Monday, April 29, 2019

Stripped-Down Worship (The Presence-Driven Church)

Image result for john piippo quiet
Sterling State Park, Monroe

(I'm re-posting this after reading more of Francis Chan's new book, especially the parts about worship.)

You don't have to have a band to worship. You don't even need to have instruments. Many churches cannot exist without a band. So they struggle to find musicians, hopefully good ones. Because if their church doesn't have a band, people won't come. They will find a different church with a more awesome worship band. This is about competition. And pressure. The show must go on.

I've had many beautiful, touching worship experiences in my life. Sometimes it's happened when I've been alone, sometimes with a small group of people, sometimes in large group settings. The real worship thing happens, which is 100% about God and his presence. For me this never has to do with how good the worship musicians are, or even if there are worship musicians.

One example was when I was preaching in Kurnool, in central India, in an old church building on the Deccan plateau, before a thousand people. There was no worship band. I am not against worship bands. It's just that they are unnecessary for worship to happen. In this falling-apart church building in India, one man was leading the people in a worship song. It was in the Telegu dialect. The singing was repetitive, and went on for a long time. In the middle of it, it happened. God happened. And in my heart, I was worshiping. I was caught up in God's presence, 100%.

David Platt writes: “What if we take away the cool music and the cushioned chairs? What if the screens are gone and the stage is no longer decorated? What if the air conditioning is off and the comforts are removed? Would His Word still be enough for his people to come together?”  (Radical. Francis Chan is writing about this too - see Letters to the Church.)

In some churches it might not be. When all is stripped away, few would simply come.

How in the world did the early church make it, being not only without awesome media, but lacking funds for whatever the latest post-flannel-graph technology was?

The answer would be: the early church thrived because God was with them. They had God and His presence and His power and His voice and His love and His guidance and His correction and His grace and mercy, experientially

This is stripped-down worship, the heart inside the body, the core within the container, the engine in the framework, the software inside the hard drive.

It's Monday evening. The sanctuary is empty. I'm at home, and it's quiet.

When the music fades,
and all is stripped away,
and I simply come.
Matt Redman

Linda and I are almost through Francis Chan's new book Letters to the Church, which says a lot about church and worship. Reading it ignites me, in a good way, I think. So I decided to re-post this.

Here are some fire-starting Chan quotes about worship.
  • "Too often we add in our own voices, thinking if we offer just the right services or package the gospel in just the right way so no one gets offended, we can convince people to stay. By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches." (53)

  • "In the book of Malachi, God’s people had become bored with worship. God’s response was not mild. As the prophet Malachi called them back to the passion, devotion, and sacrifice of true worship, the people responded by saying, “What a weariness this is” (Mal. 1:13). They saw worship not as an honor but as an obligation. Today we’d respond to this by saying, “Look at how bored they are! Let’s make worship more exciting; then people will really get something out of it!” But God’s response was much different. He was so offended by it all that He would rather they simply shut the whole thing down." (66)
  • "Years ago, my friend from India drove me to a speaking engagement in Dallas. When he heard the music and saw the lights, he said, “You Americans are funny. You won’t show up unless there’s a good speaker or band. In India, people get excited just to pray.”" (67)

  • "We want to be people who are committed to worshipping God, people who can’t get enough of Him, not people who worship only when it is convenient or when the right people are leading. It must be the Object of our worship that makes worshipping exciting to us." (176)

  • ***

    My two books are:

    Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

    Leading the Presence-Driven Church

    I am writing...

    Encounters with the Holy Spirit (June 2019)

    How God Changes the Human Heart

    Technology and Spiritual Formation

    Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships

    Why I Pray

    Image result for john piippo pray
    (Glen Arbor, Michigan)
    (From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. All Scripture references are in my book.)

    The beating heart of my praying life for the past forty-two years happens on Tuesday afternoons. So, this Tuesday, I will get in my car, drive seven miles to the Lake Erie shoreline, and pray. I'll be praying anywhere from two to five hours. (If you would like me to pray for you, please send me an email - I'll share the request with Linda and no one else.

    Why do I do this?

    Because everyone in the Bible prayed.

    In the Old Testament people prayed 

    Abraham prayed. “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again…” 

    Isaac prayed. “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” 

    Jacob prayed. “Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper…’”

    Moses prayed. Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD.

    When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. 

    The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

    Samson prayed.

    Hannah prayed.

    Samuel prayed.

    David prayed. “Nathan hears from God and shares this with David. Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

    Elisha prayed.

    Hezekiah prayed. “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the LORD, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign.”

    Solomon prayed. [The Dedication of the Temple] “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.”

    Ezra prayed. “So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

    Nehemiah prayed. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

    Job prayed. “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.”

    Psalms – the word “prayer” is used thirty-four times in the Psalms.

    Isaiah prayed.

    Jeremiah prayed.

    Elijah prayed.

    All the prophets prayed. Jonah prayed. “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.”

    Daniel prayed. “Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.”

    The early church prayed. 

    They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

    And: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

    And: On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.

    “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

    Peter prayed. About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.

    Paul and Silas prayed. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.

    Paul prayed. “God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times…

    And: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

    Paul counseled Jesus-followers to “Devote yourselves to prayer.”

    Jesus prayed. 

    Jesus was often found praying, in various contexts; e.g., in the synagogue, in lonely places, etc. Jesus spent time in solitude. “Jesus began his ministry by spending 40 days alone in solitude and prayer.”

    “Before choosing the Twelve Jesus spent the entire night alone in the desert hills praying.”

    “When he heard of John the Baptist’s death Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.””

    “After feeding the 5000 he dismissed the crowd and “went up into the hills by himself” where he prayed.”

    After a long night of work, “in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place.”

    After healing a leper, Jesus “often withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.”

    Before his time on the cross he went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed.

    Jesus went out as usual [as was his custom; as was his habit] to the Mount of Olives, to pray…

    If the God-followers in the Old Testament prayed, if the early church prayed, if Peter prayed, if the apostle Paul prayed, and if Jesus took habitual solitary times of praying out of his own need to be in contact with the Father, should I do any less?

    (Pages 254-259)

    Sunday, April 28, 2019

    How to Be a Pastor

    Image result for john piippo eugene peterson pastor pray
    (I spent several hours praying in this spot when I was in Eldoret, Kenya - gum trees, I was told.)
    Are you a pastor? Do you feel called to be a pastor? What does "pastor" mean?

    I love being a pastor.

    I am still learning how to be a pastor.

    I have looked to some pastors about how to be a pastor. One is Eugene Peterson. I never met him. But I did I talk with Eugene on the phone once, for less than five minutes. I was inviting him to speak at a pastors conference in Michigan. He was gracious as he told me he would like to to it, but could not. He said, "I'm out of gas." 

    This short conversation touched me, because of who is, and what he stands for when it comes to being a church. Peterson was out of gas, but his words start fires.

    Peterson's book The Pastor is important to me. He shares what kind of pastor he wants to be.

    • "I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be relaxed and reflective and responsive in the presence of God."
    • “I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against."
    • “I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with [people] in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with [them] as [they] grow in Christ—[their] doubts and [their] difficulties, [their] desires and [their] delights."
    • "I want to be a pastor who leads in worship, a pastor who brings [people] before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give [people] a language and imagination that restores in [them] a sense of dignity as a Christian in [their] homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson."
    • "I want to be an unbusy pastor." (P. 278)

    I like this. I want to be a pastor like this. 

    It requires a long obedience. In the same direction.

    Saturday, April 27, 2019

    Francesca Ansel Going to Bethel This Fall

    Francesca Ansel's Profile Photo

    Francesca Ansel is one of Redeemer's young adults. She plans on going to Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in the fall.

    I asked her to write up a letter which shares what she is doing.


    Bethel Fund Information


    My name is Francesca Ansel, and this summer I will be attending Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry. I will be going for first year schooling which is a 9 month program. During these nine months, I will be learning about what it is like to be a revivalist and lead a community into revival. I believe revival is coming to Monroe and I want to be able to be a good steward of what God is doing here. By going to Bethel, I can spend time studying under passionate revivalist and bring back what I have learned to the community. This is going to be a very exciting and growing season of my life and I am so grateful that God is inviting me on this adventure with him!

    Giving opportunities:

    While I am attending Bethel, I will need to be financially supported. I fully believe God will provide for this mission I am going on and can’t wait to see this financial miracle take place in my life. I am asking the body to come together and support me on this journey.

    The cost of tuition for Bethel is $5,200. This will cover all of my classes and books. I will also be in need of housing and food money while I am there. The expense of living in California is significantly higher than here in Michigan. As of now, I am looking at $500 a month for rent (this will be my share after splitting rent with 5 other girls) and an extra $100 a month for food. I am planning on working while going to school but Bethel has a strict policy on not working over 26 hours while you are attending school. This is so you can focus on what God is doing and not fall behind in classes. I am hoping that I can raise at least $10,000 before I leave. This will give me time to find a job and enough money to pay off tuition.

    If you are interested in making a donation or want to share my information I have a BSSM donate account which will go directly to my tuition or you can donate through Venmo. On both of these platforms all you have to do is look up my name!

    Link to BSSM donate:✓&search=Francesca+Ansel

    Prayer need:

    During the process of moving to Bethel and while I am attending Bethel I would appreciate people partnering with me in prayer.
    These are some things I am asking prayer for:
    - A greater understanding of God’s love for his people
    - More knowledge of the Word
    - That I could become closer to the heart of God
    - Revival in my heart
    - A close Spiritual Mentor
    - Housing
    - Financial breakthrough

    Contact Information:

    Thank you for reading this and if you have any questions or encouragement I would love to hear from you!


    How I Prepare for a Sermon

    (I post this at least once a year, with slight editing.)

    1.  I print out the text and carry it with me throughout the week.

    2.   I meditate on the text. I read it over and over and over. I let it get into me. As I am doing this, God speaks to me. I write down what God says to me.

    3.   I ask these questions:
    a.   What is the text saying?
    b.   What is the text saying to me?
    c.   What will this text say to our people?

    4.   I study the text.
    a.   I use biblical commentaries.
    b.   The rule is: not just any commentary will do. Find trusted Jesus-following scholars who have invested their lives in studying the text. I have a list of trusted names. Some of them are:
                                             i.    Craig Keener
                                            ii.    Ben Witherington
                                           iii.    Richard Bauckham
                                          iv.    Craig Evans
                                           v.    R.T. France
                                          vi.    Gordon Fee
                                         vii.    Andreas Kostenberger
                                       viii.    Joel Green
                                          ix.    N.T. Wright
                                           x.    And so on…
                                          xi.    And people the above scholars recommend.
                   xii. Note: some scholars are excellent in certain biblical books because they have invested a lot of their lives in them. For example, Gordon Fee is especially valuable on 1 Corinthians.
                         For more help see
    c.   When God speaks to me while I am studying the commentaries, I write it down.
    d.   I take notes on the commentaries. These notes appear in my sermon notes. 

    5.   As I am doing these two things – meditation on the text, and study of the text – I type out the sermon, word-for-word, that God wants to speak through me.

    6.   I take these notes and walk with them…, reading them over and over…  take drives in the car with them… I preach them. It always happens that, while doing this, God preaches to me. This usually gets very emotional for me. I feel passion building towards the text and what God has said, what God is saying to me, and what God is going to say and do on Sunday morning.

    7.   When I preach on Sunday morning I want to know that I have given my entire self to preparing for this message. I never step up to preach without having given it my all. Average sermon preparation time for me each week is 10-20 hours. 

    8.   I feel a holy responsibility in preaching. I do not want to lead my people in the wrong direction. Therefore, I study long and hard. And, I pray through the text,

    9.   I always have the expectation that God is going to show up, and make my mere human words into words from Him, for us all.

    10.               With my focus on meditating on the text, and studying the text, and praying the text, my belief is that God, in the sermon, will give me and my people words from Him that are rooted in Scripture but are extrabiblical revelation – viz., “now-words from God.”

    11.               As I preach I give God the right to lead me, even into things I have not yet thought of. Usually, God does a fair amount of slicing and dicing my message into His message.

    12.               If my people are spoken to by God, rather than being impressed with some “great sermon,” then I know the real thing has happened.

    13.               I assume and expect God will do something through the preached Word. I am alert and attuned to this. Sometimes, even while preaching the message, I don’t know what God will do when the message is done. At other times I have a strong sense of what God wants to do, and I lead my people in this. In no way do I think I’m going to end the message with an “Amen” and then say “We’re out of here.” The preached word is going to bear fruit in people’s lives, immediately. The preacher needs to respond to this, and lead their people. 

    In His Kneeprints

    (Three Trees - Maumee Bay State Park)

    In 1977 I began to set aside times and places to pray. I would go alone, to a place of least distraction, and pray. I began to learn how to pray by taking much time to pray.

    I discovered what to do when my mind wandered

    I learned much about hearing God.

    I understood what intercessory praying is. 

    I believe that praying, a lot, is a way of following Jesus. Luke 6:12-13 says:

    One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 
    When morning came...

    And Luke 22:39:

    Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives...

     To meet with the Father. To pray.

    If Jesus spent so much time praying, who do we think we are if we do not do the same? 

    Years ago I read through an old devotional book called In His Steps. I discovered that to follow Jesus - to do as Jesus did - was to get down In His Kneeprints

    Praying was Jesus' first order of business. Everyone who follows him gets this right.

    Praying at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth

    (Sunset at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

    (From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.)

    Praying is Inter-asking

     N.T. Wright believes that “we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on.” 

    To stay at this post is to be a praying person. Praying is the act of interfacing this world with the kingdom of God. Praying is a relationship occurring where heaven and earth intersect. 

    In conversational praying, I confer with God about what we are doing together. This viewpoint radically changes a traditional view of prayer as only “petition,” or “asking.” Instead of sending prayer requests up to heaven, heaven meets earth in the place and act of praying. Praying includes asking, but is more than that. It is interacting. Praying is inter-asking. 

    As you pray you interface with the Maker of heaven and earth. This is important. We are given the location of the God-conference, which is: the intersection of heaven and earth. Praying is the place where God and humans meet. Prayer is the point where God and I converge. The moment of praying is when the rule of God (the “kingdom of God”) invades this present darkness.

    Friday, April 26, 2019

    It Is Irrational and Unloving to Affirm All Beliefs

    Ann Arbor

    (I'm reposting this for someone.)

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

    My answer was, "Yes!"

    And Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists are welcome, too.

    I welcome all of them, as Jesus does the same. I would love to have them come. (I have had atheists come to Redeemer, who are mostly students who have been in my MCCC philosophy classes. A few of them have converted from atheism to theism, and then to Christianity.)

    I say yes and amen to loving and welcoming all kinds of people.

    Does this mean I affirm all the beliefs of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists? Of course not. No one can logically (coherently) affirm contradictory beliefs. Consider, for example, the following three mutually exclusive beliefs.

    1) God does not exist (atheism, and Buddhism)
    2) There are 330,000,000 gods (Hinduism).
    3) There is only one God (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

    Unless a person is on drugs, it is not possible to say "true" to these three beliefs, held simultaneously. (Only people on drugs can sing the song "Imagine" and mean it. "I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will be as one." But this involves the eradication of religion - "and no religion too." Am I just imagining, or am I being marginalized?)

    From this we learn an important truth: No one can affirm all the various beliefs of the world's religions. To believe something is, ipso facto, to deny many things. Beliefs, by nature, embrace and exclude.

    Going further, No one person affirms all the beliefs of any other person. The fact that I, or you, do not affirm the beliefs of someone else should not be shocking. Anyone who claims to affirm someone else's entire belief system is to be dismissed as unbelievable.

    I had a philosophy student who believed The earth is flat. I liked him, but did not affirm his belief.

    In the Jesus worldview, I welcome and love all people. I do not (because it cannot be done, epistemically) affirm all the beliefs of people. It is irrational to expect that I should do so. It is not unloving to say, "I think you are wrong about that." It is unloving, because untruthful, to treat people as if our different beliefs are harmonious.

    (See "Welcoming and Sometimes Disaffirming." I just want to keep this ball in play.)

    My two books are:

    Thursday, April 25, 2019

    Character (Now For Something Completely Different)

    (Glen Arbor, Michigan)

    When I was a boy I remember being encouraged by my parents and teachers to watch the first presidential debate on TV. I don't remember what it was about. Probably, I was bored. But I was told this was an historic event. So my family and I settled down in our living room and watched John F. Kennedy debate Richard Nixon.

    That was September 26, 1960. Today things are different.  We should pray for parents who have to figure out how to shield their kids from the amoral catastrophe. We should, as Scripture tells us, pray for our government leaders, especially that they would have moral integrity. We should focus on character before charisma.

    Allow me to present you with something different. A different world. An alternative kingdom. Another path. It's given by New York Times writer David Brooks, in The Road to Character


    Brooks begins by making a distinction between two opposing sides of human nature, He calls the two sides Adam 1 and Adam 2. 

    Adam 1 does things that strengthen his résumé. Adam 1 strives to have high personal status and win victories.

    Adam 2, on the other hand, wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam 2 has a non-self-promoting sense of right and wrong. Adam 2 not only wants to do good, but to be good.

    Adam 1 self-promotes. Adam 2 sacrifices self in the service of others.

    Adam 2 lives in service to a transcendent truth that is bigger than himself or herself.

    Adam 1 wants to conquer the world; Adam 2 wants to serve the world.

    Brooks writes:

    "While Adam 1 is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam 2 sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam 1 asks how things work, Adam 2 asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam 1 wants to venture forth, Adam 2 wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam 1’s motto is “Success,” Adam 2 experiences life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption.”" (Brooks, Kindle Locations 81-85)

    Adam 1 lives by a utilitarian logic; viz., the logic of economics. Effort leads to reward. Pursue self-interest. Maximize your utility. Impress the world.

    Adam 2 upside-downs the logic of Adam 1. Brooks writes:

    "It’s a moral logic, not an economic one. 

    You have to give to receive. 
    You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. 
    You have to conquer your desire 
    to get what you crave. 
    Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, 
    which is humility and learning. 
    In order to fulfill yourself, 
    you have to forget yourself. 
    In order to find yourself, 
    you have to lose yourself. 
    To nurture your Adam 1 career, 
    it makes sense to cultivate your strengths. 
    To nurture your Adam 2 moral core, 
    it is necessary to confront your weaknesses." 
    (Kindle Locations 90-95)

    Our narcissistic culture applauds and feeds Adam 1, while dismissing Adam 2. The media over-feeds on Adam 1 types. Adam 2 types were not made for consumption.

    "We live," writes Brooks, "in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life." 

    We live to satisfy our desires at the expense of developing a deep, moral life. 

    "We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character."

    Our culture judges people by their abilities, which define a person's worth. In America, Adam 1 increases, while Adam 2 decreases. Thus, most live satisfied with moral mediocrity.

    Adam 1 lives for "résumé virtues"; Adam 2 lives for "eulogy virtues." Brooks writes:

    "The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being— whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed." (K63)

    A eulogy-virtuous person has been freed from self-promotion. "Sometimes you don’t even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline." (K160-162)

    Adam 1 is morally dis-integrated.

    Adam 2 has character. This is important, isn't it?

    (God is still working on my own spiritual character development.)


    My two books are:

    Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

    Leading the Presence-Driven Church

    I am writing...

    Encounters with the Holy Spirit (June 2019)

    How God Changes the Human Heart

    Technology and Spiritual Formation

    Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships