Sunday, February 19, 2017

Who I Am In Christ

For my Redeemer family.

There was a time in my life when I carried this with me and meditated on what Scripture says about my new identity as a Jesus-follower.

Click on the verse and you'll be taken to Bible Gateway.


I am accepted...
I am God's child.
As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.
I have been justified.
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.
I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
I am a member of Christ's body.
I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.
I am complete in Christ.
I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.
I am secure...
I am free from condemnation.
I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances.
I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God.
I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
I am hidden with Christ in God.
I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me.
I am a citizen of heaven.
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.
I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.
I am significant...
I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
I am God's temple.
I am a minister of reconciliation for God.
I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.
I am God's workmanship.
I may approach God with freedom and confidence.
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

God's Solution to Our Love Problem Is Not Marriage, But Himself

When I was in elementary school, way back in the Medieval period of human history when the only texting we did was with a book, we used to write Valentine's cards for every kid in class. We made a "Valentine box" and put our name on it. When the time came, we all took our cards and placed them in everyone's boxes. 

When we got home we would open the cards and read all the notes of love, plus other notes that were not loving, or notes that contained obscure messages that needed to be decoded. That, for me, was a long time ago.

This past week Linda and went out for dinner and exchanged love-cards. We spoke words of love to each other. As we do this, we often think of how hard Valentine's Day is for some people we know. Like people with struggling marriages where love does not exist, and where no cards with loving words will be exchanged. Like people who long to find someone to spend their life with, but as of yet no one is there. Like some Jesus-followers who "missionary date"; i.e., they fall in love with some non-Jesus-follower in hopes of leading them to Jesus, all out of their own need for love. Most of these situations end in disaster. In the search for love, to love and be loved, many people settle for less than love, or non-love.

For the Jesus-follower stuck in a divided-Kingdom marriage, their moral stand against divorce makes them feel condemned to the painful situation. Make no mistake: it's far, far better to be unmarried and passionate about Jesus, then to be passionate about Jesus and married to someone who doesn't feel the same. In fact, if you are reading this and are not married, rejoice that you have not settled for a divided-Kingdom marriage!

What about love? To love, and to be loved? Here is the good news. Real, deep love is there for the taking. God, the author and source of love, loves you. And desires to be loved back by you. 

The Father loves you! It's the Father's love that is the substantial reality behind all the worldly imitations and desires. No "significant other" can come close to this. God, the Maker of your soul, is the one true "Soul Mate." 

I am so thankful I experienced this Great Love in my first year as a Jesus-follower. I chose to take a year off from relationships with the opposite sex for the sake of knowing God. That year of loving God, and being-loved by God, shaped all the relationships I was to have in the future.

If any marriage is excellent it is because both the husband and wife love, in the first place, God. No marriage can give what only God can give. 

The person who says to someone, "I cannot live without you," puts too much weight on that person. Beware of someone who believes this, since they don't have a life outside of you. 

I don't mean to be insensitive here. If something were to happen to Linda I'll need my friends to scrape me off the floor, and speak into my life. Yet both Linda and I loved God first before we loved each other. 

That still strikes me as the healthiest way to enter into a marriage. Neither of us can live without the Father's love. Two "Christians" in a marriage, minus the Father's love, equals disaster.

It is significant that, in eternity, there will be no marriages. Love, however, will be there, and it will be unlike anything we could have imagined. Therefore, it is not necessary to be married to experience real love. "Being-married" is not God's solution to the love problem. Heaven will be, centrally, a being-loved-and-loving affair with our Creator and Savior. Apply Christian Trinitarian theism to this and its gets exciting. We will dwell with the Three-Personed God, forever.

Accept this "Valentine" from the heart of your Maker, to you: 

"_________, I love you!"

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Supremacy of Wisdom and the Need for the Elderly

Image result for john piippo wisdom
Monroe County

When you slowly meditate through the biblical book of Proverbs, one thing stands out: nothing is more valuable in life than the acquisition of wisdom. This is an analytic truth, as seen on Proverbs 4:7:

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Wisdom is more valuable than money or material things. It is greater than any possible accomplishments and awards. The pursuit of wisdom is a far better investment than going after happiness.

When I read the word "wisdom," I think of things like this.

Wisdom is something deep. In the soul. Wisdom is something to be "fathomed." Fools run a mile wide and an inch deep. The wise take their inch and dig a mile down.

Wisdom comes to the elderly, if they invest a lifetime in its acquisition. A child cannot be wise. A child may say something that is wise, but it does not come out of a soul that runs deep. You can be young and relatively smart, but you cannot be young and wise.

Old people are not necessarily wise. It all depends on what they went after in life. A person can be old and a total fool. Thus, a long life (the longer the wiser) is necessary but not sufficient when it come to gaining wisdom. Their life must be spent in a certain way. It must be spent on the things necessary for gaining wisdom.

This is why the church needs "elders." Old people, who have spent a lifetime loving God, worshiping God, desiring God, serving God, praying, meditating on Scripture, and active in community. These are people stripped of performance-ability and steeped in understanding-ability. They have knowledge from experience, not from books. These are the most valuable people in the Church, otherwise the ship of fools will run aground.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why the Universe's Cause Must Be a Personal Agent (Re. the Kalam Cosmological Argument)

Monroe County

(For my MCCC philosophy students.)

The Kalam Cosmological Argument, as formulated by William Lane Craig is an evidential argument. If someone says "There's no evidence for God's existence" that is simply false. Using the evidence of a temporal universe, and then reasoning logically using that fact as a premise, one concludes (deductively) that our universe has a cause.

But why must that cause be God?

I was answering that question for my MCCC philosophy students after a recent class. This is abstract, logical thinking that is hard to grasp for students who are not used to critical thinking like this. I told them I'm going to make a post to help explain this further. I'm going to quote from Craig's excellent On Guard. He writes:

"The cause of the universe must therefore be a transcendent cause beyond the universe. This cause must be itself uncaused because we've seen that an infinite series of causes is impossible [using, e.g., German mathematician David Hilbert's reasoning that an actual infinite is impossible]. It is therefore the Uncreated First Cause. It must transcend space and time, since it created space and time [remember: in the "singularity" there is neither space nor time, and thus the laws of physics do not apply]. Therefore, it must be immaterial and nonphysical [logically so]. It must be unimaginably powerful, since it created all matter and energy." (99)

But why must the cause of the universe be a personal agent? Because if the cause of the universe is timeless and impersonal this cannot produce a temporal effect with a beginning like the universe. Craig writes:

"If a cause is sufficient to produce its effect, then if the cause is there, the effect must be there, too. For example, water freezes when the temperature is below 0 degrees centigrade; the cause of the freezing is the temperature's falling to 0 degrees. If the temperature has always been below 0 degrees, then any water around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for water to begin to freeze just a finite time ago. Now the cause of the universe is permanently there, since it is timeless. So why isn't the unvierse permanently there as well? Why did the universe begin to exist only 13.7 billion years ago? Why isn't it as permanent as its cause?" (100)

By inference to the best explanation, a timeless, personal cause best explains the effect of a temporal universe. "The answer to this problem must be that the cause is a personal being with freedom of the will. His creating the universe is a free that is independent of any prior conditions. So his act of creating can be something spontaneous and new. This, we're brought not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe but to its Personal Creator." (Ib.)

Finally, Craig concludes: "The kalam cosmological argument gives us powerful grounds for believing in the existence of a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless,  changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, Personal Creator of the universe." (Ib.)

Advertising Without Influence Is Hype (The Presence-Driven Church)

Somewhere in Monroe

In church history we read that, when God showed up in a church, the word got out and sometimes "spread like fire." This tells me that God's presence is more about influence than it is about advertising. Advertising without influence is hype. And, you don't have to advertise a fire.

Howard Thurman said that everything is available in God’s presence. I agree. A presence-driven life does not measure itself quantitatively. The result of presence-driven ministry is influence. Where God’s presence is, there is influence, almost by definition.

Reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir solidified an idea I have had for many years, which is: as a pastor and Jesus-follower, I am to desire influence, rather than size. It is not important how big a church is (in terms of attendees, square footage, and budget). It is important how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters. Thus, the Real Church makes disciples, rather than spending resources to attract more people.
By "influence," I mean the kind of things Jesus talked about when he used metaphors like "salt" and "yeast." "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said.
 A bit of salt can flavor a bite of food.

What's needed are salty Jesus-followers. Salt influences food, rather than being influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. By analogy, may your life influence the world, rather than being influenced by it.
Non-salty "Christians" are, in Jesus' eyes, "no longer good for anything, except to be thrown our and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)
How many people are in your church? Wrong question! Are your people influencing culture? That's what is important. You don't have to be large or famous to do this.
Focus on influence. Influence is found in God's experienced presence. When people are touched by God you won't have to advertise it, because you don't have to advertise a fire. Indeed, you should not advertise it (because it feels like using people to advance your own kingdom).
For example: the Underground Church in China. No advertising, obviously. It's growing like wildfire. It refuses to bow before the Chinese government's restrictions and become "official churches" of the state.
Perhaps, in America, we need the New Underground Church, one that refuses to comply with secular marketing strategies and their quantitative promises.

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).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Appearance, Not Character, Is What Matters In a Post-Christian Culture

Image result for online reputation cartoon

What happens in a world where there is no moral code, but - weirdly - people are still concerned about their "reputations?" (Why?)

In a post-Christian culture, virtues such as living in some kind of holiness and righteousness are not cool. Instead of who we truly are (our character), we are left with how we appear to others. Appearance, not reality, is what counts.

Reputations are increasingly being fabricated on social media. Because everyone still needs to be loved and liked, as well as get hired, one's image is re-formed in terms of one's liked-ness. (Do you like "me" when you see "me?")

In post-Christianity people live by the old hedonistic code, "if it feels good, do it." Unfortunately, this ends up tarnishing one's precious reputation.

Fortunately, if you have the money, even though your character cannot be changed (because you are commanded to "accept who you are"), your sickly reputation can be erased, or at least hidden. Online reputation repair is available, so that who you really are will not be seen (because who you really are is unacceptable). This is not even about how you want to be seen, but how others want to see you. Whatever that is (it changes), you can pay to have yourself look better.

Here are some quotes from reputation repair specialists.

"We can make you look great on the internet." (here)

"Look great when people search your name." (here)

"To be successful, Google needs to approve of you." (here)

"Our experts will fix negative Google results so you look great online." (here)

How much money will you need to do this? Remember, because you are so miserably unacceptable, a whole lot of ongoing, monthly expertise and time management will be needed. You are a sorry case, and you have to pay for damage control.


"how much does online reputation management cost? It depends. It could range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars every month. How much does online reputation really cost? It could cost you your reputation." (See here.)

I think I'll save the money and focus my on my character. It is flawed. I need more transformation. Rather than hide it, I'll confess it to my Christian brothers and sisters who love me and pray for me, and who have also not fully arrived. Confession and forgiveness of sins is not reputation repair, but community character development.

For some inspiration on the subject of character, see David Brooks, The Road to Character, where you will meet real people who could care less about their reputations.

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

Pastors - Preparing Your People for "The Shack"

I loved the book The Shack.

I hope the movie lives up to my experience of the book.

The best book to read to understand The Shack is by theologian Roger Olsen, Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption. I'll use Olson's book to help my people find their way through the movie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Book - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, is available in paperback and as a Kindle book here

I have written a simple Study Guide to Praying. This guide is not published as a book, but is available free as a Word file. It is designed for both individual and group use. 

If you would like a copy of the Study Guide please send me an email - 

How to Keep a Spiritual Journal

Munson Park, Monroe

I've been keeping a spiritual journal for forty years. I have read and responded to over 2000 spiritual journals that pastors and Christian leaders have sent me as part of seminary classes, retreats, and conferences I have taught. Here are my thoughts on keeping a spiritual journal.
A spiritual journal is a record of the voice and activity of God to you. When God speaks to you, write it down. To do that is to keep a spiritual journal.

People write differently. Some include lots of detail, such as the place where they are praying, prayer concerns, and biblical exegesis. But the core of the journal is: God's words, spoken to you. When I read the journals of others, that's what I am looking for. What is God saying to you? What is God doing with you? Write it down in your journal.

When your mind wanders, I suggest writing where it wanders to. The mind does not wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden. The wandering mind is a barometer of your spiritual condition. Then, following 1 Peter 5:7, "cast your burdens on God, for he cares for you." I find it helpful to get the burdens on paper. To see the burden on paper makes it feel like its not inside me any longer. Now it's at a distance from me. De-burdening is an important part of entering into God's presence more fully. We have a greater focus on God when we are not so distracted by our burdens.

If keeping a spiritual journal is writing down what God says to me, how can I know it's really the voice of God? I have found that one better hears God's voice when they:

1) Saturate themselves with Scripture.
2) Spend MUCH time alone in God's presence.
3) Interact with other Jesus-followers who spend much time in God's presence.

There are some good books about this, such as Dallas Willard's 
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.

Because the spiritual journal is a record of God's voice to you, it is fruitful to occasionally re-read and re-meditate on your journal. A number of the things God tells you will become thematic in your life. It is important to remember them. "Remembering" is huge in a person's spiritual life. When we have a written record of God's words for us it can be easier to recall them as we re-ponder them anew. The maxim here is: "I will not forget God's words to me."

A spiritual journal, because it is a record of God's voice to you, is about you. Not others. Yes, I sometimes write about others in my journal. For example, I pray for others. Or If I'm upset with someone I use letters such as 'X' to refer to those persons. I don't want my journal to be found or read by someone with whom I'm angry with. When I write down such things before God I'm primarily asking God to help, not 'X,' but me, and with anger inside me.

What can you expect God to say to you? My experience tells me that God will say things like: his love for you, things he wants to heal inside you, things you need to repent of in your life, that he forgives you, things about his essence (the glory of who he is), giving you deeper insights on Scripture, and so on. And, God impart things to you. When this happens to me I write down things like grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, hope, and power.

I don't believe journaling is for everybody. But remembering is. So is entering deeply into God's presence and hearing his voice.

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

Move Towards, Not Away From, Hurting People

Old fire truck, Monroe County

Many years ago I had a friend who was a pastor ("Bill" - not his real name). Linda and I loved him and his wife ("Jane"). How sad and hard it was for us when she developed cancer. She had a long hospitalization and eventually died.

One day when I went to see her I asked where Bill was. She said, "It's difficult for Bill to see me like this. It's hard on him. He comes, but not often."

When I left the hospital that day I drove to Bill's church to see him. He was in his office. We talked. He was suffering. He hated to see Jane like this. And, there was so much church work that needed to be done. I could only imagine what this would be like if I were in his shoes and Linda was dying.

"Bill," I said, "I know this is hard. But Jane needs you. Let go of the church work. Go to the hospital to be with her. Your people will understand."

Bill went to see Jane that day. He spent most of his time with her until she died.

It is hard to be with suffering people. Suffering people need others to be with them. Jesus moved towards the hurting, not away from them. 

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Decolonization and the Language of the Presence-Driven Church

Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya

I was flying from Detroit to Nairobi, Kenya, to preach in a church and lead a conference for pastors from Kenya and Uganda. I like to read as much as I can about the culture I’m going to, so I’d bought a few books to read on the plane. One was Decolonizing the Mind, by radical Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

His challenge to African peoples is to abandon the languages of the cultures that colonized them, and return to full adoption of their native dialects. This is because: in a language there is an embodied worldview.

From my linguistic studies background,
[1] Wa Thiong'o's ideas reconnected me with "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis," which is: a worldview colonizes every language. Wa Thiong'o is indebted to linguists Edmund Sapir and Benjamin Whorf.

Samuel Gyasi Obeng
[2] connects Whorfian linguistics to Wa Thiong'o's African appeal. Obeng writes: "According to Whorf, the structure of human language influences the manner in which human beings understand reality and behave with respect to it."[3]

Obeng cites
Abiola Irele's argument in favor of returning to African languages. Irele writes:

"For even if it is true that all languages are systems whose reference to reality is arbitrary, there is a naturalization of particular languages to specific environments which plays an important role in the process by which they not only come to signify but to achieve a correspondence with the total configuration of the perceived and experienced reality within the environment."

In a lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam, Wa Thiong'o said that "African leaders and scholars have become captives of their foreign languages, and so maintain colonial ideals to the detriment of fellow citizens."

The African continent, says Thiong’o, continues to suffer from "language slavery." His proposal is that “our local universities should translate the knowledge from foreign languages to local dialects for the benefits of all communities."

How deep, how radical (latin radix; "root"), does this go? Wa Thiong'o "warned Africans against wasting their time and skills trying to change their accents to English; instead, they should spend their time and skills to protect African resources and language."[7]

My thesis is that: 1) language shapes reality; 2) the language we use delimits what we experience; 3) the Western Church has been colonized by the languages of entertainment, programs, “happiness,” and quantitative-numerical ideas of “success”; and thus 4) the Presence-Driven Church decolonizes the culture; which leads to 5) increase in experiential knowledge of the presence of God.

In this way we of the Church will no longer waste our time emulating American culture, and will reintroduce and release Emmanuel, God-with us, as experienced reality.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

In Ch. 5 I will develop points 1-5, in detail.

[1] My doctoral dissertation at Northwestern University was on metaphor theory (1986).
[2] African Studies and Linguistics, University of Indiana
[4] In Ib.
[5] “Foreign Tongues: Today’s Slave Drivers,” 11/23/13
[6] Ib.
[7] Ib.

Self-praising Is a Sign of Spiritual Insecurity

Image result for john piippo photo art
Detroit Institute of Arts

My spiritual habit is to begin the morning by reading Psalms and Proverbs, and praying as these texts escort me into God's presence.

I can only take a few verses at a time.

Today I read Proverbs 27:2:

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
an outsider, and not your own lips.

The Message reads:

Don’t call attention to yourself;    let others do that for you.

If, and when, others affirm us, how shall we handle this?

Thomas Merton wrote:

"The humble man receives praise the way
a clean window takes the light of the sun.
The truer and more intense the light is,
the less you see of the glass.
Humility is the surest sign of strength."

Self-praising is a sign of spiritual insecurity.