Sunday, September 30, 2018

Self-Attention and Self-Abuse Cease When Honor/Shame Hierarchies Are Removed


(This is an idea in progress...)

When Jesus came he did away with cultural honor-shame hierarchies. You see this in Luke chapter 1. Mary sings her song of the new status-realities her son is going to bring in. With Jesus it will be an upside-down world of inverted hierarchies.

Eventually this will be seen as the abolition of hierarchies in the Pauline observation that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.

With this the gate is opened whereby subhumanity might enter into true humanity, where the false self might be exchanged for the true self. This is because self-adoration, self-hate, self-pity, self-centeredness, self-will, self-hiding, and self-ignorance all depend for their existence on the honor-shame hierarchy. All such punishing aspects of the false self are rooted in the comparative evaluation of the self as essentially against other subhuman selves. (One is always, simultaneously, "above" and "below" others.)

The honor-shame hierarchy excludes and never embraces. This is where questions like "Who is the greatest?" are asked, and people say "Thank God I am not like that other person." On the honor-shame hierarchy the "other" is essentially one's opponent.

But in the incarnation, the Greatest became the Least to bestow kingdom status on all who come to him. (This, BTW, is the core idea behind James Cone's theology of the Christ as black.)


On the "reversal motif" in the song of Mary see R. John Vijayaraj, "Human Rights Concerns In the Lukan Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5 - 2:52)."

On honor-shame hierarchies in New Testament times see Joel Green,The Gospel of LukeOf the four gospels Luke is the most socially concerned.

To further study honor/shame hierarchies see

My two books are:

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Maintaining the Appearance of Happiness

Room, in our house

Donna Freitas writes: "The appearance of happiness has become so prized in our culture that it takes precedence over a person’s actual happiness." (Freitas, The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost, p. xvii)

Note the subtitle of her book: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost.

Christian Smith, in his Foreward to Freitas' book, comments:

"In our attempts to appear happy, to distract ourselves from our deeper, sometimes darker thoughts, we experience the opposite effect. In trying to always appear happy, we rob ourselves of joy. And after talking to nearly two hundred college students and surveying more than eight hundred, I worry that social media is teaching us that we are not worthy. That it has us living in a perpetual and compulsive loop of such feedback. That in our constant attempts to edit out our imperfections for massive public viewing, we are losing sight of the things that ground our life in connection and love, in meaning and relationships. 
Our brave faces are draining us. We’re losing sight of our authentic selves." (Ib., pp. xvi-xvii)

So what is the answer? You must go deep. It will explain a lot of things, including what's now happening in America.

Augustine understood the depth of our human condition. He wrote of our estrangement from God due to succumbing to three temptations: "the love of power, the pervasiveness of lust, and our inability to find contentment." (Richard Foster, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion)

These three temptations keep our hearts in a turbulent mess. We are reminded it was Augustine who wrote that, because God made us for himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in him. Centuries later Henri Nouwen prayed, Augustine-like, asking God if the restless seas in his heart would ever settle down.

Augustine's answer was this: 

"When we are unable to rise above our own self-love, we manufacture all kinds of diversions in an attempt to find a happiness that endures. But eventually we realize that nothing in this life provides the happiness and joy that come from God alone.... Our only hope for enduring happiness is to discover the enduring restlessness of our spirit." (Foster, 29. Emphasis mine.)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

Friday, September 28, 2018

Pray for America

Recently I was watching a professional sporting event. One team was not doing well. A few of the players were turning on each other. One player was in the face of the coach, angrily pointing his finger and shouting obscenities. This team is in trouble.

Years ago I did a weekend conference at a church. As I spoke the first evening, the people seemed attentive and friendly. But below the surface there was tension. Some of the leaders were fighting. Anger levels were high. Conflict was losing the day. This church was in trouble, perched on the precipice of ruin.

Linda and I are privileged to meet with many marital couples. Sometimes we engage in healing these relationships. When a marital couple cannot coexist in loving unity (not total uniformity), their marriage is in trouble. Hopelessness occupies their house.

Jesus understood this when he said,

Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, 
and a house divided against itself will fall.
Luke 11:17

It's morning in an America that is deeply divided against itself. If America remains this way, it will be ruined. If America remains this way, it will fall.

To my fellow followers of Jesus: Let us pray for America. For our leaders. 

More specifically, pray for our churches, 

that they would be awakened and revived to exemplify communicating the truth in love, 

that they would seek first God's kingdom before all earthly powers, 

that God would come upon us in heavenly power,

and that the Church would rise up, 

for such a time as this.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

If There Is No God, then Right and Wrong Don't Exist (Moral Nihilism)

My back yard

If I was an atheist I would be forced to conclude that morality does not exist. It could not exist, because my atheism would be committed to metaphysical naturalism.

On naturalism (aka physicalism), reality is physical. There are no non-physical facts; hence, no moral facts.

I believe I would find fellow atheists, who express moral outrage, to be odd in the sense of self-contradictory. If morality did not exist, what is the sense of moral outrage?

Attempts to extract morality out of naturalism are akin to pulling rabbits out of hats. It appears that University of Virginia professors James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky agree.

In there forthcoming book Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (October 2018), Hunter and Nedelisky argue for the following.

  • Efforts to derive morality from naturalism have repeatedly failed.
  • In the end, science cannot tell us how we should live or why we should be good and not evil, and this is for both philosophical and scientific reasons.
  • In the face of this failure, naturalists (the "new moral scientists") have concluded that right and wrong, because they are not amenable to scientific study, don't actually exist.
  • This is moral nihilism.
  • Moral nihilism turns the science of morality into a social engineering problem.
  • If there is nothing moral for science to discover, the science of morality becomes, at best, a program to achieve arbitrary societal goals.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

REVIVAL - Why Not You?

Leaving Christianity for All the Wrong Reasons

Literati Bookstore, in Ann Arbor

When I was a child, I thought like a child.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13

I have met people who say this: "I once was a Christian. But I have left Christianity because _____________." 

You can fill in the blank. The answers vary, on the surface. But mostly the core is the same. Correctly, it should read: "I left Christianity because my faith was childish."

This is what Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age, calls a classic "subtraction story." Taylor writes:

“The core of the subtraction story consists in this, that we only needed to get these perverse and illusory condemnations off our back, and the value of ordinary human desire shines out, in its true nature, as it has always been.” (Secular Age, 253)

Behind such deconversions often lies an intellectually restrictive fundamentalism. This makes the transformation more likely. As Taylor says, "the more childish one's faith, the easier the flip-over." (Ib., 307)

I meet deconverted students in my philosophy classes. I see that they have never seriously studied Mere Christianity and its advocates. I have talked with people who:

1. Had a childish version of Christianity.
2. Believed their childish version was real Christianity.
3. Knocked down their straw-man version of Christianity.
4. Declared "Christianity" false and became an atheist.

Their defense of 2 is fundamentalist. This makes them impossible to reason with. 

Taylor asks us to look deeper into the dynamics of the "secular age" we inhabit. Commenting on Taylor, Collin Hanson writes:

"Faith is now more difficult than unbelief. We’re adrift in stormy seas of doubt—every man, woman, and child fighting for the lifeboat of belief. Something fundamental has shifted in Western culture that runs deeper than outward changes in technology. So what happened? That’s the question Taylor seeks to answer." (In 
Hansen, Collin. Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor, p. 4.)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

The Bible Gives Us a Story That is True

Detroit Public Library

Stories more easily stay in me than logical arguments. I value logic. I like formulating and evaluating arguments. I taught logic and critical thinking for seventeen years at Monroe County Community College. But I remember a good story after the first hearing.

Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, reasons that stories are revolutionary and subversive precisely because they are so memorable. A story can get inside a person and, like a Trojan horse, capture a human heart from the inside.

Like N. T. Wright and many others, Peterson sees the Bible as essentially a story that conveys truth. "The Bible as a whole comes to us in the form of a narrative." (5) 

A tale, replete with fire and wind, signifying truth.
    For example, it is within a "large, sprawling narrative" that Mark writes his Gospel. (Note: compare Peterson with N.T. Wright's The Last Word, and the Bible as a "5-Act Play.")
      Stories convey truth in ways prose and sheer logical arguments cannot. I teach logic to undergraduates, so I have some idea of what I'm talking about. Peterson writes:

      "Storytelling creates a world of presuppositions, assumptions, and relations into which we enter. Stories invite us into a world other than ourselves, and, if they are good and true stories, a world larger than ourselves. Bible stories are good and true stories, and the world that they invite us into is the world of God's creation and salvation and blessing." (5)
        Stories master us, rather than us mastering them.
          The biblical story (the Wrightian "Grand Narrative") is "large" and "capacious." That is, the biblical narrative has "great containing capacity." Within this capacious story "we learn to think accurately, behave morally, preach passionately, sing joyfully, pray honestly, obey faithfully." (5)
            Dare not to abandon the story! Do so and you've reduced "reality to the [meagre, non-capacious] dimensions of our minds and feelings and experience." (5)

            Peterson writes: "The moment we formulate our doctrines, draw up our moral codes, and throw ourselves into a life of ministry apart from a continuous re-immersion in the story itself, we walk right out of the presence and activity of God and set up our own shop." (5)
              Centuries of Hebrew storytelling find their mature completion in the story of Jesus. 
                If I was God, and wanted the best mode of communicating to my children, would I choose logical argumentation or stories? Obviously, stories. People go to the movies to watch narratives, not monological argumentation. (A good example is "Dunkirk" last week, which weaves three stories together.)

                "'Story'," writes Peterson, "is the Holy Spirit's dominant form of revelation. [It's] why we adults, who like posing as experts and managers of life, so often prefer explanation and information." (4)

                Wednesday, September 26, 2018

                John Maxwell - 10 Guidelines for Dealing with Sexual Temptation

                Weaverville, California

                One of the most impactful sermons I have ever experienced was at the first PromiseKeepers event I went to, in Indianapolis. The speaker was John Maxwell. He preached on "10 Guidelines for Dealing with Sexual Temptation." After Maxwell gave Guideline #1 the place was electric. I felt, at that moment, that 20,000 men were ready to walk in total sexual purity.

                John Maxwell’s 10 Guidelines (For Men) For Dealing With Sexual Temptation

                1. RUN!

                “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

                "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18)

                2. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

                "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)

                Every time we choose righteousness, we not only become closer to God, but stronger in our ability to resist temptation.

                3. BE ACCOUNTABLE - John Maxwell's list of accountability questions:

                Are you spending time alone with God?

                Are you in studying the Bible?

                Are you praying?

                Is your thought life pure?

                Have you seen something you shouldn't see (movies, magazines, Internet)?

                Are you misusing your power on the job? At home?

                Are you walking in total obedience to God? (Remember, partial obedience is disobedience.)

                Have you lied about any of the previous questions?

                4.LISTEN TO YOUR WIFE

                5. BE ON GUARD

                Seldom travel alone.

                When you have to travel, call your wife every night.

                Talk positively about your wife to others.

                Choose friends wisely. "Bad company corrupts good character." ( Corinthians 15:33)


                "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

                "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)


                "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!" (1 Corinthians 6:15)


                "But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself." (Proverbs 6:32)

                "For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life." (Proverbs 6:26)

                9. THINK OF YOUR CHILDREN


                Maxwell's definition is: Success is having those who are the closest to me love and respect me the most.

                One Day Jesus Was Praying


                I am reading, slowly, through the Gospel of Luke. This morning I began in Luke 11:1:

                One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.

                I can't get past this verse. It's enough for me.

                The verse does not say:

                One day Jesus thought about praying.

                It doesn't read:

                One day Jesus desired to pray, but didn't have time for it.

                It's not:

                One day Jesus read a book about praying.


                One day Jesus said "I believe in the power of prayer."

                It does say:

                One day Jesus was praying.

                One day Jesus was actually doing it.

                One day Jesus was engaged in praying. 

                One day Jesus, my Lord, my exemplar, my mentor, was spending considerable time talking with God. 

                One of his followers saw him doing this. This follower was so impressed that he wanted to do what Jesus was doing. Which was: communicating with the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

                When Jesus finished dialoguing with God, the follower who desired to do the same said to Jesus, "Mentor, teach us to do what you just did."

                Everything I have to say about praying is in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

                Tuesday, September 25, 2018

                My Photo Book - A Missions Project

                I've created a book of some of my photos, plus quotes from my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church. (Hardcover. 12X12.)

                It costs me $48 to make one book (includes S&H).

                For $100 you can have one - the $52 profit goes entirely to missionaries we support at Redeemer.

                Send a check for $100 payable to Redeemer Fellowship Church. Please indicate: "for photo book."

                Redeemer Fellowship Church
                5305 Evergreen
                Monroe, MI

                Include a note with your mailing (shipping) address.

                If you are with our Redeemer family and want to do this please give your check to Stella, our office manager. I'll order a book for you.


                Needed: Pastors as Spiritual Directors


                What is a "pastor?" Eugene Peterson says a pastor is, essentially, a spiritual director. One who guides and leads his flock into the life of God's kingdom. A pastor is not to be understood as a CEO, religious shop-keeper, Bible expositor, apostolic entrepreneur, or counselor.

                One book that has shaped my understanding of "pastor" is Eugene Peterson's 
                The Contemplative Pastor. I've read this book at least three times. I place it on my Top Ten Best Books Ever Read list.

                This morning my attention is again drawn to Peterson via Scot McKnight's revisiting of him 

                Adjectives that would describe a pastor include: "unbusy," "subversive," and "apocalyptic." We don't see that in a lot of pastors. Peterson has said:

                “If you listen to a Solzhenitsyn or Bishop Tutu, or university students from Africa or South America, they don’t see a Christian land. They see something almost the reverse of a Christian land. … They see a lot of greed and arrogance. And they see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.”


                As George Barna discovered, ongoing spiritual formation into Christlikeness is almost nonexistent in the American church. McKnight writes: "The assumption was that the reception of correct doctrine by people who sat “under the Word” would automatically create the expression of correct, Christ-following lives. “Preach the Word in season and out…” “Preach the whole counsel of God!” It was as if the Great Commission was “Preach the Word” not “Make disciples of all nations.” The church-at-large had become horribly ingrown and self-seeking."

                McKnight attended a Q&A session with Peterson in New York City. He writes:

                "Peterson and his, wife, Jan, were the main guests of Gabe Lyons’ Q-ideas sessions in New York City. Through the generosity of good friends, I was able to attend. I was struck by the attendance of many young, enthusiastic leaders who affirmed the steadfast vision that Eugene offered for the pastor. I was one of the older attendees. Peterson has weathered the storm of much contentious push-back on his vision of pastor, but his gracious, persistent voice is still strong and magnetic, kind and discerning. Eugene is now the pastors’ pastor."

                Though I've never met him, Eugene is certainly one of my pastors.


                My two books are:

                Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
                Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
                I'm working on:
                How God Changes the Human Heart
                Technology and Spiritual Formation
                Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

                The Neural Highway that Flows from the Throne of God

                Lake Erie shoreline

                One of my former seminary students wrote me and said: "You may not remember me but I took your spiritual formation and I fell off the wagon in my daily prayer and meditation! Are there any words of wisdom on how you have been able to maintain your daily commitment!"

                I responded:

                Here's how I've been able to maintain my commitment.
                1. Forty-two years ago I was feeling tired and burned out in ministry. I read Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. I felt moved to carve out time to get alone with God and talk with Him and listen. So, I did.
                2. To my surprise and delight, God powerfully and personally met me. God spoke to me, and I journaled like a mad person. This made me want to meet alone with God more.
                3. A desire, a fire, was kindled in my heart. I chose to tend it, to keep it burning. So I continued regularly meeting with God. 
                4. I began to see God changing my heart. Most of this was slow growth. It was real, enduring progress in the spiritual life. My journal became a record of all that God was doing within me.
                5. My ministry more and more became God ministering to and through me. Being a follower of Jesus began to look and feel different. I liked the feeling. I liked what I saw happening. I saw that this was all on the part of God, what God was doing within me. I found my worship increasing as I easily gave glory and credit to God for any good fruit produced in and through me.
                6. As the months and years passed by a "holy habit" was formed in me. A new, living, neural pathway was created by God, through which his living waters of grace and love and power flowed. I did not, and have since not, wanted to stop meeting with God to experience him. I meet with God regularly because God has met with me and transformed my desires, experience, and knowledge.
                7. I heard there was supposedly a sign on the Alaskan highway where the pavement turned to dirt. It read: "Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next hundred miles." I have chosen a good rut. I live in the groove, swim in the neural highway that flows from the throne of God.
                My two books are:

                Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

                Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

                I'm working on:

                How God Changes the Human Heart

                Technology and Spiritual Formation

                Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

                Monday, September 24, 2018

                The Constant Blamer Is the Perpetual Victim

                Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

                Linda and I strongly recommend John Townsend's recent book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way.

                One of the bitter fruits of entitlement is externalization. Townsend writes: "People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem." (p. 61)

                The worship songs of externalization are...

                "It's Them, It's Them, It's Them O Lord, Standin' in the Need of Prayer," and...

                "Change Their Hearts, O God." 

                Externalization-people fail to look at their part in their problems. "Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (Ib.)

                The classic victim mentality is:

                "Yes, I did what was wrong. But you forced me to do it." This is a testimony to human character weakness. The characterless "victim" persists in recruiting other characterless people for the self-justification of evil. They engage in perpetual destruction of others, not to mention their own soul.

                "Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." 

                The constant blamer is the perpetual victim. The antidote to this bondage is to reject forces outside yourself and take responsibility for your own choices and attitudes. Be open to seeing yourself as the problem. Reject a global victimization that views yourself as someone who is always being "done to," and own your own part in your problems. 

                Forgive those who have trespassed on your heart. Take responsibility for your own trespassing.

                My two books are:

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

                Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

                I'm working on:

                How God Changes the Human Heart

                Technology and Spiritual Formation

                Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

                Sunday, September 23, 2018

                Wisdom Is Beyond Information and Knowledge

                Gull Lake, Michigan

                In the biblical books of Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, the pinnacle of humanity's search for meaning is wisdom. Not information. Not knowledge. Wisdom. 

                Many use the Internet to access information. Beyond that, few matriculate to knowledge. Precious few beyond that graduate to wisdom.

                "For all its resources, the digital humanities makes a rookie mistake: It confuses more information for more knowledge. DH [The digital humanities] doesn’t know why it thinks it knows what it does not know. And that is an odd place for a science to be." (Timothy Brennan, "The Digital-Humanities Bust," The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 17, 2017)

                Brennan, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, goes on to say that the Digital-Humanities promotes ""digitization, classification, description and metadata, organization, and navigation." An amazing list, which leaves out that contradictory and negating quality of what is normally called "thinking." It would be a mistake to see this banishment of the concept as the passive by-product of a technical constraint. It is the aim of the entire operation." (Emphasis mine.)

                It leaves out....   thinking. Few are the thinkers; fewer yet are the wise. Information is not knowledge, and is further yet from wisdom. (See The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Tom Nichols.)

                Wisdom is a deep well, requiring a lifetime spent in focus and discipline. Wisdom is a mile deep and an inch wide. Information is shallow, an inch deep and a mile wide. (See Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.)

                Information says "X is."

                Knowledge says "This is how X is."

                Wisdom says "This is why X is."

                Information grows like mushrooms. Knowledge grows like an oak tree. Wisdom grows like a canyon. 

                Ecclesiastes says,

                There's nothing better than being wise,
                Knowing how to interpret the meaning of life. 
                Wisdom puts light in the eyes, 
                And gives gentleness to words and manners.

                Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message Remix 2.0: The Bible In contemporary Language (p. 941). 

                My two books are:

                Leading the Presence-Driven Church

                Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God