Monday, November 19, 2018


I and my associate Tim continue to preach on revival at Redeemer. God has called us to prepare the hearts of the people for revival and awakening.
I invite you to join me on a conference call TONIGHT, Nov. 19, 9 PM EST.
Some of you have already indicated you will be joining this call.
My idea is:
  • Look together at Michael Brown's definition of "revival."
  • Discuss: America needs help. The real problem is spiritual and moral, not political or even economic. (A spiritual outpouring will affect politics and economics.) See, e.g., New York Times columnist David Brooks, who recently wrote: "The chief struggle of the day is sociological and psychological, not ideological or economic. The substrate layer of American society — the network of relationships and connection and trust that everything else relies upon — is failing. And the results are as bloody as any war."
  • Discuss: the problem is not with the great amount of darkness, it's with the small amount of light. I am praying for revival and awakening to come to churches in America.
  • The Church is to be salt and light in our secular world. Following Romans 12:1-2, one indicator of our saltiness and luminosity will be cultural change. I see precious little systemic cultural change in America. Is it because Church needs reformation?
  • Discuss: Revival begins with individual Jesus-followers.
  • Discuss: Why not you? Why not your church? Why not now?
  • Pray together.
If this is for you please email me and I'll add you to my Revival Church Group, and send you the conference call information.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Strategy for Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Montana, between Bozeman and Livingston

The strategy for leading the Presence-Driven Church has nothing, initially, to do with strategizing. It's more radical than that. Here is how to lead and grow a Presence-Driven Church.

1. Abide in Christ. Dwell in God's presence. Have a praying life. Connect with God, like a branch attached to a tree. Become familiar with God. Teach your people to do the same.

2. Listen for the voice of God. Discern. Discernment is in direct proportion to familiarity. Teach your people to do the same.

3. When God calls you to do something, obey. Follow the Shepherd. Here is where strategizing can come in. 

That's it. 

There are no more steps along the way.

Teach your people to do likewise, following your example.

For more detail, biblical and theological  support, see my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

5 Thanksgiving Choices

Sunrise over Munson Park

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, here are five things you can do to make the most of this season.

1. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you. 
I've made a gratitude list on my computer and printed it out. I've got the list in my pocket, and will pull it out and look at it throughout the week.
"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 
- Thornton Wilder

2. Think of the people God has brought to add value to your life.
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
- Albert Schweitzer 

3. Focus on what you have gained, not what you have lost. 
In Job 1:21 we read, 

God gives, God takes.
God's name be ever blessed.

As I remember precious people I have lost, I think of how their lives blessed me.

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 
- Epictetus

4. Say "thank you" to others, in your words, attitudes, and actions. 
Serve people. To serve is to love. Servanthood is the overflow of a thankful heart.

"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."
- William James

5. Let the words "Thank you, God" be your constant praise. 
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Discipline of Gratitude Thwarts Catastrophic Thinking

Monroe County

I'm enjoying reading Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland. In his concluding remarks J.P. has some important things to say, for the future of the Church and its leaders. I was especially helped by his comments on practicing the discipline of thanksgiving. He writes:

"I practice the discipline of gratitude. Due to my heredity and upbringing, I have a predisposition to anxiety and depression. One way to avoid these is to train yourself to see the glass half full and not half empty, that is, to habitualize a positive, thankful approach to life. And the best way to do that involves a negative and a positive step. Negatively, learn to spot early on any catastrophizing or totalizing thoughts you have in which you take fears and so forth, blow them up out of proportion, and engage in fearful, negative self-talk. When you spot the negative thought, tell yourself that it isn’t true, that it is overstated, and seek to undermine the thought. Then, positively, turn to God in prayer and thank Him for, say, five to six things in your life, ranging from little things like the taste of coffee to large things like friends and family. I will do this around one hundred times a day, and by now, such expressions of gratitude have become a habit and they have colored my perception of life. The discipline of gratitude keeps one from becoming sour on life and is very, very life giving." (p. 225)

In  Philippians 4 Paul tells Jesus-followers to “not be anxious about anything.” (v. 6) The biblical Greek word for ‘anxious’ is often used in contexts  where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, where Jesus counsels his disciples, “When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it.”

When Paul counsels the Philippians to not be anxious, it’s not like he’s sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. He’s in prison! The context is: persecution. The Philippian Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition from their pagan neighbors, just like Paul and Silas had suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil 1:28-30).

I know what worry and anxiety are like. I have, in some especially troubling times, felt consumed by them. So I ask - how realistic is it to be told “Be anxious about nothing?” Paul’s answer, and his experiential reality, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

I have proof that this works, (following Henri Nouwen, in his book Gracias!): When I don’t pray I am more easily filled with worry, and fear. In the act of praying I enter into the caregiving of the Great Physician, who dials down the anxiety.

In everyday prayer-conferencing with God I present my requests to him. I lay my burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers, experientially, that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul writes that our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some loving god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.”

John Wesley said that thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.

J. P. Moreland counsels that the discipline of gratitude thwarts catastrophic thinking.

The antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.

My two books are:

Friday, November 16, 2018

Guidelines for Civil Discourse #5 - Understand Before You Evaluate

Detroit Metro Airport

One evening, when we were younger, I came home from work and heard my sons talking with Linda. It sounded like they were arguing with her. I felt anger, strode into the living room, and took charge.

"Stop arguing with your mother!" I said, in a commanding voice.

All three of them stopped, looked at me, and one said, "You don't even know what we are talking about!"

Fools find no pleasure in understanding 
but delight in airing their own opinions.
Proverbs 18:2

I judged, without first understanding. That's foolish. (I evaluate my philosophy students on their understanding, not their agreement or disagreement with the arguments I present. I tell them, you cannot evaluate until you first understand. Otherwise, they are just airing their opinions.)

Proverbs 11:12 counsels:

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

Understanding breeds compassion. Compassionate people "feel with" the other person, and thus weigh their words.

Judging without understanding is divisive. In all things worth knowing, understanding precedes evaluating. This always takes more time. This is where we go slow. Remember that the relationship is more important than the outcome.

The good doctor examines before diagnosing.

The auto mechanic diagnoses before estimating.

The builder surveys before constructing.

The counselor listens before helping.

The smart consumer researches before purchasing.

The lawyer studies before presenting.

The police officer investigates before citing.
Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
Proverbs 14:29

Folly brings joy to one who has no sense,
but whoever has understanding 
keeps a straight course.

Proverbs 15:21

The one who has knowledge 
uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding 
is even-tempered.
Proverbs 17:27

By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established.
Proverbs 24:23

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Information, Wisdom, and the Difference Between the Two

Tree, in my back yard

I look to the media for information, not wisdom. I cannot think of one news reader (CNN, Fox News, etc.) I would look to for wisdom. 

I turn off the TV when a journalist goes outside the bounds of raw reporting and puts their spin, their interpretation, on events. Or, when a journalist pontificates ex cathedra on the meaning of it all, or spouts ethics. It's impossible to find untainted, uninterpreted information. It is in principle impossible, since all "facts" are theory-laden.

For wisdom I look to four sources, two secondary, the other two primary.

One of my secondary sources is philosophy. Philosophy is philo - sophia, the "love of wisdom." I have immersed my self in philosophical literature since 1970, when I changed my university major to philosophy. I have gotten a lot of wisdom from philosophers, even from atheists who, though I disagree with their core convictions, display intra-worldview intuition.

My second secondary source for wisdom is people who know God, who spend much time with God, and reflect on their experiences with God. In 1970 I became a believer in God and follower of Jesus.  Two books were placed into my hands, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Since then I have not  stopped reading Christian theistic wisdom literature, having up to ten books going at a time.

I know many Jesus-followers who have never written a book, yet possess wisdom. These are people who love God and know God and spend much time with God. God speaks wisdom through them, to me.

My first primary source for wisdom is the Christian Scriptures; viz., The Book. Since 1970 I have been swimming in a sea of wisdom from above, mediated through the words of the Bible. Currently, I am re-soaking in Proverbs and the Gospel of Luke. Here is deposited the wisdom of the ages, illuminated to me by God the Holy Spirit.

Primary wisdom source #2 is the Holy Spirit. Scripture points me to the living relationship with God's Spirit, who illuminates and guides me. 

In addition, I have my favorite human wisdom mentors. Eugene Peterson is one of them. Here Peterson points me in the right direction.  

"If we forget that the newspapers are footnotes to Scripture and not the other way around, we will finally be afraid to get out of bed in the morning. Too many of us spend far too much time with the editorial page and not nearly enough with the prophetic vision. We get our interpretation of politics and economics and morals from journalists when we should be getting only information; the meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word." (Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, Kindle Locations 661-668)

My two books are Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, and Leading the Presence-Driven Church

FOR PASTORS - An Invitation to Join Me on a Conference Call - Nov. 19, 9 PM (EST)

Good morning Revival colleagues!
At Redeemer I and my associate Tim Curry continue to preach on revival at Redeemer. God has called us to prepare the hearts of the people for revival and awakening.
Pastors - I invite you to join me on a conference call next Monday, Nov. 19, 9 PM EST.
Some of you have already indicated you will be joining this call - thank you!
My idea is:
  • Look together at Michael Brown's definition of "revival."
  • Discuss: America needs help. The real problem is spiritual, not political or even economic. (A spiritual outpouring will affect politics and economics.)
  • Discuss: the problem is not with the great amount of darkness, it's with the small amount of light. I am praying for revival and awakening to come to churches in America.
  • Discuss: Revival begins with individual Jesus-followers.
  • Discuss: Why not you? Why not your church? Why not now?
  • Pray together.
TO JOIN THE CONFERENCE CALL send me an email and I'll add you to my Revival Church Network, and send you the call-in information.

My two books are:

Pastors: Understand WHOSE Ministry This Is

Frost on my car window (11/14/18)
Christian leaders: You can...

A) Decide what you are going to do, and then ask God to partner with you.

B) Discern what God is doing, and partner with him.

The correct answer is B. Discern, rather than decide. What a relief!

God is up to something. God is moving. What God is up to is far more effective than what we could figure out.

Stephen Seamands writes:

"All authentic Christian ministry participates in Christ's ongoing ministry. Ministry is essentially about our joining Christ in his ministry, not his joining us in ours." (Seamands,  Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Kindle Locations 160-161)

To discern what God is up to, we must have an abiding life, to include a praying life. We must be in constant communication with God. If we don't do this we will burn out trying to figure things out.

"So much of our stress and burnout is the direct result of our failure to grasp this basic truth about ministry. We are carrying burdens that we were never designed to carry-burdens that Christ never intended tended for us to carry. Instead of following Christ the Leader, we wrongly assume the burden of leadership ourselves. No wonder we collapse under its weight." (Ib., Kindle Locations 162-163)

Seamands writes:

"Understanding whose ministry it is can be tremendously liberating. Jesus' words "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30) apply to ministry too!...

However, most of us find it difficult to live according to this truth. We are often tempted to take the burden of ministry on ourselves." (Ib., Kindle Locations 163-166)

My two books are:

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Prayer, Poverty, and Thanksgiving

A meal of rice and vegetables in Kenya
I embarrassed myself when I was in Kenya. 

I was leading a Pastor’s Conference in Eldoret, with sixty wonderful men and women from Kenya and Uganda. They were part of New Life Mission, a network of over 150 churches in Kenya and Uganda. 

We ate many meals together. This was real Kenyan food – vegetables, cooked raw bananas, rice, maize… I loved it!

I noticed many of the pastors taking very full plates of food. A lot more than I took. I made a joke, saying “Kenyans and Ugandans eat a lot, but still are slim and run so fast!” My host, Cliff, later told me the reason they load their plates with food is because they only eat two meals a day. When they have the opportunity, they eat a lot.

Inwardly I sank. Who am I, that I am so out of touch? 

The prayers of many Kenyans and Ugandans are for food to eat, today. I, on the other hand, fight overeating. My problem is not securing my next meal. It's that there is so much food available, and I approach our American Thanksgiving Day hoping I do not overeat.

I live the land of over-plenty, over-eating, and struggling to diet. In the midst of abundance, I am being processed by God. Here are some things God is showing me. 

1. I am no longer to see someone who is foodless and thank God that I have food. I am to thank God for food, for a roof over my head, for clothing. But this thanks is not to come at the expense of someone else’s poverty. There is something wrong about this. It uses another person’s bondage as an occasion for my thanksgiving. 

Jesus never looked on sick or hungry people and said, “Thank God that I am God and not like these sick people.” Instead, he had compassion on them. Actually, he became one of them, for “the Son of Man had no roof over his head.” 

My focus must be on my own need for God’s mercy, rather than giving thanks that I am not among the mercy-deprived. I am not to be like the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you God that I am not like these other people.”

2. If this thought comes to me - "Thank God that I have more than these poor people"  - I must assume this is God calling me to help. Why would God show me someone poorer than I as a way to make me give thanks? Authentic thankfulness results in overflowing, sacrificial giving. To those who have much and thank God for it, much is expected. Thankfulness is hypocritical and meaningless if it does not overflow to others. Pure Pharisaic “thankfulness” thanks God that I am not poor; true thankfulness to God impacts the poor. Self-centered gratefulness is faux-gratitude.

3. At one of our recent worship gatherings God was speaking to  me about such things. It was a beautiful time of intentional thanksgiving to God for how he has blessed us as a church family. That day God told me, “John, when you see someone who has nothing, and then give thanks for what you have that they don’t have, that is the spirit of poverty on you.”

A spirit of poverty, a spirit of “lack,” whispers to me, “You do not have enough.” This heart of not-enough-ness, when it sees someone worse off than me, feels thankful. This is the spirit of poverty’s solution to my dilemma; viz., to keep me perpetually enslaved to a poverty mentality by comparing me with others. 

Some drive new cars and I feel deprived; some have no car and I feel thankful. A spirit of poverty is never satiated, and in this way it continuously punishes. 

Feeling thankful when I see someone who has no food comes from feeling I do not have enough. One thinks, “Whew, I’m not so bad off after all!” We only say words like that when we feel “bad off.” 

Real thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of this. I’ve been living under a spirit of poverty, and renounce it.

My two books are:

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #4: Never Insult a Brother or Sister

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor
When Linda and I were campus pastors at Michigan State University, we were teaching Matthew 5:21-24 to our students. In the midst of the discussion, one of our students, Naomi, who was from Malawi, said: "If we followed the words of Jesus here very few of us would be worshiping today. We would all get up and leave, go to the brothers and sisters we were demeaning, and ask for forgiveness."

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, 
and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry 
with a brother or sister 
will be subject to judgment. 
Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 
is answerable to the court. 
And anyone who says, ‘
You fool!’ 
will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, 
if you are offering your gift at the altar 
and there remember 
that your brother or sister 
has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. 
First go 
and be reconciled to them; 
then come and offer your gift.

"Raca" is an Aramaic term of abuse. It means "idiot." (See R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 120)

Anyone who calls a brother or sister in Christ an idiot is answerable to the Sanhedrin. (Greek synedrion.) France writes: "Jesus here threatens ultimate divine judgment on anger, even as expressed in everyday insults." (Ib.) 

If I call someone an idiot am I really relegated to the garbage heap where Israel's rubbish was burned? No. Jesus is using exaggeration, as he often does, to make a point. (This is called Semitic hyperbole.) But the point is important. This is "an injunction to submit our thoughts about other people, as well as the words they give rise to, to God's penetrating scrutiny... We cannot worship God with grudges unsettled."

Anger is no excuse for insulting people. It is non-redemptive and alienating.

If you are a Jesus-follower, and you ridicule a brother or sister, your worship is inauthentic, and unacceptable to God.


Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #1 - Love Others

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #3: The Other Is Not Your Enemy

Image may contain: 9 people, people sitting and outdoor
Getting ready for baptisms at our summer Green lake conference. (See HERE.)
The apostle Paul writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 
but against the rulers, 
against the authorities, 
against the powers of this dark world 
and against the spiritual forces of evil 
in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

So, if it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy.

Our real enemies are "the powers of this dark world" and the "spiritual forces of evil." These are the spiritual forces Jesus came to defeat.

Jesus did not come to defeat people. He came to rescue them. In the rescue, the powers of darkness are defeated.

If you are a follower of Jesus you must not demonize others. Even if they anger you. To do that is to wrestle with the wrong adversaries. 

Discuss? Yes. Agree, or disagree? Of course. Wrestle with? That would be like leaving your true opponent on the wrestling mat and climbing into the bleachers and trying to pin the captive onlookers.

If we view and treat one another as enemies, we are engaged in vain warfare.

If an army starts to shoot its own, waging war within itself, this is not only a pseudo-battle, it's going to lead to defeat by the real enemy. If the actual enemy can get us to self-destroy,  it has won.

You and I are not enemies, because we are flesh and blood. If something has flesh and blood it cannot be our enemy.

Sadly, Christians can be tempted, deceived, and even used by the dark powers. (see Eph. 2:2; 4:14) As Ben Witherington writes: “It is all too easy to mistake the human vessel of evil for evil itself.” Pray that we never make that mistake, for if we do the days of hating and hurting and hiding from one another have arrived.

Our struggle is essentially a spiritual one. 

Wage war on that level.

Wage peace with one another.


Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #1 - Love Others