Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Get Ignited! Steve and Wendy Backlund @ Redeemer This Weekend!

We won't be looking at videos - Steve and Wendy will be with us all weekend.  :)


(Redeemer Monroe)


Good Morning Redeemer Family!

A few weeks ago, during one of my praying times, I felt the Lord tell me to issue a call to prayer for our Redeemer family.

So, I am calling us to pray. Thursday, Sept. 19. 7 PM. At our church building.

I am excited about the timing of our weekend with Steve and Wendy Backlund. This is going to be so empowering for all of us, including me!

Here is the schedule.

Fri. morning, Sept. 20. 10-11:30 AM. Steve and Wendy meet with parents, teachers, and anyone interested in Declarations and Kids. Kid time provided by myself and Holly.

Fri evening, 6:30 PM. Session 1.

Sat. morning, 10 AM, Session 2.

Sat. afternoon, 2-3 PM. Soaking Session led by Bethel students.

Sat. evening, 6:30 PM, Session 3.

Sun. morning, Sept. 22, 10:30 AM, Session 4.

Sun. evening, Sept. 22, 6:30 PM, Session 5.

Steve has contacted me, and wrote: "We will never be the same again!"




Image result for john piippo dune
(Me, climbing the big dune at Warren Dunes State Park, in Michigan)
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Proverbs 4:7

I begin this day by opening up the Bible to Proverbs. I slow-cook in it. To acquire wisdom you have to dwell in the slow-cooker.

This is why, in 1970, I changed my college major to philosophy. The word "philosophy" means "the love of wisdom" (philo-sophia).

As a philosopher, read the world's wisdom literature.  This is what philosophers do.  I have read Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Kant, Descartes and Hume, Anselm and Aquinas, the Buddha and Confucius, the Upanishads and the Koran, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, Camus and Sartre, Russell and Wittgenstein, Foucault and Derrida, Merton and Nouwen, and others. I read philosophy when driving the car. It is my bathroom reading. I study it. Scholars have taught me. 

I love wisdom. I treasure it. It has supreme value to me.

The love of wisdom is not a claim to be wise. Saying "I have become wise" is an indicator of foolishness. But you won't be wise without having a foundational desire for wisdom.

Above all else, desire wisdom.

Have you seen those cartoons where someone seeking wisdom struggles to the top of a mountain, to ask a white-bearded man with long grey hair a question? For me, the book of Proverbs lies open on summit. God meets me, on the mountain, this morning.

"Above all else," I am told, "get wisdom." Above everything else? Above money? Above fame? Above beauty? Above possessions? Yes! To understand this is to be wise. To think otherwise is to be an ordinary fool. 

This morning I'm after some more wisdom. I collect it like diamonds, and mount them in my journal. I polish them by reading, and re-reading them. 

I am reading Proverbs in Eugene Peterson's The Message. Peterson writes a beautiful introduction to Proverbs on its core theme.

Wisdom is different from knowledge. Wisdom may contain knowledge; knowledge may have no wisdom.

"“Wisdom” is the biblical term for this on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven everyday living. Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. It has virtually nothing to do with information as such, with knowledge as such." (Peterson, The Message Remix 2.0: The Bible In Contemporary Language, p. 870)

A college degree does not guarantee wisdom.

Peterson writes:

  • Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children,
  • handling our money
  • and conducting our sexual lives,
  • going to work
  • and exercising leadership,
  • using words well
  • and treating friends kindly,
  • eating and drinking healthily,
  • cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes toward others that make for peace.
  • Threaded through all these items is the insistence that the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do. In matters of everyday practicality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precedence over God. (Ib.)
Here I go again, ascending to the mountain top.

"These are the wise sayings of Solomon, David's son, Israel's king -

written down so we'll know how to live well and right,
to understand what life means and where it's going."

Proverbs 1:1

My book Praying is available as a Kindle book HERE
Paperback HERE and HERE.
Hard cover HERE
You can contact me at:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Presence-Driven Church Looks for Character Before Ability

Wilberforce, Ohio

One great truth to be harvested from the fields of the history of Christian spiritual formation is this: A person's doing must emerge out of their being. Therefore, make your first priority formation into Christlikeness. Everything you do flows from this.

Of primary importance is who I am in Christ, and the shape my heart is being formed into (Christlikeness). This is about a person's character, not their abilities.

What we authentically do is an emergent property of who we are. Our "doing" supervenes on our "being." Our doing is entailed by, or is consequent on, who we are and what we are becoming. What we authentically do (what we have a "heart" for doing) inexorably flows from the shape of our heart.

If we don't get this order right, two bad things will happen:

1) we will evaluate ourselves by what we do, rather than by who we are in relation to Christ; and 

2) we will view and use others in the church for what they can do, rather than for who they are in relationship with God and us. 

These two bad outcomes provide a reason why pastors and people burn out in churches.

Getting this ontological order of priority right is crucial in the development of real Jesus-community. 
Eugene Peterson writes:

"If we identify people functionally, they turn into functions. We need to know our people for who they are, not for what they can do. Building community is not an organizational task; it is relational - understanding who people are in relation to one another and to Jesus and working on the virtues and habits that release love and forgiveness and hope and grace. (Eugene Peterson and Marva J. Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 2376-2378)

This is where the Entertainment Church and the Program-Driven Church fail. John is viewed as a "guitar player," rather than seen, first, as a person. John's function becomes what is important (because "We need another guitar player!"); thus, John is "used" by the church and, in the process (unless things change), will get used up.

Peterson writes:

"What I want to point out is that this way of looking at and identifying Christians in community has a way of functionalizing them in our minds, thinking of them not for who they are in community, in relationship, but for what they can do. It is significant that as the Pastorals [the Pastoral Epistles] refer to the members of the community it is as men and women embedded in relationship - Paul was looking for character, not ability." (Ib., Kindle Locations 2371-2373)

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

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Monday, September 16, 2019

My Summer Reading

(When I was in Eldoret, Kenya.)

As a boy I read lots of books. One after the other. I used the library, all the time.

My parents encouraged my brother Mike and I to read. We both love reading, learning, evaluating ideas, and being  caught up in a story. 

This has not stopped! It's increased, I think. More than ever, I see that knowledge is power. The pen is greater than the sword. (And, I married a reader!)

I'm now reading The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great, by Ben Shapiro. If you have a problem with that, what's your problem?

I am a philosopher. (B.A.; PhD) In philosophy we read all sides, as much as we can. Philosophers are voracious readers. They are always looking at arguments and counter-arguments. You won't fully understand your position until you understand the other side.

This is not intimidating or threatening to our safety. This is because philosophers are interested in ideas and the reasoning (logic) behind them. We are trained to "bracket" the author of the ideas. This helps us be less biased and more objective. (BTW - no one is perfectly objective, including you. No one is with bias, to include you. Me as well. Perhaps [though I doubt it] logic is itself biased, as certain postmodern critical theorists claim.)

Study more. React less. Understand. Then, speak, if at all.

In reading Shapiro's book I'm making connections with German philosopher and critical theorist Jurgen Habermas, and Italian philosopher and statesman Marcello Pera. More on that, maybe sometime in the future. In reading I make lots of connections.

In preparing for my New York City trip this summer, teaching Chinese theological students, I read Mao's Little Red Book. There's a new Maoist movement in China that threatens Christians. I must understand this.

I just read Peter Singer's book on Karl Marx. (I began reading Marxist theory in 1978, when I taught a class at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary called "Contemporary Views of Man.") "Socialism" is a word being tossed around in America. Do you know what socialism is? You begin to understand by reading at the foundation, which includes Marx. 

As for the rest of my summer reading, here it was. 

The Assault on American Excellence, by Anthony Kronman.

Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message, by Michael L. Brown.

Jezebel's War with America: The Plot to Destroy Our Country and What We Can Do to Turn the Tide, by Michael L. Brown.

The City of God, by St. Augustine.

Coming Apart: The State of White America - 1960-2010, by Charles Murray.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness, by David Powlison. 

Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, by Robby Soave. 

Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, by Soren Kierkegaard.

Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity, by Kris Vallotton.

Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for the Existence of God, by Jerry Walls & Trent Dougherty.

Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost, by Craig Keener.

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, by Timothy Snyder.

World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, by Franklin Foer. 

As I begin the fall season...

I've got a hard copy of Craig Keener's The Mind of the Spirit: Paul's Approach to Transformed Thinking. I'm opening it up this week.

Today I received a used copy of Harold I. Brown's Perception, Theory, and Commitment: The New Philosophy of Science. Dr. Brown was one of my undergraduate philosophy professors. He introduced me to philosophy of science (Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos, et. al.)

And, I just purchased, Erich Fromm's Marx's Concept of Man: Including Economic and Philosophical Postscripts

Dallas Willard said we need more deep people. This requires a lifetime. I'm still learning.

The Jericho Walk (Guest post by Mariah Steinman)

This guest post is written by Mariah Steinman. 
Mariah is part of our Redeemer family. 
She blogs at Mountain Mover
You may contact Mariah at

Since last week I’ve been reading about the Israelites, and their journey out of the desert and into their promised land.
This has been significant to me, since I feel as if I’ve been walking through my own desert, and I am on the verge of entering into what God has promised me.
For forty years these people wandered, lost in the desert, pressing forward through trial and tribulation to make it to their promised land.
Unfortunately, their journey came to a halt, because standing between the Israelites and their promise was a seventeen-foot-high impenetrable wall, the wall of Jericho.
What fascinates me most about this story is how they get past the wall. It wasn't by fighting. They didn't charge the wall and attack it with swords and spears. They marched around the wall, while praising God.
They continued this for seven days, and after doing what God had told themwhen they gave a final shout, they watched as God brought down the wall, opening the way to their promised land.
As we go through life the large walls of depression, anxiety, divorce, losing a job, little to no income, and even death, pop up around us and appear to be impenetrable. Often these walls are accompanied by deep pain, suffering, and doubt. On top of this, you're being attacked on every side by heavy warfare.
The situation begins to feel hopeless. 
On the other side of this "wall" is everything we have been hoping for. everything we cried ourselves to sleep for, everything we screamed in pain for, and everything we have prayed and cried out to God for.
And now this giant, immovable wall is standing in your way, and there seems to be no way out.
Like the Israelites, there is nothing we can do on our own to bring it down. We beat it, punch it, kick it, and throw things at it, but nothing works. The only weapon we have is the word of God. 
The Israelites marched around their wall physically; we march around our walls in faith. We hold firm to what God has promised. We hold firm, even though our eyes cannot see it, and our brains cannot understand it.
Because when we let God in, when we give Him the glory, that causes the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.
To us, the situation may seem hopeless, but to God, that is where He does His best work, in seemingly hopeless situations.
If you are like me, currently in the midst of facing a wall, and everything you’ve tried hasn’t worked, and you feel that the walls are closing in, don’t give up!
Because God is about to show up, and this is when He’ll do His best work!
Just like in the Chronicles of Narnia, when god shows up, the battle changes!
Keep praising Him despite the doubt, keep rejoicing despite the pain, and keep speaking to that wall, even if it doesn’t look like it’s moving.
It was by faith that Jericho fell, and it is by faith that your walls will fall as well.
Raise a hallelujah! Do the Jericho walk!
“Shout! For the Lord has given you this city!” – Joshua 6:16

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Real Strength of a Church

Image result for john piippo pear
(Pear tree, in my neighbor's back yard.)

Americans measure success metrically. Churches that have conformed to American culture do the same. The American success questions are:

How big is your building?

How many attend on Sunday mornings?

How large is your budget?

Many pastors evaluate their ministry metrically. At times, I've succumbed to that too.

The problem with this is: metrics do not indicate the real strength of a church. Remember the early church. No buildings. Small group meetings in homes. Virtually no budget. Little infrastructure to maintain. Non-programmatic. Costs no money to be a disciple. A band of praying people who have learned to abide in Christ. Think of the church, today, in China.

In John 14-16 Jesus tells his disciples that the key to his ministry is that he is in the Father, and the Father is in him. He instructs them to live in him. To abide, to dwell, to "remain" (Greek meno) in him. To be like a branch that is constantly attached to Jesus, the Vine. Then, and only then, will they "bear much fruit."

The indicator of church strength is its fruit-bearing capacity.

Disconnected branches bear no fruit. (Jesus says this.)

The real strength of a church is its connected branches. 

My task, as a pastor, is to equip God's people for the works of ministry. The beginning of this is helping people get connected. Without that, bad things happen (no real fruit). Jesus says, "Toss those branches into the bonfire."

Pastors - would you rather have a small group of connected branches, or a pile of disconnected people? Maybe just twelve? Twelve connected branches could change the world, right? They could change your community.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

God's Love Accommodates to Our Disfigurement

Image result for john piippo love
With Palmer Theological Seminary doctoral graduates
If you've not read this story, today is your day.

Linda and I read it years ago. It's from Richard Selzer's Mortal Lessons: Notes On the Art of Surgery

Selzer, a surgeon, tells of a young wife whose mouth will forever be disfigured, and her young husband's love for her.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of the mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut that little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth that I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” All at once, I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I, so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. Isn’t that what the Christian God is about? God was in Christ, reaching out to us in love, accommodating himself to our condition, to save us. (Pp. 45-46)

Steve and Wendy Backlund from Bethel Redding at Redeemer!

For more information call Redeemer at 734-242-5277.

The Power of "No-ability"

(Sunset on a Lake Michigan beach)

“The making of a man is making your body 
do what it doesn't want to do.” 
Robert Bly

I don't say yes to every opportunity. I want my yes to mean yes. This is about discernment, about what God wants me to do.

The mature person flourishes in life as they are able to wield the powerful word "No." The Jesus-idea is that, as we connect to him as a branch connects to a vine, we bear "fruit," part of which is awe-inspiring "self control." (Galatians 5:23) People drop their jaws and stare in wonder as people say "No" to mere self-gratification.

A Spirit-led, self controlled person is a free person. They have grown in their humanity and are empowered to say "No" to eating the wrong things, to spending money they don't have to buy things they don't need, to entering every open door, to affirming every idea, and to engaging in sexual behavior as the objectification of other persons.

"No" is the ultimate boundary word. The ability to wield this word will not come from hearing will-power slogans like "Just say 'No'." Authentic, boundary-setting 'No-ability" must become one's heart, one's inner being. This happens as Christ is formed in us.

Think of Jesus after he fed the 5,000. The people rushed after him to make him an earthly king. Jesus exercised self control and refused. His 'No' was not only for him, but for the sake of others; indeed, for the sake of the whole world.

This is a narrow road, said Jesus, and few take it. But it is the road to freedom. M. Scott Peck described The Road Less Traveled as "gratification delay." "No" is, perhaps, the ultimate other-centered word.

Pray for the "No" of Christ be formed in you, and go free.

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Letter to Christians About Gentleness and Respect

Ancient war helmets, Detroit Institute of Art
Looks like someone took a spear in the forehead.

(I'm re-posting this for some friends.)

This is for followers of Jesus. Because I see this happening everywhere, to include, sadly, in the Church. And note: it all speaks to me, as well. Perhaps I am writing this for my own instruction? To remind myself of The Standard? If so, I can accept that. On this I agree with Dallas Willard, who once confessed that he had not loved others enough. Me either.

When you feel anger, be gentle and kind. That's the fruit the Holy Spirit produces. Harshness and unkindness is sin. In your anger, do not sin. 

Here's an example.

I embrace the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Other revisionist definitions are therefore wrong. Some people feel anger towards me because of what I affirm. 

How I talk about what I affirm is important. In Romans 12 we are told to not conform our hearts to the pattern of our culture. God's kingdom, as Jesus repeatedly demonstrated, is not of this world.

One of this world's patterns has always been harshness and disrespect. Especially when it comes to disagreement. Much of this is seen on social media. It gets unloving and hate-filled. And anti-Christlike. Followers of Jesus who descend into the ugly side of social media are conforming to the world's modus operandi.

The Jesus way, on the other hand, includes beliefs and attitudes such as...

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

All the awesome spiritual gifts are nothing if you don't have love, as a heart attitude that leads to behavior.

Love is the greatest thing. Therefore, if you are on social media, be great.

Express your reasons for the hope you have, but always do it in gentleness and with respect.

Avoid the argumentative person. (Proverbs)

Speak the truth? Yes! But always in love!

If it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy. (Do not be sucked in by social media about this. On social media we see people fighting against people.)

When disagreeing, be patient with others, as you work to listen and understand them. (1 Cor. 13)

In disagreement, never dishonor others.  (1 Cor. 13)

Remove your anger buttons. (1 Cor. 13)

Grow up spiritually, and put the ways of children behind you. (1 Cor. 13:11)

When in conflict and disagreement, see HERE for how to be both truthful and loving. 

Remember that, contrary to much media, to disagree is not to hate.

If, when dialoguing and disagreeing, you fall into hatred, dishonor, and diminishment of the other, repent, and ask them for forgiveness.  

The superior conflict-discussing, understanding-and-forgiving environment is face-to-face. Phone conversation comes in second. Email and texting is a distant, inferior third. The worst way, the incendiary way, is on social media, for the world to see. True, that's more interesting and attention-getting. Which is part of our world's disease.

(Maybe...   one more suggestion...  take some philosophy classes. In my experience these classes had much debate and disagreement, but done civilly. Because, in logic, ad hominem abusives are irrelevant to truth-seeking.)

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.

Former MIT Physicist Gerald Schroeder's Argument that Science Has Found God

God Is Presently With Me, In Experience

(Glen Lake, Michigan)

God's presence is experiential. I have stacks of spiritual journals recording my encounters with God, ranging from possible (could have been God), to probable (probably was God), to certain (beyond a reasonable doubt, that was God).

It is possible to experience God. There is nothing logically impossible about experiencing God. "Experiencing God" is not logically incoherent, like "square circle" is.

It is probable that I will experience God. Because I find the Christian story to be true, I expect to experience God. Experiencing God's presence is integral to the social imaginary of Christian theism.

I know I have experienced God. I have had events and situations where it would be unreasonable for me to disbelieve. In such instances, reductionism to a purely physical explanation without remainder would require a leap of faith too vast for me to make.

These experiences keep me going, spiritually. They encourage me. They change me. They guide me. They provide ongoing confirmation to my belief that God comes to me as Emmanuel, God-with-me.

Thomas Merton writes:

"There exists some point at which I can meet God in a real and experimental contact with His infinite actuality. This is the “place” of God, His sanctuary— it is the point where my contingent being depends upon His love. Within myself is a metaphorical apex of existence at which I am held in being by my Creator. God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself. A word will never be able to comprehend the voice that utters it."

Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 37)