Sunday, March 31, 2019

Prayer as Re-membering

Image result for john piippo prayer
I took this photo of a woman praying i Jerusalem

Remembering is a spiritual discipline. When we give thanks, it's an act of prayer often associated with something God has done for us. 

Prayer-remembering is about the past. When that past is positive, it is accompanied with thanksgiving. We remember how God re-membered us, how God put us back together when we were falling apart.

To re-member something, literally, would be to "member again" that which has become dismembered. Parts that were once together because they were meant to be together, got separated, but now are rejoined.

When I pray I am often re-minded (I am mindful again) of something that has "left my mind." God brings something to mind, and I am re-membered. 

This is good. It is clarifying and focusing when this happens. In prayer, in the God-appointment, God puts pieces of life back together again. God's Spirit achieves, in the act of praying, a great unifying.

I don't think you have to try or strive to re-member. Rather, as you consistently meet with God, conversing together in the slow-cooked prayer exchange, a re-membering will take place, by the Spirit. This has been, and remains, my ongoing experience.

This is good news, and provides an incentive to pray. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put you back together again, but God can. As you pray God will put the pieces of your life and life in the kingdom back together again. (As some have said, to pray is to change.)


***

My Two Books (and Two More to Come)


Image result for john piippo books

My two books are:

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Image result for john piippo books

Remembering as a Cure for Fear

Dandelion seeds in my front yard


Linda’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear. 

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del left for an hour to shop together, while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute, and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with panic, and asked, “Where’s Del?!” 

“He’s shopping with Linda. He’ll be right back,” I responded. 

This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again, and asked, “Where’s Del?” 

“He’s with Linda. He’ll be right back.” 

This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking “Where’s Del?”, and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del, she had a husband who would never, ever, leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, Alzheimer’s or not.  

There is a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one’s own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment. 

The antidote to this is: remembering

“Remembering” is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembrance. The Jewish festivals are remember-events, such as Passover, when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In response, the past is recounted, and we hear again how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, reminding them of God’s past faithfulness, brings fresh hope. 

My spiritual journal functions as the written memory of the voice and deeds of God, in my life. I take time every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so, I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he has answered many of my prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through, and my worry dissipated. 

I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer’s disease.

- From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, Chapter 13, "Praying and Remembering" 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Church Life in America as Funny

Image result for john piippo church building
(Monroe)


Linda and I are reading together Francis Chan's Letters to the Church. We really like this book. Several times I have said to Linda, "That's enough reading for me - I can't take any more!" Because it is so spot on.

A main way - arguably the way - to evaluate how your church is going is to read it in light of the Book of Acts. When you look at some churches, you can get this kind of feeling Karl Barth had when he looked at the church in Germany, and then read his Bible only to find "the strange world of the New Testament."

Chan tells a story of when he was in China, visiting underground churches. Young people were sharing stories of being persecuted. They were "praying so passionately, begging God to send them to the most dangerous places... I had never seen anything like it. I still can't get over the fearless passion for Jesus this church embodied." (154)

Then Chan writes:

"As they shared stories of persecution, I sat in amazement and asked for more stories. After a while, they asked why I was so intrigued. I told them the church in America was nothing like this. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was to try to explain to them that people attend ninety-minute services once a week in buildings and that’s what we call “church.” I told them about how people switch churches if they find better teaching, more exciting music, or more robust programs for their kids. As I described church life in America, they began to laugh. Not just small chuckles; they were laughing hysterically. I felt like a stand-up comedian, but I was simply describing the American church as I’ve experienced it. They found it laughable that we could read the same Scriptures they were reading and then create something so incongruent." (154-155)

Journey to the Center of the Self (The Inner "Mysterium Tremendum")

Image result for john piippo sterling
(Sterling State Park'Lake Erie, through the rain on my car windshield)

It's Saturday morning. I'm going out to Sterling State Park to pray. I'll be there 1-2 hours. When I do this I often ask God to search my heart, and see if there are any ungodly things he wants to free me of. My prayer time is a journey inward, whcich leads to the outward journey.
Henri Nouwen writes:


"Spiritual formation requires taking an inward journey to the heart. Although this journey takes place in community and leads to service, the first task in to look within, reflect on our daily life, and seek God and God’s activity right there. People who dare to look inward are faced with a new and often dramatic challenge: they must come to terms with the inner mysterium tremendum—the overwhelming nature of the inner life." (Nouwen, Henri, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, K 195)


"Mysterium tremendum." 


I first encountered this term in Rudolf Otto's classic The Idea of the Holy. "Mysterium tremendum" (MT) refers to an experience of awe, even fearfulness, in the encounter with God.


MT is, for Otto, a non-rational (= non-discursive) experience. "Non-rational" does not mean "irrational," but rather an experience that cannot be captured in the steel nets of logical language. It cannot be discoursed about; hence, it is a non-discursive experience. Put more simply, there's way more in the experience than can be captured by intellectual reason. Surely the real encounter with the Living God has this quality.


Otto coins the term "numinous" to refer to the non-discursive experience of God. "Numen," for Otto, refers to God. A "numinous" experience is a way of speaking of a God-encounter that cannot be fully captured by human reason. Such experience is what Paul Ricoeur and others call a "limit-experience," containing a "surplus of meaning." (On Ricoeur and limit-experiences see, e.g., here, p. 66)


Picking up on Otto's language, C.S. Lewis writes:


"Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a might spirit in the room" and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous. " (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)


Nouwen uses "mysterium tremendum" metaphorically to refer to the encounter with the depths of one's own being, "the overwhelming nature of the inner life," and God and God's activity happening there. Referring to another book I read a long time ago, this is what Morton Kelsey called the "adventure inward." Call this the Journey to the Center of the Self. Entrance into the inner sanctuary, the temple within ("You are a temple of the Holy Spirit"; "Christ in you, the hope of glory").


Here is where spiritual formation takes place. "Spiritual formation requires taking an inward journey to the heart." (Nouwen) The inward journey is dangerous and exhilarating, as much so as interstellar space travel would be. This is how those who have made the journey and lived to write about it describe it.


Dare to travel inward. Adventure deep, led by God's Spirit. 



  1. Look within.
  2. Reflect.
  3. Seek God and God's activity there.
Steps 1-3 are the necessary preconditions for adventuring outward and seeing earth, through heaven.

***
My two books are:

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (I'm editing this collection of writings from my HSRM colleagues. Should be out in June!)

I've begun writing...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Then... 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then...  Linda and I plan to co-write our book on Relationships

Friday, March 29, 2019

Guidelines for Civil Discourse

Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #1 - Love Others

Flicker, in my back yard

(I don't read what people post on social media. I don't have time to do this. I am on Facebook, but I block everyone except my family and our church staff. 
I'm not on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler, Snapchat, or Whatsapp. Or anything.  
I post this blog to Facebook. Some respond to my blog, and I often interact with them. Thank you.
I have always been a culture-watcher. I am very interested in human behavior. I study moral behavior and its sources like a madman. I am supremely interested in how we Jesus-followers should live and act and have our being. 
I have much personal experience with humans abusing each other verbally. Even among Christians. Even, sadly, at times, me.
This post is about how someone who claims to follow Jesus should conduct themselves, in any medium, in all human interaction.)

If you are a follower of Jesus, this is for us. 

Though the world fails in civility, we must engage in civil discourse.

Our foundation for civil discourse is love. We are to love others, in our behaviors. With the love of God, exemplified in Jesus. We must love like Jesus loves.

This includes those who disagree with us. It encompasses our enemies. They are among our "neighbors."

Love is the sign, the mark, that we are what we declare we are; viz., Christians. If we don't love, we have nothing. (See 1 Corinthians 13) If we don't love, we don't have our identity, at least in the eyes of others.

Jesus affirms the call to love in John 13:34-35:


“A new command I give you: 
Love one another. 
As I have loved you, 
so you must love one another. 
By this everyone will know 
that you are my disciples, 
if you love one another.”

People will know that you and I are with Jesus as we love one another. If we fail to do this, we will be considered to be far from Jesus. Or, people will think of Jesus through the lens of our rudeness and uncivility.

When Christians hate one another on social media, they fail to display what is supposed to be their distinguishing mark; viz., love. When we get disgusted, show irritation, demean, mock, slander, ridicule, or bully, we dishonor people made in God's image. And bring shame upon our Lord.

Francis Schaeffer, in his classic The Mark of the Christian, writes:

"We are to love our fellowmen, to love all men, in fact, as neighbors. 
All men bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are God’s creation in God’s image. Modern man, who has rejected this, has no clue as to who he is, and because of this he can find no real value for himself or for other men. Hence, he downgrades the value of other men and produces the horrible thing we face today—a sick culture in which men treat men as inhuman, as machines. As Christians, however, we know the value of men. 
All men are our neighbors, and we are to love them as ourselves. We are to do this on the basis of creation, even if they are not redeemed, for all men have value because they are made in the image of God. Therefore they are to be loved even at great cost." (Schaeffer, pp. 15-16)

It is clear, is it not, that in all our discourse with people we are to love them. This is the higher ground, where Jesus was suspended on a cross.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #2 - Never Mock People

Image result for john piippo evil
Chicago store window
(I don't read what people post on social media. I don't have time to do this. I am on Facebook, but I block everyone except my family and our church staff. 
I'm not on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler, Snapchat, or Whatsapp. Or anything.  
I post this blog to Facebook. Some respond to my blog, and I often interact with them. Thank you.
I have always been a culture-watcher. I am very interested in human behavior. I study moral behavior and its sources like a madman. I am supremely interested in how we Jesus-followers should live and act and have our being. 
I have much personal experience with humans abusing each other verbally. Even among Christians. Even, sadly, at times, me.
This post is about how someone who claims to follow Jesus should conduct themselves, in any medium, in all human interaction.)


Followers of Jesus are never to mock or ridicule other people.

Never. Ever. 

Mockery and ridicule are opponents of agape love. They reside in the camp of conditional love. ("If you agreed with my position, then I would not show my disgust towards you.")

Every person is made in the imago dei, the image of God. To mock and ridicule a person, no matter who they are or what they believe or disbelieve, is to mock that person's Maker. If you mock someone's children, you also mock them. This is how it is in tribal communities.

Slow-cook in the book of Proverbs and apply.


How long will you who are simple 
love your simple ways? 
How long will mockers delight in mockery 
and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 1:22

He mocks proud mockers 
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
Proverbs 3:34

If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; 
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.
Proverbs 9:12

The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, 
but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.
Proverbs 14:6

Penalties are prepared for mockers, 
and beatings for the backs of fools.
Proverbs 19:29

The proud and arrogant person
—“Mocker” is his name— 
behaves with insolent fury.
Proverbs 21:24

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; 
quarrels and insults are ended.
Proverbs 22:10

Mockers stir up a city, 
but the wise turn away anger.
Proverbs 29:8

How shall we live the command to love our neighbor? By mocking them?

How shall we give witness to the sign that we belong to Jesus? By mocking one another?

How shall we be blessed as peacemakers? By ridiculing those who disagree with us?

Is mockery among the fruit of the Spirit?

Shall we build up the body of Christ using the spiritual gift of ridicule?

Is not any fellowship with the company of mockers called wickedness? (Psalm 1:1)

To mock and ridicule others that do not think like you is non-redemptive, only causing existing divisions to separate further. 

(In logic, mockery and ridicule are types of informal fallacies, called ad hominem abusives. To verbally abuse someone not only adds nothing to an argument, it diminishes the argument.)

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

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 - #4: Never Insult a Brother or Sister

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, 
‘Raca,’ 
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 - #5: Fear Speaking Badly of Others Made in God's Image

Frost on my car window

(Linda and I are speaking to our church's youth group tonight about how to have civil discussions with people who disagree with you. 7 PM, @ Redeemer.)

Have you ever met a Christian who never spoke badly of another person? I have met a few.

Apparently, Bill Johnson is one of those. Thank you, C.H., for posting this.

"In a recent meeting, someone said to Bill Johnson, "I notice that you never talk about people. You never talk badly about people. And I'm just wondering what's going on in your heart? How did you discipline yourself to NEVER speak negatively of other people, even people who are sometimes a pain?"
Bill, with tears running down his cheeks, said, "I fear Jesus in them. That I would speak badly about someone made in the image of God, that is so valued by God that Jesus died for them. And that I would portray them as something less valuable than that. I fear how God would deal with a person who would betray the people made in his image."

Growing Self-Recession as Progress in the Spiritual Life

Staircase, University of Michigan

One theme in my spiritual life is the diminishing of self so as to gain Christ. God has told me, "John, learn the joy of living in the background."

It happened again to me recently at Redeemer, as we were worshiping. We were singing "From the Inside Out" and one of the lines talks about "the art of losing myself." I pulled out a 3X5 card and wrote those words down.  And added: This is it, the key to whatever Christ-effectiveness I shall have in this life.

Theistic philosopher Roger Scruton, in The Soul of the World, writes:

"If there is anything that could be called progress in the religious history of mankind, it resides in the gradual preference for the self over the other as the primary sacrificial victim. It is precisely in this that the Christian religion rests its moral claim." (Scruton, 2)

I pick up my journal. I'm looking for what God told me a few weeks ago. "Be content to stay in the background. Prepare for how I will use you in the end."

This is good, because a sign of progress in spiritual formation is growing self-recession. God will gift me with a ministry of absence.

In the spiritual life smaller is better. This allows God to be larger, and magnified, and glorified. I'm praying for this.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

My Two Books (and Four More to Come)


Image result for john piippo books

My two books are:

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (I'm editing this collection of writings from my HSRM colleagues. Should be out in June!)

I've begun writing...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Then...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then...  Linda and I plan to co-write our book on Relationships

Image result for john piippo books

Reveal Yourself





Holly Collins recorded my song "Reveal Yourself." Linda and I sing backup vocals, and I do the guitar work.



This song is from the book of Amos.



He who forms the mountains,
    who creates the wind,
    and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth
    the Lord God Almighty is his name.




Amos 4:13





REVEAL YOURSELF
(John Piippo)

He who forms the mountains
And creates the wind
Reveals His thoughts to man
Delivers us from sin

Who turns dawn to darkness
Walks high places of the earth
Holy is His name
His essence is unsearched

Reveal Yourself
Reveal Yourself
Come and show us what You've got
Things that are, things that are not
Reveal
Yourself to me
Greater revelation
Greater revelation of Your glory