" looks up at others. In my experience many people are "pride-shame" people who are both looking down and looking up. For them, life is a ride on a never-ending roller coaster of emotions that simultaneously please and punish.

Hierarchization is the kingdom-of-darkness norm. For example, while I was in India traveling and speaking I discovered, firsthand, the brutal, hierarchizing caste system. Upper caste people are perceived as better people, having been better in their previous life and promoted upwards on the honor-shame hierarchy in their current life. I was in several lower caste villages. One village leader in central India told me, "The government does not think of us." All the people in his village were lower caste. Their low social status was evident to all, manifested in their impoverished social conditions. Not only were they economically poor, they were socially scorned. This is the double whammy of an honor-shame culture that hierachizes people. While this may sound primitive, this kind of thing is alive and well today in America (and everywhere).

We see this manifested in the Bible, in the story of the blind man sitting outside the Temple as Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple area. The man is blind. Jesus' disciples reason that either he or his parents sinned, the man's blindness being due to someone's sin. Here's the double whammy: 1) the man is blind and cannot work but only beg; and 2) the man is morally and religiously unclean - he's a sinner that deserves to be blind. He is low, very low, on the totem pole. He's at the botton of the pecking order, the deserving recipient of scorn. Jesus, in another one of his jaw-dropping a-cultural moments, tells his disciples that neither this man nor his parents are responsible for his blindness. Imagine the blind man hearing Jesus say this. Can it be true? At the moment he's still blind, but the comparative hierarchizing world of pride and shame is dissolving before his ears in the words of Jesus.

I'll never forget entering a village located on the Deccan Plateau in central India. There were 300-400 people in this village. There was no electricity, no running water, and tiny mud-brick houses. I think the entire village came out to greet me as I arrived in an all-terrain vehicle. They placed garlands of flowers around my neck, two men held umbrellas over my head to shade me from the sun, and I heard the sound of drums coming toward me. Three men slinging drums on their hips came and the parade began, with me as the center of attention. We processed to a small building that housed meetings of the local church. I went in, the place was packed, with people overflowing out the door and peeking through the windows. I was introduced, then spoke to them. Here was I, the rich white man from America, an "upper caste" person in the midst of lower caste no-name nothing-people. (At least, from the POV of India's "upper caste." As one villager told me, "They do not care for us.")

I opened my Bible and read Galatians 3:28 - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I told them that Jesus came to remove the human-made caste system. They are now free from being rank-ordered according to some honor-shame thing. God doesn't compare them with other people. Instead, God came down and rescued them from the hierarchizing world that enchains their hearts. Now they are free to look only to God, who loves them and has come to make his home in them. (John 14:23)

In comparison with God, who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, our knowledge, power, and love are, relatively speaking, nothing. In that regard we are all the same. Comparison with one another is, therefore, logical nonsense. That God loves you and I should cause us to wonder and worship Him rather than compete and compare with other finite people. The realization that the honor-shame hierarchy does not even apply in the kingdom of God releases us from striving to measure up to other people. Personally, this has been and remains good news for me.

Look to God.
You are sons and daughters of God.
You are loved because of this relationship, not because of any intrinsic abilities you have, which are nothing in comparison to God.
Be free from spending time comparing yourself to other people.
Set your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith.

Pray to be free from comparison.