Sunday, June 23, 2019

In Essentials Unity, in Nonessentials Liberty, and in All Things, Love

Antioch University, Yellow Springs, Ohio

When I was growing up my parents did not allow a deck of playing cards in the house. Card-playing was wrong. It was sin. I didn't know why this was so. As a child I didn't question it or find it weird. It was when I became a Jesus-follower that I began to wonder.

I found out that, among the Finnish Lutherans of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my family was from and where I was born, card-playing was associated with drinking and gambling. Someone who was a Christian didn't drink, gamble, or play cards.

Sociologically, that made sense to me. But I no longer felt card-playing was a sin. Card-playing lies way out on the periphery of mere Christianity. God may tell a few to avoid a deck of cards, but it is a non-essential. You can be a Jesus-follower and have a deck of cards in your house, unless God specifically (for some reason you may or may not know) tells you not to have one. 

Here's how I have come to view the bigger picture about such things.

For a long time I've seen the Christian faith as a set of concentric circles, circles within circles. On the outer circles we find nonessentials of Christianity. These matters may be important for a few, but do not apply to all. In the inner circle, Circle 1, we find the heart of mere, true Christianity. If one does not affirm Circle 1 statements, then probably one is not a Christian, just as I am not now playing tennis as I'm typing on my laptop.

The set of propositions that fit within Circle 1 include:

1. God exists. (Viz., an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, necessarily existent, without-beginning-or-end, creator and sustainer of all things, incorporeal, personal agent.)
2. Jesus the Messiah is God incarnate.
3. Jesus died on a cross, was buried in a tomb, and was raised on the third day.

If someone thinks any one of these three propositions are false, then I think they are not a Christian. (Yes, I am aware [amazingly, to me] of the "atheistic Christianity" of, e.g., Paul Van Buren and Thomas J.J. Altizer. I read their books back in the 1970s. Altizer, in The Gospel of Christian Atheism, wrote: "every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent, but only the Christian knows that God is dead, that the death of God is a final and irrevocable event, and that God's death has actualized in our history a new and liberated humanity." At this point I would argue that Altizer has left Christianity in the same way one who travels by foot cannot be said to be flying in an airplane.)


Basic to mere Christianity is belief in God.

Also basic to mere Christianity is a recognition that Jesus is Lord, in the strong sense of being from God. Jesus is God the Son. I don't think one must fully grasp this concept to be a Christian. I'm still growing and learning such things. But mere Christianity includes the realization that one needs saving, and Jesus is the Savior.

To disaffirm the cross and the resurrection surely disqualifies one as a Christian. How odd it seems to me to say, "I don't believe Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I don't believe Jesus was raised from the dead. But I am a Christian." Why, I would ask? Why insist that you're playing tennis while typing on your laptop?

Central to mere Christianity are statements 1, 2, and 3. They (and some others) belong in the center circle of the Christian faith. But the statement card-playing is wrong does not belong there. It orbits on some distant curve many circles from the center.

Outwardly adjacent to and encircling the Circle 1 is Circle 2, which involves very important issues that we should rightly feel passionate about, and upon which Jesus-followers have disagreed.

Circle 2 are important but non-essential to salvation. They 
include:
  • The meaning and means of baptism
  • The meaning and means of the Lord's Table
  • The doctrine of the person and work of the Holy Spirit
  • The theology and practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • The nature and expression of worship
These (and others) are important. It's in this second circle that denominations form. Churches have split over these things! While they are very important they are not, I think, essential to true Christianity. Surely if one heart-affirms Circle 1's third proposition (and, by implication, affirm propositions 1 & 2), they are a "Christian." No futher doctrinal understanding is needed. 

When I gave my heart and life over to Jesus as Lord, I had no clue of the deep matters of Circle 2. So, I think we can disagree on the things of the second circle and still affirm one another as brothers and sisters in Christ,


if we agree on Circle 1 things. (And even things beyond the second circle, such as the age of the earth, which no one in the Bible seems interested in [while being very interested in the truth that God has made it all].)

My parents were Jesus-followers. I loved them, and did not disrespect their wish that a deck of cards not be in their home. I like the way Pope John XXIII counsels us to do this: "In essentials unity, in doubtful matters [nonessentials] liberty, and in all things, love [charity]."

**
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

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

A Letter to Christians About Gentleness and Respect

Ancient war helmets, Detroit Institute of Art
Looks like someone took a spear in the forehead.

(This is for followers of Jesus. Because I see this happening everywhere, to include, sadly, in the Church. And note: it all speaks to me, as well. Perhaps I am writing this for my own instruction? To remind myself of The Standard? If so, I can accept that. On this I agree with Dallas Willard, who once confessed that he had not loved others enough. Me either.)

In Romans 12 we are told to not conform our hearts to the pattern of our culture. God's kingdom, as Jesus repeatedly demonstrated, is not of this world.

One of this world's patterns has always been harshness and disrespect. Especially when it comes to disagreement. Much of this is seen on social media. And it gets unloving and ugly.
And anti-Christlike. Followers of Jesus who descend into the ugly side of social media are conforming to the world's modus operandi.

The Jesus way, on the other hand, includes beliefs and attitudes such as...


Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

All the awesome spiritual gifts are nothing if you don't have love, as a heart attitude that leads to behavior.

Love is the greatest thing. Therefore, if you are on social media, be great.

Express your reasons for the hope you have, but always do it in gentleness and with respect.

Avoid the argumentative person. (Proverbs)

Speak the truth? Yes! But always in love!

If it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy. (Do not be sucked in by social media about this. On social media we see people fighting against people.)

When disagreeing, be patient with others, as you work to listen and understand them. (1 Cor. 13)

In disagreement, never dishonor others.  (1 Cor. 13)

Remove your anger buttons. (1 Cor. 13)

Grow up spiritually, and put the ways of children behind you. (1 Cor. 13:11)

When in conflict and disagreement, see HERE for how to be both truthful and loving. 

Remember that, contrary to much media, to disagree is not to hate.

If, when dialoguing and disagreeing, you fall into hatred, dishonor, and diminishment of the other, repent, and ask them for forgiveness. Do not do this on social media. 

The superior conflict-discussing, understanding-and-forgiving environment is face-to-face. Phone conversation comes in second. Email and texting is a distant, inferior third. The worst way, the incendiary way, is on social media, for the world to see. True, that's more interesting and attention-getting. Which is part of our world's disease.

Finally, In Essentials Unity, in Nonessentials Liberty, and in All Things, Love. Read, again, 1 Corinthians 13. Apply.

(Maybe...   one more suggestion...  take some philosophy classes. In my experience these classes had much debate and disagreement, but done civilly. Because, in logic, ad hominem abusives are irrelevant to truth-seeking.)

**
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

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





Saturday, June 22, 2019

Prayer and the Basic Question of Psalm 23





I'm re-posting this this video I made in July 2013 when I taught Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary.

Today Linda and I are at our summer Green Lake conference. 

ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT now on Kindle!


Encounters with the Holy Spirit by [Piippo, John]

Encounters with the Holy Spirit  (co-edited with Janice Trigg) is now available on Kindle - $3.99.

This book is a collection of essays on the Holy Spirit from Christian leaders who are active in Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries. It is the story of a conference that became a family. The chapters present a biblical and theological understanding of the Holy Spirit, with stories of experiencing and encountering the Spirit. 

Like both wings of an airplane are needed to get off the ground and soar, soaring with God’s Spirit requires good thinking about the Spirit and encounters and experiences with the Spirit. We believe you will discover both in this collection of essays. You will gain deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s ways.

We pray this will culminate in a life of greater experience with God. May the Holy Spirit encourage, strengthen, illuminate, and empower you as you read this book!



Friday, June 21, 2019

Secularism Rules in Western Churches

Duck family in my front yard

Two years ago I read The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher.

Dreher said the culture wars are over, at least in the West. The sexual revolution and the technological revolution have won. I agree, at least for the extended moment.

The American Church was not prepared for this. "The public square has been lost." (P. 9) American churches have succumbed. 

C.S. Lewis referred to the secular world as "enemy-occupied territory." The enemy is within the camp, ruling over hearts and minds. Many churches are not safe places for followers of Jesus. They are "mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others." (P. 10)

Dreher writes:

"Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either...  The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”" (P. 9)

"Don’t," warns Dreher, "be fooled by the large number of churches you see today... If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty."
 (Ib.)

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church my concluding chapter is, "God's Presence Will Win the Day." I believe this. What is needed is:

1) decolonization; and 
2) return.

Dreher writes, "many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life." (P. 10)

Needed: God's power and life. Not human staging and hype.

Dreher writes about how Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has colonized the Church. (Years ago I read Christian Smith's Soul Searching, which introduced MTD.)

Dreher's book still resonates with me (except perhaps for his negative evaluation on the Reformation). At least he doesn't have his head in the sand.

***
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

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


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Marriage Is Not the Greatest Thing

Image may contain: bird, grass, outdoor and nature
(Duck in my back yard.)

When I became a Jesus-follower God told me to take a full year off from dating. I did. It was a wonderful experience. I focused on what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life goal was no longer to find some "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. My desire was to know Christ, and be found in him. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw close to the Only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate, ask yourself, where does this come from? I have met many who get into a relationship to satisfy cultural expectations, or to please their mother and father. Or, who have the idea that without being married I will be unfulfilled. This pressure is not from God. It's a very non-Pauline idea, since Paul himself seemed to do more than fine without being married. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. 

I've seen Christian marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are hellish. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks! You have been spared from a dark existence. Be thankful you are not in a world where adult babies are making babies, and then abandoning them in divorce (at a 50% rate).

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee a wonderful marriage. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done. This never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that! Overwhelmingly, marriage is not God's greatest thing.

Ben Witherington understands this ("Family First!— Not a Biblical Viewpoint"). He writes: 

"Anyone who has carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 will know that Paul says that being married in the Lord or being single for the sake of Christ are both good stations in life, and BOTH require a certain ‘charisma’ or grace gift to live in such a state. That is, Paul does not agree that marriage is the normal default for every believer. He doesn’t think we should think that way at all. It is not the highest goal that everyone should strive to reach. Frankly, says Paul, I would prefer various of you be single like me, for the sake of the Kingdom. But each according to his gift. 
   
What is radical in its day, and even now, about the teaching of Jesus and Paul (remembering Jesus in Mt. 19 says disciples can be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) is what they say about the viability and goodness of never marrying, or remaining single after you lose your spouse. Frankly, Jesus would have been appalled at the name of a Sunday school class at my old church— ‘Pairs and Spares’. Single persons are not like spare tires. They are not like fifth wheels. 
  
Indeed the NT warns us that some people are just not cut out for or gifted [or called] to be married, and we should stop trying to goad all believers in that direction. [Stop doing this please!!!!!]  Instead, we need a more viable theology of and support for single persons. We need to stop exalting marriage as if it were the only good state of being for any true believer. It isn’t. As Christians our highest good and highest calling is to follow the example of Christ and the teaching of Christ, and neither of these things encourage us to put up banners that say ‘Family first!’. Rather the body of Christ needs desperately to get on with being a family towards all of its members and learning what in fact that means and entailed." [Parenthetical remarks and emphasis mine.]


*****
What if you are in a marriage that is struggling? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.

***
***
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

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

Self-Forgiveness As a Gateway to Healing (Sermon)


You can listen to my sermon "Self-Forgiveness As a Gateway to Healing" HERE.

This was a follow-up to my sermon "Forgiveness As a Gateway to Healing," which is HERE.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Teaching Two Workshops and Speaking in Green Lake, Wisconsin

Image result for john piippo green lake workshops
(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)

Linda and I travel to our annual HSRM Conference tomorrow. The conference begins Sunday night and runs through Thursday night.

Our special speakers are Mike Hutchings and Larry Sparks.

I will teach two workshops:

- How I Respond to Same-Sex Marriage

- Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I'll also speak Thursday night, June 27, on "Revival and the Ignition of Desire."

For conference information go to hsrm.org.

***
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

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

On Incompetent Business Model Churches

Detroit

In my church we have a team of five who oversee our finances. They all have gifts and wisdom in this area. They are fiscally conservative, which I like. 

They put together a proposed budget, sometimes including a proposal from our Elders. They may become aware of a need, and insert it into the proposed budget. 

They are one of our discerning teams. They provide me with reports on budget spending every quarter. 

They are not responsible for making decisions about the direction of our church, although they may discern direction.

Thank God, I don't attend their meetings. They are more than capable of overseeing our finances. More capable, in several ways, than I am.

How grateful I am for them, their commitment, their excellence! I view them as a Discerning Team.

I don't like calling them a "committee." That's a business model term, and we don't do church by a business model. But many churches use business models and have "committees."

Now brace yourself, because I am going to quote A.W. Tozer. Consider this interesting, possible food for discernment. Tozer writes:

"God in His condescending love and kindness often sends a Moses, or maybe a Joshua or an Isaiah, or in latter times a Luther or Wesley to show us that the work of the Lord is not progressing. Times are bad in the kingdom and getting worse. The tendency is to settle into a rut, and we must get out of it...
Someone says, “Let’s form a committee to consider it.” The Baptist preacher Dr. Vance Havner says, “A committee is a company of the incompetent chosen by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.” Perhaps he stated that a little too radically." (Tozer, Rut, Rot, or Revival: The Problem of Change and Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Kindle Locations 174-176)

Perhaps.

And yet...   I suspect many of my pastoral colleagues, who have inherited Business Model Churches, will agree.

Tozer admits a committee may, under certain circumstances, be helpful. But when times are bad and the church is in a spiritual rut, let's form a committee?

***
My book on leadership is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

The alternative to the Business Model Church is the Discerning Community. See Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Encounters with the Holy Spirit - Book Now Available!


This book is a collection of essays on the Holy Spirit from Christian leaders who are active in Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries. It is the story of a conference that became a family. The chapters present a biblical and theological understanding of the Holy Spirit, with stories of experiencing and encountering the Spirit. 

Like both wings of an airplane are needed to get off the ground and soar, soaring with God's Spirit requires good thinking about the Spirit and encounters and experiences with the Spirit. We believe you will discover both in this collection of essays. You will gain deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit's ways.

We pray this will culminate in a life of greater experience with God. May the Holy Spirit encourage, strengthen, illuminate, and empower you as you read this book!


Edited by myself and Janice Trigg, with chapters by Annie Dieselberg, Clay Ford, Ross Lieuallan, John Grove, Teri Nyberg, Lee Spitzer, Ed Owens, Pam Wantz, and Norelle Lutke.

You can buy the book HERE - $11.95.

Kindle edition coming soon!

Cover art by Nicole Griffith.