Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ministry Demands More Than Our Best


Image result for john piippo abide
Next to Payne Theological Seminary, Wilberforce, Ohio

Jesus tells me that, if I connect with him, if I live the connected life, I will do the things he did. 


Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me 
will do the works I have been doing...
John 14:12

Now that...   would greatly help me as a pastor. God would work through me to heal the sick, deliver the oppressed, raise the dead, and speak with an authority that is not from me.

My meager abilities, even when working with excellence, fall short of what Jesus did. If ministry was a game of horseshoes, Jesus is throwing nothing but "ringers," while my tosses are landing a foot in front of me.

More than me is needed.

Stephen Seamands writes:

"Of course, ministry deserves our best-all that we have to offer. But it also demands more than our best, more than anything we have to offer. To participate in the ongoing ministry of Jesus, to do what the Father is doing, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only through the Holy Spirit's directing and empowering us can we fulfill our calling."
Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Kindle Locations 248-250

***
I have written:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am writing:

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I am editing a book on the Holy Spirit - hopefully available in June 2019.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Influence Comes Before Numbers; Abiding Comes Before Fruit-Bearing



Image result for john piippo tree
Trees in my back yard
Reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir, solidified in me an idea I have had for many years. Which is: as a pastor and Jesus-follower, I am to desire influence, rather than size in terms of numbers of people. I don't think it is important how big a church is. I think it is important how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters.  

Focus on being faithful, rather than “successful.” The word “success” is mostly metricized in the American Church. Data-ized. (See, for a cool spin on this, We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves.) Quantized. Super-sized. (For support see Francis Chan, Letters to the Church; and Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. Both books ask “What if the American Church got this wrong"; both answer, echoing Eugene Peterson and other prophets, “It has.”)

By "influence" I mean the kind of things Jesus talked about when he used 
metaphors like "salt" and "yeast." "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said (Matthew 5:13). A little bit of salt can flavor a lot of food. What's needed are salty Jesus-followers, not rows of unsalted food. Salt influences food, rather than it is influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. So, I am to influence the world, rather than being influenced by it.

Non-salty "Christians" are, in Jesus' eyes, "no longer good for anything, 
except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)

Jesus-followers are to influence and salt "the earth," which mostly takes place outside the walls of the church building.

I now think of my philosophy students. For most of them, "church" flavors nothing about their lives. They can't taste "church" at all. I attribute this to a lack of influence. Most of them have never encountered “church. Most of them think “church” is a building that houses religious programs and performances.

How many people are in my church? Wrong question! Instead, ask, How salty is my church? Is it influential as regards Jesus and the Kingdom? Focus on influence, by disciple-making. You could be twelve salty Jesus-followers and change culture.

Be influenced by Christ. Such influence flows from the Vine to the branch 
as one continuously abides in Christ. The focus is not on numbers, but staying connected to Jesus. This results in a daily being-influenced by him. Focus on being connected. Pastors – live the abiding life, and show your people how to do this.

Focus on abiding, not on producing fruit.

The core prayer of a Jesus-following pastor is not, “God, supersize us!” It is, “God, super-use us.” At this point numbers do not matter. My understanding of church history is that cultures, communities, and even nations that began to follow Jesus did so as a result of what 
God was doing in a small number of Christ-abiding, salty people.

***
My two books are:

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Evil Must Be Seen With Respect to the Goals Of God


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Battling evil in Monroe
The intellectual, academic atheist usually objects to the existence of God on the basis of evil in the world. By "evil" is meant "pointless suffering," or "gratuitous suffering." Gratuitous suffering is suffering that is not needed to either bring about a greater good, or prevent an equal or greater evil from happening.

The evidential (or probableistic) argument from evil reasons that, 

1. Much pointless suffering exists.
2. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God probably does not exist.

Why not? Because such a God would not allow gratuitous suffering; i.e., suffering that has no point to it.

William Lane Craig says this particular objection to God's existence is not difficult to respond to. Craig writes, 

"Since the problem is being presented as an internal problem for the Christian theist, there is nothing illicit about the Christian theist’s availing himself of all the resources of his worldview in answering the objection." (In Chad Meister, God and the Problem of Evil: Five ViewsKindle Locations 873-875.) That is, the Christian theist approaches this as an intra-worldview issue. We assume the truth of this worldview, and then answer within the worldview. This is appropriate since the objection is that our worldview is incoherent. It's not. For example, God's goal is that we know and love him, now and for all eternity. With this in mind, we can agree with the apostle Paul that our present sufferings, as hard as they are, cannot be compared to the glory revealed to us in eternity.

BTW - every worldview has intra-issues. For example, the atheist-as-philosophical naturalist must make sense of free will. That's a problem for an atheist, but not for a Christian theist.
The reason some think the argument from evil is so powerful is that they assume if God exists, then the goal for human life is happiness. Following John Hick's "soul-making defense" against the argument from evil, the atheist assumes that God's role is to provide a comfortable environment for his human pets. 

"But," writes Craig, "We are not God’s pets, and the goal of human life is not happiness per se but the knowledge of God— which in the end will bring true and everlasting human fulfillment." (Ib., Kindle Locations 879-880)

Many evils that happen may be pointless with respect to the goal of human happiness. But they may not be pointless with respect to a deeper knowledge of God.

"Because God’s ultimate goal for humanity is the knowledge of himself— which alone can bring eternal happiness to creatures— history cannot be seen in its true perspective apart from considerations pertinent to the kingdom of God." (Ib., 882-883)


***
My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation

Depleted Leaders Over-rely on Outside Sources


Oak tree in my backyard
In the 1980s, when I was in the end stages of writing my doctoral dissertation at Northwestern University, I was at a point of burnout. Whatever creativity and energy I had were gone. I couldn't see the forest for the trees. 

One day, as I was walking across campus, one of my professors saw me and asked, "How is the paper going?" 

"Not well," I responded. "I can't see clearly any more. I don't know what to do next."

Immediately he said, "You need to take two weeks off and get away from it." 

I took his counsel. During the two week hiatus the creative juices began to flow again.

I have never forgotten this. It applies to our spiritual lives as well.  

Years ago God called me to take several hours each week alone with him, praying, listening, and discerning. When I do this, I become less dependent on outside sources to inspire me because of what God is doing inside me. Other voices are at times helpful, but rarely do they assist me in the unique day-to-day challenges of ministry in my church family, times which demand creativity and discernment.

Burnout-busyness is the enemy of this. The busier a pastor gets, the more they rely on outside sources to do the job of discerning for them, because they lack the needed inner resources. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"When we are depleted, we become overly reliant on voices outside of ourselves to tell us what is going on. We react to symptoms rather than seeking to understand and respond to underlying causes. We rely on other people’s ministry models and outside consultants because we are too tired to listen in our setting and craft something that is uniquely suited to meet the needs that are there. When we are rested, however, we bring steady, alert attention that is characterized by true discernment about what is truly needed in our situation, and the energy and creativity to carry it out."
- - Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 121)

***
My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Desire Eats Will Power and Religious Information for Breakfast.

(I took a picture of this magazine while in line at Meijer.
I can eat snacks and lose 115 pounds in a few months!
But that would put me at 75 pounds.)

Dallas Willard writes: "The realities of Christian spiritual formation are that we will not be transformed "into His likeness" by more information, or by infusions, inspirations, or ministrations alone. Though all of these have an important place, they never suffice, and reliance upon them alone explains the now-common failure of committed Christians to rise much above a certain level of decency."

This typical Willard-quote explains why so many Christians live lives of spiritual mediocrity. What is needed is: to learn what it means to abide in Christ, like a branch is connected to a vine, with Jesus being the Vine and you being the branch.

The fundamental secret of caring for our souls is found in a verse like Psalms 16:8-9: “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.”

 Willard writes: "Our part in thus practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him." Then, as this happens day after day after year and after year, our trust is in a God who can morph our souls into the form of Christ. (Galatians 4:19)

As we do this the Holy Spirit transforms our desires. Our desires are what we love, and what we want. When our desires become the desires of Christ, we won't need will power. Desires always overwhelm will power and information. Will power and information will eventually be defeated by desire. 

Desire eats will power and religious information for breakfast. 

All this is about what Willard calls the renovation of the heart

***
My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

I'm now working on...


Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I am editing a book of essays on the Holy Spirit, authored by my HSRM colleagues. Hopefully this book will be out by the end of May.

And, when all this settles, Linda and I intend on writing our book on Relationships.

Friday, February 22, 2019

What To Do When You Are Upset With Someone in Church

(Linda and I, in Brazil)

So, someone in church has upset you. What should you do?

Go talk with the person. Do not talk with others about this person, unless it is with someone who can coach you in going to the person yourself.

If this person is going to abuse you, then bring a church leader with you.

Pray. For yourself, and the person, that truth will be spoken in love. You are going to the person because you love them, and you want to make the situation right.

Speak for your own self, and not for others. Do not say things like, "Many others are upset with you, too." If you know of someone else who is upset, direct them to the person, just as you are doing. If they refuse to do this, they have taken what John Bevere called "the bait of Satan." Have no part in this.

When you speak to the person, begin with love.  Begin your sentences with "I," rather than "you." Instead of saying "You upset me," own your feeling with words like "I feel upset _____________." Fill in the blank with a behavior; e.g., "I felt angry when you did not call me when you said you would." Or, "I felt angry when you called me irresponsible." "You"- language puts the other person on the defensive; "I"- language acknowledges your responsibility in the relationship. For how to do this, read this

Do not use negative descriptive adjectives when confronting the person in love (like these). Behind every adjective there is a judgment. You are not the judge of the other person, and do not want to come off that way to them. Instead, refer to behaviors. 

Listen to the person, for the sake of understanding. Your goal is understanding, more than it is agreement. Remember that you cannot begin to agree or disagree until you understand.

Be prepared to confess and forgive. You both may need to do this. For how to do this, read this, and this. And, see "The First Two Steps in Relationship Restoration." 

Follow this template, concerning speaking the truth in love. Have these attitudes, not only in your words, but in your countenance and behavior. Listen, understand, assert, love.

Don't Aim for Happiness

(Linda bought this as a gift for a friend.)

Happiness is a horrible goal, but a wonderful byproduct. If you work at being happy you will become miserable. 

Contentment is superior to happiness. The apostle Paul does not claim to have learned the secret of being happy in all circumstances. Rather, Paul has learned contentment, whether he is happy or not happy. (Philippians 4:11-13)

University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson, in his recent book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, challenges the prevailing American happiness cult. He states:

“It’s all very well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you’re unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it’s fleeting and unpredictable. It’s not something to aim at – because it’s not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you’re unhappy? Then you’re a failure. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. It’s just not going to do the job.” ("Jordan Peterson: 'The Pursuit of Happiness Is a Pointless Goal'")

***
See also:


"Happiness" Is a Terrible Goal







***
My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart


I am editing a book of collected essays by various authors on the Holy Spirit. Should be out this June!





Thursday, February 21, 2019

Why People Try to Control Others

(Sterling State Park, on Lake Erie, in Monroe

I meet a lot of control freaks and controlees. Many marriages are the coming together of these anti-types. Every control freak needs a controlee, and vice versa. I call these "master/slave" marriages.

Most people, if not all, struggle with control issues. I have, and at times still do. The Control vs. Trust polarity is an ontological reality; i.e., it lies at the base of human personhood. 


"Control" is the antithesis of "trust." Trust is huge in the Jesus-life, and life in general, since we control so very, very little.


Keith Miller writes: "control is the major factor in destroying intimate relationships." (Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships., p. 7) Why do we do this? Why try to control others when we can't control our own selves, and are often out of control? Miller writes:


"The fear of being revealed as a failure, as not being "enough" somehow, is a primary feeling that leads to the compulsion to control other people. When we were children, the fear of being inadequate and shameful was tied to our terror of being deserted or rejected and we had little control over getting what we needed. To counteract that basic terror, we have evidently been trying all our lives in various ways to "get control" of life. This includes controlling other people." (14)


A controlling person is an un-free person. Insecurity is the emblem of control. I like the way Richard Foster once put this: God wants to free us from the terrible burden of always having to get our own way. "Walking in freedom" and "controlling other people" ("always getting our own way") are oppositional. 


The control freak crushes the spirit of the other person, who wears a sign saying, "Crush me." "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" - "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" -  this is the cycle that destroys marriages and relationships. The antidote is trust. Because where trust is, control is not. 


Begin breaking free by learning trust in God. Pray to be less controlling than you now are. Pray to be less controlled by others than you now are. Trust God even when you don't trust other people. Understand this: You will rarely have all your ducks in a row, especially when it comes to people.


Go basic, repeating and praying Proverbs 3:5-6:


Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil! 
(The Message)



To trust God when around distrustful people is an experiential act of freedom. God can use you to be the catalyst that heals others of their fear of not measuring up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Difference Between the God of Christianity and All Other "Gods"

Image result for john piippo gods
(With graduating doctoral students at Palmer Theological Seminary)
I have retired from teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I taught there for eighteen years. I continue to studying philosophy. I cannot get away from it!  Currently, I am immersed in moral philosophy, reading these books:

The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God, by David and Marybeth Baggett.

Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can't Deliver, by Christian Smith.

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, by J. P. Moreland.

Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality, by James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky.

Christian Ethics: Four Views, by Steve Wilkens.

Introducing Christian Ethics: A Short Guide to Making Moral Choices, by Scott Rae.

One theme in the discussion of theistic ethics is the goodness of God. Essentially. This - among other things - distinguishes the God of theism from other "gods." The theistic God is qualitatively different from other gods. I have met village atheists (see Nietzsche's critique) who fail to grasp this difference.

The incoherence of the "new atheists" is fading (see atheist John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism - this was one of my Christmas presents, thank you). They provided theistic philosophers a feast of beliefs to both defeat and defend. One such belief was the idea that the God of Judaeo-Christianity is just another god, in the same league as all so-called gods.

This belief funded the "new atheist" slogan: "We are just like you theists, except we believe in one less god than you do." That was a cute saying, parroted by philosophically untrained atheists, accompanied with a slight smile and wink of their eye, appearing like they have dealt Christian monotheism a final death blow.

In all my philosophy career I never heard a real atheistic thinker pull that slogan out of their internet. Here, perhaps, is why.

From David Bentley Hart:

"There are two senses in which the word “God” or “god” can properly be used. Most modern languages generally distinguish between the two usages as I have done here, by writing only one of them with an uppercase first letter, as though it were a proper name—which it is not. Most of us understand that “God” (or its equivalent) means the one God who is the source of all things, whereas “god” (or its equivalent) indicates one or another of a plurality of divine beings who inhabit the cosmos and reign over its various regions. This is not, however, merely a distinction in numbering, between monotheism and polytheism, as though the issue were merely that of determining how many “divine entities” one happens to think there are. It is a distinction, instead, between two entirely different kinds of reality, belonging to two entirely disparate conceptual orders." (Hart, The Experience of God, pp. 28-29. Yale University Press. Emphasis mine.)

Philosopher David Bagget explains:

"Some atheists are fond of saying that they believe in just one god less than do the monotheists, but this is perhaps the wrong way to understand what’s going on. The difference between a polytheistic assortment of this-worldly, morally flawed gods, on the one hand, and an all-powerful, omnibenevolent God, on the other, can hardly be starker, so what accounts for the way some thinkers conflate these two radically different visions of reality?" (Baggett, The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God, pp. 41-42. Emphasis mine.)

There is, literally, a world of difference between the God Christians affirm, and the gods we deny. It would be like believing in cars, with the atheist telling me, "I just believe in one less pair of shoes than you."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

How to Communicate When In Conflict


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Art on a building in Columbus, Ohio

(I am reposting this.)

One of the blessings Linda and I have had is to know and be taught by David Augsburger. We were in a couples group with David and Nancy for two years. We dog-sat for them (they had Irish Setters). David was one of my seminary professors.  After hanging around him in these contexts, I felt I could be helped by meeting with him. David was kind enough to meet privately and counsel me. At the time I did not understand his counseling approach. Only years later did some of this activate in me.

David is one of Christianity's great scholars on understanding anger and conflict, and ways to work through these things. Linda and I still use his book Caring Enough to Confront. David takes Ephesians 4:15 and develops a template we use to this day: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others when we are in conflict? Ephesians provides two actions we are to take:

1. Speak truthfully

2. Speak lovingly

Both are needed. 

If we only speak truthfully, we can blow people away. I could tell you the truth in unloving ways. Speaking truth without love can injure people.

If we only speak lovingly, we may never address the truth. This can leave issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.

Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus asserted the truth, always in love.

Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

• I care about our relationship & I feel deeply about the issue at stake

• I want to hear your view & I want to clearly express mine

• I want to respect your insights & I want respect for mine

• I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings & I want you to trust me with yours

• I promise to stay with the discussion until we reach an understanding & I want you to stay with me until we've reached an understanding

• I will not trick, pressure, manipulate, or distort the differences & I want your unpressured, clear, honest views of our differences

• I give you my loving, honest respect & I want your caring-confronting response

These are attitudes Linda and I learned and practice. These teachings have been so important to us! As a young married couple we saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you are angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another.

That is the way out of what sometime seem like irreconcilable differences.

***
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God(May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018).

Monday, February 18, 2019

Why Megachurch Pastors Keep Failing

(Comerica Park, Detroit)


FOR MY PASTORAL COLLEAGUES:

Just read this article - it's good (thank you Lora). 

"Some Thoughts on Why Megachurch Pastors Keep Failing."


You can't have a great ministry and bad marriage. A bad marriage will obliterate a great ministry.

If you’re winning at work but losing at home, you’re losing.

Leaders, you're supposed to serve the church. It's not supposed to serve you.

Just because everybody doesn't need to know everything, it doesn't mean nobody does.

There is a world of difference between a platform and a pedestal. Pedestals are about ego and adulation. Platforms are designed to be shared and used for the benefit of others.

It's way too easy for your platform to outgrow your character.

The seeds of failure are in all of us. So are the seeds of finishing well.

Desire for Holiness Is In Another World from Legalism


I, and many others, are praying for a wave of the Father's love to come to our church family, and to churches across America. We are praying for the Church to be revived and wakened.

This will include a fresh wave of holiness. Every historic revival included repentance and the desire for holiness.

Because the coming revival is about desire, it is not about legalism. When I got rescued in the Jesus Movement, I desired to be like Jesus. My desire to do drugs went away, overwhelmed by a desire to follow Jesus and have what he has.

I did not see myself as following a new set of rules. I felt set free to pursue Christ. I wanted - and still want - to be free to love him and share his attributes. (See, e.g., theologian Wayne Grudem, on the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God, Systematic Theology.)

Legalism can be forced on people. Desire cannot be forced. I don't desire tofu. You might be able to force me to eat tofu. But you will never (apart from a miraculous, divine intervention) force me to desire it. Desire is not like that. Desire and passion for Jesus, passion for repentance, passion for holiness, is not like legalism at all.

Not everyone will welcome the coming revival of love and holiness. Not everyone desires to be a "living sacrifice." Someone has said that the problem with a living sacrifice is that is can climb off the altar.

Is this you? Were you once aflame for Jesus? Have you succumbed to the pressures of the secular culture, and lost you passion for Jesus? Do the "cares of this world" overwhelm your passion for Christ? If that's you, I can pray for you. 

I cannot force you to desire Jesus again. But the Holy Spirit can change your heart. 

I am prepping you. You will not enter into a revivalist lifestyle without a revival of love, purity, and holiness. This is why, as I understand it, Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry has, on their student application form, the following words. I shared them with my Redeemer church family on a recent Sunday. It reads:



A revivalist is not bound by laws. They are compelled by passion. Desire for holiness is in another world from legalism.