Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How to Help a Troubled Marriage

(Downy woodpecker in my backyard)

One of my "go-to" books for marriage counseling is Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy, by Everett Worthington. 

Worthington says "troubled marriages usually show weaknesses in love. Love is being willing to value your partner and being unwilling to devalue your partner. Generally, troubled marriages are those in which each partner devalues the partner and fails to take opportunities to show and tell the other how much the partner is valued.

A troubled marriage is one in which partners devalue each other and fail to take every opportunity to value each other. Generally, also, as love has lessened people lose confidence that the marriage can ever improve, and their demoralization and loss of hope prevent them from working on changing the relationship. 

Marriage Solutions 

If you are going to improve your relationship, you must do the following: 
□ Regain a willingness to work on improving your relationship and sustain that willingness long enough so that the marriage can bounce back. The worse off your marriage is now, the longer you must be willing to work to change it before you give up. 
□ Focus on the good things that you do. If you focus on the successes and try to ignore the failures for a period, you’ll regain a sense of faith in the relationship and confidence that it can improve. 
□ Increase your efforts to value your partner in love at every opportunity, and increase your efforts to avoid devaluing your partner. To improve, love your partner more by valuing him or her."  (Worthington, p. 82)

What is "love?"

"Love as being willing to value the other person 
and being unwilling to devalue that person."

Worthington, p. xxix

Let the 'No' of Christ Be Formed In You

Snowy pine bough in my back yard

“The making of a man is making your body do 

what it doesn't want to do.” 

The mature person flourishes in life as they are able to wield the powerful word "No." The Jesus-idea is that, as we connect to him as a branch connects to a vine, we bear "fruit," part of which is awe-inspiring "self control." (Galatians 5:23) People drop their jaws and stare in wonder as people say "No" to mere self-gratification.

A Spirit-led, self-controlled person is a free person. They have grown in their humanity to say "No" to eating the wrong things, to spending money they don't have to buy things they don't need, and to engaging in sexual behavior as the objectification of other persons.

"No" is the ultimate boundary word. The capacity to wield this word will not come from hearing slogans like "Just say 'No'." The authentic, boundary-setting 'No" must become one's heart, one's inner being. This happens as Christ is formed in us.

Think of Jesus after he fed the 5,000. The people rushed after him to make him an earthly king. To this flattery and opportunity for power Jesus exercised his innate self control and refused. His "No" was not only for him, but for the sake of others, indeed, for the sake of the whole world.

M. Scott Peck described The Road Less Traveled as "gratification delay." "No" is, perhaps, the ultimate other-centered word.This is a narrow road, said Jesus, and few take it. But it is the road to freedom.

Let the "No" of Christ be formed in you, and go free.

***

My two books are:


Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Source of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Social Activism

Image result for lewis baldwin king

In George Orwell's book 1984 the main character, Winston Smith, has the job of eliminating politically unwanted ideas, documents, and words, by throwing them down a "memory hole." To rewrite history is to forget history. To do this is "Orwellian."

An example of current Orwellian activity comes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (Stephen Pinker, Richard Dawkins, et. al.). On their website they write:


The history of Western civilization shows us that 
most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.

Unbelievable. The social activism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is but but one powerful counterexample to this unsupportable claim.

Sadly, we will see Orwellian unthinking in today's celebration of Dr. King's  birthday. Which means we will not see the true sources of his social activism.

It is my privilege to teach spiritual formation in one of the nation's oldest African American theological seminaries, Payne Theological Seminary. In my classes I have taught on the prayer life of Dr. King. 

As our nation pauses to honor Dr. King, we will celebrate his great civil and political influence. But we will hear nothing of his own understanding of the source of that influence. The fire burning deep in King’s soul was his relationship with God, fanned by his constant prayer life. Few scholars have attended to this, says King scholar Lewis Baldwin of Vanderbilt University, in his book Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King. Our secular media has thrown King's spiritual life down the Orwellian memory hole. Baldwin corrects this.

I remember reading, for the first time, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I knew King was a Christian, but his spiritual life was never talked about in the media. We saw film and photos of King praying in the city streets, but were not told how much this meant to him. His “Letter” greatly moved me. I saw that King was an intellectual, a genius, a brilliant writer, and most importantly,  a fundamentally spiritual being. The social activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., was a function of a life grounded in God and prayer, which he defined as “conversing with God.”

Prayer was more than a theory or some religious thing for King. King had an actual prayer life, contrary to many religious leaders who talk about praying but don’t find time to do it. He saw it as necessary for changing his own life and the prevailing culture. Baldwin, the great King scholar, shows us that King never separated moral responsibility from a deep personal spirituality and piety. Prayer, for King, was conversation with God.

Once King received a phone call at midnight from a racist who called him a “n-------,” threatened to kill him, and “blow up” his home This deeply disturbed him, and he was unable to sleep. He discovered that all the intellectual things he learned in the university and seminary could not help him overcome this. Baldwin writes that King turned to God in prayer, and had a face-to-face encounter with what is, in the tradition of his forebears, called a “Waymaker.” This God-encounter exposed his fears, insecurities, and vulnerablities. He found great comfort as an “inner voice” spoke to him, reminding him that he was not alone, commanding him to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth, and assuring him that “lo, I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”

It is important to understand King’s position on spiritual things if we want to grasp his societal accomplishments. King, who earned a PhD at Boston University, knew that intellectual accomplishments were not enough to transform self and society. God was needed, and prayer was able to “invoke the supernatural.” Baldwin writes that “King taught the people of Montgomery that the weapon of prayer was ultimately more powerful and effective than any gun or bomb.”

King spent much time alone in prayer. He told students that if you don’t have a deep life of prayer you have no business preaching to others. King saw himself as essentially involved in a “spiritual movement,” not simply a struggle for equal rights, social justice, and peace.

King knew, existentially, that real, true prayer involves “a profound surrender of the self to God, not prayer rooted in self-pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness.” That becomes the kind of relationship with God that can transform the fabric of reality.

Leadership is influence. Therefore, King was one of our nation’s greatest leaders. Baldwin brings us to the source of that influence, which was: King’s own soul-receptivity to the powerful, transforming influence of God. “King,” writes Baldwin, “was effective because his praying and preaching were effective. True leadership in his case made prayer and preaching indispensable.”


***


My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Overcoming Self-rejection

The River Raisin, Monroe County, MI

Henri Nouwen writes: "The great obstacle which prevents the Spirit working in us is self-rejection. The greatest obstacle to the Spirit working in us is that we say to ourselves that we are useless, we are nothing." (The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 78)

Conversely, the open door to the Spirit's working in us is the heart-knowledge that we are deeply loved and accepted, by grace, by God. 

Jesus told his disciples that, after his death, the Father would come and make his home in their hearts. When we know we are loved by God, and that God loves us in spite of the condition of our hearts, we welcome the homecoming of God. We are "something" in the eyes of God, so much so that the Spirit desires to take up residence within us.

Self-rejection resists the Spirit of God residing in us because we feel undeserving. I have met Christians who insist that God is angry with them, and wants nothing to do with them. That is a denial of the grace of God, and shuts the door to experiencing the love and power of God.

Nouwen writes:

"Once I know I am the Beloved, once I start discovering that in me, then the Spirit can work in me and in others; then we can do wonderful things. Now, once I say, "No, God doesn't love me, I am not as good as everyone else," somehow I do not claim the truth that Jesus came to proclaim." (Ib.)

Embracing God's love for you is antidote to a spirit of self-rejection.

***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Giving Advice as a Form of Judgmentalism

Our kitchen

(I'm re-posting this for someone today.)

Unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism.

Imagine I come to you and say, "Did you know there are some really nice clothes on sale at Macy's today?" 


The thought comes to you: "He doesn't like my clothes." 

This "friendly advice" is a form of criticism and judgmentalism.

Mostly (but not entirely), people give unasked-for advice in an attempt to change people. If you want to advise someone because you see they are having a problem and you've got the answer, try asking their permission: "May I suggest something?" Or, I may ask you "What is a good restaurant to eat at?" Then, you give me your thoughts on this.


That's cool. But a lot of advice-giving is about control and manipulation. It produces anger and bitterness. Who likes controlling people who are out to change them? 

Linda and I ask each other for lots of advice. We give each other permission to speak into our lives. When this happens, we don't feel criticized because we don't criticize each other.

Sometimes, giving advice comes out of a person who is angry (frustrated, irritated). That person who advises you with a smile on their face may be upset with you. Not always. But this is common. 

On changing other people: you cannot do it. Period. You can force people to do something. You can threaten them, imprison them, and guilt-manipulate them. But the human heart, the human spirit, cannot be changed by other people. 


The human heart is influenced by other people. That's different. In my life there are a handful of people who have significantly influenced me. One now comes to mind. In the 1980s he was in my church in East Lansing. I was privileged to be in a small group with him and his wife that met weekly. He was a great scholar, which I admired. He spoke when asked, and never advised when not asked. I found this intriguing because he was a psychologist, and psychologists (so I thought) were there to give advice. His character and demeanor, humility and Christ-in-him were compelling. So much so that, eventually, I sought him out to advise me about some things. Which he did, with wisdom and love.


Instead of advising others whether they ask for it or not, focus on connecting with Jesus, and allow Jesus to work on the stuff inside of you that he knows about and is able to change.


I need to be continually saved from my own self. You, "the other," cannot do this. You are not my Savior. But if you remain connected to Jesus and allow him to change your heart about things, the chances increase that God will use you to effect real heart-change in me.


The life goal is to know Christ, not advise others. God can use the brokenness effected in you to bring breakthrough to the people around you.


***
SEE ALSO:


When Is a Church Not an Actual Church?

Cardinals and a snowy window

Linda and I are reading, together, Francis Chan's Letters to the Church. There is much in it we that we find compelling.

It is possible, Chan argues, for a church to not be a church. Here's something we read yesterday, from his book.

"If Muslims were advertising free doughnuts and a raffle for a free iPad as a means to get people to their events, I would find that ridiculous. It would be proof to me that their god does not answer prayer. 
If they needed rock concerts and funny speakers to draw crowds, I would see them as desperate and their god as cheap and weak. 
Understand that I am not judging any church that works hard at getting people through the doors with good motives. I spent years doing the same thing, and I believe my heart was sincere. I wanted people to hear the gospel by any means possible. Praise God for people who have a heart for truth! 
I’m just asking you to consider how this looks to a watching world. 
While our good intentions may have gotten some people in the door, they also may have caused a whole generation to have a lower view of our God. 
It is hard for the average person to reconcile why a group of people supposedly filled with God’s Spirit, able to speak with the Creator of the universe, would need gimmicks.

(Chan, Letters to the Church, pp. 95-96)

Then Chan asks, rhetorically:  

"Is there ever a point when a church is no longer a church?...  Just because you walk into a building with the word Church painted on a sign doesn’t mean God sees it as an actual church." (Ib., 96)

***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

The Relative Irrelevance of Our Natural Talents

A snowy, cold morning in Monroe


Some people are more naturally talented than others. Some are smarter, more athletic, more dynamic in their personalities, and more beautiful by certain earthbound standards. But when it comes to God and his kingdom, natural talents are not what are needed. Someone with all the above might produce nothing of heavenly value; someone with none of the above might produce goods that last forever.

This is about the purpose of our lives, which is: to bear fruit that will last. Only God can grow this. It is the result of a life spent abiding in Christ. We get no credit when it happens. Our own talent counts for nothing. Talent fades and is forgotten; character influences and endures.

Whatever abilities, circumstances, and capital a person possesses in this life diminishes in comparison to lasting, eternal produce. What is important is the fruit, not our relative amazingness. Any intrinsic awesomeness we might have counts for nothing in the eyes of God. When Jesus says, in John 14, that his disciples will do what he has been doing, it is not because they are so talented. 

Most Christians, I suspect, fail to understand this. We are so caught up in the values of the Entertainment Church that mere, godly fruit-bearers are relegated to the lowest echelons of the honor-shame hierarchy. (Francis Chan is writing about this in his new book Letters to the Church.)

Listen closely to Dallas Willard, who writes:

"Natural gifts, external circumstances, and special opportunities are of little significance. The good tree, Jesus said, “bears good fruit” (Matthew 7:17). If we tend to the tree, the fruit will take care of itself."
(Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship, Kindle Locations 1815-1819)

***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Friday, January 18, 2019

Revival, Baptism, and the River of No Return

Image result for john piippo river
The River Raisin, in our back yard. 
My sermon "Revival, Baptism, and the River of No Return" can be heard HERE.

You can also access my Powerpoint slides. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Healing Service @ Redeemer with Craig Miller - January 27

Image may contain: Craig Miller, smiling, closeup


HEALING SERVICE
Breaking Emotional Barriers to Receive
What God Has for YOU!
With Craig Miller
 
Sunday, Jan. 27th  5:30-7:30pm
At Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen Drive,
Monroe Charter Township, MI 48161
(734)242-5277
For more info about Craig go to: www.insightsfromtheheart.com


For over thirty-eight years Craig has been ministering and counseling in church, medical, and mental health settings. He is a licensed Christian therapist and currently the co-founder of Masterpeace Counseling in Tecumseh, MI.  Craig’s experience with his own miraculous physical healing deepened his passion to help people receive their own emotional or physical healing and relationship restoration through teaching, imparting, and ministering about the love and healing power of faith.   He has also served as the director of Social Work At Herrick Memorial Hospital In Tecumseh, Michigan for twelve years.



Over the years Craig has learned the unique ability to successfully combine his skills as a christian and mental health practitioner to bring healing and restoration to the spirit, mind, and body.  Craig desires to work with each person, couple, and/or family to receive emotional and physical healing to bring restoration of your heart and relationship, renewal of your heart and revitalization of your faith.  


Craig has a Masters degree in Social Work from Michigan State University (1980), specializing in children, family, and couples.  Masters degree in Health Services Administration from the University of Detroit (1985).  He has been honored with multiple listings in Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals, Who’s Who Among Human Services Professionals, and International Who’s Who of Professionals.  

Craig continues his passion for helping people as a former syndicated radio talk show host, TV appearances , speaking in the USA and Canada, and his books, DVD, CD, numerous articles, and copyrighted material.  
Go to, www.insightsfromtheheart.com for more information. or opportunities  for  purchasing resources and speaking engagements

He has extensive experience with the treatment of depression, anxiety, panic disorders, difficulty expressing feelings, stress disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, addictions, sexual issues, marital issues, parent/child/teen issues, eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma from the past, loss issues, abuse issues, church/religious conflict and abuse and many more areas too many to mention.  You are recommended to call the office at 517-423-6889 if you have specific questions.

The Scariest Book I've Read in a Long Time










I'm a hundred pages into the new book by Greg Lukionoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Ideas and Bad Intentions Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. It's excellent. And, the scariest book I have read in a long time. (Because, among other things, it's Orwellian.)

Their book is the more thorough follow-up to their famous Atlantic essay, "The Coddling of the American Mind." This article provoked much discussion. So is the book.

Read the article to get the idea. 

God Is Sending a Fresh Wave of Kindness

Image result for john piippo kindness
Me and Joe LaRoy in Bangkok

A wave of the Father's love has begun to roll over my church family. In a recent praying time God told me this would happen. Now, it has begun.

As a result, I am studying love, again. The greatest words ever written on love are found in 1 Corinthians 13. There may be no better book to read on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 than Lewis Smedes' Love Within Limits: A Realist's View of 1 Corinthians 13.

Chapter 2 is "Love is Kind." A wave of increasing kindness is enveloping my church family. 

"Kindness," writes Smedes, "is the will to save; it is God's awesome power channeled into gentle healing. Kindness is love acting on persons." (11)

Love is power. Love is gentle. 

One quality of love is kindness.

Therefore, kindness is power. Kindness moves people.

"Kindness," says Smedes, "is enormous strength - more than most of us have, except now and then." (Ib.)

"Kindness is the power that moves us to support and heal someone who offers nothing in return. Kindness is the power to move a self-centered ego toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, and to move that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward." (Ib.)

Only a free person can love in such a powerful way. Waves of the Father's love set people free.

When I ask God to "set me free," I am thinking of this kind of thing; viz., freedom to love; freedom to be kind.

I'm now working on...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 

Technology and Spiritual Formation


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Presence of God

Bolles Harbor, Monroe


(From my book, Leading the Presence-Driven Church; chapter 3, "The Presence Motif.")


Last summer I experienced a moment of culinary terror. Linda and I went to P.F. Chang’s in Ann Arbor. We like this restaurant. No matter what happened to us that night, we will go again. 

I ordered the entrĂ©e I mostly get when I’m at P.F. Chang's. The waiter left, and Linda and I spent time talking as we awaited the coming of the cuisine. It seemed to take longer than usual. Eventually, the waiter returned, to utter words I will never forget: “I am sorry, sir. We are out of rice.” 

And there was silence in the heavens. 

I was stunned. I thought of logical impossibilities, like square circles, married bachelors, and Cartesian mountains without valleys. An Asian restaurant with no rice? Logically impossible! 

I saw the manager walking from table to table, confessing ricelessness to the patrons. When he got to us I had to ask, “How could this be so?” He replied, “They are having trouble in the kitchen.” 

“They?” My thought was, “You had better get in that kitchen and fix this barren situation!”

Our experience at P.F. Chang’s brought back a memory of a similar event. It was a sunny morning in the 1980s. Linda and I lived in East Lansing, Michigan. That day we went to breakfast at International House of Pancakes. I ordered pancakes.

There was no maple syrup on the table. 

When it comes to pancakes, I am a purist. I don’t want the strawberry syrup or the blueberry syrup or the fruity bacon syrup. So, desiring maple syrup, I asked: 

“May I have some maple syrup please?” 

“Sorry,” said the waitress. “We’re out of maple syrup.” 

My response was: nothingness. 

These two experiences were painful, but cannot be compared to The Big Absence two summers ago. 

Linda and I were driving from Monroe to Chicago. We were on the Indiana Tollway, and stopped at a rest area for lunch. Linda went to one of the fast food places and got a salad. I got in line at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I can see the scene, as if it were happening now. Three of us were in line. There was a man in front of me at the counter. I was behind him, with a third man behind me. Three of us, about to be disenchanted. 

Often, in life, we view events through the framework of what we are currently immersed in. At Redeemer, I was in the thick of preaching through the book of Revelation. I was thinking about Revelation all the time! I was reading and re-reading the text, looking at it in the Greek language, and studying the best commentaries on the subject. Revelation was my constant meditation. 

The Greek title is The Apocalypse. Apocalypto means “an uncovering,” an “unveiling.” Like someone who lifts the lid on a simmering pot of stew to see and smell the ingredients, in The Apocalypse God lifts the lid off what is to happen cosmically, and John the Apostle is allowed to look inside. That day, at KFC, the lid was about to be lifted, and I would look inside. 

“I want a three-piece chicken dinner,” said the first man.

“I am sorry, sir,” said the hostess at the KFC on the Indiana Tollway in the summer of 2015, “but we are out of chicken.” 

With those words the lid blew off. A fiery abyss appeared to my right. I heard the hoofbeats of Four Horsemen thundering in the distance. I saw bowls poured out upon the earth. I heard the cries of saints beneath the Great White Throne. The man in front of me said nothing. He just walked away, like a floating, drifting planet that lost its sun, or perhaps its faith. 

I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a voice spoke to me. I did not turn around as the man behind me said, “Did you hear what I heard?” Speechless, I nodded my head up and down. I left the little three-man queue and walked to where Linda was sitting. “No way!” she said, in unbelief. 

My expectation, when going to Kentucky Fried Chicken, is to be served chicken. When I am at a pancake house, I expect maple syrup. When I am at an Asian restaurant, I expect rice. Anything less is unacceptable and irrational.

It is the same with God’s presence. When I am with the Church, I expect to encounter God. Real Church is a Temple. Temples house the presence of God. Anything less than God in the Temple is unacceptable. 

I am like Moses, who despaired at the thought of God withdrawing his presence from the people. Moses pleaded, saying, “God, if your presence does not go with us, we are not going!”

“Do not,” appealed the psalmist, “cast me away from your presence.” The ultimate suffering and punishment is separation from the presence of God. 

I see a world desperate for the presence of God. They long and pant, like thirsty deer in the Judean wilderness, for an experiential encounter with God. Anything less is unsatisfactory.