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.

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

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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The World Will Not End Sept. 23, 2017

David Meade calls himself a "Christian numerologist." He predicted the world will end on Saturday, Sept. 23. 

Now, he's changed his mind - the world will not end on this day, but it will launch a series of catastrophic events. 

All this is nonsense.

I have paid no attention to this person. No one should pay any attention to "Christian numerology." Because a few people have asked me about this, I'm posting on it.

David Meade needs to come forth after nothing unusual happens and confess to everyone he has led astray, to everyone who has become afraid due to his false thinking.

That would be good. I hardly ever see this. Usually, false teachers predicting doomsdays revise their predictions, so as to fit their errors. 

As for you, there's nothing to fear tomorrow. Just stay close to Jesus, as always, trusting in him, and following as he leads.

(See Michael Brown's article HERE.)

Could There Be More Than One God?

Near Brasilia, Brazil

(In last night's Philosophy of Religion class at MCCC a student asked, "Why could there not be more than one God who created the universe?" I'm re-posting my response to this.)

Instead of there being one God who exists and created all that is, why could there not be multiple Gods? 

One answer sometimes given to this is Ockham's Razor, which states that causes should not be multiplied unnecessarily. For example, if I come home and discover a pan of freshly baked brownies on the table, I understand my wife Linda to have made them. But someone suggests, "Why could not the brownies have been made by several bakers? Why assume just one person made them?" Because, using Ockham's Razor, there is no need to multiply causes unnecessarily. That the cause of the pan of brownies is "my wife Linda" is enough explanation. Similarly, "one God" is enough explanation for the cause of the universe.

I'm thinking that one could employ German philosopher Leibniz's "Identity of Indiscernibles" to argue that the idea of multiple Gods is incoherent. This is an idea in process. Here we go!

Assume that "God" has essential attributes, which causally determine God's contingent attributes. For example, because God is essentially love, God's responses to unloving situations will be logically predictable. When God sees death, e.g., God respnds with comfort out of his loving compassion. God's particular manifestations of his loving compassion are not essential to the being of God, but contingent.

Now imagine there are two Gods, or even twenty-two Gods. If we define "God" as essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then Gods One through Twenty-two are also essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Were they not, then they would not be God. Given these omni-attributes, such as omnibenevolent, each of the twenty-two Gods will respond in exactly the same ways to, e.g., a particular human death. Sharing all the needed knowledge, they each would choose the very best response to that death, which would be the same. This would mean that each of the twenty-two Gods would share not only the same essential attributes, but also the same contingent attributes.

What is called "Leibniz's Law," viz. the Identity of Indiscernibles, states that no two objects have exactly the same properties. But in our example we stated that twenty-two Gods share exactly the same essential and contingent properties. Using, therefore, Leibniz's Law, Gods 1-22 are "indiscernible"; namely, they are the same object, which is to say there is only one God.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:

"The Identity of Indiscernibles (hereafter called the Principle) is usually formulated as follows: if, for every property F, object x has F if and only if object y has F, then x is identical to y. Or in the notation of symbolic logic:
F(Fx ↔ Fy) → x=y.
This formulation of the Principle is equivalent to the Dissimilarity of the Diverse as McTaggart called it, namely: if x and y are distinct then there is at least one property that x has and y does not, or vice versa."
If at least one of our twenty-two Gods had the requisite essential attributes, but each of the other twenty-one Gods had different essential attributes, then each of the other twenty-one Gods would not be God. The same applies to any varying contingent properties. Therefore, logically, there can only be one God, and the idea of multiple Gods is logically incoherent.

The Secret of Jesus' Ministry

Monroe, in the days when snow fell during winter

Why did Jesus pray? He prayed to find out what the Father wanted him to do. He prayed to receive strength and comfort. He and the Father were on a redemptive mission together. In times of prayer, Jesus received his marching orders.

Prayer brings us into the control room of the kingdom of heaven. In Scripture the "kingdom" means: the rule, or reign, of God. A praying person engages in God's kingdom activity. In prayer we gain discernment. We discern the important from the mundane. In praying we become relevant doers of the will of God.

I like this quote from Henri Nouwen, as he describes the place of prayer in Jesus' life.

"In the midst of a busy schedule of activities—healing suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town, and preaching from synagogue to synagogue—we find these quiet words: “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’s ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, pp. 20-21)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Jim Carrey Goes Rogue

Image result for caesar flickerman before crowd
Caesar Flickerman

Comedian Jim Carrey has gone rogue. He was interviewed on the "red carpet" for an event called New York Fashion Week. The interviewer asked Carrey what he thought of the many "icons" that were at the event. Carrey responded by calling the whole event "meaningless." (Why, then, was he there?)

Carrey continued, sounding like an existentialist philosopher, or the book of Ecclesiastes.

“I don’t believe in icons, I don’t believe in personalities, I believe that peace lies beyond personality and invitation and disguise, beyond the red S on your chest that makes bullets bounce off,” he said. “I believe that it’s deeper than that. I believe we’re a field of energy dancing for itself, and I don’t care.”

Before walking away, Carrey concluded, “We don’t matter.”"

If we are but "a field of energy dancing for itself," then of course we don't matter. But we are not. And, we do.

Carrey went off the grid. That's good. Because the grid is absurd and meaningless. Humans? As icons? To be adulated? How stupid. How uncreative.

I cannot get the image from The Hunger Games out of my mind, where Caesar Flickerman stands before the crowded auditorium, twisting every moment into happiness before the brain dead crowd. The people are hungry. The Capitol gives them The Games. In the Capitol, life is a game; hence, what once was thought evil is served up with heaping bowls of sugar.

We are bored. Look at people. Can you not see this?

In response, to placate us, and to hide the inanity, our shallow culture dishes out entertainment.

We devour it and, for a moment, are sedated.

Upon awakening, we find ourselves bored.

Caesar Flickerman knocks on the door, and sells us his happy drug.

We ingest it, clueless, happy.

There is no life, no meaning.

That's what "boredom" is. It's not having nothing to do. In America we have so much to do that we have lost the ability to do nothing. Boredom is finding no meaning in our never-ceasing doing.

The author of Ecclesiastes saw this over two thousand years ago.

Everything's boring, utterly boring -

no one can find any meaning in it.

Ch. 1, The Message

The Pleasure of Solitude with God

Somewhere in Monroe County

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:16

I spent time praying yesterday afternoon. I did not go outside, which is my preference, because a deluge of rain poured out from the heavens. 

I got alone with God, lifted requests to him as they came to me, meditated on Scripture (Ecclesiastes), listened for his voice, wrote some things he was saying to me, prayed for some people, and gave thanks to him.

I also deburdened. This creates a space in my heart to receive from God. When I am in that secret place that is my heart, my listening capacity rises.

I have done this for so many years (see here, for a record of this) that the attraction of God overwhelms the distractions of life. This has helped me live more focused.

The French theologian Pascal said we require things to distract us from ourselves. He wrote: "Hence it comes people so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible.” (In Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, Kindle Locations 2968-2969)

It took some time to learn aloneness with God, without distractions. To rest in the Lord, and not in the American sense of "rest" as "entertainment." The distracted life is the source of our miserable discontent. Willard writes:

"Solitude and silence are the most radical of the disciplines for the spiritual life because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing. To be in solitude is to choose to do nothing. For extensive periods of time. All accomplishment is given up. One learns “hands off.” Silence is required to complete solitude, for until we enter quietness, including not listening and speaking, the world still lays hold of us. When we go into solitude and silence, we even stop making demands upon God. It is enough that God is God and we are His. We learn we have a soul, that God is here, that this world is “my Father’s world.”" (Ib., Kindle Locations 2993-2997)

How different, how refreshing, how energizing and life-giving is the pleasure of solitude with God. No wonder Jesus did it!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Freedom from Self-Abuse (Cutting) - Sermon

My sermon on freedom from self-abuse (e.g., cutting) can be listened to HERE. (7/23/17)

The handout I gave is below.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Numbers and the Church

I'm reading on our front porch, watching the rain.
"Numbers pave the road to obsession."
Adam Alter
P. 113

I've been reading Os Guinness's Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times. Guinness's book is hopeful, even as he correctly identifies the indicators that the Western Church has conformed to secular culture.

One indicator of world-conformation is the Church's quantification of Christianity. "Numbers" have become the measure of "success." This is not only about the heretical "prosperity gospel." Guinness writes:

"America as the lead society in the modern world is awash with numbers and metrics, and with statistics, opinion polls, surveys, targets, pie charts, scorecards, big data, game theory and measurable outcomes—all at the expense of the true, the good, the beautiful, the faithful and the significant—and at the expense of God too. Numbers and the mania for metrics are therefore a critical element of secularization." (Guinness, Renaissance, pp. 39-40)

In the Consumer Church matters of the heart have been displaced by the number of hearts, and concerns of the soul have lost out to size of the payroll. The big questions now are "How many?" and "How much?" (The Church as a metaphysical Fitbit.)

"Nineteenth-century thinkers foresaw the rising domination of numbers, quantity and majority opinion, and warned against it. They regarded it as the overspill of the age of democratic majorities and the triumph of technocratic technocratic rationalism, through which everything would be reduced to numbers, and big numbers would be valued most of all. The pressure would therefore be toward a false notion of explanation through numbers, a dangerous authority for numbers at the expense of the true and the good, and in the end toward a disastrous strengthening of the Leviathan of the state (for what else is “big” enough and “wise” enough to coordinate and manage everyone and everything but the government?)." (Ib., 40)

Number-crunching is not irrelevant to the Church. But in the kingdom of God numbers are not number 1.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Suggested Books on Healing and Prayer

South Haven, Michgan

Someone asked me: 

What books do you recommend on healing and prayer???
I would like a deeper understanding on the ups and downs and whys...

My response to them is:

The two books I recommend to enter into this subject are:

Power Healing, by John Wimber 

Healing, by Francis MacNutt 


MacNutt, The Healing Reawakening: Reclaiming Our Lost Inheritance

Charles Kraft, Deep Wounds, Deep Healing

Neil Anderson, Freedom From Fear: Overcoming Worry and Anxiety

Henry Cloud and John Townshend, What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do: Overcoming Worry and Depression

Max Lucado, Fearless

David Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions

Everett Worthington, Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past

Randy Clark, Authority to Heal: Restoring the Lost Inheritance of God's Healing Power

Candy Gunther Brown, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing (the best empirical study on the connection between prayer and healing) 

Candy Gunther Brown, ed., Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing

HERE are some books that are not on healing, but God has used to heal to me.

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Flannery O'Connor, Collected Works

The Four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

For some of my thoughts on prayer and healing see my book Praying.