Saturday, March 23, 2019

The More Westernized a Person Is, the Less They Pray

Image result for john piippo prayer
(Praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem)
In the process of encouraging people to pray as conversation-with-God, I often hear the following, from Western Jesus-followers: "I don't think I have time to pray 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week." If the Jesus-follower is from a Third World country, like ancient Israel in the time of Jesus was, they have time to pray. What's going on? 

My answer is: the more Westernized a person is, the less they take time to meet and talk with God; the less Westernized a person is, the more they take time to meet and talk with God.

I estimate that 80% of European and North American pastors and Christian leaders do not have a significant prayer life. By this I mean that they do not take time to actually pray, habitually. By "taking time" I mean more than saying a blessing over dinner, or multi-task "praying." By "significant" I mean something like an hour or more a day. Like Jesus did.

My estimate comes from teaching and coaching 3000 pastors and leaders over the past forty years.

The statistics flip for pastors and leaders from Third World contexts. 80% of them have a significant prayer life. When they attend my prayer and spiritual formation seminary classes they already have a quantitative prayer life in place. They pray... a lot. The European and North American clergy, on the other hand, find themselves "too busy to pray." They find it very hard to "fit in" times of actual praying. Why is this so?

The reasons Westernized Christians don't significantly pray and Third World Christians do, include these.


  1. SENSE OF NEED: More access to human helping agencies lowers the desperation level. But when I was, e.g., teaching and speaking in India, the lack of access to medical care, education, jobs, etc. was massive. One could only turn to God, in prayer. So in India I found pastors who were praying people. The less felt need there is, the less one prays; the more felt need there is, the more one prays.
  2. NEED TO CONTROL: Westernized Christians live under the general cultural illusion that they are in control of life; Third World non-westernized Christians live in a cultural world where human control is minimal at best; hence, they appeal to God (or gods, or spirits) for help. The more one feels in control of life, the less one prays; the less one feels in control of life, the more one prays.
  3. TIME: The more stuff a person has, the less they pray. This is because much of their life is dictated by their stuff, which demands much time protecting, arranging, storing, repairing, cleaning, cultivating, etcing. Stuff demands time. On the other hand the less personal ownership, the more actual time to pray. The busier one is the less one has time to pray; the less stuff one has, the more one has time to pray.
  4. UNBELIEF. Many pastors are secularized. They don't believe. Because if you believed there is a God who interacts with you when you pray, you would pray.
The typical European and North American Jesus-follower has little felt need, is under the illusion that they can control things, and is afflicted with burnout-busyness. As these four elements converge, the God-relationship is virtually gone.

James Houston writes: "To pray is to declare loyalty to a spiritual reality above and beyond the human realm of self-effort and control." Will it be heart-loyalty to "things above" or "things below?" The answer to this question will determine whether or not a Christian prays.

***
See my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Personalizing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Linda, in Ann Arbor



Jesus fully demonstrated the kind of love we read of in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We could plug in ‘Jesus’ for the word ‘love’ and arrive at this:

Jesus is patient, 
Jesus is kind. 
Jesus does not envy, 
Jesus does not boast, 
Jesus is not proud. 
Jesus does not dishonor others, 
Jesus is not self-seeking, 
Jesus is not easily angered, 
Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. 
Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
 Jesus always protects, 
Jesus always trusts, 
Jesus always hopes, 
Jesus always perseveres.

1 John 3:2-3 says: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

How do we purify ourselves, as Jesus is pure? Write your name in the blank space. This is your destiny, if you are in Christ. 


 _____________ is patient, 

_____________ is kind.

_____________ does not envy, 

_____________ does not boast,

_____________ is not proud.

 _____________ does not dishonor others,

_____________ is not self-seeking,

_____________ is not easily angered,

_____________ keeps no record of wrongs.

 _____________ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

 _____________ always protects,

 _____________ always trusts,

_____________ always hopes, 

_____________ always perseveres.

 
I am carrying this with me today. As I read my name in the blank spaces I sometimes think, "This is ridiculous. I am so far from this..."
 
Yet as I read and re-read this, understanding that this is my eternal future in Christ, that one day I shall be like Him, I find myself encouraged, even empowered.
 
Try it as a spiritual discipline for awhile. Bring any revealed impurity to God. Allow God's Spirit to get his hands on you, and form you into greater and greater Christlikeness. (Galatians 4:19)

***
My two books are:

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I'm almost done editing Encounters With the Holy Spirit.

Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

Friday, March 22, 2019

Empowering Women for Ministry

Image result for john piippo women
(With Linda, who is a powerful Christian leader!)
My 5/14/17 sermon "Empowering Women for Ministry" is HERE.

What about the two problem passages?

See HERE, and HERE.

F.F. Bruce on Women Leaders In the Church

Three church women
All of us who went to an evangelical theological seminary in the mid-to-late 20th century faced the writings of New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce. And let's be honest here. Anyone who goes by "F.F" (or "C.S." or "W.H." or "J.P." or "N.T.") must be smart. 

Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? was read by all of us budding young scholars. My copy of Bruce's commentary on the Gospel of John is falling apart. This is due to much use, not poor binding. And his book on the canon of Scripture was, as far as I could tell, the only and best book of its kind at the time.

Bruce was a humble and quiet man. This is how New Testament scholar Scot McKnight describes him when they met. Bruce had just finished his commentaries on Galatians and Philippians. McKnight waited for an opportune time to ask the great NT scholar THE QUESTION. McKnight writes:

"I asked him about women in the church. My question was something like this, “Professor Bruce, do you think women should be ordained?” His response I shall remember forever. He said, “I don’t care much for ordination. But what I can say with regard to the exercise of women’s ministries in the church, is this: I am for whatever brings freedom in the church. I am for whatever brings the freedom of the Spirit in the church of God.”" (McKnight, Galatians, Kindle Locations 5804-5807)

Initially McKnight thought Bruce's response was nebulous, full of holes and replete with problems. And probably correct. McKnight writes: "His answer is very biblical, very Pauline, and very much like Galatians. In fact, his answer is so much like Galatians that his answer must be right." (Ib.)

And uncommon. Yet Bruce's answer "corresponded to Paul's view of the essence of Christian living." His answer was uncommon because Paul's view "is a view that few are willing to live with."

There is a vast open-endedness in the Pauline view of Christian freedom, especially as it is presented in Galatians.

***
NOTE: There's no "ordination" in the New Testament.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Four Seminars in New York City

Image result for john piippo new york city
(New York City)
When Linda and I travel to New York City to speak at Faith Bible Church and teach at Faith Bible Seminary, I'll also be giving four evening seminars, one of them (Relationships) with Linda.

My seminary class is June 2-6 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church. Students can prepare by reading my book in advance. (See HERE.)

My four seminars are:

5/31 (Friday)
7:30 - 9:30pm
How to Respond to Same-Sex Marriage
Defending the biblical view of marriage as between a man and a woman and how to respond to this issue.
6/4 (Tuesday)
7:30 - 9:00pm
Relationships
How to have healthy relationships with friends, family, and in marriage.
6/5 (Wednesday)
7:30 - 9:00pm
The Authority of the Bible
Is the Bible God’s Word, from God? I share why I believe it is, and how I arrive at this.
6/6 (Thursday)
7:30 - 9:00pm
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Showing how technology does and will affect our formation into increasing Christlikeness.

Be Slow to Anger - Three Tools for Communicating When in Conflict



Here are some anger resources Linda and I use to help people communicate when in conflict.

1. Care Enough to Confront

David Augsburger bases his book Caring Enough to Confront on Ephesians 4:15, which states: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others, even when we are in conflict with them? Here we see two actions we are to take:


1. Speak truthfully


2. Speak lovingly


Both truth and love are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could hurt people. I could tell you the truth in an unloving way, the result of which could bring harm to you.


If we only speak lovingly we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.


Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus always asserted the truth, and he always did so in love.


Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

When Linda and I communicate these are the attitudes we embrace. We were blessed to learn these things from David Augsburger years ago when we were in a married couples group that met at David and Nancy's home. Those times were so important to us as a young married couple! We saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you feel angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another. That is the way out of what seem like irreconcilable differences.

Work at understanding one another. You will find that often, when understanding has been achieved, "the problem" is not there anymore. ("Understanding" causes a lot of dominos to fall.)


2. Evaluate Your Anger

 I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger. In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen.

When you feel angry, what can you do?  

1. Recognize your anger. “Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.


Begin your sentences with "I" rather than "You." Say, e.g., "I feel angry, rather than "You make me feel angry" (which is the language of a victim). Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you do this, you'll find yourself less angry.

Remember that, from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told to never feel anger. There is a righteous anger that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. We are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only it’s only been a few times in our almost forty-six years of marriage that have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and he has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.

Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

3. Seven Rules for a Good, Clean Fight
Before I married Linda one of my pastors gave me Charlie Shedd's book Letters to PhilipOn How to Treat a Woman. I read it. A few years later, I read it again. 

Shedd's little book gave me some relationship tools I have never forgotten. For example, here are his "7 Rules for a Good, Clean Fight." 

  1.  Before we begin we must both agree that the time is right. 
  2.  We will remember that our only battle aim is a deeper understanding of each other. 
  3. We will check our weapons often to be sure they're not deadly. 
  4. We will lower our voices instead of raising them.
  5. We will never quarrel in public nor reveal private matters.
  6. We will discuss an armistice whenever either of us calls "halt."
  7. When we have come to terms we will put it away until we both agree it needs more discussing.

***
After completing some writing projects Linda and I plan on writing our book Relationships.



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
Technology and Spiritual Formation

I'm almost done editing Encounters With the Holy Spirit.

Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Cure for the Entitlement Disease: The Hard Way Principles

Bald eagle in a tree near our house

Psychologist John Townsend's The Entitlement Cure is very good. It's helping me look more closely at areas of pocket entitlement I have. It's giving me insights to help others who have pocket entitlement, and even global entitlement.

Here are some things about the entitlement disease.


"Entitlement directs us to judge God for how the world works, for the bad things that happen to us that we don’t understand, and for things that didn’t happen that we desired. Entitlement says, “My way of looking at life is beyond his,” because entitlement creates a deep sense of being special and above it all." (50)



"Entitlement goes deeper than a person thinking, It’s okay if I want to be lazy because someone else will bear my burdens, or I’m so special that the rules don’t apply to me. In fact, entitlement goes so deep that it rejects the very foundations on which God constructed the universe. At its heart, entitlement is a rejection of reality itself." (51)

"Ever since Eden, we humans want to be like God, with all his privileges and power, and — the very definition of entitlement — we feel it is our right. Entitlement infects our brains with the notion, I have a right to more and better; in fact, I am owed that." (52)


All this is unreality. Townsend says that God's principles lie at the core of reality. The more you experience and follow them, the better life becomes for you and those in your life. Townsend calls this "the hard way."


The "Hard Way" Principles are:


1. Humility and Dependence - We Are Completely Dependent on God.


"Humility is simply accepting the reality of who God is and who you are. When you see the reality of his power, his love, and his care, you more easily see yourself as who you are: a loved creature, a special creature, an important creature, but a creature nonetheless. 


Dependence means you look to him for your sustenance, for every breath you take." (54)


Entitlement, however "tells you to be your own boss and determine your own destiny. Entitlement teaches you to say, "You're not the boss of me!" It implies that you can be and do anything you want, demand of the others around you anything you want, and that it’s lame to depend on anyone." (55) 


2. Connectedness - We Are Designed to Live in Connectedness with Each Other.


"We live in a relational world and a relational culture, summarized by Jesus’ teaching: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15: 12). Love comes from him, and we are to love not only him but each other." (56)


The entitlement mentality subverts healthy relationships and community in two ways. 


First, entitlement objectifies. "When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of some desired commodity, that is objectification. People objectify each other sexually. A good listener may be sought out for her ability, but who remembers to ask how she’s doing?" (56)


"The self-absorbed attitude of entitlement makes it difficult to see people as having needs, feelings, and lives of their own. Forget “walk a mile in my shoes” — entitled individuals can only envision the lives of others as an extension of their own. They can’t enter fully into the experience of the other individual." (58) 


Second, entitlement creates unhealthy self-sufficiency. This is the idea that I don't need others to sustain and support me. "Entitlement is anti-need; it will cut you off from the supplies that your life requires to carry on." (59)


"If connectedness is the fuel of life, then entitlement results in an empty tank for the entitled person. And that causes breakdowns in relationships, love, career, self-care, and spirituality." (59)


3. Ownership - We Have to Take Responsibility for Our Own Choices.


Entitlement builds a huge obstacle to healthy ownership, in two ways: low ownership and externalization.


"Low ownership: Individuals who don’t take ownership of their lives sometimes live as if their actions have no consequences. They tend not to see beyond the present; their concern is for what they need and desire right now. They’re surprised when they lose jobs or relationships. Most of us are aware of the basic principle that “If you sow X, then X is what you will reap,” but not the entitled person." (60)


"Externalization: People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem. Their entitlement prohibits them from taking the beam out of their eye and asking the all-important question: How did I contribute to this latest problem? Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (61) 


"Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." Blame is a life-killer.


4. Accepting the Negative - Your Flaws Can't Be Forgiven and Healed Until You Admit Them.


"God made a way through Christ so that we could live with the negative as it truly is, without denying it or minimizing it. In a relationship with Christ, we feel permission to be who we truly are, warts and all. We don’t have to hide, pretend, or put our best face forward. We are known and loved just as we are by the one who matters most. This enables us to love others the same way. 


The result of acknowledging and accepting the negative is that the negative then can be transformed. When you are okay knowing your failings, you can face them, bring them to God and to the people with whom you feel safe being vulnerable, and heal whatever is driving those feelings. This is the key to great growth. It’s a paradox, but the ones who run from the negative will suffer from it, while the ones who accept the negative will find the power to change it." (63)


Entitlement drives you away from admitting your flaws. The entitled attitude has three directions that destroy the "It Is Well With My Soul" life. They are:



  • Denial. "The person in denial simply 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."
  • Perfectionism. "The person caught in perfectionism 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."
  • Narcissism. "The narcissistic person adopts a grandiose view of himself that hides his 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."
5. Finding Our Role - To Live Long and Contentedly Find Your Purpose in Life and Fulfill It. 



"Finding your role means that you are giving back to the world over time in a sustained and steady way, and this attitude actually contributes to your living longer. Research indicates that the number one factor in longevity is not social relationships or happiness, but conscientiousness, described as persistence, dependability, and organization." (66)

Entitlement block this in two ways.

  • Entitlement limits the person's goals. "One of the most limiting ideas of entitlement thinking is that the end goal of life is happiness: “I just want to be happy, that’s all.” Entitlement says that the highest good is to be a happy person — but in fact, that is one of the worst endgame goals we can have. People who have happiness as their goal get locked into the pain/ pleasure motivation cycle. They never do what causes them pain, but always do what brings them pleasure. This puts us on the same thinking level as a child..." (66)
  • Entitlement limits the individual's growth. Entitlement freezes development. "It keeps us from growing, learning, challenging ourselves, or trying new things. It whispers to us, “That sounds really hard and it doesn’t look like it’s worth it.” When we listen to this voice, something inside us goes to sleep. We might become couch potatoes, video addicts, chronic partiers, or simply get in a rut and routine that becomes boring and deadening." 
***
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