Saturday, September 30, 2017

Spiritual Maturity - It Takes a Lifetime

A weed,
in my backyard.
The pears on our neighbor's pear tree have been falling onto the ground. It has taken a whole season of connectedness for the pear to mature from what began as a flower. The pear-as-flower-bud is immature. It is far from fully formed.

In the spiritual life things are the same. The new Jesus-follower is young and, ipso facto, immature. This is not a criticism, it is just a reality. Just as Mc-Pears don't exist, neither does Mc-Spirituality. Yes, they can know Christ and be known by Christ. No, they are not and cannot be, e.g., a "mature worshiper." 

As a pear-flower matures into an edible pear, so can a baby Christian mature into Christlikeness. This is a process, and it takes time. Praise God for Jesus-followers who are young adults. If they live lives that abide in Christ, like branches attached to Jesus the Vine, they will grow towards maturity. But they cannot, at their age, be "mature," because this takes time.

"Maturing" is not some "quality time" thing, as if a pear would decide to spend a few quality hours attached to the tree. One sign of spiritual maturity is that a person has been broken and re-broken by God, over time, so as to be more greatly formed in Christ. This is how spiritual oak trees are made.

The flower-blossom-pear is in it for the long haul. To mature spiritually requires a lifetime. 

Stay attached. Continue dwelling in Christ.

Be patient.

Slow-cook in the furnace of spiritual formation.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Real Jesus - For Further Reading

Jerusalem street

One of my doctoral qualifying exams (1980) was on ancient Christology (the Christological controversies). My Jesus-studies are ongoing.

Here are  some books and websites I recommend for more reading on Jesus, 
with a few annotations.

It's good for Jesus-followers to engage in Jesus-studies.

Note: The vast majority of people who critique Jesus
haven't even begun to seriously study him.


Kenneth Bailey

Richard Bauckham
Greg Boyd

Greg Boyd & Paul Eddy

Michael Brown

James Charlesworth

Craig Evans

Craig Evans and N.T. Wright 

Larry Hurtado and Chris Keith

Craig Keener

George Ladd

Michael McClymond 

Scot McKnight

Eugene Peterson

Stephen Prothero 
Lee Strobel
Dallas Willard

Ben Witherington

N.T. Wright (No one today is writing more about Jesus than Wright is.)


When the following New Testament scholars write a commentary, it's going to be worth reading.

  • Richard Bauckham
  • D.A. Carson
  • Craig Evans
  • Gordon Fee
  • R.T. France
  • David Garland
  • Joel Green
  • Richard Hays
  • Craig Keener
  • Andreas Kostenberger
  • Scot McKnight
  • Douglas Moo
  • Ben Witherington
  • N.T. Wright - especially see Wright's "For Everyone" series.



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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church - Should be at the publisher within a month.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Discernment Is a Function of Intimacy

Savannah, Georgia

“Discernment” is a fruit of an abiding prayer life. 

To "discern" is different from to "decide."

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

This difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed is: discernment. 

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must therefore themselves be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

The more familiar or intimate we are with someone, the more we are able to discern their heart. The more time spent in close dialogue, the more we recognize their voice. The less familiarity, the less discernment. Spiritual discernment is in direct proportion to our intimacy with God.

In praying, spend much time with God. Spiritual discernment comes from an intimate praying life.


Prayer Room at Redeemer

Defining “discernment”
-      Discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.

Discernment is different than “decision making.”
NOW WATCH THIS: The word in the Presence-Driven Church is” discern,” not “decide.”
This is not about “decision-making.”
God is making decisions and leading; you and I must discern what God has decided.
Biblical examples of discernment.
1 Kings 3:9-14 – Solomon asks God to give him a “discerning heart” to govern God’s people, and to tell the difference between right and wrong.
Psalm 119:125 – The psalmist prays: I am your servant; give me discernment
          that I may understand your statutes.
Proverbs 18:15 - The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
          for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Daniel 2:21 - God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
Hosea 14:9 - Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.
1 Cor. 2:14 - The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

How do I become a spiritually discerning person?
          Cultivate intimacy with God.
Discernment is a function of intimacy.
The basic rule is: The greater the intimacy with God, the more you have discernment.
“Discernment” Is a Fruit… or by-product…  of a Presence-Driven Life.

To know what God wants:
1. Meet regularly with God.
2. Engage with scripture.
3. Root yourself in community.

If you don’t have time for God or for praying or for worship or for saturating in the Word.. you will not have spiritual discernment.
Because a prayerless person dwells in the land of unfamiliarity.
How do I become a spiritually discerning person?
Rom. 12:1-2  -  offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind.
What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation.
We must be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about.

ἀνακρίνω,v  \{an-ak-ree'-no} - anakrino
1) examine or judge  1a) to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinise, sift, question  1a1) specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an  investigation  1a2) to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses  1b) to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of  any person or thing 
1 Cor. 12:10 - 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

διάκρισις,n  \{dee-ak'-ree-sis} - diakrisis
1) a distinguishing, discerning, judging
Phil. 1:9-11
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

δοκιμάζω,v  \{dok-im-ad'-zo} - dokimazo
1) to test, examine, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing  is genuine or not), as metals  2) to recognise as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy 

How to become a community of discernment.
Teach your people how to abide in Christ.
If you are a pastor… to do this you must give up control.
          It’s not about you. It’s all about what God is saying and doing.

A Discerning Community is a Movement, not an Institution

Faithful Are the Wounds of a Friend

Beach, Warren Dunes State Park (Michigan)

Last night, as Linda and I were in our family room talking, she said something that made me laugh. No one can make me laugh like she does. To be honest, few people make me laugh. It is my Finnish, Scandinavian badge of honor that says, "you are not funny."

I laughed so long and so intensely that I had to leave the room. I could barely breathe. Linda was laughing, too. If laughter is good for the soul, then it is well with our souls today.

She is my best friend in life. My companion. Next to God, it is her. I can laugh with her. I am safe with her, and she with me. I can cry with her. We can tell truth to one another. We can say good things and beautiful things and hard things, to each other. She is my friend, and I, hers. We can wound each other, in love. That's what friends are for.

Eugene Peterson writes,

"To be a friend of God does not mean everything is cozy between you and the Almighty. To be a friend to someone does not mean you pamper or indulge him or her. Friendship also involves struggle and loss, tension and turbulence. One of my favorite proverbs is “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). A friend, if honest and true, will tell you things you don’t want to hear. A friend, if deeply serious about you, will do things that feel painful. Friends do that because they respect our dignity and honor our uniqueness." (Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God, pp. 17-18)

Friends speak the truth in love. Not love, without truth. And not truth, without love, because that annihilates friendships. How much truth can a friendship sustain? A lot, if there is love. How much disagreement can a friend bear to hear? A lot, if love accompanies it.

Love bears all things. Even disagreements. Love does not fear disagreeing.

This is what allows Linda and I to enjoy one another and, like last night, laugh. If there is no pain, there will be no laughter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary - October 10-13

I'll soon travel to Payne Theological Seminary to teach another Spiritual Formation class to M.Div. students.

October 10-13.

Here are some of my former classes.

To Pursue Goals Is to Live in Near-Continuous Failure

Our back deck

Some people live by setting goals and achieving them. Upon achievement, they set their eyes on another goal. Twenty thousand steps a day becomes common, so we'll shoot for thirty thousand. People who live by setting goals experience near-constant failure. They spend more time pursuing their goal, rather than enjoying the fruits of success. Oliver Burkeman explains this.

"When you approach life as a sequence of milestones to be achieved, you exist “in a state of near-continuous failure.” Almost all the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose—so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again." (Quoted in Adam Alter, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, p. 117)

Followers of Jesus focus on obedience, not goal-setting. When we follow Christ, we are not trying to achieve something. To us, Christ has achieved all that matters. We join him in his victory, and mission. He leads us. We follow. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Conflict Reveals True Character

I loved teaching some of our Redeemer kids this morning!

I've always thought that who a person really is, is who they are in their home. This is because a home is made of people living under the same roof who are not normal like you. The people in your home, whether old or young, are different.

Differences attract - that's good. Maybe that's why you married the person you did. Differences also collide. Differences repel, like positive and negative magnetic poles. Differences conflict. A husband and wife are, in a few ways at least, polar opposites. 

From God's perspective, this is very good. Differences can complement. In Genesis we read, "And God created polar opposites, and saw that it was good." And, BTW, God is different from you. God's ways are not your ways. That fact is a transcendent good which we minimally grasp.

Conflict, therefore, is inevitable. Conflict is normal. If there's no conflict in your home, you have a problem. Probably, that problem is you. Or, at least, you are part of the problem. Always consider this possibility, for it situates you on the road to being a peacemaker.

James van Yperen, in Making Peace, writes:

"Conflict reveals the true character of a leader. Jesus told His disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:43-46). Who we are is revealed by how we react to persecution." (p. 26)

If differences irritate you, that is your problem. If different approaches and styles "push your buttons," those buttons are your's. Own up to this and you are on your way to character formation.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Existential Thirst That Never Goes Away

Butterfly House, in Whitehouse, Ohio

As a philosophy professor I've done a lot of teaching, talking, coffee-breaking, and reasoning with a broad spectrum of students. I spend time teaching and relating to theists, atheists, and don't-know-what-ists.

All of them have a worldview. Few have evaluated their worldview. This is across the board, no matter what their belief system.

They have one thing in common, because the deeper we go inside people, the more we are the same, in terms of life's important issues. They all have a metaphysical urge for the transcendent. Yes, even if they say they are atheists. 

This gives me hope when relating to my philosophy students. In the depths of the human heart there are reasons that not even reason can fully satisfy. As the French philosopher Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." (Two helpful books here would be Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, by Clifford Williams, and Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.)

The British writer Theodore Dalrymple confesses, “It is not as easy as one might suppose to rid oneself of the notion of God.” After confessing that he is an atheist, he proceeds to describe the void.

"Believing there is no God does not make the thirst go away. Few of us, especially as we grow older, are entirely comfortable with the idea that life is full of sound and fury but signifies nothing. However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue to long for a transcendent purpose . . . To tell us that we should not feel this longing is a bit like telling someone in the first flush of love that the object of his affections is not worthy of them. The heart hath its reasons that reason knows not of." (Quoted in Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, p. 31)

I'm now writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church, to be published in late Spring, 2017.

After that - Transformation: How God Shapes the Human Heart.