Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Henri Nouwen on Praying


This morning I read some of Henri Nouwen's reflections on prayer and praying out of The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life. People who actually pray, and live prayer-filled lives, finds worlds opening up within and before them. 

Here are some Nouwen prayer-bites to illustrate this.

  • "A spiritual life without prayer is like the Gospel without Christ." (32)
  • "To pray means to think and live in the presence of God." (32)
  • "True prayer embraces the whole world, not just the small part where we live." (35)
  • "The practice of contemplative prayer is the discipline by which we begin to see God in our heart... God speaks to God, Spirit speaks to Spirit, heart speaks to heart. Contemplation, therefore, is a participation in this divine self-recognition." (35) [This is the language of Trinitarian theism, and John 14-15-16. Jesus invites us to enter into the Big Dance of Father-Son-Spirit. We fellowship with and are empowered within the perichoretic union.]
  • "Prayer is the bridge between my unconscious and conscious life. Prayer connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passions, my brain with my belly. Prayer is the way to let the life-giving Spirit of God penetrate all the corners of my being. Prayer is the divine instrument of my wholeness, unity, and inner peace." (35-36)
  • "To pray is to unite ourselves with Jesus and lift up the whole world through him to God in a cry for forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and mercy. To pray, therefore, is to connect whatever human struggle of pain we encounter - whether starvation, torture, displacement of peoples, or any form of physical and mental anguish - with the gentle and humble heart of Jesus." (36)
  • "Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing; it is letting the warmth of Jesus' love melt the cold anger of resentment; it is opening a space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love displaces fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference." (36)
  • "Praying means, above all, to be accepting toward God who is always new, always different. For God is a deeply moved God whose heart is greater than ours." (38)
  • "Prayer is the act by which we divest ourselves of all false belongings and become free to belong to God and God alone." (39)
  • "Prayer is a radical act because it requires us to criticize our whole way of being in the world, to lay down our old selves and accept our new self, which is Christ." (39)
  • "In the act of prayer, we undermine the illusion of control by divesting ourselves of all false belongings and by directing ourselves totally to the God who is the only one to whom we belong." (39)
  • "Prayer is the act of dying to all that we consider to be our own and of being born to a new existence which is not of this world. Prayer is indeed a death to the world so that we can live for God." (39)
  • "God is timeless, immortal, eternal, and prayer lifts us up into this divine life." (39)
  • "Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world." (40)
  • "Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive." (40)
Carve out time today to get alone with God and pray.

If You Don't Understand the Old Testament, You Can Forget Understanding the New

(Baptism! With Ferris State students in west Michigan.)

Imagine there was a play, about which you knew nothing.

This imaginary play has five acts.

You go to see the play enacted, but arrive late. You miss the first three acts. As you watch Act 4, you understand little. Or, you misunderstand and misinterpret what is happening.

It's the same with the Bible. If you jump into the four Gospels without an understand of the first three acts (the Old Testament: creation, evil enters the world, God calls out a people for his purposes), you will misinterpret the Jesus story.

This is N.T. Wright's thesis. In an interview, Wright says:

"If one doesn’t know the Old Testament, one doesn’t have a chance of understanding the New, because again and again, and you see this in the Gospels, the way they told a story is not just with the odd glance over their shoulder – that something interesting happened back there and this is an odd reference. Like I might drop a reference to a Shakespeare play into a speech or a book I was writing or something that is just for decoration. Some people think the Old Testament is just a back decoration. It’s much, much more than that."
(In Trinitarian Conversations  Volume 2: Interviews With More Theologians. Emphasis mine.) 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thomas Merton on Writing

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

Thomas Merton wrote:

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

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

The biblical text is not a Rorschach Test asking what you "feel" the text is saying. It's about what the text says, within its original context. A text without a context is just a pretext for what you want it to say.

The original biblical text - as it was heard in context - that's the revolutionary, paradigm-changing Word of God. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Needed: Warm Bread from the Oven of Our Intimacy with God


I expect our church's staff to spend solitary time, each week, in the presence of God. Without that, we will be irrelevant and inauthentic.

Sometimes Linda and I reminisce about great restaurants we have eaten at. We've had many sumptuous meals together! As awesome as that is, I didn't have breakfast this morning, and need fresh food soon. The memory of a wonderful dinner is no help to me today.

The same is true spiritually. Pastoral leaders need fresh-baked spiritual manna for their souls. We can't live off meals from our past. Maybe you had an awesome encounter with God years ago. That's great. But it's not helpful today. If we aren't feasting on new spiritual food, we're limited in what we can give our people. And, some of our people will suspect we're living with God in the past, not in the present.

Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"The market is glutted with books on leadership, and many contain contradictory messages. I’m not sure anyone has the full perspective— really. But one of the things I know for sure is that those who are looking to us for spiritual sustenance need us first and foremost to be spiritual seekers ourselves. They need us to keep searching for the bread of life that feeds our own souls so that we can guide them to places of sustenance for their own souls. Then, rather than offering the cold stone of past devotionals, regurgitated apologetics or someone else’s musings about the spiritual life, we will have bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our intimacy with God."
- Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 29

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Pastors - These are Tough Times to Lead a Church

(Found this old card while looking for other things.)

When I was younger a pastor once told me that the church was one of the most difficult organizations to lead because it's an all-volunteer army. The people are not getting paid. A pastor can't say, "You need to do this because we're paying you to do this!" (If you're paying people to do things and you have to say this you have problems.)

Francis Chan, in his Letter to the Church, says pastors in America today face an exceptionally difficult time to lead a church. As if leading the church wasn't tough already!

Chan writes:

"For those who are not in church leadership, be mindful that this is a very difficult time to lead. I have been in leadership positions for over thirty years. There has never been a time like this. 
Social media gives everyone a voice, so everyone chooses to raise theirs. Voices are plentiful; followers are not. Strong opinions are applauded; humility is not. I am not saying that changes do not need to be made among leaders; I am simply calling for grace. Imagine how difficult it would be to coach a team where each player refuses to follow because he or she has a better plan than the coach. Welcome to the American Church in the twenty-first century." (p. 25)

Add to this the Entertainment and Happiness factor, and the problems increase even more.

Then add kids sports leagues on Sunday mornings...

...  sprinkle in some Consumer Culture...

... some Show Business... (See Neil Postman's brilliant work...)

...some microaggressions...

...and the need to be coddled...

...decreasing neural capacity to focus...

...addiction to cell phones (See my worship song "Lay Your Cell Phones Down and Worship Him")...  (See Moby's video here...)

... the need to be "liked" (See the work of many here, including Jean Twenge)...

...and many overworked people needed to keep the Consumer Machine operating...

My book on how to combat this without resorting to an extreme Benedict Option is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Friday, October 25, 2019

Letter to Parents of Our Church's Youth

(I sent this letter to parents of our church's youth.)

Hello Parents of Redeemer Youth:
I spoke to our Youth Group Thursday night.
I asked them to seek God for a vision about what God is doing.
I told them I'm going to preach on Acts 2:17-18.
On Sunday morning I am going to ask if there is one of our youth who received a vision from God. And, would they come forward to share this with us all.
Here's the verses. So, we should expect this, right?

Acts 2:17-21 The Passion Translation (TPT)

17 ‘This is what I will do in the last days—I will pour out my Spirit on everybody and cause your sons and daughters to prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will experience dreams from God18 The Holy Spirit will come upon all my servants, men and women alike, and they will prophesy.

Be Slow to Anger - Three Tools for Communicating When in Conflict

We live in the Age of Unrighteous, Unfiltered Anger. Here are some anger resources Linda and I use to help people communicate when in conflict.

1. Care Enough to Confront

David Augsburger bases his book Caring Enough to Confront on Ephesians 4:15, which states: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others, even when we are in conflict with them? Here we see two actions we are to take:

1. Speak truthfully

2. Speak lovingly

Both truth and love are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could hurt people. I could tell you the truth in an unloving way, the result of which could bring harm to you.

If we only speak lovingly we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.

Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus always asserted the truth, and he always did so in love.

Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

When Linda and I communicate these are the attitudes we embrace. We were blessed to learn these things from David Augsburger years ago when we were in a married couples group that met at David and Nancy's home. Those times were so important to us as a young married couple! We saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you feel angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another. That is the way out of what seem like irreconcilable differences.

Work at understanding one another. You will find that often, when understanding has been achieved, "the problem" is not there anymore. ("Understanding" causes a lot of dominos to fall.)

2. Evaluate Your Anger

 I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger. In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen.

When you feel angry, what can you do?  

1. Recognize your anger. “Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.

Begin your sentences with "I" rather than "You." Say, e.g., "I feel angry, rather than "You make me feel angry" (which is the language of a victim). Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you do this, you'll find yourself less angry.

Remember that, from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told to never feel anger. There is a righteous anger that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. We are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only it’s only been a few times in our almost forty-six years of marriage that have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and he has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.

Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

3. Seven Rules for a Good, Clean Fight
Before I married Linda one of my pastors gave me Charlie Shedd's book Letters to PhilipOn How to Treat a Woman. I read it. A few years later, I read it again. 

Shedd's little book gave me some relationship tools I have never forgotten. For example, here are his "7 Rules for a Good, Clean Fight." 

  1.  Before we begin we must both agree that the time is right. 
  2.  We will remember that our only battle aim is a deeper understanding of each other. 
  3. We will check our weapons often to be sure they're not deadly. 
  4. We will lower our voices instead of raising them.
  5. We will never quarrel in public nor reveal private matters.
  6. We will discuss an armistice whenever either of us calls "halt."
  7. When we have come to terms we will put it away until we both agree it needs more discussing.

After completing some writing projects Linda and I plan on writing our book Relationships.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Power of Investing Spiritually in Our Children

(Kitty Hawk, NC)

I serve, with my team, every two Sunday mornings out of six in our morning Kids Ministry. We get to spiritually invest in their lives. This is among the most important things I do as a follower of Jesus.

Philosopher James K. A. Smith writes:

"Spiritual formation in Christ requires a lot of rehabituation precisely because we build up so many disordered habits over a lifetime. This is also why the spiritual formation of children is one of the most significant callings of the body of Christ. Every child raised in the church and in a Christian home has the opportunity to be immersed in kingdom-indexed habit-forming practices from birth. This is why intentionality about the formation of children is itself a gift of the Spirit. It’s also why carelessness and inattention to the deformative power of cultural liturgies can have such long-lasting effects. The “plasticity” of children’s habits and imaginations is an opportunity and a challenge."

(Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Kindle Location 1031. Emphasis mine.)

How to Communicate When In Conflict

Image result for john piippo truth
Art on a building in Columbus, Ohio

(I am reposting this to keep it in play.)

One of the blessings Linda and I have had is to know and be taught by David Augsburger. We were in a couples group with David and Nancy for two years. We dog-sat for them (they had Irish Setters). David was one of my seminary professors.  After hanging around him in these contexts, I felt I could be helped by meeting with him. David was kind enough to meet privately and counsel me. At the time I did not understand his counseling approach. Only years later did some of this activate in me.

David is one of Christianity's great scholars on understanding anger and conflict, and ways to work through these things. Linda and I still use his book Caring Enough to Confront. David takes Ephesians 4:15 and develops a template we use to this day: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others when we are in conflict? Ephesians provides two actions we are to take:

1. Speak truthfully

2. Speak lovingly

Both are needed. 

If we only speak truthfully, we can blow people away. I could tell you the truth in unloving ways. Speaking truth without love can injure people.

If we only speak lovingly, we may never address the truth. This can leave issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.

Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus asserted the truth, always in love.

Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

• I care about our relationship & I feel deeply about the issue at stake

• I want to hear your view & I want to clearly express mine

• I want to respect your insights & I want respect for mine

• I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings & I want you to trust me with yours

• I promise to stay with the discussion until we reach an understanding & I want you to stay with me until we've reached an understanding

• I will not trick, pressure, manipulate, or distort the differences & I want your unpressured, clear, honest views of our differences

• I give you my loving, honest respect & I want your caring-confronting response

These are attitudes Linda and I learned and practice. These teachings have been so important to us! As a young married couple we saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you are angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another.

That is the way out of what sometime seem like irreconcilable differences.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God(May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018).

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Our Dinner with Chaim Potok

Image result for johnpiippo jerusalem
(Linda, in Jerusalem)
Morality is learned more by contact with 
a living embodiment of virtue 
than by a moral treatise.

Linda and I once treated the great Jewish novelist Chaim Potok to dinner. One moment I will never forget. Linda shared with Dr. Potok that her mother was Jewish. Upon hearing this Potok leaned forward, raised his hand, pointed it towards Linda, and said, "You are a Jew!" 

I was part of a team that brought Potok to Michigan State University to speak on writing religious fiction. We hosted him for dinner, and followed him to the various venues we had set up for him to speak.

One of these venues was East Lansing High School. The students prepped for Potok by reading one of his many novels. Potok's novels are about the clash of ancient Jewish culture with modernity, and the moral implications arising in that clash.

On that day, in the high school auditorium, Potok was emphasizing the importance of a moral foundation. When he ended his presentation he asked the students if they had questions. One girl stood up, and said, "Dr. Potok, I don't have a moral foundation. Where can I get one?"

Potok's response was brilliant. He replied, "Find a family that has a moral foundation and hang around them."

Can People Change? My Fall Class @ Redeemer

(Sterling State Park, Lake Erie, Monroe)

Can people change? My fourth book, which I am now working on, says "Yes!" I am calling it How God Changes the Human HeartThis fall at Redeemer I am teaching a class on my book. I invite you to study with me! This is foundational material for the Christian life. It will equip you in many areas, including the importance of understanding your identity. 

I will take you deep into the process of change; how it happens, what it does, the difference it makes.

Session 5 is Thursday, Nov. 7 - THE CONNECTION (With an explanation of the Trinity) 

CLASS SESSIONS - Thursday nights, 6:30 - 8 PM.

  • Nov 7
  • Nov 14
  • Dec 5
  • Dec 12
COST - free

Let me know if you are interested.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Speaking at the Power and Presence Renewal Conference in New Jersey - Nov. 8-9-10

Join HSRM leaders in New Jersey for a renewal conference in conjunction with local NJ pastors that will revive, refresh and empower you! “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Eph. 4:23


Location: Tabernacle Baptist Church, Burlington , NJ 50 E 2nd St, Burlington, NJ 08016
6:30 PM Doors Open
7 PM Power and Presence Renewal Conference begins
Guest Speaker: Dr. John Piippo, HSRM Co-Director

Location: First Baptist Church Mt. Holly, 1341 Woodlane Road, Eastampton, NJ
8:30 AM Doors Open
9:00 AM Guest Speaker: Dr. Clayton Ford, HSRM Co-Director
10:00 AM Workshops Session I
11:15 AM Workshops Session II
12:30 All-conference lunch provided

Saturday afternoon: No scheduled sessions

6:30 PM Doors Open
7 PM Guest Speaker: Dr. Clayton Ford, HSRM Co-Director

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10 Locations: Various Participating Churches TBA

SUNDAY MORNING SERVICES: Various AM start times per participating churches

HSRM leadership and local pastors speaking at participating churches

7 PM Location: Columbus Baptist Church, 24260 West Main St., Columbus, NJ 08022
Guest Speaker: Dr. John Piippo, HSRM Co-Director

Love Has No "If"

Image result for john piippo love
I bought this card in a bookstore.

I was talking with someone who has lived all his life under the oppression of conditional love. Conditional love is love that has "conditions" that must be met if "love" is extended.

In logic, a "conditional statement" (also called a "hypothetical statement") is an "If... then" statement. Like: "If it rains, then the ground gets wet." Which means: on the condition that it is raining, the ground will get wet.

Conditional love is "If... then" love. This disqualifies it as the kind of love Jesus exemplifies. It is hypothetical, while the love of Christ (and 1 Corinthians 13) is actual. Like: "If you have sex with me, then I will love you." Or: "If you give me that money I asked for, then I will act lovingly towards you." Or: "If you do not have sex with me, then I will not love you." It's all the same thing. It's all hypothetical, not real, love.

My friend grew up in a world of hypothetical love, with a father who said this: "Son, if you perform for me, if you do just what I want you to do, if you measure up to my expectations, if... if... if..., then I sure am proud of you and I sure do love you."

Hypothetical-conditional love treats others like trained seals in a circus act. "If you jump through the ring of fire, then I'll give you a fish." But only "if." 

Hypothetical-conditional love asks the beloved to make a sacrifice for one's own pleasure. Loving others depends on their performance, or appearance, or possessions.

My friend has a hard time thinking that love means anything other than this. He inwardly punishes himself daily, interpreting true selfless love as self-serving "If... then" love.

The New Testament word for love, agape, takes the "if" out. Agape love is non-hypothetical, therefore actual. Which means: no conditions need be satisfied in order to receive love.

Agape love as non-hypothetical is propositional love. In logic a "proposition" is a technical term referring to a statement that is either true or false, describing a state of affairs that obtains. Agape love does not say "If...  then," but simply "I love you," and acts accordingly. Propositional-agape love sacrifices selflessly for the beloved. That is God-love.

This is God-love, because God, whose essence is love, cannot not-love. One cannot say, "If God loves me," but stands in awe before the state of affairs "That God loves me." God's love doesn't wait for conditions to be fulfilled.

Hypothetical-conditional love is abusive, dangling a fish before a hungry animal, saying "Perform for me." Propositional-agape love says, "Forget the performance, take off the costume and makeup, and get used to the truth that God loves you."

When God-love dwells in us we love others unconditionally.

Our love for them is not hypothetical, 
but true, 
and never-failing.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God