Thursday, May 30, 2013

Prayer Summer - WELCOME!

I am a low-level amateur video maker, as you'll see in the "text" reference here. :) Want to join me in a summer of prayer and praying? Send me an email at:

Group Photo of Some of the 20th Century's Greatest Philosophers

Click here to see the photo plus identification key of the Davidson Conference in 1984 (Donald Davidson). See also "A Great Day for Philosophy," in today's nytimes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Needed: More Deep People

Lake Erie

What is most needed today are more deep people. People with wisdom, and discernment. Pondering, meditative people.

Such people have an inner stability that cannot be uprooted during the storms of life. 

Deep people are stable people. Shallow-rooted people are surface people who surf and skim over the Internet-life of disconnected data. 

Here is Henri Nouwen writing on spiritual depth.

"Trees that grow tall have deep roots. Great height without great depth is dangerous. The great leaders of this world - like St. Francis, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., - were all people who could live with public notoriety, influence, and power in a humble way because of their deep spiritual rootedness. Without deep roots we easily let others determine who we are. But as we cling to our popularity, we may lose our true sense of self. Our clinging to the opinion of others reveals how superficial we are. We have little to stand on. We have to be kept alive by adulation and praise.Those who are deeply rooted in the love of God can enjoy human praise without being attached to it." 

- Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reminders to Myself

Be myself. Be who God made me to be, with all my strengths and infirmities.    
Overcome denial.
Overcome fear & intimidation.
Overcome addiction
Do not compare...
Stimulate the mind with intellectually challenging reading. 
Physically exercise
Get outside and ponder God's creation
Listen to excellent music
Worship soulfully
Remember blessings
Enjoy family & friends 
Remember: God works all things together for good!
Live in gratitude
Remember - Christ, the hope of glory, dwells in me
Eat well
Pray about struggles
Enter deeply into God's presence
Know the Father's love
Play the guitar
Lead worship with passion and excellence
Preach with passion and excellence
Teach others, as invited
Don't lose your joy
Lead with confidence
Mentor with discernment...
Take photographs
Love others deeply  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Physicist Lee Smolin Against Multiverse Theory

From Graham (Linda's nephew) and Hillary's wedding

Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in his new book Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, argues for the reality of time and the relevance of our common experience of "now." Along the way Smolin dismisses multiverse theory as unscientific. 

James Gleick, in his review of Smolin's book, notes this. Gleick writes:

"Smolin maintains a fairly puritanical view of what science should and should not do. He doesn’t like the current fashion in “multiverses”—other universes lurking in extra dimensions or branching off infinitely from our own. Science for him needs to be testable, and no one can falsify a hypothesis about a universe held to be inaccessible to ours. For that matter, any theory about the entire cosmos has a weakness. The success of science over the centuries has come in giving rules and language for describing finite, isolated systems. We can make copies of those; we can repeat experiments many times. But when we talk about the whole universe, we have just the one, and we can’t make it start over." 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thomas Nagel - A Horse In the Zebra Pen


I'm still reading through, slowly, N.Y.U. philosopher Thomas Nagel's controversial Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Remember that Nagel is an atheist. Fellow atheist and philosopher Michael Ruse has described Nagel as a horse who broke into the zebra pen. (See Michael Chorost, "Where Thomas Nagel Went Wrong.") Nagel, who seems not to care, has broken into the nasty pen of evolutionary naturalists who "are impervious to contrary evidence and alternative formulations." (Ib.)

Nagel is willing to side with anyone, even theists like Alvin Plantinga, who rationally arrive at truth. For example, Nagel writes:

"I agree with Sharon Street that an evolutionary self-understanding would almost certainly require us to give up moral realism— the natural conviction that our moral judgments are true or false independent of our beliefs. Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends." (Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p. 28; See Sharon Street,“A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value,” Philosophical Studies 127, no. 1 (January 2006): 109– 66.)

Evolutionary naturalism fails to provide a "transcendent self-understanding that does not undermine our confidence in our natural faculties." (28) While Nagel disagrees with Plantinga on the matter of God, he agrees with him on one of Plantinga's main convictions; viz., that on evolutionary naturalism we have no warrant for trusting in our rational faculties.

Freed From the Myth of Personal Brilliance


My favorite bookstore in the world has been, for decades, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in the basement of Chicago Theological Seminary, adjacent to the University of Chicago. (It's now moved... :( )This bookstore was used by the U-Chicago Divinity School as their own. It is a feast of philosophical and theological literature!

One time I descended into this literary cornucopia and had a visceral feeling of vast self-ignorance. I read a "lot" of books. But on that particular sobering day, as I walked through the bookstore, I realized I had not read and therefore was unfamiliar with 99.9999...% of the thousands of books and millions of pages of knowledge contained therein. I concluded that I am, following philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, a "learned ignoramus." Had I any pride in my accomplished readings it was now seen for what it truly is; viz., miniscule. To be conceited is to be foolish.

In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul writes:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

"Vain conceit" means that "conceit" is "vain." Here "vanity" is an attribute of "conceit." 

"Vain" means: futile, or empty. Containing nothing. Therefore, useless. Conceit is empty and useless.

Pascal once wrote: "What amazes me most is to see that everyone is not amazed at his weakness.” And at his or her ignorance.

When one's overwhelming ignorance is revealed and accepted, it is bracingly humbling. This true ignorance is not merely factual, but cognitive. There are things I will never be able to comprehend, not because I lack the information, but because of my inability to do so. It is good to come to this realization, because it is a true conceit-killer. And because it is just plan true.

At this point it's not so much what we know, but who we know. If the latter is Nothing, then welcome to the bleak world of French atheistic existentialism. (Not the atheistic "brights.") If the latter is an All-Knowing God, then we have found the place where our ignorant minds can find hope and rest.

Freedom From Everybody, and From My Own Self

Tree, in Bangkok
I love this quote from Frank Laubach:

"I am trying to be utterly free from everybody,
free from my own self,
but completely enslaved to the will of God
every moment of this day."
(In Greg Boyd, Present Perfect, 43)

To be utterly free from everybody. Increasingly, I find myself not wanting to be like anyone I know or have known. I want to be like Christ. This growing desire allows me to be free of other people - what they think of me, whether or not they agree with me, and so on.

With this kind of freedom I will be unattached to what other people want me to be. I am the clay, but other people are not my potter. And, I am not my own potter. I am not to be a self-made vessel.

Such utter freedom will  allow me to better love other people, because my love for them will not be a function of any attachment to them. Enslaved only to the will of God, I am set free to love others without manipulating them to love me in return.

Attached only to God, I am unattached to the opinions of others and unattached to my own self.

Thomas Merton once prayed, "Lord, save me from myself." (Brian Welch of Korn echoed this prayer here.) This means being free from death-producing, spirit-quenching aspects of my self. To be free of the "false self."

Enslavement to the will of God means: attunement to the heart of God, the desires of God. To have a heart that beats with the heart of God and marches to his drum.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spiritual Disciplines are "Habitations of the Spirit"

Monroe County

The best book I read in 2011 was Thinking in Tongues, by James K.A. Smith. When you find a book like this you want to read more. So now I'm reading Smith's Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. Smith is interviewed here on his new book ("You Can't Think Your Way to God.").

Smith is asked: Is there a way to get spiritual know-how apart from engaging in the spiritual disciplines?

He responds: "I don't think so."

Spiritual disciplines are "habitations of the Spirit." (I love this!) They are not about showing that we are trying pursue God. Smith says: "These are gifts that the Spirit inhabits. They are rituals that God invites us into to live into the power of the Spirit. They are the way that you put on Christ."

Spiritual disciplines are "invitations to live into God's power."

(The classic, must-read book on the spiritual disciplines remains Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.) 

Absolutely Unmixed Attention on God is Prayer

Mackinac Bridge

The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote: "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." I would add "on God," to now read: Absolutely unmixed attention on God is prayer.

Prayer is a challenge to many today because we live in the Age of Increasing Distraction. We are the linkers, the tweeters, the Net-surfers skimming over the surface of life. Fewer and fewer can focus and attend to one thing. Few dig deep in one location.

Ours is the world of information overload. In 1600 an English writer named Barnaby Rich complained, “One of the great diseases of this age is the multitude of books that doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought into the world.” (In Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Kindle Locations 2872-2874) Poor Barnaby Rich would not believe the gigatons of idle matter being hatched today!

Stanford University's Clifford Nass wrote that internet multitaskers are "suckers for irrelevancy." "Everything distracts them," and their minds are programmed to pay attention to the garbage of life. (Ib., K2424)

Perpetual distractedness is an enemy of real relationship, which means it is an enemy of prayer, since true prayer is relationship with God. (To better understand this see Richard Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home.)

"Unmixed attention" is heart-purity which, as Kierkegaard told us, wills one thing. This is relationship language. Love language. To pray is to love, just as the hours Linda and I spent yesterday talking and listening to one another is to love each other. Spending time listening and talkiing and sharing with God - 1-on-1 - is loving God.

There is a kind of "knowing" which only comes from one-thing attentiveness. Philosopher of science Michael Polanyi called this "personal knowledge." We get captured by the object of our attentiveness. Prayer is being captured by God alone, in loving relationship. When that happens the multitasking disease is healed, and prayer as conversation with God begins.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sharing Christ with Muslims - Tomorrow Morning at Redeemer


Tomorrow morning at Redeemer (May 23), 9:30-11:30 AM.

5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI 48162

Sharing Christ with Muslims.

Speaker: Jonathan Swift, missionary in Beirut Lebanon for the past 6 years, and now leader of The Dearborn Initiative.

Jonathan is a pastor, and is working on a Masters Degree in Islamic Thought at Near East School of Theology, Beirut, Lebanon.

Jim & Denise Hunter Preaching this Sunday at Redeemer

This coming Sunday morning Jim and Denise Hunter will preach on "Abiding in Christ." 

This is a core theme at Redeemer. Jim and Denise embraced "abiding" many years ago, and will bring us new insights into this.

10:30 AM

Prayer Takes Us Into God's Conference Room

Spring, happening now in my backyard.

My current, favorite definition of prayer is from Dallas Willard: prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. And by "we," this means: God and I.

Apply this to yourself. Prayer, as Martin Luther King believed, is conversation with God. In the act of praying you are conferencing with God, about what you both are doing together. Prayer is a mutually cooperative conversation. In prayer, God and I confer about The Mission.

Many of us have gone to large-event conferences. I've been to some where God has met me in significant ways. These can be good. But we don't have to wait for the next conference to come around. We can confer with God now, today, this moment. The Conference doors are now open. Enter in.

For me, many of the most life-changing, spiritually formative times have been when I've conferred with God, 1-on-1. Just me and God. As wonderful as many conference speakers are, God is better. The God-conference is happening today. Cost of admission: $0.

Prayer takes you into God's Conference Room.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life

Bazaar, in Nairobi, Kenya

I'm reading How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life, by British economic historian Robert Skidelsky and his philosopher-sociologisty son Edward Skidelsky.

"This book," they write, "is an argument against insatiability... It is directed at economic insatiability, the desire for more and more money. It is chiefly directed at the rich parts of the world, which may be reasonably thought to have enough wealth for a decent collective life. For the poor parts of the world, where the mass of the people still live in great poverty, insatiability is a problem for the future. But in rich and poor societies alike, insatiability can be seen wherever the opulence of the very rich runs wildly ahead of the means of existence of the many." (p. 3)

The Skidelsky's view is that the insatiable desire for "more" is rooted in human nature - "in the disposition to compare our fortune with that of our fellows and find it wanting." (Ib.)

What constitutes the "good life?" It can't be the acquisition of money. They write:

"Making money cannot be an end in itself— at least for anyone not suffering from acute mental disorder. To say that my purpose in life is to make more and more money is like saying that my aim in eating is to get fatter and fatter. And what is true of individuals is also true of societies. Making money cannot be the permanent business of humanity, for the simple reason that there is nothing to do with money except spend it." (p. 5)

Have you ever been on the death bed of a person who made and spent tons of money? I have. And it's pathetic to see if the rich materialist was banking on money and material things as the way to the good life.

Enter the Real Jesus, his warnings about making money and things one's god, and the promise of a satiated life, in him, irregardless of circumstances, because the goal becomes to give one's life away for the sake of God and others.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Squirrel eating out of our
"squirrel proof" feeder

Over the years I've referred many people needing emotional help to Masterpeace Center for Counseling in Tecumseh, Michigan. I place my trust in Masterpeace's ability to heal broken marriages, families, and hearts. And, to keep such things to themselves.

Masterpeace's website has the following statement: "As trained, experienced Christian Professionals, we uphold confidentiality and maintain the highest level of ethical standards and practices." Note the words: "uphold confidentiality." This means no one has access to a client's information, unless the client signs a release form. Occasionally, a client has signed such a form giving me permission to speak with their counselor. Otherwise, it's none of my business.

When our sons were living with us Linda and I did not tell them about people we were counseling, unless (rarely) it directly involved them. Nor did we let them know if certain people were wounding us. We didn't want their hearts to take on someone else's offense (John Bevere has called this taking "the bait of Satan"). It was and yet is our goal to not share private, privileged information with anyone else, unless we needed to tell someone (like a parent) because of a greater urgency (like a teen child having suicidal thoughts). (Whenever that happened, and it did and it does, I would tell the teen I am counseling, "I need to tell your parents about this.")

This is one of the great burdens of leadership; viz., confidentiality must be kept, and not everyone will understand. If this is broken, catastrophic interpersonal results will occur. Imagine our country's president sharing all the details in the media of his "private" consultations with other world leaders! Were that to happen, no world leader or any leader for that matter would ever confide in our president again. And our nation would be at risk.

Confidentiality is a burden because there will always be some people who "want to know." They may be upset that they don't. It's painful, but a leader must resist the temptation to "show and tell" just to please some  inquiring mind.

Thankfully, there will also be people who understand that a leader cannot and should not let their organization or family or church or troops "know everything." These people are willing to trust leadership, and pray for leadership and the sometimes-agony of discerning how much to share and how much not to share. Such trust is a precious thing, built up over time, more valuable than money.

A blunt, yet truthful, response to someone who wants to know private details is: "It's none of your business." At worst, any person who wants to make every juicy crumb of another person's struggle their business is infected by a spirit of gossip and slander. That's right out of the destructive paparazzi-kingdom of darkness. This is the gossip Paul warns Jesus-followers about. (See here, and here.) Proverbs 20:19 says:gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much. Sadly, I have failed in this before  and learned the hard way.

It is, however, all of God's business. And God is a protector, a savior, who is always looking at the bigger picture of damaged lives and how to rescue them out of their bondage.

John Maxwell, in his book Relationships 101, says that to become a person of integrity you need to go back to the fundamentals, one of which is: "Commit yourself to honesty, reliability, and confidentiality." (65) Proverbs 11:13 says: gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. 

This is fundamental: Never share the struggles of someone else who has confided in you for help, unless they give you permission. Maintain confidentiality, and grow in integrity.

Are You a Forgiving Person? Take The Forgiveness Quiz

Thank you K.L. for pointing me to the work of Dr. Robert Enright (University of Wisconsin) of forgiveness.

See these websites: The Power of Forgiveness

International Forgiveness Institute

Take The Forgiveness Quiz HERE

To Forgive or to Punish?

Lake Erie

I love talking about forgiveness, because God has forgiven me of so much over the years. I often think, how could I not forgive someone else when I have been forgiven so mercifully and graciously?

The life of every real Jesus-follower is a life of being forgiven and forgiving others. We are to confess our sins one to another, and then to forgive others if they sin against us. Forgive others, just as you have been forgiven.

To "forgive" mean: to cancel a debt. When you forgive someone you release them from any indebtedness towards you. That's what God has done, in Christ, for you. When you experience God's forgiveness, you don't need to pay anymore. The forgiven person goes free. God's forgiveness provides the ultimate "Get out of jail, free" card.

On the other hand, to withhold forgiveness is to say, "Let the punishment continue." To choose to not forgive someone for what they have done to you is to make the choice to make them continue paying. Unforgiveness locks the other person in the prison cell and throws away the key. If you refuse to forgive that person who has wounded you or stolen from you or done whatever to do, you administer 40 more lashes of the whip to their back, continuously.

Between forgiveness and unforgiveness there is no middle ground. It's always either freedom or bondage.  Unforgiveness is not a "waiting" thing, like "You will someday face execution for what you have done." Unforgiveness straps the offender into the electric chair now and turns the dial to "high."

When you forgive someone, you set them free. They don't deserve it. But, and BTW, you don't deserve it either. So, because Jesus has forgiven you and released you from your indebtedness to him, who are you not forgive those who have set foot on your ground and violated you?

When you withhold forgiveness, it's not that you order someone else to be punished. You become the Punisher. That says something about you. About your heart. It's a dark heart, gripped by the accuser, that wants to do such a thing. It's a healed, forgiven, loved-and-loving heart that forgives and sets captives free.

Friday, May 17, 2013

We Are Not Enemies

Bombed-out building in central Kenya

You are not my enemy. I am not your enemy. Not really.

If we view and treat one another as enemies, we are engaged in vain warfare.

If an army starts to shoot at its own, thus waging war within itself, this battle is not only a pseudo-battle, it's going to lead to defeat by the actual enemy. If the actual enemy can get us to destroy ourselves, it has won.

We are not enemies, because we are flesh and blood. If something has flesh and blood it cannot be our enemy.

As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 - our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore we are not to struggle against one another.

Yes, it's true that humans can be tempted, deceived, and even used by the dark powers. (see Eph. 2:2; 4:14) But when that happens let’s battle the real enemy, right? As Ben Witherington writes: “It is all too easy to mistake the human vessel of evil for evil itself.” Let's pray that we never make that mistake, for if we do the days of hating and hurting and hiding from one another will have arrived.

 Our struggle is not essentially a human struggle.  

Our struggle is not with human beings, but with evil spiritual forces.

Let us learn about them, wage war with them, and wage peace with one another.

As Usual, Prayer

Eldoret, Kenya

This morning I received two e-mails from friends who have been desperately praying for answers from God. Today, they received those answers, and were blown away by this. One person wrote me, "Why do I not expect this to happen?" They are now motivated to pray more. God's loving responses to them make me want to pray more.

In a few minutes I'm walking back on our property by the river where there is an old table and my praying chair. I'm bringing my journal, my Bible, and a cup of coffee... to meet with God for a while and pray. I'll pray for other people, and I'll listen for God to speak to me. At this point in my life I rarely if ever leave these prayer times without feeling encouraged and strengthened.

Why do I do this? Why do I pray? The basic reason is: because Jesus did. Here's my reasoning.

1. Jesus is my Great Shepherd.
2. My Great Shepherd spent much time praying.
3. Therefore, I shall spend much time praying.

How do we know Jesus spent much time praying? Because of something like Luke 22:39 - Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. And what Jesus did there was: 1) instruct his disciples to watch and pray; and 2) pray.

"As usual," Jesus went to the Mount of Olives and prayed. "As was his custom." Praying was Jesus' customary, usual way of going about things. If Jesus needed to do this, who am I, as one of Jesus' followers, not to do this?

As usual..., praying.

Tonight - RMS Worship and Ministry Night at Redeemer Fellowship Church.

Tonight, Friday, May 17th, from 7-9 pm, a number RMS students will be leading a night of worship and ministry at Redeemer Fellowship Church

The primary focus of this night is to allow the RMS students to put all that they have learned into action! 

The night will consist of live worship and a team of past and present RMS students serving as a prayer and prophecy team. 

This event is open to anyone and everyone who would like to join us!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Redeemer Coming Events


  • Sunday mornings at Redeemer – we’ll be preaching out of the book of Philippians throughout the summer.

  • Thursday morning, May 23, 9:30-11:30 AM. Come and learn about Understanding Islam and sharing Jesus with Muslims. Jonathan Swift, missionary to Muslims in Beirut, Lebanon for the past several years, will be with us. All are invited to come and learn.

In this lesson on gaining a greater understanding for reaching Muslims with the Gospel of Jesus we will work through our subject together through essentially two movements: “Knowing the Gospel” and “Applying the Gospel,” taking this second movement in two parts, (a) “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself,” and (b) “Sharing the Gospel with Your Muslim Friend.” Hopefully the first three sections will be a bit of a review, but an indispensable foundation (“for [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Rom 1:16) and an empowering reminder of the life-giving truths and promises of all God is for us and all God has done for us in Jesus, nevertheless. The bulk of our time, of course, will be spent on the last section ("Sharing the Gospel with your Muslim Friend"). This section will include an overview of the main religious objections and cultural “hurdles” the vast majority of Muslims bring to a conversation about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and explore ways to best respond lovingly and “in step with the truth of the Gospel” (Gal 2:14). 

  • Sunday morning, May 26 – Jim and Denise Hunter will preach on “Abiding in Christ.”

  • Prayer Summer – June 1 – August 31. A challenge for Redeemer people to pray 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week, throughout the summer. Remember the promises given to God’s people when they pray, from a verse like 2 Chronicles 7:14 - If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

  • Sunday, June 2, 6 PM – Redeemer Ministry School graduation.      

  • Sunday, June 9, 6 PM. A Challenge to Pray, at Toledo Vineyard Church. The Vineyard Worship Team will lead us into God’s presence, and then it will by my privilege to give a challenge and call to prayer.

  • June 14 - Pastor Joe and Ruthanne Atkinson's 60th wedding anniversary!!!

  • Sunday morning, June 16 - Pastor Joe Atkinson preaches out of Philippians 2:12-17.

  • Tuesday, June 18, 7 PM – Velu, from India (Full Life in Christ – India) will be with us in the sanctuary. Worship, then Velu shares.

  • 2013 Green Lake Holy Spirit Conference, June 22-27. This is our annual summer conference. Speakers include Leif Hetlund, Robby Dawkins, and Joe McIntyre (who was with us when Randy Clark came to Redeemer). Plus Holly Benner and the Redeemer Worship Team. To register go here.

  • Sunday mornings June 23 and June 30 – Tim Curry will preach out of Philippians 3:1-14.

  • Campfire Worship – date TBA. Probably in July. We’ll have a night of worship using Redeemer acoustic musicians. Location – probably in our backyard, on the river. If the water’s high enough should we also have baptisms? Musicians note: For any who want to accompany me that night we’ll have a practice session to work out the songs, the dynamics, the instrumental parts. I’ll be announcing this to you, hopefully soon! (For some campfire worship go here.) 

  • Home Groups – Linda Piippo is working with people to begin Home Groups. Please see Linda if you are interested in leading or joining one. We especially need Home Group leaders!

  • Robby Dawkins at Redeemer – September 27-28-29.

Prayer Is the Act of Returning

Monroe County
The more we connect and dwell with God, the less dependent we are on the praise and blame of people. The less dependent we are on the praise and blame of people, the more free we are. And the more free we are, the more we are able to purely love people, even our enemies. Therefore focus on the God-connection in the first place. There, in what Henri Nouwen refers to as "the house of God," is where we experience the love of God.

Nouwen writes:
"As long as we are still wondering what other people say or think about us and trying to act in ways that will elicit a positive response, we are still victimized and imprisoned by the dark world in which we live. In that dark world we have to let our surroundings tell us what we are worth. It is the world of successes and failures, of trophies and expulsions, of praise and blame, of stars and underdogs... As long as we are in the clutches of that world, we live in darkness, since we do not know our true self. We cling to the false self in the hope that maybe more success, more praise, more satisfaction will give us the experience of being loved, which we crave. That is the fertile ground of bitterness, greed, violence, and war." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace, 17)

What, then, shall we do? The answer is: acquire a life of prayer, a life of much actual praying. In prayer we enter into intimacy with the God who made us and who loves us. "There," writes Nouwen, "in the first love, lies our true self, a self not made up of the rejections and acceptances of those with whom we live, but solidly rooted in the One who called us into existence. In the house of God we were created. To that house we are called to return. Prayer is the act of returning." (Ib.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)

Never use things like Facebook or texting to share negative things or work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don't send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: "Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?" You don't have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don't have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend."

Think, and pray, before you text or speak.

Intercessory Prayer as Weight-bearing and Unloading

Linda, with our sons Dan and Josh

Yesterday and today, in time spent in intercessory praying for friends who have shared prayer requests with me, I have felt burdened. Galatians 6:2 instructs us to Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. In intercessory prayer this happens. 

We take on our brother's and sister's burden. We feel this, as compassion. Then, in the act of praying, we unload the heavy burden on Christ. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to Cast your burdens upon him, for he cares for you. In intercessory prayer we take on the worry and anxiety of our friends and carry the heavy loads to Christ and lay them upon him.

This is intercessory prayer as compassionate weight-bearing and unloading.

"Messiah" & "King" as Baby Names

Two of the fastest-rising names for American baby boys are "Messiah" and "King."

See: "Messiah, King Among Fastest-Rising Baby Names For American Boys." 
"Jacob" is the top name for boys for the 14th straight year, and "Sophia" is the top name for girls.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

If You Are a Pastor and Need Someone to Talk To...

Don Follis

Even pastors need help. Maybe it's like this: especially if you are a pastor you need help. Because of the weight of caregiving and shepherding involved in what we do, and because "sheep" sometimes bite, all of us need pastoral care too.

Every pastor knows that good help is hard to find. Who can you trust?

If you are a pastor, and need someone with wisdom and pastoral experience to come along side of you, I recommend Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives, led by Pastor Don Follis. Don is a good friend of mine, and was one of my students at Payne Theological Seminary where he took my Spiritual Formation class.

Check out his website and pray about contacting Don. He has a heart for God's shepherds, backed up by a lot of real life experience and theological and biblical understanding. And, Don is a peacemaker.

From the website: Here's what others are saying about Don's coaching...

"Don has been one of my closest friends and spiritual advisors for the last five years.  He has helped me through very difficult times in my life and coached me through some very important stages in my life. I find Don to be a great listener with a focus on helping people find the answers rather than simply giving them the answers. I am grateful for Don's influence over the years."
-Geno Olison, church planter and lead pastor, South Suburban Vineyard Church, Homewood, Illinois

"For many years Don has been a great coach for me through hard times as well as pleasant times.  He listens intently and asks quality, probing questions that have helped me to discern God’s wisdom in my life situations. I’ve really come to appreciate our time together."
-Brian Rummery, Adult Ministries Pastor, Windsor Road Christian Church, Champaign, Illinois

“Don has been instrumental in my professional development by taking the time to observe me, listen to me and empower me to use my gifts and talents to the best of my abilities.    As Don has listened to me over the past 10 years, he has consistently equipped me with resources and encouragement to fulfill my ministry calling.  I have truly been strengthened by Don’s wisdom and leadership in my life.”
-Jen Albrecht, Urbana 09 Hotel Services Coordinator (InterVarsity Staff)

"I have watched Don coach a group of pastors who were in the midst of difficult challenges and significant transitions. He himself not only lives and moves thoughtfully and carefully, but he also coaches others forward with substance and wisdom."
-Kris Miller
Retreat Director
Pastor's Sabbath Retreats
Vineyard USA

"For 25 years, I have watched Don befriend, encourage and mentor scores of pastors.  He is uniquely prepared and gifted for this.  I am a much better man for having him as my friend and coach."
-Bob Whattoff, University of Illinois campus minister and church elder, Savoy, IL

Monday, May 13, 2013


Tree walking on M.D.'s property near Adrian
(Tonight I received a prayer request, and am re-posting this on "brokenness" for the person who requested prayer.)

"The world breaks everybody and afterwards many are strong at the broken place."
- Ernest Hemingway

In Scotland persons looking for walking sticks pass over the untried wood of the lower slopes, climbing to the weathered heights to search for sticks made strong by storm and wind. This is because these trees have fought icy northern winds and with each fight they bent and twisted and broke a bit inside. But gradually each inner scar became a steely fiber, created by every storm they endured. (From Alan Nelson, Broken in the Right Place)

When I am praying for people who are in denial about their spiritual and moral failure and how it is hurting God, self, and others, I pray for them to be inwardly "broken." I ask God to break them of self-will and self-reliance, and of arrogance and pride. When this happens God is pleased. God delights in persons who have a "broken and contrite heart."

The word "contrite" means: "sorry," in the deeper sense of "repentance." In Psalm 51:16-17 we see David's broken heart as he writes: "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."

God has a special place in his heart for those experiencing brokenness. "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart." (Ps. 34:18) "He heals the brokenhearted." (Ps. 147:3) Alan Nelson, who has written the best book on brokenness I have ever read, says that "a divine romance exists between the broken and their creator." (Op. cit., 15)

The concept of brokenness deals with the process of living and how God tries to make us into strong, dynamic people for his purposes. Much life experience will break you. Your spirit can be forged, like a Scottish walking stick, into a strong, resilient Spirit-breathed heart of strength.

This is, by the way, what God wants to do in you so he can do things through you. C.S. Lewis discovered this, and wrote: "When I invited Jesus into my life, I thought he was going to put up some wallpaper and hang a few pictures. But he started knocking out walls and adding on rooms. I said, 'I was expecting a nice cottage.' But he said, 'I'm making a palace in which to live.'"

How does brokennes relate to what seem to be our natural desires for "success" and "reaching our potential?" Consider these scriptures, in which there is a movement from "greater" to "lesser."

  • Luke 9:24-26 - To save your life..., lose it.
  • Matthew 23:12 - To be lifted up and exalted..., humble yourself.
  • Matthew 23:11 - To be considered the greatest..., become a servant.
  • Luke 22:26 - If you want to rule..., then be a servant.
  • Matthew 19:30 - To be first..., be last and a slave to all.
  • Romans 8:13 - If you want to live..., then you've got to die to the things of the flesh.
  • 2 Cor. 11:30 - If you want to be strong..., then boast about your weaknesses.
  • Matthew 5:3 - If you want to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven..., then become poor in spirit.
God takes our driving urges for success and accomplishment and redirects them. The world says, "Win by intimidation!" God says, "Be humble, gentle, and meek." The world says, "Look out for #1!" Jesus says, "I came to serve others." The world says, "Pull your own strings!" God says, "Surrender to My will." The world says, "Get some self-help!" God says, "I am your help; You need my help."

Not surprisingly, God's ways are different than our ways. God's process of character development and spiritual transformation involves being broken, what Nelson has called “the taming of the soul.” This doesn't make sense in our world's value system. As 1 Cor. 1:18 says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

In brokenness we become less so Christ can become more. To change, be changeable. To be transformed, be transformable. Walk in pride, and God is not only unable to transform you, God is opposed to you. (James 4:6) Learn humility, and the promise is that God's grace will be given to you.

I think Hemingway was right when he said "this world will break you." But not everyone becomes heart-and-spirit-broken as a result. Allow God's Spirit to break you in the right place and produce a true brokenness.

Two Books to Read this Summer

Linda (left front), with Allie and Dan in front of her, in Istanbul, Turkey

When it comes to studying the Bible, and textual interpretation in general, context is everything.

It's so easy, and commonplace, to interpret a text out of our cultural setting to make sense of what we are reading. In general, this is the wrong way to read the Bible (or any text).

I've picked up two excellent books that address this issue:

- Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey

- Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by Brandon O'Brien and Randy Richards.

Both are scholarly and accessible, providing many examples of how the originals texts must have been heard to their ancient readers.

The "Plan of Salvation" Is Not, Biblically, the "Gospel"

Sunset on the River Raisin (May 11, 2013)

Before you panic, please read further...

This morning I'm reading Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. McKnight is stating that the idea I used to have of the "gospel" as the "plan of salvation" is not, in fact, the biblical gospel at all. Thinking that the plan of salvation is the gospel leads to misguided living as the people of God. Rather, salvation is situated within the gospel, which includes salvation but cannot be reduced to it.

What do I think of this? I believe McKnight is correct. I have been thinking along these lines for many years. Having preached through the four gospels over 6 1/2 years, and now preaching through the letters of Paul emphasizing Pauline Christology, the idea of salvation (sozo) is much broader than I originally thought, and itself fits within the greater context of the biblical narrative, without which we won't understand "gospel" at all.

Neither McKnight nor I deny there is a plan of salvation. The claim is that to understand salvation one must in the first place be familiar with and epistemically situated within the story of Israel and the story of Jesus.

McKnight writes:

"If we preach the Plan of Salvation as the gospel, we will find ourselves doing everything we can to get people motivated or, to use words from earlier, bucking up our efforts to get more people into *column three, The Discipled. But, if we learn to distinguish gospel from Plan of Salvation, we will discover an altogether different world. I am convinced that because we think the gospel is the Plan of Salvation, and because we preach the Plan of Salvation as the gospel, we are not actually preaching the gospel. To make this more serious, what we are in most need of today, especially with a generation for whom the Plan of Salvation doesn’t make instinctive sense, is more gospel preaching that sets the context for the Plan of Salvation." (40)

In other words, the "good news" is the context within which the "plan of salvation" makes sense; thus the gospel is way more encompassing than the plan of salvation. McKnight writes that "if we ignore that story, the gospel gets distorted, and that is just what has happened in salvation cultures." (36)

I am so glad to hear this! Because that's what we have been doing and are doing at Redeemer. I'm simply preaching the text within the broader religious-social-cultural context, and finding it bracing and compelling.

As McKnight writes: "We have to create a gospel culture if we want The Members to be The Discipled." (32)

*McKnight's four "columns" are:

  • The story of Israel/the Bible
  • The story of Jesus
  • The plan of salvation (McKnight's third column)
  • The method of persuasion