Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Praying on the "Thank God Ledge"

(From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.) 

Several years ago I watched a "60 Minutes" segment that fully engaged me. I dvr-ed it and showed it to several people. It was on rock climber Alex Honnold's "free solo" of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome is a nearly vertical 2000-foot sheer granite wall. Alex climbs it... without the assistance of ropes or harness. It's just him, his hands, and his tennis shoes. It made me nervous watching him, even though I knew he survived. The shots of him clinging to the wall, with the trees and river a half mile below him, are astounding.

No one else in the world has done this. Perhaps no one else can. Alex's focus is amazing! One cannot help but think: one mistake and you are dead. No second chance. It's either perfection and completeness or total failure. This sport is unforgiving. To conquer Half Dome you have to be perfect.

Nine-tenths of the way up Half Dome there is a place climbers call "Thank God Ledge." This ledge is a 35-foot-long ramp that is anywhere from 5 to 12 inches wide. If a climber can get himself on this ledge he can jam his fingers into small cracks in the wall and "take a break." "Thank God Ledge" is a place of relief. It's a slim moment of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Alex Honnold on
Thank God Ledge
Fortunately, when it comes to God, it's all about forgiveness, mercy, and grace. In Matthew 18 we read: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."" (vv. 21-22) Which means: we just keep on forgiving other people when they fail and when they fall. Why? Because we have been forgiven. Of much. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:13: "Forgive as you have been forgiven."

Thank God that he is forgiving! His forgiveness is not narrow. God's love is wide. Back in the 70s I wrote a song called "How Many Times?" The words go: "How many times we all fall down, broken and bent by the wind. How many times His love comes down, lifts us up again." In the forgiveness of the Cross God has placed us on "Thank God Ledge." When we experience his forgiveness we are lifted up to this place of beauty and rest. It is a place of restoration and healing. When experienced and understood, it provokes praise. When we forgive others we invite them to join us in this place. Unforgiveness lets people fall to their destruction. Forgiveness rescues.

In the Cross of Christ you have been conquered by God.

There's plenty of room on Thank God Ledge. Pray there.

***
My book on prayer is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

My book on leadership is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I'm now working on...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In Praying, God's Peace Overcomes Our Anxiety

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Crossing Lake Michigan on The Badger

A consistent, ongoing praying life brings overcomes the pseudo-wisdom of our fear-driven, anxiety-producing world. For me it looks like this:

1. I abide in Christ, in the act of praying.

2. Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
3. Therefore I overcome the world. (Christ in me, the hope of glory - right?)

My status as a Jesus-follower is that I am "in Christ." Praying, then, actively demonstrates my in-Christ status. As Christ is formed in me (Galatians 4:19) He gives me His peace and joy (John 14:27; 15:11).


Henri Nouwen describes world-overcoming and transformation into Christlikeness:


"When we enter into solitude we will often hear these two voices - the voice of the world and the voice of the Lord - pulling us in two contrary directions. But if we keep returning faithfully to the place of solitude, the voice of the Lord will gradually become stronger and we will come to know and understand with mind and heart the peace we are searching for." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice, 23)


In solitary praying I come to know peace and thus overcome agitation. I am made whole, by Christ, and grow beyond the chaos and fragmentation around me.


***
My two books are:


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Dealing with Anger: Some Resources

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Crossing Lake Michigan on The Badger
Here are some things I have written on dealing with anger.


How to Communicate When In Conflict














Inner Healing - Peace With God, Peace Within (Sermon)

Image result for redeemer fellowship church monroe
Redeemer

I spoke this morning at our HSRM conference on Believing Higher Than Our Experience, with an emphasis on declarations that speak to the peace God has given us.

The sermon I gave at Redeemer on "Inner Healing - Peace With God, Peace Within," is online and can be heard HERE.

My power point slides are included.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Differences Between American Christianity and Biblical Christianity




Linda and I are at our annual HSRM Summer Conference for the week. My Internet access is limited. I'm re-posting this, to keep us focused. Keep these things before you, real followers of Jesus!

***

See Joseph Mattera's "13 Contrasts Between American and Biblical Christianity." The differences are:


  1. American Christianity focuses on individual destiny. The Bible focuses on corporate vision and destiny. Correct. It's the tribe, the community, and less the individual. American churchianity is individuated. Note that the apostle Paul's use of the pronoun "you" is overwhelmingly plural.
  2. American Christianity focuses on individual prosperity. The Bible focuses on stewardship. "Much American preaching today focuses on "our rights in Christ" to be blessed. However, in Scripture the emphasis regarding finances has to do with being blessed by God in order to be a blessing by bringing God's covenant to the Earth (Read Deut. 8:18; 2 Cor. 9:10-11). Jesus promised material blessing only in the context of seeking first His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33)."
  3.  American Christianity focuses on self-fulfillment and happiness. The Bible focuses on glorifying God and serving humanity. In contrast to the Bible "much of the focus from the American pulpit has to do with individual fulfillment and satisfaction."
  4. American Christianity appeals to using faith to attain stability and comfort. The Bible encourages believers to risk life and limb to advance the Kingdom. Read Hebrews 11, THE premier biblical text on the meaning of "faith," the kind of faith that, without which, it is impossible to please God.
  5. American Christianity usually focuses on individual salvation. The Bible deals with individual and systemic redemption.
  6. The American apologetic focuses on human reason. The Bible's apologetic focuses on the power of God and experience. "If the foundation of your faith is human reason, then the first person that has more knowledge than you in science could talk you out of being a Christ-follower. Truly, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not human reason (Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 1:17-23)." BTW - anyone who reads apologists like Bill Craig and J.P. Moreland (and even myself), and thinks our interest in rationally defending our faith is about the primacy of human reason over the God-encounter, has misunderstood us.
  7. American believers have a consumerist mentality regarding a home church. The biblical emphasis is being equipped for the ministry. See here, and here. Mattera notes: "Americans shop for a church today based on what meets their personal and family needs the best. It is almost like a supermarket mentality of one-stop shopping." The Consumer Church, as Eugene Peterson has said, is an Antichrist Church.
  8. American Christianity promotes a culture of entertainment. The Bible promotes the pursuit of God. See here.    
  9. American Christianity depends upon services within a building. The biblical model promotes a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following. Mattera writes: "Most of the miracles in the book of Acts and the gospels took place outside a building in the context of people's homes and in the marketplace. In Acts 2 and 4, the churches met house-to-house, not just in the temple. The man at the gate was healed before he went into the temple (Acts 3), which caused an even greater revival to take place."
  10. American Christianity is about efficiency. The biblical model is about effectiveness. "Often, the American church is modeled more after the secular corporate model rather than the biblical model. The church is not an organization, but an organism that should be organized!"
  11. In American Christianity the pastor is elected. In the biblical model God calls the pastor. 
  12. In American Christianity the individual interprets the Bible. In the New Testament the hermeneutical community interprets the Bible.
  13. American Christianity trains its leaders in Bible colleges. Biblical Christianity nurtures leaders through personal mentoring. "Biblically, leaders were not sent outside of the context of a local church to be trained for the ministry. They were nurtured personally in the context of congregational life by church leaders acting as mentors (as the Apostle Paul did with Timothy; as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 19; and as Barnabas did with John Mark in Acts 15)."
This is going to be a tough one. Most people won't want the biblical model. They won't recognize it. 

Pastors - if you transition from the American Church to the Biblical Church you will lose some people, and gain some disciples.



***
My two books are:


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Friday, June 22, 2018

Be a Thermostat, Not a Thermometer

Boat, on Lake Michigan

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

A thermometer reacts to the environment, going up and down as a response to external conditions.

A thermostat sets the temperature and influences the environment. The environment responds, going up and down as a response to internal conditions.

Thomas Merton saw many persons living as automatons, "no longer moved from within, but only from outside themselves. They no longer make decisions for themselves, but let them be made for them." (Through the Year with Thomas Merton, p. 108)

Merton continues,

"Such a man no longer acts upon the outside world, but lets it act on him. He is propelled through life by a series of collisions with outside forces. His is no longer the life of a human being, but the existence of a sentient billiard ball, a being without purpose and without any deeply valid response to reality." (Ib., p. 109)

***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

I am currently writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation


Morality Needs God

Jerusalem

One Isis horror story goes like this. Isis members raped a mother in front of her children. She was crying and screaming while being raped. The one of the Isis persons beheaded her baby in front of her and placed the baby on her lap.

Call this example X. Write X into a moral claim: X is wrong.

Is X objectively wrong? If so, then the claim X is wrong is true for everyone, just as I'm now typing these words is true for everyone. 

Many believe that if God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values. On atheism X is wrong is not an objective claim; viz., it is not true for everyone. 

It's not hard to find intellectual atheists who believe that God and objective morality stand or fall together. That is, who believe that if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Here are some examples.

Jean-Paul Sartre: “It [is] very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him.” (Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotion, 22)

Friedrich Nietzsche: “There are altogether no moral facts”; indeed, morality “has truth only if God is the truth— it stands or falls with faith in God.” (Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist, 55, 70)

Bertrand Russell rejected moral realism and retained the depressing view that humanity with all its achievements is nothing “but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms”; so we must safely build our lives on “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” (Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, 41)

J. L. Mackie: “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful all-powerful god to create them.” (Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, 115)

Richard Dawkins concludes that a universe of “just electrons and selfish genes” would mean “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, 132-133)

Because real atheism is philosophical naturalism, and nature (matter) is valueless, "why think that value would emerge from valuelessness?" (Paul Copan, "Ethics Needs God," in Debating Christian Theism, 86)

The atheist who, e.g., accuses Christians of being "intellectually dishonest," tacitly assumes the existence of God, without which his moral accusation is logically incoherent. Such an "atheist" is the despicable, intellectually dishonest "village atheist" Nietzsche writes about. 

***
My two books are:


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

I am currently writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What Is the Purpose of a University, and a Church?

Flowers, in my back yard

(A few thoughts I have on Stanley Fish's recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the  cultural analysis as helpful in understanding the meaning of "world" in Romans 12:1, and expectations of the same effect on the Church as on the University.)

As American educators know, the idea of the "university" as an institution for a broad education for life is going. This especially affects the liberal arts. 

Attendance in the humanities is low. In response, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point is proposing to eliminate 13 majors, including history, art, English, philosophy, sociology, political science, French, German, and Spanish. (See here.) 

What is the purpose of a university? Is it to educate? Or, is it to function like a trade school, preparing clients for career opportunities? Stanley Fish thinks it is the former. He writes: "The university’s obligation is to be true to what it is and to resist turning over its mechanism of judgment and decision-making to some purpose not internal to its proper operations."

We must, writes Fish, identity the university's "core activity." 

Fish believes universities have surrendered to metricization. "The rest of the world is preaching instrumentalism, assessment, outcomes, employment statistics, and metrics."

That is American culture. Universities are near-fully conformed to its worldview. Hence, the university is no longer a university. Fish thinks the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point should remove the word "university" from its appellation.

The same point can be made about the Church in America. Much of it has been shaped into this world's mold. How can we know this? We can infer it when the language of the Church is increasingly instrumentalist, using assessments, outcomes, statistics, and metrics (How many? How big? How much?).

When such methods and concerns predominate, the Church's core discipling and equipping functions are less attended, and perhaps eventually removed. (The Church as equipping people for ministry, which has nothing to do with entertainment.) The purpose of the Church is lost. The appellation "Church" should be removed.

Followers of Jesus have an obligation to be true to what Church is. We must resist turning the Church over to some purpose not internal to its proper operation. 

WARNING: THIS WILL NOT BE POPULAR.

Because, in our world's mold, "only what can be measured is worth knowing." (Ib.)


***
My two books are:


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 



Shame, Abuse, and Grace

Silver maple leaf on my red front porch

I sat in my office with a man who had been verbally abusing me. I asked him, "Can we just pray for love for each other?" My thought was that, as Jesus-followers, we're even supposed to love our enemies, and apparently that would be me, for him.

My appeal for love did not reach him. It was as if I never said those words. He kept on defaming me, in person and behind my back.


Where did his wrath come from? I don't think it was about me. I think it came from a heart of shame. Many abusers of others are shame-filled people (the relationship between shame and abuse is asymmetric). Sprouting from the root of shame, the shaming of others grows. 


Others exist as threats to the shame-based person. So they call others words like "Nothing," or "Stupid," or "Amateur" (which is how this man referred to me), or whatever. In this way the shame-filled abuser ensures, at least in his own mind, and sometimes in the captive minds of the ones they abuse, their superior status in the honor-shame hierarchy. They "put down" others so that they might rise up.


Shame-filled people don't experience grace. The abusers among them are graceless and merciless. Shame-filled abusers can feed off the failures of others. They may love to see others fail and fall. They may gossip and slander about the failure of others, justifying their own existence as somebodies. The declared nothingness of others becomes the somethingness of the shame-filled abuser.


Most people struggle with pride and shame. I know I have. Both are forms of self-obsession and, as such, other-dissonant. These two sides of the same coin are killers for the struggler, and for the people in their lives. I have battled these twin evils. Thankfully, there is an answer in the grace of God. As I experientially understand grace, I find myself more grace-filled towards others.


Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.


(For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve.


The best book on "grace" is Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? See also Yancey's Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? )



***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I'll Be at My Favorite Conference Soon!

Make Your Way to the...
Holy Spirit Renewal Conference, June 24-28.
You can register online or at-the-door.
God makes a way in the wilderness for His people!
Receive a touch from God and
a double portion of His blessing.
Rest in His love and experience His presence.
Reignite with fresh power, anointing & purpose.
Awesome messages, awesome worship, awesome workshops, awesome healings, awesome miracles,
awesome friendships.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Is. 43:19