Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

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

Image result for redeemer fellowship church monroe

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.

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. 


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

Monday, June 18, 2018

There Are No Levels In the Kingdom of God

Norjo Cafe, Monroe, MI

To understand what God is doing in Christ it is important to understand honor/shame hierarchies. 

Every culture has them. For example, when I was growing up I learned that we were "middle class." This meant there were people above us (better than us; better off than us), and people below us (worse than us; worse off than us). 

The honor/shame hierarchy is the realm of all competition, comparison, jealousy, slander, flattery, pride, and shame. The soul of the kingdom of darkness is measurement on the honor/shame hierarchy. 

In the kingdom of God honor/shame hierarchies do not exist. We see this in the song Mary sings, recorded in Luke chapter one. God, in his greatness and mercy, 

has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

The tearing down of the honor/shame hierarchy is magnificent and breathtaking! Now, in Christ, life is different. Eugene Peterson writes, "There are no higher levels in the life of Christ - only following him." (In Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor, 1%)

Just following Jesus, without competing. Cheering and championing one another along, with everyone wearing the victory crown. 

To study honor/shame cultures go to

In my book I share how a praying life lifts us off the prevailing honor/shame hierarchy - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

See also Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Saturday, June 16, 2018

If God Knows What We Will Choose in the Future Does this Mean We Don't Have Free Will?

(I am re-posting this for a student who asked me this question in our discussion of Alvin Plantinga's refutation of J. L. Mackie's argument attempting to show that theism is logically incoherent.)

Invariably, in my logic and philosophy of religion classes, a student will ask this question: If God knows what I am going to do, then it seems I have no choice but to do it? But that does not follow, logically. God's foreknowledge is not incompatible with libertarian free will. To think so is to have made a mistake in modal logic. 

Here G = God knows John will eat an orange tonight.

O = John will eat an orange tonight.

~ = 'not.'

  = 'possible'

= 'If..., then'

 = 'and'

The following statement is True:  ~(G  ~O) [It is not possible that God knows John will eat an orange tonight and John not eat an orange tonight.]

The following statement is False (this is a modal fallacy):  G ~~O [If God knows John will eat an orange tonight than it is not possible that John not eat an orange tonight. Or: If God knows John will eat an orange tonight than it is logically necessary that John eat an orange tonight. There is nothing logically necessary about John eats an orange tonight.]

Here's some explanation.


1. Some say, “If God knows what choices people are going to make, then we do not have free will in making those choices.”

2. Plantinga (and others) show that this reasoning is not logical. It commits a fallacy in modal logic.

3. Modal logic concerns the different “modes” of the verb “to be.”
a. The 3 modes of “to be” are:
i. Possibility
ii. Probability
iii. Necessity

b. Consider the statement: The coffee in this cup is hot. On modal logic, is this statement true?
i. Possibly? Yes.
ii. Probably? Yes (more or less).
iii. Necessarily? No.

c. If the statement The coffee in this cup is hot were necessarily true, then the coffee in the cup could not not be hot. But that is impossible.
d. No contingent statement can be necessarily true. To claim that is commit a modal fallacy.

4. Consider the statement John will eat an orange tonight. (Call this J)
a. Is this possible? Yes.
b. Is this probable? Yes (more or less).
c. Is this necessarily true? No. Because if it were, then John could not not eat an orange tonight.
d. What if the statement is false. Is it then necessarily false? No.

5. Let G mean: God knows John will eat an orange tonight.

6. Call this Statement 1:
a. It is not possible that (G and not-J).
b. Statement 1 is true. It claims that it is not possible for event G and event not-J to obtain.
c. It’s equivalent to saying, e.g.: It is not possible for both John to be a bachelor and for John to be married.

7. Consider Statement 2, which commits the modal fallacy:
a. If G, then it is not possible that not-J.
b. This reads: If God knows that John will eat an orange tonight, then it is not possible that John will not eat an orange tonight.
c. But that ascribes logical necessity to a contingent event. It thus commits the modal fallacy.
d. (Using our “bachelor” analogy, the following is false: If John is a bachelor, then it is not possible for John not to be a bachelor. Wrong. Because it is possible for John to not be a bachelor. There is no logical necessity involved in John’s being a bachelor.

To see this argument, complete with modal symbols, go to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Foreknowledge and Free Will,” Section 6.

See also Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 517 ff..  

Why Westernized Christians Don't Pray, and the Implications of Prayerlessness

Flowers in our backyard

The Church in America has lost the culture wars. (See here, e.g.,) How can we regain the vast moral and spiritual ground we have lost?

I think, and pray, about this a lot. I ask God for wisdom and discernment, and what I am to do. This morning the often-quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14 is before me.

 If my people, who are called by my name,
will humble themselves and pray and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.

What a great promise! Yet, sadly, most American Christians are too busy to pray, men more than women. 

This verse is about a "constant praying life," not a few multitasked prayers tossed upwards for a parking space. This is ongoing praying, consistent God-seeking. If American Christians did that, then watch out for the Church!

In the process of encouraging people to pray as conversation-with-God, I often hear the following, from Western Jesus-followers: "I don't have time to pray 30-60 minutes a day!" ("I'm too busy on social media!"

But, if the Jesus-follower is from a Third World country, like ancient Israel in the time of Jesus, they have time to pray. 

What's going on? My answer is: the more Westernized a person is, the less they take time to meet and talk with God; the less Westernized a person is, the more they take time to meet and talk with God.

I estimate that 80% of European and North American pastors and Christian leaders do not have a significant praying life. By this I mean that they do not take time to actually pray. By "taking time" I mean more than saying a blessing over dinner, or multi-tasked "praying." By "significant," I mean something like an hour or more a day. I mean something like Jesus did, habitually.

My estimate comes from teaching and coaching over 3000 pastors and leaders, over a period forty years. Many, many pastors have confessed this to me.

The statistics flip for pastors and leaders who are from Third World contexts. 80% of them have a significant prayer life. When they attend my prayer and spiritual formation seminary classes, they already have a quantitative praying life in place. They pray... a lot. 

European and North American clergy, on the other hand, find themselves "too busy to pray." They find it hard to "fit in" times of actual praying. Why is this so?

The reasons Westernized Christians don't pray, and Third World Christians do, include these.

  1. SENSE OF NEED: More access to human helping agencies lowers the desperation level. But when I was, e.g., teaching and speaking in India, the lack of access to medical care, education, jobs, etc. was massive. One could only turn to God, in prayer. So in India I found pastors who were praying people. The less felt need there is, the less one prays; the more felt need there is, the more one prays.
  2. NEED TO CONTROL: Westernized Christians live under the general cultural illusion that they are in control of life; Third World non-westernized Christians live in a cultural world where human control is minimal at best; hence, they appeal to God (or gods, or spirits) for help. The more one feels in control of life, the less one prays; the less one feels in control of life, the more one prays.
  3. TIME: The more stuff a person has, the less they pray. Much of their life is dictated by their stuff, which demands much time protecting, arranging, storing, repairing, cleaning, cultivating, etcing. Stuff demands time. On the other hand, the less personal ownership, the more actual time to pray. The busier one is the less one has time to pray; the less stuff one has, the more one has time to pray.
The typical European and North American Jesus-follower has little felt need, is under the illusion that they can control things, and is afflicted with burnout-busyness. As these three elements converge, the God-relationship is virtually gone.

James Houston
writes: "To pray is to declare loyalty to a spiritual reality above and beyond the human realm of self-effort and control."

Will it be heart-loyalty to "things above," or "things below?" The answer to this question will determine whether or not a Christian prays. And that will determine whether or not the American Church wakes from its slumber. 

I am now writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Friday, June 15, 2018

Answering Before Listening is Stupid

Maumee Bay State Park (Ohio)

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.

Proverbs 18:13
The Message

Listen, for the purpose of understanding.

Understand first. Answer afterwards.

For example, two years ago I began having a sharp pain in my leg. The pain was accompanied by swelling. I went to my doctor. He asked about the soreness. He felt the swelling. He wasn't sure what the cause was.

"We're going to run some tests."

Blood work was done. I had a Doppler ultrasound.

The ultrasound showed a blood clot in my leg.

Only then was my doctor in a position to prescribe treatment. I was put on a blood thinner for six months. Plus, he gave me further instructions (wearing support stockings; avoid sitting too long).

First, he "listened" to the test results. Only then did he give an answer.

Of course. A doctor who prescribes without diagnosis is an idiot.

It is the same in our relationships. To answer without first understanding is stupid.

I am now writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Be Read by the Bible

Linda, on one of our Michigan beaches

When I lead a prayer retreat or a spiritual formation class I send the students out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. I tell them that they are not to exegete the verses, but instead be exegeted by them, via God's Spirit. This is an anti-Cartesian, anti-Western hermeneutic. It's more Jewish than American, and has affinities with the hermeneutical theory of Hans-Georg Gadamer in his book Truth and Method. There is an interplay between the text and the reader, with the text being-read by the self and the self being-read by the text.

The idea is that God, through the biblical text, knows you. Therefore place yourself before the text and be interpreted. This syncs with the idea in the book of Hebrews which describes the word of God as living and active and like a sword that penetrates your deepest being. The result is a knowing by being-known. The text is no longer a dispassionate object of study but is more like a passionate surgeon opening you up and studying you.

Henri Nouwen, in his book 
Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, writes about this:

"Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual life." (Nouwen, Discernment, pp. 41-42)


I am now writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pastors Are Unnecessary in Three Ways


I am a pastor. I am thankful that God called me to this. It is instructive to understand what I am not called to; viz., I am not called to be a custodian of the prevailing culture.

Eugene Peterson calls pastors "countercultural servants of Jesus Christ." He writes: "We want to be free of the Egyptian slavery to the culture and free to serve our wilderness world in Jesus' name." (Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Location 70)

Pastors, writes Peterson, are "unnecessary," in three ways.

1. "We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness." (Ib.)

There's a man in my community who is a leader. He's not a follower of Jesus. Whenever he sees me he calls me "Reverend." I have asked him not to do this. "Just call me John," I say. He has a hard time complying with my request.

When he calls me this he reduces me to something kindly and benevolent. He puts me in a box. He doesn't understand that, while kindness and niceness can be good, I am called to subvert and overthrow his thoughtless secularism. He doesn't realize it, but I don't fit into his happy world. Or, he does realize it, sees me as a threat, and imprisons me as the benign Reverend. Or, he mindlessly accepts the label which insulates him from me. 

As a pastor my world is about the realities of life and death, freedom and bondage, meaningfulness and meaninglessness, love and hate, hope and despair. My calling is to reality, not some role culture assigns to me.

2. "We are... unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together." (Ib.)

When I assign pastors to pray I request that they leave their cell phones behind, because God wants to break them of the illusion of their indispensability. It is important for them to grasp the fact that none of us are indispensable. God doesn't need us. God loves us, and wants to use us for his kingdom's sake. But his redemptive activity does not rise or fall with us.

Peterson writes: "We have important work to do, but if we don't do it God can always find someone else - and probably not a pastor."

3. "We are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition."

Peterson writes:

Congregations "want pastors who lead. They want pastors the way the Israelites wanted a king - to make hash of the Philistines. Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous...

With hardly an exception they don't want pastors at all - they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother with following Jesus anymore." 

My two books are - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Leading the Presence-Driven Church