Friday, September 30, 2016

Never Marry Someone Who Hates Their Parents

Image result for johnpiippo hate
My footsteps, Cape May, New Jersey

A man came into my office. I did not know him. He was in his forties. He said:

"I was looking for someone like you to talk to. My father is in a coma in the hospital. I was just in his room. I put my hands around his neck, and squeezed. I was crying, and saying, "Why did you do it to me? Why? Why?" I wanted to kill him! Before that happened I took my hands off his neck and left. I hate my father. Can you help me?"

Yes. I'll try. There's a lot at stake here. This man will never amount to anything when it comes to relationships if he does not get this raging bitterness against his father fixed.

Until then, for the rest of us...

Never marry someone who hates their parents.

Pastors: Never hire someone who hates their parents.

Never covenant with someone who hates.

Because: their inability to forgive their parents will soon come down on you. You will become their new parent-figure. You will soon remind them of their father, or mother. You will hurt them in some familiar way (it won't take much), and their unhealed wrath will be triggered. You will displace their parents and become the hated one.

Psychologists call this "projection." Like a movie projector sends the internal image to an external blank screen, the unforgiving unconscious, looking for its release from the inner prison, projects its unresolved anger onto the external world, and the issue is suddenly seen in someone else. In this case, you.

How many times have I consoled a counselee by saying, "I know they are hurting you. But their hurt is not really about you." Hurt people hurt people.

Unhealed people project their stuff onto us, and conclude that their stuff really has to do with us. They treat us as if their projection was true. (See this article in Psychology Today, e.g.)

Pray for the parent-hating person's healing. Pray for their release, but don't live in their prison. This will only happen if they learn forgiveness from heart, and discover A Forgiving Life

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dispelling the Fog Machine (The Presence-Driven Church)

Linda, on a Michigan beach

Years ago one of our youth leaders bought a fog machine. One night we put it in our church building's gym, invited our kids to a roller skating party, and fired the machine up. I felt like a kid as I watched fog fill the room, and skaters emerging out of the thickness only to disappear as they rolled past me.

I thought about bringing it into the sanctuary. On a Sunday morning. I'll be back stage. Worship will be happening. Someone pushes a button.

The fog.

It's pointed toward the platform. It achieves the texture of cumulus clouds. I emerge.

No one sees me yet. Rock guitars screaming a Queen-like worship song. Colored stage lights suspended on scaffolding rotating side to side.

The house lights are down.

Spotlights on.

Through the cloud of glory a podium is seen.

There, approaching from  behind, the shadow of a human figure.

It is I.

I preach. How awesome am I? There is a hush as people put their phones away.

I look better in the dark. I appear sculpted and trim. I am a rock star of a preacher wearing tight jeans.

The alarm goes off. I wake up, and put on the bathrobe I've had for twenty years. My hair, what there is of it, is punked, au natural.

I shake my head and breathe a sigh of relief. The nightmare is over. I reassure myself - "I am not pastor of a performance-driven church."

The presence-driven apostle Paul once wrote:

You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else. (1 Cor. 2)

No staging.

No ambiance.

No set up.

No performance.

No fog machine (but, yes, we do have one).

Just faith.

Just Jesus.

Just the Spirit.

Just the power of God.

Just his presence.

I'm working on two books - Leading the Presence-Driven Church, and Transformation: How God Shapes the Human Heart.

My book on prayer is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

The App-identities of Today's Youth

Image result for johnpiippo digital
Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan
I usually arrive early to my MCCC philosophy classes. As students come they sit down and bow before their smart phones, apping away. 

This is our world today. We're immersed in a surging sea of technological change that would cause Alvin Toffler to confess that he underestimated the coming "future shock." 

How shall we understand this? I recommend Howard Gardner (Harvard) and Kate Davis's The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World. Gardner and Davis examine the three aspects of the lives of young people that are most affected by digital technology:
·                     their sense of identity
·                     their capacity for intimate relations
·                     their imaginative powers

What about identity? The apps on a person's smartphone are a kind of fingerprint. "It’s the combination of interests, habits, and social connections that identify that person." (The App Generation, p. 60) Gardner and Dixon ask: "How are youth’s identities shaped and expressed in the age of the app? Are they truly different or just superficially so?" (Ib.) They respond:

"We found that, as suggested by the app icon itself, the identities of young people are increasingly packaged. That is, they are developed and put forth so that they convey a certain desirable— indeed, determinedly upbeat— image of the person in question. This packaging has the consequence of minimizing a focus on an inner life, on personal conflicts and struggles, on quiet reflection and personal planning; and as the young person approaches maturity, this packaging discourages the taking of risks of any sort. On the more positive side, there is also a broadening of acceptable identities (e.g., it’s OK to be a geek). Overall, life in an app-suffused society yields not only many small features of a person’s identity but also a push toward an overall packaged sense of self— as it were, an omnibus app." (Ib., 61)

This suggests that the capacity for today's youth to engage in the classical biblical spiritual disciplines (solitude, silence, focusing on "Christ in me, the hope of glory") is diminishing. Spiritually, this is disconcerting. As a culture we are a mile wide and an inch deep. (I see students interested as they are introduced to "deepness" in my philosophy classes, which is encouraging. That capacity, for many I think, has not been deleted from their cognitive hard drive.)

Gardner and Davis will help you understand this, non-judgmentally. 

We must first understand before we can evaluate. 

We must evaluate before we heal, if needed (depth is good, shallowness is bad). 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Affliction of God's Refining Care

Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan

One of my seminary students wrote, saying: "God is telling me that I have a problem." 

I responded: "You do." 

I do too. We all need more change, more transformation. Here's the good news logic:

1. Either you've arrived or you need more change.
2. You have not arrived.
3. Therefore, you need more change.

Welcome to the kingdom of God, and the community of the King. Real "church" is a community of transformation. Wesley Hill writes: "Anyone who joins such a community should know that it is a place of transformation, of discipline, of learning, and not merely a place to be comforted or indulged.” 
(From Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality,  p. 68)

Good-bye Consumer Market-Driven Church. 

Good night Starbucks in the church lobby. 

Sleep tight Entertainment Church. 

Prepare to be pressed but not crushed, struck down but not destroyed.

Consumers don't want inner heart-change. They want others to change, not themselves. They want to consume, rather than be consumed. This creates a problem since God is, among other things, a consuming fire. Meet God and submit to Jesus as Lord and you will never be the same. Hill writes:

"Engaging with God and entering the transformative life of the church does not mean we get a kind of “free pass,” an unconditional love that leaves us where we are. Instead, we get a fiercely demanding love, a divine love that will never let us escape from its purifying, renovating, and ultimately healing grip."

Are we having "fun" yet? Are we "happy?" Those are the wrong questions. "Fun" and "happy" are not the words to use here. When the self gets laid on the altar of God, stuff gets stripped off. There is a fiery, refining purging of one's being, as God morphs the self into Christlikeness. Let the fire fall and purify our hearts. Lord, bring restoration.

This is where the self gets denied. Who can go this far with our Lord? Hill beautifully writes:

"Though we may miss out in the short run on lives of personal fulfillment and sexual satisfaction, in the long run the cruelest thing that God could do would be to leave us alone with our desires, to spare us the affliction of his refining care. “Not only does God in Christ take people as they are: He takes them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be.”"

That's it. The affliction of his refining care. It is not fun, but it is very good.

My new book is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

A Letter to My Church Family

Praying for people at Redeemer.

(I sent this note to my Redeemer family this morning.)

Good morning Redeemer family:

Here are a few things I would like to share with you.

What a beautiful message Josh Bentley gave two Sundays ago - thank you Josh!

Yesterday morning Tom and Christy Hedke gave their testimony of how God has moved in Tom's physical body and in their hearts. We all applauded and gave thanks to God as Tom is now cancer-free!

Then we called anyone forward who is in any kind of difficulty and our people surrounded them, I anointed them with oil, and we prayed for many. What a beautiful moment. That is Real Church - no hype, no staging, no performance, just God's empowering presence.

I am asking you to keep the following Scriptures before you this week as we approach next Sunday morning, October 3 - James 5:13-16. Read them, over and over. Meditate on them. When God speaks to you, write it down in your journal. I feel it is very significant that these will be the verses I will preach on. I am already getting excited about how God is going to show up.

Yesterday morning I shared a story that happened to me last week, and how God told me, "John, I am up to something." I know He is.

Blessings to you all this day,


Oct. 2 - James 5:13-16 –The Prayer of Faith

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Peter Singer's Argument for Infanticide

I presented this tonight in one of my MCCC logic classes, 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.

Tonight's class discussion was some of the best I've ever had in response to Singer's argument - thank you students!

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.

Singer is an atheist. He follows real atheism, like that of Nietzsche, who understood that with the loss of Christian theism's metaphysical foundation we've left "the land" and sail on a sea with an "infinite horizon" (the equivalent of "no [moral] land in sight"). So Singer advocates, among other things, "fourth-trimester abortions, i.e., the killing of infants after they are born." Singer writes:

"My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others... Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10- or even 32-weeks gestation. … The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy." (See here, p. 189, fn. 21.)

Surely Singer is right in that, if there is no God, then humans are no different than animals and to think so is to be guilty of species-ism. Ideas like "All men are create equal" and "Human life is precious" make sense on Christianity, but not on atheism.

I've long thought that, were I an atheist, I'd be in the Nietzsche/Singer camp I find it odd and at times humorous when atheists disbelieve in God but co-opt Christian theistic moral values to their advantage, like assuming the special-ness of humans.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

If He Comes, He Will Build It (The Presence-Driven Church)

Ann Arbor

In the movie "Field of Dreams" we heard words that have since been immortalized and even used in Christian circles: "If you build it, he will come." This was about building a baseball diamond in the middle of the Iowa cornfields. When the father finally emerged through the corn rows and played catch with his son, tears came to my eyes. What a meaningful scene. I could not help but think of my dad, playing ball with me.

As beautiful as that is, there is no meaningful analogy between the movie and the father's appearance, and the kingdom of God and God's appearing presence. Spiritually, it's not true that, "If you build it [something, whatever], then God will show up."

But...  When God comes, he will build it. 

Here God's earth-shattering, empowering presence comes first. Wherever God shows up he builds his kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus-followers are invited to join him in The Great Edifying, The Great Upbuilding.

If He comes, he will build it. You will join him in the labor, empowered by God's Spirit.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Troubledness Has No Place In a Trusting Heart

Ann Arbor

Jesus, in John 14:1, says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." The Greek word here can be translated as "agitated." Like the "agitator" in a washing machine that goes back and forth, back and forth.

This verse implies that we have a responsibility, that we can "let" the agitator into our hearts. We can allow troubledness to dwell in our inner, spiritual home. When we do this it's like saying, "Trouble, I give you permission to make yourself at home in me."

How can we stop Trouble at the doorstep of our spirit? Jesus' answer in John 14:1 is: "Believe in me." Given the context of John chapters 14-15-16 we see that "to believe" is not mere intellectual acknowledgment, but intentional engagement and abiding-connectedness to Jesus. To believe is to abide. Real belief abides. Real belief takes up residence in a certain "abode." "Belief" always abides somewhere. In this case it's either:

a) "Trouble" makes its home in me, by my permission; or
b) I abide in Christ, giving Christ permission to set up home within me.

There are "works" of Trouble and works of Christ. "Troubledness" has causal effects and deeds. Implications. Manifestations.

Christ-belief also has consequences. If you trust Jesus (the antecedent of the conditional statement we are making), then you will do the works Jesus does and even more (the consequent of the conditional statement; therefore when the antecedent is affirmed, there follow the Jesus-like consequences.). It looks like this.

1. If I trust Jesus, then I will do what Jesus does and more.
2. I trust Jesus (in the sense of abiding in Him).
3. Therefore, I will do what Jesus does and even more.

In John 14:24 Jesus says, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." The agitator is unwelcome in the Father's home. Troubledness has no place in a trusting heart.

My recent book is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Third Annual 23inME! Pastors and Leaders Abiding Retreat

Thousands of Pastors Will Burn Out and Leave the Ministry This Year

In the recent addition of Christianity Today Karl Vaters writes:

"This year, thousands [of pastors] will leave the ministry, burned out and hurting. From big and small churches, growing and stagnant ones." 

This is, writes Vaters, an "epidemic." (Vaters, "Epidemic: Another Pastor Burned Out and Quit Last Sunday")

Scholars have been writing about clergy burnout for decades. Not only is this phenomenon still with us, it seems to be accelerating. 

One cause of this is people's expectations of what a pastor should be. Vaters writes:

"We have to let go of the unbiblical expectations that have been placed on pastors' shoulders. That we’ve placed on our own shoulders. Pastors were never meant to carry this big a burden. No one person is capable of being the preacher, teacher, vision-caster, CEO, leader, evangelist, soul-winner, fundraiser, marriage counselor, and all-around paragon of virtue that we expect pastors to pull off – many of them while working a full-time job outside the church walls."
I often thank God that forty years ago he led me to take a half day every week to go alone to a quiet place and meet with him. (In my book Praying I write about this, and in seminaries and conferences I teach pastors how to do this.)
No pastor is immune, whether their church is micro or mega. The burnout is happening weekly. For example, Pete Wilson pastored a church of 7000. Until last weekend, when he stepped down. Wilson told his church family this:
"I haven’t prioritized some other things that were equally as important. Leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well. For some time, I’ve been leading on empty… I think the best thing for Cross Point is for me to step aside. And so I’m resigning as the pastor of Cross Point … I really need your prayers and I need your support. We’ve said that this is a church where it’s OK to not be OK, and I’m not OK. I’m tired. And I’m broken and I just need some rest." ("Megachurch Pastor Pete Wilson Is Resigning: "I'm Not OK. I'm Tired. I'm Broken.")
Vaters asks us all to pause, and pray. He writes:
"Today, let's pause. Take a breath. And pray.
Pray for the hurting pastors, known and unknown, who have left a church they loved - and maybe still love.
Pray for the famous pastors suffering under the unbearable glare of the spotlight.
Pray for the unknown pastors feeling lost and forgotten.
Pray for their families who have borne years of pain silently, and who are bearing even more right now.
Pray for the church members who don't know whether to feel angry, sad or something else.
Pray that the God who promised that his yoke was easy and his burden light, will ease the much heavier burdens we have placed on our own shoulders. And replace it with his peace, his comfort and his hope."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

God Power Shares with Us

My home office, where I study and ponder and write.

When God helps us he gives, of himself and resources, to us. This is the "abiding relationship" idea. God power shares with us. God doesn't help those who help themselves. God helps those by giving himself.

As we dwell in the perichoretic Trinitarian relationship, the help of God is abidingly ours. God does not help from afar, but from a place nearer than your own skin. Christ, remember, dwells in those who follow after him.

I like the way C.S. Lewis, in 
Mere Christianity, puts this:
"What do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think; He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another."

Recall Jesus' words in John 14-16. 

·                It is the Father, living in you, that does the things the Son did while on earth, and even doing greater things. (John 14:10-14)

·                The Spirit of truth dwells in you. (John 14:16-17; 16:13)

·                The Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us. (John 14:26)

·                Trinitarian peace is ours. (John 14:27; 16:33)

·                Your life becomes fruit-bearing. (John 15:4, 8)

·                God's love is within you. (John 15:9-10)

·                Trinitarian joy is yours. (John 15:11)

Why does God do it this way? Lewis writes: "When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters; that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it."

Influence Doesn't Need to Make a Personal Appearance

In the Jesus-following life what's important is that, through you, people meet Jesus. People need Jesus more than they need you.

Be free of the illusion of your indispensability. It's OK for you to be out of the way, unseen. Great things can happen when the spotlight is off you.

To be seen or not seen - it's a matter of discernment. There is a ministry of presence and a ministry of absence. God can work in both if the spotlight stays pointed on him.

When life becomes a matter of making a name for yourself the sickness has set in. Self-exaltation and Jesus-glorification do not mix. You can stay underground, behind the scenes, and make a difference.

The difference you make for Jesus will be greater if your name gets out of the way. The less your name or my name or anyone's name is associated with Jesus the better things are, and the stronger the Movement becomes. Because all hearts will be fixed on the Name above all names.

The underground life is a threat to the dark kingdom. The underground life, the subversive life, is able to get at the root of things.

Roots grow underground. "Root," in Latin, is radix. Our English word "radish" comes from this. So does the word "radical." A life that is "radical" lives subversively underground where the root of all things lies. The kingdom of darkness fears when Jesus-people attend to the root system.

Jesus said:
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”(Mark 4:26-29)

The Kingdom of God is like a seed growing secretly. Its growth is secret because it is underground, out of sight. There is danger lurking underground. Be dangerous for Christ.

Live life content to be unknown so that Jesus will be known.

Don't water your own self so you can bloom before others.

"Influence" doesn't need to make a personal appearance.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016