Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court Is Not My Shepherd: Part 2

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision to change the definition of marriage it is important for Jesus-followers to remember whose kingdom they really belong to. Jesus did not come to establish "Christian nations." He said "My kingdom is not of this world," while rejecting opportunities and invitations to rule over Israel as an earthly king. (See, e.g., Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation.) 

It is also important to understand that:

1) Every person has an ethical worldview. (See, e.g., Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, Chapter 11, on applying logic to ethical thinking.)
2) In formulating an ethical system no one looks to Supreme Court rulings for guidance. 
3) This means that, as a Jesus-follower, the Supreme Court has no influence on my ethical worldview. 

In my worldview "marriage" is defined as between a male and a female. While I might have been glad had the Supreme Court agreed with me, such agreement would not bolster my already-established ethical position on marriage. In the same way the Court's decision to define marriage unethically (as seen from my worldview's POV) is fundamentally irrelevant to me. 

Note: One excellent example of formulating a Christian Worldview is Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament

In Green Lake, Wisconsin

Linda and I are in Green Lake, Wisconsin, for our annual HSRM conference. 

On Wednesday night I'll be speaking n our main session on "Jesus and Money." I am very excited to give this message!

I'll also lead two workshops/seminars. The first is on "Leading the Presence-Driven Church: The Distinction Between Discerning and Deciding." The second will be an informal Q&A around theological and cultural studies I've been doing. I'll give the participants a bibliography, with some explanation. Then we'll discuss whatever. I'm looking forward to doing this.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Protecting Your Ministry From Sexual Orientation Lawsuits

Will the Supreme Court's irreligious decision to redefine marriage affect pastors and churches? For those of us concerned that our government may one day force us to act against our strong, decided moral judgments, one helpful resource is: "Protecting Your Ministry From Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits" (thank you Lora and Grady).

This is a major resource, well put-together, that may prove helpful in these eroding times. (It's free to download.)

From the booklet, p. 1 - "SOGIs [Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity ordinances] have been invoked to attempt to force Christian photographers, bakers, and florists to participate in same-sex ceremonies, in violation of their religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. They have been used to attempt to force a Christian printer to create advertisements celebrating a "gay pride" festival. SOGIs have been used to attempt to force Christian owners of wedding venues to host same-sex ceremonies, and Christian adoption agencies to choose between placing babies in motherless or fatherless same-sex homes or go out of business... [In this booklet] you will find examples of what other Christians around the country are facing; how your church, school, or ministry may be vulnerable to similar threats; and what you can do to secure crucial legal protections to help enable you to weather the fast-approaching legal storms."

Some of my friends have responded back to me wondering if my response is more fear-based and protectionist. Yes and no. My thoughts are:

  • There are rational fears, to which we should respond if possible. 
  • Some of us (like myself) have followed this discussion for 40 years. So I doubt that my response to the Supreme Court decision to redefine the word 'marriage' is reactive. Responsive, yes. Reactive, no. Concerned, yes. 
  • Churches may be vulnerable to similar threats. Therefore I and others see it as wisdom to anticipate what we see as rational, threatening possibilities to our religious freedoms. Wisdom looks ahead. This wisdom (while not perfect) is grounded in heaps of socio-cultural studies and observations over a period of many years (for me, beginning in 1975).
Wayne Grudem says: "This is an outstanding resource that will prove immensely valuable to every church and Christian organization. It comes with significant credibility, because it has been produced by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the nation's largest Christian legal defense organization, and an organization for which I have deep admiration, respect, and thanksgiving to God."


 " Without soul freedom we have no other liberties. The church cannot outsource our convictions to the state. This resource wisely helps equip churches on how to remain faithful to our mission in a culture that often disagrees with our message."
Russell D. Moore, President
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

The Supreme Court Is Not My Shepherd (the Same-Sex Marriage Decision)

If the Supreme Court was my shepherd I would be in extreme wanting today. Fortunately my moral and ethical framework is not, and never has been, a function of our country's Supreme Court rulings. I began working out my ethical-theological viewpoint on same-sex issues back in 1981. I have occasionally presented my position on this blog, and in a number of other venues. See:

"Same-Sex Marriage Is Not About "Rights""

"Same-Sex Marriage Is Not About "Marriage Equality," But About the Definition of 'Marriage'"

Christianity Today has a helpful article which I'll post in full - "Here We Stand: An Evangelical Definition of Marriage: Nearly 100 leaders respond to Supreme Court legalizing marriage." 

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.
The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.
Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.
The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:
  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • teach the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.
The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.
The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry.Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.
A.B Vines
Senior Pastor
New Seasons Church
Afshin Ziafat 
Lead Pastor
Providence Church - Frisco, TX.
Alistair Begg 
Senior Pastor
Parkside Church
Andrew T. Walker 
Director of Policy Studies
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Bart Barber 
First Baptist Church of Famersville
Bruce Frank 
Senior Pastor
Biltmore Baptist Church
Bruce Riley Ashford 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Bryan Carter 
Concord Church
Bryan Chapell 
Senior Pastor
Grace Presbyterian Church
Bryan Loritts 
Pastor of Preaching and Mission
Trinity Grace Church, Kainos Movement
Bryant Wright 
Senior Pastor
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church
Carmen Fowler LaBerge 
Presbyterian Lay Committee
Christine Hoover 
Christopher Yuan 
Speaker, Author, Bible Teacher
Clint Pressley 
Pastor & Former VP of SBC
Hickory Grove Baptist Church
Collin Hansen 
Editorial Director
The Gospel Coalition
D.A. Carson 
Research Professor of NT
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
D.A. Horton
Daniel Darling 
Vice-President of Communications
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Daniel Patterson 
Chief of Staff
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Danny Akin 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
David E. Prince
Assistant Professor of Christian Preaching
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
David French 
National Review
David Jeremiah
Senior Pastor
Shadow Mountain Community Church
David S. Dockery 
Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
David Platt 
International Mission Board
David Uth 
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Orlando
Dean Inserra 
Lead Pastor
City Church, Tallahassee
Dennis Rainey 
Family Life Today
Eric Teetsel 
Executive Director
Manhattan Declaration
Erwin W. Lutzer 
Senior Pastor
The Moody Church
Fred Luter 
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church
Gabriel Salguero 
National Latino Evangelical Coalition
H.B. Charles Jr.
Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church
Heath Lambert
Executive Director
Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
Hunter Baker 
Associate Professor of Political Science; Dean of Instruction
Union University
James MacDonald 
Harvest Bible Chapel
J.P. Moreland 
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
Biola University
J.D. Greear 
The Summit Church
J.I. Packer 
Board of Governors’ Professor, Theology
Regent College
Jason Allen 
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Jeff Iorg
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
Jim Daly 
Focus on the Family
Jimmy Scroggins 
Lead Pastor
Family Church, West Palm Beach
John Bradosky Presiding Bishop North American Lutheran Church
John Stonestreet 
Speaker and Fellow
The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview
Johnny Hunt 
First Baptist Church of Woodstock
Jonathan Leeman 
Editorial Director
Juan R. Sanchez, Jr. 
Senior Pastor
High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin, Texas
Justin Taylor
Karen Swallow Prior 
Fellow, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention Fellow
Professor of English, Liberty University
Ken Whitten 
Senior Pastor
Idlewild Baptist Church
Kevin DeYoung
Senior Pastor
University Reformed Church
Kevin Ezell 
North American Mission Board
Kevin Smith 
Teaching Pastor
Highview Baptist Church
Mark Dever 
Senior Pastor
Capitol Hill Baptist Church
Marvin Olasky 
WORLD Magazine
Matt Carter 
Pastor of Preaching and Vision
The Austin Stone Community Church
Matt Chandler 
Senior Pastor
The Village Church
Matthew Lee Anderson 
Lead Writer
Mere Orthodoxy
Mike Cosper
Pastor of Worship and Arts
Sojourn Community Church
Mike Glenn 
Senior Pastor
Brentwood Baptist Church
Naghmeh Abedini
Nancy Leigh DeMoss 
Revive our Hearts
Nathan Lino 
Lead Pastor
Northeast Houston Baptist Church
Owen Strachan
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Paul Nyquist 
President and CEO
Moody Bible Institute
Phillip Bethancourt 
Executive Vice President
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. 
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Ramon Osorio 
Hispanic National Church Mobilizer
North American Mission Board
Randy Alcorn 
Eternal Perspectives Ministries
Ray Ortlund 
Lead Pastor
Immanuel Nashville
Richard D. Land
Southern Evangelical Seminary
Richard Mouw 
Professor of Faith and Public Life
Fuller Seminary
Robert Sloan 
Houston Baptist University
Roger Spradlin 
Senior Pastor
Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, CA
Ron Sider 
Senior Distinguished Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy
Palmer Seminary at Eastern University
Ronnie Floyd 
President, Southern Baptist Convention
Senior Pastor, Cross Church
Rosaria Butterfield 
Author and Speaker
Russell Moore 
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Sam Storms 
Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision
Bridgeway Church
Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver 
Union University
Samuel Rodriguez 
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Thomas White 
Cedarville University
Timothy George 
Dean and Professor of Divinity
Beeson Divinity School
Todd Wagner 
Senior Pastor
Watermark Church
Tommy Nelson Sr.
Denton Bible Church
Tony Evans
Senior Pastor
Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship
Tony Merida 
Pastor for Preaching
Imago Dei Church
Tory Baucum 
Truro Anglican Church
Trillia Newbell 
Director of Community Outreach
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Trip Lee
Rapper, Author, Pastor
Vance Pitman 
Senior Pastor
Hope Church, Las Vegas, NV

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Love Never Fails

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love always trusts. Love always hopes. Love always perseveres. Love never fails. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7,13
From here

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love always trusts. Love always hopes. Love always perseveres. Love never fails. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7,13

Solitude As the Place of the Great Encounter

Munson Park in Monroe
Henri Nouwen writes: "Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter— the struggle against the compulsion of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self." (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)

What does Nouwen mean by this?

First, "solitude" is being alone with God. There can be an interior solitude even when others are around. This inner condition is cultivated as one takes much time, without the presence of other people, to be alone in the presence of God.

Second, solitude is the place of the "great struggle." The struggle is "against the compulsion of the false self." This is the self that has come out of the kingdom of darkness. The false self is life-denying, controlling, manipulative, fearful, defeatist, and condemning. In solitude, especially as one begins to practice it, these unloving voices can make the experience crushing. In our busyness we have covered them up. Now, in our solitary unbusyness, the voices of darkness step onto the stage of our soul and recite their lines.

Third, solitude is also the place of the "great encounter." Here we meet "the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self." Here is God, who calls our name, saying, "You are my beloved child." In the God-encounter nothing surpasses this.

In solitude, the false self is burned away by the purging fires of loving holiness. This is soul's transformation into the joyous freedom of Christlikeness.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Henri Nouwen on Praying

Deerfield, Michigan

This morning I read some of Henri Nouwen's reflections on prayer and praying out of The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life. The person who actually prays, and lives a prayer-filled life, finds worlds opening up within and before them. Here are some Nouwen prayer-bites to illustrate this.

  • "A spiritual life without prayer is like the Gospel without Christ." (32)
  • "To pray means to think and live in the presence of God." (32)
  • "True prayer embraces the whole world, not just the small part where we live." (35)
  • "The practice of contemplative prayer is the discipline by which we begin to see God in our heart... God speaks to God, Spirit speaks to Spirit, heart speaks to heart. Contemplation, therefore, is a participation in this divine self-recognition." (35) [This is the language of Trinitarian theism, and John 14-15-16. Jesus invites us to enter into the Big Dance of Father-Son-Spirit. We fellowship with and are empowered within the perichoretic union.]
  • "Prayer is the bridge between my unconscious and conscious life. Prayer connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passions, my brain with my belly. Prayer is the way to let the life-giving Spirit of God penetrate all the corners of my being. Prayer is the divine instrument of my wholeness, unity, and inner peace." (35-36)
  • "To pray is to unite ourselves with Jesus and lift up the whole world through him to God in a cry for forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and mercy. To pray, therefore, is to connect whatever human struggle of pain we encounter - whether starvation, torture, displacement of peoples, or any form of physical and mental anguish - with the gentle and humble heart of Jesus." (36)
  • "Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing; it is letting the warmth of Jesus' love melt the cold anger of resentment; it is opening a space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love displaces fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference." (36)
  • "Praying means, above all, to be accepting toward God who is always new, always different. For God is a deeply moved God whose heart is greater than ours." (38)
  • "Prayer is the act by which we divest ourselves of all false belongings and become free to belong to God and God alone." (39)
  • "Prayer is a radical act because it requires us to criticize our whole way of being in the world, to lay down our old selves and accept our new self, which is Christ." (39)
  • "In the act of prayer, we undermine the illusion of control by divesting ourselves of all false belongings and by directing ourselves totally to the God who is the only one to whom we belong." (39)
  • "Prayer is the act of dying to all that we consider to be our own and of being born to a new existence which is not of this world. Prayer is indeed a death to the world so that we can live for God." (39)
  • "God is timeless, immortal, eternal, and prayer lifts us up into this divine life." (39)
  • "Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world." (40)
  • "Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive." (40)
Carve out time today to get alone with God and pray.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pope Francis and Caring for our Planet

Tom Toles, New York Times  6/21/15

"The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."

Saturday, June 20, 2015

We Need More Repetitive Worship (Tribal Worship Was 7-11 Worship)

Worship at Redeemer, at Furious Love
Tomorrow morning I'll preach on the repetitive worship now going on concurrently, in real time, as expressed in Revelation 5:7-14. We do repetitive worship at RedeemerGod often leads us to repeat lines, verses, even sometimes words of a worship song we are singing. This happens at the discernment of the worship leader, or myself and one of our pastors.

Many of us love this. But I think some people, not necessarily ours, despise it. Some even mock it, using the saying "This is just '7-11' worship: 7 verses each repeated 11 times."

OK. But tribal worship is repetitive. I've worshiped in several contexts in India. At one service the people repeated two lines for at least 20 minutes. I thought it was beautiful, and haunting to me in a good way. It stayed with me.

I've worshiped in several contexts in Kenya. At the pastor's conference I was speaking at there was a lot of very beautiful, harmonic, repetitive tribal worship. I recorded some on my phone. I was deeply moved by this.

African American worship retains this repetitive tribalness. (See, e.g., Peter Paris's The Spirituality of African Peoples for how African American worship and "church" owes much to its African tribal roots.) Certain lines are sung over and over and over... and over... Such worship is radically mindful, not mindless.

Hebraic culture was tribal. Therefore, Hebraic worship was repetitive. It was circular worship, not linear worship (4 verses, a chorus, then we're out of here "on time"). I've worshiped in several Asian contexts, and experienced a lot of repetitive singing of biblical themes and verses. I can see it and hear it right now. Repetition has staying power. Repetitive worship is meditative worship. Repetitive worship is the antithesis of McWorship.

Time is experienced differently in tribal contexts than it is in Western contexts. Western chronology fixates on the clock; tribal kairos-ology stays with the event. Tribal worship is event-oriented; Western worship is time- (chronos) oriented. The tribal-worship idea is that God is going to show up and do something. So we refer to Sunday mornings at Redeemer as God-events. Really, who wants anything less than this? And, BTW, God is not on our clock-time. God is not twitching and jerking to "get out of church on time."

Consider, e.g., Psalm 1. It sings:

1 Blessed is the one

who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Remember that these words, in Hebrew, were sung by the worshiping congregation. But singing through them once takes only a minute. Did they sing this song just once in their worship? Taking only a minute to do it? If there were any Westernized clock-watching addicts among them they would be pleased at singing just once through this short psalm. But there weren't any digitized "worshipers" there, and the song went on and on and on... 

Linear, Westernized clock-time worship is shallow and ineffective compared to Hebraic tribal-repetitive worship. A one-time-through-a-hymn approach skims the surface compared to repetitive-meditative worship's staying power. Repetitive worship digs deep roots into the neuroplastic physical brain and one's spiritual heart. This is worship as spiritually exercising, doing "worship reps" that build, over time, spiritual muscle. The spiritual antidote for our shallow, surfacy tweet-world of today is: lots and lots and lots of worship reps in God's spiritual gymnasium, where we exercise unto godliness.

Repetitive worship is "better is one day in your courts" worship. Non-repetitive worship, Western-style, promotes a "thousands of days elsewhere" attitude. Real worship dwells, and longs to do so; it abides and doesn't want to let go. The real worshiper isn't anxiously tapping his foot because he's got other things to do.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pray for Our Brothers and Sisters in Charleston, S.C.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the Jesus-followers who were gathered in a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last evening.

These are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Please join me in praying for them today.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Dream, the Revelation, and The Rescue (On My Need for Humility)

In my January 2012 class at Payne Theological Seminary I rented a car to drive from Monroe to the Dayton area. It was a black Ford Fusion - I loved driving this car!

When I pulled into the seminary I was pleased to see all the cars in he parking lot. There were 27 M.Div. students in my Spiritual Formation class. I was looking forward to meeting and being with them for four days.

It was hard to find a parking space. I saw a slot between a car and the building wall. I did not see a metal grate covering a 5-foot hole. As the left wheel of the Fusion drove over the grate I felt something shift beneath me. When I got out of the car I saw that the grate had moved. Things now looked like this:

See the upper right corner of the grate? It's hanging by an inch or less. Had it moved just an inch more a bad thing would have happened. I breathed relief. I felt I had been rescued!

I've been rescued many times by God. I am certain more rescues have occurred than I know of. Here's one I am aware of.

This is my 24th year at Redeemer. I am so thankful to be here! But my first year was a challenge. I was a newcomer-pastor, and there were people who were not immediately accepting of me. One Sunday morning, in my first month, a man came up to me at the service's end. He was openly crying as he embraced me. With heartfelt sincerity he said, "I don't care what other people are saying about you; I think you are a great pastor!" With eyes wide open I thanked him for this.

Months passed.

Then I had THE DREAM.

I dreamt I was driving a bus filled with people in the Smoky Mountains. The roads were twisty and turning. I was having trouble steering. Finally, the bus came to a cliff that dropped off into nothing. I woke up. This felt like a nightmare!

I didn't tell Linda my dream. She knew I was struggling with some things, and bought a card for me. This card now sits in my office where I see it often. On the cover of the card there are mountains that look like the Smoky Mountains, with a road that twists and turns and finally comes to a cliff that drops off into nothing. Inside the caption reads: "Sometimes the road of life looks like this."

I was stunned. God is trying to tell me something! What was it?

During my prayer times I had been reading Francis Frangipane's The Three Battlegrounds. That afternoon I read Frangipane citing James 4:6 - God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. I stopped reading at that point. It was like God took a highlighter and emphasized it. Surely, I thought, this verse has something to do with my dream.

Later that day I arrived at my sons' school early and went into the empty gym. I circled round and round the gym repeating James 4:6 over and over - God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble; God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble; God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. The thought came to me that I should fast from food until God revealed the meaning of the dream to me.

My fast lasted four days. I was driving to an Elder's meeting at our church building, still fasting, still inquiring of God. Then, from heaven, came Proverbs 16:18 -  Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Then I knew. God was telling me, "John, if you don't get rid of this pride in your heart you will take this church for a fall." 

I was glad when the Lord said this to me. I felt joy. I hurried into the Elder's meeting and said, "I need to tell you something." I told them of the dream, the card from Linda, the quote from Frangipane, James 4:6, the call to fast, and the revelation. I told them my conclusion: "God has told me that if I don't get rid of pride in my heart I will take our church for a fall." None of the Elders disagreed with me about this.

This was a great rescue! By an inch, I think. Not only for me, but for the people I have since come to deeply love.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

C.S. Lewis On the Real Self

Here's a quote from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity on the "real self." I'll add some parenthetical comments.

"There are no real personalities apart from God. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. [In Jesus, we see what humanity is. Some say, "Well, I'm only human." If only that were true! The Jesus-idea is that, without God's kingdom-rule in our lives, I'm only sub-human.] 

Sameness is to be found most among the most 'natural' men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerers have been; how gloriously different are the saints. 

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away 'blindly' so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality; but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. [This is the Jesus-paradox; viz., that to live the truly good life one must not focus on living the good life. Or, as Lewis wrote elsewhere, if one goes into a beautiful garden expecting to be blown away by its beauty, this will not often happen. But go into the same garden to say your prayers, and nine times out of ten the result will be to be stunned by the beauty. Call this the way of indirection.] 

It will come when you are looking for Him... Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in." [We find ourselves in losing ourselves; we find our true selves by losing ourselves in God.]

Mysticism as Non-Discursive Experience

With friends in Bangkok
Any word can be abused and misused. The words "mystic" and "mysticism" have been. But I think, for Christian theists, these can be good words.

The word "mystic" derives from the Greek word muein which means "to close," in this case, to close one's mouth (e.g., see here, p. 6). One keeps one's mouth closed because of a felt God-encounter that cannot be expressed, hence a non-discursive experience (one cannot "discourse" about it).

This makes sense of classic texts as The Cloud of Unknowing and The Dark Night of the Soul. These works speak of a "dark knowledge" that is "dark" precisely because the 5 senses shed no light on the experience. Via our 5 senses we cannot know God as we can when these senses are "darkened." Thus the "dark night of the soul" does not essentially refer to something like "going through a really hard time in life," but instead refers to finding God non-discursively (i.e., I cannot adequately discourse about it). Going through a really hard time can issue forth in dark knowledge, but dark knowledge is not to be equated with the difficult time.

I find this sensible since the God I believe in transcends human sensibilities and rationality. God cannot be fully captured in my experience and by my reason. It is at this point that, if one speaks at all, one resorts to poetic-figurative-fictive discourse which, by the way, is not equivalent to "untruth." (My doctoral dissertation dealt with this; viz., issues of "literal" vs. "figurative" language and their referential capacities. See also French philosopher Paul Ricoeur's work on interpretation theory and a "surplus of meaning.")