Monday, May 31, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School Commencement Ceremony


You are invited to join the faculty, staff, and students of Redeemer Ministry School for our second Commencement Ceremony.

Sunday, June 6

6 PM

A dessert reception will follow the service.

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

The True Church vs. Screwtape

In C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters "Screwtape," on learning that Wormwood's "patient" has become a Christian, gives "Wormwood" techniques to confuse the new Jesus-follower. Screwtape says:

"One of our great allies at present in the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate."

I'll never forget being in Singapore teaching at an Assemblies of God college. One day I had lunch with the college's president. We were talking about the "Church." He leaned forward as he said, "The Church is not an institution, but a movement!" Correct. And, the Church is not a building. The Church is a People Movement armed with weapons of righteousness engaged in redemptive activity. One reason a lot of new Jesus-followers do not see that is because there are many churches-as-institutions who are more concerned with their buildings than with the building of an army of disciples of Christ.

One thing I have discovered in my years of teaching undergrad philosophy classes is that the Church-as-Revolutionary-People-Movement is foreign to my students. All they are familiar with is the Church as a boring, impenetrable Institution. Thus, they want no part of "Church." "Church" is not even on the radar screen of most of the students I have taught over the years. In this way Institution-Churches. suggests Lewis, function as allies for Satan.

The Cambrian Explosion

"Nothing distressed Darwin more than the Cambrian Explosion." - Stephen Jay Gould

It's Memorial Day. I've been outside doing lawn care. We live on 3 1/2 acres and there's a lot to do. I love being outside on the lawn mower, and trimming and cutting. It's warm, sunny, and the back of my wooded property is mosquito world.

I'm taking breaks and watching the dvd "Darwin's Dilemma." You can watch the whole thing on Youtube here.

From the "Darwin's Dilemma" website:

"Darwin’s Dilemma explores one of the great mysteries in the history of life: The geologically-sudden appearance of dozens of major complex animal types in the fossil record without any trace of the gradual transitional steps Charles Darwin had envisioned 150 years ago.

Frequently described as “the Cambrian Explosion,” the development of these new animal types required a massive increase in genetic information. “The big question that the Cambrian Explosion poses is where does all that new information come from?” says Dr. Stephen Meyer, a featured expert in the documentary and author of the book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Growing evidence suggests that the creation of novel genetic information requires intelligence, and thus the burst of genetic information during the Cambrian Explosion provides convincing evidence that animal life is the product of intelligent design rather than a blind undirected process like natural selection.

Darwin’s Dilemma recreates the prehistoric world of the Cambrian era with state-of-the-art computer animation, and the film features interviews with numerous scientists, including leading evolutionary paleontologists Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University and James Valentine of the University of California at Berkeley, marine biologist Paul Chien of the University of San Francisco, and evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, a Research Collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nietzsche As the Only Honest Atheist

Edward Oakes's essay "Atheism's Just So Scenarios" contrasts what he feels are the two grand narratives [GNs] worth considering; viz., "the biblical one of linear time culminating in an eschaton directed by God’s providence, and Nietzsche’s scenario of pointless humans weaving their scenarios against an unfeeling universe." Which GN does science best fit into? For "science" does not, on its own, present us with a GN. On this point Oakes cites Fred Hoyle, who believed that "lots of science is truly incontestable, but once those results are well and truly established, we are still stuck trying to make sense of them in an overarching narrative. Even the assumption that such results can be fitted into a larger narrative is itself an assumption without scientific warrant, as Hoyle himself seems to concede."

I have read tons of atheistic material over a span of 40 years, beginning with my undergraduate days in philosophy and the reading of A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic. Who's the best among atheists? Were I an atheist, who would I be most interested in? The answer remains: Nietzsche, for his combination of brilliance and passion. Oakes seems to feel the same.

Nietzsche, in On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense, "gives us this ultimate atheist scenario: “In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of 'world history'—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.” He continued:

'One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. . . . There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.'"

Were I an atheist I'd say "Amen" to that! But note that the "Amen" utters the word "Truly" to the undermining of science itself. Oakes: "If the “knowledge” delivered up by “science” only serves to puff up a pathetic animal doomed to die in an uncaring universe, why bother with science anyway? If the search for knowledge is nothing more than a vain attempt to puff oneself up like some miles gloriosus in a Falstaffian comedy, what’s the point?"
Amen, again. Science "works." But to what end? And, so what? Nothing of "value" is gained by this. Oakes writes: "For Nietzsche—who was perhaps the only truly honest atheist in the history of philosophy—science was ultimately a moral, not an epistemological problem, a point he drove home with special force in The Gay Science (all italics are his):

'The question “Why science?” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? . . . [I]t is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. —But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine any more unless it were error, blindness, the lie—if God himself should prove to be our most enduring lie?'

For Nietzsche the atheist, faith in science rests on... nothing. I agree with Oakes, who says that "the battle is still between nihilism and theism. There is no third option." He concludes: "What most fascinates me about the debate launched by the New Atheists is how resolute they are in ignoring this point. This is why I think that, rather than trying to argue the New Atheists (who are more dogmatic about God than any Thomist has ever been) out of their settled views, it seems best to take their very imperviousness as itself a sign of the human condition."

The Flame Got Fanned

I'm home from the National Pastors' "Fanning the Flame" event in Green Lake, Wisconsin. There were 200 pastors and leaders from our American Baptist denomination in attendance. I taught a workshop for 28 of them on spiritual renewal and transformation. I've re-posted some of my writings in this area below. Thanks to all of you who were with me, for your willingness to hear from God, and the depth of your sharing. I remain inspired and moved today.

I also backed up on guitar our friend Hannah Ford as she did a great job leading worship. That was a lot of fun for me!

I got reacquainted with a lot of friends, had many wonderful discussions, and got to hang around the incredible beauty of Green Lake.

I had many God-moments there. The pinnacle for me was Dr. Wallace Smith's sermon on Tuesday night. He preached out of Isaiah 6. As he was half way through his message I wrote thse words in my journal: I am now listening to and be spoken to by one of the greatest sermons I have ever heard in my life. I came to teach others, and now God was deeply touching me. During Dr. Smith's message there were times when some of the pastors were standing up cheering. Right now as I write this I am starting to cry. God took a "live coal" from his altar and deposited it deep within my spirit. Today God is showing me what this "live coal" is doing within me.

God moved among our American Baptist leaders in the last few days. He loves us!

The Source of Fruitful Action

Thomas Merton wrote that "a certain depth of disciplined experience is a necessary ground for fruitful action." (Contemplation in a World of Action) Activity for activity's sake breeds soul-shallowness. Out of soul-shallowness comes fruitless action. Irrelevancy is the fruit of not listening.

The cultivation of the inner life is a slow-cooker, not a microwave. It is true that, on occasion, God can nuke the human heart such that it fast-forwards in maturity (= fruitfulness). But in general fruit grows slowly, and must be cultivated and attended to. McHearts are cheap; hearts slow-morphed into Christlikeness are thick, expansive, and costly.

Needed: much still-time with God spent listening and meditating on what one hears from God. It is out of this inner place that relevant, fruitful action comes.

Nourish the Soul This Week

To nourish my soul this week I'm going to:

  • take much time alone with God
  • re-meditate on John chapters 14-17
  • listen to music
  • get outside and ponder God's creation
  • remember blessings
  • enjoy my family
  • eat well
  • exercise
  • turn off the TV and read
  • pray about struggles
  • cast my burdens upon God (1 Peter 5:7)
  • pray for others
  • take pictures (always carry your camera with you)
  • laugh
  • love others
  • be led by God
  • remember that I am not alone
  • live in gratitude
  • write in my journal
  • host the presence of God

Why Multitasking Screws Up the God-Relationship

For some time I've been teaching that: 1) one should not multitask the God-relationship; and 2) in the Christian Scriptures no one multitasks the God-relationship. And, in general: human relationships should not be multitasked if the goal is deep, loving relationship with a significant other.

In our culture multitasking is often worn as a badge of honor, as some kind of great ability that makes some better than others. The multitasker claims multiple levels of excellence. For example, my father had the ability, especially on Sunday afternoons, to simultaneously sit in the recliner, read the paper, watch TV, and sleep. One had better not change channels because he would say "Hey, I was watching that."

Imagine myself being attracted to Linda. I ask her out for a date. The date includes me getting some other things done. So we go to the nice restaurant and I pull out my laptop. I've got a work project going, I'm checking my e-mails, I'm carrying on multiple relationships on Facebook and Twitter, playing Gears of War, while "being with" Linda. Could I do this? Try me! Would Linda go out with me again? No. Not her, at least. Nor should she, I am certain.

What about God? Can't we pray while we shop? Of course. But it's instructive to note that no one, in the Bible or in the history of Christian spirituality, prayed that way. (Note: yes, Brother Lawrence prayed while washing dishes, but one must remember that he lived in a monastery which called him to solitary prayer hours each day after day after day. No wonder he was still in prayer while he worked!)

Now there is evidence that mulitasking may be harmful. Today's CNN report states that multitaskers...
  1. " worse on tests in which they need to switch attention from one task to another than people who rarely multitask in this way."
  2. "...are more easily distracted by irrelevant information."
  3. ...are less productive.
  4. ...retain "useless information in their short-term memory."
  5. ...have a lowered "threshold of distractibility."
  6. ...may be "less able to focus over sustained periods of time."
We live in a world that is bloated with irrelevant information that produces shallow people who are increasingly unable, not only to know what is really important, but when they discover it will find it hard to attend to.
I'm sitting on my back porch, no phone round, watching the marvel of my hummingbird who feeds here. This bird that can fly backwards and hover makes me think of God. Needed to really see this are: patience, waiting, and childlike wondering, none of which fit with multitasking. Compared to this experience "McWondering" falls way short.

Heal the Evil Within

Thomas Merton wrote: "The history of the world, with the material destruction of cities and nations and people, expressed the interior division that tyrannizes the souls of all men, and even of the saints." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 71)

Here we see the Merton-idea, and I think the Jesus-idea, that the genesis of moral evil lies in the evil within the human heart. Out of our own inner fragmentation comes the outward systemic fragmentation of families, marriages, and civic institutions. As long as one's own heart remains untransformed so will the world around us.

Fifteen years ago I was invited to help develop the Doctor of Ministry program at Palmer Theological Seminary (then "Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary"). The thrust of the program was to bring renewal to all areas of life: to the church, to the city, and to the world. Ecclesial, urban, and global transformation - good things! But we agreed that, if there were no personal transformation of individual leaders, then the hopes of cultural tranformation were dimished, if not entirely gone.

So, a decision was made to place a course called Personal Transformation (PT) first. D.Min. students would take PT before our courses on ecclesial, urban, and global transformation. We resisted the temptation to get on to the exciting thngs of global transformation, and discovered the inner world of the self that awaited further transformation, restoration, and renewal.

For the past 15 years I have taught PT as course #1 on Palmer's D.Min. program. It's been exhilarating for me as I have seen God time and time again heal the "interior division that tyrannizes the souls of all men, and even of the saints."

Do you desire to be an agent of renewal and transformation in the world? Begin with your own self. If you choose not to do this your labors will prove to be inauthentic and even irrelevant. It is an act of sheer hypocrisy to work at changing the people around you if you are not yourself being constantly changed. But if you allow God to heal and retore and renew your own inner self, then you will find that the break-up going on within you will lead to breakthrough around you.

Biblical Metaphors of God's Presence


Only God can transform us. To be transformed by God we must enter and live in his presence. But what is it in us that gets transformed? The biblical answer is: “spirit.” In this chapter I will present an understanding of “spirit” by using what I refer to as biblical metaphors of spiritual transformation.

David cried out to God, "What is man that you are mindful of him?"[1] While the emphasis in this verse is on God's loving care for persons, David wonders about the meaning of persons: "What is man?" To ask the question of our self-identity is to be in a bathysphere floating towards the ocean’s floor. Simply put, it’s a profoundly deep question. Many claim that gaining a biblical answer to this question takes us a long way towards spiritual and emotional stability.[2]

Christian theists believe that, as persons, we are qualitatively different from the rest of God's creation.[3] Scholars have written volumes attempting to identify the exact nature of this qualitative distinction. We will say that persons are spiritual creations. "Spirit" is that which separates persons from plants and animals.[4]

This question of our spiritual nature is not merely academic. When we pray we may find the question rising in our hearts, "God, who am I?" For this reason Thomas Merton felt that developing a theological anthropology was important for a life of prayer.[5]

If persons are essentially spiritual creations, what is "spirit"? The Bible provides us with many "metaphors of spirit." These metaphors do not give definitions or point-for-point descriptions of "spirit," but rather gesture towards the nature of persons as spiritual creations. A "metaphor" is the use of a word, phrase, image, or object to create a framework through which we express or view some aspect of reality or experience.[6] Metaphorical description is necessary because most, if not all, of our common experience cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language.[7]

To refer to spiritual experience we must often speak metaphorically. Consider, as an example, this metaphorical description of the spiritual life from Thomas Merton: “I consider that the spiritual life is the life of man's real self, the life of that interior self whose flame is so often allowed to be smothered under the ashes of anxiety and futile concern.”[8]

Here Merton uses three biblical metaphors:
1) The spiritual life is that which is most real about persons.
2) The spiritual life is something interior ("below the surface"; "deep inside"; see, e.g., Proverbs 20:5).
3) Spirit is "energy," "fire." Thus it can be "smothered" or "quenched."

This brief metaphorical description of the spiritual life issues an invitation to consider viewing one's life through its lens.

The biblical metaphors of spirit, while not providing exact definitions, gesture towards the life of the spirit and invite us to participate in this life. They are all grounded in a common understanding of spirituality, which is: To be "spiritual" is to be in God's presence; to be "unspiritual" is to be apart from God.[9]

We can further categorize the biblical metaphors of spirit into types. Our first example is a type of volitional metaphor and is found in Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God." To "be still" means, literally, to "cease struggling." This means that if we are to be transformed we must stop struggling and resisting God and surrender to God. Therefore, spirit is something that can either surrender to God or resist God. When we are surrendered to God then we are, in the best sense, “spiritual.” To be wholly surrendered to God is a way of being in the presence of God.

Our second metaphor of the spiritual life is a type of activity metaphor: "Rest in the Lord, O my soul." As Hebrews 6:19 says, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." To be in God's presence means to cease from certain activities so our spirit, like a ship, might be anchored to God who is the dock. To be spiritual is to live securely anchored to God's Holy Spirit. Conversely, our spirit is lost when it becomes a "restless, drifting, wandering soul." This is spiritual insecurity. Therefore, spirit is something that can be either securely anchored or drift. To be anchored to God is a way of being in God’s presence.

Our third metaphorical description is a type of part/whole metaphor, and speaks of having an "undivided heart" or a "whole heart" (Psalm 86:11). The implication is that we cannot both be in God's presence and simultaneously attend to someone or something else. One can’t multi-task the God-relationship. Henri Nouwen has said that the basic question of the spiritual life is: Who do we belong to? To live out of God's presence is to be, as James 1:8 says, dipsuchos. It is to have "two psyches," or be "two-hearted." In such a condition the spirit is divided regarding its allegiance, and is said to be "fragmented." In such a state of spiritual dipsuchos the human spirit has two lovers. I have found it often happens that when we go alone to a quiet place to pray we are shown how divided our spirits are. Therefore, spirit is something that can be either whole or divided into parts. To be in God’s presence is to be whole-hearted towards God.

Our fourth metaphor of spirit is the central biblical one of energy. "Spirit" is fire. When in God's presence there may come "tongues of flame." We can be "on fire" towards God. Nouwen often speaks of our need, therefore, to "tend the fire within." Conversely, spirit can be "quenched," or it can "burn out."[10] A colleague in ministry, speaking of his need for spiritual renewal, once said to me, "What I feel I now need in my life is a burning bush." Spirit burns, therefore we must tend it to keep it from burning out and guard it so it will not be quenched. To be in the presence of God is to have the fire burning inside one’s heart.

Our fifth example is a type of cathartic (cleansing) metaphor: "Create in me a clean heart, O God." "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."[11] The implication is that we truly dwell in God's presence only with pure hearts. To have a pure heart, as Kierkegaard wrote, is "to will one thing." Conversely, our hearts can be "stained," "blemished, " and covered with "blots," thus "impure." The central biblical image of sin is "stain." Many agree that the first step to spiritual renewal always involves confession, repentance, and receiving forgiveness. Clean hands and pure hearts are necessary preconditions for loving God. Therefore, spirit is something that can be spotless or stained, clean or unclean, acceptable or unacceptable to God. If you want to ascend the hill of the Lord to stand in God’s holy presence clean hands and a pure heart are needed.[12]

Our sixth and seventh examples are both types of dwelling metaphors. The first speaks of "remaining in" or "abiding in" Jesus: "Remain in me, and I will remain in you."[13] We can be said to dwell with Jesus if we are branches, connected to the True Vine. To be out of Jesus' influence is to become "disconnected" from the vine, possibly to attach oneself to other sources for sustenance. Therefore, spirit can attach itself to God or be detached from God. To be in the presence of God is to be attached to him and get one’s life-resources from him.

Another dwelling metaphor speaks of God as "our fortress and strength." When we live within the walls of God's protective fortress, "what shall we fear?" Thus Nouwen asks the question, "Do you live in the house of God or the house of fear?"[14] It is in God's house that our spirits find comfort, encouragement, and strength for the journey. But when we dwell outside these protective walls and life's attacks come, fear and anxiety predominate. It is in this light that Nouwen offers his "proof" that prayer works. We know that prayer works because when we do not pray our lives are more filled with fears and anxieties.[15] Therefore, spirit has a home, and is endangered when it makes its home anything but God. To enter into the presence of God is to live in God’s fortress.

Our last three metaphors of spiritual transformation are spatial, and indicate the "location" of spirit. The first concerns "creating a space in your heart" for God. Jesus said, "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen" (Matt. 6:6). This "upper room" or "secret place" is a heart where Jesus is allowed to live. Our heart is allowed to be Christ's home. As an old hymn asks, "Have You Any Room for Jesus?" But our "rooms" can be "cluttered," with no space for God. Therefore, spirit is a roomy space that can be cluttered with so many distractions that God has no opportunity to enter in. The heart has a resting place, a hiding place. Enter in, for God’s presence is there.

A second spatial metaphor is found in the Quaker expression "to center down." In both the Old and New Testaments the heart is the "center" or "seat" of all that is unique to persons, to include the will, the passions, thought, and the religious center to which God turns.[16] We are to "love the Lord with all our heart." God, Who seeks out all things, "knows our hearts."[17] The movement of our spiritual life should be "centrifugal," proceeding from the center of our being, rather than a "centripetal" movement that begins with the surface things of life and attempts to move through them to the heart of life. Because we so easily stray from center it is no wonder we often find little meaning in our activity. Therefore, spirit concerns the central reality of persons, and determines all activity and desire. It is the source of being which, in the spiritual life, precedes doing. To live centered on God is to live in God’s presence.

Our final metaphor of the spiritual life is also spatial, and speaks of there being "a temple within." Paul tells the Corinthians that, individually and corporately, they are temples of God's Holy Spirit.[18] Paul Tournier refers to this inner temple as "the holy sepulchre within." Tournier refers to this by asking, "What is there then within this sepulchre where all the repressed rubbish of all humanity as well as our own is rotting?"[19] One worship song says “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary.” Another says “purify my heart.” Conversely, Jesus said we can "whitewash" this sanctuary. This would be to live a life of facade, pretense, what Merton called the "false self." Therefore, spirit is a holy place where God's Spirit dwells. To be "spiritual" is to allow God to reign in one's spirit, which is God's rightful dwelling place. To be "unspiritual" is to occupy that dwelling place with our own ego as king, while painting the outside so as to appear to be spiritual.

There are many metaphors of spiritual transformation.[20] They figuratively define what it means to be in the presence of God, and tell us that spiritual transformation comes as we:
- Surrender to God.
- Anchor ourselves to God.
- Are whole-hearted towards God.
- Tend the fire within.
- Remain clean before God.
- Attach ourselves to God.
- Dwell in God's fortress.
- Make room in our heart for God.
- Center our life on God.
- Walk in holiness.[21]

[1] Psalm 8:4a
[2] See Christ-Centered Therapy, by Neil Anderson,
[3] This is important to state since contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins deny that there is any qualitative distinction between human beings and animals.
[4] Other candidates for the uniqueness of persons include: "reason"; "speech"; "self-consciousness"/"self-reflexivity"; rationality + freedom + immortality (the early church Fathers); a "destiny into which man was created to grow into" (Irenaeus; memory + intellect + will (Augustine, using the 3-fold structure of the Trinity); and rational understanding + moral obedience + religious communion. See also William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982). The understanding of "the image of God" in Genesis is more functional than conceptual. As a result of being created in God's image we are to do certain things: e.g., subdue, explore, rule the creation in God's name, etc.
[5] See Higgins, John J., Thomas Merton on Prayer.
[6] See Piippo, John Paul, Metaphor and Theology: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, 1986. Here the nature of metaphor and its use in expressing and describing religious aspects of experience and reality is more fully explained.
[7] Much of our language is metaphorical in origin. For example, when we speak of the "leg" of the table we have forgotten that at some point somebody used the human "figure" to speak of the table's leg. Paul Ricoeur has shown in The Rule of Metaphor that "figurative language" is language which uses the human "figure" to speak of experience.
[8] Merton,
[9] See especially Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. Fee says that Paul’s basic question for the Corinthian church is, “What does it mean to be “spiritual” or pneumatikos.”
[10] On spiritual "burnout" and ways to rekindle the flame, see Louis Savary and Patricia Berne, Prayerways.
[11] Psalm 51:7, 10.

[12] Psalm 24:3
[14] See Nouwen, Lifesigns; A Cry for Mercy. No one is better in articulating the emotion and spirit of fear than Henri Nouwen.
[15] See Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal, p. 44.
[16] See Geoffrey W. Bromily, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 416.
[17] Luke 16:15.
[19] Tournier, Paul,
[20] Another metaphor is: To be in God's presence one must have a "quiet heart." To be out of God's presence is to "have ears, but not really hear." When the human heart is filled with many voices and noises it is difficult to hear the single voice of God. Heart-stillness is the condition where only God's voice is attended to. "Spirit," therefore, is something that can be either quieted or chaotic.
[21] When we reverse the positive biblical metaphors of the spiritual life we see those spiritual conditions which will render prayer-as-relationship-with-God less effective. Relationship with God is blocked when our spirits are...
...focused on life's peripheral issues
...stained (by sin)
...disconnected from the Vine
...dwelling out God's fortress.
...and so on...

Merton On the Need for Solitude & the Irrelevancy of Many Corporate Meetings

(Linda and I have this photograph by David Winston, called "Solitude")

Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation, writes:

"There are men dedicated to God whose lives are full of restlessness and who have no real desire to be alone. Interior solitude is impossible for them. They fear it. They do everything they can to escape it. What is worse, they try to draw everyone else into activities as senseless and as devouring as their own. They are great promoters of useless work. They love to organize meetings and banquets and conferences and lectures. They print circulars, write letters, talk for hours on the telephone in order that they might gather a hundred people in a large room where they will all fill the air with smoke and make a great deal of noise and roar at one another and clap their hands and stagger home at last, patting one another on the back with the assurance that they have all done great things to spread the Kingdom of God."

Sadly, I have not only attended many such meetings but have organized some of them. But not so anymore, at least as regards organizing them. I feel myself wanting more organizational leanness so that what time God has given me can be more effectively used for his Kingdom and its advancement. This includes using the strengths and gifts I have as the Spirit leads. It's the "as the Spirit leads" thing that is crucial here, because being-directed and led by the Spirit requires much alone-time with God. There is simply no substitute for it. And, BTW, Jesus did it. If Jesus needed alone-time with the Father to discern what the Father wanted him to do, who do we think we are not to spend much time in solitude?

So we had another meeting. What's the Kingdom-doing it led to, if any? That is the bottom line. Do we need to have a meeting? Or, better put, does God want us to have a meeting? If so, then meet. If not, then don't. Another meeting just for the sake of meeting has an illogical circularity about it that creates interior nothingness.

Much time spent alone with God in a focused way brings the fruit of relevant doing for God's sake and his Kingdom.

Thomas Merton, Real Personhood, and Freedom

Thomas Merton has written: "It is in the deserts of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory. When this is faced, then anguish is not necessarily overcome, but it can be accepted and understood. Thus, in the heart of anguish, are found the gifts of peace and understanding: not simply in personal illumination and liberation, but by commitment and empathy, for the contemplative must assume the universal anguish and the inescapable condition of mortal man. The solitary, far from enclosing himself in on himself, becomes every man. He dwells in the solitude, the poverty, the indigence of every man." (Raids on the UnSpeakable)

How can we understand what Merton is saying?

First, there is something common to the nature of persons. The deeper you go inside people, the more we are the same. I have called the loci of human similarity as "ontological dualities." For example, every person struggles with Trust vs. Control; Faith vs. Fear; Rejection vs. Affirmation; Death vs. Life; and so on.

Secondly, when a solitary contemplative allows God to search out the deep waters of their own heart (Proverbs 20:5), they come in contact with what is common to all persons, and therefore what is most important in all persons in the sense of getting at the heart of personhood. This is the area of the "heart" that Jesus talked about in contradistinction to the superficial self which is exterior and "white-washed."

Thirdly, God made persons in his image. The imago dei is in us all.

Therefore, in the depths of each solitary human heart lies that which is most like God, is in all persons, and needs "renovation" (see Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart).

This is the meaning of Merton's words - "The solitary, far from enclosing himself in himself, becomes every man. He dwells in the solitude, the poverty, the indigence of every man."

The solitary contemplative, then, is on a great mission. It is to, by the help of the Holy Spirit, bring freedom to the real self, and consequentially become a spiritual guide for others to find the same freedom.

How To Keep A Spiritual Journal

(Sterling State Park on Lake Erie, Monroe, MI - one of my favorite prayer places)
I've been keeping a spiritual journal for almost 30 years, and have read and responded to over 700 spiritual journals pastors and Christian leaders have sent to me as part of the seminary classes, retreats, and conferences I have taught. Here's my thoughts on keeping a spiritual journal.
A spiritual journal is a record of the voice of God to you. When God speaks to you, write it down. To do that is to keep a spiritual journal.

Apart from this, people write differently. Some include lots of detail as regards, e.g., the place where they are praying at, prayer concerns, even biblical exegesis. But the core of the journal is: God's words spoken to you. When I read the journals of others that's what I am discerning and looking for.

When your mind wanders it may be helpful to write down, in your journal, where it wanders to. The mind does not wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden. The wandering mind is a barometer of your current spiritual condition. Then, following 1 Peter 5:7, "cast your burden on God, for he cares for you." I find it helpful to get the burden on paper. To see it on paper makes it feel like its not inside me any longer; it's at a distance from me. This is not always the case, but often it is. De-burdening is an important part of entering into God's presence more fully and achieving a greater focus on God because one is not so distracted.

If keeping a spiritual journal is writing down what God says to me, how can I know it's really the voice of God? I have found that one better hears God's voice when they:

1) Saturate themselves with Scripture.
2) Spend MUCH time alone in God's presence.
3) Interacts with other Jesus-followers who spend much time in God's presence.

There are also some good books about this, such as Dallas Wilard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.

Because the spiritual journal is a record of God's voice to you, it is extremely fruitful to occasionally re-read and re-meditate on your journal. A number of the things God tells you will be thematic in your life. it is important to remember such things. "Remembering" is huge in one's spiritual life. When we've gotten God's words for us written down it can be easier to remember them as we re-ponder them anew. The maxim here is: "I will not forget God's words to me."

A spiritual journal, because it is a record of God's voice to you, is about you. Not others. Yes, I sometimes write about others in my journal. If I'm upset with someone I use letters such as 'X' to denote those persons. I don't want my journal to be found or read by someone with whom I'm angry with. When I write down such things before God I'm primarily asking God to help, not 'X,' but me with the anger thing inside me.

Finally, what can you expect God to say to you? My experience tells me that God will tell you things like: his love for you, things he wants to heal deep inside you, things you need to repent of in your life, that he forgives you, things about his essence, a deepening of Scripture, and so on. And, God impart things to you, which when this happens to me, I write down in my journal. Things like: grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, hope, and power.

I don't believe journaling is for everybody. But remembering is. As is entering deeply into God's presence and hearing his voice.

Solitude & Silence

(My shadow, in my back yard)

Thomas Merton wrote: "Someone has to try to keep his head clear of static and preserve the interior solitude and silence that are essential for independent thought." (Faith and Violence)

I am approaching thirty years of increasing solitude and silence. I try not to judge my life by output, but I would say that relevant, creative life-output is in direct proportion to increasing solitude and silence (S&S). S&S are the wellspring of creativity. S&S situate a person in the interior desert from which righteous introspection happen. S&S provide the environment for authentic self-evaluation that, with God's assistance, produce genuine inner transformation. And such inner transformation is what it's all about, as opposed to the hypocrisy of the external extreme makeover.

In times of S&S we get to breathe clean air once more, clear our senses, clarify our purposes. It was said of Gandhi that he took one day a week off to accomplish two things: 1) rest his vocal chords; and 2) collect his thoughts.

S&S do not require literal desert places, though they are nice and quite helpful. This is because true S&S are conditions of the heart, and can be found whereve one is physically. I know this personally to be true, having taken many hours a week in solitude and silence over a period of thirty years. S&S are the twin trees planted in the oasis of the soul that draws from the river of God.

Contemplatives like Merton attest that S&S is different from "R&R" in the sense that S&S are to be the foundational background that hums unceasingly, and out of which true discernment grows. Personally I think a lot of people need a real vacation after their physical vacation. S&S can provide this daily.

Our world does not value S&S. Busyness is valued, and of busyness there is no end. Busyness's operative is: to be busy. Always. Hence, the massive irrelevancy of the "busy life," which is a life that is to be always "filled up" with "things to do."

One day in the early 1980s I was walking across the campus of Michigan State University feeling lost in regard to my doctoral dissertation (Northwestern U.). I saw a friend who was an MSU professor. "How are you today?" he asked. "I'm struggling with my dissertation. I don't know what to do and where to go with it. I can't see the forest for the trees." His immediate counsel to me was: "Take two weeks away from it. Then, come back." Initially this seemed ridiculous, a break I could not afford to take. Yet something also seemed right, especially coming from this scholar and friend. So I took two weeks off. I did not attend to the dissertation. Yet, in the absence of directly working on it, thoughts began to bubble up inside me. I wrote them in my journal. The game plan was being given to me in the silence and abstinence.

In the same way solitude and silence are God-gifts to bring healing, well-being, joy, perspective, creativity, strength, and hope. Out of them come relevant telic activity. The psalmist never counseled us to "Be busy, and know that I am God."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Bibliography on Christian Spirituality

Here is the annotated bibliography on Christian spirituality and transformation I currently give my doctoral students at Palmer Theological Seminary.

Arnold, Eberhard. Inner Land: A Guide Into the Heart and Soul of the Bible (Rifton, N.Y: Plough Publishing House, 1976). A classic in Anabaptist spirituality.

Blackaby, Henry T., and King, Claude V. Experiencing God. An excellent, clearly written text that is especially good for church study.

Boyd, Greg. Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy
(IVP: 2001). An excellent study on the kingdom of God, esp. on spiritual battle and the kingdom of Satan. A coherent Christian response to the philosophical problem of evil.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. The Practice of the Presence of God (Garden City: Image, 1977). A spiritual classic by a 17th-century monk that is still relevant today, and is especially good at knowing God in the everyday, mundane tasks of life.

Buechner, Frederick. Godric (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). A beautiful novel, spiritually deep and uplifting. The character of Godric reminds me of Thomas Merton.

Collins, Kenneth J. Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Baker Book House: 2000). An excellent one-volume text.

Costen, Melva Wilson. African American Christian Worship.

Dawn, Marva. Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living In An Affluent Society (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation: 2003). This is a deep, profound study allowing us to see our materialistic world and our spiritual place in it through God’s eyes.

Deere, Jack. Surprised By the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). A very good, clearly written biblical and historical presentation of how one hears God speaking to them.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek (Harper and Row). This makes my personal top ten ever-read list. A beautiful meditation of the creation, especially its microscopic aspects.

Fee, Gordon. God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994). This massive text is, arguably, the definitive statement of the apostle Paul’s spirituality. A detailed study of every Pauline reference to the Holy Spirit.

Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Superb, meditative, scholarly commentary on what it means to be pneumatikos (“spiritual”).

Foster, Richard. A Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper and Row). The modern classic on the spiritual disciplines. If you have not yet read this it should be one of your choices.

Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper and Row: 1992). Examines several different types of prayer that are both biblically and historically Christian.

Foster, and Griffin, Emilie. Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (Harper and Row: Feb. 2000). A very good collection representing the great Christian types of spirituality.

Foster. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (Harper and Row: 1998). On the following traditions: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. We Drink From Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988). Excellent, especially in its emphasis on corporate spirituality.

Holmes, Urban T. Spirituality for Ministry. Still one of the best books on this subject.

Jones, Cheslyn, et. al., eds. The Study of Spirituality (New York: Oxford, 1986). A very good one-volume source on the history of Christian spirituality.

Kelly, Thomas. A Testament Of Devotion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941). This brilliant, provocative little text makes my top ten ever-read books on Christian spirituality. A modern classic.

Kraft, Charles. Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Understanding of the Supernatural (Ann Arbor, Mi.: Servant, 1989). A brilliant study in paradigm theology by an anthropologist and missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Ladd, George. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Eerdmans: 1959). A classic, still-used examination of the kingdom of God as both present and future. Schoalrly, but it often reads devotionally.

Leech, Kenneth. Experiencing God: Theology As Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). An excellent historical study, from biblical times to the present, of the experience of God.

Leech. Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). The best book available on spiritual direction.

Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).

Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1979).

Lovelace. Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1985).

Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. A beautiful, very thoughtful meditation on the grace of God.

Manning, Abba’s Child. This book spoke deeply to me about my need for experiential knowledge of the love of God.

Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. Very good as it gets at the real Jesus.

May, Gerald. Addiction and Grace (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1991). An excellent, clearly written book with an especially helpful section on addiction to control.

May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction (New York: Harper and Row, 1992). A very good text on the nature of spiritual direction.

May. Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Harper and Row: 1987). An excellent text.

McManus, Erwin. The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within (Thomas Nelson: 2005) Don’t be put off by the title. I loved this book about what it means to be a real follower of Jesus.

McLaren, Brian. The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Thomas Nelson: 2007). I loved this book about the kingdom of God.

Merton, Thomas. The Inner Experience: Notes On Contemplation (Harper: 2003). This is Merton’s final book. Few write about contemplation as well as he does.

Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961). Merton at his best.

Merton. No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983). Contains the classic chapter, “Being and Doing.”

Merton. Seeds (Shambala: 2002). A killer collection of Merton quotes. A tremendous introduction to the depth, wisdom, and discernment of Thomas Merton. Prophetic.

Merton. The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981). One of Merton’s journals, containing many spiritual gems,

Miller, J. Keith. A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper and Row, 1991).

Miller. Hope In the Fast Lane: A New Look at Faith in a Compulsive World (New York: Harper and Row, 1987). An excellent text on overcoming sin in one’s life. Especially good on identifying the deep source of stress and overcoming stress.

Miller. The Secret Life of the Soul (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997). About the vulnerability needed for the transformation of the soul.

Muse, J. Stephen, ed. Beside Still Waters: Resources for Shepherds in the Marketplace (Smyth and Helwys: 2000). An excellent text that uses Psalm 23 to speak to Christian leaders regarding spiritual issues. Very good on our need to care for ourselves physically.

Mulholland, Robert. Shaped By the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation (Nashville: Upper Room Press, 1985). An excellent book on how the Bible interprets us.

Nelson, Alan. Broken In the Right Place: How God Tames the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1994). A very good book on how spiritual brokenness effects personal transformation.

Nouwen, Henri. A Cry for Mercy: Prayers From the Genesee (Garden City, New York: Image, 1981). A beautiful book of prayers expressing our heart’s fears, struggles, and longings.

Nouwen. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1987).

Nouwen. Gracias! A Latin American Journal (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983). One of Nouwen’s spiritual journals.

Nouwen. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Harper and Row). A brilliant little book, among the best I have ever read on pastoral leadership.

Nouwen. Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (New York: Image, 1986).

Nouwen. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Spiritual Life (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1980).

Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). An excellent text; a modern classic. On solitude, hospitality, and prayer.

Nouwen. The Genesee Diary: Report From A Trappist Monastery (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). This book makes my top ten ever-read list in terms of spiritual impact. An excellent example of journaling that is of spiritual value.

Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love (Image Books: 1999). I find it hard to express how much God used a slow, meditative reading of this book to effect changes in my life.

Nouwen. The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (New York: Harper and Row). A tremendous book for pastors and Christian leaders.

Nouwen. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Image, 1992). Simply put, one of Nouwen’s best and one of my very favorites.

Nouwen. The Way of the Heart (New York: Ballantine, 1981). A beautiful, meditative little book on solitude, silence, and prayer.

Payne, Leanne. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991). A very good, well-written text on what it means to hear God’s voice.

Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Dallas: Word, 1989). I have read this book two or three times. It always reminds me of my priorities in pastoral ministry.

Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. The first of five books in Peterson’s summary of his spiritual theology.

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change (Jossey-Bass: 1996). A very good book, written from a leadership-business perspective, on the inner transformation required to lead effectively.

Senn, Frank, ed. Protestant Spiritual Traditions (New York: Paulist, 1986). Various authors writing from the following perspectives: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Puritan, Pietist, and Methodist.

Smedes, Lewis. Shame and Grace. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1994). For me, a beautiful book on overcoming self-condemnation by a deeper understanding and experience of the grace of God.

St. Teresa of Avila. Interior Castle. (Image Books: 1972) A spiritual classic.

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Pathways (Zondervan: 2000). Very good on showing different spiritual styles and various ways persons experience God (the naturalist, sensate, traditionalist, ascetic, activist, caregiver, enthusiast, contemplative, and intellectual).

Thurman, Howard. For the Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace: 1984). An excellent anthology of Thurman’s spiritual writings.

Warren, Rick. The Purpose-Driven Life. (Zondervan: 2002) To me, this is a suberb and sometimes brilliant roadmap for all who love God.

Weems, Renita. Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt (Simon and Schuster: 1999). An excellent reflection of the silence of God and intimacy with God.

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins: 1998). What a deep, beautiful book on the kingdom of God.

Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (IVP: 1999)

Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Navpress:2002). This excellent book is all about spiritual transformation and is especially helpful in defining biblical terms like “soul,” “heart,” “spirit,” and “body.”

Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (Harper and Row: 1988). A great book, profound, clearly written. Richard Foster called it “the book of the decade.”

Wimber, John. Power Healing (Harper and Row). An excellent, encouraging text filled with realism and hope.

Needed: More Deep People

Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation makes my personal top ten list of books I have read. I'm slow-reading some of this book this morning, and the result is that I'm being taken into the deep places of the heart where I meet Christ in me, the hope of glory. For me, Merton is an exceptionally good guide in this.

Merton, who died in 1968, was a Trappist monk who spent countless hours praying and meditating on God, Jesus, the Spirit, Scripture, and culture. One reason he had time for this is that he never watched TV - not once, I think. Good for him. And, for us, the beneficiaries. Yet Merton had more insights into life than most people. Merton cultivated discernment and wisdom and real knowledge. He was a deep person. Which is, by the way, what we really need today - more deep persons (rather than internet top-feeders).

Merton died while on a trip to Bangkok, which is where I am going Nov. 12-19. He was accidentally electrocuted in his room. In New Seeds Merton writes:
"When the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light - then we find out whether we live by faith."
Nice. Deep. Life-and-death stuff that brings perspective. Proverbs 20:5 says, "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw them out." Merton understood things. To "understand" is, literally, to "stand under." Which implies: to go deep. To understand one's own self in the face of God is a very, very deep thing. Self-understanding before God is a necessary prerequisite to understanding others. Remain self-ignorant and you'll misunderstand others. Why? Because the deeper we go in persons the more we are all the same. If that were not true the Gospel would only be for a few people. The Gospel speaks to us all precisely because it refuses to be shallow and descends into the heart's deep waters. Merton went there. That's why, for example, he's so brilliantly insightful about ontological issues like life and death (per the quote above).
As God took Merton by the hand and led him into the deep waters of his own heart the vastness of the human heart opened up before him, in all it's majesty and tragedy. This caused Merton to write, e.g., in No Man Is an Island:
"No matter what our aims may be, no matter how spiritual, no matter how intent we think we are upon the glory of God and His Kingdom, greed and passion enter into our work and turn it into agitation as soon as our intention ceases to be pure. And who can swear that his intentions are pure, even down to the subconscious depths of his will, where ancient selfish motives move comfortably like forgotten sea monsters where they are never seen!" (110)
What are life's important themes? They include: life, death, self, people, trust, fear, hope, faith, knowledge, truth, falsehood, right, wrong, hope, love, and God.
Turn off the TV for a few days. Leave your laptop behind. And your I-phone. Text no one. Meet with God in the depths of your heart. And live.

Self-Deconstruction & Spiritual Transformation

Henry Blackaby has said that we have been “created to be God’s friends.”[1] Renewal and transformation of our spirits happens in this intimate friendship relationship. What could thwart this from happening? A main enemy of intimate friendship with God is self-obsession. Self-obsession necessarily takes us out of relationship with God and others.

Therefore, in order to be renewed and transformed we must deny negative aspects of the self; namely, the self-obsessive aspects. Jesus gives us this stark, ascetic either-or: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself daily, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”[2] Self-denial is to be a daily discipline. I know from this command of Jesus and from my own experience that every day the self will rise up and try to assert itself against the ways of God. When I have allowed God to search me and know my heart one thing He points out my emphasis on myself, sometimes to the point of idolatry. Obsession with one’s self is the enemy of all spiritual renewal and transformation.

God desires to defeat our self-obsessiveness so we can experience renewal and transformation. One way God does this is by calling us into times of solitude. This is why Henri Nouwen has called solitude “the furnace of spiritual transformation.” If solitude is a “furnace,” what gets burned away? The answer is: the negative aspects of the “self.” Unless we daily practice self-denial, self-centered ideas will rise up against the ideas of God. I have discovered ten such negative aspects of the self. I’ll share them with you soon in separate posts.

[1] See Henry Blackaby, Created To Be God’s Friend
[2] Matthew 16:24-25

We Get Transformed In the Presence of God

(Lake Michigan Sunset)

The first step towards spiritual renewal and transformation lies in brokenness in regard to our true inner condition. The symptoms that function as indicators of our need include: hopelessness, fear, mistrust, lovelessness, spiritual coldness, and lack of energy. Once we acknowledge our need to be in an ongoing process of spiritual transformation the question becomes how this can come about. The answer is: spiritual transformation and renewal comes as we live daily in the presence of God. Only God can change us in the profound ways we need to be changed. It is impossible to dwell consistently in God’s presence and remain untransformed and unrenewed.

The kind of change we need is into Christlikeness. Only God can effect such a change. Self-transformation is impossible. God once told me, “John, why are you trying so hard to change others when you can’t even change yourself?” The kind of metamorphosis God desires in us is into nothing less than Christlikeness. Almost by definition this is something we cannot accomplish in our own wisdom and strength. Such deep spiritual change can only be brought about by God. In such matters we are like mere lumps of clay, lacking not only the Potter’s hands but the Potter’s power and creativity as well. The lump of clay must be placed on the Potter’s wheel. We have to be close to the hands and face of God.

Thus we have to learn how to abide in God’s presence. When we do this the result is inexorable: we get transformed. I don’t believe it is possible to live consistently in God’s fortress and remain unchanged. To be with God in the sense of abiding in Christ is to be changed. The result is always deep transformation. We become changed and will never be the same again. To illustrate this Henri Nouwen makes an analogy between those who enter into the holy presence of God and astronauts who have gone to the moon. Both have “a special radiance because of what they have seen.” Astronaut Robert Cenker flew on Columbia 7 in January 1986. Cenker writes:

"Of all the people I’ve spoken to about the experience of space, only those closest to me can begin to understand. My wife knows what I mean by the tone of my voice. My children know what I mean by the look in my eye. My parents know what I mean because they watched me grow up with it. Unless you actually go and experience it yourself you will never really know."[1]
Nouwen says, “That’s the loneliness of the mystic. Having seen and experienced what cannot be expressed in words and still must be communicated.”[2]

Today’s Christian leaders need a Moses-experience. When Moses came down from the mountain of God his face radiated. He was transformed. You can’t dwell in the presence of God and not radiate. What today’s Christian leaders most need is constant exposure to what George Otis called “the earth-shattering presence of God.” Granted, every encounter with God does not produce such dramatic internal upheaval. But haven’t you been in the presence of someone who so influenced you that you rarely left their presence unmoved? How much more so must it be for those who walk with God.

As Christian leaders the uniqueness of what we have to give to others comes out of intimacy with God. It is not primarily political wisdom or psychological insights that our people need from us. We may help a person with their plumbing, but if they’re truly needy in this area they should call a plumber. People today need God, and only the person who cultivates intimacy with God as their primary purpose in life will be able to give God to people. Where are today’s Christian leaders who know God?[3]

To know God intimately is to experience transformation. As regards this transformation God is the author.

[1] In Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p. 23.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Thomas Merton is an example of someone who made the encounter with God his first priority. It was only out of that deep God-encounter that Merton was able to speak with such insight in regard to socio-political events. It is instructive to note that Merton never watched TV. His time was, primordially, God-focused.

The Foundation of a Seminary Education Is Transformation of the Heart

(Munson Park, across from my house)

In 1977, upon graduating from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, my theology professor, Dr. Tom Finger, asked me: “What course do you think the Theology Department needs to add?” Immediately I responded, “A course on prayer.” Tom said, “I agree. I want you to teach it.” “But I need to develop a prayer life, and am in no position to teach on it,” I said. The end result was that, in the fall of 1978, I taught a course on prayer at NBTS, and was told that it was the most heavily attended class that semester.

I wanted a course on prayer because, as wonderful as my seminary education was, it had not taught me how to drink from the living waters of the well of God. Mine was a very left-brained experience, and at the time this did not disappoint me. My bachelor’s degree was in philosophy, and I loved the mind-expanding abstractions of logic and the analysis of ideas. While these things are good, my seminary education mostly reinforced my love of pure academic studies but, for the most part, did not expand my heart. The result was that I gained even more head knowledge without being developed in the experiential realities of the God-relationship.

As I prepared to teach that first class on prayer, I researched other seminary curricula and found that Protestant seminaries offered no such courses. Roman Catholic seminaries, on the other hand, had a long history of spirit-cultivation of their students. I eventually read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, and Foster showed me that the foundation of all authentic and relevant ministry is the ongoing spiritual and renewal that happens when individuals and communities regularly abide in the presence of God.

How did Protestant seminaries lost touch with spiritual formation? Anglican theologian Kenneth Leech, in Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality, attributes the loss of experiential spirituality in the Protestant seminary to the growth of the pastoral counseling movement that began in the first half of the twentieth century and gained special prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. While there are similarities between pastoral counseling and spiritual direction, the differences are significant. Leech lists three of them.

First, Leech says that “the pastoral counselor’s concern has tended to be with states of emotional distress.” (96) The emphasis is on problems and problem solving. “The ministry of spiritual direction [on the other hand] is more important when there are no spiritual crises. It is a continuous ministry and involves the healthy as well as the sick.” (Ib.)

Secondly, “the counseling movement has been clinic-based or office-based rather than church-based or community-based… Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is firmly located within the liturgical sacramental framework, within the Body of Christ.” (97)

Thirdly, the pastoral counseling movement has tended to focus excessively on the problems of individuals, a fault which it has shared with social work and with the church at various stages of its history. In 1959 Barbara Wootton warned of the reluctance to examine the imperfections of our institutions as thoroughly as we examine the faults or misfortunes of individuals.” (97-98) Spiritual direction looks at the meaning of koinonia as best achieved when individuals who regularly engage in personal spiritual disciplines come together to share what they truly have in common; viz., the ongoing relationship of abiding in Christ.

My personal experience includes having functioned as a spiritual director for over eight hundred pastors and Christian leaders from all over the world. I have read the journals of these seminary graduates and beheld the over-developed head and the under-developed soul. While, to use our example above, the pastoral counseling movement has been significant, and seminaries were right in giving their seminarians pastoral counseling skills, for the reasons cited above such skills do not essentially address the seminarian’s ongoing, primal relationship with God. Our seminaries need to train their students how to, in the first place, love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To not do this is to send the message that ongoing soul-nurture is not so important when compared to academic study. To be-studied by God is essential. While learning to exegete texts is important, it seems more fundamentally important to dwell in God’s presence and be-exegeted by the Spirit.

In my estimation a major example of someone who both was studied by God and studied for the sake of God was Howard Thurman. It is significant that Thurman’s autobiography is entitled “With Head and Heart.” Thurman was correct in seeing the significance of both. Seminaries that train only the head to the neglect of the renovation of the heart will be doing a half job. In this regard I find these typical words of Thurman truthful and instructive:

“There is a spirit of mind without which it is impossible to discern truth. It is this set of mind that makes possible the experience of truth and distinguishes it from the experience of error. It is this spirit that recognizes or senses the false, the dishonest, the bogus thing. It this attitude that determines the use to which facts are put… This spirit of mind is the factor upon which the integrity of performance rests. Constantly, I must seek the renewal of the spirit of my mind, lest I become insensitive, dulled, unresponsive to the creative movement of the Spirit of God with which life is instinct.” (Meditations of the Heart, 171-172)

With these words in mind, seminaries will do well to train seminarians in “the mind of Christ” which then engages with and interprets facts, and thus can discern “the use to which facts are put.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fanning the Flame: A National Pastor's Renewal Conference

(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

Tomorrow morning I'll travel to Green Lake, Wisconsin, to be one of the presenters at "Fanning the Flame." There will be 200 pastors from around the nation there. I'll also back up Hannah Ford as she leads worship.

I'll return home on Thursday afternoon to get into the Bethel Conference at our church with Chris Overstreet, Robby Dawkins, Chad Dedmon, and Anne Evans.

It's going to be an exciting week!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Furious Love 2011

“Furious Love” 2011!

April 6-10, 2011.

A 4-day gathering with the speakers Darren Wilson’s new film “Furious Love.”

Already committed to come are:
Heidi Baker, Angela Greenig, Will Hart, Mattheus van der Steen (Amsterdam), Shampa Rice (India), "Esther," Robby Dawkins, Philip Mantofa (Indonesia), and more.

Holly Benner – worship leader

Darren will also be filming this event.

Redeemer Fellowship Church
Monroe, Michigan ( More information TBA) (More information TBA)

Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism

Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism

Monroe, MI

No Registration - There is no registration process or cost required to attend this school. Each night, there will be an offering taken in order to cover the expense of the school. Guests will be invited to contribute financially during the event.

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen Dr.
Monroe, MI 48161
734.242.5277 ext 13
May 26-30, 2010

The Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism will equip and empower both the seasoned and most timid believer to demonstrate the Kingdom of Heaven through love and power. If you hunger to see God move through you to display real power that touches lives with His love, you don’t want to miss this school.

Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism is a school that will equip you to have a Kingdom mindset that empowers ordinary people to openly display the raw power of God in your own community. In this school, you will be trained and equipped by many of Bethel’s leaders who will help you develop a supernatural lifestyle of miracles, signs and wonders, salvation encounters, and deliverances. If you are a leader or individual who desires to move in the supernatural outside the four walls of the church, this school is for you. People have been transformed as a result of this training and equipping, and empowered to live their lives naturally supernatural. Featured speakers for this school are: Chris Overstreet, Chad and Julia Dedmon, Robby Dawkins, and Anne Evans.



Chris Overstreet is Bethel's Outreach Pastor. He is passionate about an intimate relationship with Jesus, out of which flows a lifestyle of ministering the Kingdom of God around him. It is common for miracles, salvations, and life transformations to regularly take place as a result of Chris living his life naturally supernatural, while encouraging and equipping the Saints for the work of the ministry.


Chad and Julia Dedmon are graduates of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry and have full-time pastoral experience working with youth and young adults. Julia Dedmon holds her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Azusa Pacific University. In 2008, Chad and Julia were both ordained as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by Drs. Rolland and Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries and Senior Leaders Bill and Beni Johnson of Bethel Church. Together as partners, Chad and Julia desire to see the manifestation of the Kingdom of God come on earth through the display of creative expression, healing and healthy relationships. Chad has an extraordinary gift of faith and healing and strong leadership abilities. He continues to captivate audiences with his poignant accounts of marketplace miracles. Julia has a distinctive intuitive nature drawing her to passionate worship, prophetic ministry, soaking prayer and inner healing. Julia and Chad currently reside in Orange County and travel as ministers, seeing His Kingdom come through healing, deliverance, and miracles in the nations.


Robby is a fifth generation pastor who was born to missionary parents in Japan. He grew up seeing lives transformed by the power of God in poor urban communities. Robby had served as a youth pastor for 12 years for churches between 50 to 10,000 members before he and his wife Angie planted a Vineyard church in the downtown area of Aurora, Illinois (Chicago area). They now have 5 boys and one on the way. 80 % of their church came to Christ at their church and 70% of that through Power encounters (Prophetic, Healing, Deliverance or feeling God’s presence). Robby ministers extensively as an itinerate minister (in the U.S. and in over 30 countries) equipping churches in Power Evangelism. He was most recently featured in the movie Furious Love in 2010.


Anne works with Kevin Dedmon as the administrator of the Firestorm Ministry which travels worldwide to empower and activate churches into a naturally supernatural lifestyle. She is an Overseer of the weekly Friday Night Strikes and Bar Ministry at Bethel Church as well as being a coach for Bethel's Firestarters Class. She is a 3rd Year graduate of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Anne has a passion for prophetic evangelism and regularly leads teams out into the marketplace to share the Father's love. Her calling, as a mother to the body of Christ, is to help birth and raise up sons and daughters into the Kingdom through encouragement, prophecy, teaching and activation.