Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Presence-Driven Leaders Don't Focus on Attracting Followers (The Presence-Driven Church)

Monroe County

Whenever I do a seminar or conference, or a seminary class, on leading the Presence-Driven Church, I emphasize that this teaching is not another "tool for ministry." And it is not a strategy for church growth. It is, rather, a life of relationship with God. It looks like this:

1. Meet often with the Father.
2. When the Father directs, obey.

When we are given a directive and obey, there is no strategy involved. When we follow the Father, it is enough to know that he has the game plan. If there is any strategy at all, it is simply 1 and 2 above.

Eugene Peterson writes:

"Against all leadership counsel we have to set Jesus, and not so much figure out how to be leaders from what he said and did but enter into the world that he lived in, the relationships that he cultivated, and assimilate his style. This leadership is not techniques and strategies culled from a superficial reading of the Gospels that knows little of Jesus himself, but a Jesus-leadership spirit, mind, sensitivity. It is a leadership that is conspicuously lacking in the exercise of power and the attraction of followers."
- Eugene Peterson and Marva J. Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 2267-2269)

The focus is on obedience, on following Jesus, rather than being attractive to seekers. Remember that a whole lot of us, and uncountable others, have been drawn to Jesus by Jesus himself, without seeker-sensitive add-ons. Jesus seems to think he has enough drawing power if he is simply lifted up. He doesn't say "If I be lifted up where there is sufficient ambiance..."

Obedience to Christ has drawing power when it is for the sake Christ, and not for the sake of drawing people.

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

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church, and expect it to be out in Summer 2017.

"In and "With" as the Keys to the Jesus Life (The Presence-Driven Church)

Monroe County Community College

The key to living the Jesus Life is found in two little words - "in," and "with."

Paul, in his letters to the various Jesus-communities, uses the phrases "in Christ" and "with Christ," and their variations, over 200 times (e.g. "in him," Christ "in us," and so on).

"In" is a container metaphor. Every Jesus-follower is "in Christ." This means union with Christ. I am in Christ and Christ is in me. 

Consider "with Christ." 

  • Jesus-followers have died with Christ, 
  • have risen with Christ, 
  • and will appear in glory with Christ on his return. 
  • When Christ died sin was defeated; t
  • herefore I, in Christ, am dead to the rule and reign of sin. 
  • Sin has, for Christ and therefore for me, lost its power. 
  • When Christ was raised death was defeated; 
  • therefore, because he lives, I also live and am alive in Christ. 
  • Where he moves I move; 
  • where he goes I go. 
  • I am a new creation, living in a new metaphysical location.

Sadly, the default flesh-system of "religion" is to ignore this core Gospel reality, and instead preach and teach the Moral Code and the utilization of human flesh-power to keep it (what Richard Foster has called "will worship"). Craig Keener says that the best imitations of Christ are just “flesh.”" (Keener, here)

"In" and "with" tell us that living the Jesus life is not about trying harder. N.T. Wright writes:

One aspect of Christian maturity, and certainly one of the road signs on the road to Christian holiness, is that the mind must grasp the truth: ‘you died, and your life has been hidden with the king, in God!” Once the mind has grasped it, the heart and will start to come on board. And once that happens the way lies open to joyful Christian holiness. Don’t settle for short cuts.” (NTW, C for E, 176; emphasis mine)
It's not imitating Christ, but union with Christ that makes the difference. It's about Christ, living in me and doing his transforming work in me, and I in him, rather than striving to copy him by using will power. (Think of the guilt and share this produces in the church.)
Wright says: 

"The possibility is staggering: that I, a creature, might have my life linked—actually, organically, eternally linked—to the Son of God himself. Like a freight car coupled with an engine, where Jesus goes, I go. What happens to him, happens to me. I follow him and share his life, his character, his suffering, his future, his inheritance, even his reign with the Father.
While this reality, known as the doctrine of "union with Christ," has received a lot of attention throughout Christian history, it is often ignored in the modern church. But it is incredibly good news for those of us who wrestle with the uncertainty and disappointment of life on earth. Because we are "in Christ," because his life is ours, our fundamental life story has already been written."

Orient your heart and mind to things above, to Christ. Set your hearts and minds on who you are, by faith and through grace, in Christ.



Christ in you, the hope of glory. The actuality is staggering.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Horizontal Church vs. Vertical Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

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Preaching at Faith Bible Church in New York City (Flushing)

The Vertical Church is a people group of Jesus-followers who desire nothing more than God's earth-shattering presence, and who experience that presence whenever and wherever they gather. The presence of God is the glue that holds them together. This is the meaning of Jesus' words about "whenever two or more gather, there I am in their midst." That's all that's needed: Jesus in our midst.

The Horizontal Church needs more than "Jesus in our midst," even to the exclusion of Jesus, leaving only us and "our midst." Here is a people group of Jesus-followers who have been seduced by the god of relevancy. Many of these are good people who have been mis-discipled. These people have been taught - by culture - to rely on their own natural charisma to attract consumer-seekers. Much energy and money is spent on catering to the prevailing cultural ethos and its chronos-mentality; hence, there are temporally choreographed services because people (it is assumed) will pull out their cell phones if the earth-shattering presence of God hovers among them for more than an hour. The Horizontal Church unwittingly adds to Scripture, and has Jesus saying, "whenever two or more gather, with a fair trade coffee bar and stage lighting and short services and apps and creative add-ons, there I am in their midst, if only for an hour."

Horizontal churches burn people out in striving to measure up to the ever-shifting bar of cultural coolness. But even name changes and stage lighting cannot rescue these sinking vessels. (The point is that Vertical Church is not essentially about external makeovers, not that serving coffee or tight blue jeans are evil.)

James McDonald writes:

"Eventually everyone vacates church where God is not obviously present and working. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first— that’s what Vertical Church is all about!
Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church.
The problem is you can’t fake glory. You can’t manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will. Only God Himself can bring glory into a church, and when He does, communities get shaken and lives get changed, and the fame of Jesus Christ curls continuously upon the shore of human hearts like a Hawaii 5-0 wave. Church is supposed to be a tsunami of glory every Sunday, and that is what we gather for." (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 104-105)

McDonald says, "In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything."

The cry in the Vertical Church is simply, "God, show me your glory." 

The More You Seek Him, the More He Will Find You (The Presence-Driven Church)

My back yard

I have had many non-discursive moments with God. A non-discursive moment is: an experience that cannot be adequately captured in discourse. It is an experience that is real, but one cannot talk about it. Words don't do it justice; indeed, words will be misleading.

Many of these moments have come during extended times of praying. Others have come while just going through the day - in my home, walking, driving, with my Jesus-community, doing dishes while looking out the window at my bird feeders, whatever and wherever.

I believe that the more I take extended times of praying, the more I am susceptible to non-discursive encounters with God. I don't seek them. They find me or, rather, God finds me, in the depths of my heart where words are not needed. This is a knowing that refuses to be imprisoned by ideation.

Thomas Merton referred to this as "contemplation." He writes:

"Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it sees “without seeing” and knows “without knowing.” It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by “unknowing.” Or, better, we know beyond all knowing or “unknowing.”" (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 1-2)

This is similar to what some have called "mindfulness"; viz., a hyper-awareness of self in the present moment. 

For me, as a follower of Jesus, the source of non-discursive experiences is God. This is, I believe, the kind of thing Greg Boyd is talking about in his book Present Perfect. Presently, God is with me, and I am neither remembering past events nor anticipating something to come in the future. This is "Emmanuel" taken to its completion. This is "fulfillment."

Seek Him. The more you seek Him, the more you will be found by Him.

Teaching Spiritual Formation this January in Savannah, Georgia

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One of my Payne Spiritual Formation classes
I'll be teaching my Spiritual Formation class for Payne Theological Seminary in Savannah, Georgia.

When: January 10-13, 2017

Where: Savannah State University, Savannah, Georgia

For information: Contact Ms. Althea Smoot at 937-376-2946, Ext. 222; or go to Payne's website here.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Book Recommendations for Deep Reading

Hands of one of our church kids

The two best books I read in 2016.

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist, by Larry Taunton. Once I began this book I could not put it down. I read the entire thing while crossing Lake Michigan on The Badger. Hitchens was one of the notorious "Four Horsemen" of the new atheism (now old and fading, by the way). When Hitchens died I felt sad. After reading this book I now understand why I felt that way.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk In a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle. Few people know more about the effect social media is having on culture. I learned so much from reading her book. Every Christian leader needs to read it. Her chapter on "Solitude" as the entrĂ©e to authentic communication re-confirmed what I am writing about in my phenomenology of spiritual transformation.

Other notables...

How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World, by Robert Joustra and Alicia Wilkinson. One of my hobbies is studying dystopian and apocalyptic art and literature. I especially like how Joustra utilizes the secularization theories of Charles Taylor and James K. A, Smith as hermeneutical tools in dissecting zombies and the meaning of their current proliferation.

Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, by Clifford Williams. While it is true that I have taught logic at our local college for many years, it is also true that I have never believed that reality could be fully captured in the steel nets of logic. Williams's book is a needed antidote for all of us who may have over-focused on evidential reasons for belief.

The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, by Eugene Peterson and Marva Dawn. Linda and I are currently reading everything by Eugene Peterson. He is a prophet for our times, to the church. The first chapter in this book will be enough to do you in.

The Apologetics of Joy: A Case for the Existence of God from C.S. Lewis's Argument from Desire, by Joe Puckett. If you want to understand what is going on behind the scenes in Lewis's writings, then this book is for you. Lewis's argument from desire for God's existence is resurrected. Years ago I read literature debunking Lewis, such as John Beversluis's book. Puckett handles all objections, and makes sense of the idea that our deepest longings and desires only make sense if there is the possibility of their fulfillment.

The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith, by Gary Black. Dallas Willard exemplifies a number of things I admire. He is a passionate lover of Jesus, embraces the spiritual disciplines as ways of abiding in Christ, is a brilliant academic philosopher, and is able to write in such a way that deep, difficult ideas achieve a clarity to the common person. This is the book to read, after reading Willard himself. The first chapter was amazing for me as it situated Willard in church history in such a way that I wrote in my journal these words - "I finally see where my theological place is."

Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, by Richard Beck. Beck shows how the "Scooby-Doo-ification" of culture has come to rule (yes, that's what he says), and what it looks like in this culture to believe in Satan and the reality of spiritual warfare. Note again the current influence of Canadian Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor.

I am currently reading...

The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity, by Charles Taylor. Currently, Taylor's writing and ideas are huge. I'm using, e.g., Taylor's views on the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis in my coming book on the Presence-Driven Church.

Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost, by Craig Keener. This is an amazing, one-of-a-kind book on the importance of the experience of God's Spirit in interpreting Spirit-inspired Scripture. 

Mystics, by William Harmless. I've done research on Christian mysticism for decades, dating back to doctoral work I did at Northwestern University with Richard Kieckhefer (Meister Eckhart, Medieval mystical theology, et. al.). This is a very good, readable book that begins with a nice section on Thomas Merton. I'll be including material on non-discursive experience and the presence of God in my forthcoming book on church leadership. ($1.99 for your Kindle!)

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, by Willie James Jennings. My friend Vernon Mason teaches a course entitled "Black Lives Matter" at New York Theological Seminary. This is one of his required readings. This is a deep book that aims at nothing less than gaining understanding and awareness for the sake of transforming Christian communities.

NIV Cultural Studies Background Bible, by Craig Keener and John Walton. This is the buy of the year - only $3.99 (today) for your Kindle. Keener (New Testament) and Walton (Old Testament) are two of our greatest scholars. N. T. Wright says, "How I wish someone had put a book like this into my hands 50 years ago."

Good Night Loon, by Abe Sauer and Nathaniel Davauer. Good Night Moon was one of my favorites to read to my boys when they were little. When I saw this book in a store and read it I knew I needed to buy it, since I come from the loon country of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A quick read, a quick re-read, just before bed time.  

One more....

Coming in 2017...

Leading the Presence-Driven Church, by John Piippo.

Salvation as Existential Spaciousness

My back yard

Are you saved?

I was saved when I was twenty-one. I was walking from my apartment house towards the campus of Northern Illinois University. A series of personal failures and a dramatic, unexpected encounter with God led me to this moment. That was when I prayed.

I had not prayed in a long time. Maybe ten or fifteen years. I did not pray because I did not believe praying would do anything. On the first day of my salvation this changed.

I prayed, "God, if you are real, and you can help me with the mess I have made of my life, I will follow you." That was the moment when I got saved. Or, that was my initiation into the environment the Bible refers to as "salvation."

This salvation is not simply a decision made at an individual point in time. It is better understood as being ushered into an alternative world of existential spaciousness. Philip Yancey writes:

"Eugene Peterson points out that “the root meaning in Hebrew of salvation is to be broad, to become spacious, to enlarge. It carries the sense of deliverance from an existence that has become compressed, confined and cramped.” God wants to set us free, to make it possible for us to live open and loving lives with God and our neighbors. “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free,” wrote the psalmist."" (Yancey, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, p. 80)

What I formerly thought was freedom was bondage; what I viewed as bondage was freedom. I am free, in so many emotional, spiritual, and psychological ways. God saved me from my solitary confinement. For that I am eternally grateful.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving Testimonies

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Kids praying at Redeemer

I invited people from my church (Redeemer, in Monroe, Michigan) to share testimonies of thanksgiving. Here are some that were submitted to me.


 1)      I am thankful for shelter, though I don’t own it.
2)      I am thankful for income, though it’s not the job I prefer.
3)      I am thankful for family, though we are not biologically related.
4)      I am thankful for transportation, though it is in less-than-perfect condition.

Instead of complaining about things I will focus on what I have been given!

Jeffrey Beauman


This year, I am especially thankful for how faithful God is in answering prayer, especially when seeking His counsel for direction in major life decisions.  He provided for us and protected us from adversity in many ways this year, like in selling our home (when it wasn’t even on the market), buying our long-desired Lake Michigan home,—even providing a local condo to meet needs we didn’t even know we had!  I learned that our job is to ask, then WAIT…He does give very clear guidance in His time and in His way.  His hand of protection over our family as He guided us  this year has truly been remarkable, and has encouraged us to continue to trust in God in all things!  

Denise Hunter


I am so grateful for who our God is and HIS great love and mercy toward me. I am so grateful that HE is so trustworthy, so creative, so powerful and perfect. I am so grateful for HIS WORD and HIS SPIRIT who teaches us. I am grateful for life and the life HE has given me. I am grateful for my marriage and my delightful family. I am awed by the way HE uses all things for my good. I am so thankful for each person that HE has brought into my life. Each one is a gift from God to me. I thankful to be among HIS people and in a country that allows me to freely worship HIM. I am overwhelmed with HIS provisions for me. My cup runneth over.  Too much for my feeble thanks.

Sallie Collins


I am thankful that I can speak to God(!!!) about yummy pie and puffy white clouds, and it's important to Him. Yet, I can also speak to Him about my deepest fears and darkest secrets, and He won't freak out. 

Naomi Vaive


Redeemer Church, 
My family and I are so thankful for all your prayers for Gage. He was very sick and ended up having brain surgery last Thursday. He is recovery very well, and gets stronger each day with therapy. He will continue with outpatient therapy, hoping for a full recovery after a two week stay in Motts Children’s Hospital. Today he walked out of the hospital on his own two legs, something he couldn't do a week ago. We had so many prayers and an amazing group of supporters from everywhere, even strangers from  around the world. We have been praising God everyday, giving him all the glory for the miracle he gave us in Gage. We are filled with such gratitude and joy, God Bless you all. 
Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving! 

Joanne Bagley


I'm thankful that His glory will ALWAYS be found in even the darkest of circumstances in my life, even in loss. When we allow Him permission to work, he can beautifully mold our hearts to show us His glory and His love. When we lost our child in the womb, and consequently all future children, I never questioned His goodness. My only response after grieving was "Okay, God, show me YOUR glory, how are YOU glorified through this pain." His response was to work in my heart and give me a deep love for the kids and teenagers around me, and give me a desire to disciple them, and the grace to love them like they are my own children, even though I'm not much older than many of them. He has filled my life with children despite my circumstances telling me I would birth no more! That is a glorious work born from a place of deep pain. And the glory is His!

Nicole Griffin


I am thankful that God spared my life after a very dire medical situation, not only keeping me alive physically, but also using this seemingly bad situation to provide a more vibrant, thankful, peace filled, and hopeful life.  I am thankful that He allowed me to see how many people I have in my life who truly love me and care about my well-being.  I'm thankful that He taught me in a very tangible way that He provides for our every need, even when we can't see how it will be possible.  I am thankful that depression, fear and anxiety no longer define my life, that I am not alone and don't have to figure everything out on my own.  I am thankful for my career and the opportunity to love on my students and their parents with His love.  

This is just the tip of the iceberg! There is SO much to be thankful for!

Jaymi Yettaw


The past three years have been a major battle - an attack from the enemy, but through the battle the Lord did something I didn't think was possible, The Lord saved my marriage; and we celebrated 35 years of marriage in September. I am thankful that I serve a God of the possible - Luke 18:27, where Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." 

I am thankful for a loving heavenly Father who is patient, for showing me that I am his beloved daughter, and in HIS timing, with love, He is taking me out of my comfort zone and placing me where HE wants me to be.

I am thankful for my husband, my children, and grandchildren.

I am thankful for my family Redeemer Fellowship church.

Denise Kukwa

Friday, November 25, 2016

Adventures With God - Episode 01 - "Desperation"

Darren Wilson's new TV series is now coming out. I'm in Episode One (and some others) - here it is.

The entire series is coming out Dec. 1. You will be able to purchase it here

God Is Presently With Me, In Experience

Linda, Glen Lake, Michigan

God's presence is experiential.  I have stacks of spiritual journals that contain my encounters with God, ranging from possible (could have been God), to probable (probably was God), to certain (beyond a reasonable doubt, that was God).

It is possible to experience God. There is nothing logically impossible about experiencing God. "Experiencing God" is not logically incoherent, like "square circle" is.

It is probable that I will experience God. Because I find the Christian story to be true, I expect to experience God. Experiencing God's presence is integral to the social imaginary of Christian theism.

I know I have experienced God. I have had many events and situations where it would be unreasonable to disbelieve. In such instances, reductionism to a purely physical explanation without remainder would require a leap of faith too vast for me to make.

These experiences keep me going, spiritually. They encourage me. They change me. They guide me. They provide ongoing confirmation to my belief that God comes to me as Emmanuel, God-with-me.

Thomas Merton writes:

"There exists some point at which I can meet God in a real and experimental contact with His infinite actuality. This is the “place” of God, His sanctuary— it is the point where my contingent being depends upon His love. Within myself is a metaphorical apex of existence at which I am held in being by my Creator. God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself. A word will never be able to comprehend the voice that utters it."
Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 37)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

5 Thanksgiving Choices

Some of our Redeemer kids

Today is Thanksgiving Day! Here are five things you can do to make the most of this day.

1. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you. I've made a gratitude list on my computer and printed it out. I've got the list in my pocket, and will pull it out and look at it several times today.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 
- Thornton Wilder

2. Think of the people God has brought to add value to your life.
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
- Albert Schweitzer 

3. Focus on what you have gained, not what you have lost. In the worship song "Blessed Be Your Name" we sing, "You give and take away, You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, blessed be your name." As I remember precious people I have lost, I think of how their lives blessed me.

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 
- Epictetus

4. Say "thank you" to others, in your words, attitudes, and actions. Today, serve people. To serve is to love. Servanthood is the overflow of a thankful heart.

"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."

-- William James

5. Let the words "Thank you, God" be your constant praise. 

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever."
- 1 Chronicles 16:4

Praying with Thanksgiving Is a Stress-buster

Bridge, Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

In  Philippians 4 Paul tells Jesus-followers to “not be anxious about anything.” (v. 6) The biblical Greek word for ‘anxious’ is often used in contexts  where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, where Jesus counsels his disciples, “When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it.”

When Paul counsels the Philippians to not be anxious it’s not like he’s sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. He’s in prison! The context is: persecution. The Philippian Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition from their pagan neighbors, just like Paul and Silas had suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil 1:28-30).

I know what worry and anxiety are like. I have, in some especially troubling times, felt consumed by them. So I ask - how realistic is it to be told “Be anxious about nothing?” Paul’s answer, and his experiential reality, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

I have proof that this works, (following Henri Nouwen, in his book Gracias!): When I don’t pray I am more easily filled with worry, and fear. In the act of praying I enter into the caregiving of the Great Physician, who dials down the anxiety.

In everyday prayer-conferencing with God I present my requests to him. I lay my burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers, experientially, that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul writes that our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some loving god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.”

John Wesley said that thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.

The antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Official Chair of the World Chess Championship

Magnus Carlsen testing different chairs before the match
Magnus Carlsen testing different chairs before the match. The Staples chair that was chosen is at left.

Scroll down here to read about the official chair of the world chess championship.

The chair is sold at staples - here.

A Resource for Struggling Marriages - for only $1.99

Dr. Gary Chapman (author of The 5 Love Languages) has written a book for troubled marriages - One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage Is Falling Apart.

It's on sale as a Kindle book for only $1.99.

Other Chapman books for $1.99 are...

Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married (Linda and I have recommended this book to many couples.)

The Marriage You've Always Wanted

God's Love is Pure Because It Needs Nothing

Two of the pastors who attended my pastors retreat in Eldoret, kenya

I am praying to love as God loves. I would not be praying like this if I already loved as God loves.

I am familiar with the Scriptures. I read the many stories of the love of God. I may be a fool, but at least I can see the great abyss between whatever love I have and the love of God.

God's love is not like ours.

This is, from one perspective, good. If God's love was like ours, then God would be reduced to the lowest common denomination of love. God's love would be a single penny. God's love would have little to give. 

If God's love was like ours, then God would be escorted off the throne where he reigns over the cosmos, and take a seat in the recliner, ruling over the remote control.

It is good that God's love is not like ours. It is not good that our love is not like God's.

God's love is unpossessive. God's love is pure because it needs nothing. (See Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, 118)

You can only love when you do not need. Because need grasps, so that it may possess. Love holds things and people lightly, and holds onto God tightly.

True love holds, without owning. God's love does not control or demand our reciprocity. God's love waits. Only the unpossessive can wait. Only those who wait are free to love. True love waits for a response.

I am praying for a love like this to find its home in my heart.

Testimonies of Thankfulness

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Worship at Redeemer

Scripture repeatedly instructs us to cultivate a heart of gratitude to God for who he is and what he has done. 

In 2 Chronicles 5:13 we read this typical story.

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud.

What are you thankful to God for? Write it up and send it to me at:

It is good to give thanks to the Lord! If you have a testimony of thankfulness you would like to share with me I will post it on my blog on Saturday.

Names of other people should be used with their permission, as applicable.

No longer than a paragraph - 150 words or less please.

I will use your full name.

I will edit your submission, as needed.  :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Overcoming Shame

Monroe County Community College

I have struggled with shame, even as a follower of Jesus. One resource that has helped me is Lewis Smedes' beautiful book Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve, Smedes was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Like me and many others, Smedes had  inner wars with shame and self-hatred.

Shame, says Smedes, is different than guilt. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are. "A person feels guilt because he did something wrong. A person feels shame because he is something wrong." (9) 

Guilt is a good thing when it is God-given. We should feel guilt, we should have a conscience, if we hurt someone. But shame, if it is an unhealthy feeling of unworth that is distorted, exaggerated, and utterly out of touch with our reality, is an emotion out of hell.

Smedes writes:

"If you have a nagging feeling that you do not measure up to the person you ought to be..., the generic label for what you feel is shame. We have shame when we persistently feel that we are not acceptable, maybe unworthy, and are less than the good person we are supposed to be. Shame is a vague, undefined heaviness that presses on our spirit, dampens our gratitude for the goodness of life, and slackens the free flow of joy. Shame is a primal feeling, the kind that seeps into and discolors all our other feelings, primarily about ourself but about almost everyone and everything else in our life as well."

Smedes says the "shame equation" is this: one wrong act equals one bad person. If that were true (which it is not), then I am a very, very bad person. I have experienced doing wrong, even to people I love, and then whipped on myself for days afterwards. Even though I know Jesus died on the cross for my failures, I have crucified myself over things I have done.

Smedes tells the tragic story of a gifted piano player named Lech Koplenski, and an adoring fan named Chenska Wolenka. Lech played piano at a local cabaret, and Chenska, an attractive woman, loved Lech and wanted to see him get a break and become a concert pianist. There was a producer of concerts who would come to the cabaret, and Chenska became friends with him. She hoped to draw his attention to Koplenski's gifted piano playing. The producer told her that he would help if she would sleep with him. She did. He made good on his part of the bargain. Lech Koplenski became a concert pianist star.

Lech never came back to the cabaret. Smedes writes: "All that Chenska had left over was a deep shame of herself. One early morning in May she jumped from her apartment window to her death. Taped to her mirror was this sentence: I am filth." (18)

The perverted Cartesian reasoning looks like this: I did. Therefore I am.

If you live with unhealthy shame, what's the way out of it? Smedes says "the experience of being accepted is the beginning of healing for the feeling of being unacceptable." (107) "Being accepted is the single most compelling need of our lives." (Ib.) 

This is where God and his grace enters in. "The surest cure for the feeling of being an unacceptable person is the discovery that we are accepted by the grace of One whose acceptance of us matters most." (108) 

God, in his grace, overcomes our shame. 

Preachers - Preach the Text

On top of Masada in Israel, looking down, with the Dead Sea in the background.

At Redeemer we preach through the biblical texts. This is because our Christian theistic Grand Narrative is found in the Bible. The Book. This is our book. This is our distinctive. It is inexhaustible in its wisdom. Times and seasons pass, yet The Book remains. Why preach anything else? 

I've spent a lifetime studying and teaching alternative wisdom literature, as found in the other religions and in philosophy. "Philosophy," etymologically, means "the love of wisdom" (philo + sophia). As interesting as these sources are, Christianity's Grand Narrative has captured my heart and mind. Why substitute the wisdom of God for human wisdom? Why preach human wisdom with a few biblical footnotes tagged on? Why view preaching from the fear of not keeping the people entertained?

As a pastor, I must familiarize my people with the God-inspired Text. I put away the microwave and use a kettle. Increasing biblical literacy in a church is a simmering, slow cooker. Al Mohler writes:

"If you want to see quick results, the preaching of the Word just might not be the way to go. If you are going to find results in terms of statistics, numbers, and visible response, it just might be that there are other mechanisms, other programs, and other means that will produce that faster. The question is whether it produces Christians." ("Mohler Cites Preaching's Centrality")

Mohler's question is, as he knows, a rhetorical question. The answer is, "No." 'Where such preaching is not found, there is no church, no matter what it calls itself or poses to be.'" (Ib.)

Alistair Begg has said, "The reason most preaching is ignored today is that it deserves to be." Therefore, in these times, the irreducible good news of Jesus must be preached at all costs, and in all its beauty and fullness. Mohler concludes:

"The gospel is simply the most transformative, the most powerful, the most explosive message there is. If you have trouble finding something to preach, I guarantee you that you are not preaching the gospel. This is explosive, it's controversial, it's transforming. The gospel according to the apostle Paul is not simply offered to us on a platter for our convenience or our investigation or our tasting.
It is thrown at us like hot blazing rock, spewing from the crater of a volcano. It is dangerous stuff. Our task is to preach the Word and make known the mystery. But making known that mystery requires diligent, painstaking, systematic, rigorous, expository preaching because we have to paint the entire canvas." (Ib.)