Friday, January 15, 2021

IDENTITY (Know Who You Are, and Who You Are Meant to Be)

                                                           (Mears State Park, Michigan)

 

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

Do you know who you really are, and who you are meant to be?

Here are links to some of my posts on IDENTITY.


IDENTITY #1 - I Find My Identity in Giving Myself to My Maker


















Overcoming Fear - Two Sermons


Here are two sermons that may help during these turbulent times.

You can click on the PDF to follow along with the notes.

"Inner Healing of Fear, Worry, and Anxiety"

"God Has Not Given You a Spirit of Fear"  


Thursday, January 14, 2021

JESUS-FOLLOWING & POLITICS

Sermon-prepping, in Starbucks
















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


I had a recent encounter with a person, call them X.


X: "I am against socialism."

Me: "Can you explain socialism to me?"

X: "No."

Me: "Can you tell me what socialism is?"

X: [SILENCE]

Me: "Do you find it odd to be against something you know nothing about?"

Politically, America is deeply divided. As a follower of Jesus, how do I evaluate this? What do I do about this? How shall I think about this?

Here's my approach, 


1) I identify certain guiding principles; and 

2) I keep studying and learning. 

This means disengaging from social media arguments, and finding the best scholarship available that can help me, in the first place, understand the issues. I am uninterested in people who want to argue political issues without first putting a lot of work into understanding those issues. This may not be you, but it is me.


A FEW GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR ME

  • Change hearts first. When hearts are changed, systems transform.
  • Focus on issues, not political alignment.
  • I must understand before I evaluate. This takes time. I hesitate to jump on someone's political bandwagon. Because, I don't yet understand the issues. 
  • Attack arguments, not people (no ad hominem abusiveness please). Evaluate arguments; formulate arguments. Love people.
  • Lift up Jesus, the one who changes hearts and minds, and from whom we Christians acquire our ethics.
  • Deepen your abiding life in Christ, as the first thing to do. All relevant, Spirit-led action comes from this ongoing attachment to Christ.
  • When the Holy Spirit identifies a socio-cultural need and burdens you with it, labor in the Spirit to achieve transformation. For example, my church family helped begin a soup kitchen that provides a meal every day of the year, serving 75-150 a night. For example, my church family has been involved in serving and raising support for ministries that rescue women out of sex trafficking. For example, Linda and I have, over the decades, provided free counseling for needy marriages and families (this is ongoing, to the very moment I am typing these words).
  • Study and grow in learning about the relationship between following Jesus and political involvement. This will assist you in transcending shallow, uninformed, hate-filled debating. Here are some resources that have taken me deeper.




STUDYING and LEARNING - SOME RESOURCES THAT HAVE HELPED ME (These are resources I have read and studied, and have helped me better understand the relationship between religion and politics. Surely there are more. What books have helped you?)




And, of course, keep saturating yourself in Scripture.

Study the ethics of Jesus. Read the Gospels. Check this out - The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. 

Do I agree with everything written in these books? 

Of course not. I don't even agree with everything you say. 

And, I have said things that, upon reflection, have caused me to disagree with myself.


***

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (a book I co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I''m now giving attention to Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Followed by... Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.

How Progressive Christians are Twisting the Gospel

 Today a friend sent me this article. It's helpful. I'll address some of the issues in this article in my coming blog series "Deconstructing Progressive Christianity" (Why I could never call myself a "progressive Christian").

"Here's How the New Christian Left Is Twisting the Gospel" 


Deconstruction


                                                                           (Cancun)

In a few days I will post my first of several points on why I could not call myself a "progressive Christian." I'm calling my post "Deconstructing Progressive Christianity." 

I'm giving a hat tip to Jacques Derrida. "Deconstruction" originated with Derrida. Since then, it is used in a variety of ways that are alien to what Derrida was saying. Often, perhaps always, the more a term is used, and as it enters public domain, it becomes misused, and gets vaguer and vaguer. This is what has happened to "deconstruction," which in America, has become synonymous with "destruction."

The term "progressive Christianity" suffers a similar fate. It's woefully vague; hence, for me, it is useless. But more about that in my forthcoming second post on why I could never self-refer as "progressive."

Now...  fasten your seat belts or, perhaps, just eject...  here is one of the best explanations of "deconstruction" I have read. It's from Christopher Norris's book Derrida.

Please don't be offended as I say this. If you don't have some grasp of what Norris is saying, then you don't understand deconstruction. If you don't understand deconstruction, then wisdom says don't use the word. But, alas, this is what people do. I've done it too; viz., use words that, when I am pressed, I am unable to explain.

Norris writes:

"Deconstruction is neither 'method' on one hand not 'interpretation' on the other. In fact it is not too difficult to come up with a concise formula that would make it sound very much like a 'method' and yet describe accurately some of Derrida's most typical deconstructive moves. What these consist in, very briefly, is the dismantling of conceptual oppositions, the taking apart of hierarchical systems of thought which can then be reinscribed within a different order of textual signification. Or again: deconstruction is the vigilant seeking out of those 'aporias', blindspots or moments of self-contradiction where a text involuntarily betrays the tension between rhetoric and logic, between what it manifestly means to say and what it is nonetheless constrained to mean. To 'deconstruct' a piece of writing is therefore to operate a kind of strategic reversal, seizing on precisely those unregarded details (casual metaphors, footnotes, incidental turns of argument) which are always, and necessarily, passed over by interpreters of a more orthodox persuasion. For it is here, in the margins of the text - the 'margins', that is, as defined by a powerful normative consensus - that deconstruction discovers those same unsettling forces at work. So there is at least a certain prima facie case for the claim that deconstruction is a 'method' of reading with its own specific rules and protocols. And indeed, as we shall see, the above brief account of Derrida's deconstructive strategy does provide at least a fair working notion of what goes on in his texts." (p. 19)

Let me add a teaser here. For Derrida, deconstruction considers all subject predicate sentences (of the form S is P) false. To understand deconstruction includes understanding why Derrida thinks this way. And it is to understand why, for Derrida, writing is inferior to speech. But who has time to understand such things, except for a pastor like me who only works for two hours on Sunday mornings?

In my coming post on why I cannot use "progressive" to qualify my Christianity I will expose the glossed-over idea of "progress" as mythical and utopian; hence, as not fitting with the Christian worldview. (My post will not be this technical!)

(And, BTW, deconstruction, when understood, has some intractable philosophical problems. That's another story...)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

God's Chosen Fast, For Such a Time as This

 

                                                 (Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan)

Some in our church family have chosen to fast and pray, for periods of time, up to and through the Inauguration. That's a good thing, right?

At Redeemer I'll be preaching this coming Sunday on "Fasting and Spiritual Warfare." I'll focus on these verses from Isaiah 58:3-12.

A suggestion: read them with me throughout this week, and up to Inauguration Day.

Be counseled, and guided, and exhorted, and broken, and moved by them.

The context was that the people of Israel had been fasting, but no spiritual transformation (changed lives) was happening. So, God give his "chosen fast."

If you are a Jesus-follower, what do these verses say to you, about you? What counsel, what guidance, what exhortation, does the Spirit give you? How, if at all, are you broken and moved by these words?

'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? 

Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' 

"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, 

and in striking each other with wicked fists. 

You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? 

Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? 

Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ? 

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

 to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

 Is it not to share your food with the hungry 

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - 

when you see the naked,

to clothe him,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, 

and your healing will quickly appear; 

then your righteousness will go before you, 

and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; 

you will cry for help, and he will say: 

Here am I."

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, 

with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry 

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, 

then your light will rise in the darkness, 

and your night will become like the noonday. 

The LORD will guide you always; 

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land 

and will strengthen your frame. 

You will be like a well-watered garden, 

like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;

 you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, 

Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Three Destructive Entitlement Attitudes, and The Cure


                                                  (Playing with my grandson Levi!)

Psychologist John Townsend, in his book The Entitlement Cure, says there are three attributes someone with an entitled attitude has, all of which destroy your health.

#1 - Denial.

Instead of "search me, O God, and know my heart," the person in denial turns her back on reality." She refuses to admit her flaws to herself or anyone else, which eliminates any possibility of deep and satisfying relationships." (p. 64)

Denial keeps her from growing, changing, and transforming.

The person in denial doesn't confess, because the problem is with others, not her. (See James 5:16.)

#2 - Perfectionism.

The perfectionist "beats himself up for failures, minor or major. His standard for performance is perfection, and he offers himself little grace when he stumbles. He constantly scrutinizes and condemns himself, and never makes it to a point of self-acceptance." (p. 65)

#3 - Narcissism.

Narcissists have grandiose views of themselves. Self-grandiosity hides their flaws, "which usually lie buried under deep shame and envy. He is so afraid to see himself as he really is that he reacts in the opposite direction, toward the “I’m special” stance, in which he becomes arrogant and selfish and has difficulty feeling empathy for others." (p. 65)

The entitlement attitudes of denial, perfectionism, and narcissism are accompanied by pressure, stress, and emptiness. 

The Jesus way, on the other hand, is hard because you have to actually face yourself. Townsend writes:

"But his yoke becomes easier (see Matthew 11: 30) because you can then experience his grace, and the grace of others, to bear and relate to your real, authentic self — negative aspects and all. This self can then be loved, forgiven, graced, and helped to become a transformed individual, full of grace, forgiveness, and mercy for others." (Ib.)

***
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

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Don't Say "Yes" to Every Desire

 


                                                                     (Rockford, Illinois)

We all live with unfulfilled desires. This is not bad.


"Desire" is: wanting something that one does not have. "Desire" makes no sense without its object. Were I to now think, "I desire to type on a laptop computer," while typing on a laptop computer, that is absurd. 

All desire is, precisely, the lack of an object, or circumstance, or event, or relationship, that one does not now have, with the idea that, if I acquire it, then I will be happy/fulfilled/etc. 

All persons have desires. Every desire, in its moment, is unfulfilled. All persons have unfulfilled desires. Many of them remain so. 

That is good. 

Here, goodness or badness refers to the object of one's desire. A person may desire to get back at someone, to hurt someone, to take revenge. That is not good. It is good for that desire to remain unfulfilled.

James 1:13-15 says:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Some, perhaps many, of our desires are evil. It is good that we do not act on them. So, if someone has a desire that is not being met, this is not necessarily a bad thing. This relates to what psychiatrist M. Scott Peck told us in The Road Less Traveled, that road being "delay desire-gratification."

Wesley Hill, in Washed and Waiting, writes:

"I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule. Even most of those who are married are, as Thoreau once said, “living lives of quiet regret.” Maybe they married the wrong person or have the pain of suffering within marriage or feel trapped in their situations and are unable to fulfill a higher sense of calling. The list of unfulfilled desires goes on and on." (p. 72)

Jesus told us to expect unfulfilled desire and to not acquiesce to it. "Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."" (Luke 9:23) Self-denial includes denial of desires for the sake of following after Jesus. 

It was a summer morning fifteen years ago, and Linda and I had our suitcases packed. We were excited to be leaving for our annual summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin! Linda's father Del was living with us. On that morning his defibrillator went off, twice. 

Linda and I knew that we were not going anywhere. For me, this was disappointing. I do not think that my feeling of disappointment was troubling to God. My God is a compassionate God who feels with me when I am disappointed. My desire to get away to this beautiful conference was denied, for the sake of a greater calling. We stayed with Del, took him to the hospital, and eventually (though a few days late) were able to find care for him and go to part of our conference.

Do not define yourself by your desires. Do not say "Yes" to every desire that struts into your mind and says "Satisfy me." (Remember the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors.")

It is rare to find persons who live this way in our sex-inebriated culture of exponentially unfulfilled desires. Our consumerism not only wants us to say "Yes" to our thirst and obey it, it creates countless other desires, and convinces us that we walk among the perpetually unfulfilled. This is the breeding ground of entitlement and narcissism.

The person who says "Yes" to every desire is a slave, not free.

For those of you who claim to be Jesus-followers, do not be mastered by your desires, but submit them to your heavenly Master.

Draw near to the One who fulfills your desires to be valued and loved.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Christian Student from Nigeria Prevented from Sharing His Faith on a College Campus

 This case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

A college has banned a Christian student from publicly sharing his faith on campus.

See HERE.

See the Washington Post article HERE

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

Monday, January 11, 2021

Description:  In 2016, Georgia Gwinnett College officials stopped student Chike Uzuegbunam not once, but twice, from peacefully sharing his Christian faith with fellow students on his college campus. First, officials said he had to get advance permission to use one of two tiny speech zones that made up far less than 1% of the campus and were only open 10% of the week. Despite following these policies, Chike was again prevented from speaking. After ADF challenged the unconstitutional policies, Georgia Gwinnett argued that Chike’s speech should receive no constitutional protection, changed its policy, and claimed it should be able to avoid any penalty for violating Chike’s free speech rights. Two courts agreed. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Chike’s case.

My Second Responsibility in Life

 


                                          (Munson Park, across from our house - 1/10/21)

I have always felt that a Jesus-follower's second responsibility is to their family. Sometimes "family" is referred to as "loved ones."

My first responsibility is to love God. 

My second responsibility is to love those in my family.

My third responsibility is to share the love of Jesus with others.

If I don't live out our first two responsibilities, my third responsibility will be inauthentic.

If someone claims to follow Jesus, but does not fulfill their second responsibility, why would I listen to what they say to me about the love of Jesus?

Dallas Willard puts it like this.

"A common usage of the word neighbor today locates the neighbor as one who lives “next door” or close by. [See Luke 10:36-37] A “next-door” neighbor is one with a special degree of intimacy, in this understanding, and there is something to that. But in this understanding my most important neighbor is overlooked: the one who lives with me— my family, or others taken in by us. They are the ones I am most intimately engaged with in my life. They are the ones who first and foremost I am to love as I love myself. If only this were done, nearly every problem in families would be resolved, and the love would spread to others."