Wednesday, April 24, 2019


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(Monroe County)

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

In Philippians 4 Paul commands Jesus-followers to “be anxious about nothing.” (v. 6) 

The biblical Greek word for ‘anxious’ is often used in contexts where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, Jesus counsels his disciples: “When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it.”

When Paul counsels the Philippians to not be anxious, it’s not like he’s sitting on the beach savoring a latte. He’s in prison! The context is: persecution. The Philippian Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition from their pagan neighbors, like Paul and Silas suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil 1:28-30).

I know what anxiety is. I have experienced it in troubling times. How realistic is it to be told "Be anxious for nothing" when you are facing hard circumstances?

Paul's answer, emerging out of his experience, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes:

Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, 
present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6-7

Paul's praying life is a deep vein of gold producing spiritual wealth and wellness. His praying life was ongoing. Paul prays, as was his habit, unceasingly.

Psychologist Henri Nouwen (professor at Yale and Harvard) reasoned that a praying life can dispel anxiety. (See Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal.) Nouwen said when he didn't pray, he was more easily filled with anxiety. But as he lived a praying life, God diminished his anxiety. 

Nouwen experienced not praying as intensifying anxiety. This does not logically imply that the source of one's anxiety is prayerlessness, any more than thinking the cause of an infection is the lack of antibiotics. But in the act of praying we receive caregiving from the Great Physician. I experience this, often.

In everyday prayer-conferencing with God I present my requests to him. I lay my burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul says that our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.” John Wesley said that  thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.

Paul's antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.

(I recognize that there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's emotions, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not fully help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking, but it may help them access the spiritual help they need.

If you have severe anxiety I recommend two things:

1) Praying, and having people pray for you. 
2) Seeing a physician who is skilled in treating you physically. 

Combine spiritual intervention with medical intervention.


My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am writing...

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (June 2019)

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships

Trust As the Cure for Anxiety & Fear

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(Downstairs office in our home)

bought a new chair for my home office. I had the previous chair for twenty years. I trusted it. I knew it would hold me. Therefore, I felt no anxiety when I thought about sitting on it. 

Trust and anxiety do not live together. The more trust, the anxiety. To purely trust would be to be anxious for nothing. It would be contradictory to say, "I trust the chair I'm sitting in, but am afraid it won't hold me." Where there is trust, there is no fear.

There are objects of significant trust, and objects of insignificant trust. Objects of significant trust affect us; objects of insignificant trust have no effect. I may not trust the motives of the present King of France (nonexistent anyway), but my mistrust does not cause me anxiety or fear, because I am unaffected by his actions. I place no trust in the present King of France. But, my mistrust of our economy can cause me to wonder whether or not I will have sufficient funds to meet my needs in retirement. 

This can breed anxiety and fear. To not have control over an object of significant trust causes fear. The more a person needs to be in control the less their capacity to trust. The person who is mostly filled with anxiety and fear is the person who does not *trust, or whose trust is misplaced. 

There is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, a certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence one gains as a result of sitting in the same chair for twenty years, and finding that, through it all, it still holds. This is not illusory. I have met people who experience this. I have been at the bedside of these God-trusters as they lay dying. You have to be there to see the reality of this. 

The one who places their trust in God experiences less anxiety. Therefore...

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God. And God will make straight your paths.

- Proverbs 3:5-6


*I recognize there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's moods, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm working on:

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (June 2019)

After that...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, God willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.


Our Home

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

Fear is a lie.

For the most part.

Most things I have feared never came to pass. In that sense, fear is a lie.

There are real fears. Some things we were made to fear. This is how God designed us. This kind of fear protects us. These are rational fears.

But many of our fears are irrational. Yet the emotion of fear is just as real. The more fearful a person is, the more they interpret the events of life through the lens of fear. They are dominated by mistrust, controlled by self-preservation. 

One thing I do to combat fear (yes, I can get fearful) is meditate on biblical truths. The more I read and say them over and over, the more they descend from my mind into my heart.

As the apostle Paul said, "Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

Read these words. Take them in. Memorize some of them.

33 Verses to Remind Us - We Do Not Have to Fear:

1.  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
2.  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
3.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
4.  “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
5.  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
6.  “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
7.  “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19
8.  “But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1
9.  “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25
10. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
11. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
12. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
13. “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time.  Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
14. “Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4
15. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26
16. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
17. “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22
18. “Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” Mark 6:50

19. “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
20. “'For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14
21. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
22. “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.” Psalm 118:6-7
23. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
24. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:39-40
25. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34:7
26. “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.” 1 Peter 3:14
27. “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4
28. “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” Deuteronomy 3:22
29. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'” Revelation 1:17
30. “Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” Mark 5:36
31. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38-39
32. “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17

33. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him…” from Psalm 91:1-16

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

How I Begin the Day

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(Lake Erie sunrise)

This is how I begin the day.

I continue to read through the Gospel of Luke. I keep slow-reading the four Gospels, over and over again and again. I am a student of Jesus; I am being studied by Jesus. The older I get, the more Jesus-focused my reading has become. (I am now using the Passion translation. I also regularly use this Bible.)

I read either from Psalms or Proverbs, or both. It all depends on how God speaks to me. Often, I cannot get past one verse, because the Holy Spirit is speaking to me through that verse. 

Then, I read entries from three devotional books (sometimes all three, sometimes just one or two entries; again, it all depends in how God is moving in me):

Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, by Dallas Willard

You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, by Henri Nouwen

Faith That Matters: 365 Devotions From Classic Christian Leaders (Tozer, N.T. Wright, Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, and others - excellent!)

When God speaks to me during this time, I write it down. 

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God  (This book can be read daily and devotionally.)

Dealing with Anger: Some Resources

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(Glasses - Glen Arbor, Michigan)

Here are some things I have written on dealing with anger.

How to Communicate When In Conflict

Monday, April 22, 2019

Letter to My Redeemer Family, and an Invitation

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(I just emailed this note to my Redeemer family.)

Good Morning Redeemer Family - Jesus is risen!

What a beautiful experience we had together on Easter Sunday morning. Great, Spirit-led worship (thank you Holly, worship band, and worshiping church), beautiful special music (thank you Victor), and one of the most inspiring Easter sermons I have ever heard (I've never heard a sermon like this before - thank you Tim).

All this and more causes me to give thanks today. And, to pray.

For over forty years I have been taking Tuesday afternoons to pray. My praying times have been between two to six hours. So, as is my habit, I'll go out to a quiet place tomorrow and pray. 

If you have something you would like me to pray for (which Linda and I will keep private) please send me your request. I consider it an honor and a joy to pray for you. 

And, during my praying times, God speaks to me, about me.

Blessings to you all in these powerful post-resurrection days!


P.S. - Thank you Trevor and Youth Leaders, and to Matt Holladay, for leading this past weekend's youth retreat!

For what I have learned from praying, see my book Praying: Reflections on Forty Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Metaethical Studies and Moral Nihilism

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Most atheists I know want to be moral. They make strong moral claims, saying "_______ is wrong," or "We ought to do ________." Indeed, atheists like Richard Dawkins claims religious beliefs are morally repulsive and ought to be discarded. 

But it is questionable if atheism can take us this far. Probably not. Atheism can support utilitarianism, and emotivist ethics, but atheists overreach when they claim theists are morally wrong. The atheist cannot, without warrant, call certain acts "good" or "evil."

This is a metaethical issue. I'm now reading three books that add to metaethical studies. They are...

Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can't Deliver,  by University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. Smith argues that "the naturalistic cosmos that is the standard operating worldview of atheism cannot with rational warrant justify the received humanistic belief in universal benevolence and human rights." (P. 124)

Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality, by University of Virginia professors James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky. They write:

"When it began, the quest for a moral science sought to discover the good. The new moral science has abandoned that quest and now, at best, tells us how to get what we want. With this turn, the new moral science, for all its recent fanfare, has produced a world picture that simply cannot bear the weight of the wide-ranging moral burdens of our time." (Kindle Location 112)

This, say Hunter and Nedelisky, is "moral nihilism."

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, by theistic philosopher J. P. Moreland. Moreland writes: "Given scientism, moral knowledge is impossible. And the loss of moral knowledge has meant a shift from a view in which duty and virtue are central to the moral life, to a minimalist ethical perspective." (Kindle Location 422)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pastors Don't Need to Be Awesome, Just Faithful

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(One of my favorite postcards)
Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It's easy to think that if God wants to do something great, he needs great people. But great people are not needed to accomplish great things for God. Paul flips the status-hierarchy thing on its head (just as Jesus did). 

God uses weak vessels to display his surpassing glory. This is why Paul is not freaking out about his own personal weaknesses. He knew his shortcomings. He's not physically impressive. He's not a great speaker. He's got a unibrow. (See here.) People fall asleep while he preaches. Some even die. (See here.)

New Testament scholar David Garland writes:

"Paul has become the suffering apostle of the suffering Messiah. We can learn from his example that ministers [pastors] do not have to be wonderful, just faithful. Many labor under the enormous burden of trying to be wonderful in the eyes of others rather than simply trying to minister to them. Many a minister suffers burnout from trying to run a sparkling program, keeping up attendance while keeping down conflict, and preaching catchy sermons instead of preaching Christ." (David Garland, 2 Corinthians, 230)

What our people need is not another performance, but God's empowering, majestic presence. Pastors are but jars of clay who bear within themselves the light of the gospel.

Painfully ordinary. But with the power of God inside.

What did the apostle Paul look like?

He was a bald-headed, bowlegged short man with a big nose, and an unbroken eyebrow that lay across his forehead like a dead caterpillar.
That’s a paraphrase.
It’s from the only physical description of Paul, in an early Christian document, the Acts of Paul. (Its author, a second-century church leader, was fired over the book because he attributed to Paul some unorthodox teachings such as sexual abstinence in marriage.)
A more literal translation of the description of Paul in Greek reads, “A man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were far apart; he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long.”

This may be little more than imaginative writing from a century after Paul died, but it does not clash with the way Paul’s critics described him: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive” (2 Cor. 10:10).
(Christianity Today, "Bald, Blind & Single?")

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation