Monday, March 31, 2014

Prayer As Dreaming In League With God (PrayerLife)

Tipp City, Ohio
I just read Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting's interview with Jewish philosopher Howard Wettstein (University of California). Wettstein has some delicious words to say about about the praying experience.

"Prayer, when it works, yields an awe-infused sense of having made contact, or almost having done so. Having made contact, that is, concerning the things that matter most, whether the health and well-being of others, or of the community, or even my own; concerning justice and its frequent absence in our world; concerning my gratefulness to, or praise of, God. The experience of sharing commitments with a cosmic senior partner, sharing in the sense both of communicating and literally sharing, “dreaming in league with God,” as A.J. Heschel puts it, is both heady and heartening. Even when that partner remains undefined and untheorized."

Real prayer is experiential and existential, not theoretical; which is to say that real prayer is about intimacy, not distance.

My Sermons Are Online

My sermons are online here

How Many People Pray? (PrayerLife)

First Congregational Church, Detroit
I've been slow-reading through Bernard Spilka and Kevin Ladd's excellent The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach. See reviews of this book below. This is necessary reading for anyone who wants to study the phenomenon of prayer.

How many people pray? Spilka and Ladd write:

"The General Social Survey’s analysis of national data from 1972 to 2006 suggests that as many as 97% of Americans pray, and some 57% indicate that they pray one or more times each day (General Social Survey, 2008). Laird (1991) reported on a Princeton University survey that found “74% of men and 86% of women rely on prayer when faced with a problem” (p. 22). If we accept Clark’s (1958) positing of secret religion as one we keep to ourselves, numerous prayers probably go unreported. The central place of prayer in life, personally and socially, conveys clearly why there is a need to understand theory and research in this area. Wuthnow (2008a) further asserts that “far more Americans pray than engage in other religious activities” (p. 334), including any other private or public religious behavior." (p. 3)

What I make of this is:

  • Prayer is mostly accepted as efficacious by Americans. That is, there is a God, to whom we can communicate.
  • This empirical fact can provide the needed spark to touch off prayer movements that issue forth in people who have praying lives (different from mostly praying when facing a problem).
The General Social Survey Spilka and Ladd refer to also showed that, as odd as it sounds, "some atheists are willing to admit that they pray." (K 43) Recently a former atheist told me of a time he prayed, out of desperation. And the God he did not believe in clearly (to him) did a miracle (his own words) and answered his prayer.


Editorial Reviews


"Kudos to Spilka and Ladd--two premier scientific explorers of the human religious impulse--for this landmark volume on the psychology of prayer. The authors serve as expert guides on a tour of prayer’s varied forms, motivations, transformations across life’s stages, and emotional and physical benefits."--David G. Myers, PhD, Department of Psychology, Hope College

"This book is of such high quality that I kept reading it in order to glean all of its knowledge, insights, and wisdom. Spilka and Ladd do a superbly honest, careful, and accurate job of squaring with the evidence on such issues as whether prayer heals, how its meaning evolves through development, what motivates it, and how it is mediated by cognitive, physiological, behavioral, and social psychological processes. This is the authoritative book on a timeless topic. Very happily, the authors avoid the too sweeping or simplistic; their suggestions and interpretations are realistic, sensible, and based on evidence."--Raymond F. Paloutzian, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Westmont College; Editor, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
"Until now, the psychology of religion lacked a systematic assessment of what is scientifically known about prayer. Two of the best scholars in the field combine theoretical rigor and methodological sophistication to provide this masterful review. The book is filled with wise recommendations for future research that will avoid the pitfalls that have characterized much of the empirical research to date. This is truly a much-needed, authoritative contribution on a topic central to all of the world's great faith traditions."--Ralph W. Hood, Jr., PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

"This is the psychology of religion at its best. Spilka is a founding father of the field, and he and Ladd have produced a gem of a book sparkling with the latest scientific information on the most critical questions about prayer. A remarkably sensitive work of scholarship, the book succeeds in constructing an empirically based psychology of prayer without diminishing or explaining away its value to those who are committed to a life of faith. This book could be used as a primary text for a graduate seminar or advanced undergraduate seminar in the psychology of religion and prayer."--Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University

"Engaging, scholarly, and open minded, this is the first book to bring together theory and research on the many elements in the psychological study of prayer. Topics include the multidimensionality of prayer, intercessory prayer, developmental issues, and connections to coping and adjustment. This comprehensive book is essential reading for those interested in understanding the central role of prayer in the psychology of religion, and will serve as an important text in both graduate and undergraduate courses."--Crystal L. Park, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut

"Addressing essential themes, this book offers the best summary available of psychological research on prayer. Spilka and Ladd offer fair, thorough coverage--without shying away from controversial issues--and point out questions that need further study. This book is very well suited to an undergraduate- or graduate-level psychology of religion course; students will appreciate its approachable style."--Michael Nielsen, PhD, Department of Psychology, Georgia Southern University

"This book offers a hard-nosed yet respectful and sympathetic treatment of scientific research on prayer. As psychologists, Spilka and Ladd take scientific methods seriously as they show how multidimensional and psychologically useful prayer is. Readers will come away with a greater appreciation of the many ways prayer affects and is affected by psychology, and a more mature understanding of the role of prayer in their own and others' lives."--Everett L. Worthington, Jr., PhD, Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University

“These authors have done a tremendous job of pulling together in one small book the various areas of inquiry concerning the psychology of prayer.”--PsycCRITIQUES
(PsycCritiques 2013-10-02)

The Psychology of Prayer is well written and delves deeply into the literature, broadly covering what all subdisciplines of psychology have discovered on this important topic that influences most of the world's population….As someone who has devoted much of his career to the scientific approach to studying prayer, I found this book to be very thought provoking and quite comprehensive. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to research this topic or who wants to become more familiar with the psychology of prayer.”--Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 2013-09-01)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Don't all religions believe in the same God?

Greg Boyd recently posted this on his website

Thanks D.J.P. for linking me to this.

Prayer Captures My Heart for Others (PrayerLife)

Chair, in our backyard by the river

I'll be getting alone with God this week and praying. The weather in SE Michigan promises to be better. It's time to dust the snow off my prayer chair and sit in the midst of the creation and be recreated with God.

My life of prayer has expanded my vision and my world. Prayer, while it works transformation within me, gives me eyes to see outside myself. Prayer captures my heart for others. 

Real prayer brings the other-centered life, since God still so loves the world. Henri Nouwen writes: "True prayer embraces the whole world, not just the small part where we live." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 35) 

This is the heart of a fruit-bearing life; viz., a heart freed from the quest for self-happiness and morphed into a sacrificial heart, like Christ's. This kind of heart is cultivated and grown in the presence of God. "Dwelling in Jesus is what prayer is all about." (Ib., 34) As Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing; those who dwell in me as I dwell in them, bear much fruit." (John 15:5) The fruit born in a person's life is for others to be blessed by. It is for the whole world.

Concern for the world is the heart of God, and God desires to create such concern within us. But "dwelling" comes first. Other-concern becomes "an unbearable burden whenever we lose touch with the presence of a loving Savior... [W]hen our concern no longer flows from our personal encounter with the living Christ, we feel oppressive weight." (Ib.)

For Children, There's No Such Thing as a "Good Divorce"

God has called Linda and I to try to save marriages. For us, this is a high calling, and we love doing it.

A central part of the pain of divorce is how the children do. Note this: it is a myth that children of divorce will be OK. For husbands or wives who bought into this myth I would refer them to Judith Wallerstein's The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study

I recently purchased Elizabeth Marquardt's Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. From

"Is there really such a thing as a good divorce ? Determined to uncover the truth, Elizabeth Marquardt herself a child of divorce conducted, with Professor Norval Glenn, a pioneering national study of children of divorce, surveying 1,500 young adults from both divorced and intact families between 2001 and 2003. In Between Two Worlds, she weaves the findings of that study together with powerful, unsentimental stories of the childhoods of young people from divorced families.

The hard truth, she says, is that while divorce is sometimes necessary, even amicable divorces sow lasting inner conflict in the lives of children. When a family breaks in two, children who stay in touch with both parents must travel between two worlds, trying alone to reconcile their parents often strikingly different beliefs, values, and ways of living. Authoritative, beautifully written, and alive with the voices of men and women whose lives were changed by divorce, Marquardt s book is essential reading for anyone who grew up between two worlds."

Divorce generates a sense of "homelessness" in a child, which has a destructive impact on them. "There is the lingering question that divorce injects into the consciousness of the surviving progeny: “Who am I now that the two people who together made up my origin have gone their separate ways?”" ("The Baggage Adult Children of Divorce Carry")

Browning and Marquardt write: "Marquardt has studied children of divorce whose experience was almost entirely ignored as the no-fault divorce revolution took hold. In the three decades during which a high divorce rate has come to be seen by many as an unavoidable fact of contemporary society, legal theorists have continued to overlook and deny the injustice forced on these children. They are required to divide their time and affections between two homes or to lose contact with their mother or father, too often in the name of the happiness of their parents. While some divorces are necessary, the fact that the majority of divorces end low-conflict marriages reinforces this question as one of social justice." (Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt, "What About the Children?," in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals, Kindle Locations 933-937)

If a child of divorce can come to realize that they are not, ultimately, their biological parents' child but a child of God, they can come to forgive their parents for the failure of divorce. Nonetheless, the brutality of divorce upon them gives heavy burdens they should have never had to carry in this life.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Philosophy of Religion Exams

My 1-on-1 oral exams for my Philosophy of Religion classes will be held in room A-153.

The exam questions are:

1. Mackie's logical argument from evil against the logical coherence of theism.
2. Buddhism's idea that evil is an illusion.
3. Plantinga's modal argument refuting Mackie's logical argument.
4. Rowe's evidential argument from evil against God's existence.
5. Wyckstra's criticism of Rowe's "no-see-um fallacy."

Friday, March 28, 2014

God's Love Heals the Chameleon's Heart

My prayer chair in my backyard by the river

Many years ago, while praying, God told me "John, what others think of you is mostly not important. But what you think of others is very important." And: "What I [God] think of you and others is most important."

Here are three ideas:

  1. What others think of you is mostly not important.
  2. What is most important is what God thinks of you and others.
  3. What you think of others is very important.
It's not important what others think of you.

Mostly, this is true. When a Jesus-follower is secure in #s 1 and 2, and they love you and are not trying to control of change you, then what they think of you is important. For example, what my wife Linda thinks of me is very important. I pay attention to this. I have some others in my life like this.

My life has too much gone up and down, like a thermometer, reacting to how other people view me. At times I have thought of myself as a chameleon that changes colors depending on others' perceptions of me. 

I have been too concerned about being liked and approved by others. I wore clothes that would, hopefully, win others' affirmation; I spoke words that people wanted to hear; and I made decisions that were inauthentic, not true to who I was. My 'yes' was 'no' and my 'no' was 'yes.' I was not secure in my own identity. Out of such insecurity comes the need to please others and be pleasing to them.

Part of my sanctification as a Jesus-follower has been growing out of this insecurity. (Sanctification = ongoing growth in holiness; ongoing "set-apartness" for the Kingdom.) I'm not fully secure yet. But now Linda and I often talk about how we both, as best we can, speak the truth in love to others who seek our counsel even if they do not want to hear it, even if as a result they reject us, and even if they publicly crucify us. 

Now I know that unless I am free from the insecurity of people-pleasing I will never be able to love them as I should. Only a free person can really love others. To be free is to have no emotional "strings" that others can pull, to have no "hot buttons" that others can push. We see this fully demonstrated on the cross as Christ said, amazingly in an act of 100% freedom, "Father, forgive them...  for they don't know what they do."

At precisely that point we see the "true colors" of Jesus, who was not manipulated by some need to be liked by others. This allowed Him to freely love those who didn't love Him.

How can we grow in such holiness? I have found this freedom as a God-product of my prayer life. As I dwell with Him and hear from Him He will tell me, as needed, that I am secure in His love. The experiential being-loved-by-God is the antidote that heals the chameleon's heart.

What is most important is what God thinks of you and others.

The primordial truth of life is: God loves you. This is elemental and originary. From this everything else in life is derived. 

Paling in comparison is: What other people think of you. When that idea becomes axiomatic, then people-pleasing follows inexorably. But from life's true, primordial state of affairs (viz., God loves you) comes security and authenticity. You are inwardly secure in His unfailing love; you are free from trying to be someone or something you are not for the sake of other people's approval. Only God's approval, only His "well done," now matters. You live every moment so as to please your Maker, with all of your life undergirded by His words "I love you."

My experience is that when people have an abiding prayer life, God communicates His love to them. When you abide in Christ like a branch connected to a Vine, expect to hear and experience God's love, since God is love.  

This much is certain: God loves you. It will never get any better than this.

Further, God loves more people than just you. God so loved...  the world! God loves the few people who think little of you. God loves the few that think much of you. And God loves the overwhelming masses of people who never think of you at all. 

Think on this. 99.99999% (ad infinitum) of this world's people do not even know you exist. If the world population is 7,155,986,000 and growing, and you have 500 Facebook "friends," then for all practical purposes you are "friends" with 0% of all existing persons. (Divide 500 by 7.155 billion here and get 0%. 

I think it is important to understand this. Think of this while reading Psalm 8:4 -What is man that you are mindful of him?

Though this world knows you not, God does. God is mindful of you. He is also mindful of all others. God has a spacious mental capacity. And, because God is in His essence love, He loves you and the entire world past, present, and future.

God even loves your enemies, few though they be. We even read that while we were God's enemies, God still loved us. (Romans 5) This fact will be important when we look at...

What you think of others is very important.

#3 is not possible without 1 and 2. The more you are concerned about what others think of you, combined with an experiential lack of God's love for you, the less you will be free to love others as Christ did. The person who tries to please others to gain approval would not do so were they secure in God's love for them. 

Only a free person can selflessly love others. Love is selfless and other-centered. More strongly, only a free person can love even their enemies. At its highest this includes feeling. Com-passion is "to feel with others." Real love is feeling + action, expressed outwardly. Jesus looked on the people with compassion, as sheep without a shepherd.

This is important because God so loves the world, and the world includes more people than you. If God loves others, then we are to do no less. It is not a God-thing to think little or not at all towards those in your circle of life.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Love your neighbor as you do your own self.

That is the heart of true Christianity.

Praying As First-Hand Experience With God (PrayerLife)

Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

In 1977 I taught a course on prayer in Northern Baptist Theological Seminary's Master's program. My main assignment for the students was this: Pray 30 minutes every day. I knew that in a course on prayer the students had to themselves engage in praying. To not pray in a prayer class would be like taking a swimming class and never get in the pool.

A few students objected to this assignment. Instead of actually praying they wanted to read some academic books on prayer and write a paper on prayer. How absurd! You'll learn more about prayer by actually praying than you ever could get out of a book.

I'd rather talk with Linda than read a book about Linda. I'd rather sit on the beaches of the Caribbean Sea than read a book about it. I'd rather eat a Gino's Chicago pizza than look at someone else's photo of it. I'd rather taste and see for my own self than read about how good it tasted to others. 

Eugene Peterson expresses it like this:

"I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with the God who reveals himself to me and addresses me by name. I don't want to dispense mimeographed hand-outs that describe God's business; I want to witness out of my own experience. I don't want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others." (Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, Kindle Locations 175-178)

Rather than reading about prayer or talking about the wonderful prayer lives of the great saints, pray.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Peter Singer's Argument for Infanticide

Tonight, in one of my MCCC logic classes, I am presenting, as an example of logical argumentation, Peter Singer’s argument for infanticide. (Note: I don't advocate infanticide. But Singer's argument is famous, and followed.)

Singer argues, in his essay “Taking Life: Humans” (1993), that it is morally acceptable to kill, in some cases, disabled infants. (Note: Singer has since refined his views.)

Before I show you the argument, here are some of Singer’s assumptions.

1.   A “person” has self-consciousness.

2.   Fetuses and newborn babies do not possess self-consciousness. They are “merely conscious.”
a. “The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”
4.   “Killing a self-conscious being is a more serious matter than killing a merely conscious being. Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”

5.   Being a member of the human species is irrelevant to a baby’s moral status.

6.   A parent may want to “replace” (the “replaceability thesis”) their defective baby with another baby, hopefully to be born.

Singer’s argument in his own words reads:

Or reframed this way.
1.   If we can morally kill a disabled fetus that has no self-consciousness, it follows that we can morally kill a disabled infant that has no self-consciousness.
2.   We can morally kill a disabled fetus that has no self-consciousness.
3.   Therefore, we are morally justified in killing a disabled infant that has no self-consciousness.

Spiritual Formation Tele-Class Discussion of Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor

My Spiritual Formation Tele-Class meets by conference call this evening. Fourteen pastors (from around the U.S.) will join me.

I've assigned us to pray 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Tonight I'll ask each one to share 1-2 minutes in response to this question: What is one thing God has said to you during these prayer times in the past month?

We're also reading three books together. Tonight we'll discuss Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. I'll begin the discussion by teaching from the following Peterson-points, relating them to spiritual formation and pastoral leadership.

There’s so much to discuss in Peterson’s book. I’m going to emphasize the following things.
        Pastors cannot let their people define them, or the surrounding culture define them.
        If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless.
o    I can denounce evil and stupidity all I wish and will be tolerated in my denunciations as a court jester is tolerated. I can organize their splendid goodwill and they will let me do it, since it is only for weekends. The essence of being a pastor begs for redefinition. To that end, I offer three adjectives to clarify the noun: unbusy, subversive, apocalyptic. (Kindle Locations 146-148)
Our culture says “Be busy.” Peterson (and Henri Nouwen et. al.) says “Be unbusy.”
For me this is the place of prayer-abiding. My “busy-ness” must come out of my “being with God.”
o    But the word 'busy' is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. (Kindle Locations 152-154)
The Subversive Pastor (We are not to be “chaplains to our culture.”)
Subvert culture, rather than be subverted by culture. Influence culture towards God's kingdom, rather than be influenced by culture towards the other kingdom (2-kingdom theology).
·        Pastors are engaged in revolutionary, culture-overthrowing activity.
·        We are “undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the kingdom of God. I am helping them to become what God wants them to be, using the methods of subversion.” (Kindle Locations 257-259)
·        We are bringing people under the rule and reign of God. (The “kingdom of God.”)
·        We are not to be chaplains to our culture.
o    Peterson is concerned that this is what many pastors have become. He writes: “It is easy to do so. But some pastors do not; they become subversives in their culture.” (K 276)
o    (Many of our church people are seduced and kept under the spell of our culture. The Real Jesus gets assimilated into culture, rather than influencing culture like a tiny bit of yeast influences the entire loaf. We will not help our people get out of their world-shape by forcefully trying to do this. "Influence" usually does not work that way. Therefore...)
·        “Indirection is the biblically preferred method.” (K 289)
·        For example: the parable.
o    “Jesus' favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive.” (Kindle Location 296) (Jesus spoke through parables. They looked like ordinary stories, but something about God's kingdom got into the peoples' hearts.)
    “Three things are implicit in subversion.” (K 307)
1.       The world is “totaled.”
a.     “The status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable. It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile.” (Kindle Locations 311-312)
2.       There is another world, another reality.
a.     “There is another world aborning that is livable. Its reality is no chimera. It is in existence, though not visible. Its character is known. The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world.” (Kindle Locations 312-314)
3.    “The usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place - military force or democratic elections - are not available.” (Kindle Locations 314-315)
What Does It Mean to Be a Pastor?
Not to solve all the peoples’ problems.
To connect the people with Jesus.
·        My job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It's hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you're smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren't very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ's suffering in their lives. (K 62-63)
Peterson asks: If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things.

a.   I can be a pastor who prays.
                                          i.    I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with the God who reveals himself to me and addresses me by name. I don't want to dispense mimeographed hand-outs that describe God's business; I want to witness out of my own experience. I don't want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others… (Kindle Locations 175-178)
                                         ii.    It takes time to develop a life of prayer: set-aside, disciplined, deliberate time. (Kindle Locations 178-179)
                                        iii.    I cannot be busy and pray.
                                        iv.    In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self. (Kindle Locations 180-182)
b.   I can be a pastor who preaches.
                                          i.    Peterson is not interested in putting in a few hours a week to give a “fairly respectable sermon.” He writes: “what I want to do can't be done that way. I need a drenching in Scripture; I require an immersion in biblical studies. I need reflective hours over the pages of Scripture as well as personal struggles with the meaning of Scripture. That takes far more time than it takes to prepare a sermon.” (Kindle Locations 186-188)
                                         ii.    “This kind of preaching is a creative act that requires quietness and solitude, concentration and intensity. "All speech that moves men," contends R. E. C. Browne, "was minted when some man's mind was poised and still." I can't do that when I'm busy.” (Kindle Locations 190-192)
c.   I can be a pastor who listens.
                                          i.    “Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren't used to being listened to.” (Kindle Location 194)
                                         ii.    “Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we're on the job, being busy, earning our pay. Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it's only for five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambiance of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance.” (Kindle Locations 196-198)
·         I can find time to pray, preach (including the deep study and meditative preparation), and listen. How? “The appointment calendar is the tool… that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching, and listening… When I appeal to my appointment calendar, I am beyond criticism.” (K 203)
These things ARE my ministry, and I schedule them in.

Against McSpirituality
o   The Jesus-life, and pastoral ministry, is a slow-cooker.
o   The person ... who looks for quick results in the seed planting of well-doing will be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me little good to go out and plant potatoes in my garden tonight. (K 35-36)
Contra the Program-Driven Church
o   “The working environment of pastors erodes patience and rewards impatience. People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves). They avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them. A program provides a defined structure with an achievable goal. Mystery and mess are eliminated at a stroke. This is appealing. In the midst of the mysteries of grace and the complexities of human sin, it is nice to have something that you can evaluate every month or so and find out where you stand. We don't have to deal with ourselves or with God, but can use the vocabulary of religion and work in an environment that acknowledges God, and so be assured that we are doing something significant.
o   E.g. – we have a Young Adult Ministry beginning tomorrow night. (How this came about.)
·        Don’t let programs shape the agenda.
o    With programs shaping the agenda - not amazing grace, not stubborn sin - the pastor doesn't have to be patient. We set a goal, work out a strategy, recruit a few Christian soldiers, and go to it.  If, in two or three years the soldiers haven't produced, we shake the dust off our feet and hire on as captain to another group of mercenaries. When a congregation no longer serves our ambition, it is abandoned for another under the euphemism of "a larger ministry" In the majority of such cases, our impatience is rewarded with a larger salary.” (Kindle Locations 439-447)
[Note: we don’t have meeting to “set goals.”]

The Greatest Sinners Are the Most Boring People In the World

In 1990 I purchased Through the Year with Thomas Merton. As much as I can I do a daily Merton reading. Merton spent countless hours praying and listening to God. That is the sort of person I want and need to hear from. As I picked up the book this morning I noted how it is worn and falling apart. But the ideas in it are fresh and revolutionary. Here's this morning's Merton quote.

"There is nothing interesting about sin, or about evil as evil. And the greatest sinners are the most boring people in the world, because they are also the most bored and the ones who find life most tedious."


Because sin is non-creative. When it comes to sin, there is nothing new under the sun. The "big three" of sin - Money, Sex, Power - have always been with us and always will be. "Sin" expresses itself historically and personally in a finite number of permutations, but the elements that get variously ordered are always the same. It would be like having to eat ice cream sundaes all your life, and putting the whipped cream on the bottom of the bowl to do something "different."

Trapped in the non-creativity of sin, people are bored and find life tedious. And "boredom" is not having nothing to do. "Boredom" is doing a lot of things and finding them all meaningless.

Note: "Sin" is one of the words in the Bible used to describe the Human Propensity to Screw Things Up. HPtStU. (Borrowing from British philosopher Francis Spufford, with countless apologies.)