Monday, April 30, 2018

James Cone, 1938-2018

I once taught a seminary class with James Cone, but I never met him. Let me explain.

Ten or so years ago Dr Leah Fitchue of Payne Theological Seminary contacted me. I was already friends with Dr Fitchue
who is, in my mind, one of the greatest leaders I have ever met. (I taught under her in the doctoral program at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.)

Dr Fitchue was the President of Payne Seminary. She was the first African American woman president of one of the member schools of The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the first woman to serve as president of any historically black theological seminary—Payne Theological Seminary, a 160-year old institution sponsored by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (See here.)

Payne was offering a one-week intensive course on Transformational Leadership. The first four days would be taught by two of the greatest black theologians ever, Dr Cone, and Dr Deotis Roberts. The fifth day, said Dr Fitchue, would be taught by me. She wanted me to give the students a one-day closing class on spiritual formation and transformation, and being led by the Spirit of God. I accepted. What an honor!

I had already read some of Cone's books, such as A Black Theology of Liberation, God of the Oppressed, and Black Theology and Black Power. I was hoping to meet him that week, but I came in late Thursday evening and left immediately after class on Friday.

For me, this experience led to teaching spiritual formation at Payne in their Masters program. 

Today I read that Dr Cone died. Immediately thoughts of his recent book came to me, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Read it, if you dare, and weep. And confess. Repent. And join the exodus of God's oppressed people as he leads them into the promised land of God's kingdom.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Self-Righteous People Don't Hunger for Righteousness

I picked this flower from our back yard and gave it to Linda

Last Sunday morning at Redeemer I was with forty kids during our kids church time. Once a month, I am teaching them the Beatitudes.

Last week it was Matthew 5:6 - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

I'd been thinking about that verse a lot, preparing to be with some of our kids. I have found it true that, when I teach something, I learn more than my students.

Why doesn't everyone who says they are a Jesus-follower hunger and thirst and pant and long and desire for righteousness? I found the answer while reading, just now, Jack Deere's Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life

Deere writes:

People who already feel righteous don’t hunger and thirst for it. (p. 111)

My two books are:

I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

AND... I recommend two new books by two good friends:

Friday, April 27, 2018

Dallas Willard on Breaking Free from Institutional Measures of Success

Lady bug, in my home office

Dallas Willard's interview on measuring spiritual growth among Jesus-followers is prophetic and subversive (the two often go together!). Here are some of the things Willard says:

Many churches measure the wrong things, "like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts."

Why don't many churches measure spiritual effectiveness by these things? Because these qualities are "not worth bragging about." "We'd rather focus on institutional measures of success."

Not every Christian wants to be assessed by these spiritual things.

Many people in today's American church are suffering, especially pastors and their families, because "much of North America and Europe has bought into a version of Christianity that does not include life in the kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They are trying to work a system that doesn't work. Without transformation within the church, pastors are the ones who get beat up. That is why there is a constant flood of them out of the pastorate. But they are not the only ones. New people are entering the church, but a lot are also leaving. Disappointed Christians fill the landscape because we've not taken discipleship seriously."

Churches, and Jesus-followers, must change their definition of "success." 

"They need to have a vision of success rooted in spiritual terms, determined by the vitality of a pastor's own spiritual life and his capacity to pass that on to others. When pastors don't have rich spiritual lives with Christ, they become victimized by other models of success—models conveyed to them by their training, by their experience in the church, or just by our culture. They begin to think their job is managing a set of ministry activities and success is about getting more people to engage those activities. Pastors, and those they lead, need to be set free from that belief."

My two books are:

I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pseudo-Travelers to "the Third Heaven"

Lady bug

For all of us who are theologically Pentecostal/Charismatic, Michael Brown's Playing with Holy Fire is must-reading. And, I confess, it is at times fun reading. In the past hour I have laughed, out loud, all by myself in my home office, at least five times. This is over the top, if you knew my ethnic upbringing.

Brown takes on everything, from the prosperity "gospel" to pep-talk preachers, fake healers to false prophets, liars and exaggerators to hermeneutical ignoramuses. And more. And all, with love and truth, and humility.

One thing Brown tackles and disposes of is claims to have journeyed to "the third heaven." You know, where Paul went.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2-5 Paul writes:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 

That "man" was Paul himself. Paul heard "inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell." Brown asks "How, then, do people who have allegedly gone to this same third heaven come back so chatty, lighthearted, and glib, describing everything they saw and heard in detail?" (Ib., 149)

How can they encounter something so sacred and holy, yet be so casual and flippant about it? Something, writes Brown, does not line up. He quotes A.W. Tozer:

"There are many great lessons for us in the worship and reverence of the heavenly seraphim Isaiah described in his vision. I notice that they covered their feet and they covered their faces. Because of the presence of the Holy God, they reverently covered their faces. Reverence is a beautiful thing, and it is so rare in this terrible day in which we live.…

But a man who has passed the veil, and looked even briefly upon the holy face of Isaiah’s God can never be irreverent again. There will be a reverence in his spirit and instead of boasting, he will cover his feet modestly. Even if he’s been somewhere, instead of coming home and bragging about it, chances are he’ll cover his feet." (In Ib., 150)

In Scripture it is common, when encountering Almighty God, to...
... walk with a limp (Gen. 32:22-32)
...put one's hand on one's mouth so as not to speak (Job 40:4)
...have a heightened awareness of one's own unholiness (Luke 5:8)
...fall like a dead person before the feet of Jesus (Rev. 1:17).

"Yet," writes Brown, "some of our leaders supposedly bounce in and out of God's heavenly courts as if they were poking their heads into a bar and saying hi to an old drinking buddy." (Ib., 150)

Stay away from these "leaders."

"The truth be told, there’s more strutting than limping and more informality than holy fear, all of which makes you wonder if they’re taking mental journeys more than spiritual journeys. As one of my friends asked about an openly carnal colleague, “How can he be so fleshly if he spends 30 percent of his time visiting heaven?” Something is not right." (Ib., 151)

My Book on the Presence-Driven Church Now Only $4.80 for Kindle

Image result for john piippo leading presence-driven
My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church is - right now - selling for $4.80 for your Kindle.

I have no idea why the price was dropped from $7.99.

This has happened before, and then it returned to the regular price.

You can download the Kindle App for free - here

Freedom From Everybody, and From My Own Self

Downtown Monroe

I love this quote from Frank Laubach:

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

To be utterly free from everybody. 

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

This freedom unattaches me from other people want me to be. I am the clay, but other people are not my potter. And, I am not my own potter. I am not to be a self-made vessel.

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

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

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

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

Divorce Creates Ontological Insecurity for Children

Green Lake Christian Conference Center, Wisconsin

Linda and I are called to save as many marriages as we can. One reason is: the children. The rationalization that, after divorce, "the kids will be OK" is mostly mythical.

Divorce has disastrous consequences for children. It creates an ontological void in their souls. The fabric of their being, which is essentially a being-in-community, is ruptured.

Andrew Root describes this in The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being. Root writes:

"To be human is to have our being, to be made real, as this person belonging to these people. And this is what’s so painful about divorce. It ruptures the “this people” that provides children the strength to embrace their own “this person.” It ruptures ontological security." (Root, "Young People, Divorce, & Youth Ministry," 18)

Divorce, says Root, calls a child's existence into question. If we are truly social animals, nullifying a family has social implications. (See Root, "Why Divorce Calls Children's Existence into Question")

"We desire to be found, to know and encounter those who brought us into the world." (Ib.) Knowing this, who would want to break it?

If you got divorced and have children, your kids will need help outside of you.

If you live in the Monroe area and want help call here, or here.

See also:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

John 14:11 & Perichoresis

It must have been thirteen years ago (I can't remember) when NBC-Toledo sent a film crew up to Monroe to interview me re. my thoughts on Dan Brown's book The DaVinci Code. An entire half-hour was about this book, and I got to interact with news anchor Jim Blue. He asked me questions I did not know of in advance, but I was familiar with what he was asking and felt confident in my responses. Years later it's clear to see that, if a scholar wants to investigate Jesus, no one would look at the work of Dan Brown and the unscholarly thesis underlying DaVinci Code.

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes: “We live in a Jesus haunted culture that is Biblically illiterate, and so unfortunately at this point in time, almost anything can pass for knowledge of the historical Jesus…” from notions that he was a Cynic sage to ideas that he was a Gnostic guru to fantasies that he didn't exist, to Dan Brown's Jesus of hysterical (rather than historical) fiction.”

One thing we've done at Redeemer to upgrade our Jesus-literacy is preach chronologically through the four Gospels. This took us seven years! This immersion into the Jesus-texts has had a profound impact on me. 

One impactful thing comes out of John  chapters 14-17. Here we have the last words of Jesus to his disciples. Therefore, they are very important. They wonder how they shall carry on without their Lord. Jesus does not respond by saying, "Form some committees and start some programs." Instead, he invites them into the Trinitarian perichoretic relationship of which he is a part.

In John 14:8-11. Philip asks Jesus, in a Moses-like request (Exodus 33:18), "Show us the Father and that will be enough." Jesus responds by saying "Philip, if you have seen me you have seen the Father." Then, Jesus says words that are, I think, the most profound revelation we have in the New Testament of the nature of Jesus in his relationship with the Father. He says: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11) Scholars have called this Son-Father relationship one of "mutual indwelling." It's intimate, close, and has been going on for eternity.

Understanding this Son-Father relationship is key to understanding nearly everything that follows in John 14-17, because you and I are invited into this relationship.

Early church leaders found a word that, to them, described the mutual indwelling of the Son and the Father and the Spirit: "perichoresis." From Theopedia: "Perichoresis is a Greek term used to describe the triune relationship between each person of the Godhead. It can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration. Alister McGrath writes that it "allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a 'community of being,' in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.""

Perichoresis means, literally, "to move, or dance, around." God, in His 3-fold eternal personhood, is the explanation for the words Jesus speaks and the miracles, signs, and wonders Jesus does. The incredible news is that God invites us into this relationship. I am invited into the Big Dance.

 Think of what Jesus says re. the Son-Father perichoretic relationship, and then look closely at what Jesus goes on to say:

· John 15:1 - "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
· John 15:4 – “Abide in me, and I in you.”
· John 14:12 - I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. ·
· John 14:13 - And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
· John 14:17-18 - But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
· John 14:23 - "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
· John 15:9 - As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
· John 15:15 - 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
· John 16:13-15 - When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
· John 16:26 - the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
· John 17:5 – Jesus says… “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
· John 17:20-23 - I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

What makes sense of all these Jesus-words is what Jesus says in John 14:11. It's the secret of Jesus - what he says, what he does, how he lives. This is "Emmanuel, God with us." 

The relationship Jesus the Son has with the Father is the pattern which Jesus wants to have with you. Just as Jesus lives by means of the Father at work in Him, so you and I can live by means of Jesus at work in us. God wants to move into your heart and live with you.

God As a Trinity of Persons - Some Resources

Michael Brown - "Are You a 'Trinitarian'?"

William Lane Craig, "A Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of the Trinity."

Wayne Grudem - Systematic Theology, Chapter 14.

Wayne Grudem - Christian Beliefs, Chapter 3.

Roger Olson - Finding God In the Shack.  Chapter 3. 

Michael Reeves - Delighting In the Trinity

Stephen Seamands - Ministry In the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Worship.

"The Shack" (movie)

Trinities: Theories About the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (website)

Peter Williams - Understanding the Trinity

READ THEM in this order.

1. Begin with the Brown video.
2. Read the Williams article.
3. Read the Grudem chapter in Christian Beliefs
4. Read Ch. 4 in Grudem's Systematic Theology.
5. Take a break and read Goodnight Moon.
6. Read the Seamands book for excellent practical application!
7. Watch "The Shack."
8. Read Ch. 3 in Olson.
9. Check out the Reeves book.
10. Brew a pot of extra strong coffee.
11. Read Craig's article.

Pregnancy Time: Being Present to God's Presence

Image may contain: outdoor
Fort Street Presbyterian Church, Detroit
Two Greek words are used in the Bible for "time." One is chronos. This refers to "clock time," such as, It is now 7 AM

Chronos is used in Matthew 2:7: Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.

And in Acts 1:6: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

And in several other places.

The second Greek word for "time" is kairos. This refers to "God's timing," in the sense of "the right time," "the opportune time." Just the right moment. Things are coming to a head.

Kairos is used in Matthew 11:25: At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

And in Romans 5:6: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

And in several other places.

Kairos is used when God breaks through and interrupts ordinary time. 

Eugene Peterson writes:

"Time. But not just time in general, abstracted to a geometric grid on a calendar or numbers on a clock face, but what the Greeks named kairos, pregnancy time, being present to the Presence. I never know what is coming next; “Watch therefore.”"  (Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, pp. 7-8)

It is now 7:10 AM. Clock time marches on.

God will give birth to many things today. This day will be filled with the surprises of God. I never know what is coming next.

Breaking Free from Entitlement and Narcissism (Two Sermons)

Image result for john piippo redeemer
Redeemer Church, Monroe

My powerpoint slide for each sermon are with the audio - click on the red icon.

My two books are:

I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Monday, April 23, 2018

Putting Jesus' Words into Practice Has Brought Stability to Me

Michigan spring flowers

I began this Monday by reading more of the Gospel of Matthew, then a section of Proverbs (in The Message). 

I then opened Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, by Dallas Willard. God speaks to me through this book!

I am also slowly re-reading The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson.  Peterson's idea of what a pastor is guides me.  

As I slow-cook in these resources, God talks with me. I write down what I hear God saying. Almost always, this is about me, what God is telling me, how he is leading me, and correcting me.

This morning I read Matthew 7:24. Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

Hearing the words of Jesus without living them out means nothing.

Putting Jesus' words into practice is wisdom, because it brings stability. 

I am certain there is more for me here. I am also certain that I have applied much over forty-eight years of following Jesus, and that my life has been greatly grounded and stabilized as a result. 

My two books are:

I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Do Not Be Tempted By the Shallow Waters of Relevance

Image result for john piippo water

I have some 3X5 cards on my home office desk, next to my computer screen. On these cards are things God has said to me. I keep these messages before me.

One card reads: "Do not be tempted by the shallow waters of relevance. Keep going deeper." (December 19, 2016)

I'm not. And, I am.

One of my spiritually deep mentors is Howard Thurman. He has been a significant influence on my life. I remember, in 1982-1984, praying through A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (the best spiritual-devotional guide ever for pastors and Christian leaders). That's where I met Thurman. I wondered, "Who is this deep person I've never heard of before?"

One influence on Thurman's spiritual life was theologian George Cross. Regarding Cross, Thurman writes: "Everything about me was alive when I came into his presence. He was all stimulus and I was all response." (Luther Smith, Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet, p. 22)

Just before Thurman graduated from seminary Cross said to him:

"All social questions are temporary questions. They are part of the total growth of the race to maturity. If a man's energy goes into social problems, when that is no longer relevant his work is done. You, Howard Thurman, should address yourself to the timeless hunger of the human spirit. Doing so, your greatest capacities will be released." (Ib., 29, emphasis mine)

Keep addressing yourself to the timeless hunger of the human spirit. 

Though the world be shallow, keep going deeper. 

Pastors, take your people deeper. 

That's it for me, too. Because the deeper we go in the human heart, the more we are all the same.


I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation