Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Identity (#2) - Don't Let Your Sufferings Define You

(Lake Erie, Maumee Bay (Ohio) State Park)


Some people, even Christians, define themselves by sufferings they have undergone. They refuse to let go of their painful past, since to do so would be to lose their identity. They have become, they are, their sufferings. 

In this, they feel unique. No one really understands them. Howard Thurman writes: 

"There are many people who would feel cheated if suddenly they were deprived of the ego definition that their suffering gives them." (Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, 56)

Some are self-defined by their suffering. They are men and women of sorrows, and little more. To free them of their sufferings, to redeem them, would be to deprive them of their core identity.

Such people resist the redemptive activity of God. They need their sufferings. They will feel like a nobody should their being-abused cease. Prisonhood is their "normal"; freedom is abnormal and threatening to them.

Their chains define and delimit them. To escape this horrible life-condition requires a revelation of their true self, their true identity, as children of God and made in God's image. Only then will they be horrified by the chains and suffering and cry out for release and redemption.

If that happens, they will be free of the idea that no one understands them, and therefore free to understand and love others.

If you are a Jesus-follower and relate to this, read this and apply. 

IDENTITY #1 - I Find My Identity in Giving Myself to My Maker


(Rift Valley in Kenya)

Until you have given up your self to Him
you will not have a real self.

C.S. Lewis

Allow me to get hypothetical.

If...   there is a God..., and...

If...   God is a personal agent..., and

If...   God is the cause of us...,  and

If...   God has made us in His image..., then

My identity is: child of God.

If...   my identity is given to me...,  and

I am not left to create my own identity..., then

I will find my meaning and purpose in life in giving myself to my Maker.

(See, e.g., J. P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism.)





Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Steve & Wendy Backlund at Redeemer - Sept. 20-21-22

Image result for johnpiippo steve wendy backlund september





STEVE AND WENDY BACKLUND 
FROM BETHEL REDDING 
@ REDEEMER 


Sept. 20-22

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI
48162
734-242-5277

Go HERE for more on Steve and Wendy.

Converts to Unbelief Always Tell Subtraction Stories

Monroe County

(I'm re-posting this for someone.)

One of my favorite writers is theistic philosopher James K.A. Smith (Calvin College). Having read philosopher Charles Taylor's epic A Secular Age, Smith's book is a great follow-up: How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

Taylor has a nice take on persons who "deconvert" from Christianity to atheism because of "science." These converts to unbelief "always tell subtraction stories," and the faith they have converted from "has usually been immature." 


For Taylor the subtraction story of the deconverted is that one becomes "rational" and "secular" by subtracting "religion" and "superstition." (How irrational.)This rings true in my experience of having deconverted students in my philosophy classes.

Smith writes: "If someone tells you that he or she has converted to unbelief because of science, don't believe them." I don't. Ever. Why not?


What usually captures the person is not scientific evidence per se, but the form of science. Smith writes: “Even where the conclusions of science seem to be doing the work of conversion, it is very often not the detailed findings so much as the form” (Taylor, p. 362). 


Indeed, “the appeal of scientific materialism is not so much the cogency of its detailed findings as that of the underlying epistemological stance, and that for ethical reasons. It is seen as the stance of maturity, of courage, of manliness, over against childish fears and sentimentality” (Taylor, p. 365)." (Smith, Kindle Locations 1673-1677)


The convert to atheism wants to "give the impression that it was the scientific evidence that was doing the work." But not so. "Converts to unbelief always tell subtraction stories." (Ib., 1677-1678) "Subtraction stories explain that "secular" is the subtraction of religious belief.

The subtraction story-teller rejoices, shouting "I left religion, and now am free!"
As I meet deconverted "freethinkers" and ask them what they left behind, they always describe something like a fundamentalist "Christianity" (hence modernist, because there's no one more modernist than a fundamentalist) that is near-completely anachronistic and, hence, hermeneutically false. Smith writes:


"[T]he belief such persons have converted from has usually been an immature, Sunday -schoolish faith that could be easily toppled. So while such converts to unbelief tell themselves stories about “growing up” and “facing reality” — and thus paint belief as essentially immature and childish — their “testimony” betrays the simplistic shape of the faith they’ve abandoned. “If our faith has remained at the stage of the immature images, then the story that materialism equals maturity can seem plausible” (p. 365). But, in fact, their conversion to unbelief was also a conversion to a new faith: “faith in science’s ability” (p. 366)." (Smith, Kindle Locations 1679-1684)


Persons who convert to atheism "because of science" are not so much convinced by data and reason, but are more moved by the form of the story that comes with it; viz., rationality = maturity. 


Taylor and Smith suggest that our response to unbelief "is not to have an argument about the data or “evidences” but rather to offer an alternative story that offers a more robust, complex understanding of the Christian faith. The goal of such witness would not be the minimal establishment of some vague theism but the invitation to historic, sacramental Christianity." (Ib., Kindle Locations 1687-1689)

**
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Prayer Is Relationship, Rather Than Something We Have to Do

Image result for john piippo solitude
Monroe county

Praying is being-in-relationship-with God, rather than a religious duty that one has to do. 

I communicate with Linda, not because I "have to," but because I love her. To only talk and listen to her out of duty would signify a strange, unsatisfying marriage.

Philip Yancey writes: "Prayer as transaction rather than relationship can decline into a practice more duty than joy, an occasional and awkward exercise with little connection to life." (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 844-845)

How I communicate with Linda when no one else is around is an indicator of how I view her and our marriage. In a similar way, how I pray shows how I view God. "Who one believes God to be is most accurately revealed not in any credo but in the way one speaks to God when no one else is listening." (Nancy Mairs, quoted in Ib., Kindle Locations 820-822)

Praying is not something we have to do. To pray is to be in relationship with God.  When you are in a loving relationship, you communicate.

**
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Is God the Designer of our Cognitive Faculties?

(Kelleys Island, Ohio)

Many of my posts are intended just for myself. My blog has become a way of cataloguing ideas which I can later reference or develop further. This post is one of them. But if you are interested in a deep read, check this out.

One of the books I am slow-cooking in this summer is Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project, by Jerry Walls and Trent Dougherty. This morning I am reading 
"The Argument from the Confluence of Proper Function and Reliability: Is God the Designer of our Cognitive Faculties? Evaluating Plantinga's Argument," by Alexander Arnold.

Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the greatest analytic philosopher alive today. If not the greatest, he's tied for #1. And, he is a Christian theist. I've long been interested in Plantinga's claim that, if non-theistic evolution is true, then we have no reason to trust our cognitive faculties, since evolution without God has nothing to do with truth. That is, the reliability of our cognitive functions is less likely on evolutionary naturalism.

The likelihood principle is this: given an event, and two competing explanations of that event, which explanation is more likely. So...

Where Pr abbreviates probability, R abbreviates reliability of our cognitive faculties, T abbreviates theism, and NTE abbreviates non-theistic evolutionism, here is argument (K) in likelihoodist terms: 

(K1) Pr R/T >>really small. (Premise)
(K2) Pr (R/NTE) = really small. (Premise)
(K3) Therefore, Pr (R/T) >> Pr (R/NTE). (From K1 & K2).
(K4) If Pr(R/T) >> Pr (R/NTE), then R favors T over NTE. (Law of Likelihood)
(K5) Therefore, R favors T over NTE.

While this may look similar to Bayesian reasoning, likelihoodism is different because it involves no speculation on prior probabilities.

Arnold writes:

"While (K5) is modest, if it’s correct, then (modulo some plausible assumptions connecting confirmation with rationality), it tells us M renders theism a bit more rational for us to believe than it does non-theistic evolutionary theory. That is an interesting claim, especially in light of the pronouncements of some atheists to the effect that theism has absolutely nothing going for it."

Arnold then goes on to examine the premises. If the premises are true, then the conclusions follow, since the argument is deductively valid. He examines difficulties he has with (K1).

Arnold concludes: "If (K2) is correct, then it naturalism faces a serious problem independent of whether argument (K) succeeds."

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Sometimes You Have to Lose Something to Gain Something Greater

(Maumee Bay State Park)

(My friend Mike Ansel wrote this, and gave permission to post it here.)

Many times true strength comes through attrition. Sometimes you have to lose something in order to save yourself and others. 

Several years ago I was on a caribou hunt in Northern Quebec. We had a 19 year old Canadian camp helper. One day someone forgot to tie the boat up upon returning from the hunt. The boat was drifting out into the middle of the lake. 

The float plane was not due back for 5 days and the boat was our only means of transportation. Andy gingerly entered the frigid waters and started swimming toward the drifting boat. 

About half way there he turned and looked toward shore as if to say good by fellas I cant make it! My pastor friend (Bob Baltrip)and I started praying out loud for the Lord to save this young man. As we prayed he turned and resumed swimming toward the boat, but a sudden burst of wind came up and made the boat drift faster out of reach. It looked bleak, but a miracle took place, as God answered our prayers. 

A long rope that was attached to the bow of the boat suddenly came floating to the surface of the lake within reach of Andy. He grabbed on to it and proceeded to pull himself toward the boat. Because he was exhausted and his strength was zapped by the near freezing water, Andy had a hard time pulling himself into the boat. (More prayers!) 

We then saw that Andy was naked! When he had turned toward shore and we feared for his life he was discarding his socks, pants, and underwear that were saturated with water and holding him back. 

We had a rip roaring fire and warm blankets waiting for him when he finally got back to shore. We massaged his arms and legs and told him about the love of Christ and how God had heard our prayers and saved him physically. And then Andy stepped into the waters of rebirth and allowed Jesus to also save his soul. 

I believe this was all God ordained. Andy had to lose something in order to move forward and eventually save his life and soul!

- Michael Wade Ansel

Join Me and Craig Keener Sunday Night July 28

This is for pastors and Christian leaders who have been reading Craig Keener's book Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost.

What a helpful book this is! We will be privileged to have Craig with us, by phone, Sunday night at 8.




The reviews, and reviewers, are impressive.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Letter to My Redeemer Family - July 26, 2019

(Me and Linda at the Biltmore, Ashville, NC)



















July 26, 2019

Good afternoon Redeemer Family!

Here are some things I want to share with you.

THIS SUNDAY:
         We continue to preach on revivalist themes.
Neil and Gayle McLeod are moving away from Monroe. We’ll say good-bye to them this Sunday, and pray for them and bless them.
1 PM – We walk for Jesus in the Fair Parade!
8 PM – New Testament scholar Craig Keener will join me on a phone conference call discussing his excellent book Spirit Hermeneutics. If you have read the book, or parts of it, and want to join please email me and I’ll send you the log-in details.

BOOK STUDY INVITATION – This is for Redeemer youth and those just out of high school. Purchase Kris Valotton’s book Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity. Read it. Then, sometime in late August or early September, please join me and Linda for pizza and discussion about the book – date and time TBA.
NOTE: Some adults are reading the book. We’ll have a pizza & discussion evening for you too!

FULL LIFE IN CHRIST IS COMING THIS FALL – dates, times, and details TBA.

JAKE AND KELLY GOINS are having a fundraiser luncheon Sunday August 4 right after church to cover moving expenses and tuition for Jake to attend Radiant School of Worship in Kalamazoo. Please join us in donating desserts to make this a successful time of fellowship and support for them. Please call or text Winnie Webb and let her know what you would like to bring. 734 243 3559. 

STEVE AND WENDY BACKLUND from Bethel Redding will be at Redeemer Sept. 20-21-22 (Fri. night; Sat. morning and evening; Sunday morning and evening).

VERTICAL MARRIAGES – Fifteen Redeemer couples read the book Vertical Marriage and met at our home for a picnic + discussion + praying. Linda and I are challenging Redeemer’s marital couples to Invest in Your Marriage. We will be recommending another book to read as couples, and have another get-together to eat and discuss and pray.

You can stay in touch with things I am thinking and writing about on my blog – johnpiippo.com.

I am now working on my next book, Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart. I hope to have this book out by next summer.

Blessings to all of you – Linda and I love you all so much!

PJ



Living In the Presence of God Is the Greater Call

Our back yard

When Henri Nouwen met Mother Teresa he asked for advice concerning his spiritual distractions and temptations. Nouwen described his "unique complications" and gave "elaborate explanations" of the trials of his life. After listening to him Mother Teresa responded: "Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know to be wrong you will be fine!"

Her answer startled Nouwen. He had expected her to diagnose him. Instead, she pointed him into God's presence. Nouwen writes:


"She knew that even if I better understood my distractions and problems, something else remained: a call to live closer to the heart of God. At first her answer didn’t seem to fit my questions, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place of healing and not from the place of my complaints. Getting answers to my questions is not the goal of the spiritual life. Living in the presence of God is the greater call. The gift of discernment is the ability to hear and see from God’s perspective and to offer that wisdom from above to others. Truly, God spoke to me through the mouth of Mother Teresa. She called me back to the discipline of prayer and being in God’s presence, which is the starting and ending place out of which guidance emerges." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 67. Emphasis mine.)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Preaching Issues Is Different than Preaching Politics

(Monroe)

There is a difference between a moral issue and a political issue.

This affects how I preach (at least, how I intend to preach).

A moral issue is about right and wrong, about what we ought to do. A political system is about how we govern the polis (policies, legislation, etc.) Ethical systems affect all human systems, including government. Thus, ethical systems can be talked about independently of political systems. 

In preaching the biblical texts we are confronted by many moral issues. In the New Testament the focus is more on morality than politics. Jesus refuses to be an earthly political leader. Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. But his kingdom ethics will impact all human institutions, including politics. (Whereas the opposite is false; viz., human institutions do not impact the ethics of the kingdom of God.)

In his famous book The Politics of Jesus John Howard Yoder refers to Jesus as "apolitical." Jesus refuses to align with any of the preexisting political parties, and critiques them all. 

But Jesus does talk about right and wrong, about what a person ought to do and what a person should not do. Jesus talks about "righteousness" and "unrighteousness." He demonstrates how it is possible to morally discourse while not being political.

For example: It's wrong to rape children for fun. A preacher can preach on that without touching politics. My intent is to preach on moral issues, as they arise in biblical texts, without touching politics.

Moral issues can, and should, affect political systems. If all political leaders in the first place adhered to the ethics of Jesus our world would be different. (On the ethics of Jesus see, e.g., Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: An Introduction to New Testament Ethics. For a practical example of how the ethics of Jesus can affect political systems see Ronald Sider, Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity.) 

Some people conflate morality and politics and view preaching on ethical issues as being political. This is a false equation. We have to say things like raping people is wrong without being accused of preaching politics.

Preach issues, not politics. Preach the ethics of Jesus, and let all political parties be measured by this.

(Greg Boyd recommended that I read Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel.

On the relationship between Christianity and politics see my post "Jesus-Following and Politics.") 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Irrational Faith of Ricky Gervais

Photo:
(Bald eagle flying over our home in Monroe)
I don't watch late night television (Fallon/Kimmell/Colbert). But I saw this - Colbert talking with comedian Ricky Gervais on religion and faith.

From the article:


Colbert opened up about his struggles with consistent faith while challenging Gervais' assertions that there is no evidence for the supernatural.
"I don't believe in anything supernatural," Gervais said.
Later, Colbert asked, "[Are] magic and faith the same to you? Because they're different things to me."
"No, I don't believe in anything without evidence," Gervais said. "That's it. That's all they have in common. I have no problem with faith or spirituality. I feel it when I see nature."

Gervais believe the following statement is true: Don't believe anything without evidence. I assume Gervais means physical (empirical) evidence.

But in making that statement Gervais shows his core belief to be non-evidential. That is, no physical evidence can be given to empirically verify the statement Don't believe anything without evidence. So, Gervais believe in something without evidence. And this "something" appears to be foundational.

In philosophy, this is the old "verification principle" of Hume and A.J. Ayer, which was shown to be self-contradictory by Wittgenstein and others. And mostly rejected as logically inconsistent.

The verification principle said this: Only statements that can be empirically verified are true. But that statement cannot be empirically verified. Therefore it is false that only statements that can be empirically verified are true. So, the verification principle is self-contradictory. 

Gervais says: I don't believe in anything without evidence. Gervais believes in not believing in anything without evidence. But Gervais has no evidence for that belief. Therefore, Gervais believes in something without evidence.  His foundational belief is irrational because self-contradictory.

The Church and Same-Sex Relationships: Changing your mind on one thing does not justify changing your mind on anything.

Photo:
(Munson Park)
(Someone asked me about this, and I thought it was worthy to post about.)

If someone says: 

1. The Church has changed positions on things, like the role of women in ministry.

And from that they conclude: 

2. Therefore the Church should change positions on same-sex relationships.

The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

E.g. - 

  1. You changed your mind on some things.
  2. Therefore, you should change your mind on this thing.
Or:

  1. The Church changed its mind before.
  2. Therefore, the Church should change its mind on this.
With that kind of reasoning anything can be concluded. E.g.:

  1. The Church has changed its mind before.
  2. Therefore, the Church should change its mind on love and affirm hate instead of love.

Rather, I think we should think this way.

What is the biblical position on women in ministry? We should go after and study and affirm whatever that is. In that regard, I believe Scripture affirms egalitarianism (Craig Keener, and others, have written entire books on this).

Throughout history, some portions of the Church got that correct, others did not. And, the Church has not changed its mind about everything. Someone who believes the Church is "always changing its mind on things" is likely someone who is always changing their mind on things and projecting this onto the historical Church. 

Re. same-sex sexual relationships, what does the Bible affirm and disaffirm? For the most part, the Church has exegetically got this correct. The real issue is: the authority of Scripture, and what does it teach on this matter?

Note that in all of this "changing your mind" is irrelevant (even if it is historically interesting). This kind of reasoning commits a tu quoque fallacy, a fallacy of irrelevant premises.

Changing your mind on one thing does not justify changing your mind on anything.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Leading the Presence-Driven Church


(I'm re-posting this. These are core ideas that are further developed in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.) 

LEADING THE PRESENCE-DRIVEN CHURCH
-      John Piippo

Introduction

I pastor a Presence-Driven church, not a Program-Driven or Purpose-Driven church.[i] I am taken by the possibility that “church” (the people of God) can actually be guided, be led, by the Spirit of God. If this is true, then the primary thing a pastor is to do is connect with God, as a lifestyle. A pastor must resolutely abide in Christ. (John 14-15) This means that a presence-driven pastor has time, even much time, to pray.

Then, a pastor must shepherd his people into the presence of God, into the abiding relationship with Christ. It is precisely in this mutual-indwelling intimacy that the Spirit leads, loves, and heals.

I view my church community as an experiment in being-led by God. As this happens one result is that the people will recognize that the One doing the leading and producing the fruitfulness is not some great human genius, but the brilliance of God himself. This corporate realization will ignite worship.
If something like this isn’t true, then I fear we’re just leading our own selves. I’ve personally been there, done that, and don’t want to go there again.

Here are some things about how I think about Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

1.  The “Presence Motif” in Scripture

In the First Testament the greatest thing for a person to know,  experientially, is God’s presence. To experience God. Hebrew “knowing” (yadah) is essentially experiential.

Moses, In Exodus 33:15-16, appeals to God this way:  And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” 
Here we have what some have called “the presence motif.” The presence motif is, for example, the hermeneutical key to the book of Exodus.

The presence motif prevails throughout Scripture. The reason “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” is precisely because of God’s desired, radiant, earth-shattering presence. Isaiah woefully wilts when he is encountered by the presence of God in the temple (Isaiah 6). In the gospels the reason the Temple will no longer stand, said Jesus, is because the religious leaders “shut the door to the kingdom of heaven.” God’s reigning presence is no longer there!

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes: “For Paul the Spirit, as an experienced and living reality, was the absolutely crucial matter for Christian life, from beginning to end.” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit In the Letters of Paul, 1.) This is about the presence of God’s Spirit, not some theoretical understanding of God.

I assume that God’s Spirit both desires to and is capable of leading the Church. God wants to “go before us”; we, then, are to follow after God.
God is the Chief Architect of all he is doing. God desires to be The Builder. We read in Psalm 127:1 that “unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labor in vain.” God wants to “build his house.” Our role is to co-labor with the building that God is constructing. In addition to this, God is building Church using people. We are, individually and corporately, living stones being mortared into God’s temple.

God is capable of leading “Church.” As all-knowing, God knows more about building than we do. As all-powerful, God is not limited as we are. God is supremely able; we are shackled with inability.

Since we have a God who desires to lead Church and have his way with us, and who has an impressive resume that indicates vast job experience and great causal and intellectual capabilities, it makes logical sense that we allow God to lead us.

2.  The One Thing God’s Subordinate Leaders Must Do

The primary thing a pastor, a leader for Christ, must do is: dwell in God’s presence, and must resolutely abide in Christ. We see these concepts in both the First Testament and the Second Testament.

In the First Testament we have the idea of “the presence of God,” especially in the Temple. In the Second Testament we have the idea of “abiding in Christ” as given by Jesus, and the “in Christ” status of Paul’s letters.
I have an acronym I use to describe a Jesus-follower’s job description: 

A.S.L.O.

ABIDE

SATURATE

LISTEN

OBEY


ABIDE




·                     I will follow Jesus' final instructions to his disciples, given in John chapters 14-16. The results will be that...
·                     I am a branch, connected to Jesus the True Vine
·                     My life will be fruit-bearing
·                     I will experience his love
·                     I will experience his peace (not "peace" like our world gives)
·                     I will experience his joy
·                     With Christ in me I do the things that Jesus did
·                     I will not go up and down according to the circumstances of life
·                     I will not be a conference-dependent or book-dependent follower of Jesus
·                     I will live in expectation. Today, and this week, could contain a watershed moment. Anything good and amazing can happen to the Jesus-follower who lives attached to Jesus, who lives "in Christ."


SATURATE


·                     I will take the Book and read
·                     I will meditate on the biblical text
·                     I will slow-cook in the teriyaki sauce of God's thoughts and God's ways and God's promises
·                     I will shut my ears to our hyper-wordy world and attend to the deep words of Scripture
·                     I will fix my eyes, not on things seen, but on things unseen
·                     I will be illuminated by God's Spirit
·                     God's Spirit will escort my heart to its true home


LISTEN


·                     God has much to say to me this week
·                     Today, I have "ears to hear"
·                     I will be alert
·                     I will live with ears wide open
·                     When God speaks to me, I will write it down in my journal
·                     I will remember the words of the Lord, to me
·                     God will tell me that he loves me
·                     God will shepherd me
·                     God will lead me in paths of righteousness, not for my glory, but for his sake


OBEY


·                     God will direct my paths
·                     God will make my paths straight
·                     The inner "GPS" ("God Positioning System") is turned on
·                     Where he leads me, I will follow
·                     I will experience life as an adventure
·                     In obedience to God, my life finds meaning and purpose

A.S.L.O.

This is the primary “job responsibility” of pastors and Christian leaders. Without this a pastor will be irrelevant and inauthentic.

3.  Teach A.S.L.O to Your People

The number 1 thing individual Jesus-followers need, and the corporate body of Christ needs, is God. Therefore, out of their own intimate, relational familiarity with God and God’s Spirit, pastors will introduce their people into the presence of God and the abiding life in Christ.

Pastors “shepherd” their people into God’s presence (First Testament); pastors “shepherd” their people into the Jesus-connection. People are taught how to be “branches” connected to Jesus, the True Vine. (John 14-15) As this happens, much “fruit” will come forth.

A pastor must cultivate this in his/her people by introducing them to The Connected Life. This will include teaching them how to hear the voice of God. I teach our people how to hear God’s voice like this:

HOW TO HEAR GOD’S VOICE
1.   Spend much time in God’s presence.
2.   Saturate yourself in Scripture
3.   Hang around (be in community with) people who do 1 and 2.

NOTE: Eugene Peterson wrote, in The Contemplative Pastor, that there was two things I could do as a pastor: 1) I can be a pastor who prays; and 2) I can be a pastor who preaches the Word of God.  (K172)


4. The Presence-Driven Church Nurtures Its Distinctiveness, Not Being “Relevant”

My observation is that the students in my MCCC philosophy classes are neither impressed nor lastingly interested in "relevant" churches; viz., churches that spend their money on being, e.g., an Entertainment Church in the middle of our entertainment culture. This, I observe, is not working. There may be Entertainment Churches that are large in size, but what they have gathered is an audience, not a movement. 

For the Jesus Movement to move we must not make it our goal to "blend in." "Blending in" signifies the loss of any movement. What we must do is lock into our distinctives and go with them. Our great distinctive is this: We  have God and God's presence. We have answers to the ultimate questions. We have Christ in us, the hope of glory. That's not bad. And, BTW, the core distinctives cost no money to maintain.


Check out Yale theologian Miroslav Volf's observations about this. Volf writes:


"Christian communities will be able to survive and thrive in contemporary societies only if they attend to their “difference” from surrounding cultures and subcultures. The following principle stands: whoever wants the Christian communities to exist must want their difference from the surrounding culture, not their blending into it. As a consequence, Christian communities must “manage” their identity by actively engaging in “boundary maintenance.” Without boundaries, communities dissolve." (Volf, Miroslav. 
A Public Faith, p. 81)

The Jesus-community is different from the surrounding culture. Shore up that which is distinctive to Christian culture and strengthen that which is central.

5.  What a Presence-Driven Church will look like.

The focus will be more on worship and praying and Jesus.
There will less human striving and inventing.
There will be intensity of a different kind than the pressure to staff programs and keep people pleased.
Structural changes will happen as God leads, for God cannot and will not be confined within human governmental systems. The Holy Spirit is nonprogrammable and unpredictable. Change will be the norm.
The basic questions of the Presence-Driven Church are variations on the basic question, which is: What is God saying to us?

The variations include:
·                     Where is God leading us?
·                     What is God telling us to do?
·                     What does God think of this?
·                     What does this look like from God's perspective?
·                     Is God building this house, or are we?
·                     Are we hearing God correctly?
·                     God, what are you saying to us?
·                     What is God now doing within us?

These are the questions to ask, primordially. Agree not to do anything or build anything or move in some direction just for movement's sake, but only as God has told us to do so.

The basic requirement of anyone who is a leader should be: one who abides in Christ, and hears the voice of God. This is one of the reasons why, as leaders and as a people, we don't vote on things. If the voters don't hear from God the voting will be in vain. If God isn't allowed into the house-building, then we are striving in vain.

In some contexts simply to raise the question "What is God saying to us?" creates tension. The person who asks this might be viewed as arrogant, or naive, or uneducated as to the correct protocol at "church meetings." If this question cannot be raised, then the church will be self-guided at best, demonically inspired at worst. (
Church leaders raised on rationalism lead ministries where the supernatural, the Vertical, is suppressed and where God Himself is at best an observer and certainly seldom, if ever, an obvious participant in church.” [MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be., Kindle Locations 533-535])

If these questions are unfamiliar one might ask: "But how can we know what God is saying to us?" That's a good question. Optimally, as a leader you want your co-leaders to know the answer to this. Begin to instruct your people on: 
A.S.L.O.

If some are skeptical that God speaks to people today (or ever), then you've got deism. At this point the church is on their own, sans the leading of God. It makes me weary to even think of this, as a pastor.

Presence-driven leaders know what questions to ask.


Presence-driven leaders expect God to lead, and anticipate acting on God’s leading. For example, if God speaks out of his presence, saying “Begin Program X,” then do it. And if God says “It’s time to stop doing Program X,” then stop it. Here’s where program-driven people often falter, since they can get more invested in “their” programs than in the commanding presence of God.

The core value of "Presence" is seen as prior to "Program" and "Purpose." If, out of abiding in God's presence, God says "Build a program," then obey and build, empowered and led by God. In the Presence-Driven Church “being” comes before “doing.”

As for "purpose," the only purpose needed is: for the sake of God and the advancing of God’s kingdom. That is, if God says "Do this" or "Go here" or "Speak this," we do not need to know the answer to the question "Why?" Obeying God is reason enough. I have found that often I do not understand the purpose behind God's leading. We might like to know, but we are not going to wait around until I get an answer.

The Presence-Driven Church is different than the Purpose-Driven Church. Presence always comes before purpose.

Action and reason (telos) emerge out of dwelling in the presence of God.

The Presence-Driven Church risks all on the following:
·                     God exists
·                     God loves us
·                     God wants to be the Leader
·                     Human vessels must follow after God
·                     It is possible to hear God, and be led by God
·                     If God does not speak, we will not act but wait (no activity for activity's sake; no panic-room, knee-jerk "doing"
·                     When God leads, we will obey

We can't program, control, or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. The Holy Spirit will not be tamed by us. On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some of the same things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change. Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a very good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. For me, the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God often leads me to prepare this way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does, always, in our context. Presence-driven leaders need to become familiar with this.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service" or "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not myself or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

Church leaders who suppress God are in the worst place to be, pastorally. Remember that Jesus shut down the Temple because the religious templeleaders "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13)

A.W. Tozer looked at the "Program-Driven Church" in dismay. Tozer wrote in 1948:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us." (A.W. Tozer, 
The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51)




6.  What Leaders in the Presence-Driven Church Look Like

The qualifications and expectations for leaders in our church context include:
·        spends much time praying (listening and speaking) with God
·        lives life in and out of the presence of God
·        saturates in Scripture
·        hears God/listens to God
·        obeys when God directs

Our church's leaders are non-task oriented. I've cringed at church boards that are run by non-spiritual, non-praying people who rely on their own mental abilities and lead the church, instead of being led by the Spirit. This is disaster since, as Ps. 127:1 tells us, unless God builds the house we're wasting our time.

The Core Value of the Presence-Driven Church is: Abide in Christ, like a branch connected to the true Vine. Presence-Driven leaders do this, and show their people how to do this.
Presence-Driven Jesus-followers trust that, as they dwell closely to Christ, their lives, individually and corporately, will bear much fruit.

The Presence-Driven Leader (PDL) is not essentially after more "tools" for ministry. Instead, the PDL views themself as a "tool," or "instrument," or even "weapon," formed and shaped and then wielded by God.

We read in Genesis 12:4 - So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. We see here that "God calls, and we go forth in faith without a map, not quite sure where we are going, but with trust in God's promised presence." (Life With God Bible, 32)

Presence-Driven Leaders trust in God’s promised presence.


7. The Language of the Presence-Driven Church

The vocabulary of the Presence-Driven Church is different from the Program-Driven Church.

Instead of the word “success” words like “connectedness” and “obedience” are used. If “success” is used at all it is redefined in terms of connectedness and obedience, and not in terms of numbers, size, and finances.

“Success” in the Presence-Driven Church, if it is measured at all, is measured in a different way. Presence-Driven “success” is more qualitative than quantitative. “Disciple” replaces “decider,”[ii] “influence” replaces “numbers” (of attendees) and “size” (of the church budget and building), “abiding” ontologically trumps “doing,” “being instruments of righteousness” replaces “getting tools for ministry,” “discernment” replaces “decision-making” (“What is God saying to us?” rather than “What do we think we should do?” and “Let’s vote on this”); “God-storming” rather than “brainstorming”), “listening” comes before “speaking,” and “relationship” (with God) replaces “rules of order.” 

When a way of speaking has changed a culture has changed. A church’s culture will change from Program-Driven to Presence-Driven as Presence-Driven Leaders (PDLs): 1) live the Christ-abiding life themselves, foundationally and continuously; 2) lead their people into God’s empowering presence; and 3) nurture and champion the God-produced fruit-bearing. As this happens, over time, the “language-game” of the church will change. When the language has changed the reality has happened.


8. “Discernment” Is a Fruit of a Presence-Driven Church

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

This difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.


What's needed is: discernment. 


"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)


What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must therefore themselves be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:


"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

9. Evangelism in the Presence-Driven Church

Many years ago Jesus-rocker Larry Norman wrote a song called “Sweet Song of Salvation.” The lyrics said: “When you know a pretty story, you don’t let it go unsaid. You tell it to your children, before you tuck them into bed. And when you know a wonderful secret you tell it to your friends.”

When the fire is lit, it doesn’t have to advertised or programmed. It does, however, need to be tended.
The P-DC doesn't need an evangelism program because an abiding people encounter God. Therefore, no program is needed to stir up a heart for telling others. As we focus on abiding in Christ, Christ becomes the one who does the stirring. When the people's hearts are stirred by God, then the purpose of an evangelism program will only be to nurture and cultivate this. Teach what is already aflame. But we cannot produce the flame. Only God can do that.

We teach our people to abide in Christ. If we have any evangelism program, that's it.


10. The Cost of a Presence-Driven Church

Real Church is a People Movement led by God's Spirit.

Three signs of Real Church are:



·         The people are growing in biblical literacy (BibleLife)
·         The people are growing in Jesus literacy (JesusLife)
·         The people actually engage in praying (PrayerLife)

This will produce an organic, fruit-bearing environment.

I think it is possible to do these things for no money. The more real Jesus-following disciples a church has, the more their program expenses decrease. (I think the paid staff of a Presence-Driven Church will be smaller than a Program-Driven Church.)

So: The line item in the Presence-Driven Church’s budget for "programs" is: $0.







My new book is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God



[i] I did love Rick Warren’s “purpose-driven” books. I learned much from them. I have no quarrel here. I’m making a logical and experiential point, which I feel Warren would affirm. It is: out of the experiential presence of God “purpose” is given, by God and from God.

Warren taught that God has given 
5 purposes for the Church. The community of Jesus-followers is to grow…
·    Warmer through fellowship

·    Deeper through discipleship

·    Stronger through worship

·    Broader through ministry

·    And larger through evangelism

OK. That’s good. But I think that this way of looking at things relativizes the One Thing, which is: to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. To know God, in the sense of knowing-as-intimate-relationship. To abide in Christ, and to lead others into the abiding relationship, from which all God-things come (fellowship, discipleship, etc.).
I also think that it is only within God’s presence, only as we dwell in relationship with him, that any of the above 5 purposes gain experiential credibility. Unless God shows us such things, they can remain mere theory. I have found, for example, that as I focus on John 14-type abiding, my fellowship with other Jesus-followers grows warmer. From my current pastoral POV, I believe that as I live the abiding life, and lead my people into these beautiful relational and experiential fields of the Lord, that God will bear fruit of the Spirit in and through them.

[ii] See Scot McKnight, OneLife.