Friday, February 22, 2019

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

Technology and Spiritual Formation - Bibliography (in process)

The Lutheran Home, in Monroe, MI

Here are the tech-resources I am currently using to write Technology and Spiritual Formation. (A few of my colleagues have expressed interest in this project.)

For the spiritual formation part I am writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart. I'm drawing on this book to inform my Technology book. I intend to show how technology is now and will in the future affect and inform, for good or bad, what I see as needed to be growing and transforming into greater Christlikeness.

So, God willing, my next book is - How God changes the human heart.

Then, a follow-up - How technology affects this.

William Davies, The Happiness Industry

Roger Scruton, On Human Nature

My two books are:

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

Welcoming and Sometimes Disaffirming

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Worship at Redeemer

(I am re-posting this for X.)

I was asked the question, "Would a Muslim be welcome in your church?"

My answer is: "Yes!"

And Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, too.

I would be thrilled if people of differing beliefs came to my church.

"If a Muslim came and asked you to affirm their belief that Jesus was merely a prophet (and not God the Son), and that Jesus did not die on a cross (the Koran says this), would you affirm this?"

My answer is: "Of course not." And, BTW, the serious, practicing Muslim would not affirm my belief that Jesus died on a cross to atone for the sins of humanity.

What does it mean to "affirm" something, or someone?" From my Christian point of view, I want to affirm what God affirms. As far as I can tell, God does not affirm the following statement: Jesus was only a prophet, and Jesus did not die on a cross.

This being the case, why would I affirm this? And why would anyone expect me to affirm it?

Over the years, as a result of my college philosophy classes, several atheists have checked out my church. When they come, do I welcome them? Yes. I am thrilled they came! Does this mean that I affirm their core belief that There is no God? Of course not. And, I don't expect that, as atheists, they affirm my core belief that There is a God.

Welcome and love people, even enemies? Yes.

Affirm every belief people have? No. To do that is neither loving nor truthful.

Is it loving to welcome but not affirm? Of course. To love someone is not equivalent to affirming every belief they bring with them. That would be disingenuous. I have had a few atheists over the years tell me they respect the fact that I can be gracious towards them while not affirming their beliefs. One atheist looked me square in the eye and said, "I respect you for not affirming my atheism. That's why I am interested in you."

The atheist Christopher Hitchens said the same, and castigated both Christians and atheists who mindlessly and hypocritically affirmed everything, no matter what. (See The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.)

The philosopher skeptic David Hume said the same. There's the story of Hume getting up at 5 AM to travel to hear George Whitefield preach. Asked if he believed what the preacher preached, he replied, "No, but he does!"

No one affirms everything. Probably, people disaffirm more things than they affirm.

Much depends on a person's worldview. It is within a worldview that affirming and disaffirming find their place. Everyone has a worldview. Even the view that there are no worldviews is a worldview. The question becomes: Is my worldview true? That is, is my worldview the way things really are? This is not the special province of Christians. Everyone believes their worldview represents the way things really are.

Everyone affirms and disaffirms. It is unloving to expect, even force, someone who does not share your worldview to affirm it. But we can try to understand. And then, evaluate. And then, in a civil way, disaffirm. (Unlike life at American universities today, which mostly are disaffirming and not welcoming.)

"Could an atheist teach atheism in your church as something God affirms?" Of course not, for what seem to me to be obvious reasons.

"Could a Muslim be one of your youth leaders and teach your youth that Christ did not die on a cross?" Of course not.

"Would you, John, be allowed to be a youth leader at the Islamic Center of America, and tell Young Muslims that the Koran is wrong, and God is a Trinity of Persons, in One?" Definitely not!

The idea that we ought to love everyone, even our enemies, finds its most powerful formulation in Christianity.

The idea that we should affirm every belief is unloving, and pop-culture nonsense. If love meant affirming everything people believe, we would love no one, not even ourselves, not even God.


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

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(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

Study the Presence-Driven Church with Me in New York City

Image result for john piippo faith bible church
(With Dr John Hao and Faith Bible Seminary students)
I will be teaching Leading the Presence-Driven Church at Faith Bible Seminary in New York City this June.

If you want to study with me here is the information.

M-Th, June 3-6, 2019.

To audit - $190.

For credit - $380.

$50 registration fee for new students.

I'll be teaching my text Leading the Presence-Driven Church (required).

My teaching will be in English, translated in-class into Mandarin (this is a Chinese theological seminary). 

More information + the syllabus TBA.


Faith Bible Church

(718) 961-9355

Contact me:

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)


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.