Friday, November 17, 2017

5 Thanksgiving Choices


Sunrise over Munson Park

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, here are five things you can do to make the most of this season.

1. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you. 

I've made a gratitude list on my computer and printed it out. I've got the list in my pocket, and will pull it out and look at it throughout the week.
"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 

- Thornton Wilder

2. Think of the people God has brought to add value to your life.

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

3. Focus on what you have gained, not what you have lost. 

In Job 1:21 we read, 

God gives, God takes.
God's name be ever blessed.

As I remember precious people I have lost, I think of how their lives blessed me.

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

4. Say "thank you" to others, in your words, attitudes, and actions. 

Serve people. To serve is to love. Servanthood is the overflow of a thankful heart.

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

SEMINAR ON PROTECTING YOUR INFORMATION ONLINE

At Redeemer. (Monroe, MI. 5305 Evergreen. 734-242-5277)

Sunday, Dec. 3, 5-6 PM. 

Presenter - John Fowler.

In the wake of the Equifax breach many are concerned that their information may have been compromised. John Fowler will share how we can best protect ourselves from online risks. John is Deputy Information Security Officer at Henry Ford Health System. 

John M. Fowler II

Pastors: Don't Become "A Quivering Mass of Availability"

Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

When people from outside my church family call for counseling, I tell them:

"I'm glad you called. Do you have a church family?"

If the answer is "Yes," then,

"Please contact your pastor and ask them for help." (You want a pastor who can shepherd you when you are struggling.)

If the answer is "No," then,

"I'm only available for persons who are part of my Jesus community." (I cannot become available to outsiders at the expense of the people in my church. Increasingly, I am discerning how God wants me to spend my time.)

I may, on occasion, meet once to set the person on a path to healing. I will refer them to the two Christian counseling clinics within driving distance of Monroe. (Here, and here.)

If they want to check out our church, and be part of us, then of course we will help. They are family!

Stephen Seamands writes:

"Confronted by a sea of human need and the insatiable demands of people, those in ministry can become, in Stanley Hauerwas's phrase, "a quivering mass of availability." In earnestly seeking to do God's will, we can be tempted to do too much of it. In his spiritual counsel to a group of nuns, John of the Cross wisely cautions, "Without the command of obedience, you never take upon yourself any work - apart from the obligations of your state - however good and full of charity it may seem."" (Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Kindle Locations 212-215)



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Coming Events at Redeemer



Here are some things we are doing at Redeemer. 

YOUTH GROUP – I am thrilled that Trevor and our youth leaders are now teaching our youth about “abiding in Christ.” This Thursday night, Nov. 16, Daniel Reaume will be the teacher.

YOUNG ADULT GROUP: Meets on Wednesday evenings.

LUNCHEON FUND-RAISER AFTER CHURCH THIS SUNDAY, NOV. 19. A soup luncheon will be held after this Sunday's worship experience. Donations go to our church's Food Closet.

ONE-HOUR SEMINARY: On Tuesday night, Nov. 21, 9 PM, Denise Hunter will be our teacher. Denise will respond to the question, “How Do You Trust God During Tough Times?” Thirty minutes of live teaching, plus thirty minutes of Q&A. On Facebook Live. To access this become one of my FB friends!

BAPTISMS – Sunday morning, Nov. 26. If this is for you, please let me know.

TEACHING OUR CHILDREN ABOUT BAPTISM: On Sunday morning, Nov. 26, I will again take my turn in our Kids Church time. I will teach our preschool – 5th graders about baptism. What is baptism? Why do we get baptized? What happens when we are baptized? I’m going to do this on a kids level. I’ll give each parent a handout when they drop their child off, which will share what and how I am going to do this. I will include some fun things in my teaching. Plus, one of our Redeemer persons has hand made a special gift for each child. At the end of the teaching time I will bring all the kids into the sanctuary, where they will be able to watch me baptize some of our people. I hope your child will be able to join me for this learning experience!

SEMINAR ON PROTECTING YOUR INFORMATION ONLINE: Sunday, Dec. 3, 5-6 PM. In the wake of the Equifax breach many are concerned that their information may have been compromised. John Fowler will share how we can best protect ourselves from online risks. John is Deputy Information Security Officer at Henry Ford Health System. 

FAMILY BASKETBALL & PIZZA NIGHT: Sunday evening, Dec. 5, 6 PM. Kids, teens, and adults are invited to join me for a night of basketball. Kids will play their parents, kids against our youth, youth against adults, and so on as we mix things up and everyone gets to play. Bring $2 and we’ll order pizzas. Bring a liter of pop to contribute. If you don’t want to play, come and just hang out with us.

CHRISTMAS EVE CANDLE LIGHT SERVICE: Dec. 24, 6-7 PM. This is one of Redeemer’s traditions. Join us as we celebrate the birth of Jesus!

WORSHIP IN THE NEW YEAR: Join Holly and our worship team as we start on New Year’s Eve, 9 PM. First, games and snacks – 9 pm. Then, praise and worship – 11 – midnight.

WOMEN’S CONFERENCE: “Power of Light ~ Living From the Spirit.” Sponsored by Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries (our Green Lake summer conference). Dayton, Ohio, March 15-17, 2018. Planning with Pam Wantz. Wendy Backlund and Julie Weyandt will be the guest speakers.

STEVE BACKLUND from BETHEL REDDING AT REDEEMER: May 18-20. Details TBA.

Blessings to you all!

PJ

Purity

"How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible." 
- C.S. Lewis, in Letters to an American Lady





(I'm re-posting this for a friend who asked.)

A few years ago Linda and I did premarital counseling with an engaged couple. We use the FOCCUS premarital inventory. It's so well-put-together, and gives us an MRI of the relationship. It asks all the questions we want to get into. Most couples enjoy taking this survey, and end up talking about a number of important things they have not yet thought of.

This couple - call them Jason and Andrea (not their real names, and I've altered their story slightly) - scored high on the FOCCUS. We had a good feeling after my first meeting with them. Especially because of their stance toward pre-marital sex.


Jason and Andrea had known each other for many years. They dated for several years. She was working on a graduate degree, and he managed a business. The FOCCUS survey led us to talk about sex.


"Have you had sex together?" we asked them.


"Neither of us have ever had sexual intercourse or come close to it," they responded in unison. Andrea said, "When Jason told me he loved me and was interested in pursuing marriage I immediately told him, 'There's no way I'm having sex before I get married.'"


"How did Jason respond to this?"


"He respected me for it," said Andrea, "and never has pressed himself on me."


Jason added, "It's not always been easy, because I love Andrea and look forward to sex in marriage. But I agree with her. God wants us to wait, and we are waiting."


I stopped.


I was stunned.


This was, for me, a holy moment.


Jason and Andrea are two attractive, intelligent, and successful people with great futures. Yes, they are Jesus-followers, but many Jesus-followers who get married have premarital sex because "they can't wait." 


I don't wish to judge them for that. Yet, I want to bow before Jason and Andrea and do a little worship! Who are these rare, unusual people who take the road less traveled and delay gratification? Especially in our sex-addicted culture where sex is used to sell everything from hamburgers to vacuum cleaners.


From my pastoral POV I see lots of sex addiction. Sometimes I wonder, falsely I am certain, "Who is not a sex addict today?" Have you ever seen or counseled one? Addiction is a monster. The French word for addict, as Gerald May has told us, is attache. Attachment. Claw-like attache. Being married or shacking up (I'm not talking about the book The Shack) cannot cure this. Our culture of sexual freedom has, ironically, imprisoned many. A sex addict outside of marriage will be a sex addict within marriage (unless The Transformation happens, to be accomplished only by grace).


Somehow, Jason and Andrea escaped the prison house of "sexual freedom."


We told them we were proud of them. Delayed sexual gratification displays self-control and breeds trust.


Linda and I abstained. In my abstinence I was not some religious legalist. I was so screwed up sexually that I just wanted God to heal the garbage of my heart so that, should I marry, I would not infect my life partner and children. When I told Linda I would not be asking her to have sex with me, I asked how this made her feel. She said, "Safe." I didn't love her only for her physical beauty. I wanted her heart. The two are different.


While dating, I waited several months before I kissed her. I will never forget that kiss! We were walking in a park, and it began to lightly rain. A little voice told me, "It is time!" I asked for her permission. She said yes. That kiss lasted only one second, but mega-volts of lightning came through her lips! From then until we got married we kissed only occasionally, and then only for a second or two. Our love and trust and respect only grew. This was wild and unbelievable to me, a former drug-alcohol-fraternity-sex-womanizer. A foundation of faithfulness was being laid from which we have never diverted (for forty-three years).


I don't see that often. When I sat in my office with Jason and Andrea, I got those feelings that have to do with my understanding of real, deep, growing Jesus-love that lasts a lifetime. Because Jason and Andrea have no history of sexual partners and have not sex-partnered with each other, I predict they will stay faithful to one another. They are disease-free, physically and spiritually. In this they are...  pure.


The odds are greatly in their favor. Their children will be blessed. They will pass marital fidelity to their kids. And maybe a couple of children whose parents are named Jason and Andrea will lead the counter-revolution to purity?


***

A few resources on Jesus-following and sexual purity include:

Every Young Man's Battle, by Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker


Every Young Woman's Battle, by Shannon Ethridge and Steve Arterburn


Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity, by Kris Valotten, Jason Valotten, and Bill Johnson 


On morality from our Christian theistic worldview, see Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

The Bondage of Controlling Other People

Monroe County

Some people are control freaks, some are controlees. Many marriages are the coming together of these two types. Every control freak needs a controlee, and vice versa. There are a lot of "Master/slave" marriages out there.

We all struggle with the control thing. I know I have. "Control" is the antithesis of "trust." Trust is huge in the Jesus-life, and life in general, since we control so very, very little. Keith Miller writes: "control is the major factor in destroying intimate relationships." (Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships, 7) This includes our relationship with God, because without trust it is impossible to please Him.

Why do we do this? Why do we try to control others, even while we can't control our own selves, being out of control and lacking self-control? Miller writes:

"The fear of being revealed as a failure, as not being "enough" somehow, is a primary feeling that leads to the compulsion to control other people. When we were children, the fear of being inadequate and shameful was tied to our terror of being deserted or rejected and we had little control over getting what we needed. To counteract that basic terror, we have evidently been trying all our lives in various ways to "get control" of life. This includes controlling other people." (14)

A controlling person is an un-free person. God wants to free us from the terrible burden of always having to get our own way. "Walking in freedom" and "controlling other people" ("always getting our own way") are antithetical.

I'm praying to be less controlling, and more trusting in God when it comes to others. Note: this is about trusting God even when you don't trust other people. To trust God when around distrustful people
is an experiential act of freedom. Plus, we really cannot control another person, right? A controlling master might get a slave's body to obey, but they will never capture their heart.

***
I have, for a long time, admired the writings of J. Keith Miller. Many years ago Linda and I read The Taste of New Wine. I read Keith's A Hunger for Healing, which was a killer book for me.

Note: If you are a controlee who cannot set boundaries, you must read Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

ONE-HOUR SEMINARY - "How Do You Trust God During Tough Times?" - Tuesday, Nov. 21, 9-10 PM


My next One-Hour Seminary is:


  • "How to Trust God During Tough Times"
  • Tuesday, Nov. 21
  • 9-10 PM EST
  • Guest Speaker - Denise Hunter
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeup and indoor


Denise Hunter is passionate about protecting the unborn, teaching others about holistic approaches to health, loving those whom God places in her life, and above all else, trusting God.  Her professional background as a Registered Birthing Center nurse (RN, BSN) and Christian counselor (MA, LLP) have served as solid foundations for ministry.  Her personal challenges overcoming betrayal, divorce, infertility, cancer, and serving her husband and daughter have provided lots of practical application!   Now retired, she continues to minister in a volunteer capacity, guiding others further along the path of abundant life in Christ!  

Grieving the Loss of a Child

Having lost a child myself, my heart went out to Ben Witherington and his family when, years ago, his daughter Christy died unexpectedly. Here is what Ben eventually wrote about their loss.

Good Grief: Soundings, Part One (What Does Grief Look Like)

Good Grief: Soundings, Part Two – Five Things Not to Say to the Grieving


Good Grief: Soundings, Part Three – The Hope of the Grieving.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hoping Beyond Death

So-Fee and me

(I'm re-posting this for someone I talked with today.)

I paid my taxes a few weeks ago. If there is one thing that is certain, it is taxes. But there is something more certain than taxes. One day I will die. Death is more certain than taxes. 

I think about death. One result of my conversion to Christ forty-six years ago was a greater awareness of death. Being a philosophy major helped me, since "death" is a big-time philosophical theme. How we think about death influences how we live today. Heidegger, for example, told us that life is best lived in light of one's death. The death of Socrates, as told by Plato, is philosophically famous as a example of a good life and a good death. 


Attending a theological seminary and becoming a pastor meant I was always being called into life-and-death situations, some of which ended, of course, in death. I have done many funerals. I did the funerals of my mother, my father, and Linda's mother and father. My infant stillborn son David never got a funeral because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his expiration. When you minister at a funeral you deal with death. You meet with people whose loved ones are gone.


I have cried at the death of loved ones. I cried when we put our dog So-Fee "to sleep" a few years ago. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We loved her so much! Driving her to the veterinarian's office as when she was dying was, for me, ridiculously painful. The fact that she trusted in us, in me, but could not be communicated to, made the situation harder. It also made me angry. Angry... at death... at the fact of death.


For several years I was the pastoral chaplain at the Mid-Michigan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lansing. This was Sparrow Hospital's "HOPING" group. HOPING: Helping Other Parents In Normal Grieving. David was pronounced dead in this hospital. My loss of David made me, in some way, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Once or twice a year I would speak, representing HOPING, to parents who had lost their children in the hospital. That was intense. It feels intense as I write about it.


I will never forget these things. I do not want to forget them. I cannot and should not forget that death is still with us. In times of death, in times of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, some people think and reflect. Not all, but some. 


I once did a funeral where friends of the drug-overdosed deceased were having a tailgate "party" in the funeral parking lot. Alcohol was their drug of choice for dealing with grief. They staggered into the funeral service having failed to "drown their sorrows."

Every death as a God-opportunity. Worldviews kick in at funerals. People are weighing things, evaluating things, dealing with incomplete things, with unsaid things that should have been said, with the experiential finality of death, and with their own mortality. All these are thematic in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. 


At a funeral I share how forgiveness is possible in Jesus, and how in his resurrection we have hope beyond the grave. As I speak I see people who are listening, who are HOPING. Some who live in denial come out of that dark closet and stand, for a while, in the light. In that moment they are looking for some hope, and before them stands the Hope of the World.

How do I handle death? I like what Thomas Merton said after one of his healthy meditations on life's mortality: "The important thing is simply turning to [God] daily, preferring his will and mystery to everything that is evidently and tangibly "mine."" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Note the quotes around the word "mine" since, obviously, we own nothing in this earthly life. This includes other people. Even we are not our own.  


I'm going to die. You are too. But Christ has been raised. Therefore I have hope, and you can, too. Today I choose to live in the light of that eschatological hope and connect with "Christ, the HOPE of glory."

Handling Grief and Loss

No automatic alt text available.
Pastor's Conference in Eldoret, Kenya
One of the best books on handing grief and loss is A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser (thanks again D.F.). "This book is about catastrophic loss and the transformation that can occur in our lives because of it." (17)

Sittser was hit head-on by a drunk driver going 85 mph. His wife, one child, and mother were killed. He survived. He lay at the scene with his other children for two hours, watching his loved ones die, caring for his surviving children. 

He's in the darkest valley, the valley of nothingness, with God.

Live long enough and you will experience catastropic loss. "As surely as we are born into this world we suffer loss before we leave it." (Ib.) We will all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, multiple times.

Sittser writes:

"It is not, therefore, the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives, for that is as inevitable as death, which is the last loss awaiting us all. It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives." (Ib.) 


We must walk through the dark valley, rather than around it. You can't do that anyway. You cannot avoid it. "I knew that running from the darkness would only lead to greater darkness later on. I also knew that my soul had the capacity to grow - to absorb evil and good, to die and live again, to suffer abandonment and find God. In choosing the face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunrise." (52)

We never "get over" catastrophic loss. Forget trying to help people do that. But we can "live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it." (18) 

Linda and I have never gotten over our baby son David's death. We never will. And, by the way, we don't want to. Our great loss did not condemn us forever to bitterness and lifelessness, because God has helped us find our way through the dark valley. For us it became essential to learn to trust Jesus, to abide in Him, and to do so now, not later.

"If we face loss squarely and respond to it wisely, we will actually become healthier people, even as we draw closer to physical death. We will find our souls healed, as they can only be healed through suffering." (18)



***
An excellent book for parents who have lost a child is I'll Hold You in Heaven; Healing and Hope for the Parent Who Has Lost a Child Through Miscarriage, Stillbirth, Abortion or Early Infant Death, by Jack Hayford.

God Himself Nourishes the Soul

Two years ago I spoke at a conference at this retreat center outside NYC.

Chapter 2 of my soon-to-be-published book is called "The Case for Experience." (Leading the Presence-Driven Church is in the final phase of production - should be out in December.)

Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. When Jesus told his disciples "I will be with you always," he did not mean "in theory."

It's the encounter with God that convinces the soul. This is why, in these nihilistic days, Presence-Driven Churches will be the alluring, shining, stars.

A. W. Tozer said,

For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience, they are not better for having heard the truth. 

***

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Adultery: It's Not Complicated


Worship at Redeemer - it's not as complicated as it looks
(I'm re-posting this for X.)

As far as I can tell Facebook popularized the response "It's complicated." I remember reading a woman's Facebook page. She described her extramarital affair as "It's complicated." This silly meme fails to get at the truth, which is: It's not complicated. Not really. Adultery boils down to one truth: she chose not to keep her vows. 

But what about the reasons underlying the breaking of the wedding promise? Are the reasons for the deception complicated? Not really. Adultery is unoriginal and uncreative. It's boring. Reasons for adultery are easy to unravel. They boil down to the binary algorithm "either-or." At some point a choice is made. Adultery presents us with nothing new under the sun.

Truth is not complicated. It may be hard to understand at times, but not because it is complicated. Truth is binary. Truth is either-or. 

In my logic classes I demystify the nature of rationality and clear away the foggy delusion of "complicated." I explain that a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. A statement describes a state of affairs that either obtains, or it does not. Period. (If that astonishes you, then I wish you had taken one of my Logic classes at MCCC. Or, pick up any university Logic text and begin to read.)

"It's complicated" presents the adulterer as some kind of mysterious genius who has woven a web of relationships that only they understand. They are a complicated person, epistemically inaccessible to common folks. As if they have figured this horror out, when all they really did was old-fashioned cheating and hiding. Cheat and hide. Again and again, as they faced ever-growing waves of *Kierkegaardian either-ors and, simply and as old as humanity, chose evil. That's not very complicated, right?

(The same, of course, goes for men.)

***

*Shall we choose the feeling/aesthetic life, or the ethical life? See Kierkegaard, Either-Or. A choice may be difficult, but not because it is "complicated."

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

My second book, Leading the Presence-Driven Church, is at the publisher now, preparing for release.

The Christ-Grounded Soul Is Not Disrupted

Storm clouds over our house

Thomas Merton wrote: "The measure of our being is not to be sought in the violence of our experiences. Turbulence of spirit is a sign of spiritual weakness. When delights spring out of our depths like leopards, we have nothing to be proud of: our soul's life is in danger." (No Man Is an Island, 125)

Here we have an equanimity of spirit that does not go up and down with the circumstances of life; an enduring spiritual center that functions as a thermostat, not a thermometer that rises and falls with one's moods and feelings. 


This is the Pauline idea of learning the secret of contentment, whether one rises or falls. "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need." (Phil. 4:12, NASB)

There is an oak-like steadiness that comes with spiritual maturity. Merton writes: "For when we are strong we are always much greater than the things that happen to us, and the soul of a man who has found himself is like a deep sea in which there may be many fish; but they never come up out of the sea, and no one of them is big enough to trouble its placid surface." (Ib.)

The Christ-grounded soul is not disrupted when outwardly things have erupted, whether for the good or for the bad. "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil..." (Hebrews 6:19)

Merton writes: "A man's "being" is far greater than anything he feels or does." (Ib.) 


The ontology of the spiritual life is: 

1) being
2) doing.

Purity Rituals in Leviticus 14 (The 10 Lepers of Luke 17)

This is for my Redeemer family.

I'm preaching this morning on the ten lepers, Luke 17:11-19.

When Jesus tells the ten to go show themselves to the priests, Leviticus chapter 14 lies in the background.

Why, for example, is a cleansed leper to find...


two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed. Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.
“The person to be cleansed must wash their clothes, shave off all their hair and bathe with water; then they will be ceremonially clean. 
After this they may come into the camp.
For an explanation, go here - John Goldingay, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pages 108-109.

See also John Walton's notes on Leviticus 14, in the NIV Cultural Background Study Bible. There were zones of purity in the camp of Israel. Each zone had its own rules of purity and accessibility. 




For information on the Samaritans go here.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

An Atheist Tries to be Thankful to Something

Flowers in my front yard

I often have a feeling, a sense, of gratitude that leads me to say, "thank you." I experience existential thankfulness for life, for being alive. My very existence is a gift. 

As a Christian theist my words of thanksgiving are addressed to God. God, thank You... so very much! 


For an atheist things are different.

Ronald Aronson, Professor of the History of Ideas at Wayne State University, wrote an essay called "Thank Who Very Much?" The reason for the question mark is that, as an atheist, Aronson feels "thankful," but because God does not exist he wonders just who or what he should thank.


Aronson believes a person can be legitimately thankful without either: a) belief in a God; or b) falling into existentialist absurdity. What's his alternative?


He writes: "Think of the sun's warmth. After all, the sun is one of those forces that make possible the natural world, plant life, even our very existence. It may not mean anything to us personally, but the warmth on our face means, tells us, a great deal. All of life on earth has evolved in relation to this source of heat and light, we human beings included. We are because of, and in our own millennial adaptation to, the sun and other fundamental forces."


So? For Aronson, one can feel gratitude by "acknowledging one of our most intimate if impersonal relationships, with the cosmic and natural forces that make us possible." An atheist can show gratitude "to larger and impersonal forces." Because "we derive our existence from, and belong to, both natural forces and generations that preceded us, ... it is just possible that we will often feel connected [to such forces and generations], and often grateful."


Aronson says that when we gather together with friends on one of those snuggly holiday nights, we may be overcome by "a warm, joyous, comfortable feeling, even a moment of well-being - but to whom or to what?" The answer is: "Obviously, to natural forces and processes that have made our own life, and this reunion, possible."


So, thank you strong force, thank you weak force, thank you electromagnetic force, than you gravity, thank you evolution. Thank you particles, protons, neutrons, electron, quarks, and dark matter. 


Good night moon.

For me, this attempt to find some object of gratitude sans God doesn't work. I'll take the following dichotomy: either God, or Camus-ian absurdity. Aronson's idea sounds like a spiritless animism (which is, of course, a contradiction). 


Thankfulness, if it is to have any meaning at all, requires inter-personality. I experience innumerable moments of gratitude, but have never felt like thanking the wall of my house for holding up the roof. Thanking "impersonal forces," no matter how "large" they are, is no different than walking outside and thanking your lawn for being green. See again Camus, Sartre, and a host of atheistic existentialists who write on the absurdity of moral feelings, purposive feelings, and so on.


To say "Thank you" only makes sense if there is someone who can or could have responded, "You are welcome."


Aronson the atheist feels thankful. I do not doubt this. As an atheist, he doesn't want his thankful feelings to be absurd. But thanking impersonal forces is absurd, like thanking your stuffed teddy bear for loving you. 


The raw truth remains: No God = no ultimate meaning. Such is the logic of atheism, on which there is nothing, no one, to thank.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Prayer, Poverty, and Thanksgiving

A meal of rice and vegetables in Kenya
I embarrassed myself when I was in Kenya. 

I was leading a Pastor’s Conference in Eldoret, with sixty wonderful men and women from Kenya and Uganda. They were part of New Life Mission, a network of over 150 churches in Kenya and Uganda. 


We ate many meals together. This was real Kenyan food – vegetables, cooked raw bananas, rice, maize… I loved it!


I noticed many of the pastors taking very full plates of food. A lot more than I took. I made a joke, saying “Kenyans and Ugandans eat a lot, but still are slim and run so fast!” My host, Cliff, later told me the reason they load their plates with food is because they only eat two meals a day. When they have the opportunity, they eat a lot.


Inwardly I sank. Who am I, that I am so out of touch? 


The prayers of many Kenyans and Ugandans are for food to eat, today. I, on the other hand, fight overeating. My problem is not securing my next meal. It's that there is so much food available, and I approach our American Thanksgiving Day hoping I do not overeat.


I live the land of over-plenty, over-eating, and struggling to diet. In the midst of abundance, I am being processed by God. Here are some things God is showing me. 


1. I am no longer to see someone who is foodless and thank God that I have food. I am to thank God for food, for a roof over my head, for clothing. But this thanks is not to come at the expense of someone else’s poverty. There is something evil about this. It uses another person’s bondage as an occasion for my thanksgiving. 


Jesus never looked on sick or hungry people and said, “Thank God that I am God and am not like these sick people.” Instead, he had compassion on them. Actually, he became one of them, for “the Son of Man had no roof over his head.” 


My focus must be on my own need for God’s mercy, rather than giving thanks that I am not among the mercy-deprived. I am not to be like the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you God that I am not like these other people.”


2. If this thought comes to me - "Thank God that I have more than these poor people"  - I must assume this is God calling me to help. Why would God show me someone poorer than I as a way to make me give thanks? Authentic thankfulness results in overflowing, sacrificial giving. To those who have much and thank God for it, much is expected. Thankfulness is hypocritical and meaningless if it does not overflow to others. Pure Pharisaic “thankfulness” thanks God that I am not poor; true thankfulness to God impacts the poor. Self-centered gratefulness is faux-gratitude.


3. At one of our recent worship gatherings God was speaking to  me about such things. It was a beautiful time of intentional thanksgiving to God for how he has blessed us as a church family. That day God told me, “John, when you see someone who has nothing, and then give thanks for what you have that they don’t have, that is the spirit of poverty on you.”


A spirit of poverty, a spirit of “lack,” whispers to me, “You do not have enough.” This heart of not-enough-ness, when it sees someone worse off than me, feels thankful. This is the spirit of poverty’s solution to my dilemma; viz., to keep me perpetually enslaved to a poverty mentality by comparing me with others. 


Some drive new cars and I feel deprived; some have no car and I feel thankful. A spirit of poverty is never satiated, and in this way it continuously punishes. 


Feeling thankful when I see someone who has no food comes from feeling I do not have enough. One thinks, “Whew, I’m not so bad off after all!” We only say words like that when we feel “bad off.” 


Real thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of this. I’ve been living under a spirit of poverty, and renounce it.