Saturday, January 25, 2020

How Linda and I Grow Spiritually

In the early 1970s I taught guitar at Nielsen's Music Studio in Rockford, Illinois. The store was owned by Ralph Nielsen. His son was Rick Nielsen, who eventually gained fame in the band Cheap Trick. 

Nielsen's was an amped-up environment. A lot of really good musicians taught there. It was an inspirational  guitarist gathering place. Rick was the best of all.

I began finger-picking at age five, on the steel guitar, with my teacher, the legendary Kay Koster. I taught finger style technique - three and four-finger picking patterns, plus acoustic strumming technique. 

I had students who were committed to practicing and learning. This made my time as a teacher enjoyable.

I taught the way I learned to flat pick and finger pick. If they chose not to follow my instruction, then I am not their teacher. 

There are similarities between guitar mentoring and spiritual coaching and counseling. When someone comes to me for spiritual growth, I show them how I have done this. Then, I expect them to do the same.

When I became a follower of Jesus forty-nine years ago I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. I began to attend a campus ministry. I was asked if I wanted to be in a Small Group for Bible study and prayer. I was told this experience would be one of the keys to my spiritual vitality and growth.

That proved true. I've been in a Small Group all forty-nine years of my Christian life. Linda and I have been in a Small Group Community all forty-six years of our marriage.

The early Jesus-followers met in small groups; in homes, in upper rooms, wherever they could find a gathering place. Small Group Community was essential to the explosive spiritual and numerical growth of the early church. It's also essential to our spiritual life and growth.
Linda and I were taught that we needed to meet with the larger community. We learned Hebrews 10:25, which reads (Passion Translation):
This is not the time to pull away 
and neglect meeting together, 
as some have formed the habit of doing, 
because we need each other! 
In fact, 
we should come together even more frequently, 
eager to encourage and urge each other onward 
as we anticipate that day dawning.

Linda and I have taken this verse to heart. It is our practice, essential to our spiritual well-being. We have never missed gathering with the Jesus-community on Sunday mornings. We never participated in secular, Sunday activities for our kids. We need the body and the body needs us. This is about a Movement, not another activity.

And, we have learned the importance of meeting alone with God, to pray. I have written about this in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
The rhythm of our spiritual lives looks like this:
We meet alone with God. 
We spend time with God in "the secret place." 
This is the Very Small Group (VSG) - God and I.

We meet weekly in a Home Group 
to study scripture and pray together. 
This is the Small Group (SG) - 6-12 people.

We meet Sunday mornings to worship and listen to the preached Word on Sunday mornings and other times.
This is the Large Group (LG)

Linda and I grow spiritually by doing these. We counsel others to do the same. If someone comes to us for spiritual help but does not do the same, then we cannot help them.
Image result for john piippo wheel
(The never-ending wheel of spiritual growth.)



Is it possible to have Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord? I give my answer in my January 19 sermon. You can listen to it HERE.

When Is a Church Not an Actual Church?

Cardinals and a snowy window

Francis Chan knows it is possible for a church to not be a church. The name "church" doesn't mean it is what it says. In Chan's book Letters to the Church he writes, 

"If Muslims were advertising free doughnuts and a raffle for a free iPad as a means to get people to their events, I would find that ridiculous. It would be proof to me that their god does not answer prayer. 

If they needed rock concerts and funny speakers to draw crowds, I would see them as desperate and their god as cheap and weak. 

Understand that I am not judging any church that works hard at getting people through the doors with good motives. I spent years doing the same thing, and I believe my heart was sincere. I wanted people to hear the gospel by any means possible. Praise God for people who have a heart for truth! 
I’m just asking you to consider how this looks to a watching world. 

While our good intentions may have gotten some people in the door, they also may have caused a whole generation to have a lower view of our God. 

It is hard for the average person to reconcile why a group of people supposedly filled with God’s Spirit, able to speak with the Creator of the universe, would need gimmicks.

(Chan, Letters to the Church, pp. 95-96)

Then Chan asks, rhetorically:  

"Is there ever a point when a church is no longer a church?...  Just because you walk into a building with the word Church painted on a sign doesn’t mean God sees it as an actual church." (Ib., 96)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Pseudo-Independence As a Sign of Depression

I've seen the following several times: X ends their marriage and declares to the virtual world "I am now free!" X's cyber twins applaud the announcement of X's Independence Day. X celebrates this for some days, responding to the congratulations.

I saw another one of these rituals recently. Why did I doubt, in this recent case, that X was really "free?" [I counseled X many years ago.]

Brown University medical psychiatrist Peter Kramer writes that, "To act from independence is one thing, from compulsion, another." (Peter Kramer, Against Depression, 91) The difference between the two is the difference between free will and the determinism that mental illness imposes.

What often seems like an act of independence out of one's free will is actually the polar opposite (or a variation thereof); viz., of bondage. That's what I thought about X. Was X really not free, and just responding to an unsatisfied urge to placate their depression?

Thomas Merton once wrote that anyone who smokes a cigarette every time they feel the urge to do so is not free, but enslaved. The person who has sexual intercourse every time they feel the urge to do so is not free, but in bondage to their urges. As I write this I am desiring a bowl of ice cream. Should I leave the keyboard, and hustle to the freezer, am I free?

One sign of freedom is the ability to choose against one's urges or feelings. In such cases one is not psychologically, or clinically, compelled. 

Kramer tells the story of a woman named "Mariana" who appears, to her suitor "Harry," to march to the beat of her own drum. Kramer writes: "Often, these traits signal independence. They indicate confidence...  [But] In this instance, I thought, the identical behaviors signal illness."

It's hard to judge between the two. How many times, in ministry, have I been fooled?! Yet I have seen the real thing.

Usually, my clarity about X's freedom comes after months and years of changed behaviors. I don't spend a lot of time trying to judge whether the person is free or not, but over the years a number of misjudgments cause me to be more cautious. The person who on a Sunday morning declares their freedom is, at times, exhibiting a knee-jerk reflex.

People who shout about their "freedom" from sexual promiscuity while being oblivious to their bondage. Conversely, people announce their liberation from sexual fidelity. Their friends misread the social cues as signs of an independent person, which is like looking at water and pronouncing it wine. 

Kramer writes: "The social response to depression gives rise to paradox and oxymoron" (93). The depressed,  psychologically determined person, in their self-proclaimed freedom, appears liberated.

This is pseudo-independent behavior, false freedom. Kramer says it is often a signal of depression.


I write about prayer as God-dependency in my book

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Killing More Babies in the New York Times

(Trees in my backyard)

To Ylanda Gault, having an abortion is the emotional equivalent of having dimples, or having a mole on one side of her face. So she says in today's New York Times, in "I'll Never Be Ashamed of My Abortion.

This upsets me. It trivializes those of us who believe abortion is the taking of an innocent person's life.

The reason I am saddened by articles like this is because I believe the inborn life is a person. Now note this. If the inborn life is a person, then abortion is killing a person. If the inborn life is not a person, we kill non-persons all the time. The real issue is over the status of the inborn life, irregardless of their developmental level.

Here is how Gault's article reads to me, as I substitute "kill my baby" for her euphemistic freedom-to-abort words.

  • I'll never be ashamed of killing my baby.
  • Like so many women of reproductive age, I've killed my baby.
  • I, and I alone, made the decision to kill my baby more than a decade ago so that I could be the best mother I could be to the two children I already had.
  • Roe v Wade guaranteed a woman's freedom to kill her baby.
  • Despite what some politicians would have us believe, most Americans support that right to kill their babies.
  • We must not allow some warped, anti-feminist ideology to take away our freedom to kill our babies.
  • What’s most important is that we stand together and stand up against the beat-down on sexual and reproductive health (the right to kill our babies) in this country.
  • If our constitutional right to safe, legal baby-killing is not upheld, more than 25 million Americans of reproductive age could lose the freedom to decide if and when to kill their babies. 
  • What I took for granted — the freedom to kill their babies  — is a right my daughters and their daughters may well be denied.
  • This is not complicated or political. When you have bodily autonomy and the freedom to kill your babies, you are able to thrive.
  • Nearly 15 years after killing my baby, I am at peace. I now have three children, ages 12 to 20. The most important gift I can give them is the best me I can be. My daughters and my son know I killed their sibling just as they know I have a mole on one side of my face, and dimples.
  • Research shows the most common post-baby-killing  feeling is relief. Ninety-five percent of us do not regret killing our inborn children
Gault says she is not ashamed of killing her baby. For the many who believe abortion is taking an innocent human life, we are both ashamed and grief-stricken.

See also:

Against Abortion: A Logical Argument

Elective Abortion has Nothing to Do with Reproductive Health Care

(Bolles Harbor, Monroe)
(I'm keeping this ball in play.)

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, 
as though by instinct, 
at the threshold of any dangerous thought. 
It includes the power of not grasping analogies, 
of failing to perceive logical errors, 
of misunderstanding the simplest arguments 
if they are inimical to *Ingsoc, 
and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought 
which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. 
Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

George Orwell
P. 132

For example:
Abortion is Reproductive Health. 

Princeton jurisprudential professor Robert P. George, in Conscience and Its Enemies, argues that abortion has nothing to do with "reproductive health." So, the recently-passed (and joyously worshiped) Reproductive Health Act, in an Orwellian move, is misnamed and, as such, misleading.

George writes:

"The question at issue in abortion is not “reproductive health” or health of any kind, precisely because direct abortions are not procedures designed to make sick people healthy or to protect them against disease or injury. Again, pregnancy is not a disease. The goal of direct abortions is to cause the death of a child because a woman believes that her life will be better without the child’s existing than it would be with the child’s existing. In itself, a direct (or elective) abortion—deliberately bringing about the death of a child in utero—does nothing to advance maternal health (though sometimes the death of the child is an unavoidable side effect of a procedure, such as the removal of a cancerous womb, that is designed to combat a grave threat to the mother’s health). That’s why it is wrong to depict elective abortion as health care." (Kindle Location 2777; emphasis mine)

Elsewhere George writes:

“A huge irony: The NY law authorizing the killing of babies in the third trimester PROVES that the aim of the abortion lobby is NOT the protection of maternal health in circumstances of hazardous pregnancy, but is rather the right to destroy an unwanted child whose existence poses no risk to maternal health (in any sense of the term ‘health’ that amounts to anything other than a rationalization for killing unwanted babies). The only reason to kill rather than deliver a child in the third trimester of pregnancy and gestation is that the woman (or someone who is pressuring her to abort) wants the child to be dead rather than alive. It's the child's *existence*, not the pregnancy, which poses the alleged, ‘health’ risk. The pregnancy can be ended (‘terminated’) by delivering the baby alive, rather than killing him or her. So do you see the see the sophistry in the argument for abortion here? It's glaring.”

In other words, if the mother's health is at risk, and the third-trimester child is **"viable" outside the womb, why not deliver the child rather than kill it? 

Because...   this baby is unwanted.


* "Ingsoc" - The English Socialist Party, better known as Ingsoc, is the fictional political party of the totalitarian government of Oceania in Orwell's 1984.

** I see no good reason to accept "viability" as the tipping point for determining human value. "Viability" is another example of Orwellian "newspeak," meeting the ideological requirements of a secular political culture.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Overcoming Self-rejection

The River Raisin, Monroe County, MI

Henri Nouwen writes: "The great obstacle which prevents the Spirit working in us is self-rejection. The greatest obstacle to the Spirit working in us is that we say to ourselves that we are useless, we are nothing." (The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 78)

Conversely, the open door to the Spirit's working in us is the heart-knowledge that we are deeply loved and accepted, by grace, by God. 

Jesus told his disciples that, after his death, the Father would come and make his home in their hearts. When we know we are loved by God, and that God loves us in spite of the condition of our hearts, we welcome the homecoming of God. We are "something" in the eyes of God, so much so that the Spirit desires to take up residence within us.

Self-rejection resists the Spirit of God residing in us because we feel undeserving. I have met Christians who insist that God is angry with them, and wants nothing to do with them. That is a denial of the grace of God, and shuts the door to experiencing the love and power of God.

Nouwen writes:

"Once I know I am the Beloved, once I start discovering that in me, then the Spirit can work in me and in others; then we can do wonderful things. Now, once I say, "No, God doesn't love me, I am not as good as everyone else," somehow I do not claim the truth that Jesus came to proclaim." (Ib.)

Embracing God's love for you is the antidote to a spirit of self-rejection.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Monday, January 20, 2020

First Sermon on DISCIPLESHIP (audio)

(Lake Michigan sand dunes)
Here is the first of my three sermons on DISCIPLESHIP

The Real Source of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Social Activism

Image result for john piippo payne
(With one of my Payne Theological Seminary classes)

In George Orwell's book 1984 the main character, Winston Smith, has the job of eliminating politically unwanted ideas, documents, and words, by throwing them down a "memory hole." To rewrite history is to forget history. To do this is "Orwellian."

Sadly, we will see Orwellian unthinking in today's celebration of Dr. King's birthday. The true sources of his social activism, which were spiritual, are largely forgotten.

As our nation pauses to honor Dr. King, we celebrate his great civil and political influence. But we will hear little of his own understanding of the source of that influence.
The fire burning deep in King’s soul was his relationship with God, fanned by his constant prayer life. Few scholars have attended to this, says King scholar Lewis Baldwin of Vanderbilt University, in his book Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King. Our secular media has thrown King's spiritual life down the Orwellian memory hole. 

I remember reading, for the first time, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I knew King was a Christian, but his spiritual life was never talked about in the media. We saw film and photos of King praying in the city streets, but were not told how much this meant to him. His “Letter” greatly moved me.
I saw that King was an intellectual, a brilliant writer, and most importantly, a fundamentally spiritual being. The social activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., was a function of a life grounded in God and prayer, which he defined as “conversing with God.”

Prayer was more than a theory or some religious thing for King. King had an actual praying life. He saw praying as necessary for changing his own life and the prevailing culture. King never separated moral responsibility from a deep personal spirituality and piety. Prayer, for King, was conversation with God.

Once King received a phone call at midnight from a racist who called him a “n-------,” threatened to kill him, and “blow up” his home This deeply disturbed him. He discovered that all the intellectual things he learned in the university and seminary could not help him overcome this. 

King turned to God in prayer, and had a face-to-face encounter with what was, in the tradition of his forebears, called a “Waymaker.” This God-encounter exposed his fears, insecurities, and vulnerablities. He found comfort as an “inner voice” spoke to him, reminding him that he was not alone, commanding him to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth, and assuring him that “lo, I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”

It is important to understand King’s position on spiritual things if we want to grasp his societal accomplishments. King, who earned a PhD at Boston University, knew that intellectual accomplishments were not enough to transform self and society. God was needed, and prayer was able to “invoke the supernatural.” Baldwin writes that “King taught the people of Montgomery that the weapon of prayer was ultimately more powerful and effective than any gun or bomb.”

King told students that, if you don’t have a deep life of prayer, you have no business preaching to others. King saw himself as essentially involved in a spiritual movement, not simply a secular struggle for equal rights, social justice, and peace.

“King,” writes Baldwin, “was effective because his praying and preaching were effective. True leadership in his case made prayer and preaching indispensable.”
King knew, existentially, that real, true prayer involves “a profound surrender of the self to God, not prayer rooted in self-pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness.” That becomes the kind of relationship with God that can transform the fabric of reality.

The real source of King’s influence was his soul-receptivity to the powerful, transforming influence of God. 

Rev. John Piippo, PhD
Senior Pastor, Redeemer Fellowship Church
Monroe, MI
Adjunct Professor, Payne Theological Seminary (African Methodist Episcopal)