Monday, November 28, 2016

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.

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

Thursday, November 24, 2016

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

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.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Many Benefits of Thankfulness

Grand Haven, Michigan

Gratitude is greater than bitterness. Thankfulness is better than resentment. 

Colossians 3:15 says:

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

A heart of thankfulness positively affects one’s entire being. Many scientific studies confirm this. Here are some of them.

From “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier” (Harvard Medical School)

  • “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
  • Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) says most studies on showing gratitude to others support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
  • Gratitude can improve relationships. “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
  • Gratitude is associated with emotional maturity.
  • “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
·        Write a thank-you note.
·        Thank someone mentally. (“It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.”)
·        Keep a gratitude journal. I make lists of things I am thankful for and carry them with me.
·        Count your blessings.
·        Pray. “People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.”

Research reveals that gratitude can have these benefits.

  • ·        Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • ·        Gratitude improves physical health. “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.”
  • ·        Gratitude improves psychological health. “Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
  • ·        Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. “Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”
  • ·        Grateful people sleep better. “Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer." 
  • ·        Gratitude improves self-esteem.(Acc. to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.)
  • ·        Gratitude increases mental strength. (Acc. to a 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy, and a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and social Psychology.

From “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude” (Psychology Today)
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough “point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others.

·        “Expressing gratitude in your daily life might even have a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. In a review article published this past March (see below), researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.
·        Increase your gratitude-ability by looking for small things to be thankful for.
From “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude” (University of Berkeley)

·        It’s easy to take gratitude for granted. “That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention. But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes.”
·        Recent studies on people who practice thankfulness consistently report a number of benefits:
·        Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
·        Higher levels of positive emotions;
·        More joy, optimism, and happiness;
·        Acting with more generosity and compassion;
·        Feeling less lonely and isolated.

From “Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Mental Health” (Psychiatry Advisor)
Gratitude can have a positive effect on a person’s emotions in four significant ways.

·        First, gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it.  

·        Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret - emotions that can destroy happiness.  

·        Third, gratitude fosters resiliency.

·        And lastly, gratitude promotes self worth. 

  • Gratitude is good for your heart. “According to a recent study at the University of California, San Diego, being mindful of the things you're thankful for each day actually lowers inflammation in the heart and improves rhythm. Researchers looked at a group of adults with existing heart issues and had some keep a gratitude journal. After just two months, they found that the grateful group actually showed improved heart health.”
  • ·        You’ll smarten up. “Teens who actively practiced an attitude of gratitude had higher GPAs than their ungrateful counterparts, says research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.”
  • ·         It’s good for your relationships. “Expressing gratitude instead of frustration will do more than just smooth things over—it will actually help your emotional health. Expressing and attitude of gratitude raises levels of empathy and abolishes any desire to get even, found researchers at the University of Kentucky.”
  • ·        You’ll sleep more soundly. “ Writing in a gratitude journal before turning in will help you get a longer, deeper night's sleep, says a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.”
  • ·        You’ll have better sex. “Couples who regularly say thank you to their partner feel more connected and more confident, according to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships.”

See also: