Saturday, August 31, 2019

Only Lazy Pastors Work Hard

(Linda, in Trinidad - we we there a few years ago)

In The Contemplative Pastor Eugene Peterson subversively quotes C.S. Lewis as saying "only lazy people work hard." Peterson is especially referring to pastors: only lazy pastors work hard. Why?

Lazy pastors become busy and work hard for two ignoble reasons:

1.                  I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? (Kindle Location 156)
2.                   I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day's work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. (Kindle Locations 161-163)

When God calls you to do something, your doing is relevant because it emerges from your being-with God. Then, be relevantly busy and hard-working. But...

... re. #2 Peterson writes:

"By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone…

… How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?" (Kindle Locations 166-171)

Friday, August 30, 2019

5 Key Aspects of a Pentecostal Worldview

Times Square
If you are in the world of Pentecostal Jesus-following (like I am),  and looking for scholarship on the things we deeply believe, read James K.A. Smith's Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy  It's solid, brilliant. Smith affirms the now-experience of the Holy Spirit and draws on deep hermeneutical thinkers like Paul Ricoeur. (Ricoeur was important in my doctoral work, esp. his The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language.)

Smith's book puts forth a Pentecostal "worldview" "or, following Charles Taylor, a Pentecostal "social imaginary."" He gives "five key aspects of a Pentecostal worldview." They are:

  1. A position of radical openness to God, and in particular, God doing something differently or new." So, for example, in our pentecostal-Baptist context we don't have an "order of service." We have, as Smith would say, "a fundamental openness to alterity or otherness." We have "an openness to the continuing (and sometimes surprising) operations of the Spirit in church and world, particularly the continued ministry of the Spirit, including continuing revelation, prophecy, and the centrality of charismatic giftings in the ecclesial community."
  2. "An "enchanted" theology of creation and culture that perceives the material creation as "charged" with the presence of gthe Spirit, but also with other spirits (including demons and "principalities and powers"), with entailed expectations regarding both miracles and spiritual warfare."
  3. "A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and materiality expressed in an emphasis on physical healing."
  4. A rootedness "in an affective, narrative epistemology" because of, in contrast to rationalistic evangelical theology, "an emphasis on the role of experience."
  5. "An eschatological orientation to mission and justice, both expressed in terms of empowerment, with a certain "preferential option for the marginalized." (If this last point surprises you see Donald Miller, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

40 Evidences That You May Have Left Your First Love

This is from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

40 Evidences That You May
Have Left Your First Love

  1. You can go hours or days without having more than a passing thought of Him.
  2. You don’t have a strong desire to spend time with Him.
  3. You don’t have a strong hunger for the Word; Bible reading is a “chore”—something to mark off your “to do” list.
  4. Spending time in prayer is a burden/duty rather than a delight.
  5. Your worship is formal, dry, lifeless, merely going through the motions.
  6. Private prayer and worship are almost non-existent . . . cold and dry.
  7. You are more concerned about physical health, well-being, and comfort than about the well-being and condition of your soul.
  8. You crave physical food, while having little appetite for spiritual food.
  9. You crave human companionship more than a relationship with Christ.
  10. You spend more time and effort on your physical appearance than on cultivating  inner spiritual beauty to please Christ.
  11. Your heart toward Christ is cold and indifferent; not tender as it once was, not easily moved by the Word, talk of spiritual things, etc.
  12. Christianity is more of a checklist than a relationship with Christ.
  13. You measure spirituality (yours/others’) by performance rather than the condition of the heart.
  14. Christianity is defined more what by what you “do” than who you “are” (“doing”  vs. “being”).
  15. Your obedience and service are motivated and fueled by expectations of others or a desire to impress others, more than by passion for Christ.
  16. You are more concerned about what others think and pleasing them, than about what God knows and pleasing Christ.
  17. Your service for Christ and others is motivated by a sense of duty or obligation.
  18. You find yourself becoming resentful over the hardships and demands of serving Christ and others.
  19. You can talk with others about kids, marriage, weather, and the news, but struggle to talk about the Lord and spiritual matters.
  20. You have a hard time coming up with something fresh to share in a testimony service at church or when someone asks, “What’s God been doing in your life?”
  21. You are formal, rigid, and uptight about spiritual things, rather than joyful and winsome.
  22. You are critical or harsh toward those who are doctrinally off-base or living in sin.
  23. You enjoy secular songs, movies, and books more than songs or reading material that point you to Christ.
  24. You prefer the company of people who don’t love Christ, to the company and fellowship of those who do.
  25. You are more interested in recreation, entertainment, and having “fun” than in cultivating intimacy with Christ through worship, prayer, the Word, and Christian fellowship.
  26. You display attitudes or are involved in activities that you know are contrary to Scripture, but you continue in them anyway.
  27. You justify “small” areas of disobedience or compromise.
  28. You have been drawn back into sin habits that you put off when you were a young believer.
  29. “Little” things that used to disturb your conscience, no longer do.
  30. You are slow to respond to conviction over sin—or you ignore it altogether.
  31. You enjoy certain sins and want to hang onto them. You are unwilling to give them up for Christ.
  32. You are not grieved by sin—it’s no big deal to you.
  33. You are consistently allured by certain sins.
  34. You are self-righteous—more concerned about sin in others’ lives than in your own.
  35. You are more concerned about having the right position than the right disposition.
  36. You tend to hold tightly to money and things, rather than being quick to give to meet the needs of others.
  37. You rarely give sacrificially to the Lord’s work.
  38. You rarely have a desire or burden to give, when you hear of legitimate financial needs within the Body, your church, or a ministry.
  39. Accumulating and maintaining material “things” consumes more time and effort on your part than seeking after and cultivating spiritual riches.
  40. You have broken relationships with other believers that you are unwilling or have not attempted to reconcile.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands."
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent . . . .
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
(Rev. 2:1–7)

The Words of Jesus Were Events

(Butterfly House, Whitehouse, Ohio)

I wrote my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory and linguistic philosophy; especially, how metaphors referI draw on this research in my chapter on the language of presence-driven churches in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church

One source is speech act theory (John Searle, and J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words)

Henri Nouwen, in Gracias! A Latin American Journal, links Austin's idea that words have "illocutionary force" with the biblical idea that Jesus is "the Word." Nouwen writes:

"In Jesus, no division existed between his words and his actions, between what he said and what he did. Jesus’ words were his action, his words were events. They not only spoke about changes, cures, new life, but they actually created them. In this sense, Jesus is truly the Word made flesh; in that Word all is created and by that Word all is re-created."

Nouwen encourages us to have what I am calling illocutionary integrity.

"Saintliness means living without division between word and action. If I would truly live in my own life the word I am speaking, my spoken words would become actions, and miracles would happen whenever I open my mouth."

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What to Do When My Demands Are Not Met

(Flower, in my back yard)
Unsurprisingly, things in my life have not all gone the way I desired them to go. How am I to handle all these disappointments?

Thomas Merton, in his journals, wrote about life in the monastery of Gethsemane, in Kentucky. One theme was his struggle with the CEO of Gethsemane (the "Abbot"), Dom James. Dom James had problems, as Merton saw things. Merton knew he had to accept Dom James's leadership, and wrote:

"I do not criticize Dom James – his nature is what it is, and he must see things as he does. And he is the Abbot God has willed for me." (Merton, Thomas (2010-10-19). Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom, The Journals of Thomas Merton, p. 27.)  

Then Merton had this insight: "I know I will never have things exactly as I wish they ought to be – and as I would take pride in them." (Ib.)

In that singular sentence I see a free person. Merton was free of the terrible burden of always having to have things go his own way. (This is how Richard Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline. This is how Jesus puts it, when he tells Peter, "One day someone will tie a belt around your waist and take you where you do not wish to go.")

Is that really a terrible burden? Wouldn't it be ideal to have everything go our own way? As interesting as these questions are, they are irrelevant, because everything in life will not go the way you want them to. More than that, everything in life should not go your way, unless you are a God who always knows the way the world and people need to go.

The person who needs things to be exactly as they wish them to be will be forever weighed down by the fact of a mighty non-happening. They will be everlastingly miserable, as demand after demand remains unmet. And, they will be angry.

But one who learns how to be, in and through whatever comes their way, is the free person, living transcendent to life's circumstances. (Also called: living by faith.)

Pray to be free of the need to have things always go as you demand them to go.

My three books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

I'm currently writing:

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Then, the Lord willing, 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I then intend to write our book on Relationships.

God's Commands are Events (They Have Illocutionary Force)

(Monroe County Community College)

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
- Genesis 1:3

When God said "Let there be light" it was not in the sense of "Permit there to be light." Rather, as John Goldingay writes, it was in the sense of "There is to be light" or "There must be light" or "There shall be light." God simply demands, like a theater director, "Light!"" (Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel, 32) Like: "Lights! Camera! Action!"

When God says "Light!" that is enough to make it happen. So we read "and there was light." 

Goldingay writes:

"The process involves supreme illogic. There is nowhere the suggestion that somewhere there is a dynamic source of light that can put forth light. In the same way, when God says "The waters are to gather together" or "The earth is to put forth vegetation," there is no implication that waters or earth already have the potential to obey these commands. It is the command that mysteriously generates them, as words can." (Ib., emphasis mine)

Philosopher J.L. Austin, in his philosophically famous book How to Do Things With Words, explained how certain words can do things; that is, certain words, said by people who have authority, have "illocutionary force." In such cases, saying makes it so. 

For example, because I am a pastor recognized by the state of Michigan, when I say the words to a couple "I now pronounce you husband and wife," they are, upon my pronouncement, husband and wife. But should you, assuming you are not a pastor, walk up to a couple on the street and utter the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife," nothing will happen. Your speech act will "do" nothing, except perhaps get you a trip to the hospital. In Austin's language, your speech act "misfires," because you lack the authority to do such things with your words.

It was Jesus' claim to perform illocutionary acts with his words that had the religious leaders marveling about his authority. In Mark 9:10, for example, Jesus states that he, the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins. Then Jesus tells a paralyzed man, "Get up, take up your mat, and go home." Here Jesus' words do two things: 

1) at his word one's sins are forgiven; and 

2) at his word the paralyzed man is healed.

God said "Let there be light." And light came into existence.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

- Matthew 10:1

Because of this God-given authority our words have illocutionary force. Our words, like God's, can become events.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

J. P. Moreland on "Happiness" as a Terrible Goal

(Sunset on Kelley's Island, Ohio, Lake Erie)

Theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland, in The Lost Virtue of Happiness, writes about "happiness" as a poor goal to be sought after in. J.P. presented this material at our HSRM/Green Lake conference a few years ago. 

The bullets are:
·  American people are addicted to happiness, and they overemphasize its importance in life.
·  If, right now, you are not tremendously happy, that's OK.
· Yet, in America, if you are not happy, or your children are not happy, it seems like the world is falling apart.
· Given the American emphasis on happiness, are Americans happy?
·  The answer, says Moreland (drawing on Martin Seligman's research), is that the rate of depression and loss of happiness has increased tenfold in the span of just one generation in America. We Americans are not a bunch of happy campers. We have an epidemic of depression and a loss of happiness.
· Yet, the Boomer generation is twice as rich, a lot healthier, more youthful, and a lot safer than our predecessors were fifty years ago. These are the kind of things that have defined the "American Dream." We are now living in this Dream. We have more discretionary time. We have more money. It takes longer to age. So we feel younger, longer. But, J.P. says, "There's just one problem with this. All of this has not only not made Americans happier. We're slowly getting worse."
·  Why is this happening? Seligman's answer is this. "The Baby Boom generation forgot how to live for something bigger than they were." Americans have been taught to get up each morning and live for their own selves and try to find meaning in their own lives, rather than live for something other than their own well-being and bigger than they are. 
·  From Moses to Solomon, to Plato and Aristotle, to Jesus and Augustine and Aquinas, to the Reformers all the way up to the 1900s, everyone meant the same thing by 'happiness.' But from the 1920s/30s on, a new definition of 'happiness' was introduced and lived by. This new definition of 'happiness' is: "a feeling of pleasurable satisfaction." (See here, e.g.)
·  "Happiness' has become a positive feeling. Moreland is not against positive feelings. He'd rather experience them than their opposite. But there are two problems with this definition of happiness: 

1) pleasurable feelings are not big enough to build your life around; and 

2) the more you try to get of it the less of it you have. 

Moreland concludes: "The best way to be happy is largely to forget about it."
·  If 'happiness' is the feeling you have, say, when your team wins; and the goal of life is to be happy, which means to retain that kind of feeling; then your goal this year is to make sure that your job, your spouse, your church, your children, etc., help you achieve that positive feeling called 'happiness.' All the aforenamed things (job, wife) are but a means to making you happy. If a man's 4-year-old wife doesn't make him happy he may trade her in for a 20-year-old woman that gives him that hap-hap-happy feeling.
·  The ancient definition of 'happiness,' used by Aristotle, is contained in the word Greek word eudaimonia, which is: to live a life of wisdom, character, and virtue." Plato thought it would be terrible if all a person did was spend his life worrying about whether he was good-looking, wealthy, and healthy. Solomon tells us the happy person is the one who lives his life wisely, reverencing and fearing God. In the New Testament the happy person is the one who looks like Jesus of Nazareth and lives the way he lives.
· How do you get that? See Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Jesus is not here commanding us to do this. He is saying, if you want to get good at life, this is what you have to do.
·  If you want to get good at life, if you want to be blessed, learn daily to give yourself away for the sake of God and others. J.P. says, "Give yourself away to other people for the Kingdom's sake."

·   If you lose yourself, you end up finding yourself. That's the upside-down logic of Jesus. 

"Happiness makes a terrible goal. It is the byproduct of another goal, which is giving yourself away to others for the Kingdom's sake."

Parents: Your Goal Is Not to Make Your Kids Happy


There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance...
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
Life contains glad times and sad times, easy times and hard times. When our boys were little, and our cat died, this was a sad time. A hard time. It was a time to grieve. 

During this loss Linda and I allowed our boys to be sad. We did not try to make them happy by giving emotional candy, or promising to take them to Disney World. To do that would be to create little narcissists, who could eventually become big narcissists. (On Big Narcissism and the American culture of "safetyism," see Lukionoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind; also Soares, Panic Attack.)

A good parent wants their child to flourish in life. Part of the maturing process is helping them go through things that do not go their way. The child wants X, but X is denied them. The mentoring parent is to help the child understand that part of life is flourishing even in the midst of unfulfilled desires. The child may be sad, and that's not all bad. 

The goal here is not to keep the child happy. Lori Gotlieb, in "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,"  writes of the American obsession with and quest for "happiness," and the American parental goal of raising one's children to be very, very "happy." 

She writes: 

"Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way."

Ironically, this way of thinking will end up making people very unhappy and in need of therapy to set them straight.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling The Happiness Project, says: "Happiness doesn't always make you happy." To make happiness one's life pursuit will not end up with you being happy. If "happiness" means the removal of anything that would unsettle or disappoint or trouble you, then the achievement of that will leave you miserable and in need of help. 

Rubin writes:

“Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster. It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?"

The answer is: yes. 

Happiness sought for its own sake will leave you wanting. The only happiness worth happening is happiness as a byproduct. 

Parents, therefore, must allow unhappiness and misery in the lives of their children. To shelter them from this is to destine them to an adulthood of psycho- and drug therapy. "Parental overinvestment is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism that’s hurting our kids."

Harvard child psychologist Dan Kindlon says, “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle." 

Why might parents try to protect their children from all unhappy events and work hard so as to make them eternally happy? One answer is: because it's really about the parents' own happiness, and not their children's. Read the entire Gotlieb article to see the reasoning behind this. 

Infants and small child narcissists are happy, because they are the center of the universe. But, as they grow older, this changes; indeed, it becomes a "big problem." So, parents, do not "protect" your child from negative feedback. Think future. We want our kids to do well. This includes helping them walk through the dark valleys of life. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Freed From the Myth of Personal Brilliance

(Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago)

This past Monday Linda and I spent a day in Chicago. We ate delicious food, people-watched, and marveled at the architecture.
We drove to the south side and the University of Chicago. My favorite bookstore in the world is there - the Seminary Co-op BookstoreThis bookstore is used by the U-Chicago Divinity School as their own. It is a feast of philosophical and theological literature!
I read books. My habit is to have ten going at a time. But on Monday, as I walked through the rows and rows... and rows...  of academic books...  I realized I had not read, and therefore was unfamiliar with, 99.9999...% of the thousands of books and millions of pages of knowledge surrounding me. I am, following philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, a "learned ignoramus." Had I any pride in my accomplished readings, it was now seen for what it truly is: tiny. Miniscule. 
One character in Sartre's novel Nausea (which I have read) is "the self-taught man." He lives in the library in Paris. His quest is to read every book in the library, from A to Z. He doesn't get far. After decades of reading he is still not out of the As. He gets to Ac..., and then another book is published that begins with Ab. His quest to know all that can be known is vain.

In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul writes:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

"Vain conceit" means that "conceit" is "vain." "Vanity" is an attribute of "conceit." 

"Vain" means: futile, or empty. Containing nothing. Therefore, useless. Conceit is empty and useless.

Pascal once wrote: "What amazes me most is to see that everyone is not amazed at his weakness.” At his or her ignorance.

When overwhelming, matter-of-fact ignorance is revealed and accepted, it is bracingly humbling. This true ignorance is not merely factual, but cognitive. There are things I will never be able to comprehend, not because I lack the information, but because of my inability to do so. 

It is good to come to this realization. It is an arrogance-killer. It is just plan true.

It's not so much what we know, but who we know. If the latter is Nothing, then welcome to the bleak world of Sartre's French atheistic existentialism. (Not the atheistic "brights.") If the latter is an All-Knowing God, then we have found the place where our ignorant minds can find hope and rest.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Steve & Wendy Backlund @ Redeemer!

Dear Igniting Hope Family, 

Steve & Wendy are coming to
Monroe, Michigan on September 20-22
It's going to be a powerful time!

For more information, scroll below or check out our itinerary at
We hope to see you there!

Unreasonably Optimistic,
The Igniting Hope Team

S H A R E   T H E   H O P E

B A C K L U N D   S P E A K I N G   S C H E D U L E

Weekend with the Backlunds  |  Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen Dr. Monroe, MI 48161

Friday, September 20 @ 6:30pm
Saturday, September 21 @ 10am and 6:30pm
Sunday September 22 @ 10am and 6:30pm
Redeemer Fellowship Website

Know someone who lives near this event? Feel free to forward this along. 

Identity #14 - Do Not Let This World Interpret You

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

The prescient, prophetic, praying follower of Jesus, Thomas Merton, wrote: 

"We have a vocation not to be disturbed by the turmoil and wreckage 
of the great fabric of illusions." 

We have a vocation... 

A calling. 

We have a calling.

From God. 

God calls us.

... not to be disturbed...

To not be agitated.

This is about the heart.

Washing machines have "agitators." They move back and forth, back and forth, with force. They are going nowhere. They make no forward progress.

Disturbances halt forward progress. Disturbances interrupt the calling.

said, "Let not your hearts be agitated."

ταράσσω,v  \{tar-as'-so}
1) to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro)  1a) to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of  mind, disturb his equanimity  1b) to disquiet, make restless  1c) to stir up  1d) to trouble  1d1) to strike one's spirit with fear and dread  1e) to render anxious or distressed  1f) to perplex the mind of one by suggesting scruples or doubts. the turmoil...

Let not your hearts be agitated by the agitation. By the upheaval. By the 
irruptions. By the roiling waters.

Let not your hearts be arrested by the peace-thieves. the wreckage...

Do not be captivated by the incessant effluence of cultural carnage.

Put a compress on the bleeding media.

...the great fabric of illusions.

The systematic sham that is "the world."

With all its pretension and arrogance.

Do not let this world interpret you.

We have a calling from God to remain in Christ where agitation and turmoil are not to be found and the great fabric of systemic spell-casting is broken.

My three books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

I'm currently writing:

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Then, the Lord willing, 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I then intend to write our book on Relationships.