Saturday, March 30, 2019

Church Life in America as Funny

Image result for john piippo church building

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


Technology and Spiritual Formation

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

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


Technology and Spiritual Formation

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

Image result for john piippo books

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Easter Was Not Borrowed From a Pagan Holiday

(Downy woodpecker in my backyard.)

Someone asked me a question about Easter - was "Easter" originally a pagan holiday? The answer is: "No."

See "Was Easter Borrowed From a Pagan Holiday?" (The historical evidence contradicts this popular notion.)

The Irrelevancy of the Non-Praying Church

(Redeemer sanctuary. 3 PM. 3/21/19)

For decades I have taught pastors and Christian leaders how to have a praying life. I develop this in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Pastors and Christian leaders are irrelevant and inauthentic if they do not have a Jesus-type praying life (found, e.g., here). This is because praying is talking with God about what you and God are doing together. To not pray is to be out of touch with what God is thinking and doing.

I'm re-reading Francis Chan's Letters to the Church. Chan says the same thing here.

"Is prayer something you do only before you eat or something your church does only when it needs to transition out of the sermon while the band walks onto the stage? Would you say that prayer plays any meaningful role in the life of your church? If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital. This statement may be bold, but I believe it’s true. If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant." (Chan, p. 62)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The More Westernized a Person Is, the Less They Pray

Image result for john piippo prayer
(Praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem)
In the process of encouraging people to pray as conversation-with-God, I often hear the following, from Western Jesus-followers: "I don't think I have time to pray 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week." If the Jesus-follower is from a Third World country, like ancient Israel in the time of Jesus was, they have time to pray. What's going on? 

My answer is: the more Westernized a person is, the less they take time to meet and talk with God; the less Westernized a person is, the more they take time to meet and talk with God.

I estimate that 80% of European and North American pastors and Christian leaders do not have a significant prayer life. By this I mean that they do not take time to actually pray, habitually. By "taking time" I mean more than saying a blessing over dinner, or multi-task "praying." By "significant" I mean something like an hour or more a day. Like Jesus did.

My estimate comes from teaching and coaching 3000 pastors and leaders over the past forty years.

The statistics flip for pastors and leaders from Third World contexts. 80% of them have a significant prayer life. When they attend my prayer and spiritual formation seminary classes they already have a quantitative prayer life in place. They pray... a lot. The European and North American clergy, on the other hand, find themselves "too busy to pray." They find it very hard to "fit in" times of actual praying. Why is this so?

The reasons Westernized Christians don't significantly pray and Third World Christians do, include these.

  1. SENSE OF NEED: More access to human helping agencies lowers the desperation level. But when I was, e.g., teaching and speaking in India, the lack of access to medical care, education, jobs, etc. was massive. One could only turn to God, in prayer. So in India I found pastors who were praying people. The less felt need there is, the less one prays; the more felt need there is, the more one prays.
  2. NEED TO CONTROL: Westernized Christians live under the general cultural illusion that they are in control of life; Third World non-westernized Christians live in a cultural world where human control is minimal at best; hence, they appeal to God (or gods, or spirits) for help. The more one feels in control of life, the less one prays; the less one feels in control of life, the more one prays.
  3. TIME: The more stuff a person has, the less they pray. This is because much of their life is dictated by their stuff, which demands much time protecting, arranging, storing, repairing, cleaning, cultivating, etcing. Stuff demands time. On the other hand the less personal ownership, the more actual time to pray. The busier one is the less one has time to pray; the less stuff one has, the more one has time to pray.
  4. UNBELIEF. Many pastors are secularized. They don't believe. Because if you believed there is a God who interacts with you when you pray, you would pray.
The typical European and North American Jesus-follower has little felt need, is under the illusion that they can control things, and is afflicted with burnout-busyness. As these four elements converge, the God-relationship is virtually gone.

James Houston writes: "To pray is to declare loyalty to a spiritual reality above and beyond the human realm of self-effort and control." Will it be heart-loyalty to "things above" or "things below?" The answer to this question will determine whether or not a Christian prays.

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

Personalizing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Linda, in Ann Arbor

Jesus fully demonstrated the kind of love we read of in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We could plug in ‘Jesus’ for the word ‘love’ and arrive at this:

Jesus is patient, 
Jesus is kind. 
Jesus does not envy, 
Jesus does not boast, 
Jesus is not proud. 
Jesus does not dishonor others, 
Jesus is not self-seeking, 
Jesus is not easily angered, 
Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. 
Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
 Jesus always protects, 
Jesus always trusts, 
Jesus always hopes, 
Jesus always perseveres.

1 John 3:2-3 says: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

How do we purify ourselves, as Jesus is pure? Write your name in the blank space. This is your destiny, if you are in Christ. 

 _____________ is patient, 

_____________ is kind.

_____________ does not envy, 

_____________ does not boast,

_____________ is not proud.

 _____________ does not dishonor others,

_____________ is not self-seeking,

_____________ is not easily angered,

_____________ keeps no record of wrongs.

 _____________ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

 _____________ always protects,

 _____________ always trusts,

_____________ always hopes, 

_____________ always perseveres.

I am carrying this with me today. As I read my name in the blank spaces I sometimes think, "This is ridiculous. I am so far from this..."
Yet as I read and re-read this, understanding that this is my eternal future in Christ, that one day I shall be like Him, I find myself encouraged, even empowered.
Try it as a spiritual discipline for awhile. Bring any revealed impurity to God. Allow God's Spirit to get his hands on you, and form you into greater and greater Christlikeness. (Galatians 4:19)

My two books are:

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I'm almost done editing Encounters With the Holy Spirit.

Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

Friday, March 22, 2019

Empowering Women for Ministry

Image result for john piippo women
(With Linda, who is a powerful Christian leader!)
My 5/14/17 sermon "Empowering Women for Ministry" is HERE.

What about the two problem passages?

See HERE, and HERE.

F.F. Bruce on Women Leaders In the Church

Three church women
All of us who went to an evangelical theological seminary in the mid-to-late 20th century faced the writings of New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce. And let's be honest here. Anyone who goes by "F.F" (or "C.S." or "W.H." or "J.P." or "N.T.") must be smart. 

Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? was read by all of us budding young scholars. My copy of Bruce's commentary on the Gospel of John is falling apart. This is due to much use, not poor binding. And his book on the canon of Scripture was, as far as I could tell, the only and best book of its kind at the time.

Bruce was a humble and quiet man. This is how New Testament scholar Scot McKnight describes him when they met. Bruce had just finished his commentaries on Galatians and Philippians. McKnight waited for an opportune time to ask the great NT scholar THE QUESTION. McKnight writes:

"I asked him about women in the church. My question was something like this, “Professor Bruce, do you think women should be ordained?” His response I shall remember forever. He said, “I don’t care much for ordination. But what I can say with regard to the exercise of women’s ministries in the church, is this: I am for whatever brings freedom in the church. I am for whatever brings the freedom of the Spirit in the church of God.”" (McKnight, Galatians, Kindle Locations 5804-5807)

Initially McKnight thought Bruce's response was nebulous, full of holes and replete with problems. And probably correct. McKnight writes: "His answer is very biblical, very Pauline, and very much like Galatians. In fact, his answer is so much like Galatians that his answer must be right." (Ib.)

And uncommon. Yet Bruce's answer "corresponded to Paul's view of the essence of Christian living." His answer was uncommon because Paul's view "is a view that few are willing to live with."

There is a vast open-endedness in the Pauline view of Christian freedom, especially as it is presented in Galatians.

NOTE: There's no "ordination" in the New Testament.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Four Seminars in New York City

Image result for john piippo new york city
(New York City)
When Linda and I travel to New York City to speak at Faith Bible Church and teach at Faith Bible Seminary, I'll also be giving four evening seminars, one of them (Relationships) with Linda.

My seminary class is June 2-6 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church. Students can prepare by reading my book in advance. (See HERE.)

My four seminars are:

5/31 (Friday)
7:30 - 9:30pm
How to Respond to Same-Sex Marriage
Defending the biblical view of marriage as between a man and a woman and how to respond to this issue.
6/4 (Tuesday)
7:30 - 9:00pm
How to have healthy relationships with friends, family, and in marriage.
6/5 (Wednesday)
7:30 - 9:00pm
The Authority of the Bible
Is the Bible God’s Word, from God? I share why I believe it is, and how I arrive at this.
6/6 (Thursday)
7:30 - 9:00pm
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Showing how technology does and will affect our formation into increasing Christlikeness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Cure for the Entitlement Disease: The Hard Way Principles

Bald eagle in a tree near our house

Psychologist John Townsend's The Entitlement Cure is very good. It's helping me look more closely at areas of pocket entitlement I have. It's giving me insights to help others who have pocket entitlement, and even global entitlement.

Here are some things about the entitlement disease.

"Entitlement directs us to judge God for how the world works, for the bad things that happen to us that we don’t understand, and for things that didn’t happen that we desired. Entitlement says, “My way of looking at life is beyond his,” because entitlement creates a deep sense of being special and above it all." (50)

"Entitlement goes deeper than a person thinking, It’s okay if I want to be lazy because someone else will bear my burdens, or I’m so special that the rules don’t apply to me. In fact, entitlement goes so deep that it rejects the very foundations on which God constructed the universe. At its heart, entitlement is a rejection of reality itself." (51)

"Ever since Eden, we humans want to be like God, with all his privileges and power, and — the very definition of entitlement — we feel it is our right. Entitlement infects our brains with the notion, I have a right to more and better; in fact, I am owed that." (52)

All this is unreality. Townsend says that God's principles lie at the core of reality. The more you experience and follow them, the better life becomes for you and those in your life. Townsend calls this "the hard way."

The "Hard Way" Principles are:

1. Humility and Dependence - We Are Completely Dependent on God.

"Humility is simply accepting the reality of who God is and who you are. When you see the reality of his power, his love, and his care, you more easily see yourself as who you are: a loved creature, a special creature, an important creature, but a creature nonetheless. 

Dependence means you look to him for your sustenance, for every breath you take." (54)

Entitlement, however "tells you to be your own boss and determine your own destiny. Entitlement teaches you to say, "You're not the boss of me!" It implies that you can be and do anything you want, demand of the others around you anything you want, and that it’s lame to depend on anyone." (55) 

2. Connectedness - We Are Designed to Live in Connectedness with Each Other.

"We live in a relational world and a relational culture, summarized by Jesus’ teaching: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15: 12). Love comes from him, and we are to love not only him but each other." (56)

The entitlement mentality subverts healthy relationships and community in two ways. 

First, entitlement objectifies. "When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of some desired commodity, that is objectification. People objectify each other sexually. A good listener may be sought out for her ability, but who remembers to ask how she’s doing?" (56)

"The self-absorbed attitude of entitlement makes it difficult to see people as having needs, feelings, and lives of their own. Forget “walk a mile in my shoes” — entitled individuals can only envision the lives of others as an extension of their own. They can’t enter fully into the experience of the other individual." (58) 

Second, entitlement creates unhealthy self-sufficiency. This is the idea that I don't need others to sustain and support me. "Entitlement is anti-need; it will cut you off from the supplies that your life requires to carry on." (59)

"If connectedness is the fuel of life, then entitlement results in an empty tank for the entitled person. And that causes breakdowns in relationships, love, career, self-care, and spirituality." (59)

3. Ownership - We Have to Take Responsibility for Our Own Choices.

Entitlement builds a huge obstacle to healthy ownership, in two ways: low ownership and externalization.

"Low ownership: Individuals who don’t take ownership of their lives sometimes live as if their actions have no consequences. They tend not to see beyond the present; their concern is for what they need and desire right now. They’re surprised when they lose jobs or relationships. Most of us are aware of the basic principle that “If you sow X, then X is what you will reap,” but not the entitled person." (60)

"Externalization: People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem. Their entitlement prohibits them from taking the beam out of their eye and asking the all-important question: How did I contribute to this latest problem? Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (61) 

"Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." Blame is a life-killer.

4. Accepting the Negative - Your Flaws Can't Be Forgiven and Healed Until You Admit Them.

"God made a way through Christ so that we could live with the negative as it truly is, without denying it or minimizing it. In a relationship with Christ, we feel permission to be who we truly are, warts and all. We don’t have to hide, pretend, or put our best face forward. We are known and loved just as we are by the one who matters most. This enables us to love others the same way. 

The result of acknowledging and accepting the negative is that the negative then can be transformed. When you are okay knowing your failings, you can face them, bring them to God and to the people with whom you feel safe being vulnerable, and heal whatever is driving those feelings. This is the key to great growth. It’s a paradox, but the ones who run from the negative will suffer from it, while the ones who accept the negative will find the power to change it." (63)

Entitlement drives you away from admitting your flaws. The entitled attitude has three directions that destroy the "It Is Well With My Soul" life. They are:

  • Denial. "The person in denial simply turns her back on reality. She refuses to admit her flaws to herself or anyone else, which eliminates any possibility of deep and satisfying relationships."
  • Perfectionism. "The person caught in perfectionism beats himself up for failures, minor or major. His standard for performance is perfection, and he offers himself little grace when he stumbles. He constantly scrutinizes and condemns himself, and never makes it to a point of self-acceptance."
  • Narcissism. "The narcissistic person adopts a grandiose view of himself that hides his flaws, which usually lie buried under deep shame and envy. He is so afraid to see himself as he really is that he reacts in the opposite direction, toward the “I’m special” stance, in which he becomes arrogant and selfish and has difficulty feeling empathy for others."
5. Finding Our Role - To Live Long and Contentedly Find Your Purpose in Life and Fulfill It. 

"Finding your role means that you are giving back to the world over time in a sustained and steady way, and this attitude actually contributes to your living longer. Research indicates that the number one factor in longevity is not social relationships or happiness, but conscientiousness, described as persistence, dependability, and organization." (66)

Entitlement block this in two ways.

  • Entitlement limits the person's goals. "One of the most limiting ideas of entitlement thinking is that the end goal of life is happiness: “I just want to be happy, that’s all.” Entitlement says that the highest good is to be a happy person — but in fact, that is one of the worst endgame goals we can have. People who have happiness as their goal get locked into the pain/ pleasure motivation cycle. They never do what causes them pain, but always do what brings them pleasure. This puts us on the same thinking level as a child..." (66)
  • Entitlement limits the individual's growth. Entitlement freezes development. "It keeps us from growing, learning, challenging ourselves, or trying new things. It whispers to us, “That sounds really hard and it doesn’t look like it’s worth it.” When we listen to this voice, something inside us goes to sleep. We might become couch potatoes, video addicts, chronic partiers, or simply get in a rut and routine that becomes boring and deadening." 
My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Submit to God In the Present Moment

(Bangkok Train Station)
Greg Boyd, in his brilliant little book Present Perfect, writes:

"One of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences [is because] we believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solve our personal and social problems." (98)

While sometimes information does help people grow, and sometimes helps us solve problems, knowledge "does not on its own empower us to become more Christlike. When it comes to living in the Kingdom, moment-by-moment, our typical Western confidence in information is misplaced." (98-99)

In the West we are massively informed."We have more data, more information, than Christians at any time in the past. But it is not evident that we are more spiritually mature than Christians in the past. Many have written about how the lifestyle and core values of Western Christians are no different from pagan, worldly non-Christians. And this, in spite of all our Christian bookstores and books and websites and seminars and conferences and Bible studies. We have a problem. It isn't due to a lack of information."

Greg asks, "Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging on other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people?" (98) The answer lies in the great gap being knowing about the Kingdom and knowing Jesus and living out the Kingdom.

Greg writes: "all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment." (100)

Submit to God now, in the present moment. As we do this God's "life flows in and through us," and "transforms us in a way no amount of knowledge can." (101)

(See also the writings of James K. A. Smith, who debunks the Western Enlightenment idea that we are, primarily, what we think.)

My two books are:
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships