Monday, December 31, 2018


I took this photo in Istanbul. The reflection of the man makes it look like he is looking at the turkish delight.

"Resolution" - in music, "the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or  from dissonance to consonance."  For example, if a musical piece is in the key of C, G is the 5th. A musical piece that ends on the 5th begs to be resolved to the 1st, or tonic chord, which is in this case C. The unresolved 5th causes one to inwardly strain and lean towards the anticipated 1st.

To "resolve" - fixity of purpose, resoluteness. For example: His comments were intended to weaken her resolve but they only served to strengthen it. (From here.)

If you are a Jesus-follower, don't make "New Year's Resolutions." Instead, resolve today. In four ways.

1. Resolve to inquire of the Lord.

2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (2 Chronicles 20:2-4)

Bring life's dissonance before the Lord. Inquire of God, regarding the chaos and incompleteness. You've tried to figure it out yourself; instead, seek God about this. Not just once in a while, but today and every day. Place your trust in God, now. Get alone with God and receive direction. As God called Jehoshaphat to declare a fast in response to unresolved dissonance in Judah, so God has promised to shepherd you through all things. God is willing to direct your paths.

Resolve to inquire of God, today and every day.

2. Resolve that your mouth will not bring destruction.

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right. 

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing; 
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. 4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent. 
(Psalm 17:2-4)

I will keep my mouth shut, unless my words serve to build up others.

I will meet, often and alone, with God. I will abide in Christ. I will dwell in his presence. God will shape and form my heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19) This Jesus-heart will be what comes out of the space between my lips.

Resolve that your mouth will not destroy, today and every day.

3. Resolve not to defile my soul with the enemy's "turkish delight."

7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel... (Daniel 1:7-9)

Daniel refuses to allow King Nebuchadnezzar to redefine his identity. Daniel "resolved"; i.e., Daniel "set upon his heart" not to pollute himself. Daniel set his heart not to compromise himself by accepting redefinition as a Babylonian. This is the matter of allegiance.

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch, who seduces him with a delicious piece of candy called "turkish delight." He eats it, betraying Aslan, and his defiled heart falls under the Witch's dark spell.

Today, resolve not to compromise your allegiance to Jesus as your Lord.

4. Resolve to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Learn about Jesus. 

Learn Jesus. 

Fix on him. 

Sum all things up in Jesus.

Resolve to know Christ and him crucified. Today.


My two books are...

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Attend the Solitary God-Conference

Battle Creek

I have been privileged to speak at several conferences for pastors and Christian leaders. I am always grateful for the opportunity to do this. Some have said that the person who teachers gets more out of the event than the students. There’s much truth in this. God always gives me some personal takeaways when I'm the conference speaker. I get spoken-to by God. I receive new insights that stay with me. And, being with colleagues in ministry always serves to instruct and enrich my life.

I’ve also attended conferences for pastors and leaders. When I’m there I want to have open ears and an open heart to what God is saying to me through others.

As good as these events are, the beating heart of my God-encountering spiritual life remains my solitary praying times. Luke 5:16 says:

Jesus often attended the Solitary God Conference 
and prayed.[1]

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I do the same.

Greg Boyd says he has known “people who have spent a great deal of time and money traveling the world “chasing God” at various revivals, all the while missing what God was doing—and what God wanted to do—in and through their own lives. The fact is, if we can’t discern God’s presence in our day-to-day lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll find him at a revival. We may find a lot of excitement, great speakers, superb music, and maybe even some “signs and wonders.” But unless a person learns to find God as much in the ordinary as in the exciting, the exciting will do nothing more than serve as a momentary distraction."[2]

I don’t depend on the coming conference that is still weeks away. I need God, today. Now. Presently. The good news is that God's presence is available to me, 24/7. 

Assume that God is doing something in you, 

       Assume God has something to tell you as you pray, today.

[1] “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
[2] Greg Boyd, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, 135

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

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Entertainment Church Addicts People to Lesser Things

Shipshewana, Indiana

Linda and I are back home after two days in Amish country in Shipshewana, Indiana. One of the things we often do when we take long car rides together is choose a book to read together. I drive, Linda reads, I listen, we discuss. Our choice for this trip is Francis Chan's Letters to the Church.

We find ourselves in much agreement with Chan's thoughts. When Linda read chapter two, on the beauty of God's Church, we felt we were on the same page with him.

Chan's book is confessional and confrontational. We see both in the final two paragraphs of chapter two. He writes:

"I can't help but see our own lameness in failing to see the beauty of God's design for the Church. Heavenly beings are shocked by God's Church, while many on earth yawn. The early church didn't need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being part of God's body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe. 

Aren't you at least a little embarrassed that you have needed the extra stuff? It's not all your fault. For decades church leaders like myself have lost sight of the powerful mystery inherent in the Church and have instead run to other methods to keep people interested. In all honesty, we have trained you to become addicted to lesser things. We have cheapened something sacred, and we must repent." (Emphasis mine.) 

That's what the Entertainment Church, the Consumer Church, does. (Chan critiques the American Church and their entertainmentism and consumerism.)

My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

If Jesus Is the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?

Shipshewana, Indiana (photo by Linda Piippo)

How about some theological discussion as we come to the end of 2018? The question: If Jesus is the only way to God, what about those who have never heard of him?

Imagine this story. John does not believe in Jesus. But Jason does. Jason tells John about Jesus, and John is interested. 

Jason feels God wants him to get back to John soon, but does not find time to get back to John. John dies without hearing more. What was John’s status before John died? To be saved, did he need more information about Jesus? 

Paul Copan asks: “Was his eternal destiny in the hands of [someone] who happened not to respond to an inner prompting? Could it be that God is more interested in a person’s spiritual direction or responsiveness than in his spiritual ‘location’ on a continuum?”

Theistic philosopher Copan does an excellent job of presenting the issues and suggesting answers to the question: what if someone has never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? The points below are from Copan’s book True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith. Read the book for more detail and explanation, especially regarding Copan’s “middle knowledge” position.

Here are the relevant points. 

1. God’s desire is that all be saved.

2. All who desire to be saved will have the opportunity to be saved.

3. We can trust that God is loving and just. We can trust that the eternal outcome of every person is in the hands of a loving and just God.

4. Persons who have self-inflicted “transworld depravity” will not want God, or God in Christ. So God is not unjust in applying eternal justice to them; viz., everlasting separation from his presence. (1 Thessalonians 1)

5. God has given persons free will. This is risky. Some will likely freely choose to reject God’s offer of salvation, and his revelation in creation and the moral law within (Romans 1 and 2). As C.S. Lewis wrote, re. this, there are two kinds of persons: one who says to God “Thy will be done,” and one to whom God says “Thy will be done.”

6. If God has middle-knowledge (knowledge of future choices) and knows that John will reject Him in any possible world, then God is not unjust in not presenting John with the opportunity to be saved.

7. Romans 1 says that, even without a knowledge of Christ, people have an opportunity to know God. We read: 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 

Theologically, this is called "natural revelation."

8. Romans 2 says: (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. 

So it seems likely that some persons will be saved by following the moral law within.

1. The Agnostic View.

a. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer are agnostic on the matter.

b. If God really loves the whole world, and if Christ died for all without exception, and if God commands all to repent, and if God does not want any to perish, “then it follows that his initiating grace, though resistible (Acts 7:51), is directed toward all without exception. This would include the unevangelized.” (Copan)

c. We can trust that God has the question of the unevangelized figured out.

d. Further, God has done so much to reach us all, even to suffer with us in a world filled with evil and misery, that we have good reason to believe the unevangelized are in excellent hands.

e. We can trust that God is loving and just. So God won’t condemn anyone for being born at the wrong time and place (viz., in a time and place where the message of the Gospel of Jesus was not known).

f. God is able to reach people in ways we don’t expect. For example, he can reveal himself – and has done so – through visions or angelic messengers. Copan cites examples of Jesus appearing to Muslims who had never heard of him.

g. In the end we can trust in a good God to do no wrong. “We should not think about the unevangelized apart from God’s character, motives, and good purposes.” (Copan)

2. The Inclusivist (Wider-Hope) View 

a. In Romans 2:7 Paul writes: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, [God] will give eternal life.”

b. Could some unevangelized people fit in this category?

c. Inclusivists say: Salvation is exclusive in its source – Christ alone as God’s full, final revelation. Salvation is available to every person – even those the missionary can’t reach.

d. One criticism of this view is that accepting it would diminish missionary zeal. Why bring Christ to the nations if the nations can be saved without hearing of Christ?

e. The inclusivist responds by asking why anyone’s fate should solely depend on evangelists who are not always available and/or faithful?

f. Belief in the sovereignty of God makes us think God will not really leave the destiny of unreached people in the hands of imperfect, fallible missionaries. Can’t God work beyond the boundaries of the gospel’s proclamation and our expectations?

g. What about those in the Old Testament who didn’t know about the historical Jesus and his death and resurrection? “Clearly they were saved on the basis of what Jesus would eventually accomplish (Rom. 3:25; see Acts 17:30).

h. And what about infants and those who are mentally incapable of grasping the gospel message?

i. The inclusivist believes that human beings are guilty and helpless before God, separated from him, and cannot be saved apart from Christ.

j. The inclusivist believes that God wants all to be saved. This seems to imply that he makes salvation available to all.

k. The inclusivist claims that salvation through Jesus’ “name” doesn’t necessarily imply knowing the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation, he is not epistemologically necessary.

l. Natural revelation may have a positive role and may be used by God’s Spirit to show the unevangelized their need for him. For example, Romans 1:20 and Romans 2:14-15 give us two ways persons can be saved without hearing of the Jesus story. Here inclusivists are optimistic about the role of “general revelation” through the creation, and the moral law within each human heart. Millard Erickson, who is not an inclusivist, says: “If they [persons who know about God through his self-revelation in nature (cf. Romans 1:20) but still reject God] are condemnable because they have not trusted God through what they have, it must have been possible somehow to meet this requirement through this means.If not, responsibility and condemnation are meaningless… Perhaps there is room for acknowledging that God alone may know in every case exactly whose faith is sufficient for salvation.” (In Copan)

m. The Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) seems to be an example of someone who seems to display the working of God’s Spirit and grace in is life.

n. John Stott summarizes the inclusivist argument: “What we do not know, however, is exactly how much knowledge and understanding of the Gospel people need before they can cry to God for mercy and be saved. In the Old Testament, people were certainly “justified by grace through faith,” even though they had little knowledge or no expectation of Christ. Perhaps there are others today in a somewhat similar position. They know they are sinful and guilty before God, and that they cannot do anything to win his favor, so in self-despair they call upon the God they dimly perceive to save them. If God does save such, as many evangelical Christians tentatively believe, their salvation is still only by grace, only by Christ, only by faith.” (In Copan)

3. Copan presents an argument against the inclusivist position.

a. Inclusivism can blur important distinctions, which can result in disastrous affirmations. For example, some inclusivists hold that Muslims whoa re seeking Allah can be saved.

b. Romans 1 seems to argue against the inclusivist position. Paul has a pessimistic view of humanity’s ability to turn to God because of God’s revelation in nature.

c. There are people who don’t respond to general revelation yet respond to the preaching of the gospel.

d. Inclusivism dampens concern for missions. “It seems doubtful that inclusivism would actually increase evangelistic fervor.”

4. The Accessibilist/Middle Knowledge View

a. God judges the unevangelized based on their response to natural revelation, which his Spirit can use to bring them to salvation. “Natural revelation doesn’t damn anyone without furnishing genuine opportunities to be saved (Romans 2:7) God’s initiative offers them prevenient (“preceding”) grace to respond. All they need to do is humble themselves before him and repent. God is not only just in his judgment, but also gracious in genuinely offering salvation.” (Copan)

b. God can’t make people freely choose to respond to the gospel. “Some might be like NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel, who said, ‘I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.’ Indeed, with every new indication of God’s reality, a person might come to resent or hate him even more.”

c. God knows all future possibilities and free choices of human beings, and whoever would want to be saved will find salvation. God knows all truths – even future ones. God knows all possible future events and human choices – what free creatures could do in various circumstance and what world-arrangements are feasible.” For example, Jesus knew (from the Father) that Peter would deny him three times. God knew that Peter would freely choose to deny Christ under certain circumstances.

d. God takes human free will seriously. Copan says: “No one will be comdemned as the result of geographical or historical accident, lack of information, or failure of a missionary to “get there.” All who want – or would want – to be saved do find salvation. Those who would always refuse salvation get their way in the end.”

e. Perhaps there’s no feasible world of persons who all freely choose Christ; this God creates a world containing an optimal balance of fewest lost and greatest number saved. Sometimes people ask: “Why didn’t God create world in which everyone freely chose to love him?” But if humans are truly free, then there’s guarantee they will use their free will to love him. Remember that God does not create out of any need. God desires that none perish; he wants us to embrace him and live. Copan writes: “So it’s reasonable to believe that he wants a maximal number of persons saved and a minimal number condemned. He wants his renewed creation – the new heaven and earth – to be as full as possible and hell as empty as possible. The only thing preventing hell’s being completely empty of people is the human will’s resistance to his loving and gracious initiative. God isn’t less loving because some people are condemned for rejecting him. So why couldn’t this world be the one that achieves this optimal balance?”

f. Some persons possess self-inflicted “transworld depravity” or “transworld damnation”; they would have been lost in any world in which they were placed.

g. Missions motivation isn’t diminished, since God has also providentially arranged fort human messengers to bring the gospel to those he knew would accept it if they heard it.

h. Some individuals may seem “so close” to salvation in the actual world without finding it. But perhaps this actual world is the very nearest the transworldly depraved ever come to salvation.

My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Vertical Church

Shipshewana, Indiana

Linda and I return home Saturday from a two-day getaway. We're just spending time together, doing things together, talking, and reading Francis Chan's Letters to the Church. We are pleased to see Chan's emphasis on the presence of God, and how the experience of God's presence cannot be locked into pre-existing time schedules (the Consumer Church).

Chan wants Vertical Church, not Horizontal Church. So do we. And so we are, at Redeemer, and so you may also be.

Vertical Church is a people group of Jesus-followers who desire nothing more than God's earth-shattering presence, and who experience that presence whenever and wherever they gather. The presence of God is the glue that holds them together. This is the meaning of Jesus' words about "whenever two or more gather, there I am in their midst." 

That's all that's needed: Jesus in our midst. 

The Horizontal Church requires more than "Jesus in our midst," even to the exclusion of Jesus, leaving only us and "our midst." The people have been seduced by the god of relevancy. Many are good people who have been mis-discipled. They have been taught - by culture - to rely on their own natural charisma to attract consumer-seekers. Much energy and money is spent on catering to the prevailing cultural ethos and its chronos-mentality; hence, there are temporally choreographed services because people (it is assumed) will pull out their cell phones if the earth-shattering presence of God hovers among them for more than an hour. 

The Horizontal Church unwittingly adds to Scripture, and has Jesus saying, "whenever two or more gather, with a fair trade coffee bar and stage lighting and short services and apps and creative add-ons, there I am in their midst, if only for an hour."

Horizontal churches burn people out in striving to measure up to the ever-shifting bar of cultural coolness. Even name changes and stage lighting cannot rescue these sinking vessels.

James McDonald of Harvest Church in Chicago writes:

"Eventually everyone vacates church where God is not obviously present and working. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first— that’s what Vertical Church is all about!
Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church.
The problem is you can’t fake glory. You can’t manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will. Only God Himself can bring glory into a church, and when He does, communities get shaken and lives get changed, and the fame of Jesus Christ curls continuously upon the shore of human hearts like a Hawaii 5-0 wave. Church is supposed to be a tsunami of glory every Sunday, and that is what we gather for." (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 104-105)

McDonald says, "In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything."

My two books are:

Transformation: From Persona to Personhood

Image result for john piippo identity
Monroe County

In the absence of God people are left alone to create their identities.

"A persona, in the word everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. This is an Italian word that derives from the Latin for "mask" or "character", derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning. Popular etymology derives the word from Latin "per" meaning "through" and "sonare" meaning "to sound", meaning something in the vein of "that through which the actor speaks", i.e. a mask (early Greek actors wore masks)." (Wikipedia, "Persona")

AKA - the false self; "hypocrite" ("mask-wearer"); fake; phony

The real self; who you really are; the "true self," made in the image of God

About thirty-seven years ago I was sitting on the seat of a rusty tractor in the middle of a field, in a wildlife area just north of Lansing, Michigan. I went there to pray. For several hours. That was one of the first times I did this kind of extended praying. It turned out to be the beginning of something new God was doing in me.

I was reading Psalm 139. I got to verses 23-24, which read:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

The thought came that I should ask God to do this. To search me out. 

My heart was filled with restlessness. All the busy stuff I was doing only seemed to increase my inner agitation. So I said to God, "Do it." 

God told me, "John, I would love to. You need to spend much time with me, over a lifetime, so I can search you out, remove your anxious thoughts, and lead you in the way everlasting."

"John, you can take off the mask." 

Wearing masks is hard work. I did some acting in my college theater department, and it takes a lot out of a person. God told me, "John, I don't care for the mask; it is you that I love." So, before God, I allowed him to peel away the persona and get to me. This is a process, and continues to this day.

It was both hard and good to hear God say those words to me. It was hard, because my persona was something I was accustomed to. To remove the mask was to enter into new territory. It produced, initially, feelings of wanting to hide from God. 

It was also good. Looking into the face of my all-loving God, with hidden parts of me exposed, was fear-and-trembling good! It still feels unbelievable. God knows me, God searches me out, God sees to the root of my being, God knows my true heart. And God loves me? Unbelievable, yet true.

When we wear our persona-mask before people we lie to them. In our inner insecurity and unlovableness we posture before people. We brag. We create and display our persona on Facebook. We are pity-filled. We crave human approval, and fear disapproval. We want others to recognize our hotness. We want to be hotter than thou.

This gets subtle, as I know personally. At times my caring for others has been a mask that hides my need for them to approve of me. True personhood, on the other hand, cares and loves others, whether one benefits from this or not.

That... is freedom. To know God and be known by him. To love God and experience God's love towards us, personally. This is not some theoretical thing, but an experiential reality. In this regard experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

You are loved by God. Go to him.

Ask God to search out your heart, remove the persona, and transform you into the person he has created you to be. Which is: in his image.

My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Preaching the Unrecognizable Jesus

Downtown Monroe

Pastors - stop trying to be "relevant." 

Stop it, in the sense of being culturally cool, or socially awesome, or acceptable. If you become cool you will swiftly become passé, swept aside by the nothing-new-under-the-sun, question-begging waves of culture.

Just be clear.

Be clear about the gospel.

The gospel, not you, is eternally relevant to the core, ontological struggle of humanity. 

Speak, teach, and preach the gospel in words your culture understands. That will be enough. You won't need the blue jeans. (I wear blue jeans, but don't think they are the key to attracting people to Jesus.) Imagine John the Baptist, concerned about "fitting in."

Jesus was, and remains, shockingly a-cultural. Therefore, be free of obsessing about your hair. Remember Einstein, whose hair-care issues indicated neglect, but whose ideas started a scientific revolution.

The presentation of the gospel will sound strange and irrelevant to the indoctrinated cultural masses. That is good. It should sound this way. Think of the philosophical prophet Kierkegaard, and his historical precursor Tertullian, who both said, Credo quia absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." Absurd, in light of the prevailing ethos.

A clear presentation of the gospel must be understandable. Part of its clarity is that it will be unrecognizable. It will sound like it is from another planet. (Remember that Jesus said, "My planet is not of this planet.") 

It must sound silly, from the viewpoint of secular culture. The more you try to make the gospel relevant to culture, the more the gospel loses its unrecognizability. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

Of course. Had the this-worldly masses recognized him, it would not have been him. They didn't. Not even his disciples.

Jesus' planet ("kingdom") is not of this world. Not two thousand years ago, not today. The great danger is that people would begin to see the two conflicting kingdoms as the same kingdom (like the mindless conflating of "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas.") People will be comfortable and happy with church because it is like snuggling up with the world.

People today need to come face to face with the unrecognizable Jesus, the one New Testament scholar Michael McClymond named the "Familiar Stranger." So,  pastors - preach, with as much clarity as you can bring to the moment, the unrecognizable kingdom.

Then, let it go.

Trust God's Spirit, who will hover over the irrelevance and the cognitive dissonance, touching nerves in dead flesh, igniting  sparks on a cold night, sending drops of rain to a disenchanted desert, and speaking hope to nihilistic souls. Then, behold, as another insane mind, stuck in the meaningless eternal recurrence of the same, awakens, by the power of the Spirit, and hears the voice of redemption calling from another world.

Note: When the absurdity of the gospel reaches the low levels it had in first-century Rome, then I expect the gospel's intrinsic power to be unleashed in another global outpouring. In those days the world will have long-tired of the world-system and the futile way of life handed down from generation to generation, and the absurdity of the gospel will be clearly seen as the answer to systemic world-weariness.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pastors Among the Unthinking Herd

Image result for john piippo pastors
One of my favorite postcards.
I love pastors. I have taught many pastors. I am a pastor. I am not to be conformed to the leadership styles of this world.

The warning Paul issues in Romans 12:1-2 concerns the shape of our hearts; viz., that we not be world-conformed. This is relevant in every age, and especially so in today's America, where the invasion of secularity has captured and shaped the hearts of the masses. Many Christians, and many pastors, have joined the ranks of the unthinking Kierkegaardian herd.

In the midst of this nihilistic wasteland God raises up prophetic voices, even speaking from the grave. One of them is Henri Nouwen. In The Way of the Heart he writes:

"Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives."
(Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles, Kindle Locations 893-896)

Nouwen sees the manifestations of pastoral captivity and world-conformity. They include:

  • Pastors are too busy with meetings, visits, many services to lead. Pastors move through life in a distracted way, rarely stopping to ask if any of this busyness is worth thinking, saying, or doing.
  • Pastors have become advertisers who must motivate people to come to church, who must make sure the youth are entertained, who must raise money to keep the infrastructure going, and above all, pastors need to see that everyone is happy.
  • Pastors have become "busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people." (Ib., K899)
  • Pastors have lost their real identity in Christ, and have morphed into affirmation addicts: "Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised." (Ib., K906)
  • What matters to many pastors today is not what God thinks of them, but how they are perceived by the world.
Nouwen saw anger in pastoral leaders, coming from culture-shaped hearts that have taken on the consumer values of the world. He writes:

"Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ. (Ib., K919-923)

Are things really that bad in ministry? I think so. I've taught my spiritual formation materials to four thousand pastors, and Nouwen's insights resonate with me. And, I have discovered the seeds of secularity in my own heart.

The warning the apostle Paul gives against world-conformity is real, and the entrapment is subtle. It doesn't happen overnight. One morning a pastor can wake up and sense that something has gone wrong in his or her heart. They realize, following Nouwen, that they are passengers on a ship that is sinking.

Nouwen's counsel, and mine as well, is: Jump ship! Swim for your life! Run to the place of your salvation, which is the place of solitude and presence of God. Reside there, and be transformed into Christlikeness by the renewing of your mind. (This is why the Desert Fathers went to the desert in the first place.)

My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve - Jesus Comes to Save Us From Our Psychological Distress

In the first "Creed" movie there is a scene where the old boxer Rocky Balboa is training Apollo Creed's son Adonis in the gym. They are looking into a mirror (2:25 in the clip above). Rocky points to the young boxer and says, 

"See this guy here? That's the toughest opponent you're ever going to have to face. I believe that's true in the ring, and I believe that's true in life."

It's not a stretch to say that my toughest battles happen in my own mind. Francis Frangipane called the human mind one of the "three battlegrounds." 

The apostle Paul knew about this. He instructed us to "take every thought captive," because if we don't, our thoughts will capture us.

Neil Anderson writes of this inner battle in The Bondage Breaker. Steve Backlund shows us how to do battle against false thinking with his declarations.

A few years ago KoЯn's guitarist Brian Welch wrote an autobiography called Save Me From Myself. That was the best book I read that year, echoing a prayer I've brought before God for four decades. 

When I was in seminary I was introduced to psychologist Albert Ellis's Rational Emotive Behavior TherapyThe goal of REBT is to change irrational beliefs to more rational ones. Ellis's work was about the power of words and thoughts to affect feelings and behaviors. The transformative power of language was at the heart of my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory.

Today, we have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. "CBT aims to help people become aware of when they make negative interpretations, and of behavioral patterns which reinforce the distorted thinking.  Cognitive therapy helps people to develop alternative ways of thinking and behaving which aims to reduce their psychological distress."

Jesus comes to save me from my psychological distress. Thomas Merton writes:

God,  "save me from myself. Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement’s sake, to unsettle everything You have ordained. Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for your glory. This is what I live for." (Merton, A Book of Hours)

This is core to "working out my salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12) I need to be rescued and redeemed and freed from my own self every day. 

It's Christmas Eve. The Son of God came in human form to save us from self-inflicted psychological distress. That's why the angel told Joseph to name the baby "Jesus."


My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

See "22 Leadership Lessons and Quotes From Creed (Rocky 7)"