Sunday, March 31, 2019

Prayer as Re-membering

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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

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Church Life in America as Funny

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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")

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(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

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

(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
Yourself to me
Greater revelation
Greater revelation of Your glory

Why Doesn't God Heal Everybody? Some Thoughts.

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(8 below zero, Sterling State Park on Lake Erie, 1/31/19)
(I'm re-posting this for someone who asked.)

My grandmother was healed of cancer. 

She lived with us six months out of every year when we were growing up. When she was in her mid-80s Grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided not to have it medically treated. The cancerous tumors in her breasts grew. My mother used to bathe her, and visually saw and physically felt the hard tumors growing.

Grandma knew she was going to die. She had lived a long life, and was ready to leave this world for another one. She even bought the dress she wanted to be buried in.

When Grandma had spent what we assumed would be her last six months in our home, she went to live with my aunt and uncle in Michgan's Upper Peninsula. One day my aunt called. She told my mother that, while bathing Grandma, she noticed that the tumors did not appear to be there. My mother could not believe this, yet wanted to believe it. Mom traveled 400 miles to visually inspect Grandma and confirm it.

Grandma lived twelve more years. She bought three more dresses to be buried in. She died at age ninety-seven. 

What happened? How can we explain this? I, and my mother, concluded two things:

- Grandma once was cancer-filled, and then one day the cancer was gone.

- God healed Grandma.

I’ve heard of, and personally seen, other things like this. For some really good, current, encouraging stuff see Eric Metaxas's book Miracles, Craig Keener's magisterial Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, and Lee Strobel's The Case for Miracles. One of Keener's stories is from Redeemer. Strobel, in his book, interviews Craig and Craig tells Strobel that story.

I’ve also been part of praying for people whose illnesses have not gone away. Which raises the question: Why? Why do we not see everyone healed when we pray for them? 

I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years. I not only don’t have all the answers, I don’t think I can, given my quite-limited point of view, expect to have all the answers. Nonetheless, when I am asked this question, here’s how I respond.

1. Sickness and disease are not caused by God. God hates sickness and disease.

2. Sickness and disease are in this world because we live in, as Jesus referred to it, “this present evil age.” We live in a fallen world that’s ruled by Satan, who is called “the Prince of this world.”
3. Some diseases are part of living in this fallen world. The entire world is crying out for redemption (release) from this bondage.
4. Some diseases are caused by demonic forces. For example, Jesus sometimes heals a person by casting out a demon that is the cause of a person’s illness.
5. Some diseases are caused by our own choices.
6. We all will die, and the cause of our death will involve some type of physical failure.

Why did God create a world like this? Why a world where  suffering was allowed? For me the answer is this:

- God is love. That is, God, in His essence, IS love. God cannot not-love.
- Therefore, love is the highest value for God.
- God created persons (and spiritual beings) out of love.
- Genuine love is only possible if created agents have free will.
- Therefore, God gave created agents free will.
- This is risky, since free will implies that one can choose to not love God. When people choose against God this results in suffering, even illness. (This is called the Free Will Defense. See, e.g., Alvin Plantinga.)

From God’s perspective, giving created agents free will is worth it, since God is love, and love is the highest value for God. Hence, much of this world’s suffering happens because of this.

As a pastor I’ve been around a lot of death and dying, to include my own family, even my baby son David. How do I continue to find hope in all of this? Here are some thoughts.

1. Understand what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. Jesus talked about “the age to come,” where will be no sickness, no struggle, no tears. When God invaded earth in the form of a Person, the “age to come” invaded this present evil age. Jesus once said that, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God, you can know that the kingdom of God is in your midst.” That is why I pray for the sick to be healed today, and will continue to do so. 

2. Be part of a faith community. This makes a huge difference for me. I know people (even Christians) who would never pray for someone to be healed. In a faithless community one should not be shocked that healings are not seen. 

3. Discern. Sometimes a deeper spiritual healing is needed. Some illnesses are, at root, spiritual and emotional. I have found that, for example, a person who lives for years with bitterness towards others and refuses to forgive can be subject to physical illnesses. The account of Jesus' healing the lame man let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12) implies that the forgiveness of the man's sins had some connection with his ability to pick up his mat and walk.

4. Don't blame the person who is sick. When Jesus prayed for sick people he never blamed them for their sickness. For example, Jesus rejects his disciples’ assumption that the blind man in John 10 was blind because either he or his parents must have sinned.

5. Persist in prayer. When some sick people are not healed through prayer, it may simply be because we haven't prayed long enough to bring the healing to completion. If you are my friend and you are sick I will never stop praying for your healing.

6. Live a Christ-abiding life. As James writes, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:6)

7. Be a skeptical theist. This does not mean be skeptical of God. It means: be skeptical of your own cognitive abilities to understand what God is doing. It is irrational to reason as follows:

1) I see nothing happening when I prayed for someone.
2) Therefore, nothing is happening.

You can only go from 1 to 2 if you have epistemic (knowledge) access to the mind of our all-knowing God. (As an analogy: 1) I see no germs on this hypodermic needle. 2) Therefore, there are no germs on this hypodermic needle. We can all affirm the truth of 1. But none of us can see germs. Thus, we cannot conclude that God is doing nothing. See "Skeptical Theism.")

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.

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

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(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

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(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.