Friday, February 26, 2021

Another Note on the Utopian Myth of "Progressivism" and "Progressive Christianity"

 

                                                        (The River Raisin, in Monroe)

In a previous blog post I stated and explained one of my objections to "progressive" Christianity. It's the idea that cross-epochal "progress," of the moral and spiritual kind, is not compatible with a Christian eschatology. And, that moral and spiritual progressivism is a utopian myth.

For example:

"A message repeated throughout [philosopher John] Gray’s work is that, despite the irrefutable material gains, this notion is misguided: scientific knowledge and the technologies at our disposal increase over time, but there’s no reason to think that morality or culture will also progress, nor – if it does progress for a period – that this progress is irreversible. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the flawed nature of our equally creative and destructive species and the cyclical nature of history. Those I spoke to in Basra needed no convincing that the advance of rational enlightened thought was reversible, as the Shia militias roamed the streets enforcing their interpretation of medieval law, harassing women, attacking students and assassinating political opponents."

- Andy Owen, "Reading John Gray in War"

Gray, BTW, is one of my favorite atheistic philosophers. I've read several of his books.

The Power of Solitude to Combat Depression


                                                         (Linda and our grandson Levi)

Solitude is not loneliness. Your social isolation during the pandemic can either be lonely, or solitary.

An emerging body of research suggests that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us. 

Leon Nayfekh, in "The Power of Lonely", says solitude is a good and needed thing, he says. Here are the bullets.

  • Even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of achieving focus and creative thinking.
  • Research suggests that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life. If we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. I know, after years of regularly taking solitary times with God, that solitude helps me be better with people.
  • Solitude (if done right) makes our bodies and minds work better.
  • One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone.
  • Solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. (I am certain this is true. Especially if solitude is done in the right way. My compassion for others, even for my enemies, increases in extended solitary times with God.)
  • In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.
  • Nayfekh writes: "Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius."
  • Solitude is to be distinguished from "loneliness."
  • Nayfekh has an interesting review of "solitude research." U-Mass graduate student Christopher Long "started working on a project to precisely define solitude and isolate ways in which it could be experienced constructively. The project’s funding came from, of all places, the US Forest Service, an agency with a deep interest in figuring out once and for all what is meant by “solitude” and how the concept could be used to promote America’s wilderness preserves."
  • There is "an emergence of solitude studies." For example, Robert Coplan of Carleton University studies children who play alone. "Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, a leader in the world of positive psychology, has recently overseen an intriguing study that suggests memories are formed more effectively when people think they’re experiencing something individually." 
  • Gilbert's study shows that solitude combats "social loafing," "which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack. (If two people are pulling a rope, for example, neither will pull quite as hard as they would if they were pulling it alone.)" 
  • Solitude fosters "metacognitive activity." "Metacognition" is the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts."  As Richard Arum shows us in his book Academically Adrifttoday's multitasking university students are doing that less and less. (This is Daniel Kahneman's "slow thinking.")
  • Reed Larson of the U of Illinois, in his study of teens and solitude, has shown that meaningful times alone allows for a kind of introspection and freedom from self-consciousness that strengthens their sense of identity. I can personally see how this might happen in the fruit of years spent in intentional aloneness with God. Larson found "that kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school and were less likely to self-report depression."
  • "John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, whose 2008 book “Loneliness” with William Patrick summarized a career’s worth of research on all the negative things that happen to people who can’t establish connections with others, said recently that as long as it’s not motivated by fear or social anxiety, then spending time alone can be a crucially nourishing component of life."
  • Psychologist Adam Waytz of Harvard says that "spending a certain amount of time alone... can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals."
  • Finally, "kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school, and were less likely to self-report depression."

Henri Nouwen has told us that there is a "ministry of presence" and a "ministry of absence." There is a time to be alone with God and a time to be with God and people. I've written about the need for Jesus-followers to regularly enter into solitary times with God here.


FYI - two important pieces on prayer and solitude are: The chapter on "Solitude" in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, and Henri Nouwen's chapter on solitude in The Way of the Heart.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Totalitarianism and Progressive Christianity

 

                                                             (Lake Erie, Monroe, MI)

During Covid time I re-read Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, and Camus's The Plague

The first two, especially, are about totalitarianism and the battle to control language. (I write about this battle, and how to overcome it, in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

Yesterday I picked up Rod Dreher's recent book on the invasion of "soft totalitarianism" (Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents) As you read Dreher's description of totalitarianism, think of America, and the Church.

"A totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.” 

As part of its quest to define reality, a totalitarian state seeks not just to control your actions but also your thoughts and emotions. The ideal subject of a totalitarian totalitarian state is someone who has learned to love Big Brother. 

Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party’s demands was enforced by the state. Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit." (P. 8)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Distinguishing Between Love and Desire

Monroe County

Dallas Willard, in Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge, writes: 

"Love means will-to-good, willing the benefit of what or who is loved. We may say we love chocolate cake, but we don't. Rather, we want to eat it. That is desire, not love. In our culture we have a great problem distinguishing between love and desire, but it is essential that we do so." (K 810-18)

I've met with persons who interpret their sexual desire for their significant other as love. They view their partner as a treat to be consumed, like a piece of chocolate cake. 

Willard writes: "Agape love, perhaps the greatest contribution of Christ to human civilization, wills the good of whatever it is directed upon. It does not wish to consume it." (Ib.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

God Save You From Yourself (Not "You Be You")

 

                                                                     (Monroe County)

Linda and I meet with many people. Some of these meetings are for giving counsel, and whatever wisdom we might have.

Years ago we were counseling a woman who was filled with anger. People had hurt her. Linda and I were showing her the way out of her bondage. This included self-examination, self-forgiveness, a deep connection with Jesus, and forgiveness from the heart extended to her enemies. (See here, esp., The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, by University of Wisconsin psychologist Robert Enright.) 

There were deep wounds inside her. We were beginning to get at them. She was being rescued from herself!

But then, she began posting on social media. She was venting, and blaming, posturing, and accusing. In her mind, she was expressing her freedom and power. It was sad to see her do this. What made us even sadder were the responses some of her friends were giving her. Like, "You go, girl!" "You be you!" "You do you!" These affirmations were the last thing this woman needed! They only served to deepen her imprisonment.

Instead of "me be me," the road to freedom begins with "save me from me." Thomas Merton once prayed, "God, save me from myself." A few years ago, Korn guitarist Brian welch titled his autobiography Save Me From Myself. I have prayed this for myself, many times.

As I read Jesus, and the apostle Paul, and John the apostle, and Thousand Foot Crutch, I understand there's a war going on inside of me, and venting my rage against my victimizers only adds to my pain. There is something drastically wrong with the human condition, which only God can fix. 

I came to Jesus to be free from me. To escape the false self. To be saved from my sin and shame. You be you? Me be me? Been there, done that. 

The woman screaming on social media needed help. All her comforters could do was cheer her on. No one, it seemed, knew what was really going on.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Letter to My Church Family (Feb. 22, 20221)

 

                                                                             (Monroe County)

Feb. 22, 2021

Good Morning Redeemer Family!

7:30 AM.

I look out my window and see snow melting, flowers emerging through the frozen soil, and butterflies everywhere.

Not exactly! But I do see snow melting.

Here are some things I want to share with you.

REDEEMER YOUNG ADULTS - Linda and I want you to join us in a discussion of the book The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance. Purchase the book. Read it. Linda and I are choosing a Sunday night to meet - in person - to talk about it.

This book is more than a book for parents. It explains how the parental blessing, or lack of it, affects us. The book share how we can receive the blessing of God, even if we have not received it from others. And, you will see how we can impart blessing to others.

If you want to be part of this discussion, and can commit to reading the book, but cannot afford it, please lete us know so we can buy a copy for you.

Some of our older adults are now reading the book too. If that's you, please join us for the discussion.

THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE - This coming Sunday morning, Feb. 28, I will preach on this. I feel this is an important message for such a time as this. Please pray for me this week as I prepare, and for this coming Sunday morning. Thank you!

IF YOU HAVE A PRIVATE PRAYER REQUEST FOR ME I will be taking an extended praying time tomorrow (Tuesday). Please send me your requests. It is an honor and joy to be praying for you!

TODAY IS DAY 22 of my Discipleship Devotional Booklet. If you are joining me in this focus on discipleship, thank you!

Blessings to all of you on this great day the Lord has made,

PJ

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Biblical Declarations on Joy & Laughter


                                                                  (Monroe County)

(Someone asked me to re-post this.)

SEPTEMBER 23 - JOY AND LAUGHTER

(From Steve Backlund.)

THE SCRIPTURE

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
“A merry heart does good, like medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
“In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

THE DECLARATIONS  (Repeat these, saying them out loud, a total of 100 times today.)

• I am an outrageously joyful person.
• My joy level is increasing daily, and I have been created to experience fullness of joy.
• Even in the midst of uncertainty, I live from a place of unshakeable joy.
• My joy levels do not depend on circumstances or how I feel.
• I love to laugh out loud, and I purpose to do so frequently.
• I experience great joy in my life even before I see the breakthroughs I am believing for.
• I naturally know when to “weep with those who weep” and “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
• I am a carrier of infectious joy, and I release joy to others.
• My joy & laughter are powerful weapons of spiritual warfare and help create breakthrough in my own life and the lives of those around me.
• I reject foreboding and embrace hope and joy.
• I am building a stronghold of joy in my life.

THE BREAKING OFF OF AGREEMENT WITH THESE COMMON LIES

• I am not an outwardly joyful person.
• The Lord is not overly concerned with us experiencing joy.

THE WISDOM TO ADD TO DECLARATIONS

 Choose joy — Just as we choose to forgive or to love, we can choose to be joyful. It is a spiritual muscle we can develop in our lives.

Act more joyful and enthusiastic than you feel — Your emotions will soon catch up to your actions. Know that you are not being “fake” in doing this – it is your true nature to be joyful!

In difficult situations, take time to laugh — When pressure is mounting, take 30 to 60 seconds to laugh out loud. This releases endorphins, reduces stress, and helps bring a clearer perspective. Make the ability to laugh in difficult situations a core value in your life. BIBLICAL REASON #1 Proverbs 18:21 Life is in the power of the tongue.

BIBLICAL REASON #1

Proverbs 18:21
Life is in the power of the tongue.

We Need Encounters with God

Image result for john piippo God
(Green Lake, Wisconsin)


The presence of God is the dominant theme 
from Genesis to Revelation.

David Fitch

Image may contain: ocean, sky, twilight, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
What can sustain the American Church during the global pandemic? More than anything, what is needed are experiential encounters with God. "Surely the Lord is in this place" happenings.

The location of these events is: human hearts. 

A friend of mine who is a great scientist had an encounter with Jesus in his hospital room. It changed his life forever. I have many friends who were alone in their homes, when the Holy Spirit unexpectedly fell on them. They were never the same again. Recently, this happened to one of our Redeemer persons, in their living room, as they listened to our worship service on YouTube.

A temple is a building that hosts the presence of God. Followers of Jesus are temples of the Spirit of God. We are portable sanctuaries. We experience God with us.

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church I write about the primacy of the "presence motif" in Scripture. It is God himself that we need. We need encounters and experiences with God, such that we declare, "The Lord God Almighty is here!"

A. W. Tozer knew this. He writes:

"There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals oft he faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 38-40)

Friday, February 19, 2021

What If I Don't Feel Connected to God?

 

                                                        (Our house, on a snowy evening!)

In my Renewal School of Ministry class we have been talking about "knowing God" as "experiencing God." We talked about abiding in Christ, like a branch that is connected to Jesus the Vine. God-knowledge is not merely theoretical. It is, at its core, experiential.

One of my students asked this question: "What about someone who cannot feel connected to God?" Here are some thoughts I have about this.

Over the decades I have spent countless hours getting alone with God, and listening, and speaking, to him. Many times, I feel the connection with him. But not always. This is not unusual. Christians through the ages speak of "desert experiences," of times that feel spiritually disconnected. Mother Teresa wrote of a time of "lack of sensible consolation, spiritual dryness, an apparent absence of God from her life, and, at the same time, a painful long­ing for Him." (Here.) 

We see the feeling of disconnection in the Psalms. Psalm 10:1 pleads, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" If God is so close, why do we sometimes feel that he is so far away?

As I have read the spiritual writings of Christians over the centuries, I see an ebb and flow of feeling connected and feeling disconnected. I experience this, as well. What do I do? I have learned to not be distracted by my feelings. I know, that is, I believe, God is always present with me and to me. I know God loves me, whether I feel loved at the moment or not. This knowledge motivates me to continue to meet with him. (Here I recommend Henri Nouwen's book Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Nouwen is especially good on freeing us from the need to measure our experiences with God.)

What if you cannot feel connected to God? My first counsel to you is: keep meeting with him.

But what if someone keeps meeting faithfully with God, and rarely, if ever, experiences God with them? Here I recommend two resources, written by two of my spiritual directors (not in person, but through their writings and presentations): Nouwen, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith; and Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

What if you cannot feel connected to God? My second counsel to you is: find a spiritual director.

Spiritual direction is different than psychological counseling. The latter can be valuable. But spiritual direction concerns, as Nouwen says, the "movements of the Spirit" in the depths of the human soul. (On the difference between pastoral counseling and spiritual direction, see Kenneth Leech, Soul Friend: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction.)

Nouwen defines spiritual direction as "a relationship initiated by a spiritual seeker who finds a mature person of faith willing to pray and respond with wisdom and understanding to his or her questions about how to live spiritually in a world of ambiguity and distraction." (Spiritual Direction, p. ix)

Over the years I have received many spiritual insights from individual meetings with people I respect spiritually, and through the writings of spiritually deep followers of Jesus. These have directed my heart. A spiritual director is someone who knows the way to the living water.

A spiritual director, and the great spiritual direction literature, can potentially identify blockages that create barriers to experiencing connection with God. This has happened to me, many, many times.

One final suggestion, for now. Slow-cook in a book like this: Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe. In a personal meeting with Roger Frederickson of Renovar√© Institute, Roger gifted this book to Linda and me, with this note.







Thursday, February 18, 2021

Pastors Are Unnecessary in Three Ways

Chicago

I am a pastor. I am thankful God called me to this. It is instructive to understand what I am not called to; viz., I am not called to be a custodian of the prevailing culture.

Pastors, writes 
Eugene Peterson, are "countercultural servants of Jesus Christ." He writes: "We want to be free of the Egyptian slavery to the culture and free to serve our wilderness world in Jesus' name." (Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Location 70)

Pastors, writes Peterson, are "unnecessary," in three ways.

1. "We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness." (Ib.)

There's a man in my community who is a leader. He's not a follower of Jesus. Whenever he sees me he calls me "Reverend." I have asked him not to do this. "Just call me John," I say. He has a hard time complying with my request.

When he calls me this he reduces me to something kindly and benevolent. He puts me in a box. He doesn't understand that, while kindness and niceness can be good, I am called to subvert and overthrow his thoughtless secularism. He doesn't realize it, but I don't fit into his happy world. Or, he does realize it, sees me as a threat, and imprisons me as the benign "Reverend." Or, he mindlessly accepts the label which insulates him from me. 

As a pastor my world is about the realities of life and death, freedom and bondage, meaningfulness and meaninglessness, love and hate, hope and despair. My calling is address and clarify these existential realities, not to fit some role culture assigns to me.

2. "We are... unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together." (Ib.)

When I assign pastors to pray I request they leave their cell phones behind, because God wants to break them of the illusion of their indispensability. It is important for them to grasp the fact that none of us are indispensable. God doesn't need us. God loves us, and wants to use us for his kingdom's sake. But his redemptive activity does not rise or fall with us.

Peterson writes: "We have important work to do, but if we don't do it God can always find someone else - and probably not a pastor."

3. "We are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition."

Peterson writes:

Congregations "want pastors who lead. They want pastors the way the Israelites wanted a king - to make hash of the Philistines. Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous...

With hardly an exception they don't want pastors at all - they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother with following Jesus anymore." 

My fellow pastors, let us embrace the counterculture, the alternative kingdom of Jesus.

I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships