Tuesday, February 28, 2017

My Book on Prayer Now $8.79 on Kindle



My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, is now $8.79 on Kindle.



The First Two Steps In Relationship Restoration

Linda and I are in Cancun today.

Linda and I are always meeting with people to restore relationships. Whether marriages, families, friendships, or working relationships, interpersonal strife-issues have not diminished. 

Are you in a struggling relationship? Here are the first two steps of relationship restoration:


  1. Get right with God.
  2. Be yourself searched-out by God.
Some thoughts on Step 2:


  • Few relationship problems are the fault of just one person. Yes, sometimes it is really just one person who "is the problem." But this is rare. If you are in a struggling relationship begin by considering yourself to be the problem, or at least that part of the problem you can influence. This is important because it is common for people to talk about the "other person" rather than look at their own self.
  • You are not a "victim" of the other person's behaviors. Yes, there are true victims; viz., people who are victimized/persecuted/etc. for essentially nothing they have done. But if you are in a struggling relationship the other person is not the cause of your bad attitudes and behaviors. Take responsibility rather than blame the other. Your sin has no excuse. Do not use sin against you as an excuse to sin against others. (Think here of what Jesus said as he hung on the cross.)
  • C.S. Lewis wrote that the true Christian's nostrils must be constantly attuned to the inner cesspool. Do not incline your nose towardsthe cesspools of others. Your own inner pollution will be enough for you to handle in this life. Clean up your own act. Or, better, allow God to clean up your act. The David-attitude of Psalm 51 is instructive here: "Create in me [not "them"] a clean heart O God. Renew a right spirit in me." Psalm 129:33-34 says: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Note the six personal pronouns here. Me, my, me, my, me, me.
When God shows you things you have said or done to contribute to the relationship failure, then: 
1) identify them; 
2) confess them to God and receive forgiveness; and 
3) confess them to the person you have hurt (sinned against). 

When you confess use words like this: "I was wrong when I did/said ____________ to you. Will you forgive me?" When someone says words like this to you, forgive them, as Christ has forgiven you. 

Get things right with God.
Let God get things right within you.
Confess, as needed, to God and others.

When both people in a relationship turn to God and allow themselves to be examined by God, and take responsibility for their own part in the team failure, expect good things to happen, and God to empower this.

Monday, February 27, 2017

2,000 Year Old Judean Palm Tree Seed Sprouts

judean palm photo

Thank you, M.M., for sending this very cool article - "Extinct Tree Grows Anew From Ancient Jar of Seeds Unearthed by Archaeologists."

From the article:

"During excavations at the site of Herod the Great's palace in Israel in the early 1960's, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.
"I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" said Solowey. She was soon proven wrong.
Amazingly, the multi-millennial seed did indeed sprout -- producing a sapling no one had seen in centuries, becoming the oldest known tree seed to germinate."



Love Goes Beyond What People Can Hear

Kathy and Linda, in Cancun

Sometimes, after I give a sermon, someone comes to me and tells me how much they loved something I said. And this "something" was not even what I was talking about. It may have been an incidental point, or an attempted joke. But it was not the meat of the sermon.

I spend ten to twenty hours a week on every sermon I give. I find the beef and marinate in it. On Sunday morning, I serve it up. Are people listening? Some are. Some are not. Some are texting people, probably not about how much spiritual food is being dished out. Some minds are elsewhere. Some are battling sleep. Some have lost that battle. For the most part, none of this bothers me much. I am called by God to do something, and I am going to do it to the best of my ability.

Maybe what I say with my words is not as important as what I say with my life? Maybe how I love others and am hopefully kind to them is what leaves the greater impact? Maybe how I help them in their time of need, how I pray for them before the surgery, and how I am with them in their grief - maybe that is what leaves the mark that lasts? And doing all this, not in the vain quest to leave some personal legacy, but because I love them?

Dallas Willard seems to think so. He writes:

"The people to whom we minister and speak will not recall 99 percent of what we say to them. But they will never forget the kind of persons we are. This is certainly true of influential ministers in my own past. The quality of our souls will indelibly touch others for good or for ill. So we must never forget that the most important thing happening at any moment, in the midst of all our ministerial duties, is the kind of person we are becoming." (Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship, Kindle Locations 1833-1835)

Some of my people write down things I say in my sermons. They tell me about it, and say God spoke to them through me. That is so encouraging! But people are watching us before they are listening to us. Even if they do not hear all that we say, our love for them can go beyond what they can hear.



The Irrelevance of Our Natural Talents



Marriott Casa Magna, Cancun
Some people are more naturally talented than others. Some are smarter, more athletic, more dynamic in their personalities, and more beautiful by certain earthbound standards. But when it comes to God and his kingdom, natural talents are not what are needed. Someone with all the above might produce nothing of heavenly value; someone with none of the above might produce goods that last forever.

This is all about the purpose of our lives, which is: to bear fruit that will last. Only God can grow this. It is the result of a life spent abiding in Christ. We get no credit when it happens. Our own talent counts for nothing. Talent fades and is forgotten; character influences and endures.

Whatever abilities, circumstances, and capital a person possesses in this life diminishes in comparison to lasting, eternal produce. What is important is the fruit, not our relative amazingness. Any intrinsic awesomeness we might have counts for nothing in the eyes of God.

Most Christians, I suspect, fail to understand this. We are all so caught up in the values of the Entertainment Church that mere, godly fruit-bearers are relegated to the lowest echelons of the honor-shame hierarchy.

Listen closely to Dallas Willard, who writes:

"Natural gifts, external circumstances, and special opportunities are of little significance. The good tree, Jesus said, “bears good fruit” (Matthew 7:17). If we tend to the tree, the fruit will take care of itself."
(Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship, Kindle Locations 1815-1819)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Institutional Transformation Follows Personal Transformation

Door - Monroe County Community College
Does your church have problems? If so, then you need to change.

So do I.

You are the problem in your church. So am I. 

We are the problem. What is needed is for us to change, systemically. 

James Van Yperen, in Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, writes:  "Spiritual transformation often follows systemic change." (38) Van Yperen outlines a process that brings systemic change.

  • examine, identify, and confess past failure
  • identify root needs, causes, or flaws in character, behavior, or thinking
  • unlearn negative habits practiced over time
  • relearn new habits of behavior and thinking
  • and reconstitute personal character and church culture. (37-38)
Spiritual transformation requires time and dedication to this kind of process. "To change any system [like a church], one must change the underlying structure—the system dynamic. Any change that fails to address the underlying structure is insufficient." (p. 38)

What is needed is deep change. (See especially Robert Quinne, Deep Change.) This applies to all meaningful spiritual transformation. If a person, an organization, or a church, continues to be what it has always been, it will continue to see the same results it has always seen. 

Recently I was talking to one of our church family members. He told me: "I've cried out to God for help in one area of my life. But I cannot find release from it."

I replied, "Yes, you've cried out to God. But you come to God only in emergencies. What you must do is cultivate of a discipline, a habit, of regularly abiding in Christ." (See the writings of James K. A. Smith, esp. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit)

This brings systemic, whole-being change. The underlying structure of his heart is transformed. I have seen, in the lives of pastoral leaders I have coached, that when new habits of spiritual discipline are formed, this becomes the arena where God's Spirit is allowed to morph the human heart towards Christlikeness.

Van Yeperen writes: "This is a thoroughly biblical principle. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, and especially in the ministry of Jesus, God brings spiritual transformation by turning the assumptions and expectations of His people upside-down, often by placing His people in a position where they must trust God completely." (p. 38)

I have learned that I cannot change other people. God once told me, "John, why are you trying so hard to change others, when you can't even change yourself."

But God can change me. The change that God produces in me will help my church community.

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

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)

and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

How to Forgive Yourself

My feet, in Hockeytown Restaurant, Detroit

I'm thinking again of the inmate at Mansfield (Ohio) State Correctional Center who asked me to pray for him because he could not forgive himself for killing his parents.

One reason that request affected me so much is that I have, in my own moral and spiritual failure, sometimes felt unable to forgive myself. I meet many people plagued by the hell-designed incapacity to self-forgive. How can we do this?

Everett Worthington says that "repentance and humility are at the core of breaking free from self-blame." (Worthington, Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past, p. 76) To be repentant and humble people need to do three things:


  1. Accept responsibility for their wrongdoing.
  2. Feel and show regret and remorse for what they did.
  3. Realize that making up for the wrongdoing and repairing the relationships damaged by the wrongdoing is going to be costly in time, effort, and self-sacrifice. (In Ib., 77)
Failure to accept responsibility "shoots forgiveness in the foot - and makes it difficult for the one we harmed to forgive us as well." (Ib.)

Conversely, three things render self-forgiveness impossible:
  1. Acting like a victim, and blaming others for your wrongdoing.
  2. Showing little or no remorse for what you did.
  3. Expecting that repairing the damaged relationships will be a quick fix (which often leads to blaming others for their "inability to forgive"). (Like: "Aren't you over this yet?")

A Rock So Heavy Even God Can't Lift It? (Tales of Facebook Nonsense Questions)

I took this photo of a bald eagle near my house.


(Because I'm explaining logical incoherence to my philosophy of religion students.)

Occasionally a Facebook atheist asks me this: "If God is all-powerful, can God then make a rock so heavy even he can't lift?" This question is supposed to throw theists into fear and loathing. But it doesn't, since it's a nonsense question, equivalent to wondering if square circles exist. Instead, the Facebook atheist should be filled with cognitive self-loathing.

Yale University philosopher Greg Ganssle writes:

"A physical object that is so big that an all-powerful being cannot move it is a self-contradiction. There cannot be such a thing. It is like a square circle. So God cannot make one. You see, to say that God is all-powerful does not mean that God can do any task I can name in words. It means he can do anything that is not a logical contradiction. A square circle is a logical contradiction. It is a logical impossibility. It is really not a thing at all and therefore it is not surprising that God cannot make one. It is not a real limit to God's power that he cannot perform contradictions."
- Ganssle, Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy, 157

Note: The question, "If God made the universe, then what made God?" suffers the same fate; viz., it is logically incoherent. If God is, by definition, self-existent (necessarily existence), then God never began to exist. Thus, to ask what made God is nonsense.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Desire Manifestations of the Spirit

Somewhere in California

The early church did not hand out "Spiritual Gift Inventories" so people could find out what their spiritual gift is. The situation was far more fluid and organic than that.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Paul writes:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Gordon Fee, in his brilliant commentary on First Corinthians, writes:

""Each one," standing in the emphatic first position as it does, is [Paul's[ way of stressing diversity; indeed, this is how that diversity will be emphasized throughout the rest of the paragraph. He does not intend to stress that every last person in the community has his or her own gift...  That is not Paul's concern. This pronoun is the distributive (stressing the individualized instances) of the immediately preceding collective ("in all people"), which emphasizes the many who make up the community as a whole." (589)

Fee writes that what "each one" was "given" was not a "gift,' but a "manifestation of the Spirit." "Thus each "gift" is a "manifestation," a disclosure of theSpirit's activity in their midst... [Paul's] urgency, as vv. 8-10 make clear, is not that each person is "gifted," but that the Spirit is manifested in a great variety of ways. His way of saying this is that, "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit."" (Ib.)

This is about the Spirit manifesting himself within the Jesus-community, not a statement about spiritual gifts being given to people once and for all. The early Jesus-followers were not locked into some spiritual gifts, while being shut out from other spiritual gifts.

Desire the manifestations of the Spirit.  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Love, Not Fear, Should Motivate the Discussion Over Borders and Refugees (Plus, an Invitation to Study with Me)


Bolles Harbor area, Monroe

There is quite a discussion going on in America about the matter of our borders, refugees from other countries, and possible acts of terrorism. I confess to knowing next to nothing about immigration laws (I suspect most people are ignorant here as well). This is one reason why I am cautious to declare things when I have not invested in deep studies that would support my particular opinions. (This means: beyond-Facebook knowledge. But, alas, in so many things, people love sound bites more than sound reasoning.)

So, I mostly listen to other credible voices I find more knowledgeable than I. I get disciple by them. Ed Stetzer is one such voice. Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission and evangelism at Wheaton College. Here are highlights of a recent article he wrote for Christianity Today – “Dear Fellow Christians:It’s Time to Speak Up for Refugees.”

Read the whole article for more detail. What do you think? Does any of this sound like God to you? If so, what? If not, then why not, and what is the alternative?

Stetzer begins with advising us to be cautious in rushing to make judgments. That strikes me as wisdom. Listen to credible voices on all sides of an issue before evaluating. Note: understand first; evaluate only after this. 

He writes:

“It is not wrong to be wise and cautious. And part of President Trump’s plan is, I think, wise. For example, his call for safe zones in affected areas is good policy. Yet I’m grieved by other parts of the policy. You see, too much of the policy is driven by unfounded fear of refugees.”

I agree. And, by the way, fear often causes us to misunderstand and misjudge. Beware of making evaluations out of fear. The reality seems to be this: While some refugees may pose a threat to our country, the vast majority of them pose no greater threat than you or I do.

Anyone familiar with my blog, or who knows me, understands that I teach logic at our local community college. I value rational thinking. (This does not mean I always think rationally, especially when I experience fear!) Rational therapy sometimes conquers fear.

Some people, e.g., are afraid of flying. I have compassion towards them, since I have my fears, too. Soon Linda and I will be getting on another plane, and flying somewhere. As we do this, I have often used inductive reasoning to dispel possible fear. It goes like this: the odds of this plane falling out of the sky are far, far, FAR less than the odds of my getting into an auto accident. I never leave my house with the fear that I might get into an auto accident. That realization, when understood and acknowledged, dispels any fear about flying I might have. I don't expect this kind of rational therapy will help everyone. But it still makes logical sense. The probability of the plane crashing is micro-minimal.

In the same way Stetzer writes:

“There is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year chance that you will be killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist in a given year. If those odds concern you, please do not get in a bathtub, car, or even go outside. And, for contrast, there were 762 tragic murders in Chicago alone last year comparted to 0 people who were killed last year (or ever since the mid-70s) by a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack.”

I remember watching the horror of 9-1-1 unfold on TV before my eyes. I remember when all flights were cancelled, and the airspace over the United States was a forbidden zone. I remember the heroes on the plane who overwhelmed the terrorists, causing it to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. I heard the voice recording of Todd Beamer saying, "Let's roll!" I understood that these horrific events were perpetrated by certain illegal aliens who got through our security undetected.

I am thankful that tomorrow at the airport I will experience TSA and their screening efforts. I want us to have these protective measures. Nevertheless, while there have been significant tragedies, I do not walk out of my house with a fear that this could happen to me. I can accept that it could. This acceptance is just not accompanied by the emotion of fear. 

Besides that, those of us who are followers of Jesus, and look to the Bible as our Great Narrative, know that as we abide in Christ, as we dwell in God's fortress, fear dissipates. Especially irrational fears (which, again, I have experienced).

As I recently wrote, Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones into places where things are uncertain and unknown, at least to us. This is called living by faith. It is by faith that we now understand ourselves as not truly belonging, essentially, to any earthly nation or race. Now, we are a "chosen race." (1 Peter 2:9) We are called to love one another, even our enemies (which the vast majority of refugees are not).

Stetzer writes: 

“At the core of who we are as followers of Christ is a commitment to care for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the abused, the wanderer. And fear cannot replace that core—as a matter of fact, we are the ones who proclaim that we have hope rather than fear.”
America is a nation of refugees. Christianity is this, multiplied by infinity. 

Stetzer's main point is that a Christian response to the current discussion on borders and immigration should be motivated by love, not fear. Surely he is correct on this, right? Love, not fear, is "the greatest." So, what shall we then do?

Stetzer concludes with this:

"There is no more critical time than now for God’s people to instead turn towards the helpless, the homeless, the broken, with open arms and hearts, ready to pour out every ounce of love we can muster.
Sure, conversations with our neighbors are sometimes hard as we express our solidarity with the refugee and those who are broken and in need of safety and dignity, but we must pursue what is right anyway. We are pro-life, but we must remember all that entails, from conception to death and each moment in between.

I am pro-life—and that includes for refugees. This week, many of us will focus on the unborn, and rightly so, but I’m also here to stand up for the born, made-in-God’s-image, refugee as well.

God help us be the people He’s called us to be in this generation, in this moment.”

***
Especially for my Redeemer family:

I am reading an excellent book on understanding these issues - Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. Any who want to read this and then get together to discuss - please let me know - johnpiippo@msn.com.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What I Do When I Go Out to Pray

Image result for john piippo lake erie
One of my praying places on Lake Erie

Someone who attended one of my conferences sent me this question: "When you go out to pray, what steps do you take?"

Here's what I do.
I go to a "place of least distraction," which is away from my home and office. One of these places for me is at our local state park on Lake Erie.

I bring three things: my Bible, my journal, and a devotional book (like a Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, or Eugene Peterson book). I often bring a cup of coffee with me.

I find a bench facing the lake. I sit. At this point I am almost always focused on God. I have done this for so many years that I am filled with expectation.

Currently I am slowly, meditatively, reading through Psalms and Proverbs.

As I read, it is common for God to speak to me, either mediately through the Scriptures, through the creation, or immediately. When this happens, I write it down.

If my mind wanders, I note where it wanders to. When it wanders it is always to a burden. Sometimes the burden is from God, and I pray about this (e.g., I feel burdened by what a friend is going through). Otherwise, following 1 Peter 5:7, I burden-cast.

When I am deburdened and detoxified (confession of any sins), hearing God happens more often. I may at that time read some of the devotional book I brought. Usually, I get only a few pages (if that far) when I feel God is again speaking to me. At that point I write in my journal what I feel God is saying.

All this is my usual experience. It does happen, occasionally, that I hear little or nothing. At other times I cannot write the thoughts fast enough.

I feel no pressure to make something happen. I do not evaluate my time with God quantitatively. It is always productive, even if I see no produce.

Almost always (99%) I am refreshed, renewed, healed, directed, corrected, at peace, with great thanksgiving.

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


I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)

and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire



Downtown Monroe

On occasion I hear someone speak about their "comfort zone." Like: "Sorry, but what God wants me to do is out of my comfort zone."

The comfort zone is the environment where they feel safe. This is the place where they are not, for the most part, uncomfortable. This is a kind of self-utilitarian approach to life; viz., do what gives me the most comfort most of the time, and the least pain most of the time.

I think I understand this. It's the American H-god. It's "Happiness" - "Clap along if you think that happiness is the truth, Because I'm happy." (See The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being. See also: "If Everything Is So Amazing, Why's Nobody Happy?") 


The idea of a "comfort zone" is a historically recent European and North American invention. It has nothing to do with God's plans and purposes. (See Happiness Industry - the "comfort zone" is rooted in the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham.) Yes, we find great promises of peace and rest throughout the Scriptures. No, you will not find comfort zone maintenance there.


In Scripture we see that what really pleases God is "faith." We are told that without faith it is impossible to please God. "Faith" and "comfort zone" do not overlap. We do not read the book of Hebrews saying, By faith Abraham stayed in his comfort zone.


If we stay in our comfort zones, it will be impossible to please God. Faith entails going into places and situations and the lives of people where, to be honest, we would rather not go. (See here, e.g.) Faith moves from comfort to discomfort. That is its nature.


"Faith" is RISK. Obedience by faith escorts us into the Discomfort Zone for the Cause of Christ. Think of missionaries. Then, think of yourself as a missionary, planted where you are. 

As Jesus died on the cross he was bleeding in the Zone of Universal Discomfort, for you and I. He was not there to furnish our man-caves with decorative crosses. He calls us to a life of faith that is accomplished by cross-bearing, within the enemy territory of this world's present darkness. We move out of the comfort zone and into the fire.

In Revelation 14:4 we read this about the martyrs who refused to worship the beast: They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. It was uncomfortable. Their suffering was redemptive. 


God ties a belt around us and leads us in places we would rather not go. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spiritual Transformation: The Dialectical Movement from Solitude to Community and Back Again

Mugs and pots, by artist Gary Wilson

My method in teaching spiritual formation and transformation is this: foster a dialectical movement from individuality (solitude) to community and back again, and again, with the forward thrust being spiritual and corporate transformation. As individuals are transformed, so is the community; as the community experiences transformation, so are (inexorably) its individual members.

My focus is on the deep ontological realities lying in the human heart, individually and corporately. (Henri Nouwen called them "movements of the Spirit.") For example, Trust vs. Control. This focus is why, I believe, I have been invited to teach spiritual formation and transformation in a variety of cultural contexts. Significant yet superficial differences disappear as we move into the deep waters of the human heart. (Proverbs 20:5) The deeper we go inside persons, the more we are all the same.

Individual God-encounters are needed (e.g., Jesus regularly went alone to pray), and corporate sharing (to include the kinds of transactions that occur in authentic community) is needed. Both individuality and community are required for there to be formation and transformation. The Christian who is isolated from community will not be transformed into Christlikeness; the Christian who fails to meet alone with God will suffer the same fate.

Ruth Haley Barton writes about the power of community:

"Spiritual transformation takes place incrementally over time with others in the context of disciplines and practices that open us to God. In general, while we are still on this earth, our transformation will happen by degrees (2 Corinthians 3: 18), and we need each other in order to grow (1 Corinthians 12)." (Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Kindle Locations 113-118)

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


I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)

and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Monday, February 20, 2017

Knowing More About Honor and Shame Increases Biblical and Cultural Understanding

Image result for john piippo honor shame
Jerusalem

For years I have drawn on insights I gained from Bruce Malina's writings on honor/shame cultures. Understanding honor/shame hierarchization helps to understand the Bible's message of the cross of Christ, as well as understanding our own culture.

Tonight I discovered a conference coming to Wheaton College - "Honor, Shame, and the Gospel." This is encouraging to me.

Through this website I found the link to HonorShame.com. Wow - what a great resource!

For example, a complete bibliography on honor/shame studies is here

The site contains a number of articles, resources, book reviews, etc.  See, e.g., how Western culture is becoming more shame-based.

***
My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Worship and the Transformation of Time and Space (The Presence-Driven Church)

Image result for john piippo presence
The river Raisin, in my backyard

I'm doing a book study with my friend and colleague Dave Nichols on Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence, by Gordon-Conwell theologian John Jefferson Davis. We're reading the book, and will put together a venue for pastoral colleagues to join our discussion. This theme is so important to both of us!

I'm about halfway through Davis's book. I appreciate his focus on what Gordon Fee called "the presence motif" in Scripture. To experience God in our midst as we gather together - that is our reason for being.

Davis summarizes his thoughts:

"Because the living God, the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit are present in the midst of the assembly, true worship takes place in kingdom space and kingdom time, where ordinary space and time are altered by the massive reality of the Creator and Redeemer of space and time, where earth is lifted up to heaven, and the future impinges on the present. The meeting space is spiritually energized and charged by the presence of the Spirit, the Shekinah Glory; ordinary time is suffused with the power of the past redemptive events of the incarnation, cross and resurrection, and anticipates the revelation of the Christ who is to come and who will usher in the new creation." (Kindle Locations 992-993)

When God shows up, space and time shift.

Things are different.

The ordinary becomes the extraordinary, the natural becomes the supernatural, the secular transforms into the spiritual, the mundane gets energized by the powerful presence of God.

***
My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Moving From Self-Hatred to Self-Forgiveness

My backyard - a light at the end of the tree tunnel

There are things in my past that I wish I would have done differently, words I wish I would have spoken, and words I wish I would not have said. I'm thinking of one of my past failures right now. The good news is that I am not hating myself for hurting someone years ago.

If you struggle with self-hatred I recommend Everett Worthington's - Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past. Worthington is Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a follower of Jesus.

I got this book last Christmas and am still slow-cooking in it. I can never hear enough about forgiveness. I need it for myself. And I need more wisdom in dispensing it to others.

I meet many people who cannot forgive their own selves from past failures, whether real or imagined. Un-self-forgiveness is a mental and spiritual assassin. Self-forgiveness that is rooted in God's great act of forgiveness in Christ is liberating.

Self-forgiveness will free you from guilt. "Sometimes guilt arises over unrealistic expectations and standards of perfection that none of us can achieve. When you are able to forgive yourself, that weight is lifted." (Worthington, p. 45)

Self-forgiveness will free you from self-blame. "Self-forgiveness frees you from the chattering, accusing voice in your head." (Ib., 46)

Self-forgiveness will free you from stress-related illness. "Self-forgiveness can improve your health, 1 and here’s why. Holding on to self-condemnation elevates your stress, which has been associated with a long list of physical and psychological harm." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from alcohol misuse. "Forgiveness of the self might be, for alcoholics, the most difficult type of forgiveness to achieve. But if they were able to do so, it could help control their drinking." (Ib., p. 47)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from accusation. "By bringing our sins to God and receiving God’s forgiveness, we can then forgive ourselves and we can rest in the knowledge that the accusations of Satan are groundless. If we forgive ourselves, we can silence the oppressive voice of the enemy." (Ib., 47)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for flourishing. "By not being so wrapped up in self-condemnation, you can enjoy more pleasurable and positive experiences." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on God. "Instead of being wrapped up in condemning yourself for past failures, you can seek God and enjoy that relationship." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on others. "Self-forgiveness allows you to focus on others, with the goal of helping to meet their needs." (Ib., p. 48)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for health. "Self-forgiveness provides energy and vitality. It supplies both a freedom from the past and a forward-thinking orientation that helps you seek the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet, and energetic work." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for a better quality of life. "Self-forgiveness can matter greatly in enhancing one’s quality of life." (Ib., 50)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for peace. "People who continue to wrestle with self-blame are unsettled. They find it difficult to exhale and relax. Forgiving yourself will help you live at peace." (Ib.)

Worthington cites empirical studies that support these conclusions. Why, given the great benefits of self-forgiveness, would anyone choose to wallow in self-condemnation? 
Why is forgiving ourselves so hard? 

Worthington says there are two kinds of self-forgiveness: decisional self-forgiveness, and emotional self-forgiveness. 


In the first you will no longer seek retaliation against yourself. You will choose to not punish yourself for past failings. Instead, you choose to value yourself. 

In emotional self-forgiveness you replace negative, unforgiving emotions with positive emotions toward yourself. "It is emotional self-forgiveness that cools the heat of anger in your heart; it’s what Corrie ten Boom referred to as “the temperature of the heart .” The emotions that we use to replace negative, unforgiving emotions are empathy, sympathy, compassion, and love for ourselves." (Worthington, p. 52) 

Why are these things so difficult to do?

Worthington cites studies showing that forgiving yourself is different from forgiving others. It is harder to forgive yourself than to forgive others. He writes:

"When you attempt to forgive someone else for an offense, you are adopting the viewpoint of the forgiver. The wrongdoer, of course, is someone other than yourself. However, when you try to forgive yourself, you have to operate from two points of view— both forgiver and wrongdoer. Holding contrasting points of view at the same time is a strain. It is hard to bounce back and forth from one perspective to the other." (Ib., p. 54)

In forgiving someone else we are not with them (for the most part) 24/7. But we are with our own selves  and thoughts all the time. We can't get away from ourselves. This can make forgiving ourselves harder than forgiving others.

Worthington says self-forgiveness is harder because we have "insider information"; i.e., we have information about who we really are. "The fact is, we know too much about ourselves. We know that we are capable of repeating the same wrong even when we know how hurtful it is. We also know that, as much as we profess love for God, we are like Paul who wrote: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7: 15). That is, we know the weakness of our will to do the right thing." (Ib., 55)

Self-forgiveness is different and in some ways harder than other-forgiveness because:

1. We live with ourselves 24/7. That is, we live constantly with the one who has hurt us, which is us.

2. We have insider information about our own self that we cannot have when it comes to others.


How, then, can we forgive ourselves? Worthington gives Six Steps to Self-forgiveness. Here you need to read the whole book. But the 6 Steps are:

STEP 1 - Receive God's Forgiveness

  • Go to God for understanding (the task is too big to handle alone)
  • Go to God with regret, remorse, and repentance


STEP 2 - Repair Relationships

  • Take responsibility (you are not the model citizen you'd like to be)
  • Confess to any you have hurt (admitting you're in the wrong goes far in turning things around)
  • Make amends through responsible compassion (thinking of others can help you make things right)

STEP 3 - Rethink Ruminations

  • It's not necessarily helpful to wrestle with the Almighty
  • Adjust perfectionistic standards and unrealistic expectations (Worthington shows how to do this. Getting real about yourwelf moves the process forward.)


STEP 4 - REACH Emotional Self-forgiveness

  • Worthington shows how to move from saying it to feeling it, using the acronym REACH:

1. Recall the hurt. 
2. Empathize with yourself by considering the reasons that you disappointed yourself. 
3. Give yourself the same Altruistic gift you would give other people— understanding and forgiving. 
4. Commit to the emotional self-forgiveness that you experience in order to … 
5. Hold on to self-forgiveness if you ever doubt that you have forgiven yourself. (207)

STEP 5 - Rebuild Self-acceptance

  • Live in the truth that you are deeply flawed and also valuable beyond belief
STEP 6 - Resolve to Live Virtuously
  • Live virtuously, but give yourself room to fail
And through it all, remember Galatians 5:1 - "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."