Friday, May 31, 2019

Tonight - How I Respond to Same-Sex Marriage

Tonight - Friday, May 31, 2019

7:30 PM

Hope Center

154-02 41st Avenue
Flushing, NY

(718) 886-9911

To Experience God’s Presence, Abide in Christ

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(One World Trade Center, NYC)

Linda and I are in New York City teaching Presence-Driven Leadership at Faith Bible Church and Faith Bible Seminary.

This is from my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

We have an old pear tree in our back yard. As I bite into one of these pears I tell Linda, “This is the fruit of the gods!” The pears grow on the branches. The branches are attached to the trunk of the tree. This connection allows the nutrients of the trunk to flow into the branches. To produce pears, the branch just needs to stay connected. It needs to remain, or abide, in the trunk of the tree. 

To be, in the present moment, attached to Jesus is to abide in him. The word can be translated “to remain,” or “to dwell.” 

To dwell is to truly be with someone. “Abide” is an experiential word, describing a lingering, slow-cooked, togetherness. 

The Greek word is menon. It has the sense of tarrying, hanging around, “to be kept continually.” Menon is a kairos word. It connotes, “Slow down, spend the day with me. Kick off your shoes. Here’s a cup of coffee. Let’s recline in the fireplace room, and be together.” 

Menon is a being-word, more than a doing-word. It is a presence word. Menon is active, alert, focused, and engaged. It has the thickness and intensity of a lover, with their beloved. To abide with someone is to full-being be with them, interact with them, and meet with them. It is to hang out together, with cell phones off and stowed away.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

New Book - Encounters with the Holy Spirit

Chapters on the Holy Spirit from Annie Dieselberg, Clay Ford, Ross Lieuallan, Norelle Lutke, John Grove, Teri Nyberg, Ed Owens, Lee Spitzer, Pam Wantz, plus an Introduction by me. Coming soon!

To Abide in Christ Is to Trust Him

(Store in Soho, NYC)

Linda and I are in New York City teaching Presence-Driven Leadership at Faith Bible Church and Faith Bible Seminary.

This quote is from my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.


Abiding is a type of trusting. I bought a new chair for my home office. I had the previous chair for twenty years. I trusted it. I knew it would hold me. Therefore, I had no anxiety about it. It would be contradictory to say, “I trust the chair I’m sitting in, but am afraid it won’t hold me.” 

To abide in Christ is to trust him. I “put my trust in the Lord.” Which means, 

  • If God was a chef, I would eat his cooking. 
  • If God was a shepherd, I would listen for his voice and follow. 
  • If God was a rock, I would stand on him. 
  • If God was a fortress, I would make my home in him. 
  • If God was a river, and I a tree, I would send my roots to him. 
  • If God was a vine, and I a branch, I would attach myself to him. 
  • If God was a fire, I would be consumed by him. 
  • If God was water, I would drink of him.
  • If I was a cup, I would be filled to overflowing by him. 
  • If God was a hidden treasure, I would seek him. 
  • If God was a word, I would read him. 
  • If God was my Lord, I would obey him. 
  • If God was a chair, I would sit on him. 
I would do these things every day… after day… after day. 

There is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, a certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence I had because of sitting in the same chair for twenty years, and finding that, through it all, it still holds.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

My Standards for Worship Musicians

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(Little Italy, New York City)
Linda and I are in New York City teaching Presence-Driven Leadership with our beautiful friends of Faith Bible Church. What a great time we had last night with Greg and Linda Woo and their daughter Audrey!

This is from my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church. And, BTW, Linda and I are both musicians.

And, if you are interested, I'll be speaking at FBC Friday night on "How I Respond to Same-Sex Marriage."


How important is musical skill in worship leading, or playing on a worship team? My answer is: not much. My standards for our worship musicians are these: 

1) You must be yourself a worshiper who seeks and loves God’s presence. [What sense does it make to guide people into spiritual terrain you are unfamiliar with?]

2) You must be able to play well enough so as not to distract people from worshiping. 

If your instrument playing is hideous, people will be drawn to the discordant carnage more than to God. On your instrument, be adequate. Take that part seriously. Get lessons and grow. 

As important as musicianship is, living a life of consistent, passionate, Christ-abiding is more important. Instrumental ability without a Christ-formed heart creates “performance,” without God-presence. This is important, because worship is all about God’s presence. 

Real worship is corporate God-directedness. Worship is movement within the temple of God. If the God-movement is not in the hearts of the worship leaders, great instrumental ability shuts the door to true adoration of God by sending the wrong message (“How Great Are Our Musicians").

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Trying to Be Relevant Has Left the American Church Irrelevant

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(New York City)
Can a church have culturally relevant things? I believe so. But these things, as awesome as they might be, are not manifestations of our great distinctive. The Gospel is relevant, but a presence-driven church is not striving to be relevant. Os Guinness writes: 

“Rarely has the church seen so many of its leaders solemnly presenting the faith in public in so many weak, trite, foolish, disastrous, and even disloyal ways as today… This monumental and destructive carelessness has coincided exactly with a mania for relevance and reinvention that has gripped the church. So a disconcerting question arises: How on earth have we Christians become so irrelevant when we have tried so hard to be relevant? And by what law or logic is it possible to steer determinedly in one direction but end up in completely the opposite direction?… We are confronted by an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.”

It’s not evil for a church to have a fair-trade coffee bar. I probably like coffee more than you do. Coffee-drinking was so much a part of my Finnish heritage that my grandmother literally had tears in her eyes when she learned I started to drink it. To her, I finally joined the Finnish Faith Community. But something has gone wrong when God communicates to us one thing (“better is one day in my presence”), and it gets transcripted as another thing (“better is one day with my barista.

- From my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

Linda and I are in New York City where I will be teaching Presence-Driven Leadership at Faith Bible Seminary.

Monday, May 27, 2019

My New York City Itinerary - Request for Prayers

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(I took this picture in Times Square years ago.)

Here is our New York City itinerary, for our church family and any who pray for us (thank you so much!).

Tues., May 28 - We fly to New York City. We will be hosted by Dr John and Rosie Hao, pastors of Faith Bible Church and Faith Bible Seminary. The website is HERE. This is a large, Chinese church, with multiple services and campuses. Most of my talks will be translated into Mandarin. Dr. Hao was one of my students when I taught in the doctoral program at Palmer Theological Seminary. The Hao's and their church family are precious friends!

We'll spend Wed. and Thurs. exploring the city. Esp. Soho and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Friday, May 31, 7:30-9:30. I'll speak on "How to Respond to Same-Sex Marriage." The timing of this is interesting, since the largest Gay Pride event the world has seen will be in NYC in the month of June.

Sat., June 1, 11 AM. I will be the commencement speaker at Faith Bible Seminary's graduation. I'll speak on the most important thing a Christian leader is to do; Abide in Christ.

Sunday, June 2. I will preach at two services, on "The Presence-Driven Church." One message will be translated into Mandarin, the other is all English. Many who have come from China and speak no English will be at the first service.

Monday, June 3, through Thursday, June 6. 10 AM - 4 PM. I will teach Leading the Presence-Driven Church to students of Faith Bible Seminary. Twenty-one have enrolled so far. My talks will be translated into Mandarin. And, I will send the students out to pray during the class times.

Tuesday, June 4. Seminary class again. And, from 7:30-9 PM, Linda and I will lead a seminar on Relationships. (We will co-write a book on this, the Lord willing.)

Wednesday, June 5. Seminary class. Then, from 7:30-9 PM, I will teach a seminar on "The Authority of the Bible."

Thursday, June 6. Last day of seminary teaching. Then, from 7:30 - 9 PM, I will teach a seminar "Technology and Spiritual Formation."

Friday, June 6. Linda and I go to Manhattan in search of the perfect bagel, and the greatest Chocolate soda.

Sat., June 7 - back to Monroe!

Sunday morning, June 9 - at Redeemer. I will preach on "Revival and the Father's Love." I am reading this book as part of my prep for this message.

Thank you for praying for us - love,

John and Linda

Don't Respond to Evil with Evil

(Linda, on Weko Beach, Bridgeman, Michigan)

Another Monday morning. I'm slow-reading, word-by-word, through the Gospel of Matthew to begin my day.

If someone attacks you, are you to attack them back? Are you to respond to them as they have done unto you?

For followers of Jesus, the answer is clear. He said:

"Don’t repay an evil act with another evil act. But whoever insults you by slapping you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well." (TPT)

So, obviously, when you pay back with an evil act, what you are doing is anti-Jesus. That's clear. I see what I am not to do. I am not to do unto others as they have done unto me. But what should I do? That's clear, too. I am to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Jesus said,

"Love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. For that will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly Father." (TPT)

This is simple, and brilliant. Simply brilliant. Everything about us and around us would change if we, Jesus' followers, would do this, from our hearts. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

I'm Still Praying for Revival and Awakening

My colleague Tim Curry and I continue to preach on revival and awakening, in us, and in churches across the land. We've been doing this for over a year now. Why?

Because American churches need to be revived and awakened.

Because the real problems are not economic and political. They are spiritual.

Because this is what we need.

What would be more important than this?

What would that look like? I'm using Michael Brown's definition of revival.

Not a weekend meeting.

Not something ordinary and expected.

Not something reducible to human talents and ability.

A lasting visitation of God.

That touches and changes hearts and calls Christians to repentance.

That makes all things new.

That produces real growth (converts), not pseudo growth (Christians leaving one church for another).

That transforms communities.

And rocks our nation.

My questions remain. What not you? Why not us? Why not your church? Why not now?

Saturday, May 25, 2019

You Are a Reconciler and a Peacemaker

Munson Park, Monroe

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a reconciler and a peacemaker. You bring people together. You are not satisfied with division. You refuse to be part of division.

Peacemaking is not the same as peace-loving. Many people love it when there is peace. Peacemaking, however, is hard work, requiring depth and discernment. That is what you are called to be and do - to make peace. God works through you to heal and restore relationships.

Why does God want to work through me to bring peace? Because:
1) This is what God has done for us, in Christ.
2) We are God's children.
3) We are to do the things Jesus does.

Romans 5:11 tells us to boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Because of Christ's atoning sacrifice, the breach between you and God has been bridged. You have been reconciled to God; thus, you have peace with God. The cross is about many things, not the least of which is reconciliation to God and peace with God.

This is what God does. God brings puzzle pieces together. God makes ways where there seem to be no ways. God unites the unlikely. As one of God's children, you are to do the same. Is this easy?

It's not about "easy" or "hard." The road to Golgotha was not easy for Christ, right? It is about obedience.    2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

You have a ministry and message of reconciliation. God makes his appeal through you. So, how is this going for you?

You are a peacemaker. As a result, you are blessed. Few things in life give me greater joy than being part of bringing people into relationship with God, and bringing people into loving relationship with one another. As Jesus predicted,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.(Matthew 5:9)

Is there a need for peacemakers today? You're kidding, right? 

Are you looking like one of God's children? You are, if you are a peacemaker. And if you are a peacemaker, you are blessed.

The best book I have read on peacemaking and reconciliation in the church is Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, by James van Yperen.

For dealing with interpersonal conflict see David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Confront.

Eight, or Twenty-Four, Reasons to Believe God Exists

Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Yesterday I took a look at this book - Two Dozen (Or So) Arguments for the Existence of God, by philosophers Jerry Walls and Trent Dougherty. It's $31 for Kindle, so I decided not to get it...  yet.

For those of you who study philosophy of religion this is a must-read. 

The Introduction is excellent in giving background information about Alvin Plantinga, properly basic beliefs, and the value Plantinga gives to arguments for God's existence. 

On Amazon you can read chapter 1 - "The Argument from Intentionality (or Aboutness)." Very interesting. It made me want to buy the book, but not yet.

This argument is:

  1. There are propositions: non-linguistic entities that are fundamentally true or false in virtue of their representational properties. [Premise]
  2. Only thoughts are fundamentally true or false due to their representational properties. [Premise - I taught this premise in my logic classes.]
  3. So, propositions are thoughts, they are either human or divine. [Follows from 1, 2.]
  4. If propositions are thoughts, they are either human or divine thoughts. [Premise]
  5. But there are not enough human thoughts to play the role of propositions. [Premise]
  6. So, propositions are not human thoughts. [Follows from 5]
  7. Propositions are divine thoughts. [Follows from 3, 4, 6.]
  8. If there are divine thoughts, then there is a unique divine thinker. [Premise]
  9. Therefore, there is a unique divine thinker (God).
The essay then explains and defends each step of the argument. 

Bill Craig has an argument in the book, too. A long, long time ago Bill (aka William Lane Craig) was one of my campus pastors at Northern Illinois University, where I did my undergraduate degree in philosophy. I was honored to sing in Bill and Jan's wedding. 

We were always talking about our faith, the existence of God, apologetics, metaethics, philosophical anthropology, and much more. It all got inside me, and has never left, but has been tended and watered and nurtured over the decades.

Here, e.g., is Bill's essay in Philosophy Today where he gives eight reasons to believe God exists ("Does God Exist?"). Read the essay for the reasoning. 

They are:

  1. God is the best explanation why anything at all exists.
  2. God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.
  3. God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.
  4. God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
  5. God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness.
  6. God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.
  8. God can be personally known and experienced.

(If #7 confuses you, it's the modal version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence.)

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I am currently writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.

The book I am co-editing with Janice Trigg, Encounters with the Holy Spirit, is in the final production stages.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Don't Worship If You Hate Someone

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(Glass block, with light behind it.)
It's Friday morning. I got up at 6. Came downstairs, started some alone time with God.

I'm reading Matthew 5:22-24. I have read this many times. I've taught this to people, and preached on it. Yet these words of Jesus are hitting me like I've never seen this before. I've done this long enough to know this is God, saying, "John, I want you to listen to this. These words are for you."

Jesus is saying,

  • Do not murder. If you do, it will be bad for you.
  • Do not hold on to anger against a brother or sister. Don't cling to it. Don't go to bed at night with it inside you. If you do, you are murdering your brother and sister. God hates this.
  • Do not demean or insult a brother or sister. Never talk about a brother and sister behind their back unless it adds value to their character. Or if you are meeting with a peacemaker for the sake of restoring relationship. Bitter slander and gossip hurt the family of God.
  • Gossip and slander and demeaning language are curses up one of Jesus' followers. Do this, and you teeter on the brink of hell.
  • Don't worship on Sunday morning if you haven't taken care of relationships. You are not worshiping if you have hatred towards a brother or sister. That's hypocrisy. Drop the worship-act and reconcile with your brother or sister.
  • Don't stay away from worship just because you have not done what Jesus wants. Do the right thing. When you have done this, come and worship.
Really? Here's Jesus, from The Passion Translation. Really, you can read any translation you want. It's all the same.

“You’re familiar with the commandment that the older generation was taught, ‘Do not murder or you will be judged.’ But I’m telling you, if you hold anger in your heart toward a fellow believer, you are subject to judgment. And whoever demeans and insults a fellow believer is answerable to the congregation. And whoever calls down curses upon a fellow believer is in danger of being sent to a fiery hell. “So then, if you are presenting a gift before the altar in the temple and suddenly you remember a quarrel you have with a fellow believer, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go at once to apologize with the one who is offended. Then, after you have reconciled, come to the altar and present your gift."

You Won't Stay the Same When You Abide in God's Presence

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Ann Arbor

A few years ago some University of Michigan film students were making a movie about our Monroe community. I was one of their interviews. One of them, Jordan, was a U-M student who had been part of Redeemer in the past. That's how we reconnected.

Jordan asked me, "What is the main thing you see about Monroe that needs to be changed?" 

My answer was, "Me." (This is true, but not original. See G.K. Chesterton.)

I was serious about this. My ongoing transformation will set some dominoes falling. 

If I can change for the better, and by "better" meaning into greater Christlikeness, our community will be better off.

If can change and be a better husband to Linda, Linda will be better off. 

If God changes me into a greater Jesus-like compassionate servant, then people in my church family will be better off. Others will benefit from what God is doing in me. 

There's an old gospel song that goes, "It's me, it's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer" (not "It's them, it's them, it's them..."  Another worship song pleads, "change my heart O God" (not "change their hearts O God").

I can't change other people. 

With God's help I can change.

To be transformed, don't focus on change, focus on God. Abide in Jesus. You cannot consistently dwell in the presence of God and remain the same. 

Thomas Merton on Writing

(Rockford East High School, Rockford, Illinois, where I graduated from high school in... 1967!)

Thomas Merton wrote:

"If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people, you have to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn." (New Seeds of Contemplation)

It's the same with preaching. The point is not to deliberately write or preach things that are controversial. That's artificial and weird. Just preach the text, within the cultural context the text was heard. This will be enough to upset some people, because their misinterpretations will be challenged.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Blessed Are Those Who Wage Peace, Not War

(Wellspring Lutheran Home, Monroe)

(I am writing this for a pastor friend who feels shame that his church is having problems.)

Thirty years ago a church in the Detroit area took out a large advertisement in the local paper. The advertisement had these words: "________ Church: The Friendliest Church in America!" When I read it I felt like jockeying for position. I could advertise my church as "We're #2!" Within three years this church had massive internal conflict, many people left, and the church imploded.

At this stage in my life as a pastor one thing I have concluded is: no church is problem free

I can prove this. Your church is not without problems, because you are in it.

My church is not without problems, because I am in it. 

We all are troubled people growing (hopefully) into Christlikeness.

Misunderstandings and arguments and conflicts are inevitable, even among the righteous. What if God shows you someone else's problems? Francis Frangipane, in The Three Battlegrounds, says if God shows you someone else's mess it is only so you can pray for them, not to talk to other brothers and sisters about how horrible they are.

If you are part of the mess, do not leave others with the mess. Be part of cleaning it up. Be the solution, not the voice of the problem.

As a follower of Jesus you are called to do far more than just love peace. You are to make peace. (One of the best books I've read on this is Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, by James van Yperen. See also Henri Nouwen's beautiful The Road to Peace.)

Any fool can wage war. Followers of Jesus are called to wage peace. As a pastor, I have found this to be ongoing in marriages, families, and churches. Waging peace never stops this side of the Age to Come!

"But the new church I am going to doesn't have problems." It does; certainly it will. This is important, because it is within conflict that peacemakers and reconcilers are built. These are people who run towards the battle, not away from it.

I know people like this. They say things like, 

"Come, let us reason together."

I have seen people do this in my church family. When I hear of this, I cannot tell you how thankful I am and how blessed I feel!

Blessed are those who put things together, 
rather than tear things apart.

Blessed are those who, more than loving peace, 
make peace.

Blessed are those who stay when the going gets tough,
rather than leave because the going is tough.

Blessed are those who go to the other person,
rather than tell others about the other person.

Blessed are those who deal lovingly with their anger,
rather than sleep on their anger.

Blessed are the problem-solvers,
rather than the complainers.

Blessed are the understanders,
rather than the judgers.

Blessed are the participants,
rather than the observers.

Blessed are the doers,
rather than the talkers.

Blessed are those who wage peace,
not war.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

I'm now working on...

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (I am co-editing this with Janice Trigg.)

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

And, when all this settles, Linda and I intend on writing our book on Relationships.

If There Is No God, Then There Are No Moral Facts

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(The River Raisin, Monroe)

Science qua science reveals no value-information. I can measure something, weigh it, analyze it into physical structures and components, but the moment I ascribe a value to it, say, "elegant," I have left science.

Nietzsche understood this. His "madman" knows that sans God values do not exist, since the metaphysical underpinning for such values is taken away. So, I find it overreaching when an atheist moralizes.

Philosopher Thomas Metzinger states it this way on

"There are no moral facts. Moral sentences have no truth-values. The world itself is silent, it just doesn’t speak to us in normative affairs — nothing in the physical universe tells us what makes an action a good action or a specific brain-state a desirable one. Sure, we all would like to know what a good neurophenomenological configuration really is, and how we should optimize our conscious minds in the future. But it looks like, in a more rigorous and serious sense, there is just no ethical knowledge to be had. We are alone. And if that is true, all we have to go by are the contingent moral intuitions evolution has hard-wired into our emotional self-model. If we choose to simply go by what feels good, then our future is easy to predict: It will be primitive hedonism and organized religion."

If there is no God, then Metzinger's logic follows. And all moral judgments, to include the atheist's, are mere expressions of emotions. (Like "Yayyy!" or "Booo!")