Friday, November 29, 2019

God's Address

(Detroit Public Library)

Fifty years ago I came to what seemed like the end of myself. I hit rock-bottom (I'm sure I could have descended lower). My life was all failure and dysfunction. 

In my desperation I called out to God. He came to my rescue.

I found Him. 

When asked how we find God, Dallas Willard often said, “God’s address is at-the-end-your-rope.com.” (In Gary Moon, Becoming Dallas Willard, p. 7)

If you are at the end of your rope, turn to God.

If this is you, and you live in the Monroe area, come to Redeemer this Sunday morning and you'll find Him. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Mr. Rogers' Last Words

(Somewhere in Michigan)


Before he broadcast each episode of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" to millions of children, Fred Rogers would recite a short prayer.
"Let some word that is heard be thine," he prayed. (From here.)
Rogers said his Christian faith was as fundamental to him as DNA.
"He saw the potential in every human encounter for something holy to happen, and he saw that as the work of the Holy Spirit. He often told a story about going to hear a famous preacher, but a substitute was there instead, and Rogers didn't think the sermon was very good. But the person he was sitting next to said it had been just what she needed to hear. He realized in that moment that he could trust that if he was offering his television show in good faith, then whatever shortcomings he had, the Holy Spirit would do the work necessary so that people could receive the grace they needed." (Ib.)
"His last words are pretty haunting. He asked his wife if he was a "sheep," referring to the Last Judgment in the Bible, when Jesus separates the good sheep from the bad goats." (Ib.)
Mr. Rogers was friends with, and influenced by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen said the core question of life is Who do you belong to? Rogers' last words, a question, can be rephrased: Do I belong to Jesus? For Mr. Rogers, Henri Nouwen, and me, this is what is truly important. And the answer is: Yes.

***
See Mr. Rogers' contribution on his friendship with Henri Nouwen in Nouwen Then.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Destined to Be Creatures of Thanksgiving

(Montana Rockies - Bozeman Pass)

The older I get, the more thankful I feel I am becoming. Giving thanks is getting habitual. I often find myself saying, to myself, or out loud in a whisper, "Thank you God."

This happens several times a day. I think of something God has done for me, I see something he has given me, and reflexively the words rise up and come out of me.

Dallas Willard, before he went to be with Jesus, was grateful. Gary Moon describes this.

At 4:30 a.m. a nurse came in to turn Dallas in the bed. Her visit awakened [Dallas’ good friend Gary Black who was in the hospital room with him]. Moving Dallas awakened him too. Gary took Dallas’s hand. Dallas turned to him and told him to tell his loved ones how much he was blessed by them and how much he appreciated them. … Then, as Gary described, “In a voice clearer than I had heard in days, he leaned his head back slightly and with his eyes closed said, ‘Thank you.’” Gary did not feel that Dallas was talking to him, but to another presence that Dallas seemed to sense in the room. And those were the last words of Dallas Willard. “Thank you,” he said, to a very present and then finally visible to him God.
Gary Moon, Becoming Dallas Willard (IVP, 2018), page 240

Gratitude, in me, is moving from volition to embodiment. This is good. I am being prepared.

In the great throne room scene of Revelation 4 the awesome four living creatures are spotlighted, as they levitate around the throne of God. They give splendor to the One who sits on the throne. I am destined to do the same, and am being prepared for full-being God-glorification. The creatures give value to Him who occupies the throne. I have the same destiny, and am being shaped into a God-honoring creature.

And, the four living creatures give thanks. 

An eternal outpouring of gratitude. 

I will one day join this mighty chorus! 

I am being mentored in this, by the Holy Spirit.

All I am meant to be is summed up in the great outpouring of glory, honor, and thanks to him who sits on the throne and lives for ever and ever. (Revelation 4:9)

This outpouring of magnification is too much for the twenty-four elders. The threefold amplification of the four living creatures drops the elders to their knees before the Lord, and they worship him. (Revelation 4:10)

Listen, and understand, all you who are in Christ! This is your transcendent destiny, which, in your current immanent embodiment, you are being schooled for. 

To be creatures who shine glory, display honor, and sing thanksgiving to the God who reigns for ever and ever. To be, as C.S. Lewis once said, "everlasting splendors."

Thank you.

Co-working with Christ


(Sterling State Park, Monroe)

Describing the nature of pastoral ministry, Thomas Oden sums up what is true of all forms of ministry: 

"The working minister is in a co-working ministry day after day with Christ's own ministry.... This is the centerpiece of care of souls: Jesus the overshepherd of our shepherding.... It is not what the pastor is out there doing that counts, but what Christ is doing through the pastor." (In Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Kindle Locations 181-183)

Don't do things and baptize them later with prayer. Instead, meet with Jesus, and join in what he is building.

My primary task, this morning, and always, is to stay connected with Christ. Christ in me, through me, with me, beside me, ahead of me, involving me, shepherding me.

I am a co-worker with God. People are God’s cultivated garden, the house he is building. (1 Cor. 3:9)


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

An Atheist Tries to be Thankful to Something

(Flowers in my front yard)

I often have a feeling, a sense, of gratitude that leads me to say, "thank you." I experience existential thankfulness for life, for being alive. My very existence is a gift. 

As a Christian theist my words of thanksgiving are addressed to God. God, thank You... so very much! 


For an atheist things are different.

Ronald Aronson, Professor of the History of Ideas at Wayne State University, wrote an essay called "Thank Who Very Much?" The reason for the question mark is that, as an atheist, Aronson feels "thankful," but because God does not exist he wonders just who or what he should thank.


Aronson believes a person can be legitimately thankful without either: a) belief in a God; or b) falling into existentialist absurdity. What's his alternative?


He writes: "Think of the sun's warmth. After all, the sun is one of those forces that make possible the natural world, plant life, even our very existence. It may not mean anything to us personally, but the warmth on our face means, tells us, a great deal. All of life on earth has evolved in relation to this source of heat and light, we human beings included. We are because of, and in our own millennial adaptation to, the sun and other fundamental forces."


So? For Aronson, one can feel gratitude by "acknowledging one of our most intimate if impersonal relationships, with the cosmic and natural forces that make us possible." An atheist can show gratitude "to larger and impersonal forces." Because "we derive our existence from, and belong to, both natural forces and generations that preceded us, ... it is just possible that we will often feel connected [to such forces and generations], and often grateful."


Aronson says that when we gather together with friends on one of those snuggly holiday nights, we may be overcome by "a warm, joyous, comfortable feeling, even a moment of well-being - but to whom or to what?" The answer is: "Obviously, to natural forces and processes that have made our own life, and this reunion, possible."


So, thank you strong force, thank you weak force, thank you electromagnetic force, than you gravity, thank you evolution. Thank you particles, protons, neutrons, electron, quarks, and dark matter. 


Good night moon.

For me, this attempt to find some object of gratitude sans God doesn't work. I'll take the following dichotomy: either God, or Camus-ian absurdity. Aronson's idea sounds like a spiritless animism (which is, of course, a contradiction). 


Thankfulness, if it is to have any meaning at all, requires inter-personality. I experience innumerable moments of gratitude, but have never felt like thanking the wall of my house for holding up the roof. Thanking "impersonal forces," no matter how "large" they are, is no different than walking outside and thanking your lawn for being green. See again Camus, Sartre, and a host of atheistic existentialists who write on the absurdity of moral feelings, purposive feelings, and so on.


To say "Thank you" only makes sense if there is someone who can or could have responded, "You are welcome."


Aronson the atheist feels thankful. I do not doubt this. As an atheist, he doesn't want his thankful feelings to be absurd. But thanking impersonal forces is absurd, like thanking your stuffed teddy bear for loving you. 


The raw truth remains: No God = no ultimate meaning. Such is the logic of atheism, on which there is nothing, no one, to thank.

Monday, November 25, 2019

DECLARATIONS of THANKSGIVING

(Flowers, in our green room)


DECLARATIONS of THANKSGIVING

THE SCRIPTURE

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

THE DECLARATIONS
    
My heart is filled with thankfulness because I am encountering God’s goodness and enduring love. (1 Chronicles 16:34)
·       As I listen to worship music I find I cannot stop giving thanks to God. (2 Chronicles 5:13)
·       As I share with others what God is doing in my life, my gratitude overflows onto them. (Psalm 9:1)
·       Today I am approaching God with thanksgiving, music, and songs. (Psalm 95:2)
·       I never fail to remember how God has rescued me. (Psalm 118:21)
·       Sometimes I wake in the night and find myself saying “Thank you” to God. (Psalm 119:62)
·       I see God transforming deserts into gardens, causing joy and gladness to flourish in my soul. (Isaiah 51:3)
·       I am being supernaturally delivered from sin and darkness. (Romans 7:25)
·       I live each day with a victorious mindset. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
·       An ocean of God’s grace is overwhelming me, causing an overflow of thanksgiving that glorifies God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)
·       God is using me to supply the needs of the Lord’s people, resulting in many expressions of thanks to God. (2 Corinthians 9:12)
·       As I remember my brothers and sisters my soul is saturated with prayers of thanks for them. (Ephesians 1:16)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Studying Jesus - Some Resources


Jerusalem street



Here are books and websites I recommend for studying Jesus, with a few annotations. 

This list could be miles long! These are some I recommend. If you read these, you'll be well on your way in studying Christ and thinking Christologically.

BOOKS ON JESUS

Ruth Haley Barton



Richard Bauckham


Michael Brown




Greg Boyd

Greg Boyd & Paul Eddy
James Charlesworth

Craig Evans

Craig Evans and N.T. Wright
Gordon Fee

  • Pauline Christology
Gordon Fee and Cherith Fee


Larry Hurtado and Chris Keith

Craig Keener

George Ladd

Michael McClymond

Scot McKnight
Eugene Peterson



Stephen Prothero
Lee Strobel
Rankin Wilbourne 



Dallas Willard 



Ben Witherington

N.T. Wright (No one, except Craig Keener, is writing more about Jesus than Wright is.)

NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARIES

When the following New Testament scholars write a commentary, it's going to be worth reading.
  • Richard Bauckham
  • D.A. Carson
  • Craig Evans
  • Gordon Fee
  • R.T. France
  • David Garland
  • Joel Green
  • Richard Hays
  • Craig Keener
  • Andreas Kostenberger
  • Scot McKnight
  • Douglas Moo
  • Ben Witherington
  • N.T. Wright - especially see Wright's "For Everyone" series.

WEBSITES ON JESUS AND THE NEW TESTAMENT

5 Thanksgiving Choices

Sunrise over Munson Park

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, here are five things you can do to make the most of this season.



1. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you. 
I've made a gratitude list on my computer and printed it out. I've got the list in my pocket, and will pull it out and look at it throughout the week.
"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 
- Thornton Wilder

2. Think of the people God has brought to add value to your life.
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
- Albert Schweitzer 

3. Focus on what you have gained, not what you have lost. 
In Job 1:21 we read, 

God gives, God takes.
God's name be ever blessed.

As I remember precious people I have lost, I think of how their lives blessed me.

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 
- Epictetus

4. Say "thank you" to others, in your words, attitudes, and actions. 
Serve people. To serve is to love. Servanthood is the overflow of a thankful heart.

"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."
- William James

5. Let the words "Thank you, God" be your constant praise. 
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever."

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Helping Toxic Marriages - 4 Steps

Image result for johnpiippo augsburger caring
(Linda, in our church's sanctuary)

Over our forty-six years of marriage Linda and I have had the privilege of helping many marriages. A number of these have been toxic, on the brink of divorce. God has instructed us to restore these marriages. We look at how a marriage can be saved, not on how it can dissolve.

Most cannot envision how a toxic marriage can be helped. Many think a toxic marriage should not be helped. We disagree on both counts. At times this puts us at odds with friends and family members who are advising their loved ones to give up and check out of the marriage. This is one reason why, when counseling a toxic couple (or any couple), we are not going to involve friends and family members in the process. Often, friends and family members are contributing to the marriage's demise.

We use a four-step process in marriage saving.

Step 1 - Confess and forgive.

We ask the couple to identify things they have done or said that should never be done or said to anyone, but were aimed at their marital partner.

We ask the couple to be specific in their confessions. This is not about apologizing, but confessing and requesting forgiveness. It looks like this:

"I was wrong in saying/doing what I said/did to you. Will you forgive me?"

The response to this is: "Yes, I forgive you." (Never add the word "but" to your forgiveness, such as: "Yes, I forgive you, but what you did/said to me was wrong, you always do this, etc. etc.")

To which it is appropriate to respond, "Thank you."

We want the couple to practice ongoing confession and forgiveness, as needed. Without this, the marriage won't be rescued.

An excellent resource in learning how to do this is Robert Enright's book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness.

Step 2 - learn how to communicate when in conflict.

The couple needs to learn new ways of speaking the truth in love to one another. No demeaning words are allowed.



We help the couple do this, by assisting them in our counseling meetings, and assigning to practice communicating this way: 

  1. Speak truthfully
  2. Speak lovingly

Both are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could blow people away. I could tell you the truth in unloving ways. Speaking truth without love injures others.



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.


We'd like the marital couple to print out and carry this template with them (from Augsburger):
Step 3 - heal the pain and walk step-by-step towards hope.

As the couple engages in ongoing, as-needed, confession and forgiveness, and as they begin to learn new ways of speaking the truth in love to each other, they will be ready to address their pain. They will be able to walk through their pain, with God's help. 

The steps to take are given in Gary Chapman's excellent One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage is Falling Apart

We expect the couple to invest in their marriage. A good marriage requires work. This involves time and commitment. This is where some couples get stalled. They were hoping for a quick fix; we are hoping for an ongoing relationship.

Linda and I have deeply invested in our marriage. Through the years we have read many books on marital health, attended various conferences on keeping the fire burning in marriage, and watched videos on how to have a healthy, Jesus-centered marriage.

Step 4 - Pray for one another.

We have seen God do great things in a marriage that no human counselor can do. We ask the couple to pray for their partner's well-being in Christ. And, to pray together as a couple.

Here is where the beautiful core values of the Christian belief system begin to kick in and become, not mere religious theories, but experiential realities. Linda and I have seen this happen many times. Few things are as beautiful to us as witnessing God restore and transform a marriage and, as a result, a family. 

***

My two books are:


I am now writing How God Changes the Human Heart, plus editing a book on the Holy Spirit which should be out in late Spring 2019.
I'm getting my act together to write Technology and Spiritual formation.
Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Be Quick to Listen, Be Slow to Text.


I don't use social media or texting to share negative things or work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.

When face-to-face, first listen. Understand before opening your mouth. Be a slow cooker, not a microwave.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don't send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: "Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?" You don't have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don't have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend." (Bread for the Journey)

Be quick to listen, 
slow to text.